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I don’t really have a type. I just like women, and certain men. However, I confess a greater than average appreciation for body modification, particularly tattoos, and anyone who dresses in what can be considered an “alternative” or punk style. I myself tend to favor simple shorts and t-shirts because I don’t think the look favors me, but man, do I love a woman in torn jeans and leather jackets, especially when their tattoos peek over their collar and through the holes in their stockings.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanyway. This occurred extremely recently. Enjoy.

——————————————————————————————————–

I am no stranger to pain. I have been injured more times than I can count, from fighting, from falling, from fucking. It’s not a difficult thing to cope with pain. You just have to accept that something hurts and move forward.

I tell myself this as the needle moves through my flesh.

Anyone who says getting tattooed doesn’t hurt is either a liar, or a braggart.

“How are you doing?” the artist asks me. She is hunched forward over my arm, tracing the stencil she placed on my arm over four hours ago. That’s a long time to sit still and let another human being carve in your flesh.

“Not bad,” I answer casually. “You know, considering you’ve stabbed me about three hundred and sixty thousand times.”

She smiles and laughs, both slightly delayed as she focuses on her work. “That many?”

“Quick math,” I answer. “Fifteen hundred revolutions per minute, times sixty minutes in an hour, times four hours. Three hundred and sixty thousand stabs.”

“That’s what you get when you go with a sleeve,” she says matter-of-factly.

“The first three hours were a breeze,” I respond, perhaps more defensively than I intended. “I just need to get my second wind is all.”

She pauses to wipe ink and blood from my arm. “Almost done with the outline. Just need to go over the elbow. You ready for this?”

I shrug. “How bad can it be?”

She smirks and pats my chest. “That’s the spirit. Move closer.” I shift on the bed, and she applies vaseline to the stencil. She bends forward. I hear the tattoo gun buzz like an angry hornet. She pushes it against my elbow.

Wooooooooooooooooow that fucking hurts.

I can’t help but breathe in sharply through my teeth. Not for long, but loudly enough it’s noticeable. She laughs again and says, “Yeah, you fucking love it, don’t you bitch!”

I struggle not to move as I laugh with her, not wanting to disturb the canvas that is my tender funny bone. “Fuck yes. Bring it on mistress.”

She keeps cutting through my elbow. “Yeah, fucking take it,” she says through clenched teeth, her voice dusky, almost whispering.

Something about her tone of voice, the aggression, the word choice, makes something in me stir. I glance down at her. I have admired her tattoos since I first met her, and I find myself admiring them again. Not only for their form, but for how they accentuate the curves of her body. Her well defined triceps stand out a bit more against the bright reds and yellows, contrasting with her deep tan. The slope of her shoulder going into her neck. The curve of her cleavage below her tank top. Fortunately, she is too absorbed in her work to notice my attention, so I simply don’t bother to restrain it. I study her face, her body, her movements, and it helps take my focus from my elbow.

Unfortunately, it’s also really turning me on. I feel myself harden uncomfortably against my zipper, and I deeply regret choosing not to wear boxers today, both for the discomfort, and how obvious it is without the extra layer. I silently pray she won’t notice.

The gun turns off, and she wipes at my elbow. “There we go.”

She is quiet for a moment, then she unsuccessfully stifles a laugh. “Well. Hello sailor.”

Shit.

I try to play it off. “Heh… yeah, sorry. Guess I couldn’t help myself. The whole thing just gets to me.”

“I don’t think that’s how nerves are supposed to be connected,” she says teasingly.

“Hey, you never know what works for some people,” I respond, playfully terse. I grin at her, and she returns the smile. Her eyes are a deep brown, and they sparkle in the ample lighting of the parlor.

An hour and a half later, and a third of my tattoo is colored in. She bandages and wraps my arm, and I rebook a month in advance to have the work finished. We stand in front of her shop, sharing a cigarette.

“Thanks again for fitting me in today,” I say as I exhale a cloud of smoke. “It’s gonna look great when it’s finished.” I pass her the cigarette.

“My pleasure,” she answers, and takes a deep pull. “Maybe next time you’ll control yourself a bit more.” It’s an admonishment, but I hear the teasing tone, and she grins playfully.

“Maybe,” I say noncomittally. “Maybe not. We’ll just have to see.”

She smiles. “I hope we will.” She winks at me and flicks the cigarette into the street. “Gotta get back to it. See ya later.” She turns to the door.

“Hey,” I call after her. She turns her head toward me. “Mind if I give you a call sometime?”

She smirks again. “You’ve got my card.” And she goes inside, closing the door behind her.

I blink in confusion and check my pockets. Sure enough, in my back left pocket is a business card with her name and business number on it. Scrawled across the bottom is her cell phone number. I don’t remember putting it there.

I deposit it safely in my wallet. The movement sends a twinge of pain through my elbow, but the pain is less pronounced. Almost promising. I smile, and walk toward my car.

First and foremost, I appreciate the concern I’ve received from so many of you.  Numerous comments and dozens of e-mails inquiring as to the state of my mental and physical well-being, statements that my absence has been noticed, requests that I return to writing.  Even a text message or three checking in on me.  Thank you, one and all.

I know I don’t have to explain myself, so please don’t interpret the following as justification for my absence.  As per the usual, I’m just writing to get things out, to let spill the tide of various emotions I’ve been feeling for a while so that I may think more clearly.  I don’t want anyone to have the impression that I’m not okay.  I’m always okay.  I just have those moments.  The past month and a half has been a particularly long moment.

Christ, has it been that long?  Anyway.

A day or so after my last post, Pretty Grad Student and I had a nice sit-down about our affair.  It had become obvious to me that she was developing some pretty serious feelings for me, which she confirmed over coffee.  I had to explain to her, as gently as I could, that while I certainly shared the emotional connection with her, it could never replace the emotional connection I share with Ashley.  That I firmly believe it’s possible to have intense feelings for multiple people, but that acting upon them by committing to some form of exclusivity can be risky for everyone involved, particularly when one or both parties are already participating in exclusivity elsewhere.  (That’s scientist speak for, “Yeah, I have feelings for you too, but I’m married and that ain’t changin’.”)  This led to an intense discussion (not a fight, but a sincere, gin-yoo-wine conversation) about my feelings for anyone–her, the numerous other women I’ve slept with, Ashley, and even myself.  She ultimately suggested that I may be depressed and need to seek some kind of counseling or otherwise attempt to right the wrongs in my immediate universe.

I value Pretty Grad Student’s opinion more than most.  She’s a sharp cookie, very perceptive, exceptionally sympathetic.  So I took some time off from everything but work, with the intention of examining what, out of all the things I’d excluded, I missed the most.

It didn’t quite work out like that.  Sure, I spent a lot of time at work, and just as much time at home with Ashley.  But I found that, the more I isolated myself from everything, the less inclined I was to come back to it.  I found myself thinking, “Hmm.  I could do [insert activity here].  But I don’t know if I want to.”  That indecision stopped me from doing a lot of things, including writing this blog, and I saw no measurable difference in my happiness.  Effectively, I spent a month and a half treading a fine line between depression and apathy.

And that pisses me right the fuck off.

So this morning, as I stood comfortably in Virabhadrasana for the first time in weeks, watching the sun creep up over the hill, I decided, at least for the time being, to embrace who and what I am.  Fuck if I know where things are going, or what will happen in the near future.  But I’m tired of fighting it, of trying to justify it, of struggling with something that is as deep a part of me as anything can be.  So I ran with more purpose than I’ve felt in months.  So I worked harder, wrote faster, thought more clearly.  So I left work early and fucked Pretty Grad Student with all the intensity our bodies could muster.

When we were done, she rolled onto her side, pressed her bare body to mine, and said, “It’s good to have you back.”

All I could say was, “It’s good to be back.”

I’m having coffee with Ashley tonight.

That’s such a strange thing to say.  “I’m having coffee with Ashley tonight.”  A perfectly unremarkable statement, carrying with it some weighty implications, as though it were an event that required planning, that having coffee with her should somehow be out of the ordinary.  It’s normal for married couples to have coffee together.  I see it all the time on television (and we all know anything on television must be normal).  But it becomes weird when you’ve been estranged from your spouse for over a week.

I haven’t seen her in ten days now, not since June 8, when we had our argument.  We’ve barely been in communication since then.  Presumably, she realized that I wasn’t just going to come home with nothing resolved, so there were a few days with no communication whatsoever.  Then today, I got an e-mail from her, asking if I wanted to have coffee at our favorite cafe.  I hem-hawed about it for a while, before finally texting her my assent.

So, after ten days of separation, I’m meeting Ashley tonight, to have coffee and catch up, and, I assume, to discuss the state of our marriage, why I left, and what it means for our future.  It’s not like we haven’t had this conversation a dozen times before.  We’re not breaking new ground here.  But, given the circumstances leading up to our meeting tonight, I have no idea how this is going to go.

…you know, I say that.  But it’s not entirely true.

I know that I’ll arrive fifteen minutes early, because that’s what I do.  I know I’ll be done with my first cup of coffee, likely with a shot of Bailey’s in it, by the time she shows up, perfectly punctual, as always.  I know she’ll look beautiful in her summer attire.  When I see her, my heart will skip a beat, my throat will catch, my stomach will turn in knots, the same as always when I see her the first time after any extended period apart.  And I know, despite how happy I will be to see her, I won’t hug her, or shake her hand, or anything, because I’m stubborn.  I’ll stand up while she sits, because that’s what a gentleman does, and I’ll ask how her day was.  She’ll tell me some brief anecdote about the day’s events, then ask me the same, and I’ll do the same.

By the time her first, my second, coffee arrives, we’ll have run out of pleasantries.  We will be silent for a little while.  I’ll ask her why she wanted to have coffee.  She’ll say she missed me, that she wanted to talk.  I’ll tell her there’s nothing to be said that hasn’t been said before.  She’ll agree, and her voice will catch, and she’ll try not to cry.  She will tell me she loves me, that she wants to be there for me sexually, but she doesn’t know how to change herself.  I will tell her that I love her too, that not a single day goes by that I don’t thank God for bringing her into my life, but unrequited physical intimacy is sufficient to destroy any relationship.  She’ll tell me she knows this, but she just can’t bring herself to be physically intimate as often as I’d like.  So I’ll ask her what she wants to do about this, the same problem we’ve had for years now, because something has to be done, because even though I thank God for her every day, there is also not a day that I don’t feel some level of resentment toward her for refusing to be intimate with me.

And this is where the future becomes cloudy.  It’s unlikely that she’s going to tell me that a permanent separation is in order, but given the state of things, I doesn’t strike me as totally impossible, either.  It’s just really improbable, because we still love each other as much as we ever have.  Ashley feels like she’s not enough for me (and let’s call it like it is–she isn’t), which scares and upsets her, but she won’t do enough to amend the situation.  However, that’s not enough to drive her away from me.  She wants me for the rest of her life, as she so often reminds me, in the most romantic, if still asexual, manner possible.

That means, if things go badly tonight, it will most likely be my doing.  And for all our problems, and despite my indiscretions, I’m not ready to say goodbye.  Being away from her always reminds me just how much I need her.  I acknowledge it frequently, but it’s her absence in my daily life that makes the need more palpable.  When we’re together, I crave her physical touch.  When we’re apart, I just crave her.

Anyhow.  This was intended as more of an update, and instead evolved into some kind of inner monologue about the state of my marriage.  My apologies.  Also, please forgive my absence in the past couple of weeks.  I just… haven’t felt up to responding to emails, comments, etc., which I hope is understandable.  I’ll be back soon, hopefully with something more positive to report.

Regards,
BimodalTendancies

I haven’t written anything recently because, frankly, nothing has happened.  My work has absorbed all of my attention since my last interaction with Pretty Grad Student.  In fact, this is really the first moment of free time I’ve had since then, and I only have it because I wanted to do something other than think about animal movement at different spatial and temporal scales.  I can only keep my mind in movement ecology for so long before I start producing equations for things that don’t need to be solved.  (For example, I once spent two hours writing an algorithm to calculate the most efficient route home, taking into account traffic lights, effort based on landscape characteristics, and my average walking speed.  A fantastic waste of time, to be sure, but I now have the optimized route for my daily commute.)

However, given that nothing has happened recently, and I don’t feel like sharing an old memory at the moment, I checked my e-mail for inspiration.  And it didn’t disappoint.  One reader wrote:

I enjoy reading your blog, and I think your stories are exciting and erotic.  But then I remember the truth of your marriage, and it makes me sad.  I don’t think what you’re doing has to be wrong because everyone has their own reasons for doing what they do, and I can’t judge you any more than anyone can judge me.  But I have to ask, how can you be so comfortable living so dishonestly?

I think this question might have offended me if the sender hadn’t been so polite and/or couched it in what strikes me as genuine concern.  So, firstly, thanks to the reader in question for giving me a certain degree of understanding/sympathy before jumping to conclusions.

Now, as I said, this question might have irritated me, but given the circumstances, it actually gave me pause.  I often consider what I do as a betrayal of trust, and I frequently talk about the guilt that arises from my extramarital activities.  I’ve also talked about being a good conman, on working the long con to make sure you can pursue sex outside of a “monogamous” relationship, and I think I’ve even mentioned that what I do is essentially lie to Ashley to get what I want.  But for some reason, when the question is presented so bluntly—How can you be comfortable living so dishonestly?—it stands out and makes me consider what I do from a perspective not wholly dissimilar from my usual approach, but with enough subtle differences that it changes things.

Am I a dishonest person?

I was prepared to write several paragraphs on this question.  I was going to talk about the continuum of honesty, and how I fall somewhere in the middle, not an honest person but not dishonest either.  But upon consideration, I’ve decided that would be utter bullshit.  There’s no sliding scale.  You’re either honest, or dishonest.  It’s pretty black or white.  I tell the truth here, and to the women I’m seeing, but I lie to Ashley, in words and in practice.  Therefore, yes, I am a dishonest person.

But, I posit the following: Who the hell isn’t?

Certain among my family are highly religious, conservative people.  (Strike that—most of them are.  Hell, I may be the only non-conservative in the lot.)  They strive to live according to a set of morals and values they identify as Biblically mandated, and admittedly, they’re good people.  They don’t participate in the backbiting so common in the church.  They take leading roles in its direction and organization.  They go on mission trips.  Hell, my family owns and operates a free medical clinic back home, where they treat anyone, with the understanding that they will also minister to the sick.  They’re good people.  Honest people.

But I’ve also seen these people do what I’ve come to call “The Hotel Shuffle”, wherein they rent a single room with a maximum occupancy of two people, then take people inside in shifts to make sure all six can share the room for the night.  Would I consider that being dishonest?  Yeah, I think I have to.  They’re effectively taking coin out of the hotel’s pocket, for their benefit.  They don’t want to rent three rooms, so they break the rules and stuff six into one room.  That’s dishonest, but it’s socially acceptable dishonesty, something that most people are likely guilty of doing.  (And it probably can’t help that they can say something like, “Oh, it’s a silly rule, we should be allowed to sleep in whatever manner we choose.  At least we’re still paying them!”)  That’s the distinguishing characteristic: the ubiquitous nature of the behavior.  Everyone does it, and if it’s saving you a few dollars while still giving some away, what’s the harm?

Now I don’t intend this to be a justification of what I do, nor a condemnation of the more harmless dishonesties.  I present that admittedly clumsy comparison to circle back to my point—everyone is dishonest.  No one is ever completely honest and virtuous.  The difference, then, is the level of dishonesty we’re willing to accept from our own behavior, and whether said dishonesty accomplishes some goal for ourselves.  In my case, I love Ashley immensely.  Her support and simple presence are enough to get me through just about anything.  But I’m weak, and I need sexual gratification to be completely happy.  So, to get the things I need to be completely happy in my life, I perpetuate the necessary untruth, that I am a happily monogamous husband.  It’s a level of dishonesty that I’m comfortable with.

That’s not to say I’m proud of it.  I’m not.  Just comfortable.

Alright, that’s enough moral prattle for one day.  Back to the ever growing mountain of GPS data.  I’ll hopefully be back later this week to divulge my latest shenanigans.

When I got up this morning, after a long night of debauchery, I stumbled downstairs and checked my phone.  Through bleary eyes, I saw a message from Marian.  And another.  And another.  And another.

Hey, are you doing anything today?  I thought we could grab lunch.

Are you there?

Are you mad at me?

You don’t have to ignore me.

Real mature, asshole.

Umm.  Okay.

A few seconds later, I tapped out the following response:

Sorry, was out late with a colleague. Got up late, didn’t mean to miss your messages. But you just crossed the fine line between concerned and crazy bitch. So, we’re done. Don’t bother contacting me again.

I know it was one time, but really, one time is all it takes.  I feel like I narrowly avoided a really bad situation here.  Like I was bending backward Matrix-style while bullets of crazy whizzed past me at a speed of batshit bonkers.  I’m The One, people.

Me:  “So what, you’re saying I can dodge bitches?”
Morpheus:  “No, Bi.  I’m saying, when you’re ready… you won’t have to.”

I don’t know why I find that so very amusing.  I think it’s the residual bits of exhaustion.  I haven’t had quite enough coffee this morning.

Fuck, is it even morning anymore?

That’s it.  Yoga.

Pretty Grad Student:  “Enjoy your weekend.  Got any good plans?”

Me:  “Dick all, that’s what.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “That sounds fun.”

Me:  “Except for the chafing.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “Inappropriate workplace humor is a good way to end the week.”

Me:  “It’s only inappropriate if you make it so.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “I guess so.  Well, I have something for the chafing, if you need.”

Me:  “I’m always interested in new weapons in the war on chafing.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “How about industrial strength lube?”

Me:  “I was thinking lotion.  Get your mind out of the gutter, minion.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “But lotion isn’t as much fun.”

Me:  “It is for me.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “But I prefer the lube.  I think you will too.”

Me:  “That might be the most poorly delivered invitation I’ve ever heard.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “But it’s an invitation all the same.  My place?”

Me:  “Nine o’clock.”

Pretty Grad Student:  “Bring the booze.  I’ll take care of the rest.”

I can’t make this shit up, people.

If you haven’t read Part 3 of Artifice and Honesty yet, skip down to the next entry.  Or just start at the beginning.

This is also the first time, I confess, that I took a few liberties with the story.  The final text she sent me wasn’t quite as succinct as I describe it.  But, this had a more clever feel to it, thus, I used it.

———————————————————————-

I walk through my side door, stinking and covered in a week’s worth of filth and grime.  I drop my backpack in the mudroom and sit on the old papasan chair beside the door, sinking into the soft cushion, relishing the sensation of worn fabric and padding.  As much as I enjoyed my backpacking trip, and as badly as I needed the time to myself… nothing really compares to coming home.

I don’t know how long I sleep, but when I come to, the sun has started to set.  I rouse myself from the chair and walk to my office.  I remove my phone from the charger and check the messages.  One text notification blinks at me.

I tap the screen a few times, and read.

Thanks for being a gentleman. –Marian

I grin and respond.

Sorry, I went on an impromptu backpacking trip.  Just got your message.  And you’re quite welcome.

I set my phone aside and go upstairs to the shower.  I wash the layer of sweat and dirt from my body, and take a bit of extra time to groom and exfoliate where appropriate.  An hour or so later, I finally come back downstairs, to my phone.  It blinks.

Oh good, thought you were angry at me.  Want to have dinner and you can show me the pictures?

I tap out a response:  Thought you said I was dangerous?

A few moments later, I smile as I read her answer:

Maybe I could use a little danger.

You can’t always have a dramatic climax.  This was one of those times.

——————————————————————————

I pass Marian a fresh cup of coffee.  “Here, I’ll let you doctor this one to your liking.”

“So considerate,” she says, with a touch more sarcasm than one might like.  I watch her pour half a gallon of creamer and a pound of sugar into the cup.  Stir and taste, frown, add another half a pound of sugar.

“I’ll be amazed if you don’t fall into a diabetic coma right here,” I say offhand.  Marian shoots me a half-hearted glare over her cup.

We resume our slow meander along the sidewalk.  Marian has grown quiet, taking more frequent sips of her coffee, leaving me to carry most of the conversation.  I tell her about my work, why I do what I do, stories of student entitlement and mishaps in the field, of being chased on a bum ankle by an angry bull elk, of coming face to tentacle with a jelly fish, of being treed by a mama pig.  She chimes in occasionally, prompting me for more detail or asking questions about various aspects of the story, but for the most part, she just listens.  I talk enough that I drink my coffee more to soothe my throat than for the flavor, even after it grows as cold as the night air around us.  But finally I run out of stories to tell (no small feat, I assure you), and we adjourn to my car.

Marian offers concise turn-by-turn directions to her home.  It’s a small house just off one of the less heavily trafficked city roads, with a gravel driveway leading through a wooden fence to a circular parking area that simplifies exiting the drive.  Flower beds and potted plants adorn the porch and front facade with cheery splashes of red, pink, and yellow.  There are even white window shutters.  It has a distinct Little Stepford House on the Prairie feel to it.  I park and quickly exit the vehicle, moving to the passenger side and opening the door for her.

“Precisely the sort of place I’d imagined,” I remark.  “Cute, comfortable, and inviting.”

“Thanks,” she answers as she takes my hand, exiting the car.  “I put a lot of effort into my flowers.”

I walk alongside her toward her porch, escorting her to her door.  As we approach, she suddenly says, “You know you’re not coming in, right?”

I blink at the back of her head as she mounts the step.  “I thought I’d already established that I held no presumptions about how the evening would end.  I’m merely escorting you to your door.”  She turns and looks at me, and I smile.  “It’s the gentlemanly thing to do, especially after having so thoroughly disappointed you tonight.”

Marian stares at me, her face expressionless.  I merely continue to smile, my hands in my jacket pockets.  After a moment, she says, “Nothing really gets to you, does it?”

I furrow my brow.  “Depends on what you mean.”

“I mean, you’ve been calm, cool, and collected the entire night,” she elaborates.  “Even when you told me…”  She nods her head a little, and opens her hands as though to say, You know what I’m talking about.  “…even then, you were just so cool and confident.  You never lost your charm.”

“I would take that as a compliment if I didn’t suspect there were an underlying ‘but’ somewhere in there.”

She nods.  “It’s a little scary, actually.  Anyone who can keep piling on the charm under those circumstances, to me, must be a sociopath.”

“That’s a hell of a ‘but’.”

She squints slightly, as though assessing me.  “But you’re so honest, and polite, and so fucking charming.”  She punctuates that word with a small stomp of her foot.  She’s frowning intently now, and she looks down at her feet.  “It’s not fair.”

Marian folds her arms across her chest and continues to divert her eyes downward.  I purse my lips and sigh through my nose.  I step forward slightly and lightly touch her forearm while maintaining a bit of distance between us.  She glances up at me, and I offer a half smile as I retract my hand.

“I’m sorry for misleading you,” I tell her.  “Old habits die hard, I suppose.  But you should know it wasn’t my intention to hurt you, or to lie to you.  I asked you out because I was genuinely interested in getting to know you.  I still am.  If you’re not, though, I get it.”  I shove my hands back in my pockets.  “If you want to talk to me again, you’re welcome to text me.  But I’ll put the ball in your court.”

She sighs and nods.  “Don’t expect too much.  You’re a little too dangerous for my liking.”

I smile and return the nod.  “Fair enough.”  I offer my hand, and she grasps it lightly.  I hold hers in both of mine briefly.  “If we never speak again, it was truly a pleasure meeting you, Madam Librarian.”

I release her hands, turn on my heel, and walk to my car.  In a few short seconds, I’m slowly circling around her drive, heading back toward her street.  I glance into my mirror and see Marian still on her porch, watching me go.  I feel a slight pang of guilt, but I shake it off as I pull onto the street and drive away.

So yeah, like I said, this is a long story.  I’ve actually omitted quite a bit of dialogue between Marian and me.  She really grilled me about my marriage, why I do things, what I was hoping to accomplish, etc.  It was one hell of an interrogation.  But this is the meat and potatoes of it.  And the thrilling conclusion will be up as soon as I have time to write it.

————————————————————————————

Marian laughs brightly.  “Yeah, that would be a hell of a downside.”

I stay silent, sipping my coffee.  I can feel her smile fading.  “…you’re kidding, right?”

I shake my head.  “Nope.”

She stops cold.  I’m certain there’s a look of shock on her face, but I refuse to look back.  If this is going to work out, I have to keep going.  So I continue strolling down the sidewalk, maintaining an air of confidence and comfort.

Sure enough, a moment later, I hear her footsteps quicken as she powerwalks to my side.  “Wait, you’re married?”

“Indeed I am.”  I maintain my forward-facing stroll.  I can see Marian out of the corner of my eye, looking quite intently at my face.  Likely searching for some hint that I’m joking, or perhaps for guilt.  My expression is an unreadable half-smile, a relationship poker face.  She won’t see anything I don’t want her to see.

After a moment, she speaks again, and her voice has lost its mirth.  “Then why did we have dinner together?  Why have you been flirting with me?”

“Because you’re clever, and good company, and quite attractive,” I answer matter-of-factly.  Marian waits as though she’s expecting me to continue, but instead, I take a sip of my coffee, then wrinkle my nose.  “My coffee’s gotten cold.  Want to go get another?”

“Are you serious?”  I can hear the first hint of anger creep into her voice.  To be expected.  “You want to keep this up?”

“Why not?  It’s not as though we’re doing anything inappropriate.  We’re two people having a cup of coffee and spending time together, and having a good time of it.  I fail to see the problem.”

“The problem is you’re married,” she says, stressing the final word, putting a little venom in it.  “You have a wife.”

“A fact which, until now, has not stopped us from thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.”  I hook my thumb back and say, “I’m going to go back to the coffee stand and get another of these.  You’re welcome to join me if you’d like.  I’ll answer your questions honestly up until the point you begin to shriek and accuse me of horrible, if not entirely unwarranted, things.  Keep it civil, and you can ask me anything.  Otherwise, we can part ways.”

“I–”  Marian starts to say something, but I’ve already turned around.  “C’mon,” I say, and wave her over.

I walk alone.  Then footsteps, and Marian appears alongside me.  “How can you be so callous about this?”

“There’s a difference between being callous and objective,” I answer.  “I have no desire to be cruel or insensitive.”

“The implication being that a married man taking a woman on a date isn’t inherently cruel?” she asks.

“That’s why I told you in the first place.”

Marian holds her right bicep with her left hand, a protective posture.  She grows silent again as we walk, looking down toward the concrete.  It’s not awkward for me, as I’d been expecting this from the moment I considered telling her, but I imagine she feels decidedly uncomfortable.

“I know you’ve got a question,” I prompt after a moment.

She looks over at me, frowning slightly.  She takes a deep breath.  “Why did you ask me out?”

“I told you, because you’re clever and attractive.  Those qualities don’t often pair up in people.”

“No, I mean…”  She hesitates.  “If you’re married, why did you ask me out?”

“There it is,” I say.  I toss my coffee cup into a nearby trash can.  “The honest answer is, I don’t know.  I could speculate for hours, and believe me, I have.  I want to say it’s because I’m unhappy, but that’s not entirely true, because my wife is my best friend.”  I shove my hands into my jacket pockets to keep from fidgiting.  “But sometimes that’s not enough.”

“But that doesn’t give you the right to cheat on her.”

“Nothing does.”

Marian continues to look at me.  “So you acknowledge it.”

“Of course I do,” I answer.

“And that doesn’t strike you as callous?”

I start to respond, but stop when no words come to me.  I can’t help but smile a little.  “You got me there,” I admit, and I chuckle as I glance toward her.  “Like I said, you’re clever.”

I detect the feint hint of a smile at the corners of her lips, but she suppresses it.  After another moment of silence, she asks, “So were you just planning on trying to get me in bed or something?”

I laugh again, more out of surprise than amusement.  “Well, that was blunt.”

“You said I could ask anything as long as I was civil,” she reminds me.

“That I did.”  My fingers fidgit like crazy in my pockets.  “The answer is, mostly, no.”

“Mostly?”  There’s a sense of incredulity in her tone.

“Mostly,” I repeat.  “I honestly just wanted to get to know you.  We had an interesting encounter in the store, and I wanted to see where it went.  I had no intention of trying to bed you.”  I consider this for a moment, then add, “However, if things had gone that direction, I can’t say I wouldn’t have followed through with it.  But it wasn’t my primary goal.”

“It’s still a little sleazy.”

“Only when you think about it.”  I shrug.  “I try not to do that.”

The smile plays at Marian’s mouth again as we approach the coffee stand.  I turn and face her, and she looks up at me.  We make eye contact for the first time since my admission.  “Look, I’m not going to deny that my behavior has been less than stellar.  If you want to go, that’s fine.  I’ll give you a ride, or money for a cab if you’d prefer.  But I’d rather you stay and have another cup of coffee with me.  Even if this doesn’t go anywhere, you’re better company than I’ve had in ages, and I’d still like to get to know you, propriety be damned.”  I gesture to the coffee stand.  “So, I’m going to have another cup of coffee.  If you’d like one, I’m still buying.”

Marian looks at me for several long moments.  “You know you’re not getting me in bed.”

“I hadn’t presumed otherwise.”  I gesture toward the coffee stand again.

She sighs and shrugs.  “Fuck it.  Not like I have anything else to do.”

I’ve had a number of people ask me what happened with Marian, the lovely woman from the grocery store.  It’s a lengthy story, so it’ll be at least two parts.  Here’s the beginning.  Enjoy.

—————————————————-

“That’ll be $7.64.”  The kid behind the counter slides two cups of coffee across the granite slab.

“Thank you kindly,” I respond as I hand him a ten.  “Keep the change.”  I move to a nearby table and prepare the two cups with generous helpings of cream and sugar, then pass one off to my companion, Candice, a.k.a. Marian the Librarian.

“Such a gentleman,” she says as she accepts the cup, passing it from hand to hand as it cools.  “What did you say this is called again?”

“A hammerhead.  An Americano with two shots of espresso.”  I gingerly take a sip of the scalding beverage.  “Think of it like drinking Red Bull with a No Doze kicker.”

Marian carefully drinks the coffee, then looks thoughtfully upward, making a show of smacking her lips as she considers it.  Then she shudders.  “Sweet Moses, that’s foul.”

We both laugh, and she proceeds to further dull the espresso flavor with additional cream.  “I’ll never understand the urge to cover the flavor of coffee with other things,” I remark as she pours several tablespoons of sugar into her cup.

“I wouldn’t if you ordered better drinks,” she says with a wry grin.  I hold my hands up in a gesture of concession.

A few minutes later, Marian and I are strolling side by side down the sidewalk.  The night air is crisp and cool, and the breeze carries the scent of coming rain, as clean an aroma as I can imagine.  I inhale deeply through my nose and sigh as I exhale.  “Damn do I love that smell.”

“Oh me too,” Marian answers.  She looks up at the sky, at the muted streetlight reflecting back from the clouds onto the city below.  “Though I’ll be a bit annoyed with Mother Nature if she decides to open up on me when I’m not carrying an umbrella.”

“Think of it as a scene from a romantic comedy,” I suggest, “or maybe an old-school musical.  Singing In The Rain did quite a number with that premise.”

“Yes, but you’re no Gene Kelly,” Marian points out.

I look at her, wide-eyed, mouth agape, putting on my best expression of shock and horror.  “Hey now, just because some of us aren’t built to be decidedly macho doesn’t mean we don’t bring something to the table,” I say, affecting offense.  “Donald O’Connor did a wonderful job in that movie, after all.”

“Yes, but you’re no Donald O’Connor,” she says, and the grin spreads across her face again.

“Don’t make me bust into an impromptu rendition of Make ‘Em Laugh,” I warn her, and she laughs again, a warm, rich sound.  She nudges me with her shoulder.

We walk in silence for a moment before she says, “You don’t seem the type to watch musicals.”

“You’d be surprised how often I hear things like that.”

“Probably not, actually.”  She glances over at me as she raises her no-longer-coffee to her lips.  “I get the distinct impression that I’m not the first woman you’ve wooed.”

I take a sip of my own coffee as I consider my response.  “Well… no, I suppose you’re not, though you’re one of very few who actually knew a thing or two about musicals.”  Something clicks in my mind, and I smile over at her.  “Wait, does that mean I’m effectively wooing you?”

Marian shrugs and answers, noncommittally, “Maybe.  I’m still trying to figure you out.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning,” she continues, “you seem…”  She ponders, choosing her words carefully.  “…too good to be true.”

I chuckle into my coffee cup.  “Care to elaborate?”

She smiles.  “Not particularly.”

“I bought you foul coffee,” I remind her.

“That you did.”  She toasts me before taking another drink.  Another moment to consider her words.  “I mean… It’s like you’re not a real person.  You’re like an amalgamation of all the good and interesting parts of a guy.  It’s like going on a date with Frankenstein’s monster version two-point-oh.”

I frown.  “De Niro’s Frankenstein, not Boris Karloff.  Dude was a lot taller than me.”

“See, right there!”  Marian laughs and pushes me playfully.  “Who the hell actually knows who Boris Karloff was anymore?”

“People who like old movies?”

“Yeah, see, that’s my point,” she says.  “No one likes old movies anymore.  You’re literate.  You’re a scientist.  You’re charismatic.  You know musicals.  You know pop culture.  You obviously work out.”  She glares at me.  “People like you aren’t supposed to exist outside a Katherine Heigl movie.”

“Only guy I can remember starring alongside her is Gerard Butler.  I’d kill to be that rugged.”

Marian rolls her eyes and pushes me again.  “Whatever.  Point is, you’re too put together.  It’s almost artificial.  I’m just waiting for the downside.”

I pause and glance toward her.  It’s obvious she’s into me.  If she weren’t, that bit of dialogue would never have happened, not to mention the way she’s smiling into her coffee cup.  She’s having a wonderful time with a guy who’s just as into her.

A guy she thinks is single.

I sigh silently and lift my coffee cup to my lips.  “I’m married.”