“Can a man carry fire next to his chest
and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?
So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
none who touches her will go unpunished.”
“He who commits adultery lacks sense;
he who does it destroys himself.
The late afternoon sun beat down on his neck, and beads of sweat pooled at his temples before sliding down his face. Every now and then, he’d swat at a lazy fly that buzzed around his head. He scrolled through Facebook on his phone, and after a while, he decided the charcoal grill was ready for the hamburger patties. He set his phone on the table next to him and hopped up to retrieve them inside.
The cool blast of air felt refreshing as he opened the sliding glass door. Charlotte was busy in the kitchen, cutting vegetables and prepping their sides. The Uncle slipped past her and grabbed the tray of raw hamburger patties.
“I’m about to put these on,” The Uncle commented to Charlotte. “The hamburgers should be ready in 10 minutes or so.”
“Thanks, babe,” Charlotte commented cheerily. Her Frank Sinatra Pandora station boomed from the speaker in the kitchen, and she danced around as she prepped their food.
Charlotte had always loved grilling out at home. It was one of her favorite past times, and it usually was successful at putting her in a good mood. Grilling wasn’t The Uncle’s favorite thing to do now, especially since they had been relocated to New Mexico. If he was honest, he much preferred to pay someone else to prepare his food. But their marriage counselor, whom The Uncle had reluctantly agreed to see after Charlotte’s incessant begging, had suggested they resurrect some of the activities they had enjoyed in the beginning of their relationship. Grilling at home had made the top of her list.
The raw patties sizzled as he placed them on the grill, and the distinct, delicious smell of a charcoal grill filled the air. Regardless of his opinions on grilling, the burgers smelled delicious, and he was hungry. He was also looking forward to a quiet evening at home with only Charlotte, and he was hoping that for once, their time alone would not be spent arguing. Their niece was, as usual, out with her friends on this Saturday night. In just a few weeks, she would be graduating high school, and she would be moving out. He knew it was a toss-up on who was more excited about this move — him or his niece — but it was certainly about time.
He wasn’t exactly sure where she was moving, but she had already indicated to him in more or less words that the moment she had that degree in hand, she was “outta here.” He had mentioned this to Charlotte, but she insisted their niece would have told her if she was planning to leave before her college courses began in the fall. Poor Charlotte. Denied the chance to ever bear a child of her own, she poured all of her blood, sweat, and tears into their niece. None of her efforts were ever appreciated, and that made The Uncle resent their niece even more.
Even though their marriage issues were vast and complicated, The Uncle liked to blame their niece for every single one of them. In his opinion, life was just perfect before that dreaded train accident 10 years ago. But ever since then, he and Charlotte had struggled to connect. He resented Charlotte for pushing him to bring their niece into their home. Some seasons had been better than others, but overall, he felt their marriage had been nothing but work. All they ever seemed to do now was argue, and he usually did not enjoy his time with Charlotte anymore.
Charlotte, on the other hand, just would not give up on their relationship. About 4 years ago, she claimed she had become a Christian after meeting several other military moms. She joined their church and went to Bible study every Wednesday night. He often found her reading the Bible in the mornings when he got in from his morning runs. He’d found notecards where she’d written down prayers for their marriage. Her religious devotion only made him roll his eyes. What is God going to do to help us now? After all, isn’t He the reason we’re in this mess? He could have stopped that train!
He stuck with the marriage because he was a highly respected officer. He was colonel now, and he had his eyes set on becoming a brigadier general in the next several years. He needed to maintain appearances, even if there seemed to be very little hope of them actually enjoying one another again. This is the only reason he’d agreed to marriage counseling. He was sure this counseling wouldn’t help. For one, he felt that the issues between them were just too deep. But there was also one other complicating factor that Charlotte didn’t know about. Emma.
As if on cue, his iPhone vibrated on the table beside him, and he looked over to see Emma’s name on the screen. He opened the text from Emma, drinking in her words. “How are things with the Ice Queen?” she asked. He’d confided in Emma recently of his marriage problems, and she jokingly gave Charlotte the nickname Ice Queen. He loved it.
As the burgers sizzled, his mind filled with images of this beautiful, dark-haired woman who had waltzed into his life just a couple of months earlier.
While The Uncle had looked at pornography often throughout the last several years, he had never been physically unfaithful to his wife. He’d always known he was a very good looking man, and he had grown accustomed to women throwing themselves at him over the years. Before Charlotte came into his life, he had loved the attention. He could have any woman he’d wanted. But when he met Charlotte, he stayed faithful because he only had eyes for her…in the beginning. But as their marriage grew tumultuous, he hadn’t met another woman who tempted him in that way. That is, until he met Emma.
He recalled the early spring night when he met Emma at General Shifton’s retirement party. Of course, Charlotte had backed out of attending the party at the last minute. She never did enjoy these gatherings, and she wanted to stay home so their niece wouldn’t feel left out. That night, The Uncle was sorely disappointed Charlotte had backed out. He had been looking forward to an enjoyable evening with his wife, but his niece had once again gotten in the way.
The Uncle went to the party anyway, as he knew it was important to at least make an appearance. He had planned to stay for only a little while. The party, held at the beautiful Grand Lakes Country Club, was phenomenal. A live band played on a makeshift stage just outside of the pool area, and lights were strung about, casting an enchanting sort of ambience into the atmosphere. The open bar catered to the many military men in attendance, and spirits were high. He noticed her early in the evening, floating around the party as she visited with everyone she could.
After a while, he leaned over to Captain Skip Henry to inquire about her. “Who’s wife is that over there? I’ve never seen her before…”
“Oh her? She’s a looker, eh? She belongs to the new Major General, G eorge Harvey,who just recently transferred here. Too bad she isn’t single,” Skip said wistfully, then he turned his attention to The Uncle. “Wait, aren’t you a married man?” He glanced down at The Uncle’s ring finger, which was empty. He had stopped wearing his ring several years ago, telling Charlotte it irritated his finger.
“Of course I am!” he said nonchalantly. “I just hadn’t seen her before.” He changed the subject to shop talk, all the while keeping his eye on Emma. They made eye contact, and she smiled his direction. His heart skipped a beat when she noticed him.
Later in the evening, as The Uncle was texting Charlotte that he would be leaving the party soon, a hand gently touch his elbow and pulled his attention away from his phone. Emma stood next to him, smiling. “I don’t believe I’ve met you. I’m Emma Harvey.”
It was a simple introduction, one she had given to countless people that night. But with The Uncle, it held a different expectation. Little did he know that she’d had her eyes on him all evening, just the same as he’d had his eyes on her.
Acting the perfect gentleman, The Uncle offered to fetch her another glass of wine, also choosing for himself a Jack and coke. They made their way to the deck chairs by the pool, continuing their small talk while also finding little connections that slowly bonded them together as friends. They had so much in common! The alcohol continued it’s mood-altering effects, relaxing the pair as they settled into the beautiful evening. The live band shifted into a more mellow set, playing songs like Dean Martins’ “Memories are Made of This.”
He couldn’t remember how long they’d talked, but the evening had ended with them sharing phone numbers…”just as friends.” They’d decided they would get together as couples, maybe go on a double date. Yet it was unspoken that neither of them wanted to bring spouses along.
Through that initial, innocent encounter, a friendship was born. Just thinking of Emma lit The Uncle on fire with desire for her. Mostly, they texted throughout the day and into the night. On a few occasions, they talked on the phone. He’d run into her on the base several times. He lived for those chance encounters, day-dreaming often of when he would see her again. Nothing physical had happened between them, though The Uncle fantasized about it often.
The timer on his phone went off, indicating that it was time to take the burgers off the grill. He continued texting with Emma throughout the evening, all the while playing husband to Charlotte. But his heart was never really with her at all.
Just as they were getting ready for bed, Charlotte hinted to The Uncle that she would go put on something special for him. He looked at her with great surprise. When is the last time she’s offered this to me? But it was the last thing he wanted, as his mind was filled with fantasies of Emma instead. Just at that moment, his phone vibrated again. He quickly read Emma’s text: “Didn’t I mention to you that George is out of town this weekend? I’m lonely over here! Tell the Ice Queen you want to go on a walk or something, and come visit me!”
The Uncle’s heart pounded in his chest as he considered the implications of Emma’s invitation. She’d never offered this to him before. He knew the choice he had was monumental, choosing tonight between two women. The course of his life could change forever. He tried to convince himself that he needed to stay home with Charlotte, but there was no passion for her. Only Emma. His desire won out, and he called to Charlotte, who was in the bathroom brushing her teeth.
“You know, I still have a lot from work on my mind, and I think I need to go on a walk to clear my head.”
“Oh really?” she replied, and he could hear the rejection in her voice. He felt slightly guilty for his lie, but his mind was already made up.
“Don’t wait up for me…I might be a while. I’m just going to walk on base, but I need some time alone.” He was already wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt, and he slipped into his Nikes. He hurried out the front door before Charlotte could protest, and the anticipation of seeing Emma nearly killed him. He typed on his phone as he walked.
“I can’t imagine a husband leaving a woman like you lonely! I’ll come hang out for a bit. Heading your way!” While neither of them had ever expressed their feelings to the other, he assumed she felt the same way because of the flirtatious nature of their texts.
The walk around the block to her house went by in a blur because his mind was occupied with Emma. As he walked up the path to her front door, it opened, and she leaned against the door frame. Her silhouette was slender against the lights behind her, and he couldn’t tell at first what she was wearing. But as he got closer, her realized she wore a sleek black dress that clung tightly to her skin.
“Hey you,” she cooed, opening the door just wide enough room for him to slip in next to her. Their bodies touched as he walked through the door, and his knees trembled.
Once he was inside, she closed the door and smiled at him. “Thanks for coming.” She reached out to give him a hug, and they lingered in the embrace a little longer than a friendship hug would usually entail.
For a while, they kept up the pretense of innocence, but eventually, their true desires became known.
He could have stayed with her all night, but The Uncle knew he needed to get back home. He quietly crept back into his house a little after 2am. Charlotte was fast asleep, completely ignorant to her husband’s activities. She trusted him, and he smiled to himself with pride. I can do this. She’ll never know.