Dear Love: Chapter Sixteen

Dear Love: What If The Model Home Falls Down?

Dear Love:

You know how you want to buy a house in one of those brand new communities, but they have to give you a tour of the model home, because yours isn’t built yet? The model has all sorts of upgrades that your home won’t have to start, but you can always add them on. It’s decked out and spectacular. It gives you something to dream about, to work toward. That was Sha and Richie. They were my model home for love. Built up and established, full of all the upgrades that hard work and togetherness can bring. They were my love inspiration. And now that they’re breaking up, I’m starting to get scared again. I mean, they have more than two decades of foundation. If they’re crumbling, what hope is there for me in my starter? Love, what if the model home falls down?

“Grace, what is it?” Nina saiaskedd as she chopped lettuce for our dinner salads. I was sitting at her island, staring into space, knife in my hand. I jumped, startled. I looked down at the half chopped tomato, and then up into my girlfriend’s eyes.

“Oh. I’m sorry, love. I’m just thinking.”

“About your friends again?”

“Yeah. I just feel so bad… and a little lost. I mean, I’ve known Sha since we were kids. I was there when she met Richie, when they fell in love. Kaya and I were in their wedding. This is all so unbelievable,” I said. Nina nodded.

“I know. But they’re not perfect, Grace. No one is. Things happen.”

“Yeah, I know. We’re none of us perfect people, but I thought their love was perfect, you know? They were like a vision board for me, of sorts. I’d always seen their connection as something I aspired to.”

“Relationship goals?” Nina said, smiling. I smiled too and went back to chopping the tomato.

“Something like that. I know it sounds corny—”

“No it doesn’t. It’s sweet. And I’m really sorry this is happening to them. Do you think they’re still in love? Or do you think all of this is happening because they’re not anymore?” Nina asked me. I put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl with the lettuce Nina had readied and grabbed the bacon and hard boiled eggs I’d already chopped, throwing those in too. I frowned as I thought of Nina’s question. I’d never imagined either of them falling out of love. It seemed impossible. But people did it every day. I knew Shahira still felt something strong; her heart was too broken. But was it love or just residuals from having been with Richie so long? And I never imagined Rich falling out of love, but the way he’d lied to Shahira stung me; something definitely wasn’t right.

“Honestly… I don’t know,” I admitted, going to the refrigerator and grabbing salad dressing. Nina turned to the stove, filling our two plates with steak and roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

“Well, enough about that. Dinner is ready,” she said, grabbing my hand. I smiled and nodded, clearing my thoughts. I was still concerned for my friends, but our earlier relationship skirmish had taught me to be present when I was with Nina. We took our plates to the living room and set them up on trays so we could watch whatever house buying/ house fixing/ house renovating show was on television. We were both obsessed.

“Oh that’s a nice one. Mark that down, Grace. We definitely want that in our house some day,” Nina said, chewing. I laughed, a little nervous all of a sudden. But I didn’t know why.

“Some day, way down the line,” I said back. Nina turned to me, narrowing her eyes.

“Well I didn’t mean tomorrow, Gracie,” she said. I cut my steak and swirled a piece through my mashed potatoes.

“I know you didn’t,” I said, keeping my voice calm. I didn’t want to fight. Nina had just come from a conference and tonight was our first night together after nearly a week apart. I’d missed her terribly.

“What’s wrong? You love this show,” she said. I shook my head.

“Nothing. It’s nothing. I just drifted back into Sha and Richie for a second.”

“Grace, I know how you feel about your friends, but I don’t want you to do this,” Nina said. I dug into my salad, pretending to still be hungry.

“Do what?” I said, mouth full. Nina smirked at me.

“This distance thing. We make jokes about our someday house all the time and you know that,” she said.

“I do know that. I just—it’s nothing. I’m back. I’m good.” Nina gave me a side eye and cut into her steak again.

“Okay,” she said, going back to the show. But I could tell she didn’t believe me. I didn’t blame her. I didn’t believe myself.

Later that night, we were lying in bed, sated and warm, wrapped around each other.

“I want a snack. You want a snack?” Nina said. I giggled.

“My hungry baby. You need a mini fridge for this bedroom,” I said. Nina sat up, laughing. She got out of bed, slipping a shirt over her head.

“You know what? You’re right. I’m gonna get one. Put that on our house board too!” she said, dancing out of the room. I sat there waiting for her, anxiety filling my stomach. I took deep breaths, trying to get myself together. Nina and I had all kinds of talks and jokes about our future life. Most of the time we ended up laughing and kissing as we dreamed together. But today, after Richie and Sha, it made me afraid. What if it all fell apart? If my twenty year relationship goal love was ending, what hope did my barely started love have?

“Gracie it has every hope in the world! And if you lose Nina behind me and my lying bastard of a husband, I will kick your ass,” Shahira declared as the three of us ate cheesesteaks. Shahira was wearing a headwrap and her face was free of makeup. Kaya and I knew she’d been crying nonstop. It was the only time you’d ever catch our girl not perfectly groomed.

“I feel so silly. We were talking about houses—my very favorite thing—and I just couldn’t stop thinking that we should stop all of the future talk. I mean, what if there is no future?”

“Grace, stop this. Your problem is that you feel other people’s pain so deeply, especially mine and Sha’s. And I understand. None of us want this to be happening to Sha and Richie. But—”

“Our love is not your love,” Sha said, taking a huge bite and sitting back in her chair. Kaya nodded, following suit and I stared at them.

“Your homework tonight is to make a future plan. Sit down with Nina, and talk about something you’re going to do later. The only couple you need for goals is the one you’re in. Embrace love,” Kaya said.

“Step into the gotdamn future,” Shahira declared, smiling. Her eyes were bright and I knew she wanted to cry again. I wanted to cry for her, but they were right. Her love was not mine, and my love deserved all the faith I could give it. I nodded, and picked up my cheesesteak.

“Grace, it’s starting!” Nina yelled from the living room. I picked up two forks and hurried to the couch, carefully setting down our dinner—sheet pan nachos we were eating straight from the sheet pan—and sitting next to Nina. Our favorite renovation show started and I passed her a fork, kissing her cheek. She turned to me, smiling. The couple renovating the house decided to turn the backyard into an entire oasis and add a hammock.

“Oh a hammock! I always wanted to try one!” Nina said. I shrugged.

“They’re pretty nice. I’ll make sure we have one for our vacation,” I said, stuffing a forkful of nachos in my mouth. Nina turned to look at me. Then she wrapped her arms around me grinning.

So Love, it turns out that the model home sometimes has shit go wrong too. But it doesn’t make the neighborhood bad. It’s still worth the investment if you have enough faith. The house you build is your own, and though the model can be a spectacuar example, there’s no better feeling than the home you work and build yourself. With your own finishing touches. Maybe even a hammock.

Sincerely, Grace

Dear Love… Chapter Fifteen

Dear Love: Do The Ends Justify The Means?

Dear Love:

Now we all know that this insecurity shit is not me. I mean, I know how fine I am, how accomplished, how funny and sparkly and all of that. I ain’t no wack bitch. But when the only man who’s ever had your heart starts acting funny, it wears on you. It makes you do some crazy things. I just… I don’t want to have to go to these extremes, I really don’t. But he’s hiding something, and I have got to find out what it is. We’re spending money to share our feelings and I’m feeling more and more like he’s just figuring out how to hide from me better. So a girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do. I know this is wrong; I know it. But I’m doing it anyway. Love, is the truth worth anything we have to do? Do the ends justify the means?

“Bitch, I cannot believe you got me out of my man’s bed for this,” Kaya said as I handed her a pair of black leggings and a black t-shirt. Grace sighed as she pulled her outfit on, her eyes showing her frustration.

“I know you’re upset about whatever you think Richie is hiding, but that doesn’t mean we should be doing this. I mean, following him? Spying? Shahira, this is not you,” she told me. I sucked my teeth.

“I know this isn’t me. But I am desperate, dammit. We are in therapy every week, arguing and fighting. We try to talk at home, but it just leads to more arguing. The homework doesn’t get done, and Rich just fucks me crazy to shut me up about it. And I know all of this is because he’s still not telling me something. If I don’t find out what it is, I’m gonna be divorced.”

“But don’t you think this is extreme? I mean, you haven’t been in therapy that long. Maybe you’re getting to the breakthrough,” Kaya said, sitting on my bed to put on her sneakers. I sighed.

“Trust me, we’re not. Rich is just burrowing deeper into himself. And now he has an excuse, because he can just say he feels insecure because I’m not happy with him. I know what Rich Davis looks like when he tells a lie. He’s lying to me,” I said. Grace stood up.

“I don’t like this. You should be talking to him. This is not healthy behavior.”

“Gracie, I have a therapist already. I need you to be my friend now. Can you be my friend?” I demanded. Grace scowled at me.

“I put these damn clothes on, didn’t I?” she said, throwing her arms out. Kaya finished dressing and I turned and left the room. My two best friends followed me, and we headed downstairs and out of the house. We got into Nina’s car, which Grace had borrowed because Rich wouldn’t recognize it, and started the drive to Rich’s job, where he was supposed to be. But when we got there, he wasn’t. His car wasn’t in the parking lot, and a quick sneaking look around, aided by our all black clothes, confirmed that he was nowhere to be found. My husband owns a distribution center. He receives, holds and ships inventory for small businesses that don’t have the room to hold it themselves. It was strange that he wasn’t at work; he was always at work, according to him. I was immediately pissed, but the girls convinced me to stay a bit longer, just in case Rich was on an errand or something and was coming back. An hour later, he still hadn’t appeared. I called his phone, and was sent to voicemail. Rich immediately texted after.

Can’t talk, babe. Busy in the office. But he wasn’t in the office. Because I was there.

My face got hot and I couldn’t speak. He wasn’t at work. He wasn’t where he’d said he would be. Who knows how many nights he’d been somewhere else when he was supposed to be here? The three of us got back into the car.

“Where do you think he could be?” Kaya asked. I shrugged. Tears were burning the backs of my eyes and I was starting to shake. I mean, I’d known my husband was keeping something from me, but to actually see it in real time… my anger was keeping a clamp on my heartbreak, but my chest hurt.

“That fucking bastard. Twenty years of my life… TWENTY YEARS!”

“Now Sha calm down. There could be a perfectly good explanation—”

“Gracie, you know there isn’t one. We just had a fight because I wanted him to stay home, with me. He insisted that he needed to be at work. He said that one of his biggest contracts is up for renegotiation and he needed to be there, to make sure everything was right. He accused me of being spoiled, of not caring about his business. Of not realizing how important it was. That fucking bastard,” I raged, the tears falling. Kaya rubbed my shoulder from the backseat.

“Okay honey. Calm down. Let’s just go, okay? When Richie comes home, you can have it out with him,” she told me. I sniffed, nodding.

“Keep your ringers on. One of us might be packing our bags before the night is over,” I said.

I was sitting in the living room when my husband walked in three hours later. I picked up the remote and turned off the TV.

“Where were you?” I asked, keeping calm. I’d cried and yelled with the girls before sending them home, just to make sure I’d have my emotions in check. Rich frowned.

“Work, Sha. You know, where I go every day?”

“I’m going to give you one last chance to tell me the truth, Richard: where were you?”

“Sha, what am I, your child? Who you talking to like that? And I said I was at work.”

“You were not at work. You weren’t. Please stop lying to me. Please. I don’t deserve that,” I said, hurt. I couldn’t believe he was still denying it. Rich came and sat on the coffee table, facing me. He took my hands.

“Listen, I didn’t mean that stuff I said to you earlier. I just really needed to be in the office. This contract is important to the business—”

“Oh fuck the contract!” I yelled, wrenching my hands from his. I stood up and went into the kitchen, sitting at the island. I poured a glass of the wine sitting there and sipped it, my face on fire. I was so mad I could swear I was seeing sparks. Rich charged in after me.

“Fuck the contract? I bet you won’t be saying that when you’re spending the contract’s money!”

“Fuck you, and the contract, and your money. You think you can just do this to me? Do you know who I am?”

“Shahira, what are you talking about? Do what to you? Go to work?”

“You were not at work, Richard. Stop treating like I’m fucking stupid. You weren’t at work. And if you’re not gonna tell me where you really were, then fuck you and your contract, like I said,” I said, drinking some more. Rich scowled.

“Woman, I am getting sick and tired of your little tantrums. It’s like you don’t care about anybody but yourself. What you need, where you want me to be. I’m a grown ass man.”

“Who lies to his wife,” I said, scowling back. Rich stepped back, shaking his head. But he didn’t look me in the eye. He wouldn’t. He knew I’d see the lie he was telling.

“Shahira, you better have a damn good reason for accusing me—”

“I was there, Rich. I went to your job. I didn’t see your car. I looked around the warehouse. You weren’t there. I called you to find out where you’d gone. You texted that you were in the office. I was looking into your fucking office! You. Weren’t. There,” I screamed at the end, starting to cry. Rich’s eyes widened.

“Sha, you went to the warehouse?”

“I knew you were lying to me. I knew it. So I popped up, to see you. And my suspicions were correct. How often do you lie and say you’re going to work when you don’t?”

“Sha, let me explain—”

“Oh it’s too late now. Because I asked you multiple times for the truth and you continued to lie. I don’t care about the explanation now,” I said. Rich balled his fists.

“Shahira, things aren’t always what they seem. If you just trusted me—”

“Trust? That’s what you want to talk about now?”

“Yes. Since when you start popping up at my job? Your need to know every damn thing is killing us.”

“Are you serious right now?”

“Yes I’m serious. My work is my own. It’s the one thing I have for myself. Now you want that too? I can’t have any privacy? Why can’t you just let me work things out by myself?”

“Work what out, Rich? You won’t tell me anything!”

“Got dammit can’t I ever have a life of my own? I take care of you in every way, and it’s still not enough! You want every piece of me!” Rich yelled. I sat back, my heart crushing in my chest. I stood up, grabbing the wine bottle and my glass.

“I don’t want the lying piece of you,” I said quietly and left the kitchen.

Rich never came to bed. And he was gone when I woke up in the morning. I’m not sure I did the right thing, but I had to know what was going on. The worst part is, I still don’t. Not fully. I thought for sure once Rich was caught he’d finally tell me everything. But now I’m even more in the dark because we’re not even talking. My mama used to tell me “when you look for shit, you find it.” And I did. I found all the confirmation I wanted, but now what? Was it worth it? Maybe it’s time to finally walk away.

Sincerely, Shahira

Dear Love–Chapter 14

Dear Love: Is There A Skills Test?

Dear Love:

Now usually I’d be bragging about my ability to roll with anything thrown at me, but I like this man so much I’m starting to doubt it. I mean, I thought I was an expert at this, flying high, matching dexterity and prowess with the greatest of ease but now I’m second guessing. Getting into position was nothing for me, and while there may have been the occasional fat girl adjustment, there was nothing so great I couldn’t overcome it. But now I’m nervous. What if there’s just some things I can’t/ won’t do? Will I go down in his estimation? Love, is there a skills test? And what happens if I fail?

“Kaya, I admire you for wanting more flexibility, but this is ridiculous. I’m ready to eat,” Shahira complained. My best friends and I were angled downward towards the floor in an all too familiar yoga position. I had suggested that we do it for exercise, and peace, and overall centeredness, but Shahira wasn’t having it. I took a deep breath, sweat forming on my brow, as I held my position for five more counts as instructed by the video we were watching.

“Sha, the video is five more minutes and you promised,” I said. Shahira sucked her teeth and stood up straight, going into warrior pose like the woman we were emulating on the video.

“I guess.”

“As much as I admire this newfound appreciation for gaining peace and learning to breathe, why exactly are we doing this?” Grace asked, changing positions as well. Grace was smaller than Shahira and me, cruising somewhere between a size 14 and 16, but she was out of breath too, and her dark brown hair was crinkling around the edges.

“We’re doing this because it’s good for us, and we should take better care of our bodies,” I said, taking a deep breath. Shahira sucked her teeth again.

“Next thing you know, you’ll be trying to put us on a diet. I am opting out of this friendship if that happens, just so you know.”

“Sha, I will not put us on a diet, I promise,” I said. The three of us finished the video and then plopped down on the sectional in my family room.

“That was a beginner’s lesson?” Grace said incredulously. Shahira laughed.

“I know girl,” I said, “I wasn’t expecting to be quite so out of breath. Now the water’s all the way in the kitchen, and I don’t feel like going back there.” Shahira hopped up and went into the kitchen, getting three bottled waters and bringing them back. She handed them to us and sat back down, pulling out her phone. Four clicks later, she put the phone away and sat back, opening her water.

“Okay. Rich is bringing food. He’ll be here in thirty minutes. Plenty of time for you to tell us why we’re really doing this,” she said, eyeing me. Grace sat up, ready for the story. I took a deep breath.

“Well…”

Two Days Earlier

“I’ve missed you, baby,” Paul whispered as he kissed my neck and his hands wandered downward. I moaned softly, overcome. Paul had that effect on me.

“Your hands and mouth were in the exact same spots just eight hours ago,” I reminded him, breathless. He laughed. He had such a sexy laugh. Paul kissed me again and lifted my shirt, unfastening my bra. I sighed, partly with relief and partly with anticipation. Paul rubbed my back and kissed my neck again. He stepped back from me, pulled the shirt over my head, and let the bra fall to the floor. I reached for his pants, wanting what was inside of them so badly. I unbuckled them and pushed. They dropped to the floor and Paul grabbed my arms, pulling me to him and kissing me with so much passion, I melted. I reached my arms around his neck, standing on tiptoe to kiss him better, deeper. Paul’s hands went to my behind and he squeezed. I moaned again.

“I don’t care. I never get enough of you; I thought you knew that,” he said. He pushed on my skirt and it fell to the floor. I wasn’t wearing panties. Paul dropped to his knees and lifted my leg over his shoulder. I grabbed his head for balance. But his mouth went right to the middle of my thighs and his tongue got busy, and balance was out the window. I wobbled as I moaned his name. I was trying to stay standing, but with every lick it seemed like more and more of an impossibility.

“Paul I can’t—we’re gonna fall,” I said, breathless and almost dizzy with pleasure. Paul’s hands gripped me harder, but he didn’t slow down. A few moments later, my steady leg gave up, and I fell over, knocking Paul backward and the two of us hit the floor. I was gasping and horrified, moving quickly to make sure I hadn’t hurt him.

“Oh my God. I’m sorry baby, I just—”

“Naw, this is perfect,” he interrupted, grabbing me by the legs and holding me still. My thighs straddled his neck and I was worried. “Move up. Right over my face,” he whispered. I shook my head. I never did that. Ever.

“No. I want—I’ll just lie down,” I said. Paul frowned.

“But you’re right here. Come here baby, let me finish tasting you,” he coaxed, grinning and licking his tongue at me. My stomach jumped, my lust returned. This man made me wet at a moment’s notice and I was dying to do what he wanted. But I was worried. What if I was too heavy? What if I hurt him? Seriously? I moved to the side and stood myself up.

“I have to—to use the bathroom,” I mumbled and ran from the room.

Back to now…

“So then what?” Shahira said, staring at me. Grace was silent, but her eyes were sad. I sighed.

“I came out a few minutes later, told him I wasn’t in the mood anymore, and went home,” I said.

“Oh Kaya. I’m so sorry, love,” Grace said, reaching for my hand. Shahira frowned.

“You cannot be serious. What’s going on with you? You get what’s yours. If that nigga dies, he dies. He knew the risks,” she said. I scowled.

“So you admit he’s taking a risk having my fat ass sit on his nasal passages? Thank you, I guess. But this isn’t a joke. I don’t do… that.”

“Kaya, it’s totally okay if you’re not comfortable. But I think if you talk about it with Paul, it’ll be fine,” Grace chimed in, still holding my hand. I squeezed hers back, swallowing tears.

“I’m too embarrassed. I don’t think he’d get it, you know? I thought maybe if I learned to be more flexible, I could turn his head with something else. It’s not the first time he asked for that. I managed to squirm out of it with him none the wiser the last couple of times, but this time? I think he noticed. Oh God, what do I do?”

“You give the man what he’s asking for. I swear, it’ll be okay. I’ve been plopping my fat ass on Rich’s face since the tenth grade. He’s still alive. I mean, some days I want to kill him, but he’s still alive,” Shahira said, scowling back at me. I shook my head.

“I just… I’m nervous. I mean, I’ve dated more slender guys before. All the time, really. And Paul does have some muscle. But I just… I’m used to guys just sticking to the skills I have. I mean, I have a great arch for a girl with so much stomach,” I said. Grace giggled.

“And that’s definitely a worthy talent too, but Paul seemed to want something specific. Pleasuring your partner is important, but maintaining our boundaries is important too. That’s why you should talk to him. If you just didn’t like it, I wouldn’t bother you. But you’re letting an insecurity keep you from something that may actually be pleasurable for you. That’s very different,” Grace said. I blew out my breath, scared. I knew she was right. My phone dinged and I picked it up and switched to my doorbell app to see who was at the door. I smiled when I saw Rich, with Paul behind him.

“Okay,” I agreed, taking another deep breath. I used my app to disengage the alarm and lock so the guys could come in. I stood up.

“Food’s here.”

“Hallelujah!” Shahira exclaimed. She stood up, dancing over to the kitchen just as Richie and Paul were entering it. Rich put his bags on the counter and took Shahira in his arms, kissing her thoroughly. She pulled away breathless, staring at Richie like she’d never seen him before. Paul walked over to me, repeating Rich’s actions. I moaned, instantly wet. He wasn’t angry with me. I stepped back from his kiss, grinning.

“Since Paul’s here too, why don’t you call Nina, Gracie? We’ll make it a triple date,” I said, never taking my eyes from Paul. He smiled at me, lust and something else I was scared to name swimming in his eyes. And suddenly I was less afraid. I was eager to talk to him later, about how next time, he wouldn’t need to ask me twice.

Wow. So that wasn’t so bad, Love. Turns out the skills test was really all in my head. Paul completely understood. And assured me he’d be fine. He even got me to test the theory. I have to say… the man really has great suggestions. Thanks Love.

Sincerely, Kaya

Dear Love… Chapter Thirteen

Dear Love: Do You Offer Dancing Lessons?

Dear Love:

Getting a new partner after being out of the game for a while is all kinds of scary. It’s not just dancing to a different song, it’s a new genre of music altogether. And I feel like I’m stumbling over Nina’s feet. I mean, it’s not as though I never dated before. I’m not a complete greenhorn. But I’ve never meant anyone quite like Nina. She commits so fully, without hesitation, whether she’s moving closer or backing away. I’ve never meant anyone so impulsive in my life. And since I’m the pragmatic one who considers every action carefully, I feel like all my reactions are wrong. I need to learn how to do this all over again. Love, do you offer dancing lessons?

“So where should I meet you?” I whispered as Nina and I stood in the parking garage. We were kissing and touching each other, breaths hot and heavy, bodies fully ready. We’d barely made it out of the elevator. The passion between us was front and center, spilling over, and one of us spent the night with the other nearly every night.

“Meet me at the house. Bring extra wine, and that red thing I got you out of the other night,” Nina whispered back. I giggled. She was so exciting and beautiful. We kissed one last time, then parted, turning away from each other to go to our respective cars and run errands so we could meet up again. I grinned, licking my lips. She tasted like honey today.

“Oh wait! Gracie!” Nina called out to me. I turned and she ran back, something metal dangling from her hand. She stopped in front of me, smiled and dropped a key into my waiting palm.

“In case you get there first,” she said and then turned again, running to her car. I went to mine, silent. I was still smiling, but not quite as wide as before. A key. What did it mean? Was it mine to keep? Should I offer her a key to my house too? Or is it too soon? Do I say thanks and decline? Would that mean that I didn’t trust her back? I decided to drag my errands out a bit. Opening the door for myself, with a key. I didn’t think I was ready for that.

“Hey honey,” I said, coming into Nina’s open front door. I’d pulled in just as she as getting out of the car, and was spared having to use the key. I held it out to her as she headed for the kitchen.

“Guess I didn’t need this,” I said to her back. Nina turned around, kissed me soft, closed my hand.

“Keep it,” she whispered. She opened the refrigerator and grabbed two bottles of wine, and a wrapped plate of cheese. I went to the open shelving and pulled down two glasses. I sat at the table. Nina put the stuff down on the table and immediately straddled my lap. I reached my hands around, tugging on her hair with one, while rubbing her behind with the other. We kissed, our tongues exploring.

“Are you sure? I mean, I don’t have any reason to use it. I’m only here when you’re here,” I said, my voice thick with desire. Nina smiled.

“You might need it for an emergency, or to surprise me, or I might lose mine. It’s no problem. Hold on to it,” Nina replied, kissing me again. She plunged her hairs into my hair, using her palms to hold my face while we kissed passionately. We broke up, breathless. Nina stood up, grabbing my hand and pulling me up. We went upstairs to her bedroom. My body warmed up. I was eager to show Nina the red thing she’d taken me out of before.

An hour later, we were entangled in bed, sipping wine cooled by ice cubes, feeding each other cheese. I kissed Nina’s nose and rubbed her breasts with my own.

“Want me to stay?” I whispered. Nina nodded.

“Gracie, I always want you to stay. I wish you’d stop asking. You can come as much as you want. I love having you here with me.”

“I just want you to be sure.”

“Well I am. You’re my baby now. There’s no need to hesitate,” she went on. I bit my lip.

“Well… okay. I just don’t want to rush things, you know? We’ve got plenty of time,” I said.

“And I want to spend it with you,” Nina said back. She hugged me, kissing and biting my neck. I relaxed and snuggled her. But something still bothered me.

The next morning, I was gathering my things and practically running out to my car. Lovemaking with Nina had made me late… again. I grabbed my bag and headed out.

“Grace, aren’t you forgetting something?” Nina said, holding out the key I’d left on the counter. I hesitated, swallowed.

“I’m late, babe. I’ll get it from you later,” I said, dismissing her. Nina frowned.

“If you don’t want it, Grace, just say so,” she said. I sighed and walked back over.

“I do. Give it to me,” I said. Nina shook her head.

“Nah, don’t worry about it. You’re late, remember?” she said and turned away, going into the kitchen. I scowled.

“I act like I want it, you’re mad. I act like I don’t, you’re mad,” I called after her, sucking my teeth. Nina turned scowling back.

“I’m mad because you took a small gesture and made it big and awkward. It’s not that big of a deal, Grace.”

“You’re pretty upset for it not to be a big deal,” I said back. Nina stomped her foot.

“Don’t you therapize me. Don’t do that.”

“Baby, I’m sorry. It’s just… you don’t think that’s a big step? That’s a lot of trust,” I said, keeping my voice soft. Nina sighed, hurt filling her eyes.

“I know it is. And I thought we were—never mind. You’re right. I’ll see you later,” she said. She came over to me and kissed me soft. Then she turned and went to the kitchen, key in hand. I sighed myself. And went to work.

“So she tried to give me this key and I freaked out,” I told the girls as we sat on the benches eating bulgogi. We were having lunch early to ensure we’d get to the Korean barbecue truck before anyone else. It was usually packed. Shahira laughed.

“When are you not freaking out, Gracie? You sure are skittish for someone whose job it is to keep folks level,” she said. Kaya cackled with her.

“She’s got a point, my love. You’ve got to stop being so anxious. Calm down. Build some trust.”

“So you’d take Paul’s key if he offered it to you right now? At this point in your relationship?” I shot back. Kaya frowned.

“We not talking about Kaya,” Shahira jumped in, “we talking about you. You’re a totally different person and all relationships work on their own time.”

“I know that. But a key seems like a lot. I’m not ready.”

“Of course you’re not,” Kaya said. I scowled at her. Shahira laughed.

“Gracie, if you don’t want the key, don’t take it. But we had this talk about inviting her over, about spending the night, about getting her gifts. You’re never ready. For anything.”

“You balk at everything that shows you’re pushing the relationship forward, that’s all. And it’s not because you don’t want her. It’s clear you do. We’re just trying to figure out what’s holding you back—this time,” Kaya finished. My friends went back to eating and I sat there, fork in hand, deep in thought. I had no idea.

I finished my work and gathered my things, heading for the door. I locked my office and got into the elevator. I went down one floor and got off, cutting a left and turning the corner. I knocked to announce myself and entered Nina’s practice. She was situating new magazines in her reception area. She looked up, her eyes surprised.

“Grace? What are you doing—” her question was interrupted by my kiss. My lips moved over hers, exploring her, tasting her. When I pulled back, we were both breathless.

“I’m not ready for the key as my own. But I’ll keep it in my office in case of emergency. Okay? I’m happy that you’re trusting me, and I’m sorry if I made you feel like that wasn’t returned. I just—when it’s been a long time since you danced, sometimes you’re afraid you won’t remember the steps and I—”

“Grace, it’s okay. I overreacted. I’m sorry too,” Nina said, kissing me again. I wrapped my arms around her and tugged on that luscious red hair. Another wall down. More steps forward.

So I guess the key to the dance is to learn with your partner, huh Love? That’s certainly a lot less lonely than trying to go it on my own. And a lot more fun. I want to say I hope we don’t stumble anymore, but maybe that’s part of the dance too. I guess I just have to learn to lean on my partner, and let her lean on me.

Sincerely, Grace

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