He watched her from a distance, his aching heart wedged thickly in the back of his throat. He tried to clear it of all emotion as he was handed another drink. Nodding to the barman, he welcomed his beverage quietly, still watching her.
"You sure you don't want somethin' stronger than orange juice, mate?" the barman questioned with a heavy sigh, reaching for a bowl of peanuts. With a 'plonk', the rotund man sat the bowl on the bench standing between his customer and himself. “You sure look like you could use it.”
Blake shook his head, offering a half-hearted smile; removing his sight from Jessica for only a brief moment. “This is fine, thanks.”
The barman twitched a doubting brow and moved on. “You’re the one payin'...”
The barman’s offhanded remark echoed through the empty corridors of Blake’s lonely soul: You’re the one paying... You’re the one paying... You’re the one paying...
Yes, he reviewed, he was paying. He was paying for Jessica’s need for attention. Paying for her need to be wanted and loved. Paying for her desires, whatever they may be when they struck. And he was paying with his heart.
A young man walked up to the bar and ordered a couple of beers. Blake didn’t take much notice of him until the younger fellow nodded in Jessica’s direction and remarked, “She looks like a bit of fun, ay? I like my women easy. They're easier to let go of afterwards.”
Blake cast a dark gaze at the man standing by his side. Pressing his lips together, he bit his tongue. Ignorance was not a reason for knocking another man’s head off his shoulders, no matter how much Blake wanted to release a great deal of pent-up emotion right now.
Tapping his fingers on the bar as he awaited his beer, the young guy eyed Jessica and her two male companions, watching as they flirted, touched, and laughed loudly. “Which one do you reckon she’ll go home with tonight?”
Blake’s entire body tensed.
“My money’s on both of them.”
Blake rose from his seat, struggling to hold on to his temper. He turned to walk away, saying nothing, but feeling so much... none of which was pleasant.
To the barman, the young guy asked, “What’s his problem?!”
The barman nodded to the corner. “Her.”
Jessica flung back her head and laughed, offering her neck and an eyeful of cleavage to one of her drunken companions.
The young guy asked, “He miss out, did he?”
“In more ways than one... That’s his wife.”
With stunned eyes wide open, the young guy cursed. “Mate, no wonder he’s ticked. But why is he sittin’ back here doin’ nothin’ about it? If she were my wife, I’d knock the flippin’ head off the three of them.”
“You and me both, mate,” the barman wholeheartedly agreed, setting two icy cold glasses of beer before his customer. “I said the same thing to him, but he muttered some crap about love being patient and kind and some other nonsense and wanted it left at that.”
“What a wimp.”
“Anyway, that’s his problem. I’ve got some serious drinkin’ to catch up on...” and with that the young man shook his head at Jessica, laughed to himself, and carried on with his own life.
When Blake left the pub, he stepped out into the night air, ignoring the sharp teeth of winter as he walked face-first into the wind. With collar high and head lowered, he quietly suffered the sting of his tears as they slipped down over his icy skin. He loved her. He had always loved her. And while she failed to love him in return, as she claimed she always would, his love for her did not change.
He could sweep her up out of the clutches of those men if he chose to do so. He was certainly strong enough to wrestle both men and win. But tonight, like every other night and incident, this was Jessica’s choice. She chose to walk away from him. She chose to be unfaithful to him. She chose to be in the arms of those who wouldn’t remember her name come morning. And while she had vowed to love him and him alone until death do they part, he knew he would simply be placing his own desires above her freewill if he demanded she be faithful to him.
Oh, how many times had they been here before? How many times had she failed their marriage and returned to say sorry; returned to beg his forgiveness, claiming she’d never do it again...? Too many times for him to count or remember. And each time he had mercy on her. Every new day he gave her another chance, believing that the only way to have her heart return to him completely was by loving her no matter what.
“She doesn’t deserve you...” a voice hissed, abruptly stepping into his thoughts. “Maybe not,” he replied, “but I vowed to love her no matter what, and love her I do, and will.”
“Love wouldn’t allow her to be treated that way!” came the voice without a face. “It’s her life,” Blake calmly replied, “her will. I cannot and will not force her to do anything against her will.”
“You’re a fool,” came the hissing. He smiled, “Yes, I am a fool in love.”
“She betrays you! She makes a fool out of you! How could you allow her to?!” He shook his head, continuing to walk against the icy winds of winter. “She makes a fool of herself. My ego is not swayed by her actions and reactions.”
“How can you let another man touch her?!” He shook his head to the voice that came from beyond his own heart, answering, “Again, that’s her choice. Had she not wanted to be touched by them, had she not wanted their attention or affection, I would’ve guarded her jealously, but she chose them. Only ego would insist I demand compensation. Not love...” And with that, he returned to his home, waiting, oh so patiently for the day his bride opened her eyes to the fact that everything she really needs – love, affection, attention, and more – awaited her in his arms, in his heart, in his home... for these things really didn’t belong to him any longer; he had given them to her long ago, and he had vowed never to take them from her. She may not be faithful, but he would be.