It wasn’t that he didn’t love Karen; he did – deeply. He even considered her his soul mate in every way imaginable.
So why had he cheated on her? Even now, after the deed was done, it was still inconceivable that he had betrayed their wedding vows. It had only happened the one time, but he was self-aware enough to know it wasn’t about numbers, it was the fact he had strayed at all.
When Mia had begun flirting with him, he had actually debated with himself about whether or not to reprimand her, but her manner was playful and it had all seemed so harmless, so he remained silent. He realized now he should have gone with his initial reaction, although he could admit in hindsight that he’d been a bit flattered by the attention.
After all, he and Karen had grown through their giddy-can’t-keep-their-hands-to-themselves stage nearly two decades ago. They had become responsible adults. He had started his company and then the children had come. They had grown comfortable with each other, almost like wearing an old sweater that was well-loved and warm. But the thought that someone so young and vibrant could see him as a sexual person had made his pulse quicken and his breath catch in his chest.
When Karen had confronted him at the children’s Christmas pageant, he was terrified that he might never be warm again.
He didn’t want Mia. He had never wanted to give up what he had with Karen in order to build a life with her. He’d just been caught up in the danger of it all, always believing that he’d back out or that Mia would admit that her interest had simply been a gag.
After the act had been consummated, he had felt ill. He knew he could lose everything, not only Karen but his company as well. Mia had been in a perfect position to blackmail him or she could’ve hired a barrister and sued him for harassment. The few minutes of pleasure were definitely not worth the potential consequences.
Karen was understandably devastated. However, thankfully, she didn’t throw him out of the house. Of course, that didn’t mean she had forgiven him though.
Emotionally, she was fragile and the distance between them seemed to be growing, despite the fact they were still going through the motions of their daily lives.
For weeks after Christmas, he slunk around the house like a kicked dog, afraid to get in her way, but wanting her to see that he wasn’t going anywhere. And while she apparently seemed grateful that he wasn’t leaving her, she seemed unsure how to deal with him, which killed him. She had always been the strong one, the one who took charge and made everything better, but she was floundering, apparently drifting without a rudder.
It finally dawned on him that he was going to have to be the one to step up to the plate if their relationship had any chance to survive.
He started with little things, like making sure he was always home for dinner. Instead of retreating to his study, he made it a point to help her clean the kitchen afterwards. They took turns helping the children with their school work and getting them ready for bed. When he knew she’d be having a rough day, he’d bring her home a single long-stemmed rose, just to see her smile.
But perhaps more importantly, he started making direct eye contact with her, taking the time to appreciate the fact that despite her being in her forties she was still a very desirable woman.
She seemed somewhat confused by his newfound interest. A few times he even caught her cheeks reddening before she turned her face in order to collect herself. He loved the way her eyes would widen when she’d turn back to look at him and realize he was still watching her. She’d often given him a tiny smile which made him think they would survive even this misstep.
He began touching her more; nothing sexual, just letting his hand linger longer than he normally would. Sometimes, when she sat at her desk, he would massage her shoulders, smiling inwardly when her posture melted.
He also made it a point to talk with her. Over the intervening years their conversations tended to center around the children, family, friends and the business. He started to engage her on various topics like he had when they first started dating and was surprised to learn that many of her world views had evolved over the years.
But despite all the tiny assaults on the walls she was trying to erect around her heart, he never once asked for or pressured her for sex. He knew he didn’t have that right and if he tried he was certain she’d completely withdraw from him and that would be the end of their marriage. No, she had to make the first move.
“Daniel has asked if the children would like to spend the weekend with him. He said he’s planning on taking Sam and Tommy to the zoo and figured what were two more.”
Harry gave the plate he was washing a rinse before he handed it to Karen. “Tommy is Carol’s son?”
“She reminds me of someone, but I can’t put my finger on whom exactly.”
“I know what you mean. I always feel like I know her somehow, but I can’t place where I might have run into her.”
He picked up another plate and started to scrub it. “Do you think he can handle all four of them together?”
“I think so. Besides, Carol will be with him so it’ll only be four against two. I think they can survive those odds.”
He smiled at her wry tone as he handed her the dish. “Better them than us.”
She grinned at him. “I thought we might have a lie-in Saturday morning.”
“That sounds heavenly. Perhaps we could go to Awana’s for dinner after we drop them off?”
He expected her to shoot him down, but instead she gave him a small nod. “I’d like that.”
Dinner was amazing. It reminded him of their very first date when they talked about everything and laughed without hesitation. He could admit, as they walked up to their front door that he was more than a little sad to see the evening draw to a close.
Karen pulled the house key from her purse and opened the door, but he found he couldn’t bring himself to follow her inside. She turned when she realized he wasn’t on the stoop with her.
“So this is your place?” He felt just as tongue-tied as he had when he had asked the very question over twenty years ago.
Her brows furled in confusion for a moment before her eyes grew wide. “Yes.”
Karen dropped her purse just inside the door then turned to face him again. “I think so.”
Harry put his hands in his coat pockets. “I must admit, I don’t want this evening to end.”
A sly smile blossomed over her face. “I think the neighbors would talk if we were to stand out here all night.”
“I suppose they would.”
“I had a nice time myself,” she finally admitted quietly.
The silence was just as awkward as it had been the first time they had played this scenario out.
Finally, Harry cleared his throat as he remembered the words he had once given her. “I’m not much to look at and I’m something of an idiot, but would you consider…that is, could you find it in your heart to be seen with me again?”
Tears glistened in Karen’s eyes as he gazed pleadingly at her. While he was sure that only a few seconds had passed, he felt like he had lived and died several times while he waited for her to answer.
“Yeah,” she whispered. “I think I’d like that.”
Smiling, he took his hands out of his pockets and reached toward her, taking her right hand as she offered it to him. He brushed his lips ever-so-softly over each of her knuckles and then turned her hand slightly and kissed the inside of her wrist.
“I will endeavor to deserve you,” he re-vowed. Reluctantly, he let go of her hand and took a step back toward the gate.
“You live here.”
He looked her squarely in the face. “Do I?”
Her smile quavered as she reached a hand toward him. “Yes.”
He stepped forward once again to accept her hand and then took another step so that he could brush a kiss over each of her eyelids. “I’m still an idiot.”
“Good thing I love you.”
And then it was his turn to feel his eyes burn with tears. “You do?”
She nodded. “Come up to bed, love. The neighbors are going to talk.”
He pulled her into an embrace and peppered her face with tiny kisses. “Let them.”