“What do you mean?” he asks, just the slightest bit sharp in defense. “It was fine, Mace, but they’re your friends, not mine.”
“Well, eventually they might become your friends, too,” I tell him. “Isn’t that what couples do? Share things? Blend their lives?”
I realize, in this moment, that we’ve never argued. I don’t even know how it looks to disagree. We overlap for a total of maybe one waking hour a day. How disastrous would it be to calculate the total number of hours we’ve spent together? Do we even care enough to argue?
My phone buzzes on the counter, and I pick it up, reading the text there from Sabrina.
I realize I shouldn’t be answering right now, but if I don’t take this tiny breather, I’m liable to say something to Sean I might regret. I inhale deeply and type out a reply.
She answers with a string of heart-eyed emojis and I realize her apology opener was really just a ruse to soften me up to more of the same conversation. Her timing is, as ever, impeccable. Putting my phone facedown on the counter, I look back at Sean, determined to salvage this, make plans, do something.
“How does your week look?” I ask.
“Pretty light. Might take Phoebs to the Exploratorium. Was thinking about camping a couple nights, maybe.” He shrugs, lifting his chin to the stove. “Water’s boiling.”
“Don’t backseat-drive here, sir,” I say, trying to joke. “I got this.”
“Do you want me to make a salad or something?” He turns his attention to the fridge, indicating there’s stuff to be found there.
“Would it ease your mind to make it?”
“Either way,” he says, looking down to his phone. “I don’t just want noodles and plain sauce for dinner, that’s all.”
I stare at him for a few silent beats. I mean, a thank you would do wonders right now. “Of course not.”
With that, I turn to get the lettuce and veggies out of the fridge.
In bed later, Sean snuggles closer, humming into my neck. “Mmm, babe, you smell good.”
I stare at the ceiling, trying to figure out what I want to say. I organized a picnic on my day off, giving him a chance to get to know my friends, and he barely talked to any of them about their lives, their jobs, their interests. We came home, and I offered to cook – he ate it wordlessly, huddled at the other end of the table with Phoebe, helping her draw a unicorn.
Phoebe showed it to me, proudly, after dinner, but other than that, it was as if I wasn’t even there.
Has it always been this way, and I didn’t notice because I was so happy to be included in their twosome, and I was so busy there was nothing else pressing on my mind? Was it such a relief to have something sorted, to not feel anything – not guilt or love or fear or uncertainty – that I just let this routine become my future?
Or has something changed since Elliot came back into the picture, and no matter how much Sean denies it, it’s created a wrinkle in our easy, bland little life?
Sean kisses his way across my collarbone and then up my neck. He’s hard, pushing off his boxers, ready to go, and we’ve said maybe three words to each other in the last two hours.
“Can I ask you something?” I say.
He nods but doesn’t stop his progression up my chin, to my mouth. “Anything,” he says, speaking into a kiss.
“Are you excited to get married again?”
He reaches between us, coaxing my legs apart as if he’s planning to answer this question after he starts having sex with me. But I shift away and he sighs, leaning into my neck. “Sure, babe.”
I balk a little at this. “‘Sure, babe’?”
With a groan, Sean rolls to my side. “Isn’t it what you want? I mean,” he says, “I’ve been married. I know what’s great about it, and what’s not so great about it. But if you want it —”
I stop him, holding up a hand. “Do you remember how it happened?”
He thinks for a beat. “You mean, the night we talked about it?”
I nod, although “the night we talked about it” isn’t the most apt description. After a fun night out at the movies with Phoebe, we’d tucked her in bed, then Sean took me to his room, made a satisfied woman out of me, and then mumbled, “Phoebe thinks we should get married,” before he fell asleep between my boobs.
He remembered the next morning, and asked if I’d heard him.
Confused at first, I’d finally said, “I heard you.”
“For Phoebe,” he’d said. “If we’re doing this, I want to do it full-on.”
We didn’t have time to talk about it then, because I had to leave for the hospital, but the words seemed to loop in my head like a song all day. If we’re doing this, I want to do it full-on.
Looking back, all I can really remember is the overwhelming relief I felt at the prospect of having that bit of my life sorted with such convenience. There was nothing messy or turbulent about it. There were no manic highs with Sean, but there were no angst-ridden lows, either. Sean was easy, and he and Phoebe were a family I could just… join. But in hindsight and in the stark contrast to the intensity of emotions I feel around Elliot, it almost seems insane that I came home later that day and gave Sean an enthusiastic yes.
We certainly haven’t done a lot more planning since then. We still haven’t picked out a ring, probably because we both realized that Phoebe doesn’t seem to be that concerned after all about the woman in her house, and whether that woman is going to be her new mommy.
The only person who consistently asks where we are with the plan is Sabrina, and she is the one person who has said outright that she thinks this whole thing is a farce.
Sean runs a hand over my hip. “Babe, I think you need to figure out what you want.”
I meet his eyes. “What I want?”
“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Me, Elliot, neither of us.”
And who does this? Who is so unaffected by the potential loss of his fiancée that he can suggest I give this some good thought while casually stroking my hip, suggesting the relationship may end but the sex can still happen?
“Does it matter to you that things are obviously so weird between us?”
Sean moves his hand away, closing his eyes with another long sigh. “Of course it matters to me. But I’ve been through these ups and downs, and I just can’t let them rule me. I can’t control what you’re feeling.”
And I get that what he’s saying is the ideal reaction to the situation we’re in – it’s the well-adjusted, textbook version of this difficult conversation – but is that really how the human heart works? You tell it to chill, and it chills?
I stare at him now, with his arm across his eyes, and I’m trying to find that flicker of something bigger, of an emotion that consumes me. I do what I used to do with Elliot sometimes: I imagine Sean standing up, walking out the door, and never coming back. With Elliot, my stomach would react as if I’d been punched.
With Sean, I feel vague relief.
I think back to Elliot’s face when I told him I was engaged. I think about his face now: the longing there, the tiny sting of pain I see in his eyes when we turn to head our separate directions. Eleven years later, and he still aches for what we had.
I’m terrified of what I’m feeling; I feel like I’ve just woken up. I thought I didn’t want intensity, but in fact, I’m desperate for it.
I look over at Sean and it feels like I’m in bed with a one-night stand.
Pushing up, I climb out.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
He follows me out. “Are you mad?”
God, this is the weirdest situation in the history of weird situations, and Sean is so… calm. How did I end up here?
“I just think you’re right,” I say. “Maybe I need to figure out what I want.”
saturday, september 10
twelve years ago
lliot was stretched out on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. He’d been that way for a while now, his worn copy of Gulliver’s Travels abandoned on the pillow next to him. He seemed so intent on what he was thinking he didn’t even notice the way my eyes moved over his body whenever I turned a page.