As soon as she got out of the car, she felt the warmth of her lover’s embrace, his lips pressed upon hers. Then Michael’s muscular arms lifted her off the ground, gathering momentum as he began twirling her high up in the air. Ana’s peals of laughter and half-hearted protestations rang in his ears, exciting him further.
“You look so damn hot in that miniskirt! How much time do we have?” Michael asked with impatience, putting Ana down gently, only to grab her and nestle her into his arms again.
“Only two hours, unfortunately. I told Rob that I’m going to a brief meeting with Tracy,” Ana emphasized the word “brief.” “Because, you realize, I can’t keep on telling him that I’m seeing clients interested in buying my paintings when there’s no additional money to back it up.”
“That’s alright. We have enough time for lunch and a little afternoon delight,” Michael focused on the positive.
Given his priorities, the afternoon delight came first, followed by lunch.
As they were walking towards the restaurant, Michael deliberately lagged behind, to watch his girlfriend walk in front of him. He was surprised by the sharp contrast between Ana’s youthful appearance and her shuffling, uneven gait. “Do I have to teach you how to walk?”
She turned around with a puzzled smile. “What to you mean?”
“You shuffle along like an old lady. Or a geek,” he said, emulating her walk, dragging one foot on the ground more so than the other, with his arms dangling by his side.
“That’s because I am a geek!” she cheerfully retorted.
“You may be a geek on the inside, but on the outside you’re one hot mama. You need to walk more like this,” Michael swung his hips to demonstrate the confident gait of models on the runway.
“Very sexy. Now let me demonstrate how you walk,” Ana turned the tables on him. She proceeded to mimic Michael’s confident swagger, her chin up high, her back arched, moving her upper body with exaggerated turns.
“Fair enough,” he smiled mechanically, not amused. “But I still think that your walk doesn’t match your looks,” he insisted, determined to train his girlfriend to be a proper mate for him.
During the last stretch of their walk to the restaurant, Ana practiced the catwalk with him, until the muscles around his mouth began to hurt from so much smiling.
“How come it doesn’t bother you to lie to Karen?” she asked her lover, once they were in the restaurant together, enjoying their veggie wraps. “I’m almost jealous of your lack of scruples.”
“What can I say? It’s good to be me,” Michael responded, nonplussed. “I mean, what’s there to complain about? We just made love. Now we’re enjoying a good meal together. Life’s good, Baby!”
“Not for Rob and Karen,” Ana pointed out.
“You want me to hook them up on a date?”
“Come on, Michael. This is serious.”
“As long as they don’t find out about us, we’re fine.”
“And if they do? Then what?”
“Then I’ll break up with Karen,” Michael announced calmly.
“What if Rob finds out about our affair first?”
“I don’t know. That’s up to you,” he threw the ball back into her court.
Ana took a sip of her soda, to give herself a moment to reflect. “If Rob finds out about us, he’ll probably want a divorce,” she speculated.
“So he’ll divorce,” Michael repeated, not seeing any problem whatsoever with that fact.
“What about the kids?”
Michael reached across the table, taking Ana’s hand into his own. “If Rob divorces you, I’ll be there for you,” he gazed warmly into her eyes.
“What do you mean?” she asked, in a slight daze.
“I want to marry you,” he said.
Ana shook her head, not willing to absorb the full emotional impact of his marriage proposal. “But I’m already married. My marriage may not be perfect, but I love my husband and he loves me. More importantly, my kids want to be raised by both of their natural parents. They wouldn’t be happy if Rob and I divorced. What you don’t seem to realize is that this affair’s is no longer just about us. In fact, it never was.”
Michael withdrew his hand from hers, stung by her refusal. “So what are you trying to tell me?”
“That we should be more careful.”
“What does that actually mean? You want to cool it for awhile?” he stared at her fixedly.
“I just want us to keep everything in balance. Like in an ellipse,” Ana articulated the model of life that had been crystallizing in her mind during the past few weeks.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “Ever since we met, our lives have had two focal points. Each other and our families. Or, in your case, your fiancée. We love both sides of the ellipse. We don’t want to hurt anybody, right? So let’s do our best to keep this delicate balance intact,” Ana pleaded with her eyes as much as with her words.
Michael didn’t respond, mulling over the implications of her analogy, which threw him for a spin. For awhile now, he had been contemplating how to tell Karen that he had fallen in love with another woman. But now that Ana was indicating, in no uncertain terms, that cohabitation was out of the question, he realized that he might have to adjust his game plan. “You want to have your cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, that’s not possible in real life. Rob wants you for himself. If he knew about us, he wouldn’t want to share you. And neither do I.”
“But you already have me.”
Michael shook his head. “I can’t imagine spending the rest of our lives seeing each other in secret. Everywhere we go, we look over our shoulders and hide, like a couple of escaped convicts. We can’t even spend the night together. Vacations are out of the question. I don’t want to live like this indefinitely. I want us to become a real couple.”
“By its very nature, our relationship’s illicit,” Ana refused to consider his real point.
“And why exactly do you want to continue it like this?” Michael inquired in an irate tone. But he controlled himself and became tender again: “Baby, you know as well as I do that we’re meant for one another. I’ve never felt so happy with a woman before. Besides, what you want is impossible. Passion is by nature exclusive,” he declared, relying upon a formulation that any woman in love would easily comprehend. “I’m in love with you. That’s why I want you all to myself.”
Ana was on the brink of tears. Never before did she perceive the conflict between her two kinds of love--the one for her family filled with affection and a sense of duty, the other for her lover, filled with pleasure and excitement--so poignantly, so painfully. “If only we had met before I married Rob… Or at least before we had Michelle and Allen, it would have been another story. But we don’t have the right to destroy the lives of those who love and depend upon us. That would be terribly selfish of us.”
Michael had the sinking feeling of being slowly crushed by the weight of her rejection. But he wasn’t ready to give up on his goal just yet. Reminding himself that they had been together less than three months, he blamed their fundamental disagreement solely on the factor of time. “I didn’t mean to suggest that I’m taking the kid situation lightly,” he said, attempting to mask his disappointment. Don’t lose your cool. Keep your eyes on the prize at all times, he reminded himself.
Fired up as she was, the terminology her lover used to refer to her children’s wellbeing struck Ana as insensitive: “The kid situation?” she repeated. “Michelle and Allen are innocent children who count on having a loving mother and father throughout their childhood.”
“Yeah, well, statistically that doesn’t happen approximately thirty percent of the time.”
“I don’t give a hoot about statistics!” she became more incensed. “My kids are not statistics to me.”
“I never said they were. Why are you trying to pick a fight?”
Ana made an effort to appeal to her lover’s sympathy: “You don’t have children. You don’t even have a wife. You can’t possibly understand what I’m going through; how much I dread hurting my family.”
But to Michael’s ears, her words sounded accusatory. “Hey, don’t try to pin our affair on me. It takes two to tango.”
Although they were sitting across the table from each other, Ana had never felt so much distance between them. She looked at her lover as if he were a stranger, astonished by his inability to envision the suffering their actions would cause to those they loved. The two sides of Michael just didn’t seem to mesh, so Ana bridged the gap by focusing on his qualities. “I love you,” she murmured, scooting her chair closer to his.
Although she meant it, in that instant, her words rang hollow to him. “Yeah, well, you sure don’t show it.”
Ana had the impression that in the space of only a few minutes Michael had withdrawn several miles. “It’s amazing how warm it is outside,” she commented after awhile, uncomfortable with the silence.
“We’re lucky to get an Indian summer this late in the year,” he concurred. The tone and content of their exchange, so conventional and extrinsic to anything they were feeling, reminded Michael of his usual interaction with Karen. He had hit a wall in his relationship with his girlfriend and didn’t think that he deserved it. After all, he thought, Ana’s the only woman to whom I’ve given my all. I’m entitled to her devotion and fidelity. By all rights, she should be mine. An overflow of negative emotion saturated his body, escaping through every pore. He tried to control this internal pressure by taking slow, deliberate breaths.
He looks like a bull about to charge at me, Ana observed. “I’ve never seen you so upset,” she said nervously.
“I’ll be alright,” Michael replied, though his anger was still mounting.
“Have you decided what you want for dessert?” the waitress came by their table.
“We’ll just have the check please,” he said, without consulting his girlfriend.
“If I said something to hurt you, please let’s talk about it,” Ana pleaded with him, not wishing to end their date on such a sour note.
Her conciliatory tone only fueled his irritation. “We’ve said all there is to say at this point,” Michael said coolly, following with his eyes the waitress as she returned with the check. “Thanks,” he handed her his credit card.
“Perhaps we can arrive at some kind of compromise,” Ana suggested. But at the moment she couldn’t think of any. She either divorced Rob to be with Michael or she didn’t. “Why can’t we just stay lovers?” she ended up reiterating her original position.
Michael smirked. “Is that what you call compromising? Having everything on your terms?”
“We see each other so often, we might as well be spouses,” Ana weakly protested.
“Well, if we’re really like spouses, then I’d like to spend the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with you. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in this weekend too. How would your husband feel about that?”
“You always forget about the kids…”
“You can bring them along. Just make sure that you leave Rob behind.”
“It’s not so simple,” Ana responded to his sarcastic remark as if it were a serious proposition.
“It sure isn’t, because you choose to make life unnecessarily complicated for us.” Michael stood up to leave. He’d had enough.
“When will we see each other again?” she asked him, feeling for the first time in their brief yet intense relationship that she was at risk of being abandoned.
“I don’t know.” He didn’t want to commit to any course of action he might later regret.
“Are you upset with me?” Ana asked him, hoping against hope that he’d say no.
“I’m disappointed,” Michael once again showed deliberate restraint in his words. Yet inside he felt the frustration of an animal whose prey is about to escape. He attempted to calm himself down by focusing on the shape of Ana’s lips rounded into an “o” around his shaft, as she lay on her knees begging his pardon.
“Then why do you sound so cold?”
“Because I’d have liked to see in you the love I feel for you.” He looked steadily into her eyes like into a mirror.
“But you do. You know full well that I’m madly in love with you!”
As he saw the raw emotion reflected in her gaze, a new wave of heat rose to his head. To cool off, Michael imagined his girlfriend on all fours, as he was drilling into her, tempted by her orifices, punishing her for sabotaging their relationship. “Yeah, well, apparently not enough,” he said out loud, still sullen and distant. Ana was either with him or against him. He wouldn’t tolerate being strung along by her much longer, that much was certain.
“What more do you want from me?” she pleaded with a note of despair that reminded him of Karen.
“I want your commitment,” Michael said resolutely. “Otherwise, all your nice words mean nothing to me.”
“You already have it. I’ll be your girlfriend for as long as you love me,” she promised him.
Michael felt like flipping over the table when he heard that absurd statement. Once again, he channeled his anger into fantasies bordering on erotic violence. This time, Ana lay prostrate on the ground, inviting penetration by slowly introducing Vaseline into her anus with each finger of her left hand. “Thanks, but I didn’t ask you to be my girlfriend. Correct me if I’m wrong, that’s what you already are. I wanted you to be my wife.”
“Wanted?” Ana focused on his use of the past tense. “So you don’t want it anymore?” Never before had she encountered such a strange combination of passionate intensity and extreme conditionality in love, which confused and unhinged her.
“It’s not my wishes that pose a problem for us. It’s yours,” Michael replied quietly, glancing out the window. In its slow rotation, the circular tower had arrived at a position that was approximately 180 degrees away from where it began. “You’re the only one who seems to be confused. I, for one, know exactly what I want.”
“You know that you want me for now,” she repeated louder.
“Yeah, well, that’s a low blow and we both know it,” Michael appeared wounded to the quick by her comment.
Ana looked at her lover steadily, ready to meet his challenge. “Has it ever crossed your mind that sometimes I want different things than what you want? Our interests don’t always coincide.”
“We need to be on the same page on what’s important, Ana. Because when our interests will diverge, so will our paths in life.”
Michael’s tone sounded serious and decisive. Ana didn’t know what to say in response. After the waitress returned his credit card, the couple got up to leave.
“You want an ellipse with two focal points, while I want a circle with just one: us,” he summed up their situation as they exited the restaurant through its revolving door.