The black and white tabby cat, named Sylvester, was licking its paws when he heard Wanda’s approaching footsteps. He lifted his head and quickly scampered out into the hallway, knocking over the bowl of milk. Wanda was startled to see him run by her so quickly, as he had seemed very lethargic over the past several weeks. Upon entering the kitchen and seeing the milk on the floor, she wondered why he didn’t bother to clean up his own mess. “I don’t know who you think you are but I’m not a maid to humans or animals in this house! You better learn to clean up and take out your own litter box!” She chuckled at the idea of her talking to a cat, as if he really understood what she was saying. It was early in the morning and her most favorite time of the day, when she could carve out some precious moments of solitude. It was at this hour that she could collect her thoughts and reflect on what she had to do for the day.
Rarely could she devote more than twenty minutes to a cup of coffee and savor the time for herself. She envied other housewives who would make mention of the special morning ritual and routines that made for a very tight bond in their families. That certainly was not the case for Wanda Evans and John, her husband of five years.
She glanced up at the refrigerator to see the art drawing that her seven year old daughter had posted the night before. She had always felt love from her daughter and at this moment, as she stared at the drawing, she smiled with contentment. These days her daughter Jasmine, had become the solid rock in her life and the only one she could count on to love her unconditionally.
Jasmine was the one part of the union that made it all worthwhile. She was very energetic and seemed to have an endless curiosity about the world around her. Even though Wanda loved the fact her daughter was possessed with the gift of energy, she wanted it to be harnessed from time to time, especially when out in public or while in the company of a stranger. Wanda smiled, wondering just how many miles she had ran chasing Jasmine up and down the Walmart aisles when she first learned to walk, or rather run.
Even now at the age of thirty five Wanda was highly attractive. As she sat there in her pink bathrobe it revealed flawless skin underneath. The years had been very kind to her and she didn’t need the makeup cream that she applied to her face religiously every morning. It was only in her mind did the crows feet appear. And the laugh lines that she thought were a permanent blemish served to make her even more youthful looking. Her daily routine of yoga, stretching and walking had kept her girlish figure for all these years. She felt like the queen of the prom when men would whistle at her from afar and send flirtatious comments her way. She loved the attention, as it reassured her that she still had what men wanted. She didn’t want to admit that occasionally she had lingering doubts and that her self-esteem sometimes was lacking.
This was mostly because she longed for the attention and affection from her husband, that had somehow vanished with the passing of time. She wondered if that was the norm for married couples, until hanging out with a few of her married girlfriends seemed to prove otherwise. She didn’t know what to do anymore to capture his eyes and lustful attention to her. The credit card bills certainly showed that she had tried everything, to include Brazilian waxing, and hair and nail makeovers. The closet and drawers was overflowing with sexy dresses and the drawers enclosed skimpy lingerie that make any man pant with excitement. Of course any normal man would, except John. Five years into her marriage with him and she was starting to feel like a widow. Funny how she let her mind drift to the thought of being a widow, thinking that perhaps that would be more comforting than being in the same bed with a man who had died emotionally a very long time ago.
It was not only that John was becoming disconnected from her, but things had gotten very intense over the past six months. First it was very subtle with him coming home later and later, and seemingly in a constant bad mood. Whenever she would ask about his day and what was wrong, she got the same sharp answer. “Nothing, and why do you always insist that something is wrong with me? Can’t a guy just get some peace and quiet and be left alone? For heavens sakes, Wanda, you are getting to the point of annoying.”
It was a couple of days later when he came home with alcohol on his breath and an unfamiliar perfume on his collar that Wanda blew up at him about his behavior.
“Where in the hell have you been and why did you not think enough of me to call?”
“Wanda, please do not go there. Trust me I am not in the mood.” He said.
“In the mood? I bet you were in the mood after drinking so you could be with some bitch that left that perfume on you! Who is she John?”
“What are you talking about? There is no who!” John was feeling a bit nervous, and quickly he thought of what loose ends he had left untied.
“I am not stupid John. Do not play me for a fool. I can smell the alcohol and the perfume all over you. Now look me in the eye and tell me you have not been with some woman today.” She stared at him hoping she was not right but knowing her instincts had not let her down before, she braced for the worst.
“Wanda, I have not been with another woman as you’re thinking. The reason that you smell perfume is this. While I was at a stop in Gaithersburg, a lady was eagerly expecting a package from her son who is over in Iraq. And when I delivered it to her she was overjoyed and gave me a big hug. And as for the alcohol, yeah, I stopped and had a beer at Uno’s to unwind a bit. It was a rough day and I needed to get in a light mood. There’s no harm in that, OK?”
“Yeah, right.” Wanda was amazed at just how good he was at lying.
The large crystal chandelier swayed and chimed from the breeze that came through the open kitchen window. Wanda loved the fresh morning air. She stood up and inhaled deeply while stretching as far as she could reach to the ceiling. She loved all the sounds that indicated the start of a brand new day. She walked over to the window and leaned close and put her nose on the screen and searched for the birds that were chirping a loud chorus. A dog barked off in the distance, and the sound seemed to echo throughout the entire quiet neighborhood.
The house was small but still warm and cozy and it had served more than the basic need of shelter. It was her idea to move into a starter home shortly before she got married. John, however, had bigger things in mind for his new bride. He never made outrageous promises to Wanda, but wanted her to know that she was worthy of comfort and security. He always felt it was his responsibility to provide for her needs first and her wants second. He was happy to know that Wanda was good at managing household finances, and that he could depend on her to keep things running smoothly. That was just the way he liked it. All he wanted to do was to be able to focus on his job as a professional driver for a major trucking company.
He was well along in his career and living his dream. It still amazed him after all these years that he was actually paid to drive, which was something that not only he enjoyed, but regarded as a passion more than work. The seed of freedom and the call of the open road began for John even as a small boy. During the very hot summer days while his foster mother kept him inside not allowing him to play with other kids, he would escape his misery by pretending he was driving all over the country.
He was very intense with his imagination and, even as a child, he knew that the road meant freedom from all that he was feeling and enduring. It was his only focus to hide all the pain and loneliness that came at the hands of a foster mother that inflicted countless hours of both emotional and physical abuse.
Wanda went back to the bedroom and saw the evidence of the restless night she had, tossing and turning. The bed was a display of tossed pillows and entangled sheets and blankets that more closely represented the place where a fight took place rather than sleep. It was another night of endless thinking about her current situation. She was in her mid-thirties and in a very unhappy marriage, with no idea of how to change it or having the courage to get out of it. Very few people knew of the loneliness that she felt inside and least of all, her husband. The chill in the air seemed to make the nights even longer. She wondered as she looked at the unmade bed if other women were enduring the same turmoil, or was she the only one to have this misery at this moment.
Her life had not played out like the soap operas she had seen on TV. She longed for the day that John would come through the door with a surprise gift in his hand, selected especially for her, something that would show his adoration and appreciation for her and her love. A bouquet of flowers, a card, a small trinket of jewelry or even a ticket to get away for the weekend just the two of them. It had not always been like this or this bad. Somewhere in the passing months and years the emotional separation and loneliness grew wider and stronger. She had difficulty remembering when she was very passionate about their love. But somehow she coped, rationalizing that she had a roof over her head and some security for her and her daughter.
She had listened to some of her girlfriends and endless struggle of making it on their own without a man. And she thought that her plight was much better than that. As she went about her domestic duties, it was becoming more and more evident that her life was revealing the emptiness within. She looked in the mirror while brushing her hair, and the woman who stared back showed very little signs of aging from the outside, but she felt very old on the inside. She knew it was vanity to think that beauty would last forever. She also knew that there were a lot of younger women who could turn John’s head, and maybe even his heart. She focused on the comments from women who had mistaken her for much younger. And yes, all the men noticed her curves that seemed to fall in all the right places. This gave her some confidence.
It didn’t bother her that the men wanted one thing and one thing only. As long as she got their attention, that was all that mattered. Attention from another man, even for a brief few moments for all the wrong reasons, was more attention than she was getting from John these days. She tried not to entertain the thoughts of any activity outside of their marriage, because she was first and far most a Christian and enduring a bad marriage was liken to the devotion of the Christian life. “I knew the road was going to be difficult at times, you do not quit just because of a little adversity.” The mantra would get her through the long cold and lonely nights, while tears soaked her pillow.
Returning to the kitchen she stopped and looked out the window and daydreamed for several minutes. She remembered the time she and John went on a cruise to the Caribbean, with a five-night stay in the Bahamas. It was one of the best times the two of them shared, and the only time when she actually felt loved by him. One morning they both woke up in the resort hotel and decided not to do anything other than spend the day with each other in the room and make love, off and on all day. She was amazed that he could make love the entire day and be so ready for more, even later that night. Perhaps he had a deep well of passion in him that she was tapping into for the first time. John was very handsome and he kept himself in really good shape. There was no evidence that he was approaching middle age. His days of glory were long behind him but had plenty of credentials to show just how fine-tuned his body was in the days of his youth. She loved to listen to him tell the stories of the many road races he ran and how being a distance runner gave him the endurance he needed in the bedroom. She smiled when he recalled a couple of marathons he ran and she thought how many women would love a man to go the distance under the sheets.
She had always wanted a medium sized house. However, the small house that was more like a cottage on the outskirts of Baltimore, would have to do. In spite of their differences and problems, she knew that John wanted her to do well and he was willing to sacrifice to make sure she had what she needed. But, more than a lavish lifestyle, she wanted to know that she was loved unconditionally by him. She would trade in her lifestyle for love. She knew plenty of women who were gold diggers and did not want love as much as a glamorous life. Wanda, however, thought that love would be the ticket to a great life. She thought that if you win a man’s heart, then you also have his bank account.
She never asked too much of John, other than he be faithful and true. Her biggest fear was that in her greatest time of need he would desert her. Even though she was in great health, a hidden fear was getting the news from a doctor that she had breast cancer or some other terminal illness. She knew this was irrational thinking, but more than once she was surprised about the sudden illness that had befallen one of her friends in her age group. It reminded her that she was still mortal and that death does not discriminate.
After getting dressed and buttoning up her navy blue pinstriped jumpsuit, she quickly sat down at the computer to check her email, make notes from her calendar, and go over her to-do list. While scanning through the subject lines of the emails, she noticed one in particular that had no subject line and the senders name was Stacey. She clicked it and read the following: Hello John, it was such a pleasure to meet you the other night. You made me laugh and feel alive again. I was really impressed with your dancing and I want to thank you once again for sharing moments of comfort. We must meet again. I have your number and I will call as soon as I can. Please keep in touch. Fondly Stacey.
Wanda sat there staring at the screen in disbelief, wishing that she didn’t read what she just read. She quickly read it again and in disgust deleted it. Had this confirmed what she had thought all along? Or perhaps she would give him the benefit of the doubt and let him explain himself. She was determined not to let her discovery ruin her mood or foul up her day. A few minutes later she picked up her pocketbook and headed out the door, careful to set the code on the house alarm.
John always enjoyed his early morning routine before clocking into work. His daily stop at the local Starbucks to browse and rea USA Today was the only time he had to be reflective. It was there that he would prepare himself mentally for the day ahead. His job as a route driver for a printing company caused him to tour the greater metro tri-state area of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The job paid just barely enough to be respectable, but the high cost of the Greater Washington metro area would soon overcome his hourly wage. He hated the traffic but loved driving. Often he pondered why he had not persevered and gotten a degree in criminal justice. He wanted to hone his investigation skills that he learned while working as a corporate investigator for K-Mart. His five years with the company had proven to be very rewarding, but he slacked just enough to get fired. His untimely termination is what thrust him into looking for a new job. Driving was something that came easily to him and there were plenty of driving jobs in the metro area. His first job after K-Mart was as an independent courier. During his time as a courier that learned to navigate all over the greater metro area with efficiency and ease. He was commended on several occasions about his quickness and willingness to go anywhere and make a delivery regardless of the extra effort involved. It was his commitment and attention to detail along with superb customer service that got the attention of a customer that would routinely ask for him by name to make their deliveries. John was blushing a bit when the manager of Corporate Graphics kept badgering him about signing on as a company employee for their company. John at first resisted the idea of working for someone else and treasured the idea of being independent with choices of when he wanted to work. However knowing that he did not have any benefits, John reasoned that the security that comes from a company-sponsored benefits package would be highly desirable for his wife.
He pulled onto I-95 and quickly accelerated up to highway speed and flow of traffic, which was well above the posted 55mph. The white Ford Econovan had a powerful engine that was just perfect for the demands of delivering many boxes of books and documents that Corporate Graphics produced for the vast customer base in the tri-state area. It was not unusual for some of his runs to take him as far south as Richmond Virginia and as far north as Pennsylvania. While making his way to his stop, his mind drifted to other thoughts that had consumed him, mostly the pretty young lady he befriended on the second floor of the Bally’s health club in Alexandria.
It was nothing that he had planned or even hoped for, but with the many visits he made to the club to work out, he found the very fit dirty blonde to have an undeniable attraction he couldn’t easily shake. He was mostly shy and very awkward with women, so he found it quite surprising that this fitness instructor would see beyond his many stumbling moments and find him rather also. Across the room glances and flirting conversations, they would send each other any time he was there was so obvious that even some of the patrons voiced their discontent. John did have a cover that he used to continue to have contact with her. He happened to sell a nutritional line that he wanted to promote at the club. And of course getting the opinion of a fitness instructor as dedicated as Vicky was very valuable to him. So anytime he stopped by the club he made a point to have some products on hand that he could promote to the other club members and, of course, to engage in long conversations with Vicky. On one such occasion, he was flirting with Vicky to the point that she was uncomfortable and she made her point known
“John, listen it is not very professional as a company representative to flirt with your clients. People will get the very wrong impression, so why not cool it in here, OK?” She was firm, blunt and gave him a very serious look.
“You’re right Vicky. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I can assure you it won’t happen again. But listen, why don’t you let me make it up to you over lunch or dinner sometime, outside of the club?” He had a small grin on his face that caused her to smile back. Vicky gave him a very long look and then said, “You are very sweet and I might take you up on that offer if you promise me to behave yourself in here.”
“Consider it done.” He thanked her for the time they spent together and set up his next appointment for personal training.
He sat in the van outside the club in the parking lot and reclined the seat back for a few minutes to reflect on his next move with Vicky. He didn’t have the confidence to date anyone these days and it still bothered him to know that he was even contemplating having an affair. Wanda was good to him, very loyal, and it made him feel guilty to hurt her with an affair with another woman. Should he just face up to the reality of what he was feeling inside and tell her that he just did not think the marriage could continue to go on? Or let the devastating knowledge of his affair come as a shock, which would force her to abruptly end the marriage. No, Wanda deserved a lot better than that, and he thought that God would most certainly hold him accountable for the way he treated her. With that thought in mind, he wondered just how did he let it get this far. Was there still time for him to turn the direction of his life around? Could he look at himself with confidence knowing that he had planned and carried out an affair with the sole purpose of breaking up their marriage? Well, something had to be done and he had better think of something quick because tension and the silence between him and Wanda was growing.
It had been several months since they made love and often he would stay up long after she went to bed and fell asleep to ensure he did not have to share any intimacy with her. Her complaints still ringing in his ears of the fact that she did not like to have to always be the one to initiate sexual contact. It was not that the sex wasn’t good, she just hated the fact that she didn’t feel as if she was wanted. She knew she had some flaws in her body that could not easily be overlooked, but she could feel the passion of him every time they made love. And he never seemed disgusted with her body. Yes, he told himself on several occasions that perhaps he could seek another woman a bit more appealing and who had much more chemistry, but he also had grown used to the comfort of this woman who kept a great home and was the role model of the domestic lifestyle.
He wanted to someday settle down and have a comfortable home that Wanda provided. It made sense to be practical and stop chasing everything that had a short skirt and pretty smile. Still, his sense of adventure kept calling him to seek more and find out if he had what it took to charm the ladies that were so far out of his league. Vicky was his latest quest. So just how far would he go before his better judgment kicked in and he controlled the urges within him that should only be for Wanda his wife?
He quickly pushed the thoughts out of his mind as he got back on the road and headed to the University of Maryland campus for his next delivery. Within a few miles, his mind drifted back to Vicky. He knew that something would have to be done before he went too far. He never regarded himself as a person who would cheat on his wife and was startled at this very moment that even the thought was in his mind. How could he hurt her like that? And besides did he not forget what he read in the Bible about accountability for such actions. ‘God will not tolerate hypocrites regardless of who they are.’ he reminded himself.
He wondered what had happened over the years to get him to this point. Was it inevitable in spite of his best efforts? He had a lot of questions about himself as a real husband now that cheating was a part of thoughts and fantasies he was not suppose to allow himself to have.
John could not bear the thought of living a lie and being very good at it. He had a conscious that would hound him with every sin he committed and a holy spirit that would most certainly remind him of his errors.
To the outside world John seemed to have it all together, yet on the inside his coping skills were breaking down more and more each day. His fast-paced schedule seemed to be closing in on him with every passing moment. His gym membership at Bally’s had served as a distraction and an outlet to vent his frustrations of life. However these days he craved something more to suppress the deep guilt that was consuming him. He was not known for a reckless lifestyle, however every now and then he would push the envelope and live on the wild side. As a man who still had vast amounts of energy and youth, he sought to do things that would give him an adrenaline rush. Wanda was very mild and tame. John had often spoke of doing something reckless just for the fun of it. She, however, was not only cautious, but her desire to see him in a more docile state meant that he would not be risking his life in some skydiving accident and thereby jeopardizing her security.
By late that afternoon, John had completed most of his stops and deliveries. He had always planned his route so that he could take advantage of the HOV lane that ran from Washington DC to Triangle, Va. It was the fastest way to Virginia around the three o’clock hour. John needed to be in Virginia by late afternoon at least twice a week, however not for business purposes. He had managed over time to find a habit that required lots of cash to fulfill. He had always told himself that it was just a little pick me up to help him get through the stress of the day. And, to be honest, that is just how it started on the day he met a pretty well dressed Blonde at a Dunkin Donut’s shop in Dumfries.
Cindy Adams was the one pretty girl who flirted just enough with her southern accent and dazzling smile to get him to stop there every time he was in the Dumfries area. As a matter of fact, he would even make excuses to be in that area just to spend some time with her. Cindy was an office manager at the professional building that was home to lawyers and doctors and one accountant. She often took her lunch break at the Dunkin Donuts because of the close proximity to her work. Her budget only allowed for frugal fixings at Dunkin Donuts. John offered to buy her lunch every time he was in the area, as a thank you for her shared company. It was during these breaks that Cindy revealed a lot about her life and how at times she felt so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of the office. She told him that her energy sometimes lagged far behind and even the heaping cups of black coffee was not enough.
On one such visit, John asked, “How do you do it Cindy? A girl like you needs her beauty rest. And you know you cannot keep up this pace for long.” She looked at him and smiled. Then she gently touched his arm and said, “Well I have a friend of mine who gives me a little something to get me through the rough spots.” She grinned and then continued, “It is also responsible for my charming personality at this time of the day, when otherwise I would be ready to strangle everybody in my building.”
John looked at her intensely and then smiled and said, “Ok there, cute one, what is it exactly that makes you so endearing?”
“Well, if I tell you, I need you to promise me not to tell anyone. And it maybe something that could help you out on your route. I bet it will keep you calm enough so you will not run over anybody.”
“I’ll have you know that I am a professional driver and I don’t run over people.” He smiled and began to be even more curious. “But OK, I promise and I might consider your offer.”
Cindy reached into her small burgundy pocket book, took out a notepad, wrote down a phone number and then handed it to John. “Take this, call this number and tell the person who answers the phone that you are picking up for Chalice. They’ll give you directions to get this order for Chalice.”
“Something tells me I should not ask who Chalice is or what exactly I am picking up.” He was a bit nervous but thought that he could trust this beautiful woman that had charmed him so much over the past several weeks.
“You’ll be fine. It’s around the corner, about two minutes from here, down that road.” Cindy pointed out the large window where the road went across the large intersection and disappeared into a residential area. “Just come back here as soon as you can and we can take a drive and talk some more.” Cindy smiled and flashed her eyes and slung her head back so that her long blonde hair brushed past John’s face, and he could smell the sweet fragrance that made him long for her in that very instance.
“OK, anything for you darling.” And with that John got in his vehicle and dialed the number.
The voice on the other end of the line was very rough and unfriendly. John was polite in carrying out Cindy’s instructions. The voice told John to come to the location and someone would come out to meet him and complete the transaction. Seven minutes later, John pulled up in front of the apartment building and waited. He was careful to be mindful of his surroundings and took note of the young men who were staring at him from the sidewalk and stairs that lead up to the apartment building. It was rather obvious they had not seen this vehicle here before and knew there was a need to check it out and be sure that John was not a cop.
After about twenty minutes of trying to calm his nerves, the cell phone rang and John was instructed to drive around to the back side of the apartment building. He went to the other side of the building and parked, even more, unsure of why he was there.
The back door of the apartment building swung open and out came a man walking quickly toward the van. John kept looking at him closely as he approached the vehicle. He motioned for John to roll the window down.
“Yeah,” John kept his comments short needing to know what this guy was up to.
“What’s up, man? I was told to come meet with you and you want to do some business. Is that correct?”
“I believe so, this is for Chalice.” John still was not sure of who he was. But he did not want to let this intimidating figure sense any hint of fear.
“Ok let me in and let’s get this done. I got other customers to take care of and this is a freebie from the boss for Chalice.” He went to the other side and quickly sat down in the front seat. He seemed a bit nervous also. “Just take this and leave a different way than you came in here. There is a small dirt road on the other side of the basketball court. Take that road and be sure no one is following you. Do not stop. You have never seen this place and I do not exist. Clear?” He looked at John with ice cold eyes that indicated that he would end this conversation by any means necessary.
John’s instincts told him not to say another word and just follow the instructions. He took the small package that was handed to him and put it in his pocket. The man quickly got out of the van, did not say anything but merely pointed in the direction of the basketball court.
John drove the van out of the complex as directed. Within a few minutes he was in a neighborhood that made him even more uncomfortable than the apartment building. Knowing that a delivery van would normally not be in this neighborhood, he thought it best to quickly get out of the area and back to Dunkin Donuts to see if Cindy was still there. Upon pulling into Dunkin Donuts parking lot, he was saddened to see that she had left.
Knowing that his shift would be over in less than an hour, he decided that it was time to start making his way back to the dispatch office. He felt relieved as he got back on I-95 heading north toward Maryland. He kept thinking about the small package that was in his pants pocket and wondered exactly what it was. Of course, he had his suspicions that it probably was something he shouldn’t hang onto very long.
At the Dale City rest area, John pulled in and parked his van far away from other visitors. He reached in his pocket and unwrapped the brown handkerchief to find two small vials of white powder and a vial of tiny little crystals that looked like small ice or glass chips. John felt his heart beat getting stronger and faster at the thought of using or carrying illegal drugs. What was Cindy doing with friends and connections like the man he met at the residential complex? Did she have a drug habit? Why would she introduce this to him? The questions kept coming as he stared at the contents of the vials. He heard what these drugs can do, and yet his curiosity wanted to know more.
While he was looking at the drug package, he failed to recognize the movements of the men closing in on his van with weapons drawn. In the most shocking manner, he was introduced to them.
“Step out of the vehicle and put your hands on top of your head! Do it now!” The sounds coming from several police officers was quite intimidating and happened so fast that John didn’t have time to process the reality of what was happening to him.
John’s emotions quickly changed to sadness as he complied with the officers’ orders. In less than four minutes John was handcuffed, read his rights and placed in the police car. His thoughts were erratic and he felt like his world had just caved in. How would he explain all of this to his wife? The flashing blue lights snapped him back into the reality of the moment. How he wished he were dreaming, but clearly he was awake and in the middle of a nightmare. As the police car sped off to the Prince William County Detention Center, John began to feel a deep remorse.