wrote his first story at the age of five, when he
created a comic book version of King Kong vs. Godzilla on a
stenographer's pad. It took him a few more years until he began
selling professionally, though. Overall, he's published over fifty
stories of fantasy and horror, as well as hundreds of nonfiction
In addition to writing fiction, Tim's worked as an editor and
newspaper reporter. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair
Community College in Dayton, Ohio.
His wife Cindy is a
psychologist (a useful profession for the spouse of a writer). They
have two bright and beautiful daughters, Devon and Leigh.
hopes to continue writing and teaching until he keels over dead, after
which he wants to be stuffed and mounted in front of his computer
is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder.
If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments,
please contact her at email@example.com.
All materials copyright 1996-2000 by their respective
creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be
posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
The Other Woman
by Tim Waggoner
"It's okay, Honey. Really." Joanne placed her hand on his chest, rubbed her fingertips in soothing circles on his skin.
Mark Somerson looked up at the ceiling, smiled wryly. "I don't suppose you'd believe me if I said this has never happened before." He could feel his erection -- or what there had been of it -- wilt completely.
She snuggled up to him as if they had completed the act and she was contentedly awash in afterglow. "It doesn't matter. I'm just happy to be with you." She continued stroking his chest for a few seconds before asking, "It's not me, is it?"
He turned to look at her, lightly touched her chin. "Not at all. You're a beautiful, sexy woman." It was true. Joanne Marsch had a centerfold's body and -- he'd been delight to discover -- an irresistible mix of sweetness and naughtiness in bed. She was the kind of woman most men could only dream of having. Certainly the guys at Kaeppner and Spradlin, the insurance company were they both worked, did a lot of fantasizing about her long legs, generous bosom, and waist-length blonde hair. Up until a few weeks ago, Mark had been one of them. Now here he was, in the bedroom of her condo, lying naked next to her with a penis so soft it might as well have been made of Play-Doh.
"Was it because of the pictures?" She nodded toward her dresser, where a group of framed photos were displayed. Photos of Joanne and a handsome, muscular man with wavy black hair and a Marlboro Man mustache. "I've been meaning to put them away. Daniel's been gone for almost a year now --"
"They don't bother me." It had been a little creepy at first, making love to a woman while the image of her dead husband -- with Joanne beside him, holding his hand, hugging him, smiling happily -- looked on. And it didn't help that Daniel was male-model handsome. It made Mark more conscious than usual of his thinning hair and the extra twenty pounds he carried on his stocky frame. But he had forgotten about the pictures and his perceived inadequacies when he and Joanne fell into bed and their foreplay intensified.
He debated whether to tell her the truth; he wasn't sure how she would take it. Still, he supposed he owed her an explanation. Especially since he doubted, no, knew he could never see her again.
"On the way over here, we passed a school."
She nodded. "Parkhurst Elementary."
They had driven separately, each supposedly going to lunch alone. Mark had followed Joanne to her condo, driving through a section of the city he'd never been to before.
"The playground was empty . . . I guess afternoon recess hadn't started yet. I saw a group of swings swaying in the breeze, and I felt an overwhelming urge to be there with Leah, listening to her giggle and shout, 'Push me, Daddy! Push me highest of all!'"
Joanne gave him an understanding smile tinged with sadness. "I don't suppose you imagined the two of you there alone."
Mark shook his head. He didn't say it, but he didn't have to. Not only had he wanted to be pushing Leah on the swing, he'd wanted her mother to be there too, so that both Sandra and he could share in the joy of the daughter they had created.
He expected Joanne to draw away from him, but she continued cuddling, now rubbing his leg with her bare foot. "It doesn't bother me that you still care for your wife. I'd think less of you if you didn't. I had a dream last night."
Mark was surprised by this sudden change of topic. "Oh?"
"I was at your house, sitting in the family room with you and Sandra while Leah played on the floor. And it was okay I was there. Sandra knew everything, and she approved." Joanne sighed. "It was nice."
It didn't sound nice to Mark. Why would a woman who had sex with a married man (or almost had) dream of being part of his other life? It didn't seem normal.
Mark glanced at the clock radio on her nightstand and saw lunch hour was almost over. They really needed to return to work, or at least he did. Joanne might be able to get away with taking a long lunch since she worked in Personnel, but Mark's supervisor in Billing was a real hard-ass. Before Mark got up and started to get dressed, he knew he should tell Joanne that he couldn't see her again, that it was a mistake, that he was sorry but he loved his wife and daughter too much to betray their trust.
She placed her fingers on his lips. "Shush. You don't have to apologize anymore. I had a good time." She brushed her fingertips gently across his mouth, tracing the outline of his lips. "Besides, I'm a firm believer in taking things one step at a time. Today was just the first step for us, Mark." She smiled and something dark moved behind her eyes. "Wait until you see what I have planned for the next."
That evening on his way home from work, Mark was still thinking about his nearly completed liaison with Joanne and trying to sort out some extremely mixed feelings.
They had met several weeks ago in the employee lounge. Joanne sat at a table, staring out the window, an unopened can of soda before her. Mark came in, smiled and said hello, received a soft "Hi" in return. He poured himself a cup of lukewarm ink that could only laughingly be called coffee and started to leave.
That's when he noticed Joanne was crying.
He didn't know her, not really. He'd seen her around, of course, lusted in his heart after her like all the other men in the building. But simple human concern wouldn't let him walk away without at least asking, "Are you okay?"
She nodded. "I was just ... thinking about my husband. It was almost a year ago that --" She broke off, gave a little wave. "Nevermind. It's not important."
Mark set his coffee on her table, got some napkins from a dispenser next to the microwave, handed them to her. She took them with a grateful smile, wiped her eyes, blew her nose.
He sat down. "Of course it's important. Why don't you tell me about it?" He didn't see her as a fantasy girl then, but rather as a fellow human being who was hurting, and he wanted to do what he could to help.
She began hesitantly at first, but when she saw that he was sincere, that he was actually listening, she told him everything. Of how ten months ago, she and her husband Daniel had been driving their BMW along route 70 on the way back from visiting her mother in Indiana. It had been raining so hard that Daniel could barely see beyond their headlights. She asked him to pull over and wait out the storm, but he insisted on driving through it, windshield wipers flapping at their highest speed, doing little more than smearing water around, Daniel squinting as if he could see past the driving sheets of rain by sheer force of will alone.
She still wasn't clear what happened, exactly. Somehow Daniel lost control of the car, their beemer spun out of control, the world became a dizzying riot of sound and motion, and then the next thing Joanne knew she woke up in a hospital bed, a widow.
Mark sympathized. He told her how his parents had died in car wreck when he was a teen-ager. They'd been on their way to a family reunion when a semi sideswiped them and drove their car into a bridge abutment. He would've died too, had he not weaseled out of going to the reunion by pretending to be sick. He told her of the terrible survivor's guilt he had lived with for years, the awful sense that life and death were nothing more than slots on a cosmic roulette wheel spun by a cold and indifferent hand.
It was from this kernel of shared tragedy that their attraction first grew. They began taking their breaks together, going out for lunch, for dinners. Mark made excuses for the latter by telling Sandra he needed to stay late for work or have dinner with the boss, lies cribbed from the cheating husbands he'd seen portrayed in old movies and TV shows. He and Joanne made out in parked cars like a couple of horny teen-agers, groping, fumbling, rubbing against each other. But they avoided actually having sex. Mark couldn't bring himself to go that far, a shy virgin again at thirty-three.
Until today, when Joanne had suggested this morning over a quick cup of coffee in the lounge that maybe they could have "lunch" together at her place.
Mark pulled up to the last intersection before his house, slowed down, hoping the green light would turn red, give him a couple more minutes before he had to face Sandra and Leah. Especially sweet little Leah..
He got his wish; the light turned crimson. He braked to a stop, switched on the radio, let the music play loud, paid no attention to it. He felt like a man who was just waking up from a long strange dream. How could he have been stupid enough to endanger his marriage for the sake of a little sex on the side? The idea seemed completely alien, like something another man had done and Mark had only heard about in passing.
The light turned green; Mark had no choice but to go forward.
When he drew near his house, he felt an urge to hit the gas and keep going, to drive around the block a few more times and work up his courage. But he feared that if he didn't stop now, he might point his car toward the horizon and keep going. He hit his turn signal, slowed, pulled into the driveway, activated the garage door opener.
Inside the garage, listening to the door ratchet downward, he told himself that he would talk to Joanne tomorrow sometime during the day, at lunch, after work, whenever he could meet with her alone. He'd tell her he was sorry, but he couldn't see her anymore, and that would be that.
The door closed with a muffled thud. Mark sat for a second longer, took a deep breath, and got out of the car.
"Daddy's home!" Leah came running up to him, pigtails bobbing, happy round face grinning, threw her arms around his legs, squeezed them tight. At first he didn't want to touch her, didn't want to soil her with his adulterer's hands. But he put his briefcase down, picked her up and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
"Hi, Sweetheart," Sandra called from the kitchen. The house was filled with the homey smell of dinner cooking. Mark was surprised; usually they ate out on Friday nights. He carried Leah into the kitchen, his daughter chatting happily about making peanut butter and pinecone birdfeeders in daycare.
Sandra stood at the stove, stirring a steaming pot of pasta. She still had on her work clothes -- a tortoise-shell blouse, black slacks, yellow scarf tied loosely around her neck Looking at Sandra, at the woman he'd married, tall, thin almost to the point of being bony, short hair a color somewhere between brown and black, he felt relief. This was where he belonged; this was home.
He walked over to the stove, shifting Leah to his other arm to keep her away from the steam, and kissed his wife hello. As their lips touched, he thought of how only a few hours ago he'd been kissing Joanne, rolling around in her bed, bodies sliding against one another. But that had only been skin on skin, and while exciting, in the end it had meant as much to him as a handshake with a stranger. This kiss, though lacking in passion, touched him on his deepest, most profound level.
Everything was going to be all right. He was sure of that now.
Sandra pulled back, gave him a smile. "How was work?"
"Same as always. How about you? Help anyone talk better today?" Sandra was a speech therapist who specialized in working with children.
"My last appointment ran over, so I was late picking up Leah and getting dinner started. I'm tired, irritated and stressed, but other than that, I'm great." She grinned. "If you could help with the salad, I'd be eternally grateful."
He grinned back. "Define eternally. Seriously, though, I don't know why you're bothering with all this -- not that I don't appreciate it -- but we usually go out on Fridays."
"Don't tell me you forgot. I suppose you didn't stop for any wine either." Her gaze flicked to the kitchen table, noted the absence of a bottle. She sighed. "You'll just have to go back out then." She looked at the clock above the sink. "If there's enough time. I love her like a sister, but I really wish she'd be late for a change."
The doorbell rang.
Sandra laughed, shook her head. "Right on cue. Go let her in, Mark. I'll finish up with the pasta."
Mark wanted to ask, Let who in? But before he could say anything, Leah wiggled out of his arms, jumped to the floor, and ran out of the kitchen, chanting, "Auntie Jo! Auntie Jo!"
He heard the sound of the front door opening, Leah squealing with delight, a woman's voice saying, "How about a hug from my favorite honorary niece?"
It felt like a balloon full of ice water burst in his stomach. He looked at Sandra, waiting to see how she would react.
"Don't just stand there; be a good host and go say hello."
He nodded numbly, unable to fathom what was happening. As far as he knew, Sandra had never met Joanne before. But here she was, acting as if Joanne were a friend they'd invited to dinner. And Leah --
It was the thought of his daughter, alone with his mistress (almost mistress, he corrected himself) that got him moving. If there was one part of his life he wanted to make sure was never touched in any way by the mistake he had made, it was Leah. He hurried out of the kitchen and into the living room. There was Joanne, dressed in the same thigh-high blue dress she'd worn to work that day, kneeling next to Leah while the little girl rifled through her purse.
Joanne looked up, but Mark avoided meeting her gaze. "What are you doing, Leah?" he asked.
Leah didn't pause in her dogged search. "Looking for gum. Auntie Jo's always got a piece of gum for me, don't you?"
"I don't know, Sweetie," Joanne said innocently. "You'll just have to keep looking and see."
She stood, crossed over to Mark, put her hands lightly on his shoulders, leaned forward, gave him a sisterly peck on the cheek. She smiled and her eyes bore into his.
"So, what's for dinner?"
"Something wrong, Mark?" Sandra asked, frowning. "You've hardly touched your food."
He forced a smile which he felt certain came out as a pained grimace. "Don't have much of an appetite, I guess."
Across the dining room table from him, Leah sitting on her lap and finishing off what was left of "Auntie Jo's" pineapple sherbet, Joanne said, "It's probably all that coffee you drink at work. It always gives you a sour stomach."
Sandra nodded. "Probably." She turned to Mark, voice stern. "I don't know how many times I've told you to cut back."
"Don't pick on him, Sandy. When you labor in the salt mines of the Billing Department, you need to do whatever you can to stay awake."
The women laughed and Leah joined in, though Mark doubted she understood the joke. Sandy. No one called Sandra that, not him, not her parents or siblings. What the hell was going on here? His first thought was that somehow Joanne had sensed his true feelings and, angry at being rejected, had called Sandra to tell her about their affair. The women had gotten to talking, bonded over their hatred of him and decided to Teach That Bastard a Lesson. Not that he didn't deserve it. But he couldn't see how they managed to get Leah to play along. How do you explain to a four-year-old that she's supposed to pretend a woman she's never seen before is her Auntie Jo? And even if Leah understood, how could she keep up the act for so long, so convincingly? Sure, kids were great at playing pretend, and Leah was no exception. But she wasn't this great.
And even if Sandra were furious with him, he couldn't imagine her using their daughter as a pawn in a tawdry little revenge scenario. Not only wasn't this sort of game-playing Sandra's style, she would never expose Leah to it. She'd be much more likely to go through the motions of a normal evening until Leah was in bed and her door safely closed before letting him have it with both barrels.
He kept watching the two of them, alert for any signs that this was all a put-on: meaningful glances, cynical smiles, ironically arched eyebrows. Anything. But all he saw were two old friends enjoying dinner together. It didn't make sense. Strangest of all was the conversation. Sandra and Joanne talked about mutual friends, shared experiences, shopping expeditions, day trips, even a three-day weekend the four of them had supposedly spent at Indian Lake. And the really weird thing was, the more they talked, the more he could almost remember some of those details himself. Not clearly, more like faint echoes of memories that might have once belonged to someone else. He told himself it was just the stress of waiting to see when Sandra and Joanne were finally going to lower the boom.
After dinner, Sandra sent him out for wine while she, Joanne and Leah took care of the dishes. He didn't want to go, didn't want to leave them alone to talk about how much fun it was to watch him squirm. But he wasn't ready to confront them yet, wasn't sure how to confront them, so he went, grateful to get away for a while.
He drove to the grocery, took his time selecting the wine, bought a nice cabernet (Sandra's favorite), took the long way back. He half hoped that Joanne's car wouldn't be in the driveway when he returned, but he knew better. Sure enough, her white Accord was still there.
He went into the house, put the wine on the table. The kitchen was empty. He heard voices from upstairs, coming from Leah's room. It was Joanne, reading Leah a story, his daughter interrupting to ask questions.
"How come the bunny has a loose tooth?"
"I guess it's time for him to start getting his adult teeth."
"But why?" Leah insisted.
Joanne laughed. "I don't know, Sweetie. That's just the way the story goes."
He heard movement from downstairs in the family room, went down, found Sandra standing at the entertainment center going through their CD's. She looked up as he approached, smiled. "Took you long enough. Help me pick out some music. Joanne's a little down, so I don't want anything too depressing, but I don't want to put on anything too upbeat either because it might wake Leah."
He couldn't stand it anymore. "What's going on, Sandy?"
"I know I've been a jerk, okay? It's official. I'm the biggest moron who ever lived and a completely reprehensible human being to boot. Now will you just stop this?"
"What are you -- Is this about the wine? I admit I was a little irritated that you forgot it, but I'm over that now. I just want to relax and have a quiet evening with you and Joanne. The anniversary of the accident is coming up, and I'm sure she's been thinking about Daniel a lot lately. We need to do what we can to take her mind off her troubles, okay?" She handed him a Loreena McKennitt CD. "Here, put this on. I'll go pour the wine."
Mark watched Sandra go, unable to believe she was acting. She sounded so concerned about Joanne, spoke of her with genuine affection. She couldn't be faking it. Could she?
Joanne came downstairs. "Leah wants you to come up and kiss her goodnight." She smiled wistfully. "The one real regret I have is that Daniel and I never had children. Leah's been such a blessing to me since he passed away. I love her like she's my own."
He felt an urge to grab Joanne, shake her, tell her to quit pretending that she'd met his daughter before tonight. But he forced himself to keep his hands at his sides. "Why are you doing this? Why are you here?"
She touched his cheek. "Because I'm tired of being lonely."
Leah was asleep and most of the cabernet was gone. At first, Mark had avoided having any wine, had wanted to keep his mind clear so he could better deal with the inevitable moment when this charade of Sandra and Joanne's finally blew up in his face. But it didn't take him long to start drinking too. Just one glass he told himself, to blunt the effect of the adrenaline that had been coursing through his veins nonstop all evening. One glass became two, then three. He was feeling buzzed and almost human again when Sandra asked Joanne, "So how have you been, girl?" She sat next to Joanne on the couch; Mark perched uncomfortably on the edge of the fireplace, unable to bring himself to be near either of them.
"Do you mean generally been or specifically been?" Joanne responded.
"You know what I mean."
Joanne sighed. "Yeah, I do." She sipped her wine. "It's hasn't been easy. I still miss Daniel. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I forget he's not lying in bed beside me. For an instant, I can even feel his weight and solidness, smell the faint aroma of his aftershave, even hear his soft breathing. But it doesn't last, and then I remember I'm alone."
Despite the weirdness of the situation, Mark found himself empathizing with Joanne. Whatever else might be going on here, whatever deception, he believed she spoke from the heart now.
Joanne took another drink of wine, put on a brave smile. "But I'm coming out of my depression, slowly but surely." She lifted her glass to Sandra, then to Mark. "You two have helped me so much; you're lifesavers, both of you."
Mark wanted to tell her to come off it, that this game was becoming more than a little sick. But he kept his mouth shut. By this point -- thanks primarily to the wine -- he had become morbidly fascinated to see how this was finally going to play itself out, a man watching the train he rode on derail in hyper-slow motion.
Sandra swallowed the last of her wine then set her empty glass on the coffee table. "Do you think you might . . . you know, marry again? Someday, I mean."
Joanne glanced at Mark, her expression unreadable. "I think so. I believe that if you want something badly enough, if you believe in it with all your heart and soul, you can make anything happen." She polished off her wine, placed the glass next to Sandra's, gave Mark a sly smile. "Anything at all."
She leaned back on the couch, rested her hand on Sandra's thigh. "Of course, you can't make things happen all at once. You have to take them one step at a time, you know what I mean?" She lay her head on Sandra's shoulder, and Sandra nuzzled her hair.
Mark should've been shocked, but the evening's events and the wine had numbed him to the point where he merely watched as Sandra stood and pulled Joanne off the couch.
"Speaking of steps," Sandra said, "why don't we step on up to the bedroom? But we have to be quiet; we don't want to wake Leah."
Joanne slipped her arm around Sandra's waist and the two of them headed for the stairs.
Sandra looked over her shoulder at Mark. "Well, aren't you going to join us?"
Not knowing what else to do, Mark decided to play along. After all, he'd been playing along all night; why stop now? "Uh . . . sure. I guess. Just give me a minute to turn out the lights and lock up."
"Better hurry," Sandra said.
Joanne gave him a wicked smile. "Don't be surprised if we start without you."
He watched them climb the stairs to the living room, listened as they turned, then continued on up to the bedroom. Was this, at long last, the culmination of their game, their Gotcha? Did they plan to use this sexual scenario -- one which to many men would be the ultimate fantasy -- to lure him up to the bedroom, and there finally accuse him of being a philandering husband and general all-round slug of a human being?
If so, fine. He'd be relieved to finally get it over with.
He trudged up the stairs, opened the bedroom door, found both women in bed, saw that they had indeed started without him.
"C'mon in, Sweetie," Joanne said with a smirk. "The water's fine."
Feeling like a hollow marionette, a simple man-shaped wooden shell that has no choice but to do whatever its strings command, Mark closed the door and walked toward the bed.
He lay in darkness, sore, sweaty, content. He listened to Joanne and Sandra's breathing: slow, relaxed, sometimes in sync, sometimes not. It was a soothing sound, like spring rain pattering on the roof or a gentle wind blowing against a window. After a time, he got out of bed, moving slowly so as to not wake the women, padded naked across the room, opened the bedroom door, stepped into the hallway, closed the door softly.
He listened at Leah's door, heard nothing. That was good. Despite the fact he didn't regret what had happened -- and neither, he was certain, did Sandra -- Leah was far too young to understand what Mommy, Daddy, and Auntie Jo had done this evening. Hell, he wasn't sure he understood it.
He walked to the bathroom, closed the door, didn't bother turning on the light. He stretched, flexed his back. Their queen-sized bed was big, but not quite roomy enough for three. He peed, flushed, washed his hands. Stood before the medicine cabinet, its black glass reflecting nothing but darkness back at him. It was odd; Joanne and Sandra had both acted as if the three of them had made love before They had been relaxed, uninhibited, had explored each other's bodies with the practiced familiarity of old lovers. But despite the many years Joanne had been a close friend of the family, this was the first time the three of them had gone to bed together.
He wondered if Joanne and Sandra had been having an affair. It would certainly explain why they had been so comfortable making love. If it were true, he wondered when it had started, how long after Daniel's death? He decided it didn't matter; he loved them both, and he was grateful they had decided to share their relationship with him, to make him a part of what they had. He wondered if this was a one-time thing or if they would be a threesome from now on. And if they were, how they were going to hide it from Leah, or if they even should hide it. He yawned. He supposed he'd find out in time; right now he wanted to go back to bed, even if it was cramped.
He returned to the bedroom, once more closing the door carefully, crawling into bed slowly, settling down beside the warmth of a woman's body, letting the sound of her slow singular breathing lull him to sleep.
"Daddy, wake up! Mommy and I made breakfast for you!"
Mark opened his eyes. Leah stood beside the bed, grinning proudly. "We made your favorite: French toast!"
Mark wasn't a big fan of French Toast; he didn't like the gummy, eggy taste of it. Still, he smiled at his little girl and said, "Sounds great, Honey."
Leah grabbed his hand, started pulling him up. "C'mon, Daddy! Mommy says you have to come eat before it gets cold."
Mark, acutely aware that he was naked beneath the sheets, said, "Why don't you run down and start? I'll be there in a second."
Leah frowned, and he thought she might argue, but then she turned and ran out of the room and down the stairs. "Daddy says he'll be down in a second!" she hollered.
"Okay, Sweetie," said her mother. He heard the sound of a metal spatula scraping the bottom of a pan. smelled fresh-brewed coffee along with the aroma of French Toast. Actually, now that he got a whiff of it, his mouth began to water.
He got out of bed, put on his robe, went to the bathroom. He washed his hands at the sink, checked himself in the mirror. His mustache was badly in need of trimming. He reached for his razor, changed his mind. He'd take care of it after breakfast.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Leah sat at the table, stuffing forkful after forkful of French toast into her mouth.
"Take small bites and chew slowly, Honey," he admonished.
She rolled her eyes, but she nodded.
He crossed to the stove, brushed aside his wife's long blonde hair, kissed the back of her neck. "Morning, Sweetheart." He leaned forward to whisper in her ear. "Last night was great."
Joanne smiled at him. "Sure was." She scooped out the last piece of French toast, plopped it onto a serving platter with the rest. "Why don't you sit down? I'll get a plate ready for you."
"Thanks, Love." He sat across the table for Leah, smiled as he watched her eat.
Joanne brought his food, set it before him. He picked up his fork, sliced off a piece of French toast, speared it, lifted it toward his mouth. Then he paused. Somewhere, deep inside him, a small voice cried out that this was all wrong, that it wasn't supposed to be like this.
But then Joanne put her hand on his shoulder, squeezed, and the voice fell silent.
He put the French toast in his mouth, chewed, swallowed. "Tastes great, Honey. Like usual." He took another bite. "I've been thinking about work lately. Maybe I should put in for that promotion. Being warehouse manager is all right, but I think I can do better, you know?"
"I'm sure you can, Hon. All you have to do is --"
"Yeah, I know. Take it one step at a time."
Joanne looked at her daughter, then back at her husband and smiled a contented smile. "It works for me, Daniel."