Norman was sleeping on the sofa when I came downstairs, his angelic face soft for the first time in a while. The sunlight poured in through the floor-to-ceiling wall of glass but wasn’t shining on him, he was sleeping on his side avoiding the sun like a vampire. I tiptoed into the kitchen and grabbed a yogurt and a bottle of water then as quietly as I could I found my purse and shoes and snuck out the front door. I couldn’t bring myself to wake him, I sat on the landing and put on my sneakers then checked my phone one last time. I had texted Mandy when I got up, but this was about the time she was usually out on her morning run, I didn’t think I’d hear back from her for a while longer.
I realized it was going to be colder outside than I had thought and I hadn’t grabbed my coat, I could have gone back in and gotten it, but I didn’t want to wake him. I picked up my purse and headed down to the street ready to get out for a while and hide in my darkened massage room for a few hours. When I pushed open the front door I saw Paul waiting for me.
He jumped from the drivers seat and came around to open my door.
“What are you doing here?” I had been taking the subway to work lately, I had gotten so good at navigating that I no longer read the stops in panic wondering if I would miss mine.
He opened my door and waited for me to slide in. “He asked me to drive you to work today.” That’s all he said as he shut the door and went back around getting into to his side and pulled into traffic. “Did you want to stop and get breakfast?” He never looked back at me just focused on the road.
I was pulling my phone out again, “No, I’m good, just to the spa.” I looked down hoping for a reply that hadn’t come. The traffic was heavy which was no surprise and the buildings seemed to crawl by, not moving as quickly as I would have liked. I really enjoyed how fast the subway could take me most days. I was tempted to hop out at the next light but I knew Paul wouldn’t appreciate that. Leaning back, I let my head rest and my eyes close.
“We need to talk”, Norman’s face was impossible to read, there was nothing there I recognized. He had come down stairs from unpacking my things with a small handful of dirty clothes for the washer. I was plating the take out as he stood at the door frame in his bare feet.
The phone on my lap buzzed and I practically jumped.
I’m here – call me
Mandy’s reply had finally come through. I looked at the phone, then up to Paul and back to the phone. I’d wait till I was at work and had a little more privacy, not that Paul would say anything, but he never missed a thing that happened in the backseat. I watched the city crawl by and at some point, he turned on a country station and turned it up for me. I settled back clutching my phone, trying to relax.
He didn’t get out of the car or open the door for me rather just told me he’d be waiting at the end of the day, I didn’t bother to tell to tell him that he didn’t need to pick me up, he’d do it anyways. The spa was still in prep mode, rooms being set up and laundry in the works. I checked in and looked at my schedule, it was a moderate day, two appoints in the morning, four in the afternoon. I wouldn’t be done till six. I prepped my space turning on the low lighting, the electric blanket and tucking sheets into place. Then I sat on my rolling stool, took a breath and called Mandy.
“Hey girl, what’s going on?” I had texted her first thing this morning asking her to call me. The request was only unusual because of the time I had sent it.
It was great to hear her voice. “Hi, sorry to bother you so early.”
“It’s not bother, what’s going on?”
“I fucked up.” I barely heard the words come out of Norman’s mouth he had said them so softly. “You know I love you more than I have ever loved any woman.” He reached for my hand and held it, I think I could feel him shake just a little bit. I wanted to touch his cheek and tell him that everything was going to be just fine, but with that tone in his voice, I wasn’t so sure that everything would be.
I hadn’t cried once in the four days since we had stopped speaking but when Mandy asked me what was going on, the tears began to flow. There were no words, just sobbing as I tried to hold back but couldn’t any longer.
“Oh god Holly, what’s wrong, what happened?”
He had paused and I could tell he was trying to get the words right in his head before he spoke but I don’t think it helped, “While you were gone…” I knew instantly that whatever he had to say was going to upset me. “I was drunk and tired and…” There was no more looking at him, I pulled my hand back and turned away.
“I… he…. damn.” I tried to get something out of my mouth between the sobs but I couldn’t make it happen.
Mandy had a way about her, she hardly ever over reacted to things, “Holly. Stop. Breathe. Take a breath and just take your time. I’m here.” I loved that quality most about her.
I did exactly as she told me to, I stopped, took a deep breath and let the tears slow, I found my breath and I began to talk. “When I was home last week,” I had gone to Georgia for my mom’s birthday over the past weekend. “He was up here fucking some skank.” The words poured out of me completely off plan, I had rehearsed it more politely but it’s not how it came out of me. The tears still flowed but not as hard, I looked at the clock on my side table, I had an appointment in a little while.
“He WHAT?” Her voice cracked a bit at the end of her question.
I tried to be a little a little more diplomatic this time, “I’m sure she’s not a skank.”
“Who was she?” I barked out at him. I knew he had gone out this past week with an ex of his, one he assured me over and over I didn’t have to worry about. Hell, even the pic of them that popped up on social media hadn’t freaked me out.
“No one, just some chick.” He looked down at his feet then back up to my face quickly.
I was pacing now, pissed and pacing. “Your ex? You just couldn’t NOT fuck her could you?” I had never met her, but I had seen pictures of them together, walking the red carpet, modeling shows she had worked. I had seen something of them at a party together. She wasn’t afraid of the camera, she was willing to be on his arm in public. I knew that my hesitation for the lime-light was going to bite me in the ass someday.
We had been yelling for minutes now, well I had mostly. But he had raised his voice his fair share well. “NO! It wasn’t her it wasn’t anyone. Jesus, I hate this” He slammed his hand down on the table and grabbed for his cigarettes.
“So you fucked around on me for no one?” That might have been more hurtful than if he has slept with his ex.
I was finally done sobbing, now just sniffling and holding back the tears as much as I could. I knew that this type of crying would lead me to a headache that would last all day. “It was no one special, just someone from the show he had taped that morning.”
Mandy paused then started firing questions, “What show? Who? And do you want me to come there. No wait, come home Holly.” We had talked for a while last weekend how much she missed having me in Georgia all the time.
“Stop.” Now I was up again, pacing around the tiny, dimly lit massage room. The place that was supposed to be Zen and tranquil was not helping me at all. “He was on some morning show last week and she was the make-up girl or something.” Not the hair dresser that styled him for these events, this was someone who worked for the network, or so Norman had thought, he wasn’t even sure. “He did the show, then a bunch of people made plans for later and she was there or something, I’m not even sure. He said there was a bunch of people from the show and from his friends and people from a club or whatever.” My brain was scattered.
I really didn’t have a clear picture of how they had hooked up or even where exactly it had happened.
“Did you bring her back here?” The thought of him having sex in our house with someone else, someone not Andy, made me sick.
Norman dragged off his cigarette, “Shit, no. Fuck.” Apparently that thought bothered him as well. “At the bar.” He mumbled again and I wanted to scream at him for not speaking more clearly, but I held it in.
“Did you two talk about it?” She had calmed down, it wasn’t time to pounce on me for details and she knew it, she was a good friend.
I leaned against the edge of the table, “Yeah. Sorta. He told me about it and I yelled a lot. But that was Sunday night. I haven’t talked to him since.” The incident had happened the Friday I had flown to Geogia, we hadn’t talked that night because I knew he had the appearance and a busy day planned with promotional things. We talked just for a minute on Saturday, but I had been so focused on things going on with my parents, that I didn’t even realize he was holding something back from me. He had gushed at how much he missed and loved me, but I didn’t pay enough attention. Somewhere in there he had caught up with his ex girlfriend for dinner and a movie with mutual friends and then I was flying home. Text messages had gone back and forth and then Paul was picking me up at the airport while Norman was dropping his son back off to be with his mother.
“You haven’t talked in four days?” Her voice was genuinely concerned.
I shook my head, it had been the longest four days I could remember. I had spent them working, as did he, and avoiding each other for the most part. The first two days he texted me with his whereabouts and what time he would be home. I didn’t pay him the same courtesy, I hardly communicated at tall. “Not a word from me. Which isn’t fair considering I let our relationship get this way.” I had been beating myself up for days now over this fact.
“You didn’t cause him to screw around on you Holly. It’s not like you gave him permission to fuck around.”
“No, but it’s not like we haven’t done our fair share of fucking other people.” We were monogamous in one way but not by definition.
The line was silent then she spoke, “What?”
I had been letting the emotions flow too freely, she didn’t know about our adventures sex life and somehow I had let it all just come out in one careless comment. That was partly why I hadn’t spoken to Norman in days, I didn’t want to say something, well, something else, that was hurtful.
“You couldn’t go one day without getting your dick sucked?” He had told me it started with her dragging him into a bathroom at the club. He didn’t go into detail, he didn’t need to – my brain had done enough of that for both of us. I had been in a bathroom in a club with him before, I knew that blowjobs and face fucking were his favorite thing to do in that space.
He didn’t answer, it was most likely better that way. “She let you get all out of control and fuck her hard?” I had stormed over to the patio door and said it with my back to him. I think I was mad because he didn’t do that with me anymore, maybe he had found someone else to get out of control with now.
“Holly, you said you two weren’t open any more. You told me it was exclusive. So what are you talking about?” Mandy didn’t forget anything. “What is going on with you two?” She had looked at me crossways that time I had nonchalantly suggested that maybe Tom wanted her to try a threesome, I knew at that moment she was far too traditional for such things.
“Nothing, forget I said it.” Forget that I had said that our relationship was not one on one. If I only could, it’s all I had thought about these past days. How I had never actually asked him to commit to me, never demanded a ring or a marriage license. We shared lovers too comfortably sometimes. I was occasionally confused at what our relationship meant. He had watched me with Andy, not partaking, he simply let me have sex with another man. I had let him have sex with Gael in the same manner, separate from each other. I encouraged him to be with Andy whenever he wanted or needed to be. I never insisted on being there.
“Holly, I know you weren’t committed at the start, but I thought you were now. Has he done this before?” Her scope of relationships was different than mine.
The breath filled my lungs, “Sometimes we…. Invite other people to have sex with us.” I didn’t need to tell her this, I could have pushed it all a side, but I had been holding all of this in for so long, not telling my best friend about the best things that were happening with me.
“You what?” It was as hard for her to hear as it was for me to say.
“Not like strangers, people we know.” That was a lie, we had wrangled Jessie into our bed within hours of meeting her.
“People HE knows.” The normally non-judgmental Mandy was now judging and I couldn’t blame here. “You don’t know people that would do that.” She was partly right, but I had learned over time that what people do behind closed doors was varied and surprising. I was sure Mandy and I both knew swingers that kept their sex adventures quiet.
There was a knock at my room door, “Hang on Mandy.” I opened and Sarah told me that my first appointment was early. “Shit, I have to go. I just needed to talk to someone. Please don’t be freaked out.” I didn’t have time to hold her hand through this revelation.
“Call me later. I can take a few days off, come up and see you?” That was quite the offer considering she hated to leave Tom and wasn’t the biggest fan of New York City.
I told her I would be fine but that I wanted to talk more, I would call her soon. I wished she had been around for a hug.
I worked on Donna, a regular that wasn’t big on chit chat and didn’t mind me working deep on her muscles, both of those were good things for me today. Clips of our Sunday night shouting match filled my head.
“I didn’t go looking for it, it just happened. Give me a break.” He was defensive for the first time. “Do you know how much pussy I turn down every day?” Norman wasn’t bragging, he was being honest. He was accessible to his fans, he met them at conventions, on the street, in airports and hotels. He never let security keep people away from him. And I had seen first hand how woman didn’t care if what they were offering was rude and offensive. Once a young woman had handed him a note on an airplane offering to help her earn her wings in the mile high club, she never acknowledged me or the fact that he had to let go of my hand to take the note. Conventions gave him a stack of room keys and more invites than I could count had been sent to him via Twitter. “I got drunk, I screwed up.” He wasn’t defending himself as much as he was stating fact.
Our relationship was one of the longest he had ever had, this much monogamy was unusual for him. He bored of stable relationships but I had always thought that the partners we had brought into our bed kept things fresh for him.
I had gone walking on my lunch break, window shopping and stopping purposely at a bookstore I knew that carried Norman’s photography book. I sought it out and held it.
“I guess I should have expected this, you can’t commit. I knew that.” There was no point in hashing out the details, he knew he wasn’t the long term kind of guy.
Norman had come up behind me and held my shoulders, looking at our reflection in the plate glass window. No other part of his body was touching me. “I didn’t used to commit.” He said it quietly. “You’ve changed me. You know that.” He let go of me and walked away. I wasn’t sure what I had expected in this fight.
I massaged Mrs. Weston with the same monthly chit chat about her vacations and her brood of Pomeranian's. I tried to stay focused, I knew whatever energy I had flowing would transfer to her. My fight with Norman wasn’t fair to customers and I tried hard not to let it effect me or my work.
The first two nights he had slept in his sons bedroom. It had been his choice and I was fine with that. Though sleeping in our bed without him wasn’t easy. I think I tossed more because he wasn’t there than because of the fight. The last two nights he had slept of the sofa. Coming in late and focusing on his phone while he waited for me to go to bed. He had stopped trying to make conversation with me Monday night.
I can’t say I knew exactly why I was mad. I had spent so long telling him that it was alright for him to sleep around and I had meant it. There had been no doubt that back then, my brain was wired differently. Maybe it was the shock of it all, I hadn’t seen it coming. If he had gone away for a weekend at a convention and come back with this same story it might not have had me so upset.
“Did you at least use a condom?” It had been a very long time since I had thought about STD’s. I was three steps up to the bedroom when I asked.
“Yeah.” He sounded beat down, I think we both were.
‘GET USED TO USING THEM!!’ had crossed my mind to snap at him. The thought of him bareback inside of me after being with someone unprotected scared me. But the idea of us breaking up was also in my head so condoms might be in his future anyways. I didn’t say it, I just went up to our bedroom and closed the door. I wasn’t locking him out, but I wasn’t inviting him in either.
By the time my day was over, I was exhausted. My head was pounding from the tears I had shed and I really didn’t feel any better than I had earlier. His angelic face this morning had made me smile, he hadn’t looked peaceful at all these past days. I knew he was putting on an act for every appearance he had made and if I had just been willing to talk, this might not have had to have been this way.
I was surprised when I went outside and Paul wasn’t waiting, I was tempted to walk to the subway, but I knew it would offend him and I had upset enough people this week. I sat on the half wall in the sun and waited for him, scrolling through the messages Norman had left me these past days. Sometimes he was trying to get into my good graces other times he was venting. I didn’t reply to many of them, but I was glad he was communicating, it was more than I was doing.
Norman: Im sorry.
Norman: I love you
Me:Love you too
Norman: Be home by 11
Norman: Youre not perfect either
Norman: I want to talk
Me: Cant yet.
Norman: Home late. work
I didn’t know how much longer this silent treatment was going to last. It didn’t serve any purpose but to punish us both. Something needed to change, I needed to change. When I had been tempted to stray in the past it has scared me. But I didn’t think that it had affected Norman the same way. He had apologized and moved on. When I had let my mind got to places of infidelity, I had needed him to reclaim me; I didn’t think he needed the same thing. It was all strange. Maybe that was the difference between men and women.
Paul finally pulled up and I got into the back. I asked about his day and though I wanted to, I didn’t ask if he had been with Norman. I didn’t know what he was doing today. I knew he schedule was open from our joint calendar but he often had little things that weren’t listed there. He also hadn’t texted me today and I took that as a sign that he was simply tired of my bullshit and I couldn’t blame him. We were going to have to talk tonight. I was going to have to talk, to tell him that this was something we could get through.