“Is it weird that I’m wearing this?” Jenny asked.
Victor jumped and knocked the spatula off the kitchen counter, startled by her voice. The sound of Elvis Presley’s latest hit on the radio had drowned out her footsteps on the stairs. He thought she was still asleep in his bed, her gold curls spilling across the pillow and the sheets clinging lightly to her naked body. What clung to her now was a nightgown made of scarlet silk and soft black lace, and Victor couldn’t help but notice that her breasts tested the bounds of the thin fabric in a way that didn’t happen when his wife wore it.
Unbidden, the memory of a darkened Paris hotel room hit him like a gut punch. The way she had smiled at him when she stepped out of the bathroom in it, a confident grin that said she knew exactly the effect it would have on him, and that his previous, sensible suggestion that they should get some sleep was entirely out the window now.
“Do you like it, mon cheri?” Elodie had said. “I bought it just for you.”
Victor liked it so much he had pushed the hem up around her waist and taken her right there against the wall, with her legs wrapped around him and his face buried in her raven hair. He remembered exactly the way that red silk felt rubbing against his skin, the way she smelled like roses and vanilla, and the way she had moaned his name when he brought her to her petite mort, loud enough that he was certain every person on the street below the open window had heard her. But mostly Victor remembered wondering just how he got so lucky, that this wild, gorgeous, fearless woman was his.
And she had bought the nightgown just for him.
“I thought about putting your shirt on or something, but it just seemed kinda silly when you have whole drawers and closets full of women’s things and…” Jenny let her voice trail off, standing hesitantly in the doorway between the kitchen and the foyer as if she wasn’t quite sure if she should come in.
“No. It’s not weird,” Victor said.
He must have sounded convincing because Jenny smiled then. She’d taken the time to put on pink lipstick before she came downstairs. Probably brushed her hair too by the looks of it.
“I never spend my money on lingerie this nice,” she said, trailing one hand across the black lace that trimmed the neckline. “Is it real silk?”
“Yeah,” Victor said. “I think so. She got it in Paris on our… on our honeymoon.”
Jenny’s smile, understandably, faltered, and Victor wondered what in the hell was wrong with him that he would say that.
“It is weird,” Jenny said, “I’m sorry. I’ll go change-”
“It’s not. It’s fine. Really. Just sit down.”
He pulled a chair out for her at the kitchen table and set a cup of coffee in front of her.
“Is the morning after always this awkward?” she asked.
Well at least it’s not just me that feels awkward.
“Can’t say I have a lot of experience there,” he said.
Actually today brought his tally of “morning after” experiences up to two, and he was trying very hard not to think about the first.
It hadn’t felt awkward with Elodie. It had felt like an afterglow that would never end. She’d come out of the bedroom wearing the top half of his pajamas and laughed at the state of her hair when she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window. She had told him she loved him the night before and-
“Are you hungry? I’m making pancakes,” he said.
“You mean those pancakes?” Jenny said, pointing over his shoulder.
Victor turned back to the stove and swore under his breath when he saw the now smoldering pancakes. Jenny was laughing at him. Victor threw open the window and set the hot pan down in the sink, splashing cold water on it to extinguish their would-be-breakfast.
“Don’t!” Jenny shouted, “It’ll-”
Crack went the porcelain sink in a spider web of fault lines brought on by the temperature shock.
Jenny was still laughing.
“I thought you said you knew your way around the kitchen,” she teased.
“I do!” Victor insisted, “I’m just a little…”
Distracted? Guilty? Verging on outright panic that there’s a half naked woman who is not my wife sitting at my kitchen table mocking my cooking skills?
“…tired this morning,” he finished.
That was actually true. While Jenny had slumbered peacefully in the bed he used to share with his wife, Victor had been up all night reviewing the litany of reasons why what happened last night should not have happened and could not ever happen again. Around three a.m. he had even made an actual list, now shredded and tossed in the trashcan by the bed. By morning, he formulated it into What He Would Say to Jenny When She Woke Up, but he thought he’d a least try to make her breakfast before he told her he couldn’t see her again. He kind of thought that was the thing you were supposed to do after a one-night stand.
And surely she had to realize already that last night had been a one-time thing. She wouldn’t have let him take her to bed so fast if she’d been interested in something more.
“How about you let me make the pancakes?” Jenny offered.
“I think after last night the least I can do for you is make you pancakes,” said Victor.
Jenny smiled shyly.
“You did some things for me last night too,” she said, and a blush crept into her cheeks.
Thinking about the things he had done to her last night was making it harder to tell her they could not do those things again, and Victor made an ineffective attempt at steering the conversation into safer territory.
“I, um, I was talking about how you brought me dinner,” he said.
“Oh,” she giggled, “It was nothing.”
She’d caught him crying in a supply closet at work, and then she’d shown up at his door unannounced bearing a casserole. She said she was worried that he wasn’t eating with his wife gone.
But he was the one that suggested maybe she could come inside and they could have dinner together, because it wasn’t home cooked meals he was missing as much as he missed having someone sitting across from him at the table.
And he was the one that had escalated things well beyond the kiss she had demurely planted on his lips as she went to leave after dinner, because apparently that wasn’t the only thing he missed.
“It was sweet,” Victor said. “And, um, I’m glad the rest of the evening wasn’t entirely without merit for you either.”
So much for safer territory.
“It was a lot better than I expected it would be, actually,” Jenny said.
Victor managed a self-depreciating laugh at that.
“That’s good to hear. But sometime I would love if someone would explain to me what is it that makes women look at me and think, ‘low expectations.’ Is it the glasses or-?”
“No!” Jenny said, laughing along with him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that like it sounded.”
Laughing was good, right? Even if it was kind of at his expense? Maybe this conversation wasn’t going to go as badly as he thought.
“I just meant, you know, my expectations about, um, making love in general,” she said.
The bottom dropped out of Victor’s stomach.
“Wh-What do you mean, ‘in general’?” he asked.
Jenny stared down into the china coffee cup she was clutching, not quite able to meet his eyes and now blushing the same furious shade of red as the nightgown.
“You were my first,” she said.
Several seconds passed before Victor found his voice again.
“Why didn’t you say something?” he demanded.
He hated himself for the way he sounded and the way she was looking at him now like a deer caught in the headlights, but the panic was making his head swim.
“I-I don’t know,” she stammered. “Just…you were moving so fast and I guess I just got caught up.”
He had moved fast. And maybe she had seemed a little shy when he was taking off her dress, but-
Not shy, nervous, you unimaginable asshole, and you were too busy trying to get off to notice.
“Please tell me you weren’t saving yourself for marriage or something,” he said.
“No,” she insisted. “Nothing like that.”
She managed to meet his eyes then and gave him a small, flirtatious smile.
“I guess I was just waiting for the right man,” she said.
“Jesus Christ, Jenny. What the hell made you think that was me?!”
Jenny recoiled as if he had slapped her. Tears spilled out of her blue eyes and cut two perfect lines through the powder on her face. She was fighting as hard as she could to maintain her composure, but her voice still cracked with a small sob when she spoke again.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Victor sat down at the table across from her and took her hand in his.
“No! Don’t say that. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I’m-”
“-the one who should be sorry,” Victor said. “I didn’t mean to snap at you like that. I only meant…I’m married, Jenny. You know I’m married.”
“But she left you,” Jenny protested. “You don’t even know where she is. She’s been gone for months, and you said yourself that’s she’s probably out there letting every man who buys her a drink take her home. It’s not your fault if you…if you want to move on with someone else.”
“But it’s my fault she left me,” Victor said.
In four years it was the ugliest fight they had ever had. He had thought they were still trying to start a family after her last miscarriage, but she didn’t tell him about the diaphragm hidden in the bottom of the dresser underneath all that French lingerie. And he should have been sympathetic. He should have understood. He’d spent a lot of time since thinking about the ways he should have reacted, but in the moment he’d been so mad she’d been lying to him and he said-
“It was not your fault,” Jenny said. “You said things you didn’t mean in a moment of anger and she gave you no chance to apologize for it. She ran. That’s not how marriage works. You’re not supposed to just take off when things get hard.”
“Maybe…maybe you’re right,” Victor said. “But you’re missing the point, Jenny. I love my wife. I miss her. That’s why I-”
let myself get lost in you because I was just so goddamn lonely. I just wanted to forget about her for a little while and you didn’t mean anything to me. You were just here and she wasn’t. You could have been anyone.
“-took advantage of you. But if I saw Elodie right now- if I knew where she was I would forget all about you and I would beg her to come home to me. And that’s not fair to you. Last night wasn’t fair to you and I’m so, so sorry if I hurt you.”
Victor wished desperately to know what she was thinking as she sat quietly across from him, absent-mindedly curling one strand of blonde hair around her finger. She’d stopped crying at least, but her expression was unreadable. Silence stretched out between them while Eisenhower droned on about the Interstate Highway System on the radio.
“You’re a wonderful girl. I really hope you know that,” Victor babbled, trying to fill the awkward quiet. “You’re pretty and smart and so, so sweet and some guy who’s way more, um, available than me is going to be incredibly lucky to-”
“Does what I want matter to you at all?” Jenny asked quietly.
“Of- of course it does,” Victor stammered, unsure where she was going with this.
“Good,” she said, and there was a measure of confidence in her voice now that Victor wasn’t sure he’d ever heard before.
“Then I want you to take me back upstairs and make love to me again,” she said.
“That’s- that’s not a good- Have you been listening to me at all?” Victor said.
“Yes, and you need to listen to me now. Your wife isn’t coming back.”
“She might,” Victor countered, hating how pathetic he sounded. “And when she does-”
“If she comes back, then I’ll go away. She never has to know about me. Just let me be with you until that happens.”
“That can’t possibly be what you want…”
“I’m a big girl, Victor. You don’t have to protect me from myself.”
She was still holding his hand across the table, only now she raised it to her lips and planted soft kisses on his fingertips.
“I know exactly what I’m doing,” she said. “You don’t have to feel guilty about being with me. You’re allowed to move on.”
But he didn’t want to move on. He wanted his wife back.
And he couldn’t move on, because Elodie was the one who picked out the coffee cup Jenny was setting down on the table as she stood up. Elodie had replaced the ugly linoleum in kitchen after they bought their house with the blue patterned tile Jenny was padding barefoot across as she moved closer to him. Elodie had bought that nightgown just for him, and if he closed his eyes and ran his hands over the silk as Jenny sat down in his lap he could almost imagine she was there in his arms again. He could even almost catch the scent of roses and-
His eyes snapped opened and he looked at Jenny in confusion.
“Are you wearing her perfume?” he asked.
“Shhhh…” Jenny hushed him. “Just close your eyes.”