Five Days Later by Beth Dugan

David Mao

Three days later, she changed the sheets. She had slept on them for two nights trying to catch the slightest hint of his scent lingering on the pillowcase but, after severely breaking out on her chin from the oil and dirt, she decided she was being pathetic and stripped the bed. As she lounged on her clean sheets she remembered the delicate skin at the corners of his eyes, the blonde stubble glinting in the morning light and his pale eyelashes that fell halfway down his cheeks.

 His skin was perfect. His scent, however, was synthetic, as in cologne, as in a lot of it. She realized it the last time she buried her face in the pillowcase and inhaled. Sharp acrid perfume greeted her behind the sour smell of unwashed flesh. The smell still caused an immediate and vivid panty-moistening response, but she realized it was less appealing now that she had to imagine him putting on cologne or aftershave. She had liked the idea that he just smelled like that, naturally. Now it seemed a little cheap.

 A day and a half later she called her least judgmental single friend Caroline, and confessed. Married man. No. Yes. Drunk. Not that drunk. I’m fine. Yeah. Really. Yeah, it was. Really good. I know.

 Caroline, practical and reassuring said in her comforting, whiskey voice, Well, at least you got off.

 Two months ago, when she had first passed on getting involved with him, (he had slowly reached for her, sitting in the passenger seat of her car, eyes dark, and she had, just as slowly, pulled back against the icy window, shaking her head, looking away) she had told her best friend, about it. Her friend, Elizabeth, was married, and thanked her, on behalf of all married women everywhere for not doing it, not sleeping with him, for having some dignity, self-respect (unlike their mutual friend Shannon who recently had a threesome with a married woman and some random guy, and was wallowing in self-loathing over it). Elizabeth said the position of slutty, promiscuous friend was already filled, thanks anyway.

 While the flirtation went on for weeks into months, she soberly assessed her options, taking into account his moral flexibility, her loneliness, their inescapable attraction. The conversation with Elizabeth made her reexamine the nature of adultery. Technically, both people involved would be “adulterers”, though in this case, only one had taken a vow of monogamy and fidelity.

 She felt a heavy weight while talking to Elizabeth; accountability for his fidelity, his marriage, his vows, as well as the vows of every married man, Elizabeth’s marriage, all marriage. All those men who came on to her, slipping their rings in their pocket or wearing them brazenly, who flattered and charmed, saying all the right things, were somehow suddenly her responsibility. She was married to their fidelity and got nothing out of it, not even nice dishes and a waffle maker. She got a lonely bed and unavoidable self-pity at the holidays. Not that they were the only men out there. Hardly. They were, however, interested, easy, and exciting. You knew what their baggage was up front. You knew what mess you were getting into.

There had been half a dozen of these incidents, being propositioned by married men, a question put out there quietly, would you like to, can we go, how about… accompanied by a hand on the inside of the wrist, on the back of her neck, or a calloused finger on her bare knee. She had always turned them down.

 Two days later he texted her, saying that he was sorry for acting badly the other night and thanked her for being a good friend. He wanted to meet and talk. She called Caroline right away and they decided that even though he was married and obviously a total mess, he was better than every other guy either of them had slept with in recent memory because he did text, did want to talk. Married men must be well trained, she and Caroline mused. They know there should be conversation; apparently they even seek it out.

 But she didn’t really want to talk about it. It was done. It’s in the vault, Caroline rasped, tell him to relax.

 Three days later, the day she changed the sheets, the night she slathered her face with acne cream and dreamed of sex, waking acutely aroused and unfulfilled, he texted her:

If you have a moment during the week that we can talk, I would love for the two of us to go out maybe, have lunch or dinner or whatever. There is no excuse for my bad behavior Saturday evening and I would like to make up for it. You were a good friend to me when I needed it.

 Bad behavior? A good friend when he needed it? Are these euphemisms? He had made her come so hard she cried, briefly undone, tears oozing down her cheeks as she gasped. He had skillfully tapped onto her tangle with pain and pleasure. Did he want to talk about that? About how her nipples still ached? Did he want to be reassured that she wouldn’t tell his wife, their few mutual friends? Did he, more likely, want to be reassured he wasn’t as much of an asshole as he felt? How was he going to “make up for it”? With a burrito and a hug?

 Five days later they met at a quiet Chinese restaurant near her house. He sat at a table for two by the window and gave her a hug when she arrived, hanging on past the point of comfort. The other diners took note, feeling the patina of emotion surrounding them. He kept running his hand through his short red hair nervously, making it stick up at odd angles, than smoothing it down. He smelled good to her again. Really good. They sat, ordered, were served tea, and then he took her hand, smiled sadly into her eyes and started to make himself feel better. Worried about you. Deserve better. Made a mess of things. Want to be friends. Very important to me. Special special person.

 She looked at his handsome expressive face, and realized that he meant it all. There was no artifice in him, just sadness in his red-rimmed eyes at the disorder he created, and the realization that he didn’t want to fuck up his life.

 He rubbed her knuckles with the rough pad of his thumb over and over. He kept asking if she was ok. She was, she realized. She had never even remotely expected him to be with her, leave his wife. She unfairly didn’t want to be with a philanderer, even if she was the one that philandered with him.

 Gently, she removed her hand from his. She picked up her little teacup bringing the steaming tea close to her face, inhaling, feeling the heat prickle skin. She turned towards the restaurant window, gazing out onto the street, and tried to look available.


When Beth Dugan was a kid, she wanted to be Mean Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now she is a writer, which is much cooler. A storyteller at heart, Dugan has unleashed her talent in the financial services industry, for the Sisters of Mercy, in the real estate business and all over Chicago as a sought-after freelancer. As Membership Chair of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA) she enhanced member experience by upgrading the website and increasing membership over her term. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Columbia College Chicago’s esteemed Fiction Writing Program.