“Good morning, sweetie!” Karen cooed in a melodious tone that rang false to his well-trained ears.
Why does her behavior strike me as fake? he wondered. Well, maybe not fake, he reconsidered. Because, in all fairness, she’s trying her damnest to please me. But it still seems… forced. Like she’s trying to be something she’s not. He recalled the last time they had attempted this particular activity, nearly two years ago, when Karen had lunged into the bathroom afterwards, to rinse her mouth out with Listerine. “You don’t have to do this.”
“But I want to, honey,” she assured him.
There goes that word again. “Honey.” It sounds so strange coming from her mouth. What in the world does she want from me? Michael wondered. In the past, whenever Karen did him any sexual favors, afterwards, she’d either ask him to do something for her in return (such as spend the weekend with her sister or her parents) or, worse yet, kindly inform him that she had already made plans for them. “I don’t want to have brunch with either your parents or your sister’s family today,” he preempted in one breath two possible requests.
Karen’s lips quivered into a smile that she maintained for a few seconds. “But I wasn’t asking you to do that, sweetie.”
I can’t recall the last time she called me “sweetie,” Michael reflected. Karen’s saccharine behavior gave him the strange sensation of swimming against the current in a sea of molasses.
“What would you like to do today?” she asked him, her mouth pressed to his ear.
With a sudden motion, Michael slipped out from underneath her and threw his legs unto the floor, ready to shower. “I read in the paper that the Renaissance festival’s in town this weekend. Any interest?” he asked her.
“Fine by me,” she readily accepted.
As he was lathering up, Michael contemplated this new turn of events. For the past few days, Karen had moved in with him. Strangely enough, not once did she complain about how her parents would be devastated by her immoral behavior. If they had protested at all, Michael couldn’t tell, so obliging and chipper was his fiancée. Speaking of which, that was another confusing matter. Were they still engaged? So far, they had carefully skirted the whole marriage issue. He was afraid to broach the subject for fear that it might land him into more commitment than he wanted. Karen, too, avoided the topic, afraid of losing ground and getting less than what she had before. The situation was ambiguous enough that Michael hesitated on a course of action. When Karen proposed to move in with him, he agreed to what he considered to be a provisional arrangement. But Karen’s sweetness troubled him as well, giving him another sort of headache. She’s swimming to shore as fast as possible, while I’m trying to tread water. How the hell am I going to keep marriage at bay? he wondered.
“I made your favorite breakfast. Chocolate chip pancakes,” Karen announced peeking through the bedroom door. Michael was slipping on a plain burgundy tee shirt. He caught a look of envy on her face. Gosh, he looks so good in everything, Karen couldn’t help but notice. Even that simple shirt brought out the deep brown of his eyes. She advanced towards him, working on a naughty smile.
She’s really scaring me now, Michael thought.
With a sense of unshakable determination, Karen firmly placed her hand upon his member. She planted a host of kisses all over his cheek. Michael leaned back, with the same recoil reaction he experienced whenever a friendly dog tried to lick his face. Karen withdrew, stung by the rejection.
“Thanks so much for making me pancakes. That’s so sweet of you,” he tried to recover.
But it was too late. “Why am I so repulsive to you, Michael?” she asked him, her tone more sad than angry.
“You’re not.” He avoided her gaze.
“Then why don’t you want to kiss me anymore?”
“I do. You just caught me off guard. I wasn’t in the mood.”
“The problem is, you’re never in the mood anymore.” Her words rang true, yet at the same time sounded strange, given that’s exactly what he used to reproach her. Still harboring some residual resentment, he couldn’t resist pointing out the justice of it all: “Hey, what goes around comes around. You used to be that way with me, remember?”
“So this is payback?” Karen narrowed her eyes to a slit, her voice chilly, back to normal.
Finding himself on familiar territory, Michael relaxed. “No, not really. But remember, you’re the one who dumped me. You can’t expect me to hop back in the saddle as if nothing happened. It takes some time to heal.” He watched her reaction. Is she buying it or not?
Karen nodded in sympathy. “I understand. But remember, I didn’t break up with you over nothing. You cheated on me twice, as I recall.”
Michael felt relieved that, at least for the moment, his strategy proved effective. He had bought himself the luxury of time to figure out what he wanted. “Alright,” he conceded. “But let’s not start playing the blaming game,” he chivalrously proposed, feeling at a slight disadvantage as far as ethics were concerned.
“I’m all for that,” Karen agreed, with artificial optimism. “Let’s get our relationship back on track.” She then paused, holding her breath for a moment, hesitating before taking the next step. “Which, by the way, means what?”
Now that Karen had openly broached the touchy subject of marriage, Michael felt like a cornered animal. “I don’t know yet. Let’s just play it by ear, okay?” That catch phrase had saved him in many a difficult situation before.
Karen nodded in agreement, but her face showed disappointment.
When they made love that morning, both had the impression that they were relenting to what the other expected of them. So this is what conjugal sex must feel like, Michael observed, after it was all over. He recalled that his relations with Karen had been “conjugal” from the very start. Without fire, without passion. When he was particularly perseverant, Karen would relent. He’d make love to her thinking of the latest one nightstand that was still fresh enough on his mind that he could conjure up her image. Meanwhile, Karen would wrap her arms around him and assume the attitude of a woman submitting, out of an admirable sense of duty, to a form of mild torture. “Are you done yet?” she’d ask whenever he took longer than anticipated to release his demons. However hard she tries, this is what we’d revert to for the rest of our lives, Michael concluded. I’m so over this, he thought, removing his condom and tossing it into the trash bin. The only question is, where the hell am I heading? he asked himself, as a comical image of a cartoon character throwing himself off a cliff and remaining suspended in midair only for as long as it takes him to realize that he’s about to fall randomly popped into his head.
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