September 2021 Featured Article
In all their years together, Maddie had experienced an array of emotions—joy, desire, frustration, anger…the list was endless. Shock was not one of them. Until now.
“What are you doing here?” She squinted at his rain-drenched form. “And how in the world did you find me?” Her mind spun a quick scenario where he had her followed. Did he hire a private detective? Get a grip, girl. You’ve been watching too many cop shows. Besides, she’d barely been gone long enough for him to notice.
Eric held up a hand to reveal his iPhone. “Find my phone.” He shrugged and gave her a sheepish smile. “Can’t believe it actually worked.”
Maddie couldn’t believe he even knew the app existed. It took her nearly a year to teach him how to attach a Word doc to his email.
“Ma’am, here’s your food.” Maddie craned her neck to acknowledge Aaron. “Careful. The plate’s hot. Can I get you anything else?”
What should she do? Paul sat on one side watching the interaction like they were part of a live reality TV show. The couple on her other side hadn’t yet come up for air, and her husband stood behind her like an abandoned puppy. Ten minutes before, she’d been starving. Now the smell of the shepherd’s pie had her stomach knotted and churning.
Maddie fumbled in her wallet for a twenty and set it on the counter then glanced at Paul. “It’s all yours if you’re hungry.” She slipped the handle of her purse over her shoulder and wrestled her roller bag from between the stool and bar. Where this confrontation would lead was anyone’s guess, but it wasn’t going to take place in a crowded restaurant.
“Let’s go,” She threw at Eric as she passed him.
Once outside, she closed her eyes and drew in a deep, cleansing breath. Now what? The rain had stopped, but the humidity had spiked to a near intolerable level. Sweat trickled down her temples and the back of her neck.
“Can we talk?” Eric’s shoulder brushed hers as his hand rested on the low of her back. “I came all this way—”
She held up a hand. “Don’t.” It was both a command and a plea. She kept her eyes averted, unable to look at him. “Where are the kids?”
“I left them with my parents.”
Great. Now her in-laws would have a front row seat to her humiliation. Wasn’t that just perfect?
“Don’t worry. I told them I was surprising you with a weekend getaway.” At least he’d had the foresight to cover for her. Or was it for him? “Where are you staying?”
Maddie shrugged. “I haven’t a clue? You?”
“The only reservation I booked was my flight out here.” He stepped around her, so they were face-to-face. “Look at me, Maddie. Please.”
A couple walked past them, and Maddie could feel curious stares. She glanced at Eric in the waning light, and her eyes welled. “How did we get here?”
He thumbed a tear from under her cheek. “I messed up. Big time. I don’t want to lose you, Mads. I’ll do anything if you’ll just give me another chance.” He hitched the strap of his bag higher onto his shoulder. “Can we at least talk?”
She nodded. “Forsyth Park is about four blocks from here. Plenty of benches.” As she crossed the street, Eric took the roller-bag from her, leaving her hands free. Chivalry wasn’t dead, even if it was too little too late.
“The trees here are incredible,” Eric said, tilting his head back to glimpse at the ancient live oaks. “Is that Spanish moss hanging from them?”
“Uh, huh.” Did he really care about the Savannah foliage or was it an attempt to soften her? If this was a romantic weekend, which it wasn’t, she would have pointed out the Mercer-Williams House when they reached Monterey Square and reminded him of the famous trial of Jim Williams.
The canopy of trees overhead thrummed with cicadas while the gardens that bordered the walkway through the square were lush with ferns, and the vibrant blooms of liriope, azaleas, and hydrangeas. Maddie loved this town with its Victorian district and the antebellum homes. Even though she knew the horse drawn carriages were only there to accommodate tourists, she could almost believe she was living in a different time. Suspended reality. But trying to escape real life would lead to more disappointment. Eventually, she’d have to go back.
Eric interrupted her reflection. “Would you live here if you could?”
“Savannah?” She shook her head. “My life is in Knoxville with the kids.”
“And what about me?” The question was tentative. Vulnerability wasn’t generally in his wheelhouse.
“That’s something I guess we’ll have to figure out.” If they could. Although she’d realized before he showed up at the pub that his affair was more of a symptom than the cause of their marital problems, forgiveness would be hard to come by.
They crossed into Forsyth Park which was teeming with people both young and old. The wide concrete walkway was lined with park benches and old-fashioned streetlights. Live oaks dripping with moss towered above. Not far from the entrance, surrounded by moat-like water, sat the extravagant fountain erected in 1858.
“Well, that’s quite a structure, isn’t it?” Eric leaned against the three-foot tall wrought iron fence that enclosed the fountain along with lush caladium.
“Why’d you do it, Eric?”
He tilted his head toward an empty bench and led the way. Slipping the bags beneath, he sat with a sigh. “I don’t have an excuse that’ll get me off the hook, so there’s no point in giving one.”
Dampness from the recent rain seeped into Maddie’s pants. Her skin was sticky and warm, but her hands were cold. Nerves? She tucked them between her thighs as she crossed her legs. “I still need to hear it.” Even if it hurts. “If you can’t be honest with me about that, then we have nowhere to go from here.”
Eric shifted so he was facing her and folded his arms. “It’s not like I was looking for it, Maddie. In fact, I think I was as shocked as you that it happened.”
Maddie’s throat closed. “I doubt that.” She waved dismissively. “And that doesn’t answer my question.”
He ran a hand through his damp, curly hair. “It feels like we’ve become disconnected. There’s no…no passion. We don’t do things together anymore like we used to.”
Her mouth dropped open. “How many times have I asked you to come here with me? Or spend some time together on the weekends?”
“Spend time on the weekends?” He barked out a humorless laugh. “When are we supposed to find time between the chores and kids’ events?”
Maddie’s cheeks heated. Was he really blaming her for this? “You certainly find plenty of time to golf with your friends. You have no problem leaving me to clean the house and do the shopping while you go out and have fun.”
A muscle flexed in his jaw. “I’ve tried to help, Maddie, but no matter what I do, it’s not good enough.”
She opened her mouth to argue then snapped it shut. There was truth in that. Didn’t she just remake the bed the other morning when he’d already done it? She didn’t even bother to wait until he was gone. Still…was that a reason to cheat on her?
Eric reached out and touched her leg. “I’m not blaming you, Maddie. This was my fault.”
“It’s your fault that you don’t love me anymore?” Tears bit at the back of her eyes. She could be hard to live with, always wanting things to be just so. Was she driving the kids away, too?
“That’s not true, babe. I never stopped loving you. And I should have never gotten casual about our relationship, either.”
“How long have you been unhappy, Eric?”
“I’m not unhappy. I’m just…” He stared in the distance as if seeking the right word. “Bored.” He winced. “That sounds worse when I say it out loud. It’s so petty and immature.”
Maddie had been bored, too, but she didn’t go out and have a fling to make things more exciting. They’d gotten so far from where they started.
“I’m not saying this is all your fault, Eric, but I don’t know where we go from here.”
“What about counseling?” he suggested. “I’ll do anything if you’ll just give me another chance.”
Maddie sighed. “Do you remember when we were first married? Or even before we got married?”
“Sure. What about it?”
“Right before you walked into the pub, I was thinking how different it was back then. We were so committed to putting Jesus at the center of our lives. We went to church every Sunday and did couple’s Bible studies. You were even teaching a men’s study one evening a week.”
He nodded. “Remember that old guy, Joe something.”
“Stewart. Joe Stewart.” Maddie smiled at the memory. “Sweet man.” He always smelled a little of moth balls and old clothes. “He was so wise.”
“He used to tell us guys that there were two rules we should always follow.” Eric held up a finger. “Never, under any circumstances, be alone with a woman other than your spouse or immediate family.” He put another finger up. “And always put your wife first, no matter what.”
Maddie sighed. “There you go. I suppose if you’d followed those rules, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
“Is it too late, Mads?” Eric took her hand. “Do you think it’s possible for us to find our way back again?”
“I don’t know.” Maddie fought the urge to pull away from him. “This isn’t a blip on the radar, Eric. You broke our marriage vows.” God hated divorce, but infidelity gave her a pass, didn’t it? She could leave him and justify it, but to what end?
Eric squeezed her fingers. “What’re you thinking?”
“I’m angry, and hurt, and scared.” She blew out a breath. “But I don’t want to have regrets later. And it wouldn’t be fair to the kids, either. If we get divorced, they will be the ones to ultimately suffer.”
“Okay.” He drew out the word slowly. “So, you’re going to give me a chance then?”
Maddie nodded. “Three conditions.”
“We get marriage counseling, and we go back to church. We can’t do this on our own, Eric. We were foolish to ever think we could.”
“I agree. But that’s only two. What’s the third?”
Her eyes caught his and held. “You will never see that woman again.”
“Already done.” He rubbed her hand with a thumb. “Are you tired?”
She didn’t realize until he asked how much. “Exhausted.” Her stomach rumbled. “But I’m hungrier.”
“How about we find some dinner and a place to stay for the night?”
Maddie bit her lower lip. “And then what?”
“Tomorrow being Sunday, we’ll find a church service to attend and take that first crucial step. What d’you think?”
“I think it’s a start,” Maddie said with a sigh. It was a baby step, but a step, nonetheless. She’d have to walk in faith and leave the rest to the Lord.