The Much Loved Librarian - How Polygamy Might Be Good
Steve Thorne was a cheerful, happily married librarian in his middle thirties. He and Diane had two children, Jasmine and Leonard.
Before starting Jasmine, Steve and Diane had decided that if they had to pay for childcare out of the relatively small wages Diane could earn, then after travel and expenses it would not be worth Diane working. So while there were small children at home Diane would not work. Once that decision was made they were both happy with it. Living carefully, not having a car, and not going on foreign holidays was part of the price of having children. Steve normally walked about three miles to work, catching a bus only in the worst weather. Walking briskly six miles a day helped to keep Steve fit.
Steve worked extra shifts at Meldon library whenever he had the opportunity, and those extra shift payments had helped Steve and Diane to get ahead. They had over a month’s pay saved up in their bank account. In their early days as a couple they had lived from pay day to pay day, so having this small financial buffer made them feel relatively comfortable. There was a second rather larger financial buffer hidden in Diane's wardrobe, cash earnings from Diane's child minding. This left Steve and Diane feeling pretty happy and confident with their world.
About six months after Jasmine was born, so about six years ago, the semi-detached house attached to Steve and Diane’s house had been bought by a younger couple. Dave and Sandra had two very small children. After a year living next door Dave and Sandra split up. Dave went to London.
Sandra was one of several assistant managers at a large supermarket. The supermarket prided itself as an equal opportunities employer – it exploited all its employees mercilessly. Sandra worked long shifts at the supermarket, and if an extra shift or part shift came along she was expected to volunteer for it. Sandra’s sister gave Sandra a lot of support. Without the support from her sister Sandra would not have been able to hold down her job. After Dave moved away the sister actually moved in because Sandra needed even more support.
When the Army posted Sandra’s sister’s boyfriend to Aldershot the sister was forced to choose between following her man or continuing to support her sister. She decided to follow her man.
Sandra always had Tuesdays off, and most Tuesdays Sandra would visit Diane or Diane would visit Sandra. Diane visited Sandra one Tuesday afternoon only hours after Sandra’s sister had told Sandra that the sister would be moving to Aldershot at the end of the month. Sandra was crying in her kitchen.
Without support, Sandra would not be able to work. "Assistant manager" sounded a good job, but it was not very well paid. There was the chance after a few more years of becoming "deputy manager" which paid a better wage. As an assistant manager Sandra could not pay a child minder for all of the hours needed. As a deputy manager it would be a struggle to pay for a child minder, but currently as an assistant manager the financial position was hopeless. Once both children were at school the position would improve, but little David was three and Alice was only 15 months old. If only Sandra could get through to Alice starting school Sandra could survive. Child care during school holidays would be a problem. And child care during any child illness would be a financial disaster. But Sandra could not see how to get through the next four years. Another problem with child minders is that they frequently would not take children at weekends or after 6pm, but the supermarket was open about 140 hours a week and Sandra was expected to be "flexible".
If Sandra resigned and went onto social security, the family standard of living would take a further drop. When Sandra tried to get back into work she would start again at the bottom, as a shelf stacker. Sandra had worked at the supermarket since she was sixteen. It had taken Sandra years to get to where she was now, and all that time would be to do again.
Sandra would have to give notice at work immediately because Sandra’s sister was leaving at the end of this month. Sandra was devastated. Dave was working in London, but Dave could not increase the child maintenance he was paying. Understandably Sandra was in tears. Everything Sandra had worked for all her adult life was going down the pan.
Diane obviously had sympathy for Sandra’s situation.
Then Diane saw a possible solution. Diane was stuck at home until Jasmine started school, and Jasmine was only three months older than Alice. Steve and Diane hoped to have more children, so Diane would very probably be at home for a few years further. If Sandra brought the children to Diane in the morning, and collected them when Sandra got home, Diane could see to all the meals and if necessary bathing and putting Sandra’s children to bed in portable cots. Once the children started school they could leave from Diane’s house and come home to Diane’s house.
As a childminder Diane was nearby and reliable. Steve would have to agree because Steve would inevitably have some involvement with David and Alice. Diane expected Steve would agree.
If Sandra liked this idea, Sandra needed to work out what she could sensibly afford. Then she needed to tell Diane. As an hourly rate it would be nowhere near what a childminder charged, and nowhere near the national minimum wage, but it was welcome extra cash for Diane and Steve for not much more effort.
Moving to the present day, David and Alice were now both at school, so the payments had reduced considerably, but for about four years there had been pretty good income from Sandra. There was ongoing income now, and in the school holidays the payments went up again.
Diane had been able to save virtually all the cash she had earned from child minding. Strictly speaking the earnings should have been declared for income tax purposes, but Diane had not received an income tax form since she had had Jasmine. Steve actually did not know how much Diane had earned, but he knew there was a very comfortable stash - thousands of pounds - in Sandra’s wardrobe. They were not blowing it on a car or on holidays because those should come out of income. This was windfall "rainy day" money. It could not be paid into a bank because the taxman might ask questions.
Diane had recently said that she would now like to have a third child, so Steve was doing his part. After twelve years together they were still enthusiastic. They only went to bed with one bottle of white wine now, not two as they had in the early days. When not trying for a child they had sex once or twice a week, usually without wine.
Steve woke up. Diane had a thinking expression while still asleep. Steve watched Diane for a while and then he kissed her forehead.
Diane opened her eyes and she said, "Mary has made an odd request."
Mary was Diane’s closest friend since junior school. Mary and Mike had been in Steve and Diane’s social group for about twelve years.
Mike had been killed in a car crash last year, driving back from seeing a customer in London. His company had been very good about it. Mike had worked a fifty hour week for the company and he had been one of their best salesmen. Mike and Mary’s mortgage had been cleared by the mortgage insurance, and the company pension was really pretty generous. The pension was enough to live on comfortably if one had no mortgage to service. Provided Mary did not actually marry she could live with a man without losing her widow's pension.
Mary was a trim, fit attractive blonde in her middle thirties. She had three children, which tended to put men off. And having children to protect Mary was wary of what men she might bring home. Mary had more sense than to take an unemployed freeloader. So far as Steve was aware Mary had not had any relationships since Mike died, which was a shame because she deserved a decent man. Steve understood that it was difficult for a woman in her thirties with three children to find a good man, but he wished Mary success.
Before Mike’s death, Mary or Mary and Mike had visited probably one weekend in two. The two couples liked each other. Mike spent some Saturdays or weekends selling at conferences, leaving Mary solo with the children. Another factor was that Steve’s job as a librarian required him to work most Saturdays, so Diane welcomed Mary’s company. Diane was usually tied to the house at weekends because of David and Alice. So Mary and her children regularly visited Diane.
Since Mike’s death a lot of couples had stopped inviting Mary to events and parties. Mary was desperate for adult company who would accept Mary’s children. Diane was Mary’s oldest friend.
Steve and Diane enjoyed Mary’s company. Steve and Diane liked Mary’s children. Mary and the children were welcome rather than tolerated. Mary and her children now spent virtually every weekend with Steve and Diane. Mary and Diane cooked together at weekends. They were like sisters. Mary was often there during the week as well. The children got on well. The two families got on well. Mary’s children tended to treat Steve as a father figure.
It got to the point that Mary’s eldest, Samantha, had two weeks ago accidentally called Steve "Dad". Then she was struck with embarrassment. She was only just seven years old.
Steve picked up Samantha and he hugged her. He sat down, he sat Samantha on his lap, and he held her close.
"Darling, Mike was my friend long before he was your daddy. I liked Mike and I respected Mike. And I love Mike’s children."
Steve kissed Samantha on the forehead.
"I love you."
"If you want to call me "Dad" that makes me very very proud and very very happy. It does not take away that Mike was your dad. We all know he was. But you think enough of me to call me "Dad". That makes me feel really good. You can call me "Dad" or you can call me "Steve". I love you either way."
By the end of the day all three children were calling Steve "Dad". Mary did not tell the children not to call Steve "Dad".
Continuing the pillow conversation Diane said to Steve "Mary told me she does not think she will find a man again. She is thirty-five, and she has three young children."
"That’s a shame. She really is very attractive. She deserves a decent man."
"Would you be interested in Mary?"
Steve hesitated. What was this about? Alarm bells were definitely ringing in his head.
"I think any man would be interested in Mary if she were willing. I would have to negotiate with you, because I think you would be a bit cross if I were to start a relationship with Mary."
"Why are you asking?"
"Mary asked if I would share you."
There was a silence.
"Mary said you were a decent man. Mary is my friend so she would not do anything to damage our marriage. But would I share you?"
Steve was stunned. Steve liked Mary as a person and he thought Mary was attractive. While Mary had been with Mike and Steve was with Diane, and both marriages were happy, Steve had never thought of an affair with Mary. After Mike’s death Steve had never thought about comforting the widow in that way. To make a move on Mary, Diane’s best friend and so recently widowed, would be appallingly tacky. It would devastate Diane. Steve thought the world of Diane and he had no thoughts of a relationship with Mary beyond the friendship and respect that already existed.
A sexual relationship with Mary would be no hardship. Was Diane pushing him in that direction?
"You remember when Samantha called you "Dad" and you hugged her and you said you loved her?"
"Well that set Mary thinking. The kids love you and she really respects and likes you. The children see you as their father figure. Mary could see her and you and the kids as a family. And she could see you and her and me as friends and partners and lovers. If only she and I could share you."
"It took her nearly two weeks, but she came to see me yesterday. She cried a lot. Then she told me what she was thinking."
"What did you say?"
"I said I would think about it."
"Then I thought a lot. I thought about me and our kids and you and Mary and Mary’s kids. And I thought about if you had been killed instead of Mike. How desperate and desolate I would be by now."
"I love you. I trust you. I trust you with Mary. She is a good person. You are a good person. She is incredibly lonely since Mike’s death. She said to me a few months ago that she wanted to touch male flesh. She wants a good man."
"What tipped it for me was thinking about if she got a bad man. All the pain and tears and trouble – for her and for the children."
"I had not been thinking about sharing you. But I could share you with Mary."
Steve was silent for a while. This needed very careful handling. No man with normal instincts would turn away Mary if she were available. Mary was not only available but Diane was actively pushing Steve towards Mary. This needed thinking about on so many levels. Steve had always been loyal to Diane. It would not be true to say he had never thought about any other woman, but he had never got beyond a few naughty thoughts. For Steve, his relationship with Diane was the rock of his life. To have sex with Mary with Diane’s full permission was completely unexpected.
A short physical fling with Mary was an attractive idea. If Diane gave permission and Mary was willing, Steve was willing. Consequences were another issue. Steve did not want to hurt Diane or to hurt Mary.
What did Steve think about a long term relationship with Mary? To have a full relationship with Mary and to keep his full relationship with Diane would be great if he could manage it. Steve liked and respected Mary. Had Diane been tragically killed, or died suddenly, joining up with the widow Mary would very likely have happened. Now Steve looked to be possibly about to have the best of both worlds.
How Steve reacted now would affect his relationship with Diane. Should he say "No" or "Yes" or "Perhaps" or what?
Steve was still silent. By now Diane was attracting Steve’s attention in a non-verbal manner. And he was reacting.
"Darling, I can’t think about Mary while you are doing that to me."
"I know. If you are going to play away you will have to give me extras when you are with me. Starting now."
So Diane got her extras and Steve did not think about Mary for a while.
After breakfast, once Jasmine got off to school with David and Alice, and Leonard was dressed and fed, they spoke again. Steve said that in principle he was willing, but it needed very careful handling.
"If we are going to do this, we want it to work for all of us. Does Mary want a regular Sunday night overnighter, or equal shares, or what?"
"We did not get that far. At that point I was taken by surprise. I did not know what I thought. Let alone what your reaction would be."
"Well I am a bit shocked. Mary is very attractive and if I were not with you I would happily be with Mary. Any man would be glad to comfort Mary. If I can make you happy by having a relationship with Mary it is a win-win situation. My only fear is that somehow it goes wrong and I lose you."
"I think you need to have a really good chat with Mary. If you like, I will have all the children overnight here on Saturday, and you and Mary can split a few bottles overnight at her place. Then you guys join us on Sunday and tell me what you have decided. If you both still think it is a good idea I will go to Mary’s place on Sunday afternoon or evening. I have Monday mornings off."
"Just to be clear. I love you. I want you. I was not thinking about Mary until you suggested it. Now that you have suggested I have a relationship with Mary I am willing in principle. You are my sun and my moon and my life revolves around you. Once I start a relationship with Mary that is also a commitment. I cannot turn her on and off like a tap. This could work really well or it could go dreadfully wrong. So I am a bit nervous. But I trust you and I trust your judgement."
"I am a man. The thought of sex with Mary and a relationship with Mary is exciting. Mary is a nice person and she is attractive. And having your permission and encouragement is astonishing."
"The three of us are going to have to work on this to make it work. So the first step is to make sure the women are happy. You can share a kitchen so you can probably share a man. I am off to work about twelve, so invite her over for this afternoon. If you two can agree, I am willing."
With a lot of tears and hugging Diane and Mary agreed the arrangements. This Saturday night all the children would stay with Diane overnight. Steve and Mary would go to Mary’s house for a romantic evening and they would return late on Sunday morning. Assuming the relationship was working Steve would overnight regularly with Mary after his late shift on Wednesday. Mary’s children would be asleep before Steve got there. Romantic Saturday nights would alternate between Diane and Mary.
It was up to Mary to organise contraception for a while. If after some months all was going well the three of them would discuss the future. That would include possibly living together as one household and possibly Mary having a baby with Steve. Diane told Mary she was already pregnant again but she had not told Steve yet because she was enjoying Steve being particularly romantic and attentive. As Mary would soon discover, Steve is good in bed.
Samantha and Jasmine would probably be the first children to notice. Each mother would tell her daughter that Mary was lonely and Steve was spending some time with Mary so Mary would not be so lonely. And that Diane and Mary are both happy with the situation.
Steve was happy with the arrangements. Steve worked on Saturday so when he arrived home in the early evening he hugged everyone. Steve’s hugs were a fraction longer than usual.
Steve and Mary disappeared shortly afterwards, with kisses all round.
At Mary’s house, Steve and Mary just looked at each other for a while. Then they moved closer and hugged. And kissed.
"Mary, if you just want friendship and male skin to touch, that’s fine. If you would like more, so would I. You are a very attractive woman. You know you are. I have Diane’s permission to do anything with you. So we do what we want to do. What we want to do."
"I suspect you have not had a man since Mike died."
"Well I am really honoured that you chose me. I have always liked you. I can love you."
"Steve. Shut up for a few minutes. Let us see what our bodies want to do."
Their bodies wanted to hold each other for quite a while.
Then their bodies started removing clothing slowly. Mary had spread a large towel over the fireside rug. When they had finished it was clear that everything worked as it should.
Steve had brought a bottle of white wine. He explained that he would have only one glass. The rest was for Mary.
They had a glass of wine slowly. Then Mary led Steve upstairs where they confirmed again that everything worked as it should.
"Now" said Mary. I am going to have a shower. Then you have a shower. Dinner is downstairs in 20 minutes."
Dinner was a light supper of prawn and avocado salad followed by steak and one glass of red wine. Steve encouraged Mary to drink more wine to reduce her natural inhibitions, although it was not obvious that it was Mary’s inhibitions that were the problem. There was not much conversation that evening because Mary had significant pent up physical and emotional needs that Steve was very happy to try to meet.
Of course in the morning Mary’s needs had revived. So had Steve. Eventually they dressed and had breakfast.
Returning to Steve’s house, Mary announced that she was taking all the children to the park, which gave Steve and Diane an hour or so of privacy for their needs.
When the party returned from the park, Steve played with the children in the garden. Mary and Diane had the chance to discuss recent events. Mary and Diane were happy with the weekend. Steve had not spoken much, but the ladies knew he had enjoyed his weekend. He was still smiling, as he should.
That Sunday night Steve provided further reassurance to Diane that their relationship was still strong.
On Monday morning, after again providing reassurance, Steve commented that if he were on a constant cycle of providing reassurance to both ladies, then each lady would be having more sex with Steve than Diane had enjoyed before. Diane smiled and commented that there could be worse problems. Steve would just have to cope. Steve smiled, too.
Steve was on a treadmill of reassurance to Diane and Mary, which it has to be said he enjoyed. His biggest concern was that both ladies were happy, which they were.
Dominic, Mary’s middle child, came into Mary’s bedroom one Thursday morning and found Steve in his mother’s bed. With rather more savoir faire than Steve or Mary had expected Dominic said "Hello Daddy" and climbed in between them. Dominic lay on his back, in his pyjamas, holding both of them, and smiling contentedly as if their getting together had been his idea. It was impossible not to kiss him.
Quite soon Thursday morning became "Daddy morning" with all three children.
On alternate Saturdays the children visited each other’s homes and stayed overnight. Steve had a romantic evening and night at the other house with Diane or Mary. Sandra alternated late Saturdays and early Saturdays so Diane and Mary had to arrange the romantic evenings around Sandra’s shift pattern.
Diane had not had so many romantic evenings with Steve for a very long time.
Jasmine and Samantha discussed what was going on. They had been friends all their lives. Both their mothers and Steve seemed entirely happy with the situation but the girls were puzzled. The younger children just accepted that the adults were doing what adults do. Jasmine and Samantha discussed the situation with their mothers and they accepted that Mary was lonely and that Steve was comforting her. Both mothers were singing a lot more than they used to. Steve had always seemed happy so there was no obvious change with him.
After three months all three of the adults were still happy. The two households were happy. It was time now to think about the future. Diane had told Steve she was pregnant. Mary was keen to start a child with Steve, After a lot of thinking and discussion the adults’ first choice was to move into Mary’s house. It had four bedrooms instead of the three bedrooms Steve and Diane had. One bedroom would be for Dominic and Leonard. One would for Samantha and Jasmine and Annie. Mary and Diane would each have a bedroom and Steve would be based with Diane. The new babies would share with their mothers when they were born.
This would free up Steve and Diane’s house for sale or rent. As there was now some equity in the house they could put it on a buy to let mortgage where the rent would more than meet the mortgage, leaving Steve and Diane mortgage free. Or they could sell the house to release the equity. Mary’s pension counted as income for mortgage purposes. There would be enough income from Steve’s wage and Mary’s pension to sell Mary’s house and to trade up to a larger house.
An internet search showed that around Meldon, a house larger than Mary’s four bedroom house was pretty rare. Five bedroom houses are usually detached properties rather than semi-detached, and so are much more expensive. There were no houses at five bedrooms or more within their price range. So trading up to a larger house was just not a practical plan.
Perhaps two semis joined together would be an idea? Starting with the semis they were in, was the other house possibly for sale? Mary’s neighbours were a stable couple with young teenage children. Mary enquired casually and she was told that until the husband retired the couple were unlikely to be selling. That was obviously a long way off.
Sandra was still an assistant manager, but as a long serving assistant manager Sandra had a little more choice of the shifts she worked, and she had first call on any extra shifts. Sandra was very short of money. Sandra could not afford to buy anywhere else. So she could not sell her house.
The making of the enquiry alarmed Sandra. It looked as though there was a danger of losing Diane’s child minding services if Diane moved away. If Sandra had to pay full whack for a proper child minder she would be financially crucified. Sandra was already under tremendous financial strain, with overdue bills she was juggling and no obvious way to pay them.
Diane told Sandra that she and Steve and Mary were considering lots of options.
The adults could in theory find adjoining semi detached houses which were both for sale at the same time but co-ordinating buying two such houses with selling one or both of their houses would be a nightmare. It would be possible to sell Steve and Diane’s house, live with Mary, and combine selling Mary’s house with buying two adjoining semis. Possible, but stressful. Steve and Diane leaving their home would put Sandra in deep trouble but Diane and Steve had helped Sandra quite a lot. Helping Sandra over past years had not created an obligation to carry on helping over future years.
Steve came up with a possible solution. Sandra also had three bedrooms. If the two houses were combined there would be six bedrooms, two living rooms, and two kitchens for the four adults and seven children. This made no provision for Diane’s child on the way, and Mary’s intended child, but if Mary took a living room as a bedroom there would be four child bedrooms that could easily take eight children. And there would be a spare kitchen that could become another bedroom.
Steve liked and respected Sandra as a person. Sandra had an inner beauty and a really cute body. If Sandra would like comforting as part of the deal Steve was very willing. That would be optional for Sandra.
Financially the proposal worked well. The first issue was whether Diane and Mary each wanted to share housing with Sandra. The second issue was whether Diane and Mary were each willing to share Steve further. Once these questions were decided they could put an offer to Sandra.
Diane was shocked that Steve had suggested he should comfort Sandra. The old Steve would not have made that suggestion. Once you let the genie out of the bottle, and suggest Steve need not be monogamous, Steve could not be blamed for noticing an attractive woman living next door and regularly visiting his house. Sandra is attractive, or she would be if she were not perpetually stressed and tired. In her late twenties she is about eight years younger than Diane and Mary. She has probably not had a man in over five years, since Dave left. It was hard for Diane to appreciate how desperate Sandra might be. Or she might not be. People were different.
Diane genuinely liked Steve’s company. She missed Steve when he was at Mary’s house. If they were all under one roof Steve would be around all the time. Steve had done really well to have a growing personal relationship with Mary that transcended the mere physical activity. Of course he had known Mary for twelve years and Mary is Diane’s best friend. Diane admired Sandra’s relentless focus on bringing up her children on only one income. Sandra was under constant tension from money worries and time juggling worries. If the money worries were removed Sandra would lighten up and maybe she would be less driven. If Sandra were less financially stressed she might work less overtime and be happier.
Separate from this was the question of whether Diane was ready for Steve to have a full relationship with Sandra. They could all just be friends, and Steve said he would be happy with that. On the other hand Steve had said he would be very happy to comfort Sandra. If Sandra were relaxed and happy she could actually be very pretty. What if Sandra picked up a boyfriend? The boyfriend might say he wanted a nuclear family with no-one else under his roof. That would create a problem.
The relationship was working well for Mary. Mary enjoyed being in a full relationship with a good man again. Mary and Diane were still good friends. Mary looked better that she had since Mike had died.
So what did Mary think about Steve’s proposal? Simply sharing accommodation with Sandra would work well from a financial point of view. Diane and Mary could be happy just with that. Could Mary live with Steve comforting Sandra?
Mary and Diane discussed the ins and outs for quite a while. Currently they were each having more sex than either had had since the early days of marriage. Very nice at thirty-five. Very nice at any age, including twenty-seven where Sandra was. The basic house sharing idea was such a financial winner that it took very little discussion. But what did they think about Steve comforting Sandra?
They did not think Steve would have a sexual relationship with Sandra unless Diane and Mary agreed. He was not a strayer. On the other hand, if Steve were comforting Sandra, that would be nice for Steve. Steve was a really good man. He was not going to ditch Diane and Mary because he was comforting Sandra as well. And if Sandra was with Steve she would not be getting involved with some other man who potentially might wish to live with Sandra in a nuclear family.
They decided to put the proposal to Sandra, with the full comforting option. They told Steve.
When Sandra came round for coffee on Tuesday morning Sandra’s only concern was that she was in danger of losing her cheap and convenient and reliable childminder. That would spell utter ruin. Sandra had no idea that there was going to be a proposal of any kind.
Sandra was aware from the children that on Thursday mornings and some other mornings Steve was in Mary’s bed at Mary’s house with Diane’s approval. Sandra knew that Diane and Mary are good friends, but to share your husband willingly like that is friendship indeed. Sandra did not have any deep and good friendships like that, nor currently any man to share. Thinking through her married and partnered school friends, there were not any men there that Sandra would be interested in, even if her friends would share. Well done to Diane and Mary that they could manage to share like that. Of course it explained why they would like to buy Sandra’s house, so they could all be under one roof.
Sandra could not afford to buy anywhere else. This house had been bought with a mortgage based on her and Dave’s joint incomes. There had been no equity in the house when Dave left, and Dave had signed over the house and the outstanding mortgage to Sandra. Sandra had had to drop to "interest only" mortgage payments soon after that, so the whole mortgage debt was still there. Sandra was stuck.
Diane and Mary had expected Sandra to call round, it being Tuesday. Diane and Mary had discussed how they were going to put the proposition. As Diane was closer to Sandra than Mary was, it was agreed Diane would do most of the talking. Steve was working an extra shift, so he was not there.
"Do you know why we asked if you were interested in selling your house?"
"I was completely surprised when you asked. I have thought about it since, and I assume it was so you can combine the two houses and both families can live together."
"That’s right. I assume you know Mary and I are very good friends?"
"You must be, to want to share your housing."
"We share a bit more than that.", and Diane smiled.
"I have heard that Steve sometimes spends the night at Mary’s house. It’s not my business."
"We have come up with an idea. Let me start by saying you can say "No". I am not going to stop minding your children if you say "No"."
"The idea is that you keep ownership of your house and Steve and I keep ownership of our house. We each pay our own mortgages. That is where we both are today anyway."
Sandra nodded. Sandra was wary but curious.
"We knock a door through between the two houses. We run the houses jointly. Mary and I are at home all the time so we do all the shopping and cooking and cleaning and laundry and gardening and childcare. You work long hours so we do not expect you to do much at home. We use one kitchen only. We use one living room as a living room for everyone and the other as a bedroom for Mary."
"Samantha shares with Jasmine because they are good friends. Dominic shares with your David. They get on well. Leonard and Annie are babies and they can share at the moment. Annie might later move in with your Alice."
"Household bills would be shared. We suggest each adult counts as one, and each child as one half. So you would pay two shares. Steve and I would pay three shares. Mary would pay two and a half shares."
"You do not pay childcare."
"Oh and when Mary rents out her house half that rent will go into the expenses kitty as her contribution to housing costs. So the amount all three of us will still have to put into the kitty will be a lot less."
"What do you think to that?"
Sandra was stunned. And interested.
"I really am stunned. It is a really big step for me. I need to think about it."
"OK. Something else you need to think about."
"We can keep this as a simple co-operation."
"Or we can take the co-operation further. As you know, Mary and I share Steve. Steve has told us that he finds you very attractive. If you would like a relationship with Steve he is all in favour. But if you do not want that kind of relationship with Steve that’s OK too."
"Steve is getting enough sex with us, but he is a very generous man and he would be very happy to build a relationship with you. Steve is into serious relationships of which sex is part, not just sex because two people are free at the same time. That is a separate offer. If you would just like to share a house and not have a relationship with Steve that’s fine."
"If you would like an active relationship with Steve that’s fine."
"But you cannot just have Steve without the house share."
Sandra burst out laughing. "I have been chatted up by men before who wanted to get into my pants. I have never known someone send his wife to chat me up!"
"I have not thought of Steve as a lover. He has never done anything to make me think he is interested in me. That needs a lot of thinking about, too."
"When do you need a decision?"
"There is no tearing rush. We can carry on as we are, but really we do all want to be under the same roof. We could all live at Mary’s house but I am pregnant by Steve and Mary wants to be pregnant by Steve so we would outgrow that house within a few years. This way there is room for more children. Including any children you might have with Steve if you go down that road."
Sandra blinked. Like most healthy young women Sandra was distinctly interested in a relationship with a good man. And that might lead to children. But this was all way too fast.
"Say a week? More coffee?"
Sandra just sat there. Then Sandra began to cry. And cry.
"I have no-one to talk to about this. It is just so big. It is life changing in so many ways even if I don’t take up Steve’s offer. And even more if I do. It is so hard being a working single parent. It is so tough being poor all the time. I can’t afford to send David on school trips so the school take him on the trips out of charity so he is not left out. That hurts so much."
"I don’t talk about my troubles. I just try to live through them, I am so grateful to you Diane for the childcare you give. And all the times you have been so understanding about the delays in payment."
"I am going to go home and cry. And when I have done crying I will sit and think. I will think about the first idea, which would change my financial position hugely."
"And it is five years since Dave left. So I will think about Steve, too. I sit in my kitchen sometime crying because I do not have any money. And sometimes I cry because I do not have a man. And here you are offering to solve both my problems!"
"I will come round again some time this afternoon. And thank you."
Sandra went home and she cried. And she slept properly for about three hours. Then she washed her face and she went back to Diane’s house.
"Can I say "Yes" to the first part immediately? And can I sleep on the second part?"
"Yes. You can stop paying childcare immediately. And we will forget any money you owe me."
"Have you any bills that need paying now?"
Sandra had due and overdue bills amounting to about a month’s pay. Sandra had been juggling not enough money for months and months and months. Sandra was desperate about these bills. Her electricity was due to be cut off soon. Diane wrote down the details.
Diane came downstairs with a cardboard box full of banknotes. She started counting out banknotes.
"This is for the electricity."
"This is for the gas."
"This is to catch up with the Council Tax."
"This brings you up to date with your mortgage. We will call all this a loan from the kitty."
"Any credit cards?"
Sandra started crying again. There were no credit cards because Sandra had realised she dared not get into credit card debt. There were no other debts.
"This is two hundred pounds which is just a gift so you are not scraping along on empty any more."
"Get your hair done and you will feel a hundred per cent better."
Sandra cried again. Then they all three sat.
After a while Sandra asked,
"What do you want me to answer about Steve?"
"Since Steve took up with Mary, Mary and I have both been having a lot more sex than we did before. And a lot more romance. If Steve takes up with you as well he will feel he has to keep up his good work with Mary and me, so we may end up with even more physical sex and even more love. We will not lose out."
"Steve is not just a sex machine. He is a good lover. He is a very good man and he is really good company. And he is good fun. This is a happy house. If you are not stressing about money your house will be happier. Whether you take up with Steve or not is up to you. If Mary and I were against that part of the offer we would not make it. It really is up to you. But whatever you do, don’t hurt him. He mustn’t be a "twill do". You must commit to Steve as he commits to you. Or not at all. It really is up to you."
"And I respect you even more for asking - and for wanting to sleep on it."
Sandra cried a bit more, and then Sandra went home.
Sandra was very happy with the finances of the merged household. The loan and gift from Diane had lifted a huge amount of tension. Sandra could afford to live properly, and quite soon she stopped scrabbling to work every possible shift. Sandra began to enjoy life. She sometimes had time off with nothing she had to do in it. She caught herself singing. It was years since Sandra had sung with happiness.
The offer of a relationship with Steve had come as an even greater surprise. With working long hours and having two kids and being demoralised by poverty, Sandra had close to lost hope of finding a decent man. Sandra knew from having lived next door for six years that Steve was a good man. And he was fit. He was clean. Diane and Mary gave him good references on the bed side. And Diane and Mary really were comfortable with the idea of sharing Steve with Sandra.
Steve smiled a lot. He was relaxed and easy. David and Alice were happy around him.
After about four weeks Alice asked Sandra if Steve was going to be Alice's new daddy. Sandra said she did not know.
Alice laughed, and she said "That means yes then. You like him. He likes you. I hoped you would like each other."
Sandra asked why Alice was asking.
"Well if Steve was my new daddy he would be in your bed some mornings and I would get private cuddles like Sam and Jasmine do."
"What is a private cuddle?"
"Steve puts you on his chest and then he pulls you forward so your face is next to his face. And then he hugs you with both his arms and you feel like you and him are the only two people in the world. Your mum is there and sometimes your brother is there but you feel there is just the two of you. Like it’s private."
"That’s nice for you."
"What do I get out of it?"
Alice thought for a minute. "Well you would get cuddles too."
"And you could have a baby if you wanted a baby. Like Diane."
"And David would like a dad living here. He likes Steve."
Steve did not press his suit. He smiled a lot and he hugged a little and he gave Sandra plenty of time to think. One Tuesday morning Diane and Mary decided to take the babies to Mary’s mother, leaving Steve and Diane alone in the house. Steve took Diane a cup of tea in bed and he gave her a kiss.
"Everyone will be out until at least twelve. Why don’t you put some clothes on and sit in the kitchen with me?"
A little while later Sandra surfaced.
Steve smiled at Sandra. "I have given you lots of time to think."
"What are you thinking?"
"It’s all just too convenient. I have built in childminding and cooking and cleaning. And a built in lover, too. I don’t know if it is a good idea."
"Would you be offended if I hugged you?"
They went from the hug to a kiss to a hug. They had a long hug. Steve picked Sandra up and carried her to the stairs. Sandra did not struggle. They kissed again.
"Try before you buy. If you want me to comfort you, get up the stairs and I will be with you in a minute. I am just getting something you might like."
The "something you might like" turned out to be two glasses and a bottle of white wine.
Steve was everything his marketing team had promised. Steve’s foreplay was slower, longer, and far more effective than Dave’s had ever been. Steve was wilder and stronger and raunchier and much more powerful than Sandra had expected.
Sandra’s only previous sexual experience had been with Dave, but even in the early days she could not remember Dave being as good as this. Steve’s stamina was astonishing.
After a while, and to Sandra’s astonishment, Steve played Sandra like a musical instrument. In the same way as a piece of music has the same notes recurring so Steve and Sandra had the same notes recurring, but growing stronger and more pleasurable with each repetition. Sandra was out of practice but she picked up the tune readily enough. Again to Sandra’s surprise, Sandra’s body contributed some unexpected and uncontrollable flourishes as Steve went beyond anything Sandra had previously experienced. The comforting went on forever but eventually Steve stopped and they lay silent.
After a while Steve said "Wow. That was wonderful. Thank you."
Sandra said. "Well that has given me something to think about!"
"I’m going to have some sleep now and I will come downstairs in an hour or two."
Steve kissed her again and dressed and he kissed her and he left. When Sandra surfaced Steve had left a note to say he had gone to work.
Diane and Mary came back. When they saw the expression on Sandra’s face they laughed and they hugged her.
For a few days Sandra seriously considered A. N. Other, but there were no Others in sight. Steve was a really nice person whom she had known as a pleasant and helpful neighbour for years. He was already good with her children. And he gave really good comforting. Sandra decided on a relationship with Steve. Sandra had no regrets. And the comforting remained unbelievably good. Was Steve really keeping this up six or seven nights a week? No wonder he was fit. And no wonder he was smiling all the time.
Alice and David started receiving their private cuddles, which they both enjoyed. David’s hug had elements of a wrestle, because that was what David really wanted instead of what Alice had.
The large household was happy. The children were all getting on as well as any group of siblings do, and better than many groups of siblings.
Diane had a baby boy whom they called Stephen after Steve. Little Steve was a fine healthy happy child.
Mary was now visibly pregnant. Sandra was already thinking about starting a second family with Steve. There was at last the hope of promotion to deputy manager, so this was just the wrong time to become pregnant. But she would like to have children with Steve. He was just such a good man. She was feeling broody.
The first indication of any trouble was a telephone call from the school one Monday morning. It was the new deputy head, Emma Brown.
"It is Emma Brown here. I am the new Deputy Head at Longlands Junior School. I don’t think we have met yet."
"How can I help you?"
"We have received a rather odd letter about you and your husband. It says you and your children are living in a commune with two other ladies and their children."
"That’s more or less right. We call it a combined household rather than a commune."
"Well I see from the school records that there are three families living at numbers 20 and 22. The children at school are all happy and well, and we have no concerns about their welfare. So I am just telephoning to inform you that we have had this letter. I will be acknowledging it and I will say that the school observe all our children and the children from your household have given us no cause for concern. They are clearly thriving and happy. There are no child protection issues."
"I thought about not telephoning you, but I do not like keeping secrets from parents if I can avoid it. So far as I am concerned you should hear nothing more. Under the child protection rules I am not able to tell you who sent the letter because her privacy and good intentions must also be protected. I repeat that Longlands School has no concerns at all about the children."
At about the same time Steve was asked to pop in to see Mrs Fielding, the Chief Librarian.
"Steve, I want to tell you something. I would be grateful if you would let me say what I want to say, and then you may speak if you wish to."
Steve looked puzzled. What was he in serious trouble for?
"I have had a letter complaining about your domestic situation. Apparently you are living in a "commune" with three ladies. I am writing back to say that I am only aware of your personal behaviour while at work. At work you are an exemplary employee, and I have no concerns at all about your work. I am not aware of your domestic situation, as that is not an issue that has arisen in a work context."
"The Council has an anti-discrimination policy. If your domestic situation is unorthodox, and I do not know whether it is or it isn’t, it would be wrong of me to take any action that might be discriminatory. So I am taking no action on the letter except to send a formal acknowledgement to the sender."
"Do you wish to raise your domestic situation with me? Say "No""
"Good. I have told you about this letter because I think someone is trying to cause trouble for you. They will get nowhere with Meldon Council. You are a very good worker and I am very pleased with you."
"That concludes this interview. Good morning."
A day later, Sandra had a similar interview with her manager.
"Sandra. You are a good worker. I have had a letter from someone saying that you live in a commune and that I should sack you because you live in a commune. You turn up. You work hard. You put in extra shifts at short notice."
"You are good at your job. I do not need to know how you live or who you live with. That is simply not an employer’s business."
"Someone is obviously trying to make trouble for you. They will get nowhere with me."
"Oh, and I see from the staff discount records that you do most of the commune’s shopping here. I appreciate that. Thank you."
The adults discussed the events. They were really puzzled who objected to their living together and who was trying to make trouble for them.
Dave knew they were living together, but he had formed another relationship in London and he was not fussed about Sandra and Steve. Dave was very happy when Sandra said he could reduce the maintenance payments for David and Alice. Dave was not going to rock the boat.
Dave’s parents were only concerned about the welfare of the children. David and Alice were very happy. Dave’s parents knew they were welcome visitors. They thought the situation was odd, but it did have a logic to it.
Sandra’s parents knew Sandra had been lonely and poor and unhappy. Now Sandra was happy. They were pleased Sandra was happy, even if the household arrangements were unusual. And Steve was a good man. Diane and Mary are nice, too.
Mike’s parents knew, but they were pleased Mike’s children now had a father figure and they were pleased Mary had found someone decent. And they were very pleased that Mary had not taken up with someone who might be bad for the children. Mike’s parents had known Steve for about twelve years, and Diane for thirty years. They had no issues. Mary’s parents were happy Mary was with a good man. The children were happy, which was all that mattered.
Diane’s parents were puzzled about the set-up but if Diane and the children were happy then they were happy. Steve’s mum was happy about it and Steve’s dad was deceased.
"Well", said Steve, "there is only one thing to do."
"Lets have a party. We invite everyone we can think of and see who comes and who does not come. And at the party we listen for clues."
The party went well. Sandra’s supermarket loaned all the glasses and Sandra’s manager gave Sandra a deeper staff discount for the week leading up to the party. Sandra by now was transformed. Sandra had no money worries at all, and she had resumed paying off capital as well as interest on the mortgage. She had already repaid the original loan from the kitty. With encouragement from Diane Sandra had even begun saving, something she had never been able to do before. Sandra was really happy. Sandra was dressing better, getting her hair done regularly, and she was now not desperate to work overtime. Steve was continuing to comfort Sandra, and Sandra was now being chatted up by men nearly once a week. After five years of famine Sandra was enjoying being chatted up again, but she intended to stick with Steve. When Sandra stopped enjoying being chatted up she would put Dave’s wedding ring on again. Or if she became pregnant she would put Dave’s ring on again to avert adverse comments.
All three women got on well. Sandra had raised her general appearance and in response Diane and Mary now took more care about how they looked. They had money for hair care and clothing, too. Steve was entirely enthusiastic about all three ladies. Samantha, Jasmine and Alice all said how pretty their mothers looked these days. The children all looked well because they all lived in a stress free household with lots of love and laughter. And there was more money for clothes for them, too. Diane and Mary and Sandra decided to dress Steve better, which involved throwing away a lot of his clothes, buying him new clothes and shoes, and getting him a better haircut.
After the party, Sandra reported that she suspected the troublemaker was her mother’s sister, Agnes. Agnes had made trouble for Sandra for as long as Sandra could remember. Agnes had been torn between boycotting Sandra’s wedding to Dave, and attending it to spread poison. Sadly she had attended. It seemed Agnes had started visiting Sandra’s mother after Sandra’s marriage to Dave broke down, and on every visit Agnes pumped Sandra’s mother for information about Sandra and the children. Sandra had now spoken to her mother and her mother was now not going to give Agnes the time of day.
The children had no playground issues about their home circumstances. Mrs Brown had intervened when one child said something about the household. Mrs Brown said she currently had fourteen children at home, and at one time Mrs Brown had had nearly twenty children at home. Households come in all shapes and sizes. What is important is that the household is happy, which theirs is. Apparently Mrs Brown and her husband specialise in fostering large families and they have a few children of their own.
Sandra came home very excited one night. A deputy manager at another shop had sadly been involved in a car crash and he would be off work for a very long time. A deputy manager from Sandra’s store had been transferred to the other store to cover for the injured person, and Sandra was temporarily made up to deputy manager. Apart from more pay immediately, it was a clear indication that Sandra was likely to become a deputy manager reasonably soon. So Sandra was very pleased.
Diane was thinking of working part time. One day she would have to return to work, so it was a good idea to build up to it by working part time at first. With Mary home all the time, a little job during the week would be ideal. Naturally Diane would wait until Mary had her baby and was fit to be left minding all the children.
After about a month the deputy manager for whom Sandra was filling in asked to be made permanent in the other supermarket, because it was closer to his home. Without even an interview Sandra was made permanent as a deputy manager at her store. She was required to go on courses, including residential courses, to prepare for eventual promotion to full Manager. She had to learn about many aspects of managing a supermarket. Without the 24/7 childcare backup from Diane and Mary she would have had enormous difficulty and expense in organising childcare for when she was away on courses.
When Mary had a boy they decided to call him Michael after Mary’s deceased husband. Little Mike was a strong loud child. Although little Mike is no blood relation to Mike’s parents, they asked to be grandparents for Mike. And of course everyone agreed.
With all the love and happiness in the house, the house was a happy house.
A few months later Diane landed a term time only job at a school giving support to children with special needs, which suited Diane’s needs perfectly.
Sandra was growing in confidence. She was permanent as deputy manager. She was financially better off than she had ever been in her life. She had really good childcare. She had little housework to do. Sandra decided it was time to start a child with Steve.
The other adults were supportive. Diane and Mary wished her well and Steve gave even more comforting than before. Like Diane and Mary had done, Sandra delayed telling Steve she was pregnant because she enjoyed the extra cosseting.
Sandra told her manager that she was pregnant. She intended to take the minimum maternity leave because she had such good support at home.
When Steve was asked by a colleague at work how many children he had, he had to stop and work it out. Three with Diane, four with Mary, and two and a half with Sandra. Only ten, of which five are biologically his and five in practice are his.
"Don’t you think you should stop?"
"It’s up to the ladies. I am a mere rude mechanic." And he smiled.
This novel is an experiment for me. I really would welcome your thoughts.
(1) From here, would you pay $1 to read the whole novel?
(2) Would you prefer an extra adult male, an extra adult female, or stay with the existing cast?
(3) I can see tensions when Mary is left at home to do all the housework, when Sandra finds the deputy manager position stressful and/or possibly earns a promotion to acting manager which would then make her the highest paid person in the house, or if one of Sandra's children is seriously sick, and if Aunt Agnes finds another way to create difficulties. All suggestions welcomed!