“Dottie and Paul Barnes, empty nesters. The day actually came--who would have believed it?” Paul spoke his thoughts aloud as they exited the main drive of the university, having dropped off their youngest.
“It just amazes me,” he continued. “It seems as if we brought the first one home from the hospital just days ago.”
Dottie nodded, blowing her nose. “Now it’s just us.” She didn’t bring it up, not then, she wasn’t ready. “The house is going to be so quiet!”
And quiet it was, after the first flurry of busyness: they boxed up, stored away, and changed things to their liking. They got, and later laughed over, the first call asking for money. They joined some clubs, took up hobbies old and new, and went on a diet together to lower cholesterol.
Thanksgiving came, a joyous time when everyone came home and the house was bursting at the seams, if only briefly. The looming discussion, which Dottie knew they had to have, and soon, was conveniently put off, for just a few more days.
With the holidays upon them, she threw herself into decorating and baking, and the Christmas cantata, and had all the distractions she needed, and didn’t worry about what she had to say for another few weeks.
January, playoff time. This was all-consuming to Paul, Dottie knew, and he’d be glued to the television, watching football games and interviews, sports analysis and more games, at least through the first Sunday of February. So she waited a little longer...
And they celebrated a happy but quiet Valentine’s Day, also the 45th anniversary of their first date.
A few days later, the time had come, and she broached the subject that she’d sheltered in the depths of her heart for over 20 years. “Paul, you need to know about something I did. Something from a long time ago.”
Something about her tone told him that now was not the time for a humorous comment about age, and he turned to fully face her. “Go on, Dott. I’m listening.”
“Paul, Honey, I...” She searched for words, a way to trudge on. “When Stephanie was so sick—-you remember?-—and money was so tight, there was a time when you were working so much, and you were so distant, and we were both so worried...” She fought for control, thinking Don’t cry. You mustn’t cry. Be strong. “Anyway, one night, in the wee hours, I woke up and you weren’t there. I came downstairs and heard you in the den, and... you were praying... and I overheard what you said. You were asking God to help you...do the right thing. Do remember that, Paul? Do you know what I’m talking about?”
He stared, his face a kaleidoscope of expressions. “I, yes, I think I remember.”
“You were asking God to help you fight the temptation you were feeling about Sharon, the receptionist at your work. I heard you, Paul, and I never told you.”
Paul’s face fell. “I’m sorry, Dottie, so sorry. I can’t believe you have kept this to yourself, all these years. I want you to know that God did help me, though—-just a few weeks after that late night prayer session, Sharon announced her resignation and moved away, and I never heard from her again.” He paused, looking into her eyes. Something was off, not right. “Dottie, I never cheated on you, with her or anyone else. I hope you already knew that, but I’ll state it right here and now, and it’s a fact.”
“Paul, you know that I’m an introvert. It’s very hard for me to interact with people I don’t know, and I’m terrible at confrontation. That’s why I’ve waited so long to bring this up!
“Here’s what I did: I went to Sharon’s home the next evening, and we had a little...chat. She decided it would be best to find a new job in a new city and state, because I was very...persuasive.”
Paul stared at the stranger opposite him, not believing what he was hearing. “You? You took away what might have been my only chance for happiness in this life?” He stood with such force and suddenness the chair scraped the newly painted walls, making both of them wince. “How dare you!” And stormed out of the room.
He didn’t hear her quiet response. “I protected my marriage, because I believed that God was using me to answer your prayer. I need to know: was I wrong?”
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