“Return to sender” a short story

We all make mistakes, errors of judgment, stupidly or otherwise.

I’ve made a few, just like in the words of a song that rattled around in my head for a long time after.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but there was one that, in the end, I didn’t.

But I guess it took a while to get to that point.

Sometimes it’s hard to work out why, sometimes because it’s simply time, others, well when you look back you realize that it should have happened for so many reasons, but at the time you couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

We were in a bad place.

I’d been spending too much time traveling in a job that I had begun to hate, and I could see our relationship slipping away.  It was not that neither of us cared for the other, or even stopped loving each other, it was simply the stresses of everyday life.

And it was not as if Chloe didn’t have a high-pressure job, the one she had always wanted, and the one, we agreed, nothing would get in the way if she was given the opportunity.

I was happy with that, and for her.  She was as entitled to have her dream job, as I was.  I thought, I think we both thought, and believed, that would be the foundation of a good relationship.

And it was, to begin with.

There’s a point where there is a catalyst, that action, or statement, or person, or moment in time that comes along like a wrecking ball, and sets a series of events in motion, and no one really knows where it’s going to land or it’s effect.

That event?

I came home early and saw an old friend of mine, Roger, leaving our house.  OK, not so much a big deal, except for the send-off.  Still, even then it might not be such a big deal, because I knew Chloe was a very affectionate, touchy feely sort of person.

It used to faze me, way back in the beginning, but she had said and proved, that I was the love of her life, and that others, well, she made them feel special.

I thought no more about it, of course, and I didn’t even mention it, though at the time when I did walk in the door, she seemed distracted.

And I would not have thought about it again until Roger’s wife, Melissa, called one morning, though why she would call me was a mystery, to say that she was planning to surprise Roger in Las Vegas.

OK, I was suitably surprised, thinking that she was suggesting that Chloe and I should both go and make a weekend of it.  We had done it before because Melissa was a travel agent, and sometimes got airline and hotel deals that made it affordable.

I remember saying that as far as I was aware Chloe was in Pasadena doe the week on a conference.

No, she said, Chloe was co-incidentally in Las Vegas and Roger had accidentally run into her.

Should alarm bells be going off, I wondered, when that sliver of memory of him leaving popped back into my mind?  No, it was just me, running around like a headless chook, failing to read her diary correctly.

I simply said, fine, and told her to make the arrangements.

It was going to be a surprise because I hadn’t seen Chloe for two or three weeks, time seemed to pass too quickly these days, and it would be good for the both of us to spend some time together, away from home and the stresses of our respective jobs.

I met Melissa at the airport.  Unlike Chloe, she was traveling light with only a carry-on bag.  I was used to moving fast and light with a bag that fitted in the overhead locker.

Sher had secured business class which was a treat because, in this day and age of economics, that perk had disappeared a while back and was only available to the senior staff.

Onto the fourth glass of champagne, she dropped her bombshell, whether deliberate or otherwise I was never sure.

“It was very nice of Chloe to find Roger a job in her company.”

Did she, I thought.  It was the first time I’d heard about it, and my expression must have given me away.

“You didn’t know.”

“Chloe never mentioned it, no.  But it is like her.”  She had also employed members of her family that, in my opinion, wouldn’t get a job anywhere else.

“Odd, don’t you think?  It’s been about a year now.  His company went broke, and all the employees were tossed out onto the street with nothing.”

A year was a long time to forget to tell someone.  “Has it.  Perhaps it just slipped her mind.  She doesn’t tell me everything that goes on, nor do I want to know unless she thinks it’s important.”

Except employing my best friend was important, and it surprised me that he hadn’t told me himself.  He was never backward in bragging about his achievements.  Odd, yes, that he hadn’t told me he’d lost his other job.

Melissa had found out the hotel they were staying in, how I had no idea and didn’t ask, and it was simply a matter of telling the front desk clerk their spouses had arrived, and without question, he handed over the keys.

They were staying on different floors which to me made sense.  I wasn’t expecting they would be staying together, but I had an awful feeling Melissa had.

On the floor, I went to the room and knocked on the door.

A minute later the door opened.  Chloe, still in her nightgown, and an expression which lasted a fraction of a second before it registered surprise.


Any other time, I might have thought she was expecting someone else.

Then my phone buzzed, an incoming message and I looked at it.

From Melissa.  “Lobby, now.”

I looked up, thought how beautiful she still looked, and said, “Hold that thought.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Then I closed the door and headed for the elevators.

Once inside and going down, my brain finally registered what it had just seen.  A woman prime for sex with that lustful look she used to have when we were first married.  Yes, she had been expecting someone, only not me.

Yet, in that moment of realization, I wasn’t mad at her or angry.  She was exactly where she was because of me, and my lack of consideration.  I had several opportunities to toss in the job that was clearly causing us issues, and I didn’t.  It was inevitable we were going to end up here.

When I stepped out of the elevator, I looked for Melissa, but she was not immediately noticeable.  Then, a further scan showed she was outside, and not in a good state.  When I reached her, it was evident she had been crying, and she was angry.

“Is it what I think you’re going to say?”

She nodded.  “When he opened the door, his first words were, “Chloe you sly fox, back for seconds?  And then nearly had a heart attack when he saw me.

“I’m sorry.  But did you have an idea this might happen?”

She nodded.

It explained everything, the hints, the sadness, the trip.  Obviously, she had known about it for some time.

I gave her a hug, and she melted into my arms, and we stayed that way until I saw Roger coming out of the elevator, looking around.

“Roger’s coming,” I said.

“I don’t want to see him, much less talk to him.”

“Then I’ll head him off.  Do you want to go home?” Again she nodded.  “Then get a taxi to the airport and I’ll be along in a short time.  I’ll text you when I’m leaving.”

A quick look in Roger’s direction, she headed to the taxi rank, and just as Roger came out the door, her taxi departed, leaving him standing there.

He saw me coming towards him, and to give him credit, he didn’t run.  It would be difficult for him to know exactly how I might react.


“My best friend, Roger.  I might have been able to cope if it was some random guy, but not you.”


If he was going to try and justify himself, or make excuses, I didn’t want to hear it.  “Now is not the time.  I’m going to take Melissa home, and I suggest you take the time to figure out how you are going to deal with her because I’m not the problem.”

He was going to reply but possibly thought twice about it.  Instead, he shrugged.  “Later then.”

I watched him go back inside.  What I should have done, then, was go back to see Chloe.  The thing is, I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t want the conversation to descend into blame, or worse.  Better I just head for the airport and come to grips with what I was going to do next.

As expected, about five minutes after the taxi had left for the airport, Chloe called.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said.  Her tone was not confident, but a little bit hesitant.

“Sorry.  Roger came looking for Melissa, and seeing him, well, that just threw me.”

“I’m sorry I lied to you?”


“Going to Pasadena.  I came here to end it because it made me realize what was missing between us, and I wanted it back.”

“And if Melissa hadn’t played out her worst fears that would have worked.  The world, it seems, works in mysterious ways.”

If I thought about it, I might have had suspicions, but I was not the sort of person to let them get the better of me.  And had it not been for Melissa, my ignorance would have been bliss.

“What is it telling us, then, Tom?”

“That we need to take a step back.  I know that I’m to blame as much as anything else, and although you might find it hard to believe, I don’t hate you, nor am I angry with you.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.  I saw the signs and I didn’t do anything about it.  We’ll talk when you come home.”

I disconnected the call.  My voice had broken, and I hadn’t realized just how much it had affected me, suddenly overcome with great sadness.

I didn’t go home.

On the plane back, I realized that where I lived was just a house.  It wasn’t mine, Chloe’s success had contributed most towards it, and everything else.  If I was to be objective, there really wasn’t anything of me there.

It was easy to walk away.

When Chloe came home and found me missing, she called, three times before I answered.  I had thought long and hard about what we had together, and whether or not we could get over what had happened.  Perhaps, if she hadn’t lied about where she was, perhaps if it had not been Roger, my best friend, who, by the way, was no longer my best friend, I might have considered we had a chance.

But the trust was broken, and I’d always be wondering.  She was successful, she had everything she ever wanted, and she was a grown woman who had to take responsibility for her actions.

She would always be the love of my life; it’s just I couldn’t live with her.  We spoke about divorce, but it never seemed to happen.  I think she always had the notion that we would eventually get back together.

We parted friends but never seemed to travel in the same circles.  On our twentieth wedding anniversary, she sent me a letter, perhaps thinking it was the only way she could speak to me, I had long since traded my old phone in for a new one, in another country.

I toyed with the idea of reading it, but in the end scrawled on it black capital letters, “Not known at this address, return to sender”.  It was time to move on.

© Charles Heath 2021

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