“Thanks, John.” I open the door and duck into the car, giving him a small wave before shutting the door. I’ve left this building so many times, heard that parting line so often I could recite it in my sleep. Would he stumble when I returned? Would the first time, the first utter of my new name, sound odd?
I wrap my fingers around the steering wheel and the diamond glints at me. I press down on the clutch and shift the car into reverse, the growl of the engine giving me my first shot of relief. Everything is taken care of. Everything is in place. I back up carefully, then pulling forward and toward the front gate, my nerves loosening by the time I get on the freeway, heading to the airport. I call Jess and my mother, a short conference call filled with teasing giggles and the threat of a surprise visit. I threaten them with bodily harm, then promise to see them as soon as we return.
Three weeks off. Tahiti, in one of those tiki huts set out in the brilliant blue waters of the South Pacific. Three weeks where I would become his wife and we would sip frozen drinks, dance on the sand, skinny dip in that gorgeous water, and get a head start on baby-making. Would the company survive? Two years ago, the answer would have been a resounding no. One year ago, I’d have worried the entire time. Now, I feel confident in our team, in our new managers, in the systems and relationships that we’ve spent these years building.
When I step from the car at the airport, I leave my briefcase and laptop in the trunk, taking only my wallet and passport, my step light as I move through the private airport, the stairs of the jet down, beckoning me. There is movement inside, and then he is there, at the top of the stairs, smiling down at me, and everything in my chest swells.
I’d never believed in fairytales, but this man—he is my prince, my future, my everything.
We take the jet to San Francisco, then get on a huge Airbus, and all of the in-flight amenities don’t make up for the fact that I have to behave for nineteen hours, an impossible feat when next to her. She’s helping out the cause, especially right now, her mouth gaping open in a most unattractive way, a thin line of drool leaking from the right side of her mouth. I smile, and carefully reach around her, pressing the buttons on her seat until it is fully reclined, her mouth closing, head rolling to one side. I do my best to cover her with a blanket, then recline my own seat, moving onto my right side until I am facing her.
Even now, she terrifies me. Even as I know she accepts my past, she accepts my love, and returns it all. Will I ever believe that it is real? Will I ever be secure that I won’t lose her? Or will it only get worse? Is that how love works? Is it more painful the harder you fall? Do you worry more with each additional blessing? I can fight for our love, I can work to be the best husband, the best friend, the best father that I can—I can control those aspects of our marriage. But there will be a thousand more I can’t. I can’t force her to love me as strongly in ten years as she does now. I can’t control if her heart gets bored and finds someone else. I can’t control drunk drivers, or freak accidents, or prevent illness from finding her. I can’t guarantee that this one moment—her face against the pillow, hand limp against her lap—isn’t the last we will have.
I know that it’s morbid; I get that it’s not rational. Yet, that’s the fear that dominates my thoughts. I reach out and wrap my hand through hers, her fingers tightening for a moment. Her eyes open, and there is a drugged moment of awakening, then she smiles.
She smiles and damn—my heart almost breaks from the hit. If there is a way to love a woman more, it must kill a man. She whispers that she loves me, and as I repeat the words back, they feel so inadequate.
If our love was lingerie, it’d be a corset, one laced so tightly that it takes your breath.
If our love was lingerie, it would be drawn on her skin with ink, a tattoo designed to bend and grow with her.
If our love was lingerie, it would be a see-through lace that would share everything while still teasing the hell out of both parties.
If our love was lingerie, it’d be leather, thin strips of binding that could withstand a hundred years of war and peace, fights and love-making. It would yield and give, yet never rip or break. It would be built to last, to wear forever.
If our love was lingerie, it would never come off.
five years later
When she comes into the office, I can’t stop staring. It doesn’t matter if I am elbow-deep in issues, or in the midst of a meeting. Today, when the door opens and she is there, I stop mid-sentence. “Excuse me,” I say to the room. I meet her eyes and smile, dropping to my knees on the carpet and calling her name.
Kate releases her hand, and Olivia toddles forward, her footing still a little wobbly, her chubby hand outstretched as she moves toward me. She has her mother’s smile, her mother’s confidence, and she giggles in the moment before she reaches my arms, her excited shriek muffled against my chest as I pick her up. I meet Kate’s eyes and she grins, her other hand full, the newborn hand fisting the front of her shirt. I move toward them both and kiss her first, lingering over her mouth before turning to Baby Trey. I gently kiss the top of his soft head as Kate apologizes to the room. I ignore them, looking into Olivia’s eyes, grinning as her hands find my cheeks and gently pat them. When Kate moves toward the door, I lower Olivia to the floor, accepting the high five that she enthusiastically offers.
“We’ll be in your office,” Kate whispers, and pulls the door open, propping it with her butt as she waits for Olivia to move through it. She waves at me and Olivia mimics the motion, turning and wiggling her fingers at me, a move that makes both Kate and me laugh. Our eyes meet and my heart twists. In my wallet, I have a list of the things that I once loved most about her. A list of ways that she blew me away. The list is old—one I wrote on the back of a napkin six or seven years ago. I wrote it before we were together, before Stephen, back when I was struggling with my feelings and whether or not I had a chance with her. I found the list when I was looking for an old business card, and had felt a wave of nostalgia, looking back through the things that I had once cherished most about her. The list misses everything I would now fill it with. The way that she curls into my body during the night. The look of pride on her face when our children do something amazing. The type of mother she is, the fiercely protective way she loves our family, and leads it in a way that puts Marks Lingerie to shame. The fearless way she loves without hesitation. I spent the first year of our relationship afraid, while she dove in deep and never looked back. Her ability to switch from mother to executive seamlessly. The way that motherhood has softened her stress but strengthened every other seam of her makeup.
She smiles, and I can’t look away.