Better Than It's Ever BeenbyJs_Keeper©
It was the first time in our eight years of marriage that Mitch had bought lingerie for me, so it's arrival that Valentines Day afternoon by express delivery from a rather exclusive upscale lingerie store caught me completely off guard, and, frankly, it left me feeling a little skeptical. I was never one much for the pretentious celebrations that surrounded Valentines Day, a holiday which I was convinced was nothing more than a commercial fabrication, and one which had passed little noticed at our house for the past five years.
Sitting at our kitchen table I gently lifted the mysterious gift from its elegant packaging to discover a beautiful sheer ruby red chemise. I had to admit it was gorgeous, even if it wasn't something I would have chosen for myself. Exquisitely crafted of silky-soft, deep red, fine-denier nylon, so whisper-thin as to be almost completely transparent, it was delicately framed with tiny black satin piping and an intricate black lace hem. Sophisticated and luxurious, yet definitely sexy, this was completely unique to my meager lingerie collection, which at that point largely consisted of comfy cotton PJs and a few oversized sleep shirts.
Despite its elegance, it wasn't the kind of thing I was ever very comfortable in. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that my husband had obviously gone to a lot of trouble and expense, I probably would have abjectly refused his request that I greet him at the door that evening wearing it and it alone. So I convinced myself that in light of the "special" day I should at least accommodate his desire to see it on me. Truthfully, the thought of donning this object of decadence in broad daylight caused my face to flush, probably to a shade not far from that of the chemise itself. I consoled myself that as soon as he got a good look I'd dash off to change back into something less revealing, something that was more "me," Valentines Day or not.
That was my plan anyway.
All afternoon, as I pondered the uncharacteristic gift, I vacillated between doubt and anticipation, between nervousness and excitement. His instructions to me that morning were clear and the message on my cell phone voicemail unambiguous, if even a bit brusque. "There's a Valentines gift arriving for you today. I want you wearing it when I get home - it and nothing else. I'll be home at the usual time, so be ready."
Mitch had never been one to display much interest or aptitude in the art of seduction, and I had so lowered my expectations along that line that the day's turn of events left me feeling as if a strange fog had suddenly settled over me. Who was this intriguing man of mysterious messages and exotic gifts, and what had he done with my husband?
Still, despite the unsettled feeling inside, my sense of expectancy grew steadily from the time I opened the stylish black and white box, until at long last I found myself slipping out of my clothes and into the gown a full ninety minutes ahead of my husband's usual arrival time. It was just as luxuriously soft on my body as I had expected, but even more see-through. As the afternoon sun streamed into my bedroom, lighting my silhouette from behind, I stood in front of my dresser mirror feeling practically naked. Though I was certainly impressed by the attractiveness of the finely crafted lingerie, I couldn't seem to overlook my many flaws that were left in plain view by its translucence. Fear over Mitch's potential disappointment soon welled up, and I went to my closet for the comfortable concealment of my long terrycloth robe.
Safely covered, I padded restlessly about our apartment, passing the time on nothing in particular and anything that would keep my mind occupied. The closer the clock ticked toward six thirty the more anxious I became, worried that Mitch would regret the expensive gift once he saw it on me. At 6:10 I stood again before my dresser mirror and peeled off my robe. Turning side to side, pinching every excess inch of flesh on my thirty-eight-year-old body, I couldn't help but worry about Mitch's pending reaction.
I plopped down on our over-worn living room couch to wait for him. I idly picked up my cell phone from the end table and, after my third game of Tetris, listened again to his message of instruction from that morning. I'd lost track of how many times I had done so that day. There was an edge of insistence and desire in his voice that was unrecognizable in my mild-mannered man. My heart thudded in my chest, and the fog settled over me afresh as I waited, squirming in the seat from pose to pose: demure to seductive to downright sexy. How should I wait for him? How would he want me to wait? Should I stand when he enters or stay seated? I had to admit to myself that my skills of seduction were no better than Mitch's.
I startled when I heard his keys in the lock, settling back into an awkwardly conservative position, legs crossed at the knee, hands neatly folded in my lap. Sitting like a schoolgirl -- dressed more like a call girl. My heart raced madly with anticipation as Mitch stepped through the doorway.
Without speaking a word, he set down his briefcase and removed his jacket, managing to hang it on the hook near the door without taking his eyes off me for a second. A broad, slightly wicked smile came over his face as he strolled slowly toward me, drinking me in with his eyes every step of the way. I sat still in awkward silence, watching him and waiting for him to say something. Anything. Instead he stood before me, leaned down and drew my hands from my lap, pulling them apart, obviously wanting to get a better look at the brilliant red Valentine gift that adorned my body.
Though my embarrassment forced my eyes to the floor, I felt his stare. After what seemed like several long, uncomfortable minutes, he pulled me suddenly to my feet and then stepped away, I supposed in order to more thoroughly look me over from head to toe. When I instinctively crossed my arms timidly in front of my chest, he reached up and firmly pulled them down to my sides. His fingers lifted my chin until my eyes at last met his, and I saw there his obvious desire. I didn't know if I was offended or turned on or both, but something raged inside me.
As I watched his eyes roam freely and intentionally over my body, I felt more exposed to him than ever before, so completely naked, despite the gown, and so deeply vulnerable. What was he thinking? How was he feeling about what he saw? I wanted to believe what I discerned in his wry smile and fiery eyes, but I couldn't push through my deeply held self-doubt. In fact, it took every ounce of self-control I could muster just to remain still and silent before the intensity of his gaze.
At last he spoke. "My god, Carly, you are so beautiful."
I deflected his compliment, looking down and stroking the frilly folds of the chemise. "Yes, it is lovely isn't it? Thank you. But I didn't get you any..."
"No," he replied firmly, interrupting me mid-sentence. "I said YOU are beautiful. Sure the gown is pretty and all, but it's the woman under it that makes it so incredibly amazing. You are one totally sexy woman."
I wasn't buying a word of it, and an uncontrollable smirk came over my face, which I'm certain didn't escape Mitch's roaming eyes.
He took my hand and gently led me around the coffee table to the center of the living room. "Stand there and be still," he instructed in a direct but kindly tone. I crossed my arms for only a brief second before remembering that it was an unacceptable gesture and dropped them to my sides. He shuffled deliberately about me, twice traversing an entire three-hundred-sixty-degree circle at a distance that allowed him to see the length of my body from all sides. Despite my deep discomfort, I stood as directed, feeling self-conscious and exposed, my shoulders slumped slightly forward, my gaze fixed on the floor in front of me again. Where was my soft terry robe when I needed it?
Whereas normally I would have vehemently protested such blatant objectification, something compelled me to silence, as if in a trance. Mitch stopped right in front of me, and I assumed he was continuing his assessment. I felt an increasing tightness in my chest. I wanted to run or scream or slug him or something, I didn't know what, yet there I remained before him.
"This is hard for me," I finally managed to mumble softly, still unable to look up at him.
"What's hard about receiving a beautiful Valentine gift and having your husband adore your lovely body in it?" he asked somewhat incredulously.
I couldn't answer. I didn't know how to answer. I couldn't remember that last time Mitch had paid me even a passing compliment on my appearance. And this sudden deliberate attention left me reeling in uncertainty. Besides, how could he be serious about adoring my body? I hated it, and I assumed he at least held it in mild disdain. Why else his years-long silence on the subject? I was certain it was the extra pounds around my hips and tummy, the slight droop that had developed in my breasts. And my legs and buttocks didn't nearly have the taut shape they once did. He couldn't really mean what he was saying. But why was he doing this?
"Look at me, Carly," he interrupted my self-loathing.
I reluctantly lifted my eyes to meet his. He smiled sweetly at me, and his charming eyes crinkled a bit at the corners -- something I'd stopped noticing years ago.
He spoke softly while our eyes were locked together. "It's finally dawned on my thick skull just how far we'd been drifting apart, how we'd let the distance grow bit by bit over the years. It was subtle at first, and maybe neither of us even realized it was happening. We got busy and distracted. We settled into a comfortable routine of living increasingly separate lives. And now we are living like more like roommates than lovers."
I nodded in agreement, unable to respond verbally. I was certain the lump in my throat was damming an unstoppable flood of tears that I dared not unleash. He was speaking almost the very words I'd cried into the phone with my sister the week before. I wondered briefly if Claire had called Mitch and told him how worried I was about our marriage. Maybe she even warned him that I was precipitously close to having an affair with an attractive young man who'd been coming on to me at the food bank where I'd been volunteering for a few months. I loved the feelings the male attention stirred in me, and although I hadn't yet acted on it, I did little to discourage his obvious flirting. It was a dangerous situation, and I loved it.
"How could I have ignored how beautiful you are, Carly?" He said sincerely. "How could I have forgotten how much in love with you I am?"
I felt a wet tear streak down my left cheek, followed by one on my right. "You are?" I managed to squeak out, my voice cracking slightly. It wanted to believe it was true.
He took a step toward me and cupped my face in his hands, gently wiping the tears from my cheeks with his thumbs. "Yes," he said emphatically yet lovingly.
He drew my face to his and kissed me lightly on the lips. It was the most tender, loving kiss I could remember ever receiving, full of powerful electricity despite its teasing lightness. I had just begun to kiss him back when he released my face and stepped back away, leaving my lips desperately unfulfilled.
"I want you to know that things are going to be very different now," he said, the look on his face suddenly serious. "Very different." He began to circle me slowly again and proceeded to explain before I even had a chance to consider the meaning of his sweeping statement.
"I realize that I've neglected you badly, that I haven't made you or our relationship a priority in a long time. I'm an idiot for the way I've treated you. I realize that I haven't been the man you want and need. And I realize that I've let our sex life slide to almost nothing, accepting that it's just what happens when you've been married as long as we have. I gave up on us. I gave up on you, and I was wrong."
"Well I haven't been exac--," I tried to add my apology to his, but he quickly interrupted me again.
"No!" he insisted. "Let me finish before you respond. I've got more that needs to be said." He stopped circling me and approached me from behind. I started to turn to face him, but he grabbed my shoulders and forcibly kept me facing away. He moved his hands to my waist and leaned into me as he spoke softly in my ear.
"I woke up in the middle of the night two nights ago and couldn't get back to sleep. I was restless for a long while. The moon was bright and the blinds weren't drawn very tight. Then at one point I rolled over and there was this soft glow of moonlight on your face. You looked so beautiful, almost angelic, and out of nowhere my heart suddenly flooded with an acute awareness of the love I've always had for you. I knew I risked waking you, but I had to touch your lovely face. You stirred a little as I gently stroked your cheek and pressed yourself against me. Just the touch of your skin on mine sent shockwaves through me. It was electric - completely surreal and magical. Something was suddenly calling me back to you, as if from inside you. I know it sounds weird, but it was very real and very strong."
Mitch's hands moved to tiny twin straps of satin on my shoulders and gently peeled them down to the tops of my arms. His fingers danced lightly over my naked shoulders and upper arms, tracing a delicate path. After several passes his touch continued slowly all the way down my arms as they hung at my sides, until his hands met mine, and our fingers intertwined.
He gently squeezed my hands. "I wanted you, Carly, and I found myself suddenly so turned on that I could hardly stand it. I wanted to wake you and take you and for us to get lost in passion together. But then I realized how completely out of the blue that would have been, and I knew how offended you'd be if I tried anything like that. And it made me really sad. Really sad.
"I propped myself up against the headboard and just watched you sleep, listening to you breathe, for the longest time. I tried to remember the last time we made love, and I couldn't. I got sadder. I tried to remember the last time we had more than an hour together of uninterrupted time, just so we could be together. I couldn't remember that either. My heart was sinking deeper by the minute."
As I listened to him describe the abysmal state of our marriage, a knot developed in the pit of my stomach, and an awkward mix of emotions swirled around in my head. On the one hand I felt guilty, knowing I too had withdrawn from him over time. On the other hand I wanted to defend myself and blame him for everything. Yet somehow hearing him describe his desire for me as he watched me sleep that night made me want to throw myself into his arms and beg him to take me, as he had wanted to do that night.
My feelings were conflicting and unclear, so I was thankful I could withhold my comments until he was finished, as he'd requested. Still holding my hands in his, he wrapped his arms around my front, taking my arms with his, pulling me firmly back against his strong chest. I felt suddenly warm and safe in his arms, a strange and unfamiliar feeling.
As he continued, it was as if he was reading my thoughts.
"At first I tried to get mad at you and blame you for the state of things with us. I told myself that you'd lost interest in me, that you'd grown cold and distant. But my case against you began to fall apart as I though about all the times I'd worked through dinner without calling, all the times I was too busy to call or email you during a business trip, all the times I stayed up late working or watching TV instead do going to bed with you. My heart broke as I suddenly realized that through all those actions and inactions I was telling you that I didn't love you, that I didn't want you, that you weren't attractive to me any more. I had, in effect, pushed you away, so how could I be surprised that you'd withdrawn? I take the responsibility for letting things get so distant between us. That night, watching you sleep, I decided that I would also take the responsibility for drawing us back together. And I decided what better time to start than today, Valentine's Day, the day of lovers."
His lips found the nape of my neck and he kissed it softly for what felt like a very long time. My knees began to weaken, and if he hadn't been holding me so tightly I might have collapsed. His hands released mine and slid slowly up from my waist until they found my breasts, covered only thinly by the sheer gown. He cupped them lightly in his hands, but I couldn't tell if the warm surge I felt in my chest was from the heat of his hands or the fire he was stirring within me.
I was beginning to believe that what Mitch said was right: things really were going to be different now. I believed that he really did love me and want me like he said. I even believed that maybe somehow I was calling out to him from my sleep that night. I knew it was all true. And I knew that I loved and wanted him just as much as he did me.
The love that was welling up inside me combined wonderfully with the physical sensations of his hands lightly massaging my breasts and his body pressed against me from behind, and I felt myself slipping into a desperate kind of desire. I was becoming more turned on by the second, and I knew if I were going to say anything, it would need to happen quickly, before I became totally lost in the sexual excitement of the moment.
"May I say something now?" I managed to say, almost groaning.
His lips left my neck only long enough to say, "Yes." As his mouth and hands continued to work magic on my body I had to force myself to think clearly.
"It's not all your fault," I said weakly. "I punished you for not paying attention to me like I wanted you too. I got angry, but I never really confronted you. I was hurt, but I never admitted it. I tried to be strong and independent, like I thought a woman should be, but it only made me lonely and sad. I'm sorry, Mitch. I'm really sorry."
He stopped kissing my neck and moved his hands to my hips. He spun me around so suddenly that I almost lost my balance, but his hands steadied my hips again, this time as I stood facing him. He stared deeply into my eyes, his eyes filled as much with love and kindness as they were with desire and passion. I was desperate for a kiss, but he was clearly in command of the moment, and I had no desire to take control back from him.
He spoke firmly, yet gently. "We've both made mistakes, but the bottom line is this: I let it happen and did nothing to fix it. And I'm not going to let it happen any more."
At last I got the kiss I had been so desperately seeking. He wrapped his arms around me, one hand sliding up to mingle into the back of my shoulder-length hair and the other grasping my lower back. As he pulled my body against his I melted into his kiss, allowing my desire to rise up uncontrolled within me. It was a kiss unlike any we'd shared. So much more than the physical mingling of lips and tongues, it was the touching of souls at the deepest level.
I let myself go at that moment. There would be no more holding back, no more withdrawing, no more retribution. I was completely his, and I wanted to be. My arms were wrapped desperately around his waist, pulling him to me as much as I was being pulled to him. I lost track of how long the embrace lasted.
Suddenly, like before, he spun me back around to face away from him, once again pulling my hips tightly to his. He began to lightly kiss my bare shoulders, his lips tracing delightful path from one side to the other, sending tingles all the way down my spine and the backs of my legs, and fueling the warmth that was building between my legs.