From story “Hit and Stay” from Loss Angeles:
Penn continued to drive through the night. Snow and gales of wind assailed his SUV as he barreled towards home, his foot steady on the gas, his hands positioned firmly at ten and two. Heat billowed from the vents on the dashboard and moved loose strands of hair on his face. He didn’t want to replay the scenario—the quiet L.A. hotel room, the closed drapes, the underwear on the floor, the moaning, the taste of her lips—but the SUV’s quiet cabin was a hotbed for reflection.
His headlights brushed a green highway sign, indicating that there were eighty-nine miles left on his journey home to Lake Tahoe. With the winter weather, it might take Penn more than two hours, but that was all right. How would he look at Kimberly after what he’d done?
“Don’t marry young,” people had told him a few years ago when he’d passed around the idea of proposing. “You haven’t tested the waters.” Cliché after cliché came at him, and while the marriage advice was stale and up there with “enjoy each day like it’s your last” and “don’t let anyone tell you something’s impossible,” it wasn’t amiss.
Becky had been with the company for a couple months now; there’d been some mild flirting, but Penn just thought that was the way she was, and he flirted back from time to time, knowing that it was just a game. Becky saw the wedding band on his finger; she could put two and two together.
But on this recent trip, Penn and Becky had found themselves at the hotel bar, overlooking the glimmering L.A skyline. There was a meeting early in the morning, and most of the company’s employees had gone to bed. She approached Penn and slid onto the chair next to his. They drank, and their eyes held one another in the empty bar. The piano man played his versions of “So What” and “Stardust,” songs that made people more attractive and made conversations more interesting. The right strap of Becky’s blue dress kept slipping off her freckled shoulder, and she left her smooth skin exposed longer than normal before bringing the strap back up. Her breasts were pressed up and together, and when she crossed her legs, one of her black heels dangled a few inches from her foot, making it seem as though she was already undressing. Penn remembered the way she reached over and touched his right hand.
The worst part was that Penn had only slept with Becky because of the confidence Kimberly had given him. Many times she’d reaffirmed his self-esteem, telling him he was worthy of love, that he was better-looking than he imagined, and that he deserved the best.
Penn believed the burden would be lightened if he told Kimberly, but at the same time, he thought the words might destroy her, and that’s not what he wanted. It’d taken cheating for him to know how much he loved her, but who would believe a line like that?
The tapping of a snare drum leaked out from the speakers, accompanied by the beat of an upright bass and the trill of a clarinet. He lowered the window and let the cold air flow into the sweltering cabin.
Was there a perfect scenario? Penn thought. He let his mind wander. When he got home maybe Kimberly would be crying.
What’s wrong? Penn would say.
I did something terrible, Kimberly would answer.
Kimberly would go on to tell Penn that she’d slept with someone else, that she was sorry, and that it didn’t mean anything. After that, he’d say the same thing. Two wrongs, one right. But even thinking about her sleeping with someone else made him sick. That wasn’t at all what he wanted.
High school sweethearts turned lovers turned husband and wife turned roommates—that’s what they were. Penn found it more and more difficult to make her laugh. Where there’d been kisses, there were now smiles. Where there’d been heat, there was now platitude. Where there’d been love, there was now familiarity.