"They've called another group meeting, so I probably won't get home until about nine. You might as well go ahead and eat supper."
With a silent inward sigh, Barb answered, "OK. I'll have a plate ready for you to microwave. Love you, Don."
Don responded with a quick, "Love you, too. Bye," and hung up.
Such calls were not really unusual and Barb had to admit that she made about as many as Don did. It just seemed that their life had become so busy that it was really hard to find time together anymore. A year ago it had been really different.
Barb was twenty-two and a half while Don was seven months older. They had been going together since the fall of the previous year and living together since the last spring. Both had been seniors, Barb in business and Don in engineering. And both had been head over heels in love with each other. In fact, they still were, but somehow it now seemed different. Last year they had time for long peaceful walks and quiet dinners followed by evenings of music or movies. And hardly a day passed without some long and passionate love making.
When graduation had come a year ago things hadn't changed so very much. In fact, there was a little more money as Barb was working full time and Don had a research assistantship. Barb had gotten a job with an advertising agency in town and Don took a couple of courses to get a head start on his grad work which was to begin in earnest in the fall. This still left their weekends largely free and the summer was filled with more long walks, picnics, trips to the beach, and a lot of love making. But during the fall things had started to move faster. By then Barb had had a chance to learn the ropes and was assigned to several accounts. This often involved some late nights, dinners or drinks with clients, and occasional weekend work. As Don had started into his graduate program he discovered that what had seemed a lot of work as an undergraduate was a walk in the park compared to this. The classes were harder and covered a lot more material and in addition he was now required to spend time with his professor's research group.
Throughout the rest of the fall and early spring the workloads had intensified even more for both of them. It wasn't like they lost interest in each other; it was just that there never seemed to be enough time for the things they would like to do. Barb was assigned a couple of accounts on her own and Don got deeper and deeper into his research. They still made love at least three or four times a week, but now it often seemed less romantic, more simply a way to relieve the pent up sexual pressure. Barb had to be at work by 8:30 so she had to get up before seven at the latest while Don frequently had late night work or study sessions, not getting to bed until well after midnight. And there were the frequent, sudden calls form both announcing a missed dinner or other delay.
In truth, although both were happy with what they were doing, and each very much loved the other, each often felt that something had been lost from their relationship. Barb missed the slow, candle lit dinners and the heavy necking and love making which often followed them. Don used to surprise her with a single flower, but it had been months since he had done this. She understood why. It is difficult to think of such things when exams and research work are so paramount. When they were still seniors and Don had a night exam, returning after ten, they several times left the apartment to go for a moonlight walk along the river, sometimes stopping to make love while hidden in the bushes and not returning home until two, three, or even four in the morning. He missed that, but he realized that Barb couldn't go walking until two in the morning and be bright and ready for work early the next day. Both understood the reasons and both sometimes wished things could change back, but both also felt trapped in their present restraints.
Barb had some weeks ago discovered a way to at least mitigate the lack of romance. One night when Don had called to say he would be late, she decided to kill a little time surfing the net. Like almost every other college student she had at times explored some of the more sexually explicit sites and now casually stopped at a site with explicit stories. Soon she was lost in a fictional world of deep romance and hot sex. When Don returned late that night she was already in bed - naked - she and Don always slept nude - awake and waiting for him. As Don stripped and joined her she became the strong instigator and he certainly didn't object as they made love twice before dropping off to sleep. However, the sex seemed more of a physical act and Barb was left still slightly missing the romance she wished could have accompanied their coupling.
There had been other, similar nights when she or Don had seemed to be particularly aroused and had instigated their erotic activities. These couplings were certainly both passionate and loving, but somehow they still seemed to be lacking something, although neither of the two could have said exactly what, and, naturally enough, never mentioned this perceived lack.
Tonight, after Don's call, Barb fixed herself a quick meal and left a plate in the refrigerator for Don when he was able to return. Then, once again feeling restless, sat down at the computer and returned to her favorite story site. She checked her favorite authors and discovered that one had a new story. Quickly navigating to this she began to read and for the next hour was fully absorbed in the tale of romance and hot sex in the misty hills of Scotland during the eighteenth century. Finishing the story her gaze fell on the comments submitted by other readers. She glanced at several and then her eye caught on one in particular.
"An excellent tale! Wonderful escape form the trap of the real world into love and sex as it should be. Sometimes I really wish I could make that trip myself. signed: Questing Paladin."
Barb read it again. Something about the comment really hit home. On the spur of the moment she decided to send a message to Questing Paladin. This site allowed readers to communicate directly with each other within the site. Just e-mail, really, but you didn't have to give your e-mail address. Barb clicked the send-a-message icon and began to type.
"Questing Paladin. I agree with you about this story. I also think what you said describes what I think sometimes. I have been living with my boyfriend for the last year. We both graduated last spring. We still love each other very much and I would never consider leaving him, but somehow it seems the romance of our relationship has dulled a little. It just feels like work overwhelms us and leaves so little time for other things. Like you, I sometimes feel trapped in my life and wish - well, not really wish - but maybe just long for, an escape, even if only temporarily. I love my boyfriend and wouldn't really change our present life but sometimes I miss the wine and candlelight and the other trappings of romance. Am I making sense? signed: Willing Damsel." She looked at what she had written and for just a second hesitated. Then before she could change her mind she clicked the send button.
When Don arrived home she saw immediately that it had been a tiring and frustrating meeting. He was worked up over some argument which had dominated the group meeting and despite Barb's best efforts at trying to relax him, when they finally went to bed he was still too tense for any other activities. By the next morning the frustration seemed to have moved into the background and Don would have been more than ready to spend a little "quality time" with Barb, but when he awoke she was already dressed and on her way out the door. As he gave her a kiss on her way out he promised that he'd try to be home early that night.
He actually managed to get away and home by four thirty, but when he arrived he found a message on the answering machine from Barb saying she would be tied up with a client until late. He decided to get a head start on preparing for the exam he had coming in three days and for the next six hours he buried himself in the esoteric details of airflow interaction with different wing shapes with only a quick stop to glup down some leftover pizza. Nearly exhausted, he almost fell into bed at ten thirty and when Barb came in at eleven he was sound asleep. She entered the bedroom ready and eager to relax with some loving exercise, but when she saw how soundly asleep he was she guessed he had spent some hard hours studying and decided to leave him alone. She placed a light kiss on his forehead and then went back out of the bedroom.
Barb poured herself a glass of wine and slipped into the seat by the computer. As she waited for the machine to boot up, the message she had sent the previous evening came back to her. Would he answer? Did she really care? She wasn't trying to start anything with another guy. No, she was just looking for someone with whom she could share a little of her frustration, someone who felt trapped in the same way that she did.
She surfed over to the story site and saw immediately that she had an unread message. This wasn't like her regular e-mail account which would often accumulate dozens of different messages a day. This system was only used for communication between readers of this site and she almost never used it. So now she wasn't surprised to see that the message was from Questing Paladin. She clicked and opened it.
.... There is more of this story ...