I sat at my desk, a blank piece of beautiful stationery in front of me, my favorite pen in hand, and tried to answer Josh. I wanted him to know that what I saw in him was broken, beautiful, compelling. But men – do they want to hear that? Or did he just want to hear that I lusted after his body? That I wanted to do unspeakable things to him, that I could scarcely think of anything else, that my family and job and running were mere distractions from my main focus – getting the two of us naked in the same place at the same time?
His letter was so sensual, so soft. Not overtly dirty – and I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I was stuck.
I put my pen down and put my running clothes on and headed out to the greenway. I ran with the express purpose of clearing my head and figuring out at least the first sentence of my reply to Josh. I was determined not to stop until I knew how I was going to begin, even if I had to run all day and meet the bus in my dri-fit shirt and shorts, sweaty and red-faced but satisfied with the opening of my letter.
I had been running for about an hour when I felt my phone buzz with a text.
It was from Josh. Of course it was from Josh.
“Stop what?” I replied.
“Stop running. Stop trying so hard. Stop not answering me. If I know you at all, I know you are avoiding answering me because you’re trying to make it perfect.”
I smiled to myself, shook my head.
How did he know? He knew because he knew me. I don’t know how, but he understood me. Which meant one of three things: either he made a great guess; or I was a cliche and every woman he began an affair with tried to write him a perfect reply, that every woman every man began an affair with tried to write her would-be lover a perfect reply; or that we truly were something special.
Wasn’t it possible, I reasoned with myself, that we were soulmates, that we were meant to be, that we deserved to have something together because he got me? My husband didn’t get me. My mom didn’t get me. I didn’t even get myself sometimes. I owed myself, the two of us, a chance. Didn’t I?
Of course I did.
The only possibility that made sense was that Josh understood me in ways I had never imagined and so therefore this wasn’t wrong.
“You’re right. I want my reply to be perfect.”
“So if I told you the perfect answer was ‘yes, Josh, I want to see. I want you’ what would you say?”
“I would say”
“I want to see”
“I want you.”
I held my breath and sat down on a bench. What if he didn’t answer? What if this was a trap, that he had done all this because my husband asked him to see if I would cheat, and he was going to show all of this to him, and I would end up losing everything? Including Josh, if I had ever really had him?
Was that even possible, reasonable? My husband had shown little to no interest in anything I did, other than spend money on running gear or let the kids leave their rooms messy, in years. Why would he suddenly care if I was seeing another man? I was paranoid, ridiculous. Josh really had some sort of feelings for me, and I had some sort of feelings for him, and we were discussing the possibility of exploring those feelings. This had nothing to do with my marriage.
I put my head between my legs, breathing deeply, trying to slow my pounding heart and calm the panic that swirled through my head and my blood and my loins. I sat back up, pulled out my phone, ready to text him back and tell him no, I couldn’t do it. I wanted him but I couldn’t have him, that jeopardizing two families was too much.
It buzzed. My phone burst with two short buzzes, and Josh’s words popped up on my screen.
“I am so happy right now.”
“I can’t wait to see you again.”
Before I could stop myself I texted back:
“Mile 6, Bench by the lake.”
He texted me back a smiley face.
I didn’t move. I stared at the trees, I looked up and I watched the clouds through the lush green leaves. I lost myself in the breeze, in the beauty around me. I was mesmerized for that moment, and then I felt a gentle finger stroke my cheek.
I looked up, both surprised and not surprised to see Josh.
My face tingled where he had touched me. It tingled for a long time. It tingled until he kissed me. It tingled until his tongue licked my lips, entered my mouth, It tingled until he touched my cheek again, until he used his whole hand to hold my face, and the other hand on the back of my sweaty neck to pull me to him and melt me into him and kiss me harder. I felt myself wanting to straddle him, facing him, grinding against him. I felt myself wanting things I should not have been ready to want, I found myself wanting him, right there on a bench on a greenway in the center of the suburbs where we both lived, in the middle of a mostly sunny day when the kids were at school and the world twirled on around us.
I managed to break our kiss, to back away enough to catch my breath, to open my eyes and find myself blinded by the brightness and dizzy from heat and lust and breathless from the rush of recklessness.
I knew better.
I couldn’t make myself do better, but I knew better.
“Wow” I breathed, or he breathed. I don’t really know, it seemed like our breaths had we were breathing and thinking and speaking as one.
He stood and pulled me up to him, looked in my eyes and took my hand. He led me to the woods, off the trail, deep between the trees. He let go of my hand and for the first time I noticed that he had a backpack. He bent down and unzipped it, pulling out a blanket, cold water, trail mix with chocolate chips in it. He spread the blanket on the ground. He handed me the water.
He laid down on the blanket, he patted the space next to him. I sat cross legged beside him and guzzled the water. He handed me the trail mix and I ate a handful.
“How far did you run?”
I checked my FitBit. “6! Holy crap! I ran 6 miles!”
I had never run that far without stopping before. He watched me smile. “What were you thinking about? What made you run?”
I laid down beside him, facing him but not looking him in the eye. “You.”
“What about me?” he traced lazy circles on my shoulder with the tip of his finger. It tickled but I didn’t want him to stop.
“i was, well, I was trying to figure out how to answer your letter.”
I could feel him smile. I could feel him grow warmer, move closer. He put his finger under my chin and lifted my face to him. i couldn’t help but look him in the eye now.
“And what did you figure out in 6 miles?”
“I figured out the first line.”
“Oh yeah? And what was it?”
I laughed. “Dear Josh.”
He kissed me as I laughed, and he ran his fingers through my hair as he kissed me, and I pressed my body against him as he ran his fingers through my hair.
His phone rang and he ignored it.
“I want you, Lissa. But not today, not like this. I want it to be perfect. I want it to be in a bed, in a room, in a place where you can scream when I make you scream and moan when I make you moan and when we have time to explore – I want to see and touch and lick and kiss every inch of your beautiful body and I want it all, Lissa. I don’t want to leave anything undone. I want you to be exhausted from being satisfied and burning up with lust to start all over again.”
I tried to answer him, to say that this was perfect, that anything with him would be perfect, that we would never have enough time or space for all the things he wanted so we better just take what we had when we had it, but he kissed me again. His fingers found their way under my shirt and stroked my stomach, slowly, rhythmically. He found the spot on my side that’s super sensitive, and he exploited the sensitivity, gently. “Does that feel good, or do you want me to stop?” he whispered.
“Both” I said, my body quivering, “it feels good and you have to stop.”
He didn’t ask any questions, he didn’t protest or pout or whine or stomp away. He moved his hand away from the spot on my side and he kept kissing me. And whether he ever said he loved me or not, that small act, that tiny acquiescence to something I asked of him made me feel like he loved me. And that was enough.
One small moment of feeling as though I had been loved in contrast to the million ways every day in which I felt like I was absolutely not loved was enough to make the difference. It was enough to tip the balance, the very careful balance I had held for all these years. And it was, in that moment, that I fell completely.
Men think it takes candles and fine dining and sparkly rings and trips to Mexico to win a woman. And women think they deserve all of those things in order to give their love. But in reality it only takes small things to win a woman. Bringing her cold water when she’s been running. Not pushing when the time isn’t right. Bringing a blanket to spread on the ground so you can make out with her in a park without either of you getting dirty.
Letting her answer be yes, even if that yes is straightforward and ineloquent and reeks of need. Touching her face in a way that still tingles hours later.
Moving your hand away when she asks you to, but still kissing her until your phone rings again.
He picked it up and looked at the screen. He simultaneously answered and stood up and walked a few feet away from the blanket. He came back a few moments later. “Work stuff. I really need to get back, Lissa. I’m sorry.”
I checked the time. “I should probably get cleaned up before the kids get off the bus.”
“I’m really sorry – I planned to spend as much time with you as you needed because I wanted to be sure you know…” I placed my finger over his lips and looked him in the eye.
“It’s ok. I know. Go to work, do your work thing, and we’ll pick this up where we left off.”
“Text me tonight. We’ll figure it out.”
He smiled, and we worked together to fold up the blanket. he put it back in his backpack and handed me the rest of the trail mix and another bottle of water. He walked me back to my car and touched my cheek again. “I will definitely text you later. Have a good afternoon – I’ll be thinking about you.”
I blushed. “Same here, Josh. Same here.”
I hoped without knowing I was hoping that he would kiss me goodbye. I thought he would kiss me. I knew it would be foolish, that we could be seen, caught. But I thought he would kiss me anyway. I thought what he felt transcended foolishness. I thought his need for me would overrule his good sense.
When it didn’t, when he didn’t kiss me, I was sad. Disappointed. Disillusioned, a little. But, I chided myself, this had been our first official meeting or date or session or whatever the hell you call it when people decide to begin an affair. Maybe in time he would kiss me as we parted. Or maybe it was too painful to kiss me, knowing it was possible he would have to kiss her and/or I would have to kiss him later that same day.
Or maybe he was just being smart.
Or maybe he had an uncanny ability to put me in a box in his mind. In the woods, in a hotel, in a spare bedroom at his fraternity brother’s house, I was his, and I was all he thought about. But in the light of day, in the parking lot – we were friends. Our families were friendly. But out there in the world, I was not his, he was not mine. Maybe he could put me and his feelings for me in a little box in the back of his mind and pretend like everything was normal. I realized in that moment, when the excitement over touching him and him touching me, the excitement over the beginning of something new, the excitement over all the firsts we still had to experience together was tinged with a faint but very real flush of disappointment, that I could not put my feelings for him in a box. This would bleed over and alter my view of everyone and everything in my world.
But what I didn’t realize was how damaging, how dangerous, that could be.
But I waved goodbye, I didn’t insist on further contact between us in that moment, I played it cool. He waved, and he nodded, and he got into his car, and he left.