“Jeff's not coming?”
Cindy nudged Kay under the table. It had been years since he'd accompanied Sylvie. Kay, still single, always had a date. She could be so thoughtless.
“No, Kay. I'd hoped so, but he's still out of town.”
Cindy, Jen and Sylvie had met at Calcine, Inc. nearly twenty years before. Soon they went everywhere together. Happy hours, ski weekends, exotic vacations. Cindy married first. Jen followed a few months later. Sylvie, already in middle management, had little time for the dating game. They conspired to find the right guy. In the end, Sylvie picked her own. Jeff , a freelance writer, traveled frequently. When he couldn't be home, Sylvie flew to meet him on the weekends. With five preschoolers between them, Cindy and Jen viewed her trips with undisguised envy.
The girls still met frequently for lunch. One day Cindy invited Kay. Although several years younger, she'd fit in well and soon became part of their group. There was little time for socializing outside work, but all looked forward to the company Christmas party. It was a gala event and each year they sat together. Then Jeff stopped attending. Sylvie made excuses, but it must be difficult. He'd send flowers for important occasions, but special lunch dates ended. Kay dubbed him “the invisible husband”. Cindy and Jen suspected an affair. No job should keep him away that much.
Dinner was sumptuous. Dancing followed. By unspoken agreement, the men took turns dancing with Sylvie. It was not a hardship. Sylvie was a lovely woman and a graceful dancer. Before the final dance, she wished them a happy holiday and left.
Sylvie drove fifty miles to the Hilltop Long Term Care Facility. Just as she had done every Saturday for almost ten years. She headed to Room 304. Her face was somber, but she smiled courteously at the staff.
The only sound from the emaciated man on the bed was the whir from machinery that kept him alive. She knew the staff admired her. Pitied her as well. Of course, they didn't understand. Marrying Jeff had been a strategic move. Good corporate image. No more speculation about her unmarried state. A husband who was frequently away. Perfect until he'd confronted her with the affair. She'd begged him to forgive her. They reconciled at a favorite mountain retreat. Hiked to the top of that breathtaking waterfall. Then Jeff slipped on the wet moss. It had only taken a tiny push to send him into the cascading water. How had he survived?
The accident made the local news in the small mountain town. But back in the city, no one knew. A death would have been much harder to hide. It had truly worked out for the best.
She'd sit here for an hour holding his withered hand. A small price to pay for freedom. Then she'd head west for a few more miles. Kay was waiting.