Sarah Malinsky's heart pounded as the elevator doors opened to the smoked glass exterior of The Daily Tribune. Friday mornings had taken on a new significance since the beginning of her affair with the assistant editor ten weeks ago. Bustling through the horde of employees, she settled at her workstation and examined the emails bombarding her computer. Conscious of Judy Brown's watchful eye, Sarah leaned backwards and opened the top drawer of her desk. She suspected Judy might have picked up on her newfound relationship.
Her hands trembled as she slid the lid off the small white box with the bow attached. The contents made her smile. She unfolded a note with the word 'nothing', scribbled in capital letters followed by three exclamation marks. Glancing to the elevated glass office where Gary stood waiting, she nodded. He grinned and turned away.
At first, she hadn't paid him much attention. Happily married to John for three years, she had no reason to seek the company of another man. Their two-year-old daughter, Natasha, gave her everything to live for. But her spouse - the archetypal John Doe -reminded her of the husband in Dan Fogelberg's 'Auld Lang Syne'. He 'kept her warm and safe and dry. She would have liked to say she loved the man, but she didn't like to lie.'
Nobody understood why she had married him - least of all herself. Most of her relationships had been with the type of men mothers cautioned against and fathers abhorred. Her parents liked him. Steady, respectful, solid - if a little dull, but good for their daughter. The job with the city too, working in finance. He sent out tax reminders. Left off and picked up Natasha every day - except Friday, when Sarah joined her colleagues for happy hour and he worked late to ensure weekend mail processing. He called for Natasha on Saturdays - it suited. Sarah often had to go out of town on a weekend reporting job and the child got to spend the night with her grandparents.
Sarah had never meant to be unfaithful. When it happened at the office party she attempted to put it down to a one-night stand and move on. She wondered why Gary, with his beautiful wife and three handsome boys found her attractive. Whatever the reason, she enjoyed the attention. An occasional dinner at an out of town restaurant. Flowers arriving on her desk from 'a secret admirer'. After the first few times they had made love, she learned to rid herself of the guilt. Gary needed another woman in his life. As far as Sarah was concerned, it may as well be her.
The gift game. Every Friday, he left a piece of lingerie in a small box in her desk. She changed in the ladies' locker rooms before their rendezvous after happy hour. When they met at the hotel, he liked to look at her in the sexy underwear before removing it with meticulous care. He told her it spiced things up. A good enough explanation for Sarah - she needed a little spice in her life. Her role as a local reporter in Secaucus gave her plenty to write about, but little to excite her. Her sex life with her husband had become infrequent and as boring as John himself.
A visit to the local council office and an interview with the mayor about complaints from angry residents concerning the state of amenities in the area brought Friday to a close. She showered, changed and followed Gary's instructions. This evening, she wore no underwear. He had moved their relationship to a new level.
At happy hour in Flanagan's she sat with Judy and her friend Nora. A few rounds of drinks and the conversation turned to men. Judy and Nora, both divorced, kept their eyes peeled for eligible, and ineligible mates.
"Sometimes, I think Gary Cassidy has the hots for you, Sarah. I've caught him staring at you more than once," Judy said.
Sarah smiled and looked to where the men gathered by the bar. They drank beer and shouted at some baseball player on the wide screen. "He's kinda cute, but I suspect he stares at a lot of people. His job demands it."
"Not with the same stare. I've seen him. Believe me, I know lust when I see it. Isn't that right, Nora?"
"Sure is. What you mean, he's kinda cute. He could have his way with me anytime. He's hot, I tell you. Sizzling. Finger-licking good. Man, I'd work that guy over so he ain't gonna never forget. He stare at me, I go right up and ask him, if he wants some of this - that's what I'd do."
Sarah laughed. Judy probed. "Sarah's a choir girl. The angelic type . . . never does any wrong. You would never want to be the other woman, would you?"
"Never. Would you?"
Judy hesitated. "To tell you the truth, I'm more concerned about my own happiness than I used to be. Life, love and divorce have taught me some valuable lessons. Now, I go for it."
Nora interjected. "Yeah, girl. That's what I say. Fuck or be fucked. Life's too short. Gotta grab you some action while you can."
Sarah smiled. "I suppose, each to her own. Who am I to judge?"
"Indeed. Remember that," Judy said, turning. "Look, game over, here they come."
The men ambled across and began to mingle with the ladies scattered at the tables in the bar. Gary sat by Sarah. "Helluva story on the mayor today. Our politician's never fail to amaze me. Say anything to get elected then sit on their fat asses and do nothing."
Sarah ran her fingers through her shoulder-length blond hair. "Thank you. Hopefully we'll see some action now."
"Action, yeah. That's what we need around here," Nora added. "You getting any action, cutie?"
Gary threw his head back and laughed. "All the action, I need, thank you. My wife takes good care of me."
"You must be one of the lucky ones," Judy said, "Not many like you out there. All you need right by your side."
"Indeed. I'm a lucky man. I wish you could all experience true happiness in your relationships. It's special. I'm blessed."
"I bet you are. Too blessed for the likes of me. I have to go. Nora you ready?"
"Yeah. I'm done. I gotta get me some before the night's through. Ain't no point sitting here, sister. Let's go."
"Me too, I'm tired and I've a lot to do this weekend," Sarah said.
The ladies excused themselves and left. Sarah said goodbye to her friends as she climbed into a taxi. Six blocks away and ten minutes later, Gary picked her up.
"Jesus, I've been missing you all week," he said. "You got my note?"
"Give me a look."
Sarah spun towards him and opened her legs.
"You're beautiful," he said, as he caressed her thigh. "I can't wait."
* * *
The following week, Sarah became apprehensive when the gift box appeared in her drawer on Thursday. She unfolded the note, jumped up and ran to the ladies' room. Through tears, black with mascara, she read the words time and time again.
'Please don't judge me. John and I have been seeing each other for some time now. I thought you should know.