Hank sat in the cheap hotel. It was a local place called, “The Homestead.” The worn carpet and hard mattress were far from luxurious accommodations. Hank still felt like it was more than he deserved. The old bathtub in the attached bathroom was stained, much like the sink. Still, the room was clean, and the rate was cheap. That was all Hank could afford at the moment.
Although he still had a decent paying job, he had no idea how long that was going to last. Hank wanted to make sure Abigail had what she needed for the house and their daughter. The darkness surrounding his heart seemed to permeate the room, so he walked outside to the warm summer’s day. Although the hotel was older, the area of town it sat in had been revived over the last five years, and there was a beautiful park next door.
The park was more inviting than his dark room. He walked across the parking lot, through the park’s entrance, and sat down on the first bench he could find. Hank watched a young couple play with their toddler on the slide and tears begin to fill his eyes, and he looked down at the sidewalk in front him. His heart was heavy and sad with regret. How did I get here? He wondered to himself. Suddenly, someone cleared their throat, and Hank looked up.
In front of him stood an older man who appeared to be his sixties. “Is this seat taken?” the man asked with a smile.
Hank wanted the stranger to go away, but he hated the feeling of loneliness that had plagued him for the last few hours. “No, please have a seat.” He answered against his better judgment.
The old man sat down and stuck out his hand, “My name’s Jacob.”
“Hank.” The two men shook hands.
Jacob continued, “I couldn’t help noticing you look pretty blue for such a nice summer’s day.”
Hank sat there for a moment. He could tell Jacob to mind his own business, or just say he needed to leave and walk back to the hotel. Instead, something compelled him to answer, “You’d be blue too if you managed to lose everyone you love with a single decision.”
Jacob gave Hank a small frown, and said, “Come now, I doubt it was a single decision that ruined your day.”
Hank felt defensive. He turned towards Jacob and leaned his body closer to him. “A lot you know. I made one mistake, one simple, stupid mistake, and then told my wife about it. The next thing I know, she throws me out.”
Jacob’s eyebrows went up, and he replied, “So what got you here? The mistake or telling your wife?”
Hank scowled. The question felt like a challenge. Who was this stranger to question him? “What’s the difference? I screwed up.”
The old man put a gentle hand on Hank’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, Hank. Take it from a guy who has been walking around for awhile. Everybody makes mistakes. The issue isn’t making them, it’s working to fix them.”
Hank sighed, “I don’t know if I can fix this one. You see, I had an affair with my boss.”
Jacob pulled back his hand, “I see.” His voice became more somber. “Are you still sleeping with your boss?”
Hank shook his head. “Oh no, that ended three months ago. In fact, she left the company last month for a job at a different company, but I just couldn’t live with my guilt anymore. My wife, Abigail, and I grew up together. We went on our first date as soon as I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license. I even followed her to the state college she wanted to go to. There has never been anyone else for me.” Hank dropped his eyes to the ground and then felt Jacob tap his shoulder. He looked up into Jacob’s sad blue eyes.
“How did it happen?”
Hank responded, “I don’t know. My boss, Sofia, had me leading a project at work. I was working six or seven days a week, and some nights I wouldn’t be home until midnight. Then, I’d turn around and be back in the office before seven in the morning.”
“Do you think your boss was trying to seduce you?”
Hank shook his head. “No, nothing like that. The work was real, and the project was a success. Sofia invited me out for a drink after our final presentation. It was just a way to say thank you for all my hard work. I wanted to get home to Abigail, but I compromised and went for the drink. It seemed harmless enough. Besides, when your boss asks offers you a thank you, you don’t turn it down.”
Jacob nodded, “I suppose you can make that argument.”
“Exactly,” said Hank, and he continued. “Then she offered me dinner. I called Abigail, and she said it was fine as long as she got me back the next night. Dinner was innocent enough. Sofia and I talked about work. Then we started talking about personal things. I spoke about my family, and she her single life. I don’t know, we just sort of hit it off. I guess I should have seen that coming after the long hours together.”
Jacob nodded and let Hank continue talking.
“The next day Sofia offered me lunch. I was happy to go. I was getting my boss’s attention, and we were becoming friends. Soon one lunch turned into two, and before I knew it, we were eating together every day.”
Jacob stopped nodding and asked, “How does lunch turn into an affair.”
Hank sat there for a moment. “I don’t know. I have never been able to figure that out. One day, Sofia and I finished lunch, returned to her office, and shut the door to go over a report I had sent her on personnel. She brushed passed me. There was something about it, her perfume, the way our body’s touched, I have no idea. The next thing we know we are kissing each other. I should have walked out as soon as I let go of her lips, but my body didn’t want to, and so I compromised to my own lusts.”
Hank stopped, and tears began to fill his eyes and run down his cheeks. Jacob pulled out a clean handkerchief and handed it to him. Hank wiped his face. Then he continued. “I wanted to die going home that night. My mind was a combination of guilt, self-condemnation, and fear. If I told Abigail it would destroy her. If my boss wanted more, and I told her no, she might fire me. The next day Sofia came into work in a tight short dress. I had never seen her wear it before, and I have to admit, I thought she looked good in it. Every guilty thought from the night before seemed to fly right out of my head.”
Jacob interjected. “So you were hooked. You said you broke it off before she left the company. Why?”
Hank’s eyes began to well up again. “The guilt of it all. Every day I spent with Sofia just added to my condemnation. I would go home and find Abigail there excited to see me. My young daughter would run up and hug me hello. Eventually, those guilty feelings outweighed the lust, or whatever it was, for Sofia.”
“What did Sofia say when you broke it off with her?”
Hank turned his head, blew his nose, and turned back to Jacob. “She took it surprisingly well. It was almost like she respected me more for choosing my family over her. Of course, after that, things got awkward. If we ever ended up in a room alone together, I would leave. It made working together more difficult. Thinking back, I think maybe she started looking for a new job shortly after I ended things. You know, to Sofia’s credit she never allowed our affair to interfere with her judgment of my professional abilities. ”
Jacob leaned back for a moment and appeared to be stretching his stiff back. Without looking back at Hank, he asked, “Why did you decide to tell your wife after all this time?”
Hank could not help my let a single chuckle slip through. “You won’t believe this. Around the time Sofia left, Abigail and I started going to church. She had wanted to go for a long time, and I thought it might help me deal with the condemnation that still lingered in my head. I suppose something sank in because I accepted Christ last Sunday, but then something inside me told me I needed to make things right with Abigail. She is my wife, the love of my life. How could I keep my sin against her a secret? So, yesterday I told her.”
Jacob turned back. His blue eyes had a sad, inquisitive look about them. “So, she kicked you out?”
Hank shook his head, “Not exactly. I mean, she did this morning. Last night, after I told her she just got quiet. Later, I could hear Abigail crying in bed during the night while I pretended to be asleep.”
“She didn’t put you on the couch?” Asked Jacob.
Hank shook his head. “No. But, this morning Abigal asked me to leave for a few days until she calls me. She said she needed time to sort things out.”
Jacob nodded, took Hanks hand and patted the back of it, much like their preacher did as people exited the church at the end of service. “Give her time Hank. Forgiveness is not something that can always happen immediately.”
“But what if she doesn’t?”
Jacob smiled and let go of Hank’s hand, “Have faith. So, I’m curious, what one mistake caused all your problems?”
Hank sat and thought for a moment. “That first night, those drinks. I should have never compromised my family to spend time with Sophia. I assumed Sophia would feel slighted in some way, but looking back on her reaction to us breaking up, I realize now it wouldn’t have made any difference one way or the other. Perhaps she would still be my boss, and I would be home with my family right now.”
Jacob nodded, “At least you have learned something.”
Hank felt better, lighter inside. He was still sad, but somehow a sense of peace had settled in. Hank did not know what would happen, but he felt like whatever happened, everything would turn out the way it was supposed to. He patted Jacob’s shoulder. “Thank you. I don’t know who you are, but you’ve made everything much clearer for me. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go wait for a phone call.”
“Be sure to open the curtains in your room. Letting in the sunshine always improves my mood.”
Hank leaned back away from Jacob for a moment. “How did you know I was staying over at the hotel?”
Jacob smiled and shrugged, “Where else would you be staying.”
Hank nodded, got up, and started walking away. He turned around to wave at Jacob one more time, but he was gone. He must be incredibly fast for his age. Thought Hank.
As soon as Hank was inside his room he opened up the curtains. Hank then walked over to his bed and dropped to his knees to thank God for bringing Jacob to him. As soon as he said “Amen” his cell phone rang in his pocket.
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