|Primary Characters:||Martin, Danny, Jack, Maria|
|Description:||After their time in jail, Martin and Danny are struggling to get back on their feet. Jack and Maria Malone want to help them. Samantha can’t accept her situation and tries to make it harder for everyone.|
“How is he?”
Vivian knew how hard her senior agent, Jack Malone, had worked to get agent Fitzgerald out of prison, where a false accusation had sent him. She also knew how concerned he was over the young man’s state of mind after his release.
“He says he doesn’t need anything. That he’s doing ok and that he’ll be back at work, as soon as he’s given the green light.”
“You’ve seen him, Vivian. He’s just not the same man he used to be. The time he spent in there has changed him.”
“I know. Being a cop in prison is tough. Tougher than it is for anyone else. I’m just not sure there’s anything else you can do for him. You got him out of there. Saved his life, maybe. That has to account for something.”
“But it’s not enough. He’s in pain.”
Vivian let her eyes wander across Jack’s features, wondering at his vehemence. There was something about all this that he was taking awfully personally. She couldn’t quite figure out why, but she really didn’t have to. All she wanted was for her senior agent to be back to normal again.
“I’m sorry, Jack. Has he spoken to a shrink about it?”
“I don’t think so. They can’t force him to do that.”
“But if he seems to be unbalanced and that might jeopardize his work performance -”
“I know. Try telling the boy that.”
A boy now? Jack was taking his job seriously. Apparently each man under his command was like his own child. A pity that didn’t apply to the women as well. Vivian had never really approved of Samantha Spade. What kind of a silly name was that anyway? Sam Spade. It sounded just like a pretentious joke.
“You know, I think you should let this rest for the moment. If you get so upset about it, you might find yourself asked to take a leave of absence. You know as well as I do, that there were some people upstairs who didn’t appreciate having all the Bureau’s resources used for something like this.”
Jack treated Vivian to a weary smile. He really appreciated Vivian’s loyalty. She was in many ways his right hand man, as it were. And as always, she was right. If he kept annoying the people upstairs, he could end up losing his job, or being demoted.
“You’re right. How is the Carrigan case going?”
“I think we’re making some progress. Samantha is following up on a lead as we speak. I’ll get back on it right away.”
“Thank you, Vivian.”
“When do you think we can expect Danny back?”
“I’m not sure. He’s been through a lot too, even though he keeps insisting he’s fine. But he was beaten and – Anyway, I think we’ll have to request some temporary reassignments. I’ll get on it right now. Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure we get two men transferred here right away.”
One thing she admired about Jack Malone was that he could always pull himself together and do a fine job, no matter what he had on his mind.
But when Vivian had left and Jack had put in the request about the new men, he couldn’t help worrying about Martin and Danny. He would have to find the time to go and visit them in person. Especially Martin. The way his father had abandoned him was simply disgraceful.
Yes, he would go tonight, after work. He was sure that Martin would appreciate hearing an update about work at the office.
Perhaps he should ask Samantha to visit as well. A young woman might cheer him up more than his old senior agent. Frowning, Jack decided that he probably shouldn’t talk to Samantha in private. Not for a while anyway. It would be far better for her if she had time to get over their misguided attempt at a relationship. What a fool he’d been. How unforgivable of him to take advantage of her. And in the end, he hadn’t felt any more at ease with her than with Maria.
In the meantime, Jack Malone’s estranged wife, Maria, was thinking about the other agent Jack had worried about. Since she considered him somewhat her responsibility after getting him out of the Mexican jail he’d been in, she decided that she ought to make sure he was recovering from his ordeal.
Before going to lunch, she put a call through, to Danny’s apartment. The phone was left ringing for so long, she began to think that either he wasn’t in, or he’d gone out. Just as she was about to hang up, she heard someone picking up.
“It’s me – Maria Malone.”
“Oh, hi, mrs Malone. I – would really like to thank you for what you did for me. That was -”
“That’s ok. Listen, I was wondering if I could drop by tonight. I have some paperwork for you to sign, and I could brief you on your options about the lawsuit -”
“Thanks, but I’d rather not -”
“Ok. It’s your choice. But I’d still like to bring you the additional paperwork.”
“Alright. I’m looking forward to seeing you.”
Maria put down the receiver, feeling slightly foolish. Perhaps the suave young man had bounced back just fine. He sounded more or less like his usual self. Except for the first couple of seconds when he answered the phone. Just then, he hadn’t sounded at all sure of himself.
It occurred to Maria that Danny was a young man who liked to wear a smooth, self-assured mask. Who was he really – underneath all that finish? She thought she’d detected a different young man. Someone far less sure of himself, and perhaps – but now she was merely speculating, something which an attorney shouldn’t allow herself to do – a young man with some hidden scars.
In any case, when she’d agreed to take on his case, she had promised she’d help him out of his predicament. Until he’d filled out the paperwork, he would still risk extradition. The Mexican authorities might choose to pursue the murder charges. She could help him with that, even if that was all he needed.
Too late she remembered that she’d also promised to have dinner at home with her daughters. She couldn’t let them down either. On the other hand, her girls needed to be in bed early. There was no reason she shouldn’t go and see Danny after dinner. Her errand wouldn’t take long in any case.
Jack felt a touch of guilt about leaving the office so early. It was probably the earliest he’d left in the past year or so. But Vivian didn’t appear to find anything odd about it and Samantha – well, he had to face the fact that he’d taken to avoiding her. This was beginning to get serious.
If his relationship with her was affecting his work performance – he might as well ask for a transfer. His agents had to be able to count on him fully. But he pushed the concerns to the back of his mind. Tonight, he’d visit Martin. He’d try to draw him out. If something had happened to the young agent while he was in jail, Jack felt he would be able to understand and perhaps, offer some advice.
He didn’t call ahead. In the past couple of days, he had called several times, and there had been no reply. That was one reason he felt so concerned about his agent. Martin should be talking to someone. At the very least, he should have someone there. Sitting alone in his apartment was the worst possible thing for him. It could only lead to brooding and the vicious circle would be complete.
Jack decided to pick up some Chinese food on his way over. If he knew Martin, there would be no food in the kitchen. He also bought a couple of beers.
Since he had only been at Martin’s apartment once – when he and Vivian had taken the boy home after getting him out of jail – he had to stop and ask for directions once, but soon enough, he found himself outside Martin’s door. Pressing the doorbell, he waited impatiently. Just as he had suspected, there was no reply.
He rang again, and a third time and finally, he could hear footsteps, slow and hesitant, approaching the door. A shadow darkened the light from inside, telling him that Martin had checked the peephole before unlocking the door. It was all exactly what the local police department advised anyone living in the city, but Jack wondered if this was an effect of Martin’s time in jail.
Was he more nervous about letting someone into his apartment? Any change in his behavior might be caused by the trauma. Then again, Martin could easily have been a cautious young man even before that happened. No use painting any worst case scenarios yet.
“Jack? Sorry. I was -”
Martin didn’t finish the sentence. He hadn’t changed a bit since Jack last saw him. Unlike the eager, alert young man from earlier, he now appeared as if his mind was only half on the present.
Jack didn’t like the look in his eyes. And there was something about his tense, hunched up appearance that reminded him uncomfortably of something he’d believed safely buried in the deepest recesses of his mind. He forced himself to snap out of his brooding and focus on Martin.
“Hi. You didn’t answer the phone so I thought I’d come over in person and see how you were.”
“Oh. I see. Thanks. Well, I’m ok.”
“Right. So when did you last eat?”
Martin stared at his senior agent as if he’d never heard the word before. Again, Jack was seized by concern. It was as he had feared. Martin wasn’t eating, probably not sleeping very well either, judging by the the red edged eyes.
“I thought so. Come on. I brought some Chinese. You do like that, don’t you? At least I thought I could recall you eating Chinese takeout at times when we were working late on some case.”
“What? Oh. Yes. Chinese. That’s fine. Thanks. You shouldn’t have taken the trouble. There should be something in the kitchen.”
He looked vague as if he was trying to recall where that was.
“Nonsense. It’s no trouble at all. As you know, I’m eating alone most nights anyway.”
Forcing himself to sound efficient and cheerful, Jack went off in search of a table where they could eat. He hesitated between the one in front of the tv couch and the one in the kitchen. In the end, he settled for the kitchen table.
Since Martin didn’t appear to have any intention of setting the table, Jack merely put down the containers and opened them. There were chopsticks and plastic knives and forks included, so they’d be ok. This was as much housekeeping he ever did anyway, unless the girls were visiting. They might as well drink out of the cans as well. Less dishes to wash for Martin.
“Oh. Sorry. Thanks.”
A young man as well brought up as Martin, wouldn’t dream of ignoring his boss the way he had been doing. He knew he had to snap out of his daze and pay attention. It was very nice of Jack to come all this way to check up on him. How many senior agents would do as much?
They set to work on their food, in silence. Jack did make a few attempts at starting a conversation, but as he didn’t get much encouragement, he decided to wait until after the meal. Drinking beers like this, out of the cans was something he’d had to do without during the years of his marriage. In a way, being single again was good. He could make his own rules. As long as the girls weren’t visiting, he could do as he pleased.
He couldn’t help noticing that Martin hardly touched his food and left more than half the beer. Jack knew better than to push, so he didn’t comment.
“Are you done? Perhaps we could go into the other room and talk?”
“Talk? Oh, sure.”
Talk about what? What was there to say? He couldn’t imagine what Jack wanted to talk about. If he wanted him to get back to work, he’d make the effort, but he had to admit that he didn’t feel up to it and he doubted if he’d pass the medical checkup.
They sat down on the couch, in front of the tv. Martin began to fidget uneasily. In all the time they’d been in the same apartment, Jack now realized that Martin had only met his gaze briefly, seconds at a time. Whatever was causing this changed behavior, Jack wished he could do something to help. To see someone in this much emotional pain and not being able to do anything about it was frustrating to say the least. And Martin was his responsibility.
“Martin, I’ll be honest with you. I’m worried about you. Perhaps you don’t realize it, but you’ve changed. Alarmingly. You’ve lost weight. Are you sleeping alright?”
“Well, you know -”
“Exactly. You’re not sleeping either. The medical report says you’re displaying all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. And you refuse to see a psychiatrist. You must see that we – your colleagues – are concerned about you. This can’t go on.”
“I’m sorry. It might take me a little longer to get back to work. I don’t want to let you down like this, but -”
“What’s wrong, Martin? Can you tell me that? What happened?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The medical report says there were no visible injuries so I take it you weren’t physically attacked by anyone.”
“My father has disowned me. He won’t let me contact my mother. Perhaps you can understand that I’m upset about that?”
“Yes. I can understand that. I’m really sorry. Your father and I had our differences, but I never imagined he’d go to this length to – but that’s not all, is it?”
“You don’t think that’s enough?”
“Martin. What happened?”
-“Nothing. I lost my job. I was convicted in a court of law. You have no idea how that makes you feel.”
“No. You’re right. But – if something else happened, you can tell me.”
“Nothing else happened.”
“Martin. If nothing else has happened, you wouldn’t be reacting this way. I’ve seen it before. Every single symptom. Like this.”
Jack reached out a hand to place it on Martin’s shoulder. The reaction was startling. Martin pulled back and raising his arms as if to ward off a blow, he cowered at the far end of the couch.
“I’m sorry. But believe me, I understand.”
“Oh, do you? You have no idea.”
“I think I do. Your cell mate – he’s a convicted rapist. Two counts of physical assault and battery. Whatever happened -”
“Whatever happened, you couldn’t begin to guess -”
“Yes, I can. You see, the same thing happened to me.”
“You were in jail?”
“No. When I was 15 -”
Martin stared at Jack. Somehow, he knew what was coming. He’d guessed it, on the night when they’d driven the man suspected of abducting a teenage boy from his school. Jack’s way of dealing with the man had seemed oddly knowledgeable. As if he’d known what it was like. There had been a look in his eyes that suggested he’d known, not from the perpetrator’s point of view, but from the victim’s. So that was it.
“When I was 15 years old, my father raped me. That was the first time. It happened again, not many times, but enough. So you see, I do know what it’s about. Are you still trying to tell me that nothing happened in there?”
Martin’s reply was barely audible.
“You could get help. Counselling.”
“Did you get counselling?”
“No, but I was in denial for many years. It helped me to deal with it. But on the other hand, it probably cost me my marriage. Keeping everything bottled up inside. I really can’t blame Maria for having enough of my silences. Not even when it was plain that our marriage wasn’t going to work out, could I bring myself to tell her anything.”
“You never told her?”
“I couldn’t. In fact, I never thought I’d tell anyone. But if there’s any chance at all, that my experience will help you even a little -”
“Your own father. And I thought mine was a cold, heartless bastard.”
“He is. Not just quite as bad as mine.”
Jack smiled sadly. His past wasn’t the point. Martin’s recent past was. And it seemed as if the young man had finally reached a point where he could begin to tell his story.
“I just couldn’t deal with it. It was too – I just kept it locked inside me. And I tried to stay as far away from him as I could.”
“It happened many times?”
“Every night. He said – he said – he said I was his -”
By now, Martin couldn’t hold himself in check anymore. His body began to shake uncontrollably, as if he was about to have a seizure. Jack watched him uncertainly, wondering what to do. Martin’s muscles were so tensed up, it seemed he would do himself an injury.
“It’s alright. You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to. Of course he’d say things like that. That doesn’t mean it was true. You know better than that. Whatever he said was a lie. If you keep repeating his words to yourself, he’ll win. You’re out here, but you might as well still be there. Don’t you see that?”
There was no response, and it was painfully obvious that there would be none. His words weren’t getting through to the young man. He was too caught up in his own pain.
“Martin. Hey -”
Hesitatingly, Jack moved a little closer. Still, there was no panicked reaction, no attempt to escape. He gingerly placed an arm around Martin’s shoulders and when there still was no resistance, he pulled him closer.
It was a long time before the shaking began to subside, but at last, Martin slumped down, his head on Jack’s shoulder. Jack wrapped his arms closer around Martin’s painfully thin shoulders and held him close. When the young man finally began to release the tension, the tears began to fall.
Maria hurried home to get dinner ready. She’d been looking forward to this all week, so she wasn’t going to rush it. Still, she kept half an eye on her watch, so she wouldn’t be too late for the visit to Danny.
“Mom, please. Lasagna is so fattening. We should have a salad instead.”
“We are having a salad too. You have as much or as little as you want of the main course. But I thought lasagna was your favorite food?”
“Yes, but that was ages ago. Last year. Look at me. I’m getting fat.”
Maria stared at her daughter’s diminutive figure and was about to smile amusedly. Fat? While Hannah wasn’t exactly anorectic, fortunately, she definitely couldn’t be described as fat.
“Fat? Then I guess you won’t have any ice cream and pie afterwards either?”
“I really shouldn’t. If I want to become a cheerleader next year -”
On hearing her mother’s tone, Hannah’s hackles were up. How typical of her mother not to understand anything. The older generation was so – totally out of it. Clueless.
“So nothing. I hadn’t heard that before, that’s all.”
Maria wasn’t going to let herself be drawn into a fight. Hannah was a kid. She had time to change her mind dozens of times until next year.
“Oh. Well, Chelsea and I were going to have a go.”
“I see. Hannah, I’ll just say one thing about your weight. It’s not how much you eat, unless you stuff your face with junk food all day long, it’s about how much you move about. Work out. Why don’t you try to get on the swimming team?”
“Yes. You loved swimming, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. But those uniforms are so cool and -”
“So do both. I’m just saying you don’t have to worry about eating real food. It’s the junk food and the soft drinks that will make you fat. I may be old and out of things, but I do know a thing or two about keeping in shape.”
“Like how do you think I can work as much as I do, without being in shape? Come on, it’s ready. We can eat now. Please go and get Kate. Besides, you do know that the boys who like really skinny girls really want another guy, right? They’re closet gays.”
Hannah’s eyes widened in astonishment. Had her old mom really said what she thought she had said? Unbelievable.
“How do you know that?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know. Now, please, go and get Kate. Dinner’s getting cold.”
To Maria’s satisfaction, Hannah ate as much as her sister, just like in the old days, and both girls enjoyed the dessert as well. One less anorectic kid to worry about.
“Darling, I’ll have to go out again. Will you be an angel and watch Kate?”
“Is it work again?”
“Yes, it is. Sorry. But I won’t be gone long. I’ll just deliver some paperwork and be right back.”
“Oh. Well, ok. Can I stay up until you get back?”
“Yes. You both can. But only if you promise not to be a nuisance tomorrow morning. It’s a grownup thing. If you stay up too late at night, you get up early next morning anyway. Deal?”
Secretly, Hannah was pleased at being asked to take responsibility over Kate and not only that, being allowed to stay up as late as she liked. Well, at least until mom got back. But just like the baby she was, Kate insisted on going to bed at ten anyway, so she missed out on being almost a grownup. How typical of a kid.
As she rang the doorbell, Maria was wondering why she felt visiting Danny tonight was so urgent. Wouldn’t tomorrow or the day after do just as well? But she’d been touched by his situation, and she wanted to do something for him. If there was anything more to her concern than that, she certainly wasn’t aware of it while she was waiting for him to answer the door.
He opened the door and let her inside, flashing her a wide, white smile, making Maria instinctively distrust him. The young man looked so much like a movie star, she felt as distant from him as she’d felt on the first day she met him.
But he seemed so pleased to see her, that it didn’t take her long to grow more comfortable around him.
“Ok. Maria. Please. I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer you – A drink maybe?”
“No thanks. I just had dinner with my daughters. And you’ve had yours, I suppose?”
She couldn’t help fussing a little. This young man was living alone in a small apartment. How much housekeeping did he bother with?
“Um. Yes. Sort of. How about a cup of coffee?”
“Thanks. That sounds great. I’ll just sort through these papers I mentioned.”
“You’re very kind.”
She frowned slightly. Polite. Distant. Polished. Did he really need her help at all?
At least he had the same taste when it came to coffee.
Placing the espressos on the low table, Danny sat down, facing his guest. He was looking forward to their conversation. Maria Malone wasn’t like any woman he’d met in the past, except possibly, ms Porter in 9 grade. He’d always found her attractive, but also way out of his league. There had never been any opportunity for him to express his admiration for her. Maria had shown up at his worst moment ever and saved him. No one had ever been there for him like that.
“I was looking at your options, in case the Mexican authorities decide to pursue their extradition plans.”
Danny really didn’t want to discuss Mexico. Not now, not ever, and certainly not with Maria. He felt a shiver go down his spine and caught himself looking across to the thermostat before he realized there was nothing wrong with the air conditioning.
“Yes. They might still want to go ahead with the trial -”
“But I -”
“I know. You didn’t do it. I’m betting there won’t be any solid evidence either. Don’t worry about it. If we act now, we can stop this from ever going to trial. As far as you’re concerned. But they’ll want your testimony. How much do you remember of the murder scene?”
Danny forced himself to review his memories of that day. He found that he resisted the effort. Maria wrote down his replies.
“Just like I thought. You don’t have anything to worry about. You didn’t touch the body or the bed?”
“No. But I can’t tell what he did to me after he knocked me out. Do you think he might have placed my hands on the murder weapon or something?”
“If he did, we’ll know about it soon enough. But my guess is they’d have pushed for the extradition right away if they’d had anything to go on. Besides, I’m no expert here, but I’m guessing there would be a different angle to the way your fingers would be gripping the weapon. But that’s speculation at this point. Here. Sign your testimony, and I’ll make sure they get it.”
“I’ll have it translated. No problem.”
“You could do it yourself too, right?”
“Well, I studied Spanish in Mexico and in Spain, but that was back in college.”
“I’m impressed. You sounded extremely fluent.”
Now Danny remembered exactly how helpless and small and insignificant he’d felt surrounded by men he could only partially understand. If he had any say in the matter, he’d never venture outside of the US again.
Maria noticed how Danny’s smile vanished and a haunted look crept into his eyes. Apparently, those memories were still painful. She was filled with sympathy and decided to try to draw him out. If he kept the memories bottled up inside, they would only cause more damage.
“Danny, what happened in there?”
He knew he’d spoken too soon. His voice sounded brittle and Maria would guess –
“But when I found you, you were quite badly beaten and bruised -”
“Yes. They beat me.”
“First the cops. Well, first of all, whoever set me up knocked me out, then the cops woke me up by kicking me, but mostly, it was the other prisoners.”
The other prisoners? Had he really said that? Again, he felt cold and his chest constricted.
“If you could talk about it, I’m sure you’d feel better.”
“There’s nothing to tell.”
Under her warm, sympathetic look, Danny suddenly found himself telling her everything, well almost everything.
“I – when I realized that I’d lost my passport and my ID, I panicked. They didn’t believe me when I told them I was an FBI agent. In fact, I’m not sure they believed I was American. It sure didn’t mean anything to them.”
Maria could tell that the loss of his identity had been what really got to Danny. Being a federal agent had to be greater part of what he considered his true self. Could that be all? Maria loved her work, and had never regretted her choice of profession, but if anyone had suggested that that was all there was to her, she would have rebelled at the idea. She was so much more. In fact, she felt that while being a mother was one of the most important aspects of her, even that wasn’t all.
“Danny, being an FBI agent, can’t be what’s really you. There has to be a lot more to you, than that. Don’t you think so?”
He hesitated. What was she asking? Did he think that he was nothing more than his profession? Perhaps. He’d been extremely proud when he’d graduated from the academy. For the first time in his life, he’d felt he meant something. But there was more to it than that.
Until now, he’d also felt more than reasonably proud of being an American. Of course that was something to be proud of, but did that really mean everyone else meant less, just because they’d been born somewhere else? Finding himself in that Mexican prison had at least taught him that nationalities didn’t have any universal value. Mexicans presumably counted their own as being of more value than Americans or Guatemalans.
Danny swallowed nervously. What else was he good for? If he wasn’t more special than everyone else, just because he was born American, what did he matter? And if being an FBI agent wasn’t all there was to life, what was his life about? One reason his ordeal had shaken him so much was that it had made him question all his values.
Maria watched the inner struggle play itself out on his face.
“I’m not saying it isn’t an important job.”
Now he looked so lost, she was beginning to regret ever bringing the topic up for discussion. Who did she think she was? Some fancy psychologist?
“Danny, it’s ok to feel scared. It’s ok to lose control. You don’t have to be Superman all the time.”
His eyes looked so intently into hers, Maria was wondering what was on his mind. She couldn’t read anything on his face.
Danny was trying hard not show weakness. He’d felt tears sting his eyes and if she would notice – But thinking about it didn’t help and now he knew his face was crumpling up, like a kid’s. He hadn’t cried like this since he was in foster care. What an idiot he was. A useless, pathetic wimp. Her kind words did nothing to help him fight the tears and by now, he knew it was too late. What would she think of him?
Suddenly, Maria realized that Danny was struggling not to cry, just like her younger brother had on occasion. She knew that look. Great work, Maria. Now you’re making him cry. She moved a little closer and pulled him into her arms. It was the least she could do, now that she’d made him feel worse. She was wondering if she still had some tissues in her purse, or if Hannah had used them all up when she and Chelsea had ‘borrowed’ her makeup and tried it on.
For a while, she was thinking she’d made another mistake. Danny felt tense and reluctant to accept her comfort. Wrong again, apparently. Perhaps she should just go. The girls would be wondering –
That train of thought came to an abrupt halt when she felt Danny’s face touch hers. His lips covered hers and – Big mistake. But how could she resist? It had been so long since she and Jack had kissed, since they’d even held each other. She still felt it was a mistake, five minutes later when they came up for air.
Danny watched her closely, prepared to accept a rebuke. How could he do this to her? She’d only been kind and helpful from the start. And now he’d jumped her like some pervert. Well, not quite, but close enough. The fact that she’d hardly resisted didn’t make any difference.
But there was no sign of regrets. Instead, Maria grabbed him again, and Danny had time to think that wow, none of the girls he went out with ever took any initiatives like that. Beyond that point, he didn’t think at all for quite a while.
When Maria’s conscience finally struck her, she disentangled herself, and placing one less passionate kiss on Danny’s lips, she made her excuses.
“I didn’t realize it was this late. My daughters will be waiting. Anyway, I have to go. I’ll call you tomorrow -”
Danny held his breath, hoping wildly that she wouldn’t mention any of that paperwork. He didn’t want to hear anything about his case. If only she –
“And see how you are.”
“Will you come and see me tomorrow night?”
She really shouldn’t, but how could she resist the look in his eyes? Instead of refusing, she smiled, and the smile was so affectionate that Danny nearly lost it again.
“Ok. I’ll try. Do you think you’ll be able to sleep now?”
After this? Impossible. But he smiled and produced the reply she was hoping for. This type of sleeplessness wouldn’t be anything like what he’d experienced since his return from Mexico.
He walked her to the door, and the only reason Maria was able to get home before midnight was because she quite roughly shoved him away. It didn’t matter to him. She wanted him. She cared. When the door closed behind him, he wanted to sing. He wanted to shout out his joy, but all he did was dreamily walk back to his bedroom, convinced he wouldn’t get a moment of sleep.
But the sun woke him up the next morning, feeling so much better, he hardly recognized himself. He wasn’t like he’d been before Mexico, he was the way he’d imagined he’d be if hadn’t lost his parents. So filled with hope and enthusiasm, he felt ready to go back to work. But on the other hand, he didn’t want that at all. Instead, he wanted to spend the rest of the week with her. Wasn’t Maria the most beautiful name in the world?
When Maria returned home, just on the right side of midnight, she was hoping both Hannah and Kate would be asleep. With that in mind, she tiptoed inside, only to find her oldest daughter sitting in Jack’s favorite armchair, her feet up, and her arms hugging herself. Realizing with a stab of guilt, that Hannah had been waiting for her and maybe worrying about her, Maria took a deep breath, and prepared herself to explain.
“Mom. It’s nearly midnight.”
“I know. Is Kate asleep?”
“She’s such a baby. Of course she is.”
Hannah got up and walked closer to her mom. Why was her hair so disarranged? And wasn’t the lipstick all smeared?
“Mom? Are you sure this was only a work thing?”
“Of course, honey. What else would it be?”
“I – You didn’t go over to visit dad?”
“Your father? No. Of course not. It’s just that – the person I was visiting had been in trouble and was very upset. I had to stay and talk for longer than I expected.”
“What had happened to her?”
“Hannah, it’s time for bed. Come on. I’m sorry I kept you waiting for so long, but it was unavoidable. Let’s go. Right now.”
“Alright. I’m coming.”
“You’ll be ever so tired in the morning.”
Still filled with guilt, Maria followed Hannah into the girls’ room and made sure both girls were sleeping peacefully, before she went into her own room. Hers and Jacks, really. But her estranged husband was the last person she wanted to think about right now.
After Jack’s first visit to Martin, and the revelations they’d shared, Jack felt drawn back every night after work. It seemed to him that Vivian was looking at him rather long and hard, as if she could somehow guess something was wrong, but he determinedly put her and everyone else out of his mind. Martin needed him. The others could just wait.
Each night, he brought some takeout and once some food he bought in a SevenEleven on his way over. To his surprise, he and Martin had a lot of fun cooking together. It seemed as if their candid talk had made Martin feel a little better. The dull apathy was gone, replaced by a more normal attitude.
After dinner that night, Jack and Martin sat down in front of the tv, ostensibly to watch a game, but really just to share a companionable silence. By now, talking didn’t feel quite as urgent.
All the same, after the game was over – their team lost – neither man wanted to be the first to get up and go. Jack’s own apartment didn’t hold much allure. It wasn’t a very upscale neighborhood, since he wanted to use greater part of his salary to pay for Maria’s expenses.
Still, it was getting late and Jack had work the following day, even if Martin hadn’t. Though Jack was beginning to consider the possibility that Martin might soon be ready to get back to work. When he made a move to get up, Martin looked at him with such pleading in his eyes, Jack hesitated. And when the young man put a hand on his arm to stop him, Jack sat down again.
“What’s wrong? Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”
“Jack – I -”
But Martin didn’t even know how to say what was on his mind. For a long time now, his admiration and affection for his boss had grown. Whenever Jack had pulled off the seemingly impossibly, Martin had watched and noted each action. And now – after what Jack had had the courage to tell him, for the first time in his life – those feelings of loyalty and friendship had been transformed into something else. Martin didn’t know what to make of the change, but suddenly, he didn’t want Jack to go.
He’d never been more aware of Jack’s physical presence, his scent, his moves, the way his eyes would sometimes glint when strong emotions moved him. Martin instinctively moved closer, then closer still. If Jack noticed, he didn’t pull back.
He didn’t know what to think about this change in Martin’s behavior. All he knew was that whatever help the boy needed, he’d give him.
But when Martin’s face was so close to Jack’s their lips met, Jack suddenly realized what was happening. Swallowing hard, he inched away just a fraction.
Martin immediately pulled back and looked away. How could he have repaid Jack’s kindness like this? Of course he too would be repulsed by him. After what had happened to him in there, how could he ever feel clean again?
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed – You must think I’m disgusting and dirty and -”
“Hold on a sec. Of course not you’re not – any of that. Martin. Look at me. This has nothing to do with – what happened in there. And have you forgotten what I told you just a few nights ago? I know how you feel. I’ve felt that way about myself ever since it happened. But it’s not true. We’re not dirty. They are. We did nothing wrong. They did. You know that, Martin.”
“Then why -”
Oh. Of course. How could he have been foolish enough to believe Jack would want him even if what had happened to him in jail didn’t matter? Why should a man like Jack Malone even look twice at him, when he was married to a woman like Maria? And when he’d been involved with Samantha – of course he wouldn’t want someone like him. His own father didn’t want him. There was no reason to think anyone else would either, except for perverts like Mad Dawg.
“You don’t want me. I understand.”
“Martin – what happened between me and Samantha was wrong. How could it be any less wrong with you?”
“I just want you to know that I love you. You’re everything I ever wanted to be.”
“Yes. I appreciate that. But that’s not love. Martin, when you’re -”
“Are you going to say when I’m older? Jack, I’ll never be more grown up than I am now.”
“I realize that, but -”
“You don’t have to say anything. I understand. Samantha didn’t want me. Why should you?”
“Martin, that’s not -”
He’d never looked at Martin in that light before. Ever since he was fifteen, he’d been struggling against the inner turmoil, and fought it down by sleeping with girls and later women. He’d always shied away from the thought that maybe, just maybe, the old man had been right about him. You little sissy. If you’d been a man, this would never have happened. It’s your fault, Jackie. I didn’t want this. You made me do it.
But whatever his own reaction, all the more reason not to take advantage of another young innocent person looking for a father figure and finding – what exactly?
Jack knew he’d hurt Martin’s feelings. To find the courage to declare his love for someone only to have that love thrown back in his face, must have caused him even more pain. Right on top of everything else. And Jack couldn’t bear to see Martin hurting like this. Confusion and panic alternated in Jack’s mind. He couldn’t leave Martin in such pain. But he had to leave now before he did something even more unforgivable.
“It’s alright, Jack. I understand that you don’t find me attractive.”
The bitterness in his voice cut through Jack like a knife. The unspoken accusation hovered in the air between them. Slowly, like in a dream, Jack reached out a hand and touched Martin’s shoulder. A shudder shook Jack and he was lost.
When Martin turned around again, Jack didn’t do anything to push him away.
“It’s not true I don’t find you attractive, but we can’t -”
Jack’s words were muffled by emotion and he didn’t try again to make himself heard. Instead, he found that it was the easiest thing in the world to wrap his arms around Martin and pull him close. This time, when their lips touched, Jack couldn’t resist.
Hungrily, he tasted Martin’s eager mouth. He forced himself to touch Martin gently, so he wouldn’t spook him. The young man’s recent ordeal was still fresh in both men’s minds. But for the first time in his life, Jack experienced this sort of closeness with a man, without feeling pain, or shame. His hands shook as he began to undress Martin.
Martin’s hands were no less steady as they attempted to unbutton Jack’s shirt. It seemed to take forever for both of them to feel skin touch skin. Jack’s mouth wandered down Martin’s neck and shoulders to his chest, lingering there for a while, only to continue further down.
A barely audible whisper told Jack what he needed to know.
There was the slightest hint of a question to the statement, and Jack nodded reassuringly. The time of doubt was over. He would regret this later. For now, he’d just enjoy the moment.
When Martin felt the other man’s lips touch his lower abdomen he shivered pleasurably. Right now, Mad Dawg was forgotten. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so excited before. A voice at the back of his mind was whispering something he didn’t want to hear and he silenced it completely.
Jack dropped to his knees and began to undo Martin’s belt. At the last moment, he held back, and looked up at the younger man, to make sure. The reply he read in Martin’s eyes reassured him. With no more hesitation, he pulled down Martin’s jeans and moved on to the shorts. This particular skill was something he’d worked hard to forget, but it came back to him. And for once, he didn’t fear a blow or other violence. He could take his time and discover for the first time that there was pleasure to be found here.
Silencing their misgivings, both men gave themselves up to the pleasure.
“Isn’t Jack here yet?”
Samantha’s voice sounded hard and cold, but Vivian hardly noticed. That girl could sound any way she liked as long as she did her job.
“As you can see. No.”
“And he hasn’t called in?”
“If he had, I’d have let you know. But you know what needs to be done. If you’re running out of -”
“No. That’s ok. I know what to do. It’s just odd. He didn’t mention what he was working on?”
“Not to me.”
As far as Vivian was concerned, this was enough small talk to last them all week. She knew what Jack had been up to. Everyone in their team knew, if she wasn’t very much mistaken. But that hardly gave Samantha the right to question Jack’s movements, as if she was his wife. Vivian had been relieved when she realized that Jack had finally seen sense and ended the liaison. Men could be such fools at times, who could blame them for that? But at least Jack Malone never clung to his mistakes for long.
Vivian returned Samantha’s stare squarely and in the end, it was the younger woman who looked away. Without a word, she returned to her desk to continue working on the case they’d been assigned together. Fortunately, they had also been issued reinforcements. Between them, Vivian felt sure they had everything under control. There wasn’t a minute to lose when you were investigating a missing person, and Samantha knew that as well as Vivian did.
Samantha knew Jack had taken to avoiding her, and though he’d risked his own life to save hers during that hostage situation a couple of months back, he’d shut her out of his life, effectively. And lately, she knew he’d been avoiding her completely, as if he couldn’t bear to see her.
Humiliatingly, he’d been the one to dump her. In the past, she’d always been the one to dump her lover, not the other way around. Who did he think he was? His marriage was over, anyone could see that. And his wife clearly wasn’t the right woman for him. Jack needed someone younger, prettier.
Was he getting back with his wife now? Samantha knew that would be hard to bear. Something was up, she could tell. Jack’s attention wasn’t on the job anymore. There had to be something else that was keeping him busy. Something or someone else. She’d figure it out and when she did –
Not finishing the thought, Samantha hurriedly picked up the phone. She could feel Vivian’s eyes boring into her back. Time to earn her pay. Just out of curiosity, it would be interesting to know when Jack planned on showing up.
Her questioned was answered not ten minutes later. Jack brushed by her without a second glance. That face, which was as familiar to her as her own, looked different somehow. Samantha gasped as she realized he’d worn that look during their relationship. Who was he seeing? His wife? No. He couldn’t be. Someone else? Someone she didn’t even know about? She had to know.
They made progress on the case, and by early evening, they’d found their missing person. Dead, but at least the case was closed and they’d brought the killer to justice. By then, Samantha felt she’d earned a little breathing space. Why shouldn’t she report to Jack in person? After all, he was the one who had given them the case in the first place, even though she’d been forced to report to Vivian instead.
“Hey. Good work. You and Vivian make a good team.”
How she hated that impersonal, distant voice. It was as if he didn’t know her, as if they hadn’t worked together side by side for all this time. Was that all she’d been to him? A quick affair to be so easily forgotten?
“Thanks. How are you doing? We haven’t talked for ages.”
“I’m fine. Listen, it’s getting late and I should get going.”
“Are you going home?”
“To your family?”
“Oh. No. Not tonight. I’ll be going over to Martin’s place to check on him.”
Martin? This couldn’t be right. Or had he been over at his house last night and was that why he’d been late this morning? If so, he had to be making an effort to patch things up with his wife.
“How is Martin?”
Was she mistaken, or was there the tiniest pause before Jack replied? He wouldn’t look her in the face, so she couldn’t even be sure if his mind was on their conversation, or on something else. But she’d bet her badge on one thing: he’d had sex last night. The tension had gone out of him and he appeared more at ease.
“He’s doing better. You should go and see him. I’m sure he’d be pleased to see you.”
“I might. Now that you’re going to see him, I ‘ll just wait until another night. Perhaps tomorrow?”
Again, that odd pause. As if for some reason she couldn’t figure out, Jack didn’t want her to go. Why? Did he want to see her instead? She’d make one last attempt. If he turned her down, at least she’d know more than she did now.
“Or maybe – like I said, it’s been ages since we talked. We haven’t really discussed what you did for me during that hostage situation. You saved my life and -”
“That’s alright, Samantha. I couldn’t let him kill you. You were my responsibility. It was my fault you were in there in the first place.”
That wasn’t what she’d wanted to hear. He was over her. Perhaps he’d never really loved her. Had it all been just about the sex? No. She wouldn’t stand for it. No one treated her like that. No one. He was going to brush her off as if nothing had happened between them.
“But what you did for me, was far more than any senior agent could be asked to do -”
“Nonsense. Besides, I had a hunch I could talk the poor man out of it. No harm done. Is that wound still hurting?”
“No. It’s fine.”
She knew she healed well. But of course she was young. Not like Maria Malone. She decided to try one last time, using all she had. Opening her eyes wide, she licked her lips and moved closer to Jack, drawing herself up to better display her bosom.
“Please. Let’s meet and talk tomorrow night.”
She knew he’d love that girlish voice. He always had in the past. And now – nothing.
“Samantha, you know that’s not a good idea. I’m terribly sorry I wasn’t strong enough to -”
“Fine. Whatever you say. Do you have other plans? With your wife?”
“No. I feel I ought to take the time to support Martin after what he went through -”
Martin? Martin? Impossible. Surely it couldn’t be Martin who had made Jack look like that? But a sudden insight came to her and she just knew. She stared at Jack as if she’d never seen him before.
Jack – gay? Why had she never guessed? A man of his age ought to have been more – skilled. Yet he had seemed awkward like a teenager. She’d found that endearing. Now she thought she could see another explanation. So that was it? She’d lost him to that pathetic immature Martin? Suddenly, she couldn’t take it anymore. Without a word, she turned and left, nearly running into Vivian.
Vivian had been wondering about Jack’s preoccupation as well and she thought that now, with the younger agents out of the way, she might get a chance to talk to Jack on her own. What was wrong with Samantha? If she wasn’t mistaken, that slut had thrown herself at Jack again. Didn’t she know when to quit? Perhaps it was time to have her transferred.
“What was that all about?”
“Uh – Samantha – is a little upset.”
“So I see. Jack, are you alright? You seem a bit – I don’t know – distracted. Is everything ok at home? The children? Maria?”
“I don’t live there anymore as you know. But they’re fine. No problems. I’m sorry to be so abrupt but I need to get going. I’m going to see Martin.”
Again? That did seem a bit excessive. But Jack was a man who took his work seriously and that was one of the many things she admired about him.
But she didn’t quite know what to make of that look on Jack’s face. It seemed to consist mainly of guilt and secrecy. Was he lying about where he was going? Even if he’d seen sense about Samantha there might be another woman – Or – suddenly Vivian was struck by the same thought Samantha had been only moments earlier. Oh, really. That couldn’t be right.
She shook her head in wonder. Men really knew how to get themselves into foolish messes. Well, it was none of her concern, as long as it didn’t affect Jack’s work. But she’d never in a million years figured Jack was – Perhaps it was just some kind of mid-life crisis. Nothing to worry about.
“Of course. Go ahead. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“What? Oh, yes, of course. Good night, Vivian.”
Samantha wasn’t going to take this. If Jack didn’t want her, he could take the consequences. Someone ought to inform his wife. Yes. That was an idea. Mrs Malone deserved to know what sort of husband she had, what sort of father her children had.
As soon as she got home, Samantha sat down and began to look through her Palm Pilot for the number to the Malone residence. She knew she had it somewhere. Would Maria Malone be there? Samantha knew she was an attorney, so she might be working late. But she didn’t have the patience to wait any longer. If the woman wasn’t there, she’d call back later.
“Hello. You might not remember me, but we met some months ago at your husband’s place of work. I’m agent Spade. Samantha.”
“Hello, agent Spade.”
Maria didn’t like that girl. She strongly suspected something had been going on between her and Jack not so long ago. Though she herself was currently having an affair, and she and Jack had been separated for quite a while, she didn’t take kindly to sharing her husband with other women. Her voice held just the right amount of cool politeness, but none of the warmth she might otherwise been able to produce for one of her husband’s agents.
“Mrs Malone, I was wondering if your husband was there.”
“No. Jack doesn’t live here anymore. You might catch him at work.”
Why wasn’t that girl there?
“No. He’s not there. I thought maybe he was going home.”
“Sorry. You’ll have to look for him somewhere else.”
Like at your place.
“Mrs Malone, there’s something you should know.”
By now, Maria’s tone was decidedly chilly.
“I think your husband is having an affair.”
“Really? What makes you say that?”
If Samantha had known Maria better, she’d have recognized her best courtroom voice. Most witnesses couldn’t wait to tell all they knew, rather than have her sharpen her tone even more.
“He’s spending every night with one of his agents.”
“And who is that?”
Was this absurd girl trying to shift the blame to Vivian Johnson? Ludicrous. Jack had told her how devoted Vivian was to her husband and on the few occasions Maria had met Vivian the woman had struck her as being very professional.
“And you think he’s having an affair with this – agent Fitzgerald?”
“That’s very interesting. Especially since I believe you’re the one who was improperly attached to my husband only recently.”
Samantha drew in breath sharply. So mrs Malone had guessed that. This conversation wasn’t going the way she’d hoped it would. It was time to hang up.
“I thought you’d want to know.”
“Thank you, for informing me.”
She didn’t believe her. Desperately, Samantha tried to think of something to change the other woman’s mind.
“Ask him. Ask him to explain what he’s doing there night after night. That’s all I have to say to you.”
A very final click followed. Maria was left holding the receiver, a thoughtful frown on her face. Danny had followed the conversation with a great deal of interest. Had Sam lost it completely? What was she trying to pull this time?
“Oh. Sorry. I -”
“I should probably get going. If you have something you need to sort out, I don’t want to get in the way.”
“Nonsense. You’re not in the way. I’m glad to have you here. My mother was happy to have the girls anyway, so it’s no problem. Just tell me one thing – how well do you know this agent Spade?”
“Sam? Well enough, I think.”
The last thing Danny wanted was to get caught in the crossfire of someone else’s fight.
“She just told me a preposterous story about Jack having an affair with another one of your agents. Martin Fitzgerald.”
“Yes, I heard you. But you have to understand that Samantha – she was in a hostage situation not so long ago. She was injured. Perhaps she’s still suffering from the emotional trauma.”
“I know all about that. It was on the news. I had to explain to the girls that their father was alright, even though he’d foolishly risked his life to save that girl’s. Hm. I realize the position you’re in. This is a conflict of interest for you. Don’t think I don’t understand that. You don’t have to say anything. But I suspect Jack was having an affair with that girl.”
Secretly, Danny thought so too. In fact, he was more or less sure of it. He and Martin had discussed it over a couple of beers on more than one occasion. But he also knew that Martin had had a wistful look on his face whenever he mentioned Sam. So Sam’s idiotic accusation couldn’t hold any truth, could it? That guy had been smitten, though he had tried hard not to show it. No, Sam was just having PMS or something. Nothing to get worked up about. Except she had no business calling Maria and upsetting her.
“Don’t worry about it. Sam’s probably still a bit disoriented after nearly dying in that hostage situation. It’s not her fault really, but she should know better than calling you like this. I’ll have a word with her tomorrow at work.”
“Thanks. But right now, I’d rather know what Jack’s up to tonight. Just out of curiosity.”
“I see. Well, I should get going. I’ll – call you tomorrow night, ok?”
Shyly, Danny glanced sideways at Maria, but for the first time since they’d started their affair, he didn’t hold her full attention. Of course, after Sam’s call, it was no use trying to recapture the mood from earlier. What was wrong with Sam? He’d always respected her, but now she was acting like a real bitch.
“Yes. I’m sorry about this, but I’d better straighten this out, one way or another.”
She hardly saw him leave. Danny struggled with his disappointment, but forced himself not to give up hope. Tomorrow, Maria would be back to normal. Jack couldn’t possibly – That was simply too unbelievable.
Since the evening had been ruined anyway, she decided to call Jack right away. There was no reply. She tried the cell phone, but it seemed he’d turned it off. By now, she was getting curious. Surely he couldn’t be –
Unable to take the uncertainty anymore, Maria grabbed her coat and purse and ran outside, slamming the door shut behind her. Since the girls were at her mother’s she had all night, if necessary. Jack owed her an explanation, if not about this young man, then definitely about that Samantha person.
She knew right away no one was at home. There was no light on in his window. She used the key he’d reluctantly given her, for the girls’ sake, and let herself in. No one there. Just in case, she looked into his bedroom but the bed hadn’t been slept in. That was unusual. In her experience, he only ever laid the bed that neatly if the girls were visiting. Hadn’t he been sleeping at home for some time? It was almost as if that girl’s strange story might have been true, after all.
She had a long wait ahead of her. It wasn’t until after dawn, that her husband came in. By then, she’d dozed off, curled up on his bed.
Jack was startled to see who was lying there, asleep. His first concern was his daughters. What if something had happened to them?
“Maria? Is anything wrong?”
She came awake quickly, as if she’d been only half asleep, which was more or less the case.
“You tell me. An emergency at work?”
He closed his eyes helplessly. It was almost as if she suspected.
“Are you having an affair, Jack?”
He hesitated for just a fraction of a second too long. She’d been right.
“What about her?”
“Did you have an affair with her?”
Again, he hesitated, then turned and faced her deliberately.
“Yes. Very briefly. It’s been over for months.”
“I see. And now?”
“What about now?”
“Who are you having an affair with now?”
“Answer me. Is it Martin Fitzgerald?”
Who had told her? He thought no one had guessed. But Samantha and her questions – Had she called Maria and – The betrayal hurt, even though he knew he deserved it. And what was happening between him and Martin was something he was barely able to acknowledge to himself, let alone discuss it with his wife or anyone else.
“Maria, I don’t see how -”
“You don’t see that it’s any of my business?”
Her voice was filled with menace. He recognized that voice. It was one that had filled him with excitement when they were both young. She was so tough, he’d hardly ever met anyone like her, yet capable of so much love.
“No. I didn’t mean that. Of course you have every right to ask. And I know you’re upset about Samantha and -”
“Yes. I’m upset. But never mind that. Are you sleeping with this Martin Fitzgerald?”
“Yes. Are you happy now? Who told you anyway? Samantha?”
“Yes. Samantha. Have you lost your mind, Jack? First that blonde girl and now this young man? What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m not prepared to discuss this with you. Not right now.”
“How dare you?”
“Maria, please. This isn’t the time or the place. Let it go for the time being. I promise I’ll try to tell you more about it later. Not now.”
This was a nightmare. It shouldn’t have happened. How could he have been such a fool? And now that it had, how could he justify it to Maria, when suddenly he couldn’t justify it to himself either? Would he ever learn not to make these life changing mistakes all the time?
“Fine. Have it your own way.”
And she turned on her heel and stormed out, without another word.
This couldn’t be happening. She felt as if she’d lost her footing. Until now, she’d still believed she and Jack could work things out. Now – She was too tired to focus. This once, she would have to call in sick.
Her secretary would just have to think of something. That was why she was being paid a fortune, after all. To handle emergencies. If only she could make things right again with Jack. But no one got paid enough to manage that, Maria knew.
The following morning, Jack went to find Samantha right away. They had to talk. Obviously, it was his insensitive treatment of her that had brought her to this ill-advised move. It was up to him to explain himself to her. Just like Maria, Samantha had every right to be upset with him.
What had he been thinking? And poor Martin – he’d let him down as well. How could he blame Martin’s father and his own for their actions, when what he’d done was just as bad, if not worse? The boy had been vulnerable, and he’d taken advantage of him. It was unforgivable of him.
“Samantha. Can we talk?”
Now he wanted to talk? Now that it was too late?
“What’s there to talk about?”
“I would like to explain -”
The bitterness in her voice was all too tangible. He’d done that to her. His selfishness.
She stayed, but he could tell she was no more than half there in spirit. Talking fast, Jack tried desperately to make his motives clear to her. It wasn’t until later he realized that he was giving away too much. Especially where Martin was concerned.
“Samantha – I was wrong to take advantage of you. My only excuse was that I was lonely and – confused.”
“Confused? What about?”
“About your sexual orientation?”
He didn’t know. Perhaps that was it. He’d been hoping that the problems were only in connection with Maria. Now he knew that wasn’t true. But had his relationship with Martin made things any clearer? He still didn’t know. To begin with, the relationship with Samantha had excited him and held his attention. For years, what he and Maria had had been enough. Now what?
“You know what, Jack? I don’t care. It’s too late. Sleep with whoever you want.”
It hadn’t been enough. He should have explained himself to her a long time ago. To Maria too. But how could he? What had happened to him as a boy was something he’d never been able to put into words. It was just a darkness that occasionally came up to the surface of his mind, until he managed to repress the memory of it again.
Helplessly, Jack watched Samantha storm out. He wasn’t surprised to learn from Vivian that the girl had decided to take sick leave.
When Danny found out where Samantha had gone off to, he made the mistake of calling her at home. What was worse, was that he accidentally gave away the fact that he’d been at Maria’s place when Samantha had called her the other night. Not until it was too late, did it dawn on him that he’d given himself away.
His relationship with Maria was no longer a secret. He hadn’t intended to tell anyone, not this soon, not before he could be sure of where the relationship was going. But he never imagined how Samantha had changed in the past couple of weeks, eaten up from the inside with bitterness.
“You and Maria Malone?”
Samantha laughed. Her laughter jarred Danny’s ears. What was so ridiculous about it? Why shouldn’t he and Maria be involved? If the rumors were true, Samantha had slept with Jack, so it was only fair.
“Sam, don’t -”
“You know, that’s so funny. She can’t get what she needs because her husband is gay, so she turns to you. And you just can’t say no, can you? Anyone can have you. Did you know that if you were a woman people would be calling you a slut?”
“Sam. You’re upset. I can understand that. But you have to mind your own business. What Maria and I have -”
“What she has is a hot young, dumb stud. No performance problems, I should think.”
That hurt. He realized that in the past, he might have been a little too enthusiastic about his success with women, but that characterization of him really stung. Could that be all he was to Maria? A bit of sex?
He finished the call as soon as he possibly could, without being rude, no matter what she’d said to him. His mother had told him again and again to treat girls with respect, and though the lesson was old, he had never forgotten.
Samantha couldn’t wait to pass this information on. Jack had treated her like dirt. Now she would return the favor. For some reason, she thought he might still like to know what his wife was up to. After all, she was still the mother of his children.
On second thought, she decided just to leave a message. If she talked to Jack again today, she’d only end up with a worse headache than she already had. But her plan backfired right away. She hadn’t expected Jack to pick up so soon and while she was considering hanging up, she lost her nerve. Instead, she blurted out what she’d just learned.
“Samantha, I’m sorry -”
“No, you’ll be sorry. While you were having fun with Martin, Maria was having fun too. Guess who with?”
“Samantha – you’re not yourself. I know it’s my fault and I’ll do what -”
“Listen to me, Jack. Your wife is fooling around with Danny. Yes. That’s right. Our Danny. Slutty Danny. Yeah, I thought you might like to know that. That’s all I have to say to you.”
Jack frowned. Samantha sounded downright unbalanced. What she had told him had to be considered in that light. But still – he had noticed how concerned Maria had been over Danny. He knew she’d been to visit him at least once. But he’d never imagined –
Of course, he had no right to criticize her actions. Not after what he’d done, not just once, but twice. But Danny – if this was true, she was guilty of almost the same thing he was. Taking advantage of a vulnerable young man, struggling to get over a trauma –
Now he knew what he had to do. This thing with Martin had to end. He should have been strong for both of them. Instead, he’d let his weakness lead him astray. And what was worse, he’d dragged the boy down with him. But before he did anything else, he had to talk to Maria. Samantha had to have been lying. Maria wouldn’t –
Again, he left work early, but this time, he merely thought guiltily about Martin, before heading home. Home. Despite the fact that he’d left his wife and children, he now found that he still thought of the place as home. Home wasn’t that grim one room apartment. It was where his daughters had grown up. And now – had he lost them forever, over his bad judgment?
How could he have treated Maria this way? They’d had their differences, and though he knew she shared part of the blame for that, there was no denying the fact that he was the one who had caused the friction in the first place. All because he couldn’t let her know what the real problem was.
If only there was some way he could straighten things out, make it right again. He had to talk to Maria. Even though her showing up at his apartment, confronting him and yelling at him had startled him, he knew that he owed her better than this cowardly hiding. It was time he explained himself to her.
To his relief, Maria was at home, and though his daughters too, were there, quite naturally, he decided to have things out with his wife once and for all. It wasn’t all that easy though, disentangling himself from Kate, who was delighted to see her dad.
“Listen, darling, I need to talk to your mother.”
“About a divorce?”
He stared at Maria uneasily. Had she already started proceedings? And if so, had she told the girls about it? He couldn’t believe she’d do that, even if his news must have been devastating.
“No, sweetie. I don’t know anything about a divorce.”
Maria’s eyes shot fire at him and part of him cringed, as he anticipated the discussion – or argument to come. Another part – and this was the most difficult to believe – actually felt slightly excited. Like that, she was awesome. Even if he was the target of her anger. It wasn’t the anger that had started the aggravated silences, it was her cold ‘reasonableness’.
“I certainly haven’t mentioned anything about a divorce either. Don’t be silly, Kate. Your father and I just need to have a talk. We should have done that a long time ago.”
He knew what she was getting at. She had tried to draw him out more times than he could count. And he’d always known what the basic problem was, he just hadn’t been prepared to face that. The question was, would he feel up to it now?
As it happened, that question was highly hypothetical. Tonight all Maria wanted was to confront him about his second affair in less than a year. In all fairness, she had a point, but since she was the one to set the topic, Jack felt it was only fair that he had an answer to his question too.
“Ok. You know what I’ve done. I won’t pretend it was ok. But it’s a fact. I did it. We can either deal with it or -”
“That would all depend on what you mean by ‘dealing with it’.”
“Fine. But before we try that, I have a question for you. Are you having an affair with Danny Taylor?”
“Who told you that? Your little friend Samantha Spade? Gee. I wonder why she suddenly felt inclined to confide in you all of a sudden.”
“Maria. Don’t play games with me. Are you or are you not sleeping with Danny?”
“So what if I am? Are you saying it’s less ok for me to have an affair with a man than it is for you?”
“You’re sleeping with Danny? Oh, I see. You found out about me and Martin and you rushed over to his place to pay me back. That’s just great. Very mature.”
“Excuse me? You think I went straight to Danny’s house this morning and threw myself at him? With a mind like that, you should be writing soap operas. Aren’t you forgetting something? I didn’t find out about your affair with Martin Fitzgerald until early this morning. How do you think I could manage to start an affair just over the day? I’ve been working. Picking up our children at my mother’s and -”
“So you’ve been doing it – for how long?”
“Let’s see – just over a week. If you want me to be exact -”
“Maria – that boy was vulnerable, off balance after being thrown into a Mexican jail and -”
“Don’t tell me about that. Who got him out of there? Who dropped everything to go to Mexico at a moment’s notice, just to do her husband a favor?”
“Even so. You took advantage of his situation and -”
“That’s rich coming from you. What about your young man? He was in jail too. Are our jails any more pleasant for cops? Is that what you’re saying? Martin wasn’t in such a bad way as Danny was?”
“That’s not -”
“What? Jack Malone, you’ve got a nerve coming here accusing me of being unfaithful to you, after sleeping with two of your agents.”
Jack’s face contorted with rage, and he could see that Maria too, was beside herself with fury. It wouldn’t be long before objects began to fly and more accusations would follow. This wasn’t what he’d planned for this meeting.
Taking a deep breath, to steady himself, Jack decided to leave before more damage was done. But he still wanted to talk things out and he was already beginning to regret his uncompromising attitude. If he could have seen the scene of devastation he left behind, his conscience would have been even heavier with guilt.
Kate, who had heard that her parents were fighting, had rushed out of her room, only to see her father leaving, slamming the door shut. She made for her parents’ bedroom and finding her mother there, she threw herself into her arms, tears streaming down her face.
Maria could only try uselessly to stem the flood of tears. She was stunned to see this display of emotion from her normally so even tempered daughter.
Hannah had heard the argument as well. Unlike her sister, she’d also understood what was the cause of the fight. Her mother had been having an affair. Ok. She’d suspected that. In fact, she had expected that her father’s moving out had had something to do with his having an affair. But to learn like this that her father, her own father, had been sleeping with a man. This simply couldn’t be happening.
She was still only a kid and she felt her life was over. Throwing herself onto her bed, she pulled the covers up over her head and gave in to her despair.
Maria too, felt as if the sky had fallen down on her head. Her husband, estranged as he might be, had admitted to sleeping with not just one, but two of the agents under his command. One of them was a man.
Had she been married to a gay man for all these years? How on earth was she going to explain this to her daughters? That thought reminded her that she hadn’t seen or heard anything from Hannah in quite a while. She picked up Kate and carried her towards the girls’ room.
Just as she had suspected, there was a quivering bundle lying on Hannah’s bed. Someone, who could only be her eldest daughter was crying disconsolately. In fact, Maria felt like throwing herself down beside her daughter and having a good cry herself. But she knew she had to take care of her girls first.
She set Kate down on her bed and did her best to calm the girl down.
“There. It’s going to be ok, I promise. Don’t cry, baby, don’t cry. Hush. Don’t worry about anything. Mommy will take care of it.”
To her relief, as always, Kate listened to reason. Her sobs came less and less frequently and soon she put her little fists to her face, to wipe away the tears.
“That’s my girl. Let me handle daddy. This is nothing to worry about.”
The cover on Hannah’s bed fell to the floor and Hannah sat up, her eyes flaming and her hair looking as if she hadn’t poured half a can of hair spray into it that very morning.
“How can it be ok when dad’s been -”
“Hannah. Let’s talk about this later.”
Maria stared meaningfully at Kate, who had picked up a comic book and was ostensibly reading the story to her teddy bear.
At least Hannah seemed to get her meaning.
“Why don’t I make us some dinner? Is that ok, sweetie?”
Kate looked at her placidly as if the outburst of two minutes ago had never happened, though her eyes still looked red and puffy.
“I’ll help you.”
Maria stared at Hannah as if she was seeing her for the first time. When had her eldest ever offered to help her in the kitchen? Not this side of kindergarten, that was clear.
It turned out the offer of help had been purely symbolic. Hannah merely wanted to talk.
“Mom, how can you say that everything’s going to be ok after what dad’s done?”
“Did you listen in on our private conversation?”
“He’s a fag, isn’t he?”
“Hannah, we don’t use that word in this household.”
“But he’s doing it with a guy. That’s like so gross.”
Not to mention doing it with a skinny blonde witch with a poison tongue.
“Hannah. He’s still your father. He’ll always be your father.”
“That’s the problem.”
“Listen to me. Whatever is going on, is none of your business. We both love you more than anything. You don’t have to worry about anything. We’ll make sure you’re alright no matter what. Do you believe me?”
Now Hannah turned on her heel, and stormed into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.
Maria sighed. This day had gone from bad to worse. But Kate would still need her dinner, so she hurriedly went on with making dinner. As soon as the meal was ready, Maria called for both her daughters. She wasn’t surprised at all that Hannah refused to leave the bathroom. Fortunately, it wasn’t the only one, so if Kate needed to go, they wouldn’t get in any more trouble.
Feeling dazed and stunned, Maria let Kate watch tv for longer than usual before finally waking up and realizing it was past the little girl’s bedtime. She was able to put her to bed without too much trouble, but Hannah still hadn’t made an appearance.
By now, Maria’s head hurt and she only wanted to be left alone to grieve her lost marriage. She might not feel as dramatically about this affair as Hannah appeared to, but she knew the girl was right. This was most likely the end of her marriage. That thought hurt more than she’d expected it to. Why did she have to love him still?
Danny had been a distraction, a very pleasant one, but still not a seriously intended relationship. Perhaps Jack had been right about her taking advantage of him. If she wasn’t very much mistaken, Danny’s way of dealing with trauma was by throwing himself into a relationship. As if love could cure all ills. What if that was what Jack had been trying to do? She wished that their conversation had turned out differently.
Shaking her head sadly, she made one last effort to get Hannah out of the bedroom, but she wasn’t at all surprised that she failed. There was no sound from in there, and though she knew that there was no way Hannah could have come to any harm in there, she still felt she’d had enough. More than enough.
It wasn’t too much to ask surely, that Jack returned and fixed the problem he’d left behind. He’d broken his daughter’s heart, even though she shouldn’t have been eavesdropping in the first place. But what kid of Hannah’s age could have resisted that temptation? Right. Jack would have to come back and sort things out. Hannah was his child too. It was the least he could do for her after what he’d done to her. To all of them.
Maria called his cell phone number and waited. To her relief, he picked up on the first ring. Was he expecting a call from Martin? If so, she’d gladly disappoint him.
“Jack. You have to come back here right away.”
“You have the nerve to ask me that? But specifically, it’s Hannah. She listened to our conversation and now she’s locked herself in the bathroom and won’t come out. It’s been four hours, Jack.”
“Did she – did she hear all of it?”
“Yes. She did.”
She was going to say more, but at the last moment she bit back the sharp comment that had been about to burst forth. The anger had simmered down to almost nothing. If anything, she was sad and tired. Judging by his voice, Jack felt that way too. Perhaps she was being unreasonable. It might be too soon for them to meet face to face.
But he didn’t seem to feel that way.
“I’ll be right there. Maria -”
“I’m sorry. For everything.”
“Thanks, Jack. I’ll be expecting you.”
He must have ignored all traffic lights, and it was a wonder that none of the uniformed traffic cops had stopped him, but he arrived outside their door so soon, Maria wondered if he’d gone back to his place at all. Had he stopped at a bar to drown his sorrows? But his breath didn’t smell of alcohol and he certainly didn’t look drunk.
“Is she still in there?”
“Yes. Not a sound.”
“Are you sure she’s ok?”
“There are no razors in there and no medication. The window is too small for her to get through. You tell me.”
“You’re right. I’m overreacting.”
He really looked exhausted and the pain in his eyes made Maria want to reach out to him, despite everything that had happened.
Maria went into the kitchen to make some coffee for them. She’d tried to get Hannah out. Now it was his turn.
“Hannah? Please come out. I would like to talk to you. Honey? Are you ok?”
Amazingly, the lock clicked and the door swung open. Hannah’s eyes blazed at him, filled with a hatred that made Jack want to take a step back. He’d never imagined one of his children would look at him that way.
Never had he raised a hand in anger against them or their mother. He’d never hurt them in any way. And now his oldest daughter hated him. What had he done? His eyes burned with tears, but he made an effort to hold them back.
“Please. Let me explain.”
“What’s there to explain? Are you and this guy doing it or not?”
“Hannah. I know you’re hurt and angry. I’m sorry. If there was anything I could do to -”
“Grownups make mistakes too. I’ve made a mistake and I regret it. But whatever I’ve done, I love you and Kate more than anything in the world. I’d give my life for you.”
“What about mom?”
“I love her too.”
“But not as much as you love this guy, right?”
“Yes. I love your mother more than anyone else. You and Kate and your mother are my life.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“I made a mistake. I was confused.”
It seemed that Hannah’s angry outburst had drained her of all energy. Suddenly, she began to cry like a much younger child. Jack looked at her, unhappily, wishing there was something he could do to stop her hurting like this. If he’d had any sense at all, he wouldn’t have put her through this. Not her, not Kate, not Maria.
Had nothing he’d done over the years changed the fact that he too, was a bad father? One who put his own needs before his children’s. But suddenly, he knew what to do. Hannah was his daughter. He might be a bad father, but he could still comfort her, if only she would let him. At least he had to try.
So he pulled her into his arms and after a barely perceptible pause, Hannah let him. She slumped down against his chest and let him hold her. Eventually, the sobbing ceased and she pulled back and began to wipe the black stripes from her face.
Had Maria given her permission to use makeup? Well, this was Hannah. Even if she didn’t have permission, she would have done what she wanted to anyway. At the moment, Jack didn’t care. As long as she wasn’t doing drugs or sleeping with boys. Or girls.
“Will you go and live with this guy now?”
“No. I won’t do that. I promise. Hannah, please say you’ll forgive me.”
She sniffed a little and rubbed the back of her hand against her left cheek.
“Ok. I forgive you, dad.”
“Do you think you could sleep now?”
“Do you want me to come and tuck you in?”
“No, thanks. I’m not a baby, like Kate.”
“Would you mind if I went in to check on her?”
“Go ahead. If I can have some peace and quiet in the bathroom.”
Five minutes later, Jack had pulled the covers up over Kate’s sleeping form and very lightly kissed her forehead. Hannah still hadn’t shown up, but he didn’t think there was anything to worry about. He straightened up and stretched his back.
At least now, he’d managed to soothe Hannah’s hurt feelings. Would he be able to make amends with Maria too? Or was that just too late after what he’d done to her? He knew he’d regret it for the rest of his life, if he didn’t try one last time.
Talking to Hannah had made him realize, more than ever, how much his family meant to him. He just couldn’t bear to lose them. It wasn’t just his daughters. Maria was as much a part of him as they were. Without her, his life would be empty.
As if thinking about her had made her appear, there she was, looking tired and sad. He wanted so much to reach out to her, the way he had with Hannah, but he knew that while that had been far from easy to accomplish, this would be close to impossible. The girls had been affected by his betrayal, but Maria was the one he’d cheated on.
Was her infidelity so unforgivable, taken in context? He’d shut her out, cheated on her, hurt her. If she’d fallen into Danny’s arms to distract herself from that, who could blame her? They’d been separated. For all she knew, he never intended to come back. How could she know what he was planning, when he never confided in her? That had to change, if he didn’t want to lose her.
In his desperation, Jack felt prepared, for the second time in his life, to tell someone everything about his childhood traumas.
“Is she asleep?”
“No. But soon, I think. She’s just in the bathroom again. Don’t worry about her. We talked things through. I think -”
“Oh, good. Thanks for coming. Would you like a cup of coffee? Or some dinner? Have you had yours already?”
“Dinner? I didn’t even have lunch.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Not really, but that coffee sounds good.”
“Come on then.”
She hadn’t sounded this – normal – for years, it seemed to him. Perhaps not happy or cheerful, but at least neutral. The edge her voice had held was gone, even if that might simply be because she was too weary.
They had the coffee together. Then Maria silently walked into their daughters’ room to make sure they were both in bed, asleep. Hannah didn’t look up or make a move, so she assumed that everything was ok.
Jack was still waiting for her in the kitchen.
“I know I’ve made mess of things, but could we try again? To talk about this.”
“Ok. Can I just say that you were right about Danny. Not about me trying to get back at you, though I did suspect something about that Samantha girl a long time ago. I mean about taking advantage of him. He was vulnerable. You wouldn’t believe how – Anyway, I shouldn’t have let myself fall for him.”
“I had no right to accuse you. As you know, I’ve had two affairs so – And as for being vulnerable – Martin – Well, it’s not for me to discuss his personal life. Whatever you did, was in no way as irresponsible as what I did.”
Maria stared at her husband. He hadn’t sounded this subdued for years. In fact, she couldn’t recall one single occasion when he’d been so ready to put the blame on himself.
“I just have to ask – this gay thing – is it completely new or have you been – I mean, is this something you’ve been wanting to try out for years?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“If you’d asked me two months ago, I would have -”
Jack broke off, when he realized that he would most likely never have answered that question at all. True or not.
“I didn’t know I was capable of this.”
She didn’t sound convinced and he knew it would take more to get through to her. Taking a deep breath, he decided to tell her everything, before he had time to regret it. He had a strong feeling it would be now or never.
“There’s something else. I know you’ve felt that I’ve been inaccessible. That there have been things I haven’t told you about. I’ve – found it difficult to open up, even to you.”
“You’re right. I’ve been holding things back.”
“You mean you’ve been involved with others throughout our marriage?”
“No. Never. Not until Samantha, but – there are other things I should have told you. About why – I’ve been so reluctant to speak openly with you.”
“Ok. Do you think you could tell me about it now?”
“Maria – when I was fifteen -”
She looked at him expectantly, willing him to go on. He knew he could have confided in her. She would have accepted his story better than he himself could ever do. Then why was it so hard to get the words out of his mouth?
“My father -”
Again, he could see her almost actively encouraging him to go on, yet holding back, giving him time to collect himself. She was the most wonderful woman he’d ever met. At least he had no doubts in his mind about his love for her. It would be ok. He wouldn’t lose control. No great abyss would open and swallow him up. She wouldn’t lose her respect for him.
“He raped me.”
He could see her eyes widen in horror, but she didn’t back away from him. She was still the same.
And suddenly, a great sob tore itself lose from him and he began to cry, like he hadn’t been able to back then. He’d never cried for himself. Now, it was as if all those tears poured out at once.
She was on her feet in a second, and he felt her arms go around him, pulling him closer. Her hands made soothing movements across his neck and shoulders. He buried his face against her abdomen and let himself go.
They didn’t know for how long they remained like that, hunched over, beside the kitchen table, but eventually, he felt drained. It was as if no more tension remained. He was exhausted, but surprised to realize that he was feeling better than he could ever recall feeling. This had been his worst nightmare. Losing control. Showing weakness. But this was his wife. If he couldn’t be honest with her, what chance did their marriage have?
“You should have told me, Jack. If only I’d known.”
“How could I? I couldn’t even say it out loud to myself. Most of the time, I was able to suppress the memory. If I didn’t think about it, it was almost as if it hadn’t happened.”
“I see. Right. I guess this changes things a bit. All this time, I kept thinking it was my fault. I wasn’t the wife you wanted. But if I was, what did you hope to find with Samantha?”
“I – I was hoping to feel more – whole, I think. But I didn’t. Not with Martin either, in case you’re wondering. It was just that, with every new affair – wait – since I met you, there’s been no one, until Samantha – but with each new relationship, I felt alive for a while. It didn’t last very long though. Except with you. And it was always women, whatever you might think. It never occurred to me to -”
“Maria, I love you. I know I made a mess of things, but that hasn’t changed. I realize that it must be too late to ask you to try again, but that’s what I want. You and the girls mean everything to me.”
“I wish I’d known that before. If I had -”
“I’ll give you a divorce. If you want to move on, I understand.”
“Hold on. What about wanting to try again?”
“I thought you didn’t want to.”
“I never said that. Of course I want us to try again. You’re my husband. Like I told Kate earlier tonight, you’re still their father. If there’s the slightest chance we can make it work, we owe it to the girls. Besides, I love you too, Jack. You’re an exasperating man. I hope you realize that. But there’s no one I’d rather be married to.”
“I’ll try to be less exasperating. That’s a promise. And I won’t cheat on you. Ever again. Are you sure about this? Would you – do you think the girls would like me to move back in again?”
“What do you think? They’ve missed you terribly. I’ve missed you terribly. Come on. You’ve got to be exhausted. So am I. Let’s go to sleep.”
“Sleep? I have to be at the office in about three hours.”
“Ok. Me too. Let’s lie down for an hour or so anyway. Besides, I called in sick yesterday. I can stay home one more day.”
“You know, I think Vivian could easily hold down the fort for one day. I’ll call her in the morning.”
“Vivian? You haven’t -”
“Slept with her? No. Of course not.”
“And not Danny either, I presume.”
“I thought I’d let you cover that.”
“Oh, you did?”
Maria took his hand and began to drag him towards the bedroom.
He couldn’t believe everything had turned out ok anyway. When he got Maria’s call, he’d been seriously considering ending it all. What had he done except complicate everyone else’s life, not to mention his own? He didn’t deserve one more chance, but since Maria was prepared to give him one, he would be a fool to waste it. Tomorrow, he’d have to find a way of explaining to Martin. That was something he wasn’t looking forward to, but it had to be done and again, it was no less than what he deserved.
Maria hadn’t spared one single thought for Danny until she’d mentioned his name just now. Danny. With a sigh, she realized that she would have to let him down. She was happy to have her husband back, but before she could give their marriage a proper chance, she’d have to break up with Danny. And whatever Jack had said to her tonight, she knew she was just as much to blame as he was, for taking advantage of a young, vulnerable man. She would have to learn to live with that.
The following morning, everyone at the office was stunned to realize that Jack Malone had taken the day off. When had that ever happened before? Vivian knew that four years ago, when Hannah’s appendix had been taken out, he’d been gone for three days, but that was about it.
When Maria’s call came through to Danny’s cell phone, he wasn’t too surprised. Since Samantha’s call he’d had a bad feeling about their relationship. It had been too good to be true, and when Maria told him she was giving her marriage another chance, again, he wasn’t surprised.
He’d spent a sleepless night, in which he’d realized that Samantha’s wild accusations about Jack and Martin most likely were true. Why else would Maria have taken them so seriously? But why was she still prepared to give Jack another chance? He could only assume that, despite everything, she still loved her husband.
Martin. It struck Danny that now, his friend would need him more than ever. Jack had taken advantage of him. Now he was going to abandon him just like that, when he saw a chance to get back with his wife. Who was looking after Martin’s best interests? Not his father. Not his mother either, from what Danny had heard.
On the spur of the moment, Danny decided to go over and see Martin right away. He couldn’t understand why he hadn’t thought of that before. No, that wasn’t quite true. He’d been too busy romancing Jack’s wife. If he’d been there for Martin, perhaps he hadn’t been desperate enough to let himself be used by Jack. How could he have been so thoughtless, so selfish?
Jack never went to sleep. He and Maria lay together for about an hour, then they made the calls to their respective offices. After getting the overjoyed girls off to school, they had breakfast together. Jack showered and shaved, and rummaged through his closet, looking for a suit. Had he really brought everything over to the new place? If he and Maria could make things work, he could get rid of it, he realized, with a start. He wouldn’t miss it, he was sure of that.
“What are you doing, Jack? Hiding in the closet?”
“Oh, well, you know – under the circumstances, that might be best. Do you know if I have any suits left here? I found this shirt, but no suits.”
“I don’t know. I think you took them all. How about those?”
She indicated a pair of jeans that were folded up and lying on a shelf, next to some sweaters, some more shirts and some underwear, which had to have been in the laundry when Jack came to pick up the rest of his clothes.
“Ok, thanks. I have to go and see Martin today.”
Maria nodded, as if she understood.
“I suppose I should have gone to see Danny in person, but I just couldn’t face it. He seemed to understand.”
“I’m sure he does. Danny – Samantha was doing him an injustice when she called him a slut, but he’s been involved with more women than I can keep track of, and we haven’t been working together for that long. I’m sure he’ll bounce back.”
“Thanks a lot, Jack. I guess I’m the easiest woman in the world to get over?”
“Hardly. I’d say quite the opposite. That is, if one was really in love with you in the first place, not just infatuated.”
“How do you know that was all there was to it?”
“What do you think?”
“I’d have to say you’re right. He was flattered and overjoyed, but probably not making plans to ask me to marry him. If our divorce ever came through. Not that it will now. Welcome back. I hope you manage to explain things to Martin. You’re not the easiest man in the world to get over.”
“I’m not? You’re too generous.”
“No, I’m not. Go on. Hurry up and leave so you can come back to me soon.”
Secretly, Maria was terrified that once Jack saw Martin again, he wouldn’t be back at all. While he was gone, she knew she wouldn’t get a moment’s peace until he was back with her.
In the meantime, the first night without Jack since they’d started sleeping together, Martin had begun to have second thoughts. The impulse that had drawn them together might have been valid, but now, he found himself wondering if a sexual relationship really was what they both needed the most. Martin couldn’t say he regretted it, but now that he’d had some time to think, he couldn’t honestly say he felt comfortable in a relationship with a man. Not even Jack.
He’d thrown himself at Jack, and Jack had been generous enough not to push him away, but was this really what Jack wanted? He was a married man, even if he was separated. A man who had recently ended a brief affair with the very woman Martin himself would have given anything to be allowed to sleep with.
Their shared traumas had led them to believe there was more to their friendship than there really was. That was all. He’d been confused. Why shouldn’t Jack have been as well? He’d have to talk to him right away and explain how he felt.
Having made that decision, Martin felt better.
That was why, only a few hours later, Jack met a much changed young man. The conversation that he’d expected to be awkward and painful, turned out to be very different. It didn’t relieve Jack of any of his feelings of guilt, but at least, he left Martin’s apartment convinced that his ill advised action hadn’t seriously hurt his younger friend. Perhaps, in the long run, the fact that they’d been able to express their traumas openly, would help them deal with the rest of their lives. In any case, Jack felt a little more optimistic about his marriage now.
When Jack had left, Martin began to consider returning to work. Perhaps not right away, but soon. Until Jack had shown up on his door step, he hadn’t had any hope for the future. Now – he could at least begin to make plans.
He looked at the empty cupboards in his kitchen and decided to do something about that. Why shouldn’t he go shopping for some groceries? He couldn’t expect Jack to feed him every night. Where was that pencil and notebook? But he never got round to unearthing them.
The doorbell rang and for the second time that day, Martin opened the door to let in a visitor. Danny. Why hadn’t he asked about his friend even once since he’d been freed from jail? As far as he knew, Danny had been through much the same thing he had, though he hoped for his friend’s sake that not everything about their time spent behind bars had been the same.
“Danny? How are you?”
“I’m ok. What about you?”
“Oh, you know.”
“Martin – I – uh – heard about you and – uh – Jack.”
“Oh. I see.”
Martin knew that if there was anything that made Danny uncomfortable it was any hint of homosexuality. It had been the source of numerous jokes between them. Martin had accused Danny of being a closet gay because he was so wary of anything queer, and Danny had said – But this wasn’t a joke. It had all been very real. Not just his relationship with Jack, but Mad Dawg too.
“Would you like to come in?”
“Sure. I want you to know that I understand.”
“Sure. Did Jack tell you about me and Maria?”
“Maria Malone? What?”
“Obviously not. Well, you see, Maria and I – we sort of -”
“You had an affair with her?”
“Yes. Did he tell you he was getting back with her?”
“Yes. But I didn’t know that -”
“I thought so. Maria called me this morning and told me she was giving their marriage one last chance. And that was that. What can I say? I knew she was married all along. It’s just bad timing.”
“I’m sorry. For you, I mean. But I know Jack will be happy.”
“Uh – yes. But I don’t understand what’s wrong with him. First Sam and now – this. You were traumatized and -”
“Did he tell you that?”
“What? No, of course not. I haven’t seen Jack since Maria got me out of that hell hole. But if your time in jail was anything like mine -”
“Danny, did -”
Danny stared at Martin and suddenly, he realized what it was Martin was asking him. A shiver went down his spine. If Martin was asking that, then didn’t that mean he too had been the victim of – Which made the whole thing even worse. Martin had been trying to get back on his feet after that, and Jack had shown up, and taken advantage of him.
“Don’t blame Jack for this.”
“Who should I blame? You? After what you -”
Danny broke off, guiltily. How did you discuss something like this? There was hardly a single word he could say that wouldn’t make him feel uncomfortable to say the least. But he had to make sure Martin knew he was on his side and that he understood and that he didn’t mind –
“Jack didn’t take advantage of me. I’m not a kid. It – it was a mistake, but we were both in it together. Blame me too, if you have to blame anyone.”
“Ok. Let’s forget about that. So – how about we get out of here and have some fun?”
Martin smiled weakly. Fun? Yes, that sounded nice, but what would be fun? He couldn’t think of a single thing. On the other hand, he didn’t want to be alone. Danny showing up like this was more than he had expected, especially since he clearly knew about him and Jack and seemed to suspect what had happened to him in jail. The question was, had anything happened to Danny? But Martin knew his friend too well to expect him to ever tell him anything like that. So he contented himself with keeping a concerned eye on him.
“Fun? I don’t know about that, but I do need to shop for some groceries and stuff.”
“Say no more. Let’s go. I’ve been letting things slide a bit too. Martin?”
“I just want you to know that it’s ok. About you and Jack. Whatever makes you happy. It was just that I felt that maybe it wasn’t what you needed right then.”
“I know. It wasn’t. Or maybe it was. Does that make any sense at all?”
“No. But who says it has to? As long as you’re ok with it.”
“I think so. Jack’s been very kind to me. I can understand that he was confused too.”
“Anyway, Danny, don’t worry about me. Maybe I’m not as gay as you think I am.”
“Well, you remember how I felt about Samantha?”
“Don’t mention her name. That snake. She told Jack about me and Maria and she told Maria about you and Jack. You wouldn’t recognize her. She’s totally lost it. Oh. You were saying?”
“I’m just saying I’m mainly into girls.”
“You be into anyone you like, as long as you keep your hands off me.”
“I’ll try my best.”
And to Danny’s astonishment, Martin’s face was split by a wide grin. They were joking about it. He was joking about gay stuff. Amazing. Maybe he was growing up? He’d better be, because he wanted to be a better friend to Martin and maybe – one day he’d be lucky enough to find a woman as loyal as Maria. After all Jack had cost her, she still found it in her heart to take him back.
“What’s happened to Samantha?”
“Who knows? My guess is jealousy. She probably couldn’t take the fact that Jack dumped her. I guess she wants to be the one to dump, not the other way around.”
“But if she was hurt and -”
“Yeah. I guess so. You know, I miss the old Sam. She was fun.”
“Oh, you’re hopeless. Don’t take my word for it, but I’m guessing you’re hardly her favorite person either. I never mentioned this before, but she never seemed to be attracted to you. Sorry, pal. I hate to be the one to break it to you. But you know what? You can do better. There are millions of women out there. All we have to do is find the right one. And in the meantime, let’s go find some groceries. How about a movie tonight? When was the last time you were outside this place?”
“I don’t know. It’s been ages. You’re on.”
“I thought so. If you need cheering up, consult dr Danny. My office is always open.”
“Thanks, man. You’re the greatest.”
“Martin – I’m really sorry about your dad and everything.”
“Oh, you heard that too. I guess it was to be expected.”
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t have any family at all.”
“No one. There’s just me. For now. I plan on having my own family one day.”
“I’d like that too.”
“Is that a proposal?”
“If it was, you’ve probably had better ones.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’d say it was the second best offer I’ve ever had. Too bad Maria was already taken. Are you coming?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Danny. I really appreciate you doing this.”
“What for? I need to do some shopping as well. Makes sense to shop together. Or we could go for a walk in the park and throw a frisbee around. I mean, since we don’t have to go dig up some missing persons today.”
“Ok. First the park, then the shopping.”
“Yeah, fun first, then chores. Gimme five, bro.”
And to Martin’s astonishment, he found himself prancing about like a ten year-old with Danny of all people. When they’d first met, he didn’t think he’d ever seen a guy so full of himself. He’d wondered if all Danny ever did in his spare time was admire his own face in the mirror, or think up new ways to comb his hair. In fact, it had even crossed his mind that a young man that vane might be gay.
He should have watched his own face in the mirror. Was that how gay looked? Or maybe what he and Jack had done was what happened when you’d been broken into little pieces and had to be glued back together again, by whoever was at hand.
Time would tell. For now, he would go out and have fun with his friend. Samantha might not be the right woman for him. But as Danny had so correctly pointed out to him, she wasn’t the only woman in the world or even in the city. There was still time. He was young. Maybe one day there would be someone for him. He had a hunch that someone would be a woman, but if not, he’d be happy anyway. Love was love, after all. And friendship – counted for a great deal.
Vivian shook her head in astonishment as she put down the receiver. Jack had called in sick, to spend the day with his wife. Whatever next? But she was sure he was making the right decision. A man belonged with his wife and family. A good thing those sluts had seen sense and backed off.
Of course a man was no more than human. If someone threw her- or himself at him, how could you expect him to refuse? At least now, Vivian felt sure things would be back to normal very soon. In the meantime, she’d put those two new agents to work. With only three people doing the work of five –