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Something is wrong. I can feel it, sense it or whatever you want to call it but there is a problem. A problem that could end my marriage, if I don't take action.
I'm Jerrod Wesley Jackson, JW to everyone but my mother and father. When either of them used my full name, I knew I had stepped over the line. I heard a lot of Jerrod Wesley Jackson in loud tones from my parents growing up. As a youngster I was very good at leaping over that imaginary line of what some called civil conduct. Nothing really bad just a boy and later a young man that pushed boundaries. At least it was never boring growing up for me or for those around me.
My wife, Cheryl, and met in a sort of strange way. She backed into my truck leaving a parking space in Home Depot's parking lot. She was very apologetic when she got out to survey the damage. I had planned to rip a new one for the jerk that hit my pride and joy but the words stuck in my throat when I saw Cheryl.
Neither Cheryl nor I are one of what you would call one of "the beautiful people." She's attractive with reddish blond hair, freckles across her nose and big green eyes. Cheryl was the stereotypical 'girl next door" wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Her hair was in a pony tail and hung down between her shoulders. That smile and those eyes are what pushed my angry words back down my throat.
When Cheryl looked at me and started to apologize, her eyes were like what some people call "puppy dog eyes". That stopped me right there. How can I terrorize someone with puppy dog eyes and a great smile, I thought?
"Are you okay? I'm so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. Please let me..." Cheryl stammered and stuttered as I examined the damage to my truck.
"Take it easy Miss," I said interrupting her. "No one's hurt and no great damage, just a little paint knocked off."
In fact, other than a line of paint on my metal bumper, I couldn't see any damage. My truck is an older model Ford that I use for odd jobs around my house or to go hunting and fishing or just to knock around in. Most of the damage was to her molded plastic bumper. There was a long scrape along the passenger side with a strip of paint missing.
"Let me give you my name, phone number and insurance data," Cheryl offered and began writing on a business card. "That's my agent's card and I put my information, including my driver's license number, on the back. Is there anything else I can do?" She asked.
I'm not the smoothest with the ladies. I wasn't a monk but I wasn't a player either. At 5' 10 with dark hair and eyes I was about as average as you could get. Usually I dated two or three times a month but didn't have a steady girlfriend or anyone I wanted to upgrade to that position.
I may have not been a Romeo but I'm not totally dumb either. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee and we'll call it square," I answered.
Her great smile went right to those incredible eyes and they beamed at me. "Don't you think we should introduce ourselves before we start dating?"
Holding up the card she'd given me I said, "I already know your name. I'm J.W., J.W. Jackson."
That first date, if that's what you call it, led to many more. Our romance wasn't special to anyone but us. We did all the usual things but most importantly we got to know each other. Cheryl likes country music and classic rock and roll; me too. She liked sports but wasn't a fanatic about them; me too. We both like the outdoors; a great weekend was camping at a nearby stream.
When my folks met Cheryl, my Dad pulled me aside. "You always were a lucky son of a gun, don't screw this up. Ya hear?"
I didn't screw it up and we got married about a year after we met. By year seven we had two kids and the perfect marriage, at least in my mind. Just after our seventh anniversary the atmosphere around our house changed. As I mentioned earlier, something wasn't right.
Cheryl worked for an accounting firm. The owners, Bill and Mary Stanton, didn't sit back and wait for the business to come to them. They established a sales department and went looking for business. Because of Cheryl's knowledge and her easy way with people, Bill and Mary offered her the job of head of the sales department. That's when the "trouble" at home started.
I was working too and was putting in a lot of hours myself. We wanted a bigger house and put in all the overtime I could get. There was plenty of overtime available as the construction company I worked for was in the middle of three large projects. That put more of a strain on Cheryl. She had to be a wife, a mother, and the department head too.
At first I thought it was the stress of these duties she had that caused her to sometimes be distracted at home. I cut back on my hours a little and tried to be of more help around our house. Helping to take care of our two kids, like picking them up from day care and doing more of the normal stuff around home gave her a little down time.
I even made it a point to come home early once a week so Cheryl could do whatever she wanted for one night. About twice a month she would stop for a drink after work with her friends. Cheryl was always home by 8 so she could say good night to our children.
Cheryl began to smile a little more and her time with the kids wasn't so hurried and she could enjoy them. Her improved attitude didn't seem to extend to me. Our love life had wound down somewhat from our carefree childless days but that was to be expected. When we did find or make the time, it was still passionate and more than satisfying. We just didn't make love often enough in my mind.
John Wilkins, a friend of mine since the second grade, gave me a call on a Thursday. He wanted to get together for a beer or two on Friday about 3 after I got off work. My parents were picking up the kids and would take them for the weekend. Cheryl didn't get off until around 5, so after checking with her I called John back and agreed to meet him at a local watering hole.
He was sitting at the bar as I walked in. John smiled and nodded toward a booth against the back wall. We sat down and the waitress brought over two beers and two shots of bourbon to go with them.
"Hey, I don't want to get too heavy here," I said with a grin. "I need to be at least semi concisions when I go home."
"J. W. drink the shot," John ordered. "You're gonna need it."
I could see the serious look on his face. Knocking back the bourbon I took a big drink of the beer. "What the hell is going on John?"
"I met a gal couple of weeks ago and on our first date she mentioned that she works at Stanton's."
Not knowing where this was going I said, "Maybe she knows Cheryl."
John frowned and continued, "I told Sally that a friend of mine has a wife working there and asked if she knew Cheryl Jackson. She said she did but that she didn't know that they were married."
"What do you mean, they?"
"I knew you didn't know Sally and I asked her what she meant." John drank his shot, got the waitress's attention and ordered two more. "She told me that Cheryl and a guy named Gary Stewart spent a lot of time together. Sally said they go to lunch two or three times a week. She also told me that Gary was in the group that stopped after work for a drink but he only showed up when Cheryl did."
I knocked back the second bourbon and finished my beer. John started to order another round but I'd had enough. I needed a clear head.
John said, "Sally said she was surprised that Cheryl and Gary were married because he had a reputation around the company as a lady's man. A big time player is what she called him."
"Son of a bitch," I said. This is why Cheryl's so distant with me, I thought. This is why she seems distracted at home. I knew that if Cheryl was cheating our marriage was toast. I'm not the deepest thinker or most profound guy but I didn't care why only that she did. Only that she had.
"What's this Gary look like?" I asked barely containing my anger.
"Big guy, 6' 3 or 4. Sally says he's sorta good looking but kinda slick, if you know what I mean? You know him?"
"Yeah, or I should say I met him once. It was at a Christmas party at the Stanton's house." I had a grim smile on my face. "I knew I didn't like the asshole for some reason."
"Look JW, from what Sally told me, they haven't done anything besides having lunch and a couple of drinks together with the rest of the crowd," John added. "Sally said that they didn't take long extended lunches and didn't leave together when they met at the bar. She said they didn't even dance with each other. When Stewart asked Cheryl she always turned him down. Maybe Sally's misreading the situation. She's only been at Stanton's a couple of months."
"Maybe," I replied. "But if something isn't going on it will be if this keeps up. What's the name of the bar the group stops at?"
"Place called The Office just down the block from Cheryl's building. What are you going to do buddy?"
"I don't know just yet," I answered. "But I guarantee this little romance is going to stop or I'll be gone."
"You should talk to Cheryl before you make a hard core decision," John warned. "Don't do anything stupid JW.
"I won't promise anything right now. It depends on how serious Cheryl is about this guy." I stood up and said, "Thanks for the heads up buddy."
"Sorry as hell to be the one to tell you."
"I appreciate you having my back. Talk to you later," I said and left the bar. It's good to have friends.
On the way home my mind was going in circles. Several thoughts bounced around in my head. I'd throw her ass out into the street, I thought. I'd pack a bag and leave. Let Cheryl try making it without me. I'd make sure all our friends and families knew what she was doing. I'd sue the Stanton's for letting this little romance go on.
As I pulled into my driveway, for some reason, I calmed down. Walking into the house, I made up my mind. I decided to be as cool as I could be until I found out what was really going on. Over the weekend and on Monday I tried to act as normal as possible. I guess I didn't do such a good job.
Saturday evening and then twice on Sunday Cheryl asked me if something was wrong. Was I alright? "You're being very quiet."
"I've got a lot on my mind Honey," I replied.
"Anything I can help with?" Cheryl asked.
"Maybe later," I answered. "I think you can help solve my problems later." She gave me a funny look but didn't say anymore.
Monday evening Cheryl said, "I'm going to stop for a drink on Wednesday after work. Unless you need me to stay home and help with whatever was bothering you over the weekend."
"Sure Honey, you need to relax a little," I replied. "I'll work out my problem pretty quick here."
My first thought was to get our next door neighbor to watch the kids for a couple of hours so I could follow Cheryl. I thought about catching her in the act and interrupting their little meeting. Cheryl and I had been to The Office a few times so I knew the layout. If you were careful you could watch the people around the small dance floor without being seen.
I decided not to spy on Cheryl; I refused to be the cliché of a husband following his wife to catch her and her boyfriend. And if I saw them together I wasn't sure how I'd react. Normally I'm level headed and easy to deal with but this wasn't a normal situation. If Cheryl was doing something wrong and I confronted her, she would probably stop seeing this asshole Gary. She would stop because I caught her; but I needed her to stop because she loved me.
Cheryl was home by 7:30 on Wednesday. She came into the family room and kissed me hello but she seemed agitated or angry or I don't know, maybe embarrassed.
"I just put the kids to bed about three minutes ago," I told her. "I don't think they're asleep yet if you want to say goodnight."
She nodded and started toward the bedrooms. "If you're not too tired I'd like to talk to you afterwards," I requested trying not to let my emotions show. "I think you can help me with my problem now."
"I'll be right back," she replied with a smile.
I made her some tea and got a beer for myself. Cheryl came back into the family room and sat on the sofa close to me. I studied her for a few seconds trying to see any hints or signs that she was cheating on me. Either she wasn't cheating or she was a great actress; I couldn't see anything.
"Cheryl, are you happy?" I asked.
"What?" She asked in a shocked voice.
"Are you happy with your, our, life," I repeated. "Lately you seem so distracted and distant and half the time you act like you don't want to be here. You act like you don't want to be with me.
Cheryl was staring at me with a look I couldn't decipher. Was that guilt I saw? Was it regret? I didn't know.
"Look I know your new job is stressful and maybe the last thing you want to do is play Mom and wife when you come home. But your attitude bothers me. I feel like we're drifting right now and I'm afraid that we're going to drift apart."
I could see tears beginning to form but continued. "Maybe I don't treat you as good as I should. Maybe I should spend more time holding and loving you instead of working all those extra hours. Maybe I haven't told you often enough that I'm so happy that you're mine. But you are always on my mind." I took her hand and looked into her eyes.
"Every time things go wrong at work, I say to myself that I'm doing this for Cheryl and our children. If things go good, I still think about you. Like I said, you're always on my mind."
Cheryl had tears sliding down her cheeks. She almost sobbed, moved over to sit on my lap. Her arms went around my neck and she put her head on my shoulder. I could feel her crying so I held her until she calmed down.
"You are the most important thing in the world to me. You and the kids." You're not second best to my job or anything else. If I've treated you badly I'm really sorry." I stopped for several seconds. "Honey, I love you. "Come back to us, come back to me."
"Oh, Jerrod. I've been such an idiot." She pulled her head back and looked at me. "I let the stress of everything almost make me do something stupid."
"What did you almost do?"
"Let me go to the bathroom," she said as she stood, "and get some more tea. I've got some explaining to do." She returned shortly with her tea and handed me another beer sitting next to me on the sofa again.
"You're right the new job is very stressful, maybe too stressful," Cheryl admitted. "But like you said, I think about you and the children and keep on pushing. Sometime when I come home I sometimes feel like it's just too much. Being a mom and a wife and head of the sales department drags me down and then I get mad at myself for feeling that way. That's why I seem distant sometimes." She stopped and used a tissue to dry her tears.
"I got to talking, venting I guess you'd say, to Gary Stewart at work. He has the same pressures in his department and I thought he would understand. We had lunch together a couple of times and it became a weekly thing. In fact we started having lunch two, sometimes three, times a week." Cheryl next words were angry.
"Gary started showing up when the girls and I stopped after work." She shook her head. "I didn't realize until tonight how he'd been playing me. That son of a bitch," she said. "He used my frustrations to try and get close to me. And tonight he suggested that we could help relieve the stress of our jobs by going to bed together."
Her statement made me sit up straighter. Cheryl hugged me again.
"Don't worry, I shut him down," she said with an evil little grin. "He was leaning in close when he made his suggestion and sat back with a smug look on his face, waiting for me to agree. I guess when I poured my drink in his lap he understood how I felt."
Cheryl giggled and added, "When he stood up yelling about the drink, I slapped him and came home." The smile left her face and she looked unhappy again.
"I swear to you Jerrod other than talking to Gary instead of you, I didn't do anything wrong. I never danced with him when he asked. When he suggested we go out to dinner, just as friends he said, I turned him down." Cheryl stopped, waiting for my reaction.
Nodding my head I pulled her into my arms. I didn't mention John's girlfriend. But Cheryl wasn't done yet.
She pulled back and said, "I'll do my best not to let the job bother me again. I'll remember what I have at home and try not to be so distant to you and our babies. I'll talk to you if everything starts to build up again."
Cheryl hesitated and then said, "But you have to make some changes too. You need to talk to me too if some things bothering you. I know you're working extra hours so we can get a bigger house. I'm afraid if we keep going this way there won't be a family to live in it. I'd rather have you and our family than a new house."
We spent the rest of the evening talking and reconnecting. Most of it was done in the privacy of our bedroom behind a closed door. I was more than a little tired when I left for the construction site in the morning. But I had a big smile on my face all day long.
Two weeks later Cheryl came home from an evening with people from work. As usual she was home by 8 but this time she seemed upset. I waited until she said good night to the kids and then confronted her.
"Okay, give," I ordered.
"Talk to me. Tell me why you're upset." I looked at her and raised an eyebrow. "Remember we promised to talk to each other when something was bothering us. So talk to me."
Cheryl nodded. "Bathroom first, then tea and a beer okay?"
A few minutes later she handed me a beer. "Gary has been asking me to lunch almost every day for the last two weeks." I frowned and started to respond but she held up her hand to stop me. "I told him that I didn't want to go. I told him it might cause problems with my marriage." She took a sip of her tea, stared at the fireplace for several seconds and continued.
"At first he would say something like, maybe another time. But when I told him you wouldn't like me going to lunch with him, he asked if you told me what I could and couldn't do. I started to tee off on him but he smiled and said, just kidding and walked away."
"Why don't you talk to Bill and Mary?" I suggested. "This sounds like sexual harassment to me."
"I did talk to Mary. She said harassment would be hard to prove since I'd been going to lunch with him several times a week. Mary said she would have Bill talk to Gary, unofficially, and ask him to stop."
"So what did this jerk have to say about Bill talking to him?" She looked at me surprised that I had an idea of what happened. "It's pretty obvious that something happened tonight to set you off. I figured it could only be Gary."
"You're smarter than you look, aren't you?" Cheryl said with a big grin. "I didn't go out last week and the girls told me Gary didn't show up either. This week I was at the bar for less than 30 minutes when he came in. He walked over to our table and sat down. Other than nodding at me he didn't say anything. He waited until the others were away from the table before he spoke."
"And what did the asshole have to say for himself?"
"Before I tell you, I want you to promise that you won't do anything, okay?" Cheryl put her hand on my arm and repeated, "Promise me." I looked at her for a few seconds and nodded my head.
"Gary asked if you were so insecure that you had to run to Bill to try and keep your woman," Cheryl told me. She held up her hand again when I started to talk. "I told him that I was the one that had talked to Mary because he wouldn't leave me alone. Gary stood up leaned down close to me and said, Bitch, and walked out."
I was steaming and she could see it. "Remember, you promised," she reminded me. Then she giggled and said, "The reason I'm so mad is I didn't get a chance to slap the hell out of him."
Looking at Cheryl I could see a little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. I grabbed her and pulled her onto my lap and started laughing.
Let's just say we were both very tired the next day. Our weekend was even better; we packed the kids off to my parents and seldom got out of the bedroom except to shower and eat. Saturday evening, actually Sunday morning about 1 AM we fed each other strawberries dipped in chocolate sitting on and at the kitchen table. We didn't have on anything but a smile. Great weekend.
I asked Cheryl, almost every day, if Gary had said anymore to her.
"No, he hasn't. He just gives me a smirk and raises his eyebrows up and down. But he hasn't said a word to me," she replied. "I can handle his smirks okay."