Word count, start of day -- 35,000
I could not believe I was telling Annie about things between Gwen and me. It just all came rushing out like some emotional dam deep down in me had broken. I had never crystallized these feelings into thoughts before, and it scared me a bit to be doing it now, in this setting, with this woman. I found that maybe I was exaggerating my problems with Gwen, or maybe I was just feeling that distance that had grown between us for the first time. Or at least the first time without my internal editor getting in the way.
She was equally open with me. It was thrilling to have such an open conversation, to just be able to talk honestly, damn the reaction. I trusted her and she seemed to trust me, too. Unfortunately, the time slipped by too swiftly to go much further. It was eleven in the evening. We had agreed that was the appropriate time to leave, and I wanted to stick to that. I stood up and helped Annie to her feet. That contact was electric, sending currents of high-voltage sparks through my system. I veritably tingled with delight. She was a few inches taller than Gwen, maybe by three of four inches. It made for different angles looking down at her. You took weird things like that for granted. Annie reached up and patted my neck. What a sweet gentle move that was. What a sweet gentle woman Annie was.
"Happy New Year," she said with an angelic smile.
"Not here," I said, "but it is in England and now it is somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe it's New Year in Greenland." I moved away. I was not going to be the one making any moves.
I felt Annie increase the pressure and pull me back to her. Instinctively, I closed my eyes and felt my head move up in ecstasy. I had missed the joys of new love. It had been a long time, and these episodes were quite rare. Three. Well now, maybe four.
She pulled my face down and I felt her breasts push into my breastbone, then push up into me. She was standing on her toes, I supposed. I felt her lips touch mine and the sensation was explosive. I had not had this giddy a feeling in years, and had expected never to again. I received the kiss and returned it softly, gently. Do not force. I could not force.
Annie pulled back and gave me a look that turned my insides upside down. She was demure, sexy, cute, and aggressive. All at the same time. "Happy New Year," she said again, then sashayed down the hall. I stared at her as she retreated, not wanting to miss a second of her frame as it moved away from me.
"I slumped into the chair and put my head in my hands. Was this cheating? Or, was this cheating yet? Maybe that was the better question. Is it a matter of degree, a matter of intent, or a matter of actions? I was too tired to think straight, too shocked to think clearly.
I roused myself enough to get home, change clothes and crash on the sofa. Gwen's folks were still in the spare bedroom.
I explained this the next morning by claiming I did not want to awaken Gwen and that she needed to rest all she could before her work started again. Gwen claimed that she accepted this, her parents seemed to appreciate it, and even Natalie was impressed by my consideration of her mother's health. It made me out to be a much better guy that I really was, by far.
After the in-laws left, I slept a few nights in the guest room. Eventually, I moved back into our bedroom, into our bed. But I tried to not look at Gwen, I had no desire to do so. I did not touch her, and did not kiss her.
A week later, Annie called my office and left a phone message for me. I called her the next day from the corporate headquarters of a furniture store, an audit client that Phares and Barnes had worked on for more than thirty years.
"Hey," she said, when I identified myself.
"I should have called sooner-" I started.
She cut me off. "No, it's okay. I understand."
"It is just that, "I stammered, "I don't know, it is just that," I trailed off. I had absolutely no idea what to say to her now. There was no rule book for handling a situation like this.
"I know. It's the same for me," She said. She seemed calm and level-headed. I did not know what to expect. The options could range from totally ignoring everything that has happened so far, extreme sorrow, terrible anger, and many more. But Annie seemed to be okay. I was relieved by this. "I would like to see you," she said.
"Me, too." I had thought about this, trying to come up some kind of location that we could meet at that would be public, but give us a chance to talk. "I had a few ideas. I thought maybe we could meet somewhere at the mall or something."
She hesitated. Was she thinking about it? "Sounds good." Sounded good. I had the sense that she was a woman not unfamiliar with the local mall.
"Food court? Or the bookstore? Maybe those benches over by the fountains?" These were some of the places I had scouted out as potential rendezvous sites.
She thoughts about, we discussed the pros and cons of each, and settled on the bookstore. It was a big chain which had a variety of seating options. We would meet there on purpose by accident, next Saturday. "That's a long time to wait," I told her. I hope I was not coming off as woefully desperate.
She laughed and agreed with me, but the time and day were set. Last time we had a long talk, I told her a lot about me, and maybe this time Annie would be the one to open up a bit.
It had been over two weeks. This was not the way is worked in the movies. You give a guy a first kiss, and then you don't see him again for nearly three weeks? And I had only spoken to Brian once in that time. It was odd, just plain odd.
I settled in one of the big chairs in the magazine section, flipping through a few fashion magazines. If I could only like one of these cover models, my life would be so much better. I just knew that this was true. I tried to eat right, I worked out, but I did not know what else I could do.