The Surrogate Ch. 03byohio©
"You did WHAT?" Lucy spoke so loudly that people in all the surrounding tables turned their heads to look at them.
"Shh!" Joanna said, blushing. In a near-whisper she said, "I slept with Michael. Twice, in fact. A week ago and again last night. And it was amazing!"
"Details, babe!" Christine said. "Spill."
"Well, it was my idea. I've been ... pursuing him a little, actually. Things are going very smoothly with the divorce, I promised myself I'd behave like an adult for once. I owe him that. So no fighting over money or custody or anything. I've even been over to his house and given him advice about how to set it up for Amy and Will.
"But I've also been, well, horny! And part of me can't help thinking, God, we're getting along so well, we've loved each other a long time, maybe there's still some chance ..."
"Anyway, I dressed sexy for him a few times, when we were going to be meeting. And I know he noticed, but he didn't do anything about it. So last week I just propositioned him. The kids were in bed and I said, 'I can tell you like this outfit, Michael--wanna help me take it off?'
"And he looked at me for a long time. Then he said, 'sure!' I was thrilled. But first he gave me this long spiel about how this didn't mean we were getting back together or anything. It would be sex between two people who still cared for one another but who were getting divorced, understood?
"So of course I said yeah, and then we went and did it!" Her face looked a little dreamy, and Lucy and Christine glanced at one another and raised their eyebrows.
"It was ... well, it's like he's a different person. First of all, he lasted a long time. But even more than that, he was, I don't know, just different. Confident, relaxed. He took his time, got me really excited, and then when we did it he was ... in control."
Her eyes filled with tears. "What kills me is that it was every bit as good as with Trevor--better even, because I love Michael, it wasn't just sex. He made love to me, and I kept thinking ...."
She started to cry a little, and Lucy squeezed her hand. "I kept thinking, if only he could have been like this a year ago ..."
They talked some more, and Joanna dried her eyes. Lucy said, "are you going to keep on doing it?"
"I don't know. Both times he gave me the speech first, you know, 'we're not getting back together.' So I try not to get my hopes up. I've been telling myself, even if nothing comes of this it's still good sex, and you've been celibate for pretty much a year, so enjoy it while it lasts.
"I guess I think that once the divorce is really final it'll stop. Not because I want it to, but because Michael does. God help me, I suppose he'll start dating..."
The phone rang while Joanna was stirring a pot of soup. She checked the caller ID, picked up the phone and said, "hi Michael--how are they doing?"
"They're great! Amy is so excited she can't figure out what to do. She keeps running back and forth between her room and her new 'big-girl' bike in the driveway. She rides for about two minutes, then runs back inside to look at all the stars we put on the ceiling and the pictures of horses on the wall.
"And Will hasn't put down that big truck in hours. I've never seen him play with one toy for so long. So they're both doing fine."
He said, "thanks again for all this, Jo. Somehow they've both got the idea that having a mommy-house and a daddy-house will be fun and exciting, rather than a bad thing. Amy keeps saying she can hardly wait to get to school and tell all her friends that she can ride her bike from mommy's house to daddy's house all by herself."
Despite herself Joanna smiled. "I'm glad we managed it okay. And I have to say thank-you to you too. It was really fun that I could be there today, and watch them dash around the house and say 'wow' and 'cool!' and 'hey look at this!' "
They chatted another couple of minutes and got off the phone. Joanna poured out some soup into a bowl and sat in front of it, thinking.
"I've got to deal with this!" she said to herself. "It's really happening--we have two houses, we'll be divorced in three weeks, this is real! He's not coming back to you, Jo--get over it!"
She could have cried, but instead she wiped her eyes and ate her soup, glancing at the newspaper without much interest. She was really glad she'd be seeing Agnes the next day.
When she said, "I have a date," Michael was taken aback.
"Really? I mean, uh, sure--okay. Well, uh, I've got the kids Friday night anyway, so no problem. You want me to put them to bed here?"
They were sitting at his kitchen counter while the kids played in the living room. She could see he was startled, and it made her a tiny bit hopeful.
"I don't have to go, Michael. I'd cancel it in a minute if you asked me to."
"No no, I just--" He gathered his thoughts. "No, it's fine. I mean, we're divorced, of course guys would be asking you out. It just took me by surprise, is all." He couldn't help glancing again at her left hand, without the familiar rings.
She looked a little disappointed.
He almost said, "who's the guy?" but stopped himself. Thank God I didn't ask, he thought. They talked idly for a few more minutes before she and the kids headed back home.
Was he upset? Jealous? He thought about it for a long time, while the Reds game played silently on the TV. He didn't think so.
They'd stopped having sex when the divorce became official. His choice, not hers. Not that it hadn't been great--Michael's control was just what he had always hoped it would be, and he was certainly getting her off--but he had to start making his own life without her, including his own sex life. And it wasn't fair to her either--he knew that she still had hopes of a reconciliation, and he didn't want to string her along.
So did it bother him, Joanna dating? And, sooner or later, fucking somebody else? He laughed. She'd already done that, after all! And it had hurt one hell of a lot at the time. Now, it just felt like 'time to move on.' He was okay with it.
Michael had two idle thoughts in his head, besides trying to hold onto his umbrella as it blew around in the wind. One was about Betsy. He'd seen her for the third time the night before, and slept with her, and he didn't see much future there. She was perfectly nice but rather dull, and he could tell she wouldn't have the slightest interest in his kids.
The other thought was, it's my 17th anniversary. I've been divorced 17 weeks today. For some reason he found that he kept track of it.
He was coming down Third Street, thinking his idle thoughts and struggling with his umbrella, when he heard her--or saw her. He could never figure out, later, whether he saw her or heard her first.
A young woman was calling out, "help! Can somebody help me?" She was a slim woman of medium height, but he didn't have time to notice any more than that. She was standing next to the left rear door of a parked car, a blue Camry, quite soaked from the rain, and she appeared to be struggling with something. Dozens of passersby hurried past, paying her no attention, and the cars whizzed by her dangerously close.
Michael ran over and saw tears on her face. She had to be in her mid-twenties, and she was very pretty. He saw her skirt was caught in the door.
"Please! It's locked, and I can't get my skirt free!" She was in a panic. He reached for the driver's door and found it locked as well.
"Where are your keys?"
"I locked them in the car--I'm such an idiot!"
He glanced around and saw that the car's right front window was open a couple of inches. A car roared by, splashing them both, and she screamed. He raced to the other side of the car and slid his arm into the narrow opening, twisting awkwardly until he reached the door latch and pulled it up. Yanking the door open, he hit the unlock button, then came back around to open her door and free her skirt.
She was shivering--she looked terrified. He noticed she had a big cake box in her arms. Holding the umbrella over both of them, he took her by the arm and guided her gently to the sidewalk.
"Now," he said, "where are your keys? In the ignition?"
She shook her head. "No, I put them in my purse."
He opened the right front door again, picked up her purse, then pressed the lock button and slammed the door. "Okay, let's get you somewhere a little bit dryer."
Michael glanced around, then walked them twenty feet down and into the Metropolitan Diner, where they found a booth near the back. "Do you drink coffee?"
She nodded, and he gestured to the waitress and said, "two coffees." Then he ran to the men's room and returned with a big handful of paper towels.
"Here, you can dry yourself a little. Although I have to say, the drowned rat look works pretty well for you."
She managed a smile at his weak joke, and began wiping her face and hair with the towels. Michael sat back and looked at her--she was extraordinarily pretty. Her dark hair framed a delicate face, with high cheekbones and an unusually beautiful complexion. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen such lovely skin. She had deep brown eyes, which at the moment looked troubled and upset.
The waitress brought their coffees and they sipped for a minute in silence.
"Thank you so much for--"
"I hope you--"
They both stopped, startled, and then laughed together. "You first," Michael said with a smile.
"I wanted to thank you for getting me loose--I'm afraid I lost it a little out there. The rain, the cars racing by, I had this stupid cake in my arms--I kind of freaked out."
"My pleasure," Michael said. "Are you feeling a little better now?"
She nodded. "I'm Teresa, by the way."
"Michael." They shook hands, smiling. He said, "if you're not in a huge hurry, about how if we get a sandwich or something? We're already both sitting here, and it will give us a chance to dry out a little."
Over sandwiches and more coffee they talked for nearly an hour. Teresa was an ER nurse at St. Dominick's Hospital, where she'd worked since getting her nursing degree at Brown Mackie College. She was the younger of two sisters and lived with her mother in an apartment not far from the hospital. She'd grown up in southern Ohio and had never traveled further than New York (with a high school class), though she was eager to visit Europe one day.
In response to Teresa's questions Michael told her that he was a plant supervisor in a manufacturing company, recently divorced, with two fantastic children. He pulled out Amy and Will's pictures from his wallet and was delighted to see her eager interest. She made him tell her all about each of his kids, and laughed along with him at the stories.
Michael found her enchanting--he couldn't help comparing the pleasure he felt in her company to the relative dullness of Betsy, his recent date. He almost hated to see the waitress bring their check, especially when Teresa glanced at the wall clock and said, "oh my goodness, I really have to get going."
Gesturing at the cake box she said, "this is for a surprise birthday party for a nurse in the ER this afternoon--I've really got to get over there."
Determined not to miss his opportunity he said, "Teresa, I wonder if--well, uh--would it be-- Would you like to have dinner with me, maybe Friday night?"
Smiling, she said, "how can I say no to my rescuer? But there are two things..."
He looked expectant. "First, my friends all call me Teri."
"And second, I'm afraid I need to take my mother to her bingo night on Friday. She hasn't missed more than two of them in the last five years. So would Saturday be all right with you?"
They made the date, he got Teri's address and phone number, and he walked her back to her car, holding the door open for her. It had stopped raining, and he lingered just a moment as she put her seatbelt on and got her key into the ignition.
"Thank you, Michael." She smiled up at him, and reached to take his hand. "You were my knight in shining armor--I've never had one of those before!"
"Well, I've never had the chance to rescue a princess before either, so we're even!" He was afraid it sounded hopelessly corny, but she squeezed his hand and smiled some more at him before backing out of the space and heading off towards the hospital.
Michael walked for 15 minutes, his head filled with thoughts of Teri, before he realized that he'd entirely forgotten the errand that had brought him downtown in the first place. Grinning to himself, he turned around and headed back the way he came.
"Yes, I guess it's flattering, but it's also pretty awful." Joanna looked unhappily over at Agnes, who waited patiently for her to continue.
"I mean sure, I like it that men notice me, that they're interested." No fewer than four men at work had asked her out in the weeks since the divorce, when she'd finally had to take off her wedding band. Not to mention two more guys who were divorced fathers of some of Amy's school friends.
"So I've been out on, I guess five dates, with three different guys. And there's not a single one of them I feel any spark with--no one I particularly care if I see ever again, let alone try to have a relationship with.
"And as much as I miss sex, I never even considered doing it with any of them."
Agnes raised an eyebrow.
Joanna shrugged. "When I thought about it--you know, sitting at dinner with them or whatever, I ... I realized I'd rather just go home to my vibrator." She laughed, a little embarrassed, but said, "it's true.
"I miss sex with Michael, rather than just sex in general. Those last few weeks before the divorce, he was so terrific! It was incredible, Agnes--his stamina problem was completely gone, he was relaxed and powerful and the sex was just wonderful!"
Tears came to her eyes. "I have no idea why--maybe it was because he knew he was dumping me and he just didn't care anymore. But he was never cold or mean. I kept thinking that it meant something, all this great sex, that he wouldn't really go through with the divorce."
Dabbing at her eyes she said, "I'm sorry. I know we've been over this before. I just kept hoping .... Because, you know, what got us into trouble was his PE problem, and--"
Agnes interrupted her. "Is that really right, Joanna?"
"No," she replied quietly, looking down. "No, that's not right. What got us into trouble was me cheating on him.
"And I guess that ... that even though we were having sex again, it didn't mean he'd forgiven me. As much as I hoped ..."
"Michael, do you feel as though it's time for us to set a date to stop meeting?"
He looked thoughtful, then nodded. "I feel a tiny bit nervous about it, but yeah, I do."
Elizabeth said, "I would suggest maybe four more sessions, every other week the way we've been doing. Sometimes things come up in the last few sessions when a patient knows he's going to be stopping, and it's nice to leave a little time for that."
Michael said, "that's fine;" and then, "can I ask how you know I'm ready?"
She smiled. "Well, over the past year or so you've been through a lot, and we've talked about some difficult issues, things in your life that have caused you a lot of pain.
"But what have you spent the last two sessions talking about?"
He thought a minute. "Well, last time it was a little about how Amy and Will are doing with the whole 'divorced parents, two-house thing'; but mostly it was stuff about work, I guess."
"Right--nothing about Joanna, no bitterness about her betrayal, no regrets about the divorce, nothing like that. And what have you spent the last half-hour talking about today?"
He grinned and said, "the beautiful new woman in my life. How even though I've only seen Teri twice, I have this amazing feeling that I could easily spend the rest of my life with her."
Startled, Elizabeth leaned forward and said, "Teri? Her name is Teri?"
Elizabeth composed herself. Calmly she said, "it was just that you hadn't mentioned her name. You just told me about this beautiful nurse, how you rescued her last week in the rain, and how much fun you had taking her out last weekend.
"Anyway, my real point is that you seem to be moving on, Michael, very successfully. Looking forward, feeling and behaving like a man who isn't carrying around a load of pain that still needs to be dealt with. That's why I suggested you're ready for us to stop meeting."
They talked a few more minutes about this and that; and Elizabeth focused on their conversation as best she could, though her mind was busily revolving around the question of Teri. There couldn't be two ER nurses at St. Dominick's with that name, could there? Who were slim and lovely and dark-haired?
As Marina sat back, watching, Elizabeth closed the last of the folders and put it on the pile. She smiled at her colleague, and said, "everything looks great, Marina--as always."
Marina said, "I don't know whether this is just a good group of clients, or whether, pardon the modesty, I've gotten to be pretty damn good at what I do. But I see steady progress with all of them. Ralph is still struggling emotionally, but even with him I'm optimistic."
"I agree. His wife leaving hit him really hard, and my reading is that his self-esteem was low even before that. But I think he's coming along okay."
Elizabeth looked thoughtful; then she said, "since we're done with all the cases for today, Marina, can we talk for a minute about something else?"
"Sure--what's on your mind?"
"Tell me, how is your sister doing these days?"
Marina smiled. "She's wonderful! I actually talked to her just two days ago--there's a new man in her life, and she sounds like she's head over heels. He's cute, he's sensitive, he's caring, they can talk about everything." She chuckled. "If you believe her he's even a terrific kisser.
"I am just so happy for her, Liz. Since that asshole Jake broke her heart she's been so cautious about men--skittish, really. This is the first time in a couple of years she seems ready to open up to someone."
"Did she tell you her new guy's name, and what he does?"
"All I know is his name is Michael; he's recently divorced, and has a couple of young kids he's ...." Marina stopped suddenly, staring at Elizabeth.
"Oh my God, Liz--it's not..."
"I think it is, Marina. At his last session Michael went on and on about a beautiful ER nurse named Teri who works at St. Dominick's. You can see why I needed to talk to you about this."
The women sat looking at one another. Finally Marina said, "well, what the hell do we do about it?"
"Believe me, it's practically all I've been thinking about."
Elizabeth leaned forward. "First, you and I are both bound absolutely by confidentiality. We cannot speak to anyone about Michael's treatment, or even acknowledge that we treated him. So the only person who can ever tell Teri that Michael was your patient is Michael."
"Agreed--I can see that." Marina was nodding, thinking. "And neither of them knows anything about the connection?"
"Well, I assume that Teri doesn't--why would she?
"And Michael clearly doesn't know either, because it didn't come up at all in our session. But he's going to figure it out, Marina. If he keeps dating Teri she'll tell him all about her big sister, or even bring him over to meet you.
"I can hardly imagine the look on his face at that moment!" She chuckled a little; then said, more seriously, "but I don't want him to be blindsided that way.
"What I think would be best is for us to tell him, and to discuss with him how he wants to handle it."
"Jesus..." Marina said. "Poor guy."
She said, "you know, I've always liked Michael. I like most of the men I've worked with, but him in particular. He's kind and thoughtful, considerate of other people. I think he'd be great for Teri.