STATE OF GRAY
A Cal McAffrey story
Katherine Sherman was just cleaning up the last of the dishes when she heard a knock at the door. Though the tall leggy brunette lived alone, she often cooked several meals in advance so she had something available to throw into the microwave when she arrived home from a long day at the office. More than once she congratulated herself for the foresight. In fact she hadn’t yet eaten. She just wanted to put the kitchen into some semblance of order first.
“Who in the world is knocking on my door at this hour?” Wiping her hands on a towel, Kate moved to the front door and peered through the security hole before opening up. She smiled when she saw who it was.
As she opened the door she exclaimed, “Cal McAffrey! Only you would disregard convention and show up at a woman’s door unannounced and uninvited at this hour!”
Cal stood there for a moment looking somewhat bleak before moving to the open door and offering Kate a hug. “You don’t really mind, do you, Kate? I really need to talk to you.”
This wasn’t the first time Cal showed up out of the blue. Usually he needed to get things straight in his mind and used her to listen to his train of logic before stating his case in writing. He was one of the best investigative journalists in Washington. The emphasis was on journalist not reporter. Cal prided himself in digging for the truth not just regurgitating the same predigested pap that so many news reporters used instead of looking for the facts.
He used her to listen and he used her for sex. The first she didn’t mind the latter she did. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy him; she did. He was a wonderfully sensuous and generous lover but he offered nothing more than that. It hurt her to know he didn’t care for her the way she cared for him.
“Well, since you’re here, come on in.” She hugged him in return. He stood tall, around 6 feet, with green-blue eyes, a scruffy beard, twenty extra pounds around the waist and hair long enough to make you wonder why he was born two decades too late to be a hippy. He wasn’t a man you’d pick out of a crowd at a bar. But when he smiled it melted her heart. His face lit up completely and he looked about 10 again. Unfortunately, she didn’t see that smile nearly enough and it seemed that she saw it less and less as he grew older.
“So take off your coat and come into the kitchen. I was just about to eat, you can join me.”
Cal did as she asked and hung his coat on the coat tree near the door. He wondered again at how he always ran to Kathy when something bothered him. They had known each other since they were little. Coming from the same neighborhood, he was her oldest brother’s best friend. He had spent more time at their house than he did at his own. She was the little sister he didn’t have and he had always stood up for her and spoiled her as much as he could. It wasn’t until he returned home one summer after college that he began looking at Kathy in a different light.
Kathy had been very involved with a boy who she thought was going to marry her after high school. When he left for college he made it clear that she was part of his past and would never be in his future. Cal on the other hand had come home hurting because Anne, the love he was looking for, was in love with his college roommate. She had made it clear that they could never be more than friends.
It turned out to be a summer of consolation for both Cal and Kathy. They spent a good deal of time together giving and receiving assurance that each had much to offer someone else. Someone who deserved what they had to give.
Kathy had gotten a job and moved into her own apartment. Cal had helped her move and everything seemed to be working out. Then it happened. Cal was ashamed for what he did. After all she was like a sister to him. But he had to admit she didn’t feel like that. The next morning he made his apologies and left.
She hadn’t seen him the rest of the summer and all of the fall. It wasn’t until he came to her parents' house for Christmas Eve that she had a chance to talk with him. He was still embarrassed and she tried to put him at ease. But they never saw each other again except at family get-togethers, until her wedding to Ken Sherman.
The day of the wedding Cal had gone to the bride’s room before the wedding to wish her the very best. He was glad she was marrying. Once she was someone else’s wife she would be off limits to him. Then maybe they could resume their relationship as it was before he’d so stupidly slept with her. He needed her in his life. He’d missed seeing her. She was the easiest person he knew to talk to. Though Cal could pursue a story by questioning witnesses fiercely, he was basically shy. His personal self-esteem came from his writing. He was really, really good at what he did and received all his worth from that alone.
Kathy had taken his breath away when he saw her standing there waiting for the moment she would begin her walk down the aisle. She had welcomed him in and requested that her bridesmaids and her mother wait outside for a moment while she spoke with Cal. He started to tell her he was happy for her but she interrupted.
“Cal, I thought maybe you’d tell me you didn’t want me to marry Ken.”
“Why would I do that? You love him, don’t you?”
Kathy stood looking at him with tears in her eyes. “I think you know who I love.”
Cal swallowed hard. “Kathy, don’t. I do love you, just not that way. Besides, I’m not someone to marry. You have a chance to be a wife and mother to a man who’ll take care of you. You deserve that. Not a…” he hesitated saying everything, “guy like me.”
He dried her tears and kissed her on the forehead. Once he walked out she decided he was right. If she couldn’t have what she wanted then it didn’t matter. Ken was as good as the next and she wouldn’t be alone.
Cal spent time with her and Ken over the next few years. He was there for her when she miscarried twice and was told not to attempt pregnancy again. He held her hand and cried with her. It wasn’t until after Ken died in a car accident that Kathy again had Cal in her bed.
He had showed up on their anniversary six months after Ken’s death, determined that Kathy wouldn’t be alone on such a day. She had taken Ken’s death very hard and refused to go anywhere but to work and the grocery store. Ken had been a good husband and did everything he could to make her happy. And she was. He wasn’t Cal, but that was all right. When he died there was a huge void in her life, one she couldn’t imagine ever filling again.
She had been so lonely. She needed Cal more than ever and he gave himself to her. He wanted her still, always, but he couldn’t become what she needed. He still loved Anne.
In the following days, weeks, months and years, Cal would come to her for her comfort and his, but he never promised her more than an evening in his arms.
Tonight was different. He came to give her something he never thought possible…his love. This was not the kind of love of a friend or brother, it was the love of a man to a woman. The kind that said, “I want you for the rest of my life.” The kind that said, “I would die for you.”
He walked into the little kitchen and sat at the small table. He watched as she dished him a plate and sat it on the table in front of him. Once she finished her plate she sat across from him and said a prayer.
They ate mostly in silence. Finally she asked, “So what brings you here, Cal? Not getting any elsewhere?”
It stunned him to think that she thought that was the only reason he came by. He had to admit that he rarely left without filling her bed.
“Is that how you see me…a simple user?”
He looked so bleak she didn’t have the heart to tell him what she really thought. She’d waited nearly twenty years for him to come around. She had given up hope. “I use you, too, you know. I guess we both get something out of it. So why not?”
Cal sat and contemplated his next move. Was he about to have his very fragile heart shredded? Had her feelings for him changed? If so, he couldn’t blame her. But he wasn’t sure he could survive if she turned him away.
“I think you may have already answered one of the questions I wanted to ask.”
“And what was that?”
“Am I a lowlife piece of shit? I came to tell you that I wrote a story, a very damning story, about Stephen Collins.”
Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head. “You mean your college roommate, Congressman Stephen Collins?”
He looked down at his plate. “Yes. It will effectively ruin his chance of ever being re-elected. His career as a politician is over. I didn’t want to hurt him or Anne, but the truth needed to be told and I told it.” He paused for a moment. “It isn’t the first time I’ve abused a friendship. I slept with the man’s wife and I slept with my lifetime friend’s sister. I’m not an honorable man, so what makes me expect others to be honorable?”
“Cal, from what you told me about Stephen Collins, he was sleeping around on his wife long before she slept with you. It wasn’t right, but you weren’t the only one at fault. They were both as guilty as you and I can’t help but feel he got what he deserved. As for me, well, you know as well as I do that you could have had me as long as you wanted. You didn’t. You considered my feelings and walked away. As far as anything that has happened since Ken died, that was as much my idea as yours.”
“So you’re saying I’m not a complete asshole?”
She took a deep breath. “I’m saying that reporting a serious breach by one of our politicians is necessary. I know it makes it hard when it is someone we know, but nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary. It takes a man of integrity to put aside his personal feelings to do what needs to be done. You may pay a personal price but that only adds to who you are. And, McAffrey, I don’t think you’re an asshole, never did.” She paused before continuing. “So, I assume Anne will probably end up leaving him once he’s no longer a political figure, right?”
“No, I don’t think so. You saw all the news about his affair, right?” She nodded. “Well, Anne came to me after all the embarrassment and offered to be with me.”
Kathy’s heart skipped a beat. She had been wrong. She still loved Cal and he was about to tell her that she would never have him in her bed or in her life ever again. Anne would see to that.
“I told her no, Kathy. I’ve been dancing around for twenty years using Anne as an excuse not to do what I know now I always wanted to do.”
He looked directly in her eyes. “What was that, Cal?”
He swallowed hard. “I want you to marry me, Kathy.”
“What?” She could hardly breathe.
“I realized when Anne came to me that the only woman I ever really shared my life with was you. You know me, Kathy. You know all the good and bad. I’ve never held back with you except to tell you I loved you. I never saw myself like you did. I never felt worthy of you. I probably am still not good enough for you. But I do love you and I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
For several moments she held him in suspense. He thought at first she was going to tell him no. Then like the sun through the clouds her smile lit up his world. She was laughing and crying at the same time.
“Well, it took you long enough!” She stood and so did he.
“I’m sorry I’m such an idiot. But I promise I’ll be good to you.”
He still hadn’t gotten it. There was no need to plead his case, She was his and always had been.
She moved to embrace him. “How soon can we make this happen, McAffrey? I’ve already waited too long.”
He wasn’t sure he understood correctly. “You’re saying yes?”
She laughed, “Yes!”
Two weeks later Cal McAffrey, brilliant journalist, staunch bachelor, and good friend, changed Katherine Sherman’s last name for the second time. They both moved from the gray shadow of the past into the stark white of a new future.
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