I've read Richard Gerald's "Another Love" several times now, and each time it has gripped me around the throat. My favorite kind of stories are the ones that make me talk to or yell at my computer, and this story does that. I've read several of the others based on this and I've enjoyed them, but for my purposes, I went back to RG's original. I thank him for his permission. I'm not including a link to the original because my story is a standalone, not a continuation.
Twenty years of stupidity, ignorance, gullibility. Call it what you want: I called it the end of my marriage and the end of my world.
I'd still be in the dark if it hadn't been for the United States military. It was 2010, and I was supposed to be heading up a joint project between the university and the military for a new jet engine. I'd be leading a team of 16 geniuses and near-geniuses, but first, everybody had to be vetted by the military. There were four senior Ph.Ds and 12 graduate students at various levels, all being backed by assistance from the university's large tech school. I worried that some of my team of 16 would have trouble getting approved by the government; after all, people with the mental talent of this crew are often... quirky, to say the least. I never gave it a thought that the government would have a problem with me, a veteran of the United States Navy with combat experience in the Middle East.
To my complete surprise, there had been some problem when the feds checked on my wife's background. It started when they questioned why a New York State Department of Health employee was travelling to Montreal every few weeks for a weekend at a time, and I couldn't give them an answer any better than what she gave me when I asked all those years ago: because she needed to. I trusted my wife completely, and when she told me it was necessary, I never gave it a second thought.
Apparently, they did some investigating instead of taking my wife's word for it, and that led them to Phillippe Du Monte; on the face of it a somewhat talented painter and highly-regarded art restorer who was also a member of the Communist Party in Montreal. That apparently made the feds do an intensive investigation of the tie between my wife and Du Monte, and while they finally approved me heading the team, the result of the inquiry was not inconsequential in my life.
"We're sorry to have to be the ones to tell you, Mr. McDonald, but your wife has been having a long-term affair with this Phillippe Du Mont. It has been ongoing for about 20 years," the fed heading up the meeting told me.
What does one say when everything about a 26-year marriage was not what one of the partners thought? In my case, not much to be said: an arrow through the heart and the end of much of my life as I knew it.
I would have put good money on the bet that I had a fabulous marriage to a woman I felt was every bit as beautiful as when I married her. I would have lost bank big time when I found out that she had been having an affair with Du Monte for the last 20 years, with the full knowledge of my two sons, and that he had actually lived in my house with my family while I was serving overseas in 1990 to 1991.
To say I was devastated would be the understatement of a lifetime.
I met Karen soon after I left the navy. She was a nurse with the health department then. We dated for a year, and I found her to be as smart as she was pretty. She was also an excellent listener, and although I'm not normally a loquacious person, I told her probably more than she ever wanted to know about an aircraft carrier and how it was my job to make sure the jets were able to get into the air.
Jet engines are kind of my thing. I don't understand people nearly as well as I understand engines. For some reason, I seem to be able to communicate with engines in a way that I could never reach with most people.
Karen was the exception to the rule for me, though, and six months after we started dating, we were married. We stayed in Albany and bought a big old four-story fixer-upper. We had our first son, Kevin, two years later, and our second son, Oscar, four years after that.
The house was about 10 minutes down the hill from the university where I worked in the engineering department. I walked to work most days.
Things were good in the McDonald household for the most part, although Karen and I seemed to hit a rough patch in the sex department after Oscar was born. I felt that Karen was pulling away from me a little bit, maybe because of post-partum depression, but I couldn't get her to agree to see a counselor. Then the government got in our way when my naval reserve unit was called up to serve on a carrier in late 1990.
I don't know how the government spooks tracked down all this shit back 20 years ago, but according to them, Phillippe Du Monte replaced me in my bed before my unit even flew out of the country. They told me they were pretty sure that he and my wife were sleeping together for about a year before that. I had to wonder if Du Monte wasn't the cause of Karen pulling away from me.
I also wondered if Du Monte was the cause of my two boys also pulling away from me when I got back from Iraq. It seems they knew about him and Karen, yet never said a word to me. At that point, I assumed Karen leaned on them to keep her secret.
The feds said that Du Monte was working on restoring artwork in the city from 1989 to 1993. He then went back to Montreal, at which time Karen's trips to Montreal started.
They also told me that Du Monte, who was about 10 years older than Karen and I, was married with two children. He and his wife apparently had an open marriage, and he seemed to have taken a special shine to my wife. In fact, my wife and sons were the guests of the extended Du Monte family at Christmas in 1990. This was getting worse by the minute.
When I got to thinking about it, I was flabbergasted that my sweet innocent wife could not only cheat on me, but was such a great actress that she never gave me a hint, or was it that I was such a gullible trusting putz that I never saw it?
As an engineer, my first reaction was to take a step back and carefully examine all the facts. My second reaction was to try to come up with several action plans.
My emotional reaction was a poor third, because that was my nature in my personal life. I might have been a man of action in the navy and at work, but in my home life, like many husbands, I often deferred to the wishes of my wife. Whatever made her happy was usually the choice I made. Now, in my quietest moments, I had to admit that Karen used my love for her against me all these years, and did so seemingly without any guilt.
Karen was scheduled to go to Montreal the next weekend, so I only had to pretend everything was good for four more days until I could get a break and be alone. I spent that weekend tearing the house apart looking for anything I might have missed that would give me a clue about her affair with Du Monte. To her credit, and my total amazement, I found nothing that would give me a clue.
At this point, my incredulity was leading the way, which means I wasn't going to be happy until I had some more questions answered. I needed some help, so I turned back to an old Navy connection.
First Lt. Billy Pascal was the pilot and I was in the second seat on a flight to Riyadh for an important meeting I was supposed to be at early in 1991. We were going to finish up our part in the plans for the United States entry into the war in the Persian Gulf, which was to start the next day. We took off from the USS Eisenhower right before the sun came up and were travelling supersonically at more than 20,000 feet when the Grumman F-14 Tomcat lost both engines. The momentum carried the plane forward for a bit, but 43,000 pounds of aircraft quickly started to drop from the sky.
The pilot ran the restart twice; got nothing.
"Time to bail out, sir?" the pilot asked huskily, his voice betraying his attempt at being nonchalant.
"Shut off the fuel and try again," I said from the second seat.
"DO IT NOW!"
The best sound I had ever heard in my life to that point then happened as both engines lit.
"Y-y-y-e-e-e-a-a-a-h-h-h!" Pascal shrieked as we ascended in a steep climb.
It was bad fuel that almost cost us our life that day, which was ultimately my own fault as the man in charge. The emergency reserve was not affected, and the engines restarted on the reserve tank once the main supply was cut off. We headed straight back to the carrier and fixed the problem for all the jets on the warship, ultimately saving a lot of lives. That would not have happened if our engines hadn't quit and then talked to me, telling me the problem.
After changing his severely sweat-soaked flight uniform, Pascal swore undying allegiance to me that day and told me throughout the rest of our tour together that he would owe me forever. I had never planned on calling in that favor, but he was living in Syracuse, a five-hour ride from Montreal, and I needed some first-hand intelligence from someone I could trust. Pascal had kept in touch and we had even visited at each other's homes through the years.
I asked Pascal to pose as a potential customer for some art restoration. I wanted him to sit and talk to Du Monte and give me his impression of the man. I needed to have a better handle on this man my wife loved more than she loved me—if she loved me at all. The jury was still out on that one. I was pretty sure she had some love for me, maybe not a lot, but as it had been pointed out to me, I was a clueless bastard.
Two weeks later, after taking a vacation day for a secret meeting with Pascal, I was a lot less clueless, and I knew there was no way my marriage was going to survive. He noted that he could tell Du Monte was a true ladies' man, even at about 60 years old. He was still tall and lanky with a slight air of mystery, and still handsome. Billy had started off with a lunch meeting, and he noted that Du Monte flirted shamelessly with a 20-something-year-old waitress throughout the meal. When Billy noted this in an admiring way, Du Monte admitted that the two of them occasionally had met in his studio for a little carnal recreation.
Playing his part to the hilt, Pascal said he chuckled and gave Du Monte a thumbs up in a conspiratorial way. This seemed to encourage the artist to talk about his conquests both large and small. He admitted to having four long-term lovers and hundreds of one-night stands, as he and his wife had an open marriage.
"Some women give of themselves so much more freely than others," Du Monte told Billy. "My favorite practically became part of my family, and she and her kids even spent a Christmas with my family when her husband was stationed overseas. She had me living in her house and fucking her in her marital bed, and even convinced her two children to keep her secret for her. Her own kids. Can you believe that?
"She's a great piece of ass. I'm still doing her occasionally after 20 years. But she's just another piece of ass. I've had four long-term women and maybe a hundred one or two-night stands. For a woman to do a guy more than once, there's got to be some sort of emotional attachment. A guy just needs to see it to get hard. This woman thinks I walk on water."
It took everything I had not to break down in front of Billy, both when he gave me the Readers' Digest version and when he played the actual tape-recording he made surreptitiously.
Coincidentally, Phillip Du Monte died of a stroke four days later. I actually got to see him take his final breaths. I have to admit I smiled while it was happening.
Twenty minutes earlier, I had introduced myself to Du Monte. It took him a minute to put my name together with Karen's, then I watched his eyes get wide with fear. After 20 years, the bastard thought I was going to kick the shit out of him.
We sat there in silence in the coffee shop, me drinking coffee and him drinking some fancy-ass tea, the same fancy-ass shit that Karen drank, as a matter of fact. I continued to stare at him silently for about a minute.
"Did you ever consider that you were stealing another man's wife when you took my Karen?" I asked him earnestly. "She was all I had, while you apparently can have everybody and anybody you want."
"But I taught her well, didn't I?" he asked. "All those positions and those moves that she told you she learned from reading books. God, you were a gullible son of a bitch. It was so easy to cuckold you."
I started to get up from my seat, but then I thought better of it as I knew that time was on my side.
"Five, four, three, two, one," I thought to myself and smiled as he continued bragging.
Du Monte looked perplexed for about five seconds before the light bulb of recognition flashed in front of his face. He then suddenly grabbed his head as if he had a bad headache. He slid out of his chair in front of me. I sat there watching as I heard someone talking to 911.
"Looks like a stroke," I heard one EMT say to the other about 10 minutes later. "I guess we were a few minutes late."
Word of Du Monte's death beat me home from my "fishing trip" Sunday morning. I found a note on the kitchen table telling me that a friend of Karen's from Vermont had taken ill and she was going to stay with her a few days. Karen and I had been married for 26 years and I never knew she had a friend in Vermont. Huh.
I knew Karen was heading to Montreal for the funeral. I wondered if my sons were going to meet her there.
She was very quiet when she came home four days later. I didn't push her. In fact, I barely talked to her. I could tell she was hurting, but she was smart enough to keep her suffering to herself.
About 10 days later, Karen started bemoaning the fact that she missed our boys and that the house felt empty. She asked me if I was okay with her taking a couple of weeks to visit the boys. I noted to myself that she didn't ask me to go with her, but I told her I was good with her travelling.
The only thing keeping my head on straight was the work at the university. The engine the government wanted was supposed to be enough to launch a jet into orbit with 80,000 pounds of thrust. In reality, it was a dismal failure, sucking in fuel like a drunken sailor sucks in beer. We—the university—had a one-year contract at a huge figure. It was so important to the economy and the prestige of the university that the university president even visited the old fieldhouse where my team was working.
Saturday found me raking fall leaves around the house. I had started out with my lighter rake, but it had rained a day previously, and the leaves were too heavy for that rake, so I headed back to the house to get the heavier rake. Just as I stepped into the garage, the doorbell rang. I went into the house from the side door and went to the front door. If it had not rained and the lighter rake was working, perhaps the next act in this bizarre play that had become my life would not have played out.
Perched on my doorstep was a small Asian woman dressed a bit young and sexy for her age, which I guessed to be the same age as I was, at 50. She was wearing an expensively cut black dress suit showing under her dress coat with sexy high-heeled black leather boots. She wore her beauty well for her age, and she knew it. Although she in no way looked like Karen, there was something about the way she held herself that reminded me of my wife.
She introduced herself as Avril Du Monte, widow of the recently-deceased artist Phillippe Du Monte, and I know I involuntarily shivered. Not only did the bastard steal my wife's love, he also had a damn good-looking wife. I wondered what that was all about. I asked.
"I am seeking Karen," she said shifting a large rectangular package wrapped in brown paper. "I just stopped on my way to New York to bring her painting," she said.
"You must be her husband, Robert. Could you help me with it? It has gotten a bit heavy between my car and your front door," she said, crossing our threshold while attempting to pick up the picture.
I took the package from her and followed her into the house. She headed straight for the large front parlor, and I realized that her late husband wasn't the only Du Monte who had been in my house before. She acted as if I should know her. She spoke perfect English, but with a light French accent.
I seated Mrs. Du Monte in the old-fashioned loveseat that we had inherited from my wife's mother and offered her refreshment. She asked for tea, specifically that fancy-ass brand that both my wife and her husband drank.
"Formosa Bai Hao, if you still have any. I am afraid Karen has gotten me addicted," she said.
I looked at her sideways. She didn't seem to notice.
I went into the kitchen and prepared her tea. I grabbed a beer for myself and headed back to the front parlor.
"You are as ruggedly handsome as Karen described you," Avril said matter-of-factly while she unabashedly scanned me from head to toe. "I am so sorry we never got a chance to meet before, but I understand you work a lot of hours."
She apparently knew more about me than I did about her, although I did know some facts about her from the feds' investigation that I had read.
Avril explained she was on her way to New York to help organize an exhibition of her late husband's work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she was dropping off a piece of artwork that she felt Karen should have. I explained Karen was out in California, visiting our son, Oscar.
"I should have called. I know," she said. "But I am here now..."
She started to unwrap the package.
"It was not his usual style, but it was perhaps his greatest, most inspired work," she said. "Of course, he had a belle muse."
And there it... she... was. Completely unwrapped, the painting was of a naked woman caught in the simple act of leaning forward to retrieve her panties from the ornate needlepoint seat of a small delicate chair. Her golden red hair fluttered around her as he perfectly captured the movement of her actions. Her teardrop breasts looked amazing, the triangle of lush hair between her legs matched the color of the hair on her head. The light in the room came from the window set due east at the back of our house, in the bedroom we have shared for the last 25 years.
The picture appeared to have been painted within a few years after the birth of our second son, Oscar, when Karen still had a bit of her pregnancy weight in her stomach. The brown eyes with a hint of gold were captured perfectly, along with the slight smirk on her face as she was clearly looking at the painter with a look of unbridled love. It was obvious that while Karen was my wife, she was obviously his woman.
I gasped and leaned back into the chair upon which I was seated. Avril's prideful smile quickly faded.
I felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. It was one thing to read about and hear about Karen's betrayal of my love, it was another to see it... to see the true emotion of it.
"Oh, mon Dieu. I have made a grave mistake!" Avril exclaimed. "You didn't know, did you? How did you not know? They lived together for a time. They were lovers for years. We all thought you knew and approved."
"No, I didn't know, at least up until a couple of months ago," I sobbed as my emotions finally got the better of me. "But seeing it just makes it so much worse. He might have been an artistic genius, but if he wasn't already dead, I'd kill him."
"No. No. No!" Avril screamed. "It wasn't like that. It was beautiful. My Phillippe loved your wife."
She rose out of her chair. I rose with her, then told her harshly I needed to hear her version of this love story.
"You don't drop this... this painting on me and then just run away. You owe me," I said.