"So, do you want to talk about sex?"
I watched her from the couch as she put a bite of cake into her mouth. I had to smile slightly at her blunt attempt to return to the conversation of the previous day. Megan just looked at me as she chewed.
"Sure," I said as I moved to join her at the table. I took a bit of the frosting from the scraps on the plate, remnants from the cake we had constructed for a friend's party earlier that day. A long but satisfying five-hour collaboration had produced a rather impressive castle, complete with moat and drawbridge.
We had left the party early to come home and watch a movie, but the intensity of baking and frosting in a small kitchen had drained me. Particularly when Megan was in such a sprightly mood.
The movie was out of the question now, I thought, looking at my watch. Megan had insisted on cleaning the confectioner's sugar and food coloring off of the counters and table before doing anything else. Then I had waffled on whether I felt like starting the movie at all, and now it was getting too late. I hate starting movies and not finishing them in one sitting. It wasn't an easy decision to bag the film, since it looked like a particularly romantic one. Megan had admitted to me just the day before that watching romance on screen got her excited. Not that I hadn't figured that out in the last twelve years with her, but she had never voiced it.
But there was no point in starting a romantic movie if we were going to be too tired to finish it, let alone take advantage of any post-movie feelings.
"So have you had any thoughts?" she asked, licking a few last crumbs off of her fingers.
"Since yesterday? No, not really," I said. The frosting was too good, so I grabbed a chunk of cake, a ruined turret. Probably not a good idea, given the amount of cake I had already eaten that day.
"You?" I asked back, through filled mouth.
"I don't know. I still feel the same."
"I know that, but have you had any revelations?"
Megan shrugged. I wondered if she was tired too, since her mood seemed to be suddenly drooping. I had had an idea the night before. I decided to try it.
"Okay. Right now," I said. "Let's go to bed. You take charge. Make love to me."
"Now?" Megan said, staring at me.
"Yeah. Time for action," I pressed, trying to get her excited about the idea.
"No! Talk about spotlights on! The pressure..."
"Pressure? Spotlights? That's my whole point. They're not there. You're putting the pressure on yourself."
"I just wanted to talk," she said quietly.
I sighed. "Well, I don't know what the answer is." My tone was more heavy than I wanted.
"Well, that's why I thought we could talk about it," she said. The defensiveness crept into her voice, and I took another deep breath. Perhaps we should just go to sleep, I thought.
"I kind of said my piece yesterday," I said. "I don't know that I have much more to add, without some sort of response from you."
Megan just stared at her paper towel, dusted with cake crumbs.
"What did you think of what I said yesterday?" I asked finally.
"I don't know. I... I don't remember exactly what you said," she admitted with downcast eyes.
"What?" I slumped back in my chair, looking at her. So much for having had a conversation the day before.
"We were busy, and things were crazy, and I didn't have my full attention in it."
I sat stone-faced. So she hadn't really listened. What was the point of talking then? Some resentment started to brew up, but then I quelled it. I knew I was guilty of such ignorance as well. How often would I drift off during conversation and then have to ask about already-told details? Enough times not to get mad at Megan now, surely. Besides, the subject was already touchy.
"What?" she asked tentatively, after I didn't say anything for a long while.
"Let's talk in bed," I offered, moving the cake to the fridge. Maybe we should just sleep and take the subject up on a better night.
I lay in bed a little while later, as Megan got ready in the bathroom. The long weekend had been exceptional so far. We were in the midst of a sexual renaissance of sorts, and this weekend was a highlight. The night before had been magical, a quasi- spiritual experience. Megan had completely let herself go, and I had driven her to thorough satisfaction. And today, making the cake was more fun than I would have thought. She wore my favorite skirt (wholly not a baking outfit, for sure, but I didn't complain), and teased me with peeks down her top as she would express some frosting here or there. Sharing the creativity of making the cake with her was refreshing and exciting. I had been hoping the movie would fire us up into a climactic evening. That was lost now, but the weekend was still memorable nevertheless.
Despite having somewhat crashed, I didn't want to mar the night with a confrontation. So turning out the lights was an option. On the other hand, Megan was open to discussing the topic, even having reinitiated it. That was an opportunity that was hard to pass up. The whole weekend she was talking about things which I never expected she would. We had reached a new level of sharing, both fantasies and fears.
Megan walked into the bedroom and took off her clothes. I smiled as I watched her pull her black bra and panties off, tiptoeing to send them through the laundry chute. As she dug through her dresser, her bottom swayed a little. Her resolution to work out had paid off: her body was almost back to the form she had when I first met her, the delicate yet firm curves of a dancer.
A promising ballet career had disappeared with a pop of a tendon in high school. It would never be the same, so she decided to leave it all behind and do something else. Geology, then art history, before finally settling into education. Was there resentment for missing out on a dream? Surely, although that was a layer I had never dared to fully peel back. But at the same time, we would not have met had she gone on to dance. She would never have come to the same university, sat next to me in English class, agreed to get some coffee, come in my dorm room. We both knew that but for the strange turns in each of our lives, we'd likely be unknown to each other now.
I was surprised to see her pull on a pink negligee. Sure, she wore the piece every now and then, since she had gotten it for our honeymoon cruise eight... was it really eight years ago? Time slipped around us so slowly, and yet already eight years ago she was dressed like this, reclining on the bed in a cabin over the Mediterranean sea as I poured more champagne. I could still smell her perfume if I needed to.
But her putting it on after the tense moment in the kitchen suggested she had not let her openness flag.
She lay down in bed and pulled the sheet over her body. Summer nights round here are hot, and the sheet was more for contact than warmth.
We looked at each other for a while.
"I'm sorry," she said.
I smiled away her impending explanation. My brief resentment from earlier was long gone.
"Don't worry about it. Let's just start over."
Megan nodded, as I took a breath and began again.
"So," I started, "first off, your worry about losing me as your husband because of sexual performance is silly. I mean, look at our life together? Do you think with everything we've been through, I'm going to leave you because sometimes you aren't into sex?"
"I don't know, maybe you get frustrated. I worry about that."
"Look, Megan, we've been together for twelve years. Yes, life has been busy and we've slowed down that part of our lives, while speeding up others. But still, I have to say, when we have good sex, it's not just good, it's incredible. So sometimes you are not in the mood, so what? And besides, there are so many other reasons that I'm really married to you, this is just one facet."
"I know, but I want to make you happy in this too. We get all worked up, you do something nice for me, and then we get to the moment and it's like someone turns the faucet off," she said sadly. "I know that must be frustrating for you."
"It's not about me," I said. "It's about us. I'd rather go great a few times than just do it for my sake more often."
"But I do want to do it more too, and then I get these weird moods. I get worried, and feel awkward. It's like I don't know what to do."
I laughed. "I don't know why you say that. There's very little that you could do that I wouldn't like. Barring pain, I think anything goes. Just try whatever comes to mind."
"I don't even know what that is. Sometimes I just feel like I'm not any good at sex."
"Well, when you open yourself up to the mood, you are incredible. Like just the other night," I added.
"I know, but I can't always let go. It's a vicious cycle. I start worrying about letting go, or thinking about everyday stuff, work, you know. Then that gets in the way of the moment. Then I tense up, and then it starts."
I looked at her with a smile. "Don't hold on for my sake. I want to see you share this like we share everything else. You're the person I want to be with. I'm not going anywhere. Why not let go?"
"Because you can get hurt."
I was slightly taken aback by her answer. She was right; I had hurt her in the past. Our second year together, as sophomores in college, a freshman and I had spent more time together than was prudent. Despite this girl's eventually obvious flirtations and propositions, I had remained true to Megan, and I faded my new friend away after the first semester ended. But in retrospect, my closeness with this rather attractive girl after a summer mostly apart from Megan was not a good decision. From Megan's perspective, she thought for sure I was about to leave her. Years later, she admitted how surprised she was when I invited her to my parents' house for Thanksgiving weekend that year.
And then there was the time she found an adult video in my desk a few years after we were married. I occasionally rented, and another bad decision on my part was not telling her about it. Like my dad used to say, lies have short legs so it's easy to catch up with them. So I was not terribly surprised to come home one night and see her watching that video. She thought I watched it for the girls, when in truth I watched it for the sex. But that subtle difference was hard to explain from the awkward position of having hid this activity from her to start with.
"Yes, you can get hurt," I admitted. "But, you still don't ever get this time back. You only get one chance at everything you do. If you don't let go today, you won't get that day back."
"How do you know we're right for each other?" she asked. "I mean, I can't understand anything about what you do. Why do you even want to be with me? I can't talk to you about your work beyond you telling me the basics. You must get so bored."
I smiled at hearing these words. She had stuck through my long years of schooling and research, times where I wouldn't come home until she was asleep and would be out the door before she even got up to pee. We had some different strengths when it came to work, to be sure.
"Megan, that doesn't matter. I still like talking with you about work. I don't need you to be a colleague, though. I need you to be you."
"But why me? You're so good at what you do, how do I know you won't want to be with someone who understands your work?"
"Because I don't want that," I said. "We're like two puzzle pieces. If we were identical, we wouldn't fit together well at all. Besides, there are things you do that I have no idea about either, but I still love hearing about them."
"I just teach kids."
"I wouldn't be able to do what you do." It was the truth.
"But you save lives," she said.
"And you shape them, which is even more important." I replied. "I don't want to be with anyone but you. You know that."
Megan finally smiled wistfully at me. "I know. But sometimes I just need to hear you say it."
Yes, I thought, life sometimes does get in the way of telling her how I feel about her.
"I guess it's like the cake we made today," she suddenly said, hope in her voice. "I could never have done that without you to lay out the architecture."
"And I can't frost for shit," I said.
Megan laughed out loud. "No, you really can't," she agreed. She sighed. "I had a good time today. This whole weekend, really," she added.
As I gazed at her, I wondered how often in twelve years we'd had these kind of discussions. It suddenly struck me that in the past, we had talked about this after she was in a funk, when she was the distant, closed Megan. But this weekend she was very much not. And yet, she wanted to bring this part of our relationship up.
Megan really could be two different people: a sexy, wild lover, willing to try almost anything, connecting emotionally with me so closely that I felt like I was her sometimes. And at other times, she was detached and closed, unable to stay in the moment, only letting me in to please me. Early on, before I could read her, I would forge ahead, unaware of the distance between us even as I was inside her. But eventually I figured it out, and now, unless I knew she was with me, I wouldn't continue the journey. It was frustrating, particularly when we were both excited, building up the tension only to have her drift off in the middle. But I wasn't with her just for the physical anymore, so it had to be mutual right to the end.
It made it worth it, as the weekend had reminded me.
"So back to the topic?" she said.
"Which one, now?"
"Sure, I'm always ready for that."
Megan considered something for a moment.
"Sometimes I wonder if maybe my first time, I don't know, messed me up."
I watched her carefully, as her past sexual experience didn't come up too often.
"I mean, I never knew why he broke up with me," she continued. "I sometimes wonder if it was because I was not very good when we had sex."
"Well, the first week back at EBT, Ben told me that he thought we needed a break."
EBT was a summer dance camp Megan attended after her Junior year in high school.
"And then soon after that," she went on, "he started going with this other girl. Monette. What a stupid name. She was such a... she was very sexual, I think. She wore long shirts and short shorts so it looked like she had nothing on under her shirt. She had big boobs, and she always walked around pushing her chest out." She demonstrated for me.
"So he went for her then?" I asked, as I caressed the soft flesh of her chest.
"Yeah. I think he wanted someone more experienced."
"I wouldn't jump to conclusions. I mean, what was Ben like, wasn't he an asshole, a total jump-from-one-woman-to-the-other kind of guy?"
"Yeah, he was an asshole. He was also really popular. Like big man on campus type of guy. I'd never been out with someone like that, so maybe that's why I was drawn to him. But I later heard some stuff, like that he was with someone when he started dating me. He let her go after he was with me, but still. And he would always pick on people. I really don't know what I saw in him."
"Well, it's definitely his loss. And those kind of guys aren't worth shit, I think. And plus, he would have left you, sexual or not. I mean, is he still with Monette?"
"Monette? No, they were done before the summer was even over."
"Well, there you go. But still, there's something in this, tell me more," I said.
"How did you end up having sex with him again?"
I knew the rough timeline of her relationship with Ben, but none of the details.
"It was prom weekend, I was over his house, and it just... happened."
"Had he talked about doing it before, or was it..."
"I don't remember, it's been a long time. But yeah, I think he talked about it some."
"Why did you have sex if you didn't like him?" It wasn't an accusation, just a clarification.
"I don't know, I felt like I was in a trance when I was with him. I couldn't think straight. He was a very persuasive type of guy. I didn't really want to, but I just felt like I couldn't say no to him."
"So, did he force you?" I asked delicately.
"No, I don't think... I don't think it was that, I wouldn't say he... raped me or anything. I was just going along with whatever he said, for some reason. Like I said, I was in a daze."
"Hmm. Well, that's obviously a powerful association for you, since he broke up with you soon after."
"I just wish I could take that time back. Tell him to his face what I really think of him."
"Why don't you?"
"Just write him a letter. Don't send it, but just get it out of your system."
Megan thought for a moment. "I kind of did once. Remember when Talia and I went cross-country to visit her aunt?"
"Yeah, I remember," I said.
"We got to talking about Ben and the breakup, and she said, 'Pretend I'm Ben, and tell me what you want to say to him.' So I did. I told her. And I did feel better after that," she admitted. There was a lack of closure to her statement though.
"Well, good, but... ?"
"I still don't know what his side was."
"You'll never know. Therein lies the key, it's all you now."
"I wish I had never done it with him," she said seriously. "I've always said I wish you could have been my first."
"I know. And you were, in here," I said, tapping her chest.
Megan smiled a little. "But still."
We watched each other for a little while, and then her eyes narrowed.
"I found out some stuff about him later," she said mischievously.
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
"He got expelled from college, he couldn't pass his classes. Don't think of me as a bad person, but I felt kind of good hearing that!"
"I know you're not a bad person. And that even makes me feel a little good!"
We laughed and kissed. I had never heard this much detail about her first encounter. I felt connected to her in a way I had never been before, and I wanted to explore that connection further.
"So what about your second time?" I asked.
"My second time?"
"Yeah, was there anything bad with that?"
"Um, no, not really. It was short. At the end of EBT. Ben was already gone, but some part of me maybe wanted to show him. Prove that I could do it right."
"Prove to him, or to yourself?"
"Me, I guess," she admitted.
I nodded, and squeezed her hand. She was being incredibly honest with me, and I appreciated that.
"It was funny," she continued, "he had gotten some rubbers from an education thing he went to, and they were green. I was really worried, they looked kind of weird. I remember wondering if they were going to work or not."
I laughed a little, picturing a pack of ugly green rubbers.
I had always thought her second time was a one-off as well, but from the way she spoke, it seemed like she had done it several times. It was a small detail, but an interesting one. It changed a little the nature of her second sexual relationship.
"So why didn't you stay with him?" I asked.
"We wrote a few times. But he lived in Germany."
"He was German?"
"No, American, but he was over there. I wasn't about to try that long-distance relationship. I mean, Ben was hard enough, he lived two hours away. I only saw him on weekends at dance rehearsals, and at EBT. So trying to stay with Nate while he was in Germany was going to be stupid."
"So it was just a fling?" I said, clarifying the relationship.
"Yeah, a fling," she agreed. "It was ten days, and then I had to leave."
I nodded, searching her eyes. Then I let out a sly smile.
"What?" she asked, suspicious.
"You have that look."
"Like you're not telling me something."
"Well, maybe, but I'm not saying."
"What? Why not?"
"You'll think it's weird."
"What is it?" she begged.
I wondered what thoughts were going through her head. I was going to have to tell her now, but I liked teasing her. And warning her too, before I spilled some of my secrets.
"You have to tell me," she urged. "I promise I won't think it's weird. Depending on what it is."
I laughed richly at her fine print. I rolled onto my back and looked at the ceiling.
"Alright. It's naughty, though."
"Okay," she said expectantly.
"Hearing about you with these other guys is a bit of a turn-on."
Megan looked at me, a questioning smile growing across her face.
"A turn-on? You like hearing about me with other guys?"
I turned back to her. "Yeah. I mean, they happened in the past, before I knew you. But it's a bit exciting."
"I don't know, just picturing you with them is..."
Megan just smiled at me, appraising me.
"I mean, I don't like that you had a bad relationship," I added, "but the second one, a fling, you know, it's a bit wild. For you."
"For me? Usually I'm not wild?" She pouted gravely.
"Oh, yes, you can be wild, but back then? It's not exactly the picture I have of you at seventeen, I guess."
"Okay," she said.
I could tell she wasn't quite convinced, but she didn't press further.
"So, the second time wasn't bad then?" I asked, returning to the subject at hand. "But you said maybe you did it to prove something to yourself. Did you really like him, or was it just that he was willing and ready?"
"No, I liked him too. Probably I was willing and ready because of what happened with Ben, so things went faster with Nate. But it's hard to say. It was a short relationship. A fling, you know?"
"No, I don't know, I've never had a fling."
Megan was my first and only lover. The closest thing I ever had to a fling was kissing Nicole Garrard for a few weeks one summer, and then again a year later when we were drunk and stoned. And touching her breasts, I think.
"Well, I just meant a fling, like it didn't really matter."
"I get the idea," I said.
Megan's eyes narrowed again. "So it really turns you on?"
I laughed a little, surprised at her return to that theme.
"Yeah, I know, it's weird."
"No, it's not that. If I had to hear about you with other girls, I'd be jealous."
"I think I would have been jealous years ago, but I'm not bothered by it now."
"Last time we talked about this you wigged out," she said.
I cast my thoughts back to my apartment in college. Nine years ago? Incredible, I thought. Such time had passed.
We were in bed, and Megan was having trouble getting in the mood. It had been a long night already, helping a friend move out of the dorm into the same apartment building I was living in as junior in college.
For some reason I had been wondering about her past lover, after seeing a picture of him in her old photo album. He looked like an arrogant prick, I thought. I couldn't help wondering about the guy, how many times they had done it, how, where. Megan's vacillating mood was only stoking the flames of curiosity.
As I lay there with my back to her, she caressed me for a while. I could tell she was frustrated with her low sex drive, but was unsure what to do.
All I wanted to do was ask about her past, but I was afraid to.
She pulled away from me, and there was long silence as we lay apart.
"What are you thinking about," I said.
"A lot of stuff. Us, and what it was like before," she said.
"What it was like before?" I asked, surprised to hear that her mind was in the same place mine was.
"It was not good."
"You mean not being with me?"
"Yeah. What were you thinking about?"
"Same things. Us, and before."
"What about before?"
"I was wondering about you." I said vaguely.
"What do you mean?" Her voice had grown soft.
"I don't know." I couldn't ask.
After an eternal silence, she spoke.
"You want to know about Ben." It wasn't a question; she knew.
So that was his name.
After a bit of hesitation, for my sake as much as hers, I asked her to tell the story.
She started going out with him in her junior year in high school, in March, she explained with even voice. After the spring prom, he fucked her, as she put it. Then he didn't talk to her anymore, and broke up with her on the first day of EBT, to go out with someone else.
I was somewhat shaken at this point. My chest was tight. I was angry, sad, hurt, jealous, protective, and somewhat turned on, even. My Megan, treated such, was not something I liked hearing about.
But I was able to compose myself. At least I knew, now, what she had been through. It was not a deep romance, or a great love, or even a friendly coupling. Just some asshole taking advantage of her polite and naïve upbringing.
So asked her if she ever did it again with him. She said besides kissing, that was the only thing she'd ever done. That was good. It could have been worse, I thought.
She was pretty upset, seeing that I was hurt. But I comforted her, saying that the details made me sad, and I wished she didn't have to have gone through that. There was no reason to be upset over something we had never talked about, and besides, it was in the past, and she wasn't like she was keeping it from me.
"I mean, you did tell me, early on, that first week we were together, you told me you'd done it once before," I said.
Megan grew agitated, asking disjointed questions about why I thought she had told me it was just once. Was I sure? There was fear and desperation in her voice. I calmly replied that she had told me, on our first night of serious petting, that she had had sex 'once' before.
There was some silence as she sat on the bed. I wondered what was coming.
"There's something else," she said.
"What is it?"
"There was another person."
I thought she was kidding. I seriously did. But at the same time, I knew she wasn't. There was no mistaking the anguish in her voice. But damn, I wanted it so much to be a joke!
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm so sorry."
"Megan, this isn't funny, tell me you're kidding?"
"I'm not. That summer was crazy, I was messed up. I'm so sorry." She was in tears. "There was someone else besides Ben."