Debra Fran Baker

I enjoy working out. I can lose myself in the feel of the weights as my muscles strain and burn. It's the only time I can truly escape the endless beauracracy and secrecy that is my life. I enjoy the feeling I get afterwards, too - tired and cleansed of all the pettiness I have to endure.

Yes, I also like the way it looks. A man should be permitted one vanity, and this is it. I can tell others that I need to do this because I'm deskbound most of the time, but that's not why. I know that my size is intimidating, and I use it as I do my voice and the authority of my position, and I know that physical strength is useful even for someone who never leaves the Hoover building during working hours. But I do it so I can look in the mirror and smile.

I used to do it for the men in the bars; the anonymous, nearly faceless men I used to pick up every few weeks when I was married to Sharon, and before. There have always been men - my first lover was a man, in the jungles incountry. There have been women, too. I didn't marry Sharon just for show. I cared about her. Maybe I even loved her. I was never faithful to her, though.

We never spoke about where I'd go those nights I came home late, but I think she knew. When I started using condoms at home, she just smiled and said nothing. I took care never to chance getting her sick. There were men out there who didn't bother being safe in the bars, and I know some who didn't keep their wives safe, either. Bastards. Even if I didn't care enough about her to be faithful, I cared enough about her not to hurt her that way.

I think we might have gone on to a comfortable old age together, virtual strangers living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, if it weren't for him. Too smart for his own good and more beautiful than any man has a right to be, mouthing off like he had a right. I didn't know whether to kiss or kill him when he first barged into my office, so I settled for shouting.

I couldn't get him out of my head. I kept seeing him even when I was with other men, even when I was with Sharon. That was the problem. So long as the others were strangers, anonymous bodies in the night, they never intruded on my home life. But he was everywhere, infuriating and sexy and never letting me go. I never felt this way about Sharon and she must have sensed it. The marriage, never really more than a companionship anyway, fell apart.

I've never been unfaithful to him, not since we've been together. Sometimes we go months without a chance to be alone, but I've not been back to the bars. It would destroy him if I did. Too many people have played games with his trust. I can't, even if I want to. All I have to do is think of his eyes. They hold all of his emotions, all of his expression and I couldn't stand to see them hurt and hopeless because of me.

I do this for him now. I do this so that I can think that our deal isn't so lopsided and so I can see the propriety gleam in those eyes when he touches my shoulders. I do this so I can beat up those who would hurt him or his partner.

I do this so that he feels safe in my arms when those nameless terrors wake him in the night. He tells me this even while he shake