When we got married, my husband Rick was twenty-eight and I was twenty. I knew that the eight-year age gap wouldn’t make any difference a few years down the road. Not even a single week after we had gotten married, though, it still made me blush when an older woman I hadn’t even met called attention to it.
“Seems like you two would be a good fit for our little town,” she said, smiling in a way that seemed both kind and somehow knowing, “with that age difference.”
Rick and I were two days into our brief honeymoon to the Adirondacks, after getting married in my home town, a little suburb outside Trenton, New Jersey. Tonight was our last night at the beautiful mountain lodge.
“Really?” Rick asked, from where he sat next to me on the wicker sofa. We had come out to the porch of the lodge to enjoy the sunset and of course to cuddle a little, and found this older—well, older in my twenty-year-old eyes, though I thought at first they were really probably in their late thirties—couple already there on the next couch over from the one we chose.
The couches faced each other across a coffee table, so I could see that he had his arm around her in an affectionate embrace, and their hands were joined atop her crossed knees. I didn’t see anything overtly sexy about their pose at all, but somehow I felt like their so clearly familiar intimacy put Rick and my brand new marital passion to shame.
Silence fell for a moment as we all looked west over the next ridge, where the sun had just touched the mountains and the sky had gone a spectacular cotton-candy pink.
“That probably sounds odd to you,” the man on the other couch said. “I’m guessing you don’t know that there are towns where couples like us feel particularly at home.”
I looked over at the woman, who smiled back at me. Her comment about our age difference had literally been the first thing she had said to us. I wondered if she had meant to embarrass me or if she just had a very awkward way of speaking to people she had just met. I felt the warmth rise in my cheeks again, and I decided to get out ahead of it.
“I definitely didn’t know that,” I said, looking at the man. “I’m not even sure what you mean.”
“Well,” he said, his voice very casual. “You probably noticed that I’m about ten years older than my lovely bride April here. I’m Scott, by the way.”
My gaze flicked from Scott to April and back. I had certainly noticed a gap, but now I saw how dramatic it was: Scott had started to grow gray at the temples while April didn’t seem much older than me.
“Nice to meet you, Scott,” Rick said, tightening his arm around my waist as if he could feel how I’d just tensed up—though I had no idea why I should. “I’m Rick and this is Mandy. We just got married a couple days ago.”
April giggled. “We can tell,” she said. “You two were all over each other at dinner yesterday evening.”
I felt my blush get even hotter. Scott spoke a little sharply.
“April, that’s unkind.”
I watched him turn to look into her eyes as she refocused from me to look up at her husband. To my astonishment, I saw that April’s own cheeks had turned red. Scott’s expression had something in it that made my heart race, something I had never seen in real life before. A very old-fashioned look—a look that said April would have to face the consequences of giggling at the newlyweds, sometime later this evening.
She turned back to me. “I’m sorry, Mandy,” she said quietly, her voice seeming genuinely contrite.
I had been sitting almost in Rick’s lap, my legs over his. Self-consciously I pulled away, suddenly wondering what my mother would think if she could see how I had entwined my body with my husband’s here in public on the lodge’s porch—or, worse, last night when I had let our passion run away with us a bit, not thinking anyone could see. Rick had put his hand up under my skirt and touched me in the still-slightly-sore place where he had made a woman of me only two nights before. I hadn’t stopped him, the way—I knew well from my upbringing—even a married woman should do.
I had turned my eyes toward the mountains as I disentangled myself from Rick, who obligingly rearranged his own position to sit next to me with his arm around my shoulders. I didn’t really want to see what Scott and April thought of my maneuver—and yet somehow I needed to. I glanced over, and I saw Scott regarding me with a very serious, assessing kind of expression.
He turned his attention to my husband. “Are you going to let her get away like that, Rick?” he asked. “Young couple like you, you should be all over each other. I’m pretty sure April has given you the wrong impression of us—and, I guess, of our town too, since we brought it up.”
I had the uncomfortable feeling that Scott had decided to evaluate us, for some reason I couldn’t fathom. I turned toward the sun, now halfway down, and hoped the ruddy light of its setting and the gathering twilight would hide the pink I could feel mounting in my fair-skinned cheeks.
Should we be all over each other? Unwittingly—or so I thought, then, before we got to know Scott and April better—this man had touched a sore spot in my mind and my heart. I chewed on my lower lip as I realized how that figurative soreness echoed the soreness between my thighs, which had vanished by this morning.
It had vanished, and I had felt fine down there this morning, and yet…
Yet I had lied to Rick… my husband… the one person in the world with whom I should be completely honest. I had told him, just as I had done the previous night, after dinner and the morning after our wedding night, that I didn’t feel ready, down there between my legs, to try again, just yet.
Sorer in my mind, I thought ruefully. It hurts more there, inside my head because it doesn’t really hurt on the outside.
Rick’s hand felt good on my shoulder. My legs had felt good, placed across his. I liked to cuddle. I had liked it from the very beginning, when my handsome boyfriend hugged and kissed me in his car, and sometimes in his bedroom in the apartment he had shared with two other guys while he saved up for a house.
I thought of that house, still only a dream although we could definitely afford to buy something small now, especially if we decided to move to one of the mega-corp–subsidized towns that had started to attract a lot of growth. In that house, Rick and I would sleep in the same bed. We had to, right? I chewed my lip a little harder, thinking about it. I should want to sleep in the same bed as my husband, shouldn’t I?
Really I wanted to cuddle with him all the time. I loved the way the warmth seemed to build in my body when he had his arms around me, and how I felt so safe inside them. Working his way up from junior lawnmower to run his own landscaping and snowplow business, Rick had developed serious muscles, and although it made me blush a little, I did enjoy having an older husband with such a powerful body. The dark hair and eyes that came with his Greek heritage complemented my Germanic blonde hair and blue eyes magnificently—as my mother had never seemed to tire of saying.
And Rick had proven himself so patient, too, waiting for ‘real’ physical intimacy, as the world understood it. Really I felt like, for me, real intimacy was what happened when we cuddled on a couch, rather than what had happened the few times Rick had convinced me to lie down with him in his bedroom.
Let alone what had happened on our wedding night and then—so far—not again on our honeymoon.
Me, under the covers, dutifully spreading my legs the way the little book my mom had given me had instructed. The strange feeling of not having panties on under my pretty white cotton nightgown, because the book said that a wife should leave them off on nights when she expected her husband to want ‘to be intimate with her.’
Rick, coming out of the bathroom naked, to my shock. My bridegroom, silhouetted against the light flooding from the doorway—and a moment, just a moment, when he turned a little and I saw something long and rigid jutting from his lap. Me, turning away, my cheeks burning hot, saying in as calm a voice as I could manage, “Could you turn the bathroom light off, babe?”
A pause, though Rick stood right there next to the light switch. I had bitten my lip, wondering suddenly whether he might say no—and wondering even more intensely what I would do, if he did refuse to turn off the light… if my husband told me that he wanted to see his bride naked… that far from turning off the bathroom light, he would turn on more lights in the hotel room… would take the covers away and make me raise my nightgown so he could see all the private places that belonged to him as of today, and henceforth forever.
To have. To hold.
My mind had whispered, my insides fluttering, To fuck.
One of the bad words. The words a good girl like me knows, but may never say.
The light, switching off with a click. A sigh of relief, let out through my nose, and a mixture with that relief of another emotion I refused to name, or yield to.
Rick, climbing into bed. Embracing me awkwardly from the side. Me, keeping my legs spread because I knew I had to. I loved my new husband… would love him forever. I would get used to intimacy because I knew—and the little book made crystal clear—he had a right to expect it. He would claim that right frequently, during the first years of our marriage, but then less and less, it seemed.
His hardness against my thigh as he hugged me. A thrill of shame at the feeling—the knowledge that my husband’s muscular body lay unclothed next to me in the bed… that his… my mind whispered this word, too… that his naked penis had just touched me.
Him rubbing it there a little. A little sound in my throat that I couldn’t help… alarm and, though it hurt to remember it… disgust.
Rick freezing, as if at the sound. A moment’s silence, my heart thudding hard in my chest.
“Ready, Dee?” he had asked softly, his voice warm but to my distress a little uncertain. Dee: his pet name for me, the second syllable of Mandy. My brain, fixating there as a way to avoid thinking about what had to happen now.
“Yes,” I had murmured. Then, “I love you.” As if to apologize before the fact for what I felt absolutely certain would disappoint him.
Rick, kissing me gently. His hand on my cheek to turn my face toward him, and another strange little thrill at the feeling of him directing me in that small way, guiding my lips toward his. For a moment, the thought that maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult. His hand down between my legs, stroking gently, the way I had let him do inside my panties once or twice during our courtship.
I had known from the little book, though, what it meant: Rick meant to get me ready, there, for himself. For his… thing. To possess me with its frightening rigidity, and to claim me that way as his bride.
“Don’t… please,” I had whispered, breaking the kiss. “I’m… I’m ready.” Ready to get it over with.
He had climbed on top of me and raised my nightgown to my waist. A hot blush, over my whole body even though we lay under the covers in the dark. I had closed my eyes and gritted my teeth to keep from crying out with the pain while my bridegroom deflowered me, rising high over me on his strong arms and thrusting hard into my no longer virginal vagina. I had pictured him looking down at me in the dark, not seeing the tears that leaked from the corners of my eyes and down my cheeks.
I hadn’t let him do it again. I had told him, when he had asked, gently, in the morning, if I felt ready to be intimate again, that I was a little sore.
“Can you wait, babe?” I had asked, looking into his dark eyes and loving him despite feeling like I couldn’t tell him the truth.
“Sure,” Rick had said. “You want to go for a hike?”
The cuddling, in the woods and at the dinner table, still felt nice but also didn’t seem to be the same as before. Rick’s hands went to places they hadn’t, or at least not very often, when we were courting. At dinner, as I shamefacedly realized April must have seen, I had out of desperation to please him, let him put his hand up under my skirt and touch my panties.
Looking at Scott and replaying his words in my head, about Rick not letting me get away with pulling apart from him, that moment at the dinner table came so vividly back into my memory that I wanted to hide my face in my hands. With half a glass of wine warming my petite body, I hadn’t pushed my husband’s hand away. I had, I remembered with a new surge of heat up the back of my neck, felt as if I might push my hips toward his moving hand, rather than pull them away as I should have.
But these people couldn’t have seen that, I realized suddenly; it had all happened under the tablecloth, hadn’t it? I tried to calm myself; they hadn’t seen Rick’s hand—they had only seen him kissing me there at the dinner table, while he took a husband’s liberties with his bride’s body.
I turned to look at the mountains. Only a sliver of red sun remained above the ridge. I tried to sort out all the confused thoughts and feelings this strange conversation had called up.
It’s just… it’s just words, I told myself. Just the kind of thing older couples say to younger ones. Everyone knows what happens on a honeymoon… everyone teases a bride about it.
Because everyone knows that even if she was a virgin bride like me, her husband’s tender touch has started to awaken her… he’s made a woman of her at last, and on their honeymoon, he’ll teach her more, get her used to intimacy with him… to his touch, wherever he wishes to put his hands.
Scott and April didn’t know—even Rick didn’t know. Something had gone wrong with me—but I wouldn’t let it stop us from having a wonderful life together. I would let Rick have intimacy with me tonight… and tomorrow, too. I made up my mind. All I had to do was lie there.
Hoping to convey to my wonderful husband that he would ‘get lucky’ that night and hoping to show Scott that I hadn’t really tried to get away from Rick’s embrace, I snuggled closer under his arm. For a moment I had the old cuddling feeling, of being wrapped in his strong limbs, protected from the world.
“No,” I told Scott, smiling as easily as I could and even trying to slip a bit of mischief into my expression. “He’s not going to let me get away.”
“Oho!” Scott said. “Rick, my boy, you’d better take her back to your room right away.”
My composure vanished, and I had to look away again as my cheeks went hotter than the sun. The urge to pull away from Rick—to run away, even, out into the wilderness until I forgot all about this unexpectedly difficult part of marriage—swelled in my chest.
“Look at you, blushing bride,” April said, her voice admiring and a little wistful. “The two of you are as pretty as a picture.”
“Thanks,” Rick said. His arm tightened a little around my shoulders, and I had an instant of warmth toward him that pushed away the embarrassment April and Scott had caused. “We’re actually looking for a place to settle down and start a family. What’s the name of your town, Scott?”
I felt my face threaten to frown. The idea of living near these people didn’t have any appeal to me, whether or not the age gap between my husband and me made us particularly well suited for their town. Indeed, at this moment I wanted to live somewhere no one would notice that Rick had eight years on me, and suppose—correctly, I knew, from what Rick had told me—that he had had intimacy with several women before he had chosen me.
I had stopped him before he could give any details. I had said it didn’t matter. Now, to my dismay, it seemed to matter a great deal.
“Rocky Falls,” Scott said, smiling. “Just your typical midwestern town. Subsidized, of course, the way a nice town needs to be these days.”
“By?” Rick asked.
“Selecta,” the older man answered, nodding. “So it’s a New Modesty town, technically.”
I felt my mouth twitch to the side in mild disapproval. Truthfully, I didn’t know very much about the New Modesty except what my parents had told me. They had approved of the program’s traditional values, and so I—in mild rebellion—didn’t.
Mild rebellion represented all the defiance I had had the ability to muster, living in my parents’ home rent-free while I worked at a café and saved money. From time to time my mom had mentioned the New Modesty to me as a possible path to an adult life, since I hadn’t really met anyone since graduating from high school and entering the working world.
Then Rick had arrived, and my folks had liked him, and no one had mentioned the New Modesty again. I hadn’t felt any curiosity, either; I supposed I had traditional values, wanting to make a loving home for my family the way my mother had for my dad and me. I didn’t want to fight with my daughter, though, the way my mom had done with me, when she wanted to get her ears pierced or to wear jeans on a day other than Saturday.
Really, I guess I hadn’t thought very hard about values—and I didn’t know why I should have to. I had Rick. I didn’t intend to let him make all the decisions, of course, the way my dad had seemed to make all the decisions for my family growing up. I meant to make up my own mind and even maybe vote for someone different from whoever Rick voted for. But a division of labor made all the sense in the world, I told myself. My mom had taught me to cook and to clean, and Rick had worked his way up to a comfortable income and the ability to be his own boss and make his own schedule. Keeping house for him in the traditional way, as old-fashioned as it sounded, seemed to me a very happy fate, since Rick had shown himself such an agreeable and caring partner.
He would never be interested in moving to a New Modesty town. Would he?
“Technically?” Rick asked. His voice seemed to have more curiosity in its tone than I had expected—or found to my liking. As if to confirm that something disquieting had arisen in him, he added, “I’m intrigued.”
Scott smiled enigmatically—as if he didn’t feel he could tell us everything about Rocky Falls, because of our youth, maybe, or because we hadn’t yet shown ourselves worthy of membership of some circle of initiates. I found the expression both irritating and, to my dismay, enticing.
“Of course you are,” Scott said. “Rocky Falls is a very intriguing place. The thing about the New Modesty, as you may know, is that Selecta gives local administrations a lot of freedom in how to implement the basic guidelines—you know, the traditional values stuff. In Rocky Falls that means that what happens in marriages like April and mine—and, if, say, you folks decided to settle down there, in a marriage like yours, where there’s a natural inclination toward the husband’s leadership role…”
I had just been thinking, only moments before, about how happy I felt to have found a guy who would take the lead in bringing home a nice big income. Hadn’t I? And yet I could feel how deeply my forehead had just creased at this older man’s supposition that Rick had—should have—a ‘leadership role’ in our relationship.
Scott had trailed off, and I realized with a new flush of heat to my face that it might have to do with me. As he spoke I had fixed my attention on the fading sunset, but when I turned back to him I saw that he was indeed looking at me, the ironic twist of his smile demonstrating, I thought with an anxious flip of my stomach, much too much comprehension of what lay hidden behind my eyes.
He went on, then, turning his attention to Rick, who didn’t seem to have noticed the pause.
“Well, in our town husbands guide their wives in certain particular ways that set us apart. That probably seems mysterious, but it’s all I can say in mixed company. If you’re interested, there’s a program you two could apply for to come and stay for a week in Rocky Falls and see what you think.”
I had turned back toward the mountains. The last light had nearly fled from the sky, so at least Scott and April—and Rick, even—couldn’t see the expression on my face, or, above all, the blazing hot blush in my cheeks.
What could Scott possibly mean? About the particular ways that he couldn’t talk about with women present? At least I knew Rick must feel as repelled as I did by the man’s arrogant idea that we must be like him and his wife because Rick had a few years on me.
Self-consciously I pulled away from Rick a little, not sure whether I wanted to show Scott that my husband and I didn’t have the same kind of ‘husband-led’ relationship he and April did, or I wanted to show Rick that he shouldn’t get any ideas from what this strange near-stranger had said. I froze as I felt my own husband, as if inspired by the other man’s insane talk about the virtues of his home town, tighten his grip around my shoulders rather than letting me go.
I absolutely did not want to look at the older couple on the other couch, and yet I did. I couldn’t tell whether Scott and April had noticed what had just happened—the little conflict that had just arisen between the newlyweds. I had the very uncomfortable feeling, though, that Scott didn’t miss much. When he spoke again, though, his voice sounded casual.
“Well, darling wife,” he said, looking over at April, “we’d best get along. You know what you’ve got coming before dinner.”
The conflict awoke in my mind again: one part of me demanding that I under no circumstances look at April’s reaction to what her husband had just said, another forcing me to turn my eyes to the wife’s face—and emphatically demonstrating its strength in the way I did look, unwillingly fascinated.
She had blushed deeply, and she had looked down at her hands, folded underneath Scott’s atop her knee.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
As Scott started to rise, I looked over at Rick, and found him returning my gaze. I swallowed very hard, trying to push down all the strange, conflicting emotions that had sprung up at the mortifying little scene. I expected my husband’s face to reflect the same embarrassment I felt at… at whatever this was that we had no choice but to witness between Scott and April.
Instead, I found him regarding me pensively, as if trying to figure something out. I frowned, but before I could make sure I had understood his expression correctly, Rick had turned back to the other couple.
“Nice to meet you,” he said. “Hope we’ll see you again.”
“Was that not the strangest conversation you’ve ever had?” I asked Rick once we had gotten back to our lovely room—not the honeymoon suite, but quite spacious and even grand-seeming to a girl who had grown up in the ever more feebly struggling middle class.
“Well…” Rick said.
Something in that monosyllable made my jaw go slack. I turned to face him as we stood in the little sitting area that almost made the room a suite—I told myself it was almost a suite in my head, anyway. Not that I’d ever stayed in an actual suite, obviously, but I’d grown up like everyone else I knew, Rick included, watching shows about the kind of people who didn’t go anywhere without booking the presidential suite or something like that.
Why are you thinking about the fucking suite thing? some regulatory part of my brain demanded. Your husband’s tone just told you that he thinks Scott and April aren’t fucking lunatics.
“Seriously? What part of You know what you’ve got coming and Yes, sir seemed normal to you?”
To my dismay, the blush that mounted to my forehead as I confronted my handsome bridegroom paled in comparison to the ones I had experienced on the porch as we talked to Scott and April. I also realized that I had just spoken very sharply to Rick—possibly more sharply than I had ever done before.
I had no idea why—or why Scott and April’s words had imprinted themselves on my consciousness so deeply that I had just quoted them verbatim without even thinking about it.
Rick shrugged, frowning in evident confusion at the energy and the annoyance in my reaction.
“Well,” he repeated, “different strokes?”
I could have let it drop. Who knows what would have happened?
At the same time, though, I could have let it drop doesn’t really describe what had started to happen inside me, because in another, more accurate sense, no, I couldn’t let it drop. Not on my life. The whole thing—Scott and April’s words, their manner, the parts of their marriage they had given us a glimpse into… the irrepressible, unwelcome thoughts they had evoked in me about what might be happening right now in their room, somewhere in this beautiful mountain lodge to which Rick had taken me for our honeymoon… Rick’s apparent support for their insane ‘traditional’ lifestyle in their New Modesty town—the whole thing had somehow taken over not just my mind but, it seemed, my body too. I felt as jumpy as a cat, and my limbs tensed in what seemed a nearly feline way as Rick took a step forward, alarm starting to show in his slightly widened eyes.
“Hey, Dee, what—” he began, putting a hand up and reaching it toward my face.
“What’s going on?” I demanded sarcastically, suddenly feeling like some important part of me had spun outward from my mind to observe at a distance as the rest set off down a very dangerous, very dark path. “How can you possibly not know what’s going on? That… that…”
I meant to say asshole, but although I usually swore without a second thought—despite the slightly naughty feeling it always gave me—the word seemed to stick in my throat as I looked at the serious expression on Rick’s face. He didn’t swear in my presence, ever. I felt certain that he must use foul language at work, because of course every landscaper did, and Rick was nothing if not a guy’s guy at least everywhere but when he and I were alone.
He had grown up in a very proper household, though—his mother had definitely never said asshole in her life. Indeed I’d actually noticed that sometimes when I swore Rick’s expression would register a moment’s disapproval—which of course made me feel a little naughtier, which frankly represented an emotion I didn’t much mind.
Until now, a voice said inside me. I shook my head angrily, as much to clear that unwelcome voice as to express my disapproval of Rick’s giving his tacit endorsement to Scott’s crazy notions about marriage, whatever those notions might actually be. I definitely still liked feeling naughty; no weird ‘old-fashioned’ couple could change that.
No look from my new husband could either—especially if it reminded me of the stomach-churning warning look I had seen in Scott’s eyes when he had told April she had spoken unkindly toward me.
“That asshole,” I finished, feeling my eyes narrow as I gauged Rick’s reaction to the swear word. “He’s going to…”
I realized that my breathing had sped up quite a bit. Also that I had no idea how I intended to finish my sentence.
“To… to…” I could feel myself starting to flail mentally. My whole body seemed to have filled with tension, and as Rick took a step forward, toward me, his hand coming within a few inches of my face and his expression turning to confused sympathy, I took a step back, away from him.
“Well, I don’t know,” I babbled, my brain veering away from the mortifying idea that had risen into my imagination and then almost emerged from my lips. “I don’t know what people like that…”
Rick’s brow creased even harder into a frown of confusion.
“People like what, Dee? They seemed perfectly nice to me.”
“Nice?” I demanded, the heat in my cheeks unrelenting. “They’re… they’re… New Modesty people. Who the… the…”
I saw the warning look come over his face even more clearly. Tears prickled at the corners of my eyes.
“…heck…” I continued, not at all sure why I had decided not to say fuck. “Who the heck knows what he’s doing to her right now?”
Rick’s hand had descended a few inches as he had evidently realized I didn’t want him to stroke my cheek the way that almost always calmed me down when I was stressing about silly stuff like bridesmaids’ dresses. I watched his chest rise and fall as he took a deep sighing breath through his nose, and my heart turned over with love for him and the way he could control himself so effortlessly—even when I had decided, as I could pretty well recognize at that point, to go flying off the handle.
He changed the single-handed gesture to a double-armed invitation for a hug. My eyes fixed on his, I straightened up, realizing that my body had tensed so thoroughly I had hunched over a little. I felt my eyes narrow with the skepticism I felt toward my husband’s embrace, even as the reasonable part of my mind told me how ridiculously I had acted and spoken.
“Come here, Dee,” Rick said in a calm voice. “Let’s talk about this another time?”
I took my lower lip between my teeth, frowning at him. I understood what he wanted, beyond just soothing my ruffled feathers—Rick had come back to the room wanting a good deal more than a hug. I knew precisely what the little book my mother had given me had to say on the matter: Especially on your honeymoon, it’s important to show your new husband how accommodating you can be of his physical needs.
Could I just let him sweep the weirdness of Scott and April under the rug? More, could I stand to let him ‘make love’ to me again, in the words of the little book? The thought made me straighten up still further, and I found myself putting my hands up in front of my chest as if to defend myself from my wonderful husband’s offer of a simple hug.
What’s wrong with me? I asked myself desperately. Why had I reacted so strongly to other people’s business—especially when that business was so clearly consensual between them?
That was it: the acquiescent look in April’s eyes when Scott had said—I had this by heart as well, I realized to my distress—You know what you have coming. The idea that she accepted her husband’s ‘leadership’ that way.
And that, clearly, I couldn’t—even so much as letting him gather me into his strong arms to help me feel better.
Rick had dropped his arms. He started to shake his head slowly.
“Dee,” he said, confusion filling his voice, “what’s wrong? Does it still hurt too much? Should we find a doctor?”
My face crumpled into tears, remembering my lie of the night before. I shook my head. The hurt and confusion on the gorgeous face of the man I loved struck my heart so hard that a sob burst from my chest, and with it something in me gave way and I threw myself toward him in desperate search of the lost hug.
Rick barely had time to get his arms up and around me before I sagged to the floor, yearning for his support in that physical way. I buried my face in his broad chest, my cheek against the soft nap of his red fleece. He held me very tightly, his right hand between my shoulder blades and his left on the small of my back. He kissed the top of my head tenderly.
“It’s just… it’s… it’s so new,” I stammered, hardly knowing what I said, and definitely not thinking about much more deeply I had started to dig myself into my untruth. “Can you be patient with me, Ricky?”
Of course Rick could be patient. I did my best impression at dinner of a young bride so in love with her husband that inevitably—just as the little book said—she would give him all his conjugal rights when she had gotten used to her brand new understanding of what those rights involved. How could a loving husband be such a brute as to force the matter, when he had known so much better than his bride what would happen when he raised her nightgown and climbed atop her?
The husband, I reflected as I kept the sweet smile plastered onto my mouth, has no choice but to invade his wife, does he? It doesn’t hurt him, when he enters her for the first time. It doesn’t tear a part of him that he’s had all his life. Why should a young woman have to do that—undergo that—to be a loving wife, whatever the little book said?
We wanted kids, yes—but these days you didn’t actually have to have sex to have children, did you?
Rick could be patient, I knew. Maybe he could be patient forever? I knew enough from Wellness class to know that men could take care of their own physical needs without shame, and that they all did that before they got married. With their hands, girls whispered in the cafeteria—one of my friends had caught her older brother doing it in the shower. I blushed, thinking about it, looking down at my salad.
What would happen when we got back to the room? I definitely couldn’t expect that Rick wouldn’t bring it up again. Maybe I could say that it was alright with me if he went to the bathroom to take care of himself? That I wanted to cuddle, but only to cuddle, right now?
I caught Rick looking at me a little guardedly during dinner. He took my hand atop the table, but he didn’t try to kiss me, let alone make any other sort of advance like the night before.
When he thought I wanted him to make love to me—and now he knows I don’t.
Once or twice, for just a moment, I felt my loving smile slip, and the growing grief of the just-opened gap between us swell in my chest. I managed to gather my emotional will, out of sheer desperation, though, each time. I renewed the sweet expression, and I even snuggled up to Rick during dessert. He rewarded me with a radiant smile and a little peck on the lips.
I can do this, I thought. Can I do this?