By Michele Bardsley
THE FIRST TIME I cheated on Donald, I was eighteen-years-old, naïve, and horny.
Donald and I started dating when we were seniors in high school. I wore his class ring, bound with ribbon to make it fit, and his letterman’s jacket. We were inseparable, in love, and talked, in voices thick with dreamy desire, about weddings and children and houses near the lake. We graduated, ready to start on the path to adulthood arm-in-arm, but that summer, our relationship suffered a devastating blow: Donald was sent to work at his uncle’s farm in Iowa.
While Donald learned the intricacies of milking cows and operating hay machines, I alternately pined for him and cursed his sorry ass. Those were long, lonely weeks, but I was stoic, determined to remain true to my man.
Then I met Ben.
He was twenty and handsome, and worked as a gas station attendant at the Texaco near our house. I told him about Donald, showed him the class ring with its glittering black stone, and, with my unavailability established, flirted with him. At night, we’d go to the park and steal kisses. It was forbidden and wrong, especially when Donald loved me so much. His letters, weighty with his devotion, made me feel guilty for liking Ben, but letters were just paper, not flesh. Donald’s love was abstract—a Pollock painting, a Warhol sculpture, a Kerouac novel.
Ben was real.
The week before Donald returned home, Ben took me to his apartment and made love to me. I’d been with Donald, of course. He’d been my first and our times together were awkward fumblings of hands and mouths. After we got hot and sweaty and needy, he’d put on a condom and slip inside me, and lust would desert me, leaving me aching and unfulfilled.
Ben showed me what a man needed to do to give a woman an orgasm. We played with positions and licked whipped cream off each other and laughed at our silliness...then we’d seek that trembling bliss over and over and over.
I never saw Ben again, but it was just as well, because I married Donald. I often thought about Ben, about all the things I missed committing to one man so early in my life, about the price of love and devotion and guilt. Donald failed to give me pleasure, but he offered lifetime security.
Sometimes, a girl had to trade what she wanted for what she needed.
As I drove my car into the parking lot of the Motel 6, my sweaty hands slipped against the steering wheel. My gaze slid to the passenger seat and roved over the twenty-two-year-old man slouched there, staring out the window, his grin twisty with promise. He had blue eyes and careless hair and rough hands.
“What was your name again?”
Oh great. I’d picked up a stud muffin with the name of a nine-year-old boy, and one who probably still enjoyed skateboarding and reading comic books. “I’ll go pay for the room.”
“Cool.” He glanced at my boobs, on display thanks to the deep cleavage of my new red dress. Soon, I’d be naked in front of him and he’d see the truth about a real woman’s body. He’d see the roundness of my belly, the slight droop of my breasts, the softness of my hips and thighs.
I got out of the car and entered the clean, sparse lobby. I couldn’t look the clerk in the eye. She was my age, her hair greasy, her shoulders slumped, her chin wobbly. What would she think of Tommy and me and what we were about to do in one of Motel 6’s austere rooms?
“That’s thirty-nine ninety-five, ma’am.”
I had plenty of cash, but I gave her my credit card. It was the same credit card I used to buy the lingerie and the dress and Tommy’s drinks. I signed the receipt, tucked the credit card into my wallet, and slung the little red purse over my shoulder. Then I was out the door and in the car and avoiding Tommy’s comical attempt at a seductive smile and trying not throw-up and driving around the big square building to Room 151. I handed Tommy the motel key, the way I’ve handed keys and money and reading glasses to Donald a thousand times.
Tommy leaned forward and kissed my bare shoulder. Such soft lips. Soft baby lips. His hand crept into my dress and cupped my breast, his thumb brushing the nipple. Lust didn’t flicker through me—not even a little.
“Go inside.” I smiled at him. “Get naked for me.”
He winked. “You got it, sweetheart.”
It took less than a minute from him to leave the car and disappear inside the room.
I sniffed back tears and tried to still the hot ache welling in my throat. I was no longer a naïve eighteen-year-old beguiled by a handsome boy. This time, I was the seductress, the teacher, the beguiler. I sucked in a deep breath, checked my make-up in the rearview mirror, and got out of the car before guilt did its job and I chickened out.
When I entered the hotel room, Tommy was stretched out on the bed, naked. He had turned on one lamp and the television. What was it with men and TVs? Were they genetically engineered to turn on the tube no matter what the circumstance?
Tommy wrapped a hand around his flaccid penis. “You like what you see?”
“Uh...yeah. It’s terrific.” I dropped my purse onto the table and toed off my heels. I watched Tommy fondle himself, his gaze locked onto my chest. My heart lurched. Before I lost my courage, I crawled onto the bed and allowed Tommy to wrap his arms around me. His mouth mashed against mine, his tongue worming between my lips. He tasted like alcohol and cigarettes and he kissed me with sloppy need.
A minute or two later, he stopped the gentle, inept mauling. “Hang on a sec, babe. I gotta take a whiz.”
When the bathroom door shut, I sat up and stared at the flickering images on the television. The reality of seducing Tommy was nearly as disappointing and frustrating as the reality of marrying Donald. Tears slipped down my cheeks as I scooted off the bed. I grabbed my purse, took out $100 bill from my wallet, and laid it on table. I scooped up my shoes and left, hurrying out to my car.
I got home at ten o’clock. What a laugh. My bar hopping, search for a lover, and trip to Motel 6 had taken three whole hours. I wandered into the kitchen, put a mug of water into microwave, and took out a tea bag from the box on the counter. Each night, with a cup of chamomile tea in one hand and a magazine in the other, I’d sit on the couch. Donald sat in his recliner and watched the news. An hour later, we retired to bed. To sleep. For seventeen fucking years. Seventeen years of complacency, seventeen years of mediocrity, seventeen years of silent screaming while I passed the mashed potatoes to my husband every night at dinner.
The microwave dinged. I stared at the blinking numbers, at the dirty buttons, at the perfect metal square of machinery. I didn’t bother taking out the mug. I left the kitchen and walked into the living room. There sat Donald in his recliner and yes, there were the familiar voices of local newscasters blaring from the TV.
Donald blinked up at me. “Hey. How was the movie?”
Movie? Did my dress look like the kind of dress a woman wore to the movies?
“Do you see me, Donald?”
“Of course I do, honey. You’re standing right there.” His gaze revealed no more interest in the sight of my tits half-hanging out than in the meatloaf I’d served for supper. I wanted to stomp to his chair, rip off my dress, and scream, ‘Goddamnit! Do you see me?’
He smiled at me, the same gee-whiz smile I’d seen every day since the day I met him. His goofy grin used to be so endearing to me. Now, seeing his lips stretched thin, curled up at the corners, the flash of his teeth...argh! Then, as if ten seconds of attention and The Smile had been enough to appease me, his gaze meandered away and fastened on the television.
I stared at my husband, at the gray peppering his hair, at the newspaper folded in his lap, and at the simple gold band glittering on his finger. Aw, hell. I sighed and turned, padding back into the kitchen so I could make a cup of chamomile tea.
Sometimes, a woman had to trade what she needed for what she already had.