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April 15, 2024


By Wendy Robards

"Kiss me," he demanded.

She lowered her eyes and sighed. The sweet smell of cigar smoke clung to his skin. His hands pressed against her cheeks and his warm breath smelled vaguely of mints.

"Kiss me."

She searched his face, darkened by the shadow of a beard. In the dim light of the apartment, his blue eyes looked almost black.

"Kiss me," he whispered.

She tilted her face toward him. Their lips touched.

"Alex," she said and pushed him away. "We need to talk."

"No, we've talked enough." He crushed her to his chest and stroked her back with his strong hands.


"Frannie," he murmured against her hair.

And Frannie remembered...

They met in the college cafeteria amid the noise of clicking silverware and the smell of boxed mashed potatoes, cooked to the consistency of paste. A quirk of fate, a moment in time. Frannie remembered the way their eyes had locked in the heat of instant attraction.

One night when they had been married for almost four years, Frannie said, "What do you remember about the time we met?"

"You were wearing that really tight sweater. You know, the one that matches your eyes. The blue one." He smiled and pulled her close.

Frannie frowned and tried to recall the sweater. "I don't remember."

"Sure you do."

She shook her head. "No. I just remember when I looked at you that day I knew there would never be a future without you in it."

The next day they climbed into their faded VW bug and drove to the autumn festival in town that was an annual tradition for them. They drank warm cider under trees whose brilliant leaves fluttered in a brisk autumn wind. They held hands and later picked apples in the Orchard on the hill. When Frannie bit into a hard red apple, the juice dripped down her chin and Alex kissed it off.

Frannie felt like a new bride.

And Frannie remembered...

One afternoon in July, she sat drinking Mai Tais with Katie, her best friend since grade school.

"Life is so routine," Frannie said.

"Give me a break," Katie said. "You have a job you love. Better yet," she smiled, "you have a wonderful friend who is interesting as hell. How many people can say that?"

"No. I mean married life." Frannie twirled a straw in her drink and watched a cherry bob, spin and bump the edge of the glass.

Katie rolled her eyes. "Alex is a great guy, Fran. Not only that, but he has those fabulous bedroom eyes. How could married life possibly be routine?"

"I come home, make dinner, go to bed. Most of the time we don't even kiss good night because we're too tired."

"Sounds like a trip to Victoria's Secret is the answer." Katie winked.

Frannie leaned across the table and placed a hand over Katie's.

"It's not like before," she said. "I'm scared at what we're evolving into."

"You've been married seven years. Things are apt to get boring sometimes." Katie took a sip of her drink. "Just be happy you have a husband and didn't turn into a spinster like me."

Frannie looked at Katie's bright eyes, the strong tilt of her chin. She didn't think that Katie looked like a spinster, and if she did, what was wrong with that?

Two days later, Frannie went to Victoria's Secret and tried on a shimmering satin teddy in Alex's favorite color. The black fabric fell over her breasts and glowed under dressing room lights. She pressed her hands against the rounded curve of her belly and vowed to go on a diet.

Later, when Alex arrived home, Frannie greeted him at the door in her new teddy, a wine glass in hand.

"Wow," Alex said. He slid his hands down her arms and dislodged her fears with a kiss.

The next day, Frannie called Katie.

"I'm not bored anymore," she said.

And Frannie remembered...

A month before their tenth wedding anniversary she stood with the plastic tube of the pregnancy test clutched in her hand. Waiting. And then the results. Negative again. She walked out of the bathroom and went to Alex who sat on their worn leather couch with a beer watching the Red Sox lose another game.

"It's negative."

He barely looked up. "I'm not sure I want kids anyway," he said. He lifted the beer to his lips.

"I do."

"Baby, maybe it's just not meant to be." He patted the couch next to his hip. "Sit here and watch the game with me."

She stared at him, tears clinging to her lashes. "Maybe we could adopt."

"No." His brow creased in a frown. "I don't want someone else's kid, Frannie. We've talked about this." He shook his head and a swatch of thick black hair fell over his forehead.

"Fine," she said.

They didn't talk about children again.

And Frannie remembered...

She found the letters quite by accident, tucked between the pages of the novel he was reading. Passionate words springing off the pages, written by a woman whom she had met only once at Alex's company Christmas Party the year before. The Christmas they had celebrated fifteen years of marriage.

One letter said: "I burn for you." Another read: "You promised we would be together soon. I can hardly wait."

She had always trusted him. Blindly. Without question. The pain of betrayal buckled her knees and pressed the breath from her lungs. She tried to imagine a future without Alex, but could not see herself in it.

Frannie waited for Alex at their worn linoleum dining table with the letters spread before her like a fan. When he came home, she waved the letters in his face and sobbed.

"How could you?"

He denied it at first. "It's not what you think."

He minimized. "It was just a flirtation. It's just words."

He pleaded. "I'm sorry. Please, Frannie..."

He promised. "I still love you. I'll never leave."

He tried to hold her in his arms, but she turned away, packed her bags and went to Katie's house. She loved him and she hated him. She blamed herself. If only she had been thinner, or smarter, or sexier. If only she had been a better wife.

"What did I do wrong?" She asked Katie.

Katie persuaded her to call a marriage counselor.

"Alex will never go," Frannie said.

"He might surprise you," Katie soothed.

And Frannie remembered...

She hunched in the small cramped office of the counselor; her and Alex sitting side by side on the flowered sofa; a box of tissues on the table beside Frannie. Like an onion, they peeled back the layers of their marriage until only the harsh center remained. Unbidden tears reddened Frannie's eyes.

"I don't want to do this anymore," Alex said in their last session.

The counselor pressed her mouth in a thin line and scribbled on a pad of paper.

"Please, Alex," Frannie said.

"He's not ready." The counselor put down her pen.

After that last meeting, weeks rolled by and Frannie did not see Alex. She saw the counselor alone. Anger replaced self blame. The tears, when they came, were quickly wiped away. Frannie began to see herself in a different way: strong, independent. She found that she liked herself. Frannie began to plan a future without Alex in it.

Now, with Alex holding her to his chest, Frannie remembered everything and thought how quickly she had changed in only a year. Alex's breath felt warm against her hair.

"Can you believe this is where we've come?" Frannie asked, thinking how far they had traveled through life together and now how far apart they had grown.

"We still have a long way to go."

She pulled back from his embrace and searched his face. Her wounded heart was scarred, the healing not yet complete. Might never be complete.

"I've seen a lawyer," she said.

A look of genuine surprise passed over his face. His brows arched. His eyes widened.

"I know I've hurt you," he said. "But we can make this work."

She stepped back, shook her head.

"No," she said. "This will never work." It surprised her how strong the words made her feel. She pressed her shoulders back and stood taller. "I don't want it to work anymore."

He tried to gather her back in his arms and she pushed him away, then turned and stepped out the door into the dusk where crickets sang and the wind blew softly through the pines. She looked back once to see him framed in the doorway.

And later, curled on her side in bed, she would remember his face at that moment when she left him behind.

Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-08-28
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