Paul lay down on his bed, not bothering to even glance over at his sleeping wife. The woman he knew he was supposed to love with all of his heart, but in reality couldn't stand.
The truth was, as far as Paul was concerned, the woman that he loved was the one that got away, and he had regretted it ever since.
And it's all my fault, he scolded himself. Because I'm too much of a pussy to do anything about it. She's gone and all I'm left with are memories and what ifs.
As he climbed under the sheets and turned his back on Stephanie, he let Christy Hemme float into his mind. Every time he thought about her, she was flashing him a bright smile. In contrast to Stephanie, who avoided smiling in case it gave her lines on the face, Christy smiled all the time when she did it was like the whole world lit up. At one point, Paul could have sworn he'd heard a choir of angels when she grinned.
But the thing that had attracted Paul to her in the first place was her hair. He had never had a thing for redheads but for some reason it drew him straight to her, like a bee to a rose.
"Hi, I'm Paul," he'd introduced himself with confidence and ease, trying to ignore the stirrings in his insides.
"I'm Christy, " she'd shaken his outstretched hand and gave him what he would soon learn was her signature smile. "It's lovely to meet you. Everyone here sure is friendly."
Paul had returned the grin. While this girl gave an air of a fiery temptress, she was really a sweetheart. "Well, some of us are. You need anything, you just let me know, okay?"
She'd nodded that she would and their eyes locked for just a second longer than normal, sending a quiver up and down Paul's spine. Their gaze was only broken when Trish Stratus came up to introduce herself to the WWE's newest Diva.
Paul spent the rest of Christy's first day hoping he would bump into her, so that he would have a chance to take a mental picture of the girl he was confident was the most beautiful in the world.
In the car on the way back to the hotel, Stephanie noticed that her husband wasn't really there.
"Paul, honey," she'd begun. "What's wrong? You seem distracted."
"Nothing," he'd smiled at her weakly. "Just thinking about the pay per view, that's all."
His answer had seemed to satisfy his concerned wife and she let him lapse back into silence.
After that, every time he was at the area, Paul found himself looking for Christy, and on a few occasions even using his position within the company to manufacture meet ups, even going so far as getting one of the stage guys to tell her to meet him to discuss a training regime for her to follow.
This is stupid, he kept telling himself. You are married to Stephanie. You love her.
But, he'd slowly begun to realise that every day it was becoming harder to love his wife. She was an even bigger workaholic than him, and she was intent on showing her father that she could head creative, the most criticised department in the company. Paul had thought that her ambition and work ethic was part for why he loved her, but slowly he saw it as a major turn off. Plus he began to notice more and more that she was losing her sense of fun, and often scolded him for suggesting they "take a day off".
Months later, Paul and Christy had begun hanging out and training together. The redhead was keen to learn the ropes of the business, and Paul was only too happy to teach her, especially when it meant getting up close and personal to the woman he was growing feelings for. And as they had spent more time together and grown close, they had begun to confide in each other about their personal lives.
One night they had been doing some in-ring training, and they started to talk about Christy's love life.
"No, I'm not seeing anyone," she told him when he'd asked, giving him a curious glance. "I don't have the time."
"What about one of the guys in the company?" He'd probed carefully, hoping that no one had asked her out.
"Come on," she snorted. "Do you think any of those guys want a relationship? All they are after is a quick lay to feed their ego."
She'd paused for a second, deciding whether or not to continue. "Actually, there is someone I like, but he's completely unsuitable."
"He's older," she dropped her eyes to the mat, almost as though she was ashamed at her confession. "And he's married. But he's been so nice to me since I joined the company and when he looks at me, I'm sure he feels something too."
Feeling a sudden rush of courage and a complete disregard for everything he knew to be wrong, Paul had crossed the ring, gently cupped her face and kissed her hard. Momentarily surprised, Christy didn't respond at first. But as the kiss deepened, she put her hands on his rock hard chest and met him, her mouth probing hungrily.
Paul had been the one who eventually pulled back. "I'm sorry."
"Don't do that," Christy had sighed, exasperated. "Don't apologise for it. You meant to do it, so you have nothing to say sorry about."
"Yeah, but I'm married." He turned away from her and picked up his kit bag.
"How many times have you told me your marriage was practically over?" The frustration was evident in her voice.
He looked over his shoulder at her, his eyes showing defeat and sadness. "She is the boss's daughter. Do you know what he would do to the both of us?"
Again Christy dropped her gaze. "So that's what it's about? Your job?"
It was later that night that his frustrations had finally gotten the better of him and he had hit Stephanie. She had gasped at the initial contact, then a fraction of a second later, the tears had begun to flow. For a second he felt infinitely better, but that quickly turned to remorse, shame and guilt and he had apologised profusely until she had forgiven him.
Paul knew he had only been angry at himself. He had let what started as a bit of fun with Stephanie become a situation he couldn't escape from and instead of being a man, he had taken it out on a woman whose only crime was loving him.
A week later, he found himself alone with Christy, this time without his creating the scenario, after she cornered him in one of the hallways at the arena.
"Listen mister," she began as she poked a finger in his chest. "I don't know what the heck is going on in your head, or why you kissed me. That's your crap you need to deal with. I just want you to know that I have feelings for you, real ones, that I can't ignore and that I want acknowledged."
Without saying a word, Paul had grabbed her wrist and pulled her through the nearest door, which had turned out to be a storage room.
In the dim light, he had gazed at her, pushing a few stray strands of hair out of her face. Slowly, he bent down and softly kissed the tiny woman on the lips.
"Christy, since I met you I can't get you out of my head." He paused before continuing. "What I have for Stephanie, well, it isn't true love. I care for her a hell of a lot but not the way a husband should."
"Then why did you marry her?"
"I don't kn-" He stopped himself. "Actually, that's a lie. I married her because I felt I had to.
"Vince found out about us and basically told me I had to. Then all of a sudden I'm put at the top of the roster. I know he was buying me, but I got caught up in it all."
Christy kissed him quickly. "I don't screw married men, and I would hate for you to think of me as that type of girl. But there is something about you and the way you make me feel that I can't ignore.
"So where do we go from here?"
"I know what I want," he responded, at the same time lightly kissing her neck. "But it's up to you whether or not you would be comfortable with that."
Christy exhaled loudly. Paul's kisses were sending tingles up and down her whole body.
"Let's do it," she'd whispered.
After that, the sneaking around began. Paul smiled at the ways Christy managed to get in touch with him: from leaving coded messages with hotel receptionists to writing notes and putting them inside his gym bag.
However, every time he looked at Stephanie he was reminded that he could never truly be with Christy and the violence became more frequent. He knew that it wasn't his wife's fault, that the only crime she was guilty of was being a good wife, but he couldn't help how he felt: He loved Christy. And a month after they hooked up, he told her.
"I love you too," Christy had bitten her lip, and Paul knew she was fighting hard not to ask the question he knew was in her head. The last thing he'd wanted was to relegate her to the position of the other woman, but he couldn't see a way out. If he divorced Stephanie, he would have to deal with Vince, a man who was no stranger to illegal activities, especially where his family was concerned.
Luckily the situation passed without another argument about whether or not he was going to leave Stephanie, although Paul knew that Christy would not put up with her position forever.
It was six months before Christy's patience finally ran out. He had tried to show that he loved her in every way he could think of and made sure she didn't feel like she was the other woman in a seedy affair and had explained time and again why they couldn't be together the way she wanted.
"I'm leaving," she'd said as they lay in Paul's hotel room. It was one of the few times Stephanie had been too busy to travel with him. "For good."
"You're what?!" Paul asked, incredulous. "Why?"
"Paul, for too long I've put up with our situation, and for the most part I've dealt with it well enough.
"And while I hate being your mistress," she watched his face screw up at the word. "I know deep down that as long as I'm around you I won't be able to not be with you. So this is my solution to the problem, I'm taking myself out of the equation."
Paul sat stunned and felt his heart wrench in his chest. He couldn't believe that she was actually considering leaving.
"Babe," he'd reached over and tried to hug her, in an attempt to persuade her to stay, but she'd stepped out of his grasp.
"I'm serious." Her voice wavered and tears rolled down her cheeks, but he knew she meant it. "Goodbye Paul."
True to her word, by the end of the week Christy had left the company, citing stress and exhaustion. During that week, she had gone out of her way to avoid Paul at the arena and in hotels, even going to the extent of booking a different flight to the one she knew he would be taking. The hardest moment for Paul came when he noticed her ducking in a random door backstage when she saw him coming.
Does she really not want to be around me that much? He'd asked himself. Is that how much she hates me?
Back in his bed, Paul hugged the pillow tightly. Almost immediately after she'd left, Christy had changed her phone number and only gave the new one to a couple of the friends she had made during her time in the WWE, and Paul could come up with no halfway realistic excuse for why he would need it.
He occasionally watched TNA to keep his mental image of her fresh, but it proved far too painful. So he kept to his own mind to remember what she looked like, what it felt like to touch her, smell her and kiss every inch of her body. While it came nowhere near to matching what it was like to actually be with her, he knew he had to settle for the memories.
Abandoned by the woman he loved because he was a married man too scared to do what he knew he truly wanted, every time Paul looked at Stephanie he felt revulsion. She became a symbol what was holding him back from what he wanted most in life, and of the man he had become, and every time he saw it in her eyes anger welled up inside and he lashed out, leaving bruises, cut lips and cracked ribs.
His eyes finally grew weary and he let the lids fall shut. Tauntingly, Christy's face swam in the darkness, beaming her smile straight through his heart like a laser.
I want to, I need to be, he thought. Under your skin.