Step in the Right Direction

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Stepdaughter helps him get over failing marriage.
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John picked up his phone and checked the incoming message from his wife, Tracy. "Going to be another late night at work."

He sighed as he put the phone down. Things had been great for two years. Then, three months ago, the late nights at work had started. Sex was nothing more than a fond memory, and she was distant — at best — whenever she was home. Any attempt to talk about things resulted in a fight.

Though he had only circumstantial evidence — such as newly purchased bras and panties in the laundry that were hardly everyday wear — he was certain she was cheating on him.

It didn't take much of that for him to go from heartbroken to resigned. The marriage was over. It was just a matter of which one of them would broach the subject first. While he was on the verge, so long as he stayed out of her way when she was home, the situation was tolerable. He was essentially alone already, but without the expense of a divorce and effort of moving out.

The front door opened and his stepdaughter Jillian — or Jilly as she preferred — walked in to ask, "Where's Mom?"

"She has to stay late at work again," John answered.

Jilly rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath. "I guess I'll make something for dinner then. You hungry?"

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "I'll find something. Just make whatever you want."

"Well, I was going to make spaghetti, and it's just as easy to make that for two as one."

He had to admit that sounded good. "Well, if you don't mind?"

She flashed him a brilliant smile and said, "Not at all. Be ready in a jiff."

With that, she hurried off to the kitchen with her long, blonde pigtails bouncing.

John shook his head and chuckled. For most of the relationship, he'd barely interacted with Jilly. Teenage girls are not exactly keen to spend time at home with parental figures, so it hadn't really bothered him. She'd decided to take a gap year before going to college, and that had resulted in her being home more. She was like a little storm cloud of young adult angst whenever her mother was home, but lightened up the moment Tracy walked out the door. It was the one bright spot in his life, as her bubbly exuberance was somewhat contagious.

The spaghetti was soon on the table. "That really hit the spot," he said as he sat back after he finished eating.

"Thanks," Jilly said with a smile.

When she started to pick up her plate, he said, "No, you cooked, so I'll take care of the dishes. It's the least I can do."

"No argument from me," she said as she rose from the table.

John rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. He knew that was a luxury he was going to miss when the inevitable happened. He wasn't going to be able to afford anything like that for a long time, most likely. Once the dishwasher was running, he grabbed a beer from the fridge, and sat down to relax in front of the television.

A little over an hour later, Jilly walked into the front room and asked, "Could you do me a favor?"

"What is it?"

"Is there any way I could order something and have it sent to your post office box?"

He was surprised she even knew about the post office box. He'd written some shareware games in the nineties, and while they were severely outdated, a few people still downloaded them every now and then. Because the address was coded as the contact in the game, a few payments and other correspondence showed up there, so he maintained it. It always made him smile when someone showed appreciation for those games.

"Why not have it sent to the house?" he asked.

"Well, I really don't want Mom to find out about it."

That was a red flag. "I don't know if hiding something from your mother is a good idea."

"It's nothing illegal or anything," she quickly countered. "It's just... Well, it's a vibrator."

John's face burned. He hadn't the foggiest idea how to respond to that. He had no idea how to even process Jilly and sex being connected in any way.

"It's so weird, I know," she said. "Please? I just don't want to deal with Mom."

He glanced at her, and his face somehow flushed even hotter. He locked his eyes on the television and fumbled for a response. "It's... I..."

"Please? Pretty please?" she pleaded.

It was getting more uncomfortable by the moment, and in a panicked need to escape, he said, "Okay — so long as we never, ever, talk about this again."

Jilly giggled, and in his peripheral vision, he saw her pull her phone out of her pocket. "Promise. So, what's the address?"

He quickly rattled it off and could tell she was typing on her phone.

"Thanks so much," she said when she finished.

"Don't mention it. Seriously."

She giggled again. "Not a word."

John blew out a long breath between pursed lips when she left the room. It was time for another beer — or three.


A couple of days later, at nearly quitting time, John caught himself admiring an attractive new girl walking toward the copy machine. Having always prided himself on self-control, he knew it was a symptom of the sudden, ongoing lack of sex in his marriage. He silently chided himself for a lapse that could have multiple consequences. Fortunately, she didn't seem to notice, and nobody else appeared to be in a position where they could have seen him.

When his phone sounded off, he checked it to find a message from Jilly saying that her package had been delivered.

He had done a fair job of putting the embarrassing exchange out of his mind, but it was something that couldn't be avoided at that point. Once the workday was done, he drove out of his way to the post office.

In addition to the dreaded locker key he expected, a welcome surprise awaited him. Someone who had played one of his games back in the day had sent him something. The letter described how he had hunted it down, and found a forum where there were instructions on how to run it on a newer system, letting him relive the experience once again. The same forum had revealed that the old post office box address was still in use.

He'd also included a twenty dollar bill, saying it was the old shareware donation with interest.

Buoyed by the unexpected letter, he was still smiling when he opened the locker to retrieve Jilly's package. It was discreetly packaged and could have been any one of a thousand things.

Unfortunately, he knew exactly what it was.

The last thing he wanted to do was hand it over personally. He seriously doubted his wife would be home until after midnight, but he couldn't just put it somewhere in the house on the off chance she did. Putting it in Jilly's room was out of the question. He had never once stepped foot in her room.

At a loss, he replied to her text saying he'd picked it up.

Jilly responded, "My car is in the driveway and my keys are on the hook by the door. Could you put it in my trunk?"

John blew a sigh of relief and replied, "Will do."

Once at home, he grabbed his stepdaughter's keys, deposited the package in her trunk, and promptly tried to forget about the whole thing. He wasn't in the mood to cook anything, so he grabbed a microwave meal from the freezer, nuked it, and ate in front of the television.

He was beginning to feel drowsy from a long day at work and a second beer when he looked at his phone. Tracy hadn't even bothered to text him to tell him she would be late the day before, and it was looking as if that would be the case again. Fortunately, their king-size, memory foam bed meant he barely even knew she was there when she finally did sneak in each night.

John shut down the television, yawned, and decided to turn in early. He had barely settled into bed when he heard a car pull up in the drive. The front door opened, and he could hear the jangle of keys. His face warmed when he realized his stepdaughter was going to retrieve her package.

Though he tried to close his ears and drift off to sleep, he still heard her come back in and hang her keys up. Only a minute later, he heard her opening a drawer, and his face burned even hotter. From the direction of the sound, she was getting into the junk drawer, where the packs of batteries were. She then proceeded directly to her bedroom.

John turned onto his side and clamped the pillow down over his hot ear.


The next day after work, John was shocked — and more than a little apprehensive — to see his wife's car in the garage. Even though he'd gone out with co-workers after quitting time, he had hardly expected her to be home. Confusion slipped into the mix when he saw her walking toward the door with a suitcase as he entered.

"Hey, guess what?" Tracy asked with an exuberance that had become quite rare of late.

"Going somewhere?"

"The CEO asked me to come with him to a conference this weekend in Vegas."

John kept his feelings in check and the acid out of his voice when he said, "Really?"

"Mmm hmm," Tracy said as she sat down the suitcase near the front door. She'd already placed another suitcase and a garment bag there earlier. "I think I might finally be getting that promotion. I've been working so hard for it."

"That's great," he said, faking a smile. He strongly suspected the work she was doing wasn't at her desk, but rather on her back. The CEO had coincidentally divorced his wife at about the same time Tracy had grown distant. He was John's first guess as to whom she was sleeping with.

"I leave first thing in the morning, so I'm going to get in the shower and go to bed."

John nodded, not trusting his voice. His wife turned and headed toward the stairs. He barely kept his seething anger in check as he went about his after-work routine.

Once he heard her get in the shower, he headed directly to the bedroom, and to a specific drawer. Upon slowly drawing it open, he clenched his teeth and suppressed a growl. Most of her sexy lingerie was missing. He had little doubt it was all in one of the suitcases she'd packed.

She was barely trying to hide her infidelity any longer. She must have realized that he was biding his time.

Or perhaps she thought he was too stupid to figure it out. Maybe she'd decided he was too much of a pussy to challenge her.

He sighed when he realized the latter was somewhat true. A divorce was barely going to affect her. He was the one who would have to move out and start over, because the house was hers from before they got together. Even though he made good money, it would take some time to get back on his feet. He'd rationalized that he was waiting until the right time, but he'd done absolutely nothing to further that end.

A weekend with her out of town was as good a time as any to tackle that.

It somehow felt more real as he considered his options. Maybe somewhere in the back of his head, he was hoping that he was imagining it all, and eventually, they'd work it out. There was too much evidence at that point for even his subconscious to be so naive.

Resigned to reality, he avoided her — which wasn't difficult. She went directly to the bedroom after her shower and didn't come out. He sat on the couch, drinking beer, and watching television.

Jilly gave the suitcases by the door a hard look when she came in. She offered him a sad smile and a wave before heading to her room.

The thought of climbing into the same bed — separate as they were — made his stomach turn, so John crashed out on the couch. Seven beers made that a little easier than he'd intended.


John yanked the throw off the back of the couch and covered his eyes when he awakened. His mouth was dry, his head was throbbing, and the sunlight streaming through the window was burrowing into his brain.

Despite it all, he realized the light was steadily dimming a short while later. He risked a peek and saw Jilly in her pajamas closing the blinds and curtains.

There was a time when he could have downed seven beers and gone all day on two hours of sleep without a blip. Those days were long gone. Though the dimmed light helped, he still felt like dying.

"John, do you want some Excedrin?"

He groaned at the sound of his stepdaughter's voice and lifted the throw. She was standing next to the couch with a large glass of water. Her hand opened to reveal the pills.

"Thanks," he answered — which set off a fresh throbbing in his head. Despite that, he slowly propped himself up against the arm of the couch and reached for the pills.

"Drink all the water," she recommended.

John downed the pills and said, "Sorry. I shouldn't be setting a bad example."

"I can hardly blame you," she said, followed by a disgusted sound. "If you need anything, just ask, okay?"

He nodded.

"And seriously, drink all the water. It won't help much at first, but it does help," she said as she walked away.

Here I am getting hangover advice from an eighteen-year-old, he thought. He downed the water, refilled the glass, and finished a second. Though he still felt like hell, he forced himself to rise, shower, and get down to the business of planning his eventual exit.

While he was looking into divorce attorneys, he heard Jilly approaching. He quickly brought up the home screen on his phone and glanced her way, which resulted in a surprise. Jilly was wearing her hair down.

"You're a guy, so how does this look?" she asked.

John shrugged and said, "It looks just fine. You look a little older, actually."

"Better than up in tails?"

"I wouldn't say better. There's nothing wrong with the way you usually wear it."

"I mean, as a guy, which is more attractive?"

"Don't worry about that so much. You should do whatever makes you happy, and worry about what other people think second."

She sighed. "Come on. Pretend you don't know me. Which way would make you more likely to come talk to me?"

"Seriously, it wouldn't matter to me," John said. A voice in his head added As if any guy would be paying attention to her hair. His ears burned because he was thinking that her lithe, young body would be the focus.

"But I look older with it down?"

He shrugged. "Yes, but don't be in a hurry to grow up. Adulthood looks good to you now, but once you get there, it honestly kind of sucks."

She offered him a smile that had a hint of sadness to it. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"I think I'll keep putting it up."

"Whatever makes you happy," he reiterated.

Jilly turned to leave, but when she reached the stairs, she stopped, turned and said, "You know, Mom is really stupid for cheating on you."

He had no idea what to say to that. Some part of him was still in denial, but the signs were so obvious that even an eighteen-year-old had figured it out.

The young woman started up the stairs, but as she walked, she called down, "You deserve better. She's gone all weekend. You should hook up with someone to get even."

How he wished it was that easy. Of all the things he had to dread about the future, the thought of dating again in his 40s was the most daunting. He brought back up the browser and returned to the far less nerve-wracking task of finding a divorce attorney.


John checked his hair and his shave in the mirror. After a productive day of scouting the local apartment market and discovering a lawyer who had given him some solid advice, going out had felt right.

Staring at his reflection in the mirror caused him to have second thoughts. He swore his hair looked thinner and had more gray than it had that morning. A sigh escaped him and he looked away from the old man staring back at him from the mirror.

"Forget it," he muttered to himself as he walked out of the bathroom, planning to change back into casual clothing.

Jilly's door opened, and the sight of her stopped him in his tracks. She was wearing a scandalously short skirt that exposed her smooth, shapely legs. The heels she was wearing only emphasized them all the more. Her top left her midriff and her shoulders both bare.

Somehow, her pigtails made everything else look even naughtier.

It was the most provocative outfit he'd ever seen her wearing, and her mother's absence undoubtedly had something to do with that.

Her eyes lit up and she said, "Nice. So, you're going out? You should get an Uber in case you want to drink. You do know how to do that, don't you?"

Caught off-guard by her sexy outfit, he stammered, "I... Uber?"

Jilly rolled her eyes and chuckled. "Here. Give me your phone and I'll help you set it up."

Reaching into his back pocket for his phone and unlocking it provided a reason to avert his eyes from her — at least momentarily. As soon as he handed it over, she turned and headed toward the stairs.

"Come on," she called as she tapped away.

John followed, doing everything in his power to ignore the way her tight skirt displayed her behind. She sat down on the couch and nodded for him to join her. He did, but made sure he kept a respectable distance between them.

She defeated that effort by sliding in right next to him while directing him in setting up the app. The smell of her perfume further flummoxed him as he tried to follow her instructions.

"There you go," she said. "Your ride will be here in about ten minutes." Her phone sounded off and she checked it. "My ride's almost here too. Don't wait up for me. If you bring someone home, I promise I never saw or heard anything."

She winked, giggled, popped up off the couch, and headed toward the door. A honk sounded from outside just as she opened the door. Jilly let out a squeal of delight as she closed the door and skipped toward the waiting car.

She'd more or less trapped him into going out, and it once again didn't feel like such a bad idea. When his ride-share showed up, he headed out to the bar.


"Tap you another?" the bartender asked.

She was pretty and flirty, but he knew better than to read much into that. She was after tips, and it was working.

John shook his head. His memory hadn't failed him, and he'd already summoned a ride with the app to take him back home. He had felt utterly out of place the whole two hours. While there were a few attractive women around his age in the bar, he was too off his game to even think about making a move.

One positive thing had arisen, however. He tilted his glass and asked, "Don't suppose you have carry-out on this do you?" The local brew IPA she had suggested was going down smooth.

"Sure do. Six pack for the road?"

"Make it two."

"Coming right up."

He arrived home without incident, showered, changed, and kicked back on the couch. A little scrolling brought him to a movie he hadn't seen in years. Revenge of the Nerds didn't really hit the same way it had when he'd snuck the VHS tape out of his father's stash all those years ago, but it had its moments.

"We've got bush!" Booger declared at the same moment John noticed headlights stopping in front of the house. When he saw Jilly climb out of an unfamiliar car, he quickly stopped the movie and returned to the home screen.

In sharp contrast to the way she was strutting and skipping when she left, Jilly looked forlorn as she entered the house.

"Guess your night went about as well as mine," she said bitterly while closing the door.

"You okay?" he asked.

She answered with a shrug, and headed for the stairs.

He knew the feeling, but at least she was young and pretty. She'd have plenty of great nights to make her forget all about this one. He wasn't so sure that the evening wouldn't be yet another in a string of sour end notes for him.

John finished his beer and scrolled, but didn't find anything else that piqued his interest to watch. While he was searching, he heard Jilly get in the shower, and then go to her room. Between the hour and the alcohol, he decided it was time to call it a night as well. He shut down the television and headed for bed.