Orchid Ch. 03

byAwkwardMD©

I back away slowly, jaw working without sound. Calvin gets up and takes a step toward the hallway, but he freezes when I start shouting.

"You stay the fuck away from me," I cry, pointing at him and wishing my finger could hurt him as much as he hurt me. He holds up his hands as I skirt past him, and I'm out the door in under a second.

"Kit!" Susan cries, as she runs out after me. "Kit, Stop!"

"No," I yell back, stopping partway down the lengthy driveway. "No! I don't know what... that is, but-"

"Please!"

I step on a rock and scream, hopping up and down on one foot. Susan hurries after me, and stops when I pick up the small stone and fling it at her. It bounces harmlessly off the siding of the house ten feet beside her, and she hesitates to follow when I start hobbling down the driveway again.

"All your stuff is inside."

"I'll get new ones!"

"Kit, please."

"Stop," I shriek, as the tears really start to come. "Just leave me alone!"

"Where are you going to go? It's 15 miles back to the city, and it's nearly midnight."

"I don't care."

"Come back inside. We'll call you a cab. If you still want to leave when it gets here you can go, and we'll never bother you again."

I drop to my knees, sobbing at the idea of really wanting to never see either one of them again. There's more reasons too, I know, but it's just... it's too much too quickly. "I thought I had found it. Again." Someplace I could belong.

"Kit please."

I jump, shocked that Susan had caught up to me, and fall onto my hip. Awkwardly swiping at her, and shouting something that was probably supposed to be "Stay away," or maybe "Get away." Susan recoils, her expression guarded. Maybe it was "Get the fuck away." I don't really know. It feels like one of those moments where the crowd is shouting 'Don't go back in the house!' at the screen. There's no middle of the road for me; every fiber of my being is screaming to run, except for all of the fibers that are dying to go back inside and see him again. The end result is that I just sit there, crying in the driveway at 11:48 pm.

Susan hovers next to me, just out of range of my erratic swiping, with her hands on her hips.

"What was that?" I say, after more than a few minutes of frantic, spasmic hyperventilation.

"I don't know what you mean," Susan says, moving around so that she's not behind me.

"Is he your... are you..."

"Calvin is my husband. Yes."

"You knew that was torturing me," I cry. "That he was torturing me."

"You mean the memory was, yes? Not that he was actively antagonizing you."

I nod glumly.

"I'm sorry," she said, frowning. "I wasn't trying to correct you. It was an important distinction and I had to be clear." She squats down in front of me, keeping her knees tightly together and wrapping the black silk robe tightly around herself. I hadn't felt the cold either, until right now. "Kit?"

I look up, eyes stinging.

"You deserve some answers. Please come back inside. Do what you want with what we tell you, but please. Hear us out." She produces her phone from the pocket of her robe and taps at the screen for a moment. 9-1-1 is entered in, undialed, when she turns the phone to me. "All you have to do is push call, and someone will come running."

I snatch the phone out of her hand and seriously consider pushing it right then. Her expression is tense as she watches me.

"Is that enough of a safeguard? Will you please come inside now?"

My thumb quivers in the air, on the edge of making trouble for them just for the sake of making trouble for them. Making their lives a living hell for a little while. See how they like it.

That's not me. I nod tightly at her, and Susan sighs in relief. She extends her hand as she stands, but I get up awkwardly under my own power to spite her.

"I swear to God I'll push this," I growl, voice cracking hard in that way none of us can control after crying. Susan nods and turns back toward the house. She keeps her head angled slightly to the side, alternately looking forward toward the door and back at me to make sure I'm still following. It occurs to me that she's probably not used to, or comfortable with, leading people around, and suddenly I'm walking beside her before I know what's happening.

"Oh Thank God," Calvin whispers from the kitchen, as soon as we come down the hall. He'd gone back around to where he'd been when I first saw him, seated on one of the stools next to the island.

I glare and point next to him. "Sit over there." Susan was already heading that way, but she nods in compliance and my fear of being physically assaulted quiets down; my path to the door is clear and I've got a loaded phone in my hand. That fear is ever-present, given my situation, but it is as quiet as it ever gets as I square off with them. My left hand keeps the blue silk robe snug around me, though it gives me, at best, a false sense of protection. The thinnest fabric would not protect me, and neither is it hiding anything with me keeping it so tight. "Talk."

"We're sorry," Susan says first, but she shuts up at a furious glance.

"Not you," I snarl. "Him."

Calvin nods and licks his lips. "I'm sorry."

"So help me God, I'll push this button."

"I am!"

"Sorry is as sorry does." I'm starting to shake again, and they both nod quickly. "You hurt me."

"I know."

"You... you toyed with me-"

"No," he says, face falling.

"-and you used me." Every word delivered with anger, frustration, and pain. "You used me."

"Kit please."

"We had to be sure," Susan says. She flinches when I turn back to her, but doesn't look away.

"Sure. About. What."

They look at each other for a moment, each fidgeting nervously. Calvin licks his lips, and Susan adjusts her robe.

"Sure. About. What."

"You," Calvin says. "We had to be sure about you."

"Was this some kind of test?!"

Calvin rolls his head, almost shaking it and almost nodding. "That's not... I mean..."

"So yes."

"Yes," he says, looking down. My hand is practically vibrating from the conflicting desire to push the button and summon a fleet of police. That's not me. Fuck them. That's not me. "It wasn't fair to you, but yes."

"Why."

They look at each other again. "It's complicated."

"I have all night."

Susan nods and shifts how she's sitting. At first, it reads to me like she's metaphorically distancing herself from him, but after a moment it feels like all she's doing is physically stepping back. Maybe just so she can more easily watch both of us.

"I'm not really sure where to start," Calvin says. "I practiced this quite a few times-"

"Figure it out," I snap, "because this is where we are."

He nods again. "Susan and I have been married for..." He looks at her for a moment. "...a little more than twenty years. We just had our..." He frowns and shakes his head, and Susan gives his hand a light squeeze. "We've been married a long time. We love each other very much, but there have been some... indiscretions... in the past."

"So I got hurt because you can't keep your dick in your pants?"

"It wasn't just him," Susan said softly. "In fact, it was more me than him."

Calvin smiled tightly. "The thing is, we've always had kind of a... specific... dynamic. Between us. Between Susan and I. It's wonderful, and we love it, but it's... limiting. Over the years, we've both felt urges to branch out a little more."

"So maybe try not just having missionary sex," I snap.

"It's not-" Susan starts, but Calvin squeezes his wife's hand while leaning in, and she visibly restrains herself.

"We deserved that," he says. "She has every right to be angry." Susan nods. "The point is, we've tried what you're saying. To... to mix it up a little, and that didn't really work for us. It undermined the... dynamic."

"Why do you keep using that word?"

"Susan is my..." He turns to look at her, and both of them glow. Swelling ever so slightly. "Susan is my mistress. She is a... um... a Domme. In the bedroom and... elsewhere... she is in complete control. I am her toy." Susan beams proudly, but there's an undercurrent of something else there too. "Those are very fulfilling roles for us, but it's also a very rigid system. It's a lot to commit to. I can't just grab her by the hair if I get excited, and..."

They look at each other for a brief moment. Calvin has to swallow before he goes on. "That's sort of... that's the major dynamic for us, between us, but it's not the entirety of our... of our... um..."

"Of our sexual identity," Susan adds in.

"Right. Before, we would... cheat as a way to get around that dynamic, and while that worked for a time it always came with a lot of pain." Susan squeezes his hand again, and Calvin nods. Forgiven but not forgotten, it seems, on both sides. "So about five years ago, Susan and I started exploring the idea of having an open marriage. Keeping what we have, together, intact, but also allowing both of us to satisfy those other urges. Supporting each other in finding something else."

"Ok," I say.

"And that's worked... better. It's not ideal, though, because those other relationships tend to be shorter and less... satisfying?"

"More superficial," Susan says.

"Right. Largely just sexual, and I think both of us have felt like, as time goes on, we're not getting as much out of the... um... the things we do outside of the primary relationship."

"And that's you two?" I ask.

She nods. "That seems to be the fatal flaw with secondary relationships," Susan says. "Even the best we've found quickly limit how much they'll let themselves get attached to us, and that undercuts the... the emotional aspect. Sex has a very strong emotional component for both of us."

Both of them nod as Calvin continues. "This is where it gets tricky, though. We have considered... or... " He stops to collect his thoughts for a moment, and Susan releases his hand to run her nails lightly up and down his back. "We have been looking, discreetly, for someone to... to join the... the primary relationship. To be..." He moves his hands, extending his fingers and then retracting them inward. "To be part of 'Us'."

"It needed to be someone we both had chemistry with," Susan says, stepping in. "Someone who could keep up with us, and with whom we each had a different dynamic. Something that didn't compete with what we had with each other, and someone whom we both enjoyed at a personal level."

"So why not tell me that," I cry, tears backing up quickly. "Why did you... why did you..."

"We were worried-"

"I was worried," Susan says, correcting, and Calvin nods.

"Susan was worried that if I introduced you to her, and you met her through me, you might approach it with the idea of 'tolerating her to be with me'. That somehow being with her was the price you had to pay to also be with me."

"We had to be sure that anyone we brought here," Susan says, "to our home, would be someone we could both have something unique with. Someone who wanted to be with us, individually and as a whole, and we didn't know how else to do that."

"We're sorry. We knew that we were putting you in a terrible position, but we had to be sure because it isn't just about us." Calvin looks over at her, and when she nods, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small square card. My eyebrows rise up as he slides it across the table toward me and the card turns into something else. A picture. Calvin, Susan, and...

A little girl. I put down the phone to pick it up, and it's not until that moment that I realize I have no idea what I would have said to the police if they'd showed up. None. Even still, they both look relieved.

"This is recent," I say, blinking away the tears so I can actually see the damn thing. "How recent?"

"That was two months ago," Calvin says. "At her third birthday."

Every time I blink, she looks just like one of them. Just like Calvin, and then just like Susan. Unruly yellow curls. A bright smile. The tiniest little Maryjanes. She's so little.

Susan clears her throat. "I know that, somewhere in your head, you're trying to do math right now."

I nod, staring at the picture. She's so happy.

"I didn't think I could get pregnant. We'd tried for years. We even tried IVF a few times, but it never took. And then, at age 47..."

"We worry," Calvin says, stepping in as Susan's voice starts getting shaky, "about a lot. Everything. About how old we are. About keeping up with her. About relating to her, and being there for her."

"Neither of us were in a good place to put our careers on hold when she came along, so we thought 'fine, we'll hire a nanny. We can afford it.' "

"What's her name?" I ask, voice nearly gone.

"Bridget," Susan says. "After my grandmother."

"She's beautiful."

Susan leans forward a little, resting her elbow on the table. "We've struggled to find a nanny we like, and the older she gets, the more we're uncomfortable with the idea that the person she spends the most time with is there for a paycheck. We hate throwing money at a problem as a solution, and that's really what we've been doing. We want her to be surrounded by love. Surrounded by people who have the right motivations."

"We're hitting you with a lot right now," Calvin says. "I'm sorry about that."

"It's ok," I say, still staring at the picture. Bridget has such an infectious smile. I can feel it tugging at my cheeks.

"We've never found anyone else that came close for us. We had the conversation, to be looking for someone, years ago, and neither of us ever found anyone even remotely close. Until you."

I nod, smiling and still crying a little.

"We want you," Susan adds. "To be clear. I know we've been talking about this, and beating around the bush about it, so I want to say it clear. We want you."

"We're sorry." Calvin says. "For everything that's happened up to this moment, we're sorry. Just because we had good reasons and good intentions doesn't mean we weren't conflicted about it."

"Why me?" I say, finally looking up from the picture.

"Calvin told me a lot about your dates together," Susan says. "You should have heard him. He was..." She smiles fondly at him. "He has feelings for you. And as for me, I'm not too proud to admit that at first I was mostly intrigued because of... how you are, rather than who you are, but the more time we spend together..."

"When she and I had talked before," Calvin says, "about bringing someone in, I think we both were nervous to get into the gender conversation. Would I be comfortable with another man? Would Susan feel competitive with another woman? I think we avoided it because we didn't have any answers." Susan nods. "I think ultimately, we needed someone who could... um..."

"What he means is someone who could switch like we both want to."

"Yes," Calvin says. "Thank you."

"I have a very specific attitude with Calvin, and that's something he and I both relish and find release in, but the way I am with you, the way I can..." She drifts off with a smile. "That's something I need in my life, and I know I speak for Calvin as well."

"Is this because I'm..." I hate saying it. "Because I'm transgendered?"

Susan and Calvin look at each other, quiet for a long pause.

"If we're being completely honest," Susan says, "it's probably part of it. I don't know how big a part, but-"

"It wasn't for me," Calvin says. "It wasn't a part of wanting to meet you, and wanting to get to know you. And now that I've seen a little bit of you, I just want more and that has everything to do with the person you are. The... sum total of the parts."

"Yes," Susan says, nodding. "Well put."

I look back down at the picture and nod. And push the phone across the island. Calvin reaches across to take it, but I pull my hand back before mine has a chance to brush against his. My hesitation does not go unnoticed.

"We're not asking you to do anything you don't want to do," Susan says softly, "and I know we're dropping a lot on your lap tonight."

"Understatement of the year."

Susan nods. Calvin looks chastised. "We don't expect an answer tonight, but please think about it."

"Please," Calvin adds.

"Would you like one of us to give you a ride home, or-"

"Call me a cab," I say, and they both nod. Looking down. "I'd like to get dressed now. Please don't follow me upstairs."

"We won't," they both say, and they don't.

***

I can't sleep. I can't stop my brain from racing. I can't stop feeling so many things at once. Too many things. I toss and turn, but no matter how long I try to keep my eyes closed and breathe, there's no end to it. There's no bottom, and I just keep falling. At 4 am, I finally decide to do what I usually do when I can't control myself; paint.

I send Lara a text, because I know she'd want me to, just to let her know that I'm in a bad place. Not in crisis, but really conflicted. She'll probably follow up in a few hours. It's not until after I push send that I realize I have no idea how comfortable I'd be sharing the events of the night with her. Hopefully, I'll have that sorted out before she responds. I step out of my bedroom, into my combination kitchen/living room/art corner, and set aside the half-finished self-portrait canvas in favor of a blank one.

Black paint. No direction to the strokes. Up, and in long curves. Circling back around. I can feel it taking shape even though I have no idea what it is. I work slowly, layering black on top of black to darken the outline. Clean, with no flourishes while it's still taking shape. Whatever it is.

There's a limit to how far I can take it without knowing what it is, and my eyes are blessedly heavy when I reach that point. The accumulated exhaustion catches up with me quickly, and I barely make it back to the bed before succumbing to a whirlwind of dreams.

***

Sat. 12:37 pm I want to meet her

Sat. 12:51 pm Bridget? Are you sure?

Sat. 12:54 pm

Tomorrow

Sat. 1:01 pm

I'm surprised you're talking to me and not Calvin.

Sat. 1:05 pm

Are you really that surprised?

Sat. 1:08 pm I guess not.

Sat. 1:10 pm

Tomorrow is fine. There's a park near her preschool

in Edgemont. Are you familiar with that area?


Sat. 1:14 pm

Just text me the address

Sat. 1:18 pm

I will. As soon as I get back to the house.

Sat. 1:20 pm

How about 11?

Sat. 1:24 pm

Fine

***

The train gets me a mile from the park, and I'm glad for the walk. It would have been more convenient to take a cab right to the parking lot, but I knew I was going to need the walk beforehand to compose myself, and afterwards to decompress. I hug my arms around my chest, more to guard myself from feeling vulnerable than from any chill. My light gray jacket and scarf are more than adequate for the early September cool.

I spot Susan first, sitting on one of the benches reading a book. Two girls of about the right age are playing in front of her, along with another boy. As soon as she sees me, Susan sets her book down beside her and strides toward me with her arms folded.

"I don't have a problem saying that I'm nervous about this," Susan says, as soon as we're close enough for civil volume. She keeps her expression neutral, if a bit tight around the eyes. "We've never introduced her to anyone like this before."

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