Copyright© 2008 by Jonas
I pulled into the parking lot of the clinic, the second person to arrive. Geri, the office manager, would already be here well into her day. She was obsessed with it, and while she could be a little abrasive in her demeanor, we were all thankful for her help.
I had finished my schooling and was two years into my professional career. My first job was a temporary position at a small regional hospital, but I had longed for a spot in a clinic. About two months ago, Sarah had called and said their practice had expanded and the doctor was looking for a second nurse practitioner. She asked if I was interested, and when I said yes, she promptly offered me the job. So here I was.
I went in to my office and prepared for the day. Sarah and the other staff trickled in over the next hour, and soon the patients were arriving. I was getting ready to meet with my fourth patient of the day when the name on the chart caught my attention. Ben Barker. I felt my heart flutter again. I hadn’t thought about the big guy in years, but the image of him came immediately. He was nearly a foot taller than my 5’2″ and nearly 200 pounds heavier than my 110 pounds. I smiled at the contrast. I was a blonde, he was a brunette. I had blue eyes, he had brown. Everything about him was big, everything about me was small. He was in his mid thirties, I was in my mid twenties. He was married, I was single. Yes, a remarkable contrast. And yet, I’d felt enamored with him.
I told myself again it was just his warm nature that was attractive to me, and then I opened the door. My jaw dropped. Sitting there was not the big man I expected. I mean, he was still big, but not like before. I was tongue tied. “Um, hi, uh, Ben.” I almost blushed, but fought it down.
A sincere smile spread across his face, lighting up his brown eyes. “Emily! I didn’t know you’d returned.”
“Yeah, I, um, they had an opening here and I took the job. I’ve been back about two months.”
“Well, it’s great to see you! Looks like you made it through school then.”
Safe ground. School. I willed my heartbeat to slow down. “I did. It was hard, but I’m glad I finished it. I’m enjoying my career.”
“I’m glad you finished it, too.” His smile was infectious.
I sat next to him and glanced through his chart. His weight was down to 225. Amazing. “Ben, you look great! You’ve lost nearly a hundred pounds since I last saw you. How are you feeling?”
Ben proceeded to tell me about his improved health, as well as some of the complications that were still there. I tried to keep my mind on his words, but they were constantly drifting. I watched him talk. I watched him move. The man was handsome. Very handsome. Not gorgeous, like some of the men I’d dated. But very, very handsome. He wore very unassuming eyeglasses that only enhanced the sparkle in his eyes and gave him an air of intelligence. That, along with his rugged good looks and personality, was unbelievably attractive. He’s married, I scolded myself, and forced my attention back to his words.
“Jake still tires me out, but not as quickly.” His eyes sparkled again when he mentioned his son.
I had a sudden memory of a sadness during a previous discussion of his family, so I debated internally about whether to inquire about them. The curious side of me won out. “How is your son? He’s, what, five or six now?”
“Almost six. He’s great, a regular ball of energy. Loves sports, just like his old man, and he puts forth his best effort. But honestly, he’s more of an intellectual, which I guess is just like me, too. He’s not very competitive or aggressive.”
His eyes still sparkled, so I changed directions. “And your wife? How is she?”
There it was. The flash of sadness. The smile didn’t disappear, but it faded somewhat. “She’s … fine. As good as could be expected, I guess.” Well, if that wasn’t cryptic … Ben was so easy to talk to, I decided to pursue.
“Ben, I don’t mean to pry, but I guess my curiosity is just too much. You can just ignore the question, but … well, what’s wrong with your wife?”
He cast his gaze to the floor and the smile disappeared this time. I scolded myself for my boldness and nosiness. He was quiet for the longest time. It suddenly dawned on me that we hadn’t addressed his reason for the visit. I cleared my throat and went about business, angry at myself for straying off track. Ben was subdued the rest of the visit. As I stood up to say goodbye, he finally spoke.
“My wife is paralyzed.” His eyes began to glisten. He looked past me to somewhere not in the room, and the anguish on his face was obvious.
I reached out and put my hand on his arm. “Ben, I’m … sorry … about your wife, and I’m sorry I asked. I shouldn’t have.”
He continued like I hadn’t spoken. “She has no movement or feeling from the waist down. Been that way for four years. She was heading to pick up my sister from the airport, because once again I was too busy at the office. A drunk driver crossed the median and plowed into her car head on. Broke her back and damaged her spinal cord. The doctors don’t think she’ll ever regain feeling.” A lone tear slid down his cheek.
I felt a lump in my throat and a part of me wanted to pull this wonderful man into an embrace. I just rubbed his arm. “Oh, Ben. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to open any wounds.”
He looked at me, and a gentle smile just touched his lips. “It’s OK, Emily. It’s life. We can’t avoid it. We live it every day, and we get through it every day. It just hurts sometimes to remember life before.”
I suddenly realized I’d been in with John for some time, longer than was customary. I silently cursed this billable hours concept. “If you ever need to talk about this, I’m willing to listen. I’m not a therapist or anything, but I am providing your primary care. Mental anguish, grief and stress all contribute to your health. I can help however you need.”
His smile grew, and I was lost again in the gentleness of his eyes. “Thanks, Emily. I’ll keep that in mind.”
We parted company, and I was sure I wouldn’t see or hear from him again until his next labs in six months.
About a week passed, when I arrived at my office to a surprise. Geri had left a note on my desk that I had received a call that morning already. I looked at the name: Leah Barker. Could that be … Doubtful. Barker was a common enough name. Still, I was nervous about the call, so I put it off for several hours. Just prior to starting my afternoon appointments, I made the callback. A sweet voice answered the phone.
“This is Emily Schultz from HealthChoice. Could I speak with Leah Barker, please?”
“Hello, Emily. This is Leah.” The voice sounded hesitant, which did little to ease my mind.
“It’s nice to speak with you, Ms. Barker. How may I help you?”
“Please, call me Leah. I, um, I’m calling regarding my husband. He’s one of your patients. Ben Barker.” I knew it. I was hesitant to acknowledge that Ben was a patient, what with all the privacy issues. “It’s OK, Emily. I know you’ll need to check the file to see if Ben has given permission to speak with me. You can do that later. I just need to ask you for a favor.”
I was a little taken aback. It’s not every day that the spouse of a patient calls for a favor. I was apprehensive, to say the least. “I’m not sure how to respond to that. I guess it would depend on the favor.”
Leah laughed quietly. “I can understand that. I really don’t feel comfortable doing this on the phone, however. Would you be willing to meet with me to discuss this favor? I don’t think this really has anything to do with doctor/patient stuff, but you can review Ben’s file if you need to before then.”
By this point, I was very intrigued. As is often the case, my curiosity clouded my better judgment. “Where and when would you like to meet?”
“Well, given my current situation, it might be best to meet at our house.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I replied, somewhat embarrassingly. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK. Are you available after work today? Maybe you could come over for dinner, about 6:30 p.m. Ben is on a business trip, so it will just be you, me and Jake.”
Leah gave me directions, and then we hung up. My heart was pounding. Why was I so nervous about this? Because he was a patient? Because I’d felt some attraction to the man? Only time would tell, so I went about my afternoon schedule. The hours seemed to creep away, slowly. It seemed the end of the day would never come. After I finished up my notes for the day, I hopped in the car for the short drive home. I immediately headed to the bedroom, stripping my slacks and shirt off. I stood in front of the open closet, clad only in my panties and bra. I rifled through the clothes there and frowned in frustration. Nothing seemed appropriate. Slacks and a blouse? Evening dress? Shorts and a tee? I should have asked what the attire was. Get a grip, girl, I told myself. It’s dinner with a patient’s family. It’s not a date. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be on display. I settled for brown cropped canvas pants, a printed scoopneck mesh top and pair of thong sandals. Nice and neutral.
On the way to the Barker home, I stopped to grab a bottle of drink, something my mother has always said was a nice gesture when invited to a dinner party. In light of Leah’s situation, I opted for a sparkling apple cider as opposed to alcohol, which was just fine for me.
I pulled in front of their home, a lovely two story craftsman. I took a deep breath before getting out of the car. Why was I so nervous? I rang the bell with a trembling hand, then smoothed down my pants nervously while I waited. I almost rang the bell again, when it was opened by a dark haired Hispanic woman, probably in her fifties.
“Um, I’m Emily Schultz. Leah is expecting me.”
The woman smiled warmly and took my handbag and the bottle of cider. She gestured me into a quaint sitting room and told me in broken English that Leah would be with me shortly. I sat on the edge of the sofa and waited. Only a minute or so had passed, when I had company.
I glanced up to see a little boy standing behind the armchair just next to the entrance to the room. I smiled as warmly as I could. “Well, hello there. You must be Jake.” There was no mistaking that Ben was this boy’s father. It was like looking at a mini-Ben. He slowly came closer to me, keeping the coffee table between us. My eyes followed him with an amused expression.
“Ben was right.” I quickly looked back to the doorway to see a beautiful—strikingly beautiful—woman there. I guessed she was taller than me by about five inches, but it was hard to tell from her position in the wheelchair. I stood up and smiled at her. “Please, sit down.” She wheeled quietly into the room and pulled up next to the sofa. She had a warm smile on her face, similar to how Ben would smile. I felt instantly at ease.
“Thank you. You must be Leah. It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Emily.” She had beautiful features. Long flowing red hair, deep green eyes, smooth skin and long, slender fingers, which she held in her lap. Her lips were full and her smile was huge. I felt an instant sadness for this beautiful woman whose life had been tragically altered by someone else’s stupidity. I could sense a similar sadness in her eyes.
I decided to pick up the conversation on her earlier comment. “Ben was right about what?”
“You are beautiful.” I blushed. Ben said I was beautiful. I was surprised and flattered. I was also slightly aghast that he would tell his wife that.
“Oh. Well, I, uh, I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”
“I should be the one thanking you,” Leah replied. Now I was confused. Why was she thanking me? I only went over lab results with him the last time. Did she thank all of their doctors with dinner?
“Excuse me if I’m a little confused here. Why would you be thanking me?”
At that moment, the Hispanic woman entered the room. “Dinner is ready.”
“Thank you, Almarosa.” The woman left. “We can talk more over dinner. Shall we?” I stood and she turned and led the way across the hall to the dining room. We took our seats, Leah on the end and Jake and I on either side. Almarosa served the food—a succulent chicken and rice dish with a green salad on the side. When she poured my sparkling cider, a look of tenderness washed over Leah’s face. “Emily, that was so thoughtful of you to purchase something non-alcoholic. Thank you.”
I just smiled my response. We chatted about casual things during the bulk of the meal. Ben was an IT manager at a regional manufacturer and was currently out of state doing a software rollout. He had been with that company ever since he’d left school. Jake was in kindergarten. Leah worked from home providing back office support for several eBay businesses. They loved to travel, and still did it often, though some of their favorite activities had to be put aside. Leah asked about my career, my school and my background. What could have seemed like a job interview actually seemed more like two old friends catching up. By the time dinner was over, Jake was tucked into bed and we were taking tea in the sitting room, I felt like I had known this remarkable woman my whole life.
As we settled in the sitting room, she came back to the point of my visit. “Emily, I want to thank you for what you’ve done for my husband. He took my accident so hard, blaming himself, and he let it consume him. He was kind of a workaholic before the accident, rarely taking time for extra things. He seemed to think that if he had been more involved in our lives, I would never have had the accident. Anyway, he’d let his health, among other things, falter. He seemed to deal with his stress by overeating. He ballooned to well over 300 pounds. I get the impression that the guilt had become too much for him. I was afraid he might do something drastic when he began to stop eating. He dropped a few pounds. That’s when he met you.”
My mind was reeling. I could clearly remember the warm, happy man who I first met years ago. He didn’t sound anything like what she described.
She continued, as if reading my thoughts. “He always put on such a front. Some good came from my accident. He became a more selfless person, always concerned about others. He spent less time at the office and more time at home. But I could see that, while he wanted to do this, it was almost too much for him. He came home from the doctor’s office that first day meeting you and he was practically bouncing. He didn’t say much, but he mentioned you by name and said you had praised him for losing weight. He didn’t change much during the next few weeks, but he became even more attentive to my feelings. He didn’t seem as anguished around me. Then he came back from the next visit a changed man. He mentioned you again by name, said you were leaving, and that you’d encouraged him to keep up the weight loss.
“Things changed that day, Emily. For the better. He seemed to be driven to spend more time with us, and not out of guilt but out of love. He found a healthy balance between his work and our family. He lost most of that weight, as you could see, and he found a new sense of purpose. For the most part things have been wonderful for several years. I want to thank you for saving my husband and saving my family.”
By this point, I couldn’t help myself. My eyes had overflowed with tears. The story, the way she told it, was so tender. Here was a woman who was so obviously in love with her husband, and a man so obviously in love with his wife. Yet they almost missed out. For whatever reason, what they had almost disappeared. And now she was thanking me, as if I had some part in this. I personally thought my role had been somewhat embellished, but she seemed to genuinely believe that it was worth thanking me for. I looked at her, and she was wiping her tears with the back of her hand.
“Leah, I don’t know what to say. I’m so glad things have gotten better for your family, for you and Ben. I’m not really sure I did that much, but I’m glad that I could do what I did.” I wondered how much to say. “In just the short amount of time I’ve spent with you tonight, and with Ben at the office, I must admit that I feel a sense of warmness for your family. So it means a lot to think I’ve helped you in some way. I really am glad things are going so well.”
Leah’s face clouded again. “They are going well. But they aren’t perfect. And this is why I’ve asked you here.” I’m sure my confusion showed. “I have a very important favor to ask you, but I’m very, very nervous about how you’ll respond.”
I leaned forward, putting my hand gently on her knee. “Please, feel free to ask. I promise not to overreact.” I tried to sound reassuring.
She took a deep breath and looked at me. Her eyes were piercing, full of intensity. I swallowed, feeling nervous now myself. “Emily, I love my husband very much. He’s been more than I could have ever asked for. He takes such good care of me and Jake. He shows his love for me in all facets of his life. He’s romantic, sweet, tender, funny, strong. Just an amazing man. He would never tell me to my face what I’m about to tell you, because he wouldn’t want to hurt me.
“I have been unable to … how do I say this … I’ve been unable to make love with him since my accident.”
I blushed, but tried to keep my face impassive. I needed to see where this was heading.
“It’s not for lack of desire, it’s just that I can’t respond to him. I can’t feel anything beneath my waist. Anything. We’ve tried a few times, but I can’t fake what isn’t there. I don’t have that in me, and besides, he’d recognize it immediately. I can’t climax, and my body doesn’t respond appropriately to allow us comfortable intercourse. We’ve tried using other methods to at least bring him release. I use my hands, mouth. That works sometimes, but I just get so tired so quickly. I know he gets stressed about causing me any pain or discomfort, which means he can’t enjoy it. It’s been the one thing that continues to cause pain. Not physical, but pain right here.” She pointed adamantly at her heart.
“Leah, I’m so sorry to hear that.” How do you respond to such an intimate confession? And what did this have to do with me? I could imagine where this was going, but I refused to allow myself to go with it. “I can’t imagine what this must be like for you and Ben.”
She sniffed and wiped at her tears again. “I have suggested to Ben that he consider finding another lover. Someone who can meet his physical needs. He refuses to even discuss it. He brushes off how much the missed sex is affecting him, but I can see it. He always says he doesn’t love anyone else and never will, and that he couldn’t have sex with someone he didn’t love, and I believe him.” She took another deep breath. “Emily, I’m afraid this is beginning to drive a wedge into our relationship. He doesn’t do it on purpose, but he’s only human.”
I could make out the anxiety, the panic in her tone, and I felt my own emotions get the best of me again. I wiped at my own tears, but could say nothing.
“Emily, this will probably shock you, but … well … I think my husband has fallen in love with you.”
You could have picked my chin up off the floor I was so shocked. Maybe I should have seen her comment coming, but I didn’t. I tried to speak, but couldn’t. I took a breath, and tried again. “Leah, y-you must be mistaken. How can he…”
“It was obvious to me last week when he came home from your clinic. He practically floated in the door. He came up behind me, wrapped me in his arms and kissed my neck and face all over. I wondered what he was so happy about, and eventually he commented that you had returned to the clinic. He hadn’t told me much about you up to that point, so he finally spilled the details. As he talked, I could see it. I mean, I’d seen that look many times before as he looked at me. It was obvious.”
I shook my head. “Leah, you have to be mistaken. He hardly knows me. And he’s so obviously in love with you. There’s no way he can be in love with me.” She’s just thanked me for saving her husband and her marriage, and now she’s telling me her husband is in love with me. My head was spinning.
“I would have thought so, too, if I hadn’t seen it myself. It was there. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think he’s stopped loving me. I still feel that love. Yet, I think he’s opened his heart and discovered there is more room in there. I don’t think he realizes it yet, but he will soon.”
“OK. Let’s say just for a minute you are right. Why tell me? What can I do?”
Leah was hesitant before speaking, as if she was searching for her words. After a long, uncomfortable silence, she spoke. “Emily, I want you to make love to my husband.”
Now I felt like I’d been hit with a brick. Did she just ask what I think she did? I leaned back on the couch, stunned. She leaned forward.
“Emily, please. Hear me out before you say anything. This makes sense from my angle. I can’t fulfill my husband’s needs. He’ll never go find someone on his own, so I’m going to set it up for him, give him my permission. He loves you, which means he can’t use that excuse. He’s also very attracted to you, and rightly so.” Her eyes quickly scanned me up and down when she said that, and I blushed again. “I know we can make this work from our side. The one unknown is you. Will you be able to do this?” I started to decline, but she raised her hand. “Please, don’t answer right now. Take a few days. Call me if and when you are ready to talk. But please, seriously consider this for me. For us.”
I should have just rejected the whole notion, then and there. But something in the way she asked kept me from pushing it away. Her earnestness was enough to make me promise to truly mull it over. With that part of the discussion over, we sat awkwardly, nothing else to say. I made some excuse for having to leave, extended pleasantries, and made my escape. I refused to allow myself to think of the proposition until I was safely in my apartment, my door locked. I leaned against the door and sank to the floor. And cried.
I awoke several hours later. My head had cleared somewhat. I thought about Ben and Leah while I readied myself for bed. I needed to take stock of where I stood on this whole thing. Here was a woman giving me permission to sleep with her husband. She’d been sober—at least from what I could tell. She wasn’t asking me to carry on a lurid affair. Just sleep with him. Have sex with him. She didn’t say how many times. Just once? Twice? I got the impression that this could be a long term thing if everything fell the right way, and she would be OK with it. I didn’t think once would be so bad. I mean I’d had sex before, and sometimes with people I hardly cared for at all. Maybe that was what was scaring me. Leah had said Ben loved me. As hard as it was to believe, what if she was right? I mean, if we made love once and that was it, wouldn’t that cause more harm than good? I mean I didn’t love him, at least not that way.
I thought about this man. I’d been enamored with him from the first meeting. He had an incredible personality, a great sense of humor, a gentleness and sweetness. He was funny, kind, confident. I felt all those things way back. I even thought he was attractive. He had great eyes, an adorable smile and just a generally attractive face. Physically, I wasn’t really, REALLY attracted to him, at least not at first. I mean, given time all his other qualities might have changed that, but I mean, who really falls for a 300-pound guy in 30 minutes? Wait, that seems shallow. Don’t answer that.
I slipped into bed in my panties and oversized t shirt as my mind drifted back to last week, when I first saw Ben in the office again. He was still a big guy, but it was a nice big. Broad shoulders that tapered down to his waist. I could see his muscles rippling beneath his shirt. His face had become more chiseled. And those big strong hands. What had I felt then? Picturing him in my mind made my heart beat harder. There was no doubt about it. With all those qualities he had, you know those qualities that were most important when you really love someone, he now also had sexy. This, as I saw it, was pretty important if your whole objective was just to sleep with a guy. I could definitely imagine looking up into those dark, chocolate eyes as he drove into me. My heart fluttered. I closed my eyes, and pictured his strong arms holding his weight off me, his hips moving. I felt the fluttering move down to my sex. God, I think I’m hot for this guy. I abandoned all decorum. I mean, I was in the safety of my own home, in my own bed, by myself. What harm could there be? I ran my fingers down between my breasts to my belly, uncovered my belly, and drew gentle circles around my navel. I began to picture it all in my mind. Feeling his strong hands over my small breasts, I imagined tracing my fingers across the muscles of his back and arms. He placed his mouth over my nipples, pushed his length into my pussy. I slipped my hand down inside the front of my panties and felt the wetness that had formed on my lips. I dipped my fingers in, soaking them before beginning to caress my clit. Images of our bodies merging flooded my brain and my pussy. I felt the familiar stirrings in my womb. I began to climb higher and higher, moving towards my peak. I bucked my hips and my caressing became frantic and sporadic. Suddenly I exploded, waves of orgasm crashing over me again and again. I rode the pleasure until my clit tried to escape my caresses, then I let my muscles relax. I inhaled deeply, trying to catch my breath.
Oh, my, I thought to myself. I must have been really horny. I took my hand from my underwear, pulled the covers up to my chin and rolled on my side. I needed to sleep. I obviously couldn’t think straight. I mean, I was actually seriously considering this.
The next day, I worked my ass off. I did anything I could to take my mind off the offer on the table. It didn’t work. What was I so afraid of? This was just sex. Let the man take care of his needs, get a little pleasure yourself, walk away. What was wrong with that? Because Leah doesn’t want you to walk away. And she doesn’t think Ben will want you to, either. Was I ready to commit to a relationship with a married man? Did I want to be with someone who loved another more than me? Leah wasn’t asking for a relationship, though, was she? Just sex.
That night was a repeat of the previous night. This time, I just climbed into bed with a t shirt, sans panties. I figured no reason to soak another pair. In my fantasy, this time I was on top, and Leah was watching us. I came so hard that my muscles ached. I made up my mind as I drifted off to sleep. I would do this. I guess I’d always known I would. I had reservations, of course, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I figured I might as well go for it. At worst case, I get to have sex, which is a good thing in my mind. At best case, I get to have sex more than once, which is even better.
I awoke the next day, a Saturday. I lay in my bed, unable to convince myself to move. I finally sat up and rubbed my eyes. The smell of my pussy was unmistakable, and the feeling of lust began to swell in me again. That was what I needed to spur me into action. I went to my dresser and flipped through my papers until I found the note with the Barkers’ number. I took a deep breath while I waited for someone to pick up.
“Hello. Barker’s residence.” It was Almarosa.
“May I speak with Leah, please? This is Emily.”
“Just a minute.” I waited nervously, twice thought about hanging up.
Leah’s voice came on the line. “Hi, Emily.”
Where to start? I just decided to blurt it out. “Let’s do this. Start talking before I chicken out.”
Leah began to cry. I could hear the sounds through the receiver. I wondered if I’d said the wrong thing. “Thank you, Emily,” she forced through her tears. “Thank you. I don’t know how I can ever repay you.” Finally, she composed herself enough to tell me her plan. Ben’s birthday was in a week. She wanted to give him a birthday present he’d never forget. Me. We talked about commitment, and she assured me that I was free to walk away from this at any time. We worked out the particulars and prepared to hang up.
“You sure you still want me to do this?” I asked.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” she replied.
I waited for more, but nothing came. I laughed, trying to sound relaxed. “This is where you are supposed to ask me if I still want to do this.”
Her voice was calm, assured. “I don’t have to ask. I know you do.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you love Ben, too.” She hung up, leaving me speechless.