Tutto Italia

travelhyper via Creative Commons

I met my husband on my eighth wedding anniversary. He likes to tease me that I even procrastinated on my seven year itch. David, my ex, had taken me down to Florida for a few days of alone time, not a full week. He could never stand to be away from the office very long.

When I first saw Gregory, we were crowded into a tiny Italian restaurant with about six tables total. Greg was there with a date and you could tell right away that the date wasn’t going well; most of what I remember about her are the four cocktails she drank before they got a table. David and Greg struck up a conversation. David was always good at breaking the ice, getting to know people everywhere he went. He was awful at maintaining friendships, but he could make like he was best buddies with a guy he’d run into ten minutes earlier.

Greg was from The City, down to visit family who had arranged his ill-fated date, and we lived in Jersey at the time. It was coincidental but not uncommon to run into a fellow New Yorker this far south, but it got a little funny when Greg mentioned he was staying at the same Hilton we were, just a floor down from us.

I didn’t get much of an impression of Greg then. David did the majority of the talking, converting me into a conversational barnacle, just along for the ride. He had a way of talking for me, saying things like, “Did you watch the game on Sunday? We did. We just about lost it when Folk missed that field goal!” He’d say “we” like I had been right alongside him, wearing my team jersey and spilling beernuts in agitation when the team lost. David’s narrative excluded how I spent the afternoon doing laundry upstairs, looking up recipes on the computer, and fixing the kids a snack. Game time was always David Time, and I tried to play the doting wife, coming down every thirty minutes or so to bring him a fresh beer and see if he wanted any chips. He’d smile and pinch my butt in a distracted but affectionate way. Everything he ever did carried the implied suffix, “little lady.”

If you put them side by side, I guess you would have to say David is the more handsome of the two. David is a bit on the short side while Greg is very tall, but David has enviable bone structure, and plenty of people told him he could be a model or actor. He never had much use for that kind of thing, which he alternately referred to as “vanity” or “airy-fairy” work. He owned a construction firm and, despite having not lifted a hammer in probably eleven years, he still thought of his job as the epitome of masculinity. Greg’s revelation that he was an artist was met by a derisive snort.

Eventually we parted ways, Greg went to his doomed date and David and I sat down to stuffed mushrooms and tiramisu, which we ate while we talked about our kids and television shows and nothing of consequence. I remember I kept stealing glances at Greg, noting how frustrated he seemed by his inebriated date, whose face I can’t recall in the least but whose hair I remember clearly: an asymmetric bob dyed so blonde it was practically white. Greg and his date left halfway through our meal, slipping out beneath my notice. After dessert, while we sipped espresso, my then-husband made a corny little speech about how happy he’d been for the last eight years, elucidating how lucky he felt to be with me.

The nice thing about Greg is that he never feels he has to flatter me, like he has to descend into these flowery speeches. Instead of talking about being happy, Greg just laughs. Instead of saying how sexy he thinks I am, he sweeps me up and tumbles with me on the bed. Instead of describing how much he appreciates the work I do, he pitches in. I tried to tell David that those were the kinds of things I was looking for, but he never listened.

That night David and I went back to the hotel and made love, the familiar kind where we turn off all the lights and get all the way under the covers. The kind where he goes down on me for six minutes and then we do missionary for ten and he finishes grunting into my ear and I finish myself while he watches. Afterward, he went to the bathroom for his customary post-coital bowel movement and I looked around for a cocktail. I decided against the mini-bar because David always thought they were such a ripoff. I didn’t want to pick a fight, not even one of those half-joking, half-sneering fights where you laugh all the way through but feel maimed afterward. Later I would remember this moment as typifying my marriage to David: suppression to avoid discord. I flipped on the TV until David came out and asked me to turn it off so he could get some rest. He kissed me without meaning and fell asleep.

I sat in bed, bored, for an hour. I tried to read my book but couldn’t get comfortable. I tried to watch TV with the sound off and the closed captioning on, until David muttered that the electronic whine was keeping him awake. At last I told him I was going to go look for a midnight snack, pulled my dress back on and went down to the bar.

The only other person in the bar besides Greg was an older woman sitting at a lonely booth, reading a true crime novel and sipping wine. She had a wedding ring on her finger that looked very old-fashioned and I felt very sorry for her. I could feel Greg’s eyes on me as the bartender came over. I ordered a white russian, waited until I had paid and taken my first sip, only then allowing my eyes to glance over and catch Greg’s burning gaze. He flashed me a grin: maybe casual recognition, maybe poisoned intent. He picked up his scotch and walked over, a little gangly and uncoordinated, but confident the way a man is when they feel nothing is at stake.

“Danielle, right? From Mama Capini’s?”

“You got me,” I said, suppressing a smile.

“Where’s your other half?”

“Upstairs,” I said, “asleep.”

“Not a night owl?”

I shook my head. “Too many years getting up before dawn I guess.”

A pause in conversation, that early in, is usually a bad sign. But as we both took sips of our drinks, I remember marveling even then how non-awkward it was. Just being in the same space as Greg, even if there were no words exchanged, even if there wasn’t anything in particular either of us could think to say.

“How did your date go?” I asked, not just to fill the silence but also out of genuine curiosity. He groaned.

“Awful,” he said. “Truly awful.”

“She looked like she was on a date with her drink,” I said, bringing a chuckle from him. I liked how his adam’s apple bobbed when he laughed in his throat like that.

“Yes, well, she did seem to need to dull the pain of my company.”

“Oh, don’t be like that,” I chided, “I’m sure you were very charming.”

“Charmed her right into a religious fervor,” he said.

“What?”

“She was worshipping the porcelain god when last I left her,” he said deadpan. A beat, then we both broke into sniggering laughs that drew the attention from the old novel-reader and the barkeep. We hastened to compose ourselves.

“A blind date?” I asked when we were back in control.

“Not really,” Greg said, “she works with my sister down here. I’d talked to her a few times, but…”

“But you were really indulging your sister when you took her out.”

He eyed me with a heated half-smile. I found myself suddenly very aware that I had David’s semen inside of me. “Very perceptive,” he said. Something about his tone made me blush, which was stupid because it wasn’t even a real compliment.

I muttered something about how girls just knew these things and took a gulp of my drink, feeling the unfamiliar but not entirely unpleasant rush of guilt. Over the next few months, that surge of excitement would become my drug of choice. But there in the bar it was just a tide of broken routines, a fresh wash of stepping beyond the veil of my planned and organized life with all its neat little smartphone-assisted buckets and habitual responsibilities and organized, societally-approved interruptions: date nights, weekend getaways, family vacations.

I’ve asked Greg since how he knew that it was okay for him to flirt with a married woman, tried to pry from him what combination of testicular fortitude and blind luck it took to proposition a woman he knew only from a partial encounter in a restaurant where, by all accounts, she is about to be wined and dined for her anniversary. Of all things. How, from a few mildly flirtatious sentences, he somehow arrived at his next query: “So, do you want to come up to my room for a bit?”

Even in context, I knew it was out of left field. Whenever I reflect back on that sentence, the one that really changed my life completely, I think how amazing it was for him to know to ask that, right at the moment when it would have shocked me both the most and, in a weird way, the least. Even though the incredibly—almost offensively—forward nature of the request doused me with ice, in some way I kind of felt it coming. One way or another, I was begging him to ask.

“Yeah,” I remember saying, almost under my breath. Greg laid a tip down on the bar and put his hand on my back in a familiar way, guiding me gently but with enough insistence that I couldn’t resist without causing a physical altercation. He got no resistance from me.

As soon as the elevator doors closed, he lifted me off the ground and kissed me, his intentional scruff of five o’clock shadow very masculine against my face, so unlike David’s relentlessly smooth cheeks. His kissing style was so much different from my husband’s, so forceful and probing where David’s was soft and yielding, and I loved the way Greg seemed to be almost giving me a preview of later activities with the way his tongue thrust in and out of my mouth.

I always regret that I was so lost in that first kiss I don’t remember anything about the rest of the elevator ride, or the walk down the hall, or getting into Greg’s room, or having him undress me, or of the sex we were having until we were about halfway through and I was feeling a carnal excitement I hadn’t felt in probably seven and a half years. It was different, that’s what I kept thinking. David’s body was well-fed and soft, a manscaped layer of beer and peanuts adding subtle curves and a bit of an overhang on his belly that slapped against mine under the covers. Greg’s was all sinew and coarse hair, tight abs that folded into tiny hills of flexing muscle while he drove himself into places I’d forgotten were even a part of me. I re-discovered the fact that, once upon a time, I used to scream like a banshee during sex. Kids and neighbors and grunting routines had bled that out of me and I don’t remember when or where it happened.

That night, I screamed again. I haven’t stopped screaming since.

* * * * *

Greg and I didn’t see each other for a few weeks. I tried to go back to my life, to tell myself that it was a fluke, to convince myself it had been a mistake. But David became so transparent to me once we got back home. Every “little lady” he said without saying, every sincere thanks to me for washing the dishes while he sat and watched basketball, every time he sat with our son Josh at the kitchen table to help with homework but checked his phone every three minutes, all so sickeningly familiar. I called Greg late one morning with the contact number he had left in my phone. I asked what he was doing and he said he was working on a new commission, but he could be free for coffee if I wanted to get together.

I did.

What made me realize I wasn’t just having an affair was how Greg and I didn’t have sex again for three months. We met for coffee, we had dinners I disguised to David as PTA subcommittee meetings or girls nights out, we watched movies at his apartment. Greg didn’t ask for more sex. His ability to know what I want or what I need and, most importantly, when, is why I know we were made for each other. I don’t have to tell him when to back off and give me space. I don’t have to ask for him to lend a hand with the chores or with the kids, he just knows. I don’t have to negotiate with him to fulfill my need for toe-curling orgasms: He has a sixth sense about it so when I need it, he’s there.

When we finally did have sex again, on Greg’s rickety little kitchen table, interrupting our conversation about books that have been adapted to film, it was like revisiting heaven after a long vacation to hell. I couldn’t go back.

David and I never really fought all that much, which surprises some people. As near as I can tell, he never knew about the affair. Oh, later on there were whispers, I’m sure. Greg and I were married within nine months of my divorce being finalized. David isn’t stupid so eventually he put together the fact that he had met Greg while we were down in Florida. I’m pretty sure he just chalks it up to one of those strange twists of fate. In any case, even though the custody hearings were long and brutal, my infidelity was never brought into it as leverage which means either he didn’t know or he didn’t have any proof.

A few nights ago, Greg asked me if I ever felt guilty for leaving David to be with him. I had to think about it for a while, because I do regret putting the kids through some of the trauma. Their lives have been an unbroken series of handoffs and hearings and bickering feuds and struggles with accepting Greg as their new father and the turmoil of watching their dad try to date. It can’t have been easy on them, I know that. But Greg is my soulmate. It just wasn’t meant to be with David. If you find someone, someone who fills the empty spot in yourself, who is strong wherever you are weak, who is able to make every day feel like a wish fulfilled, you don’t have a choice. That’s destiny, and you don’t fight what is meant to be.

I told him, “No, I don’t feel guilty. I only feel bad I met him before I met you; I regret wasting part of my life with someone I wasn’t supposed to be with.”

“So you think there’s just one person in the world we’re supposed to find?”

“Yep,” I said, “and I found you.”

He smiled then, looked back down at his newspaper and said, “Hm.”

I love that I don’t have to explain myself to him a million times. He just gets me.

One thought on “I Have No Choice But To Call It Destiny

  1. I think this is the last of the burst of short stories I wrote in the fall and early winter of 2011 which I don’t have earmarked for submission. The idea here was to challenge my wife Nikki, who is my First Reader, and myself. Nikki hates cheating spouses in fiction and I set out here to try and make one that was somewhat sympathetic. Interestingly, I didn’t think I succeeded at all, but Nik claimed otherwise.

    A couple of things I liked about the initial version was the way the two male leads kind of give the impression that the narrator isn’t particularly reliable. Any sympathy Danielle is able to muster comes by way of her characterization of David but not by anything specific that he factually does. Likewise, Greg shows hints of being less than perfect, despite Danielle’s obvious belief to the contrary. I also think the pacing of this one is decent, considering it’s barely over 2,000 words and covers quite a bit of territory. In the redraft for posting here I was pretty happy with the line, “He flashed me a grin: maybe casual recognition, maybe poisoned intent.” Or maybe I just worked on it so long I want to be proud of it.

    Not-so-great things: the dialogue throughout (as little as there is) could be snappier. I also still feel very aware when reading this that I was Writing The Other, perhaps more so because of the first-person perspective. I also kind of hate the last line, but I tried on a dozen others and they were all even worse. Finally, I was trying to capture a kind of Raymond Carver vibe here and… yeah. No. That didn’t happen.

    As a final aside, this is probably the most racy thing I’ve ever posted to one of my sites (and it even pales in comparison to some of my other work), so yeah. In case you missed the notice when the site first went up, my fiction is quite different from my blog post stuff. Heed the ratings and content descriptors in the tags if you don’t care for this kind of thing.

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