Slip of the Tongue(10)

By: Jessica Hawkins



I turn to my side, away from Nate, and take a meditative breath. I don’t want to go there with him. He’s sensitive, and I’ll probably say something I don’t mean. “Turn out the lights, please,” I tell him. “And don’t touch me tonight. Or any night until I say you can.”

I expect a retort, maybe some more muttered, passive-aggressive attitude. It doesn’t come. The floor creaks. Nathan turns out the light but doesn’t get into bed. Seconds later, I hear a burst of voices in the next room before it gradually lowers to a soft hum. TV glares flashes into the bedroom. My side of the mattress sags.

“You’re like the goddamn princess and the pea,” Nathan told me once over breakfast. We’d been dating a month or two and had slept in the same bed a handful of times. “I had to hug you all night just to keep you still.”

I blushed, smiling. “How do you know I wasn’t faking so you’d cuddle?”

“Because you already know I don’t need any excuse to cuddle with you . . . Princess.”

“Princess?” I asked, surprised. He’d never called me that before. “Says who? I’m no princess.”

He grinned. “Then I guess that makes you a pea.”

Six months later, when he affectionately referred to me as ‘pea’ for the third time, I stopped him. “I don’t like that nickname.”

“Why not?” he asked, serious. “You don’t want to be a pea?”

“A shriveled green ball that people pretend to like but actually hate?” I stuck out my bottom lip.

He laughed and laughed. “Yeah. That’s exactly it. That’s you.”

Every few months, after I thought he’d mercifully forgotten about it, he’d call me pea out of nowhere. “More wine, Pea?” he’d shout in a crowded restaurant, or, another time, when we were alone, “My dear Pea, I took out the trash so you won’t have to.”

Tonight, I stare at the wall, unable to sleep. My problems are little green veggies under the mattress. I never could get him to shake that dumb nickname, but now I can’t remember the last time he used it. It’s just one more addition to a growing list of things I took for granted.

I get out of bed. Now, I’m not just hot for him, but nostalgic too. It’s a lonely combination. I stand in the bedroom doorway. It’s dark, except for the flash of the TV, and I know he can see me from where he lies on the couch in his boxer briefs. There are tools I haven’t used on him yet, and I think it might be time to get them out. When he looks over, I strip off my dowdy pajama top, then slowly peel my panties off.

“Nathan,” I try again. “Come to bed. You know what I want.”

He stares. If he doesn’t answer, I might have to beg. I’m not above it. Nathan’s never made me doubt his attraction to me until now, and two months isn’t enough to extinguish my confidence.

After a moment, he responds, his voice raspy. “What do you want?”

“You know,” I repeat. I run a hand between my breasts, down my stomach. As I reach my mound, ready to do whatever it takes, he rises fluidly from the couch.

Briefly, I think of Finn, who sat there not hours ago. His beer-breath, later, as he told me his name.

I forget all about him when Nathan stalks toward me.

Suddenly, I’m nervous—to have sex with my own husband. He stops in front of me. The only sound is our breathing. I can’t wait any longer. I rise onto the balls of my feet and press my lips to his. I wait there. Finally, he slides his hands in my hair and kisses me back. I hug his neck. And he thaws—right there in my arms. This is the Nathan I know, the one who adores me no matter what’s going on his head.

On an inhale, he picks me up by my middle and walks me backward toward the bed. “Christ, baby,” he says between frenzied kisses. “You taste so—”

I moan, “Nathan.”

He stops. Without warning, he releases me like my skin’s on fire.

I stumble to catch my balance. “What’s wrong?” I ask breathlessly.

I can see his expression darkening. I don’t want to lose him, but he looks at me as if he doesn’t know me. The silence grows uncomfortable. He engulfs my shoulders with his large hands and slowly turns me around. “Are you sure?”

I keep my gaze forward and swallow dryly. “Sure . . . about what?”

He steps forward, pulling my back to his front. “You sure you’re ready?” he asks hoarsely into my ear. His rigid length jabs my lower back. There’s no question he’s ready. “Because two months is a long time to stay away from something I want. I’m going a little crazy.”

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