Today’s story comes to us from Christina Consolino. She is coauthor of Historic Photos of University of Michigan (Turner Publishing, 2007) and won honorable mention in the 2013 Dayton Daily News/Antioch Writers’ Workshop Short Story Contest. She has been published in Flights: The Literary Journal of Sinclair Community College, The Huffington Post, and Literary Mama, where she currently serves as Profiles Editor.
Jackie walked in to my office with such swiftness I thought she’d trip over herself in the process of trying to get through the narrow doorway.
“Oh. My. God.” Jackie’s face painted a picture full of shock and delight all rolled into one. “Andrew MacKinnon? Are you serious?” She shut the door behind her before stepping toward my desk. Up close, I could see Jackie’s eyes clearly, which sparkled with interest under the fluorescent lighting of my office.
“Uh, yes. And why don’t you sit down?” I gestured toward the chair.
“Why don’t I, indeed? This could take a while.” Jackie smoothed her skirt over her knees after she sat and then leaned back in the chair. “Do tell, chica, do tell.” A mischievous smile floated across Jackie’s face, which deepened her dimples. I wasn’t quite sure what to say to my friend. “Andrew Mackinnon?” Jackie asked again. “Andrew?”
“What’s wrong with him? Is there something I should know about Andrew?” I hadn’t spent that much time with the man, but so far, he seemed all right. Okay, way more than all right, I thought. I put my hand to my forehead to check my temperature. All of a sudden, my office seemed warm.
“Heck no. He’s a great guy. And come to think of it, I guess he is hot in that tall and guy-next-door kinda way. I just never thought of him in any light other than a co-worker of Pete’s, you know?” Jackie crossed her legs once and pulled at the waistband of her skirt before nodding her head at me, like she was urging me to continue.
“Yeah. There are plenty of people Theo worked with who were just co-workers, no matter how good looking they might be. This is a first for me.”
“But those eyes, Sadie. I bet you noticed his eyes, didn’t you?” Jackie’s gaze shifted away from me, toward the ceiling, as if she was picturing Andrew’s brown eyes. I know I certainly was, thankyouverymuch. Jackie didn’t need me to voice my response. “I can tell that you have. How do you feel about this?” She tapped her fingers against her chin.
“Well…I have to say, Jackie, that I’m torn. I’ve already seen Father John about the whole situation.”
“Wait, really? Are you serious? I thought your little story about meeting a guy at the grocery store was just a casual flirtation. Has something changed? Am I not seeing something? I’m sorry if I’ve been too wrapped up in myself to notice, Sadie.” Jackie’s smile faded and her mouth turned downward as quickly as her tone had.
“Oh Jackie, don’t. You didn’t miss anything. I’ve been barely acknowledging my own behavior these days. I’ve been hoping if I ignore the feelings, they’ll go away. But yes, I’m serious. I don’t take my marriage vows lightly, and Father John…well, he’s just been there for me for my entire life. I feel like I’m in over my head here and I need some help. Really. I’m not sure quite what to do.”
Jackie rose from her chair, went to my office door, and poked her head out into the reception area. “Sadie and I have a proposal to work on, Ruthie. Do you mind holding all calls for about a half hour?” I heard the secretary’s affirmative response before Jackie closed the door.
“Thank you, Jackie. But you don’t have time for this.”
“Are you kidding? I so have time for this. That’s what friends do. You didn’t have time for coming over to babysit Clara, but you did, right?” Jackie took off her jacket and sat back down in the chair.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“So you think you’re in over your head? Well go ahead. I’m no professional, Sadie, but I am an excellent listener.” Jackie’s warm smile melted my heart. She was a dear friend, someone I could confide in, someone I should accept help from. Now was the time.
“Jackie, I don’t even know where to start.” I turned my chair to face the window. I hoped that maybe if I concentrated on the beauty of the day outside the glass, that everything on the other side of that window would fall into place. I knew it wouldn’t, it couldn’t, but I could hope.
“Well then, let me ask you a couple of questions. Do you like Andrew?”
The answer came easy for that question. Of course I did. My response to him was apparent…the butterflies, the energy, the impulsive flirting. “Yes,” I said to Jackie. “I like him, and right now, it seems more than just in a friendly way. I’ve met plenty of people over the years that I can say are attractive, but I haven’t been drawn to anyone this way…maybe not even Theo.”
“Okay then, do you think Andrew likes you?” She asked a good and valid question, one for which I really didn’t have an answer.
“I don’t know, but we did have some conversational banter on Saturday night that made it seem like he was interested. Of course, he knows nothing about me and my life and has no clue if I’m married to Theo or any of that, although I’m sure he could see my wedding ring. It could be just how I’m reading everything. Maybe he’s the way he was with everyone he meets. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I understand. But I’ve met Andrew. He’s a good guy, a nice guy, and he is very outgoing, but I also know you. And if you think something’s there, then I’m apt to trust your judgment.” Jackie certainly had a lot of faith in me.
I turned my chair back toward Jackie. “You don’t think the butterflies are a figment of my imagination?” Just the thought of Andrew and the butterflies his presence caused made my heart to leap.
“No, but I also don’t know if you need to jump off the deep end on this one. You can be attracted to someone and not act on it. You can be attracted to someone and still love your husband. Cut yourself some slack here, Sadie. You have a lot on your plate, girl. Kids, work, Theo being sick…maybe consider Andrew a new friend?”
“Or not,” I said.
“Jackie, I don’t know if I could do that.” My admission hung between us for a moment and I knew she’d be able to read between the lines. At least I had the guts to admit one of my weaknesses, although it was probably written all over my face.
“Oh…okay. Again, I trust you, Sadie. But one more question.”
“Do you love Theo?”
What a complicated question, and one that I was afraid she might ask. If I stayed silent, would that answer Jackie’s question? How fair would a non-answer be to my friend? “Father John asked me that same thing,” I admitted.
“And the answer is?” Jackie prodded.
“I’ll tell you what I told him. I love Theo, but I think I mostly love the Theo that once was. I don’t know that I’m in love with him anymore.” I took in a large gulp of air before I continued what I had to say. “Of course, people say that all the time, and the old me would have laughed at the statement I made. But I finally understand what they mean. Let me say this, though, Jackie. These feelings of detachment from my marriage started before Theo ever got sick…so…please don’t judge me.” Tears pricked at my eyes and I reached for the tissue holder on my desk.
“I’m not judging, Sadie, I’m listening,” Jackie whispered.
“I know, and I’m sorry, Jackie.”
She leaned in toward me and patted my hand. It was a gesture that I would only accept from someone like her. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s really not, Jackie. It’s not okay, and I need to figure out how to make it all okay. I need to find the Theo I knew and see if we can reconnect again, figure out what went wrong in the first place, and try to get back to that point in my life. In fact, I guess I really need to find the Sadie I once knew, too. I need to clean my life up, I need to clean up me.”
I felt the heat in my face and neck and placed my head in my hands, embarrassed at the melodrama I had just spewed forth. How had my life gotten like this? I thought I’d done a good job of taking circumstances in stride, adjusting to what was thrown at me. I walked through life and made decisions based on what was the right thing to do. And somehow, things changed without my realizing it. Why couldn’t I find what the right thing was and do it this time?
“Do you think that’s the best option? Sticking with the family?” Jackie said.
I knew asking that question had to be difficult for Jackie. She’d come from a broken home, one in which both parents neglected their children, and raising Clara to be healthy and happy was her top priority. Jackie had a fierce love for Pete, and I knew that she probably would never even find herself in a situation similar to mine.
I lifted my throbbing head up from my hands and looked directly into Jackie’s eyes. “For the sake of Theo and the kids, I think I have to try.”
“And Andrew?” Jackie said as she leaned in over the desk.
“What about him?”
“Does he factor into this at all?” Jackie’s voice was so quiet, I almost didn’t hear her.
Her question hit me hard. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll figure that out as I go along.”
“And I’ll be here to support you.” Jackie stood up, walked around the desk, and wrapped her arms around me. She held tight for just a moment, as if she was trying to transfer positive energy to me. I appreciated her warmth and friendship, probably more than she’d ever know.
“You really should be a therapist, Jackie,” I said as I wiped the tears from my lashes with my overused tissue.
A huge grin broke out across her face as she pulled away from me. “The bill will be in tomorrow’s mail.” Jackie moved toward the door before turning back to say, “By the way, Andrew left his card for you on his way out. He told me to tell you that his cell number’s on the bottom of the card. ‘Feel free to contact him,’ he said.”
I gasped as Jackie winked and walked about the door.