The day after the T-shirt session with Sarah Jeff decided he really had to clear his conscience. He would tell Cheryl about Lisa. It was a Saturday and Cheryl was working on a tricky photo composition in Photoshop. Chas had given it to her as a test of her abilities, and she was determined to impress him. She’d asked Jeff several times for advice, but she was getting so much more advanced than he was at graphics editing now. Even so, two heads were always better than one and he did manage to come up with some decent suggestions.
While she was working Jeff busied himself with the household chores. He put one load of washing in the machine, and cleaned the bathrooms in their main bedroom and guest room. By then the first load of washing was ready, so he hung it out on the line to dry. He’d put a second load in the machine, and was most of the way through vacuuming the downstairs carpets when Cheryl walked in and unplugged the cleaner. The silence was deafening.
“Sweetheart, you look like you’re trying to win some kind of housekeeping award,” she said, smiling.
“It’s great exercise!” he joked. “I can probably skip the gym today.”
“As long as you don’t skip any other kind of exercise,” Cheryl giggled, and snuggled up close to him. He kissed her tenderly on the mouth.
“I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too,” she replied, rubbing her nose against his.
“How’s the work going?” he enquired. “Need any more useless advice?”
“Your advice isn’t useless,” she smiled. “And I’m nearly done. The image is so complicated now it’s taking ages for each filter to process it. I thought I’d come down and nag you to get on with the cleaning.”
She kissed him again and he dropped the vacuum pipe to hold her properly.
“Gosh your muscles are really firm these days,” Cheryl remarked. “You’re such a hunk!”
“And you’re a goddess,” he whispered. “I don’t know what you see in me.”
Cheryl leaned back and looked at him quizzically.
“Why do you always run yourself down?” she asked gently. “You’re a successful man. You’re charming and handsome. You’ve practically given up going out without me. You look like a male model these days with all that time in the gym. Why wouldn’t I love somebody like you?”
Jeff clenched his jaws. He would have to tell her. This was the right time.
“Because I cheated on you,” he said, the tears already filling his eyes. “I slept with another woman. I’m so sorry Cheryl.”
Cheryl’s face seemed to collapse. She gently pulled away from his embrace and took two faltering steps backwards.
“Is this some kind of joke?” she asked.
“I wish it was darling,” he told her. “If I could take it back…”
“Who?” she whispered.
“Lisa Muller. From HQ,” he told her.
“In Germany? She was there wasn’t she? Oh my god it was when we were arguing!” She clapped her hands to her mouth and staggered back against the doorframe.
“No sweetheart!” he said, reaching out to her with his arm, but not daring to move any closer. “No, it wasn’t then. There were two times. Once when Lisa was in Watford a couple of years ago. And then last year, when I was in California.”
“A couple of years! You mean… all this time? You’ve been having an affair all this time?” she looked appalled.
“Not all the time!” he cried. “I know this isn’t a defense, but it was just those two periods. God, I’m really not trying to minimize what I did. But I swear I wasn’t doing it all the time Cheryl. And it was only ever Lisa. Nobody else! I promise! And nothing happened in Germany I swear to you!”
Jeff started to move towards Cheryl, but she held up a hand to stop him. She didn’t look well, he thought. Suddenly she whirled round and darted for the downstairs toilet. She just made it in time. He could hear the sound of her throwing up in the bowl and he groaned inwardly. Christ! Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything.
He made his way to the downstairs toilet and checked that Cheryl was OK. By this time she was dry-heaving into the bowl, kneeling on the floor. Jeff carefully eased her hair around to the back of her head and held her shoulder.
“Just move back a bit darling. I’m going to flush the loo. Seeing it there will only make you feel ill again,” he said gently.
Cheryl moved robotically, and Jeff put the lid down before pressing the flush. He lifted it again, assuming she might need to use the toilet again in a hurry.
“Would you like a glass of water?” he asked.
She belched and shuddered at the taste. “Yes please,” she whispered.
He fetched the water from the kitchen, and by the time he got back Cheryl had managed to stand up. Then she put the lid down again on the loo and sat on it. Jeff handed her the glass and she took a few careful sips.
“Puking always makes me feel so weak,” she said with a laugh.
“I’m sorry…” he began.
“Don’t keep saying that!” she screamed. Then she seemed to recover herself. She spoke normally now. “Why the fuck did you have to tell me? If it’s all over between you. Why? Did you do it to rub it in my face? To hurt me? Why?”
Jeff had dropped onto his knees and was holding Cheryl’s left hand in both of his.
“When I did that…with Lisa…there was something wrong between you and me. It was…just so cold really. We weren’t talking, we weren’t laughing with each other. We weren’t making love to each other. But now, in the past couple of months, I feel that I’ve fallen in love with you all over again. After all this time we’re a real couple again. We go out, we have great times. And we make love to each other.”
“So you thought you’d fuck that up by telling me did you?” Cheryl sobbed.
“No darling,” Jeff said, trying to keep his voice calm. Trying to hide the sorrow that was welling up from inside. “I don’t want to do that. But I also don’t want our relationship to be built on a lie. If you decide you can forgive me, and I pray that you do, I don’t want you to make that decision without knowing all the facts. But I also want you to know I would never, ever betray you again. I would die before I’d do that.”
“Get out of my way,” Cheryl said, and stood up. Jeff scrambled to move backwards so she could get out of the toilet.
“I’m…” he began, staring to say sorry again, but stopped himself.
“Just fuck off,” Cheryl told him, and she walked slowly up the stairs and lay down on their bed.
The buzzer went off on the washing machine. The second load of washing was ready.
It was a breezy summer’s day, and Jeff found the first batch of washing was already dry. He carefully folded the clothes into the washing basket. Then he hung up the second batch on the clothes line.
When he walked into the kitchen Cheryl was standing there, sipping another glass of water. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.
“I called Jennie. She told me I have to talk to you,” she said without looking at him.
“OK,” he replied. “Should we go through to the lounge?”
Cheryl didn’t answer, but she shuffled in the direction of the lounge and Jeff followed.
For the next hour they just talked. Jeff relived the whole saga with Lisa. He tried to explain his feelings, and why he had done it. He explained how the guilt had been eating away at him, and that he was so sorry for hurting her.
Cheryl mostly listened in silence. But eventually she began asking him questions. Then telling him how she felt. Finally they really started to talk together.
After another hour Cheryl shivered. “I’m cold,” she said.
Jeff got up from the armchair and slowly sat down on the sofa next to her. He eased his arms around her and she leaned into him. He just held her gently.
Jeff woke with a start. Cheryl had just nudged him awake. He managed to focus on the clock. Just before eight o’clock in the evening!
“Hey sleepyhead!” she chuckled.
“Huh?” Jeff groaned, blinking to properly clear his eyes. It was almost dark.
“Your tummy just rumbled so loudly it woke me up!” Cheryl laughed.
“Gosh I’m not surprised,” he said, stretching “the last meal we both had was breakfast. Sweetheart you must be starving!”
“I threw up my breakfast remember,” she said, hugging him. “I’m not just starving, I’m ravenous!”
Jeff stroked her hair gently. “Are you OK love?” he asked.
“No,” she said. Then she looked into his eyes and stroked his hair. “But I think I’m going to be OK at some point. With your help.” She smiled.
Jeff felt the tears tumble over his eyes. He squeezed her.
“Hey be careful!” she giggled. “You’re Mr.Muscles these days. Don’t squash me!”
“I’m sorry sweetheart,” he laughed.
Jeff suggested he could go and pick up a Chinese takeaway meal. They phoned an order through to the local restaurant, and the girl told him they could actually deliver.
Cheryl had squealed in horror when she saw her reflection in the hall mirror. She told Jeff she was going upstairs for a shower and hair wash before the meal arrived.
Jeff set the table in the dining room, and even found a couple of candles. He opened a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc and poured two glasses.
Just then the doorbell rang. He paid the delivery man and gave him a good tip.
As he was setting out the meal Cheryl came downstairs. She was wearing a grey velour tracksuit, and had a towel wrapped around her head. Jeff leaned towards her to kiss her, but paused seeking permission. She smiled and kissed him on the lips. He tasted the fresh toothpaste.
“Oh god I’m so hungry!” she giggled, sat down at the table, and reached for a prawn cracker. “The candles are a nice touch by the way. Even if they don’t match.”
For the first few minutes they ate in silence, occasionally sipping at the wine.
“This lemon chicken tastes fantastic!” Cheryl said, breaking the silence. “I think crying improves the appetite.”
“I asked them to put the sauce in a separate pot,” Jeff told her. “I remember you complained that it was a bit soggy last time. But you’re right, it does taste good. Gosh I need to be careful not to stuff myself!”
“I’m sorry I swore at you earlier,” Cheryl said quietly.
“I think you were provoked darling,” Jeff said evenly. “I’m sorry that I was a stupid twat!”
She almost spluttered out a mouthful of lemon chicken as she laughed, and then gasped as a piece must have gone down the wrong way as she breathed in.
Jeff hurried around to help, and quickly poured her a glass of water. After a couple of swallows she was fine, except for a giggling fit.
“Oh now I’m crying again!” she sighed. “I can’t win!”
“OK, let’s be careful with the rest of the meal,” Jeff smiled. “I never did learn the Heimlich Maneuver!”
They finished most of the food, and Jeff offered to clear up the table while Cheryl dried her hair.
She came down a few minutes later and Jeff had brewed a pot of green tea for them both.
“You look beautiful,” he told her.
She blushed. Then walked towards him slowly, and nestled her head in his arms.
“I love you,” she said. “You screwed up, but I believe that you’re sincere, and I want to make it work.”
Jeff had to swallow hard before he could answer. “I love you too. With all my heart.”
“I know you made some tea, but maybe we could take our cups up to bed,” she said, lifting up on tip toes and kissing him on the lips. “What do you think?”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” he answered.