When Jon woke up, he was home.
That in itself was not particularly unusual. There were any number of jobs in the world that might require him to work overnight shifts, or (heaven forbid) spend long periods of time on the road, traveling and sleeping in motels, but Jon Stanford had not yet fallen to such depths. No, his was a normal job, one that made him work a gazillion hours a week and paid for about a quarter of it. With gas prices rising and rent going up too, there were sometimes nightmares of bank statements with enormous overdraft fees. Caitlyn helped, as much as she could, but he was the main breadwinner here, and they both knew it.
The whole world was stress and storm. But, when he woke up, at least he was home.
When Caitlyn had insisted on refitting the bed—a new mattress, discounted at the wholesaler; sheets and a down comforter—he had thought it a needless extravagance. Couldn't the money be better used elsewhere? But she had set him straight: "Jon, we spend a third of our lives in this bed. It might as well be comfortable." And she was right, because now he slept better, awoke feeling more rested. Or, at least, he had; nowadays the memory foam and warm blankets were only enough to compensate for the increased stress. There had been another round of layoffs, and Jon knew his seniority left him vulnerable; he had kept his job by working hard and being reliable, but that just meant a greater outlay of energy—not only because he worked harder than most, but because everyone's responsibilities had expanded. He felt like he was working 15 hours a day instead of 10.
But the greatest and best thing about the bed, the thing that made it home, was not the mattress, nor the sheets, nor the luxuriant warmth. It was the woman in his arms. Wherever Caitlyn was, he was home.
For a moment he just blinked, letting his eyes focus. Jon was not a heavy sleeper, and for almost half a year after their wedding he might wake up two or three times a night, jolted out of slumber by tiny disturbances, like Caitlyn shifting to scratch her arm. The upshot was that once he was awake, he was awake; if a burglar fired a gun here (and, for some reason, failed to hit two sleeping targets), Jon could be up to punch him in a moment, no more impaired than if he had been awake for hours.
The downside was that, once he was awake, he was awake, and there was no going back to sleep.
A glance at the clock showed that he had more than half an hour before the alarm would ring. Outside the window he saw the grey-blue light of predawn. In his arms, Caitlyn still slept, her breath even, her body still. With a sigh, Jon let his head fall, burying his face in her hair.
He couldn't go back to sleep ... but there were other, better things to do right now.
For a long time he simply lay there, his eyes closed, their bodies curled together like shrimp on a rack. After half a year he had stopped noticing the novelty of skin on skin, of the softness of her body against his, but as of late he was starting to rediscover it. She used both of their arms as pillows, hooked her other hand around her upper arm. Her breast was firm and warm against his palm; under his fingertips he could feel the beat of her heart, butterfly-faint.
Sometimes he wondered if something was wrong with him. He was lying here sleepless and naked, with (in his opinion) the loveliest woman alive also naked and asleep in his arms, and instead of trying to start something he was just smelling her hair and being thankful he could. Sometimes he wondered if meant something was wrong with him ... But most of the time he didn't have the energy to wonder.
Someone else did.
He hadn't realized she was up; she had given no sign, not even (to his knowledge) opened her eyes. "How did you know?" he asked.
A shrug of one shoulder. "For almost two years we've slept in the same bed. I know what it's like when you're asleep."
"I didn't mean to disturb you."
"It's all right. I get to sleep in anyhow."
Her other hand came up to cup his hand against her breast, and she snuggled back against him, sighing.
"I wonder if any of my applications have been answered yet," she said.
"Probably not, if you sent them out last night. No one's in the office yet. Check tonight."
"They never answer. What's the point of advertising on Craigslist if you're gonna ignore all the applicants?"
"Well, remember what Dad said. It's all about networking."
"Yeah, my dad said that too. But that doesn't help me. I'm a musician, I don't have connections in the business world. You at least have Dr. Polkiss and Dr. Leyton to give you references."
"Remember when ... remember before we got married? When we thought it'd be so simple? I feel like I've grown up more in the last two years than the whole rest of my life combined." He gave a wry smile into her hair. "And here I thought you could only get married after you were a grown-up."
She sighed, and was silent for a long time. Jon didn't mind. Neither of them had ever been uncomfortable with solitude. The great wonder of it all was that now there was someone to share the solitude with.
"Jon ... I need to ask you a question, and I need you to answer me honestly." He could hear the tension in her voice. Whatever this was, it was important. "Can you do that for me?"
"Of ... Of course, sweetie. Just ask."
She was silent for another long time, and he wondered what she was building up for. His head was behind hers, and he could not see the way she squeezed her eyes closed against the tears.
" ... Are you having an affair?" she said finally.
"W— What? W— Caitlyn, what on earth would make you ask that??"
"Are you?" she said.
"No," he said. "No. Of course not. Caitlyn, you ... You were my first, you are my only. I don't want anyone who isn't you."
She said nothing, but her shoulders shook, and he was confused at the sensation of moisture on his arm before he realized she was crying.
"Baby, what ... I think I'm missing something. What makes you think I'm having an affair?"
"Nothing, I ... There isn't ... I mean, it's not like I found blonde hairs on your clothes or something. And you text me all the time. Like, all the time. If you are sleeping with somebody, it must be nothing but quickies, and I know that that isn't ... that that isn't your style, isn't..."
"Then what is it?"
"You just ... Jon, when was the last time we were intimate?"
The question brought him up short. Has it actually been that long? "I don't know, Caitlyn," he admitted, "I haven't exactly kept track."
"Well, I haven't either," she said, "but it's been long enough that I've noticed." Her voice was wrinkled with tears. "And, Jon, it ... I know what they say about the honeymoon period, I know that ... I know that, back in the beginning, when we did it almost once a day ... I know that isn't supposed to last. Honestly, I didn't mind when we slowed down. But this is...
"Jon, tell me truthfully. Am I putting on weight? Is something changing on my face? Am I hideous to you? You wake up in the mornings like this almost every day, but you never try to start anything anymore. I've been trying to understand what..." She trailed off then, and there were no words he could give her. He wanted to draw her closer, turn her towards him, comfort her, but the frightening truth was that she might not find his presence a comfort right now. So he stayed, drawn back from her, a weight of appalling shame on his chest, as she cried.
The truth, though, was that he couldn't have answered at that moment if he'd wanted to. There was a lot he had to sort through.
"Well, the first ... Caitlyn, the first thing I have to say to you is that no, I am not having an affair. I never would. If we were having problems, I'd talk to you about them. If there really was something I felt like we lacked, I'd talk to you and we'd see if we could find other ways, and ... I would be honest with you. But we aren't. We aren't having ... Well, okay, we're having problems, we're bone-tired and two cents from bankruptcy. But we're not having problems, you and I aren't, not like we did those first few months."
"But we don't do anything in bed anymore," she sniffled.
"Would you want to? I'm too tired to enjoy it, and I think you are too."
"I know, and you're right, but I never thought ... I always thought the sex would be the last thing to go, and ... When you weren't trying to start anything with me, it..." Now she turned towards him, tear-tracks on her face shining in the dim light. "Jon, do you have any idea how frightened I've been?" And now he did draw her to him, cradling her in his arms as she cried into his chest.
The obvious question for him to ask would be, Then why didn't you try to initiate things yourself, but it would be tacky to say it. Fortunately, he wasn't the only one thinking it. "I know, I know I should've tried to ... I know I should've tried starting things, but I was scared that..."
"Shh," he said. "Shh. It's okay. You haven't done anything wrong."
"But clearly I have, because you don't—"
"Shh. Oh, my love. That's not it at all."
"Then what is it?" she asked.
It was his turn to be silent, to think.
"Caitlyn ... If you had asked me, the day before we got married, how often we'd be having sex today, I'd probably have told you, All the time. That was how I thought back then. Neither of us knew much of anything, but, based on what we did know, it was a pretty accurate analysis. But now, today, with what I know now..."
"What do you know now?"
"That sex isn't all that important," he said.
She was silent.
"I love having it and I especially love having it with you, but ... I mean, honestly, if you said that we could only do it like once a month for the rest of our lives, I wouldn't really complain too much. I think you and I have accomplished about all we really want to or need to in the bedroom. It's fun, it's lovely ... it's comfortable. We don't have to, like, do it all the time to know that.
"And a lot of my excitement back then was sheer insecurity, of not knowing for certain whether I actually would get laid—with you or with anyone. My dad's sister died of cancer while I was in college. She was unmarried and, to my knowledge, never had sex. (Obviously that's not something you ask your aunt, but, nonetheless.) When you've got that in your family tree, it stops being a joke."