Harry had had a long time to think about what happened. And in the beginning he felt like he had been played. Not by Karen, never by Karen. While she was rather private about her emotions, even towards him, even before this whole disaster, she was open and honest in her intentions.
But Mia? Harry tried to remember, how this all happened. Did he ever imply any interest in her, before she started flirting with him, rather shamelessly in fact?
He tried to be not only a boss, but also a friend for his employees. Why else would he try to help Sarah? And accept that she hit him? Harry had to smile at this memory. He had always liked being some kind of older brother for his employees. While he wasn’t particularly good at expressing his emotions, he was quite fond of them all. But Mia?
He could not remember doing anything to start this. Had she misinterpreted the easy rapport at the office at first?
But then he had made a mistake. Maybe he should not have asked if she had a boyfriend. He could not deny that there was a certain curiosity mixed into his intentions at that day. While he really was afraid that she had such a cliche boyfriend, all muscle and no brain, and while he also just wanted to be approachable for private conversations, he had also been interested because he wanted to know if a girl as handsome as her was single.
That was his first mistake, Harry realized. Given the way he asked, it was no wonder she thought he was interested. And on a certain level he was, even back then. If only to fantasize. Get appetite before he got home to eat. Or to play all possible scenarios through in his mind, so that he would be even more sure that he liked the life he had built up with Karen.
But it had all spiraled out of control. Soon she hinted that he could get … well, under her skirt. And maybe his thoughts had drifted there, every now and then since that day?
Still he had had no intention of acting upon this thoughts. But there he made the second mistake. He should have told her to stop. He should have told her that he had a wife and that, frankly, he found it infuriating that she would flirt with a man she knew to be married - and until that point without any problems that could not be solved.
But he didn’t. Not only did he not say anything alike, he also didn’t find her behavior infuriating. He felt … flattered. And now Harry hated himself for it.
And finally his last mistake. He had been too astonished when she asked for a gift, that he never stopped to think about what he was doing. How could his employee with whom he had neither shared a kiss nor any other body fluids have the audacity to ask her boss for a personal gift. What kind of person does anything like that?
At that point, he should have put a stop to it. Because this was no longer flirting. This wasn’t even hinting that he could cheat on his wife with her. No, this wasn’t even simply cheating. What kind of human being asked for a gift before a relationship had even started? She had played with him, with his mind, maybe even out of pure greed. Harry could not tell if there was an ounce of true desire or love for him in her behavior. He could not deny the possibility, but he couldn’t verify it either. But at least her asking for a gift, in retrospective, diminished her dignity and more importantly her likeability in his opinion.
„How could I have been so blind?“, Harry asked the man in the mirror before combing his hair.
He knew what he wanted to do now. More importantly he knew what and whom he wanted. It was just not only his decision if he could still have it. And her.
„Your taxi arrived“, somebody said outside.
God, he couldn’t wait to get back to London. Not that he didn’t like business trips. They made him feel important and cosmopolitan whenever he doubted if his job had any significance. But he really looked forward to getting back where he would call a cab and not a simple taxi.
He slipped his comb into the inner pocket of his jacket, grabbed his back and went out the hotel room.
„To the airport“, he told the driver and got in. Only a few hours of flight and then he was back home. If he had a home to come back to.
Harry tried to sleep during the flight, but only managed to get a few minutes of peace.
Still he didn’t feel tired when he made his way to the waiting area. The children came running to him and of course he hugged them, but his eyes were resting on Karen.
When the kids were distracted for a moment, he asked: „Can we talk?“
Karen seemed deep in thought for a moment, but nodded then. Still on the ride home both were silent, while the children told their father everything that had happened during his business trip.
Finally the kids went to bed and Harry sat down on the dinner table. „I thought about your question. What I would do in your position. And I do not have a definite answer. But I … I feel that not only do I owe you an apology. I owe you … openness. It was not a necklace and love. Not even a necklace and sex. But it was a necklace and childish infatuation. And there is nothing I can say that excuses what I did.“
Karen sat there, silently looking at him. There was no hatred or anger in her eyes, just resignation and pain. Harry would have preferred the former emotions.
„What happens next is your decision, love. Because I can understand if I hurt you too much. But I do not want Mia.“ For a moment Harry wondered if he should tell Karen how he felt about his mistakes. How he had failed to stop Mia, but how she used his stupidity as well. How from her side there was also greed included. But no. That would sound as if he wanted to appear innocent and make Mia the real culprit. And he didn’t want that. He knew that he screwed up.
„I don’t think I ever wanted her. Not even as a cheap affair.“
„Cheap?“ Karen snorted.
„Maybe not so cheap“, he agreed. „What I am trying to say is that I love you. I know I have not told you enough and I failed at showing you spectacularly. But I do. If you still want me, I … am yours. And … you decide what we’ll do with Mia.“
He knew that wasn’t right. That while Mia was not exactly a good human being, her future should not be depending on a woman who’s husband Mia had tried to steal. He knew it made him an even worse person. And he felt guilty at the thought that maybe Mia had to go back to Germany if Karen wanted to fire her. Moving to a different country sure was expensive.
„Is that your way of hiding from your responsibilities?“, Karen asked.
Harry stiffened. „I had not thought of it this way. You might be right. Although I had thought about it differently. My thoughts were that if I were in your place I would feel bad knowing my husband would still work with that woman. But I wasn’t sure if you were as possessive as I would be.“
Karen thought for a while. „Is there a possibility to get her another desk, far away from you?“
„You realize she is my assistant? It is possible. But I would have to get her another job and get myself a new assistant.“ Harry held up a hand and got pen and paper. He wrote down all the names of his employees next to their positions.
„What are you doing, Harry?“, Karen asked confused.
„I am trying to find somebody who needs an assistant. What do you say? Our designers could need somebody. I mean all this keeping in mind of dates or waiting for the printer is bad for the creativity, isn’t it? They should have some help with it.“
Karen still didn’t look convinced. „Harry …“
He sighed. „I know. This all sounds silly. I just do not know how to show you that I’m serious. That I am committed to you, to us.“
And again he felt stupid. He had not thought about a real solution and still could not think of one. „But … tell me, is there any chance you can ever forgive me?“
Karen sighed. „What choice do I have? I‘m a housewife. It’s not as if I had enough money to leave you.“
Harry felt as if she had just slapped him. „Of course I would pay. You stayed at home to raise our children. It’s the least I could do. And your brother is the Prime Minister. If you wanted to work, I am sure he and I can pull some strings. If it is just about money, you will not, will never have to worry. But do you … still love me?“
„Of course I do!“ She answered so quickly that he knew she told the truth.
„And do you think there could ever come a day on which you could be happy with me again?“
Karen looked at him for a long time. And finally she nodded. „But it will take time.“
„I know“, he said. „And I know I have only myself to blame. Do you want me to take a hotel room? Or the sofa?“
„Sofa. I don’t want you to miss out on our children growing up.“
Harry thought that maybe she also wanted to make sure that he had no room far away where he could meet other women. If that was among her motivations, he decided, this was a good sign. It showed she still cared about their relationship and didn’t want to lose him. That would have to be enough for now.
Mia packed her stuff. When she had learned, that Harry had no intention whatsoever to leave his wife or to even start an affair with her, she had begun to look for other jobs.
Harry had tried to be friendly, had told her that he would not fire her and just wanted her to stop flirting. But secretly he had been happy when she had finally found another job - with a little help from himself, that is. He knew her new boss, divorced and a friendly, good looking man, that might even find happiness with Mia if both got along well. He didn’t know if she was attracted to a certain age, a position of power over a business or a man that - while not being particularly wealthy - did not have to fear poverty either. If it hadn’t been the thrill of chasing a married man, good old Tim could be what she was looking for. And if not, he was a decent boss that paid her just as good as Harry did. At least economically she was not worse off.
But while Harry should be elated to see her gone, especially since now he had gotten himself a male and married assistant that would probably never flirt with him, he still felt awful about the situation in general.
He might have gotten rid of the beginning, but not of how he himself had behaved. There was no running from it. He had to find a way to show Karen that he still was and always would be hers, if she wanted.
He had taken time to think about the ways their marriage was now and back when they were newlyweds. Of course passion always cooled down with time, that was not only to expected, but also the normal evolution of love. Love wasn’t just fire and sex and longing, love was so much more and you only got to the good parts once you were over the first time of frantic coupling and straying hands. Love was trust and partnership, being content with simply sitting side by side in silence, or reading on the sofa. Love was the combination of the small gestures. An uplifting smile when the partner seemed to feel down. A warm hand to hold.
But in retrospective Harry had enjoyed this benefits of love from Karen without realizing that he never gave back much. He‘d gotten comfortable and had taken things for granted, had practically bathed in the emotional security Karen had offered. And he hadn’t really thought about how he can pay her back for all she gave him. He had always thought love was about giving without expecting something in return. And he still thought that might be true. But not when giving was completely one-sided like it was with them. Such an imbalance was just hurtful. To Karen. And in retrospective even to Harry, because he truly couldn’t stand himself any more.
But that was exactly what opened his eyes. He needed to find a way to be there for Karen just as she had always been there for him.
His first thought was to start with a grand gesture. To buy her jewelry. But while he knew she wanted some, wanted to be gifted jewelry, he also understood that now would be the worst time for it. Now she would understand it as a way of buying himself out of trouble. And that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted it to be an honest gift of love with no hidden meanings or intentions. Not a gift for making up. So before he could buy her anything alike, he had to fix things first. The hard way.
He began doing more household chores. Nothing big, because he didn’t know if she would like him to do housework or if she felt replaced or threatened by it. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel disposable. And he didn’t know if she identified herself and her self worth with her work just as he did, or if, for her, this was just a sacrifice for their marriage. If she actually would like to share the workload. How come he had never asked? What else did he not know about his wife?
Harry started of particularly small, drying the dishes after she cleaned them. And when she appeared tired he would also do the cleaning. He would make sure that he never left laundry - or clean clothes for that matter - lying around. And when he came home in the evening he helped Bernie and Daisy with their homework in those subjects he knew Karen despised.
Finally Valentine’s Day came and Harry took the day off. “I would have liked to take you out for a dinner and a movie, but unfortunately finding a babysitter is not easy on days like this. Daniel is on a date with Carol and both their children. And I even asked David. Now, I do know that a Prime Minister has no time for babysitting. But he is their uncle. But he and Natalie are off to Paris. On a diplomatic trip, that is, but … “ He sighed. “Now, I still want to take you out to dinner. But I am afraid I will have to ask Bernie and Daisy to come along. If that is alright with you?” And while he truly would have liked to spend time alone with his wife in a romantic atmosphere, he also was glad to spend time with his children. If he were honest, they had not seen enough of him either in the last few years.
They indeed had a good time. Harry took them out to a middle class restaurant. Not too uptight for his kids, but not too cheap to not be considered nice and romantic either.
From then on it got better. He told Karen about his work and when there were still chores to be done, he would simply help her, finding that together some of the work even was fun. And he agreed to listen to Joni Mitchell while working side by side. He tried to open himself for it. While he still found the music … debatable, he started listening to the lyrics and maybe, just maybe he educated himself on emotions as well while listening.
Life never got back to what it once was. It never got comfortable again like before Mia came into the office. And Harry wasn’t sure if Karen would ever fully trust him again. How could she? He didn’t even trust himself. But it got … better. On a certain level. Even after she invited him back into bed in April, even after they made love, slowly and tenderly exploring one another again, it was still hard. It took work, it took constantly reminding Harry that he could not slip back to former behavior and it took constantly reminding Karen to open up to Harry as well. To tell him how she felt so that he could react to it. Hold her, soothe her or tell her his thoughts. They even learned how to fight. How to not just swallow their emotions, but discuss them. How to let their anger flow into words, without actually hurting the other. They learned to blow off steam in a healthy way.
Then it was christmas again and they sat around the tree. They had survived the christmas party at the office just fine this year, for the first time they had booked a small museum with hands-on exhibits and invited the children as well. And Harry was glad he finally decided to include his family into his business life again.
But now he felt nervous again. One year had passed since the disaster that almost ended his marriage and he wasn’t sure if he’d been forgiven by now. So what he had bought for Karen was a bit of a risk.
He opened one of his gifts first, only to see a scarf. He looked to his wife and found her grinning back at him. Yes, Harry was sure, he deserved this for all the years he had given her scarfs. Actually it was a pretty nice one, too. He smiled back to her and wrapped the soft fabric around his neck. “Now go on, open yours”, he said. “Bernie? Give mum the big blue one, please?”
His son did and Karen arched both brows at that. Harry had never been really active at something like this, had always waited for her to choose. But then again that was before. The new Harry sure was different, but not in a bad way.
She took the box and opened it, only to blink in surprise. She wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad one, when she found a new picture of herself with her family in it, From the way Harry had acted, she had expected something different. So she tried to mask her confusion and plastered a smile on her face.
She took the picture out of the box and forgot to breathe for a moment. Beneath the wooden frame was a matching set of diamond earrings and a bracelet. “Oh, Harry”, she whispered.
“I still am a fool. I will always be one. But I am your fool, Karen. And I didn’t neglect you because I didn’t love you or because I wanted to hurt you. I just didn’t think. Which makes it even worse, I believe. But … never again. This fool tries to be the best fool he can be. And he will never let you down like this ever again.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but he interrupted before she could even start. “Oh, and if those are not your colour, we can go back and get others. I am a bit inexperienced in this. But I thought they were pretty and had class but didn’t look snobbish and …”
Harry was silenced by Karen’s lip, much to the dismay of their children. With an accusing ‘Eeeew’ the kids took the toys they had just unwrapped to play in their rooms. They didn’t want to watch that .