Author: MJ Pullen
Date Published: July 2011
Marci Thompson always knew what life would be like by her 30th birthday. A large but cozy suburban home shared with a charming husband and two brilliant children. A celebrated career as an established writer, complete with wall-to-wall mahogany shelves and a summer book tour. A life full of adventure with her friends and family by her side.
Instead, Marci lives alone in 480 square feet of converted motel space next to a punk rock band, hundreds of miles from her friends and family. She works in a temporary accounting assignment that has somehow stretched from two weeks into nine months. And the only bright spot in her life, not to mention the only sex she’s had in two years, is an illicit affair with her married boss, Doug. Thirty is not at all what it is cracked up to be.
Then the reappearance of a cocktail napkin she hasn’t seen in a decade opens a long-forgotten door, and Marci’s life gets complicated, fast. The lines between right and wrong, fantasy and reality, heartache and happiness are all about to get very blurry, as Marci faces the most difficult choices of her life.
In her mind, she had ended it a thousand times. She would spend hours rehearsing three versions of the parting speech:
“Doug, I can’t do this anymore. Neither of us intended this to happen, but it has to stop. I love you [should she say that?], but I can’t be responsible for breaking up a marriage, however unhappy it might be. I deserve better than this. I need someone free to make a life with me, and you are not. I know in my heart that part of you still loves Cathy, and I think you should return to her and really invest in your marriage.”
Magnanimous and melodramatic:
“Listen, Doug. This has been wonderful; it really has. But it’s wrong and it’s been wrong from the start. It’s tearing me apart. I am not an adulteress; I deserve to be more than ‘the other woman.’ I can’t live with myself for another day this way, and I can’t let you do it, either. Go back to your wife, your home, the life that you chose all those years ago. I will treasure our time together and you have my word that I will never tell anyone about us.”
Jealous and generally pissed off:
“Doug, your little weekend getaway with your wife gave me time to get clarity and realize that I am better than this situation, and better than you. If you loved me, you would no longer be married. If you loved your wife, you would not be with me. You act like this is torture for you, but really you’re just a typical cheating sleazebag who wants to have his cake and eat it, too. I want you out of my life forever. If you try to speak to me again, I will call Cathy and tell her everything. Get out.”
This last version was the most emotionally satisfying. She would march into work armed with these words, confident, resolute and ready to take back her life.
Until she saw him. She’d find a sticky note on her keyboard: “It was awful. I missed you.” Or he would pick her up at lunch, and instead of going back to her place, they would drive to the top of Mount Bonnell and look over the Texas hill country and talk. She would feebly threaten to end it, crying pathetically and remembering none of her kickass speeches.
Still, sometimes they would manage to split up for a day or two, both feeling torn and morose. In fact, Doug had disappeared for a week after their first kiss, one late night in his office. He pleaded a family emergency to his colleagues, but confessed to Marci later that he spent the week working on an old car, trying to sort out his feelings and hoping he could pretend nothing happened.
But then, as always seemed to happen with them, something inexplicable drew them back together. She would be unable to resist sending him an e-mail from her cubicle—after battling another frightening fantasy about getting caught by the IT guy—or he would show up on her doorstep after work, his face tortured and apologetic and sleep-deprived. She would fall into him as a black hole, lost in a tangle of conflicting feelings and wonderful sensations, until they emerged an hour or more later, naked and clinging to each other on her living room floor.
They would talk about Marci’s dreams of being a writer and Doug would give her ideas. He helped her put together a portfolio to send out to agencies and freelance jobs. Writing, however, had never been his passion. Ever since T, D, L & S had been founded in the back of a bar nearly fifteen years earlier, Doug had been the gregarious salesman with relationship skills and an eye for the big picture. Jack Lane and Scott Teague drove the creative production, while Frank Dodgen had the sharp business acumen. Still, Doug knew far more than the typical person about making money by writing and encouraged Marci to the point that she sometimes felt he was almost pushy. Even though he had read her writing and based his opinion on that, she always felt sure that their affair fueled his good opinion.
Occasionally he shared his agonizing feelings about his marriage, how he’d been with Cathy since middle school and genuinely loved her. He told Marci he’d never thought it possible to feel so deeply for two people, and so differently. Cathy was everything he had ever wanted. Their families were close. She knew and loved things about him that even he himself had forgotten. But their relationship had changed over the years and he now described her as distant, even businesslike. Marci thought of the conversation she’d overheard and the impressions she’d had of Cathy in the office, so perfectly put together, but missing something. Doug never mentioned a desire for children or whether Cathy was resistant to the idea.
But one thing was clear from very early on: he was totally unprepared to leave his wife.
He often talked with sadness about the day that Marci would end things for real, the day she would realize, fully and finally, that he was wasting her time. He joked with a touch of pain in his voice about the guy she would ultimately end up with: “He’ll be funny, obviously,” he would say, tapping her nose lightly with affection, “like you. And he’ll be good-looking, I’m sure, and probably an all-around great guy. Better than me.”
She would squirm uncomfortably, rejecting his self-deprecation. “Doug, stop, let’s not talk about it.”
But he never wanted to stop. He needed to suffer. “You know it’s true. You deserve better than me. But in my eyes, no one will ever deserve you.”
No matter how often he said them, these words were a knife to her heart. She was the other woman; she was putting someone’s marriage in danger. Who was to say what she deserved?
At the end of these woeful conversations, she always felt as though she’d had to experience all the theoretical pain of breaking up with Doug without the actual relief of moving on. The ball was in her court. Doug clearly cared for her and seemed willing to continue their relationship indefinitely. It would be her responsibility to someday choose the high road and make a better life for herself.
She sometimes wondered whether she would ever find the strength to do that. Her relationship with Doug was the only one she’d had in two years, and more intense on every level than anything before it. How could she walk away from that for some tepid date with Jeremy, or being fixed up with someone’s single friend?
She had recently started exploring internet dating, but it was difficult to be fully present in the small talk and getting-to-know-you, when she knew Doug had arranged to be at her place for several hours the next weekend. It was unfair that Doug expected her to be the one to cut the strings, especially when she couldn’t help but notice that he made an extra effort to be present in her life when she mentioned having a date.
So they limped along in a relationship netherworld—not together, not apart, each day full of the twin possibilities of limitless passion or goodbye forever. With stacks of invoices and mindless tasks in front of her each day, Marci had entirely too much time to contemplate both ends of the spectrum.
Today was no different, except for the fact that she was officially no longer wasting her late twenties in a hopeless relationship. Thirty had arrived, and a new decade was waiting. And there was an e-mail from Jake.
When she’s not chasing two little boys or trying to wipe something sticky off the floor, M.J. (Manda) Pullen is the bestselling author of two contemporary women’s fiction novels: The Marriage Pact (2011) and Regrets Only (2012). She is working on several new projects as well, including more women’s fiction and a YA paranormal adventure series.
M.J. grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Writing has always been a big part of her life, both professionally and personally. She studied English Literature and Business at the University of Georgia in Athens, and later Professional Counseling at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She practiced psychotherapy for five years before taking a sabbatical to spend more time writing and raising her brood. Since high school, she has also been an executive assistant, cashier, telemarketer, professional fundraiser, marketing guru, magazine writer, grant-writer, waitress, box-packer, HR person, and casual drifter.
M.J. loves creating true-to-life characters who are flawed, relatable, and most importantly redeemable. She tries to explore all aspects of relationships, from romantic entanglements to battles between mortal enemies, and everything in between. She reads and writes across many genres, and learns something from everything she does. No matter what she’s writing, M.J. believes that love is the greatest adventure there is, and that hopeless romantics are never really hopeless.
After years traveling and living in places like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, M.J. has now returned to her home city of Atlanta (actually Roswell, for hard-core Roosevelt fans and connoisseurs of suburban culture), where she lives with her husband and two young sons. She loves to hear from readers and other writers – so drop her a line!