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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Romance/Love · #2320665
Don't walk away, don't roll your eyes; if this love is pain...
I stared at the torn photograph in my hand, analyzing every detail. The dresser drawer hung open. A bird chirped outside, a sole note in the still morning air.

In the picture, my husband Pierre stood, a teenager, his arm around a lovely blonde girl about his age, smiling and laughing at a party. I turned it over, reading the elegant handwriting on the back:

To my dear
Pierre, with love
from


The name was missing, as was the whole left side of the picture. It was dated 2004.

An old flame. How had he acquired this photo? As far as I knew, he owned nothing from his years in foster care. I smiled to see Pierre happy, his curly sandy hair and kindly green eyes as sweet twenty years before as they were still. I'd never seen a picture of him from those days.

I put it back in the drawer and closed it carefully. I'll ask him about it when he gets home. Now, I still haven't found the scissors!

I needed the scissors to mend a dress for our six year old daughter, Rose. Ah, there it was, fallen under the craft cart. I gathered my supplies and sat down in front of my sewing desk, littered with half-finished projects and crinkly brown paper pattern pieces.

Finding that photo unleashed a flood of memories, though it was before my time. Pierre and I had met in college. We were perfect together. We had the same interests and degree goals, the same tastes in music and food, even the same favorite book. And perhaps most importantly, he supported and embraced my asexual identity.

It was difficult finding a man worth dating who wasn't primarily interested in my body. I tried online networks, church groups—anywhere I thought I'd find decency and respect, but even if I met a guy I liked, when I explained myself to them, it was always either a complete misunderstanding ("I'm sorry, is there any way to fix it?") a joke ("what, you're not attracted to a hot hunk like me?") or a religious fundamentalist issue ("you realize if we marry you totally give yourself up to me?" Or even "but I wanted to have a lot of kids…")

But Pierre was different. I always felt safe with him. I felt at home. Comfortable. He never questioned my desires or lack thereof. I spent my days creating beauty for us, pursuing all the homemaking hobbies I loved: crafting, cooking, gardening. Our eighth anniversary would be tomorrow. I felt a thrill of anticipation, wondering what Pierre had in mind. Mine was an idyllic life, I thought as I sewed. Too good to be true.

My phone beeped on the desk. It was a text from Shawn, an old friend.

Hey Mary, can I come over? There's something I need to discuss with you.

I felt an urgency in his words. We hadn't communicated in months.

Me: Sure. Long time no see *Smile*

Shawn: Are you alone? We need to talk privately.

About what?

Me: Pierre's working. Rosie's in school. You okay? Something wrong?

Shawn: I'll tell you in person.

What could be going on?

***


"How've you been?" I asked as I let him in.

He ran a hand through his red hair and shrugged.

"I'm fine…"

My brow creased. I could tell from his tone of voice the implied second half: "but what about you?"

"Doing lovely. Couldn't be better."

We sat down at the kitchen table. I noticed he had a tablet with him.

"So what's this about, Shawn?"

He wriggled in his seat, eyes circling the room. I could tell he appreciated my decorating efforts: the blue and white theme with touches of sunny yellow, the Delft china, the fluttery lace curtains.

He propped open his tablet and pulled up the photo gallery.

"I came to show you something. Are you aware of this?"

I leaned forward, watching as Shawn flipped to a certain picture. The local Walmart parking lot. Pierre's blue Ford Explorer. And Pierre… embracing a woman. With a kiss on the cheek.

The silence was deafening. My heartbeat rang in my ears. What was I looking at?

"Uh, no, I wasn't aware." My voice sounded strange as my throat tightened.

He swiped left to another photo. Starbucks. Pierre and the woman, sitting across from each other, leaning in close, speaking earnestly, smiling, laughing. I recognized her then, a face I'd learned mere hours ago.

"Oh no… no." I got up and walked into the bedroom with dragging footsteps like a zombie. My head throbbed with a million muddled thoughts as I pulled out the torn photo and brought it back to the kitchen.

Shawn held it up against the screen, comparing the faces.

"Looks like a match," he said. "Pierre's rediscovered his high school girlfriend. What will you do about it?"

I wrinkled my nose, trying to think.

"How'd you get these pictures? How old are they?"

"The Starbucks was by accident two days ago. After I saw that, I kept an eye on him… the picture at Walmart was this morning."

"Wait, you mean you were stalking my husband?" I glared at him. "Why didn't you tell me right away if you thought there was a problem?"

"Hey, don't shoot the messenger." He held up his hands. "I had to be certain it was abnormal. For all I know that's his sister."

"He doesn't have a sister. They were separated in foster care, Genevieve was adopted, and he never saw her again."

"Have you noticed any odd behavior lately? And most importantly, where is he at night?"

"He's with me every single night," I said, drawing myself up. "And he's been especially cheerful and kind the past few days."

"Yeah, I'd be happy too if I had a gal that nice… just because he's home at night doesn't mean he's faithful. I'm sorry. This must be devastating."

"It's… confusing." I rested my head in my hands.

We sat silently while I tried to gather my thoughts. What was going on? Why was Pierre seeing another woman? Was it my fault? Maybe…

"Shawn, I think it's me."

"What?" He frowned. "Don't internalize his wrongdoing."

"I'm Ace, remember?"

"No, seriously? You're still waving the asexual flag?" His eyebrows went up. "I assumed you outgrew that when you married."

"It's not something I'll outgrow. It's my identity. Pierre always supported me in it, but now…"

Shawn put a hand over his mouth. His eyelids creased.

"Pardon me for laughing, but you have a daughter, right? Was it a virgin birth?"

I rolled my eyes and glared.

"No, it wasn't. It's just not something we choose to do. I have my mind set on higher things."

"That's absurd. You're setting an impossible standard for a man. What made you get married in the first place?"

"We agreed it wasn't an issue. We love each other."

"Do you sleep together?"

"Of course we do. I fall asleep on top of him sometimes." I giggled and looked down. "I call him my Saint Bernard—he's so big and strong. We love to snuggle."

"Sounds good. But still, I'm amazed…"

"We've been fine for eight years!" I wailed. "Our anniversary is tomorrow!"

"Ouch." He grimaced. "That hurts. You should have known it wouldn't work out like that. What's the point of his having a wife if you don't…" he paused. "I'm sorry. It's his fault, not yours."

"I wouldn't deny him if he needed it," I said, rubbing my hands together. "He should have brought it up with me. If his fidelity was at stake there would be no question about it."

"You would sacrifice your identity to keep him happy?"

"That's what love is all about, isn't it?" I hid my face in my trembling hands. I can't believe I'm having to discuss this. I felt chilled and sweaty at the same time.

"I wouldn't know," Shawn said quietly. "I've never loved anyone, except—"

The significance in his abrupt pause made me pull my fingers away from my eyes, meeting his piercing blue ones with a new question. Something about the way he looked at me was triggering.

"Oh, come on!" I blew up. "Don't tell me just because you've shown me some pictures you think you can get me to go fooling around on Pierre! What kind of trick is this?"

He laughed outright at that.

"Chill out, Mary. Getting you to have an affair is a no-go by definition!"

"You're darn tootin' it is." I scowled, my heart pounding in my throat. "If your mind is in the gutter right now, I'll put you out in the gutter!"

He shook his head and leaned forward, hands held out across the table, his eyes earnest.

"It's not that at all. I've always had the highest respect for you, Mary. If I felt any less, I wouldn't have bothered stalking Pierre, as you called it. I needed to let you know. I don't have any ulterior motives. Honest."

"Then why are you still here? You've given me the bad news. Now go. Please… You're—you're making me nervous." My tone melted down from argumentative to pathetic as I tore off a paper towel, twisting it into a rope around my ring finger. I need to deal with this alone. I paced the kitchen.

Shawn folded his tablet shut and stood up.

"I'll email the pictures so you have proof. And hey, if this gets rough, let me know. I'll be there."

"Just go," I murmured. "It's not proper for you to be here. If anyone noticed…"

"It's broad daylight, not exactly a rendezvous," he chuckled. "You're so… naive? Concerned with purity? I don't even know. Like an angel."

"Exactly. That's how I like to think of my identity."

"Men like calling girls angels, but they don't mean it literally."

"I'm learning that the hard way."

I felt relieved, yet exhausted when Shawn left. I sat alone at the kitchen table, wondering if I'd been rude and "shot the messenger," as he put it. But I didn't want him getting ideas.

I stared at the pictures now sitting in my inbox, wondering how far gone the situation was. Maybe Pierre wouldn't be coming home. My eyes blurred over with tears. What would I do? How could I explain it to Rosie? What if it was my fault? If he wasn't satisfied and was too kind to make demands on my body if I didn't want it, was it such a bad thing to allow him to look elsewhere…?

What was I saying?! We took the sacred vows. We didn't agree on an open marriage. If he couldn't resist temptation and wasn't honest enough to admit it, that was on him, not me. It was time to leave. I wasn't raising my girl with an unfaithful, untrustworthy father. But then again, what exactly was I asking him to be faithful to?

I heaved a sob, remembering the warmth of Pierre's arms around me, his whispered words before he left for work each day, "I love you." At what point had those words become a lie? What impossible love was I asking of him? He looked so happy with the other woman… who was I to hold him down? Maybe our relationship wasn't meant to be. If it was just the two of us… but Rosie needed her father.

"There's still a chance," I whispered to the empty room. "We'll talk it out. If I can give him what he wants, I will. I'm not letting him go without a fight."

I wished I had someone to confide in. But I was as much an orphan as Pierre—one of our common bonds.

When Rosie came home from school, I fed her and sent her to bed early. The evening would be for Pierre and I.

I prepared dinner, setting the table carefully, with flowers from the yard and candles.

I pulled a pretty teal satin dress out of the closet, one I hadn't worn in a while. Sitting at my dresser, I brushed out my brown hair and put it in a braided updo, my hands quivering. I paused before applying makeup, locking eyes on myself in the mirror.

Seriously, you're making yourself alluring for a man who's already been…? I grimaced. It was not in my nature to be alluring. Remember when you were dating Pierre? You wanted to look pretty. Give him a nice surprise. Something to come home to. It's our anniversary.

I hung my amethyst cross pendant (a birthday gift from Pierre) around my neck and tugged on it nervously.

The phone beeped. It was Pierre.

Heading home with a surprise. Love you 💕

Me: I have a surprise too *Bigsmile*

Pierre: *Laugh* *HeartV* *Heartbl* *HeartGr*

His three hearts were the Ace colors! He often sent me those. I giggled hysterically, wondering what kind of meaning they now held.

I watched from the front window as Pierre's blue Explorer pulled in. He went around to the passenger side and helped someone out. It was the other woman. I leaned my forehead against the painted metal front door, feeling a wave of nausea as I wondered what was about to happen.

I pulled the door open before he had a chance to knock.

"Pierre!"

"Mary!"

Everything else went out the window when I saw the look of joyful loving kindness on his face. If this was an affair, I couldn't care less. I flung myself into his arms and felt the security of that bear hug.

"Who is she?" I pulled away and looked at the smiling young woman.

"My long-lost sister, Genevieve! She tracked me down and met me in the street the other day. I wanted to tell you. But when she heard our anniversary was coming, she insisted it be a surprise."

"So that was your idea!" I faced her.

"What?" She looked confused. I now saw the family resemblance: her eyes, nose, mouth and chin were Pierre's.

I showed them the pictures on my phone and the torn photo.

"Oh, honey! I had no clue. I'm sorry." Genevieve put an arm around my shoulder.

"Mary… I should've known. Can you ever forgive me?" Pierre was getting teary-eyed.

"Of course I can," I whispered, holding him close. "But why is it torn?"

"It passed back and forth between us a few times," Genevieve said. "It originally included my old boyfriend. When he broke my heart, Pierre tore him out of the picture—removing half the inscription!"

"So it should read…"

"To my dear brother Pierre, with love from Genevieve," he smiled, taking my hand. "But Mary, what made you get dressed up for a special evening together if you thought…?"

I flushed and giggled, relief and embarrassment washing over me in irresistible tremors. Pierre sensed my shock and held me in his arms.

"I'll explain later—let's just celebrate!"

If love is pain, that day nearly killed me.


Word Count: 2484.

Information about Asexuality  

lyrics to Let's Hurt Tonight

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