Wife and Ex-Wife Ch. 05

Things did quiet down over the next few months, as Patrick and Nina seemed to get into a rhythm that worked well for them—so much so that Patrick gave up his apartment and moved his remaining belongings into Nina's house. (Most of his furniture, which wasn't as nice as Nina's, was sold or given to various charities.) Summer turned into fall, which turned into winter; although Seattle really doesn't have a winter, at least as people in other parts of the country would judge. December was, as usual, cold and rainy, but the comfort that both of them felt in each other's company made the most inclement of weather irrelevant.

"No, what?" he said, absently stroking her head.

"I really don't know. I think FDR gave his 'day of infamy' speech, but that's all I can think of."

"Anniversary?" he said skeptically.

"Oh," he said, abashed. "Yes, I guess it was."

"Sorry," he said. Then, brightening: "Well, we should celebrate, don't you think?"

"How about that French restaurant you like so much near Pike Place Market?"

"Nothing too good for my girl."

"Well, calling you 'my woman' isn't any better."

"So there you are."

"I'll pick you up at seven," he said with lumbering humor.

And so they went to bed.

But Nina was unwontedly quiet throughout the meal, and Patrick—never a great conversationalist at the best of times—had real difficulty getting her to say more than a few words. Every now and then he caught her watching him with alarm, almost with fear, out of the corner of her eye, and it seemed her breath at times became irregular, if the heaving of her chest was any indication. Was Nina subject to panic attacks? He recognized that she was—or at least could be on occasion—a bundle of nerves, but her behavior at the restaurant was unprecedented.

"What's the matter, dear?"

But she stopped short when Patrick said sharply, "Nina, talk to me. Don't run away."

"Tell me, please," he said, sitting next to her but not touching her. "Something's been bothering you all evening."

"Let's get married," she said in a rush.

His response both angered and hurt her. "I want to get married!" she whined. "You say you love me. So prove it by marrying me!"

She was looking up at him, daring him to say something—anything. He was glancing around the room at everything but her, and there were times when Nina thought he might tear out fistfuls of his hair in frustration.

At last he turned to gaze at her. It pained Nina that his expression was a dreadful mix of fear and anger. But he refused to speak; he opened his mouth a few times, rather like a fish in a tank, but no words came out.

"Well, it's true, isn't it?" he finally said, almost shouting.

The very utterance of those final words had a grievous effect on Nina. Her face crumpled as if someone had punched her in the stomach, and she said disconsolately, "I want to be your wife. There's nothing I want more in this world than that. It would mean so much to me. Don't you understand that?" She looked up at him, tears now flowing.

"Is that what you think is happening?" she said accusingly. "You're not going to tell me you've never thought about it."

"I have too. From almost the day we met."

"It's true. I let you have my body that first day—practically the first hour after we met."

"And don't tell me that was 'just sex'! If it was, then I don't know what we're even doing together. It wasn't just sex. I knew—and I think you did too—that we were a couple even then."

"No, it doesn't," she said patiently, as if explaining an elementary problem in arithmetic to a dull-witted schoolboy. "Maybe you're one of those guys who think that marriage is just 'a piece of paper.' It's not that. It's an affirmation to the world that we've committed ourselves to each other—permanently, in an ideal world, but at least for the long term. God, Patrick! You don't need to tell me, of all people, that all marriages don't work out. But there is a difference between being a 'wife' and being a 'girlfriend.' And don't tell me I've just been brainwashed by society into thinking that. There's way more to it than that."

"Scared? Scared of what?"

"Amelia?" she said, almost scornfully. "What's this got to do with her?"

"It's not that."

"It's not so silly."

She rose stiffly from the couch and approached him. Patrick, incredibly, fell to his knees before her as she came up to him, and he flung his arms around her waist as he pressed his face into her groin.

He looked up at her, and for the first time since this discussion had begun he looked fleetingly hopeful. "That would be okay with you?"

"All right," he said, holding her more tightly, his hands inevitably slipping to her bottom. She was wearing a thick skirt, but she could still feel his hands kneading her buttocks. "Let's do it that way. Maybe we can marry next—"

"Um, I was going to say summer."

She urged him to stand up, then have him a long kiss on the mouth. Separating, she said, "Can we go to the bedroom now?"

Nina undressed quietly in one corner of the bedroom while Patrick disrobed in another corner. But when she turned around to look at him, she was a tad crestfallen to see he wasn't fully erect.

"Sure," he said.

"Darling, I'm really tired," he said, and Nina immediately divined his meaning: You're emotionally drained by what just happened. Well, dear fiancé of mine, so am I!

But somehow or other, his cock ended up sliding into her. She gasped, but otherwise made no move; nor did he. They lay there, her breasts pressing against his chest (she loved that feeling, and so did he), both of them relishing the inexpressible sense of unity that comes from coitus. She kissed his face and neck a bit, but that was all; and he made no attempt to thrust into her, although he did place a warm hand on her bottom. Somehow they sensed that the fusion of their bodies and their souls had reached a new pinnacle in this strangely motionless copulation.

At last his softening member fell wetly out of her. She slid off of him and arranged herself on her side of the bed.

"You too."

"I love you too, Nina."

Nina persuaded Patrick to attend her bank's Christmas party a few days later. She deliberately held off announcing her engagement to Teresa or anyone else—making particularly sure to hide the small but exquisite engagement ring that Patrick had bought for her the day after their tense conversation. Then, only a few hours before the party was to begin, Nina slipped the ring onto her finger and brandished it to all and sundry. There were predictable squeals of excitement and congratulations from the mostly female staff at the bank, although Teresa wasn't one of those who joined in with any great enthusiasm.

They had met several times before, and Patrick already felt familiar in her company. But now she looked at him sharply—in sympathy but also with a bit of apprehension.

As he looked over to where Nina was chattering away a mile a minute to anyone who would listen, he shrugged and said, "I'm not sure I do. But Nina can be very persuasive."

"I suppose," he said. "Anyway, I guess I can always change my mind before next summer rolls around."

"I know that," he said flatly. "That's why I'm probably just going to go ahead and bite the bullet. I just don't seem to be able to say no to her."

"Oh, it's not that." He gazed intently on Teresa. "You must know I love her dearly—more than I've loved anyone else in my life."

"And she—well, she seems pretty smitten on me too."

"What do you mean by that? You don't think there's anything unhealthy in her feelings for me, do you?"

Patrick frowned—not in anger or resentment, but in thought. "I kind of see what you mean, but I think that's a little strong."

"I'm surprised she isn't more afraid—" He stopped abruptly.

"Afraid . . . of betrayal," he finished in a whisper. "Not that I'd ever do that," he added quickly and loudly. "I'd cut off my own arm before hurting her in any way. But who knows what the future will bring?"

"Well," he said with a sigh, "I'm going to try to make the best of it. If you ever find me doing anything wrong where Nina's concerned, just give me a swift kick in the pants."

A week or so later, Nina made a surprising suggestion. As they were lounging in bed one sleepy Sunday morning, she said, while tracing circles on his bare chest:

Patrick raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. After a lifetime in Seattle, Nina's mother, Linda, had finally moved out of the city and into a smaller place—a townhouse in Lake Stevens, a suburb at least an hour's drive north of Seattle. Although they had visited her once or twice, Patrick got the impression that Nina missed having her mother around close by, as she had been for nearly the whole of Nina's life.

"Why not? She has plenty of room. At least, there's a nice guest room with a bed big enough for the two of us. Not that we want to have any shenanigans in that bed, mind you!"

"I'll take that under advisement," Nina said drily.

As the couple arrived at her townhouse—in a development for "elderly" people, although at fifty-nine Linda didn't, in Patrick's mind, qualify as really suited for such a place—Linda greeted them with open arms. But behind the superficial warmth of her greeting there seemed to lurk a melancholy, and even a kind of dread, in the corner of her eyes.

It was during a cuddling session on the evening of December 7 that Nina said into Patrick's chest, "Do you know what tomorrow is?"

She looked up at him, seemingly grieved. "You really don't know?"

She made a moue of disappointment. "It's our six-month anniversary!"

She plopped herself on his body as he lay on his back. "It was six months ago when we first met! Don't you remember?"

" Now you remember!" she said sourly.

"That would be a good idea," she said, her voice heavy with sarcasm.

She smiled at that. "Gee, that's pretty expensive."

"Is that what I am—your 'girl'?"

"No, it's much worse."

She thought to herself: There are other things you can call me—maybe in due course of time. But she said: "Well, that sounds great. It's a date."

"You do that," she said tartly.

Work for both of them—it was a Friday—was heavy, and Patrick made sure to make a reservation at the place, which was quite small and likely to get filled up on a night when many couples wanted to go out. The meal was as good as advertised: the restaurant was making a big deal out of offering cassoulet (ironically, a peasant dish, but one that the restaurant charged a pretty penny for), and both of them ordered it and enjoyed it hugely. A shared appetizer of brie and crackers and a dessert of chocolate mousse bracketed that entrée, and Patrick made a point of not looking very closely at the bill as he paid it with a credit card.

He didn't feel it prudent to question her about her state of mind until they got home. But, almost as soon as they had taken their coats off, he said softly but emphatically:

She gave him another look of apprehension and only mumbled, "Nothing, darling. Nothing." She started heading toward the kitchen for some unknown errand.

Even from a distance of more than ten feet, and with her back turned to him, he could hear her swallow painfully. With infinitesimal slowness she turned around and shuffled back in his direction, like a scolded schoolgirl. She sat primly on the couch, her hands in her lap.

She gave him a look so plangently sad that his heart was wrung. He thought she was going to burst into tears. "Nina—" he began.

The blood drained from his face. "Wh-what?" he said weakly.

He leaped up from the couch and started pacing around the room. Nina couldn't help noticing that he eyed the front door anxiously—or perhaps eagerly. Well, boyo, you've given up your precious apartment—there's nowhere you can fly to!

"Patrick, please tell me what you feel," she said.

"I know what you're going to say," she said quietly. "You think it's too soon. It's 'premature.' 'We're not ready.' Something like that?"

"It's not true," she said in that same quiet tone. "Six months is plenty of time for us to know whether we can make a go of it as husband and wife."

Patrick should have rushed to her side to comfort her, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to do that. "Nina—Nina, my God!" Now he really was clutching his head with his hands, as if preparing to tear out his hair. "This is not just something you rush into. It—"

"Of course I've thought about it."

"Oh, you can't be serious!"

"But—"

"But what difference does it make?" he said desperately. "Who cares if we're married or living together? It amounts to the same thing, doesn't it?"

Each sentence that Nina uttered seemed to strike Patrick like a blow, and he actually backed up toward a window as if hoping he could jump out of it. Almost to her horror, his face now crumpled in misery as he said, "Nina, I'm scared."

It was a long time before he said, "Amelia—"

Then enlightenment dawned. "Omigod, Patrick, don't tell me you think history's going to repeat itself if you marry me! You're too smart for that. I'm not Amelia—I'm my own person! Am I really like her in any way aside from the brute fact that I'm a woman? Are you never going to marry, just out of fear that the marriage will end the way it did before?"

"Then what is it? That silly old adage 'once bitten, twice shy'?"

"It is!— at least, in some contexts. Things aren't going to be the same as it was with you and her. We're different people— you're a different person. You're years older, more mature, more tolerant (I hope). We can make it work."

"Look, Patrick," she said, stroking his head gently, "I don't want to have an argument about this. I don't want to badger you into marrying me! That's ridiculous. Maybe . . . maybe we can say we're engaged? We can wait a while before we actually get married."

"Of course! As long as I can consider myself engaged, that would be fine with me."

"Spring?" she said.

"Fine—summer it is."

He nodded fractionally, and they both made their way upstairs.

"Shall we just snuggle for a bit?" she said.

They slipped into bed. Although naked, they both felt they were two little children hugging each other for warmth on a chilly winter night. After some minutes Nina moved directly on top of Patrick. He was still not entirely hard, but Nina had surrounded his member with her thighs, and that eventually turned the trick.

"You don't need to do anything," she said.

It must have been at least fifteen minutes when the increasingly intense sensation finally brought Nina to climax. As she sighed and moaned quietly into Patrick's neck, her vagina unconsciously squeezed his member; and that was enough to bring him to orgasm, as his own sighs right into Nina's ear attested. They remained fused for some minutes, now finding great meaning in the melding of their fluids as their bodies remained pressed together.

"Good night, dear," she said. "Sleep well."

"I love you, Patrick."

*

Because the party was on a Tuesday, beginning around 4 p.m., Patrick had to leave his own office a little early to get there on time. He was understandably mobbed by a flock of women when he entered the bank, as they clustered around him like hens making a fuss over a particularly appealing rooster. But as the party got underway and Nina remained the center of attention, Teresa pulled Patrick aside.

"I hope you know what you're doing, guy," she said.

"Are you really ready for this kind of commitment, given what both of you have gone through in the past?"

"You do that, and you'll have one hell of an angry woman to deal with!" Teresa said emphatically.

"For a newly minted fiancé, you sound singularly unenthusiastic."

"Yes," Teresa said softly, "I think you do."

"That's not quite the word I would have used."

"No, I wouldn't say that, exactly. Please don't take this the wrong way, but she does seem a little—obsessed."

"Okay, maybe it is. But I think Nina is terrified of being alone. I'm not saying she doesn't love you; of course she does. But she's really trying to hold on to you and never let go."

"Afraid of what?" Teresa said, although she had a sense of what Patrick was trying to say.

"Who knows, indeed?" Teresa said.

"I'll do that."

"Can we go visit my mom over Christmas?"

"Well, sure," he said. "You're saying you actually want to stay at her house?"

"In that case," Patrick said, "we'd better stay only a few days. I don't think I can keep my hands off of you longer than that."

And so it was arranged: they'd arrive two days before Christmas and stay about four nights. Linda was thrilled at the prospect, but Patrick was less than pleased. While he liked Nina's mother during the brief times he had spent with her, she did seem to be something of a sad sack, still grieving over that husband of hers who had died so unexpectedly more than twenty years ago.