Sample text for Do you take this woman? : a novel / R.M. Johnson.

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Last night, after walking into her house from work, Carla Barnes found her husband, Pete, bent over in a chair, his face buried in his hands.

She stood in the doorway, afraid to go in. She was worried that he might have found out some way.

She ventured in, stepped beside him, placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Pete," she said, her voice soft.

He did not look up, did not take his face from his hands.

"Pete," Carla said again, shaking him a little. "Are you okay?"

Pete raised his face. He looked anguished. Carla's heart started to beat faster, something inside telling herself that he did know.

"Just tell me what's going on," Pete said.

"With what?"

"With us."

"What are you talking about?" Carla said, feigning ignorance. She knew he was referring to Carla walking in late every evening, some times after 9 P.M. when she got off work at 4:30 P.M. He was talking about the distance that had been between them, her reluctance to talk to him, show him affection, touch him, make love to him. "I don't know what you're talking about," Carla repeated, turning away.

Her husband got out of his chair and stood there behind her. "Is it someone else?" he asked. "I don't believe you'd do that to me, but I have to ask you. Is it?"

Carla breathed a short sigh of relief. He really did not know. He was guessing, and although he was close to the truth, he wasn't certain of anything. "No," Carla said, turning to him. "I'm not seeing anyone else. It's work, like I told you. Things have been just a little crazy, that's all." She was lying.

She wasn't seeing anyone in the way that Pete was thinking. She wasn't sleeping with another man, wasn't meeting in hotel rooms, wasn't supplementing the sex life she and her husband shared, although there was someone that she had been talking to.

He was an ex-friend, an ex-lover, an ex-fiance;.

When Wayne had pulled Carla aside two months ago, at a barbecue her husband was throwing, and whispered to her that he wanted to see her again, Carla could not deny that she was interested. But that was as far as she wanted it to go.

She knew that she could not be alone with Wayne because of how much she had loved him those two years ago, and how much she feared that she might still feel for him.

"I can't do that," Carla had said to him then, pouring herself some punch, staring directly at her husband standing across the lawn. He was smiling back at her as he grilled hotdogs and hamburgers for the twenty or so people that stood about the yard.

"I'm not asking you to cheat on him," Wayne said. "I just want to see you, talk to you, spend time with you. I miss you. It'll be innocent. I promise."

Carla turned to look at Wayne, and she knew that it could not be that.

The man was beautiful. His chiseled facial features, square jaw, breadcrust complexion, and that dimpled smile, always made her just want to lean over and kiss him.

She felt that urge then, but she suppressed it when her husband smiled again and waved at her.

Carla smiled and waved back, blew a kiss at him. Wayne waved as well.

"You'd do that to him, your best friend?" Carla asked.

"I wouldn't be doing anything. I would be just talking to you, like I said. That wouldn't be nearly as bad as what he did to me."

"So that's what this is, get back for what Pete did," Carla said, sipping some of her punch, keeping an eye on her husband, making sure he did not suspect anything. "You brought that on yourself."

"I don't want to talk about that," Wayne said.

"I bet you don't."

"Will you see me?"

"No," Carla said.

"I'm not accepting that answer. We'll talk some more later," Wayne said, walking away from Carla, through the thin crowd of people and over to Carla's husband. He said something to Pete to get him laughing, slapped the man on the back, then took over the cooking duties. He did not once look back up at Carla, but like he said, she knew he did not accept her answer.

After that, he called Carla at work every morning, sent her flowers, candy, cards. He would meet her outside her office building, his car running, telling her he just wanted to share a meal with her.

Although some mornings she would talk to him on the phone, she would always turn him down for those meals.

And then he started meeting her after work.

She told him how dangerous his actions were.

"What if Pete rolls up right now, sees us out here?"

"Then get in. We'll drive somewhere, and he won't see us," Wayne said, after two weeks of chasing her.

That was the beginning, the first time they sat and had a drink, listened to music, talked. They had a wonderful time.

Carla could not help but think about how things had been with Wayne back when they were together, when they were planning their marriage, how the rest of their lives would've been together.

After the third consecutive after-work outing with Wayne, it seemed she fell right back into a groove with him. She felt so comfortable, and after returning home that night, thoughts start entering her head. They were terrible thoughts, damaging thoughts that had her locked in the bathroom long after her shower was over, hesitant about stepping out, crawling in bed with her husband. These were thoughts that had her rolling on her side, away from Pete, telling him that she wasn't in the mood, had a lot on her mind, that she just needed to sleep.

After spending those few short days with Wayne, Carla was asking herself every day upon waking, had she married the wrong man? Had she been too hasty in her decision to marry Pete?

She needed to stop seeing Wayne. She told herself over and over again that the last phone call would be the final one, the last outing would be the last time she would see him without Pete being somewhere nearby.

"But we aren't doing anything," Carla rationalized to her best friend Laci King, an assistant editor who had the office next to hers. "All we do is talk."

"But the talk is driving a wedge between you and your husband. Carla, he's going to find out one day. Regardless of how clever we women like to think we are, men aren't stupid. This will catch up to you."

And as Carla stood in the den with her husband last night, she realized Laci might be right.

"I'm afraid," Pete had said, "that if this distance between us continues too much longer, it'll be the end of our marriage."

"What are you talking about, Pete? It's a rough patch at work."

"It's not just that!" Pete said, raising his voice, standing up and grabbing her by the shoulders. "I know there's something else. What can I do?"

"We'll be fine," Carla said, stepping away from the hold Pete had on her. She turned and walked out of the room, not answering the question, because she knew there was nothing he could do.

Only she could change things. That was why the next evening, before Carla left work, she had called Wayne, asked him to meet her at Calypso, a Jamaican restaurant in Hyde Park.

The entire drive there, Carla asked herself whether she was doing the right thing. Did she really want to stop seeing Wayne?

After parking the car, walking in the restaurant, and ordering a drink, she told herself she had no choice.

She sat there for twenty minutes. She had drunk an apple martini and was working on a second. When she saw Wayne walk in the front door, she finished the second martini. He was wearing tan linen pants and a matching jacket that his broad shoulders filled out nicely.

Carla stood up from the table, wobbled just a little on her heels.

Wayne caught her by the waist. "One too many?" he said, kissing her beside her ear.

"No, I'm okay," Carla said, hugging him for a brief moment, then sitting back down.

"I've missed you," Wayne said, sliding over one of the menus that sat on the table in front of him. "Are you hungry?"

"I'm not here to eat tonight," Carla said, already starting to feel sadness.

"Then what, you just want to do drinks? I can do that."

"No, Wayne. I'm here to tell you that we can't see each other anymore."

Wayne looked across at Carla, smiled uncomfortably, then said, "You're joking, right?"


"But we aren't seeing each other. We meet to talk, hang out. What's wrong with that?"

"Everything," Carla said, reaching across the table, taking Wayne's hands in hers. "These two months have been wonderful, but I can't continue this. I have these feelings for you. I think of you all the time, at work, at home. I'm neglecting my husband because of them. I'm sure while you two were at work, Pete told you that things aren't right between us."

"He's told me," Wayne said. "But he said that you told him things are hectic at the magazine."

"You know that's not the truth. You know it's you, Wayne."

Wayne looked up at her. "You don't miss what we've had?"

"I do, but now I have something else. I'm married now. I have to respect that, and you should, too. He's your best friend."

Wayne lowered his head as though he felt shame. "I know. I shouldn't be doing this. I don't want to ruin things between you and Pete. I missed you. I just wanted to spend some time with you."

"And what did you think would become of that?"

He peered up at her. "Maybe that you would realize that you still had feelings for me, realize that you married Pete because I cheated on you, and come back to me."

"No, Wayne. I left you because you cheated on me, and then I married Pete because I fell in love with him."

Wayne looked away to avoid Carla's eyes.

She knew he was crushed. She saw it, regardless of how hard he was trying to hide it. "Fine," he said, rising quickly from the table and moving to leave.

Carla took his wrist, held him there.

She stood up right in front of him, looking up into his eyes. Tears rested on the rims of his lower lids, waiting to fall.

"I'm sorry this had to happen," Carla said, wrapping her arms around him, hugging him tight, right there in the middle of the restaurant.

He let himself be comforted for a moment, then quickly pulled away from Carla and hurried out.

Copyright © 2006 by R. Marcus Johnson

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Male friendship -- Fiction.
Triangles (Interpersonal relations) -- Fiction.