This story is by Joanna Ward and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sylvia’s eyes opened, her body coated in a light sheen of sweat. It was just a dream, she thought, gazing around the bedroom thick with predawn shadows. Heart hammering, her dark eyes fell on the form sleeping next to her. Beth. The dream flooded back, carrying an overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
Sylvia tentatively touched the pale shoulder of her wife, her dark skin in stark contrast with Beth’s. The feel of Beth’s smooth skin was instant relief for the growing maw of anxiety left in the dream’s wake. She’s here. She’s not gone. The thought did little to squelch the reality that their marriage was far from safe.
At the touch, Beth rolled over, and opened her eyes. “What’s wrong?” she mumbled drowsily.
“Bad dream,” Sylvia whispered. “Sorry I woke you.” She scooted closer to throw her arm over Beth’s stomach, pressing her length against Beth’s smaller form.
“Eww! You’re sweaty,” Beth groaned, removing Sylvia’s arm before rolling again to her side.
Sylvia’s chest constricted like a powerful snake as the palpable feeling of loss settled around her. She longed to reach out and touch Beth again. To touch her shoulder, to touch her tousled, blonde hair, to touch her full, pouty lips, to touch anything and everywhere, as long as it was Beth. Sylvia stifled the urge. Instead, she lay on her back, closed her eyes, and held back tears. The gnawing sensation of loss left in the dream’s wake, proved insufficient to provide enough strength to conquer the monster that divided them. Its origin she struggled to name. Its presence was a reminder of her inadequacy. She failed to recall when last they had been intimate.
Wiping her eyes, tired of feeling helpless, she slowly rolled out of bed. Sleep would be impossible now. With a last look at Beth, she entered the bathroom to shower.
Ten minutes later, Sylvia emerged naked and damp. Beth had not stirred. The rising sun bathed her in soft light, catching her curves in all the right places. Sylvia caught a glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror. Her afro was wild as usual, framing her face in glistening, tight curls. She grimaced at her reflection, and grabbed the flab around her waist and stomach as some of her self-confidence faded.
Her eyes shifted back to Beth, and with a deep breath, Sylvia crawled onto the bed. Slowly, she moved over Beth until she straddled her. She hesitated before she leaned down to kiss Beth’s shoulder. Just focus on Beth.
Bleary hazel eyes slid to Sylvia’s brown ones as Beth moved onto her back. “What are you doing?” Beth asked.
“I want you,” Sylvia replied, in her most sultry voice. She kissed Beth’s collarbone then her neck, enjoying the salty taste as her tongue licked a path to her ear.
Beth uttered a moan deep in her throat, turning her head as Sylvia captured her mouth in a kiss. Their tongues mingled as the kiss deepened.
Sylvia fought doubt as it tried to worm its way into her thoughts. Before her confidence waned, she moved her hand lower, under the covers to the waist of Beth’s lace underwear. Beth opened for her, throwing her head back as Sylvia touched her sensitive core. Her hips rocked while Sylvia worked to keep pace. It did not take long before Beth’s body tensed then convulsed with pleasure. The orgasm barely settled before another hit, throwing Beth into further contortions.
Sylvia slowed the movement of her hand until Beth settled, breathless into the bed. She smiled down at her wife who radiated satisfaction. She dropped a soft kiss on her lips, pressing her body into Beth’s.
“I love you,” Sylvia said, basking in her success.
“Mmhmm.” Beth looked up at Sylvia, postcoital eyes glassy and unfocused. “You’re still sweaty!” she said suddenly, fully awake, and pushed into the bed for distance.
Sylvia pulled back. “I took a shower,” she said, pouting.
“And you didn’t dry off?”
“I did, mostly. So, it’s not sexy?”
Fuck! Sylvia thought. “You used to love it.”
Beth pushed Sylvia away before turning to check her phone for the time. “Ugh, Syl! It’s 5 AM. What the fuck? My alarm goes off in an hour and a half.” She glared at Sylvia, who was seated cross-legged beside her. “Seriously, what were you thinking?”
Sylvia frowned, her stomach solidifying into a core of molten angst. “I was trying to wake you with sex,” she said, attempting a smile. “You seemed to like it.”
Beth glowered as she sat up. “Why now?”
Sylvia sighed. “I don’t understand. I thought this is what you wanted.”
“Yes, when we’re both awake. Which is what I’ve asked of you for months!”
“Why does being awake matter?”
Beth clenched her jaw as she got out of bed. “I’ve tried to be patient, Syl. But if you can’t see the problem that we have gone over countless times, I don’t know what to do.” Hands clenched at her side, she looked down at Sylvia.
Sylvia blinked in stunned silence. Any arousal she had mustered in the shower, was a distant memory. She truly had no idea why Beth was upset. She fought to make her brain work.
“Nothing?” Beth asked, “You have nothing to say?”
“I don’t know why giving you the sex you asked for makes you mad,” Sylvia responded, her voice low as she tamped her annoyance.
In frustration, Beth scrubbed her face with her hands. “When I initiate any kind of intimacy between us at a decent hour, you have a headache, or you’re tired, or you’re playing games on your fucking phone! But when you want it, you think it’s okay to wake my ass up early when I have a long day ahead of me?”
Sylvia’s restraint snapped, and she rolled her eyes, “Do I do anything right? I’m treating you like a ‘roommate’ if we don’t have sex, and I’m disturbing your sleep if I wake you with sex. I can’t win! We used to wake each other up like that all the time, by the way. You never got pissed then!”
“Yeah, Syl. ‘Used to.’ You haven’t wanted me in more months than I care to count. That aside, we barely cuddle anymore. So, yes, after years of constantly having to beg for sex, or just for you to hold me, you waking me up at the butt-crack of dawn because you’re horny, pisses me off!” Beth clenched her jaw, her eyes glistened. “Do you know I cry myself to sleep sometimes because you’d rather be on your phone than touch me?”
Sylvia recoiled at the words as if they were a physical force. Her anger was replaced with shame as she looked at her hands, searching for something to say. The sense of being adrift with no ability to navigate permeated Sylvia’s being. She recalled the dream, the catalyst for her actions that morning. Beth.
“I had a dream I lost you,” she said, voice quivering. The memory of it throbbed like an open wound. Her tears were held by a minuscule barrier as she met Beth’s eyes in the sun brightened room. “I woke up with a weight on my chest at the thought of you not being with me. I needed–you.”
Beth crossed her arms over her chest, and said mockingly, “Welcome to my world for the last five years.”
“Really, Beth?” Sylvia said, incredulous, “I’m pouring my heart out, and that’s what I get?”
“Again, welcome to my world.” At the look of utter sadness on Sylvia’s face, she sighed, and sat beside her. “I love you, Syl. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be here. But I can’t stick around much longer if this,” she indicated the space between them with her hand, “doesn’t change.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Sylvia groaned. “I love you. I don’t want to lose you.” She took a deep, centering breath, as something occurred to her. She asked, “Do you still have the card for the marriage counselor?”
Beth remained dubious, “Really?”
Beth nodded. “It’s in my wallet. I’m going to shower. Then we’ll talk.”
Sylvia opened Beth’s purse as the shower roared to life. She felt lighter as she quickly found the card, but it was the card behind it that caught her attention: Paula Robinson, Esq.
The twinge in her chest returned. Beth. She was about to confront her with the card until her shame pinned her courage down.
Beth, wrapped in a towel, froze in the doorway, and stared aghast at the card in Sylvia’s hand. “I can explain–”
Sylvia shook her head mechanically, eyes shifting to Beth. “Am I too late?”
Hazel eyes lowered to the floor.
Sylvia dropped both cards on the vanity, and left the room.