“She’s great,” I said. “Funny. Gorgeous. I think I can actually see myself with her.”
Nico, my younger brother, walked beside me on a beautiful spring day in Manhattan. “Finally,” he said. “I thought this day would never come.”
He made a big show of looking up at the sky. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I was checking to see if pigs were flying,” he joked.
I laughed. “I guess it’s time to get back into the land of the living.”
“Land of the dating,” he replied. “Mom will be happy. She thought you had given your life to bachelorhood.”
“Better than monkhood,” I joked.
“I think I’m going to ask her to go to Cancun with me,” I told him. “Maybe Maldives. What do you think?”
“I think that’s a big deal,” he said. “Are you sure? You might be jumping in pretty fast.”
“It’s been three months,” I said. “Three months I’ve been dating the same woman. The first time in years. Jennifer has renewed my faith in the idea of a monogamous relationship. When we hooked up, I never thought it would turn into anything. I thought it was just another one of those hookups. She’s different.”
“You mean she’s not like your ex,” he joked.
I shuddered at the thought. “Hell no.”
My ex was a cheating whore. I still couldn’t believe I’d been such an idiot to marry her. I’d been blinded by good looks and great sex. I assumed that was love. She didn’t love me. She loved my money and my social status. She loved that I could open doors for her.
She kept me satisfied in the bedroom and I was too stupid to think there could be something going on. Until I caught her. I caught her in the act. The memory was forever burned into my brain.
Being cheated on was horrible, and it was worse because I really thought she loved me. It made me question everything. I didn’t trust myself and my own judgment. I sure as hell didn’t trust women.
Lately, my brothers and cousins, who had been enmeshed in bachelorhood right along with me, were slowly finding love. They were dropping like flies. I came from a big, extended family of strong, alpha men. We had spent years prowling Manhattan and enjoying our bachelor lifestyles.
“I think I’m finally understanding what Isac and the rest of them feel like,” I said. “I’ve got that stirring that we’re all born with.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not saying I’m going to run out and buy a ring for Jennifer, but it’s the first time I’ve actually allowed myself to think that could be in the future,” I said.
“Isn’t that a little fast, Otto?” he asked. “You go from ‘you will never date a woman more than three times’ to ‘you might marry’?”
I laughed at how absurd it sounded. “I didn’t say I was going to marry her,” I corrected. “I’m just saying the idea isn’t a hard no. It’s a possibility.”
“I’m happy for you,” he said. “Good. It’s about time you put that woman behind you. By staying single and miserable, you let her win.”
“I wasn’t exactly miserable,” I corrected. “It’s not like I was sitting at home alone every night. I was having fun and staying very, very satisfied.”
We continued our walk on the crowded streets toward our favorite coffee shop. It had been a while, but I felt good. I felt like things weren’t so bad. Life was looking up. The day I caught my wife cheating had been pivotal. It changed my life. It changed my view about everything. I had always been a bit of a romantic. I loved the idea of being in love. When I married, I thought it was going to be forever. She taught me a hard, quick lesson—no one was who they said they were.
She had left me jaded. I had changed in that very second. I would never go back to being the naïve guy that took people at face value. It hardened my heart. I vowed to never let myself fall into that trap again. No woman was going to woo me with pretty words and hot sex. Sex was a weapon, I had decided. I was bulletproof to those tactics.
We stopped at the corner with a group of other people waiting for the light to change. I glanced across the street. Something caught my eye. I lifted my sunglasses, as if that would clear my vision. “What the fuck?”
“What?” Nico asked and looked around.
“Son of a bitch!”
“What are you looking at?” he asked. “Oh shit,” he muttered when he saw it.
It was my girlfriend holding hands and leaning into a man. They walked into the same coffee shop I was headed to.
I lost it. I didn’t care that there was traffic. I wasn’t about to let her get away with what she was doing.
“Otto!” Nico shouted as I rushed across the street, dodging a work truck and a yellow cab. Horns blared and obscenities were hurled my way. I didn’t care. I threw open the door of the coffee shop and immediately spotted Jennifer and some dude. She kissed his cheek just as I spotted them. She turned, smiling until she saw me.
“What the fuck?” I snapped. I didn’t care that people were looking. “What the hell is this? You just texted me and said you were at work.”
“I am,” she replied nervously. “This is Hank. I, we, we work together.”
“Otto,” Nico said from behind me, slightly out of breath. “Let’s go.” He put his hand on my shoulder.
I jerked it away. “No, no,” I said. “This is good. Jennifer was just telling me she’s at work. She’s not actually here pawing some dude. She’s at work. Do you see her? Am I seeing her?”
“Look, man,” Hank said and put up a hand.
“Fuck you,” I growled.
“Otto, he’s just a friend,” Jennifer said.
“Oh, yeah, I usually kiss and hang all over my friends,” I said with a disgusted sneer.
“I didn’t know she was seeing anyone,” Hank said.
“You mean because you’re dating her,” I said with a shake of my head. “Tell me something, Hank, were you at her place last night?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Actually, she stayed the night at my place,” he replied.
Jennifer reached for him. He shrugged her off and looked equally pissed. I looked at Jennifer and laughed. “You’re a joke. What did you think was going to happen?”
“Hank isn’t a serious boyfriend,” she said. “We were just getting coffee.”
“I’m not a serious boyfriend?” Hank laughed. “Shit, Jennifer, you were just telling me how excited you were to meet my parents.”
“How long have you been with her?” I asked out of curiosity.
I didn’t miss the fact the entire coffee shop was watching the scene unfold. They were all hanging on our every word. Even the action behind the busy counter had come to a halt. They were all focused on the cheating woman that had just been busted. I was sure this was all a joke to them. They were enjoying the drama playing out in front of them in real time. I wasn’t. My whole world was crumbling again.
“About a month,” Hank said, shrugging.
I smirked. “Good to know. You’re a piece of work, Jennifer. Trash. Actual fucking trash.” I turned to Nico. “I’m suddenly in the mood for something other than coffee.”
“Otto, wait,” Jennifer called as I walked out the door.
“Are you okay?” Nico asked while we walked back across the street.
“No,” I said. “No, I’m not. What the fuck is wrong with me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you,” he replied.
“Obviously, there’s something not quite right with me,” I muttered. “Either I’m picking the wrong women or I’m just a piece of shit that deserves to be cheated on.”
“You don’t deserve to be cheated on,” he said. “That’s on her.”
“It’s a major blow to my ego,” I said. “I’ve never gotten complaints about my performance, but maybe they’ve all been faking it. I can’t seem to keep a woman satisfied.”
“I don’t think cheating is always about the cheater not getting what they need in the bedroom,” he reasoned. “It’s them. They are hardwired that way. Nothing you could do to keep a cheater from cheating. They always say once a cheater, always a cheater. There’s got to be a reason that saying was invented.”
“Am I a magnet for them?” I asked. “What the hell? Why am I the one that keeps finding these women? I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong?”
“It’s not you,” Nico tried to assure me. “It’s them.”
“Why do I keep finding the assholes? I don’t get it. I have avoided the whole relationship and serious dating world for years. The one time I dip my toes in, I find another fucking loser. That’s not good odds. Either I’m really shitty at picking women or they are all bad. They’re all looking to fuck me over one way or another. I’m done. I’m so fucking done.”
“It was one bad apple,” he said.
I held up two fingers. “Two. Two bad apples. I have managed to find two bad apples in the same bushel. I’m going to assume the rest are rotten. I’m done. I’m not getting married. I’m not going to be involved in a relationship period. Fuck it. Fuck them all.”
Nico walked quietly alongside me. We went straight back to the office. I didn’t have the energy to work, but I had to be present for at least another hour before I escaped. I wanted to go home, open the first bottle that I grabbed, and drink until I could forget Jennifer.
“You okay?” Nico asked when the elevator stopped on his floor.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I don’t want to hear about it again. It’s over. She’s already forgotten.”
He stepped out. “I’ll call you later.”
“I’ll be drunk,” I said as the doors slid closed. The elevator started to move, stopping on my floor. I stepped into the busy investment firm. My family owned the investment firm, and I acted as one of the managers. I nodded at a few coworkers on my way to my large corner office.
I closed the door behind me and leaned against it. I closed my eyes and tried to get all the feelings I was having under control. I was pissed. Furious. I just didn’t know who I was more pissed at—me or her. I broke the rule I made for myself all those years ago. I supposed I deserved to get burned. The universe tried to teach me a lesson when I caught my now ex-wife. I didn’t listen. Now, I was destined to repeat the same mistake until I realized I wasn’t built for relationships.
I wasn’t going to get the gorgeous wife like Markos and Able. My little brothers were kicking ass at this whole life thing. I was just the asshole born to stay single. There was no way in hell I was ever going to put myself in that position again. No way would I give a woman the power to destroy me. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on me for being a fucking idiot. I had my work. I had the firm. That would be my focus. Fuck the rest of it. I had been fine the last few years enjoying the single life. That was what I would stick with.
Resolved in my newfound commitment to never trust a woman again, I went to my desk and got busy. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think about the scene at the coffee shop. The look on her face. Once she realized she was busted, she didn’t even look all that bothered. I was a chump. She made a damn fool out of me, but I swore on everything I held dear, it would be the last time.