“Doc, if you’d just marry me, this wouldn’t even be an issue.”
I just looked at Lee, completely unable to articulate why, despite how much I loved him, I was unable to agree to marry him.
“Doc,” he went on, “if we got married, you would not have to sit here trying to figure out how to explain to Emily that I am moving in and will NOT be sleeping on the couch.”
I couldn’t help but smile when he mentioned the sleeping arrangements. After everything else he’d given up, there was no way I could waffle about that. But the fact that he felt the need to remind me let me know that he too was still nervous about it all coming together.
“Lee, you know I’ve done the marriage thing. I’m not sure that I want to do it again. It has nothing to do with how much I love you.”
Focused as ever, he gave me a penetrating look and got directly to the point. “Exactly what about our relationship are you unsure of?”
“What if you want children someday? What if you decide that being with an old woman is more than you bargained for? What if you’re offered a great job on the other side of the world?”
“And what if I get seriously ill or have a terrible accident? Are you saying you’d bail on me if things got rough?” he countered.
“Of course I wouldn’t!”
“I know, Baby. The point is there are no guarantees. All we can do it promise to talk to each other, be honest with each other and love each other.”
I had to agree that he had a point. “I guess I’m just scared, Cuddles. Can we agree that we’ll get through one semester – 4 months – before we make any major decisions? That will give us a chance to settle in and see what life is really like together.”
He looked like he wasn’t buying it, but might be softening.
I went on, “You have a new job to settle in to and the three of us need to learn to live together. And, you’ve never been with me 24/7 during the end of the semester craziness. Emily will tell you, it is not pretty. ”
He sighed. “Okay, four months. Then you either agree to marry me or I’m outta there. If you’re not comfortable enough with us by that point, you probably never will be.”
I breathed a sigh of relief that we’d managed to work out a compromise.
Apparently to seal the deal, Lee pulled me into his arms and kissed me thoroughly. Between what his lips were doing to mine and what his hands were doing to my ass, I was wet and ready. It started to feel so good that I forgot we were standing in my office at school. Fortunately, I guess, the phone rang and brought us back to our senses.
Lee was using some paid vacation time he had left from his soon-to-be-old job to begin moving some of his things to my house. He already had a key, but had come by anyway to invite me to lunch. We’d started talking about how all this would affect Emily, and gotten into the marriage discussion.
I reached over for the phone, keeping him within the circle of my arms. He continued to nibble at my neck and ears, making it hard for me to concentrate on the student on the other end of the phone. Finally I managed to end the call and turn my attention back to Lee. Eventually, reluctantly, we pulled apart. He smiled at me. “Hold that thought. I’ll see you when you get home.”
“I’m not sure I can wait that long,” I said, pressing my hips into his. He groaned, then kissed me on the forehead.
“Be a good girl and go teach your class. Emily and I will have dinner started by the time you get there.”
“Thanks, Cuddles,” I said and patted his ass affectionately. He looked at me like he couldn’t believe I’d just done that, then turned and opened the door…
…To find one of my students on the other side, apparently just ready to knock. She looked uncertainly from me to Lee and back.
“Yes, Sharon,” I prompted.
“Dr. Reed, do you have a minute?”
“Sure, what can I do for you?”
She looked uncertainly at Lee again and he took that as his to cue to depart with a quick, “Talk to you later.” I waved and gave him a small smile.
“I’m sorry if I interrupted,” Sharon said, looking toward the space Lee had just vacated.
“Not a problem.” I assured her, then asked again, “What can I do for you?”
I gave her my best advice about an upcoming assignment, then stood and let her know that I had class soon. As she moved toward the door, she hesitated and turned back toward me. “Dr. Reed, who was that guy? He was hot!”
I’m pretty sure I managed to keep my face neutral and not let my jealousy show. I even managed a matronly smile. “A former student who stopped by to say hello.”
Satisfied, Sharon headed off down the hall. But, it haunted me the rest of the day that I’d described Lee that way. He’d be beyond pissed if he ever found out.
That evening, in addition to my guilt over how I’d described Lee to my student, I was still grappling with how I was going to explain all of this to Emily. We’d talked about Lee moving in with us, which she seemed to be looking forward to. The details, however, were another matter.
In the end, Emily solved the problem for me. I’d started by pointing out that Lee had put the clothes that he’d brought over into my closet and would be moving into my bedroom. Emily must have seen that I was grappling with this because she said, “Mom, get a grip. I do watch television! You two want to live together so you can decide if you want to get married. I get it. When’s dinner?”
“Ah, it will be ready in 25 minutes,” I managed.
As Emily headed for her room, Lee, who’d be in the next room listening, came and whispered in my ear, “What did you expect? She is your child, after all. Too smart for her own damn good.” He managed to zip out of reach before I could swat him.
Too bad my insightful child couldn’t fix the other issue I was stewing about. Let’s just say I tried to compensate by making sure the sex that night was unforgettable.
“Wow, what got into you?” Lee asked appreciatively.
“Nothing. What do you mean?”
“I mean that you nearly sucked all of my internal organs out through my dick, then tried to ride me into oblivion. Mind you, I loved it, but it just seems like there was more going on than the sex.”
“Just glad you’re here,” I said, as seductively as I could.
He didn’t look like he was entirely convinced, but fatigue got the better of him. He spooned up behind me and was soon asleep. It took me a bit longer.
By Columbus Day I’d started my new job and had completely moved in with Doc and Emily. Thank goodness I’d had that minor in economics in college and had gotten an MBA rather than letting Doc’s colleagues steer me toward graduate school in anthropology. My career as a marketing analyst was much more portable than Doc’s. So, we both sold thing, put things in storage, and tossed the things we could part with, trying to fit me into their house. It was tight, but we managed it. I was already thinking of how we could build an addition off the back of the house for more space. One step at a time, I guess.
Emily and I really started to bond. Sometimes I helped her with her homework, because she and Doc were too much alike and would end up fussing at each other. She and I liked some of the same movies so sometimes we went without Doc. And, she started calling me ‘Cuddles.’ At first I thought it was cute, and was glad she was comfortable enough with me to use the nickname. Big mistake.
As Halloween approached, Emily begged her mother to let she and a friend go trick-or-treating without a parent. Doc was not budging so I asked Emily if I could take her. She put her hands on her little hips and thought about it, then decided that was okay, since I was not a ‘real’ parent. When she introduced me to her friend, she said, “Melissa, this is Cuddles…” Within the week every girl under 13-years-old in the neighborhood was calling me Cuddles. When Doc picked up on it she laughed so hard she about wet her pants. Here I was trying to be taken seriously as Doc’s lover/potential husband and I had a bevy of little girls calling me Cuddles. Like I am some cute little puppy! The things I endured because I love that woman.
And, true to her word, Doc was a bit of a lunatic as the end of the semester approached. I pretty much took over the cooking and I noticed that Emily was spending as much time as she could in her room. One evening when I went to check on her she made it clear that I could only come in if her mother was not with me.
“Are you okay?” I asked as I tentatively stepped through the door.
“I’m fine, just staying out of her way.”
She rolled her eyes like I’d said something stupid.
I tried to keep a straight face, but failed. “Tell you what, how about on Saturday afternoon you and I hang out and let you mother stay home and grade papers. Okay?”
She jumped up and threw her arms around my waist and buried her little face in my stomach. “Thanks, Lee.”
“No problem, kiddo. She scares me too.” We laughed, then shushed each other so Doc would not come and ask what was up.
When Emily and I got back that Saturday, she headed straight to her room. “Coward,” I called after her. She laughed at me and closed the door. As I approached our bedroom, I noticed that Doc had papers spread out all over the bed. There she was in the middle, a stack of papers on her lap. I crept close and ask tentatively, “Do I get to sleep here tonight or am I back on the couch?”
She smiled up at me and cleared a space, patting the bed and inviting me to sit beside her. I sat down and gave her a hug. “How is it coming?” I asked, scanning the piles of papers surrounding her.
She sighed. “Don’t ask. But on the up side, I’m nearly done with this stack.”
“That’s good.” I then noticed an envelope that looked like an invitation. “What’s this?”
She looked like she was starting to say something, but then didn’t. The outside read “Dr. Laura Reed and Guest” and I noticed that the envelope had already been opened. I pulled the contents out and saw that it was an invitation to the Anthropology Department’s holiday party. “Were you planning on mentioning this to me?” I asked.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” She answered, holding my hand firmly and preventing me from pulling away. “I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it, and I guess I was waiting until I sorted out my own thoughts before I said anything.”
“Laura. My gosh, Baby. We’ve gotten through a lot together. Me moving in here, my new job, you finals week craziness. When are you going to start trusting ‘us’? ”
“Lee, I do trust us. I love you and I love that you are here with me, with us. I can’t tell you how many times in the last four months – particularly these last two weeks -- that I have wondered how Emily and I survived without you. I just didn’t know if you wanted to deal with this,” she said, pointing toward the invitation.
“Or were you not sure if you wanted to deal with it?” I snapped.
“Lee, it was not like that. I didn’t even go to this party last year, or the year before, come to think of it. I never had any fun when Emily’s father went with me because I was always on edge about what he might say. He was not exactly comfortable around all the egg-heads, as he described them. The first year after the divorce I went alone, and spent most of the party fending off Andrew Gaylord,” my eyebrows shot up, “yeah…and so for the last two years I just haven’t bothered to go.”
I thought about that for a second. “So…Gaylord?”
She sighed. “Once he heard about my divorce, he started dropping subtle hints. I intentionally failed to get the point. I didn’t want to be too brutal, since we were working on a grant together. Finally he asked me out and I said that I didn’t think that was a good idea since we worked together. He tried a couple more times, but has finally let it go, I think. Except for the party when he’d had one too many drinks.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“And have you wondering what that repulsive little man and I might be up to every time I go to school?”
“If he was making you uncomfortable, you should have told me,” I insisted.
“And, what? Have you confront him? Have you two get into a pissing contest?”
I didn’t really have a response to that. She knew the direction my thoughts were running.
“To be honest, I really should show my face this year,” she continued, “but not if it is going to be a problem for you.”
“Then we’ll go,” I said.
She hesitated. “And no locking horns with Gaylord?”
“I promise not to confront him, but I also promise to protect you if I feel it is necessary.” I could tell she was about to protest. “That’s the deal. I am not going to stand in the corner and let him hit on you nor am I going to let him try to intimidate you.”
“Okay,” she responded, “but I also reserve the right to protect you if I feel it is necessary. From women, or from condescending faculty members.”
“Agreed.” We sealed it with a kiss.
But the drama was not over. Once Doc’s semester had wrapped and her grades were turned in, I figured it was time to get back to talking about getting married. Probably poor timing; I brought it up two days before the department party.
“Lee, do we have to talk about this right now?” she whined.
“Why not? We survived the four months, and I think things went pretty well. What is the problem?”
“Lee, I love you. I’m sure you know that. But I’m just not sure that I want to marry anyone. Just being with you is enough for me. I don’t need a ring and a piece of paper. And, I know that you said you’re okay with not having children of you own, but Babe, that’s major. You might change your mind further down the road.”
“Laura. I love you. I have turned my life upside down for you. I’ve accepted that I’m not going to have my own children. I truly am okay with that. I understand that you don’t need a ring and a piece of paper, I do. I want to marry you, and you agreed that if we made it through this semester, you’d agree to marry me or I’m out of here,” I reminded her, through clenched teeth.
She tried to put her arms around me but I resisted. Tears started forming in her eyes; mine too to tell the truth. “I love you and I want to be with you. I’m just not ready to get married again. But I don’t want you to go anywhere. I love you. I need you.”
“Then love me enough to give me this one thing, Laura.”
“I want to,” she said with a shaky voice. “I wish I could.”
I didn’t have anything else to say. I got up, started packing a few things into a bag.
“Lee, please don’t do this. Please don’t leave.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“I’m not moving out, I just can’t be around you right now.”
With that, I finished packing and walked out the front door. It wasn’t until I was lying across the bed at the nearest Motel 6 that I had a chance to actually think. I may have overreacted, but damn! I knew she still had concerns about us and I would have been willing to give her more time. But it was the very fact that she still had concerns that had me so pissed off. Was I the only one that believed in this relationship?
By the day of the party, I still hadn’t heard from Lee. I must have changed my mind a dozen times about whether or not to go. Emily was off with her dad that weekend. Staying home alone and ordering a pizza seemed very appealing.
Finally I decided that, lover or not, I had to look after my career and so I had to go. Reluctantly, I headed for the shower. I decided not to wear the dress I’d originally planned. It was not all that revealing, but I decided that I didn’t want any cleavage showing if I was going without a date. I pulled a pair of black slacks from the closet and dressed it up with a festive blouse and jewelry. Coat in hand, I was just reaching for the door knob when it turned. And there was Lee, looking particularly gorgeous in a dark green sweater I’d bought him.
“You’re here,” I said, stating the obvious.
“I promised I’d go with you. I keep my promises.” Ouch.
I stood on my toes and kissed his cheek. “Thanks. I really was not looking forward going alone.”
He seemed to finally take a good look at me. “What happened to that dress you were going to wear?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just didn’t seem like the dress to wear if I was showing up alone.”
“But you’re not going alone.”
“I’m also not in the mood to have Gaylord trying to make his way down the front of my dress.”
I saw a flicker of something in his eyes. “Believe me, that is not going to happen. Go pin your hair up and put on the dress.” He actually gave me a faint smile. “Go ahead, Doc. I’ll wait,” he said gently.
I changed as quickly as I could and we headed out. He said little in the car and I didn’t push it. I knew that we still had to resolve the marriage question and I didn’t want to get into another argument before we got to the party.
As I expected, there were a few awkward moments as my colleagues realized that yes indeed, this was Lee Rogers who’d graduated from the program ten years before and, yes, he was my date. That drew mildly amused looks from some, as if they thought I was so desperate that I had to hit up former students for dates. When Lee revealed that we lived together, a number of eyebrows nearly met hairlines. I saw a few women eyeing Lee up and down. I sent them a look that made it clear that he was leaving with the same person he’d arrived with…me!
Lee drifted away from me as he was drawn into conversation with some of his former professors. I noted that they were colleagues who I’d generally describe as supporters, and who’d thought well of Lee during his student days. I figured there was little to worry about there and tried to enjoy catching up with other faculty members and their spouses. Eventually I ambled over to the buffet so see what was what.
“Laura, I must say I’m surprised.” Andrew Gaylord sneered as he slithered up beside me.
“Surprised about what, Andrew?” Like I didn’t already know.
“Laura, really? A former student? He’s what, a good 20 years younger than you?”
I gave him a look that said I had no intention of answering his question.
“Now I see why you wouldn’t go to dinner with me. You were already playing with the students! But you know that reflects very poorly on the department, Laura.”
“Andrew, I suggest you stop now and walk away,” I warned.
“Laura,” he tried to say my name with a seductive tone, and moved a bit closer. “If I had known you were that needy, I’d have happily serviced you. You didn’t have to embarrass yourself by taking up with a boy. You know, men your own age have experience and know how to appreciate a woman, not just screw her.”
I felt like I was either going to be sick all over the front of his suit, or I was going to take off my high heeled shoes and use them to beat his ass. The ass whopping definitely had the edge. So much for communication among educated professionals.
“Andrew, I warned you to walk away. You should have quit while you were ahead.”
I swear if I’d seen one more guy with his eyes down the front of Doc’s dress I would have lost it. She didn’t just grow those breasts this morning, after all. Other than Gaylord, she’d never mentioned any of her colleagues being inappropriate with her, so what the hell was up? Did they disrespect her ex-husband like this? Fortunately, before I could get too worked up about it, Dr. Hacker came over to me. He’d been chair of the department 10 years ago but was now semi-retired, Doc had said. He’d been one of my favorites. We spent a few minutes catching up. Then he got to what must have been his real point.
“You know, Lee, I knew you were taken with Laura when you were a student.”
“Yes, but only because I had the opportunity to observe you two so often from my office across the hall. I appreciated your discretion.
“I suspected Laura was taken with you too. That first fall after you graduated, she just didn’t have her old spark. I’m sure part of it was dealing with a new baby, but I suspected your absence was a part of it too. It took her a few semesters to develop close bonds with any of the new students.”
I just nodded and let him know I was listening.
“She has been much happier this semester, and I guess that is due to you being in her life. She deserves to be happy and fulfilled at home as well as at work. Be good to her, son.” He patted me on my shoulder and turned to walk away. But, he turned back toward me, then back over his shoulder, drawing my attention to Doc and Gaylord across the room near the buffet table. “I think you’d better get over there. I’m not sure whose going to need rescued but I’m sure someone will.” He smiled at me and I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye as he ambled off to find his wife.
I made my way over to Doc, side-stepping a woman who way had too much cleavage showing for an office party. As I approached them, I could tell from the tone in Doc’s voice that Gaylord was most likely to be the one needing rescued.
“Andrew, I warned you to walk away. You should have quit while you were ahead.”
“What’s the matter, Larua? Too frightened of an experienced lover? I didn’t know you had issues in that area, dear.”
By that point I was close enough to put my hand protectively on the small of her back. She stiffened at first, probably because I startled her, but she quickly relaxed into my partial embrace.
“Andrew, you are not nor will you ever be even half the man Lee is. I won’t sully our relationship by explaining to you how completely he satisfies me. Let me just say,” she flicked an intentional glance to his crotch, “that I doubt you could come close. Beyond that, he can converse with someone for more than 10 minutes without needing to mention how smart and accomplished he is.”
“Careful, Laura. You wouldn’t want to offend me, since I’m likely to be the next chair of the department.”
I heard and felt her take a breath. “Andrew, I want to thank you.”
“For what, sweetie?” he asked, giving me a patronizing look which almost got him hurt. Fortunately for him, Doc gave me an ‘I’ve got this’ look so I didn’t move toward him.
“I want to thank you for being the biggest ass I’ve ever known or had to work with. I want to thank you for giving voice to all of the negative reactions that I worried about when Lee and I got together.” By now, others nearby were starting to pay attention. “And mostly I want to thank you for helping me realize that I was letting the venom that people like you spew keep me from marrying the most amazing man on the planet. And, if he’ll still have me, we’ll be sure not to invite you to the wedding.
“And Andrew, about that department chair thing? Don’t count on it. The Dean called me in yesterday, and told me he was considering me for the job. I’m betting Dr. Hacker is over there sealing the deal for me right now.”
As Gaylord stood there, visibly stunned, I couldn’t help getting my shot it. “If you were half as smart as you seem to think you are, you’d have know better than to ever underestimate this woman. And I want to thank you, too. Because when idiots like you piss her off, I get great sex when we get home.”
Gaylord looked like he was about to explode.
With that Doc turned to me and searched my eyes, asking, I’m sure, if I’d forgiven her and still wanted to marry her. I didn’t think that I needed to answer, so I just took her in my arms and kissed her…long and hard. Then I fished the ring that I’d bought months ago out of my pocket and placed it on her finger. I’d had it with me, planning to give her an ultimatum that night. Fortunately Dr. Asshole had made that unnecessary. I vaguely remember Gaylord sputtering as we kissed again.
As I’d predicated, the sex that night was incredible. We barely made it through the front door before clothes started flying. I almost lost it when I realized that Doc wasn’t wearing any panties under her dress. She said she had wanted to be prepared, in case she had to coax and seduce me back into the house. Fat chance! Before I knew it she was wearing only her little silver heels and a smile. I dumped what was left of my clothes and carried her off to bed. I think we tried every position either of us had ever heard of, before we were done. We’d make love, sleep for an hour or so, then make love some more. Just as the sun was about to come up we made sweet, gentle love one more time. And, then, as if Doc hadn’t already made my day, she asked me about setting a wedding date. Finally, she was as into the idea of getting married as I was.
The holidays were a whirlwind. In addition to the normal holiday madness, we needed to add Lee’s family to our network. Making sure that Emily had time with my family and her dad’s family was always a challenge. Adding in time for she and I to meet all of Lee’s family and he mine added to the drama. I must admit that, despite my trepidation, Lee’s family seemed fine with our relationship, and mine was generally well behaved.
Lee’s sister, Karen, had a new baby, born in early November. I was happy for her, but sad that I’d never be able to give Lee a child. He’d assured me, more than once, that he was okay about it. But, I still regretted that his falling in love with me meant that he’d never have the pleasure of holding his own child.
I came around the corner and into the kitchen at Lee’s mother house, to found Lee and Karen engaged in heated whispers. They stopped as soon as I entered.
“I’m sorry. Did I interrupt something?”
“No, Doc. Not a problem,” Lee assured me.
I was not convinced, so I poured the cup of coffee his mother had asked for and made my way back to the living room.
In bed later that night, I asked Lee if his sister was not alright with us getting married.
“No, Doc, it’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
He hesitated a beat or two. “She’s using again.”
His response was a defeated sigh.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“She was clean the whole time she was pregnant. I really thought, hoped, she would be okay.”
“So the baby’s okay?”
“Yes, Nathan is fine.”
“Well that’s good. Not that it matters, but what is she hooked on?”
“Mostly meth. But she drinks, smokes reefer, whatever.”
“Oh, Baby, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, me too.”
By February, it was clear to everyone that Karen was not managing to kick her habit, and Lee’s family was concerned about her ability to care for Nathan. Lee went to check on her one day after work and found the door unlocked, Nathan, dirty and screaming at the top of his lungs and Karen passed out on the couch. He called the paramedics, informed them of his suspicious of her drug use and brought Nathan home with him. As I watched him with Nathan over the next few days, I realized what we needed to do.
“Lee,” I said as I approached him, sitting before the muted television, thoughts clearly elsewhere.
“You want to adopt Nathan, don’t you?”
He looked at me, but said nothing.
“Lee, tell me what you feel, not what you think I want to hear.”
He pulled me into his arms. “Of course I want to take him,” he said to the top of my head. “I feel like it is the least I can do. I don’t know if my sister will ever be a fit parent. I don’t want Nathan to float through the foster care system. She has as much said she’d give up her parental rights if I would adopt him.”
“Then let’s do it.”
He pulled back so that he could see my face. “Are you sure? I though you didn’t want to start all over again. Emily is half way to being college aged, after all.”
“I’ve though a lot about it. My main objection was to trying to get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby at my age. But, there is no way I wouldn’t support you taking Nathan.”
He kissed me fiercely, and I reveled in his touch.
“Now I’m letting you know; I am too old for middle-of-the night feedings. You are on your own with those.” He laughed at me, knowing I was not really serious. Then he sobered.
“Doc, I really am scared. Taking care of him for a few days is one thing, but forever?”
“We’ll be just fine. Didn’t you once say that we just needed to promise to talk to each other, be honest with each other and love each other?”
“I guess I did.”
“Well, then, listen to yourself!”
He laughed for the first time in quite a while.
And just like that we were making plans to add on to the house and finalizing the arrangements to adopt Nathan. Karen cooperated with the adoption and seemed to be serious about rehab…this time. Lee wanted to be hopeful, but I could tell he was as much trying to convince himself as his mother and the rest of the family. On the up side, Emily was surprisingly gentle with Nathan and said she was glad she’d no longer be an only child.
As so, in July, when the renovations on the house were done, when Nathan was officially ours, Doc and I were married. I can’t tell you much about the wedding. The day was mostly a blur to me. I seemed only noticed Doc, Emily and Nathan. We had managed to form one happy family.