He wasn't. But his wife, Lucy, was.
"Paul already left for work this morning," she smiled.
"Oh. Well, I guess I can always come back later."
"Wait," Lucy said. "I heard you left Marilyn."
He managed a small smile. "I guess word travels fast." Nate had been sleeping at the Hidden Gardens for a week now and showering at the fire station. He had one last trick up his sleeve and Paul Vance was the key. "But I haven't technically left her. We're just sorting some issues out."
Lucy gave him a concerned look. "How are you handling everything?" she asked.
"I really miss her," he admitted, holding back tears.
Lucy saw that he was about to break down and pulled him into a hug. They had always been friends. In fact, the two couples had gone on a few double dates and belonged to the same circle. Her hug was nothing more than friendly.
But that's not what it looked like to the paper boy.
* * * * * * *
"Good morning Alfonso," Marilyn greeted the paper boy.
"Mornin', Mrs. B."
Marilyn noticed that Alfonso was unusually quiet. "What's wrong?" she asked, gently.
"Oh," he sighed. "I got some real bad news for you, Mrs. B. And you're not gonna like it."
"The Vances' house is the one right before yours on my route and I saw something." Alfonso hung his head.
"What did you see?"
He looked away. "Mrs. Vance was hugging Mr. B. I think she likes him."
* * * * * * *
If Alfonso had hung around for just a minute longer, this is what he would have seen:
Nate had backed away when he realized that Lucy's intentions had been more than just concern for her "friend". He didn't know what was going on, but he wanted no part of it.
"Lucy, we can't do this," Nate said awkwardly.
She threw up her hands. "And what the hell is stopping us?"
"Because you are married to one of my best friends. PAUL. Remember? Your HUSBAND? And I'm not ready to lose my wife."
Lucy pointed a finger at him. "I thought you liked me," she accused.
"You're mistaken. Marilyn is the only woman I have ever cared about." Nate sighed. "And what about you? I thought you and Paul were crazy about each other."
She choked back a sob. "No marriage is perfect. You pay me more attention than that workaholic. You listen to me when I talk. And I just thought..."
He didn't let her finish. "Well, I'm sorry but you thought wrong. You need to work things out with your husband. I'll call him later."
Nate left then for his meeting with Mr. Marks, his agent. He'd try to give Paul a ring around lunchtime. But there was no way in hell he'd mention what just happened.
* * * * * * *
Marilyn was sitting in the den when Nate got home. He had been gone for a week so he wasn't exactly expecting a warm homecoming. He sat down next to his wife, the human glacier.
"Lucy Vance? Seriously?" she spat out.
"What?" How did she know?
She turned to glare at him and then stood up. He followed her, his mind racing. What did she think happened? Had Lucy said something? Paul surely didn't know. They had just spoken after he had gotten off work. What was she upset about?
"Mar, it's not what you think," he held out his hands as if to protect himself from the tongue lashing he was anticipating.
It never came. She looked so defeated. "I don't know what I think. You never came home. You never called. I didn't know if you were even coming back."
"Yes, we've really got to stop doing things like this," he said ruefully. "Look, I've been staying at the Gardens for the past week. Today, I stopped by the Vances' and Lucy was there. She...," he looked away, "she came on to me and I turned her down."
"You did?" Marilyn raised her head and looked at him in the eye for the first time that evening.
"Of course I did, silly! I mean, Lucy Vance? You've got to be kidding! You're a million times hotter than she is," he insisted, putting his hand on her shoulder.
"Then what were you doing there?' she asked.
"Look, sweetheart, I know you said you don't want to talk about having a baby. I am prepared to live with that if you absolutely cannot handle it. But you never explained why. And you sound like my mom when I ask. I never liked being told, 'because I said so' when I was five and I'm definitely not going to like it now."
"I couldn't tell you because I didn't want you to think I was a bad person," she cried. He put his arms around her and she fell into his embrace.
"I wasn't sure if I would be able to love a baby because of the way I grew up. Money meant everything to my family. And I'm so close to achieving my dream job that I don't want to end up resenting any children that might come along. I don't want to subconsciously hate them. But then Alfonso told me about Lucy and I thought that maybe you were going to leave me for someone else. And then I realized how much I wanted a family with you after all."
He let her sob for a couple of minutes. Even as upset as she was, it felt good to have his lady in his arms once more.
"Marilyn, I know what it's like to grow up in that kind of family as well. To have a father who misses your soccer games for board meetings, to have a mother zonked out on Xanax and Porfidio margaritas at two o' clock in the afternoon. And if we ever have a child, we will NEVER be that family. We are not our parents. When we got married, we said we were going to make our own name, our own legacy. And I fully intend to keep my promise."
"As for not being able to love," he continued, "you're nuts! You have more love than anyone I have ever met. That's why I married you! Even after everything you've been through, you're not bitter. You're not angry. You care most about the people who screw you over the hardest! I would know," he added. "I mean, I DID lie to you for the first couple of months I knew you and you MARRIED me. You're a total champ at loving people."
She had to crack a small smile at that. "But what about my career?" she wanted to know.
"Well," he grinned. "That is why I went to the Vances' this morning."
"Marilyn, what do you think about hiring Paul to install a recording studio? With the jobs we have, either one of us or both of us can work from home. You can even work up until the baby is born and then go back to the office afterwards if you wanted. I would love to be a stay at home dad and with the recording studio, I would just have Marks and the guys come here."
She was silent for a moment.
"So, what do you think, love?" he pressed.
"I think," Marilyn laughed, "that I am a silly and foolish girl who is so lucky to have such a patient and loving husband."
"And," she whispered seductively, "if you want that baby, we should get started right away."
Nate held his beautiful Marilyn, enjoying the feel of her soft body pressed close to his and then he did what he had been wanting to do for a week. He kissed her.
They walked to their bedroom together, holding hands. Marilyn dimmed the lights and jumped right in bed, ready for him to join her. Nate lingered for just a moment, enjoying the view.
"Honey?" he gave her a curious look.
"How did Alfonso find out about Lucy?" he mused.
She erupted into giggles. "All I'm gonna say, is the Vances REALLY need to invest in some blinds."