The drive to the airport helps clears my head, yet a caustic mix of shame and regret remains. Shame at my relief that I have a convenient reason to leave her and regret that I am leaving her at all. I think about last night and this morning. I didn’t want to hurt her, but it looks as though I have.
On the plane I think about Becca. How I will find her—resting on the sunny patio, with her books. I admire her grace, how she goes so quietly into that good night of soft middle age. I always knew I was the marrying kind. That’s true. She steadies me.
Don would have my head if he found out. But there seems a kind of poetic justice in it somewhere. He stole my best girl once upon a time. But, that’s water under the bridge. Old news.
“You can’t go home again”–the phrase drifts up from my memory. No, all the talk about the old days can never bring them back. I will never be that man again. Proud. Respected.
The double dates with the girls. The lips and the eyes and the hair. How they sipped Singapore Slings out of ceramic tumblers shaped into laughing Polynesian gods. How I always picked up the check. A stand up guy, they called me. But, Becca will never be that girl again. So enamored by the illusion of my strength.
Women are my only remaining vice. I gave up smoking twenty years ago and the bourbon soon after that…except for yesterday afternoon in the hotel lounge. But such a small slip doesn’t really count. It was easier when we worked together at the university. Becca’s daily presence staved off my sweet tooth –bolstered my strength against the temptation. And it was always there biting at my heels…leading me to the clusters of gathering skirts…their adoring little girl eyes, the flirtatious curl of a smile, reminding me of the man I used to be. Their small, hungry pink tongues, like soft sweet confections, against strong white teeth.
Becca took early retirement to pursue her own interests. Always drawn to domestic life, she is content to tend home and garden. Yes, if Becca were still stationed in her office she would ward off those poisonous flowers with their sticky nectar, waiting in every wing. Waiting for the bee with the stinger.
I promised myself this trip back home would be all business. Just finalizing the closing documents on the old house. Running into Penny at Don’s office couldn’t have been just a coincidence. How bad she was to force my hand. But how could I resist…with her doe-eyed gaze and her stories of the old times, not to mention her long-lingering lust.
Penny made it too easy. Not my usual conquest, but her unequivocal admiration made her irresistible in that moment. In its simplest form, Penny was just a loose end that needed tying up. I had convinced myself it would bring closure somehow. But now it seems I have opened some new door.
She wouldn’t let me go in the morning–clinging to my sleeve when I turned in the doorway of the hotel room. I made the mistake of assuming she was old enough to understand the difference between sex and love.
I realize now what I have done. And what I have to do.
To be continued…