“I must say, I’ve never felt so well-disposed during rush hour traffic in Detroit!” Michael commented cheerfully, turning towards Ana to give her another kiss on the mouth. The car veered slightly into the next lane.
“Keep your eyes on the road!” she exclaimed. “And leave the kissing and caressing to me,” she added more quietly. She massaged gently but firmly his shoulder blades until he released those familiar moans of pleasure that were music to her ears whenever they made love. “When I caress you, you go mmm, mmmm like a little kid enjoying a delicious piece of candy,” she observed.
“That’s because you are my sweet piece of candy,” he replied, placing his hand on Ana’s leg. “And I’m willing to risk diabetes for you.” He reached over for another kiss.
“Let’s not have an accident,” she cautioned, nervous that Michael never seemed to care about taking risks. But the traffic was moving very slowly. They barely inched along I-96 East.
“And even if we did, so what?” Michael countered. “The best way to go is right after we made love. Carpe Diem, Baby!”
Ana marveled at how Michael was able to be so carefree, with no fears, no inhibitions and no regrets. He savored each moment and each drop of pleasure with a total abandon. Maybe it’s better to live this way, she thought. She almost envied her lover’s good disposition. “How will I explain myself to Rob if I die in a car accident next to you?” she asked him, only partly in jest.
“It would put an end to this whole charade,” Michael replied with a dismissive wave of the hand, returning to his favorite theme. Lately, Ana noticed, he took every available opportunity to imply they were stuck in lukewarm relationships when they could be enjoying the bloom of their youth together. She didn’t reply, not wishing to spoil the lightness of their mood. But it was too late. Whenever the subject of divorce came up, she became uneasy and closed up emotionally, curling back into her shell like a snail.
“Hey, I didn’t mean for it to come out like that,” Michael tapped her reassuringly on the leg. “I’ve heard this Cranbrook Academy’s supposed to be really nice,” he changed the subject. “It’s in the middle of these woods or nature preserve. Some say it’s prettier than Princeton, only much smaller, of course.”
“But why are we going there if they haven’t even advertised a job in French?”
“No particular reason, “ Michael shrugged, keeping his eyes on the road. “To give myself a little extra incentive to stick around, I suppose. If I could land a cushy job here, I’d put up easier with six months of crappy Midwest weather.”
Ana nodded in silence. She would have hoped that their relationship offered a sufficient incentive for Michael to stick around in Michigan.
“But my best incentive for staying here’s you, Baby!” he turned to her, divining her transparent thoughts. He turned off the radio. “You know, if I got a job here, or at some other nice private school in the area, I might sell my house and move closer to you,” he said casually, to test the waters.
She looked at him, startled. “Where?”
Michael smiled, as if he were about to reveal a romantic surprise. “I don’t know. I was thinking of looking for a house in your subdivision, for example.”
Ana’s heart pounded with excitement. Lately, during her walks around the block, she had instinctively taken notice of each “FOR SALE” sign in her neighborhood. “Did you know I’ve been thinking about that also? It would be nice to live closer together. But I was afraid to suggest it, since I didn’t want to put any pressure.”
“Why the hell not?” Michael burst out. “I put pressure on you all the time. It’s only fair.”
“I’m so much trouble already. High-maintenance, as they say.”
“I looove high maintenance women,” Michael exclaimed. He turned to give Ana another kiss, only this time, the traffic was moving fast again.
“Watch out!” Ana screamed when the car swerved.
But that only made Michael laugh. He was thrilled that his girlfriend had been receptive to his overture. It meant that she might be ready for his next move. “Supposing that Rob found out about us…” he began.
“Let’s not spoil this beautiful day by talking about that again,” Ana interrupted him.
“Hold on. I wasn’t going to say anything negative,” Michael countered. “I was just going to tell you that even in the worst case scenario, if we got caught, if I moved to your subdivision the kids could just walk back and forth from our house to Rob’s. That would be so much easier for them than our current arrangement, with me living thirty minutes away.”
Ana considered his statement. Although the subject still made her queasy, she saw his point. “Well, I suppose it would be less of a disaster if we lived in the same neighborhood,” she conceded.
Her remark had been cautious, but Michael saw it as a local triumph in the battle to make Ana his wife. “I’d love to land a job here this spring,” he repeated as he parked the car in the Visitor’s Parking lot of Cranbrook Academy. Even from the glimpse they had had, the campus looked breathtakingly beautiful. Its manicured lawns, ivy covered buildings and big stretches of woods called to mind Emerson’s vision of transcendental idealism. “After school, I’d come home around four o’clock, to spend time with your kids. That would give you one or even two more hours to paint in peace before dinner,” Michael said, sweeping with a dreamy gaze the beauty of the natural surroundings. He then got out of the car and opened the door for Ana with an air of gentlemanly courtesy that she found both quaint and romantic. “And during the nights when Rob has the kids,” he continued, “maybe we could take ballroom dancing classes together. You know, salsa and meringue, since you told me you love Latin music. But of course, for now, that’s only a dream.”
At the mention of ballroom dancing, Ana couldn’t help but imagine herself swept up in her lover’s arms to the melodious flow of the sensual music she enjoyed: so tastefully abandoned, so elegantly seductive, the very rhythm of desire.
“Either that or we could go out clubbing every night!” Michael punctured her fantasy bubble.
“No thanks!” Ana said as they walked hand in hand down a path leading to a gorgeous contemporary building with long columns marked “Art Museum.” They climbed up its majestic set of steps, which were adorned by beautiful nude sculptures.
“These people have great taste in art,” Michael commented about the female statues in particular.
“And wealth,” Ana remarked, equally impressed.
“They probably pay teachers about 50,000 bucks a year, beginning salary,” Michael made a highly educated guess, since he had researched the matter a week earlier. “Enough to feed a family of four quite comfortably,” he turned to Ana. Her expression struck him as tense. “If they don’t blow it on expensive jewelry and clothes,” he took this opportunity to tug at her sleeve and pull her towards him.
As they kissed, Ana felt like she was being energized by her lover’s hopes, floating upon his dreams. She could hardly believe that such a romantic, passionate, attractive and intelligent man was so madly in love with her. “It’s just not fair,” she said afterwards.
“What’s not fair?”
“That I get the perfect lover while other women have to settle,” Ana replied with a smile.
“Yeah well, other women aren’t as wonderful as you are,” Michael returned the compliment. But within seconds, a dark cloud seemed to pass over his luminous features. “Sometimes I feel like our love’s so perfect, it’s almost unreal. I’m afraid we’ll do something, or that something will happen, and we’ll blow our chances to really taste passion in life.”
Ana searched his face for more clues. “What are you afraid of? If we truly love each other, then we should be able to handle anything life throws our way.”
“I know, Baby. But what we have feels so right that I sometimes fear we’ll screw it up somehow.”
“Me too,” Ana admitted. Whenever people back in Romania used to praise someone’s children, the parents would spit three times into the air, so as not to jinx them. She had caught herself doing that several times when she thought of their affair. It was perfect yet fragile, like a pleasant dream from which she never wanted to wake up. “I hope you’ll get a job here,” she wished out loud, to show him that she too wanted to keep their dream alive.
Michael crouched down. He took a little twig from the grass and began sketching something in a patch of dirt.
“What are you drawing, little boy?”
“Lookie here,” he said as Ana sat down on the grass next to him.
“A square?” she observed. “That’s very impressive. Maybe they should devote a whole wing of the museum to your artwork.”
“You’re cute,” he commented, still completely absorbed by his task.
“What do these letters stand for?” Ana asked, noticing that at each corner of the square Michael had sketched a letter: C, S, M, F and H in the middle, at the intersection point of the two diagonals.
“I’m drawing a relationship square,” he explained. “C stands for compatibility. S, for sex. M for money issues. F for fidelity. And the H at the center for health. Those are the most important qualities that make or break any romantic relationship. I put health in the middle since if you don’t have that, you can’t really enjoy anything else.” Michael traced an oval around the S and the C on top, then another one around the F and the M at the bottom of the square. He pointed to the top oval. “These are the main qualities we have. We’re compatible as all hell and have perfect sexual chemistry,” he took this opportunity to seal his comment with a long kiss. He then indicated the lower oval with the twig. “With Karen, we have a healthy relationship to money. We’re both frugal, unlike some people,” he looked meaningfully at his girlfriend. “And we have fidelity.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“She never cheated on me,” he clarified.
Ana shook her head. Was Michael that clueless or was he just pretending? “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it takes two to have fidelity.”
“That’s true. But if I had had the top oval with her, total compatibility and great sex, we’d have mutual fidelity as well,” Michael smoothly worked his way around that obstacle.
As they walked hand in hand on the manicured lawn next to the museum, it suddenly occurred to Ana that her lover had missed the most obvious aspect of any romantic relationship. “What about love?”
“What about it?”
“Where’s love in your brilliant scheme? I don’t think you’re quite ready to have your own talk show, Dr. Michael,” she said, amused by this glaring omission.
Her lover smiled knowingly. “Love’s everything, Baby. It’s not one single part of the square or even all the elements put together. Love’s always greater than the sum of its parts. Mysterious yet real. And you know it when you feel it,” he said, looking adoringly into her eyes.
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