Robert and Sarah had been snapping at each other all day. He didn’t know why, but weekends had just been like this for several years, probably since Carley, their youngest, left for college three years ago.
Sarah’s declining health had forced her to retire from a long teaching and coaching career, leaving them only his income. They had done all right, but it felt that he was the only one who contributed. He never said that, of course. That would be cruel. He held his secrets in, but some days they clambered for release. They sat together, silence filling the room, each doing their own thing. He was wasting time, scrolling Facebook. “Must be nice to do nothing all day,” he mumbled under his breath, glancing over at Sarah.
She immediately stiffened, and he could feel her stare. “I know it’s hard on you to be the only one working. Do you think I asked for this? Do you think I want to sit around doing nothing all day? Or are you just mad at stay-at-home wives in general?” She got up from her chair, her face flushed, and left the room. She said something over her shoulder, but he didn’t catch anything but her angry tone. She slammed the door, the panes in the old French doors rattling so hard he thought they would break. He sighed. She had managed to get outside before the tears started, but he could hear her muffled crying. He watched, his heart hurting, as she walked toward one of the worn, faded patio chairs, digging in her pocket for an old, probably used Kleenex. She reached the chair, falling into it, looking tired and frustrated. Tears were seeping around the corners of her eyes and finding a stream to the edges of her mouth.
The doctor called it Chronic Fatigue Syndrome…whatever that was. No discernible cause and no effective treatment. He knew she hated it. She had always been active in sports, never afraid to try anything new. Now she was an invalid. And he was a heartless…
He walked outside to join her, carrying two bottles of cold water. “Here,” he said. “Thought you might want this.” Looking around he said, “Do you remember when this patio was the center of our lives?” He shook his head, sitting down in the other chair. “How we sat here in the evening sipping coffee and talking about the kids and our day, had friends and family over on weekends for cookouts?” In his mind’s eye, he still saw the fresh white of the house and the sparkle of the windows. He turned toward her, “The patio furniture and picnic table were new, fresh, colorful and those trees shaded the whole yard when the sun set.” He remembered how hard Sarah worked to keep it a summertime hangout favorite for everyone.
She nodded toward the yard, “When did all these weeds and ant beds move in?” She took a ragged breath. “They seemed to grow up overnight, widening the cracks in the foundation and invading the yard in huge mounds.” Tears ran down her cheeks and she looked away. “Seems to represents our lives, doesn’t it?”
He looked at her, his heart breaking. It seemed she cried all the time, and he knew he had caused part of the depression and it made his guilt even deeper. She couldn’t help what was happening to her, but sometimes it just seemed she could. Sometimes, he believed she just didn’t want to work at life anymore. It all seemed to start when she quit work. Everything became his responsibility. Quietly, he said, “Do you ever feel trapped? I mean like you have so much pushing down on you, you just want to get away?” The minute he said it, he was sorry.
She looked at him, her eyes tired and listless. Drawing a shuddering breath, she said, “No, I just wish I thought I would ever have the energy to get away.” There was a faraway look in her eyes. “Do you remember the time you went to Paris for work and were there for months?” She looked at him, tears flowing down her cheeks. He frowned, thinking. “Remember, it was just before I had to quit coaching.” She took a sip of water. “Remember, I coached Julie’s volleyball team? We went to state that year.” He nodded. “We took the van, but even back then I couldn’t do my share of the driving. The fatigue was already setting in.” She looked into his eyes. “Something happened that weekend.”
His heart seemed to stop and he stiffened in his chair. “You’d been gone so long and it seemed I never heard from you. I was lonely and…” She looked down at her shaking hands, “I met a coach from the other school and we had a lot of downtime between games.” It seemed she couldn’t stop talking, as if a door had blown open and she couldn’t close it. “We talked a lot about our jobs, the kids, our families.” She looked up and watched a bird land on an electric line. “It was as if we could read each other’s minds. I even told him about you and how much I missed you and what life was like before you left.” Her voice was soft, her eyes distant. “He would help me across to the stadium, and stayed with me to make sure I was okay.” She cried, shifting in her chair. “When I cried, he held me.” She looked at him. “It was like you did when we were first married.” She closed her eyes and stopped talking. He sat quietly, not knowing what to say. His heart was pounding. She had found strength and comfort from another man. He had just handed her to someone else. She looked up. “That’s as far as it went, but… I’ll admit, I’ve thought of that weekend often. It somehow made me feel like I mattered to someone if you know what I mean.” She stood, walking toward the door. When she passed him, his heart broke as he noticed how pale and tired she looked. When had she become so frail and fragile? He was conflicted. She had broken his trust. But then he wasn’t there when she needed him, was he? He put his head in his hands. Which was worse, giving your heart to someone, or giving your body away? Oh, but he knew the answer. He knew.
He followed her into the kitchen, helping clear the dishes from supper. They watched a little of the news and got ready for bed. Neither one spoke. They went to bed, still engulfed in silence. She lay awake, hardly sleeping all night. Why she had chosen that moment to tell him, she didn’t know. He had hurt her, criticized her. Unfairly. It seemed he was always referring to her inferior performance, both as a wife and a homemaker. She felt shame. On one hand, she understood how hard it was for him. She hadn’t been able to do the things she once did, she couldn’t meet his needs, and she’d seen their marriage become as faded as the chairs they had sat in tonight. It just seemed she had no energy even to get out of bed most days. Looking at herself in the mirror the next morning, she was shocked to see the person looking back. Her hair was graying and limp, her skin no longer had the luster and shine it once had. Yet there was no discernible, medical reason for this fatigue, this loss of interest in life.
Sarah heard Rob close the bedroom door, and quietly followed him to the kitchen. Before she turned the corner, she heard him sob, and stopped, listening. “God, how did this happen?” He sat at the table, exhausted from a sleepless night, and laid his head on his outstretched arm, tears coming. He murmured, “How could I have not known, not picked up on her need?” She wanted to go to him, comfort him. Instead, she went back into the room and laid down.
“Why am I such a coward?” he muttered. “I’ve done far worse and haven’t breathed a word to her.” He wasn’t sure he could sit across the table and see the damage and pain in her eyes anymore. Not because of what she’d done. It was about what he’d done. He got up and wearily made his way to his car.
Coffee and a breakfast sandwich to go. Work helped dull his sorrow, grief, and… guilt. It always worked before. He sighed. It didn’t seem God would give him that simple distraction today.
As he passed his assistant’s desk, she stood up and stopped him. “Don’t go into that room right now. Trust me, just don’t.”
He’d had about as much weird as he could stand and now his assistant was telling him not to go into the only safe and normal place left in his world. “Not now, Julie,” he said, irritated. He pushed passed her, charging through the door, then stood, his hand still on the doorknob, and stared. There, in all her elegance and allure sat Viola, his counterpart from the Paris office. “What are you doing here?” He had hoped to never see her again.
She feigned injured feelings. “Why, sweetheart, I thought you would be pleased to see me. It’s been such a long time, and I’ve missed you terribly.” She rose and started toward him.
He put up his hand. “No!” This had to be a bad dream. “Look, Viola.” He saw those months pass before his eyes. “This really isn’t a good time.” He took a deep breath that didn’t seem to make it to his lungs. “I have a meeting with Joe in ten minutes.” She was still walking toward him.
She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She placed a hand on his chest. “That’s fine, I’ll still be here, and you might have…Jill, is it?…clear your schedule for the rest of the day.” She smiled again, pouting. “She won’t take orders from me.” He turned and walked out of the office, mumbling, “Who could blame her.”
He walked into the conference room, eying Joe. “Good morning,” Rob said. “Why is Viola in my office?” He had no desire for niceties. “I have an appointment at nine, and I’m sure it’ll take more than my say-so to get her out. Can you arrange that for me?” He took a deep breath, trying to control his shaking. “Did we have something to discuss that I’ve forgotten?”
Joe was quiet for a moment. “Sit down, Rob. I’ll try to answer some of your concerns. Viola is in your office because management sent her here. The company is downsizing, and don’t need double office space, but we value both you and Viola. You’ll share the office since your work is closely related, and meet clients in the conference room. Julie will serve as assistant for both of you.” Rob felt his face getting hot. Joe continued, “That’s what we needed to meet about. Do you think you can make this work?” Rob knew it wasn’t a question. Could he? Did he even want to?
On his way back to the office, he called Julie. “Hey, it’s me. Can you meet me in the break room? I need to talk to you.”
“Sure, give me a minute. Ms. Gains has a few things for me to complete.”
She walked into the break room and found him standing by the coffee maker, fidgeting. “What’s up? Why the clandestine meeting?” She gave him a sheepish smile. “Sorry. I tried to warn you. She’s already calling me ‘sweetie’ and has me fetching her cup of tea and a directory for every department.”
He looked at her, “Yeah, that’s not all, sweetie, she’s ordered my girl to clear my calendar for today and maybe tomorrow.” He sighed, “Worse than that, Joe asked me if I thought Viola and I could work together — in the same office.” He sipped his coffee and said, “We both know that’s not a question.”
She sat at a table, then said, “Well, do you think that’s possible? I mean after… well, you know.”
It only took him a second to answer. “No, Julie, I don’t.” He looked pensively out the window. “You know I requested to come home. They offered me a position in Paris, but I turned it down. I love Sarah.” He smiled at his young assistant. “It’s not that I don’t love you. You understand, right?” They both laughed, and then he was serious again. “Now, sweetie, have you cleared my schedule for today because I need to go home and talk to my wife about some life-changing possibilities.”
He left everything in his office and went to his car, calling Sarah on the way home. She answered after several rings, surprised. “Hey, you feel like putting a few things in a small bag, maybe along with a light snack. I have a surprise for you.”
“Rob,” she said, tentatively. “I’m already tired and you know I don’t travel well.” After a short discussion, she reluctantly agreed.
Rob made record time. He had made his decision while talking to Julie, and now he had a mission to complete. Time was a luxury he didn’t have. He knew Viola, and he knew she would strike at anyone who stood in her way. Sarah needed to hear this from him. After that, it would be up to her. When he walked in, she was sitting at the table with cup of tea. “Good morning, again,” He greeted her trying to sound cheerful. “Are you ready for an adventure?” He couldn’t help the pounding in his heart.
She turned, her eyes questioning, and nodded. “I think I have everything, but you can look over it just to be sure.”
He glanced at the case and said, “Looks great, if we need anything we can pick it up later. Ready?” He wasn’t sure, but it seemed a glimmer of hope touched her eyes. Maybe, if she could hold up, they would at least be away from the stale, suppressing atmosphere here.
She answered, “As I’ll ever be.”
On his way home, he had made a reservation for a cabin on the lake. It wasn’t far, but far enough for no interruptions. They settled in and Sarah changed into shorts and a tee-shirt. She looked more relaxed already. They had a late lunch and Sarah snoozed in the shade of a large tree for a couple hours. Rob sat and watched her. Her face was relaxed and her hair ruffled in the breeze. His heart beat faster, uncertainty stirring up anxiety. Suppose she wanted out? He couldn’t stand that thought. When she woke up, they went for a short walk in the village and had a burger and coke. She spotted a funnel cake stand and asked if he would share one with her. It reminded him of their dates after football games in college. Was this a good sign? He wiped the sugar off her nose and smiled.
When they got back to the cabin, he made coffee and they sat on the porch, listening to the rustle of the pines. His heart pounded at what he knew he needed to do. Reaching over, he took her hand. “Sarah.” He found it hard to breathe. “I need to tell you about something that happened a long time ago and something that’s going to happen when we get home.”
She said nothing, sitting still, but didn’t pull her hand away. “I had my turn. Now I guess it’s yours.”
He reached over, tucking her hair behind one ear. “It happened in Paris, and I can’t say I didn’t participate completely. It’s just that, well…she and I worked so closely together and I was so lonely.” He gulped, “Well, we…” How could he say it? She sat there, watching him struggle, his eyes not meeting hers. It was heart-wrenching but he had to say it. For both of them. He did. After an hour he looked up and realized she wasn’t crying and she hadn’t removed her hand. He was wrung out, confused by her silence. He drew a ragged breath. “I’m so sorry, honey. I know I should have come clean, I just felt like such a fool when I realized how hollow she is and how beautiful you are, even with the struggles you have.” He looked at her, tears welling up in his eyes. “I love you, Sarah.”
She moved to sit at his feet and laid her head on his knee. “Now that you’ve come clean, I can tell you I’ve known since it happened.”
His mouth dropped open. “How? Why didn’t you say something?”
“It wasn’t my story to tell. It was mine to forgive, and I have. But you needed to get that out. You needed to remove it.” They sat there for a few minutes, quietly listening to the crickets. The silence around them was peaceful, calming. He put his arm around her shoulder and said, “There’s something else I want to ask.”
She tilted her head. “Yes?” The air was already less oppressive and she felt better.
“She’s here. We’re supposed to share my office because of downsizing.” He waited for her to tense, but she didn’t. “Joe asked me this morning if I thought I could make that work, and you know Joe, it wasn’t a request.” He waited, but still no reaction from Sarah. “How would you feel about us retiring, maybe traveling a bit? We’ve earned it, together.”
They spent a couple days doing nothing, and it felt good. On one of their last walks, they passed a beauty salon. He pushed open the door and led her in. “Look through some books and tell them what you want.” To the girl at the desk, he said, “Whatever she wants, color, cut, restyle.” He could see Sarah through the mirror. When she came out, she turned around and smiled. “How do you like it? Too short? What about the color, is it too auburn?”
Rob looked at her for a long while then smiled. “You make me feel like we’re in college again.” He put his phone away and said, “Since we are on our way back to town, would you like to ride by the office with me? I need to turn in my resignation.” Sarah smiled.
When they got to his office, he helped her out of the car and walked her into the elevator going to the top floor. When the door opened, both Joe and Viola were standing in the reception area. Rob turned to Joe, “Joe, you remember Sarah, my wife?” Joe nodded and shook her hand. Then he turned to the French woman standing with her mouth slightly agape. “Sarah, I would like you to meet my associate, Viola.” Viola raised her eyebrows, not missing the slam in the introduction. She looked at Sarah and said, “So we finally meet. You wouldn’t believe the things Rob has told me about you.”
Sarah smiled and returned her insult in just a few words, “Oh, you’re the woman he went to tutor? He’s pretty great, isn’t he?” She smiled at Rob and put her hand on his arm. “I’ll wait here with Julie until you’re done.”
Grace undeserved. Redemption extended. Tell us about a time you feel you have been given undeserved redemption. Please leave comments below, and Like and Follow your favorite story-teller.