Chapter 1

Daniel Vickman closed the heavy oak door behind him and put down the black leather briefcase next to the umbrella stand when from the corner of his eye he caught the streak of light across the gray marble floor coming from the half-open kitchen door. Jenny must have forgotten to turn out the light in the kitchen when she went to bed. He sighed inwardly. How many times had he told her not to leave the lights on when he worked late? It was an unnecessary waste of energy, and money.

Feeling the annoyance build within him he took a couple of steps further inside before toeing off his shoes and carefully putting them aside on the shoe rack. He slid off his jacket, which he just as carefully put on a hanger and hung away in the closet. The view of the foyer nice and tidy, loose items put away and hid behind locked doors soothed his mind. Across the foyer, through the double doors to the living room he saw the shapes of lounge furniture resting in an almost complete darkness. Had it not been for the lit kitchen lamp he would not have seen his favorite recliner in front of the huge French windows; the reason he had fallen in love with and bought the house in the first place. The late August night offered no extra illuminating light, the moon barely a tiny slice of a crescent. He would have time to sit back and let himself relax to the late evening news before he had to prepare the documents for a client coming in the first thing tomorrow morning. For a second he regretted having agreed to meet them at 7.30, but it was an important sale. Not in a long time had he had a higher offer for a house that size in that area. Maybe the low in the market had finally hit rock bottom and better times awaited. About time too, he'd say. He and his company deserved a change.

He gave a last glance to the living room and the recliner and turned towards the kitchen instead. Giving the door a slight push it gave off a squeaking sound. He would have to remember greasing the hinges when the weekend came. Before the door swung fully open he stopped in his track. Over by the kitchen island Jenny swiveled around and faced him. She held a cup of something steaming, tea from the smell of it and stared intently at him. The source of the light came from under the kitchen cabinets behind her, making her a dark silhouette whose face he couldn't clearly see.

"I thought you'd gone to bed. What are you still doing up?" He remained on the threshold, while she moved across the wooden floor and sat down by the kitchen table and motioned for him to follow. It was closer to eleven, and for years, how long he could no longer remember, she had been in bed when he came home after a late day at the office, no exceptions. In the weeks they had different work schedules, limiting the time they spent together. If something important needed to be dealt with, they managed it through texts and emails. "Has something happened? Is it the children? You could have called-"

"Daniel! Sit down, please." She motioned for him to take the chair opposite. "Please. We need to talk." Sipping her tea she looked intently at him, while he clutched the doorframe, still not moving. The silence between them dragged on while it seemed the tick-tock from the wall clock over the door grew louder. The news had already begun, he would miss it. Instead of relaxing in his recliner he would have to move directly upstairs and finish the documents, so everything was ready in the morning.

"Daniel, cant' you please sit down?" Her voice louder this time, maybe he had not heard her the first time, he wasn't sure.

He shook his head. "I have work to do. Just tell me –"

"Alright! I've got a new position." He stared at her in astonishment and for the first time since he pushed the door open did he see her. She was in her gray dressing-gown and underneath it peaked out the evidence of a pink silk pajama. Had he given that to her? Last Christmas maybe. In the dim light he couldn't say if she still wore make-up, but her shiny brown hair hung down her back.

"A new part you mean."

"No. It's a new position. Not here, at another opera house and I'll be moving away."

The words sunk in slowly as he repeated them to himself. He had no recollection of her saying anything about wanting another position. She loved the job she had. She had a secure position with the assemble, usually held the position of important supporting characters. A couple of times she had even sung one of the leads. She had been there for years, since before they had Carmen.

"Don't you think you're going a little fast here, Jenny? You can't make a decision of this dignity on your own. There's the company, and the children's school and friends to consider." He moved into the room and sat down in the seat she had originally motioned for him to use.

Jenny shook her head. "There is nothing to discuss. I've already accepted, and signed the papers. I'm leaving tomorrow."

This time the finality of the words hit faster, and he shot up again, hovering over the table. "I can't just up and leave everything. I have a responsibility to my clients, to Martin. Even if, and I say if, we leave we still need a place to stay."

"You're not coming."

"What did you say?" She had spoken so quiet he hardly heard her. When she repeated it he wished he had in fact not heard.

"I'm going alone. You and the children stay here. It's a probationary position for ten months."

Sinking back down in his chair Daniel let out a sigh and flexed his fingers to rid himself of some tension.

"If everything works out, and I think it will, they really like what I have to offer, and then I'll get an extension or maybe even a permanent position. Then I'll be coming back for Marcel and Carmen." She turned to the binder he had not seen until now, lying next to her on the table, and pulled out a couple of papers. "And I want you to sign these for me." She pushed the papers forward and handed him a pen.

The bold black letters stood out on the white paper, 'application for divorce' they said. For a second the ground opened underneath him and it was as if the room couldn't hold enough air for him to breath. The smaller letters blurred in front of him, unreadable, but at the bottom he made out Jenny's signature, beautiful well-rounded letters in perfect blue ink. His perfect wife, his children's perfect mother wanted to leave him. Snorting he scrambled from the chair and began pacing, snapping his fingers while doing so.

"I will not sign those papers," he said between gritted teeth. "We are not getting a divorce. If you must you can take the position for the appointed time, and when it runs out you'll come back here." In the meantime he would have to arrange for a nanny or another baby sitter to help with the children. Marcel would have to pull his weight, but even so Daniel could not manage both his company and the household on his own for ten months.

"I'm not coming back, at least not to you, and you can't make me. You can either sign the papers now and the completion procedure will run smother when I come back, but even if you don't sign it we will be getting a divorce."

"No," he whispered. "You can't give up all we have." The house, their friends, the economic and social security, their place in the society.

"Daniel, we don't have anything, not anymore. I don't know if we ever had, I can't remember anymore. All I know is that I need to get out now, while I still have a chance to make something of my life."

"You have Marcel and Carmen, your position at the opera, me. Am I not taking good care of you? All three of you? You have everything you could possibly want right here!" Had he been a different kind of man he would have slammed his fist in the closest hard surface he found. As it was, self-control held its grip on him like a tight second skin.

Jenny finished the last of her tea and put down the cup carefully. "I don't love you anymore, and I don't think you love me."

He wanted to object, he brought her flowers every Friday, remembered to buy her gifts on Valentine's day and Mother's day and all their special anniversary days. No other man he knew, definitely not Martin, his business partner and co-owner of the company, was the attentive husband he was. He knew his part, and he played it perfectly. She had no right to complain.

"When was the last time we made love?"

Her question interrupted his train of thought. For a second he felt at loss, then he remembered, "When we were on holiday." It was more than a month ago.

"And before that?"

He couldn't remember. They didn't have sex often. He worked late in the weekdays and she often worked during the weekends; it was difficult to fit in.

"When was the last time we sat down and talked about something else than the children?" she continued, as if on a mission. "We don't connect emotionally anymore. It makes me miserable." Sighing she slumped against the table surface resting her head in her palms. "You haven't even noticed I've been having an affair." A brittle laugh echoed through the room, and she squared her shoulders and rose to put away the cup in the dishwasher.

Daniel looked out the window, the trees and bushes nothing but black shadows against the dark blue night sky. It had always been only he and Jenny, ever since high school. He had never so much as looked at other women. He tried to picture her with another man. The mere thought of it made him cold with sweat.

"Here." She shoved a piece of paper in his face. Reluctantly he took it.

"What is it?"

"What it looks like. A list of things for you to remember while you're on your own with the children. Carmen has a dentist appointment next Tuesday, and Marcel has soccer practice Mondays and Thursdays and games most Saturdays. There's a meeting with Marcel's class teacher in three weeks, and Carmen needs new gym shoes and new wellingtons or she won't have anything to put her feet in soon."

Daniel nodded slightly. "Fine, I got it. When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow, I told you already, why can't you ever listen? The taxi will be here to pick me up at 6.30, so you'll have to get the children to school. Carmen starts at 8.15 and Marcel at 8.50. You'll have to take Carmen there and make sure you pick her up too, or change the time with the sitter so she'll pick her up."

Briefly Daniel wondered who their sitter was now. They had gone through a line of them, all young teenage girls from the village willing to give a helping hand for some payment.

"The number is on the list. If she can't , or you get tied up at work, then you can call the Olsen's." Their next door neighbors, a retired old couple with no children of their own, but who were more than happy to help with Carmen and Marcel and served as surrogate grandparents, when his and Jenny's parents lived so far away.

"Here." She handed him the divorce papers again and this time he took them. "I'm going to bed." She was in the doorway, her back to him when reality dawned.

"Wait. What have you told them? Are you coming home to visit? What about our friends? Your parents?"

"I don't want to upset them. You can tell them tomorrow after I've left. I'll call them once I've settled in. In fact I haven't told anyone yet." She kept her back to him.

"What about the … affair? Who knows about that?" Had he been the laughing stock with friends and acquaintances without knowing? And for how long?

"Except for a friend at work, no one knows. As for us, I don't care what you say. Blame it all on me if it makes you feel better… I really need some sleep, I have a long day ahead of me. Good night, Daniel."

After the sound of her steps faded away as she tip-toed out in the foyer and up-stairs, Daniel slumped against the kitchen counter, feeling completely exhausted. Almost two decades of carefully built life came trashing down faster than he could fathom. What should he do? What could he do? He rinsed a dishrag in ice-cold water, letting his fingers go numb before he wrung it almost dry. In wide strokes he wiped the table until every crumb was gone and its surface shone.

The briefcase was still by the door when he passed through the foyer. He was about to put it away when his gaze caught the suitcases in the living room. He had completely foregone them on his way in. They were placed to the left, out of view from the main door, which could explain how he had missed them. Clenching his jaws, he moved upstairs.

All the light was out in the upstairs hall but he knew his way around in the dark, used to it as he was after all late night work. Three closed doors on his right side and another two on his left. He walked slowly past the first one, listening. All was quiet, not even the sound of Carmen's steadfast breathing, which he knew was there, was audible. When passing the second door he let his hand touch the surface, sending a silent wish Marcel was asleep and had been for the whole ordeal. Jenny and he had kept their voices low and controlled as always. They never shouted to each other or threw things at one another, still it was better if Marcel had been asleep all along. How was he going to tell the children their perfect family was taken away from them because Jenny selfishly had decided she wasn't happy? During the wedding ceremony it was said 'for better and worse' and 'till death do us part'. Although he was no longer a practicing Christian he held those vows high. He had assumed Jenny did as well. If anything it was their common view on relationships, faith and fidelity that kept them together, or so he had thought. Even when the worse parts had overridden the better parts in their relationship Daniel had kept his promises. But apparently Jenny had not. He swiveled around in the dark and faced the guest room door.

From underneath it he detected a faint streak of light, and he heard a soft rustle from Jenny, trotting around on the other side. He put his hand on the metal handle, squeezing it. Easily he could picture her taking off her gown, folding back the duvet, taking off and putting aside her earrings and bracelet on the bedside table; the way he had seen her doing it a hundred, thousands of times. Was she still wearing her wedding band? He fingered his own. The warm metal used to comfort him and made him feel safe, now it felt unsettling to his touch.

Within seconds he was in his own room; their room before Jenny decided she needed undisturbed sleep some three years ago. In those days Carmen had been in a phase with a lot of nightly wake ups and then he added to the disturbance by making too much noise when he came home late after work and woke her up again, she claimed. Since they had a guest room she had moved her belongings in there, saying it was only temporary, until life settled down again.

With trembling fingers he loosened his tie and pulled it off. He continued unbuttoning his shirt, unbuckling his belt, unzipping his trousers. He sat down on the side of his bed, bent down and pulled off his socks. What would he say to his parents? There was no way he could explain to them why Jenny left him. He couldn't understand it himself. And then there were the Olsen's, and Martin and his wife, his assistant at work, teachers and parents at his children's schools. He couldn't bear to face them if he had to tell them Jenny had left him.

Still a little shaky he rose from the bed and moved over to his desk by the wall opposite and turned on the computer. Patiently he waited for it to boot up. If Jenny wanted a divorce she could do the announcement, he wouldn't do it. He logged in to his company email. The 7.30 meeting wasn't going to happen. He doubted Martin would have the time to take it, so Daniel would have to reschedule somehow, maybe a lunch meeting instead, if the clients could make it. He sent a mail to them explaining how profoundly sorry he was to cancel so late and made some lame excuse about a family emergency. Then he mailed his assistant, told her the same and let her know he would be coming in late tomorrow. After a slight hesitation he added a note on wanting information about reliable babysitters, and hit send.

In another window he browsed through some of his favorite leisure sites. First he checked through his main competitors homepages, scoffing a little when he saw some of the market prices they had on their objects. They would have to go down in price if they wanted that old shack sold before the end of the year. It had just taken him almost two months to sell a similar object, but in a much better shape, in the very same area. A few more quick clicks and he had worked his way through the real estate market sites and moved onto the sites where he usually ended his late night surfing. Why change a good habit tonight when he needed them the most?

In the picture in front of him on the screen two men kissed each other, tongue visible. The darker, slimmer man bent over the blonder, substantially bigger built man, with their arms they held on to each other. The next picture showed another male-male couple kissing. Different men, but with the same coloring, one dark and one blond. In this picture the blond sat in the lap of the darker, both of them naked. Daniel leaned back in his chair and let his legs fall apart. He scrolled down further watching more kissing men, naked asses, wide shoulders and well-formed chests.

With a few clicks he left the tumblr blog behind for another favorite. After logging in, he picked out one of his favorite films. He turned to full screen mode and shifted in the chair. In front of him a hunky man entered a sparsely furnished bedroom, clad only in a white bath towel slung low around his slim hips, showing off well-defined abs and pecs. The camera angle changed and zoomed in on a second man sitting atop a huge bed with pristine white bed linen. The first man climbed onto the bed and let the towel fall to the floor.

Daniel licked his dry lips and squeezed himself through the fabric of his boxers.