Betty and Stephen enjoyed a quiet cup of tea in their deck chairs on the roof. It was a warm evening, a gentle breeze rustled the trees and a sliver of a moon hung lazily low in the sky. Stephen took a slow sip of his tea and set his cup on the arm of his chair.
"She used to hit me, you know," he said softly, his voice leaden.
"Who? Vivienne?" Betty asked, shocked.
"Mmm-hmm," he murmured.
He nodded slowly, "Yes. Remember that time she came into Grace Brothers, when you made that batch of home made perfume and she gave me that black eye?"
"Yes. I remember that," Betty said, reminiscing, "Ooh, dear…"
"That wasn't the first time she had hit me. And it wasn't love taps or playful jabs, either. Sometimes I would come home and she'd start in on me."
"Was she drunk, d'you suppose?" Betty suggested.
"No," he shook his head, "She really didn't need any provocation; just my being there seemed to set her off some days. Remember when she came into the store and then threatened to kick me in the middle of the 'gentleman's department'?"
"Yes," Betty said tightly.
"That wasn't an idle threat. She kicked me there quite a bit," he winced.
"There," he said, pointing down.
"I thought she meant she was going to kick you right there in Grace Brothers. Oh, my. I 'ad no idea." Betty reached for his hand.
He glanced over at his wife, smiling adoringly, "Sometimes I would wake up to being kicked. After I started sleeping in the guest bedroom, the attacks in my sleep lessened."
Betty swallowed hard at the lump in her throat. She could not believe what she was hearing. Stephen stared off into the darkness of the common, his voice distant, "It's embarrassing for a man to admit that his wife hits him, so I kept quiet. You know, I would see female customers at Grace Brothers and I would think 'I bet she wouldn't hit me, she would probably treat me kindly' and I would walk over and smile and the woman would walk away disgusted. I would feel worse, like I was some sort of detestable creature- unlovable, unworthy, wretched."
"You are lovable, Stephen. I love you. Our daughters love you," she insisted, "Vivienne was just an awful person. She didn't treat you like a wife should treat her husband; she abused you. She missed out on an opportunity to have true love and happiness." Betty could feel her face flush with anger.
"When I went back to her, I thought she was sincere; she told me I could still have you on the side and I rather liked the idea of not having to go through a divorce. But as soon as I walked through the door, it started right where we'd left off. As I sat at the dining room table trying to eat dinner, she slapped me and punched me. She threw those photographs at me. She spit on me. I had never felt so humiliated and betrayed in my life," his voice was so choked, Betty had to crane her neck toward him to hear, "I called you that night because I missed you so badly. I never laid a hand on her. In fifteen years of marriage, I never once raised a hand to her. On the outside, we looked like every other married couple. But behind closed doors, it was hell. No affection. No kind words. No intimacy."
Stephen's eyes glistened as he spoke. Betty stood up and moved in front of him then sat in his lap, wrapped her arms round him and held him. She gently caressed the back of his neck and shoulders. He rested his head on her shoulder and sighed, "I love you, Betty. Thank you for being a great wife and mother," he sniffed.
She gently kissed his cheek and nibbled his earlobe, "Just like I wrote you in your anniversary card on our first anniversary- you are the best husband in the whole wide world. I said it then and I still mean it!"
He squeezed her tightly, "We're just a couple of old shoes, you and me!"
"That's alright. I'm well run in and I'm rather comfortable with you. We polished up right nicely, the pair of us!"