Beyond Endings -- Part 2 of Terminal Love
One week after scattering Mandy's ashes, Ed and Sandy returned to their jobs. Work had piled up while they were on leave, and they were both glad to be too busy to think. The last thing either of them wanted was to think. After work, they went to their homes and crashed from exhaustion.
Ed didn't relax before falling asleep, so his sleep was very fitful. He found himself having recurring nightmares, and he'd wake up sweating, with a pounding heart. The dream was always the same. In it, he could see Mandy's face in the mist of the waterfall. Her face was sad, and she just kept crying, over and over, "You promised. You promised." He tried to put this out of his mind, but it wouldn't go away. Even during the day, he frequently saw little girls with sad faces, who just looked at him.
At the end of his first workweek, he felt he had to call Sandy. "Hi Sandy, this is Ed. I just wanted to check in and see how you're doing."
"Miserable, she responded. I haven't been able to sleep. Every time I do fall asleep, I'm haunted by the same nightmare."
"That's strange," said Ed. "I'm having the same problem. Tell me about your nightmare."
"In it, I see Mandy's face in the mist of the waterfall. Her face is sad, and she just keeps crying, over and over, 'You promised. You promised.'"
"That's not possible," said Ed. "That's exactly what my dream is. What's happening to us?"
"I don't know, Ed. Maybe sharing the same experience triggers the same dreams."
"Can I come over, Sandy?"
"Sure, Ed, you're always welcome over here."
"I'll be right over."
When Ed arrived at Sandy's she welcomed him into her house. They sat on the sofa and just looked at each other, not knowing what to say. Eventually, Ed reached out and took Sandy's hand. He asked Sandy if she'd show him some of the family picture albums from when Mandy was a child. He couldn't believe when he saw the pictures, as the little girls he had been seeing, lately, were Mandy, at different ages. He shared this with Sandy. Sandy admitted she hadn't seen little girls during the day, but the difference could be due to the intensity of feelings Ed and Mandy had so recently shared.
"Ed, I'd like to ask you a favor, but please don't feel obligated to do it. I'll understand if you say no."
"How can I help, Sandy?"
"I am so sleep deprived, right now, I can't even think straight. Mandy hadn't really spent that much time here, yet I quickly got used to her presence. Now, I feel so alone without her here. Would you please just hold me tonight, as I sleep? Maybe that will help me sleep."
"Sure, Sandy. I'm not crazy about attempting to sleep alone, tonight, either."
Sandy took Ed to her bed, took off her shoes and lay down on her side, fully clothed, pulling a light blanket up over her. Ed removed his shoes before joining her under the blanket, spooning up to her back with his arm around her waist. It wasn't long before both were sound asleep.
When the sun rose in the morning, they realized they were so exhausted, neither of them had moved all night, and they had the most refreshing sleep they had experienced in a long time. Sandy expressed her thanks to Ed, while he admitted it helped his sleep also. Sandy offered to make Ed breakfast. Though they didn't speak much during the meal, they realized it felt good to reconnect. After breakfast was over, Ed said, "Sandy, I'm sure you have things you need to do, today, and I have projects to catch up on, so I'd better get going. Thanks for the breakfast... and for the sleep. We'll have to get together, again."
Ed felt refreshed, after the good night sleep, so was productive with his projects. He felt good when he lay down for sleep, that night. Unfortunately, the nightmares returned.
At 9am, thinking Sandy was probably awake, he called her. "Hi Sandy, how was sleep?"
"The nightmares are back."
"Mine, too. Since I spent so much time over there, lately, maybe we just need to gradually reduce contact rather than attempt to go cold turkey. We won't be very good on our jobs, if we're sleep deprived; so what would be your thoughts if I suggest we sleep together during the week, and then we can try being apart, again, next weekend?"
"I'm open to it. We need our sleep."
On his way over to Sandy's, Ed stopped at the department store and bought himself a pair of pajamas. He hadn't worn pajamas since he was a kid, but they couldn't sleep in their clothes for a week, and he wasn't about to shock her by sliding in bed naked. When it was time for bed, Ed told Sandy he brought some pajamas, and she deserved to sleep comfortably, also. Both put on pajamas, and then returned to their spooning position. Sleep was restful, again. In the morning, Sandy prepared another nice breakfast. Ed realized he didn't bother to prepare himself a nice breakfast at his home, and he appreciated Sandy's effort to bring a little hominess to his life.
After getting ready for work, in separate bathrooms, Ed said, "Thanks, Sandy. I truly appreciate everything. I'll see you after work."
The sleep seemed to help them catch up faster at work, so, by Wednesday, they were both back to their normal 9-5 routine. Thursday morning, Ed asked Sandy if she'd like to go out to a restaurant for dinner, saying he wanted to thank her for all she had done. When she said she'd love that, they made plans. They met at a restaurant Mandy used to enjoy going to. Ed had mixed feelings about going to that restaurant, but thought the sisters might have similar tastes in food, so decided to go with that. Sandy did enjoy the food, so Ed was glad he chose that place. Communication seemed to be flowing a bit easier, so the evening went well. That night, when they got into bed, Ed kissed the back of Sandy's head before saying "Thank you for the week, and good night."
As planned, Ed returned to his home the next night. He figured a week's worth of good sleep would allow him to sleep at home. Unfortunately, his sleep didn't cooperate, and the nightmares kept him up. About 2am, his phone rang. When he answered it, he heard Sandy crying. "Ed, I'm so sorry for waking you up, but I can't handle these nightmares."
"You mean they've returned for you, also?"
"Yes. I don't think I've been able to sleep half an hour so far tonight."
"Ed, maybe I'm being a baby about this, but would you please come over here?"
"Sure, Sandy. I guess we're in the same boat, so we might as well be there for each other. Ed drove to Sandy's, and they did sleep well the rest of the night.
Over breakfast, Ed said, "Sandy, I have so many mixed feelings flowing through me. I miss Mandy, terribly. You have always been so kind to me, and I am grateful you are here. I see a lot of Mandy in you, but you have your own uniqueness, also. I sense she was probably more playful and impulsive, while you were reliable and consistent. I see value in both directions. I like you, but I feel liking you is cheating on Mandy's memory, so I feel guilty. On the other hand, I know she truly wanted us to be together. I'm not sure how to rectify this internal conflict. I want you to know my conflict is not a negative statement about you. I just find it hard to believe she would be comfortable with me being with you, no matter how hard she worked to push us together. Maybe she didn't want this but felt she had to let it happen. I think it would be easier if I knew whether she felt inner conflict or not."
"Ed, let me tell you about Mandy. She could be headstrong and stubborn. If she didn't like the taste of some vegetable, there was no way you could get her to eat it. She spoke her mind, and you always knew she said nothing she didn't mean. On your first date, I sat home on pins and needles, wondering what the results would be. I wanted her to be happy, but knowing her, she was just as likely to blow you off as to fall in love. When she told me she had fallen in love, I knew it was real. She never played mind games or manipulated anyone. She called a spade a spade. I know what she said to us was truthful, but I've had my own inner conflicts, too. I respected her relationship with you, so never allowed myself to think of you as anything other than her partner. When she planted the seed in my head, I was caught off guard. I also respect you and care for you enough to never want you to do anything that isn't truly what you want. I was truthful when I promised Mandy to do all in my power to keep her love alive and healthy, but it's not in my power to make anyone else do something that person doesn't want to do. I would never be with anyone who was with me out of obligation, and I'm not the type of person who attempts to convince others of my value. What I may see as value might be different from what others see as value."
"Sandy, thanks for sharing. I see things much differently, now, though I'll probably still struggle with a shaky transition. I don't know what can exist between us, but I promise not to put up any barriers, and I promise you my words to you will always be the truth. If you haven't made any plans for today, I'd love to spend the day with you."
"I'd love that, too, Ed."
"How about a hike?"
"Sure. Give me time for a shower, and then we can leave."
The hike was very pleasant, and the awkwardness seemed to melt away as the day progressed. Ed even reached out and held her hand, on occasion. They found themselves talking about the nature that surrounded them rather than Mandy, and even shared a few laughs together. After the hike, Ed took Sandy out to eat. The communication flowed smoothly, and it was late before they realized the time and headed home.
At home, they went to their separate bathrooms, showered and prepared for sleep. When Ed got to the bed, he found Sandy already lying on her side. He slid in next to her and gently turned her to her back. "Sandy, I want to thank you for a very enjoyable day." He then leaned in and planted a tender kiss on her lips.
"I enjoyed the day, too. Good night," said Sandy, as she rolled to her side. Ed snuggled up a little closer than normal and caressed her arm as he held her. After a short period of time passed, Ed became aware of soft sobbing coming from Sandy.
"Sandy, did I say or do something wrong? If so, I'm truly sorry. Please help me to understand what it might be, so I don't repeat it again."
"No," said Sandy, through her tears. "It's not you; it's me. You have been perfect."
"Let's talk about it, Sandy."
Sandy fidgeted with the buttons on her pajama top as she did her best to regain her composure. Finally, she said, "Ed, I'm not Mandy."
"I know you're not Mandy, and I don't expect you to be Mandy."
"I know, Ed, but please hear me out. I am more than five years older than Mandy."
"And I'm almost 15 years older than you."
"Please, Ed, this is hard enough for me to say. Just let me finish. First Natalie, and then Mandy convinced me you were an amazing man. Once I got to know you, I agreed with their assessment. You deserve what works for you. I have gray hair coming in, at 5' 6" I'm 2" taller than Mandy, and I saw her in her bikini. She was fuller and firmer than I'll ever be again. I must admit I felt a wave of jealousy flow through me when I beheld the perfection of her femininity. I just don't want to disappoint you, Ed.... OK, I'm finished."
Ed put his hand on Sandy's shoulder and gently massaged her. "Sandy, I'm far from perfect myself, and the issues you mentioned never even popped into my mind. I view the whole package, not specific parts. I've always been one to look for opportunities rather than obstacles. Why focus on what isn't when there is so much to enjoy that already exists? I've never seen you as flawed. I've seen you as a very sensitive, caring and respectful person. You have a certain sweetness about you that draws me closer. I look forward to enjoying you, not any preconceived notions you may have about what you think I should be attracted to. Sandy, please look at me." Ed gave a slight pull on Sandy's shoulder, and she turned onto her back, the buttons on her pajamas totally undone and her top wide open.
Staring straight at the ceiling, she said, "Ed, I'm not going to pretend or hide anything. If you choose to be with me, I want it to be with a full understanding of what you're buying into."
Ed reached out and placed his hand gently on Sandy's slender belly. "Nice smooth skin," he said. He continued his exploration, as Sandy continued to stare at the ceiling. As his hand wandered over her abdomen, he could see her muscles contract whenever he made contact with a sensitive trigger. He ran his hand up her side to her neck and then along her clavicle. He continued his gentle caressing. Running his fingers down between her breasts, a gasp escaped from her lips. He ran his fingers slowly around the base of a breast. "I like this transition from the firmness of your ribcage to the soft give of your breast." Sandy's teeth started to chatter, so she clenched her teeth tightly. "What I find to be most sensual and erotic is a woman's responsiveness. Let me see how responsive these breasts are." Ed leaned over and started to kiss various parts of Sandy's breasts. He could tell she was having difficulty fighting her responses. Her nipples were hard and protruded ½" from the dome of her breasts. He finally covered a nipple with his mouth and began to suckle. She could no longer hold back her growing symphony.
Rolling up rapidly on her side, Sandy said, "That's not fair, Ed. I can't help if I have sensitive breasts."
"And a sensitive belly, and a sensitive neck, and I'm sure there are many more special places that trigger your lovely sensual sounds. I can't help if I love sensitivity."
"But what about how they look?"
"I think you are very pretty, Sandy. Do you think I'd be interested in a teenager, just to get a firm body? I don't have the skin tone I used to have, either, and that's not the only thing that isn't as firm as it used to be."
"But men get distinguished as they age, while women just get old."
"Sandy, you're as old as you feel, and if you allow yourself to enjoy playfulness, you'll start aging backward. I know I am a lot younger today than I was when I met Mandy. Let's get younger together."
"But what happens when the newness wears off and you lose interest in me?"
"That's when you kick me to the street and find a younger buck who has more to offer."
"But I want you, Ed."
"And I want you, Sandy, not just because you're my connection to Mandy, but because I truly like what I see in you."
"Then let me tell you the truth; I hate sleeping in pajamas. They're too binding."
"I agree. I just bought these last week, and I was a kid the last time I wore pajamas."
"Then, let's get rid of them and stop hiding. If you're going to like what you see, then you better have a clear view of what there is to see." She stood up on the bed, flung her top to the floor, slid her bottoms down and then kicked them over her top. She then proceeded to unbutton and remove Ed's top, before sliding his bottoms off his legs. Looking at his erection, while clutching her own breasts, she said, "That seems firm enough for me, if these are firm enough for you."
"How about coming down here and letting me study them a bit more. Now tell me, how many years do I have before I need to make up my mind?"
"Very funny, mister. I thought you wanted to get some sleep."
"One thing you'll discover about me is I always keep my priorities straight... so get down here and let me get to my priority." A smile formed on her face. "Now, that's what I call a well-dressed woman. Did you know the sexiest thing a woman can wear is a smile? And yours tells me I'm going to be a very happy man. I only hope I'm capable of keeping that smile there."
"If that's your biggest worry, then life is going to be pretty smooth sailing."
"Well, let me see. You're pretty, you're smooth, and, if I put my mind to it, I bet I can find some interesting slick places to sail on."
"You keep your head there, and you'll never get any sleep."
"If I can keep my head there, who cares about sleep?"
Realizing she'd never be able to one up him with banter, she fell to the bed and quickly found herself in Ed's arms. Their skin contact felt so nice, so comfortable, and yet also very familiar. Something told them this is where they belonged. They just held each other, getting used to the feel. Ed said, "Sandy, I need to know something. Do you offer yourself to me because of your promise to Mandy or because you desire to be with me?"
"Ed, something inside me prevents me from being anything but totally truthful with you. To answer your question, let me give you an analogy. Picture a nursing mother. When she eats, does she do so to nurture herself or her child? Sometimes things become so enmeshed they become one and the same. Yes, Ed, I do feel I owe it to my sister to allow her love to continue, but I can't imagine anyone else I'd prefer doing it with, than you. I admire you, respect you, and feel very attracted to you, but I also observed how happy Mandy was with you, and I want to taste that happiness, for me. When you hold me, I find the familiarity of Mandy, but also the uniqueness of you. Do I have the ability to choose which draws me more? Will knowing that change my desire for you or how I'll act on that desire? Ed, I don't believe we can extricate Mandy out of our beings or our relationship. Maybe part of making love to each other will be our making love to her. Though I may have been jealous of her perfect body, I'm not jealous of the love you feel for her or shared with her. You can't imagine how happy I felt knowing her final days were spent lost in love with you. I didn't want there to be any limits to the love she was feeling. If you happen to call out her name, while loving me, I'll join in that praise, for I love her just as much. That won't take anything away from us, but add a different dimension to our relationship. We will nurture a threesome between the two of us, and that will make our relationship that much stronger, more special and valuable to me. I want you to continue to love Mandy, even using my body to express that love, as I may sometimes need to love her through your body. I hope my awkward words help you to understand me better, and also answer your question."
"Thank you, Sandy. Not only did your words give me a deeper understanding of you, but they also helped me to get a deeper understanding of what is going on inside of me. You seem to understand my mixed emotions, both guilt and desire."
"Ed, when you feel guilt, please feel free to love Mandy through me, because you know she resides within me, just as I know she resides within you. Knowing the strength of your feelings for her only reassures me of the value I gain by having you choose me to love. I know you can't love superficially, neither Mandy nor me. By loving both Mandy and me through my body, aren't I ending up getting twice the love? I only hope I'm up to the task of giving you the love of two women who adore you."
"Sandy, with Mandy, we didn't have time to take things slowly. We had to throw all caution to the wind and just trust each other. Luckily, it worked for us, but long-term relationships are more stable over time if they are built on solid foundations. To build that foundation, we can't rush anything. Even if we want to do something, we need to wait till we are truly ready for it. I would hate to do something tonight, based on lust, only to find you have doubts, concerns or insecurities, tomorrow. I don't want you to ever have second thoughts about anything we choose to share. Tonight, let's limit our physical intimacy to cuddling, caressing and kissing."