“God, Susan,” I said. “I feel like shit about how I treated her.”
“We all feel bad about how we treated Gwen, Ted. But it’s too late now, isn’t it?”
Susan was right, however bitter she sounded. And that is my memory of Susan, right and bitter.
The first time I noticed her bitterness, she’d been right. We were sophomores in high school working on a science-fair project together. We’d worked at school and at my apartment; but, when Mrs. Johnson heard that I’d be home alone, she insisted that I come over to their house to work with Susan. Her worries weren’t groundless. Susan was one of those girls who carried their books so as to hide their new boobs from the boys. When I walked up the stairs behind her, I watched her butt work. Mostly, I was interested in her as a science-fair partner, but I was interested enough in the other things to justify a rule that we couldn’t be alone in private together. At least, I was until Gwen opened the Johnson’s door to me.
Straight as a stick then, Gwen still exuded more sensuality in eighth grade than her sister did on her wedding day. She resembled Susan the way a spotlight resembles a penlight. She invited me in and took me to the head of the stairs down into the basement. Susan was waiting down there, ready to get to work. Later, Gwen helped Mrs. Johnson bring snacks down to Susan and me. When they’d gone upstairs again, Susan watched me looking up.
“I told Mom that she was ruining things,” she said bitterly.
“What is she ruining? She’s been perfectly nice to me, and she’s letting us alone to finish painting this.”
“She’s ruining my chances to be anything more than a friend of yours. Mom could have waited ‘til next year; I’m lost then, anyhow. Even now, you’re dreaming of Gwen.” I was thinking of her, not dreaming of her; but I did dream of her often enough later. However annoying Gwen’s presence could be, her beauty and sexual allure dominated my memory when she wasn’t there.
And, sometimes, I think that the sexual allure was one of the things which made her annoying. When she was arguing or accusing you, half your annoyance was the thought of how much better the time could have been spent in bed. And, when I say “you,” I mean me.
Our first real serious argument, for example, involved my erection. She’d been crying. She cried a lot those days. I took her in my arms to comfort her. She cried on my shoulder, her sobs shaking me. Then, when she came more completely into my arms and hugged me, she felt that I was hard. I could get hard simply looking at her, holding her made it inescapable. She didn’t think so.
“Ted, is that all you think about? Your kid’s dead; my daughter is dead; and you’re horny.”
“Isn’t the word you want ‘human’? I wasn’t raping you; I wasn’t even groping you. I had the woman I think is the epitome of sexiness in my arms. So, my cock responded. I know you shouldn’t yet. I know you wouldn’t want to even if the doctors approved. I wasn’t suggesting anything. I wake up with a hardon almost every morning, did even before we slept in the same room. I don’t ram it into you; I go piss and it goes away. I don’t hold you responsible for how your body acts; why do you hold me responsible for how my body acts?”
“How can you say that about me?” Gwen asked. “I didn’t want to miscarry. How can you blame me?”
“I didn’t blame you. I wasn’t even thinking about that. It wasn’t your body’s fault, much less your fault. But my erection wasn’t my fault. It’s just how my body acts.”
“Well, it shouldn’t act that way. You should be crying through your eyes, not though your dick. And what do you mean saying that I’m not ready ‘yet’? You were thinking about doing it. Maybe, when your dick was saying ‘now,’ your mouth wasn’t. Well your mouth was saying ‘later.’ That’s not weeping for your loss; that’s not sympathy for my loss. That’s simple horniness. And it’s not just your dick -- it’s you.”
We went around like that for hours. Probably the neighbors could hear. I slept on the couch that night, and it was a damn lumpy couch. It didn’t get any softer over the next week, either.
Then, one night, she came home from another doctor’s appointment. She didn’t say anything, but she did cook dinner. I’d gotten tired of my own cooking, and we couldn’t afford restaurant meals except for celebrations -- not really for them. If I’d have eaten out, Gwen would have thought I was celebrating; the argument would have been much worse than the last one. As I was making up my bed on the couch, she called to me.
“Ted, come here.” It wasn’t a particularly sweet tone, but neither was it the rancor I’d grown to expect.
“What is it?” I went into the other room.
“I have something for you.” She was in her nightgown. It was a damn sexy nightgown, but I didn’t think much about that. The only sleep wear she had were sexy nightgowns.
“What?” She held out her hand with a condom in it. I peeled down my slacks and boxers. She fit the condom on my cock, which had hardened at her first touch. Then I got my shirt and undershirt off and stepped out of my shoes and slacks.
“I’m sorry about the way I’ve been,” she said.
“I’m sorry about how I’ve behaved, too,” I said as I sat to remove my socks. “I do cry about my loss, but I know you feel the loss more. You were carrying her, and the miscarriage was an injury to you, too.”
“It wasn’t that. What happened to me was nothing compared to the loss. Oh, Ted...” She went to turn down the bed while I appreciated the rear view of her bending over in the sheer nightie. I stripped off my socks and stood where I could remove her nightie when she stood again. After I had done that, we shared a lovely kiss. Tongues dueled; her soft breasts and firm nipples pressed into my chest; I fondled her firm butt.
Some of the lubricant from the Trojan rubbed onto her belly, but I really enjoyed the rubbing. Finally, she crawled into bed. After enjoying that sight, I lay down beside her. One more light kiss on her mouth, and I moved to sucking on her breast. I stroked her thighs and then between them.
“Oh Gwen!” She was already wet. I kept stroking, though. Every phase of sex with Gwen was delightful.
“Ted? Now?” And it was time! I climbed between her legs, kissed her mouth once more and eased in. The lost lubrication didn’t matter; she provided enough of her own. I slid into her warm depths. I stayed there long enough to move to rest on my elbows and get my hands on her breasts. I looked into her eyes.
“Oh, darling,” I said. She tightened around me, and I started to move. I struggled to keep my pace slow; it had been a long time.
“Tight enough?” she asked.
“I was afraid that it would have stretched it.” Well, the miscarriage hadn’t. Maybe a live birth of a kid three months bigger would have. But I couldn’t -- can’t -- imagine an unsexy Gwen, and I didn’t want to mention anything she might take as an advantage of the miscarriage. I watched her face take a serious expression and her attention turn inward. Meanwhile, I fought back my own orgasm.
“Oh,” she murmured. Her eyes blinked. Those are her only external signs, but I felt her flutter around me. It drove me over the edge.
“Gwen!” I shouted. All my built-up passion pulsed out of my cock, followed by my heart and brain. It seemed to last forever, but her last contraction was after I was done. I turned us as I collapsed. We were facing each other on our sides, but I had pulled out. We lay looking into each others’ eyes.
“Let’s never fight again,” she said.
“Never!” I agreed.
“I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Not only last week. Not only since ... I’ve missed watching your face above me.” We’d stopped making love with me on top when her belly interfered.
“And I’ve missed watching your face, too. You always have a sexy face, but it’s sexiest then.” I took off the condom. Despite the amount that I’d felt pour out of me, it wasn’t particularly full. I chucked it, and pulled the sheet over us. She turned over and nestled back. I cupped her breast.
“I’ve missed this, too,” I said.
“Me too.” She pressed her hips into my lap. I, for one, slept much better that night than I had for a long time.
The business of her putting the condom on me was an old ritual. She’d established it the first day we made complete love -- not the first time, but the first day.
We’d dated for most of two years, despite her mother’s limits. We’d gone from kissing when we could be alone to petting when we could be alone, and the petting had gotten more intense. Then, on Pulaski Day -- one of those holidays which the Chicago Public Schools celebrates but nobody else does -- she told her mother she was going to the mall to hang out. I picked her up and took her to my apartment. My parents were both at work.
We kissed in my room. We petted, with me removing one piece of her clothing at a time. We kissed standing up skin to skin above the waist. I laid her on my bed and kissed down her torso.
“Gwen,” I asked, “do you want to?” She nodded. I pulled off her jeans, panties, and pantyhose. I stripped and lay down beside her for one last kiss. Then, I reached into my drawer and took out a condom. I put it on. “So you don’t get...” I explained. She nodded again.
I got between her legs and found the right place. My fingers had been there often enough. I carefully placed the tip of my wrapped cock in the entrance. I straightened up to look in her face.
“Oh, Gwen,” I said as I pushed inward. The feeling of her smooth warmth was miles beyond what my hand could provide. “Are you all right?” I asked when I was buried as far as I could go. I knew that the first time could hurt a girl.
“I’m fine.” And she looked all right -- not in any visible pain, but not showing the pleasure that I’d seen in her face during petting sessions. I started moving in and out, and soon I drove deeply into her and had an explosive orgasm.
“Is that it?” she asked. I nodded and pulled myself out. I took off the condom, tied its end, wrapped it in several layers of Kleenex, and dropped it into the wastepaper basket.
“You are so sexy,” I said. We kissed again, and soon we were back to petting. The one time she touched my cock, she immediately moved her hand away. I guess it was sticky. When I could tell that she was close, I moved back from sucking her nipple but kept stroking her clit.
This time, I could see more than her face when she climaxed. She got that serious look and stopped focusing on my face. Her legs went back together. She started breathing rapidly, with her gut instead of with the chest. I could see all her muscles tense.
“Oh,” she said softly. She blinked. I could see spasm after spasm cross her abdomen and her breasts heave. Then, she relaxed. She pushed my hand away. After a minute of lying quietly, she turned her face towards me.
“Do you want to again?” she asked. Lying there naked and hard as a rock, I didn’t bother to answer. I reached into my drawer for the box. This time, I had to pull out the strip of condoms and rip one off. She watched me tear open the foil. Then she spoke again.
“Let me put it on,” she said. The feeling of her hands on my cock were so exciting, it’s a wonder I didn’t go off right then. What I watched, though, was her face. She looked so serious and intent on her task that I fell in love with her once more.
“The other way,” I said.
“Yeah. I could tell that.” Then the rubber was on. I kissed her. I started sucking at her nipple again and stroked up her thighs toward their sweet juncture. Her hand stopped mine.
“No,” she said. “Now.” Again, I knelt between her legs. Again, I spread her lips and placed myself between them. Again, still gently, I pressed forward. “Yes,” she said.
I lasted much better this time, and I established a decent rhythm. As I sped up, she moved herself in counter rhythm. Her face took on the serious look, and her thighs clenched mine. I tried to hold back my orgasm.
“Love,” I said.
“Oh,” she said. As she blinked, I could feel her clench around me. At that sensation, I lost it.
“Love,” I shouted as I shoved forward and spurted into her. My cock was still throbbing when all the rest of my muscles went limp. I collapsed on top of her. She hugged me for a minute.
“Sorry,” I gasped when she let me go. I moved aside so that I wasn’t lying on her. I lay there trying to catch my breath.
“No,” she said. “That was it.”
“Huh?” I wasn’t at my brightest.
“That is what they talk about ... Can I use your john?” I nodded and she went into the bathroom. I heard water running. When she came back into the room, she started to pull back on her clothes. I disposed of the Trojan the way I had of the first one. Then, I, too, started to dress.
“You want to listen to music?” I asked. I didn’t want the special day to end.
“Only in your car. I don’t have to be back at the mall, but I want to be out of here before your parents get back.”
They weren’t due for hours, but she knew that. We’d talked about my certainty that they wouldn’t come home early. But, sated into stupidity just then and never all that clever, I was at least smart enough to see that her nervousness was about the immediate past rather than the possible futures. I drove her to the mall.
“I love you,” I said as she got out of the car. And I did: I’d loved her for two years, then, but never as much as that day.
“I love you, too,” she said. But she looked relieved to be walking away.
I put gas in my dad’s car and drove it back to the station where he parked it. Luckily, there was an empty space not far down from where he’d left it that morning. When I got back home, I emptied my wastebasket and took a shower.
We had to sneak around for the next four years, although sneaking became easier as each of us got older. The University of Illinois Chicago Campus is called “Circle.” Susan went to the big campus, “Champaign-Urbana”; I went to Circle ‘because it would be so much cheaper living at home.’ Then in the middle of my freshman year, my father got transferred to Omaha. When I got a room in a shared apartment, I made sure that girls were permitted in the rooms. Gwen was admitted to Champaign-Urbana; but Susan, who was making her own life there, threw a cat fit. Gwen settled for Circle, but insisted on more freedom than she’d been granted as a high-school girl. Her parents knew a little and suspected a lot about what we were doing, but they had already figured out that they couldn’t control it.
Gwen went with her parents to Susan’s graduation. Still in June, I was a guest -- as Gwen’s steady -- at Susan’s lavish wedding. She went off to St. Louis with her husband, Brian; Gwen went back to her summer job at a luncheonette. By then, I had started my job in entry-level IT.
My marriage to Gwen in August was not at all so fancy -- Gwen wore a street dress and I wore my suit -- but her parents paid for a church, at least. Susan brought Brian back for it since it was on a Saturday afternoon.
The next Monday, I visited the HR department to report my change in status. Gary, the guy I spoke to, had one piece of advice.
“Just don’t plan on starting a family immediately.”
“Why not?” Not that I had much choice in the matter.
“The insurance. Your wife is covered, as of today, for most conditions. But the policy doesn’t cover the normal expenses of a pregnancy for the first year. Not even the first doctor’s appointment if it occurs eleven months from now.”
At least we were still looking for an apartment. We drastically lowered our expectations. We got one with two real rooms, a bedroom and a living room which held a dining table and would hold a crib. Gwen kept her waitress job, and school started up in September without her.
Our second blow-up was about that job -- a lot of other things, we never seemed to have arguments about only one thing -- but money and the job started it out. She’d gone back to the job when she got out of the hospital. One day, she came home with a new coat. I’ll admit that it looked lovely.
“Is that warmer than your parka?” I asked. It certainly didn’t look like it was.
“No. It’s not supposed to be.” She looked at me in the pitying way she used when telling me about fashions. “It’s a spring coat.”
“It’s lovely. Really, you’re lovely in it. But can we afford it? You’re only working ‘cause of tuition next year.”
“Remember that!” she responded. “I am working. It’s my money, and I can buy a new coat if I want. The parka is grungy, all right for a coed; but a working woman needs a spring coat.” I didn’t think a waitress needed a spring coat. I was working in an office with one new jacket and two new pairs of trousers. We were making it, saving money, but we wouldn’t be when she went back to school.
“That’s your money?”
“That’s right.” She glared defiantly. “Having hearing problems?”
“And is the money in my pay my money? Who pays the rent?” I asked.
“You’re doing what you have wanted to do for years. I’m sweating or shivering in a greasy spoon. I deserve something for that.”
“I thought your tuition was something for that. The bosses seeing me always in a few outfits are going to remember that for years. But I go to work in a few outfits so you can go to school. Not so you can tart yourself up whenever you want to. It’s not like it’s forever; it’s for a couple of months so you can go back, graduate in two years, and get a decent job.”
“You admit it! This isn’t a decent job. I’m a wage slave, and then I come home to be your slave. Well, guess what? Lincoln freed the slaves. Make your own damn dinner. I’m eating out. From now on, I’m eating at the luncheonette.” Now, employees got a discount at the luncheonette, but 50% of the menu price was still a lot more than groceries. And I was brown-bagging it to save money!
Despite her threat, she didn’t go out until later. We ate at separate restaurants after screaming at each other for hours. And we slept in separate beds too -- or a bed and a couch.
The next night, I fixed dinner. As a peace offering, I fixed hamburgers for both of us. It wasn’t a feast, but cooking isn’t one of my skills. Gwen turned me down; she’d eaten at the luncheonette. After one more night, I went back into the bedroom.
“If I’m paying the rent, it’s my apartment. I can sleep where I want.”
“You can sleep where you want; but if you touch me, it’s rape.”
Sleeping next to Gwen without sex, without even any cuddling, was worse than the couch. I toughed it out, though. I took to taking my relief in my morning shower; if Gwen noticed, she didn’t say anything for the longest time. But, by then, neither of us was saying much. When her payday came, she opened her own bank account. I still used the joint account, but I took enough money out to buy lunch where the others ate. The Saturday after my next payday, I bought two more pairs of slacks and a blazer.
Gwen came home in a rainstorm with her new coat soaking. She wore the parka to work while the coat slowly dried out in the living-room closet. The next night, though, she came home carrying the parka and wearing a raincoat. I went to bed early that night. When Gwen came in, I tried to see if we could make up.
“You know, dear, I need you.” Mentioning the raincoat would be a sure way of escalating the argument.
“You don’t need me. You need a convenient hole. Why don’t you take another shower?”
“When you needed me, I was there.”
“I’m just learning how little I need you -- how little I’ve ever needed you.” She had needed me once, though, and I think she knew when I meant.
She’d been working at the luncheonette for less than a month when the food smells started to nauseate her. She’d missed a period. Missing one wasn’t that unusual for her, and we’d panicked before. She bought a kit, and took it into the bathroom of the apartment I shared when none of my roommates was home. She came out with the kit showing blue. Her face, though, was greenish.
“What shall I do?”
“You know, I’ve always planned on marrying you someday.”