Tarnished Stars : Pagosa Cliffs Book 1

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Men think of Trust as iron-clad, binding and strong; to women, Trust is tenuous and fragile, gossamer like a butterfly's wing.

The media had been all over the raid on Wide Receiver Micheal Simons’ boat in Cabo San Lucas and the suspicion that he had allowed an under-aged prostitute to travel on the ‘No Regrets’ from Hawaii to Mexico. The League Commissioner had no choice but to suspend Simons for the first six games of the season.

Vincent ‘Meathead’ Cappanelli had been the only other Texans player on the boat with him. The other seven players had followed Luke and Tank’s lead and were at the airport or already flying home when the raid occurred. The publicity around the trip and Vincent’s participation, which now included that his wife had left him with their four children after finding herself to now have a STD, ruined his chances of ever reconciling or even getting visitation rights. A judge had ordered child support and alimony. There was a stipulation that if he went through drug and alcohol rehab, and got counseling for sex addiction that he could have supervised visitation. Vinnie had left rehab after the fourth day then he had been found dead in his empty house the next weekend.

The Texans Public Relations and Media Liaisons had managed to keep the names of the other players out of the press with a false report that they had been at a retreat held at the General Manager’s Wyoming Ranch. Luke quit the team after joining Camilla in Miami. The rest had been subjected to rigorous meetings about sexual harassment, addiction counseling, and stress management. The ultimatum from the team management and league hierarchy was keep quiet or find a new career while Simons had been portrayed as the troubled superstar getting help.

It had been a difficult few weeks for Tank, he had been at odds with Irene in private, but in public, she had defended him as attempting to help his troubled teammate. Except for the night after Vinnie’s death, they had slept in separate rooms. Sunday was their fifth marriage counseling session and she had said she would consider moving back into their bedroom after number six. She was hurt beyond what he had imagined and, as her fear and pain poured out to him in the presence of the counselor, he had wished for the power to take it way but, as with any storm, they could only go through it.

Tank had just begun to see a break in the clouds when the team doctor had called him into run some test. Three of the other players, including Simons, had shown symptoms of STD that could be spread even if condoms were used and the GM ordered them all tested, even Tank who insisted he had never slept with any of the women on the boat. That was two days ago and now Tank held the end of his world in his hand, a simple lab printout that would shout to the world he was a liar and a hypocrite.

“This can’t be right,” Tank said in a low disbelieving voice, “There has to be some mistake... I... I didn’t have sex with any of those women. I wouldn’t do that to Irene.” His heart was pounding so hard he almost couldn’t hear the team doctor over it.

“Tanner, I did the test twice because I know you believe what you said. But you said there were days that you were too drunk to remember, is it possible that there was someone that reminded you of Irene?”

“No.” Tank’s answer was sudden and vehement. “I mean, no, Dr Wilson, there weren’t any women on the boat that looked like Irene. I mean... not until the last day and I was headed to the airport when I saw her with Mike.” He was silent for a few moments, trying to remember. There was nothing. “Is it possible... I mean... Irene and I have only had sex once since I got back. Is it possible that she’d be okay?”

“We need to test her, there is medication she can take for the chlamydia and if she has had the HPV vaccine she would be safe from that, but you need to tell her as soon as possible. I’m sorry, Tank.” Dr Wilson’s voice was kind and sympathetic.

“Is there any other way I could have caught these? She’s going to think I lied to her. Her father cheated on her mother for years before they divorced, adultery is the one thing she won’t forgive.” He knew the question was in vain but he asked it anyway.

“Did you have sexual relations with any of the men?” Dr Wilson asked in a skeptical voice.

“No.” Tank answered quietly. “I’m not like Jarvis. I’m not on the down low.”

“Then I am sorry, you need to tell her as soon as possible. I’ll get the chlamydia medication for you both but she needs to get in to see her GYN and get tested for HPV if she hasn’t been vaccinated. It makes women have a much higher risk of reproductive cancer.” Dr Wilson patted Tank’s shoulder as he walked out.

Tank bowed his head and fought the urge to cry. Suddenly, he remembered vaguely waking up spooning Irene and the smell of her braids before he fell back asleep. He had woke up alone and assumed it was a dream, then Mike had said they hung out with a friend of his. Tank dialed Simons’ number.

“Hey Tank, you got the news too? Man, I am so sorry, I didn’t know that whore was diseased.” Mike apologized before Tank could even speak.

“Who was she, Mike? The one who looked like Irene. Was she one you got me to fu*ck so you could ruin my marriage?” Tank demanded in a hot voice.

“Man, I wasn’t trying to ruin your marriage, I was trying to help you live a little. Just tell the bi*tch that you caught something swimming in Mexico. Those beaches aren’t clean.” Mike sounded patronizing, like he was doing Tnak a favor.

“Irene is an RN with a master’s degree in nursing. She knows how people get STDs. She’s going to leave me.” Tank growled. “I promised her I wouldn’t cheat on her. I’ve told her every day since I got home that I was faithful. I thought you were my friend, why would you do this to me?”

“Look man, I am your friend, but you gotta understand, a brother doesn’t want to see a fine-ass black goddess like Irene with some white farm boy from Kansas. It wasn’t going to last once you got over your cocoa fetish. You should thank me that you weren’t four kids in when it happened like Vinnie.”

“First of all, I’m from Colorado, not Kansas, and second, Vinnie killed himself because you convinced him that it was okay to screw around on Lynette because he was an all star.” Tank snarled, getting more offended by the moment.

“That poor guappo just couldn’t handle the life. Look, Tank you should thank me for freeing you up. I’m being your best friend here, and let me tell you, man, you can’t handle your tequila.” Mike laughed and when Tank said nothing he continued. “Look Tank, it will be fine. After you retire, you’ll find some nice, white, country girl with blonde hair, have some pretty white babies, and live happily ever after on a farm in Canada.” Thomas suddenly felt very sick, he had never realized how poisoned Mike’s heart was till that moment or that his self-proclaimed best friend wasn’t okay with his interracial marriage.

“You were never my best friend. Irene was my best friend, and you destroyed my marriage on purpose because you are just a jealous, pathetic, racist drunk who has to pay not to be alone. Lose my number, Mike, because I swear to gawd, I will kill you if I see you before training camp.” Tank hung up on his teammate.

Dr. Wilson was standing in the door, holding two bottles of pills. He just looked at Tank with sad understanding.

“What am I going to do, Doc? Irene is going to think I have been lying to her this whole time, that I broke my promise, that I did to her what her father did to her mother...” He honestly wanted to throw up.

“Tell her the truth, Tanner, tell her you don’t remember anything. You’re a stand up guy, everyone knows it. Either she will forgive you and take you back, or she won’t. She’ll need to start this as soon as possible. Give her the test results. She’s a nurse, she’ll understand them, but she can call me if she has any other questions.” Dr Wilson patted Tank’s arm. “I’ll say a prayer for you, son.”

Tank was sitting in the kitchen when Irene got home at 6AM. She had worked ten straight 8PM to 5AM night shifts in the cardiac ward, a position she had fought to get. It was her dream job. Now she had four days off before starting again. He had spent an unbearable thirty hours since he walked out of the team doctor’s office, waiting to tell her something he never imagined he would have to tell her.

“Hey babe,” she smiled, setting a box of Daylight Donuts on the counter. “You’re up early, going for a run?”

Tank opened and closed his mouth a few times, a tear ran down his face and her smile faded.

She came around the island and hugged him. “Babe, what’s wrong? Did someone die?”

He hugged her and wept. He knew exactly what was about to happen and he didn’t want this to be the last moment he had with her. Not like this, not because someone who was supposed to be his friend had killed the thing he loved most in the world.

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember. I... I thought it was a dream... I didn’t know how much he hated me, hated us.” He was gasping out the words. “I love you more than anything, I didn’t mean to do it.”

Irene was starting to get alarmed. “Thomas, you’re starting to scare me. What is going on?”

“Remember when I told I was so homesick, I dreamed I was sleeping with you?” He asked brokenly.

She tried to pull away but he wouldn’t let her go. He wasn’t ready to let her go. “Mike got me talking about you and how much I missed you, and he got me drunk on Sangria and Tequila and I just... I don’t know what happened. I didn’t realize you were right, he hated me, he hated us. He told me today that he didn’t like seeing me married to you and he was just trying to help me. He did it on purpose to ruin us. I was such a fool. I’m sorry... I am so sorry I didn’t listen to you. Please forgive me.” Tank begged.

“What did you do? What is going on?” Her voice had a terrified edge.

“I... we have to take some medicine and Dr Wilson wants to know if you’ve had the HPV vaccine because...”

She slapped him, slapped him hard enough that he saw spots. It was then she noticed the prescription bottles and crumpled paper from the lab. She snatched it off the counter and read it, then she took the bottle with her name on it and quietly took one. Getting a glass of water, she drank the whole thing and set the glass on the counter.

“Please, angel, please look at me.” Tank begged. “Say something.”

She turned and looked at him and he wished she hadn’t. Her eyes held the same look they had for Ellen’s ex Jay ,and for her father. “Tell Dr Wilson, I have had my HPV vaccine and all other vaccines necessary. I will follow up with my GYN as soon as I can get an appointment. Excuse me, Thomas, I’ve had a long night.” She walked away and he followed.

“Angel, Irene, I love you. I’m sorry.” He could feel his world collapsing. “I don’t remember.”

She paused at the bottom of the stairs, without turning, she whispered in a pained voice, “You’re a cheater. It doesn’t matter whether or not you remember, or if you are just lying to try to save yourself. The proof is in the petri dish. I warned you about Mike, and I only ever asked you for one thing... just one thing... I’m sorry, I can’t forgive you. I love you... but I can’t live with a cheater like my father. Goodbye, Thomas.”

She walked up the stairs and closed the door to the room she was sleeping in. Following her upstairs, he could hear her sobbing into her pillow and his knees buckled. Sitting in the hall, he listened to her heartache, heard her trying to talk herself into being strong enough to survive his infidelity, and asking the lord why she wasn’t good enough to be loved faithfully.

Tank took T.J. to the park and to McDonalds for lunch. They were watching a Pokemon movie when Irene came down. She looked pale and tired, like she hadn’t slept at all. She took her pill without a word and began making dinner.

“Mommy, Daddy took me too the park and we caught three Pokemon.”

As Thomas Jr described the imaginary creatures of Pokemon Go, Irene nodded emptily. She never once looked at Tank, just past him. Dinner was oddly quiet, with T.J. talking about spring break next week and the boy in preschool who put his boogers in the girls’ hair like glue and sprinkled glitter on them. Thomas would have been falling out of his chair laughing, if his soul wasn’t dying. Later, Irene took T.J. for his bath, then put him to bed. Tank was standing in the door of their guest bedroom when she came out, holding the door open.

“What is all this?” He demanded. There were cardboard boxes filled with her things and T.J.’s baby things. Their wedding stuff was dumped in a pile in the corner. His things from their storage boxes were laying on the bed.

“I am accepting the job offer in Galveston. I found a rental, near the hospital. It is by a good school. I put the deposit on it over the phone and we’ll will be moved out by Monday. You may have T.J. one night a week. If you fight me, I will tell your son what you are. I will not be my mother. I don’t want anything from you. You get this house, the Lexus, everything. I won’t even ask for child support or alimony, I make good money myself. I only want one thing, I want you to tell Mike Simons that he can go fu*ck himself, and that if he ever comes into my ER, I will let him die.”

“Irene, don’t do this.” He begged, “I’ll do whatever you want, anything you want, see any counselor... just name it. I love you.”

She looked at him with the same dead eyes he had seen this morning, she repeated the same thing she said earlier, “I loved you too and I’m only asked you for one thing... I’m sorry, I can’t forgive you. I can’t live with a cheater.”

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