Giving Up The Dream.

"Hey, hon, have you seen my panties?"

"Which ones?"

"You know, the purple ones. The ones you like to take off with your teeth." A cheeky smile crept around the closet doorway as Brad pulled his slacks up around his waist. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to see his extravagant wife wearing nothing but those panties. He thought, 'I'm sure gonna miss those. Hank better come through in spades for this one.'

"I don't know, babe," Brad said with a look of somewhat concern. "Did you have them with the rest of your clothes when I did laundry?"

Sheila, covered up by her bath-towel and purple bra, slapped her hip and said, "I thought so! Damn, I really wanted to wear those tonight." She neglected to add, 'for you,' but nevertheless had big plans for her husband that evening when they returned home from the symphony. "I don't know what's the deal, but it seems like I'm losing all my clothes! I swear, if my head wasn't glued on . . ." and she trailed off, retreating back inside the walk-in closet (actually, her walk-in closet; Brad found plenty of space in his drawers which connected to the base of their king-size waterbed.

With his wife out of sight, Brad pulled his wife's underwear from his left pocket and took one last longing look. Before, these panties ignited a passion within him unlike any other piece from the Victoria's Secret catalogue. They fit so seductively snug around Sheila's hips, with the g-string sliding perfectly into place between her cheeks. She never looked as sexy in anything else, even though she looked damn sexy in just about anything.

But now, these panties represented $250 in cold, hard cash.

Sheila wasn't going crazy; these panties did make it in with the rest of the dirty laundry. All her clothes always made it into the laundry, but they all didn't always make it out. Brad made sure to pocket these last night before he started her load of delicates. Morning-dew scented panties, Snuggle-fresh, would be worth about half as much, maybe. Brad brought her thong up to his nose for a quick whiff before returning it to his pocket. 'Yep, that's the smell Hank goes wild for.' Brad couldn't wait to see the look on his friend's face. After all, he could always buy this exact pair again with the money he would make. Then, it's just: slip it in the next week's load and no one knows a thing! Plus, he'll be $200 richer.

"Come on, Sheila, we've got to move. We're meeting Hank and Donna out front in 15. They've got our tickets, remember?"

"Hang on, I'm almost ready. Is the babysitter here yet?"

"Just called her; she left two minutes ago."

"Kay. That gives me three, at least. Come in here; help me find something to wear."

***

People would say:

People would say that Brad and Sheila, Sheila and Brad, had the perfect marriage. And, indeed, neither had any complaints. Married right after college, they came to an agreement. Brad would work to support them; to support her in law school; to save up while they started their family. Both figured one child to be enough, and they got to it during her final year of schooling. So, Brad worked, made enough to pay the bills, to live in a cheap, enclosed area, to support her additional eating habit while with-child. Sheila would have the baby, almost missing the BAR exam in the process; but, yes, she did pass. Then, afterward, Sheila would catch on with a rising law firm and Brad would quit his job to take care of the baby full time. As her promotions increased, so did the size of their home. Pretty soon, they were taken care of and Brad was happy to have gotten all his working out of the way by the age of 27.

Taking care of baby Maxine was no trouble for Brad. He was used to getting very little sleep anyway. He kept a tight house; he was no Tony Danza, but efficiency was always key. Now three years old, Maxine was walking and talking and whenever he could find the time, Brad read to her and started her on the path of reading for herself. Then, Sheila would come home from work, and the two of them would have a quiet meal together, Maxine in the next room playing quietly with her toys (no TV in sight for this household). Sheila would talk about her day and Brad would talk about his - this being the point of no return in their relationship where they knew everything there was to know about each other, so the only thing they could talk about that was fresh was the day's events.

Well, anyway, they knew most things about each other. One seemingly harmless little secret, in Brad's mind anyway. See, he figured the only harm to be had would be on his head if Sheila ever found out and decided to strike him divorced with one swing of her justice bat. But, he figured Hank to be as harmless as a cellular phone. Sure, he could be annoying if you ever brought him to the movies or the symphony, always trying to get chatty (friendly chatty, not flirty chatty) with Sheila - who he would always sit next to, with Brad on her opposite side. But, really, the long-term effects of Hank's presence around Sheila were negligible and inconclusive. Hank wasn't the drastic type, just the quietly obsessive type. If his secret ever got out, you better believe Hank would be more mortified than anyone involved - that's just the way he was, at least, according to Brad.

***

Brad and Hank stood next to the sinks in the bathroom of the symphony hall, waiting for the only other person in the room to finish drying his hands and get the hell out.

"Finally! Did you bring them?"

"Yep, here they are," Brad said, pulling the panties out and letting Hank snatch them away. Hank instantly brought them to his face and breathed deep, like a huffer with his gas-soaked rag. "Now, I've gotta say, those are my favorite pair that she's got; and not two days ago Sheila was wettin' those babies up right before we had sex. So, I'm gonna have to charge you an extra 50."

"250? Not a problem, bud." Hank pulled out his wallet and lifted five 50-dollar bills. "Pleasure doing business with you, my good man."

"Now, I'll go ahead and leave you alone for a few-"

"Yes, please." Hank swayed impatiently as Brad folded the bills and placed them in the same pocket the panties had been in.

"But, I'm tellin' ya, don't take forever! And, whatever you do, keep those outta sight." Brad patted Hank on the shoulder, then wished he hadn't touched him at all. Hank's bulge was firmly in place, so Brad knew it wouldn't be long. As soon as he left, Hank ran into the furthest stall and yanked his dress pants down to his ankles.

***

All through the show:

All through the show, Brad and Sheila interlocked fingers over their armrest.

All through the show, Hank kept eyeballing this simple act of affection, but his left hand kept fondling the panties, safely out of sight in his pants pocket.

And, all through the show, Hank's wife Donna couldn't take her eyes off of the flute player.

***

Why this fascination didn't bother Brad, Hank had no clue. Hell, even their current arrangement was mostly Brad's idea, and Brad didn't even need the money! It all came about during their final year of undergraduate college learning. Sheila and Brad had been going out for a little over a year at that point. Likewise, Hank and Donna had been going out for about six months by that time (Donna was in a class Sheila and Brad were in, so it was a mutual set-up for Hank). One Friday night, with Sheila home visiting the family and Donna turning in early for work the following morning, Hank and Brad decided to stay home that night and drink themselves shit-faced (as opposed to going and finding a party and then drinking themselves shitfaced).

The living situation went like this: Brad and Hank had a two bedroom apartment together right out of high school, when they realized they'd be going to the same college together. Donna lived in a campus house with five other girls, so she would not be privy to that night's events. Sheila spent most of her time at Brad's side, in his bed during the week and most weekends (the only times she wasn't was during the ever-decreasing visits home, a mere twenty-minutes drive away, and when she took advantage of her single-person dorm room). This, of course, drove Hank crazy, how much she slept over, but he just grinned and took it. Until that night.

Until that night, Hank would be in his room imagining Sheila and Brad together. This didn't change, even when Donna slept over, which had become a more frequent occurrence over the last month, month and a half. Hank's obsession knew no bounds, and his fantasies would always bring him to climax much faster than Donna ever could - which was why he had to block them out if he ever fancied on satisfying her in any way. Hank found he could always hold out just long enough, and then he'd let his fantasy come flooding in, helping himself to flood out.

And, of course, these fantasies would continue after this night as well, but not without Brad's knowledge.

They drank, and they talked, and there was a ballgame on TV, but no one gave a damn. And, as most conversations (check that, most drunken conversations) go, the talk turned to sex.

"Okay, now you see that chick right there?" Hank said, pointing with his beer hand.

"What? Which one?"

"Hold on, wait till we get to the batter . . . there! See her? Big tits in the red shirt right behind the ump?"

"Yeah, okay, yeah I see her."

"Okay, so what would you cut off to fuck her?"

"Oh man, not this again! All right, let me think," Brad gulped down the last quarter of his eighth beer and twisted the cap back on, placing it next to the other seven bottles in front of him. "Now, is this just a one-time lay?"

"Yep."

"Well, shit man, I'm gonna have to say left pinky. I'm not losin' a limb just for one time!"

"Left pinky? Come on! At least go with the one on your jerkin' hand! Shee-it, I'd sever my foot for those tits!"

"God, really?" Brad turned his head towards Hank, picturing him hobbling around on one foot with a wild story to tell. "You know, I don't think Donna's are that bad. That's gotta give you a good handful, right?"

"Yeah, I guess, but she ain't those! Hell, she ain't Sheila's for that matter. Dude, you must be drowning in those babies every night." This image they were both happy to imagine.

"Oh, you know, I'm not gonna complain," Brad said, snapping out of it when he saw Hank stand up. "Hey, get me another one, would ya?"

Hank returned, twisting off the bottle top with his teeth, handing it to Brad, and spitting the cap onto his lap. "You like that?"

"Uh, way to go, man. Next time, I'll take my beer without the slobber, thanks," Brad said, guzzling it down anyway.

"Seriously, though," Hank persisted. "You two've gotta be bangin' like crazy. I mean, I know this is the beer talkin', but I've just gotta say that I think Sheila's, like, the perfect girl. Everything about her is just . . . smokin'."

Brad just smiled, taking this cue to pull out his pack of cigarettes he kept around for only when Sheila was away. "Yeah, yeah she is." He continued smiling, staring off into nothing, until he realized that Hank's ego might need some support. "But, I mean, Donna's no dog, ya know? I mean, she's pretty damn hot too, man."

Hank waived this off, growing irritated with this obvious exaggeration. "Naw, man. I mean, yeah, she's all right. But, she's no Sheila. I'm tellin' ya, if I would've met her first, I woulda been so in there! I don't wanna offend you or anything, but if anything goes down with you two, of course I'll be on your side, but I won't think twice about hittin' her up."

Hank instantly worried that this would start some war of words. He was surprised to hear nothing but indifference coming out of the mouth of Brad. That was the way he acted, though. He wasn't afraid about losing the girl he loved; he was that confident. Nothing bothered him, nothing shocked him, and it took a train hitting him to make him mad. He would turn out to be the kind of guy who could handle being supported by his wife. He would turn out to be the kind of guy who would make a couple bucks selling his girlfriend's (and later, wife's) things in order to help his best friend's harmless sexual fantasies. That said, he was also the kind of guy who would take that money and lavish it upon his girl in the form of presents, for the guilt would consume him too much to spend it all on himself - at least, in the early going. And, it all started that night, with the following exchange:

"God, what I wouldn't give just to sniff her panties," Hank said, well on his way to his tenth beer of the night.

"Well, you know what, I think she's got a pair lying in my room somewhere. 25 bucks and they're yours. That is, if you don't want to give me one of your feet."

"Dude! Let me get my wallet!" Hank ran into his bedroom, rummaging through an endless pile of dirty jeans. When he returned, he saw Brad twirling a pair of cotton panties, white with tiny flowers, around his right index finger.

***

By this time:

By this time in their lives, everyone right around the 30-year mark, no one suspected a thing. 'No One' being the wives, who were simply trusting, dim bulbs. They had no reason to believe that their husbands were up to such shenanigans. Sure, Sheila missed a few random objects of clothing every few weeks. Sure, Hank spent numerous hours of free home time up in his remodeled attic "Play Room" (cable television, video games, DVD player, porn stash, posters of his favorite athletes and supermodels from his bachelor college days). None of that interested Donna in the slightest (although, the secret, built-in cubby hole full of Sheila's unmentionables - and a few mentionables - would have attracted at least a second look).

Nope. Only thing of interest to Donna: having a baby.

And, by this time, she didn't care who it was with.

***

Donna was a Junior in a Senior-level geography class. She hated that. Oh, she wasn't bothered by her intellect, or the fact that she'd graduate a year before her age-peers. She just hated taking classes where she knew no one. In turn, she spent most of her time in class not speaking, not volunteering, not answering questions unless called upon - and being chastised by her professor on her returned papers for not being a more vocal presence in class discussions, what with her grand grasp of the knowledge.

A seat at the back of the class - not very becoming of a 4.0 student - surrounded on all visible sides by happy-go-lucky students afflicted with the terminal senioritis. So it was and so it would be, if it were up to her. That is, until the professor laid out the groundwork for a group project. While everyone in the class partnered up in threes, Donna took the opportunity to humbly, inconspicuously walk up to the professor and ask him if it would be all right if she could do the entire project alone.

"While I don't doubt your abilities to do exactly that, Donna, this project isn't simply about globalization. It's an exercise in seeing how well you're able to work with others. This is real world stuff, here. I'm sorry, but if you can't find a group, I'll be more than happy to assign you to one."

Little clusters of desks already started to pop up around the class. Donna found the path back to her own desk, which was full of backpacks and half-drunk to-go cups of coffee where the aisle had been. Once at home, by her own stuff, she took a look around and discovered a couple sitting side-by-side not five feet away.

***

The work was:

The work was exceedingly easy. Check out some books, write down some juicy lines, integrate into one free-form report as seamlessly as possible, stirring occasionally. Over the two-week period, Donna, Sheila, and Brad found themselves less uncomfortable/professional and laughing more - to the point where they'd been kicked out of the library for waking other students. This brought the report-research-compiling to Brad's apartment.

Which was when she first met Hank.

***

Shelia never much cared for Hank - so his "If I saw her before you did" theory would have been squelched from the start. She didn't dislike him, really. Just, at times, he could be irritating with his constant barrage of small talk. That, and the way he never averted his gaze from her eyes when he spoke to her - it could get to be a bit much. And when it did, Sheila would simply drag Brad to the bedroom.

Donna, on the other hand, thought he was a hoot from the get . . . go.

Hank was in his room when the three of them walked in. Normally, it would be just Brad and Sheila, so he wouldn't have bothered giving much interest to leaving the sanctuary - even though a fresh gaze might do something to perk him up. When he heard the second female voice, though, Hank dropped what he was doing (literally, though it failed to fall to the floor), and cleaned himself up (real good).

They had open books and papers and writing utensils all over the couch and table, but it didn't look like a damn one of them were doing any work. Instead, they were all laughing over some teacher's assistant with an ass resembling Saturn, who would knock things off her desk when she walked by, if she wasn't extra careful and sucked in ever so slightly. All three of them took turns trying to imitate the whining, wheezing intake of air.

"Why doesn't she just move the desk about a foot forward?" Sheila said between laughs.

"Refusal to give up the dream. In her mind, she's still a woman who's less than 400 pounds," Brad said.

"Hey, she's not that big, now. We've got to give her credit, at least she's still walking," Donna added.

Hank had his door open for all of this talk, and they could sense his presence, but had yet to acknowledge it. He took a couple steps out into the living room and thought he'd give his two cents, even though he knew not of whom they spoke.

"Yeah, if she's not too careful, she'll end up on Oprah and have to have a wall cut out so she can leave her bed on a forklift!"

This got moderate laughs from the people he knew, and a giggly fish from the one he didn't.

Shortly after introductions were made, Hank announced he was going out, so he would not disturb them further. No complaints were made, because they did have work to be done sometime that evening. Still, Donna never took her eyes completely off of Hank until the door closed, having to strain her neck to do so.

***

As far as:

As far as first dates go, it could've been worse, but not too much better, even in the face of his condition at the conclusion. Hank jumped at the opportunity to be led by the seeing-eye-dog called Matchmaker, not so much because he thought Donna was all that attractive, but because he needed a date. Surely, she wasn't bad looking, quite the opposite. Still, when one finds an attachment so strong to another female (possibly even stronger if she's unavailable), it's hard to set any standards lower so another fish can bite the hook. When what you want is a Dolphin-fish sandwich and someone tosses you a can of tuna, it can be off-putting.

Then again, you don't want to look desperate for that succulent dolphin meat.

***

Donna knew from her first date that Hank was the guy for her. At least, that's what she told everyone upon finding an excuse to re-tell the story. After all, it's not every day that a guy you just met will take a two-man beating just so you can escape and find help.

At first, Hank thought it would be a bad idea to do the first-date, double-date thing. He kept imagining himself looking over and checking out Sheila's form. The other three thought it was a fun, kooky way to spend a Friday night, so Hank said, "Why the hell not?"

The movie, picked out by the chicks in the group, disappointed the fellas thoroughly, until the point about twenty minutes from the end, where Hank and Brad could have sworn they'd seen a female nipple. The girls just laughed, saying it was actually a guy's and they were too horny to even notice.

"We may be horny, but we know what we saw, right Hank?"

"You know it. Boobage all the way," he said to a couple sets of female rolling eyes.

"All right, what do the rest of you say to burgers? I'm starving," Sheila said.

"Actually, I should be getting back. I work Saturday mornings, so . . ." Donna said, disappointed.

"Oh, well do you want us to walk you-" Brad said, before being cut off.

"Naw, that's all right. I'll walk her home. You two go ahead, I'll see you guys later," Hank said.

With that, they split ways; Hank putting his jacket around Donna for her warmth.

***

The pummeling sustained:

The pummeling sustained by Hank would not be life threatening. A black, sealed-shut eye here; a puffy, bleeding lip there; scrapes from being repeatedly shoved into the concrete; tender bruises from a few late kicks to the stomach and ribs. He'd be saddled up in bed for the next two weeks, but at least he had Donna by his side.

That's when they really started to feel the connection grow.

That's when his idolatry of Sheila started to subside . . . temporarily.

***

Hank and Donna walked north, on the right-side sidewalk. The muggerfuckers walked south, on the left. Once they passed each other, Hank let his head turn to the left, briefly making eye contact with the two. At this point, they were two blocks from Donna's house, and she was already searching about her purse to pull out her keys.

Evidently, the muggerfuckers didn't take too kindly to anyone latching gazes onto theirs. They crossed the street as casually as any non-muggerfucker might, even though Hank and Donna's backs were now to them. 25 feet in between, the muggerfuckers started to close in with the help of a brisk, light jog. Hank heard the steps, turned by way of his left side, saw the menacing looks, gave Donna a light shove on her back with his left palm, and said, "Run!"

Donna didn't know the meaning of this, but she did pick up on the sound of syncopated footsteps coming their way. Still, instinct told her to turn and look, just in time to see Hank charge the fellows with as little space as he had, arms stretched out as wide as he could, meaning to try and tackle them both, but really hoping to just slow them down so she could get away.

Unlike those infamous movie starlets who would simply stand there and scream as their men would be tossed aside so the muggerfuckers could have them within their grasps for the raping and pillaging, Donna bolted for her house as fast as she could. Knowing she'd be of no use in a fight with two big guys, their only chance was for her to get home, call the police, and perhaps gather some of the neighbor boys to assist in their plight.

Which is exactly what she did. Though, by the time her neighbor boys and, indeed, the police could get there, Hank was just a moaning, bloody lump on the side of the street, without wallet, yet having acquired a ripped chunk of shirt from one of the muggerfuckers. They were never found, and neither was the $37, but what was gained would last Hank and Donna a good many years.

***

She didn't count on:

She didn't count on the reaction she would receive from her husband. It was the last thing on his mind in this big, wide world: having offspring.

Or, maybe it was the thought of having offspring with her.

Donna was no dummy. Even though Hank was extra, extra careful, she still noticed when he was staring at Sheila. Couldn't catch him every time, but enough to know the score and know she was losing.

It didn't mean she begrudged Sheila any. Donna was as rational as the next; plus, she was perceptive. She could tell by the look on Sheila's face (maybe a slight grimace, maybe a long blink followed by a rolling of the eyes out of his line of vision, maybe just a nervous twitch of the mouth) whenever Hank talked to her, sat next to her, made eye contact with her (which was at every opportunity he could seize) that she held no interest in branching off of her husband's love.

Donna knew, she would have to deal with a husband who would take bullets for another woman, even if it meant using his own wife as a Kevlar suit.

Donna also knew that two could play this game.

***

"You heard me! But, I'll say it again: I FUCKED BRAD! And it was gooood. He's so much bigger than you, too. Really knew how to satisfy-" Donna could safely say she never would have expected the slap, let alone such a jarring slap that would knock her to her knees.

Hank couldn't speak. He had nothing to say. The jealousy was too much to bear. Before the rage built up again, Hank knew he had to get out of there. Up. Up to the Play Room. Where he could lock her out, shut her out with headphones, and drink himself into serious contemplation.

Donna let him leave without any more antagonisms. She'd never experienced such a response. Arguments: yes. A shouting match: of course. If he would have retaliated verbally in any way, she could have told him the truth. She never had sex with Brad. Yeah, she tried, but he shut her down pretty quickly.

***

Her crotch grinding into:

Her crotch grinding into his as she had him backed as far into the couch-back as possible, Donna brought her open mouth mere millimeters from his, breathing deeply from his exhaled air.

Donna had a firm grasp of Sheila's schedule. Knowing she'd be gone all day, and Brad would be alone watching Maxine, Donna decided to make her move; in broad daylight, no less.

***

When Brad opened the door, he knew instantly that Donna looked different. She had that look about her - that look Sheila always had whenever she wore those purple panties. That, "I know I'm sexy right now and I want to FUCK!" look.

"Hey Brad."

'Uh oh,' Brad thought. 'It's that low, hormone-filled, breathy voice. Horny voice. I won't be denied, voice.'

"I thought, since I'm not doing anything, and you're home all day, why not come over for a visit?" Donna didn't wait for Brad to move out of the doorway. With her wry, sex-smile, she gently nudged him aside, placing her right hand ever so softly on his bicep as she did so. If he could have thought of an excuse to prevent her from entering in time, it wouldn't have done any good anyway. "So, whatcha doin'?"

"I'm, uhh, just about to vacuum the house," and he wanted so badly to add, 'So, maybe you should leave,' but couldn't bring himself to say any kindly variation of those words for some reason.

Donna casually circled the room, then made her way back to Brad, grabbing his hand with both of hers. "No, no, come, sit with me." She led him to the couch, taking a leg-touching seat right next to him; uncomfortable under most circumstances and this was one of them. "We never get to talk, you know? Just the two of us . . ."

"OK, so what do you want to talk about?" He wished he hadn't said that. This was beginning to have the feel of a really bad porno, or some really bad erotic fiction. His suspicions were confirmed when she brought her left leg up and rested it between the two of his, and said:

"I want to talk about us."

"Uhh, Donna, I'm not sure-"

"No, it'll be fine! We're both home in the daytime. No one will ever have to know. Who would find out; except maybe for Maxine, and she's a baby! If we can't fool a baby, then we really have no business-"

"We have no business doing this at all, because it's wrong!" Brad had to admit that her proposal was intriguing, and in any cloudier judgment, very sound reasoning. Nevertheless, the sex he received this morning kept his mind in the clear all that day. Brad lifted her leg and placed it back on her side of his crotch, then shimmied over a cushion so he could breathe.

Donna wouldn't take a separated couch cushion for an answer, though. Standing up, she lifted her skirt up to her waist, exposing a pair of faded pink panties, and leapt onto Brad, open-legged. She pushed Brad's shoulder as far back as it would go, so he couldn't help but look into her eyes. "Come on. You can't tell me you've never thought about a wild fling with another woman. No consequences, no commitment."

"I can honestly say that doesn't excite me one bit."

"Maybe this will excite you," Donna said, going in for the kiss.

Brad knew it was wrong. He knew, but he had a woman on his penis. When the blood started flowing south like the Swallows of Capistrano, Brad was powerless against this force of nature. He allowed her tongue to invade his mouth, and he sent in his own Trojan Horse back across her gates like the fate of Troy hung in the balance. Donna reached for his right hand, bringing it up to cup her support-less breast through her form-fitting T-shirt.

Incidentally, it was when Brad realized this breast felt far too small for the feeling he had in his trousers - in other words, it was a B- instead of the C+ of Sheila - that he managed to break off the war of the tongues and thrust her to the floor, butt bouncing sharply, bringing a stinging shot of pain through her tailbone.

With that shot, all the lust within her fled. Tears took the place.

***

A consoling yet relieved:

A consoling yet relieved shoulder Brad was happy to provide. As long as she wasn't reaching for his marriage vows to throw them in the inferno, he didn't care how long she cried.

What disturbed him more was the status between Donna and Hank. It started to get a little serious when a man would refuse sex from his wife because of his ambitions towards another.

That meant it went beyond a simple crush or mild fantasy.

That meant Hank could have been planning an overthrow of Brad's regime.

***

"I . . . I just . . ." Donna tried talking through the sniffles and upchucks of air, but found the situation all too overwhelming. Until Brad brought her in for a plutonic, standing embrace, that is.

"Take your time, I'm here for you as long as you need," Brad said, brushing hair away from her face with the back of his right hand. Donna finally got it under control after sitting on the couch for a minute.

"I bet you could tell that he has a thing for Sheila; I've seen it in him for years."

"Yeah, it's just a little crush, I think," Brad said. "There's no harm in that."

"Well, there's no harm in a 'little crush,' but I don't think that's it."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because, the last time we had sex was over a month ago. Remember, that night we all went to the symphony? Incidentally, that was also the last time he would have seen Sheila up close. I'm telling you, he has absolutely no interest in me or having a baby with me."

"Did he say that?"

"Pretty much! He doesn't think 'the time's right.' What is that? How could it be any more right? He's got a good job, we have a house and two cars, money in the bank. I mean . . ."

"Listen, I'll have a talk with him, see what's up. Don't worry, I'm sure he still loves you."

"I wouldn't bet on it."

***

The beer consumed:

The beer consumed in the hours following his fight with Donna would have incapacitated him on any normal evening. On this night, however, Hank's thoughts kept him focused and somewhat alert.

He pictured Sheila and Brad fucking.

He pictured Donna and Brad fucking.

He recalled his first date with Donna - his lone act of chivalry in a life full of debauchery.

The subsequent courting period where his attachment to Donna already started chipping away.

Being trapped in a relationship that looked so good on paper, but failed to deliver.

Railroaded into a wedding he desperately wished to sabotage. [You say 'sabotäge,' I say 'sabotAge']

***

Through the two-week recovery period, Donna played the part of caring nurse down to the last letter. She even saw his package a number of times, but strictly in the professional sense (medically, not hookerly), as the man needed help changing and getting into the tub.

Donna just adored him for what he did, and for those two weeks, with infrequent interruptions from well-wishers, Hank morphed back into baby mode. Donna was his mommy and she worked tirelessly to see his every wish fulfilled. Donna was also not the woman who gave birth to him, so it was OK to feel a little tingle after the 12th day when she pulled his boxers off to replace them with clean ones.

Of course, once mobile, Hank rediscovered his original feelings for Sheila. By that time, though, Donna would be his and it would be in poor taste to dump your caretaker after such dedication - especially over a pipe dream.

So, he decided to keep her and wait. Wait and see if things went sour between Sheila and Brad any time in the near future.

***

And then, they got married:

And then, they got married, and Hank knew the next logical step would be for him and Donna to copy the cats.

A confrontation, though nothing so sinister. Really, more of a mild teasing or curious inquiry. Between Hank and Brad one evening after the honeymoon.

During their one-week fuckfest, Hank went on a self-imposed temporary celibacy, calling it 'Hank's Hiatus.' To Donna, it was called, 'Not Right Now, I'm Beat.' After their safe return, seeing the fresh tans on the newlyweds when he went to the airport to pick them up, Hank exploded inside of Donna unlike any other time in their recorded sexual history together.

Hank boasted of his sexual prowess the following day to Brad, and Brad asked when Hank would be marrying his little woman.

That's all it took. It was expected of him to marry Donna. So it would be. But, a baby? That finalized it to a degree Hank was not prepared for.

That would mean he'd have to give up the dream, possibly forever.

***

Tonight, Hank looked like he was in one of his better moods. Donna thought, 'It looks like he just pleasured himself. This'll be a good time to talk.'

Whenever Hank returned home in a foul mood - and Donna couldn't always see in his perpetual poker face when he was in a foul mood - he always went directly into his Play Room. Not a word spoken, not a Ward Cleaver kiss on her cheek.

Whenever he descended the stairs, Hank always had that same calm, pleased-all-over look whenever he had sex with Donna. It seemed to her that he pleasured himself far more than he cared to attempt pleasing her. And, she thought she knew why.

'Good, go with that feeling. He's clear-headed and relaxed; put him on the defensive. It's the only way he'll go for it.'

Donna allowed Hank to take a seat on his favorite leather chair - watching him from the doorway in the kitchen like an awed puppy - before she pounced. Though, pounce be too gruff. Donna smoothly, tenderly took a seat, falling back into his lap, with her legs dangling over the side of the chair. Interrupting his channel-flipping, Donna drew his face to hers and locked in.

When her mouth was available for talking, she threw this in his face: "I want to have a baby. With you," the last part almost sounding like an afterthought - her subconscious knew something she didn't.

"Why?"

"What do you mean, 'Why'?" And so on, and so forth. The ping-pong match went into extra innings, but the argument's essence boiled down to Donna wanting to settle down and start a family . . . like Brad and Sheila; and Hank wanting that status to remain ever-quo.

Donna still had her ace concealed, though, by the end of it all. The next time Hank got out of line, she'd flip it and deck him. His Sheila fascination would not remain a secret for long.

***

After failing with:

After failing with Brad, Donna was more distraught than ever - though it be a composed distraught. Still, she feared she may never get that baby, not even with Brad bringing some friendly advice like he promised.

That evening, not even letting Hank put his second foot through the doorway, Donna started with a quick jab to the head, followed by a couple hooks to the ego and one shot into the stomach. She intended to confront Hank on his Sheila fascination - true, without any actual evidence (no panties in her dossier) - but instead said the first thing that came into her mind.

And Little Cindy-Lou Who, who was not more than two bought the lie. Donna fished him right into the net, but found the flounder giving her a good, hard smack before all was said and done.

So, Donna still had her ace, but she considered folding it to the aggressor. Hank had never touched her in such a fashion before, but she worried he'd probably do it again.

Or, maybe something worse.

***

Brad considered himself a pretty good judge of people, and he thought he knew all there was to Hank. Hank and Brad had grown up together, friends since the second grade, when Hank arrived mid-season from another district.

Hank never acquired any other friends as bond-strong as Brad. Sure, he knew people and could hold his own with just about anyone. But, he never really bothered on finding another bud, another pal to tell all there was to know about himself. He just didn't care; didn't see the point. So, when Brad was off with his other friends, Hank would sit at home on the sidelines, waiting for his turn to hang out with the only other necessary being on Earth.

With that in mind, Brad knew Hank wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his one true friendship.

He had to wonder, though, after speaking with Donna. Did Sheila now outrank him in importance?

***

The day after the fiasco:

The day after the fiasco with Donna, in which Brad didn't say a word to his wife about the incidents-transpired until he could get a more firm grasp of the situation, he caught his first glimpse of Hank in what seemed like forever.

Hank didn't look good - no one does after a night of binge drinking, followed by a fruitless few hours of sleep - but, he perked right up when he saw Brad. Still, there was something seriously awry with the clothes he had on.

A handshake and a clap on the back was what the two shared under the 1:00 sun outside of Brad's house.

Outside of Hank's house, under that same 1:00 sun, the paramedics screamed to a halt and bolted from their respective cabs to assist the . . .

***

". . . dead."

***

Floored to the ceiling:

Floored to the ceiling, Brad couldn't believe what he was hearing. Nothing; none of the words that came slurring through Hank's mouth made any sense.

And yet, Brad couldn't muster up the courage to faint. Had not the fortitude to lose all blood flow to the brain and pass out so he could be spared any more insanity.

He had to stand there under the hot-hot sun and take all the revelations Hank had to dish out.

His whole world was so shattered, Brad almost missed the part where Hank said he was in love with him.

***

Brad said, "That's what you call a dagger, my friend. Right into the ol' heart. Fuckin' kills me, man."

Hank stood next to his friend, nodding in agreement. "Yep. Tough break. We'll get 'em in game seven, though. You wanna head back; do some cheaper drinkin'?"

"Yeah, let me just get my card back from the bartender and we'll split."

The two swinging bachelors (Brad: one month from meeting Sheila) managed the walk back to their apartment, arms around each other's necks, taking a loud liking to Beck's "Loser," in celebration of the loss they'd just witnessed on television at the bar.

"I'm a loser, baby! So, why don't you kill me!" they sang in unison.

A few people shouted, "Shut the fuck up!" from their bedrooms as the obnoxious crooners passed by - and they went ignored: with louder singing.

Back at the apartment, they each took a double-barrel shotgun to the face (For the unhip: shotgunning two beers back to back. For the savagely unhip: poke a hole near the bottom on the side of a tin beer can, seal the hole with your mouth, turn the can upright, pop the top and let the beer fall down your gullet through the hole - twice in a row), by way of Hank's cajoling.

"Fuck, man! After this, we stop drinking for an hour!" Brad said, after choking down the second can. 20 minutes later, thanks to Hank, they were back in the kitchen doing the same exact thing. "Seriously, we gotta wait at least a half hour before more beer." 15 minutes later, they each chugged one more beer. "Oh God, I'm gonna puke. We better stop."

They each sat around on the couch for the rest of the night. Hank sipped on another beer while watching some CNN. Brad's head rolled around in agony for about 40 minutes before he unloaded a steady stream of beermit (beer vomit) all over the front of his body. As soon as the first beermit splatters touched the floor, Brad jumped to attention. It didn't appear that he knew where he was going and Hank couldn't stop laughing. Brad, unable to remember the English language, reverted to a series of frustrated grunts, turning his head to Hank, and then back to nowhere.

Hank, still cracking up, stood and guided Brad to the kitchen sink (seemed like a good idea at the time, but the smell took a week to get fully rid of). After Brad finished beermitting, Hank, with a careful hand on his back, guided his inebriated roommate to his room.

With Brad securely in his own bed, shirt off (but Hank was not touching those pants), Hank readied himself to return to the living room to finish off the half-full wounded soldier sitting on the coffee table. Before Hank could reach the door, Brad recovered his grasp of the King's English and called Hank over to him. Hank stood over him; with speed unbeknownst to Hank, Brad sat up, grabbed Hank by the back of the head, and planted a lip-smack on him; afterwards saying, "Love ya, man," before plopping down to his pillow and immediately falling asleep.

Even though Hank had more alcohol in his system than Brad, he never forgot that kiss. He never said anything to Brad about it, and Brad wouldn't have ever believed it - though, most likely, he wouldn't have cared much.

Their friendship changed in Hank's mind from that point on. Brad had no idea.

That was Hank's secret.

That's the only secret he ever kept from Brad.

***

The call came in:

The call came in to 911 at 12:45 on May 26th.

The caller was male, sounding very distraught. He told the operator that someone stabbed his wife and that he was going to chase after them. He left the phone off the hook, so the trace came pretty quickly.

When the paramedics arrived, at approximately 1:00pm, the man had fled the scene. His wife was found passed out, with a sharp puncture wound to her shoulder.

Paramedics could not immediately rouse the wife.

***

"Hank! Where were you? I woke up and - what's wrong with your clothes? Why are they - you're bleeding!" An entire range of emotions came out of Donna in that one statement - from angry/relieved to confused to shocked/afraid - as she opened the front door. Hank was just out of his car, beginning his approach.

Donna made like to hug him and make sure he was all right, but Hank's left palm interceded, shoving her forehead with enough force to knock Donna to the ground.

Hank, clad in a woman's business suit, of which the fibers clung for dear life while on his broader frame, straddled Donna around her waist. With his right hand, Hank brought up the knife he'd been concealing behind his back. It was around this time Donna realized that the blood on his strange new clothes was not his own.

"No! Hank, let me-" Donna cut herself off with a madcap shriek as Hank lunged the knife downward, meaning to strike her somewhere near her heart. He would hear no explanation from the woman who cheated on him with Brad.

Donna managed to flinch just enough to get hit less fatally in her left shoulder.

While Hank struggled to free the blade, Donna took the opportunity to plead her case innocent.

"Listen to me, oww, I never, ahh, slept with Brad!" Hank stopped fiddling with the knife long enough to hear the rest of what Donna had to say; already he was extremely interested.

"I lied. I lied to make you jealous so you'd take an interest with me," Donna said, breathing heavily now. Hank, in one last feat of strength, released the knife like King Arthur. The wooziness from the pain and blood loss started to take effect as Hank said his first words to his wife since she dropped the bombshell that started all of this.

"Oh God, Donna! I'll call an ambulance; you'll be all right, I promise!" Hank wasn't sure how much of that his wife heard, as she passed out while still under him.

***

The 99th bottle:

The 99th bottle of beer had been taken down and passed all around; and Hank had a wicked-bad hangover the following morning.

He'd spent the entire time, from the slapping of Donna, to the waking, in his Play Room. He did his excretory business in the garbage can, he'd eaten nothing, and he'd drank considerably less than 99 beers, but the actual double-digit number did end in a 9.

With not a creature a-stirring, Hank descended from his playhouse with one thing on his mind:

The break-up of Brad and Sheila.

***

Patronizingly, throughout the whole ordeal, Sheila kept her cool while escorting Hank - an extremely foul-smelling Hank - out of her office.

"Yes, I believe you're telling me the truth, Hank. But, this isn't the place or time to discuss it. Now, don't worry. Brad and I will work this out. You don't have to worry about getting your friend in trouble." Sheila was practically shoving Hank out of the main doors with both hands, but he was in no hurry.

"But, wait!" Hank latched on to the jamb and turned himself around. Sheila recoiled at the smell of Hank's breath. "But, I never told you who he fucked!"

Various interns and other lower-enders milling around took notice of this and stopped pretending like they weren't the gaggle of car-crash-looky-loos that they so obviously were.

"Hank!" Sheila started to smolder at his brashness. "I - Don't - Care! We can talk about this later, but right now you have to leave!" Sheila continued with her one-woman freak show escort, rejecting help from one of her bosses to call for security.

"But, Sheila," Hank continued outside the building while being pushed. "It was m'wife! It was Donna fucked Brad! Why don't you listen?"

"Look, Hank, this isn't funny! Now, I'm taking you back to your car . . . wait! What am I doing?" Sheila realized what she had to do and resented the situation even more. "Fuck! Then, I'm taking you home to sleep it off."

Hank stopped when they reached his car. Sheila asked for his keys, but Hank was in thought.

He considered what Sheila had said. Brad and I will work this out. He sincerely believed this to be true.

Sheila asked, once again, for the keys to the car, and Hank made a move for his back pocket.

'The time is now,' he thought.

"If you won't leave him . . ." he said.

Hank reached under his t-shirt, his backside still blocked to Sheila by his frontside. He pulled the knife out from his waistband slowly, keeping it hidden from view.

***

The parking lot was:

The parking lot was deserted, for the most part. Rows and rows of cars were all around them.

Hank observed the naked body of Sheila in his backseat. He'd always imagined what it would have been like to have her naked body . . . literally. To be able to provide that kind of view only for Brad's lust-filled eyes.

The last bit of clothing had been transferred to Hank's body, down to the new purple thong panties. It was a tight squeeze, but Hank still managed to conceal the bloody knife behind his back in her slacks.

Blood from Sheila's neck finished draining when Hank arrived back at his house.

***

"See, I did it all for you. For us! I've never forgotten that night; and even though you were too drunk to remember, I still believe you feel the same way." Hank went in for the embrace but Brad shoved him away.

Not gathering much past the I slit her throat; Sheila's dead. statement, Brad simply refused to believe any of Hank's following argument on the Pro side of killing his wife.

"You killed her? How . . . why . . . where did you . . ."

"She's in my backseat right now, but why do you care? She's gone and now our love can -" Brad shoved his way passed Hank to get a look through the windshield. A bloody corpse caused Brad to fall to his knees and bang his fists on the side of the car's hood.

Brad regained his composure through fury when he turned his tear-filled eyes towards Hank - still clad in the blood-stained, undersized woman's suit he'd seen Sheila leave the house in hours earlier. He was smiling. The bastard had glee in his eyes.

Brad stood, turning towards his best friend.

***

The red marks:

The red marks around Hank's neck would last into the next week. Brad had choked him pretty good before being knifed to death.

There were still policemen at Hank's house when he passed by, now driving Brad's car. The two of them waited at the front door, speaking of the previous night's ball game.

Hank drove to the back alley - evidently securing the perimeter of the house was not of utmost importance. Hank parked Brad's car in front of his closed garage door. He let himself in his yard through the gate and silently walked inside the back door.

A minute later, Hank was in his Play Room. Still dressed as Sheila, Hank imagined being her again. Brad was there, taking off each article of clothing. The panties couldn't hold off the erection.

Minutes later, upon hearing noises upstairs, the policemen (guns drawn) found Hank naked, pleasuring himself, speaking in the most effeminate of male voices, to Brad's naked body propped up in front of him.