As Michael Callahan, Jr. pulled into the Four Seasons, he drove past the valet and into the parking lot jammed full of Mercedes, Lexus, and BMWís. He took the last handicapped space. Michael Callahan was not handicapped, but he was broken. Michael Callahan, age 42, happily married for 17 years, father of two; Sammy, 13, quick-witted, over-achiever, hot-tempered, perfectionistójust like his old man; and Sandy, 11, lover of animals, nature and free speechójust like his wife, Anna. Michael, Harvard-educated and a Rhodes scholar, was Founder and CEO of Callahan and Associates, the top public relations firm on the East coast. He was a devout Catholic and a workaholic. His friends nick-named him Midas years ago because everything he touched turned to gold. Perfect job, perfect wife, perfect family.
As he parked, a man began walking from the hotel to Michaelís black Bentley sedan carrying a shiny gun metal metallic briefcase. The man, wearing a perfectly tailored dark pin striped suit and high gloss wing tip shoes with a military-style flat top haircut, weighed 250 pounds and stood six feet four inches. Basically, he was built like an oak tree with arms. When he reached the passenger door, he rapped on the window twice. The door locks popped open allowing the man to enter. He opened the door and sat down, placed the briefcase on his lap and closed the door.
“Good evening, Mr. Callahan.” said the red oak in a deep voice. “I have my report, the photographs and the audio tapes. Would you like to go over them?” “No. Hereís your check.” Michael handed the private investigator a check for $10,000. “Our business is concluded. Please go.” “Mr. Callahan. Iím sorryÖ” “Excuse me,” Callahan said sternly. “Our business is concluded. You need to leave now!”
The P.I. placed the check in his briefcase, locked it and exited the car. He left a large manila envelope on the passenger seat. Michael didnít need to look inside to know what it contained. He had already been briefed. It included pictures of his wife and her lover; audio tapes of their conversations; records and receipts of her secret life.
After checking into a two bedroom suite on the hotelís top floor, and ordering practically everything on the room-service menu (none of which he ate), Michael turned on CNN. The Dow was up, NASDAQ had changed little and his wife was not expecting him home from his press junket to L.A. until tomorrow. He had come home a day early. He was home but not in his home. Would he go home tomorrow? Would he go see his attorney? Would he go to the bank and close out his accounts and cancel his wifeís credit cards? Should he buy a gun?
The next morning at precisely 6:30, he turned on his lap top and typed into Google the words, “Why Do Women Cheat?” He found an article by Vanessa Burton on Askmen.com that said women cheat for six different reasons:
1. You stopped giving her attention
2. Lack/fear of intimacy
3. You change drastically
4. Someone is giving her more attention
5. You cheated on her
6. Sheís just rotten
After reading the article, Michael took a shower, got dressed, checked out of the hotel, did a little shopping and headed home. “Hi, Honey! Iím home!” announced Michael as he entered his palatial, 20,000 square-foot fortress. “Mike? Is that you?” Anna replied. It sounded like her voice was coming from the game room. Michael thought this was quite appropriate. If she wanted to play games with his life, his reputation, he was up to the challenge. “Baby, stay there. Iím coming.” Michael said. He reached into a brown paper bag, pulled out his new revolver and placed it inside his coat pocket.
Anna ran up to her husband and gave him a big hug and kiss. “Wow! Youíre home early. I thought your plane didnít arrive until five.” Michael sat down behind his mahogany desk and set the revolver down. “Michael! What are you doing?! You know I donít allowÖ” “SHUT UP!” “SIT DOWN!” screamed Michael. She complied. “Weíre going to play a little game. Iím going ask you three questions. If I donít like the answer to any of my questions, Iím going to pull the trigger of that gun. There are six chambers and one bullet; itís time to be very honest.”
Annaís whole body began to tremble and tears ran down her face. “Michael,” she said sobbing, “Please, whatever Iíve done, Iím sorry.” Michael picked up the revolver and pointed it at Anna. “Question number one: Have you ever been unfaithful to me?” “Yes. Iím sorry. I was lonely. You were always out of town andÖ” “Shut up!” Michael snapped. “Iím sorry, Iím sorryÖ” “Second question: Are you ever going to be unfaithful again?” “No! No!”
Michael stood slowly and walked around the desk toward her. “Third question:” he placed the barrel of the gun to her temple. “Are you sure?” “Yes, yes! Iím sure! Iím sorry. Please forgive me. I love you, Michael.”
Michael lowered the gun and placed it on the desk. He hugged Anna for an eternity. When he finally spoke, he said, “I know I havenít been the perfect husband. Letís promise to do better and forget this ever happened.” They walked out of the game room and up the spiral staircase to the bedroom. As Michael turned to close the door behind them, they heard a loud “BANG!!” “Where are the kids?!” Michael hollered frantically. “Sandyís over at Melissaís spending the night and Sammy is in his room!”
Without saying another word, they both ran into Sammyís room to find it empty.”
“Come in, come in! Jackie, whatís the matter? You look horrible! Are you crying? What is it!?” asked Rebecca, Jackieís neighbor.
Jackie tried to speak. She knew what she wanted to say, but no words would come. She gasped a few times and took one deep breath. Finally, she said with a quivering voice, “Itís over. Iím leaving him.”
Rebecca helped her friend out of her jacket and put it on the coat rack near the door. Jackie had been a great friend and neighbor during the past three years. They became friends instantly after moving into adjacent homes, but had really bonded after becoming pregnant at the same time and having their babies within a month of each other. Jackieís son Jonathan and Rebeccaís daughter Shannon were 18 and 19 months old, respectively, and the four of them did everything together–play dates, lunch dates, and shopping trips. Their husbands worked long hours, (Jackieís husband, Mark, as an engineer and Rebeccaís husband, Steve, as a financial advisor) so they often had dinner together, also. They knew everything there was to know about each other, so she couldnít imagine what was wrong with her friend. They had just seen each other that afternoon at the neighborhood playground and she seemed fineÖhappy, even. She went to the kitchen to open a bottle of wine as Jackie slumped into a chair and buried her face in her hands.
Jackie finally looked up just as Rebecca put a glass of wine and a box of tissue on the coffee table in front of her. She reached for the glass anxiously. She didnít drink very often, but she felt like she needed a drink tonight like never before. “Ok. Whatís going on? Did you two get in another fight about his working late? I thought he said his schedule would lighten up this month.”
“No, Bec. Itís not his schedule. I wish it were that simple. I donít even know where to start. I guess Iíll just tell you straight out. Mark had an affair. No ÖMark has been screwing around! ĎAffairí sounds too quaint and sweet and innocent, doesnít it? Anyway, he came home from work tonight about 5:00. I knew something was up because he hasnít been home that early in over a year. It was like I was watching a bad movie. ĎJackie, we need to talk. Itís nothing you did wrong. It didnít mean anything. Iím not in love with her; Iím in love with you. It only happened once.í Every sappy, disgusting phrase youíve ever heard came out of his mouth. I took Jonathan to my Motherís and intended to go back home to talk it out, but I canít, Rebecca. I donít want to be in the same room with him. I donít want to hear him apologize. I donít even want to look at him. I canít! Can I stay here tonight?” The tears were rolling down her cheeks.
“Of course you can!” Rebecca replied as she held Jackie tightly. “You know that. You can have the guest room. Um, IÖuhÖI donít mean to pry, and you can shut me up and go right to bed if you want, but whenÖwhyÖand, for Godís sake, who?! Did you ask him?”
“You bet I did! I think he expected that I would want details, because I swear he had his answers all scripted and practiced. He said that he was lonely. He was working so many late nights at the office and he missed me. Thatís hilarious right?! He missed ME, so he slept with someone else!? He needed companionship and there she wasóday in and day outóconvenientówilling. Iíve told you about her before, remember? Sarah; the one who works down the hall from him. Iíve always been jealous of her, you know. Not only does she have long legs and perfect skin and perky, perfectÖ.anywayÖIíve always been jealous of how much she and Mark have to talk about. They have the same educational background, went to the same schools, know all the same people. I even told him once how I felt. He said I was nuts; that he didnít even find her attractive or interesting. Not attractive or interesting, but worthy of a one night stand, I guess. He said it was one time; a weak moment at the annual conference, after too many drinks. I guess I believe him, that it only happened once. I mean, I donít know.”
“What are you going to do?” It sounded lame, but Rebecca didnít know what else to say.
“I have absolutely no idea. I just need to try to get some sleep so I can figure this all out tomorrow. I have to pick Jonathan up at my Motherís and try to put on a happy face for him. Thanks for letting me stay. I donít know what I would do without you.” The two friends hugged for a long time.
The next morning, Jackie was greeted in the kitchen by Rebecca and a big cup of strong black coffee. “He calledÖtwice. He wants to know when youíre coming home. I told him Iíd have you call when you woke up, but that I wouldnít wake you after the night you had. It was hard to be civil, but I managed.”
“Thanks. Iíll call him in a minute. I just want to pretend for a moment longer that weíre enjoying our morning coffee together and that last night was a horrible nightmare. I need to finish at least one cup of coffee before going home and telling Mark that Iím going to give him another chance.”
“What?!” Rebecca almost yelled. “I meanÖreally? Wow. Are you sure youíve had enough time to think it over?”
“Absolutely. Iím 35 years old with an 18-month-old baby. I havenít worked in over ten years and I have no college degree. No thanksÖI donít feel like starting over right now. Weíre finally settled in the house, we bought the car just a month ago, Mark is making a name for himself in the company and I love not working. BesidesÖI love him and heís been a good husband. Heís a great father and Jonathan needs his father in his life. Heís human. I truly believe that heís sorry and who am I not to forgive him? You knowÖíLet he who is without sin cast the first stone.í Forgetting will be the hardest thing Iíve ever done, but I have to try.”
ALTERNATE ENDING #1
The next morning, Jackie was greeted in the kitchen by Rebecca and a big cup of strong black coffee. “He calledÖtwice. Wants to know when youíre coming home. I told him Iíd have you call when you woke up, but that I wouldnít wake you after the night you had. It was hard to be civil, but I managed.” “Civil? You think you need to be civil to that bastard? Why? Because heís your neighbor and an upstanding member of this community? Because heís been married to me for 5 years? Because heís the father of your daughterís favorite playmate? PleaseÖdonít force yourself to be sweet on my account. I certainly donít plan on it, so why should you?!” Jackie could feel the bitterness and anger welling up inside her. She felt like crying, but wondered if the tears would come. She had cried so much in the last 12 hours that she wondered if there were any tears left.
“Iíll call him in a while. But first, Iím making a call to my lawyer. Can you pick Jonathan up from my Momís for me?” Rebecca was stunned. “UhÖyeahÖof course I can.
Did you say lawyer? Are you sure youíre not rushing things? Maybe you should wait a few days.” “No, Bec. Iím sure. I laid awake all night remembering thingsÖlots of thingsÖthat should have been clues. Hell, they werenít even clues. Any idiot should have known what was going on, but I didnít see it. I didnít want to see it. The late night rings from his cell phone; the times I tried to call his office AND cell phone and didnít get an answer; the password on his lap-top that he keeps changing; the restaurant receipts; the business trip last month that he never wanted to talk about. He even came home late from the office smelling like womenís perfume several times, and I explained it away by imagining him in a crowded elevator next to a woman wearing too much Chanel. Heís been lying to me, Rebecca, for a long time. He promised that it was one mistake, one night, and that it would never happen again. Well, I figure itís been going on for at least six months, maybe longer. Iím not going to waste whatís left of my 30ís trying to hold on to a man who wants someone else. Iím smart, attractive, resourcefulÖ lots of things. I donít want to live my life being suspicious and bitter. If I stay, thatís what will happen. I deserve better. Iím sure about this. Can I use the phone in the bedroom?”
ALTERNATE ENDING #2
Rebecca looked at the clock. It was 8:30 and she was already on her third cup of coffee. She had gotten Shannon dressed, Steve out the door and put a load of laundry in without making too much noise, but she couldnít believe that Jackie was still sleeping. She knew that she must have been up half the night crying, so she was hesitant to go and check on her for fear of waking her from a much-needed sleep, but she knew Jackieís Mother would be expecting her soon to pick up Jonathan. She also knew that Mark would probably show up at the door any minute wanting to see his wife, and Rebecca really didnít want to get in the middle of that mess.
“Shannon. Mommy is running upstairs for just a minute. You sit here and watch the video and Iíll be right back.”
She cracked open the guest room door very slowly. When she didnít see Jackie in bed, she opened the door completely. She expected to see Jackie standing at the window, or on the phone, or washing her face at the bathroom sink. Instead, she found Jackie asleep in the easy chair in the corner of the room immediately to her left. She was fully dressed, shoes and all.
“Okay,” Rebecca said as she pulled open the curtains, “Time to get yourself together, girl. Youíve gotta face this head-on, like you always do. Come on. You canít let Jonathan and your Mother see you like this. You definitely canít let Mark see you like this.” She was talking loud enough to wake Jackie, but she remained still. She got down on her knees in front of the chair. She placed her hand on Jackieís arm.
“Jackie. Jackie. Jackie!” Thatís when she spotted the prescription bottle on the floor near the chair. She picked it up. It was Markís prescription; sleeping pills. The bottle was empty. She gently felt her neck for a pulse. Nothing. She leaned over and put her cheek near Jackieís mouth to see if she was breathing. Nothing. Rebecca stood slowly, let out a sigh, and turned toward the phone near the bed. She straightened the throw pillows on the bed before sitting down on the edge. She stared at the phone for a moment and then looked at her watch. 8:40.
“Mama!” Shannon squealed from the bottom of the stairs. Rebecca cleared her throat. “Just a minute, baby! Iíll be right down! Finish your juice for Mommy!”
Rebecca picked up the phone and dialed 911. The conversation lasted less than 3 minutes. She picked up the phone a second time. She dialed the phone number to Jackie and Markís house without even looking at the phone. She had it so engrained in her memory after dialing it day after day for three years that her fingers seemed to know automatically which numbers to press. “Mark. Itís me. You were right. She was suicidal. She took the pills out of your medicine cabinet just like you said she wouldÖ.What…Yes, Iím sure sheís dead. She took the whole damn bottle. Yeah, she believed the whole story about Sarah at the office.”
by Fred Cuellar and Julie Seitz
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