Jeff rolled onto his back, feeling the sheets beneath him grow damp from the sweat dripping down his spine. He could feel his heartbeat in his hands, everything looked brighter.
Denise let out a shaky sigh and leaned across Jeff to grab a cigarette from the wilting pack. She lit up and breathed out a stuttering stream of smoke. She glanced over at Jeff and smiled.
"Whatever you've been doing, keep doing it," he said, snaking a finger down Denise's exposed sternum.
"What do you mean?"
"That was... just... I don't even know. You've never felt that amazing. You were so-"
"Okay," Denise stretched out the word, placing a hand on Jeff's mouth. "Jeff. I- We-" she sighed again, more agitated than reveling in pleasure.
Jeff pushed himself up on his elbows and looked at her, forehead furrowed.
"What? Is it about the condom? You said it was okay because you weren't revolvulating or whatever. What is it? Ovulting? Ov-"
"Jeff, shut up for a fucking second."
Denise tugged hard on the cigarette, the filter withering between her fingers from the force.
Jeff was silent, but his heart started thumping again.
Oh god, don't let her be pregnant. Is that why she didn't make me use a rubber? Oh fuck.
"I don't think I can do this anymore, Jeff," Denise stubbed out the Camel and sat up, wrapping the dirty blanket around her chest. She noticed a few stubborn hairs on her knees that the razor hadn't caught.
"What? Why? What did I do? Baby-"
"Jeff! For fucks sake, just fucking listen."
He withdrew his hands that were reaching for hers and layed back. Thump. Thump. Thumpthumpthumpthump.
"I saw your wife at Kaldi's last night."
"Oh geez, Denise-"
"Jeff, please," she paused, eyebrows raised, waiting for him to acknowledge her request. He raised his arms, gesturing her to continue.
"I saw her. She looked miserable, Jeff. She was with Andrew and he was causing a scene, something about his chocolate milk or whatever. But she just looked sad, you know? Do you ever talk anymore? About more than just what one of you needs from the store? Don't get me wrong, this is great. I haven't had sex like this since high school, but Jeff. I can't. Seeing her like that. What if that was me? What if my husband was never home because he was banging some slut-"
"You're not a slut!" Jeff argued, sitting up quickly and facing her, "You're not. You didn't know about Eveline when we started hooking up. It's not your fault. I'm the asshole. Okay?"
"No it doesn't even matter. I can't do this anymore."
Denise emerged from the bed and headed over to the heap of clothes by the bookcase. Jeff couldn't help but sneak a peek as she bent over to retrieve her underwear. She looked ten years younger than her 32, her skin tight and pale. She kept her hair long and knotted like a stubborn girl who won't let her mom brush it.
Denise slipped her panties back on and tugged her T-shirt over her bare chest.
"Denise, please. I can't not see you. You're the best thing that's happened to me lately and you're keeping me sane."
"The best thing that's happened to you should be coming home to your wife and son and knowing that someone truly cares about you. Not fucking me and then going home and showering the evidence off and getting away with it."
Denise turned her head sharply.
"No more of that. I mean it."
"Denise, I would fucking leave it all for you! Don't you get it?"
"Jeff," Denise mumbled, yanking her jeans up onto her hips, "if you can't handle this, how can you handle a family? Honestly, you don't deserve a fucking family. They care about you so much, I can tell by the way she looked last night. Like a lost pet. She needs you. They both do."
Jeff grabbed one of Denise's cigarettes and sparked the end.
"Don't fucking act out like a kid. You don't smoke," Denise snapped, grabbing the cigarette from his mouth and putting it in her own.
"Denise, please, I can't-"
"Just go, okay? We can talk about this tomorrow. But you're not staying here tonight."
Jeff closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his curly hair. He could smell her on his fingertips and the thought of never having her again punched him in the gut. He sucked in his fear and stored it somewhere deep, at least until he could make it out the door.
He dressed silently, aware of Denise the whole time. She held a brush in her hand, manically yanking it through her hair.
"What are you-"
He slipped on his shoes and without another word was closing the door behind him.
Jeff nudged the door shut with his heel as Andrew sprinted into the foyer to greet him. He jumped into Jeff's arms, a sticky grin lighting up the room.
"Hey, buddy, how are ya?" Jeff managed, holding his son to his chest as he headed into the living room. When was the last time he was home while Andrew was still awake? A month ago?
"Mom! Dad's home! He's here!"
Eveline entered the room and Jeff instantly felt the heat of guilt crushing his kidneys.
"Nice of you to grace us with your presence," she muttered, scratching at her arm.
"Um, yeah, hi sweetheart," Jeff tried to smile, leaning down to kiss her forehead. He felt her flinch. Whether it was repulsion or shock at such a gesture in such a long time, he didn't know.
"How was work?" she asked, taking Andrew from his arms and setting him on the ground. He instantly ran off into the kitchen, his bare feet making tiny sucking noises on the linoleum.
"Fine. Same old shit, ya know. What's for dinner?"
"Andrew and I already ate. You can heat up the leftovers. They're still on the stove."
Eveline turned back toward the kitchen then paused.
"Have you been smoking?"
Jeff froze. Shit.
"No, uh, I stopped in this bar by the restaurant with a few guys before coming home. They all smoke like it's the 50's."
She gave him a knowing look, "Yeah, okay."
Jeff shoveled the lukewarm noodles and bacon bits into his mouth before occupying himself with a Chuck Palahniuk novel.
When the house was dark and quiet, Jeff retreated into the bathroom with his cell phone and dialed Denise's phone number.
"Hey, babe, it's me," Jeff started. He was interrupted by a click and dead noise.
The roar of the "she-hung-up-idiot" noise startled Jeff into dropping the phone in the toilet.
"Fuck!" Jeff grabbed the phone out of the water and tore the back off, separating the battery from the drenched phone. He set the separate pieces on the bathroom rug and settled himself against the wall.
Jeff woke up curled in the fetal position with the bathroom rug covering his waist-a makeshift blanket. He yawned and winced at the pain in his limbs from sleeping on tile.
He opened the door and immediately the smell of pancakes invaded his brain. He grinned and tried not to run into the kitchen.
A stranger stood at the stove, her long hair trailing down her back. Jeff's breath caught in his throat.
The woman turned around. She was young, maybe 18 at the most, and she smiled a yellowed smile at him.
"You must be Mr. Fimble. I'm Teresa."
Jeff stared at her in confusion.
"Um, I watch Andrew during the day? I didn't know you were here. I wouldn't have been here if I knew..."
"Where's my wife?" Jeff asked, rubbing his sore neck, mind going a mile a minute. When did she hire a babysitter? Why didn't I know?
"She said she was meeting someone for coffee? Uh, Dara? Debby?"
Jeff's air supply stopped altogther.
"Yeah! Yeah, that was it. She said she was running errands and then she's meeting Denise at 2. Do you want some pancakes?"
Jeff sprinted from the kitchen and up to his bedroom. He could smell the trail of Eveline's subtle perfume powdered across the dresser, spotting on the bed. He tore off his clothes and changed into whatever was within grabbing distance.
He was starting the car before he thought to check the time: 11:21am.
He threw the car in reverse and sped through stale green stoplights, blowing through stop signs, until he screeched into park in front of Denise's house.
The air was thick with fog from the apparent rain the night before, and Jeff tripped over the curb, nearly fell into the soggy garden.
He threw himself against the door, pounding on the cheap panels until it opened.
Denise's hair was brushed and swept back with bobby pins, but the rest of her was disheveled, as though she had just woken up.
"Jeff, what the hell?"
"You have a lot of fucking nerve," Jeff swore as he pushed past her into the sitting room and began to viciously pace, hands shaking.
"What are you talking about?"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about! You fucking cunt!"
Denise's eyes exploded with rage.
"How dare you! You come into my fucking house uninvited and call me that? What is wrong with you! I know you're upset about us, but fucking a, Jeff."
Jeff felt a tweak in his head, a sickening dip in the pit of his stomach. His actions were on auto-pilot. He was in Denise's face before he could comprehend the words coming out of his mouth.
"You violated me. You- you called her. My wife. She's meeting you. You fucking slut. You whore. You were lousy in bed anyway. You're a fucking bitch."
Denise looked like a broken toy, her jaw moving noiselessly, eyes watering.
His vision tunneled and his hands wrapped around Denise's throat. Images of her naked body writhing against his, his wife's tan hands wrapped up in Andrew's hair, the babysitter's terrible teeth. Flash flash thump thump thumpthumpthump.
A terrible wretching sound filled the air, but Jeff couldn't hear anything. His ears were ringing, a twisted beauty in the high he was experiencing. His fingers were cramping, his knuckles bleeding from Denise's nails clawing desperately.
Her eyes bulged, eyelids swelling. He could see the blood vessels in her eyes pop, pop, pop.
Finally, her hands drooped, her eyes rolled back in her head. He felt an incredible weight in his grip and let go. Denise slumped to the ground, angry dark rings around her throat. That delicate throat that Jeff used to bury his face in.
Still incompetent with rage, Jeff stormed out the door and followed his subconscious route home. The clock read only 12:35pm. He missed the driveway by inches and his tires tore into the damp ground with ease, shooting mud up onto the car and ripping grass out by the roots. He was delirious-he walked through the mud, heels slipping and sinking, and he tried four keys before he found the one to unlock the front door.
His feet tracked mud up the stair into his bedroom. The stink of Eveline was still prevalent, and he choked on the fumes that now seemed overwhelming. He sank into the made bed, dripping shoes soaking the bed.
Jeff woke up to the sound of Eveline rummaging around on the dresser. He sat up, head pounding, blood like jumping beans twitching his limbs. Eveline was taking out her earrings, pulling the pins from her hair. Jeff had forgotten how beautiful she was. What was he thinking with Denise? Oh god. What did I do?
"Jeff, damnit, you got mud everywhere!"
He snapped back to reality. His jeans, shoes, the blanket, the carpet, all stained with the slick dirt.
"Oh, babe, I'm sorry."
Eveline gave him a startled look before her eyes sparked with tears.
"What? What did I do?" Jeff asked, genuinely confused.
"You haven't called me 'babe' in months. Or apologized," Eveline choked out, tears streaming from her eyes.
Jeff ripped the shoes from his feet, stripping the jeans until he stood in just a T-shirt and boxers. Not the most romantic image, but he wasn't thinking about that. He strode to Eveline and took her in his arms. He felt those tan hands grasp his back, his neck, her face buried in his neck. He felt the warm tears against his collarbone, and he held her tighter.
"Jeff, I'm so sorry. I've been terrible. Today was a letdown and I just realized how far apart we've been and I just want to make it better. I love you so much and-"
"Shhhh," Jeff soothed, stroking Eveline's hair, rubbing her side with his fingers, "it's okay, Evie, it's okay. Sit with me and tell me about your day."
Eveline sniffled, an embarrassed look on her face as she wiped away tears and her runny nose.
"We don't do this enough, you know? Talking about simple things. I miss it."
"Me too," Jeff agreed, stepping over the pile of dirty clothes and sitting back on the bed. He felt the wet spot on his thigh and hurriedly stood and pulled the blanket off the bed, tossing it on top of the jeans he had soiled. He patted the sheet next to him, "Sit. Tell me everything."
"Well, I was supposed to interview a woman today to babysit Andrew. I meant to tell you that, by the way. You've just been so busy with work and I needed a little extra help so I hired, uh, what's her name..."
"Right, right, Teresa. She's terrible, though. Can't cook, doesn't clean, always reeking of cigarettes. And I know she smokes in the backyard. Idiot leaves her butts everywhere. But anyway, I found this woman in the newspaper ads who has been babysitting for years, and I was going to see her today, but-"
"Wait. How old is she?" Jeff was ripped out of this happy moment by the reality of what he had done. His fingers still ached. He could still see her eyes, smell the last breath that oozed out of her lips. Denise...
"Uh, she was sixty...four? Sixty-five? I don't know, old. I felt more comfortable with an older woman, you know?"
Jeff froze with panic. She didn't know. Denise wasn't the same Denise. She wasn't going to tell. Wasn't going to ruin it all. And now she's dead.
"Jeff? Are you okay? You're shaking."
"Oh, babe, I'm fine, I'm fine. Let's go out to eat, huh? All three of us."
"Well Andrew is at a friend's house. Teresa took him before she went home."
"Then just us. Let's just go. Wherever you want. We need to take a vacation, don't you think? It's been a while. Let's-"
"Whoa, Jeff, slow down. One thing at a time," Eveline giggled, rising from the bed, "Let's get lunch, start from there. We can talk about vacation over food. Okay?"
Jeff smiled up at her. She was glowing, the smile on her face something he hadn't seen in months. He was going to change his ways. No more infidelity. No more stupi sluts he picked up at the grocery store. No more late nights.
"I love you," he blurted. Eveline had started towards the closet and stopped, turning with a gleaming grin.
"I love you, too, Jeff," she paused.
"What?" Jeff asked, nervousness hidden from his voice.
"It's just so silly. I-," she laughed to herself.
"What?" he pressed.
"I actually thought for a while that you were having an affair," she giggled again, "Ridiculous right? I can't believe I thought that."
Jeff grinned back, "Evie, babe. I'd rather kill someone than hurt you like that."