Within seconds, Michael stood by Ana’s side. “It’s me, Baby, it’s me,” he whispered into her ear. As she turned around startled, he ostentatiously planted a kiss upon her lips.
Ana tried to pull away, uncomfortable with this gesture of intimacy in the gallery. “Everyone knows me here,” she whispered to him.
But her lover only pressed her tighter against him, his fingers interlocked behind the small of her back. “How I’ve missed you,” he said. “I couldn’t help myself. I skipped my afternoon classes just to be with you.”
Despite the compromising situation, Ana felt touched. “You’re such a naughty schoolboy.”
Michael looked above her head, appearing pleased with something. She turned around and noticed that her potential customer, the man in the dark suit, was heading out the door.
“I guess he wasn’t interested in your painting after all,” Michael observed with a sense of satisfaction. “He was interested in you.”
“You’re so cynical,” she countered.
“I just think like a man, that’s all,” Michael made his way forward, backing his girlfriend into a quiet corner of the gallery.
“I come here regularly with my husband and kids. Tracy knows them,” Ana protested casting nervous glances in both directions, like a trapped animal. Although the gallery owner was in her office at the moment, several customers looked at them askance, as if they had never seen people showing affection in public. One elderly woman seemed particularly scandalized by their behavior. Ana silently pointed her out with her pinkie.
“Let them think whatever the hell they wish. Just don’t flirt with anyone else from now on,” Michael said, looking down at his girlfriend. His mouth plunged to devour hers. Ana felt her heart race with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Tingles of pleasure made their way from their joined lips, through her chest and abdomen, all the way down to her toes. This man moves me like no other, Ana observed, electrified by her lover’s mix of eroticism and assertiveness. Once their lips momentarily unlocked, she took a step back, to admire him. “Let’s get out of here,” she proposed, her senses ablaze.
But Michael didn’t budge. His gaze glided over her, territorially. “Sometimes I wish you’d wear a black dress all the way down to the floor. And cover your head and your hair, so that you’d be invisible to other men,” he said, picking up a strand of her glossy black hair between his fingertips, then allowing it to cascade upon her shoulder again.
“I thought you wanted me to wear miniskirts and sexy dresses, not burkas,” she retorted with a smile.
“Miniskirts around me, burkas around everybody else,” Michael murmured, his voice hypnotic and low.
“I didn’t know you were the jealous type,” Ana remarked, feeling strangely proud of the passion she had ignited in such an attractive man. It was as if her lover’s masculine possessive desire confirmed, and even enhanced, the value of her own femininity.
Michael looked pensive.
“Why the long face?” she pouted flirtatiously.
“Do you feel that what we have is special?”
Ana gazed into his piercing dark eyes. In the obscurity of the corner of the gallery where they had hidden from view, they seemed black as coal. “Of course,” she affirmed.
“In what way?” he continued quizzing her.
Ana didn’t know how to respond. It was difficult to put into words the sudden, all-consuming passion that had swept over her life. “I don’t know… In every way,” she replied, somewhat discombobulated. “I’ve never felt anything like this before.”
Michael, however, didn’t seem pleased with her vague response. “That’s not an answer,” he said with an air of impatience. “Just because you’ve never felt a certain way doesn’t mean that feeling is positive. Be more specific.”
Ana felt chastised, like a schoolgirl who had given the wrong answer in front of the class. “What do you want me to say?” she asked, taken aback by his severe manner. “I’m just getting to know you. When you put me on the spot like this, it’s more difficult to wax poetic about us.”
“I’m sorry, Baby,” Michael backed off. He wrapped his arms around Ana again, to melt the chilling effect of their exchange.
“It’s just that I feel so frustrated sometimes. I wish I could have you all to myself. I wish you could come live with me and paint all day long to your heart’s content. That way we’d have our own perfect little universe. Nobody would ever try to steal you away from me during the day,” he said, alluding to the man in the dark suit. “And nobody would ever take you away from me at night either,” he added, alluding to her husband.
“You’re forgetting a little detail. Three of them, to be exact,” Ana reminded him of her family.
“I know Baby, I know. But a man can always dream, can’t he? Sometimes I close my eyes and wish I were all you ever needed. I want to satisfy your every whim,” he said, as his gaze flowed lovingly over her body, “and make you perfectly happy.” His eyes were aglow. “Because my happiness is your happiness. What my Baby wants, my Baby gets. This will be my motto in life from now on.”
“You’re such a dreamer,” Ana shook her head. “Perhaps if we had met much earlier, before the kids were born…” her voice trailed off wistfully. But this thought wasn’t as pleasant as it should have been. Even for the sake of ideal love, she couldn’t unwish her children’s existence.
“If we had met before, you’d have everything you ever dreamed of,” Michael dove into the flow of her unfinished train of thought. “I’d support you without ever complaining about it. I’d hide you in our little nest and inspire your painting. You’d never have to worry about anything again. Except for what you love best: me and your art.”
Ana felt touched by her lover’s mixture of idealism and generosity. Momentarily forgetting that they were in a public place, she laid her head upon her lover’s chest, to be comforted by his bodily warmth and racing heartbeat. “You’re so wonderful,” she whispered gratefully.
Michael felt her words as a moist wave of heat moving through him. “And if you ever became famous,” he continued enticing her, “I’d be right there, by your side. We’d travel all over the world together to your gallery exhibits.” He knew he had touched upon her not-so-secret desire; upon any frustrated artist’s dream.
“I wish I could do something to make you feel as happy as you do me,” she reciprocated, moved by his show of devotion.
An idea that had been obsessing him for a while suddenly sprung into his mind at this opportune moment. “You can,” Michael replied, elevating her head gently, to gaze directly into her eyes. “But I’m not sure that you will,” he qualified, appearing to hesitate.
“Try me,” Ana encouraged him.
“I’d like to be able to make love to you in the middle of the night,” Michael said, his gaze absorbing her into him.
“Me too,” she smiled awkwardly.
“No, I mean it,” Michael insisted, with a sense of urgency. “Let’s do it tonight, when everyone’s asleep.”
“Are you crazy?” Ana exclaimed, pulling away from him. “With my husband and kids in the house?” The bubble of complicity had burst.
“You said ‘anything’,” Michael reminded her.
“I didn’t think you’d ask me something so outrageous!”
“I see. You only meant doing what you wanted.”
“Michael!” Ana cried out, feeling like he had pushed the envelope too far this time. “How can you possibly ask me to insult my family? Isn’t what we’re doing to them bad enough? Please!” An unpleasant idea crossed her mind. Was her lover a sadist? Was he so jealous of her husband that he’d want to use her to humiliate Rob?
Responding to her alarm, Michael didn’t press the issue further. “Baby, I didn’t mean to upset you, alright?” he reverted to his familiar, warm and tender, manner. “I know it was a crazy idea. It’s just that I love you so much that I wish we could be together for the rest of our lives. I dream about being free to see you whenever and wherever I want. It kills me to have to share you with another man.”
“I share you with another woman,” she reminded him.
“Yeah, but the difference is that I’d drop Karen as soon as you give me the word. Your wish is my command.”
Ana knew that much was true. Michael would leave his fiancée in a heartbeat, if only she asked him; if only she were free. But that was precisely the crux of the problem, she thought. I’m not as free as he is.