“Come stay with us,” was how it had all started. If I could go back and change things I would, but I can’t. I’ve made such a mess of things. It all started with Maggie’s offer. She and I worked together and watched in fear and apprehension as the global pandemic spread. I was new to the city and was still living in temporary accommodations. You know, one of those long-term hotel places. I had been house hunting, well actually condo hunting, when the pandemic changed from something that was happening overseas, to something happening here. The thought of living in a hotel, scared me and Maggie saw it. She was my boss, and ten years older than me.
Maggie and her husband Abel, lived on the north side of town, in an old Victorian house. Abel was a writer and worked from home. I had met him on a few occasions in the six months I had worked for the manufacturing firm, but I didn’t know him very well. Able had always kept to himself, and seemed the quiet type. Maggie was his opposite, boisterous, outgoing, the life of the party that always seemed to follow her. She had made the generous offer for me to stay, as we sat at the bar across the street from the office one evening. There was a feeling in our office and across the country that something big was coming, and that lockdown was only a matter of time.
“Maggie are you sure? We don’t know how long this lockdown can be. Abel won’t mind?”
She swallowed the last of her chardonnay, slamming the glass down on the bar, “It’s my house. Besides, he hides in his office most of the time anyway, I doubt he’ll even notice you’re there.”
“It’s very generous.”
She cut me off, “Nope, you’re coming to stay with me. We scoured the country for you and your skillset, we aren’t going to lose you now.”
“Well I didn’t say I was going anywhere.”
The bartender put two more glasses of wine on the bar in front of us.
The bartender leant in, “From the two gentlemen across the bar.”
Maggie raised her glass in their direction, and I gave a little wave. Maggie was a bigger drinker than I was, and I tried to keep up, she was my boss after all. She took another large gulp of her wine, as she began to dance in her chair at the bar to the music playing as the two men made their way over to us. We all got a table, and I learned that Luke, was a loan officer from the local bank branch. He told me he had taken a lot of his cash out before the shit hit the fan as he said. I tried to ignore Maggie and the other man in our impromptu party, as they tried to be discrete in fondling each other under the table. While Luke was nice enough, I had not intention of spending the night with him, so as our conversation waned, I made my excuses and left. I had just about reached my car when I heard Maggie call out my name, I turned to see her walking towards me, hand in hand with her date.
“Hey, come by tomorrow morning, around nine. I just got word; the office is officially closed. You can move in then. See ya.”
Before I could respond she and her date snuck off towards her car. I got in my own, and wondered if her offer was an invitation or an order. I didn’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. As I drove across town towards my hotel, I realized I had forgotten my purse. I turned around and went back to the bar for it. Luckily Luke had given it to the bartender. Something caught my attention as I walked back to my car, noise coming from the parking lot. I turned and saw Maggie’s car rocking, a tangle of arms and legs were all that was visible from the steamy windows. I stood for a second, wanting to make sure that whatever was going on was consensual. It was hard to tell and I wasn’t sure what exactly was the protocol. I stood for a second longer, just wanting to make sure she wasn’t in trouble. I turned to walk back to my car as I caught a glimpse of Maggie as she got on top of her date and began to ride him. I walked away before she spotted me, not that I thought she’d notice me.
The next morning, I packed up my few belongings and loaded up my car. I prayed she remembered our conversation out on the sidewalk in front of the bar from the night before. I wondered about her and the stranger in her car as well. In the two months I had been with company I had heard rumors about her extra-marital activities, but I had left that information there. Maggie was my boss. On my way to her house I picked up three large coffees, and a box of bagels. It was a small way to say thank you for the room. I pulled up in front of the large Victorian house, painted in various shades of blue. The front porch wrapped protectively around the large curved front windows. Maggie’s house did not match her personality and I wondered if the house had been Abel’s choice. I walked up the front porch steps, coffee and bagels in hand, and picked up the newspaper that had been left. I rang the bell, as I jostled the contents of my arms, praying I would not spill the coffee. Abel came to the door.
“Good morning,” I said, “I’ve brought breakfast.”
“Good morning, it’s Greenly, right from Maggie’s office?”
“Please come in,” he said as he moved out of the way to let me in.
I stood in the foyer as he came around me and led me to the dining room.
“I’m afraid Maggie isn’t up yet. She had a late night working. Are those for us?”
I set the box of bagels down and the coffees, praying that my face wouldn’t give away Maggie’s secret.
“Are you here to work?”
I realized that Abel had no clue why I was standing in his dinning room. I only prayed that Maggie had not been too wasted to remember her offer from the night before.
“Why don’t I go get her?”
I watched him walk out of the room. Normally he’d be my type, a little older, dark hair, brown eyes, a warm face. Abel’s hair had thinned considerably on the top of his head, but he wore it well, it gave him a distinguished look. He was taller than me and had broad shoulders. Although he had not shaved, I could see his jawline which complemented his full lips. I traced the plastic lid on my coffee cup anxiously. I looked up to the floor above me as I heard raised voices. I hoped that it was not on my account. A minute later Maggie shuffled into the dining room. She reeked of the bar form the night before.
“Hey,” she said as she waved.
“Morning, I brought you coffee.”
“Thank Christ,” she said as she reached for the cup. She popped the lid off and took a drink of the hot coffee.
“Are you sure it’s okay if I stay? I just wanted…”
She cut me off, “Yes. Second door on the left at the top of the stairs, is yours. You have your own bathroom in that room.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
She nodded and walked out of the dining room with her coffee in her hand. She stopped at the foot of the stairs.
“Abel,” she shouted, “Come help Greenly with her stuff.”
I walked across the living room to where Maggie stood.
“No, there’s no need, I don’t have much. Really.”
“Nah, he can get it, he just sits on his ass all day anyway. Come on let’s go get into those bagels you brought.”
“I should help.” I said as I watched Abel descend the stairs now dressed in a pair of jeans and a dark sweater.
“Nonsense. Come on,” she said as she pushed me into the dining room.
I spent most of my first day getting settled in. There was a mood in the house that day and I couldn’t help but feel that I was the cause of it. Before dinner, I came out of my room. I had just finished a call with my mother, who was worried sick, but was glad I was no longer in a hotel. I spotted Abel behind his desk, our doorways were opposite each other. I knocked gently on the door frame and he looked up.
“Ah Greenly. Is everything okay with the room?”
I stepped into the office. The walls had been painted hunter green, and the built-in cherry bookcases, and fireplace made the room feel welcoming. There was a large rug, that matched a plush couch, and the lighting casted an intimate glow in the room.
“I just wanted to thank you for your hospitality. It is very kind to let me stay.”
“You’re welcome,” he said as he leant back in his desk chair.
There was something in his voice that was missing. “You didn’t know I was coming to stay, did you?”
“Maggie forgot to mention it.”
“I’m sorry. If it’s going to be an issue, I can go.”
“No, it’s not a problem. Besides, if you go, it will only make things crazier with her. It will be nice to have someone else around. I write most of the day, so you won’t be bothering me.”
“What do you write?”
“Mostly non-fiction. I am working on a book about the occupation of Poland during the war right now.”
“I think so. It bores Maggie to tears.”
I smiled, knowing he was right.
That evening we all had dinner together in the dining room. Abel roasted a chicken, and it was delicious. I noticed that Maggie did very little to help with dinner. I enjoyed the dinner conversation as I got to know more about my hosts, and they got to know more about me. We talked about our educations, and Abel lit up when he heard I was a history minor in college. From there the conversation took off between us. Maggie went and got a second bottle of wine. I kept trying to bring her into the conversation, but she didn’t seem to care.
Over the next few weeks, I observed Maggie and Abel. I could not understand how or why they were married. They shared very few common interests. What disturbed me was how Maggie spoke to Able in the time that I had been there. She spoke to him more as a servant than a spouse. This situation set me on edge, yet I didn’t say anything. Maggie was my boss and I was a guest in their home. What did not make sense to me was that Abel was smart, kind, and funny. I couldn’t understand why Maggie treated him with such distain.
On the morning of my thirtieth birthday, I was awoken by my mother calling to wish me a happy birthday. The weeks of quarantine had begun to grate on me, and I found myself longing for a place of my own. Maggie and Abel had been so kind to allow me to stay but I found that the quarantine had brought out a further iciness between the two of them. The more Abel seemed to try, the more Maggie pushed away, it seemed. I quietly discussed the situation with my mother. She encouraged me to continue looking for a place of my own, stating that end of a marriage is never pretty.
That evening Able cooked a delicious dinner and we ate on their back patio. He had grilled steaks and they had opened a bottle of champagne. I was touched by the kindness. I had not expected any sort of celebration. We sat and drank at the table soaking up the warmth of the evening. As dusk turned into night, Maggie phone buzzed. She looked down at it and then announced she was going to the liquor store for another bottle of champagne. Able and I both discouraged her, but she had made up her mind. She was not visibly intoxicated as she left. Able volunteered to go instead, and Maggie declined. I could not shake the feeling that she was meeting someone.
Abel and I sat on the back deck, with the bistro lights above us twinkling. I ran my finger around the rim of my red wine glass.
“I hope it’s okay, I got you a little something for your birthday,” Able spoke up.
“You did?” I asked, completely surprised.
“Yes, but don’t mention it to Maggie, I wouldn’t want her to get the wrong idea. I’ll be right back.”
I watched Able walk into the house and come back out with a small wrapped gift in his hand. He handed it to me.
“Did you wrap this?”
I was touched by how sweet it was. I tore away the paper carefully. He had gifted me the new Cline Fairfield book on the history of the Los Alamos project that we had been discussing over the past few weeks.
“Able, thank you so much. I really wanted to read this. This is such a thoughtful and unexpected gift.”
“You’re welcome. You’ll have to let me borrow it when you’re done with it. Do you want cake?”
“There’s cake too? Shouldn’t we wait for Maggie?”
“She’s not coming back tonight.”
I looked at him inquisitively. He took a seat across the table.
“I know what this all must look like, her and I.”
I put my hand up, “it’s none of my business.”
Able stood up, “Cake?”
I nodded and watched him walk back into the house. Maggie had just decided she was done with the evening and had not even bothered to pick up her plate. The dismissive act made me angry for Abel. I picked up our plates and walked into the kitchen with them as Able was walking out with the cake. Not expecting each other, we ran into each other. The chocolate cake smashed into my chest, and the plates in my hand fell to the floor. I stood frozen as lumps of cake fell from my shirt.
“Greenly, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.”
“No, it’s my fault. I’ve ruined the cake.”
We both bent down to pick up the mess of cake and glass. I looked across at Abel who looked up at me. He lent in and kissed me softly. I know that I should have been repulsed by the action, but I’d be lying. He pulled away.
“I’m sorry I should not have done that. Greenly, I’m so sorry.”
I stood up with pieces of the broken plates in my hand and walked over to the garbage can in the kitchen. Abel followed me with what was left of the cake in his hand. I turned on the faucet and ran it as the water warmed to wash the chocolate frosting off of me.
“Greenly?” Able said softly.
I turned to look at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said as his deep brown eyes showed concern.
“Can I ask you something, I have no right to ask?”
He nodded that I could.
“Why are you with Maggie?”
“I loved her more than she loved me. I thought I could make her happy. I’ve been waiting for her to leave me. I think if the pandemic would not have happened, she would’ve by now.”
“Abel that is so sad.”
“It is. I know she is out with another man.”
“Do you still love her?”
“I’ll always love her, just not like I once did. We had originally wanted the same things, a simple life, a family. Somewhere down the line, her wants changed. I tried to change with her, but it became clear that the change she wanted did not involve me. I didn’t want to hurt her by leaving. Honestly I don’t even recognize the woman I fell in love with and married.”
“Have you two tried talking this our, or counseling?”
“Both parties would have to want to fix it.”
“Are you sure she doesn’t?”
“Yes, she’s told me so.”
“Me too. I’m also sorry if I made you uncomfortable back there. I know I shouldn’t say this but, I like you, a lot. I feel like you have woken me up as a person. I’ve been on autopilot for so long. I have wanted to kiss you from the first moment I met you. I think you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Then when you came here and I got to know you, your intellect, and your kindness. Maggie and I don’t… We haven’t… It’s been almost two years since we were last intimate.”
“Two years?” I asked in amazement. “Abel, I know Maggie is my boss, and has kindly invited me into your home, but you deserve so much better. Your talented and handsome, and genuinely kind.”
Able lent in and kissed me again. This time I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him back. I knew I should, but I wanted to show him what it was like to be wanted. He pulled me in closer to his body as his kiss deepened.
I pulled away and whispered into his ear, “Not here, let’s go upstairs.”
I led him upstairs by the hand as if I were having an out of body experience. I had never slept with a married man before and had always had serious issues with such actions. We came down on my bed, and made love to each other. We laid in each other’s arms afterward as I searched my own conscience for regret.
“You are so beautiful,” Able whispered into my ear.
I rolled over, still in his arms.
“Thank you for tonight,” he said.
“What about Maggie, will you tell her about this?”
“No. Will you?”
Maggie came home in the wee hours of the morning. Abel and I had held me until I fell asleep and then had snuck back to his own bed. I showered again the next morning, trying to erase any trace of his scent from my body. Maggie made an excuse about a flat tire to explain her absence for most of the night. I saw the hurt on Abel’s face as she spoke, it was slight and only visible for a moment until it passed. I did my best to avoid Abel for much of the day. I felt like Maggie could read the infidelity on me.
That night at dinner we ate outside again. The weather was beautiful. Halfway through dinner Able got up from the table to get another bottle of wine. Maggie sat next to me at the table.
“So did you enjoy fucking my husband last night,” she said nonchalantly.
I almost choked on my bite of chicken.
“I really don’t care Greenly. If you want him, he’s all yours”
I was absolutely speechless.
“I really didn’t think you had it in you. Honestly sweetie you can do so much better than boring old Abel.”
Before I could respond, not that I even had the words to do so Abel walked back out with an open bottle of chardonnay in his hand. Looking at my face he instantly knew something was wrong.
“What’s wrong,” he asked.
“Oh, I was just telling Greenly she could fuck you.”
Abel set the bottle down on the table.
“I really don’t care. I didn’t think either of you had it in you though. You want to fuck some thirty-year old slut, go for it.”
I stood up and quietly pushed my chair in.
“Maggie you have no right to talk to her like that.”
I walked towards the house.
“Greenly, come back,” Maggie called out.
By the time I made it up to my room, my body was trembling. I could hear Maggie and Abel shouting at each other as I packed my bags. I packed as quickly as I could, tossing everything into my bag, not taking any care what went where. I was almost finished as I heard Maggie come into the house shouting. I started for the door, and froze when I heard glass breaking.
“Leave her alone,” Able screamed at Maggie. “Or so help me God, I will leave you penniless. If you wanted out so badly you should have just been a fucking grown up and left me.”
“Who would want you, you old worthless piece of shit. You are a terrible husband, lousy in bed and boring! Greenly he’s all yours!”
A nervous knot churned in my stomach as I sat trapped in my room. They were fighting at the base of the stairs in front of the front door. I heard the door slam and Maggie’s car peel away down the street. I stood frozen in my room, my bags in my hand unable to move. I listened as Abel’s footsteps ascended the stairs and stopped outside my door. He knocked gently.
“Greenly, can I come in?”
I stood there silent. He knocked again and called my name before he opened the door. I had not realized it at the time, but I had begun to cry.
“I’m so sorry,” I said repeatedly.
Able walked into the room.
“This was not your fault,” he said as he put his arms around me.
I pushed out of his arms and walked out of the house. Knowing I no longer had a job, I got in my car and drove towards my parents’ home, sleeping in my car along the way. It took me two days to get back to their house in the middle of the country. Able called me repeatedly but I didn’t know what to say to him. Maggie called too, shouting at me that I was fired, but I knew that was coming. After I got to my parent’s house I texted Abel that I was safe and turned off my phone. I finished quarantine with them.
As parts of the country started to re-open I began to look for a new job, and started to put my life back together. I thought about Abel a lot, wondering if we had met under different circumstances if we would have been able to be a couple. I spent a lot of time alone, trying to make sense of what had happened. One morning as my mother and I returned from the grocery store, she spotted a man on the porch.
“Who’s that,” she asked as we rounded the corner to our block.
“Abel?” I called out
He turned around, with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. My mother squeezed my hand as she took the grocery bags I was carrying and walked around to the back door.
“I have been looking for you everywhere.” He said as he walked off of the porch towards me.
“What are you doing here?” I said in disbelief that he was standing in front of me.
“I came to ask you out on a proper date, that is, if you’d like to see me again?”
“You came halfway across the country to ask me out?”
“Because I knew from the first time, I met you would be someone important in my life. I’ve been lost and so worried about you. I know this sounds crazy, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. I want to be with you so bad it hurts.”
I looked deep into his eyes and in that moment, I realized it was what I wanted to. I wanted him in my life. I leant up and kissed him knowing that this was the beginning of something big.