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“Joe,” I said. “Your daughter is in serious condition in the hospital and you’re coming on to me.”
This didn’t seem to faze him. “Look,” he said. “Even before Susie had the accident, Chrissy and I...well, we had our problems.”
I sat down across from him, still gripping the dishcloth. “What marriage doesn’t have problems?” I said hopefully, trying to get him onto a more abstract path.
“We haven’t had sex for seven months.”
“Oh,” I said. I made my voice chipper. “I read in Elle that thirty-two percent of women don’t want sex, so it’s not unusual. I mean it’s a general problem these days. People are overworked, have too many distractions...”
He wasn’t buying this. “Like, I knew this marriage was a mistake two years into it,” he said. “She hardly ever wanted sex since the beginning.”
“Then why did you have three kids? If things were so bad.”
He looked out the window. “You keep going on,” he said. “You keep thinking maybe the way things are is temporary and it might get better, but the years go by and it doesn’t. And then there you are, fifteen years older and everything still sucks.”
The atmosphere had changed, like the air pressure in a room when your ears pop. Joe looked vulnerable, real all of a sudden. But while the trusting, wanting-to-connect part of me was up and ready, like a protective big sister, the been-around, cynical element stood back observing wryly.
“That’s too bad,” I said, my voice neutral. “I’m sorry you’ve had such an unsatisfactory life so far.”
There was a long pause before he said, “How would you feel about hooking up? No one would need to know. No one needs to be hurt. And when this is all over...” he paused, “whichever way it goes, I could maybe find a job for you in my company.”
He looked offended. “Yeah. I’m incorporated. I run a contracting business, you knew that.”
I blushed rather hideously. So, he was offering me a position as his mistress with all the trimmings, just like the girlfriends of married politicians got. Not the first time I’d been offered a mistress position, but the first with trimmings.
“Joe,” I said, trying to sound like a strict English teacher we’d both had in high school, “thank you for the offer. I’m flattered, I really am. (Actually I wasn’t.) But there’s no way on earth I could screw over Chrissy. Not only because she and I used to be friends, but because of what she’s going through. No way, can’t happen, ever.”
Several expressions crossed his face: disappointment, anger, shame, embarrassment, anger again. “Don’t judge me, Lynn,” he said. “Don’t go all high and mighty there. It’s not like you haven’t done some off the mark things yourself.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He smiled. “You and Tony Green.”
“Me and Tony Green?” I was stumped.
“Yeah, when you were married to whatshisname. People saw you.”
I was stunned, not to mention outraged. “Saw me what?”
“In that car out by Kohler’s Pond.”
I wracked my brain. “Oh. We went out there to talk one time. Right before he left town.”
“Talk, was it?” said Joe.
If I’d been holding an axe, Joe’s head would have been divided into bloody chunks. “Joe, you’re an idiot. Not that it’s any of your business, but Tony is gay. When we were in the car there, he was telling me about it, not that I hadn’t already guessed. He came out to his mother, then left for Los Angeles. I don’t suppose he’d mind my telling this now as his mother has since died and he’d have no reason to return here.”
“Hmmmm,” said Joe. “Come to think of it, he was a little fruity.”
“I think we’re done here,” I said. “You might as well go back to work.”
Without a word, he got up and left.
Instead of leaving around one or two, I stayed till Michael got home. “Listen,” I said to him, “you inferred something about your father having an interest in me that he shouldn’t have. I want to know why you said that.”
I Stopped Reading the Newspaper continues...