Chapter One: An Envied Life
Juanita Chandler was embarrassed by all the attention. Supervisors lauded her for her thorough work in helping her firm retain a lucrative multi-million-dollar contract that appeared would go to a competitor.
She took a meeting with the client’s president, outlined the value of going with her company, assured that she would oversee the execution of the deal, and the day—and deal—were saved.
That’s how Juanita rolled. She got things done. And she did so with grace. She was almost angelic. When it was her time to speak at the company event announcing the new deal after work, Juanita was typically gracious.
“I appreciate the nice words, but they could be said about anyone on this team,” she said. “We have a lot of smart and talented people and we love each other. That is what allows us to be successful. So this thanks goes to everyone, including my husband, Maurice, who gives me amazing support.”
Maurice stood near the back of the room and smiled. He had never expected to win Juanita when they met; she seemed too good to be real and as such, too good for him. But she saw the wonder in him, and their two-year courtship ended in marriage.
“Mommy just got off the stage,” he said into his cell phone to one of their two young boys as he stood in the back of the room. “We’ll be home soon.”
They drove in to work together some mornings, Maurice dropping off Juanita at her marketing firm on K Street before heading to Capitol Hill, where he worked for the city of Washington, D.C. When they left the office after the celebration and got to the car, Juanita offered to drive. “You’ve had a long day, honey. Sit back and relax,” she said.
Maurice smiled; he knew he was a lucky man.
At home, Juanita hugged the sitter, who told her, “Your church called. The assistant pastor thanked you for the pies you baked and for stepping in and teaching Sunday school to the kids.”
Juanita thanked her and made a beeline to her sons’ room. They were five and seven, Mo and Juan, and waited up for their mom before going to sleep. She hugged and kissed them.
“When you wake up, I’ll be the first face you see,” she said before turning off the light and leaving the room. “I love you.”
She found her husband in the kitchen, opening a beer. “Here you go.” She handed him a frosted glass. “I put these in here so your beer can be exactly as you like it.”
“You’re wonderful,” he said. “Thank you.”
Juanita smiled. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Maurice nodded his head as he flopped in his chair in the family room and searched for ESPN with the remote control.
Juanita retreated to the bedroom, where she dug into her lush leather bag and pulled out her cellphone. A wave of excitement came over her body. Heat. She searched her contacts for “Wendy,” although she knew no one by that name. It was code. Just in case.
“Hey, mister,” she started in the text message. “Did you think of me today?”
Within minutes, “Wendy,” who actually was Brandon, responded. “I thought about you in bed. Thought about it all day.”
Juanita smiled and looked down the hall to make sure her husband was not approaching. Then she responded. “I thought about being with you all day, too. I can still feel you all over me.”
Before Brandon could respond, she texted him again. “What are we doing? What am I doing?”
“Whatever you’re doing feels great,” he answered.
Juanita did not have a response. “Goodnight, B. I have to go.”
She again checked for Maurice before deleting the string of text messages. Juanita lay back on her bed in her clothes and pondered her life. She had a cherished existence, one that her friends and family admired and envied. She was the woman Jill Scott sang about: living her life like it was golden.
But there was some tarnish. She was unhappy. Not deal-breaker unhappy, but heart-broken unhappy. Unfulfilled. Bored. She never expected this for herself, for her marriage. It was the opposite of what she anticipated. It ate her up.
And no one knew that but her. No one. Not Sandra, her childhood friend and sorority sister. Not her younger biological sister who looked up to her; not her mother, whom she shared most everything; and certainly not her husband Maurice of nine years. It was a take-to-your-grave secret that she trusted only with herself. The mere thought of someone knowing she was less than golden petrified her.
And yet, there she was, embroiled in a secret life that, if revealed, would crush people’s impressions of her and ruin her marriage. But she engaged in it anyway because it gave her thrills in more ways than one, thrills that she did not get at home. Thrills she needed. It also gave her chills, knowing she had fallen short of her purpose. Still, she could not stop herself.
And so, Juanita was riddled with guilt. . . and conflicted. She was so adored and respected, liked and admired, that it bred constant pressure to be the perfect friend, daughter, mother, wife, sister and marketer. It was not an act; either. By all accounts, Juanita was wonderful. And she loved that people loved and admired her.
But she hated that she believed she could not be less than perfect, that she could not misstep, even and especially to those who loved her the most. She was so magnanimous and giving, so caring and loving, so thoughtful and delightful that any misstep would be viewed as a disaster, a strike against her character. At least that’s how she felt about it.
In the beginning, she found it liberating to sneak around and communicate with Brandon, her old boyfriend. It was exciting, a break from the norm.
They were acts outside of what people expected of her. Deep down, she wanted to be a rebel, to go against the “perceived Juanita.” She crafted a genuine image and was unable to free herself of it. That’s why she admired Sandra, even as she disagreed with a lot of her actions. Sandra did not show concern about what someone thought of her. Juanita found that audacious. She wished she had some of that in her.
“Girl, please,” Sandra said to Juanita when it was common knowledge among some of their friends that Sandra dated two men at the same time. “If I worried about what people said about me, I wouldn’t leave the house. They probably wish they had something going on in their lives someone would want to talk about.”
Juanita had something going on that would have been the talk for sure. She hadn’t planned for it to go as far as it had. It was not her intention to sleep with Brandon. Not at first. But the more bored she got with her perfect life and the perception that she was perfect, the more daring she became and desperate for adventure. She tried to convince herself that her flirtations over the phone were innocent because she had no intentions of having sex with him.
But in her honest moments, she admitted to herself that her attraction to Brandon had never diminished. They were lovers years before she’d met Maurice. Indeed, it was years before she blossomed into a woman beyond reproach.
Brandon treated her without concern of offending her. Where Maurice would refrain from using profanity or handle her delicately and sex her irregularly and without imagination, Brandon cursed when he felt like it, handled her firmly and was adventurous in bed.
His persona was more like the Juanita her husband never knew. One day, almost twelve years after last hearing from Brandon, she ran into one of his close friends at the Farragut Square Metro station in downtown D.C. They chatted for a moment and she reluctantly took Brandon’s phone number.
A week passed before she contacted him. But after a trip to Disney World with the family and resistance from her husband when she was feeling particularly amorous, she went into her spacious bathroom and cried. She admitted to herself that, despite how it looked to everyone else, she was unfulfilled.
She texted Brandon the next day. He responded the way she needed him to: “How the fuck are you? Where the hell you been?”
She needed someone to be so indelicate with her. Their weekly flirtations became every-other-day chats on the phone and then every day and then several times a day. Juanita looked forward to hearing from him. And she enjoyed sneaking away to contact him. She enjoyed the adventure, the daring. It provided an edge to her life that was not there. But she vowed not to see him. . . until he challenged her.
“You still can’t control yourself around me? That’s why we can’t meet for a drink?”
That was all it took. She wanted to see Brandon. But she could not be the one who initiated it. And she had to resist when he asked. It had to be work. . . or appear to be work for him to get her to agree. She could not allow him to think she was easy. So she resisted, knowing Brandon would persist. And when he did, she finally gave in.
When she saw him, she melted. Her heart fluttered. She was excited. She tried to pass it off as normal since she had not been in the private company of a man other than her husband in a decade.
It wasn’t so much that he looked even better than he had when they were together in their early-twenties. It was that his presence was commanding. He owned the room, from the hostess at the restaurant to the waiter to the bartender when they sat at the bar after dinner. He drew people into him.
He showed a different personality from her husband, a lively personality. She felt totally comfortable with him that first night. She was ultra-attracted to him.
He did not try to get her into bed, which made her like him more. He looked at photos of her family—but she did not include pictures of Maurice—and talked about old times, caught up on each other’s lives. . . everything other than sex. She was a little disappointed at first; she thought his lack of interest in sex indicated he was not attracted to her.
But she quickly dismissed that notion; she kept herself together by being mindful of what she ate and consistently working out. No, Brandon was being respectful—and that turned her on more.
By the end of the month, she was inviting sex. Not with words, but in how she dressed when they met: always in dresses or short skirts with tops that accentuated her body. It became a challenge to make him want her.
Finally, Brandon’s discipline collapsed and he kissed her when he walked her to her car after their fifth time together. It was following lunch at the St. Regis in downtown Washington, D.C., near The White House. Juanita did not resist. She closed her eyes and her senses were heightened. She could smell his YSL Black cologne. She felt his heart beat up against her chest. He was intoxicating. She was drunk.
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” she said. “But I want to.”
Brandon could have taken advantage of her. Instead, he said, “I’m sorry. But I gotta tell you: My attraction for you is stronger than ever. Can I ask you something? Why are you here with me?”
Juanita did not have an answer. Well, not an answer she wanted to share. But Brandon had a hold over her, and she told him the truth.
“I should not be here and every time after I leave you, I say it’s the last time,” she started. “Even though we haven’t done anything—“
“Yet,” Brandon interjected.
“Even though we haven’t done anything,” Juanita continued, “I feel bad, like I’ve betrayed my husband, my vows. The problem is that it’s exciting. Seeing you makes me feel alive. I love my life, my family, my husband. I do. But. . . “
“But what?” Brandon asked.
“I need something more,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m saying this or that I’m even here with you. But it’s where I want to be. My husband is a good man. He’s a good man.”
“When can I see you again?” Brandon asked.
“When do you want to?” That wasn’t the answer her head told her to give.
“Tonight. Right here. I’ll get us a room and have room service for dinner after you get off work.”
Her heart raced from anticipation, and that scared her. She did not consider not coming. And knowing she’d have to lie to make herself available excited her. Even though she had never lied to Maurice and did not have an idea of what excuse she’d give her husband, she said, “What time?”
“Six thirty. I will text you the room number.”
The hours leading up to meeting Brandon were long for Juanita. Her anticipation mounted by the minute. She couldn’t concentrate on work.
The feeling in her stomach was a confluence of fear and excitement. It was similar to the feeling she’d had when she saved the big deal at work. When she realized that, she felt confident. When she had that feeling, she did her best work.
As the time to meet Brandon approached, she exited the office without the requisite small talk with colleagues. She just left. She felt guilty and believed she looked guilty and did not want anyone to detect it.
She could not remember the ten-minute ride to the hotel. But when she got there, she sat at the bar in the lobby and ordered a Dirty Martini. That was the drink she used to have when she was younger and more free-wheeling. She sipped only wine with her husband, who she called from the bar.
“Honey, I tried to get out of it, but I’ve got to do this dinner with the partners. We’re at Mastro’s now. I’ll take an Uber home,” she said. She was shocked that she did not feel guilty about lying.
“OK, well, do what you have to do,” he said with no trace of suspicion. “I’m taking the boys to Nando’s for some wings.”
“Yeah, right. I know you’re taking them there because that’s what you like,” she said. Maurice laughed.
“Can’t put anything past you,” he said. “But they like it, too.”
“OK, have fun. And get me an order of wings for later, just in case.”
She watched the high rollers come and go at the bar and pondered their lives. She wondered if a couple on the couch was married or if they were having an affair. She wondered how far it would go with Brandon.
But she knew if she went to that room what would happen.
When she finished the drink, she paid for it and made her way to the sixth floor. At Room 606, where Brandon texted her to come, she stood there several seconds. She teased her hair and made sure her dress lay neatly up against her body.
Finally, she knocked.
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Excerpted from The Secret Lives of Cheating Wives by:Curtis Bunn Copyright © 2016 by Curtis Bunn. Excerpted by permission of Strebor Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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