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

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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