The sun sank lower in the sky, the light of day draining away, and the lampposts lining Justin’s hedge clicked on just when he arrived at the gate. The evening had already sent the nightingales to
their roosts and the crickets to sing in the ever manicured lawn, with crisp edges, carpeting the homestead.
He climbed out of the car, adjusted Susie’s scarf around his neck, and strode towards the house, nodding to the farmhands who were busy winding up on the day’s chores. Some pruned the small
remaining part of the hedge, others raked a few scattered twigs, perhaps swished down just then by the gentle evening breeze... They chatted, laughed, and shouted out this and that. The sound of
spades, machetes, scythes; clanking on each other as still, other workers pushed wheelbarrows carrying their implements into the stores floated in the air. The dogs, holed up in their kennels,
started barking, probably scenting their master.
The air was thick with the scent of coffee when he entered the house. What a coincidence! Katelyn sat in a corner with Ken’s mother, chatting. He’d have proceeded upstairs without saying hi—Susie
said he should act annoyed. But Martha, sporting a curly brown wig, came out to greet him, the scent of expensive cologne trailing after her.
She pulled down her knee-length dress. No doubt the latest style and color. “Hey, Justin!”
Too young for you, like your fake nails and caked-on lipstick. “Hey.”
Martha threw her head back to clear a strand of hair dangling before her eyes. “Are you joining us for coffee?”
"Nope." He climbed the stairs.
They must have discussed him. Why was Martha the one welcoming him for coffee and not Katelyn? He stopped on the first floor. His children’s voices floated from the study. He peeped inside through
the crack at the door. Olivia was stooping over her younger sister, Natasha, dictating some words for her to write. His son Mike sat in another corner, busy punching on the laptop and sipping from
a cup. Probably a concoction of lemon, ginger, and honey--his favorite. Legs crossed, Layla, his third born, sat reading a novel. Always the bookworm. On tiptoe, he ascended another fleet of stairs
to the lounge leading to the master bedroom.
Having not had a good night's sleep, he struggled to keep his eyes open. But once in his bedroom, his mind brightened with the turmoil of all that had happened.
What was I thinking?
What he’d done left the sense of his self-worth in tatters. He felt like a distortion of what he once was. The image of his wife, seated with a pitiful face a few minutes ago while he talked with
Martha, flashed in his mind. How did Ambrose do this so often without feeling any guilt, claiming it was genetically impossible for a man to be faithful to one woman? A big lie! He’d been faithful
to Katelyn for the entire three decades of their marriage.
Damn, the scent of Gisela’s cologne, mixed with her arousal fluid, hung heavy around him. He felt dirty, not only physically but also spiritually. He quickly undressed and ran to the shower.
Good heavens, what have I done?
He stepped slowly into the tub, turning the water on high and letting it beat over his head in steamy rivulets. Regret seeped to the foreground of his mind and demanded to be re-examined again.
Memories came in waves, each an icy cold pinprick on his conscience. Oh boy. Katie's gonna blow her.
I'm such a louse. But... those tits! And her heat-- Can't take it back. Have to-- have to deal-- Shit!
His conflicting emotions kept him from enjoying those pleasurable aspects of what had happened.
Those tits! Her cute little grunts when--- Damn it!
The shower curtain ripped back but he didn’t flinch, engrossed as he was on trying to soothe his conscience to no avail. Yes, it was wrong of Katelyn to snoop on his texts, and worse still,
question why he was helping his nieces and brother. But, this did not justify what he did. God, anything would have been better, but not sleeping with Gisela. Not to say his was a perfect marriage,
but usually, he’d walk away from heated arguments with Katelyn and hit the gym or simply take a walk. Whenever he’d come back, they’d use Father Anthony’s advice on how husband and wife should
settle their grievances—lock themselves in the bedroom, strip naked, and then talk. Of course, this always ended up with lovemaking.
Damn, he’d broken this sweet custom of theirs by trying to drown his sorrows in whisky. What a blunder. Thinking about it now, each time he drank to tackle stress, he always ended up with regrets:
awful hangovers, bragging on how well his businesses were doing, and he’d end up revealing important business secrets—some of which turned his friends into enemies and fiercest competitors.
This recollection jerked him out of the shower. He put on a nightgown and collapsed on a couch.
Nothing good ever came from his drinking. Why was he always going back to the bottle? Last night things went a notch higher—sleeping with a teen? He’d ruined her life. How will she even look Olivia
in the eye? And Katelyn, who’d become like her mother? Hopefully, Gisela might have some sense of self-worth and end her friendship with his daughter. He wanted nothing to do with her. Damn the
whisky, damn the club and damn the sex. He analyzed every action and word from every angle and writhed in the agony of letting his guard down.
The door squeaked, and Katelyn walked in, snapping him out of his dreamland.
“Hey, I know you’re mad with me and it’s okay.” She sat on the other end of the couch. “I’ve been thinking about everything, and I-I-I realize it was all my fault. Please forgive me.”
Unable to speak, he gazed at the floor. What? She was supposed to be mad! Instead, she was apologizing? Damn it!
She placed an elbow on the lap and supported her chin with a hand. “I was mean, and I’m sorry you had to spend the night at Susie’s.”
Thanks to Elsie’s call!
He hadn’t wanted to sit next to her but just then, he spotted a smudge of faint purple lipstick on his discarded shirt. He moved closer to her and stealthily, with his toe, pushed the shirt under
His breathing quickened. “I’ll be fine with time.”
God help him. If she’d seen it, and his attempt for a cover-up, that’d be the end.
Katelyn took his hand. “I understand, but please find it in your heart to forgive me.”
“That’s what you keep doing, hurt me, then ask for forgiveness.”
“Trust me, I never mean to hurt you.”
He shook his head. “I just don’t know why you keep pushing me away.”
“Please don’t let an isolated incident cloud your judgment.”
He turned away. “I don’t agree with some of the things Ambrose does, but, somehow, I do understand him.”
“What’s there to be understood about that drunkard and womanizer?” She nibbled on the skin around her fingernails, “Only God knows the pain he’s caused Liz over the years.”
“I don’t understand. All I do is try to be a responsible husband, yet you seem not to appreciate it.” He yawned and stretched. “I wonder if you’d appreciate it if I was like him.”
“Let’s not talk about that man. I don’t like him.”
“I’m just using Ambrose as an example. Stop using him as an excuse to avoid my question.”
Her breathing increased. “You keep judging me. What more do you want me to do? I said I’m sorry.”
“Why say sorry when you don’t mean it? You’re not even interested in making things right.”
“Well, is this just about the incident of yesterday morning or there’s something else?”
He raised his voice. “You’re not sorry about anything. All you want is your way.”
“How else am I supposed to apologize, kneel before you?” She made as if to go but stopped. “When you say I don’t appreciate you, do you want me to be singing thank-yous each time our eyes meet?”
“Katie, I don’t appreciate your tone.”
“Guess what? It’s not a favor you’re doing us when you take care of your family. It’s your duty.”
God, things were slowly starting to get out of hand. The sooner he found a way of getting her out of the bedroom, the better. It was only a matter of time before she picked up those clothes lying
on the floor.
He sighed and bit his lip. “Katie, I don’t want another fight, let me go to bed.”
Her voice was low. “It’s not a fight, we’re just talking.” She pressed his hand. “I wouldn’t want anything to come in between us.”
Justin ran a finger through his mustache. “Neither do I. Err—” He yawned again. “I’m so tired. Couldn’t fall asleep on Susie’s couch.”
“I’m so sorry about that. Can we just talk about this for a minute? I feel misunderstood.”
“Give me some time.”
“Okay, you have a rest.” She bent as if to pick the clothes from the floor. “I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”
God forbid. She’ll see Gisela’s lipstick the instant she touches those clothes.
He grabbed her hand and pulled her closer. “Do you really love me?” he said, leading her to the bed. “You can talk to me as I rest before you go?”
She slid under the duvet and held it up for him to get in. “I’m not against you helping Susie. Otherwise, I’d have complained when you hired her as your Business Analyst.”
He switched off the lights. “It’s okay, Hun. Let bygones be bygones.”
“I feel misunderstood, and I just wanted to explain myself. People rarely appreciate free things. I’d understand if you had probably raised her pay.”
He kept swallowing. “It’s okay, honey, let’s not talk about it.”
Never had they ever discussed Susie, and it ended up well. It wasn’t about to start tonight. Try as she would to hide it, Katelyn just hated Susie. For what? He couldn’t tell. Yes, what Katelyn
said was true—people usually didn’t appreciate free things. But Susie wasn’t ‘people’. This was his small sister. And Katie didn’t say this because she cared for her. No! She just didn’t want him
to pay school fees for his nieces.
She passed his hand under her neck and rested her head on his chest. “I was worried about you I didn’t sleep last night.”
He was so spent he wanted nothing to do with her advances. Besides, the guilt of cheating on her turned his blood ice-cold between his legs. “I’m sorry I ran away. But honestly, I was pissed.”
She drew circles on his hairy chest with her fingertip. “I won’t do it again. So, what time did you go to Susie?”
Was this a trap?
He swallowed. Ambrose’s maxim would work here—half-truths always sound genuine whenever your wife suspects you. “Around nine. I first passed by the Mavericks bar for some whisky. Actually, I met
Ken and Gisela there.”
Katelyn adjusted her head. “I’m I hurting… you?”
She took a deep breath and her voice came out raspy. “Martha is my friend but I-- I just dunno what she was up to?”
“What did she say?”
“That Ken left you with Gisela in the bar.” She poked his chest. “C’mon, you’re shaking. Don’t be angry. I knew she was lying.”
He eased her away and sat, breathing heavily with feigned anger. “That woman’s a bitch.”
She sat too and placed a hand over his shoulder. “Honey, relax. You’re the very person who tells me not to give other people the power to control my emotions. I wish I hadn’t told you.”
Twisting his ring, he swallowed again. “Sorry, you can always tell me anything.”
“But I must confess she almost poisoned my mind as well. When I came in I fancied smelling the cologne Gisela wore the other day she was here. Funny how the mind can play tricks on us when we’re
He took a deep breath. His heart pounded. “That woman’s not up to any good.”
“Imagine I can still smell it.”
He kissed her in an attempt to cloud her judgment. “Those are just mind games the devil’s playing with you.”
“True. I think even the quarrels we’ve been having of late it’s because we stopped praying.”
“Honey, I may not be perfect, but the last thing I’d do is cheat on you,” he said, planting another kiss on her cheek.
She kissed him back. “I know, and I count myself lucky--no, blessed.”
He started playing with her hair. “Martha thinks everyone’s perverted like her. How can she abandon her hubby in the village to stay with her daughter here in the city?”
“Poor Annie. It must be tough for her to fend for both her brother and mother.”
He turned on his side and lay facing her. “But Ken is a joker. I see him loitering all day long chatting with this other guy. I dunno if it’s a friend or a relation. They’re always together.”
“Ryan! Martha hates that boy. His dad used to work with her back in the village. He’s been friends with Annie and Ken from when they were little kids.”
Justin shook with laughter. “Whoa, how did you get to know all this?”
“That’s all she was talking about the whole day. Apparently, Ryan belongs to this society in the church for celibates. But at the same time, he’s dating Annie.”
“Wonders never cease. Why can’t Ryan quit that society and follow his heart?”
“Martha says he joined that society because of poverty. His mum died when he was still a small kid and his dad is a polygamous peasant farmer.”
“So what does the society do for him? Fend him?”
“Everything. Gave him a job, pays his university fees…”
He pushed his chest out. “Come to think of it, is he in the same University as Olivia? Her university is owned by such a society.”
“That’s sad. I’m pretty sure Martha doesn’t want him to date Annie coz the guy’s broke.”
Katelyn pulled up the duvet so that only their heads stuck out. “Of course. You know Fred, Dan’s son?”
“Which Dan? The former governor?”
She stretched and yawned. “Yeah.”
“He has a son? I only know of his daughter, Sandra.”
“The son came recently from abroad and has his eyes set on Annie. Martha prefers him to the poor Ryan.”
They’d have probably chatted till morning were it not for the knock at the door.
“Mum, we’re going to bed,” Olivia said. “Natasha’s crying for you.”
“’m coming.” She nudged him lightly on the rib with her elbow. “Wait for me, or I’ll wake you when I’m back. Natasha’s tooth is giving her trouble. I’ll take her to the dentist tomorrow.”
Holding his breath, he watched her leave then jumped up and locked the bedroom door. Thank God! He grabbed the shirt and washed off Gisela's lipstick in the bathroom sink. Then he inspected the
rest of his clothes. Okay, clean, good. Then he sniffed them. Shit. No wonder Katie thought she smelled Gisela's cologne—his clothes reeked of it! He them all with water, then doused them with his
and Katelyn's cologne before stuffing them into the laundry bin.
There was another problem. She’d promised to wake him up, and he knew what she wanted. Damn, it’d take probably a year before his conscience allowed him to get intimate with her.
He changed into his corduroy trousers, t-shirt and put on his boots. Draped in a long fur coat, he descended the stairs. Everyone had gone to bed except Natasha who was sleeping on the couch, her
head cradled in Katelyn’s hands.
Katelyn’s gaze dropped on the torch in his hands. She whispered. “I thought you said you were tired?”
He kissed her on the forehead. “I feel much better after talking to you. I won’t be long, just a little walk to blow off some steam.”
“Why don’t you have dinner first?”
“Don’t worry, later.”
When he came outside, it was clear as though daytime. The security lights were swallowed up by the moonlight. The dogs ran after him, wagging their tails. Varvara, his favorite, kept leaping on him
up to the waist where she tried to rest her forepaws but they kept sliding down, wetting and nearly tearing his pants.
He sat on a concrete slab. The moon on the horizon sank halfway in the low-hanging clouds. Varvara lay beside him, admiring the vastness of the expanse with her master, whom she’d perhaps figured
wasn’t in a playful frame of mind. The other dogs wandered off, throwing back an occasional bark.
He pulled out his phone. “Susie. Guess what happened?”
Hey, you must’ve been chased again if you’re not in your bed at this time of the night, Susie’s tiny voice quacked from the other end.
“Nope, Elsie’s call worked wonders. Katie was crying for my forgiveness even before I said anything.”
Goodness, I’m happy she hasn’t discovered, but bro, it’s wrong what you did.
“I feel horrible about it.”
At around two in the morning, when he was sure Katelyn was fast asleep, Justin went back to the house.
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