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The Other Woman
by Gwen Wilson
Are you married? Lilac69 asked.
Thomas had met her late at night, playing, of all things, online Dominos. He won the first two games and she won the third before either of them wrote anything in the text box at the bottom of the screen, a shy “hi,” submitted by her.
Hello, Thomas wrote back.
And so it began. Lilac69 told him that she had a husband who traveled often and three kids whom, she joked, she wished her husband would take on his trips. Thomas was surprised to learn that she lived in Baltimore; he was a mere forty minutes away, in Annapolis.
Are you married? she had asked.
Thomas knew that he had no reason to be truthful or, for that matter, to believe anything told to him. For all he knew, Lilac69 was a thirteen-year old boy from Pennsylvania, a transvestite from Texas, maybe a college student in Taiwan. Or she could be what she said she was: a 39-year old Baltimore woman contemplating divorce from a man who had, she was relatively certain, spent the last year screwing one of their neighbors.
I’m divorced, Thomas lied.
I wish I was.
Their conversation continued. Thomas hadn’t met anyone online with whom he shared as many similarities as Lilac69. Location and age, for starters, and he discovered even more: they had both moved, at young ages, to the east coast from the west; they listened to the same music (both had been introduced, by their children, to the White Stripes); they enjoyed the same food; they went to the same web sites. They were insomniacs. They were bored.
Do you ever come down to Baltimore? she asked.
But one of her children needed attention before he could respond. I’ll be right back, she wrote. She wasn’t. Thomas waited, watching the Dominos blocks that hadn’t fallen for hours until he began to suspect that she had logged off. He stayed online for another hour, idly looking at news web sites and checking his e-mail until he gave up, shut down his computer, gave sleeping Julia a guilty kiss good night and fell to sleep himself.
He had been spending a lot of time on the Internet recently, playing Dominos and writing to strangers. He was usually online both at home and at work; he had even started skipping lunches and eating at his desk just to stay on the computer even more. His new addiction was wearing; he woke up tired the day after his conversation with Lilac69, fixed breakfast and walked Julia out. His office, where he worked as a managing copywriter, was a short ride from his house and Thomas was the first one in. He immediately logged on to the Dominos web site and was delighted when, minutes later, Lilac69 again appeared.
Sorry about last night, she wrote. Family drama.
No problem, he wrote back.
She wanted to know more about him: where he worked and where in Annapolis he lived, but Thomas didn’t feel comfortable revealing such personal information. Lilac69 didn’t share his reservations. After a few of Thomas’ vague responses, she freely began to discuss her frustrations with her marriage.
We barely even fuck anymore, Lilac69 wrote. Thomas stood from his desk, hurried to his office door and shut it.
That would depress me too, he replied, when he sat back down.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without it?
Depends…how long was I a teenager?
The turn in their conversation to sex didn’t surprise him; most of Thomas’ online conversations were sexual. At thirty-seven, he wasn’t entirely clueless with what was happening in the world, but it did seem that he had missed a couple of years when women had grown more sexually reckless. I want you to fuck my ass, they wrote to him, or they asked him to cum on my face or in my mouth or on my tits or on my back or in my pussy or between my toes. They wanted to be spanked, fucked, smacked, slapped, strapped, licked, bit, they wanted every available opening filled and fucked soundly, this invisible land of anonymous woman. Their sexual experiences ranged from risky to bizarre: I had sex in the back of a movie theater, one woman told him; I sucked off a horse once, wrote another.
Did sex have anything to do with your first wife leaving? Lilac69 asked.
Thomas considered her question.
No, the sex was always good.
Then why did she leave, if you don’t mind me asking.
Thomas had only one memory of why she had left, one that replayed over and over in his mind, in his dreams, coming to him suddenly during the day at work or driving home; everything else from that night three years ago–the phone call, the rush to the hospital, the halting way he explained what happened to their daughter, the funeral–were single snapshots, empty of anything but the physical moment itself, an album of images he never opened.
She met someone, Thomas wrote.
Were you ever with anyone else? When you were with her.
Once, he lied. You?
Was it worth it?
Oh god yes.
Why’d it end?
Thomas remembered waiting for word on his wife as he tried not to think about the terrible phrase the doctor had used (“…pried her body from the car…”), hoping to a God he had never much turned to before that she would be okay, worried more than he could have ever imagined being worried when a man had approached him, an older man with wet blue eyes, holding hands with a smaller elderly woman.
“Are you her husband?”
Thomas was confused; it was hard for him to focus. “What?”
“Are you her husband?” the old man asked again.
“Of the woman in the car accident?” the smaller woman added.
“We’re so sorry,” the old man said, brokenly. “We didn’t see her. We didn’t even see the red light. It was our fault.”
“We were driving the other car,” the woman explained.
Thomas looked around. Everyone in the waiting room was watching their little drama.
He turned back to the old man, the woman leaning over his shoulder, whispering into his ear. And Thomas suddenly felt something he had rarely felt before. His pain wasn’t gone, far from it, in fact, but he knew that he wouldn’t want someone else to suffer the way he was, the way he would. It was as if a path had opened before him; inherently, he felt it was the correct path, and he leaned toward the old man and whispered, “I know; I forgive you.”
I don’t know if I could do it again, Lilac69 wrote. Maybe. I wouldn’t want to have another affair, though. Did your wife find out what you did?
Was it worth it?
Yes, Thomas wrote, and there was that guilt, floating around him like a fly. He wished that, like a fly, he could bat it away.
What would you want? he asked her. If not an affair?
I just want to get laid.
Thomas laughed, and he glanced at his office door and adjusted the computer monitor so that it faced him entirely.
Glad we have that in common, he wrote.
Well, I am a man. It’s always a priority.
A sudden e-mail reminded him of his lunch plans.
Hey, he wrote to Lilac69, I’ve got to step out for a moment. Are you going to be around later today?
I’ll be here, she replied.
He logged off.
A minute later he logged back on and returned to the Dominos web site.
I thought you had to go, Lilac69 wrote.
My plans changed, he answered. He couldn’t leave her.
* * *
I’ve always had this fantasy, Lilac69 wrote, near the end of Thomas’ work day. Want to hear it.
You have to ask?
lol…okay, I just meet someone somewhere, some stranger…I always imagined myself in a park, and I see myself waiting at the railing, wearing a short skirt, and a man would come behind me and slide my skirt up. I wouldn’t even turn around, would never see his face…I might feel his arms around my waist, or his hands over mine, or him kissing my neck, but I would definitely feel his dick. Real fast, rough…you want to hear something?
i started fingering myself.
Thomas was already wiping cum off his keyboard and hoping that no one walked into his office. He crumpled up a wet paper towel and threw it into the trashcan next to his desk.
Same here, he typed.
You’re fingering your penis?
Look…do you want to continue this conversation later? Lilac69 asked.
Later in person
* * *
They planned that the sex would be anonymous. No real names, no conversation, no formalities; afterward, they would delete their IDs and they agreed to never look for each other. The hotel would be the Renaissance in Baltimore’s inner harbor; the time of their rendezvous, one o’clock P.M. Thomas took off the entire next day before he left his office and, as he did every weekday afternoon, drove to the Wilson’s house.
“She’ll be out soon, Tom,” Karen Wilson told him, standing in the doorway. Thomas could hear Julia and Karen’s daughter, Rebecca, talking in high voices somewhere behind her. “They’re washing off makeup.”
“Is that okay?” Karen asked, suddenly alarmed. “They came home wanting to try some on, and I didn’t think it’d be a problem.”
“It’s no problem,” Thomas assured her, although the idea did make him uncomfortable. “Besides, it’s probably better that you supervise something like that instead of me.” He meant it; Thomas trusted Karen, and her husband Paul, a great deal. Friends of his wife before she had died, they insisted on doing whatever they could to help raise Julia, including watching her for these hours between the end of her school day and his work day.
Julia appeared at the door, her cheeks red from scrubbing, faded blue over her eyes.
“I’m ready,” she announced.
“You’re clearly not,” Thomas replied, and Karen laughed.
He fixed her dinner when they arrived home, chicken and rice and a small bowl of vegetables, and then she did her homework while he logged back onto his computer and searched for Lilac69. He didn’t find her, and Julia finished her homework early so he turned off the computer, reviewed his daughter’s schoolwork and they watched television for a bit. She fell asleep next to him around nine, as she always did, and he carried her to bed, logged back on and was greeted with an IM.
Are you excited? Lilac69 asked.
I am beyond excited, Thomas pronounced.
I wish I was fucking you right now.
They masturbated together, and Thomas didn’t fall asleep until five. The alarm woke him at six-thirty and he groggily climbed out of bed. He staggered down the hall to Julia’s bedroom and knocked on her door.
“Yeah, dad?” Julia had turned twelve a month ago and he had witnessed, and been somewhat alarmed by, the changes in her behavior. A curt “dad” had replaced her endearing “daddy,” and she had started demanding more privacy; Thomas no longer felt comfortable walking into her room unannounced. Their conversations had also changed; Julia used to talk with him about anything, even topics that he couldn’t imagine she cared about, such as his job or childhood or favorite summer vacation. But now she was only interested when he asked her about the boys in her class, or her girlfriends…and he knew, ruefully, that those topics would soon become her private concerns as well.
Thomas walked to the kitchen, flicking on lights along the way, and remembered his secretive plans for the afternoon. He felt immensely happy at the thought, especially since he hadn’t been with anyone since his wife had died…and then he grew a little worried. Disease, scam, lies; there were a number of things that could go wrong. For all he knew, he could end up in a bathtub with his better organs carved out. And he had a responsibility to Julia. These thoughts panicked him, and he did his best to ignore them.
He had finished making eggs and was setting down her glass of orange juice when Julia walked into the kitchen.
“Scrambled eggs?” his daughter asked. “What’s the occasion?”
“No occasion,” Thomas said, as she settled in her chair. “Just know you like them.”
“Thanks,” Julia said, her fork already in her mouth. Every day she looked more and more like her mother. Thomas had also been an only child and never privy to observing someone else change and grow, and it was remarkable for him to watch Julia mature; sometimes it seemed like the changes happened overnight, as if she shed a skin every dawn. She had always been thin, gaunt even, but her cheeks were getting rounder, and her stomach and breasts had begun to fill. It wasn’t because of a lack of exercise; Thomas took her to soccer practice on Saturdays and, until she had expressed a recent desire to quit, tae-kwon-do on Sundays. It was her mother’s inherited body. Thomas often wondered what traits, if any, Julia had taken from him.
She set her fork down. “What are you looking at?”
“You’re staring at me.”
“I didn’t realize I was.”
“Well, stop it,” she said, irritably.
Thomas hurried to the computer after Julia left for school. Lilac69 wasn’t online, but she had sent him an e-mail. A sense of dread rushed over him; he hoped she wasn’t going to cancel.
I can’t stop thinking about this afternoon, she had written. Renaissance, 1:00.
Thomas logged off and promised himself that he wouldn’t use the computer again; he didn’t want to appear overeager if Lilac69 saw he was online. He spent his morning on the couch, comfortably rebelling against the notion of doing anything productive. He ate a lot of crappy food, he watched and enjoyed some terrible television and he fought the urge to masturbate.
At ten o’clock he took a leisurely long shower and headed to Baltimore. He parked at a shopping pavilion near the harbor and bought and wore a new outfit–slacks and a polo and brown shoes–and sat near the harbor, watching the water, until he remembered that this was a place his wife had enjoyed. He stood and left. It was almost one o’clock.
The hotel was a short sunny walk from the shopping center, and he asked the front desk clerk if a key had been left for a mister Bottomley (not my real name, Lilac69 had assured him).
The clerk looked through the desk, and Thomas realized he was going to tell him no key had been left.
“Room 606,” the man at the desk said, and handed him a small envelope.
A woman shared the elevator with him as it whirred up from the lobby. She wore shorts and sandals and had French-manicured toenails and was startlingly attractive. Thomas wondered if Lilac69 resembled her…or was her.
The doors opened to the sixth floor, and he stepped out alone. Room 606 was three doors down.
Thomas was nervous, nearly shaking, but he fumbled the key card into the lock. He pulled open the door when the lock light turned green.
“Lilac?” Thomas asked. He wasn’t sure if he should add the sixty-nine.
“I’m here,” she said, her voice high and timid. He was relieved that she sounded as nervous as he was.
Thomas stepped into the room. He could barely breathe.
“Should I turn on the lights?” he asked. He could see a small bathroom on his right, and the edge of the bed around the corner.
No deliberation in her answer. “No. But close the door.”
Darkness enveloped him when he did. Thomas walked slowly toward her voice, his hand pressed against the wall, and lay next to her shadowed form. He tried not to sound clumsy as he settled on the bed. His hand accidentally brushed her body and he felt a coarse lace and realized she was wearing a negligee; given the novelty of the situation, he had imagined that, like him, she would be cautious. Her readiness surprised him. They lay side by side for a moment, not speaking, each looking up, and he was starting to think that nothing was going to happen when she turned to him, swung her leg over and mounted him.
Her body wasn’t heavy but it pressed down on him and the rush of sensations–the feeling of her thighs over his, her pubic bone grinding down–excited him. He could see a little, only a little, of her in the dark: a small protruding stomach; short curly hair; the curving outline of a shoulder as she bent and kissed him; the smell of perfume on the side of her neck. Her lips were chapped as their mouths met.
His excitement was growing and her hips adjusted and pushed down even harder. She lifted the lingerie off her body and he took off his shirt. His fingers traced up her sides and she inhaled sharply and squirmed; she was ticklish. Her breasts were smaller than he had assumed; each felt in his hand like a soft small bun of warm bread. She leaned over and, again, they lay side to side, her legs now circling his waist, her nipple now between his lips. A moan escaped her mouth. She reached down and undid his slacks, roughly, and his dick spilled into her hands. He pushed his pants off and, both naked, she pulled him hard, too hard and too high, and he held her wrist and guided her hand slower and lower. He reached for her and his hand disappeared between her legs and he felt hair, and then wetness. She was so wet that his hand slipped and his finger pushed inside of her too quickly. Her back arched and she murmured “ow” and he responded with an “oops, sorry” and, simultaneously, they stopped and laughed.
They massaged each other more genuinely now, kissing deeply, and Thomas remembered a time, after he had been married almost a month, when he had thought, not unhappily, that he would never kiss a different woman again. He enjoyed kissing Lilac69, touching her, feeling her nipple expand under his hand, her pussy opening and closing over the tip of his finger, the way her hips started to swing back and forth…
“I know we said we wouldn’t,” she said, speaking softly, her lips an inch from his; he felt her breath. “But…” Her voice dragged.
“Can I go down on you?”
He nodded, and their noses touched. “I’d be okay with that.”
“Good,” she said, and her body turned, curved, and she curled by his legs. Her hand wrapped around his penis again and she kissed and caressed the head. Her lips closed over it and he felt her suck, and he heard her lips softly smack when she released. Her tongue slid over the tip, thirstily. His rush was starting–a low sound left him, surprising him, and her lips wrapped around his shaft. He felt himself fill her mouth.
“I’m going to come,” he told her, urgently.
She stopped and pulled back.
“Did you bring a condom?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Put it on.” And she rolled away from him and off the bed.
Thomas waited a moment to let the rise settle, and then he fumbled around the sheets until he found his pants, took the condom out of the pocket, tore open the packet and pulled the slippery condom on. He saw her silhouette lean over the base of the bed.
“Get behind me,” she said.
He did. She leaned over, her ass a dark heart in front of him and he slipped inside her easily, too easily…she’s had kids, he thought. Thomas realized she was playing with herself while they fucked; he could see her arm draped on the bed and he felt her other hand, felt her fingers firmly rub her clit as he disappeared inside. Her moans were louder now, timed with his, turning into cries as his hips pushed against her ass. He was so close to coming that he nearly pulled out but, sensing his state, she bent her lower back and lifted her hips and pushed into him. “Come in me,” she implored him, her voice high. His thoughts were everywhere, as uncontrollable as if they were slipping on ice…and then they were all wiped away by a moment of sudden surprising tenderness, as if he had found whatever had been missing in him, whatever had been lost, here in this dark room, in her. Thomas came like he was trying to drown her, and he leaned over her body and reached around her hips and squeezed her body closer to his. The intimacy of his arms seemed to surprise her, and she said a faint “oh” and her muscles relaxed, accepting him.
He pulled out of her and shuffled around the bed. They lay next to each other, breathing roughly, exhausted, holding hands. The room smelled of her sex. She squeezed his hand briefly, released it and stood. The woman dressed. He watched the shadow of her leg lift as she slipped on one shoe and then the other, slightly off balance, leaning on the bed for support.
“Can I see you?” he asked.
She hesitated. “I thought we said…”
“I mean now, with the lights on, before you go.”
The door opened and the light from the hallway spilled in, but she ducked out so quickly that Thomas saw nothing but a moment of dark, curly hair.
And then she was gone. The condom was cold on him.
* * *
There was a parents-teachers conference later that week, and Thomas couldn’t help but feel that he was the one in trouble as he talked to each of Julia’s teachers. He wondered how they would react if they knew he had had sex with a stranger he met online–the idea seemed grossly irresponsible now that he had done it. But none of the teachers had anything negative to say about him or his daughter: “Julia is a good student but a little quiet, which is certainly understandable…given the circumstances.”
He was surprised that they characterized her as quiet. Thomas had thought, from her excited conversations with her girlfriends and her seemingly endless list of boys, that Julia was chatty in class. To learn that the opposite was true, and probably because of the reason her teachers suspected, disturbed him. His idea of his daughter was wrong. He was even more distant from her than he had feared.
And, even worse, over the last week he had essentially ignored Julia because he was obsessed with Lilac69. He wanted to see her, or talk to her, but she was no longer online, and the e-mails he sent to her were returned as undeliverable. He had no street address to go by, no idea of where she lived other than the city of Baltimore. He called the hotel and made up an excuse to try and track down the person who had reserved the room, but they refused to give him any information. He even considered going from row house to row house, knocking on doors until hers opened. The more time passed during which he didn’t hear from her, the more desperate he felt.
Thomas couldn’t believe that she had abandoned him this easily.
He couldn’t contact her again; he knew that, he knew that…but he was so goddamned lonely. He wasn’t sure what he had expected – some sort of relationship or maybe just an occasional meeting – but he hadn’t thought that it would end this quickly. He felt like he had been drinking from a fountain and the water had suddenly stopped. And he knew that he would never hear from Lilac69 again; she had too much to lose. He, on the other hand, had nothing.
His life was spiraling down. A daughter growing estranged from him; a job that he didn’t care for and, at best, was adequate at; now, adulterous sex with a stranger. How different life turned, all because of one night.
“You okay?” Julia asked him, as they drove out of the school parking lot.
“Sure,” he said.
“You don’t seem okay.”
“I can tell,” she told him, as the car’s headlights cut into the night. “I’ve been watching you.”
“Sure,” Julia said, and she crossed her little legs and ran a hand through her hair the way her mother used to, and Thomas felt his heart fill and ache at the movement, like the moment when you think you see somebody you once loved, “you watch me, and I watch you. That’s the deal.”
“That’s the deal,” Thomas agreed, gratefully. His daughter leaned into the crook of his arm and they drove home.
Gwen Wilson is a freelance writer currently lost in New Zealand.
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