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Even Steven

Ten years later Annie and Bradley meet to settle unfinished business.
My mother got sick on her Asian Simmered Halibut with Rice Wine in May, 2002. Because of that, Bradley and I didn't have sex that Friday night. We didn't get it on until a Saturday night in June, 2012, ten years after college and five years into my marriage. When that Saturday night finally came I think I was certain I was going to do it, but if there was any smidgen of doubt left in me then it had to be the wedding that pushed me those last few inches.

You know about women and weddings? They made a whole movie about it a few years ago: The Wedding Crashers, in which Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson spend the first twenty minutes of the movie harvesting the low-hanging fruit of bridesmaids intoxicated into a bleary frenzy of romance-ignited lust by participation in their BFF's big day.

I heard from Bradley when he posted a greeting on my Facebook. I could have replied there or on his Facebook, but in the ten years since we graduated from college we'd stayed in touch sporadically, so I had an e-mail address for him. He, I presumed, still had my e-mail address, and that led to my first dilemma: had he gotten in touch through my Facebook because he no longer had my address? Or did he have the address, but approached in a public way to see through what channel I would respond?

If I had to mount a defense of my behavior in this episode I couldn't. First, I took the private, e-mail option. Second, I'm the one who brought it up. I really should have made him mention it first.


Hey Brad!

I haven't heard from you in forever! How are you? Haven't seen you since graduation. Well, yeah, you had to fly home the day before, so I guess I really haven't seen you since that night.


There was more to my message, but that's really all that had to be said.



Sorry so long. I almost made it up for your and Steven's wedding. Thanks for the invite. But in the end just couldn't make it. Speaking of which --- little sis is swapping vows and wedding rings (world's smallest handcuffs! yuk-yuk!) on Saturday. Wanna hook up?


PS --- Yeah, that night.


Bradley isn't married, and at this point it appears apparent he likely never will be. The use of the term 'hook up' was a bit of overkill. Just the sighing 'Yeah, that night' in the PS would have been enough.


B -

DON'T. I've never spelled my name that way except for one week freshman year when I just had to prove I knew a better way to spell Annie than my folks or the rest of the world ever thought of.


PS: Yeah I do (I think).


Well, I had to be a little coy. Right?



C'mon to the wedding.



B -

Love to but my invitation must have gotten, you know, lost in the mail.




It's just a small affair out at the Shrine. A few family and friends. I get to bring someone, so that someone can be you. OK?



B -

Ok. Steven's out of town. I could use something to do.



That was the last crucial piece of information we needed to establish. The fact that all these messages flew back and forth inside of an hour is just more evidence for the prosecution. So, Bradley came up for his sister's wedding. She'd gone to University of Alaska Southeast too, and she'd ended up staying.

We had a long run of sunny weather in Juneau that late May and first half of June in 2012, when Bradley's little sister got married. For nineteen days the sky was almost cloudless. I'm glad of that. If you haven't figured it out yet, this story is heading toward some sort of personal calamity. Juneau, Alaska is probably the best place in the world for personal calamities. It's cloudy and rainy all the time: the perfect setting for interior crises. As bad as Sweden. Worse, really. Ingmar Bergman's film oeuvre notwithstanding, Alaska has a suicide rate half again as high as Sweden. But the sun shone high and bright and long - over eighteen hours at the Summer Solstice - through all this. It's like it all happened on a stage: nowhere to hide, no mealy-mouthed excuses about how depressed the weather made me feel. It was all as brightly lit as an operating room.

So, the wedding was a wedding. Better than that, really. The setting, especially on a sunny day, is magnificent: The Shrine of St. Therese. A small, stone chapel sits on a tiny isle a couple hundred feet from the coast. Before the chapel could be built a causeway, constructed by hand, had to be created from the beach to the island. Then the chapel was built among splendid, old-growth firs. The ceremony was lovely and moving and, sitting in the chilly chapel, I found myself hoping that Bradley's sister or her guy didn't have any unfinished business waiting to cut a swath of mayhem through their lives at some future date.

The unfinished business. I mentioned the wedding at the beginning, but I also mentioned my mother getting sick. The wedding happened in this story's present: the late spring of 2012, but my mother getting sick happened ten years before, and that's what led to the unfinished business.

It was Friday, a couple days before graduation. I'd known Bradley since freshman orientation. We were close. We argued at times, which is how we knew that if we wanted to get closer it might work. There was enough tension between us to get a relationship rolling, and from there it would eventually either come together or fly apart. But, as much as we were able to hone our flirting techniques on each other for use on third parties, we never took the next step.

I grew up in a house not far from the campus along Fritz Cove Road. I could walk or bike to campus, even in the rain. There's no more affordable education than the Alaska university system on in-state tuition and living and eating at home. I graduated with all my permanent fund money still in my T. Rowe Price account, although I had to dip into it some for graduate school. Bradley and some other friends were frequent visitors at our house.

Just Bradley was over that Friday. My mother and father said good night and left for dinner and then a play at Perseverance Theater. Bradley and I talked about going out for a movie, but nothing struck our fancy. We took a walk down to the stony, tranquil shore of Auke Bay. It was the first week in May in that year of 2002. The just-after-sunset, dusky light, and a few small orange and pink clouds were perfect to give you that feeling of being totally settled and satisfied while at the same time aching with the knowledge that it was the perfect time for something significant to happen.

Then we made our way back to the house, an arm around the other's waist. Once inside we were kissing. I don't know who started it. I guess we both did. But there wasn't anything hesitant about it. We were too old for over-the-shirt, then under-the-shirt-over-the-bra, then push-the-bra-up, then unhook-the-bra. No, we pretty much went at it and got naked without much ado. Then we had a moment of, you know, just laying out the conditions. Yours truly led the way.

"What are we doing?" I asked.


"Yeah, I know. But we graduate in a couple days."

Bradley was from Portland and would be returning there. In fact, he had to leave for family reasons the next day, the day before graduation.

"What would you like us to be doing?" Bradley asked. He was leaning toward me, placing little kisses on the side of my neck.

I thought I knew what we both wanted in that particular moment. I knew what I wanted. It wasn't my first time. Sex was still enough of a novelty for me, though, that anticipation of the pleasure and intimacy made me delirious. I was a young woman (and at this point in my life I'm amazed to think of myself as ever having been that young) who had been raised in a (relatively) proper household. So, burbling under everything - as I got ready to do it with someone I had no likelihood of ever having even the illusion of a romantically committed and loving relationship with - my mind hummed an almost imperceptible, troubling dissonance composed of the words 'slut' and 'skank.’ I was a college-educated woman, though, so I was able to conjure a mental boot and stamp that nonsense into submission. I was sure Bradley wasn't just knocking off a piece, that he was sincere. Yeah, it could be with Bradley: a tender embrace before parting and a sweet remembrance to take with us, with someone who had been dear to me for a long time and could perhaps have been much more. I was fine with that.

"I want us to do something we'll remember for a long time when we're far apart," I said. He was sitting back now and looking at me, and as I spoke I kept my eyes on Bradley's, alert for whatever they might unintentionally tell me.

"I'm good with that too, Annie," Bradley said, and his eyes were in perfect agreement with his words.

We were on the couch, Bradley sitting back and I facing him from the side. With the compact signed and sealed, I moved to face him and swung a leg over his lap. He was half into me (or I was half onto him, however you care to look at it; but I'm sure we both looked at my vagina as being half full rather than half empty), and Bradley's mouth had just started on my breasts when the garage door opener clanked on.

I thanked my lucky stars I didn't have to pee. I would have let loose. Wouldn't that have been a sweet memory to carry into our futures?

I don't think we would have had enough time except that mom had to stop in the garage and hurl halibut chunks all over the lawn mower. So, by the time mom and dad came through the door from the garage Bradley was out of the downstairs bath, and I was out of my room and down the stairs, dressed again. There wasn't really a need for panic. We could have just gathered our clothes and gone to my room and finished. I mean, I was graduating college, not in high school. Mom, and even dad, would have respected our right to be adults, because we were. I guess it was the rude shock of the moment that made us instinctively react like guilty adolescents.

Mom and dad had eaten dinner at one of Juneau's oriental restaurants. Juneau's a small town so I'd feel more comfortable not naming which, but it's the one that puts a boatload of MSG into everything. Dad had been driving from the restaurant to the theater, and it took mom a minute to convince him she was serious that they had to turn around and go home right now. She'd had the Asian Simmered Halibut with Rice Wine, and the joke our family carried forward from the event was that she must have misunderstood and thought it was catch and release.

The mini-crisis had Bradley on his way a short time later, after a few kisses that were more than pecks on the lips but that really weren't sure what they should be beyond that. That's the last time we saw each other before he picked me up to attend his sister's wedding ten years later.

Back in 2012, the guest list for the reception was much more extensive than for the ceremony. We stayed long enough to eat and watch the major events like the cake cutting, and first dance, and for Bradley to dance with his sister. Then we made our exit without anyone noticing.

So, you must be thinking, 'Great! More sex again so soon. And this time I think they're going to make it to the money shot.' But I have to take one more detour before we get there. If you've been an attentive reader then you've probably said to yourself, 'Back when they were doing the e-mails didn't Bradley mention something about not being able to attend Annie's wedding? So where's this hubby? What was his name? Steven?'

Almost there.

I went up to the University of Alaska campus in Anchorage for my Education Masters, and was there for three years. I enjoyed the program, and spending time on a larger campus and in a more cosmopolitan city. My big find there, though, was Ginny, a short, slender redhead with a spray of freckles and a potty mouth that contrasted with her delicate stature. Ginny became a tight and trusted friend. She's never let me down. You'll meet Ginny further along in the story. When I got back to Juneau it was a year and a half before I landed my first teaching job with the district. It was a fill-in for a teacher who took maternity leave after the first semester, but then I got my own full-time job the following year, and I've been teaching in the district ever since. I met Steven shortly after returning to Juneau. He was new to Southeast Alaska, transferred here by Hecla Mining to work at its Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island. We married two years and eleven days after we met.

Hecla has another mine, The Lucky Friday in Idaho, that was closed for most of 2012 for reclamation work. They wanted Steven down there to work on the management team for a part of the project. So he was gone for May, June, and July.

Also, if you're on the ball, you've probably wondered, 'So this woman must be what? About thirty-two or so? No kids?' It's a fair question and one I try to avoid addressing, but I guess you have a right to know since you're reading this. Our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I grieved for a long time, and I suffered, and the result was I decided I never again wanted to risk such bottomless, inconsolable pain. Is that selfish? Steven supported me totally; so, I got tied, and he got snipped. We've discussed perhaps having a discussion someday about adoption.

Anyway, all of that is why Bradley and I pulled into the driveway beside an entirely empty house. No husband or kids to shake a finger at us.

What do I want to tell you about that night? We put paid to the account we'd opened ten years before. We got that done, for what it's worth. I really wanted to do it out on the couch, but after I'd poured wine I had to use the bathroom. I used the bath in the master bedroom, and after I'd shut off the lights and the fan, opened the door, and stepped into the bedroom there was Bradley on the bed, on his back and up on his elbows, legs half over the side. You'd think he could have figured out I'd not want to do it in my marital bed. But there he was. The wedding really did its job. It revved my engine. I'd known I was going to do it from the moment I'd written 'Hey Brad! ', but the wedding added some sort of sweetness, made me feel a bit more urgency, and informed me that perhaps I didn't need to split hairs quite so much about where to do it.

My dress was already back in the closet and my heels were in the entry hall. Exiting the bathroom, I had on just my bra, panties, and a full slip, and all of that was soon on the floor. Bradley opened his pants and fitted on a condom. While he did that, I went to the window and drew closed the wide-open drapes. I came back to Bradley's feet, grabbed a double handful of waistband and pulled his slacks and boxers down and off.

You remember how we almost did it ten years before? Me on top? Well, after Steven and I were into our relationship and sex became an all-the-time part of my life I found I like it on top. Steven calls it Annie's Sexual Weirdness #1. From behind - it goes by the dreadful name 'doggie' - is good for me, too. Missionary is at the bottom (okay, pun intended) of my list, but it's all right when I'm feeling a little sub or, more often, when I want to be accommodating. Steven is easy to please but tends to like being on top, so I often enjoy surrendering.

But that explains why I climbed onto Bradley without preamble and without pausing to solicit any second opinions. I knew I wanted to do it, but I also knew I didn't want to do it face-to-face. Had we done it face-to-face the position would be called 'cowgirl.' Facing the other way is called 'reverse cowgirl,’ and I rather like either appellation and the mental images they conjure. Yee-Haw! and Yippy-I-A! One of these days I'm going to have to get a Stetson hat to wave around while I do it.

Let's see. What boxes do I have to check off?

It took a while.

Can't say I had anything in particular on my mind.

Yes, I enjoyed the physical sensations.

And, yeah, I came. Doing it my favorite way, and not having to look at someone-who-wasn't-Steven while I did it, got me eighty percent of the way. From there I just needed to attend to myself with some determined rubbing and a bit of flicking, and I was over the top. It was the coldest, shallowest, most pathetically utilitarian orgasm I've ever experienced. It did nothing for me. While Steven was gone I got much better orgasms out of my Magic Wand.

While I waited for Bradley to finish, I returned to the state of rationality one reassumes after an orgasm, even a crappy one. My refocused mind told me how much I didn't want to be sitting where I was sitting. Being done, I suppose I could have just gotten off but, hey, fair is fair. After Bradley finally finished, with a crescendo of sound and hands tightly clasping my hips, I lifted myself off, hoping I wasn't recoiling too quickly or obviously. I spent a few minutes in the bathroom, and then visited the walk-in to slip my dress back on. When I emerged he was pulling up his slacks.

I took him by the hand, "Let's go drink our wine," and led him down the hall. Bradley didn't exactly put a funnel in his mouth, but his wine was gone in a few large, well-controlled gulps. After very little, very awkward, very halting attempts at conversation we were at the door.

"Coming by tomorrow?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Got a flight at three in the afternoon. There's a day-after bridal brunch for the newly-weds, and then we're putting them on a plane at one. I'll just stay at the airport."

I hope I hid my relief well enough. Then we were hugging and smooching cheeks.

"Bye, love," Bradley said. "Good to see you. Thanks."

"Thanks?" I said. "Get the fuck outta here with 'thanks.’ Take care. Stay in touch." Of course, I knew he wouldn't. Then he turned, descended the steps, and walked to his rent-a-car in the lovely, pre-Solstice, midnight light.

I leaned back against the shut door and closed my eyes. As I slugged down the last of my wine the troubling sotto voce undercurrent from ten years before started in my mind again with 'slut' and 'skank,’ but I was a much older and more worldly woman by then, so it was able to add variations to the theme like 'floosy,’ 'slag,’ 'ho,’ 'trollop'…Shut up! I used that mental boot again to stamp out the flames. It was funny. I knew that I could stamp them out only because we'd done it here, in my house. I also knew that if Steven had been home, and, if Bradley and I were to do this we'd have had to stop at the Super 8 Motel on the way from the reception, then that undercurrent would have swelled into a deafening Hallelujah Chorus. A weird distinction and, I'm sure, one with no validity whatsoever.

It really would have been okay, even wonderful and a pleasant memory, ten years ago. Now it was just cheap humping.

As I leaned against the door the words came unbidden, murmured, "Holy fucking God."


Mid-morning Sunday - while Bradley and his sister and her new hubby and the rest of their family were eating quiche, cantaloupe, fruit salad, and blueberry waffles still hot from the Belgian waffle maker that had been unwrapped at the reception the previous evening - Ginny and I sat at my dining table. We meet every Sunday morning, usually here. Ginny has not just a husband but twin toddlers. So it's mellower here. We value that.

I made the coffee. Ginny brought the eats, this time scones with both Devon Cream and Orange Butter to spread on them.

Ginny is my closest friend; she's my girl. I mentioned we'd been in the graduate program in Anchorage together, and we'd graduated at the same time with our Education Masters in '05. I'd missed her terribly after I returned to Juneau and she moved home to Fairbanks. We traveled back and forth from time to time to see each other, and the rest of the time e-mailed incessantly . Ginny's mother is some sort of big cheese in the Alaska Republican Party, and when Sean Parnell took over as governor from Sarah Palin in the summer of '09 Ginny was offered a political appointment in the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development as a Deputy Director. The job is located in Juneau, and she and her hubs talked about it and decided to make the move. I don't know to what degree exchanging forty below winters for forty above winters figured into their decision, but I was happy, she was happy, and we've been nearly inseparable for the last three years.

We don't have secrets, so when we were settled with hot drinks and the scones and she asked, "So, what's new with you?" I hesitated only a moment before I replied, "Well, I did it."

"Did what?" Ginny asked, giggling, perhaps expecting some cute story about what I was currently wasting my summer vacation doing.

"It," I answered. "Last night."

She looked at me, her smile fading. "You mean…it?"

I nodded.

Her smile was now gone and her shoulders had sagged. "With who?"

"With whom," I corrected.

"Fuck that. With who?"

"You don't know him," I answered. She looked surprised, mostly, and like a hundred questions had just formed behind her forehead. But there was no mistaking that part of her look had a big dollop of disappointment to it. I told her the story I've just told you. I'd never had reason to mention Bradley to her, so the whole package was quite a bombshell.

When I was finished she sat for a while, her gaze wandering over the table top, sipping coffee from time to time. Finally, she asked, "So what's next?"


"You and Bradley. You and Steven."

I couldn't help but smile a little. "There's no next with Bradley. He'll be off to the airport in a little while and back in Portland by this evening. I'm as certain as I can be that I'll never hear from him again. I think he was as relieved to get out the door last night as I was to close it behind him."

She considered that. "So how was it?"

I wasn't sure what I heard in her question. Was she just asking? Or was it, 'Was one roll in the sack with a strange cock good enough to maybe completely fuck your marriage for?'

"It was okay," I replied. We were always honest with each other, but I knew I wasn't going to tell her about either the existence or the nature of that austere orgasm. "It wasn't what it would have been ten years ago. I can't imagine why I couldn't figure out before we did it that it wouldn't be."

The look Ginny regarded me with was full of sympathy. I was relieved to see the look didn't have any component of, 'Well, I'm glad to see you finally figured that out, blockhead.'

She said, "So, I guess that answers any questions about whether you missed a fork in the road ten years ago?"

"No, Ginny, it's not like that," I answered. "I know if I could go back to that fork I wouldn't, even if I knew I could still have with Bradley what I have now. Besides, what Bradley and I almost did back then, well, we understood it wasn't going to be the start of anything. I love the life I'm living and I love it with Steven. I guess I just thought….." Shit! How to make this not sound like the most fucked up bit of reasoning in the history of humankind?....."that we were going to finish what we started, put the scales of the universe back in balance. Something. I guess."

I lost it. For a moment I wasn't sure if I was going to laugh or cry. When the sounds finally emerged they could have been either, but only for a moment. Then I started to chuckle, picked up steam, and soon I was in the grip of hysterical laughter. Ginny seemed surprised, but in a moment she joined me.

When we'd finally settled down I said, "Just get a Sharpie and write Stupid across my forehead." She began to rise. I grabbed her arm. "No! No, that's not necessary! Stop!"

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I just have to figure out how I'm going to handle this with Steven."

As if a switch had been thrown, Ginny's still-bubbling chuckles were gone and her face was as hard as I've ever seen it.

"Fuck that, Annie! Just fuck that! You're not going to handle it with Steven. You're never going to breathe a word of this to him," she said with an intensity and passion I'd never heard her manifest.

"I don't know, Ginny. I mean, not right away maybe, but someday I think I….."

"You know my mother? My mother?" Ginny cut me off, and her voice had lost none of its stridency.

Yes, I'd met her mother several times. Sweet lady. Ginny had a brother three years behind her, and almost as soon as he was off to college Ginny's mother and father had divorced, right out of the blue. Ginny didn't wait for me to acknowledge any of that.

"I never knew this until after the divorce. My mom made…..a mistake, back when I was about eleven or twelve. Some guy at work. It was once. It meant absolutely nothing. She was torn up about it and had no idea how it could have happened. Well, she just had to 'fess up. Annie, I had a great childhood with parents who were solid and loved me like the dickens, and were in love with each other. And, you know, they were. They really were. I think they really were, even after. But when mom told me about this she told me that dad never got past it. When she told him the light in his eyes just died.

“They stayed together until my brother was out of the house. I don't know how they did it, but I never suspected a thing. They faked it that good for years. There were no arguments or name calling or slammed doors or snide comments or bitterness. Nothing. I think they even still had sex sometimes. Then they were done. And, you know, I think they could still get back together and spend the rest of their lives loving each other. If dad could just get over it. But I don't think he ever will. I wish he could, but I don't blame him, because that's the thing, Annie: you just never know how someone will take something like that. Some people can take it. Some people can't."

She had a hand on one of my shoulders. Her grip was tight as she shook me a little.

"Annie, you don't ever, ever want to have to find out which of those people Steven is. If you love Steven and your marriage then you just put this the fuck behind you and forget it."

She ended, and we were silent. I'd known Ginny's parents had divorced some years before. Once I'd asked why, but Ginny was so evasive in answering and so quick to change the subject that I realized it was a sensitive issue she couldn't find the strength to address even with me. I backed off and haven't gone there since. Now I knew just how deeply the event had hurt her, and the continuing pain she feels from watching her parents live their lonely, separate lives.

Both our eyes were full of tears that never fell. She gave my shoulder another shake. Finally, I nodded my head. "Yeah, Ginny. Okay. I get it. I get it."

She looked at me a while longer and then said, "I gotta go take a piss." In all the years I'd known her I'd never heard her use the word 'piss' instead of 'pee.'

I didn't notice until she returned, but she'd gone to use the bathroom in the master bedroom. Morbid curiosity? When she emerged from the hall she stood in the living room looking at the couch and coffee table.

"You slept out here last night?" she asked.

It was obvious. I'd put the wine glasses in the dishwasher after Bradley had left, but the empty from the wine I'd killed, sucking right from the bottle, was on the coffee table. The quilt that usually adorned the back of the couch was on the cushions and had obviously been used as a cover.

"Yeah," I acknowledged.

"Come with me," she ordered.

She led the way down the hall. In the bedroom she pointed at the bed. The sheets, pillows, and blankets were as we'd left them.

Then she was talking to me. "With women it's things: touchstones, physical objects. I don't know if I got that from Oprah or Dr. Phil or Dear Prudence or where the fuck. But it's true. You sell that fucking bed, Annie. If you're ever gonna blab this to Steven it'll be because you can't stand to see that goddamned bed or sleep in it one more time. Get it out of this house. You told me Steven doesn't like it anyway."

That was true. My parents had bought us the bedroom set for a wedding present. They hadn't told us to go pick out something we liked, they'd just bought the set and had it delivered. We could handle that the pieces were ugly, but the bed had what they call Sleigh head and foot boards. Mom had been the instigator, and it didn't take a degree from Swami U to figure out that I was conceived in the sleigh bed they still had (At least I like to think I was conceived in their bed rather than on the living room coffee table or with mom bent over the kitchen counter, but you never know, do you?), and she wanted whatever grandchildren might come along to be conceived in the same sort of bed. There was no place to set anything on the headboard, not a glass of water or a lamp. And the bed was short. Steven is six feet tall, and he doesn't scrunch up as much when sleeping as a lot of people. So his feet were always pushing against the foot board. We'd talked about getting something more attractive and comfortable.

"Well, do you think…..," I began.

"Just shut the fuck up and do it," Ginny said. Then she was marching back down the hall. Her movement was so sudden I didn't for a moment realize she was gone. I caught up with her in the living room. She was opening the door to leave.

"You going so soon?" I asked.

With the door open and her halfway out, she turned back to me. "I'm pissed at you, Annie. I mean, I'm so fucking pissed at you I can't see straight." I had no idea what to say. Then she closed her eyes, and a few tears that had been ready to fall were squeezed out. She rubbed a hand on her forehead. "But I'll get over it." She was silent briefly and then said, "Do you think you're a bad person?"

The question surprised me. I was torn in answering. After spending so much time being told what to tell my husband and what to do with my bed I thought it might be time to stand up for myself a little. But that troubling chorus was still humming.

"No. No, I don't think so, but, yeah, the word 'slut' has been….."

"No, Annie, don't do that to yourself. That's just another road that ends at flapping your mouth with Steven. You're right, Annie. You're not a bad person. You're like my mother: a good person who made a mistake. Don't let a mistake fuck over the rest of your life." Her face finally softened. She giggled grimly and shook her head. "Miss Fuckin' Hot Pants. I'll call you later."

Then she was gone, out into that unforgiving and all-revealing sunlight.


"Your friend was right, you know," Pat said. "Not to stereotype, but women tend to be like that. When they feel guilty about something - especially about naughty sex - they want to not be reminded. They'll get rid of the bed, like you did, or the sheets, or throw away gifts, or they'll avoid places that remind them of what they did. It's all about not being reminded."

It took a couple days but I finally took Ginny's advice. I listed the bed in the Freebies section of the on-line Juneau Empire. The item being sold doesn't have to really be free. You can put a price tag on it of up to one hundred dollars. But I listed the bed for free. The ad appeared the next day and a couple came to look at the bed that evening. I guess they expected some absolutely free wreck. They were surprised to see a piece of furniture in such fine condition that they could take away just for the asking. They'd driven over in a pick-up, so that's what they did: took the bed apart, loaded it up, and drove off with it, mattress, box, and all.

That was Wednesday night. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights I'd slept on the couch. Wednesday night I was on the couch again, but not by choice: it was the only option. I went to the furniture store on Thursday and found a platform bed they had in stock. It had a headboard you can put things on, but no side railings or footboard. Steven could stretch out all he pleased. They delivered and assembled the bed on Friday, and I was back to sleeping in my bedroom.

I'm sure you're wondering, 'So, who is this Pat person she was writing about after the last break?'

After my confessional with Ginny I still had about seven weeks until Steven came home. I thought I'd use that time to do some sessions with a licensed counselor to work through my thinking on all this. I saw her once a week for six weeks.

"So, selling the bed was a healthy step," Pat continued. "I hope it helps bring you some closure. I can't tell you what to do about the content of any conversations you might have with your husband when he returns. Sorry. But maybe we can spend the next few weeks discussing the issue and maybe I can help you clarify your thinking in whatever direction that thinking wants to go."

I thanked her, and told her I'd like very much to do that.

"By the way, and again not to stereotype, but men are usually entirely different. When their erection ends up someplace it doesn't belong, and they want their existing relationship to continue, they tend to assuage their guilt and make amends through grand gestures: pricey gifts, a lavish vacation. If a Juneau guy suggests a trip to Vegas or Hawaii then he's probably just suggesting a trip to Vegas or Hawaii. If he's suggesting out of the blue a Mediterranean cruise or a trip to Paris, that's when the antennae have to pop out. Sometimes it's agreeing to that absurdly expensive addition on the house she's been wanting for years.

“Okay. So, what was your childhood like? Happy? Troubled? Any abuse or neglect issues?"

The sessions helped, if in no other way than in letting me vent, and explain, and call myself stupid, and kick myself some, with someone who, like Ginny, would never breathe a word of this. But, really, when the sessions were done I was no more certain about what to do in terms of telling Steven or not than I'd ever been. So, I nervously passed the last few days until his return.

* *

"Annie! What made you do it?"

Steven's exclamation had come when he'd walked through the bedroom door. Before he'd even put his bags down he'd seen the change to the room. The next moment his bags were on the floor, forgotten, and Steven was stretched out on his back on top of the object of his enthusiasm. His feet hung over the end of the mattress, and he wiggled them up and down, unimpeded.

"Oh, my God, Annie! This is great, just great! How come?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I just thought it would be a nice surprise. I was as ready to get rid of that old monstrosity as you were. So, ta-da!"

Steven rolled onto his front and came up to his knees in the middle of the bed. He faced the end, put his hands in a configuration like he might be holding onto a pair of hips from behind - the reminder of Bradley doing the same making my stomach roll - and thrust his pelvis a few times. Elvis Presley couldn't have done it any better.

"So how's that going to work?" he asked.

One thing sleigh footboards are good for is to lean on when getting plowed from behind.

I couldn't help but laugh. "I guess we'll have to figure that one out. But how about not tonight?"

"Not tonight?" Steven asked, and the disappointment was apparent in both his voice and face.

"Well, I just meant not that way. Of course we're going to play a game of Hide the Salami."

He brightened considerably, rolled off the bed, and moved to one of his bags. He pushed it over flat on the floor, unzipped it, and began to pull a few things out, taking them to the dresser and placing them in drawers. Well, that was disappointing. Distracted so soon?

I stripped off down to my thong, reclined on the bed, and cleared my throat. Steven looked around.

"Sorry. I didn't mean for you to think I wasn't interested," Steven explained, as he walked on his knees over to the bed and got on. "I just needed to find something."

We came together, kissing, our hands wandering, heating up. We kept at it for some minutes, just enjoying each other and reacquainting. Then Steven pulled away.

"Hey, I need to drain the weasel." Classy, huh? "There was a line at the head on the plane and I didn't make it before we started the descent," he said as he got off the bed and backed up toward the bathroom.

"I'll be around," I answered and let him see a smile.

He moved into the bathroom, unzipped, and let loose a stream. I sat on the other side of the bed from the bathroom, turned away, one leg off the bed and the other tucked under me. I watched Steven. The window drapes were wide open, and I saw him reflected in the glass.

Okay. Here's what Steven likes to call Annie's Sexual Weirdness #2. I like to do it with the drapes wide open. There are thick woods behind our house. No one will ever see us doing it: they'd have to be up in a tree to get the right angle anyway. But the possibility that someone theoretically could see gives me a naughty, hot little charge I like. A lot. So sue me. And yeah, you remember right: I did close the drapes with Bradley, didn't I?

I wasn't thinking of that at the time. I was distracted by the weight of my still-unmade decision. But that decision had to be made soon. Now. Ginny's admonition had been ringing in my ears and echoing in my mind for the last month and a half. God, it made sense. I could see the wisdom in her exhortations. Just take it to your grave, idiot. It made so much sense.

But if marriage is about anything it's about trust and truth and honesty.

I looked at reflected Steven again. He was just finishing, shaking his dick, and bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. In spite of my distraction I couldn't help flashing on, That can't possibly make any more pee come out. Can it?

Then Steven was stripping off, dropping his clothes in the hamper. Once he was naked he moved into the bedroom. He'd long ago stopped paying any mind to the open drapes. I put my head down. I didn't want him to know I'd been watching. I heard him behind me. He had crouched and was rooting around again in his suitcase.

I tried to imagine the scene between Ginny's mother and father. She'd probably felt the same impulse I did: toward honesty and integrity, but mixed with terror that a great portion of the life she valued could be gone with a single the utterance. One sentence. Could she have thought their marriage to be so strong as to survive her foolishness and wickedness? That's the way I felt. Steven and I were strong, weren't we? Five years. Unconditional love. I tried to imagine how ugly and burdened my soul would become after years, decades, of one-sided guilt, of unending dread.

I thought of that woman - what was her name? - with the Weather Underground when she was college age. The bomb had killed the security guard. She'd escaped and settled into a suburban, middle-class life, but always looking over her shoulder, raising her children in fear, until the day the cops finally got a tip and came with the handcuffs. No, I couldn't live like that.

I was still sitting on the other side of the bed, facing away. I didn't turn as I said, "Steven?" My voice was timid and broke a little. I cleared my throat. He was still rooting around and didn't answer. "Steven?" I said again, this time with a stronger voice.

"Yeah, honey, what's up?'

Here goes.

"There's, um, there's something you really need to know about."

I turned toward him. He was just coming to his feet, turning, and then something was flying toward me. Instinctively, I caught it.

"You don't think I'd go somewhere for three months and not come back with a little something, do you?" Steven asked. I held the package in one hand, weighing it. "You going to open it?" Steven encouraged.

Why not? At this moment any reprieve, however short, was a godsend. I smiled at him and started working at the paper. Steven doesn't travel much, but when he does he always brings me a present. I love them, mostly because they're inexpensive, goofy little things. I teach English, so one time it was a tee shirt that read: "Rule of Grammar #11: Double Negatives Are A No-No!" One time he brought me an amethyst geode. Apparently, he'd gone in a new direction this time. It definitely wasn't a tee shirt or a rock. The wrapping covered something squarish and hard.

It turned out to be a small velvet-covered case. I opened it. The word Fabergé was on the inside of the lid. In the bottom half were the most staggeringly beautiful earrings I'd ever imagined. No, strike that. I'd never even imagined earrings like this. They were studs, the stud behind a fat, glowing pearl. Hanging down from the pearl on each was a snowflake of white gold. The flake had six arms, each stuffed with diamonds, and at its center a six-point star with a central diamond, and a small ruby in three of the star arms.

Are these real? began to rise in my throat. But, of course, I didn't have to ask. They were real. Okay. Little Miss Curious just had to look them up on the Fabergé site a few days later. Japanese akoya pearls and collectively over half a carat of diamonds and rubies. Six grand in American dollars.

Steven had moved over to sit behind me on the bed. His arms were around me, one hand stroking my right breast. He was nuzzling the back of my neck.

"My God! Steven, thank you," I said. "Why?" It was the best I could do with the question.

"I don't know. Our fifth anniversary is close.”

"In case you don't know, the fifth is the wood anniversary, I think, or maybe it's copper. These don't look like they're made of wood or copper. You don't get to diamonds until, well, maybe it's the sixtieth."

I felt him shrug.

"I just saw them and wanted you to have them. Maybe it's a look ahead. I really want to be with you when that sixtieth anniversary rolls around. I love you, Annie. I couldn't live without you." He squeezed me and said, "Hey, I want to see them on you."

I disengaged, rose, and went to the bathroom. It took me a little fumbling to get the earrings in since I was mostly looking at my face in the mirror, trying to read the emotion there. It looked like apprehension. Then they were on. I peeled off my thong, dropped it in the hamper, shut off the light, and moved to the bed.

I settled on my back at the middle of the bed. We almost always do it with the lights on to accommodate my imaginary voyeurs. I'd made good use of the clipping scissors and a razor earlier to make sure my pubes were in an alluring configuration. I crooked a knee to make sure Steven had a clear view to the goods.

Steven slid over. Then he was above, looking down at my face, the earrings, my eyes.

"God, I love you so much, Annie," Steven said, and I thought, Don't tell me. Please, please just keep it to yourself. But I knew he would. Why else bother with the earrings?

Steven was ready to go. That or a zucchini had suddenly materialized between us. He reached around and began to pull me up, encouraging me to get into whatever female superior position might suit me.

I shook my head. "This is good.”

Steven looked at me skeptically. "You sure, Annie? On the bottom? Miss Ride 'Em Cowgirl?"

"Yeah, help yourself. Dinner's served."

I expected him to roll onto me, but he didn't. He still seemed hesitant. Then he said, "You know, I was thinking while I was away that we should just get that kitchen remodel done. You really deserve the kitchen you want."

"Okay, we can talk about it."

"Screw talking about it. We'll just do it."

"Okay," I said, thinking, Five more minutes and he'll be offering the Taj Mahal.

Steven had made his offerings; I made mine. On my back, naked save for the down payment on a new BMW dangling from my ears, I subserviently spread my legs: atonement and a hope of finding some sort of absolution. Steven moved on top of me and pushed in.

Before we started to rock and roll Steven said, "Oh, shit, Annie. Sorry. You said you had something I really needed to know?"

I wrapped my legs around his middle and put my hands on his ass cheeks, encouraging him to go deeper. "Yeah, you really need to know I'm horny as a toad and need some hard dick. Now." Then we were at it.

So, Bradley is back in Portland, and she - whoever she is - is down in Idaho. I guess we're going to keep our secrets to ourselves. I'm fine with that.

We’re even Steven.

# # END # #

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © (c) by B. E. Thalia

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