Sunlight filtered in through the gauze-like sheers and she lazily opened her eyes. Events of the last 12 hours replayed themselves in her mind and she couldn’t help but cringe. She didn’t do married men. It wasn’t her thing. Make no mistake… she traveled a lot for work and had gone for quickies with men in places and situations that would make many women blush. She was a prideful bitch working in a man’s industry and she grabbed opportunities by the balls. She worked hard and she played like a man.
Even her husband thought so.
She’d lost track of the number of rounds they’d had last night. The guy was her height, after she’d ditched the 3-inch heels that had pinched her toes all day long. Dark hair and dark eyes. Everything that she didn’t usually go for in a man. Yet, he was a damned fine salesman, because he’d managed to get her in the sack.
A wave of nausea rode over her and she sat on the edge of the bed until it passed. At least he didn’t want to stay, she thought to herself as she fought with the miniature coffee maker. She hated hotel coffee. There was a fortune to be made by having Starbuck’s hook up with room service. But that was a fortune for another day.
She flipped on the light in the bathroom and shielded her eyes from the harsh brightness until they adjusted. Splashing cool water onto her face, she drew a hand towel across her cheeks gently. She stared at her reflection noting the dark circles under her eyes. Her hair gave the appearance of that “just fucked” look. The whites of her eyes were a little bloodshot.
She was washing off the remnants of last night’s makeup when she saw it. About an inch tall, the letter A appeared on her right breast, a couple of inches above her nipple. It was deep red, almost a burgundy color. She gasped and at the same time began washing it off, wondering where it had come from to start with. She didn’t remember anything other than the romp with the guy. Come to think of it, he seemed a bit over-zealous. He took the term ‘quickie’ literally; he fucked and ran.
She rubbed at it harder, noticing that it wasn’t washing away at all. A mild sense of panic mixed with irritation began to bubble its way to the surface. Not only wasn’t it going away, she was making the area around it red by scrubbing so hard.
She tossed the washcloth to the floor and tried another approach: she scraped at it with her fingernail. Still, nothing happened. The A glared at her in the mirror.
Just then the phone rang. It was her wake-up call. If she didn’t get moving she’d miss her flight. She wanted to be out of this hotel, this function, this town, so she could put this behind her. And as she scrubbed more furiously in the shower, she felt another wave of nausea when she tried to think how she was going to explain this to her husband when she got home.
Home. She unpacked quickly and said she needed a shower to wash away the travel grime. She dropped her clothes in a pile and silently cursed as she saw it was still there. Cupping her breast in her hand, she raised it to get a closer look and was shocked to see it was unmistakably a tattoo. It had to be.
Like many other things, she was experienced in this, too. She turned her back to the mirror and looked over her shoulder. The tiny ladybug on her right ass-cheek seemed to twitch its wings at her. That one was from another drunken night, this time in college. Five other women she’d been friends with had the same ladybug tattooed on their asses.
She turned her attention back to her breast, comparing the colors and the depth of the designs. This tattoo wasn’t fresh. There was no angry, inflamed skin surrounding it. It looked as if it had been there for years.
She numbly went through the motions of a shower and thankfully was able to get dressed before her husband came in. They chatted about her trip and about his work. He’d given his last lecture of the week and spring break the following week promised the chance for him to get to that “honey do” list of chores.
She groaned inwardly as she realized that it was going to be even more difficult to hide this from her husband if he was going to be around the house for over a week. And she had no other work trips pending at the moment.
She took these worries to bed with her, where she intended to have a few hours of denial: sleep. Reaching to turn the lamp off, something caught her eye. On top of the ever-present stack of books on her husband’s nightstand, she saw The Scarlet Letter.
The audible gasp shook her. She picked up the book and flipped through it, stopping to read the notes her husband had written in the margins. “Symbol of sin.” “Secrecy.” “Adulterer.” That one was underlined.
She closed the book and rested it on her chest while she tried to recall the story’s plot. She remembered something about the minister. Flipping through the pages with more determination this time, she took a while to find the passage where the minister exposes his own scarlet letter - seared into his flesh.
She drew the covers up tightly around her and thought about her situation more critically. The man from last night had seemed almost anxious to fuck her. Not anxious to get in her pants like most men were, but… almost desperate. She tried to find an explanation that made sense of all this nonsense and while not getting anywhere, she drifted off to sleep.
Dreams came quickly that afternoon and they were a mish-mash of images left over in her brain. A meeting with a client that, in her dream had her taking him into a dressing room and sucking him off. Then she was at the airport, detained by security and taken to a small room where she was stripped and searched by several men and a woman. The woman had been rougher than any of the men, forcing a thumb deep in her anus without so much as a warning.
Then she was dressed in the somber high-necked garb of the woman in The Scarlet Letter. Her stiff wool smock was adorned with the dreaded letter A, yet she walked through the modern day: a meeting for work. Her colleagues were all dressed in their business casual attire and they glared at her with scorn as she walked in. The only available seat was next to a man similarly dressed in Puritan garb; a minister. The unmistakable white collar seemed to choke him.
A PowerPoint presentation flashed on the screen at the front of the room showing pie charts and graphs. The speaker seemed to drone on and on and the minister leaned closer to her and began to whisper. She leaned toward him with a slight shake of her head indicating she hadn’t heard him.
“Check your Blackberry,” he whispered again.
She reached deep in the folds of her woolen skirt and wasn’t surprised to find her Blackberry. She scrolled through her email and found something with the subject line, “A.” She opened it.
Burning shame may blaze upon thy bosom. Wouldst thou invoke shame unto another? Wouldst thou plot evil against another in order to serve me? Thou mayest search the multitude for one to sway. Prithee, make haste. Thy letter of infamy serveth as Heaven’s own method of retribution. I would enjoy upon thee to find another upon which to bestow my gift. Be thee not afraid. Betray me not.
She awoke with a jolt, breathing fast and fighting down the feeling of panic that threatened to grip her. The dream was still very real in her mind and she thought she knew what it meant. She had to give the letter away. It made sense. The urgency with which the guy from last night had wanted her. His determination and anxious demeanor. He was giving the letter away. She knew that had to be the answer.
As she dressed, she started to plot. Her job afforded her the opportunity to be the slut she really was. She went from town to town, bar to bar, fucking men at whim. But in her town, she was that other person - the good wife. Her husband’s colleagues from the university admired them for having such a strong marriage. In a time when the number of divorces meant new faces at every faculty event, this was rare… and well respected.
She wanted – no, needed – to find someone to test her theory on. And she needed to do it now. She was mortified that her husband might see the mark. The desperation she remembered from last night’s conquest crept into her.
She drove fast along the two-lane road that took her toward the city. She didn’t know how to do this in her town and her mind raced with possibilities. She pulled into the parking lot of a popular after-work hangout. The cocktails were half price from 4 to 7pm and she definitely thought the lubrication would help.
She ordered a gin and tonic and started to scout. There were few men around the bar. There was a group of 4 women at a table nearby. They seemed to be celebrating some event or another and had gotten a good start on happy hour before she arrived. A few men buzzed by their table, stopping to chat and check things out. She checked their ring fingers. After three drinks and having narrowed down her options to the bar manager or a busboy, she headed out. The gin had settled her a little and she was glad for it.
Next she found herself pulling up at the valet at a swanky downtown hotel. Surely between the conventions and other business travelers, she could find a man who was looking for a quick fuck. She did this all the time, but there was something about being near home. It was like kryptonite. It seemed to suck the confidence out of her.
She sat down at the bar and ordered another glass of courage. This seemed to be more promising and she took stock of ring fingers around the room. Not a sure thing, but hopefully it would narrow down the options. A few stools down from her, a man sat alone. The gold band on his finger seemed to sparkle in the light and she wondered if the alcohol was playing tricks on her.
He was average. Nothing about him stood out, she realized. In any other situation, she’d not have looked his direction twice. But this was not any other situation. She stood and walked the short distance to where he sat.
“Can I join you?”
Read Part 2.