WHEN STEPHANIE STARTED SHRIEKING at Forrest after he arrived home from work, he feared he was in trouble again. Maybe she was suspicious, after all, he'd worked late. Maybe she'd think he'd been with a woman. "What do you want?" he demanded, yelling above her shouts.

Stephanie leapt off the front step and into the dirt, where she embraced Forrest. She still seemed almost hysterically happy, and Forrest still couldn't make sense of what her happiness was about.

After a moment, he gently pushed her away and asked, "Stephanie, what's all this about?"

Grinning wildly, Stephanie offered a piece of paper to Forrest. He glanced at it, and saw that she was holding his paycheck. With all the overtime work he'd been doing, Forrest's paycheck was almost double what he usually made.

"I have to admit, I didn't believe you at first," Stephanie explained. "When you said you got a promotion, I thought you were just making things up so you could sneak out and meet a girl. I'm sorry I didn't believe you."

Forrest pulled Stephanie closer, already planning what lies to tell her to gain an advantage. He kissed her on the forehead and said, "Listen, baby, it's all right. I made a big mistake with Tara, but I guarantee that I won't make that mistake again. I love you too much to hurt you like that again."

Stephanie sighed and leaned her head on Forrest's shoulder. "I'm sorry I've treated you so badly," she apologized. "I was just so angry, and I wanted to punish you even after you promised it wouldn't happen again. I've treated you awful, and you've been working your tail off to bring home money."

"Don't blame yourself," Forrest urged Stephanie, although he loved her apologies and loved having the upper hand. "I've done bad things, Stephanie. You have every right to be angry."

Stephanie sighed, then looked up at Forrest. "Do you have to work tonight?" she asked.

"Nope," Forrest replied. He'd actually asked Bonnie on a date, but his mistress had told him she had family coming into town, and Forrest wasn't nearly ready to meet Bonnie's parents yet.

Stephanie smiled, then said, "Why don't you come inside?"

"HOW DID YOUR VISIT with your family go?" Forrest asked as Bonnie set a plate full of pot roast before him. He'd decided to try something new that day, and Bonnie had playfully recommended the chef's specialty.

"It was all right," Bonnie sighed as Forrest began to nibble at some buttery carrots. "I told them about my new, charming, utterly handsome boyfriend, and they wanted to know why I didn't bring him along to meet the family. I told them the relationship was still new, and they started acting like it was time to start planning the wedding."

Forrest nearly choked on his carrot.

Bonnie thrust his glass of water toward him, and quickly amended, "Not that I'm waiting for a proposal or anything. If we were to get married, it wouldn't be for many months down the line. Not that I would necessarily marry you, we might break up and I might marry my next boyfriend after you. Not that I want to break up with you, I'm just saying . . ."

"I understand," Forrest replied, having recovered from his shock.

"Well, anyway, Mom and Dad and Alex, my brother, have all gone back home now, so we won't have to worry about them getting in our way," Bonnie said.

"Great," Forrest replied. "Do you want to go out tonight then? We could meet at a park, and I'll bring a picnic."

Bonnie sighed. "That sounds so romantic!" she declared. "How do you think of these things, Forrest?"

Forrest shrugged and said, "I guess I'm just a romantic sort of guy." Actually, he'd gotten the idea off a television show he'd seen several years before. He'd taken some past girlfriends, wives, and mistresses on picnics before, but the gesture had never been quite as romantic as television shows made it out to be. Invariably, the ground would be wet or the park would be full of children and ants would get into all the food. Still, if the anticipation made Bonnie happy, Forrest would let her be.

"I'll see you tonight," Bonnie promised before heading back to the kitchen.

"Seven," Forrest called to her, realizing they hadn't decided on a time yet.

"HONEY, I'M HOME!" FORREST called as he stepped inside after a long day at work. He looked both ways, but his wife was nowhere to be seen.

"Stephanie?" Forrest called, taking a few steps toward the kitchen area, but seeing no one around the corner. He walked through the living room and past the front door, which he'd left open, and entered the bedroom. He found her there.

Stephanie wore and extremely skimpy red nightgown. The skirt barely covered her thighs, and two thin spaghetti straps were all that prevented the top from slipping down a few more inches and baring her breasts. Her back was bare except for her butt, which also was barely covered.

When Forrest walked in on her, Stephanie was behind the bed lighting a candle. The bed itself had what looked like rose petals on it, and a bottle of wine was sitting on a bedside table with two glasses. "Stephanie?" Forrest gasped.

His wife spun around, the match in her hand still burning. "Forrest, I didn't hear you come in," she breathed. "I'm not quite ready yet."

Stephanie set the box of matches on the table beside the candles, and scampered around the bed in a way that was anything but sexy. When she stood before Forrest, Stephanie caught her breath, then cooed, "Hey, honey. Did you have a hard day at work? Would you like to relax?"

To emphasize her words, Stephanie wrapped one leg around Forrest's legs, and snaked her arms around his shoulders.

"Honey, I can't," Forrest said, attempting to extract himself from her embrace. "I have to work tonight."

Stephanie tightened her grip. "Forget work," she said. When Stephanie spoke, she exhaled with each breath in a way that made her voice sound breathy. Apparently, she thought the effect was sexy, but Forrest thought she sounded out of breath.

"Honey, you know I can't forget work," Forrest reminded her, finally freeing his arms from hers. "I could lose my promotion. My boss expects dependability, and if I don't show up for work when I'm supposed to, he might decide to take away my raise."

"That's all right," Stephanie declared. "We don't need the extra money, and I don't like it when you have to work evenings. I like to have you at home during the evening."

"Steph, you know I can't skip work," Forrest insisted before darting out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. He locked the door behind him so Stephanie couldn't follow him, stripped, and jumped into the shower. He set the water on cold.

While showering, Forrest reflected on what had just happened. Stephanie wasn't acting like herself. Was she testing him? Maybe this was her way of apologizing for treating him so badly before. Maybe she was trying to make up for all the nights Forrest had slept on the couch.

Forrest actually chuckled a bit at Stephanie's actions. Women could be strange sometimes. Bonnie was strange, too. She'd been very funny when she'd tried to insist that she wasn't ready to get married yet.

He wondered what life would be like if he was married to Bonnie. Would she be as moody and as unpredictable as Stephanie? Probably not. Nobody was as moody or as unpredictable as Stephanie.

As he turned off the water, Forrest wondered what had gotten into him. His wife was waiting outside to seduce him, and he was taking a cold shower and fantasizing about marrying Bonnie. Forrest mentally shook his head at himself as he dried off.

He dressed in the same clothes he'd worn to work that day. Forrest supposed that since he would be picnicking outside, he didn't need to be as dressed up as he'd been for his other dates, and he feared to go into his bedroom again to look for more appropriate clothes.

Once he was fully dressed and for the most part dry, Forrest poked his head out of the bathroom, and didn't see Stephanie. He tiptoed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, looking for food he could bring on the picnic. "What are you doing?" Stephanie called from the entrance to the bedroom, and Forrest guiltily leapt back from the refrigerator.

He saw that his wife had put on a bathrobe over her nightgown. "I'm just looking for a snack," Forrest explained.

"Oh, OK," Stephanie said before turning to walk back into the bedroom. She seemed a little disappointed, and Forrest guessed he'd spoiled her romantic afternoon. He couldn't be late for his date with Bonnie, though.

Feeling just a bit guilty, Forrest called, "Honey? My shift is over at ten. I ought to be home before eleven."

"All right," Stephanie called from the other room. "You just do what you have to do."

Forrest watched the bedroom door to see if Stephanie would emerge again, and after a few seconds, he turned and began rummaging through the cabinets in search of the picnic basket he knew was hidden somewhere. He may as well pack while Stephanie wasn't looking to get suspicious.

BECAUSE FORREST HAD BEEN unable to find a suitable main course in his kitchen, he left for the picnic early and stopped at a fast food restaurant to pick up some fried chicken. He cradled his picnic basket to his chest as he rode the subway to the park where he and Bonnie were supposed to meet.

He hoped he hadn't hurt Stephanie's feelings badly. She'd seemed almost out-of-touch when he'd left, which had made it easy for Forrest to sneak away, but had also made him feel guilty for not spending the evening at home with his wife.

What other choice had Forrest had, though? He couldn't call Bonnie without arousing suspicion, and his mistress would clearly have been devastated if Forrest had stood her up. After all, she was crazy about him.

Forrest wondered if Bonnie had been serious about someday marrying him. She'd denied the idea quickly enough, but that might have been out of embarrassment more than any real belief that they'd someday break up.

Forrest actually laughed out loud when he realized that for the second time that day, he'd been thinking about Stephanie and his thoughts had drifted to Bonnie. The recurrence made him nervous. What had Bonnie done to so firmly make a place in his thoughts? There had to be more to the situation than her offhand comment about marriage.

Forrest's next realization made his blood run cold. Did he have feelings for Bonnie?

The notion went against everything that was important to Forrest. He'd promised himself long ago that he'd never again mistake lust for love. His relationship with Bonnie was based only on meaningless sex. Their relationship was a game. He wasn't supposed to feel anything for her, and he wasn't supposed to think about her when she wasn't around except in terms of strategy.

When the subway reached its stop, Forrest cursed aloud, then considered standing Bonnie up. Maybe he should never see her again, and forget about the entire affair. Romantic inclinations always needlessly complicated things.

After what he'd done to Stephanie, though, Forrest couldn't go home early. The least of his worries was that she'd want to know why he hadn't gone to work, and Forrest wouldn't have an explanation. He'd gone too far to turn back.

Forrest walked through the park for several minutes, half-heartedly scanning the crowds of people out on evening strolls for any sign of Bonnie. He hoped she'd stood him up. Maybe she'd had some sort of family emergency, and couldn't come on the date. He'd never given her his home phone number, so she couldn't have called him to tell him she couldn't make it.

"Forrest!" called a female voice, and Forrest cringed, then turned around.

"Hey, baby!" he said with false cheer as Bonnie approached. "Are you ready for a picnic?"

"FORREST?" BONNIE ASKED. HER voice sounded small and distant, even though she was only on the other side of the bed.

"Yeah?" Forrest replied. He was turned away, and he didn't want to look at her for fear that he might be overcome with emotion. Where Bonnie was concurred, Forrest wanted to avoid emotion at all costs.

"Why do we always come back to my place?" Bonnie asked. "Why don't we ever go to your home after our dates?"

Forrest rolled over to look at Bonnie, and thankfully, didn't feel any new waves of love or devotion. His mistress was staring up at the ceiling. He, too, rolled onto his back, then said, "You want to go to my place? Yeah, sure, we can go to my place sometime, but it's clear on the other edge of town. Your place is just more convenient."

"Oh, I don't want to inconvenience you," Bonnie insisted. "I was just curious, that's all. You know, I've never even seen your house. I don't even know where you live."

"I live in a trailer in a trailer park just south of town," Forrest replied. "It's not as nice as your house. I actually think I might get embarrassed if you saw where I live. It would probably be better if we just kept coming to your house."

"Forrest, you know I wouldn't judge you based on something like that," Bonnie insisted, but Forrest was confident that she wouldn't press to come to his house again. She rolled toward him, and said, "I'm not as shallow as all that."

Forrest rolled over to kiss her, but he caught sight of the clock on the table behind her. In disbelief, he sat up, and realized he'd seen right- it was ten-thirty. Stephanie would be expecting him home any second! Forrest cursed and leapt out of bed.

"What's wrong?" Bonnie asked.

Unable to think of a better excuse, Forrest said the first thing that came to his mind. "I have a curfew. They lock the doors to the trailer park at eleven o'clock- I need to hurry."

"Why can't you just stay here tonight?" Bonnie asked.

"I just can't," Forrest insisted. His pants were on, so he grabbed his shirt and put it on as he left Bonnie's bedroom. She may not have bought his lie, but she didn't follow him or call out any other questions, so the situation was all right for the time being.

WHEN FORREST HAD REACHED the subway station, he'd realized that somehow, his wallet had fallen out of his pants while he'd been at Bonnie's house. He managed to beg two quarters off of kind strangers, and bought a token to take him home.

When he walked into the trailer, Forrest did so quietly, hoping that by some miracle Stephanie wouldn't notice how late he was. During the ride home, he'd concocted an excuse- he'd had a meeting with his boss after work for about ten minutes, then he'd missed the last bus to the subway station, and he'd needed to walk.

Forrest walked into the bedroom to find the candles extinguished, the wine half-drunk, and Stephanie fast asleep. Forrest thanked all his lucky stars for the lucky break, then climbed into bed beside Stephanie.

THE NEXT DAY WAS a Saturday, so Forrest was able to sleep in rather than go to the grocery store early in the morning. He felt Stephanie climb out of bed and get up, and a few minutes later, smelled the aroma of breakfast cooking in the kitchen.

Although he was well awake, Forrest didn't want to climb out of bed yet. He lay down with his eyes closed and fantasized about leaving Stephanie for Bonnie. He tried to imagine life with his mistress, and tried to determine whether such an action would be worth losing Stephanie. He almost convinced himself that he might someday do such a thing.

After a few long moments, Stephanie came into the bedroom. Apparently, she'd recovered from her bad mood about the night before, for she flipped on the lights and softly said, "Forrest, get up. I've made breakfast."

With a smile, Forrest rolled over. Stephanie bent over to kiss him, then he crawled out of bed and followed her into the kitchen.

They were eating bacon and sausage and eggs at the kitchen table when the phone rang. Forrest, forgetting himself, gestured that Stephanie shouldn't bother to pick it up. "Let's just enjoy our breakfast together," he suggested.

Stephanie settled into her seat again, and the phone rang four more times before the answering machine picked it up. When the caller left her message, Forrest froze as he realized Bonnie was speaking.

"Hey, Forrest?" she said. "I guess you're not home."

Mentally, Forrest cursed at himself. How stupid could he be? He'd never given Bonnie his phone number, but he was listed in the phone book, and Bonnie wasn't stupid. She'd looked his number up.

The incriminating message continued. "Well, anyway, just call me back when you get home, OK? Last night, you left your wallet at my house. Did you make it home in time? I hope you did, I'd hate to think you slept outside or something just because you spent too much time with me."

To Stephanie's credit, she looked relatively calm as she rose from her seat and picked up the receiver. Her face was completely red with anger, but other than that, she almost looked like her ordinary self as she demanded, "Who is this?"

While Stephanie waited for an answer, Forrest wished he could melt into his seat. What had he been thinking, letting the phone ring? He should have picked it up right away before Stephanie could find anything out. He'd been stupid.

"Oh, you're Forrest's girlfriend?" Stephanie asked, meeting Forrest's eyes as she repeated what Bonnie had told her. "Well, I'm Forrest's wife, and I think you'd better hang up now."

Stephanie listened to whatever reply Bonnie had, then said, "Yes, he is married, and he has been for almost two years now. Did he forget to mention that to you?"

At that point, Forrest decided there was nothing to gain by letting Stephanie continue her conversation. "Honey," he began, standing and stepping toward her.

Stephanie held up a warning finger to stop him, then said, "Well, Bonnie, I guess you two have a lot to talk about. Don't feel too bad, though. I doubt Forrest will be married much longer." Ending the conversation on that note, Stephanie slammed the receiver down.

"Listen, Steph," Forrest began. "I have an explanation."

"An explanation?" Stephanie demanded. "Your affair with Tara has barely been over two weeks, and you've already begun a new one?"

"I know this looks bad," Forrest began.

"Get out of my house!" Stephanie interrupted.

"Baby-"

"Now!" she shrieked, and Forrest fled.

WHEN BONNIE SAW FORREST enter The Mug, she turned and called, "Hey, Zach? I'm going on break. We've got a customer, could you help him?"

"Bonnie, wait," Forrest said, stepping around the podium at the front of the shop to grab her arm. "Can't we just talk?"

"You're married," Bonnie responded. "I don't think there's much else to talk about. Now let go of my arm."

A big man emerged from the back of the restaurant, wearing the garb of The Mug waiters. "Bonnie, is this man bothering you?" he asked.

"Yes, he is," Bonnie replied, pulling out of Forrest's grasp and striding away.

Forrest tried to shout after her, but the big man stepped forward. "I think you'd better leave," he said.

Forrest sighed and stepped outside. Rain began to fall, and he walked back to work alone.

The end.