My Guilty Secret by Carrie Hewlett

I have a secret. It brings a glow to my cheeks and sends my senses into orbit. And I can’t stop… 

There is some guilt when I leave the house though. A little voice that says should you be doing this? You know it will hurt him. But in the end, the excitement and pleasure I get overrules any strands of common sense. After all, sometimes you need to take a risk to have a little fun, don’t you? 

OK. Hands up. It’s a guilty pleasure. In the end there’s always consequences. I’m sure there are people who’d soon shake their heads and look disapproving at me, judging me by their standards, but I don’t care. Not when I’m enjoying myself as any normal woman would - and could. 

When we’re out together, giving in to the reckless temptations on offer I feel amazing. The thrill that courses through my body as we wander into shops, or out for expensive lunches is like no other. I find it difficult to describe…the closest I get is that it makes me feel on top of the world. Like I’m somebody special who deserves to be spoiled. Surely everyone deserves to feel like 

that at some point in their lives? 

Walking out of designer stores with purchases nestling in tissue paper, rustling slightly as I walk, makes me positively shiver with delight. And we don’t just go to designer shops either. I’m not a snob. My friend knows that, and makes no comparison. Doesn’t judge. Is just there for me. Almost winking with a cheeky demeanour as if to say, ‘go on. Why not? Treat yourself!’ I can’t resist. 

It’s the same with dining out. Though we do tend to gravitate towards the more luxurious end of the market. But I’m worth it! After all, who can say no to first class cuisine like fillet of beef with chasseur, followed by dainty chocolate triangles with rum mousse, all washed down with an expensive bottle of wine? Exactly! My mouth waters just thinking of it. 

And the unwavering devotion I receive is just what I need to give me that much needed buzz. No recriminations. No question of disloyalty. Just pure, unadulterated pleasure. But then John’s face swims across my subconscious mind, interrupting my dalliances. His dark brown eyes, that could sparkle as if sprinkled with starlight one minute and darken like a curtain had been pulled over the happiness the 

next, reminding me that I’m still married to him. Still owe something to our partnership together. 

That’s when my stomach knots. My moral compass swinging wildly. Some days I’m able to brush it away like an annoying fly buzzing across the windmill of my mind. Other days, like now, it looms bigger, spoiling any guilty pleasure. Making me regretfully face the hard, grim reality of life. 

John and I live in a rented flat. It’s all we can afford. We shop at budget supermarkets, making ends meet as best we can. Coupons for food, cut out from the newspaper, get handed over to the cashier after tins of baked beans and reduced items run helter-skelter down the conveyor belt. As I watch each cut price item get logged through the electronic point of sale my heart plummets in chagrin. 

Sighing, as I head home from yet another beautiful afternoon spent enjoying the luxurious surroundings of a posh hotel, with all the pampering amenities a girl could want, I push open the door, to see John’s cases in the hall. 

“What…?” My voice falters. Shame washing over me as I can see what he’s holding in his hand. A slip of white paper with a row of zeros starkly prominent, like black ink marks staining the pages with my shame. “John…” I whisper. 

He shakes his head at me. A stony look upon his face. Not my jovial, handsome funny husband, but more like a stranger, with hurt and disbelief plastered across for all to see. “Claire. You know how hard things have been. Why would you do this?” 

“Please…I need help. I know I do…” Tears were now running down my face. “Please don’t leave me. I love you.” I ran to him, but his arms stayed stiffly by his side, refusing to clasp me close, safe and warm. 

With a strength I didn’t know I had, I take a step away, before reaching for his hands. Lifting them, I hold them to my chest. “I’m sorry. I know I need to stop. Please…help me…” I knew I had to change. My relationship with John meant everything to me. More than spending money on things I didn’t really need. I blinked at the sudden realisation. What on earth was I doing, putting my marriage at risk? All for a few trinkets and clothing with some fancy label in. 

John sighed, staring deep into my eyes, as though he were looking for confirmation that I meant what I was saying. After a beat, he nodded. “Yes. I believe you do. This isn’t going to be easy. You know that. These bills need to be paid.” 

“I know. I’ll get another job, work extra hours. I’ll speak to someone and get help…join a support group. Anything. I know I have to change, but I need your support to do so. I can’t do this on my own…I just can’t…” My voice cracked. 

John sighed heavily, nodded again. “I believe you. OK. Together we’ll do this. I love you, and I married you in sickness and in health and…” He gave an empty, hollow laugh. “Addiction. But if you ever let me down…” He paused, giving me a straight look. A look that was both determined, loving and resolute. I knew that look. One thing about John was that he was loving, kind and all kinds of wonderful. But if ever somebody let him down or broke his sense of loyalty there was no going back. I had this one chance, and I wasn’t going to blow it. 

I stared at him with what I hoped was an honest expression; one full of hope, love and a strength of determination I didn’t even know I possessed. With John’s help I knew I could do anything. Even beat a shopping addiction. “I promise I will never let you down,” I said. And I meant it. 

John pulled me into his arms and at that moment I knew that love conquered all and was the greatest gift anyone could ever give – or receive. 

Published in Issue #20

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