Work has been blissfully uneventful. Everything has gone well. The customer's engineers have found a few discrepancies, but only a couple being problems with our product, and none of those serious. We'll have a meeting tomorrow afternoon to review. Assuming that goes well, Friday we'll prepare for next week.

As for that - Tim's staying an additional week to work through deployment. I can probably leave Friday evening.

Clarice is back home, with the baby. Apparently Mara spent most of her first day hooked up to a monitor, since she was so early, but she did fine, and was in the nursery the following day. I'm surprised the hospital discharged Clarice so quickly, after an emergency C-section even, but I guess that's what they do.

Mara is only sleeping a couple of hours at a time. Clarice is breast-feeding, so most of the time she's up with her, but Rob takes his turn willingly enough, she says, using pumped breast milk to feed her.

"He says we named her well. She reminds him of you."

"What, she looks like me?" I asked.

"No, that he spends his life looking after her," she laughed.

"Ouch," I said, but I laughed too. Rob has always claimed to be my guardian, even though he's only a couple of years older than me. His claims to remember that our mother always justified ignoring him by telling him I needed attention. I think he realized at a fairly young age that she was pretty much ignoring me too, and sympathized.

I guess in a way he did look after me, until he left home, helping me with my homework, protecting me from the class bullies - your classmates treat you much better when you have an older brother in the same school.

I think it's largely Rob's influence that I chose a technical degree and career. Although he was gone by then, he'd helped me to see that I didn't need to be scared of math and sciences. Teachers, even in these "enlightened" days still steer girls away from science. Subtly, often, sometimes overtly, but it's hard to succeed when the "sympathetic teacher" explains why it's okay not to understand a subject rather than making sure you do understand it, which he or she is more likely to do for a boy. Rob helped make sure I understood.

Anyway, whether he looked after me as much as he sometimes claims or not, he certainly looked after his kids. Mara is lucky to have him as a father, and I know Clarice will be a good mother to her.

Of course, Rob and Clarice don't have a commitment to stay together at this point; they'd agreed to do so until the baby was born. But Clarice hasn't made any comment about the arrangement ending any time soon, and she talks about him with pride ("Oh, Helen, he's so good with Mara") that I think they still have some time together.

She did say she's hoping she heals before her libido kicks in, and I don't see any other target for her desires, so I'm sure that they'll be making up for lost time soon.

I've talked to Brian each evening, of course. He seems to be missing me, rather than angry with me for not being there. Of course, I haven't told him about last weekend, and I feel more guilty for keeping it from him than I do that it happened.

I still love him. I hope he'll be able to understand that when I finally tell him. If there's one thing I wish I'd done, it's realized before this week that monogamy wasn't working, and changed the rules. If he'd left, it would have been because our lifestyles weren't compatible. Now, if he leaves, it may be that, or may be that I betrayed him. I promised him that this would never happen. I promised him that. In hindsight, obviously, I promised too much.

I think I've been aware that this would happen eventually. Instead of acting on it, and involving Brian, I've been hiding from it, because changing the rules might have driven him away, and I didn't want that. So it was easier to believe I could live the committed life, and hope that it would work.

But if I had been able, I wouldn't have been trying to see Keith. From the strength of my reaction to him last year in Texas, I knew that I could very easily talk myself into wanting him. If Jerry hadn't been around, I'd have been even more seriously tested in San José. To stay faithful to Brian would have to imply not getting close to Keith.

If you're an alcoholic, you stay away not so much from drink as from those situations where drinking is an option. If your ability to be faithful is weak, you don't start emailing the guy you're attracted to to have him show you around town. You don't go out drinking with him late at night. You don't go back to his room.

And you definitely don't get into bed with him, even fully clothed.

I say he seduced me, and that is true. I wasn't intending to be unfaithful. But the key word is intending. I wasn't intending to sleep with Keith, but I must have known at some level that I was willing to let it happen. He'd made his desires pretty clear, but still I invited him under the covers with me. And then I let him seduce me, enjoying every moment, even that moment of doubt and fear when I pulled back, ready to run.

So I set myself up for it, and I did it with at least some awareness of what would happen.

A thought hit me today. What about Jill? Brian may not read my journal, but Jill certainly does, we've talked about it several times. How is she going to feel about me "betraying" her brother?

Jill's an adventurous spirit, and I'd say in any other circumstance she'd probably approve of me refusing to be tied down, but I also know she and Brian are very close.

At a minimum, I need to email her and warn her what she'll find the next time she catches up on the journal.


I keep expecting a disaster at the customer site, but to this point everything's looking good. We had our meeting this afternoon at which Tim managed to address all of the customer's concerns. So it looks like home tomorrow.

I haven't found the courage to write to Jill yet. I hope she hasn't visited lately. The last I heard from her, she was really busy with another project, so I'm probably okay.

I'm glad I hadn't called Brian to tell him I'd be back tomorrow. Keith called while I was wrestling with my email to Jill.

"You said you had an open return?" he asked.


"Via Seattle?"

"Yes," I said again.

"So come down tomorrow, head back home Saturday."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"For the fine dining and companionship of the Emerald city."

"Companionship? That's a nice euphemism."

"Well, companionship and companionship," he countered.

"Okay," I said. "If I can get a flight."

Which I did. I've booked a flight at five o'clock, and a mid-afternoon flight home.


I barely made the flight yesterday. The customer insisted on a last-minute planning meeting for the engineering schedule next week, which really didn't need to involve me, but they wanted to be sure we were all aware of what would be happening. Anyway, I arrived at the airport five minutes before boarding, so I was okay.

Keith met me in Seattle, and immediately took me to a bar in the southern part of the county where we met some of his co-workers. I guess an aspect of the job even for a technical journalist is to be inquisitive, and I was grilled by one or more of them for an hour straight. It was cool, they're intelligent and witty, but argumentative, and by the time we went to eat, I felt that Keith was rescuing me from my interrogation.

He took me to a big seafood restaurant, a huge wooden exterior with a very classy interior, with food to match the quality of the surroundings.

I know Seattle slightly, having spent some time in the area a few years ago, which is why I used it as a setting for my very first online story, The Trade Show. But Keith lives much further out than I'd ever ventured.

We drove for a long time, east on I-405, which bends north around the lake, then east again, close to the Microsoft campus, finally leaving the freeway and driving along progressively smaller streets into a hilly area, with widely separated houses along a narrow paved road. Each house took the form of an individual clearing in the thickly-wooded hillside. Of course, it was dark by then, and I could only see the trees by the streetlights and lights from each home.

Keith's house is small, but the property line extends far up the hill. The reminder of my story made me hope that perhaps he'd have a deck, so many of the homes around there do, but no. And I didn't feel like making love among the ferns and pine needles (and likely poison ivy - or is that just a southern nuisance?). Not in the dark, at least.

So I contented myself with asking him to leave the windows open, and we spent the night in cool, pine-scented air.

This morning I think I finally started to feel the weight of what I've done. Not that I'm regretting it, just that I don't know how I'm going to resolve the mess. It's clarified one thing. The wedding is off. It has to be. Even if Brian were to be perfectly happy with what I'm doing - and the chance of that is zero - I still don't see a marriage relationship surviving. Maybe in a few years, if we can accommodate to a different kind of relationship, but not now.

Which makes me feel so many different emotions all at once - sadness at the death of something which felt so right, relief that my doubts of the last few weeks are over, even if they're resolved in the opposite way to my expectations, and guilt that I can feel even slightly positive about the end of our hopes for a happy marriage.

I'm on the long flight home as I write this, and I still have no clue what I'm going to do when I get there.


I avoided sensitive issues until Sunday. Mainly because I was chicken, but also, I think, because I wanted one more night with Brian before everything would have to change.

I wasn't completely recovered from the previous night, but I tried to mask my soreness. And later, when I couldn't keep from crying, I did it in the bathroom while Brian slept.

We went out for breakfast Sunday morning. Brian asked if I was feeling okay, I looked so pale.

Back home I finally found the courage I needed.

"I don't want to get married, Brian," I said. I'd figured that to be the least painful introduction. It sounds brutal, writing it like that, but small talk would have been more painful, and as for starting from the other end - "By the way, I fucked Keith last week," was hardly an auspicious opening.

In retrospect, maybe I should have tried to find a gentler way to raise the subject.

Brian looked as though he thought I was making a sick joke. He had a bemused expression.

"It isn't for me, Brian," I said. "Not yet."

"You're not serious."

"I'm serious," I said. "I'm not ready."

"Not ready for only six weeks, or..."

"I don't want to get married, Brian. I don't know any painless way to say it."

"Why?" he asked. "Is there someone else?

Oh, God, why did he have to ask that? Was it likely I'd have thrown him over for another guy?

"No," I said quickly, trying to recover, but it didn't work. I could see from the hurt on his face that he didn't believe me. "Why would you think..." But it wasn't working. "Oh God," I said. "Not like that. I love you, Brian. I don't want to marry anyone else"

"But there was someone."

I felt blood leaving my face, anxiety sinking into my chest. I nodded.

I would have paid any price not to have to have seen Brian's expression.

"Brian - I'm... that isn't why I don't want to get married. Not... if anything it's the other way."

"Who is it?"

"It's - it was Keith."

He nodded as though he'd expected it.

"I'm sorry, Brian, I said. "You didn't deserve this. I just... I've known that I've been living a lie. I didn't know how to change. I didn't want to lose you."

"You have any idea how nuts that sounds? You slept with someone else because you didn't want to lose me?"

"That isn't what I meant. I didn't tell you beforehand because I didn't want to lose you."

"So you were planning this when you left?"

"Oh, Jesus, no, Brian," I said. "I'm not doing this right. No, I had no idea. But I think I've known... I couldn't be completely faithful. And I couldn't tell you, because it would drive you away."

He lowered his head, and I knew that he recognized the dilemma.

"I think," I said, "I've been hoping that I might be wrong, and that I really could be what I was trying to be. I made you promises, Brian, and I didn't have the right to break them. But I didn't have the right to make them in the first place. I wasn't being true to myself."

Brian's face was as white as a ghost, and about as lively. I moved over to his chair, and sat on the arm, resting my wrist on his shoulder. He didn't respond as I hugged his neck.

I rested my head against his for a long time. He didn't move, and his skin where I touched his neck seemed cool.

After many minutes he raised a hand to mine. When I kissed his forehead, he leaned back slightly, and I kissed his eyes and lips. Eventually, they parted in response...

And something happened. I'm not exactly sure what, or how, but something passed between us, and we lost control. By the time I'd slid down into his lap, he'd already gotten his hands into my bra, pushed it out of the way, and was pinching my breasts hard.

We slid off the chair onto the floor as I was unfastening his pants, his hands still squeezing and tongue pushing mine back into my mouth as I removed my own. Then he was inside me, and as sore as I was, I wanted nothing more than the heat of him deep within.

I lifted my shirt and bra to get my aching breasts to his mouth, then finished undressing, getting tangled in my shirt as I tried to pull it over my head. Still he was pushing into me, sucking hard on my nipples. Finally I managed to get out of my clothes, hugging his head to my breasts.

Brian's usually fairly quiet when we make love, but this time he was gasping loudly, and I felt him shudder inside me as he took his face from my breast. He kept groaning as he came, and I pressed myself against him, trying to get to my own crest.

I had to push my breast back into his mouth; when I did, he got his hands onto my ass and squeezed hard, and I soared.

Resting, I lay with my cheek against his. "I love you," I whispered. He moved, and I thought he was going to indulge me some more. Instead, he rolled me off him, and stood, pulling up his pants and straightening his shirt.

I stood too, puzzled, but thinking he'd give me some idea of what he was doing Instead, he grabbed his keys and left the house.

I spent the rest of Sunday in bed, trying to sleep, trying to forget what was going on, and curled up from pain. I didn't see Brian again Sunday. In fact, I haven't seen him since, but he must have let himself in Monday morning to pick up some clothes. I don't know where he's staying. If he doesn't call tomorrow, I'll call him at work.


Brian called yesterday. He's staying with Lee, a friend from the office. He doesn't seem to have any more of an idea of what he wants than I do. We've arranged to meet for lunch Saturday.

I went to Clarice's this evening. Little Mara Helen is doing just fine, as are her parents. Clarice is up and about, but still taking things easy. As easy as you can with a newborn in the house.

I can't say the baby looks like her namesake, but then, I can't say she looks much like Clarice or Rob, either. Each thinks she looks like the other.

Of course, we talked about Brian. Rob knew there was something going on from having seen him at work, but didn't ask. I haven't called Clarice, because there was just so much to say, and I didn't want to stress her. Still, I didn't go into much detail about the reasons behind the breakup.

This past week I've cancelled all of the reservations for the wedding, but I haven't started calling guests yet. I'll do that this weekend. And I'm not looking forward to it.


Called my mother first, to get her out of the way. By the end of that conversation I was ready to scream, but at least I could use the excuse that I needed to get away to make more phone calls.

I guess meeting Brian at lunch could have been worse. We had plenty to say to each other. I'd had visions of not being able to find words, or of constant recriminations.

Instead, we navigated successfully between the two, for the most part. But I had trouble looking into his empty eyes.

"Will you ever be able to forgive me?" I asked,

His answer was unnerving. "Does it matter?"

"Of course it matters, Brian. I know it's too late not to hurt you, but I want to know you'll be okay."

He shrugged. "I guess. What I mean is, if I can't stay with you, what difference does it make?"

"And you've already decided that you can't?"

"I don't know, Helen." His voice was rough. "I'm not even sure what there is to forgive. I just... I don't know what I should have expected. I certainly wouldn't have wanted for us to marry if you would feel tied down."

"I think you had a right to expect I'd talk to you before changing the rules."

"Yeah," he agreed, "but, you know, I think I got the message that you weren't happy with our relationship when you were trying to push me at Julie."

"I didn't want to push, Brian," I said. "I just wanted not to tie you down."

"That's the way it seemed. You didn't want to believe I wasn't interested."

"You weren't?"

"No," he replied. "I mean, I like her well enough. Buy she isn't you."

"Or Clarice?" I sniped.

He looked puzzled for a moment, then grimaced. "Oh, Jeez, I thought we were past that"

"I just mean," I said "Clarice isn't me, either. Are you telling me nothing happened in California?"

"What? I can't keep up with you. Between me and Julie? Well, we worked together, we ate together. We spent most of the time together, since the guys there have families to go home to. She was good company. I didn't fuck her, which it what you're asking, of course."

"Oh." I was startled. Brian doesn't use strong language, not around me. "I thought, when you came back, I thought you were trying to hide something from me."

"When I came back? You were sulking. I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I couldn't say anything right."

"Was I?"

"Seems to me you have a real problem here, Helen. You tell me to do one thing, then you're eaten up with suspicion when you think I might have taken you at your word. But the first chance you get to do the same, and you're banging this Keith before you even stop to think about what it will do to me. To us."

"That's not fair, Brian," I said. "It's..." he didn't say anything, just watched me as I tried to fault his argument. I couldn't, not in substance. "Well, it wasn't the first time. That I had the opportunity to be unfaithful to you, that is. Just the first time I've done it."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" he asked.

"I don't know, Brian" I said. "I really don't. I can't blame you for being angry with me. I know I've screwed up. I knew I should have talked everything over with you when I knew it wasn't working. Maybe it should count for something that I didn't want to risk losing you. Maybe not, 'cause expecting to try to fix things later wasn't fair to you."

"No," he said, "it wasn't."

Neither of us spoke for a time. Then I asked him, "Are you planning to move out?"

"Do you want for me to?"

"No, I don't," I said, "but it isn't my decision, is it? It would seem very final. The question is, what do you want?"

"Never ask that question!" he said in a deep whisper, and I chuckled. "I don't know yet," he continued in a normal voice. "Do you have a problem with me coming by to pick up things as I need them?"

"No," I replied. "Call first. I can't imagine it would be necessary, but I won't make a promise I can't keep."

Brian looked a little queasy at what I was saying, but then he grinned slightly. "Promise?"

"Sure," I said, smiling. "I promise to try not to make you any promises I can't keep."

After that we talked about Clarice and her baby, light-hearted conversation like we used to have. It was only when we were leaving that we became serious again.

"Brian," I said, "I'm not going to try to cling to you, and I'm not going to tell you that I'll change. But I want you to know that I still want you in my life."

"I know, Helen," he said, and unbent far enough to hug me as we parted.


I didn't feel like calling anyone else when I got home yesterday, so I finished the last of my cancellation phone calls today. I felt like I'd been beaten down when I was through. It was very stressful, and worse, when I'd made the last call, it was like, this is it, it's completely over now. I'd burned the last bridge.

Brian and I didn't talk about the engagement ring. I've kept wearing it, I haven't had the courage to take it off, I guess. But after that last call, it seemed really out of place. So I've taken it off, and it's back in its box on my dresser.

It's over.