Ben drummed his fingers nervously beside the computer mouse as he stared unseeing at the screen. Wondering not for the first time today what the heck he was thinking. Should he go through with it? More importantly, could he go through with it?
Thinking aloud, Ben muttered absently to himself, "How life can change on a dime." Who would have thought that he, Mr. Decent and Wholesome would be embarking on an affair at this stage in his life....not to mention with someone he barely knew.
"Correction," he amended quickly to himself. He knew her very well indeed after only several months of a love affair that had begun on the Internet. Call it a midlife crisis or whatever term applied but Ben needed something in his life and he needed it now before he was too old to enjoy it.
No matter that he didn't know how he got to this point. He just knew that he'd arrived and he wasn't going to pass up the chance with someone he might just claim the brass ring with. She undoubtedly must be his soul-mate to have clicked so easily and become so vital to his well-being in a matter of weeks.
Pushing aside his last minute jitters, Ben strode from the room to prepare himself for the meeting. It wasn't a date, he told himself; it was a meeting.
In spite of his prickling nerves, he experienced a peacefulness he'd not felt in a very long time. Tonight he knew he would meet his heart's desire and confirm that all his instincts had led him in the right direction. He hadn't been looking for another relationship. But then either had she.
As he showered and dressed, Ben wondered for perhaps the millionth time in recent weeks how all this had come to pass.
He'd thought his marriage to Kim would last forever. Instead, it was now a burden on both of them. He wished life changes weren't quite so painful. Who would have guessed that after more than a quarter of a century together they would end up more like roommates than man and wife. When had it all started to go wrong?
Ben knew that much of the blame lay squarely on his shoulders. He had married Kim, who worked in medical records and was several years his junior, after knowing her for only several months. He had just finished college and gotten his degree in Finance. From the moment they'd met, he'd been sure she was everything he'd ever wanted. She'd been smart and full of life, coming from a hard past but in spite of it, nurturing and kind. He knew she'd make a wonderful mother and a great partner through their life together.
It hadn't hurt that she was a beauty in a nonconformist way. She had her own grace and a radiance that had caught his eye from the first moment he'd seen her. From the moment they'd met, their life had been filled with passion, common goals and most surprisingly of all, laughter. She had a fantastic sense of humor that always pulled them both out of the doldrums and which equally matched his own take on life.
Soon after their wedding, early into their married life, they found themselves pregnant and starting a family. Ben had been struggling to establish himself with an investment firm but if he were being honest with himself, he seemed to lack the drive to make it in a big way. He'd had to eventually set his sights on a more realistic venue and started working for the government. At least it was a job that was safe and secure without all the climbing over your best friend to get to the top and he could support his growing family.
In order to get ahead though, Kim had had to work too; in fact throughout the entirety of their marriage, taking only a few weeks or months off to give birth and take care of their newborns. She'd worked tirelessly at the hospital on shifts opposite Ben's just to make sure their children were raised by loving parents instead of strangers.
Working together, they'd done pretty well at raising 2 smart and energetic boys. Ben had always wanted the boys to be involved in everything they gravitated towards because he hadn't had those opportunities growing up and Kim felt the same way. It was no coincidence that Ben and Kim's lives from year to year were filled with one activity after the other. In spite of their obligations though, Ben and Kim had always kept that burning passion for each other alive in their marriage, enjoying each other's company more and more as the years passed. Or so it had seemed.
Once the boys hit high school, Ben quit his government job and set himself up in his own business. Kim had backed him 100%. He had garnered many solid clients and finally, he started to make really good money. It helped since they were planning for the boys' educations and had all the other ancillary expenses of living the good life while providing for their kids' futures.
Kim continued to work at the hospital just to keep her skills current and to add to the coffers. From anyone looking in, Ben and Kim would have seemed to have had the "perfect marriage." But as the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.
When it came time for the boys to leave the nest, Ben experienced a tremendous loss. In fact, he was devastated. He had invested his whole married life it seemed in his kids. It was painfully evident though that where his boys were concerned, their lives had been seriously lacking in discipline. At least on his part.
He was always the good cop while Kim was the bad. Was it any wonder that after leaving the nest, the boys had continued trouble growing up? They still continued to make the same mistakes and to refuse to live with the consequences of their actions.
Being their dad, it'd seemed logical to Ben at the time to bail them out, even after they left home, no matter what the trouble was. He was their father after all. And if Kim didn't understand or agree, that was just an unfortunate by-product of the situation. Looking back on it, Ben could admit to himself that it probably wasn't the smartest move where Kim was concerned. But it was too late to make it right.
Betrayal can have many faces and no doubt Kim saw his decisions in helping the boys as just that. He'd made decisions numerous times for both of them without consulting her, sometimes in spite of her disagreement or even behind her back, knowing full well that she had her own expectations of what her boys should become. Looking back on it now with the clear vision of 20/20 hindsight, he could see how she had simply quit trying.
Kim fidgeted in her chair during the medical records staff meeting and wished time would speed up for the umpteenth time. She was so tired of working that she had begun to fear she must truly be losing it. She must hate her job. "There has to be more to life," ran through her head lately on a daily basis. She yearned to find something, anything in her life that held joy and meaning for her. Shaking her head absentmindedly, she thought about how she'd been working since she was 10 years old. Wasn't there a time limit on how long someone had to kill themselves working?
She inwardly sighed. She wasn't a lazy person. Quite the contrary, she always gave 110%. That's why this new person she had become was a little frightening. She didn't care anymore about working. She didn't care anymore about what people thought. She actually daydreamed nonstop about what it would be like to just do what she wanted to do; when she wanted to do it and with whom.
This was not a good thing. How realistic was it to feel this way? When had she decided to become, in her opinion, spoiled? She had always believed that work was something you needed to do to be successful but then again it hadn't ended up working out quite the way she'd hoped.
Letting herself off the hook as she seemed to be doing a lot lately, Kim thought about the recent turn of events. She'd been pretty down and had even gone to see a counselor months ago with Ben to talk over some of her frustrations with their marriage. Since the economy tank of a few years back, he'd basically become a household fixture. He'd lost all of his clients and most of the money on his own investments. Barely working would be putting it mildly. He did try to contribute by cooking and cleaning but since she did her fair share on weekends, how difficult could it be?
Yes, he was bringing in a paycheck from his unemployment at the moment but it was a pittance. And exactly how many sports or old movies could one guy possibly watch? If she ever wanted to know where Ben was, all she had to do was look for a TV.
The trip to the counselor had been a total waste of hard-earned money. Whereas Kim and Ben had enjoyed the luxury of always having enough money over the past decade, now they found themselves in the same boat as most of the country, pinching pennies. Not that they were destitute but they certainly didn't have money for the extras like they once did.
Signing up to see a counselor and paying for it out-of-pocket was a bold move on Kim's part. All to no avail unfortunately. Ben had acted like he was deaf and mute during their appointment. He had nothing to contribute and only offered up that he thought the marriage was fine. What was the problem?
Again Kim sighed. After a passionate and cooperative marriage, their lives had disintegrated into sex by scheduled appointment only. Add to that the fact that it was only at Kim's initiation, it was downright humiliating. There was no intimacy left in their marriage and Kim couldn't bear the thought of begging for attention from a man she had thought would love her forever.
More frustrating still, Kim worked hard to keep herself attractive and liked to think that someone would be proud to have her on his arm. Obviously that wasn't the case since she and Ben moved through life on auto pilot. They went places together if they needed to but never for pleasure.
Each had their own activities that they indulged in that the other knew nothing about. Their home had become a place where they both ate and slept and nothing more. They didn't even entertain these days. Probably for the best as she was quite sure people would recognize two people merely existing who'd lost their spark for each other.
As if Ben's TV addiction wasn't enough, Kim had noticed that he'd also become addicted to the computer over the past 2 months or so. How it had started she had no idea. He seemed to spend as much time on the computer as he did watching TV. When she asked him about it, he never gave her any answer other than "working on investment strategies." She let it slide as she hoped it might help him get over his slump into unemployment.
If their relationship had been falling apart before the loss of his business, it most assuredly went further into oblivion after that. Nothing she said could convince him that it hadn't been his fault. Investing in high-risk portfolios wouldn't have been her choice but she had always known Ben to be a little undisciplined.
Case in point, raising their children. She mentally rolled her eyes thinking about the arguments they had had over the years about letting their boys grow up and how many times Ben had done things behind her back trying to "fix things" as he'd put it. The result had been a growing chasm between the two of them. Trust is hard to regain when someone keeps doing what you ask them not to do and especially behind your back.
Growing tired of playing second fiddle to the TV or the computer, Kim began finding more and more things to do away from home. She attended more meetings, she took classes or she went out to dinner with friends. If she wanted to foot the blame on someone, it was her friend Sheila who'd gotten her into the pickle she now found herself in.
Sheila, a three-time divorcee, was on the prowl for converts to her new religion of "friends with benefits." She believed that marriage was a doomed institution and that everyone should seek pleasure where they could without the bonds (or chains as she put it) of matrimony.
On a whim one night after a glass of wine at Sheila's, Kim took her up on her suggestion to join a chat room on the Internet and "look for love." Under Sheila's tutelage, Kim found herself surfing in a chat room but then most surprising of all, actually enjoying herself. In retrospect, had she not ventured out on that proverbial limb, Kim wouldn't be in this state of unrest now.
She'd come up with a clever screen name, "workerbee" and somehow it had morphed into something she couldn't walk away from. She had connected that night with someone with the handle "washedup" and from there, the relationship had blossomed. She had had no intention of ever going back on-line after that first night but somehow she had been drawn to this man who was so self-effacing and who apparently was as lonely as she was.
Finishing their conversation on that very first night, Kim had made the commitment to try and come back simply because it had been such a novelty "conversing" with someone or having someone pay attention to her, even if it was on-line.
Over the first week or so, she'd become more and more open with him, not sharing the details of her life but her feelings of loneliness and depression over the turn her life had taken. Kim was very reticent to offer up any personal details. She'd read enough horror stories about giving out information on the Internet. She didn't have to think twice about keeping her real life details private. Just in case this was someone who wasn't what he appeared to be, she made sure to only divulge the most general things.
Not so surprisingly, he seemed to be of the same mind yet somehow they communicated intimately all the while leaving out the traceable details of their lives. Both having admitted that they were married, though unhappily so, they seemed to have a boundless amount of topics to cover.
Purging herself of all of her bad feelings and her insecurities had given her the peace that she had hoped counseling would have accomplished. Once she began to clear her mind of all the clutter, she was able to more clearly define who she wanted to be and what her goals and dreams were. She didn't trash Ben or mention any details of their life together, past or present. She simply focused on herself and what she wanted out of the rest of her life.
Her on-line friend had started out listening and offering advice only sparingly but had then moved on to sharing disappointments with his own life. After a time, he began to share his hopes and needs with Kim as well. He seemed to know instinctively that the details of his marriage past and present would be inappropriate. It would seem that he needed to concentrate on his future just as much as Kim did.
Somehow their relationship had grown to the point where Kim couldn't wait to get to work to sign on and "talk." Considering that he was always right there to answer, she surmised he must feel the same.
She wanted to ask more personal questions; for instance about what he looked like, how old he was, what he did for a living, did he have children. Yet somehow it seemed simpler to just accept him for who he was as he accepted her. A companionable friend out in cyberspace who seemed to be as drawn to her as she was to him.
But as comforting and exciting as this new "relationship" was, Kim was beginning to feel a little guilty about the feelings she was developing for this unseen person and one day, feeling desperate and overwhelmed, she had to let her feelings out.
"I feel horribly guilty," she wrote. "I don't even know your name and we're both married. I feel like I'm cheating on my husband having these on-line sessions with you. Don't you feel the slightest bit guilty, too?"
Even though they had never focused on the details of their married lives, Kim knew he felt that his marriage was dying a slow death. He had confessed that he thought most of the doing had been his own. He felt he was lousy at being a husband to his current wife for many reasons. He hadn't offered more detail than that and although Kim doubted everything could be laid at his feet, she had left it at that, assuming she'd be better off not knowing all the bullet points.
When asked if he felt guilty, his reply had been slow in coming. Finally the reply on the screen read, "I do but I don't want to."
After more time he added, "It's time I was in a relationship I can be happy in and it's time for her to move on, too." Kim could definitely identify with that last statement but she couldn't ease the feelings of guilt that had begun to increase as time went on.
After his honest reply, Kim couldn't shake her gut feeling that it was wrong to continue this on-line relationship. Where was it going? Did they have the right to hurt two innocent people like this?
Kim abruptly ended the conversation saying that she needed to think about things, that she'd have to wrestle with the morality of what she was doing. Over the next days, she busied herself, desperately trying to distract herself and do something, anything to keep from logging on again or trying to contact him.
The days went by and finally, after several sleepless nights where she fantasized how it might be to be in a relationship again where someone wanted her as much as she wanted him, she rushed to work early and signed on.
Within minutes, he was there on-line, telling her how much he had missed her, how happy he was that she was back in his life. As if she'd never left, she was back in the groove of pouring out her feelings and he responded. He begged her to please never cut off her communication with him again.
Feeling as though they had come to a major bend in the road together, a decision made, she asked for his name and he replied soon after "Daniel".
Her guilt was not totally washed away by her few days of abstinence. She knew that they had definitely made a decision to proceed on wherever this new relationship was leading. Still she hesitated when he asked for her name in return. Without thinking, she quickly reinvented herself as "Liz".
Ben smiled slowly to himself as he shut the computer down. Admittedly, it had been a long, long while since he'd had something to smile about. He knew there would be hard times ahead when he had to face Kim and tell her the truth about wanting to end their marriage. Especially if he had to confess that he had met someone else and especially someone on the Internet.
But for today, for tonight, he could feel nothing but anticipation and joy for the first time in so long. He felt like a man reborn. He wanted to start his new life right this moment. He wanted these feelings to last forever.
He had finally convinced the woman he had been corresponding with on-line to meet with him in person. It had taken him more than a week to convince her that it was the logical next step. It had seemed altogether too much like fate that they actually lived in the same city. It was as if the gods were smiling down on him encouraging him to take this new path in his life.
He had every intention of walking down a new road with this woman. She seemed to be perfect for him in every way. She understood him. She was supportive and kind. She was also witty and intelligent and could understand the mysteries of why people acted as they did. In all their soul baring, there had never been the slightest hint of her being judgmental or intolerant. Ben mused that she must have had a wonderful childhood and be very well adjusted to be so sure of herself. In fact, she sounded like just what Ben needed for the rest of his days.
"Take it easy, pal," he chastised himself. "Don't get ahead of yourself. It's just dinner and conversation and then we'll see where it leads."
After making sure he'd shut down his computer, he snatched up the note he'd scribbled with their chat room info on it just in case he needed to get hold of her from the restaurant. He could always access his app from his phone. He was definitely covering all the bases to make sure they'd connect. He'd made arrangements to meet her at an Italian restaurant in a town 30 miles from home, somewhere he was pretty sure he couldn't possibly run into anyone he knew. She'd agreed to the spot too as some place far enough away from her home to risk the same scenario.
He was thankful that Kim had had a medical conference she'd needed to attend for the next few days. It had made it much easier for him to set this up. He knew he was sneaking around behind her back but the fact that she was out of town allowed him to breathe a little easier. Still, he did feel guilty. After all was said and done, they'd shared a lifetime together. He didn't want to hurt her and would always want her to be happy. Yet he relished the fact that he now had a few days to actually test the waters before facing the inevitable.
The plan set in motion, Ben allowed himself a moment to sigh in relief. His relationship with Kim would end soon and they would both be able to face life with a fresh start. For Ben, after all this time of going through the motions together but not really thriving, he knew he needed a living, breathing person in his life. He was counting on the fact that the days of chatting on the Internet would be replaced by interacting in person. He'd decided it was time to get the ball rolling in the right direction and decision made, he was anxious to move on.
It would be better for both him and Kim in the long run. Of that he was certain. It was unfair to both of them to continue living a lie, to stay married out of obligation or guilt. As Kim had begun spending less and less time at home, Ben was convinced that she must know in her heart of hearts that their marriage was nothing but a sham and that it was truly time for both of them to start over.
Kim was on pins and needles about meeting Daniel. What had started out as a lark had grown into something much more serious. Kim wasn't sure she was ready for this step. If she took this step, she would have to face down her fear that her marriage was indeed over and take steps to end it.
She would feel like a failure she knew. But then the possibility that she could be happy again and have the life that she wanted with somebody new pulled at her from every direction. Wasn't it time she should be happy? Wasn't it time that she had something meaningful in her life?
A lifetime ago, she and Ben had had a successful and love-filled marriage. Unfortunately, those days ended long ago and what passed for a marriage on the outside now felt like a death sentence. Kim could no longer reconcile herself to living a life without love and without passion.
She had no idea where all this was leading but one thing she did know. It was time for a change. She was going to embrace her new life and hopefully the new man in her life. It felt a little like jumping off the high dive into the pool but Kim surmised it was about time she took a few risks. She wasn't getting any younger.
With that last thought in mind, Kim mentally shook herself. She decided there and then this was her moment. She'd made up a story about going to a medical conference and only hoped that Ben wouldn't have some reason to check out her story. He thought she was 2 hours away stuck in boring meetings all day when in fact, she had checked into a hotel minutes from home. She'd not given him the name of where she was staying and he hadn't asked. She had her cell phone and if he needed to get hold of her in an emergency, at least she'd not have to feel guilty about being unreachable.
She hadn't wanted to lie to Ben. She had never lied to him in all the years that they'd been married. Unless of course you counted the times that she didn't make her feelings of betrayal or hurt known. Lies by omission were probably still lies. All that was water under the bridge though. She would just have to come to terms with the fact that her marriage was over and get on with the business of living again. So would Ben.
This man was nothing like Ben and for that she was grateful. Comparing them side by side, Kim realized that perhaps her biggest mistake in agreeing to marry Ben was that he had been such a private person. While he had been good for her in so many ways through the years, he had always held certain parts of himself locked away. It was obviously the reason why counseling had been so unappealing to him. There were parts of himself that Ben honestly just didn't want to share. Ending their marriage would free Ben as much as her. Decisions he made would then only be his and Kim's feelings no longer a factor. A win-win situation for both of them.
Calmer now, Kim dressed carefully in her black dress and heels and styled her hair. Looking at herself critically in the mirror. She gave herself a final look and murmured to her reflection, "You'll do," grabbed her bag off the hotel nightstand and her coat from the closet. Without a regret, she opened the door and stepped out on into the hallway on her way to the restaurant to meet the man she'd found on the Internet. The one who said he'd be waiting in the dark suit with a single yellow rose on the table for her.
Ben sat in the restaurant staring at the water in his goblet. He'd wanted to order a glass of wine or something stronger, deciding against it for fear of saying all the wrong things. He needed a clear head for tonight. It wasn't escaping him that he hadn't been this nervous since his first date in high school. Was his hand shaking?
Trying to be casual about their meeting was one thing. But realizing how long he'd waited to feel like this was quite another. He hadn't seen how emotionally starved he was for real loving companionship. How had he gone so long without love in his life?
Glancing at his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes, panic gripping him, Ben thought out loud, "Where is she?"
She was only about 10 minutes late. She was probably caught in traffic. But then again, she could have stood him up or chickened out. That was a daunting realization and one he hadn't figured into his equation. If that were the case, he'd have to start all over again convincing her it was the right thing to do to meet and see if they fit.
Truth be told, he also wanted very badly to be straight with Kim as soon as possible, to come clean about his new life. He didn't want to live another day in their mockery of a marriage but he didn't like sneaking around. He was sure if asked how she felt she would have to say she felt the same way about their fated relationship.
Unable to resist temptation any longer, Ben pulled up the application on his smart phone and connected to the Internet. He logged on and sent her a message and waited. No answer came.
"Good; she's on her way then," he thought to himself with relief, logging off and closing the phone, stuffing it into his breast pocket.
Sighing, leaning back in the booth and willing himself to relax, a moment or so later he heard just behind him on a whisper, "Daniel?"
He quickly turned and looked up, his eyes focusing on the woman of his dreams in anticipation and exhilaration. He was finally at his moment, the moment he had looked forward to for so long.
He speechlessly gazed into eyes he knew. The same lovely green eyes he'd known for years, staring back at him with equal anticipation and exhilaration but also utter shock.
"Liz?," he was barely able to squeak out as he stood, clutching the single yellow rose he had brought as a beacon to lead her to him. He gently took her hand in his, drew it to his lips and kissed it gently.
They both stood staring at each other as if they were seeing the other person for the first time in their lives.
Around them, the restaurant bustled and went on as before while Ben drew her to him, nuzzled her neck and then tipped her chin up for a kiss. As his lips brushed over her lips, they both breathed in the scent of each other and sighed in unison. They broke the kiss on a whispered, "I love you."
Reluctantly, drawing back to look at each other one last time, holding hands, they sat down together to begin planning the journey they would take together on their new life path.