I am beyond hot for Jeremiah, who’s only 20, half my age, and in a relationship. But the relationship isn’t the problem because Jeremiah’s not in love with his girl—he’s in love with me. And it’s not our ages either, though I could be his mother. The problem is that while I would love to shag Jeremiah silly—God knows I would—I’m in love with my husband, Thomas. Really. It’s these darned herbs I’m taking—Shitavari: Capable of 100 Husbands and Ashwaganda: Strength of a Horse—to get us pregnant.
After all baby makes three and all that crap.
I am a horny mess, what with all this bewitching of my ovaries, and Jeremiah knows I’m hot for him, Good Lord. If that boy presses his cute little checkered pants arse against my apron one more time I’m going to lose my cucumbers.
One day, in the kitchen at the restaurant where Jeremiah and I work, I’m snatching meatballs from the hot line, smiling at the cooks, hungry, and hoping I can flirt my way into getting all of us, all the waitresses, fish for dinner instead of fried chicken (because my doctor says fish have enzymes, which are good for womb juices and such), and Jeremiah, cooking, shoots the daggers of his deep blue eyes right into my own, My Lord.
“Oh, I know what you want, Elsie,” he says.
Shifting my hips around, trying to hush the hunger in my groin, I pretend not to hear him.
“Oh, I know you hear me, Elsie,” he says.
I’m trying so hard not to smile, and I won’t look up for anything because I know he’s still throwing those daggers at me.
“Say, Elsie,” he says.
“Whatcha doin later?”
“What do you mean?” I shift again, but it’s no use. Twitching all over, I focus harder on my meatball.
“Oh, Elsie, you know what I mean.”
My eyes betray me. They look up at him, dog gonnit. Just as he closes his mouth over the breast of chicken in his hand, searing his tongue. Liquid juices down his nude forearm and streams into the sleeve of his chef’s coat. Eyes watering from the heat, his smile cracks open when he’s finished chewing. His tongue swoops down the back of his hand, still cupping the breast, and he laps up all that moisture. When he laughs it’s so damned sexy. But I melt when tears stream down his face. Sensitive men drive me wild.
Speechless, I back my own arse out of the kitchen fast as I can manage. Head thrown back, palms pressing my pulsing thighs through my apron, I sway through the dining room as if in a dream. Dear god what on Earth am I going to do?
The next morning when I pull up to work on my motorcycle, Jeremiah’s puffing away on a cigarette out front. It’s still early, dark as night, and the breakfast crowd won’t be along for a while.
“It’s cold out here Elsie,” he says, hands in his pockets, cigarette puffing between his lips.
“I know. You shouldn’t be smoking.”
He shrugs and looks away, hands still stuck in his pockets like he’s after something. There’s something wrong this morning, I think. Or maybe he’s just tired. For a moment I think we’re safe—that I won’t be tempted by him any longer. He’s just a kid, after all, and I’m, well I’m just not. Something inside me wants to press his head to my breast, but not like that. I want to do it like a mom. I want to take care of him. Rubbing my fingers together and breathing heavy into them, I try to warm up while he smokes.
After his cigarette, he looks up.
I follow him up there, looking where he’s looking, but it just looks like sky to me. Little stars piercing the darkness. He keeps on looking, searching, so I search his face, which is long and sad. “Hey,” I say to him. “You okay today?”
His head still angled up, away from me, hands still in his pockets, fingers wiggling wildly around in there, he’s still searching. Shoulders shrugging, he says nothing. He blinks back tears.
“Hey,” I say to him. “Jeremiah, what’s going on?” I warm my fingers with one more big exhale and then I touch him on the forearm. I wait a few minutes, just like that, and neither of us moves. “Do you want me to go?” I ask him finally.
“Do you want to be alone?”
His gaze descends back down the ladder of the sky until it finds the earth. In our four years working together I have never known Jeremiah to look at the earth unless he’s bending to pick something up.
“Sweetheart,” I say, stepping in closer. “It’s me, Elsie. Sweetheart, Jeramiah, you can talk to me.”
Maybe I should have stopped right there. Maybe I shouldn’t have pressed him anymore, but I couldn’t help it, seeing him in pain like that.
“Jeramiah, I love you, you know.”
The passion I’d been harboring for him drains from me. I want to protect him. I suppose it’s a different type of passion. One passion replacing the next. Stepping closer, I wrap him up in my arms. If someone drives past, this is what they’ll see: a tall, gangly young man, hands stuffed in his pockets, staring at the earth beneath his gnarled shoes; a middle aged woman, arms wound round his middle, pressing herself into his side, her head on his bicep. It might look like the end of an affair, which it is, sort of.
“Time for work,” he says, and spins round on his heel, preparing to leave me dumbfounded and raw, but I stop him. “Jeremiah,” I plead, “wait.”
“Why?” he asks. “What’s the point? We’ll talk and I’ll tell you I love you, and you’ll go home to your husband, and I’ll still be alone, I’ll still be missing you. Forget it, Elsie. Just leave me alone.”
“Jeremiah,” I begin, but I don’t know what to say. What can I say? Sinking down onto the curb, I hide my face in my fingers. He stays. He waits for me to say something to make it better. “Sweetheart,” I finally manage, “I’m old enough to be your mother, and I love my husband. You don’t love me—”
“I do, Elsie,” he argues, and spits at the earth. He kicks the garbage can with the steel toe of his boot. “You see?” he asks. “I knew you’d say this. I know you love Thomas. But you love me, too.”
“No,” I lie. Because lying to him is the only thing to do.
What can I possibly say to Jeremiah? Yes, I love you, but not in the way you want me to love you? That I’m out of my mind, all jacked up on herbs, a last ditch effort to achieve pregnancy without IVF at my age? That trying to achieve pregnancy might be just a last ditch effort to revive my stale marriage? That all love goes stale eventually, and that you have to find the one you want to work through the staleness with? Is that even true? Does all love, eventually, go stale? Do I still love Thomas? Does he love me? Or are we fooling ourselves? I’m older than Jeremiah, and I’m supposed to be wiser. But I feel like a fool.
After Jeremiah leaves, I cry, head in my hands, until he hollers at me through the open kitchen window, announcing the first table of hungry breakfasters waiting to be served.
That night, groggy from an evening nap, and still recovering from my morning outside the restaurant with Jeremiah, I’m nestled into the sofa in my living room, drinking hot buttered rum (something I do when Thomas is gone and I’m feeling lonely) when the door bell rings. The mantel clock, a wedding gift from Thomas’s mother, shows quarter past midnight. The San Francisco skyline twinkles at me through the porch window. Haggard and drunk, I stare out onto Russian Hill. The city is sleeping. I should be sleeping, too. Disoriented, I rub my forehead with the back of my arm and ignore the bell. Perhaps I imagined it? Thomas is on the east coast for super bowl parties with his buddies, and I’m not keen on being left alone at our apartment in the city anyway. Sipping my rum, I begin thinking to myself, All those people out there…
The bell rings again.
This time I’m a little startled. “What?” I call from the sofa.
“Elsie, it’s me, Jeramiah.”
“It’s me.” Rightfully wondering whether I’ll scold him, ignore him, or permit him to enter my home, he waits a minute. But then, “Jeram—”
“I heard you,” I holler. My mug I place on the coffee table, and I pad on over to the door, bumping my knees on the hearth and my hip on the corner of the hallway wall. I wish for a mirror in our foyer, but we don’t have one, so I can’t notice my hair and all that. I just open the door for him and turn away before he enters. In a moment, he hovers over me as, rum in hand, I resume my nest in the sofa. “There’s hot buttered rum on the stove. Mugs over the sink.”
I watch him as he helps himself in the kitchen, sort of guffawing for a moment when I remember in my haze that he’s not even of legal drinking age. Suddenly I feel old. And very lonely. But as I watch his body at the stove, his long, strong arms stirring the pot of rum as it reheats, there’s an awakening in me, a hunger licking its chops. How long has it been since I craved Thomas like this? I can’t remember the last time we made love because we wanted to. We fuck now and then because we should, because we’re married, because we’re telling ourselves we want to make a baby.
“How did you find me?” I ask.
“I followed you.”
“You heard me.”
“Why do you think, Elsie?” He enters the living room with two steaming mugs. One he hands to me, “Your old one is probably cold.”
I take the hot mug from him and stare hard into his eyes, bold because I’m drunk. For a moment I’m lost. “It doesn’t matter,” I lie. “Rum’s rum.”
“Taste them side-by-side,” he says, and his smile erupts. The irony is inescapable. What if I could taste Jeremiah and Thomas side-by-side? Who would I choose?
I sip from both mugs. Obviously, the hot one tastes better. The old one, I discard.
Smiling wildly, Jeremiah buries himself in the pillows on the sofa next to me. He presses himself so far back into the cushions that I think he might disappear, and in that moment I know I’ll be hopelessly lonely without him. Sipping our rum, we’re quiet together, which is odd. Quiet’s how I knew something was wrong this morning. I’m not sure whether it’s the quiet between us or my rum haze or the left over grogginess from my nap or what, but I don’t bother him about the fact that it’s after midnight and he doesn’t bring it up. Smiling, instead, I lift my head from the pillows and face him. His face is closer than I expect, so I wind up inches from him, staring straight into the daggers of his eyes. The blue is twinkling. I can’t tell in the moonlight whether his eyes are full of tears or whether I’m drunk and the lights from the skyline in the window behind him are reflecting onto my own eyes, but nevertheless his eyes look moist to me. I wonder if he’s been crying.
“Jeramiah, Sweetheart, I have no idea why you would follow me home,” I lie, knowing how he wants me.
“Yes, you do.”
“No.” I wait. I sip my rum. “Besides, Jeramiah, I’ve been home since 4:00 this afternoon.”
“What?” Now I am surprised.
“I didn’t follow you today.” He brings the side of his leg closer to the side of mine. My insides gasp and purr.
With one hand I grip my hot mug like it’s my lifeline; with the other I reach for the blanket on the armchair next to me and yank it over my lap. A chastity belt.
I don’t say anything. I can’t say anything. He’s a child. I’m a middle aged woman. I’m married. He’s confused. So am I. This is wrong. I sip my rum.
I sip my rum.
His nude forearm brushes my knees as he reaches for my lifeline. Unwrapping my fingers from my mug with his calloused hands, rough and burned already from only a handful of years cooking other people’s food but still so soft and tender because of his nascent age, he leans into my space. I’ve never been this close to him before and looked. I follow the veins from his hands to the rolled up sleeves of his gingham shirt, and imagine them circulating all his want throughout his whole being, making it possible for him to follow me home, to pursue me like this. When the veins disappear inside his clothing I follow their imagined routes to his heart. Then I climb the ladder of his anatomy, from heart, to hairs poking out above his shirt collar, up his neck to his jaw. He bites down on something and his jaw bulges, and I imagine that he’s imagining what it might be like to taste me, and I know I want him to taste me. My eyes crawl up his sideburns and over the bridge of his delicate nose to his eyes. I don’t know what I expect or want to find there, in his eyes, but it’s exactly right. There is so much sadness. In him. In me. He watches me watch him, both of us quiet. Effortlessly, like water moving, he suddenly slips his hand inside the slack neckline of my pajama blouse, cupping my naked breast. His movements are liquid, dreamlike, and I have no time to protest. Holding his hand there, breathing, we’re still, and I think for a moment that perhaps I’m not awake.
“I need you, Elsie,” he says, squeezing my nipple between two fingers, hand so big he holds my rib, my breast and my sternum in one palm. I feel small, so feminine; this feels so right.
“I know,” I say.
“You need me too.”
“I do,” I say.
“Can I kiss you, Elsie?”
Falling forward, I burrow into his chest with my forehead. If I let him kiss me, I’ll dissolve into him, all the way. I’m the kind of woman who falls in love fast. I’ll end up loving him more than I already do if I let him take me to bed. Deeply, I inhale him. “Not tonight,” I whisper, because I’m too drunk and lonely now to stop him from taking me to bed if I let him kiss me. And because it’s true what I said in the beginning, I love Thomas, too.
There’s a silence at the center of unrequited love, the deafening kind of silence that tells you you’re alone—that you always have been alone, and always will be alone. If love is a storm, unrequited love is a hurricane, most destructive at the outset and ending, quiet in the middle. I had known Jeremiah was in love with me for years, and I’d relished the attention, sure. Who wouldn’t? And at my age? My own love affair with my husband having grown into something dormant like the center of a hurricane, though I’m told love evolves—becomes less and less pregnant with passion over the years, but ever more rooted and fierce if it’s real. Perhaps our dormancy is sending a message to my body—Do not get pregnant! There’s not enough love here! Maybe you need that pregnant passion to get through the unbeautiful parts of childbirth together.
According to a National Geographic article I read once, biological love lasts only three years in human beings—about the time it takes to court, seduce, impregnate, gestate, deliver and regain sufficient post-partum independence for survival. I remember wondering about supposedly happy couples with multiple children. Were they somehow able to fall in love over and over again? Or was there a lie in there somewhere? And what about Thomas and me? Nine years. Had we been able to expand the storm of our love? Is that three-year storm elastic? Or are we trying for children to delay the inevitable? To keep the clouds from passing, and carrying us over to the other side, closer to the end?
As I fall asleep on the couch in the twinkling light from the city and the glowing moonlight after Jeremiah leaves I think about Thomas, and how we once ached for each other the way Jeremiah and I now ache for each other. I wonder whether my having an affair might be just the thing to shake things up, to help Thomas and I move toward the other edge of the hurricane. The thought of it makes me shiver, I’m so sterile and cold in my reasoning.
I stay on the couch, sleepless, still a little drunk, as morning rises. By the time daylight whispers into the living room I’m lost in a fantasy. My head presses back into the corner of the sofa, my legs drape over its back, my body turns away from the windows. I writhe. My breast pokes out from beneath the slack neckline of my pajama blouse, and I remember Jeremiah’s fingertips, so young, so desperate. My nipple stings with the memory of him squeezing.
I’d wanted to tell Jeremiah that love gets easier, but it isn’t true.
As sunlight breaks into the living room I reach for my old, cold mug of buttered rum, the one I’d been contently drinking before Jeremiah arrived. In one, hurried gulp, I take it in. I don’t want the night to end. As the rum slithers into my body my eyes roll back, and then I reach for another mug, and then the other. Three, I think. Three mugs. Sufficiently drunk, again, I fling myself back into the couch as if I’m thrown in a fit of passion. Whose passion? It hardly matters. I just want passion. I want to feel alive. Cupping my hands between my legs, one palm over the other, and pressing my head into the corner of the sofa until it hurts, and then pressing harder, just to feel it, just to feel something, I shove my fingers into my insides and I imagine one of them, Jeremiah or Thomas, or maybe both of them, there. They’d be pinning my arms to my sides with their knees, smiles erupting, the daggers of their blue eyes piercing right through me.
And then the locks on the door rattle, and Thomas is standing in the doorway. Bemused by my spectacle he crosses the room in his work suit, and still holding onto his luggage he comes to hover over me. We’re speechless and still. Inspiration stirs in him—I know him well enough to recognize it instantly. After all, he’s all geared up on herbs for procreation, too. Momentarily, I wonder whether he, too, has been lusting after some hot young thing. Probably. Men are like golden retrievers. If you don’t pet them, they’ll find someone else to do it. The thought of Thomas lusting after someone else chokes me, but he drops his suitcases and yanks his tie off so suddenly my mind is erased as the longing inside me grows louder and stronger. Stepping out of his shined up dress shoes and jingling the change in his slacks, he strips everything off in a hurry. As suddenly as he’d appeared in the doorway my husband is nude before me, the grey morning light and the fog outside matching the grey in his hair. Saying nothing he kneels in front of me, and with soft, manicured hands, those hands that shake other hands in boardrooms in the financial district before the sun comes up every day so that he can provide this fancy apartment in the city for us, for the family we’re supposed to create, he pulls back the layers of my blankets and pajamas, one by one. He finds the back of my head beneath all the pillows and cups it with both hands. Lifting me up so he can see my eyes he hovers just above my face, his hazel eyes—they’re hazel, not blue—are dark and hungry. He slips a small hand over the front of my neck and it’s clammy, but familiar. The grizzle of his beard scratches my sternum but it’s all hot and wet as he licks and oozes his way down between my breasts, skipping them. He’s always skipped my breasts. My nipples sting again with the memory of Jeremiah, but I forget Jeremiah as Thomas licks all the way down. Maybe one day I’ll ask Thomas not to skip my breasts, I think, as I watch him squat back on his haunches like an animal. My husband laps at the moisture between my thighs, my legs thrown over his shoulders.
The pad of his thumb bursts it’s way inside me, and then it’s gone. For a moment I panic. Where did he go? Suddenly we’re not touching anymore and I can’t feel him anywhere. I can’t live without him. I know this. Scared, my eyes fly open, and I discover him standing over me again, watching, licking his lips. Fast, he swoops down and lifts me up off the couch, carrying me into our bedroom. With me in his lap, both of us sitting up, he enters me. As he does, he finally speaks to me. His team didn’t win the super bowl, he’s not sure if I know. The truth is, I don’t even know which team is his team. Before, I believed this was a problem. Not because I don’t know, but because I don’t care. But, wrapped up in him, I know none of that bullshit matters. Nothing matters, as long as I have Thomas, as long as we can connect like this. How long have we been disconnected?
Laughing. Suddenly we’re laughing so hard, and then, heads thrown back, bodies rocking in time together, arms and legs wound round and round like knots keeping us from falling apart, we come together.
When I wake up on the couch it’s after 1:00 in the afternoon, and I’m alone. Thomas is still on the east coast. Rubbing my eyes, I vow I’ll never lose him.
Two months later, carrying my husband’s child, I pull up on my motorcycle to work the lunch shift at the restaurant. I barely notice Jeremiah waiting for me out front. I hurl myself off my motorcycle just in time to lose my helmet and barf in the bush on the sidewalk. Groaning, knuckles in my eyes, I sink down on the curb to recover.
When Jeremiah re-appears minutes later and offers me two mugs, one with hot water and lemon, the other with Sprite, I stare up at him for a moment, jaw slack, and then turn and wretch in the bush again. He searches in his pants pockets after setting the mugs down on the sidewalk, jingling change.
“Jeremiah,” I beg, “please don’t smoke. It’ll be too much.” I gag, and hurl again.
His smile erupts and he bends down to rub my back. “Soda crackers,” he says, and produces two packets from his pockets.
“Do you want to be alone?”
“No. Not right now. Please stay.”
“Worse than yesterday, huh?”
“Yeah,” I say, wiping my mouth with my sleeve.
“Here.” He thrusts a stack of napkins at me.
“I thought this was only supposed to happen in the morning.”
I want to laugh, but I wretch again.
He looks up at the sky, and when I’m recovered I follow him. A few minutes later he asks, “Have you figured out yet when it happened?”
“No.” My gaze falls to the earth.
“I thought you’d want to know.”
“It’s too soon I think.”
He keeps his eyes up in the sky. “Have you told your husband yet?”
I’d promised Jeremiah that I’d tell him. That I’d tell Thomas about our affair, even though it’s over. Somehow the truth is important to Jeremiah, in his nascent age. But the truth would only hurt my husband, and we’re finally connecting again. I don’t want to spoil it. So I lie to Jeremiah: “Soon, but not tonight.”
Adrienne Love lives in Sausalito. She earned her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Art in 2013. Her work has been published in Numéro Cinq and Yoga Journal.