Dear Love: Chapter Ten

Dear Love: Do We Really Never Have To Say I’m Sorry?

Dear Love:

Apologizing is not my strong suit. I mean, as a therapist I know how important it is to own the things you do, and make amends when you hurt the people in your life, but it’s really hard for me. Kaya says it’s because I’m not used to being wrong. I don’t know what it is, honestly. I guess part of me feels like if someone knows you, and knows you feel bad, then they should apply what they already know about your nature and be able to deduce if there’s remorse. But of course that’s ridiculous, and way too much expectation to put on folks. My rational mind knows that… right? Should people be able to sense the goodness and the efforts to make amends and apply the forgiveness from that? Isn’t that like extra credit when you haven’t even done the homework? Do we really never have to say I’m sorry?

“Of course you have to say you’re sorry! This is not a sappy love story on TV,” Shahira said as we drank wine and ate charcuterie. The three of us were in my backyard, chilling out and catching up after work. My house was a typical row home, but over the years I’d made some wonderful improvements, including paving and landscaping my backyard and building a pergola. I’d added some string lighting, plus a table and big comfy chairs. My best friends promised swift retribution if the chairs were too tiny or constrictive. Kaya sat up and grabbed a cracker, spreading it with fig jam and topping it with a crumble of blue cheese. Shahira continued.

“This is one of the things I’m trying to work through with Rich. He just thinks I know how he feels all the time because we’ve been together so long. He said that in the session. ‘Sha knows I love her. So even if I piss her off, she should know I didn’t mean it.’ And baby, let me tell you how it doesn’t work.”

“You know she’s right. In what world did you think you didn’t owe her an apology?” Kaya said. I sighed.

“The world where none of this is that serious. I mean, I wanted to explain about Carmen, definitely. And assure her that it’s in the past. But I wasn’t going to drop to my knees and beg or anything.”

“Why are you so dramatic, Gracie? Nobody asked for that. But you were somewhere else when you were supposed to be with her. You did let Carmen crawl right up in your head and stay there,” Shahira pointed out, pouring more wine.

“I know, I know. And I didn’t mean for that to happen. I really didn’t,” I said.

“Then you need to say that. What’s the harm? I mean, you do still like her, don’t you?” Kaya asked.

“Yes. Very much,” I admitted.

“So get it together, Gracie. We raised you better than this. Take your accountability like a grown-up,” Shahira said. We all laughed. I tried a super sharp cheddar on a soda cracker with some salami and contemplated my friend’s words. I knew how important communication and honesty were. I expressed it to my kids and their parents every day. Maybe I was afraid of how vulnerable an apology would make me.

“What did Carmen want anyway?” Kaya asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t know. She never called again,” I replied. My best friends sucked their teeth.

“I knew it! She felt you moving on and had to shake shit up. Isn’t that how they always do?” Shahira said, scowling. I smiled. Sha had never liked Carmen, thought she was trouble from the beginning.

“It is, Sha. And I learned my lesson. I just—”

“Want to tell Nina that?” Kaya finished my sentence. I nodded.

“Good. But start with the apology. If she’s still standoffish, let it be. One last time,” she said. I nodded in agreement, and grabbed my glass of wine and a bunch of grapes.

The next evening, I paced back and forth in my office, taking quick glances at the clock. I was waiting for Nina to finish up so I could “accidentally” bump into her in the elevator. My texts to her had gotten stilted responses. I’d asked her to meet me so we could talk a few times, but she just politely declined and insisted that she wasn’t upset. But I was. I’d hurt her, and I needed to make that right. It wasn’t helping that I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her. Her smile, and her laugh, and even the way she twirled that red hair around her finger when she was really concentrating. I knew the danger of not giving people their space, and I didn’t want to be the girl that couldn’t take a hint. I just needed to try one last time. I looked at the clock again, grabbed my stuff and left my office, locking everything. I got into the elevator and took a deep breath, hoping I hadn’t missed her. One floor down, and the doors opened. Nina looked up, obviously surprised.

“Oh. Hi Grace,” she spoke, stepping inside. She pushed the button for the garage and turned away from me. I took another deep breath. Now or never, Grace.

“Nina, I am so sorry. I’m sorry if I didn’t make you feel important that night. I wanted to be there with you, please believe that. I was just annoyed with myself that I let her crawl into my head again—”

“Grace, you don’t need to—”

“Yes. I do. There was someone in my past. And she called earlier that day. And I let her play with my mind when I shouldn’t have. And I hurt you. That was definitely the last thing I wanted to do,” I explained. Nina finally turned to face me.

“Is she… gone?” she asked me, sounding hesitant. I nodded and stepped closer. The elevator reached the garage, but neither of us made a move to get out.

“She is completely gone. And I’m sorry if I made you think for a second that she was still a factor.”

“I was afraid you were using her to back off because I was coming on too strong. I mean, I don’t always know how to slow down, and sometimes I get too excited—” I cut off Nina’s explanation with my mouth. She gasped, and then relaxed against me, kissing me back. I dropped my bags and put my hands into that luscious red hair. Nina wrapped her arms around me and pushed closer. I moaned as she pressed her body against me. The elevator dinged again, and the door opened to the parking garage again and I just wanted to taste her forever. She pulled back and looked at me, auburn eyes heavy with lust.

“I don’t need you to slow down. Not anymore,” I whispered. Nina smiled. I picked up my bags and grabbed her hand, pulling her off the elevator.

“Let’s go get a drink somewhere. Somewhere quiet, dark… intimate,” I suggested. Nina giggled.

“Dr. Carson, this is so sudden,” she joked with me. I laughed and turned, kissing her once more.

“No it’s not.” We started walking again. We got to Nina’s car first.

“Listen. I’m sorry too, Grace. I shouldn’t have shut you out like that. I’ve been so used to falling back quick, and hard and I—”

“It’s okay. It’s really okay now. We can start over,” I said, grinning. Nina smiled back and opened the car. We both got in, and headed to get a drink.

So Love, I guess apologizing does work after all. I wasn’t sure. I guess I was afraid to be in the vulnerable position, but it’s not a contest, you know? Nina and I can make something beautiful happen as long as we both stop being afraid. And as long as we’re both willing to apologize when it’s needed. Those words go a long way. So here’s to something new. And smooth sailing from here on out. Right, Love?

Right?

Sincerely, Grace

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Dear Love: Chapter Nine

Dear Love: When Did The Requirements Change?

Dear Love:

I’m getting more and more lost as time goes on, and I’m sick of second guessing myself. I remember when all I had to get my husband to do anything was take his hand, look into his eyes, and ask. When we were fifteen, we both jumped right in to loving each other with our eyes wide open. I was under Rich’s spell—and he was under mine. And the only thing I needed to make him happy… was me. Now I know as adults needs will change, but it seems like not only does Rich need something else, but I haven’t even been clued in to what it is, and the way he’s acting makes it seem like it’s out of my reach. Am I supposed to just know? Because I don’t. Love, when did you change the requirements? And why the hell wasn’t I told?

“I’m so sorry. I know we were supposed to get started ten minutes ago,” I said to my new marriage counselor. Dr. Whitney Hammond smiled, her eyes patient and kind.

“I’m sure Richard will be here any minute. It’s okay. The first time is usually harder for one spouse than it is for the other. If you want, we can take your mind off of it and you can start by telling me all about you,” she said back. I nodded, feeling more at ease.

“Um, sure. I am Shahira Davis. I’m an HR specialist who made the leap into business owner seven years ago. I run a staffing agency. I love makeup, perfume, shoes, handbags, crab legs, my two best friends, and Rich.” Dr. Hammond laughed at my summary.

“Straight to the point. I like it. Clear, succinct, direct and with perfect eye contact. You definitely teach interview techniques,” she said. I laughed too.

“Force of habit,” I said.

“It’s fine. But you can relax. This is not an interview. I just want to know who you are… who you really are.”

“I’m a woman in love. And I’m not saying that as someone who made their life about a man. I’m saying it because of all the things I’ve been in my life, that’s what I’ve been the longest. I love my friends. Love my work. Love my man. Love is what I do best,” I explained. Dr. Hammond nodded, writing something down.

“That’s a wonderful response. And it tells me so much about you, Shahira. You obviously feel things very deeply, and take your heart’s desires very seriously. I admire that,” she said. The door opened and Rich walked in, looking guilty and a little disheveled. I smiled, hoping to relax him.

“I’m sorry, babe. Things went crazy at the job at the last minute. How you doing, Dr. Hammond? I’m Rich Davis,” he said, holding out his hand for the doctor to shake. She did, and gestured to the couch where I was sitting. My husband sat next to me, kissing me on the cheek. Dr. Hammond put her notepad down and leaned forward.

“Okay. Welcome Shahira, and Richard. It’s so wonderful to meet you both, and I’m excited to help you rediscover your commitment to one another. I’m proud of you both for being here. Let me just say that I don’t stand on a lot of ceremony, and the three of us are going to get pretty intimate with each other so feel free to be as relaxed as possible here, and to call me Whitney. The most important thing to remember in this room is that your honesty is never wrong. The truth is not always pleasant, but it is always right. If the two of you are serious, a commitment to the truth is the first step. Are we in agreement?” she said. Rich and I looked at each other, then at the doctor. We both nodded. Whitney smiled.

“Great. So why don’t we jump right in? First, I want each of you to take a turn telling me why you think you’re here. Just straightforward, in the simplest terms. Why are you sitting in front of me? Richard, I had a few minutes alone with Shahira, so why don’t you go first? Why are you here?” Whitney said, picking up her notepad again. Rich cleared his throat, looking at me quickly before turning away. I could tell he was nervous.

“Well… I’m here because Shahira wanted—I mean, we’re not—look. I thought we were okay, but if Sha thinks we need this kind of help, then that means she’s at the end of her rope with me. Sha is my whole world, and if she’s at the end of her rope with me, then that’s the end of my world. I can’t have that.”

“Okay. So you’re here because it’s what your wife wants?” Whitney said, taking notes.

“I mean… yeah, I guess,” Rich said, nodding.

“What do you want, Richard? Do you have the relationship you want with your wife? Do you think everything is okay?”

“It’s fine, I guess. We’re not lovesick teenagers anymore, you know? We’re comfortable now. Older. Things mellow out over time. It happens to everyone,” Rich finished. He sighed and turned away, and I knew he knew that he’d hurt me.

“I commend your devotion to your wife, Richard. But you won’t get anything out of this unless you find your own reason to be here. So for the next session, why don’t you try thinking about how this can help you, what it can help you discover about yourself and your relationship,” Dr. Hammond said.

“Okay. I—I can do that, I think,” Rich said back. I took a deep breath, willing the tears away. Dr. Hammond looked over at me, smiling in reassurance.

“Well thank you for your honesty, Richard. Shahira, why are you here?”

“I remember when all I needed to put a smile on Rich’s face, was me. All I needed to put a laugh in his mouth, or passion in his eyes, or lust in his hands… was me. And ‘me’ hasn’t worked in a long time. I’m feeling more and more like the requirements have changed. Like I’m not enough. Like I’m out of the loop. I’m here to find out if my husband still loves me, and to figure out what’s next… if he doesn’t,” I replied. Rich turned back, looking scared, and I knew that my honesty had hurt him as well. But it was too late now. Whitney took some more notes, and then put her pad and pen down. She leaned forward in her seat.

“I know that was hard. I’m proud of you both for doing it anyway. So now… we get to work.”

“My goodness, that sounds intense, Sha,” Kaya said as we ate chicken wings and I recounted the therapy session for her and Grace.

“It was. I was in tears by the time it was over, and Rich was just… annoyed, and frustrated, and uncomfortable. That shit was hard. We didn’t talk the whole night. He just ordered us some dinner, we ate it, and went to bed.”

“Maybe you should try talking to him today, since things have calmed down. He’s the one you should be confronting your feelings with. Therapy has to work outside of the session too. Telling us won’t get you anything. And I can’t help but feel like we’re violating Richie’s privacy. Therapy is closed door for a reason, Sha,” Grace said, attacking a platter of chili cheese tater tots. I sighed.

“I’m not going to play-by-play every session, Gracie. I know it’s supposed to be private. But it was so powerful I needed to talk it out. I hope all the sessions won’t be like that. I don’t know if I can take it.”

“You have to take it, Sha. You’re fighting for something. It’s going to take energy. Confrontations are never easy. But you and Richie can do this,” Kaya said. I grabbed a perfectly fried wing and took a huge bite.

“I just don’t want Rich to resent me, or something. And I know I’m there to figure out the truth, no matter what it is, but honestly, I want my husband back. That’s the result I’m hoping for. I just have to hope that’s the result he’s hoping for too. I mean, when did making each other happy get so hard? When did the requirements change?”

“I don’t know, babe. But you keep going. All of that emotion you and Richie showed in the first session tells me neither of you are ready to give up yet. That’s good news. You just have to see it through. And hopefully, at the end of the journey, you’re holding hands,” Grace said. Kaya nodded. I smiled at them.

“I hope so too,” I said, but inside, I was still afraid.

Love, I don’t know when or why my husband’s needs changed, or why I didn’t know, but I’m hoping you can give me some clues. Guide us back to each other, please. Help us love better. Help us see you better. Or at least, see that you’re gone. I’m counting on you.

Sincerely, Shahira

Dear Love–Chapter Eight

Dear Love: How Soon Is Too Soon?

Dear Love:

Now I don’t normally subscribe to rules and regulations about relationships… or relations. I go with what feels right to me, because ultimately, my comfort is the most important thing. But having things not work out sometimes makes me feel like I let my body carry me away too soon. But this man, my goodness. THIS. MAN. I want to jump him every time I see him, and I can tell he feels the same, and I feel crazy pulling away when I want to lean closer. But will that mess things up? Will I be in the same cloudy haze I warned Shahira about? Would I benefit from giving it more time? How soon is too soon?

“Kaya, you smell amazing,” Paul whispered in my ear as we slow danced under the moonlight. He’d invited me to a birthday party for one of his coworkers on the rooftop deck of the building where he worked. Things were wrapping up so the DJ had honored the birthday girl’s request for something slow, so she could dance with her husband, and other couples had joined in. When Paul stood up and reached down for my hand, my whole body shivered. Being close to him excited me more than I let on, to him or anyone else. I felt like I was on the verge of jumping him every time we touched. Paul rubbed his hand over the small of my back and pulled me closer. I sighed, my body humming.

“Thank you. I’m trying a new perfume,” I said, tightening my arms around his neck and swaying to the rhythm of the song. Paul laughed.

“It’s succeeding. What is it? I’ll buy you a truck full,” he said. This time, I laughed. Paul leaned down, planting soft kisses on my neck. I guessed the song was still playing, but who could hear over the roaring in my ears? My nipples hardened and I closed my eyes. Paul continued his soft kisses, running his hands up and down my back like he was strumming a guitar.

“Let’s go,” I whispered to him, unable to help myself. Paul backed up, looking into my eyes. His were hazel, gentle. Listening eyes. Compassionate eyes. The kindest eyes I’d ever looked into. Except for Gracie, maybe.

“Are you sure?” he asked. I nodded. He took my hand and pulled me back to our table, grabbing my handbag and giving it to me. We made short work of our goodbyes and headed to the elevator. Once we were inside, and on our way down, I put my hands on Paul’s chest and pushed him against the wall. I stood on my toes and kissed him, sliding my tongue into his mouth. Paul moaned and gathered me close, wrapping his arms around me and pushing his tongue against mine. He tasted like the bourbon from his drink and chocolate from the birthday cake and I lapped him up like a cat with a dish of cream. Paul turned, putting me against the wall, and my arms went around his neck. We kissed, loud and sloppy, like teenagers and I wanted him so bad I could barely think. The ding of the elevator reaching the parking garage registered and we broke apart, disheveled and breathless. Paul grinned at me.

“You drive me so crazy in the best possible way,” he said. I laughed and grabbed his hand and pulled him with me, off the elevator to the car. Paul drove to his house, kissing me at every red light and rubbing my thighs the whole way. When we got there, I took a deep breath. Paul and I were only four dates in, but we talked and texted constantly, and my body was ready every time I even thought of him. He opened the front door and ushered me in. Paul locked the door and came up behind me, sliding his arms around my waist and stomach and pulling me back against him. He kissed my neck, I felt what he wanted me to feel, and my knees got weak.

“Wanna go upstairs?” he whispered. I nodded and took another deep breath. Paul took my hand and led me up the stairs to his huge master bedroom. The bed took center stage, king sized and imposing, and suddenly I was nervous. Paul stared at me, confused.

“Kaya, you’re shaking. Are you okay?” he asked. I nodded.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just—the first time with someone is—”

“You know we don’t have to do anything, right?”

“But I want to. I mean I thought—”

“Come here,” Paul said, pulling me over to the bed. He sat on the edge of it, kicking off his shoes and pulling me between his spread legs. He leaned down, pulling my shoes off too and then scooted back on the bed, bringing me with him. He propped himself against the pillows and brought me to his side, snuggling me.

“What now?” I asked. Paul laughed.

“Go to sleep, love,” he whispered, kissing my forehead. I pushed closer, as close to him as I could get and inhaled his scent. My stomach stopped churning and I closed my eyes. It was pure magic how this man’s touch could wind me up, or calm me down at a moment’s notice.

“Tell me something I don’t know about you,” I said, wanting to hear his voice. Paul laughed.

“You’re such a writer. Always so curious. Okay, have I ever told you I was a gymnast until I was twelve, and I even used to compete?” he said. I shook my head, smiling. Paul started telling me about his childhood hobby and I fell asleep to the sound of his wonderful voice.

“So you spent the night, but nothing happened?” Shahira said, twirling linguine on her fork. Lunch wasn’t possible so the girls and I had decided on dinner, since Rich and Paul were working late, and Nina was still avoiding Grace. We’d all copied each other and ordered the seafood linguine since it was phenomenal at this particular restaurant. I speared a shrimp and stared at my two best friends.

“Nope. He just told me stuff about himself as a kid until I fell asleep. It was nice,” I replied.

“But that wasn’t the plan when you went over there. So what changed your mind?” Grace asked. I sighed. Damn Gracie and her therapist superpowers.

“I—I wanted to. I mean, I was ready to rip his clothes off. I really wanted to. But then I thought maybe it was too soon.”

“Too soon? Is that a thing?” Shahira asked. I scowled. Grace chuckled.

“Yes, you know it’s a thing. You know how things can change if you give it up too soon,” I said.

“I gave Rich my virginity a month after I met him and… we’re still married, twenty years later,” Shahira pointed out. I sucked my teeth.

“Sha, you’re like some kind of weird anomaly. It doesn’t work like that for most regular degular girls. Especially not if they’re fat girls.”

“Bitch, I’m fat too! What are you even saying right now?” Shahira said.

“She’s saying that she’s afraid of appearing desperate. She doesn’t want Paul to think she just busts it open for every guy that’s nice to her. Plus, she doesn’t want to be fetishized, or used for sex,” Grace explained. She twirled more pasta onto her fork and went back to eating. Shahira and I just stared at her.

“Well… yeah. That’s pretty much it,” I agreed. Shahira sighed.

“I understand all of that. But there’s no need to torture yourself with arbitrary timelines. There’s no such thing as too soon if you trust him and it feels right to you. Plus, if he’s an asshole he’ll still be one whether you get some now, or later,” she said. I frowned. She was right.

“And we know how much you like him, and how much you want it to keep going well. We understand. And if you feel like taking it slow, then do it. But stop second guessing yourself. The problem isn’t you,” Grace said. I nodded, and started eating again. Paul made me weak in the knees, and wet between the thighs. I wanted him something fierce. And I’d never had a problem taking who I wanted before. So why was I so afraid now?

See what I mean, Love? This is that bullshit. Why is this so complicated? I’ve never had a problem getting my body rubbed up and down when I need to, so why is Paul so different? Why do I think sex will ruin it? Why am I afraid to let him see my desire? Jump in any time here, Love. I could use some answers.

Sincerely, Kaya

Dear Love – Chapter Seven

Dear Love:

Everyone walks around panicking about how to get you. I bet no one ever asks how to return you. Well dammit, I’m asking. I can’t fool myself anymore pretending I can walk into a new version of you unbothered, when your old cousins are still lingering. I mean, is getting rid of you really impossible? Once you love someone, will you really always love them? I don’t want this old love. How do I give it back? Love, what’s your return policy?

“Hey Gracie,” she said, her voice still playful. I closed my eyes and balled my fist.

“Carmen. Hi,” I said back, my voice stilted. I had no idea why she was calling, but I was sure it wasn’t anything good.

“How you doing, girl? I haven’t heard from you,” she went on. I laughed before I could help myself.

“Carmen, why would you hear from me? We broke up.”

“I mean yeah, but… that doesn’t mean we just act like the other doesn’t exist.”

“Darling, that’s pretty much what it means. What can I do for you?” I said.

“You can see me, Gracie. I’m outside your office now. I want to see you,” she said. I cursed under my breath and pulled my glasses from my face, rubbing my eyes. Damn her. Damn, damn, damn her.

“Why do you always do this?” I demanded. Carmen sighed.

“Do what?”

“Invade my space and then ask permission after the fact. You were supposed to ask if you could see me before you showed up here, Carmen. Before.”

“You’re still high strung, I see.”

“And you still don’t care about boundaries. Well I do. You can’t see me, I’m busy,” I said.

“Grace—”

“Goodbye,” I said and hung up. I put the phone down, picked my glasses up, and took ten deep breaths. I had another patient to see and I had to get myself back to center. I shook my head to clear it, pushed my glasses back on, and got up to see if Charlie Anderson was in the lobby.

“Grace, you’re distracted,” Nina said, as we sat drinking wine. The building that housed both of our practices was a prime, downtown location, with a spacious rooftop deck. For our first date, I’d decided to keep it close to home and low key, so I suggested we have a little private happy hour up there after work. Nina agreed immediately, and I could tell she’d been waiting for me to ask. So far we’d had a few great phone conversations, and a few great elevator meetings. The heat was still front and center with us, but there hadn’t been any more kisses, at my insistence. I needed to take it slow.

“No I’m not,” I denied, turning to smile at her. She laughed, soft. I think I liked her laugh best.

“You’re a horrible liar, Grace,” she said. I ducked my head, embarrassed. She laughed again.

“I’m sorry. I am. I just—today was madness. I didn’t mean to carry it into here.”

“It’s fine, honey. I know what that’s like. You want to tell me about it?” Nina asked. I shook my head, even more embarrassed.

“Oh no. No. We don’t have to—”

“Grace, it’s fine. We can talk about—”

“I said, no, okay?” I said, getting impatient. Nina turned to look at me, startled by my shortness. Right away, I felt horrible. She turned away and took a sip of her Malbec.

“Look I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“Whoever your ex is, she must still have you twisted something terrible, Grace,” Nina interrupted me, sitting back in her chair. I just stared at her, stunned. She turned to look at me and shook her head, sighing, “Just because I’m not a therapist doesn’t mean I don’t observe things. I’m a doctor too, you know. It’s my job to study what I see. And what I see, is that someone else is on your mind. And since you told me that you’re not seeing anyone, I’m thinking the someone is a past someone.”

“Nina—”

“Grace, please. It’s fine. But you should have canceled if you needed the time. I came here tonight intending to give you my full attention. I expected yours in return,” Nina said. I sighed, but couldn’t defend myself. She was right. Nina put down her wine glass and stood up, grabbing her handbag. She leaned down and kissed my forehead.

“Please don’t go. I can—”

“I’ll call you, Grace,”she whispered and left. I threw back the rest of my wine and sat back in disgust. Carmen. One phone call and I was back in the mix, and messing things up with Nina right at the beginning. Damn her. Damn, damn, damn her.

“Did you call Nina and apologize?” Kaya asked as the three of us sat at cafe lunch counter with three huge salads in front of us. Once every couple of weeks, we liked to pretend we cared about dieting. I attacked my spinach salad, stabbing a mushroom with my fork, frustrated.

“I tried. She wouldn’t pick up. It seems early for me to have hurt her feelings. I mean, we’re not that deep yet.”

“‘She’s so sweet!’ ‘I dream about her mouth every night!’ ‘There’s heat whenever we’re in the same space!’ That’s all you’ve been saying for days, Gracie. You like her something serious. And she likes you. Now it’s not that deep. Your slow going got you going in circles. Is it Oochie Wally, or One Mic?” Shahira said. She was using a brush to rub concealer on her neck, and ignoring her salad.

“I thought you were going to tell Richie to stop doing that,” Kaya said, smirking into her chef salad. Shahira huffed in annoyance.

“He loves marking me; he’s so annoying. But can we get back to Gracie’s problem?”

“I was a little distracted, and she was upset. Now I’m upset that she’s upset, and I can’t—”

“But why, Grace? It was your first date. Why the hell were you distracted right out of the gate?” Kaya asked. I sighed. Then I sighed again. Then I mixed more honey mustard dressing into my salad and sighed a third time.

“Carmen called yesterday, when I was between patients. Said she was outside my office and wanted to see me. I told her no, and hung up, but—”

“Carmen? Now bitch, you did not say that!”

“Way to bury the lead, Gracie,” Kaya followed up. Both she and Shahira were frowning at me. I shrugged.

“I mean, I didn’t see her. I told her no,” I explained.

“And then she was stuck in your head all damn day, and Nina noticed. Didn’t she?” Shahira said. I nodded, ashamed all over again.

“I don’t know how I let it happen. One minute I was telling her off and hanging up the phone, and patting myself on the back for not giving in to her. Cut to hours later, and I couldn’t stop wondering what she wanted to talk to me about. I mean, she showed up at my office so maybe it was important,” I said.

“It wasn’t Grace,” Kaya said, pointing her fork full of romaine and tomato at me, “it wasn’t important at all. She showed up at your office because that’s what she does. She oversteps. She bullies her way into you. That’s all it is. There wasn’t some magically important thing. There was just Carmen being Carmen.”

“And you should have known that, Gracie. You should be on to her game by now.”

“I am, Sha. I am. I mean, I was. I just—”

“You still love her,” Shahira finished my sentence. I dropped my fork and looked up, horrified.

“No. Absolutely not. I do not. I can’t.”

“Maybe you do, honey. Carmen is absolutely no good for you. But that doesn’t mean you’ve completely excavated her from your heart. Is there something there?” Kaya asked. I looked at both of my best friends, and then down at my salad. I closed my eyes. Carmen’s face drifted into my mind. I opened my eyes and shook my head.

“No. There’s nothing there. I’m going to call Nina again later. Tell her I’m sorry,” I said and dug into my salad again.

Omg, Love. This is terrible. How can this be happening? I thought I was over all this mess. But one phone call from that woman and I was right back into the vortex. I mean, I’ve been having sweet dreams of Nina’s red hair and pink mouth for days. I like her. I want to know her better. I can’t let my traitorous heart ruin that over Carmen. Take this old love back, do you hear me? Take it back!

Sincerely, Grace

Dear Love… Chapters Five and Six

Chapter Five: Dear Love: Is It Supposed To Be This Easy?

Dear Love:

I don’t what to make of this man. He says and does all of the right things. I mean all of the right things. That much knowledge and insight can’t be real, can it? It sounds stupid to say I’m afraid of how easy this is. But I am. I’m afraid of how easy this is. Is this ease permanent? And if so, can it be too much of a good thing? Is it really supposed to be effortless?

“I apologize for intruding, ladies. I’m Paul. What’s your names?” he said, holding out his hand for me to shake. I reached for him, and he grabbed my hand, tight. He shook it and then stroked my palm before letting me go. I almost wanted to shiver. I licked my lips and swallowed, suddenly nervous. Shahira grinned.

“I’m Sha, and this is Gracie, and this is our girl, Kaya. Nice to meet you, Paul,” she spoke for the three of us. Paul grinned back, but didn’t take his eyes off me. We were at Happy Hour again, although we’d promised to finish early since Gracie had patient notes to transcribe, Sha had new hire paperwork for her three most recent placements, and I had a manuscript to edit.

“Nice to meet you ladies too. I just… had to come over here and say something. Kaya, you are beautiful and I’d love to take you out sometime,” he said, his last sentence spewing from him like he was afraid he’d run out of time. I just stared. That was the last thing I expected. Shahira giggled.

“I don’t even—we just met,” I said, a little overcome. Paul laughed and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a business card and handed it to me.

“My cell number is on there. You call me anytime, okay, Kaya? You’re exquisite with your big brown eyes and pretty smile, and I meant what I said: I’d love to take you out.” Paul walked away after he finished speaking and I sat there holding his business card, speechless. Grace and Shahira looked at me, then laughed and slapped hands.

“Now that’s cause for a turn up! Let’s get another round going,” Grace said, laughing. I finally came out of my daze and laughed too. I stared in the direction Paul had gone, fingering his business card. A delicious looking man, approaching me respectfully, and giving me space? Maybe Grace was right.

“Hello?”

“Hi… this is Kaya. We met at Grayson’s last Friday night?”

“We certainly did. How are you today, Kaya?” Paul said to me. I smiled in appreciation. He’d called me Kaya—not Mama, or Beautiful, or Baby or Sweetheart. I didn’t have a problem with terms of endearment between established couples, but it made me uncomfortable when men got too familiar too fast.

“I’m good. I’m doing well; thank you for asking,” I said back.

“Please tell me you called so I can ask you out properly. I was worried that I maybe came on too strong at the bar,” he went on.

“No, you were fine. But by all means, ask me out properly,” I said, giggling.

“You have a wonderful laugh, Kaya. Anyway, would you like to go out with me sometime? The sooner, the better. I’d really like to see you again,” Paul said. I bit my lip and tried not to grin too wide. I cleared my throat.

“I’d… I would like that,” I replied. I heard Paul exhale as if he’d been holding his breath and I was surprised. Had he been afraid I was going to say no?

“That’s great. I was afraid you’d say no. Now, we just met so I’m not all that well-versed on what you like to do, so we can go wherever you want this time.”

“This time?” I wondered.

“Well, if I’m lucky enough to get more dates with you, I’d hope I’d start to know you well enough to plan something for us without you telling me,” he explained. I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it. This man was either a Russian bot or a unicorn. He was making way too much sense right off the bat. I was almost hesitant to trust it.

“Oh… okay. Well, there’s a great whiskey bar that also has a signature burger in town. Maybe we could go there,” I suggested. He laughed. A deep, warm laugh. And my stomach flipped.

“I know the one. And that’s a great idea. I’m a brown liquor guy.”

“Then you found the right girl, sir. I’m a huge whiskey fan.”

“Really? What’s your favorite?”

“Macallan 12. But I can be coaxed into some Knob Creek from time to time,” I said.

“I see. Well I have a collection at home. From all over the world. I have to show you sometime,” Paul said. I sat there, waiting for him to suggest we drink whiskey at his house instead. But he didn’t. Yeah, definitely a unicorn. My musings were interrupted by his voice. Shit. I hadn’t even been listening.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“I was just asking if Friday was okay. We can go to Happy Hour if you want. They have a lounge area where we can talk so we won’t have to sit at the loud bar and pretend we can hear each other.” he said. I laughed.

“That sounds good. I’ll meet you there at 5:30,” I said. I could hear his grin through the phone.

“It’s a date. Until Friday, Kaya. Have a great rest of your day,” Paul said and hung up the phone. I put the phone down and twirled in my chair, a dreamy smile on my face.

When I got to the whiskey bar Friday night, it was crowded and loud. I didn’t know how we were going to have a peaceful conversation in here, and I was a little sorry I’d suggested it.

“You smell wonderful,” Paul said, coming up behind me. I smiled and turned to face him. Those dark eyes, those full lips turned up in a smile, that gorgeous chestnut skin. I wanted to giggle like a middle school girl seeing her crush on the playground. He leaned in and gave me a hug. I wrapped my arms around his neck and sighed, inhaling him. He smelled like a wonderful musk with a hint of lemon underneath. He stepped back, grinning.

“Hello again, Kaya,” Paul spoke. I grinned back.

“Hi. How are you? How was work?”

“Work was work. And I’m a lot better now. Want to find a place to sit down?” he asked. I looked around at the throngs of people clamoring for a drink at the bar.

“I think I underestimated how hype this place would be. I don’t know if we’ll find somewhere to sit in here,“ I said, worried. Paul smiled at me. For some reason, I was instantly reassured.

“Don’t you worry about anything, Ms. Kaya. I’ll take care of everything. Your only job tonight is to enjoy yourself,” he said. He held his hand out, and I placed mine in it. He gripped me tight and dove into the crowd, pulling me along. When he got to the hostess stand, he spoke quietly to the young lady standing behind it, all the while rubbing my hand as it sat inside of his. He had a gentle touch and I found myself relaxing. After a moment he stood up straight and turned to me.

“Lacy found us a quiet space to talk,” he announced. I looked over his shoulder at the hostess. “Lacy” was smiling and happy, bouncing up and down in her shoes, ecstatic to have found us a space.

“Okay,” I said. Paul laughed and turned around again, gesturing to Lacy to lead the way. She took us to the far end of the place to a comfy looking seating area. The noise from the bar was dramatically reduced, and Lacy adjusted the sconces on the wall, giving us more light to see each other. Then she skipped away smiling. A moment later, a server appeared, taking our drink orders.

“So Kaya… tell me everything,” Paul started.

“About?”

“You. I want to know everything I can.”

Love, that was the best date I’ve had in a really long time. Talking to Paul, listening to him, laughing with him. It was all so… easy. But is it supposed to be? I had the biggest smile on my face the whole night, and the next day. An effortless smile. But is it real? Or is the other shoe coming?

Sincerely, Kaya

Chapter Six: Dear Love: Is Dr. Feelgood A Certified Marriage Counselor?

Dear Love:

When I feel like I’m losing you, and I don’t know how to stop it, is it okay infuse a little sexual push into the situation? I mean, folks say it won’t fix anything, but it feels pretty damn good to try. It binds us together, in almost the same way it did back in high school. It puts this warm hazy glow over everything. But is the haze blocking my view? Is it okay to reconnect physically as much as we can, or is it just escapism? Is Dr. Feelgood a marriage counselor too?

“Shahira, I don’t have time for this shit. I have to go to work,” Rich complained. We were standing in the living room, and I was preventing my husband from leaving—his favorite thing to do these days. I remember when I couldn’t keep his eyes or hands off me. Now I was throwing tantrums in the living room, and demanding his attention. I knew it was childish, but I was too angry to pull back from it.

“Fuck that. You don’t have to be at work for two hours and we haven’t had a meal together in weeks. Now I made your favorite cheesy omelet and maple bacon and you are going to eat breakfast with me,” I said back, standing my ground. My husband balled his fists and took a deep breath.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Liar.”

“Shahira Davis—”

“Yes that’s right. That’s who I am. Shahira damn Davis. Your wife. And we are having breakfast together.”

“Woman, why are you acting like this? I have to go,” Rich said, scowling. I scowled back.

“Because picking a fight with you seems to be the only way to get you to pay me any mind,” I replied.

“That’s crazy, which coincidentally, is exactly how you look right now. Please stop.”

“I am not crazy, Negro. I am fed the fuck up. I’m tired of this, Rich. I’m tired of you pretending like nothing has changed. Like nothing is wrong. Something is wrong.”

“Nothing is wrong, Sha—”

“I want to see a marriage counselor,” I blurted out, cutting Rich off. He dropped his backpack and stared at me, eyes wide with disbelief.

“You want to what?” he said. I rolled my eyes.

“I didn’t stutter, and you know I don’t speak softly. You heard me. I want to see somebody, Rich. I know something is off with us. I know something is different. And the more you deny it, the crazier I feel, and it’s not fair. We need help. I want to find someone to help us,” I said, breathing deep so I didn’t cry. I stood there, chest heaving, swallowing tears. Rich closed the distance between us and kissed me. I gasped in surprise and his tongue went into my mouth. I moaned and wrapped my arms around his neck. Rich grabbed my waist and pushed closer. His tongue swept my mouth and his teeth captured my bottom lip. I was drowning. My husband could commit that mouth when he got ready, my goodness. Rich backed me against the wall and his hands went under my dress. Continuing the kiss, he bent at the knees and lifted me against the wall. Now I’m a solid size 20. But my baby had played some middle linebacker in high school and college and still worked out with his buddies three nights a week. I reached down and around, getting Rich’s pants open. My underwear went to the side, Rich went inside, and the omelet was forgotten. He finally ripped his lips from mine and moved to sucking on my neck.

“Rich, I can’t have my clients see me all bitten up,” I protested, breathless and about to come.

“You’re mine. I’ll mark what’s mine if I want to,” he said back, pushing inside me deeper. I gasped and moaned, on the edge. Rich moved inside me, pinning me to the wall.

“I love you, Shahira. I love you, you hear me?” he panted, stroking harder. My orgasm was blinding and all I could do was scream in response. Jesus. My hands were shaking where I had them clasped around my husband’s neck. Rich followed my lead, moaning deep and spilling himself inside me. His hands gripped my thighs tighter and his mouth was practically suctioned onto my neck. Gotdammit. I was going to have to cover that before I went to work. When we were finally under control, Rich sat me down on the floor gently. He kissed my forehead.

Now I’m hungry,” he said, his voice raspy. I giggled.

“Well now you’re going to be late.”

“So are you. I’m not done,” he said, grabbing my hand and pulling me over to the couch.

“So… did he say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about the counseling?” Kaya asked as we sat outside, drinking cold pressed juice from a food truck a few feet away. I’d decided to forgo lunch since I’d spent that extra two hours at home having sex with my husband. So the girls had gone without me and had just headed back. I took a few minutes to meet them outside and catch them up before Kaya’s afternoon strategy meeting and Gracie’s next patient.

“His exact words were, ‘Sha, we can do whatever you want. I love you.’”

“Were you on top of him when he agreed so readily?” Grace asked. I sucked my teeth.

“No… I was on my knees in front of him,” I corrected. Grace shook her head and Kaya burst out laughing.

“Well how’s he supposed to tell you no when you squatting in front of him with his dick in your hands, looking like a big ass butterscotch candy, Shahira?” Kaya said, cackling. Grace laughed as well.

“Shut the hell up,” I said, annoyed. Kaya was right; I hadn’t expected a no in that moment. But still. The important thing was that I got the yes, not how I got it.

“Do you think he’ll keep his word post-orgasmic haze?” Grace continued. I nodded.

“I think he knows I’m serious. I mean, this morning was intense. It felt like… like a reconnection, of sorts.”

“Or a distraction, Sha. He could be using the haze to blind you,” Kaya said. I sighed.

“That sounds manipulative and my husband is not like that,” I said, annoyed again. Kaya put her hands up.

“Listen. I didn’t mean to imply that he is. I just want you to get everything you want, baby. Reconnecting is more than a physical thing,” she said.

“I know that. But the physical’s still important, right? Rich and I have major heat. It was nice to see some of that back today. It was nice to see him so… so…”

“Desperate? Maybe he heard some finality in your voice? Maybe he got scared and did the first thing he could think of?” Grace said. I stood up, throwing my empty juice bottle in the trash and started heading into the building. Grace and Kaya followed me.

“Sha, wait! We’re just trying—”

“To make me think my husband is playing me? Good job!” I said, not stopping. My two best friends caught up to me.

“No honey. We just don’t want you to get hurt. I mean, you’ve been saying things were strained for a while. You have real concerns, baby. We’re just making sure you don’t throw them by the wayside because the man can still pick you up,” Grace said, her voice gentle. I sighed and turned.

“I know. I’m sorry. I just—I missed him that way so much. And this morning felt like us, like old times.”

“Well we’re glad. But Richie better follow through, that’s all I know,” Kaya added. I nodded and smiled, trying to feel better. The three of us hugged and then parted ways—me to the East elevators, Kaya to the West, and Grace up the street.

“Hey Shahira!” Grace called back to me. I turned.

“Yeah?”

“Either use more concealer or tell Richie we’re not in high school anymore!” she yelled, grinning.

“I wasn’t gonna say anything,” Kaya said, shrugging her shoulders. I put my hand on my neck and ran to the elevator, my friends laughing hysterically behind me.

Love, this morning was so perfect. My mind was clear and my body was in heaven. Rich apologized a thousand times and ate breakfast and everything. But did he do it to distract me, or because he missed me? Maybe the girls are right. Maybe Rich is hoping the haze is blinding. I just thought we were reconnecting. I mean, I know sex isn’t a cure-all, but it’s got to count for something. I guess I just want us to get everything back, and if we have to start with that, what’s the harm? There’s no harm… is there?

Sincerely, Shahira

Dear Love… Chapter Four

Dear Love:

My last try crashed and burned, and I’ve decided to let you find me this time around. My romantic nature wants to run headfirst into a field of flowers, but I’m nervous about confusing you with your friends, Infatuation and Lust. I feel so many things so fast that I scare myself, and sometimes my partners too. So are you a promenade or a racetrack? Can I trust it if it happens in a flash? Is it only real if it happens slow? Your girl just doesn’t know.

“Mr. Anderson, we talked about this. It’s okay if Charlie wants to draw instead of write. The creative therapy is about her expressing her feelings the best way she knows how. You’ve got to stop being so rigid with her. Let her open up in her own way,” I said to the worried father of one of my patients. Mr. Anderson calmed down and I was finally able to get him off the phone. I stood up, stretching my back and arm muscles. Yet another late night. Happy Hour with the girls and Kaya’s reception had put me behind on paperwork and patient notes and I’d been staying late to catch up. I put Charlotte (Charlie) Anderson’s file away and started locking everything up. I grabbed my bag and keys and left my office, practically running to the elevator. Wine and chocolate were in order, and I couldn’t wait to get home. I got into the elevator and pressed the button for the lobby. One floor down, and the elevator stopped. The doors opened. It was her again. Her red hair and soft pink mouth were the same, but this time she was looking up, and smiling. Her auburn eyes flitted over me, wide and round, friendly but tired. I’d been right. They were beautiful.

“Hi,” she spoke to me. I smiled back, holding my hand up in a wave.

“Hi.”

“Another late night, doctor?” she said. I blinked, surprised.

“How did you know—”

“Oh everyone in this wing is in private practice. I’m a dermatologist. I’m Nina Simon.”

“Nice to meet you, doctor. I’m Grace Carson,” I said back. She stood in front of me, holding out her hand. I shifted my bag to the other arm and shook it. It was soft and warm. Nina smiled again.

“So, are you expanding? Why you working so late?” she asked. I laughed.

“Hardly. I’ve just been lollygagging about paperwork, and I had a couple of events in the last week that had me leaving early, so I’m playing catch up,” I responded. Nina nodded like she understood.

“I’m not going to pretend I have nearly as much paperwork as you, but it’s been kind of the same for me. I ducked out early to be social and now I’m paying for it,” she said. We laughed in commiseration and the elevator doors opened with a ding, signaling our arrival in the parking garage. Nina stepped out and I did too.

“Well you have a goodnight, Dr. Simon,” I said, turning to head to my car. Nina laughed.

“Am I going to have to beg you for your number, Grace?” she called after me. I spun around, staring.

“What?”

“You didn’t even let me give you my card,” Nina said, walking up to me. She slid a business card into the cradle of my palm, looking into my eyes. She licked that soft, pink bottom lip, and suddenly I couldn’t think. I just stood there, staring back.

“This is the part where you give me yours back,” she whispered, grinning. I finally took a breath and fished in my bag for a business card. I handed it to her, my fingers grazing her palm. My knees went weak. What the hell?

“Here’s um—here’s my card,” I said, suddenly nervous. Nina moved in closer, pressed her lips to mine for a split second and then backed away.

“This is—it’s just—”

‘Trust me, it’s not so sudden. I noticed you the day I moved in here. Goodnight Grace,” Nina said, finishing my thought, soothing me, and surprising me all at once. She backed away, still grinning. I turned and went to my car, my entire body humming.

“Now look at you. All lust-filled and nervous. It’s hilarious,” Shahira said, biting into her tuna melt. We were at lunch the next day. I’d told them about my encounter with Nina, and also my subsequent dreams about her after.

“I don’t see what’s so funny,” I said, squeezing lemon into my iced tea. Kaya cackled and picked up a french fry, using it to point at me.

“You are, Ms. I’m Not Pursuing. Ms. I’m Hiding, Not Seeking. Now, she sought you out, just like you said you wanted. So now what? You better call her, Gracie” she said. I sighed.

“I don’t know. I mean, I was thinking about her for hours. I think I’m too wound up for her already. Somebody who gets me this hot, this fast, might not be good for me. Does burning up fast mean we’ll burn out fast?”

“Gracie, my goodness. You are going to overthink yourself into celibacy and I just don’t know why,” Shahira said. I frowned.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’re taking this slow approach way too far. You’re starting to doubt your own instincts. You see this woman. She makes you feel something—”

“And she’s the first woman since Carmen to even do that,” Kaya interrupted Shahira to add.

“Right,” Shahira continued, “so you feel something. But you’re still dwelling on what happened with Carmen so you question it. You don’t even approach it like our Gracie would, just decided to ‘hide’ and see if it ‘seeks’ you, knowing you do not roll like that.”

“Then the woman makes the first move, like you say you want, and now you’re questioning that too. It’s crazy. If you scared, Grace, then say you scared. But all this philosophical time wasting is not it,” Kaya finished, going back to her fries. I looked at my best friends and sighed again.

“Look, I am scared, okay? Carmen had me from the moment I looked into her eyes. We burned brighter than the sun with the hottest of flames, you know that. And what happened to us? I just… I think I should be taking it slower this time, that’s all. Carmen had me wound up so fast, I didn’t have time to think about whether it even made sense for us to be together. I don’t want that again.”

“We get that Gracie, really. But you’ve got to learn to trust yourself. It wasn’t any less real because it happened fast. That’s not what killed it. Sometimes, people just don’t belong together,” Kaya said. Shahira nodded in agreement.

“And don’t move so slow that you don’t move at all. You never know what could happen. Your lust could just feel overwhelming to you because it’s been a while since you acted on it. But there was mutual attraction. And fast or slow, that’s how anything starts. So call her, Gracie. What harm can it do?” she said. I took a sip of my tea and leaned back, thinking. Maybe the girls were right. Maybe I was thinking too much. I picked up my cheeseburger and took a huge bite. Maybe it was time to be a little more brave.

As you can see, Love, I’m still figuring it out. I’m afraid of how fast I liked Nina, how fast she seemed to like me. What if she’s pretending? I mean, one could argue that if she’s out to deceive me she’ll still do it whether we go fast or slow, but slow gives me more time to see it, right? It’s just that she makes me want to put my hands all over her. I mean, everywhere. What do I do, Love? Do I join the race or find the walking trail? And if I don’t want to run with Nina, will she like me enough to walk with me?

Sincerely, Grace

Dear Love… Chapter Three

Hey Guys!

Today is Wednesday and you know what that means–it’s Dear Love Day! Let’s get to Chapter Three. You’ve met Grace and Kaya. Now, let’s round out our trio. Introducing Shahira…

Chapter Three: Dear Love, How Many Times Do We Try?

Dear Love:

I’ve never been one to give up easily, but a bitch needs answers. How long do you hang on? How do I know when you’re completely gone? You need to get better at announcing yourself. You didn’t tell me you were coming, and now I’m not sure if you’ve left. How many times do we get the password wrong before the account is locked? Love, are you still here? And if you’re not… should I go too?

“Sha, what’s taking you so long?” my husband yelled up the stairs at me. I swiped a brush dusted with translucent powder once more across my nose, sprayed some setting spray on my face and left my bedroom. My shoes were at the bottom of the steps with my impatient husband, and I was ready to go.

“Okay, okay,” I said, coming down. My husband smiled at me. Rich Davis is my other half and has been my world since high school. Twenty-three years with the same guy sounds crazy when I say it out loud, but I really can’t imagine my life without him. I smiled back.

“Well? Long as this took me, you better form some words into flowery, mushy compliments,” I said. Rich smirked.

“Come on, Sha. You know what you look like. Why I gotta say it all the time?”

“You don’t ‘gotta’ do nothing, Negro. But it would be nice if you did.”

“You already know how I feel,” Rich said, turning away. I slipped into my shoes and shut my eyes briefly. That line had become my husband’s go-to as of late and I was a little tired of it. Fifteen, twelve, ten, hell even five years ago—yes Shahira Davis knew exactly how her husband felt. About everything. Now, he was so closed up I was guessing at best. And guessing is the worst. I grabbed my shawl from the back of the couch and walked to the door, throwing it open. I went outside and headed to the car. I heard Rich locking the door behind us and following me. I opened the passenger door of my husband’s SUV and got inside. He got in a few moments later.

“How long do we have to be at this thing?” Rich asked me, starting the car. I turned and faced the window, looking out into the night.

“Not long,” I said back, suddenly feeling sad. Rich grunted in satisfaction and pulled into the street. I sighed, but he didn’t notice. He never notices.

I’d dragged my husband to a celebratory reception for the book release of an author in Kaya’s publishing house. As a senior editor and writer herself, Kaya loved seeing new books on the shelves, especially books she’d helped come to fruition. I’d wanted to come by myself, but when Gracie mentioned offhandedly that they never see Rich anymore, I figured I’d better bring him. When we got to the restaurant where the reception was being held, Rich headed straight for the bar and I searched the room for the girls. I saw Grace waving at me and headed over.

“Hey boo! You look good!” Kaya complimented me. Her copper skin was smooth and brightly enhanced by the orange tones in her flawless makeup. She was grinning and I could see how many drinks she’d already had in her umber eyes. I grinned back.

“Thank you, my baby,” I said. Grace leaned forward and hugged me. Her sandalwood scent always soothed me. I hugged her back, breathing deep.

“Sha, what’s wrong?” she asked me, pulling back to look into my eyes. I shook my head. Damn Gracie and her therapist superpowers.

“Later, I promise. Come say hi to Rich,” I said, pulling them with me to the bar. I got up next to my husband and tapped his shoulder. He turned, drink in hand, putting his phone away hurriedly. I frowned.

“Oh, hey ladies,” Rich spoke, smiling. He leaned over to hug Kaya and Grace. I stepped back to give them room, still wondering about the phone. Who had he been talking to?

“Richie, we missed you! Where the hell you been?” Kaya said. Rich laughed.

“Hard at work. Gotta keep this one in designer shoes, you know how it is,” he joked, pointing at me. I didn’t think it was that funny since although he did buy me shoes, he never cared enough these days to actually notice them. In fact, I’d only bought the last two pairs because making him yell about his credit card bill was the easiest way to talk to him. I signaled the bartender and he came over to us.

“Whiskey ginger,” I said, gesturing for me and Grace, who also didn’t have a drink. Moments later, I felt the cold crisp soda and the bite of the bourbon in the back of my throat and I felt better. I grabbed Kaya’s hand.

“Come on. Introduce me to this talented writer we’re celebrating. You coming, honey?” I said, speaking to my husband at the last. He shook his head.

“Do your thing. I’m good here,” he said. I scowled.

“You know, the point of asking you to do things with me, is to have you actually do them with me.”

“Shahira, don’t start—”

“I’ve already met the author, so why don’t you two go and Richie and I will stay here?” Grace interjected, interrupting what would have most likely been a pretty epic public argument. I sighed and walked away with Kaya. She introduced me to the author, I bought a signed book, and headed to the other bar in the room. Kaya and I sat down.

“Sha, what’s going on?” she asked me. I looked over at my husband, laughing and nodding at something Grace was saying. I sighed.

“He never talks to me anymore. Or notices me, or cares when I dress up, or bothers to eat a meal with me. He fucks me sporadically, but I feel like he only does it so that I don’t complain more than I already do. He’s been phoning into this marriage for a while now, but every time I ask what the problem is, he denies that there even is a problem. I don’t know what else to do, honestly.” I vomited my worry all over my best friend and then took a deep breath, and knocked back the rest of my drink. Kaya took my hand.

“Okay. So maybe it’s time to push harder. Ask him to see someone with you. I mean, if you want to push harder. Do you?” she asked me. I shrugged.

“I mean, I don’t know. What if the thrill is just gone? What if he doesn’t love me anymore? I—”

“Shahira, whatever the case is, you need to know so you can decide what to do,” Kaya said. I nodded and signaled for another drink.

“I have been the woman that Rich Davis loves for two thirds of my life. If Rich Davis doesn’t love me anymore, where does that leave me? Who in the hell am I? I mean, I know I’m still myself. I’m still Shahira Davis, HR guru and the baddest bitch. But still. I have never loved any one but Richard. And I never will. I knew that the day we got married. Where will my heart go… if it’s not with him?” I sighed and turned, heading back over to Rich and Gracie. Kaya followed, her hand on my shoulder, soothing me. I reached my husband and leaned into his side, kissing him.

“Miss me?” I said to him. Rich smirked.

“Come on, Sha. You know how I feel,” he said back, hugging me to him quickly, and then letting me go. I nodded and signaled to the bartender for another drink. I stole a glance behind me and saw Kaya whispering to Grace. I knew she was catching her up, and lunch tomorrow was going to be a doozy.

Rich and I didn’t talk on the way home. We didn’t talk when we got to the house. We just went to bed silent, like two strangers. Our norm these days.

Look Love, I don’t know what you’re trying to prove here, but I’m not about this life. I don’t want to give up, but how long should I keep trying? I know you’re still firmly with me. I’m sure of it. But did you leave my husband? And if you did leave him, where does that… leave me?

Sincerely, Shahira