This story is by Sarah M. Kipp and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I rubbed my hand back and forth on the navy flannel sheet in the space next to me.
“You warming up the bed?” she asked, smiling at finding me all tucked in her bed with the covers up to my chin.
“I’m trying. Hurry up and join me. It’s fucking cold in here.”
She laughed and leaned over to kiss my forehead.
“What are you laughing at?”
“You’re cute when you swear.”
Sitting on the side of the bed, she adjusted the volume of the music playing through the Jambox and folded her glasses before finding a space for them on the cluttered nightstand.
Still fully clothed in pajama pants and a sweatshirt, she snuggled in next to me, shivering.
“Is that you or me?”
“I think it’s you.”
I groaned. “Across Siberia, I go.” I rolled away and reached across the left side of her king-size bed to glance at my cell phone plugged in on the other nightstand. “It’s Sam just confirming the time of their driving lesson tomorrow. All good.” I typed a quick response and scooted back to her warmth. Throughout our eight months together, we had left Siberia—the land her former wife had occupied for over a decade—untouched and unused except for an occasional journey to check my phone.
We shifted again until our noses were inches apart. I sighed into the peace of her blue eyes and soft smile. I liked that, aside from her wife, I was the only woman who had slept in this bed, in this house, with her.
My thoughts drifted to our first night in this bed. With her little guy with his other mom, and my two teens with their dad, the single parenting scheduling stars had aligned to give us twenty-four hours of space and privacy. For both of us, the night had felt like a delicious drink after a scorching drought.
We had found ways to come together again two or three times every week since then. We savored our time from dusk to dawn. This day, though, had been exhausting, and her eyelids began to blink and close with heaviness.
I leaned my face into hers, kissing her lips. She met me there for a moment, and then pulled away. The shift was subtle…and unmistakable. I decided to try again. I waited a moment and leaned in again, initiating the one deep kiss I wanted to leave her with before we drifted to sleep. Again, she met my lips for a moment, and then pulled away. Within moments, I could feel the tiny twitches of her muscles relaxing. Her breathing shifted, and I knew she was already asleep.
The wave of feeling came quickly and without warning. Behind my closed lids, the gentle burn of tears began and my pulse quickened. Fight-flight. Fight-flight. Danger. Danger. Danger. I shifted to my brain, looking for comforting counsel. Perhaps she is just tired. Perhaps my breath is a little off from something I ate earlier. I rejected both. Plenty of our nights had been filled with both exhaustion and garlic, and she had never pulled away from me during a kiss.
Still resting in the curve of her arm, I tried to reason my way through my choices. I could wake her to talk. I could roll away, hiding the inevitable tears that were bound to come and still likely wake her up. I could stay still and hope that sleep would come before the tears.
I chose to stay, breathing and feeling the wave coming through me.
Brain: What the fuck? Why am I on the verge of tears when nothing is actually wrong?
Body: Hurt. Hurt. Danger. Hurt.
Brain: I said too much at dinner tonight. Shared too much of my inner world. Let her see too much of how my past creeps into the present. Turned her right off.
Body: Sad. Scared. Hurt. Familiar.
Brain: Fuck. Really? A parent turns her back on you when you’re four and forty years later this is how it plays out?
Body: Fight-flight. Fight-flight. Danger.
Brain: See me. Love me. Hold me. See me. Love me. Hold me. Please.
Body: Tears or…a breath. A pause.
Body: Soft, soft skin. Her arm holding me. Chest rising, falling. Gentle breath sounds.
Brain: She’s not letting go. Not rolling away. Holding you. Holding you. Holding you.
Body: Here. Breathing.
I wake hours later in the same position that we fell asleep. I blink open my eyes, delighted that hers are still closed. I savor the lines of her cheekbones, jaw, and the beauty of her sleeping. Her lips slide into a smile as she wakes, opening her eyes and meeting mine.
“Good morning,” I offer.
“Good morning,” she smiles.
“How did you sleep?”
“Good, good,” she answers, pulling me even closer to her.
Brain: You could let this all go, you know.
“How about you?” she asks.
“Pretty good, once I fell asleep.”
Brain: Really? Really?!? You could just enjoy the moment. Play it safe.
Body: Stretching. Rolling onto my back.
She is quiet. Looking at my face. Busted.
“Hey, you okay?”
“I’m good. I actually took some ground last night in staying in the moment.”
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“Right before we went to sleep, you know how I leaned in to kiss you?”
“Yeah. I was having a hard time catching my breath. I don’t know what the fuck that was about.”
“Yeah, I was having some kind of breathing thing going on. Felt like I couldn’t get a full breath in. Sorry about that.”
“And…you are okay now? You are feeling and breathing okay this morning?”
“Yes.” She smiles at me. “Perfectly fine,” she says, pulling me closer for a long kiss.