Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: The Debriefing
I'm on the way to the elevator when she pushes out of the stairwell door. Always doing things the hard way. That's my girl.
I greet her and unlock the apartment door. "I'm heading out for a game but I left Indian food on the counter. You’ve been dodgy the last few days so I figured I’d give you some space tonight. But if I misread you, I can just as easily stay home."
She drops her bag on the hall chair, puts her badge and gun in the wall safe, and gives me half a smile, which is more than she’s afforded me all week. “No, I don’t need the guys knocking down my door because they’re short on the court. You go ahead and we can catch up when you get home.”
I swoop in and kiss her cheek. “There’s a whole box of Quinoa Chicken Biryani with your name on it, baby."
She heads down the hall but turns and comes back. “Hey, Nick, about the other night, when I grabbed your ass in the restaurant. I'm sorry if that offended you or, you know, embarrassed you."
I nuzzle the top of her head. "Okay. But the way I remember it, that led up to a pretty damn good night, so where's this coming from? "
She reaches out to touch me but doesn't connect. "My behavior wasn't - it was disrespectful to treat you like that. You're more to me than just a good piece of ass."
Okay. I'm so not going to play basketball tonight. Something way more interesting is playing out under my own roof. "Hey, tell you what. I haven't eaten yet. How about we hold court over a plate of Chicken Tikka Masala? I'll call Tony and tell him to make do with one of the clowns on the bench.”
Her hand catches mine, caresses the ring on my left hand, and when she glances up at me, there’s a ‘thank you’ in her dark eyes.
I text Tony, leave my phone on the counter, and walk to the kitchen. We make short work of dinner, clean up the dishes, and go to the living room. The bar and grill across the street has live music on the weekends and I push the windows open to catch a breeze and the tunes.
I settle on the couch, leaving a cushion between us because I'm still feeling like she needs space. "Mind if we go back the conversation we started in the hall? The ass-grabbing and apologies. There some kind of sexual harassment suit or workshop going on at the office?"
She shakes her head and I can feel her trying to decide where to start. She's usually pretty damn direct so I'm curious and a little worried about what's on her mind.
Life is learning to balance that fine line between holding onto the status quo and accommodating change. Whatever it is she needs or wants, I’ll adapt. It’s easier for me. My world is four safe walls and free coffee. Toughest thing I deal with during my work day is insurance lapses and muzak.
"Okay, I'll just throw some things out here, honey, and when I get to the topic on your mind, let me know. My sister’s baby shower next weekend? To which I’d report that a considerable gift has been sent in lieu of our attendance.”
She put her legs on the couch, stretches her toes until they almost touch my thigh.
I trace the pattern on the cushion just shy of her feet. “The ongoing parking problem? The simple solution was trading the garage attendant our season hockey passes for a secure slot. Bedroom boredom? Easily cured with regular ass-grabbing, spanking, or the use of the old silk ties in the bottom dresser drawer.”
Anytime you can catch a cop off guard, that’s a moment to savor, and the surprise on her face is priceless.
When she composes herself, she says, "There aren't any harassment classes at the office and I have no interest in trading handprints or ligature marks with you. Thing is, it's this case."
I put a hand on her ankle, let my thumb draw slow lazy circles around the bone. “From the front page news?"
She nods, looks away from me. "Yeah, that’s the one. I’ve seen a lot of shit over the years but this one … I can’t even look at the case file, that stupid manila jacket, without my stomach cramping.”
"But you don't want to beg off because it might diminish your authority and status?"
"Yes," she says, looking at me now, eyes narrow and harsh but making contact. “I can't quit. Even when I want to. I have to keep going because every creep I get off the street now is one less monster our child, if we ever have one, will have to deal with. I'm always waiting for the day you tell me to quit, to leave all the crime scene horror and political bullshit behind us."
I don't stop touching her or holding her gaze. “I knew what you were when we met and I made peace with it before I married you."
She pulls her feet back. "I don't see how you can be so calm about it."
Always a hairpin at this juncture. "What goes on when you put on that badge, that's your shit to own, Leona. You want to come home and hit the sheets with me to get a little humanity back in your veins or drag me on a hike around the neighborhood at midnight to stave off the nightmares, I'm always here. Always."
She springs at me, across the couch, full weight crashing into my chest and words spilling out. "This kid, she was fifteen and they ruined her. What the newspaper reported, that’s nothing. Both orifices were shredded beyond repair. If she’d survived, she’d never have been able to have any kind of sex life.”
I know I should be gentle with her but I’m shaking so much my control is shot and I hold her so tight I’m afraid her bones will break.
I’m angry that there are men out there who have no appreciation or respect for women and the sanctity of the female body.
And I’m angry that the wild passionate woman in my arms, the strongest person I know, the woman who so willingly lies beneath me, so boldly pins me to the bed, so readily gives herself to passion, is trembling in my arms like a child who’s just seen the monster under the bed.
And I’m angry that I’m just a guy in a white lab coat who passes bottles of medicine over the counter instead of a conscienceless animal who wouldn’t think twice about killing the kind of man who could harm a woman.
I bury my face in her hair. "Baby, I want to say the right thing here but I don't know what it is."
Her hands frame my face. She’s steadier now, my own momentary lack of constraint bringing her back. “I don't know either. I want to get tangled in the sheets with you but the idea of undressing, of being vulnerable, of submitting to your touch, to my desire … I can’t do it. Feels like I’m on one of those carnival rides that just keeps going around and around and around.”
“Is that why you’ve stayed late at the office all week and paced the living room when you were home?”
“Yes,” she says, her hands finding mine and lacing with them. “How terrible am I? All I can think about, when I’m not trying to deal with the case, is how much I want your body to remind mine what's good and decent about life, about love, about sex. But then I realize that thinking about you that way objectifies you, as though you merely exist to satisfy my needs, and that makes me sick and disgusted with myself. I can't get out of that cycle. Horror. Desire. Shame. Around and around."
I have to say my anxiety is at an all time high. Hearing my bright, independent, complex wife tell me she feels like a child stuck on a carnival ride that won’t stop pierces my heart. "You want to go see Dr. Kavanaugh and talk this through? With or without me. Just say the word. Whatever you need, baby. Or if you want to sleep in sweats for a few weeks, I'll keep my hands to myself. You're my partner, my lover, my friend. We’ll work through this. Together."
She puts her mouth to mine. It's not a kiss but it's good. She’s here, with me, connected, focused. Against her lips, my lips say, "I could write a sonnet to your astonishing, breathtaking, magical female body. How Do I Love Thee? Wouldn't you like to know?!"
Her mouth smiles against mine. "What do you know about Browning?”
"There was more in the university library than Mad Magazine and yellowed pharmacy textbooks. Besides, the only thing I ever needed to inspire me to poetry was a taste of you. One kiss. One bare thigh. One throaty sigh.”
Her lips press mine for a moment. “If I counted the ways I love you, Nick, I’d begin and end with your beautiful mouth. That damn smile stops my heart. And you talk to me every which way, stern and soft and snappy, but always with respect, always with love. And the way you know just how and where and when to kiss me. You and your mouth wreck me.”
I can’t help myself now. I’m done with holding back. I kiss her with a gentle fervency that reminds her she can take whatever she needs from me - without asking, without reprimand, without recompense.
Loving her has always been like holding a wild bird in my palm and knowing that the moment I move too fast or close my fingers, I endanger its safety and sense of security. She deals with uncertainty every time she wears that badge so when she comes home to me, I willingly become her nest and roots, a soft and sturdy place to land.
She struggles with my belt, getting the buckle stuck in the loop. Always doing things the hard way. That's my girl.
I take her hands, kiss her palms, and say, “Here, baby. Let me.”
Maybe I’m not the guy with a gun and a grudge but that’s okay, that’s not what she needs. I’m the guy with a strong heart and gentle hands. The guy with perceptive ears and an eloquent mouth. The guy who loves his intense untamed passionate wife enough to be the rock steady remedy for the dark and crazy world she’s sworn to defend.
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