On Christmas Day 2014, I found out that my ‘serious’ sister-in-law was an avid reader of romance. As we talked, she lamented over the lack of older or mature couples in the world of romance and a few months later, I wrote the story of Esme and Evan, a couple rediscovering the bonds of their love after years of marriage.
Since when did love stories only belong to the young? Did they have to end the moment one got married, had children and got saddled with a mortgage and college plans?
As Esme parks the car in the driveway, exhausted from her 12-hour shift at the hospital, she doesn’t really want to know. Yet the thoughts crop up anyway as she grabs her purse and steps out of her car.
At least, her co-worker Marina decided to grab the bull by the horns, so to speak — or should she say, by the balls? After walking past a Land Rover with steamed up windows in the employee parking garage, her fellow co-worker slid out of the SUV and into her own car parked next to it. In her rush, Marina had left the passenger door open for a brief second or two, and though her companion had immediately reached for the interior door handle to shut it, Esme caught a glimpse of his face.
Good for her, Esme had thought then. Marina had been bold enough to have a quickie with the young hot medical resident, Wyatt Summers.
No wonder the woman was glowing, Esme thinks as she unlocks the front door of the four-bedroom two-story house she shares with her husband and two children. After complaining to Esme a few weeks earlier that her husband had lost interest in her and may be having an affair, Marina had apparently decided to have one of her own.
Maybe I should have one, too, Esme muses, placing her purse on the couch and looking around the living room.
It’s quiet. Too quiet.
She frowns. Where is everyone?
She glances at the clock. It’s only 7:15 in the evening. Usually at this time, fifteen-year old Kieran and his younger sister Meghan, would be sitting around the dining table. Kieran would have probably said something to his sister to make her make a face at him, and say, Mom! He’s making fun of me again! even though all Kieran probably did was say something about her love of One Direction. And Meghan was probably right — Kieran would be poking fun at her.
Was it Harry Styles her daughter liked?
Esme can’t remember. She doesn’t remember much about what her daughter likes about her favorite band. She does remember how stricken Meghan had been when one of the members suddenly left the band in the middle of some Asian tour.
And then there would be Evan, her husband, reminding Kieran to be nice to his younger sister, and to eat his vegetables. Or maybe say something about an early morning tennis practice at the country club, though it wasn’t necessary for Kieran knew his schedule like his powerful backhand. He’d already won a few low-level pro events, one of them taking him and his father to Tarbes, France, while Esme and Meghan stayed home. It would have been wonderful to have gone as a family but it was Evan who gently reminded Esme that Kieran didn’t want the added distraction. Kieran had been too ashamed to tell her himself, fearing she’d think that he was ashamed of them. But bless him, the added distraction of two screaming females, one of them his mother and the other, his annoying (at least to him) sister, would have probably prevented him from winning the games he’d won then.
But the dining table is empty of family members and dishes of food that Evan would have prepared, maybe pot roast with Brussels sprouts on the side, or Thai chicken curry. Esme hates to admit it, but Evan is a better cook than she is. She’s burned toast for breakfast every Father’s Day that it’s become a tradition. At least, no one in the family can match Esme’s ice-cream making skills.
She frowns and glances at her watch, as if it would tell her where they are. Then she remembers that the kids are staying at Evans’ parents’ house for part of the weekend before they’d be dropped off on Sunday morning, just in time for Mother’s Day. There was brunch planned, reservations already made at a popular restaurant to save anyone the trouble to clean up afterwards. It was to be her day, Evan had told the kids.
Still, as Esme slips off the watch she wears only for work, she wonders if that’s all she’d become, just the kids’ mother. What had become of being his wife?
Her thoughts drift back to Marina and the tryst she’d witnessed, evident by Marina’s disheveled hair and the intern’s pants down to his ankles as he sat on the back seat of the Land Rover. Esme can’t help but imagine how Marina must have felt to have the young man’s hands all over her body. But before her mind can go even further as to what Wyatt would have done, Esme pushes the thoughts away.
What was Marina thinking? What about her husband and her kids?
Esme heads up the stairs to the master bedroom, wondering if she should prepare herself a bath. Maybe she’d drizzle some rose oil she’d purchased at Neiman Marcus to soak off the stresses of her work day. Three twelve-hour shifts a week is hard enough. Working the same shifts at another hospital on her days off is madness, but she has to do it, or at least, that’s what Esme tells herself if only to get Kieran all the training he needs, the private sessions with an in-demand former tennis pro turned coach. The sessions aren’t cheap, but judging from the tournaments Kieran had been winning of late, they’re worth every penny, every long day where she returns home like a zombie, takes a shower and then crashes into bed. One day, Kieran will make it to the US Open, Esme smiles, as she opens the door to the master bedroom.
Soft music and the trail of pink petals strewn on the carpet surprise her, though the battery-powered LED pillar candles make her smile. So like Evan to always put safety first, especially since he is nowhere in sight. No point in burning down the house just to lead one’s wife to the bathroom for whatever surprise he had in store. She follows the path of petals and candles that lead to the master bathroom and sees a note on the side of the jacuzzi tub.
If you’re seeing this note instead of me, then I’m probably stuck in traffic on the way home from dropping the kids off at Mom and Dad’s. I hope you don’t mind starting the bath without me.
Esme chuckles as she sets the note on the counter, not wanting to get it wet as she turns on the tap for the hot water. She’ll save his note in her diary, one of the many notes she’s kept since she first met Evan that one hot summer she spent in New Jersey. She’d felt so out of place then, missing the California sun and her friends even though she and her mom were staying just three blocks from the boardwalk where one had to watch out for clams hurled down by seagulls to crack them open. She also wasn’t used to the grayness of the Atlantic Ocean, so different from the dark blue of the Pacific Ocean as it rolled towards the Malibu coastline.
She was sixteen then and Evan eighteen. A natural jock, he’d already received offers from university recruiters until a car accident involving a drunk driver left him with a limp, the recruiters who’d been pounding on his door just weeks earlier abandoning him, too. While his friends all went to Ivy League universities on scholarships, Evan opted for a private liberal arts university in Pennsylvania where he majored in Business Administration and then off to law school.
Esme brushes her teeth and washes her face, removing every trace of make-up from her face and trying to remember when the last time was since he or she had done anything like this. Candles, or rather, battery-operated candles and rose petals. A shiver of excitement shoots through her, settling into her bones.
It’s been awhile since Evan’s done anything like this. Heck, it’s been awhile, period.
When did their alone-time disappear, taken over by the stresses of two jobs for her and the rearing of perfect children for him? After work, she barely has enough energy left to spend time with Kieran and Meghan, much less Evan. Needing to be in bed early to get Kieran to practice at five thirty almost everyday for private tennis sessions at the country club, Evan was usually asleep by the time she crawled into bed.
She can’t even remember when they’d last had sex. She’s stopped calling it making love, for what else could she call those hurried acts in the dark? Sometimes there was no time even for foreplay. Just fucking was more like it, the rush in part of Esme’s fear of Meghan bursting into the room complaining to her daddy of another boy band drama. Then when the fucking was over, usually within minutes, Evan would fall asleep while she’d find herself wide awake, and wishing they could at least talk.
But Marina had told her that men don’t talk after sex, not that they could — not with all the blood that had been up in their brains now gone into their dicks with not much left for thinking coherently.
Fuck, Esme, what’s there to talk about after a good fuck anyway? Marina had continued, what went on at the PTA meeting where he’s the only man who attends? The house-husband? Oh, excuse me, the hot house-husband and home-schooler? Stop complaining, girl, and be glad he’s still tapping that ass of yours. Would you rather he fuck some other girl, like my Greg is? Did you know I found a lipstick stain on his fucking boxers?
But there’s more to sex than just a good fucking, Esme tells herself as she undresses, the water in the tub just warm enough for the rose oil to disperse and fill the bathroom with its heady scent. Minutes later, she turns off the tap and slips into the warm tub, a sigh escaping her lips as the water laps against her skin. She’s put her hair up with a hair clip, though later, she plans to let it down and get it wet at least. Get the sterile and not-so-sterile smells of the hospital out of her hair, and enjoy the rest of her evening without thinking about work.
She hears the front door open and close, the sound of footsteps hurrying up the stairs as Evan calls her name. Esme turns her head, seeing him just as he stops by the door, a shy grin on his face.
Twenty years from the day they uttered their vows, Evan seems to have been caught in a time warp. He’s still as lean and muscled as when she first met the eighteen-year old version of him, playing volleyball with friends on the beach in Ocean City. She’d been hanging out with East Coast cousins who felt sorry for her and her mother for having to move back to the East Coast, even if it was supposed to be only for that summer. She ended up staying there much longer, for there was nothing left for them in Malibu, not when her father had filed for divorce and had moved his secretary into the home he once shared with them, Esme’s bedroom now occupied by a stepsister she’d never get a chance to meet. Outside of the child support payments his office sent religiously, it was like she and her mother never existed for him.
Thank God for Evan. He had made that first summer bearable, and every year after that. He was a handsome man, with his cropped dark hair and soulful hazel eyes that seemed to take in whatever color surrounded him, from blue to green to gray, and thick lashes that made her melt. He had a grin that lit up a room, and was as goofy as hell, his laugh making her knees melt, though he was serious, too. He had three older sisters, and having spent the first eighteen years of his life growing up around their fights over Barbies and boys and then having to navigate through their collective moodiness during their periods, he’d somehow developed a sensitivity to what women really wanted in a man — someone to listen to them. So he listened when she talked about her mother’s drinking, which was getting worse each day as she learned from former friends in Malibu about what her husband — or rather, soon-to-be ex-husband — was doing, whether it was taking Esme’s soon-to-be stepmother to the country club to formally introduce her to the members of the board, or what gallery opening they were cutting the ribbon for. Soon, her mother’s friends stopped calling and Esme would come home to see her mother passed out in front of the TV, old tapes of her once-perfect family still playing in the VCR.
Esme remembers how she threw them all away, sick and tired of seeing her mother fall apart every day. She had to learn how to balance her mother’s checkbook, asking Evan to drive her to the store to do the shopping even though she’d never really done grocery shopping before. Her parents had house managers to handle that, cooks who served their meals by the course, and chauffeurs who drove her everywhere. In Ocean City, NJ, there were only her grandparents, both in their sixties who couldn’t understand their daughter’s inability to cope with the major life change divorce often wrought upon those left behind, and of their granddaughter’s food sensitivities. That’s why Esme had to do her own shopping in a small town that didn’t have much to offer her then as far as gluten-free choices were concerned. But Evan drove her wherever she needed to go, his old beat-up Chevy rattling noisily on the highway as he blasted Phish and Red Hot Chili Peppers on the speakers and she’d laugh and forget about her mother’s drinking and her father who had conveniently forgotten about them.
Twenty-three years since she’d first laid eyes on him on that beach, Evan still looks as good as he did then. Too good, in fact, that women like Marina were bold enough to tell other nurses in the employee room — when they thought Esme wasn’t near enough to hear — that they’d “hook up with that piece of ass in a New York minute.” Since then, she’s asked Evan not to show up at work on Valentine’s Day or whatever holiday, delivering her gifts in person. He used to drop off chocolates, flowers, even Krispy Creme doughnuts that the employees still love and remember him for.
Marina once told her that a man like Evan could easily fool around. He’s got those great eyes, Esme, and that body. Are you sure he’s not fooling around on you with some PTA president or something? I’d keep my eye on him if I were you.
That’s when Esme stopped hanging out with Marina in the employee break room though it didn’t stop the woman from talking to her at the nurses’ station. Esme learned to keep her doubts to herself and not blurt them out like she used to, for somehow, the spoken words seemed to leave their marks all over the places where they’d been uttered, like graffiti that could never be erased.
“Sorry I’m late, Es,” Evan says, thrusting his hands in his jeans pockets as he leans against the door. “I was hoping to surprise you. Instead, here you are, forced to go all DIY on me.”
“That’s all right. It’s not all that hard to turn on the tap. But the path of rose petals and LED candles were perfect,” she says as he saunters into the bathroom and sits along the edge of the tub. Esme touches his hand, removing it a little too quickly. It really has been awhile, she thinks. She’s feeling like she’s eighteen all of a sudden, the night of her birthday spent in an Atlantic City hotel. Although he’d known her since she was sixteen, he had waited.
“Thank you,” she says, feeling shy.
“You’re welcome,” he says, moving towards her and kissing her gently on the lips before drawing away. “Would you like some company?”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” she smiles.
She watches him undress from the corner of her eye, feeling her body blush all the way from her chest up to her neck, the heat creeping towards her face as he peels off his t-shirt and slips out of his jeans and boxer briefs. He’s always worked out for as long as she’s known him, still runs every day during Kieran’s private training sessions that they pay a fortune for. There’s a home gym that he uses more than she does, though he knows well enough to leave her alone when she does her Pilates sessions in the bedroom, having memorized a routine streamed from her iPad. She needs to get out more, but she’s too exhausted to do anything but come home and try her best to stay awake and listen to how her children’s day went, dreading the day they’d be old enough to leave home and wondering if by then, she and Evan would still have something to say to each other that didn’t involve something that involved the kids.
She scoots forward so Evan can slip into the tub behind her just as Phish comes on the speakers. As the song begins playing, Esme finds herself smiling as she feels Evan’s body warm behind her, his arms enfolding her. He nuzzles the back of her neck, still wet after she’d sunk her body down up to her chin just minutes earlier.
The song, Show of Life, is one of their favorites. Years ago, they’d left the kids with his parents for the weekend so they could see the band in concert. Esme remembers how the years faded from their faces then, replaced by smiles, giggles and laughter that made them feel so young again. They’d made love till the sun came up, and she remembers how it felt just like that first night they spent in Atlantic City, when he was her first — and her only. But it’s not like Esme thinks she’s missing anything, not even after hearing Marina’s stories of her exploits before marriage — and after. Esme’s known better than to tell them the truth, that she’s only been intimate with one man.
Then she wonders if he’ll always be the only one for her. Would she have someone else, and if she did, would that mean that Evan would had left her for someone else, the way her father had done to her mother? No explanations, no apologies. It is what it is, babe. I found someone else.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Evan asks her as she rests her head on his shoulder. He’s grabbed the sponge and is lathering her arm, his hand moving up to her shoulder and back down. Her other hand is stroking his thigh, feeling the muscles tense beneath her touch, his erection hard against her back.
“It’s been awhile,” she says, thinking it best just to get it out. “We’ve been so busy with work and the kids–” Esme stops herself, realizing that she’s brought up the very things that he’s made sure to get out of the way, even if it was just for part of the weekend. “Sorry–”
“Don’t apologize,” he murmurs. “It has been awhile. But tonight and tomorrow, it’s just going to be us. Will that be alright?”
“No talk of anything but us?” She asks, looking up at him. She loves the way his nose ends into a defined sharp angle along the tip, one that someone once said was the nose granted by the gods. He could have been a model, she thinks, but he’d chosen to become a father instead.
“Just us,” he whispers, setting the sponge aside and taking the shampoo from the side of the tub. “Why don’t you let me wash your hair?”
And with those words, Evan closes the world just to themselves, his hands spreading the shampoo onto her long dark hair that’s spent way too much time being tied into a bun, his fingers massaging her scalp. It gives her goosebumps the way he does it, that she finds herself sighing and almost purring like a cat, relaxing her head and neck so that he can maneuver her head gently forward and back, according to the movement of his fingers. She forgets that she’s gripping his thigh, her fingers digging into his skin as his fingers slide behind her ear, the nerve endings in a turmoil over the sensations that engulf them.
Evan rinses her hair slowly, still taking his time as her breathing turns shallower, faster. There’s something building inside her, one that starts from the pit of her belly, spreading upwards as if seeking release that only she can let loose. When his hand drifts lower to dip between her legs, Esme knows she’s lost. Her breath comes out ragged as he strokes her, his fingers slipping inside her, his mouth gently sucking the skin between her shoulder and neck. She doesn’t care that he leaves a mark that her coworkers can see. Let them see it, she thinks as his mouth moves to another spot just behind her ear and she trembles. His fingers press her clit and she shivers, knowing she’s there, his touch driving her made for release though she knows it’s only the beginning.
“Come for me, Esme,” he murmurs and she does. It’s a choked cry that echoes around the bathroom, his name leaving her lips as her fingers grip the back of his legs on either side of her, her right hand deserting his thigh to seek his cock, hard and hot against her back. Her hand circles him, stroking him and not caring how awkward it puts her shoulder joint. That’s what all those Pilates sessions are for. Flexibility and strength. His cock feels like hard silk against her fingers, his heat burning through her skin.
Yet he holds back, allowing this moment to be hers only, even as waves of her orgasm leave her trembling against him as she lets go of his thick swollen shaft.
“It’s been awhile,” she whispers again minutes later, her scalp still tingling from his touch, her entire being longing to be one with him. She feels his lips leaving light kisses on her shoulder and neck, inhaling the scent of rose clinging to her skin.
“Yes, it has,” he says. “But the water’s getting cold and you’re starting to shiver.”
Minutes later, they leave the bathroom, stepping on rose petals that stick to the bottoms of their feet, though they steer clear of the candles, even if they are LED. He leads her towards the bed, but Esme stops. She wants to see him. She lets go of his hand and steps back, boldly admiring the view. There’s a scar just below his left knee, the one that stole his chance with the major leagues so many years ago, though he’s never complained about that. She can still name the muscles so defined on his body and she remembers it’s how she got her A in Anatomy, using him as her study model. She knows the muscles that comprise his defined quadriceps, his hamstrings and upwards to the rectus abdominis and the obliques that gave him the six-pack many of their friends envied. Someone once told her that Evan was vain, working out like he did, and she’d laughed at them. Of course he’s vain, she’d countered, just like we all are. Some of us just aren’t blessed with the genes to make it last this long.
Standing before her now, Evan looks like a Greek god, though none of great masters ever sculpted their creations with throbbing erections like the one she’s gazing at now. Or maybe they did.
“You’re so beautiful,” she says.
“And so are you.”
“How have you not changed all these years?” She asks.
“For you, in the hopes that you’d look at me again the way you’re looking at me now,” he says, taking her hand and resting it along his taut belly. “There’s only been you, Es.”
That’s when it hits her — how the last few years have been spent constantly worrying over things she didn’t have to worry so much about. They were actually doing quite well and she didn’t even have to work that second job. But she did it anyway, as if his decision to quit his job at his father’s legal firm had been her fault, all because she didn’t want to be the stay-at-home mother while he was busy representing corporate clients. She’d been too scared of changing dirty diapers, taking care of bloody noses, answering the many questions that Kieran asked about sports or the planets through the years, or agonizing over Meghan’s flip-flopping between wearing the pink shirt or red shirt for school each morning. She’d been so afraid of becoming her own mother, with no skill sets to rely on that she simply fell apart after her knight in shining armor left her at the curb to collect another damsel in distress to rescue. Wasn’t her father on the fifth wife now?
But Esme pushes the thoughts away. Right now, there’s only her and Evan and no one else. There’s also nothing else apart from them. They’re in their own world and he’s done everything he could to keep them both there.
She reaches out her hand toward him, her fingers tingling at the touch of his skin. She traces the hard defined lines of his flat belly, feeling him tense even more as she follows the contour of the oblique muscles, her fingers moving along the sides, and back towards the center again.
He’s watching her every movement, she can feel it, her every discovery of him and the body that he’s kept fit for her, the heart that’s kept beating for her.
“I see you, Evan,” she whispers. “And I’ve always loved you, even if I’ve been too busy with everything else. It’s just that I’ve been scared–”
“I’ll always be yours, Es,” he says, taking her in his arms and kissing her, a hungry kiss that leaves her gasping for breath. Her arms circle his neck for support, for his kiss has left her weak in the knees. His tongue slips between her teeth, sweeping along the back of her teeth, the roof of her mouth, and she moans, her hands roving lower to find his throbbing cock, gripping and stroking him.
Suddenly, Esme no longer cares about taking her time. They have the next two days. Right now, she wants him, and she knows that when it’s over, there’ll be time to talk. There’ll always be time to talk, now that she knows more than she’s ever known since she fooled herself into believing he’d stopped loving her the way he always did.
“Fuck me, Evan,” she whispers in his ear and Evan lifts her over his shoulder as they laugh, and in a few strides, tosses her playfully on the bed. As she lands against the soft covers, she screeches, all the worries now gone as she welcomes him in her arms, laughing and giggling as he kisses her neck again. Then she stops, her giggles replaced by moans as Evan’s hands find her wet again, so ready for him.
“Not yet, Es.”
How he can torment her like this she doesn’t know but his kisses continue down her breasts, lavishing one with attention with his hands, his mouth and his tongue, and then the other. When he moves down her belly and even lower, she’s calling out his name, her fingers ruffling his hair as he finds the lips of her sex, tasting her. He’s always known how to pleasure her, for he’s memorized every line and every curve. He knows where to touch her for he was her first. He’s become the architect of her pleasure, the writer behind every gasp and sigh.
Even now as his mouth and tongue pleasure her, as he sucks the sensitive folds between his teeth, his fingers against her hips keeping her still on the bed, she knows he’s writing the next line, one that ends with his name on her lips, begging for him to fill her. And when he does, even as she tastes her own juices against his tongue as he kisses her, she knows it’s nothing like the first time.
No, for this time is better than that first time. She is no eighteen-year old, not anymore. She is no longer someone so scared of losing the man she’s fallen in love with, wondering when he’d find another princess to save from some castle far away and leave her in the gutter with only her tears to keep her company. No, Esme knows she’s Evan’s only princess, his Queen, the only one who holds his body, heart, and soul.
And as she feels herself rushing towards that precipice that signals her release, she sees him watching her, their eyes locking together. When she comes, she feels her walls squeeze his cock, milking him as warmth suffuses her breasts, her neck, her cheeks. She’s out of breath and nearly out of her mind as he thrusts in and out of her, filling her and prolonging the wave that seems to take her out to sea, where the grayness of the ocean threatens to swallow her whole. Then she sees his eyes, gray like the Atlantic ocean. She fees him tighten as he seats himself deep within her and with a groan, Evan lets himself go with her name on his lips.
And she catches him, like a wave that crests and falls, only they’re doing it together.
Afterward, as they lie in bed in the semi-darkness, the room lit only by the LED pillar candles, Esme doesn’t mind that there are no words, for she knows the words will come later. For now, she loves how he’s playing with her hair, twining a lock around his index finger and letting it go, only to do it all over again. She can feel the beating of his heart against her ear as she rests her head on his chest, loving the way it seems to sing just for her.
Not even her futile attempts trying to escape her mother’s fate can hold a candle to what she’s just learned at that moment, that though fear had driven her away from him — even if it was simply inside her head — Evan’s love for her always managed to bring her back. And this time, Esme knows it’s forever.
For maybe love stories aren’t the sole property of the young after all. Maybe everything else, from the rings that represented their union, the college funds that signified their commitment to their children’s future, and even the mortgage that was more than paid for, were nothing more but distractions from what really mattered. For what mattered was right here next to her, and they were in this together.
They’d always be.
* * *
Excerpt from Date Night: A Short Story Collection. Copyright © 2013 – 2017