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The Do-Over

The affair lasted longer than expected and left bitter feelings all around. Angela saw no other path; she and Mark deserved a do-over. Thinking about the affair--their hands meeting while reaching for the same just-ripe banana; their first rushed kiss under the bug-clouded lights outside a late night laundromat; the ways they had coupled, which neither had tried, let alone dared mention before meeting the other--it all re-cemented Mark as the one.
Felicity, Mark's wife, had just gotten to him first, a high school sweetheart he had knocked up long before reasoned decisions could be made about whom one should love.
Felicity--a ragged wraith of a woman, judgmental and sharp. Nice hair, though, even through all her long nights sleeping at the hospital. Tough, too. Put together. But haircuts changed, and endurance was built over time. They had to have been different people back in high school, like she and Mark would be during the do-over.
Angela spoke into the air with Winchester & Wright while pacing her small bedroom. The speakerphone tinnily echoed each word back to her. "I would like a do-over."
"Duration?" The voice was flat and male, checking boxes.
Stories flooded from her--when she and Mark had made whispered plans to meet at bus stops where hands touched hands, then necks, then hips; a motel key held in hands so shaky they broke it off in a lock they had to pay through the nose to replace; takeout meal deliveries and bedside watch shifts to time things by. It felt good to have someone to speak with about it. She didn't want to leave anything out. It wouldn't be the same after this.
The voice cut in. "Dates?"
She told him, a period from August to April, beginning to end.
The number was a renegotiation with her vision, a punch in the gut. "What would $60,000 get me?" she asked.
Her inheritance and life's savings were worth rescuing love, or they weren't.
"Most of March and all of April."
The beginning of the end. And the end. Crucial days of hesitation and silence, then the week of sobbing after she had called Felicity and confessed, which had felt like exile on a desert island.
"How will you be paying?" the voice asked.
"Cash," she said.
With Mark, it had felt like a dream. Floating and lucid, their desires shaped the world. An impossibility until him, because before him it had never felt like that.
By March, they were meeting every day. No phone calls--it was a rule. He had to check his phone; it might be the hospital, and Felicity might see. He had to know what he could expect, at least from her.
Her favorite dress so he'd take it off her. His favorite underwear so he'd linger.
"Mulholland and 5th," Mark said, the setting of their next rendezvous. An overpass near a bus stop, where he'd pick her up in his Bronco then head toward Manor Motel. There, a slack-faced Chinese man would rent them a room with the efficiency and dead-eyed romanticism of an animatronic weasel. On the way, she'd find Felicity's fast food wrappers stuffed into the door handle, then a single little boy's shoe in the back. She wouldn't mention them this time, wouldn't touch them. They didn't exist. She'd will them away.
"7pm," Angela said. "Sharp."
Though Winchester & Wright guaranteed perfect confidentiality, while reliving March, Angela felt like Mark had to know. Defeat roosted on him heavier and heavier as time progressed.
His smiles came too slow. She felt like she was guiding him into the grooves he had furrowed for her. Their conversations sounded shorter than she recalled. The cadence she remembered felt harried.
"You've never done this before, have you?" she asked, "What we're doing."
She wanted to cleave to what she could remember, stay true to who she was, what had attracted Mark to her in the first place, to distract him. The plan: change only small things. Money was running low for each of them. Gestures had to matter.
"No," he said, eyes squinting, mind elsewhere. His breath smelled of cafeteria coffee and a stomach upset on worry. "Why would you say that?"
Then it was April. Angela's bus stop waits grew longer, the rains came, and their conversations became procedural.
"Again?" she asked, naked under itchy motel covers. Would repetition keep his mind occupied? She was game. Otherwise it was Felicity, the hospital, a single child's shoe abandoned in the back of his Bronco.
"Tired," he said.
They were an old couple, she imagined. Everything in shorthand, meaning baked into meaning. Entire realities unfolded from their grunts. Love was assumed.
"Remember that time with the banana?" she asked.
"We've never done it with a banana," he said.
"No," she said. "When we touched hands, and we thought none of this could happen, but it was already way out ahead of us, and we couldn't believe it was pulling us along."
"What's that have to do with a banana?"
It was more than they had said in days.
"Galwater Station," he said.
She grunted agreement.
Later, when she settled into his Bronco outside Galwater Station, she asked, "Does Felicity know?"
A hospital booty left in the foot well stuck to Angela's heel. The little boy's shoe was still in the back.
"No," Mark said. "Yes. I don't know. Let's not talk about it. Let's not talk about anything."
"Here," she said. "Take my hand."
"I'm driving."
In room 3, she asked, "Again?"
He grunted, then she watched him dress and leave.
That was the last time, she thought. The very last. But tomorrow, I will not call Felicity. This time, I will get it right. It'll be a small thing, a gesture, but maybe it's a big thing, and maybe this time their little boy will live.
She had to try. For Mark. For love.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 29th, 2017
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