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"There's no other way to say this. Sheridan, I'm in love with someone else."
Quentin's words made Sheridan pause at the arch that separated the hallway from the kitchen. She glanced at the front door, where she had just kissed their children, Christopher and Tori, good-bye before they rushed to their school vans, eager to meet up with friends they hadn't seen during the Christmas holiday.
Sheridan stared at her husband before she twisted around to see if there was anyone behind her. Then her eyes rested on the television sitting on the kitchen counter, continuing the search for the source that delivered those words. Surely they hadn't come from her husband. She moved toward the dining table, where Quentin sat with his hands crossed in front of him, his head lowered, and his eyes away from her.
"What did you say?" she asked, feeling as if she'd walked into the middle of a conversation.
With effort Quentin raised his head. But when he looked at her, his eyes spoke before he did. "I didn't mean to blurt it out that way," he continued, and then returned his stare to the table top. "I should have waited, for a better time, a better place. But...I needed to tell you."
"Quentin," she started, then paused, surprised by her outside steadiness, which didn't match her inside shaking. "What are you talking about?"
"I've been trying to find a way to tell you."
She shook her head, needing to clear all thoughts -- anything that could be blocking her -- interrupting her brain waves from making a direct connection with her mind. She couldn't be hearing this.
He stood, faced her, and now there was strength behind his eyes. "Sheridan, I don't want to hurt you. I really -- "
"Did you just say you were in love with someone else?"
His Adam's apple leapt before he nodded. "I didn't want this." He paused, but his eyes continued talking, begging her for help. When she said nothing, his voice softened. "I never wanted to hurt you. I -- "
Her mind's cobwebs cleared and his words made a clear path to her consciousness. She held up her hands, stopping him. "You never wanted to hurt me? Oh, yes, you did," she said, pushing away from him. "What you just said could only hurt." She took a deep breath. "So, you're in love...with someone else." She shoved the words through her throat. "When..." She paused, not sure she wanted to ask questions that would provide answers -- the facts she wasn't ready to hear. But there was something she had to know.
"Who is she?" Sheridan whipped toward him, her hands contracting into fists. She imagined the fight. How she would beat the woman down. Then turn her rage on Quentin.
"We should sit down." Quentin held out his hand to escort her back to the table.
She ignored his gesture. "Who is she?"
He hesitated before he returned to where he'd been sitting and wiped his hands together. "First, Sheridan, please know this is not about you. I'm the one at fault."
Sheridan thought of a million retorts, but she held the curses inside.
Quentin said, "You have no idea how long I've wanted to tell you."
She held up her hand. "How long has this been going on? How long have you been seeing her?"
"It's not like that. It's not like I've been doing anything behind your back."
She almost laughed. "Something's been going on behind my back."
"I haven't had an affair, at least not the way you're thinking."
She looked at him as if he were speaking Portuguese. "How many ways are there to think about an affair, Quentin?"
"What I mean is that this is not about sex. That's why I know it's real."
It sounded like double-talk to her. "So let me get this straight." Sheridan paced across the tile floor. "You're in love, but you haven't been having sex. At least not the way I would define it. But you're in love and you needed to tell me because..." She stopped, wanting him to finish.
"I thought you'd want to know," he said. "I've wanted to be honest with you for so long."
"Well, now's your chance."
Quentin took a breath as if he thought it might be his last. "I wasn't looking for anyone. I wasn't sneaking around. This just happened. It was out of my control." He paused. "Sheridan, I've been fighting feelings for a long time, and I've finally faced the truth of what's been growing inside me. Something I thought was dead but is very much alive."
Her headache was instant, and the throbbing squeezed life from her. She wanted to listen, to understand, but only a few of his words pierced through her thoughts.
What just happened? An hour ago, they were having breakfast with their children, talking about Christmas and New Year's and the days in between. An hour ago, they were the Harts living the normalcy of family.
"I always wanted to be honest about this," he said.
What's going to happen to us now? her thoughts continued.
"It was not being honest that was destroying me and our life together."
What's our life going to be like now?
"I was miserable."
What am I going to do now?
"I tried to break it, deny it. But nothing worked."
"You know what?" Sheridan began. She hadn't heard too many of her husband's words. Her own questions overwhelmed her. "I don't want to hear any more."
Quentin stood as Sheridan rushed by him. "Honey, wait."
His words felt like a punch in her belly. She turned in slow motion. "What did you say?" Before he could answer, she continued. "You have the nerve to call me 'honey'? After just telling me you're in love with another woman. You just call me 'honey'?"
"It's not another woman."
"How could you call me 'honey'? What does..." She stopped, frozen. Even her heartbeat had ceased.
Finally she took short, slow steps toward the man she'd married seventeen years before. He stood stoically, as if he really meant what he'd said.
"What did you say?" The question squeaked from her.
It was the first time he looked straight into her eyes. "I am in love, but not with a woman. I'm in love with a man. I've fallen in love with Jett Jennings."
She wondered if he could hear the rumbling. The rumbling that began in her soles and rushed through her, filling her with the absurdity of it all. The cruelty of the news. The brutality of its suddenness. Sheridan raised her hand, and with the motion she'd practiced for a year in kickboxing, she served Quentin a right uppercut to his chin, then watched him wither to the floor.
She stared for only a moment before she stepped over him and stomped out of the room.
Sheridan was shaking.
"I'm in love with a man."
Those words played in her mind as she paced the long bedroom.
"I'm in love with a man."
She felt as if her heart had been pressed with a flaming-hot branding iron -- the words permanently seared into her center.
"I'm in love with a man."
His words continued, taunting her as she marched past the dresser that held the picture of her and Quentin sharing wedding cake almost two decades before. She paused and stared at the pictures next to that one -- the one with her, Quentin, and their son just moments after Christopher's birth. There was a similar picture with Tori. And six other framed photos that chronicled wonderful moments of their magnificent life.
Next to the pictures were the cards -- the Christmas and New Year's cards they'd just exchanged, confessing their undying love and the promise of a bright new year.
His voice pulled her back. When she looked at him, she hoped to see something, some mark of the pain she'd caused when she dropped him to the floor. Something that could at least come close to the crushing blow her heart had taken.
"That's not the way we should handle this."
With those words, she wanted to hit him again, but she knew she'd used her free pass. He wouldn't let her get away with that twice. Even if he was a...She paused in her thoughts. What was he? Was her husband gay?
Her knees weakened, and she dropped to the edge of the bed.
He stepped into the bedroom and sat next to her. "You will never know how much I dreaded this," he said.
Their shoulders touched when he spoke, and she jumped away from him. She reached for an envelope she'd left on her nightstand.
"Sheridan, as much as I didn't want to do this, I couldn't live with this lie anymore."
She handed him the envelope. "Did you see this?"
He frowned as he took the letter. His glance was quick before he returned his eyes to his wife. His face was furrowed with confusion.
"It's from Tori's school," Sheridan explained. She wanted to start their day over -- turn back the clock to before the sun even rose, before Quentin had even jumped from their bed and kissed her as he did every morning. "Tori's school fees are going up again next semester, and they want us to pick a payment plan."
"We should pay in one lump sum like we always do."
She stared in silence before she asked, "Are you gay?" Her voice trembled. She fought to keep her tears from falling.
Quentin's head barely moved in a nod. "I don't know what to call it. I know I've loved you, but at the same time I've been fighting other feelings for years."
Her eyes widened. "You haven't wanted me for years?"
"Oh, no. I've always...loved you. But..."
"I'm not really who you wanted. You'd prefer..." She stopped, unable to get the other man's name through her lips. The man she thought was her friend.
He lowered his eyes. "I didn't want to do anything about what I was feeling because I didn't want to destroy us."
"But now you're fine with destroying me and Chris and Tori."
"I wish there was some kind of drug, some kind of medicine I could take to wash away these feelings. I've prayed -- "
She held up her hands. "No you didn't. Because if you prayed, you would know what to do. If you prayed, we would never be talking about this."
"Sheridan, believe me. I have prayed, and that's why I had to tell you. I had to tell you the truth so that we can decide where to go from here."
She raised her eyebrows. "Decide where to go? Quentin Hart, you're a smart man. You know where to go."
He paused as if he'd heard more than just the words she uttered. Finally, he said, "I came to you as a first step. I want us to take our time before we make any decisions. So I was thinking I would sleep in the guest bedroom until..."
He looked at her, but he couldn't hold her glance for even a second before he stared at the floor.
Sheridan said, "No."
"Okay." He nodded slowly as if he was surprised. "I was only thinking of you. But this is great, because I'd prefer to stay in here with you, keeping everything as normal as possible. It's better, especially for Chris and Tori."
"I want you out of my house."
"Quentin, are you out of your mind? Not only are you in love with someone else, but you just told your wife you want to be with a man. Do you think I'd want you anywhere near me? Do you think I'd want you near my children?"
"They're my children too."
She swallowed a mouthful of air to keep the scream inside.
The scream that would inform him that Christopher and Tori wouldn't be his children much longer. From this point forward the children would belong only to her, not to some man who couldn't live life in the manner God planned. But she said nothing.
Quentin said, "This is not how we should handle this."
"You don't get a vote."
"I'm not leaving this house. Not until you understand that I love you and I love our children. But I can't fight what's inside of me anymore."
She pressed back her tears. He would not see her cry.
"Sheridan, we can't make quick decisions. That's why I have to stay here."
"Okay." She spoke as she moved toward her closet. "You stay." She dragged a suitcase from the chamber. "I'll pick up Chris and Tori from school, and we'll stay in a hotel."
Quentin closed her suitcase. "I think you're being overly dramatic."
God's grace covered her; stopped her from striking him again. "Let me break this down for you, Quentin. Nothing is more dramatic than having the man you've loved for seventeen years come to you one glorious morning and tell you your life has been a lie."
"It's not like that."
"Having him tell you that you don't have anything he wants." Her voice began to tremble.
"That's not true."
"Telling you you're...not good enough." She fought her tears.
Quentin reached for her, but she stepped beyond his grasp before he could touch her skin. "I'm not being dramatic, Quentin," she protested as the first tear rolled down her cheek. "I'm just trying to hold on to some form of sanity. I'm just trying to get from here to tomorrow."
In the silence that followed, Sheridan stared at the suitcase lying on their bed. Seventeen years of marital memories flooded her. "Please, Quentin," she whispered as she kept her eyes on their bed. "If you ever loved me, just leave."
A beat passed. "I'll go."
Only then did she look at Quentin. Those were not the words she wanted. She longed for her husband to take back all he'd said. To tell her he loved her, only her, and would forever. But she knew those words would never come.
She pushed through a dense fog as she stepped from their bedroom and walked down the stairs. Everything around her was familiar, but nothing was the same. The furniture, the wall hangings, the carpet felt out of order. Even the house knew the world had changed.
She opened the door to the home office for the business they shared: Hart to Heart.
This space was crammed with their love. A business built on the sweet words Quentin had written from the moment they met. The poetry he wrote for her, capturing her heart and her business acumen. It had been her idea to start a company -- specialty gift cards. After Tori was born, they'd started small and had grown the venture to over one hundred thousand dollars annually: just a pittance compared to Quentin's income as an ob-gyn, but next to God and their children, Hart to Heart was a cherished venture. Their business was a manifestation of all that the Harts were about -- their complete devotion to one another.
There was only one word to describe their business -- successful. And now there was only one way to describe their marriage.
Sheridan stumbled to the walnut desk that sat in the middle of the room. She glanced around the walls, which held framed compositions of Quentin's most romantic expressions. As she thought about all the wonderful words he'd spoken and written through the years, she asked herself if any of those had been meant for her. And when she answered that question, she laid her head on the desk and cried.
It was an empty canvas of time.
Sheridan had no idea how long she'd sat at the desk, struggling to free herself from the overpowering emotions. But when she heard the front door open, then close, she raced to her bedroom. Behind the sheer curtains, she hid and watched Quentin roll two suitcases behind him. His shoulders were squared, he walked tall; he moved like a natural man.
He opened the back of the Mercedes SUV and slid the bags inside. When he closed the car's door, he stood still, staring at the front door to their home. Sheridan held her breath. Could this be it? Could this be the moment when he would come and tell her it was a mistake? That all he wanted was to spend eternity with her?
"Please, God. Make Quentin do the right thing," she whispered.
As if he heard her, Quentin looked up. She stepped from behind the curtains so he could see her. They stared at each other -- until Quentin jumped into the Mercedes and rolled the SUV away. She watched until the car dipped around the curve of the cul-de-sac and out of her sight.
She stayed in place, staring at her empty driveway, and then she noticed Mrs. James, standing across the street, staring into her window. Sheridan turned away, before the neighborhood crier could see her tears.
She looked around her room, trying to find a familar space, but her bedroom was a foreign land.
She stumbled to the bed and rubbed her hand along the pillow that Quentin had laid his head upon just hours before. He had held her last night as they slept, the way he always did. The way he had promised he always would, from the day they married.
"The Bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. And every night as we sleep, I will hold you, and you will know there is no anger inside of me. In my heart, there is only love."
She had melted at his words. Not only because she was sure he'd love her forever, but because she'd never dated anyone like him before -- never knew a man who had such a strong relationship with God.
It wasn't like she'd had many relationships before Quentin. She'd met him when she was only nineteen, while visiting her doctor for a Pap smear. Quentin had been a third year medical student doing rotations at Harbor General. He'd taken her breath away the moment she saw him strut out of her doctor's office, grabbing her attention from the article she'd been reading in People celebrating Vanessa Williams -- the first black Miss America. Sheridan had followed him with her eyes as he glided down the hallway going in the wrong direction -- away from her. She wanted to yell for the six-foot, muscle-packed man to return. But all she did was marvel at how fine he was. She'd never seen a man with a bald head before -- at least not one as young as this one seemed to be.
When the nurse took Sheridan into the examination room, she'd asked who that guy was in the white jacket.
The nurse had chuckled. "Every girl who has come in here for the last week has asked me that. He's a medical student working with Dr. Kennedy."
Sheridan had smiled, but her grin lasted for only a moment when she realized this student might be in the room when Dr. Kennedy examined her. How would she ever get a date with a man whose first vision of her was from down there?
It was almost funny, as Sheridan remembered that time now. She squeezed Quentin's pillow in her arms. She inhaled, grateful for the faint scent of Armani Man, which he loved. Grateful for the little bit of himself that he'd left behind. She wondered how long it would last.
She rolled to the center of the king-sized bed. She'd been so happy with Quentin that at times it had scared her. But she'd learned to live in the bliss. She'd thought her husband felt the same way.
"I've fallen in love with Jett Jennings."
Sheridan tried to remember the last time she and Quentin had made love, but even when she closed her eyes, she couldn't. It wasn't that there'd been a problem; it was just the holidays -- the planning and gift buying and entertaining and celebrating. They'd been busy with life. And anyway, she'd learned a long time ago that they didn't always have to make love; they were in love.
She tossed Quentin's pillow onto the floor and jumped up from the bed. "You were the one in love, Sheridan. Not Quentin."
She caught her reflection in the mirror. Her shoulder-length, auburn-streaked hair was tied back; she was ready for her next beauty shop appointment. And the red crewneck sweatshirt and sweatpants hid the way she worked to keep herself in shape -- for Quentin as much as herself. She had wanted him to be proud of her. And he had always told her that he was.
"Was it all a lie?" she asked her reflection.
Her reflection stared back as if she were a stranger.
"What is so wrong with me that my husband would want a man?"
Tears rolled down her cheeks as her answer.
She picked up the card Quentin had given her on New Year's, just four days ago.
What word can I use to describe how I feel about you?
Happiness. Serenity. Joy. None of those are enough.
You are my blessing, my true gift from God.
When she read the card on New Year's morning, she'd held him until her arms got tired. He did it to her every time: every time he wrote, every time he spoke, he left no doubt in her heart that she was the forever love of his life.
"I'm in love, but not with a woman."
Sheridan shook those words from her head as she tried to remember again, when was the last time her husband had made love to her?
"I'm in love with a man."
She returned her gaze to the mirror and wondered what Quentin saw when he looked at her. The sweat suit hid her curves -- made her look less feminine. Is that what it was? Did she make her husband long to be with a man?
The New Year's card slipped through her fingers and glided
toward the carpet, landing face down.
"I've fallen in love with Jett Jennings."
Sheridan picked up the card and dashed into the bathroom. She tossed Quentin's words into the toilet. A second later she released the bile that rose within her. She freed herself of her pain until she was drained. Then she pushed herself up from the floor, stared at the emotional waste that filled her toilet, and with a breath, she flushed it all away.
Copyright © 2005 by Victoria Christopher Murray