THE SECRET DESIRES OF A SOCCER MOM

We were loading coffee cups into the dishwasher when my friend Karen made a startling confession.

“I have something to tell you,” she said.

“Okay.” I continued tipping the dregs of cold coffee into the sink and plunking the empty cups into the top tray. It was a Wednesday, the day the five of us got together for coffee and conversation. This week, it had been my turn to host. When the others left to pick up various children from preschool, run errands, or go to the gym, Karen had volunteered to stay behind and help me clean up. Although . . . she wasn't really helping anymore. Now she was just standing there, leaning against the blue tiles of my kitchen island, with a strange look on her face.

“Don't judge me, okay?”

“Okay.” This time, I stopped what I was doing and looked at my friend. Her cheeks were pink under her late-summer tan, and she seemed to be trying to maintain a somber expression while on the verge of hysterical giggles.

“Umm . . .” She cleared her throat. “I've been seeing someone.”

I was silent for a few moments, choosing my words carefully. “Well, that's nothing to feel ashamed of. I've often thought I should get some therapy to deal with my parents' divorce. I know I was twenty-seven when they split up, but that doesn't mean that it didn't still hurt.”

“I'm not seeing a shrink, Paige.”

“Oh . . .” It took me a second. “Oh!”

“You promised not to judge me!”

“I won't. I'm not! It's just that . . .”

“What?”

“I'm just shocked, that's all. I thought that you and Doug were so happy.”

“We were happy. But when I met . . . this person,” Karen said, blushing again and forcing away the delighted smile that was threatening to curl her lips, “I realized that my relationship with Doug just wasn't enough for me. I know it sounds terrible.”

“Well . . . ,” I said.

“If you're going to look down on me for this, then I won't say any more.” Karen moved to retrieve her coat off the back of a kitchen chair.

“No, don't go,” I soothed, realizing that I had offended her. “Let's have some more cake and talk.” I cut two enormous slabs of Sara Lee apple-cinnamon coffee cake and led her to the breakfast nook. When we were seated at the pine kitchen table in the sunny alcove, I took a moment to study my friend. The sun streaming in through the bank of windows picked up the highlights in her chestnut hair and gave her complexion a golden glow. With her sparkling blue eyes and flush of delighted embarrassment, she looked almost impossibly girlish and pretty—far younger than her thirty-six years. Extramarital sex obviously agreed with her.

“Okay . . . ,” I said gently. “Tell me how this happened.” Of course, I was trying to be a supportive and nonjudgmental friend, but a small part of me was positively gleeful! This was the most exciting news I'd heard in years. Our Denver suburb was very quiet.

“Well . . . ,” she began, daintily picking at the drizzled icing with her fork tines. “Like I said, Doug and I were happy. We have the big house, the nice cars, the time-share in Playa del Carmen. . . . I was content, complacent even. But sexually—”

I choked on my mouthful of cake. “I'm fine,” I mumbled. “Go on.”

“Sexually, I wasn't fulfilled. You know we've been trying to get pregnant for almost two years now, thanks to Doug's low-mobility sperm. That's really taken the fun out of it—the schedules, the ovulation predictor, the cold packs in Doug's shorts . . .”

I managed to refrain from choking again, but I was sure I'd never look at Karen's CFO husband the same way again.

“Sex should be spontaneous! Passionate! Sex should make you feel like you are the most beautiful, sensual creature on the planet, like you could conquer the world.”

I was nodding along here, but it had been a very long time since sex had made me feel anything but . . . good. If it had ever made me feel like a world conqueror, I couldn't remember it.

“And that's how I feel when I make love with Javier. It's mind-blowing! I've never had this kind of sex with Doug.”

“Javier?”

“He's Spaaaanish!” She said this like she was saying “He's covered in chocolate.”

“Where did you meet him?”

“At my art class. I know it's wrong, Paige, but I swear, he's completely irresistible!” Cue the pink cheeks and girlish giggles.

“Spanish and an artist,” I said. “That does sound pretty irresistible.”

“He's not an artist. He's the model.”

“Oh! Wow!”

“Yeah, I know,” she practically squealed. “He's also a barista—to make ends meet. He doesn't care about status, and he doesn't want to get caught up in the rat race. It's a different culture, a different attitude.”

“Well, I, personally, love coffee,” I said gamely.

“He is just so beautiful, inside and out—and not in that plastic, Hollywood kind of way. His face has so much character. That's why he's so great to draw. And his body is unbelievable! And his eyes! Oh God, Paige, his eyes—they smolder.”

“Smolder, eh?” I didn't know what else to say.

“Smolder,” she said, flopping back in her chair with a positively postcoital sigh.

I cleared my throat. “He sounds amazing, but . . .”

“And it's not just his looks. He really gets me, you know? Like, he can see who I am—the real me—deep down inside. There's a bit of a language barrier, of course, but it's almost like we transcend words.”

“Umm . . . okay. But what does this mean for you and Doug?”

She sat forward and stabbed a forkful of cake. “I don't know. When this all started, I thought it would be a fling. It was just passion, just lust in the beginning. But now . . . we have so much more.” She stuffed the cake into her mouth.

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“Do you still love Doug?”

“Of course I do,” she mumbled through her apple-cinnamon confection, “but isn't it possible to love someone and yet not feel a real emotional connection to him?”

I thought about my own marriage for a second. Paul and I had celebrated our twelfth anniversary last month, but would I say we had a real emotional connection? We certainly did have one when we were first together, but over the last ten years, things had changed. His life revolved around his job in software sales, and mine had been focused on our two kids. But I still loved him. He was my husband, the father of my children . . . “I suppose it's possible,” I said.

“And now I just want to be with Javier all the time! Honestly, Paige, I can't get enough of him—physically, emotionally, spiritually. I don't know how much longer I can keep up this façade with Doug.”

“But, Karen,” I said solemnly, “you and Doug have a life together. You and Javier just have great sex.”

“Ha!” A humorless laugh erupted from within her. “Doug and I have things together, possessions. That's not a life, Paige: Javier taught me that. Seriously . . .”—she looked at me intently—“I'm beginning to think there was a reason I couldn't get pregnant. If I had a baby with Doug, I'd be tied to him forever.”

“True,” I murmured. My own fruitful marriage suddenly felt like a life sentence in Sing Sing.

Karen suddenly looked at her watch. “I've got to go.” She jumped up. “I've got a bikini wax at noon.” I followed her down the hall and into the front foyer, a large open space with an Italian tiled floor and high, coved ceiling. This “grand entryway,” as the architect had called it, was a common feature in the area's newer homes. Undoubtedly, it was intended to give the impression of a Georgian manor or something, but the piles of kids' shoes, sporting equipment, and schoolbooks tended to detract from its grandeur. I waited patiently while Karen slipped into her chocolate leather blazer, zipping up her matching stiletto boots.

“Thanks for coffee,” she said, taking my hands in hers. “And thanks for listening. Really, I was bursting to talk to someone, and you're the only person I felt safe telling my secret to.”

I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised by this. Not that I couldn't keep a secret. I could. I felt fairly confident that I would take this information to my grave—even though it was the juiciest thing to happen in Aberdeen Mists for about eight years. But although Karen and I were very close, I wouldn't really have considered us confidantes. In fact, I would have thought she'd have had a more open and sharing kind of relationship with some of the other women in our clique. So why had she chosen me?

Karen was probably closest to Carly, who lived two houses away from me and six houses away from Karen. She was a more recent member of our social circle, having moved to the neighborhood just two years earlier. Carly had arrived a beaming newlywed, eager to start a family and immerse herself in suburban bliss. Shortly after relocating, her husband, Brian, left her for a middle-aged insurance adjuster with two young sons and an enormous pair of fake boobs.

Carly had been devastated. All she had ever wanted was to have a family. We had all rallied around our new neighbor in her time of crisis, and since then, she'd become an inextricable part of our social network. But I often wondered why she didn't move back to the city after Brian's cruel desertion. In Aberdeen Mists, she was literally surrounded by smiling familial units. It was like an alcoholic working in a bar or a Jenny Craig devotee living above a bakery! If it were me, I'd have moved to Washington Park or another trendy area full of restaurants and nightclubs and single men. I would have gone out dancing, done tequila shots, and made out with men much too young for me. But Carly stayed put, and thanks to time (and an ongoing prescription for Xanax), she began to heal.

Carly and Karen had a friendship unique to them: they were virtually the only women in the neighborhood who did not have children. This afforded them more free time to bond over drinks, to go out to movies, to go to the gym . . . Of course, Carly was busy with her home-based accounting practice, and Karen was busy having mind-blowing sex with a Spanish model/barista, but they still spent more time together than the rest of us.

I suppose it made sense that Karen had not confessed her affair to Carly. Given the adulterous demise of Carly's marriage, she might not have been as open-minded and understanding as I was. Carly was kindhearted and generous to a fault, but Karen's admission could have hit a little too close to home. Carly always assured us that she was healing, moving on, and putting Brian, and what might have been, behind her. But I often thought her smile seemed stretched a bit too tight, and her fawning over our children was a little forced.

Our friend Jane, on the other hand, would have been in no position to judge Karen's fling. Her marriage to Daniel, a fifty-eight-year-old oil company executive, was the product of just such an affair. Jane had been Daniel's secretary several years ago when they “accidentally” fell in love. She no longer worked for him, of course. Now she devoted her time to their two young daughters—and to her looks. Jane definitely qualified as a yummy-mummy. Thanks to regular salon visits, she had a lustrous mane of long, honey-colored hair; frequent facials (and, I suspected, a little Botox) had given her a glowing and youthful complexion; thrice-weekly Pilates classes had resulted in a body like Cameron Diaz; and a very talented plastic surgeon had provided her the perky breasts of an eighteen-year-old cheerleader. I had to admit, I really envied those boobs. They were just so . . . perfect. Mine were positively decimated by the breast- feeding. Not that I was particularly voluptuous before, but now they hung off my chest like two popped balloons.

As much as I coveted them, I knew I couldn't afford a boob job: It was evident that my ten-year-old daughter, Chloe, would be needing braces in a couple of years. I also harbored a deep-seated fear that if I ever did have my breasts done, I would have a reaction to the anesthetic and die on the operating table. On the slim chance that I did survive the procedure, one of the implants would be sure to burst, leaching toxic chemicals into my bloodstream, eventually killing me. While I would have truly loved a pair like Jane's, I could already hear my post-breast-implant eulogy:

Paige was a loving wife and mother. Unfortunately, she was also an incredibly vain woman, whose quest for larger breasts has left her young children motherless, and her husband, a widower.

Perfect breasts aside, Jane was a very compassionate woman and a good listener. And she could have provided much wiser counsel on the whole affair situation than a novice like me. On the other hand, Jane's cheating streak appeared to be in the past. She and Daniel were extremely committed to each other—weirdly so. Due to the adulterous beginnings of their relationship, they had serious trust issues, which manifested themselves in multiple phone calls back and forth each day, numerous “date nights,” extravagant gifts, and couple's holidays, all in an effort to prove they were still in love with each other and not screwing any of the staff. No, when I thought about it, it was probably better that Karen had confided in me.

The other member of our Wednesday coffee klatch was Trudy. There was no way that Karen would have divulged her secret to her! Trudy was quite possibly the sweetest, kindest person I knew. She was also the most virtuous . . . really, almost . . . pious. She was the type of woman who, after dropping a grocery bag full of canned goods on her bare foot, would say “Sugar”—but only if her toe was actually broken. Before she had children, she had been a nursery school teacher.

Trudy's marriage was something she kept private. Her husband, Ken, was director of marketing for a telecommunications company. With his nonstop travel and frequent eighteen-hour workdays, he made my husband, Paul, look like a slacker. But unlike me, her spouse's long hours and commitment to his job never seemed to bother Trudy. I'd asked her about it once, and she'd responded with a cheery “Well . . . sometimes it's hard, but I just thank my lucky stars that I've married a man who can provide for our family and allow me to stay home to be with the children. It's really a gift, you know.”

“Yes, it is,” I had responded weakly. Only moments before, I'd intercepted my son, Spencer, as he was writing the word poo on Jane's daughter's forehead with my lipstick.

So though we knew little about Trudy's marriage, it was likely as perfect as the rest of her perfect life. Probably a little bland, I would have to surmise, but solid. Trudy and Ken seemed like the “missionary-position-every-second-Friday” kind of couple. If Karen had confessed the sordid details of her extramarital sex romps to Trudy, she might have spontaneously combusted.

I guess it did make sense for Karen to open up to me. I smiled at my friend and gave her hands a squeeze. “Your secret is safe with me.” Then I mimed locking my lips and throwing away the key. Corny, I know, but I couldn't help it. I spent a large majority of my time hanging out with a six-year-old boy.