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Eager to see Nicole, Eric drove over to her house. She hadn’t sent her good morning text so he decided to stop by. He reminded himself, for the tenth time that day, that she was still legally married and could lose a lot if their attraction became public.
Before he got out of his car, he drove back to his apartment to get the book she had lent him during one of their night school classes. They were both becoming realtors and noticed each other immediately. It didn’t take long for them to chat easily during the breaks in class, and Eric felt his pulse quicken when Nicole mentioned her divorce was nearly final.
Their liaison was sealed the day they were practicing showing a sample house, and the instructor received an emergency text, exited hurriedly, and left the students to themselves. The students left the house soon after the teacher, leaving Nicole and Eric enticingly alone in a vacant house.
Things escalated quickly and it wasn’t long before Nicole expressed her unhappiness with her husband Steven and his need for control. Other than teaching yoga, Nicole hadn’t worked outside the home. She felt dependent on Steven in many ways.
Eric didn’t want to picture her with another man and it didn’t take much for him to work up an intense dislike for Nicole’s husband. One evening, when they ditched class to be alone at Eric’s, Nicole spoke up in a limp defense of Steven.
“Eric, he has never hit me, and I have no physical fear of him, and I feel bad about your wasting energy on my failed marriage.”
He was so taken with the delicate curve of her chin as she looked over at him on the couch, it took a few moments for him to respond.
“Nothing about you is wasted energy, Nicole,” he said, already glimpsing the bitter taste of loss he would feel if they could not continue to be together. “Remember, I’m always one text away, if you need me.”
When he rounded the corner of Turner Street where Nicole lived, Eric noticed her neighbor Bobby raking the front yard. Nicole had mentioned Bobby, the teenager next door. Approaching Nicole’s front door, Eric held the book in his right hand so Bobby could see it. With his other hand he waved to Bobby and knocked on the front door. Nobody answered.
“They ain’t home. Mrs. Miller went out with Mr. Miller a while ago,” Bobby called over, putting emphasis on the word Mrs.
“I’m returning a book to her. We’re in the same realtor class,” Eric said, kicking himself for sounding guilty and explaining anything to this kid.
“I’ll give it her,” Bobby said, clearly relishing the idea of seeing her.
“Don’t worry, Bobby,” Eric said, then froze in place at his mishap in using the boy’s name.
“She talks about me?” Bobby asked, reddening from the collar up.
“The teacher asked us to name ten of our neighbors as an exercise,” Eric lied, and headed to his car, book still in hand.
When Eric returned to his apartment, he paced around imagining all sorts of scenarios, none of them good. Nicole bound to a chair, locked in a room by Steven. Or else the opposite, Nicole re-kindling the romance with her husband.
Once, with Nicole after class, Eric had pulled into the parking lot at Sam’s Place, a bar around the corner from the night school. It turned out that Nicole’s husband frequented the place.
“Eric, Steven could be here. This isn’t a good idea,” she said to him while placing her hand on his knee.
“Level with me, Nicole,” he said, removing his seat belt and facing her. “Are you really going through a divorce?”
She teared up, and he took her hand and kissed it lightly.
“Please take me back to my car, Eric.”
Eric backed up and drove away, neither of them speaking.
Later that evening, Nicole sent Eric a text that she needed him to be patient.
He waited a half hour before responding, not wanting to seem too eager.
Who was this Steven guy, her almost ex, who had her so bent out of shape?
That day Eric visited Nicole’s house, he was becoming increasingly annoyed that he hadn’t heard from her. He went for a long run which helped him to reduce his obsession with her, but not enough to prevent him from deciding to stake out a place at Sam’s, maybe getting to know his nemesis, Steven.
As the sun was setting, Eric flipped down his visor to find a space in Sam’s parking lot. The place was mobbed. Eric found a seat at the end of the bar and immediately liked the feel of the place.