“How long had it been?” Ana inquired with a smile afterwards.
“A whole hour?”
“Like I said, way too long,” Michael took her into his arms again. They began kissing, probing and pumping with their tongues, consuming each other anew. “Hey, you know what?” he asked once he came up for air. “I’m in the mood for some dark chocolate. Want some?”
“Sure. But, personally, I prefer milk chocolate.”
“You’re such a little baby!” he taunted her, adding, “Baby.” He got up and Ana admired his athletic body, as he made his way through the hallway into the bedroom.
“Wrong way!” she called out to him. “Don’t you keep the chocolate in the kitchen, like normal people?”
“Nope,” he returned with a small package in his hands. “Karen hides these little gifts for me all over the house.”
“That’s so nice of her!” Ana said somewhat peevishly.
“Not really. It’s kind of like a bitch marking its territory. She wants these gifts to remind me of her,” Michael said dismissively.
“She’s just trying to be romantic,” Ana replied, surprised to hear herself defending her rival.
“In our relationship, I’m the one who pampers you,” Michael countered. “Call me old-fashioned, but I think that’s the way it should be.”
“But I like to be romantic too.”
Michael took a deep breath. “You know the only kind of romance I like?” He broke off a small piece of chocolate, placed it between his teeth, then slowly slid it with the tip of his tongue into Ana’s mouth like a benediction. After allowing it to melt a little, she returned the favor. They kissed, savoring the bittersweet flavor from each other’s tongues and lips. At that moment, the phone rang. Michael reluctantly picked it up.
“Yup!” he responded as usual when he thought it might be Karen. Ana felt a sense of triumph thinking about how her lover always answered tenderly “Hey Baby!” whenever he thought that she was calling him.
“What’s up? Basking in the sunshine?” Michael asked his fiancée. He removed the cordless phone from the receiver and lay down on the kitchen floor, next to his girlfriend. “Yup, everything’s fine in my neck of the woods,” he said in response to Karen’s question. “Get this. You won’t believe who I had lunch with today,” he said, to Ana’s surprise, since they had spent the entire day together. She hoped her lover wasn’t about to launch into a confession. “Nope. You’ll never guess,” he continued.
“I certainly hope not,” Ana whispered nervously into his ear.
He smiled. “I told you that you wouldn’t guess. It was Paul! The guy we met up with in Chicago. Yup. That’s the one…” After a pause, he laughed out loud: “He wasn’t a scumbag! He just liked women, that’s all. Can’t blame a guy for that,” Michael placed his free hand on Ana’s breast and started teasing her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. “Well, it looks like he’s having girl problems again. Are you surprised?” he continued. “His new girlfriend just left him. Apparently, she was sick and tired of his philandering,” he winked playfully at his girlfriend. Ana couldn’t understand how Michael could feel so at ease in such an awkward situation. She gently removed Michael’s hand and inched away from him, to indicate her discomfort. He scooted over next to her again and began stroking her inner thigh.
“Well, we just went to the Chinese restaurant near campus. Yeah, the cheap one with the crappy lunch buffet. I know, it sucks. But hey, what do you expect from two cheapskates like us, right?” He laughed out loud. “We had General Gao’s chicken with broccoli. We ordered one dish and split it, how’s that for cheap? The whole thing cost only five bucks.”
An image of Michael preparing the crepes they had for brunch flashed before Ana’s eyes. How in the world did he come up with Chinese food? she wondered. And who’s this Paul, the guy he supposedly met for lunch?
“So how was your day?” Michael asked his fiancée. “Hm, hmm,” he approved of whatever she was telling him. “Did you do your morning workout yet?” He listened for a moment, then burst out, “Good. Jogging and swimming already. Wow… You’re a regular exercise beast!” The inviting softness of his girlfriend’s skin contrasted with his fiancée’s bland account of her exercise routine aroused him. He took Ana’s hand and placed it upon his hardened member. She withdrew it. Looking at her with an impish smile, he placed her hand on the same spot again.
“How about your knees and feet?” Michael inquired. He enjoyed the sensation of heat around his midsection, barely listening to Karen’s reply. “That sounds like a pretty decent plan,” he approved. “Just avoid the pavement. And make sure you put on a lot of sunscreen before heading out,” he advised her, his hand over Ana’s, to set the right rhythm. “The kids are great!”
Ana became even more confused. Kids? What kids? This conversation’s getting curioser and curioser, like in Alice in Wonderland, she thought.
“Yup. Ray’s right here, next to me,” Michael smiled reassuringly at his girlfriend, whose bewildered expression amused him.
“He had a little spat with Peanut earlier this morning. That’s alright. They worked it out and they’re best buddies again. What? It was about the chocolates. Peanut said he preferred milk chocolate to dark. Hey, by the way, thanks. I found the ones you hid in my drawers.” He paused to move Ana’s hand more vigorously up and down his shaft, his mouth still savoring the bitter sweetness of the chocolate he had enjoyed with his girlfriend. “I thought of you when I ate it,” he said out loud to Karen. Ana felt his erection moving, as if it were a living creature, in the moist palm of her hand. “Yeah, I miss you too. Listen, I was just about to go mow the lawn,” he announced, eager to wrap up the conversation and return to more entertaining activities with his girlfriend. Apparently, however, Karen wasn’t quite ready to let him go. Michael began shifting about with impatience. Ana removed her hand. Being no longer aroused, Michael didn’t place it back. “Yup,” he said in a flat monotone. His fiancée must have picked up on his hint, since he replied, “Of course I enjoy talking to you,” in response to her reproach. “I was just ready to haul my ass out of here and cut the grass, that’s all.”
After a brief pause, Michael cried out, rather aggressively, “I’m not trying to get rid of you, woman! Geesh…We’ll talk again tonight if you want. All right?” he tried to pacify her. But Karen must have been unsettled by his tone and the unusual brevity of their conversation, since she still refused to release him. Michael rolled his eyes and made a gesture of despair with his free hand, to suggest to his girlfriend that his fiancée was driving him crazy.
Ana tried to smile sympathetically in response. In her mind, however, she went over the same perplexing phenomenon. Never in her life had she encountered anyone so at ease with lying and cheating.
“Alright. I love you too,” Michael’s voice betrayed impatience to the point of rudeness. “I’ll call you later. Mmm hmm. Bye,” he hung up the phone. Despite his earlier irritation, Michael’s mood radically shifted, like sunshine reemerging after a brief thunderstorm. “Now where were we?” he reached for Ana.
She placed her hands upon his to fix them in place. “Hold on. Something’s bothering me.”
“Whatever it is, I can fix it.”
“How can you lie so easily to Karen?”
“You do it too,” Michael replied nonplussed. “It’s not like you tell Rob about everything we do together.” His smile was full of complicity.
“I don’t, but I feel pretty bad when I see him right after meeting with you. And if he asks me any questions, I do my best to be brief and evasive.”
“Well, as you can probably tell, Karen doesn’t give me that option. I guess you have it much easier than me.” But Ana didn’t look convinced. “Why? You think you’re more ethical?” A glimmer of malice lit up his eyes.
Ana shook her head. “No. You’re just far better at being immoral than I am. I still can’t understand how you can lie so easily.”
“It’s a gift. I make up all that crap on the spot. The words just flow right out of my mouth whenever she asks me any questions,” he boasted.
“But why did you lie about Paul and the Chinese restaurant? I mean, why didn’t you say you ate crepes at home, which was the truth and wouldn’t have compromised anything?”
Michael shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes I prefer to make the stuff up. It makes life a little more interesting. But usually I blend in part of the truth with the lie, to make it sound more plausible. It all depends. I don’t really think about it in advance. I just wing it.”
“I’ve never met someone who lies as well as you do,” Ana reiterated her conclusion, simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by that fact.
“It’s all in the details,” Michael said, as a tennis pro might boast about his technique by saying, it’s all in the wrist.
“It kind of scares me that you’re such a good liar.”
Ana looked at him with an air of disbelief. “Why do you think? Because you could lie to me as easily as you do to Karen.”
“And you to me as you do to Rob,” Michael established, once again, a perfect symmetry between them.
“Except that I’m not as good at it. I’m more of an average liar. You, on the other hand, are a maestro.”
“What can I say? I’m gifted in all sorts of ways,” he grinned.
But Ana wasn’t amused. “A relationship can’t survive without honesty,” she said.
Michael burst into laughter. “Sorry, but this statement sounds funny coming from you.”
“I know what I’m talking about precisely because I see it in my rapport with Rob,” Ana countered in a serious tone. “That’s part of why our relationships with our partners are dying. All this lying kills the trust and destroys whatever’s left of the intimacy in a couple. It’s toxic.”
Michael assumed a more serious demeanor as well. “Listen to me, Baby,” he gazed steadily into Ana’s eyes. “I promise to always tell you the truth. There will be no bullshitting between us. Ever.”
“But how can I trust you, when I know how well you lie?” she asked him. “In fact, you’re probably lying to me right now, but I can’t tell the difference. Basically, with you, I’ll always be faced with the liar’s paradox.”
Michael looked at her so lovingly that his gaze itself seemed to offer a promissory note. “You need to take a leap of faith. Just like I’m taking one with you. Besides, we’ve both learned our lesson from this whole fiasco. We know now that lying and cheating ruins a relationship. And we love each other way too much to screw up our special bond.”
“I really hope so,” Ana liked what she heard and wanted to believe him. “But, no matter what you say, I’ll never trust you,” she was obliged to admit, since, after all, they had just promised each other total honesty.
“Nor I you,” he retorted flirtatiously, as if their mutual lack of trust somehow bonded them further.
“That’s very reassuring!”
Michael pulled his girlfriend close to him. “Hey! Stop it. You’ve got to believe me,” he insisted. “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone before. I’ll never lie to you, alright? You can start suspecting me of misconduct once you see me behave with you the way I do with Karen. But, so far, I’ve treated you pretty well, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Ana relented, but only for a moment. “Who’s Peanut?” she asked him, not yet done with her inquiries.
“He’s our imaginary kid. An elephant,” Michael said matter-of-factly.
“You and Karen have imaginary children?” Ana asked, thinking that even her eight-year-old son had outgrown that stage two years earlier.
“Yeah, that’s our way of compensating for not having any real ones. Kind of in like in that movie, Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf. Have you seen it?”
“No.” This bit of information introduced a new worry into Ana’s mind. Apparently, Michael wanted kids. If her lover had a child with Karen, their affair would be over or, at the very least, seriously compromised. “But you could always marry Karen and have kids,” she said, to test him.
“I don’t want any kids with her.” His voice had a hard edge that gave it a note of certainty.
He looked sad. “You know how cold and reserved she is. How could I possibly want her to be the mother of my kids?”
Ana touched his shoulder, to comfort him. Although she felt somewhat relieved that her lover had no intention of having children with her rival, part of her also felt bad for him. He had been stuck with such a cold-blooded woman, when he, himself, was so nurturing and affectionate. She also sensed the contrast between the energy he generated when he communicated with her and its complete absence when he talked to Karen. It confirmed her impression that Michael and his fiancée were a mismatched couple, as he had told her from the very beginning.
As if reading her mind, Michael said: “Plus it’s too much of a commitment. Kids tie you down.”
“And you don’t want to be tied down?”
Michael had an instant flashback to the last family get-together. Karen’s sister had announced that they were expecting a third child. He recalled the heat of envy that suddenly rose within him, taking him by surprise. At such moments, he too longed to be a father. He wanted to have what so many other men his age already had: a kid to call his own, who’d follow him around and worship the ground he walked on. But all it took was one peek at Karen for him to realize that it couldn’t possibly be with her. “Right now, I prefer to tie you down,” he retorted playfully, grabbing both of Ana’s wrists with one hand and pinning her down under the weight of his muscular body.
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