Kari's Love, Book Two
Sigrid Macdonald a.k.a. Tiffanie Good
To the ever elusive Beth
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Lego: Lego Juris A/S Corporation
Bloomingdale's: Federated Department Stores, Inc.
Starbucks: Starbucks Corporation
Frappuccino: Starbucks Corporation
Masterpiece Theatre: WGBH Educational Foundation Charitable
Jeopardy: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.
Justin Bieber: Bieber Time Holdings, LLC
Maroon 5: James Valentine, Mickey Madden, Adam Levine, Ryan Dusick, and Jessie Carmichael
Kleenex: Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc.
The Sopranos: Home Box Office, Inc.
Macy's: Macy's West Stores, Inc.
Disney: Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Perrier: Nestle Waters Société
I couldn't stop crying. No matter where I was—at home, at work, or on the street—my face was always soaked with salty tears. Tears of joy and relief. After seventeen years of paraplegia, I could finally walk again. A dreadful accident in my youth had left me with a broken neck, and I'd been in a wheelchair for almost two decades.
Then neurosurgeons in Kentucky implanted electrodes in my lower spine, which enabled me to stand unassisted for several minutes between the parallel bars in the physical therapy department. I was thrilled. However, my mother, Birgitta, said we could do better. The twenty-first century had made astonishing advances in medicine. A clinic in Thailand was conducting experimental adult stem cell surgery on paraplegics. The Thais had had far more success than the Americans; instead of being able to stand for a few minutes, their patients were almost walking normally with a cane.
This was more than I had ever expected, but my family, friends, and colleagues encouraged me to pursue my dream. With the help of our small town in Connecticut and my parents mortgaging their house, we raised two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. With trepidation, I flew off with my devoted husband, Jack, to Bangkok. I had no idea if the operation would help me; the surgery was only in the phase II trial stage, but the doctor and his team had already achieved great success. And it had worked! After all those years in a wheelchair, I could actually walk a city block—with metal brace crutches at first and then with a cane. Of course, just about everyone in Manhattan could walk faster than me, including the schnauzers, but that didn't bother me.
Before the accident, I had been an athlete. I enjoyed track and volleyball, tennis and step classes at my gym. I ran in marathons and prided myself on being fit. Revamping my entire lifestyle had been challenging. Things that were so benign before, like a staircase, had suddenly seemed terrifying and insurmountable.
Jack and I lived on the fifth floor of a building with an elevator in Midtown. He did most of the shopping, and I took a handicapped van to work every morning. I also had my car equipped with adaptive devices, but I preferred to let other people drive.
In the early days of my recovery from the accident, every Christmas I would watch people ice skate at Rockefeller Center and seethe with envy. Paraplegia sucked. Some people had great lives and reeked of good health. Why had my life been destroyed? But even a child knows life isn't fair, and certainly a sober alcoholic like me was aware that bad things can and do happen to good people. How many drunk drivers crash into entire families and wipe them out? I had driven drunk in my younger years. I had also betrayed Lizzie, my very best friend in the world, by sleeping with her girlfriend, April—the only woman I had ever had sex with. So maybe I deserved confinement in a wheelchair.
I thought that in my twenties, but as I got older and spent more time working with my sponsor and doing the steps in AA, I came to realize the accident had never been my fault. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and an elderly woman who'd had a heart attack at the wheel had slammed into me. Could have happened to anyone. No one had punished me for what I did before getting sober, whether I had driven recklessly or slept with the enchanting April.
I never knew what happened to April; I never even saw her after our one passionate night together. After Lizzie had found out I slept with her lover, she stopped speaking to me for four years. Her rejection broke my heart. Lizzie, my rock, my confidant, my reality check… my favorite person on Earth and I had crushed her. But her family hurt her even worse. Because she was a lesbian and lived with April in her family's home, they made sure she felt defective, deficient, and disgusting. Not her whole family, but her dad and her brother were openly disapproving. Lizzie couldn't live with their criticism. She had always been prone to depression and had a drug problem, like many people I hung out with. Six months after my accident, Lizzie committed suicide. April never found out because she had disappeared shortly before, which acted as a large contributing factor to Lizzie ending her life. Neither I nor April's brother, Michael, ever knew where April went. I fantasized about her for many years afterward during my marriage to Jack.
Jack did everything for me when I was disabled. He anticipated my every need, so I didn't even have to ask for anything. He did the laundry, the banking, and made me special meals. Jack knew I liked dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, and only bought the best. I adored him, but I didn't feel intense sexual desire for him. Even before the accident, I would never sit in a movie theater, hand-in-hand with Jack, dying to leave so we could get home, and I could jump his bones. We didn't have that kind of relationship. Steady Jack: you could set your watch by him, and my world revolved around his reliability. He was my best friend.
But a funny thing happened when I started to walk again. Jack gradually became distant. I didn't understand. Everyone else in my social circle shouted with joy. My walking was a miracle, they exclaimed. Doctors could now treat the untreatable.
And I was part of the upper-middle class. Because my family and friends had raised money for me, I could go to Thailand. Paraplegics without money stayed in their chairs. I felt unbelievably fortunate that because I was so privileged and loved, I was able to regain the use of my legs, but it made me sad that thousands of other people couldn’t take advantage of stem cell treatment because they couldn't raise such a huge sum of money.
My legs had needed time after the surgery before my walking became automatic. I did one hour of exercises every day—thirty minutes at night and thirty in the morning—and my muscles ached and tired easily, but I could ambulate. And there was not one step I took—not one—that didn't fill me with joy, gratitude, and ecstasy. What other reaction could I possibly have had? And why didn't Jack feel the same way?
No, instead of being elated about my increasing independence and normal functioning, Jack seemed snappy. He was often angry with me over little things that were inconsequential, like me doing the dishes standing up. Previously, that had been his job. Now I wanted to do them. Why was he so mad? I didn't get it.
The best explanation I could come up with was that Jack enjoyed his role of caretaker. He felt needed when I couldn't do anything for myself, and now that I could do many tasks of daily living on my own, he didn't know how to react; he felt as though I didn't need him anymore. My therapist and AA told me to give him time, but the two of us continued to drift apart.
Fortunately, I kept busy with my job. I'd worked for years helping people find affordable housing, and I loved it. One day I looked up from my cluttered desk to greet a new client.
How many clients had I seen over the years? Thousands. Often their faces all blurred together as one desperate group of frightened, disenfranchised people. People who'd once had homes but lost them because they had overleveraged. People who had seemingly steady jobs, which slid right out from underneath them during the recession. Employed one day, out of work the next, and the next and the next. After six months of unemployment, they couldn't pay their heating bills or their mortgages and found themselves living in their cars. I wasn't burnt out, but at times, I felt ineffective. There was only so much the charity I worked for could do to help people, and after the 2008 crisis the small assistance we provided was like putting a bandage on a hemorrhage.
So I looked up, expecting to see yet another broken-looking face, but instead, I saw a beautiful woman. Although she must have been approaching forty, she looked years younger with her chin-length brown hair set off by soft blonde highlights and sharp hazel eyes. Next to her was a small, biracial child. A little boy who looked about four years old. He had a wild Afro and a mischievous grin, and he kept squirming in his seat, obviously tired. I stared numbly at the woman. It was April. Even though I hadn't seen her since I was twenty-one and she was eighteen, I would know that face anywhere.
I started to cry because that was my first response to everything since I had regained my ability to walk. April was just as shocked.
"Oh my God, this is so embarrassing!" she said. "Of all the ways I ever imagined us meeting again, this scenario never came to mind." She blushed.
"A-April," I stuttered, my heart racing and my dry mouth making it difficult to form words. "Where… Where have you been? Lizzie is dead." Idiot. I had blurted the words out without thinking because I'd never expected to encounter April again after our wild night together so many years ago. How tactless of me. Lizzie and April had been in love. They had been an item for several years, well into April's early twenties. This news would upset April, especially when she found out Lizzie had killed herself.
"I know," she replied. "The world is flat and round, as Thomas Friedman said. Even though I was out of the country, my friends told me about Lizzie ages ago. I'm so sorry. I would have been at the service if I could have. I would've punched her brother in the fucking nose."
Lizzie had killed herself with her brother Angelo's gun. I used to blame Angelo too, but then I realized if Lizzie hadn't used his gun, she would've jumped off a bridge or a tall building. She would have overdosed on pills. She would have found another way. It wasn't Angelo's fault.
"But where were you? You left without telling any of us, even your brother, Michael."
"I couldn't face anybody after Lizzie and I broke up. She never really forgave me for… being with you that night," she whispered. "So even though Lizzie and I stayed together, it wasn't pleasant. She became resentful and took her anger out on me. And her family treated me like shit—not her mom, but the rest of them."
Such language in front of the child. I looked over at the little boy and offered him a juice box. Then I stood up, leaning heavily on the desk and wondering if my wobbly legs would move. I motioned to Jonathan, the guy sitting next to me, and asked if he would take the boy off to the play area so he could be with other kids while April and I talked.
April had gone to Iceland, of all places. I thought she would go to an island like Bermuda because she had once said she wanted to be in the sun. Instead, she had gone to a tiny country in Scandinavia because they liked lesbians. In fact, at one point, April explained, Iceland had a lesbian president. Rock on. Although at twenty-two, April hadn't finished college, she had managed to obtain a work permit to go to Iceland and survived on her savings from summer jobs before she found full-time employment. She had nothing but good things to say about Iceland except they had mismanaged their money royally, and when the country went bankrupt, she lost her job and all hope of finding a new one.
She had met a woman there, and they had adopted the little Jamaican boy, TJ. Now April was back in the US. Her partner, Jens, had stayed in Iceland; she was born there and couldn't imagine living anywhere else. They had an amicable split, and since April was the most maternal one, Jens never argued when April announced she wanted to take TJ to Manhattan. Jens hadn't wanted a child to begin with. She only agreed to have TJ because the child made April happy; she was not maternal. Relieved to be rid of the boy, Jens also wanted him to have a better life with economic opportunities no longer available to him in Iceland. So far, those opportunities had not materialized. April had landed nine months ago, and she'd survived on welfare and food stamps. Now she and TJ needed public housing, hence the visit to my office.
"When I heard about her suicide, I couldn't talk to anybody," she continued after TJ had left. "I felt responsible. You weren't the only one that night—there were two of us. I hurt her. I betrayed her trust, and I blamed myself for years. Michael was furious with me. He was the one who cut off communication. But he's okay now. I'm living with him, actually. He's in New York, not Connecticut. And, of course, I've forgiven myself. It was a long time ago, and we were young." She reached into her gray backpack, took out a Kleenex, and blew her nose.
I didn't know what to say. I'd never really thought about the impact of our affair on April. I had always focused on what it had done to me and my relationship with Lizzie. I thought April got off easy and never even knew about Lizzie's death. Now I tried to envision her getting up every day in a foreign country and pushing feelings of self-hatred down far enough so she could function at work. Sending heartfelt letters to her brother who'd refused to answer them and pretended to us that he'd never heard from her. Recounting her story repeatedly to Jens to wash away her remorse. April had dealt with her guilt alone. At least I had the program and Jack.
She went on to ask all about me. Her Connecticut pen pals had only known Lizzie. They hadn't followed my life after April and Lizzie broke up, so April had no idea I'd ever been injured or disabled. She was horrified about what I'd been through and astonished to hear the outcome of the surgery. She asked if I wanted to go out for dinner to celebrate. But how could April ever afford that? I wondered. She was probably thinking about a burger joint. I was tongue-tied, but no way was I going to refuse.
Meanwhile, I referred her to Jonathan to circumvent the clear conflict of interest in my handling her housing problems. And we both went to collect TJ from the play center, April slowing her steps to match mine without making me feel self-conscious. Entranced with his Lego and marble runs, the boy started to fuss when April went to pick him up. She and I exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet at a popular vegan restaurant in Midtown at seven p.m. What was I going to tell Jack?
I usually got off from work around five thirty. No point in going home today, so I stayed late to catch up on my files, but I couldn't concentrate. Images of April darted through my head. She had returned. What were the chances? I had screwed up big time before, so I was going to play it right this time. I'd double-crossed Lizzie, and although technically I hadn't cheated on Jack, I had disregarded his feelings because I should have known our separation was only temporary. But at the time, I suspected Jack of seeing someone else, and I was mad at him. I don't remember wanting to retaliate by sleeping with April, but it's possible that I did it subconsciously. Mainly, I was dead drunk and had never had an experience with a woman before. Desire met opportunity. If I had still been with Jack, I never would have touched April. If Lizzie had been there that night, I would have gone home alone. If, if, if. But that's not the way it played out. I had made love to April and hurt Lizzie with that callous move, and I had no intention of betraying anyone like that again.
I was a married woman, but I felt more like a girl than I had in ages. I locked myself in the ladies' room at work, checking my hair, carefully reapplying lipstick, and making sure my eyeliner wasn't smudged from all my tears. Then I ambled over to Bloomingdale's next door and took the elevator up to the perfume counter to use one of the free samples. I limped badly by the time I hailed a yellow cab to get up to Seventy-ninth Street and called Jack from the car, saying I needed a workout at the gym, so I wouldn't see him until nine or ten p.m. My first lie, right after I had vowed to do it differently this time. What was wrong with me? Guilt washed over me; was I ethically challenged? Did this secret dinner with April constitute a date? Was I cheating on Jack already? I just couldn't tell him the truth right now. I would, but the thought of his reaction terrified me. I tried to suppress my self-loathing so as to enjoy the upcoming dinner.
Soft, yellow lighting filled the vegan restaurant and bounced off the hard, dark walls. Wooden, Asian looking statues stood in the corners, and flower baskets with lilies and begonias bloomed inside. I hoped April liked vegetarian food; I adored burgers and Buffalo wings, but I’d heard great reviews about this restaurant and had been dying to try it for a while. The tempeh vegetable tamale cost almost thirty dollars—the entire tab would be well beyond anything I could afford—but I planned to splurge. Clearly, I would have to pick up the tab because April didn't have any money, and I wanted to treat her anyway.
She arrived ten minutes late, which gave me plenty of time to bite my nails and imagine everything that could go wrong with this encounter. We would have nothing to say. She would yawn when I talked. She would gaze at other women in the restaurant. But when she made her grand entrance, she looked even prettier than she had in the office. The years had only made her angelic features more beautiful. Instead of the full, chubby cheeks she once had, April had a more sculptured and refined look. And her bubbly, eighteen-year-old personality had matured into a more sophisticated but equally sexy demeanor. Her hardship had only added depth to her personality. She grinned as she sat down, joking about the restaurant being out of her league, and I knew we would have a good time.
A cute, young server with spiky black hair and a small tattoo of a royal blue star approached our table.
"What can I get you ladies?" he asked.
April giggled at the thought of someone calling her a lady. "I'll have the organic sake."
"And I'll have a bottled water," I replied. "The tempeh sounds good," I added, glancing around the crowded room to see if any attractive women would serve as my competition.
"True, but the enchiladas are our specialty," the server said.
"I'll just have a salad," April announced, wrinkling her brow as she examined the menu.
"Don't be silly. Have dinner," I said.
"It's too expensive, Kari," she whispered.
"We'll both have the zucchini enchiladas," I told the server and smiled at April.
"What bank are you robbing?"
"Don't worry about it. You deserve it."
I thought we would spend most of the night talking about the old days, but instead, she told me about TJ and how Michael raved about his nephew. He was babysitting him now. I told her all about Jack—although I tried not to think too much about him sitting at home watching reruns of The Sopranos while I was out with a former paramour.
"Tell me about your… your amazing recovery," April said and paused, waiting for my reaction. "Is that hard for you to talk about?"
"No, it seems like a bad dream now. I spent so many years in that wheelchair, and I watched everybody walking, running, or skiing. It made me so mad. I really had to work my AA program to accept my limitations and not to blame the driver or myself. Then just when I began to grasp the serenity prayer—accepting the things I couldn't change—I had this phenomenal recovery."
"Well, it didn't just happen to you, Kari. You made it happen. You talk about yourself so passively, like all you had to do was survive it, but really you fought the whole time.”
I had never seen myself as a fighter, just a victim. April made me feel better about myself.
Then we discussed the presidential race, and April, who used to think McCain was a type of french fry, now adored Bill Maher and John Oliver, and like them, she enjoyed making light of serious issues. We spent much of the night laughing, something I hadn't done in ages.
Oh, I’d laughed after my surgery! No question about that. But Jack’s idea of a good time was watching Masterpiece Theatre or playing chess. And Jack hated bars. He much preferred going to meetings and church.
April suggested a sports bar after dinner, and I was game. I had ginger ale, and April had a cola. I had to refrain from putting my hands over my ears to drown out the noise, and I didn't want to stay long because I kept worrying about Jack—I felt so duplicitous. April still made my stomach flip. When we first met, I thought my feelings for her were just infatuation, but now I liked being with her. And I couldn't help but think about our one night together years ago and her soft, luscious lips and perky breasts. Big problem! I began tapping my fingers on the bar counter and abruptly made an excuse about needing to get home.
We walked outside into the brisk fall evening. Red and orange leaves fell on the street, and I could smell falafels from the vendors. April leaned over to kiss me to thank me for the dinner. I think she aimed for my cheek, but without thinking I moved my face slightly to the left and our lips met. I felt a chill all the way down my once fractured spine. She held her mouth on mine and slowly opened her mouth and let her tongue linger. I wanted her so much I could taste it, but shame and confusion washed over me. What about Jack? I had already thrown my values to the wind years ago with disastrous consequences—with the same woman, no less. I pushed her away, shifting my weight to my cane, and hailed a taxi, refusing to look back.
Another man would have suspected his wife of lying if she had walked in late smelling of perfume and mouthing lame excuses. Not Jack. He had seen me as disabled for so many years, he never imagined anyone else wanting me. And we both attended AA, regularly working our program. He assumed I wouldn't lie to him. I felt ashamed but worse, I felt confused. I wanted April in a way that was more than sexual. I wanted to spend time with her. I didn't just want a quick lay. But how could I discard Jack after all he had done for me? And what made me think April would want me anyway? She had always been just a one-night stand—or had she?
I tossed and turned that night, unable to sleep. The next morning, I got to work an hour late because I had spent so much time on the phone with my sponsor, Rachel, explaining my dilemma. Rachel and I agreed to meet for coffee after work. The day passed in a daze. I'm sure I rubberstamped several files I should have rejected, but I couldn't concentrate. When I finally saw Rachel, I poured my heart out about April. She already knew what had transpired recently, but I wanted to give her more of the backstory.
Starbucks was busy, and I had to shout to be heard over the music and whirling coffee makers. Rachel took it all in, sipping her Frappuccino and ripping the sugar packets into small pieces because she couldn't smoke inside the coffee house. After I was finished, I hoped she would tell me what to do, but instead she just asked me questions. What did I want to do? How did I plan to fix my marriage? Was it fixable? Heavy questions that made my head spin. I couldn't answer. I didn't know.
Weeks went by, and I didn't call April. I threw out her phone number, but I had already memorized it. Jack and I fought all the time. I seemed to take my frustration and confusion out on him, and he hadn't been very pleasant before my encounter with April anyway. I still hadn't told him about the night I had dinner with her, and my conscience troubled me.
One day in February, I bumped into April in the office. She was alone because she had made daycare arrangements for TJ. We chatted awkwardly, and she blurted out an apology. She hadn't meant to kiss me so passionately. She knew I had just been kind by taking her to dinner, and she had ruined the evening.
Of course, that wasn't true. Her kiss had made the whole evening. I needed to get honest with myself about my marriage. I missed April and wanted to spend time with her. I had lost her once before, and I didn't want that to happen again.
I told her I needed to take care of some things, and I would call her soon. That night I went home and had a long overdue talk with Jack. I perspired, and my heart raced because I was afraid he would get mad or hate me. And I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I really could have used some liquid courage, but strong coffee was all I allowed myself.
"Jack, I don't know where to start to tell you how incredible you've been," I said. "I never would've made it through the accident or Lizzie's death without you. You're my anchor. And you took care of my every need for years."
"I'm waiting for the but," Jack said, looking directly into my eyes.
I gulped. "I'm not disabled anymore. Sure, I'm not like other people, but I can function again, and you’re still making my bed, packing my lunch, and calling me at work several times a day."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize—"
"There's more. I’ll always care about you, but I'm not in love with you anymore."
He looked wide-eyed.
"I want a separation, Jack. I need time on my own to think. I don't know what I'm doing." I tried to take a deep breath in.
Jack looked down. He started muttering; it sounded like the Lord's Prayer. Separation, divorce. All major sins in his book. After what seemed like an eternity, he spoke. "This hasn't been easy on me either, Kari. I had to drop everything and cut my hours at work to take care of you. I don't know what you mean about not loving me anymore. What the hell is that? Couples go through phases. It's not always lovey-dovey. You don't just leave somebody because you want space. We took an oath in the eyes of God."
We argued for hours until Jack saw the futility of trying to get me to see it his way. He agreed to move in with a friend temporarily so I could stay in the condo. Always the great sacrifice.
* * * *
A week after my talk with Jack, I called April, and we started seeing each other. This time, I was going to take it slow. I didn't want just one hot night with her. I wanted something long lasting as well as hundreds of steamy nights together! We went to the movies and sat in dark cafés drinking coffee and talking for hours. We went to dance clubs, and I watched April dance. I could walk well enough by then, but dancing was way out of my league. Still, I loved the way her body moved: the long graceful glides, the quick squats, the twirling, twisting, and spinning with her hair flying through the air and her spandex top accentuating her breasts.
We made love endlessly, in conventional places like my bed and unconventional places like bathroom stalls in the movie theater. April had a wicked, thrill-seeking side to her, and she loved to take risks by having sex in public. I was always nervous that someone might find us, and that we would be exposed as perverts, but luckily, no one stumbled upon our rendezvous in the bathroom or the back of a crowded bar or on the corner of a dimly lit street. April also liked to touch me during the movie, which made me worry that someone would see us or hear me breathing heavily, but I soon lost my inhibitions because every time she touched me, I nearly lost my mind. This was lust. I never had that with Jack, although I continue to be attracted to men. It wasn't so much that I had become a lesbian but rather that Jack was my best friend soul mate, not my lifetime love. April was my love, no question about it. I wanted her all the time and could hardly concentrate at work by thinking about her sweet kisses and astounding orgasms.
The first time we had sex after we'd reunited was spectacular. Michael was out for the evening; he had taken TJ to his parents for dinner. April grilled salmon and served it with basmati rice. We had hazelnut gelato for dessert, and afterward April cornered me in the kitchen. She put me up against the counter so that I had something to lean against and proceeded to devour me inch by inch. When I tried to reciprocate, she said no. No, she wanted to please me. She was my sex slave, and she would do whatever I asked. I giggled, but she was serious, so I began making requests, tentatively at first and then more aggressively. Kiss me. Touch me. Fuck me. Check, check, check. April devoted every ounce of mental, physical, and emotional energy to pleasing me. She got down on her knees and licked me clean up and down my legs, teasing me until she reached my swollen clit. Then she treated it like a precious object of art, something she had never seen before, something she would never let go of. My legs were weak, and I was afraid that I would have to lie down because I hadn't had sex standing up since the surgery, but I was in another world. I was so euphoric that I couldn't bring myself to stop her.
After she finished, she grinned and said, "Your turn next."
"What do you mean?" I said, spent, and dying to sit down and grab a glass of water.
"You're my slave next time." She winked, and I laughed. April had become a bit kinky. And I loved it.
By now, April had found a job at Macy's, and we often roamed the department store, trying to use up her employee discount, me lagging behind her and tapping my cane on the floor when she walked too fast. Often she would bring TJ, and we would go to the children's department, where the toys delighted him. Or we'd take him to the park or Disney movies.
After I'd lost the use of my legs, I'd given up all hope of having children. How could I? I required care twenty-four/seven. I couldn't parent a child or give that sole responsibility to Jack, who was already so busy attending to my needs. But my maternal clock had been ticking for years, and I often leafed through magazines and looked at pictures of small children or grinned and waved at little kids in the grocery store. Spending time with TJ brought out the softer side of me. He was young enough not to resent me, and he was starting to forget his other mother in Iceland.
Occasionally, Michael would join us. I hadn't seen him in years, and he looked less geeky now that he wore better glasses. The three of us would sit around my apartment eating Chinese take-out and talking about The Lizard, as we used to call Lizzie. For the first time in years, I was surrounded by people who had loved my sweet friend Elizabeth Fortunato as much as I had. And although we all felt we had abandoned her in her time of need, we could move past the pain of reminiscing and talk about the good times. The way Lizzie would swear like a truck driver at the fast food joint. The delicious food her mother served, and the homemade iced tea and pastries we would munch on, in the porch, after we got stoned. Had we ever been so young and naïve? Impossible to believe, but it was deeply gratifying to remember the positive things about Lizzie.
Of course, Jack and I had spoken of her many times over the last two decades, but he had never been close to Lizzie. He'd always focused on my betrayal—the fact I slept with April, Lizzie's love—and my need to forgive myself. Jack was more religious than I, and he also believed more in the medical model of alcoholism as a disease; hence, he thought I only slept with April because I was drunk and didn't know my ass from my elbow and that God would absolve me from responsibility because I had repented and gotten sober.
For me, it wasn't that simple. I struggled with the disease concept of alcoholism, and viewed it more as an addiction with an element of choice—and I saw myself as completely responsible. Also, I knew that as a bisexual who had never slept with a woman before, the temptation of April was just too great for me to resist. I needed to know what it was like to share a bed with a same-sex partner since I had fantasized about that since early adolescence.
Yes, I had been a bad friend, a terrible friend, and I tormented myself for years for that indiscretion. What kind of a person sleeps with her best friend's lover? Someone immoral, unethical, and unfeeling, especially because Lizzie’s depression was so severe that she frequently spent all day long in her bathrobe and refused to go out socially. My actions could have pushed her over the edge, and I blamed myself for her death. But before the evening in question, I had been a great friend for ten or more years. Was the latter erased by one drunken incident? I didn't think so. I needed to truly accept my imperfections and the reality that what was in the past was over. I never meant to hurt The Lizard—not deliberately—but I had. And now I had to move on and leave any trace of self-loathing behind.
The more time I spent with April and away from Jack, the more I realized that watching Jeopardy or playing board games with Jack, no matter how devoted he was, left something to be desired. April was uplifting. At forty-two, I felt old. The sorrow of my accident and my best friend's suicide had taken its toll, and April was my antidepressant. Every week I spent with her instead of Jack added lightness to my step, a silly smile to my face, and a glint in the blue eyes that had once looked glazed and empty in the mirror.
Time passed. The seasons changed. April and I took TJ on a ferry to the Statue of Liberty in July. He kept trying to throw things overboard to watch them bob in the water. On Halloween, TJ dressed up as a vampire. I made his costume. By Christmastime, all I could think of was what to buy TJ, but I knew what I was going to get April. No doubt in my mind.
Before I got her my surprise gift, I had a heart-to-heart talk with Jack. We had separated six months ago; however, I'd still not told him about April's reappearance. I came clean. I feared he would judge me and bring up that dreadful night again, but he surprised me.
"Your heart was never really in this marriage, Kari," Jack exclaimed.
"No, that's not true," I protested.
"Yes, be honest. The only time you really needed me was when you couldn't walk. Then when Jesus gave you back your legs, I was irrelevant."
I looked at my beautiful husband and felt sick. I hobbled across the room to embrace him, and we held each other.
We sat talking long into the night and gave each other a big hug at the end. I asked for a divorce, and he agreed reluctantly. He had hoped I would change my mind. Then I thought of all the marvelous things he had done for me over the years, and I said, "Jack, I want you to promise me something."
"What, Kari?" He gulped, probably fearing a hidden agenda.
"That we'll always be friends."
He paused and rubbed his temples. Finally, he spoke. "I wish I could say, 'Sure, honey', but I don't think it's a good idea. You know I'll always love you, but I couldn't stand to see you with April. I always thought she was just a drunken fling. Even if you were with another guy, that would make me unhappy, but April is different. I can't compete with her. And you will never get into the kingdom of heaven now. Your relationship with her is not natural."
I frowned. Of course, Jack wouldn't hate me; however, he could never be part of my future, and he had just denounced my sexual behavior now that he knew it wasn't a one-nighter. Part of me hated him for being so righteous, but I was used to his religious craziness. I didn't embrace any of it, but it worked for him, and his words didn’t anger me. If anything, I felt sad. I choked. There was a price to pay for my choices, and it hurt to know that Jack and I couldn't be friends.
After Jack left, I went down to get the mail, and the hunky twenty-eight-year-old who lived across the hall cornered me in the elevator and started making jokes. It'd been a long time since a man other than Jack had flirted with me, and I ate it up.
Although I had fallen hard for April, I still appreciated male attention. I had never been a closeted gay. Society had always wanted to squeeze me into one category or another: straight or gay, but neither fit. I was, and remained, bisexual.
My marriage had never been a sham either; Jack had just been the wrong person. But maybe not. There's an old saying that some people come into our life for a reason and others come in for a season. Maybe Jack was the right person at that particular time, but his season had passed.
I don't know if I would ever have gotten sober without Jack. I was so wild in my youth. People couldn't understand why I chose a Bible-thumping boyfriend, but his conservative stability attracted me. I couldn't rely on myself, but I could always rely on Jack. And he was already in AA. I'd hoped I would end up there someday; Jack helped me get there faster. God knows my friends like Lizzie and Michael had been of no assistance because they'd still been drinking and snorting cocaine or methamphetamines.
Jack had made me feel safe while I was drinking and after my accident. Then suddenly, the feeling of safety had turned to suffocation when I regained mobility after the surgery.
April had always been exciting. She made my heart race, and I stuttered when I was with her, searching for the right word. I felt nervous with April whereas Jack was like a comfortable old flannel shirt. Yet when we were young, she had bored me because of her idle chitter-chatter. And, of course, she had always been illicit: she'd been Lizzie's girl, not mine. Jack was what I'd needed when I was sick with alcoholism and injured physically. April was what I needed now that I could stand on my own again because she allowed me to be more of an equal partner.
On Christmas Eve, I told April I wanted to cook a special meal for her. I spent all day at the market shopping European-style. I bought Gruyere cheese with onion crackers, romaine lettuce, black olives, feta cheese, and all the trappings for a Greek salad. I made veal scaloppini—carefully pounding each piece—and purchased a scrumptious cherry cheesecake.
TJ spent the evening with Michael. April arrived early, wearing a classic little black dress with a scooped neckline. She looked as though she had on her push-up bra, and her perfect, high breasts taunted me. One strand of pearls adorned her long, graceful neck, and she had applied black eyeliner on top of her lids and below. I wanted to remove her attire piece by piece and ravish her on the couch, but I exercised my best restraint. We had already been lovers for months, but I could never look at her without desire.
I put on Maroon 5 and chuckled to myself at the line, I've had you so many times, but somehow I want more. Exactly! April kicked off her heels. We sat on the loveseat next to the Christmas tree and the blazing fire. We stayed like that, eating and drinking Chardonnay—Perrier with lime for me—for hours. Finally, I pulled off her tight red sweater and admired the lacy black bra underneath. I probed her mouth with my tongue endlessly until I could feel her nipples harden. I tugged at her leggings and sighed when I saw the Brazilian wax, which gave me such a perfect view of her tight pussy. I lay down beside her with my mouth lapping up her sweet juices until I made her cry out for me to stop. She came at least three times. All the while Adam Levine sang "Sugar" repeatedly because I had forgotten to ask Siri to shuffle the music.
Without giving April any time to remove my clothes or pleasure me, I got up and handed her a small box from under the tree. Her hands shaking, she accepted it cautiously.
"If this is what I think it is—"
"Don't talk. Just open it," I said.
Gracefully pulling my amethyst crystal ring out of the box, April gasped. I had considered buying a sapphire ring to match the month of her birthday, but Dionysus was once given an amethyst stone to preserve his sanity after drinking too much wine. I thought April would appreciate the irony that she had been the one to restore my peace of mind.
"Say yes. I don't want to be lovers, and I don't want you to leave. I want you as my wife. This is for good, April. What do you say?"
She didn't answer. She just pulled me close, caressed my face, and began kissing every inch of me. "I love you," she murmured as she slipped off my wool dress, ran her skilled fingers up my legs, and reached my pulsating mound. I spread my legs, yearning to feel April's teasing touch. We kissed sweetly, mouths open so wide I thought my jaw would crack.
I pushed away. "Answer me, damn it! I need to know."
"About what?" April teased.
"Marriage!" I shouted.
"Well, I don't know." She paused and then added, "What about the hot guy in your condo? How do I know you won't take off with him one night when you're bored with me?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You’re all I want."
"But you'll miss men."
"No more than you’d miss another woman. We’re getting married, not buried. As long as I'm alive, I'll still be attracted to men and women, but I just want you. So let me know before I put Justin Bieber on instant replay," I said playfully.
"Yes, of course, you idiot," April replied, holding my face in her hands.
And then she removed my clothes. April caressed my taut nipples, licking each one slowly in circles as she rubbed my abdomen. Then she ran her hands slowly down my thighs. I stroked her beautiful hair and kissed her shoulder, biting her gently while she stroked my aching clit with her expert fingers. I groaned.
"More," I said, breathing heavily.
"Greedy," she replied, sliding her probing tongue inside my now throbbing hole. She alternated between her tongue and her fingers, and I could feel my vaginal muscles contracting. I was so wet. I couldn't remember a more pleasurable sensation except maybe cocaine, but how could anyone truly love cocaine when cocaine could never love her back? I loved April so much and wanted to spend my life with her. And she had said yes! Tears rolled down my cheeks.
April got out a little dildo that we used on special occasions. She gave me a mischievous wink and began to slide the small object in and out of my dripping cunt. Neither one of us liked big dildos. This one was just the right size. She found a rhythm and began to fuck me slowly at first and then faster and harder as my breathing increased. "Yes, yes, yes," was all I could mutter as I felt my contractions hugging the small dildo until I exploded. "Yes, April." Two words I had always wanted to say.
Next Christmas April, TJ, and I would be together. I needed to tell her I wanted to adopt TJ. No one had moved me the way that little boy with the big, sloppy Afro had touched my heart. But I couldn't tell her because I was coming, over and over again. I had been such a child, a lesbian virgin when I first slept with April at age twenty-one. Now we were grown up. We had survived traumas and years of separation, but finally, she was here for good. And still I was coming, coming, coming under the mistletoe and delirious that April had returned.
© Copyright 2016, Sigrid Macdonald. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.