Dear Love- Chapter Twelve

Dear Love: Can Honesty Do More Damage Than Lies?

Dear Love:

Things are really heating up in therapy and I think we’re knocking down some walls. But the aftermath is pretty terrible, some days. Whitney keeps telling us that the truth is never wrong, but the way Rich and I avoid each other once we’re home alone, feels wrong. All the truth we tell leaves a lot of hurt feelings and frustration and anger. Whitney insists that we have to push through this part, no matter how rough. She says we’ll never get comfortable until we get uncomfortable, but this discomfort is whooping our asses. I just feel like we’re creating more wounds. What do you think, Love? Can honesty do more damage than lies?

“Okay, so did you guys do the homework that I assigned last week?” Whitney asked as Rich and I got settled on the couch in her office. I nodded, unsure. The assignment had been about learning to focus. We were supposed to come to the session with one thing—the most important thing—that we thought we were missing in our marriage. I had my one thing ready, but I was nervous, both about what Rich would say and also about his reaction to what I would say. Rich turned to me, nodding also.

“We’re all ready, Doc,” he said. Whitney smiled. She took out her notepad and a pen, gesturing to him.

“Great. Then why don’t you go first, Richard? What do you feel is the most important thing that you and Shahira are missing?”

“Okay, well I think what we’re missing most is understanding. I don’t think me and Sha ‘get’ each other anymore, if that makes sense. I feel like everything I do in the house is wrong. Every move I make she complains about. I don’t get her, or what she wants. And she… she doesn’t really get me. She doesn’t understand that I’m not going to be the same guy forever, you know? People change,” Rich said, looking down at a piece of paper he’d pulled from his pocket. I sat there, breathing hard, trying not to react. I knew my face was showing everything I was feeling—hurt, anger, betrayal—but I couldn’t control it. I just… I didn’t get him anymore? How could Rich say that? I stared at my husband, feeling tears gather in my eyes. But Rich kept looking down at that piece of paper. He refused to look me in the eye.

“Okay… that’s interesting. Shahira, how does that make you feel? Do you agree that’s an issue you and Richard have?”

“It makes me feel… angry. And betrayed. The only thing I complain about at home is his complete nonchalance about being there. He acts like his real life is somewhere else all the time. Like our home is a stop-through to where he really wants to go. I have to throw a tantrum to get him to sit at our fucking kitchen table and eat breakfast with me!”

“Sha, please. I’m not nonchalant about home. I just… it’s the same house it’s always been. Am I supposed to jump up and down when I pull up and cry when I drive away?” Rich retorted. I scowled.

“But I’m there. Me. I am there, Rich. It’s not just a house. It’s a house with me in it! It’s our house! The place where we reconnect with each other!” I said back. I shook my head and moved over, putting some distance between me and my husband. He noticed and his eyes narrowed. He was angry now, too.

“Alright, let’s calm down now. Richard, do you hear your wife? Do you understand how your interpretation of home differs from hers?” Whitney settled us and pushed the conversation forward.

“Yes, I hear what she’s saying. I do,” Rich answered.

“Good. Now, do you want to connect and reconnect with your wife in a way that reassures her?” she continued. Rich nodded.

“Yes. I do want to.”

“Great! So how can you alleviate her concerns? For Shahira, your casualness about home translates to an unwillingness to connect with her. How can you show her you want to connect?”

“I… I don’t know. I feel like anything I do is going to be wrong,” Rich said, sounding miserable.

“Let’s not think of it in terms of right and wrong. Let’s reframe it as ‘Things That Communicate My Intentions Clearly,’ and ‘Things That Don’t Communicate My Intentions Clearly.’ And we’ll never know unless we try. So let’s try something. Shahira says she misses eating breakfast with you. Can you commit to breakfast at home, at the table, with your wife, three days a week? Is that something you can do?” Whitney said. Rich nodded.

“I can do that. I can. I didn’t think it was that serious, but I see now that it makes Sha think I’m dying to get away from her. That’s not it. It’s not,” he said, finally looking me in the eyes. I sighed. Maybe he wasn’t dying to get away from me. But as much as he complained about me not “getting” him, I knew Richard Davis better than anyone. And I knew he was running from something, even if it wasn’t me. I could see it in his eyes. I knew I didn’t know the whole truth. But with all the hurt being inflicted, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know.

“This is good work, you guys,” Whitney said, making notes on her pad, “it’s your turn, Shahira. What’s the most important thing you guys are missing?”

“I think what we’re missing most is passion,” I started, my voice soft. I could feel Rich stare at me and I knew he was hurt. But I kept going, “I don’t mean sex, even though our sex life is a bit stagnant too. I mean, Rich used to want to be with me, in my presence. He used to care about the things that made me happy. He used to listen to me. I used to listen to him. We liked the same things, and we liked doing them together. We were passionate about being together, about staying together. We cared. Now, it’s all robotic and boring.”

“Boring? I bore you because I don’t want to have sex as much?”

“That’s exactly my point. You used to listen, Richard. You obviously don’t anymore or you would have heard me say this wasn’t about sex! We used to cook together, and dance in the living room, and grow vegetables in the backyard! Even when I was headed out with the girls, you’d ask me to model the clothes and tell me how beautiful I was. You’re not passionate about me anymore! Our tomatoes are dead, and I’m starting to feel like we are too!” I said, my voice rising. Rich’s mouth dropped open and he stared at me, hurt filling his eyes. I turned away, wishing I hadn’t added that last part. But no one could make me go nuclear reactor angry faster than my husband.

“Richard,” Whitney pushed in, her voice soothing, “how does that make you feel?”

“It makes me feel like shit. I mean, I work and live for this woman. I’d die for her. I just thought… I’m tired sometimes. And sometimes I don’t want to be that infatuated teenager that waited at Shahira’s locker for her everyday. I’m not him anymore. But I’m still her man. I provide for her, and I’ll protect her with my life. I come home every night. I make sure she has everything she needs. I don’t see why that’s not enough. But I guess it’s not,” Rich said, his voice low.

“Richard Davis, what good are all the things you give me if I don’t have you? I love that you provide for me, and protect me. I love that you make it your goal to make sure I’m okay. I love that. But I love you—just as you are—more than any of that. You think I’d give a damn about the house if it wasn’t the one you came home to? I know we’re not 17 anymore, Rich. I know we’re past that. And I don’t miss that. But I do miss you,” I said. Rich took a deep breath.

“Shahira, do you hear your husband? He’s worried you have an idealized version of him in mind, and that he won’t live up to it,” Whitney said. I nodded.

“Yes, I hear him.”

“Can you reassure him? What do you think you can do?” she pressed. I took a deep breath.

“I can… find out what interests him now that we can share. Instead of harping on the past and the things we used to do. I can try to learn something new about him,” I said, my voice nearly a whisper. Whitney nodded. Rich reached for my hand and I grabbed his, holding tight. But I didn’t feel like we were closer together.

I didn’t have lunch with the girls for days afterward. I was too busy stewing. Rich missed our first scheduled breakfast and we had an argument for the ages. So much for honesty and reassurance.

Love, this isn’t going at all like I planned. What in the world is happening to us? Am I losing my husband with every session? Are we separating in real fucking time? All of this honesty is killing me. And I’m starting to feel like it’s killing us.

Sincerely, Shahira

Dear Love: Chapter Eleven

Dear Love: Am I Playing Chicken, or Playing Hard To Get?

Dear Love:

Every time Paul tries to get closer, I back away and I don’t know why. I mean, fear seems like the most logical reason, but it’s not fear that I feel when I’m backing away. I don’t really know what it is. And Paul just lets it be… every time. He doesn’t ever push, and I’m trying to figure out if he doesn’t want to, or if there’s a reason he can’t. But until I find out, I don’t want to let my guard down. But Paul makes it almost impossible not to. That can’t be good. I need to keep this armor in place. He makes me want to throw it in the damn trash. But is that ultimately wrong? And isn’t this all a part of the dance, the game? Am I playing chicken, or playing hard to get?

“Spend the night,” Paul whispered in my ear, sliding his hands around my waist. I’d sat up and swung my legs over the side of his bed. He was behind me, kissing my neck and being a sexy ass distraction. I giggled.

“I don’t have any clothes here, and I have an early meeting,” I whispered back, tilting my neck so he could kiss me more. He obliged, running his hands up over my bare breasts.

“Well next time, bring some. I’ll move some stuff over in the closet. I don’t mind,” he said. I turned to look at him. I wanted to question whether he was serious, but I’d learned that he was always serious when it came to our relationship. I smirked, laughing softly before sliding to the floor. I went into the bathroom without saying anything. I cleaned myself up, and came out again. Paul was sitting up against the pillows, staring at me.

“What?”

“Kaya, when are you going to trust me?” he asked, his voice soft, like he was trying not scare me. It didn’t work. I took two steps back.

“What do you mean?” I asked back. He frowned.

“You know what I mean. Why won’t you stay here with me? What’s so hard about spending the night? You’ve just spent hours in this bed with me. What’s a few more?” he said.

“I told you. I didn’t bring anything to wear.”

“But you could have. You’ve known for days we were going to be together today. You could have packed a little bag, or something.”

“I like my own bed, Paul. I mean, I’m just more comfortable at home,” I said. Paul sighed.

“Okay. That’s fine, Kaya. Give me a minute. I’ll take you home,” he said, getting up from the bed. When he got to me, he lifted my chin, kissing me soft and sweet before going into the bathroom and shutting the door. I got dressed, feeling bereft. I didn’t know what was wrong though. I mean, we’d had a great night, complete with pasta and laughter, and sex. And now Paul was taking me home, which is where I wanted to go. Everything’s going pretty perfectly, Kaya, I thought to myself, getting dressed.

Perfectly.

So why did I feel like something was missing?

Half an hour later, Paul pulled up in front of my house. I turned to him, smiling.

“I had a great time with you, babe,” I said. Paul smiled back. He leaned over and kissed me slow, sliding his tongue into my mouth. I melted. This man’s kisses sent me over the moon.

“My beautiful Kaya. Thank you for being with me,” he whispered, lifting his head. He kissed my forehead and I got out of the car. Paul waited until I was inside before he drove away. A few minutes later, my phone signaled a text message. Paul had sent me a kiss emoji, and said goodnight. I went upstairs to bed, thinking about the night.

“So you ate good, and got ate good. Sounds like a perfect date to me,” Shahira said, moving her fork around, trying to attack her plate of poutine. The crispy seasoned fries were covered in mushroom gravy and melty cheese curds. How she was going to get out of this restaurant and back to work stain free was a miracle I was dying to witness. I took a bite of my shrimp po boy and shrugged.

“It was so, so good. Then he wanted me to spend the night, and I didn’t want to, so we got into a little back and forth about that. But he dropped it and took me home. But it felt weird, you know? Like something didn’t go right,” I said.

“But it did go right. You just said so yourself,” Grace said, devouring a banana split. When Gracie was happy, her sweet tooth went into overdrive. And she’d been pretty happy the last couple of days.

“I know what I said, but something felt… off,” I admitted. Sha chewed a fry, eyeing me.

“Okay let’s talk about this back and forth. Why didn’t you want to spend the night?” she asked. I bit my lip.

“I mean, I don’t know. I just wanted to be in my own bed, I guess.”

“He could have spent the night with you if it were just about the bed,” Shahira continued. I sighed.

“I don’t know, Sha. I just wanted to be at home. By myself.”

“You’re determined to keep some distance between you and Paul. Sleeping in his bed is too intimate, I’d gather,” Grace said, pouring chocolate sauce.

“Grace, I’m getting a toothache, damn it. Calm down. And what you mean ‘too intimate?’ They fucking.” Shahira said. Grace rolled her eyes.

“I mean that sleeping with him is a new level of comfort. Maybe Kaya’s not there yet. Sex is one thing. Sleeping next to someone is… safety. It’s security. That’s a whole other level and you know that,” Grace explained. I tilted my head, contemplating Grace’s words.

“But I think I am there. I guess I just don’t know if Paul really is,” I said.

“So you don’t trust him,” Grace said. I nodded.

“I guess that’s what it is. I mean, like he asks me to stay, but he never pushes the issue. I mean, he doesn’t even act like he wants it that bad. I say no, he drops it,” I explained. Grace and Shahira frowned.

“But if he was pushing you that wouldn’t be cool. Come on, Kaya. Him backing off instead of pushing you past your comfort level is a good thing. How much do we hate people coming on extra strong?” Shahira chastised me. I hung my head, embarrassed. I’d judged Paul’s level of interest based on asshole behavior I’d dealt with in the past. I was hesitant to trust him because he wasn’t sweating me hard enough, but he’d been respecting my space and decisions.

“So you’re playing hard to get with no idea why,” Grace said, laughing. I glared at her.

“You were playing chicken with the man and couldn’t figure out why you were winning,” Shahira said, joining Grace in laughing at me. I glared at her too.

“Okay, okay. I let the bullshit I was used to color my view. I get it. What do I do now?” I said. Sha swirled her fries around on her plate, sopping up gravy.

“Pack a bag, and go spend the night,” she said, stuffing the fries in her mouth. Grace picked up the chocolate sauce again, nodding in agreement.

You see Love, apparently I was playing both. And almost got played. I had judged Paul wrong; he didn’t deserve that. And denied myself. Because a night in his arms was exactly what I wanted. Now, what kind of lingerie says, “I’m sorry I misjudged you?”

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

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