"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
He grinned in the darkness. I could see the moonlight on his teeth, a white flash.
"I'm serious," I said when he didn't reply, rolling toward him onto my stomach, trying to search his eyes in the dimness, but it was impossible—they were wet spots of moonlight and that was all.
"I don't know," he said finally, lifting my hair and letting it fall onto his chest. I loved the feel of his hands in my hair, on my neck. "Why do I have to grow up?"
It was my turn not to reply, and I buried my face in the bed. He continued to stroke my hair, my neck, my back.
"I'm not supposed to say that, right?" he asked softly, and I kept my head down. "Emily?"
"It's not what I wanted to hear," I admitted, rolling back toward my own pillow and snuggling it under my head.
"Come on, I was kidding," he replied, sliding his hand under my t-shirt, cupping my breast. I shoved his hand away and rolled to my stomach.
"I don't think you were." I looked through the open window. A warm August rain was beginning, and I could see it fall in the yellow glow of a streetlight.
"Who cares?" he asked finally, slipping his arm around me and pulling me to him, so we were pressed together, like spoons, looking out the open window.
"I do," I replied. "You should. You're married. We have a one-year-old daughter. Don't you think it's time?"
I felt him move, in his usual slow and silent way, and I was alone again on my side. I waited, looking at the clock. It was 3:19 a.m. I could hear Beth stir in her crib, a soft rustling and a sigh. Then silence. Tom's breathing was slow and steady, but he wasn't sleeping. I crossed my arms, cupping my breasts for warmth. The rain was coming down harder now, cooling things off, and I shivered, seeing the first few droplets beginning to wet the window sill.
"What do you want me to be?" he asked finally, sounding so resigned, so desperate, that I couldn't help but ache for him— and for me—and for that little girl sleeping in her crib in the other room. "An accountant like my father? Like my brother? What? Just someone who will make a lot of money and a comfortable living?"
His voice was quiet and calm. I shook my head but I knew he couldn't see me. "What should I be? What do you want me to be?" he asked again, so softly I almost didn't hear it.
I sat up, facing him, and I could see his eyes now, the wetness on his cheeks. I found myself wondering how a sweet, silly, after-sex conversation had turned into something so serious as I took his hand and kissed his palm.
"I just want you to be happy," I answered honestly. "Does not being a grown-up really make you happy?"
He turned away from me, showing me his shoulder. His voice was soft. "I'm afraid I won't get it right. I'm afraid of being stuck doing something I hate. I'm afraid you'll hate me if I say... if I say..."
"Say what?" My hand tugged at his shoulder, but he resisted.
"I don't know." His voice trembled in the darkness.
I swallowed hard. "I don't know is a great place to start," I told him, my fingers trailing over his back. "It's the best place to start."
"I'm scared," he told me. "I don't know how this is supposed to look, how we're supposed to be. Sometimes I feel like we're playing house."
"I know," I whispered. "Me, too."
His embrace was fast and fierce and I found myself in his lap, his head cradled between my breasts, rocking gently as the rain beat time on the windowsill behind us. I don't know how long I held him, but lightning and thunder added to the frenzy of our embrace and it was Tom who heard the baby crying, awakened by the noise of the storm.
He brought her into our bed, a warm, sleepy girl who was happy to snuggle safely between us and resume her dreams. I looked at him over her blonde head that seemed almost illuminated white in the moonlight and I mouthed: I love you. He smiled, but it was such a small thing, barely there on his face, and I swallowed.
I lay awake a long time that night, watching Beth asleep, spooned against him, her thumb in her mouth, her tucked head under his head, mouth slightly open, both looking so much alike, so vulnerable and childlike and sweet.