Henry had noticed something was off. Little things: Jaycee had been getting home later from work without explanation, she often had this look in her eyes….like she wasn’t telling him something. She seemed preoccupied. Unsure if he should start a conversation he didn’t really want to finish, he tried waiting it out.
The wait was making him crazy.
What if she….? No, no. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. Not Jaycee. She was too good a woman to do….that.
These were the thoughts spinning around in his mind as he fell asleep at night, his arms tucked around the woman he loved, enjoying the smell of her hair and the fit of her body against his and the way her lips parted – just slightly – as she slept.
These were the thoughts that plagued him as she rose early each morning to leave for work, leaving him alone in their bed.
These were the thoughts that were driving him mad.
Rising, Henry stumbled to the kitchen, joints aching and screaming their usual complaints. He stretched his hands, attempting to relieve some of the stiffness. Poured a cup of coffee and shivered, shook his head a bit at the bitter taste. Took another sip. He turned to take in the backyard view: squirrels and birds zig-zagging across the lawn, flowers leaning toward the rising sun, the droopy willow tree that was older than his great-great grandfather. It was a sight that caught his breath each morning, hurt his heart a little bit with its beauty.
Henry surveyed his reflection in the sliding glass door. Not bad, he thought. He raised a hand and brushed it against his balding head, as if there were enough hair left to smooth. A few more lines around his face and eyes, a slight paunch to his belly. He straightened his shoulders. On the whole, not bad. He wasn’t 25 anymore, for sure, but not a bad looking guy.
A deep sigh escaped him. Jaycee had him worried. But….perhaps he had invited this worry upon himself. After all, what had he expected when he married a younger woman? A lovely, energetic, younger woman?
Henry took another sip of his bitter brew. Brace yourself, Henry. Something terrible is about to happen.
Jaycee despised her job. Despised it! As a child, she had imagined so many exciting adventures and exotic travels and this…..this just wasn’t cutting it. A mail carrier. How drab was that? Wearing this androgynous blue work uniform, day in, day out. Long hair tied up beneath a stupid blue cap. Hardly a feminine look. She wanted to feel….pretty. Desirable.
She trudged along, stuffing stacks of letters and bills and junk mail into the little boxes affixed to the fronts of houses that all appeared depressingly the same. Mud caked her work boots and splattered her legs with tiny brown dots. A long curl escaped her hat and she blew it out of her face in frustration.
Raising her hand to block the harsh sunlight, she squinted down the road. Four more houses and….Oh! His car was in the driveway. He was home today! Maybe she could spare just a little time. Jaycee smiled as she stepped up to the next mailbox.
“Jaycee, hey!” His smile was warm and genuine. “I wasn’t sure if I’d see you today…..do you have time to come in?”
“Well….I probably shouldn’t. I can’t stay long. Maybe just for a few minutes, okay?” Jaycee looked down. She wouldn’t feel guilty. Absolutely not. She wanted this, needed this. Henry would understand….wouldn’t he?
The door was open. The key to her happiness was waiting inside. Jaycee stepped into the house, and smiled. Joy filled her heart as she gave herself over to the moment.
“Have you talked to your husband yet?”
“Not yet.” Jaycee glanced away and bit her lip. “I just need….I was waiting for just the right time. I will, though.” She shrugged her slight shoulders. “It’s a big step, you know?”
“Yeah. I get it. But you know Jaycee….I can’t keep waiting. I need an answer soon.”
“I know. I know! I’m going to talk to him this weekend. I will. So…maybe I can stop back by next week?”
Jaycee knew she had to make a decision soon, before it was too late. She just wasn’t sure she could afford what this decision was going to cost.
“Henry? Henry, we need to talk. Come sit at the table with me.” Her heart was beating so fast. He had to understand, he just had to. Jaycee wanted this so badly. She leaned toward Henry, and placed a hand on his knee. He looked so serious. She took a deep breath, and looked him in the eye.
His insides felt like jelly. Cold, shivering jelly. Henry was grateful for the chair beneath him, otherwise he wasn’t sure how he would remain upright. He knew in his gut what was coming, and he wanted to memorize this moment: the feel of her hand on his knee, the way little curly wisps of lovely dark hair sprouted out from under her blue hat, the somber expression in her dark blue eyes as she prepared to tell him the only thing he never wanted to hear.
“Jaycee…you know I love you. I love you with everything I have, everything I am.” He hated himself for how pitiful he knew he must sound. His chest felt leaden, his breathing thick and heavy.
She looked surprised. “Of course I do, Henry. I know you love me. I love you, too. I just…..” Her voice trailed off. “Well, here’s the thing, Henry. You know…you know I’ve been, well, unhappy in recent months. I feel like….please just hear me out! I feel like something is missing. I need more.
The look on his face. Jaycee’s heart sank. He was already prepared to say no, she just knew it. Had he already found out? How?
Henry took a sip of coffee to steady his nerves. His hand shook as he placed the cup back on the table, and a bit of the brown liquid spilled out and spread across their old, wooden table. He watched as it settled into the nicks and cracks left by years of use.
This wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped. Jaycee rushed ahead, attempting to justify her position.
“Listen. I wasn’t looking for this…..it just happened. I met this guy on my route….his name is Jared. We started talking and one thing led to another…..”
“Jaycee…please. Don’t do this. Don’t tell me this….I…..I can’t…..” Would he live through this? Could he even function once she was gone? Was there any way to stop this?
She plowed forth, intent on her mission.
“Henry. This is what is going to make me happy. I really, really want this. Can’t you understand?
“I don’t understand. Why aren’t you happy? What’s gone wrong?” Dammit, he was going to cry. Henry shut his eyes tight. Clenched his teeth.
“I know money is tight. But I could pick up some extra shifts. We could make this work.”
What? Henry didn’t care about the money. She could have all the money, if only she would stay.
“I feel like we had a connection right away. And I’ve been stopping by once or twice a week….she loves me. She needs me as much as I need her. When I hold her in my arms…..”
Jaycee stared at Henry, imploring him to understand.
Oh God, oh God, he was dying right here in this chair. This pain in his chest was a heart attack, he knew it, he knew it, she was killing him right now as sure as if she had stabbed him in the heart with a knife. In fact, he thought, that would probably have been kinder.
WAIT. What? What did she mean, “she loves me.” Her? Jared was a woman? Pain and confusion roared in his brain. It was difficult to think straight. Had he heard that right?
“Jaycee, I don’t…..what? I’m not sure I’m following you…”
She looked at him then, really looked at him. Henry was pale and sweaty. His eyes appeared almost…panicked. His breathing was fast and labored. Dear Henry. Was he ill?
“Henry, are you sick, love? Should you lie down? I didn’t mean to upset you…..I just need to give Jared an answer soon. Before my chance at her is gone.
“NO! Hell, no, Jaycee, I’m not okay! I don’t want to lose you! I love you….I love you.” He raised a hand to her face, brushed a thumb against her cheek. His voice broke, and he whispered, “Is there anything….anything I can do or say that will make you stay?”
“Stay? Henry, I’m not going anywhere! I love you, Hen.”
“But…what about Jared? I thought you wanted….”
“Jared? Jared has Joy. That’s all.”
“Joy? Is Joy the….the woman?”
“What? Henry! No, Joy is the puppy.”
“The puppy? What puppy?”
“The puppy I want to buy! That’s what I’ve been trying to explain to you, Henry! Jared’s dog had an accidental litter, and this one pup…..I’ve been playing with her, and I want her, Henry, I want her so much! He’s sold off all the other pups, and he’s been saving her for me…..her name is Joy. I know you aren’t an animal lover, Hen, and I know we don’t have a lot of extra money, so I was afraid you’d say no….but he said he couldn’t wait any longer, he needs to know if I want her, and I DO, I DO, Hen, I really, really want her. PLEASE.”
“A dog? This has all been about a dog?” Henry was baffled. She wasn’t leaving? She still loved him?
“Of course, a dog. What did you think? Wait…did you think that I would….HENRY!! I would never! I love YOU! I married YOU! I just….I get lonely at night when you’re gone to work. And I’ve never had a dog, but you know I have always wanted one. I think it would be good for us, you know? A new little life in the house? Someone to come home to after a long day? What do you think? Please.”
Henry was still trying to absorb the situation. He rubbed his eyes, felt a little release in the chest tightness he’d been experiencing. He blew out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.
“A dog? I don’t care if you get a dog. Go ahead, Jaycee. Get the dog! Get ten dogs! Oh my God. I thought you were leaving me!”
“Henry…..” Jaycee slid from her chair and knelt on the floor , laying her head against his chest. “Listen to me. I’ve never been tempted to leave you. I love you, Babe.”
Jaycee jumped up with a squeal. “I’m so excited! I’m going to go call Jared right now!”
Henry sat alone at the table. I’m too old for this! He thought.
He didn’t think his heart would ever be the same again.