A Taste of A Life Less Monogamous – Chapter 8
Ryan had never been down this hallway at the Watkins’ house. He glanced back over his shoulder, wondering if perhaps he’d simply had too much to drink. Jennifer had had…well, was too much the right phrase? That implied poor decision making, and she never indulged herself more than she could handle. So not too much, but more than he’d seen in a while. She’d looked happy, though. It had also been a while since she’d seemed so content, happy…comfortable. Another turn down the hall, a low rumble approaching.
“Where are we going?” he asked. Paige just offered him a smile in return.
Today was the day they changed their lives, right? New friends weren’t a bad way to do that. Ryan couldn’t remember his last new friend. Lots of acquaintances here or there, but new? Friend? Perhaps not.
Paige opened the door in front of her, far simpler than doors they’d passed in the hall before this turn, absent the trim and corners and panels of doors elsewhere in the house. The rumble, a cycling sound, louder. She pushed him in and flipped on the light.
Ryan stood in a laundry room as large as his office at home. Gleaming front-load washer and dryer stood beside each other on the opposite wall, the rest was white cabinetry topped with equally white counter top. In the center, a laundry basket sat atop an island, also white.
“An odd time for Barbara to be doing laundry,” Ryan observed.
“John French upended a chafing dish in the kitchen about an hour ago; Barb is on her party game to have the tablecloth in the wash already!” Paige stepped past a couple folding chairs tucked between a break in the cabinets and flung herself up onto the washer.
“Really?” asked Ryan.
“A quiet place to talk.” She patted the top of the dryer next to her.
Paige put on a thoughtful expression. “I think it’ll do, unless you’re itching to rejoin the boys downstairs, that is.”
“Hell, no,” he said through a grin, and hopped onto the dryer next to her, slightly shaky. She grabbed his arm and made a showy save of his balance. He smiled widely at her as he righted himself.
“What’re you grinning about?”
“That’s not an answer.”
Ryan stared at the door, realizing Paige had closed it behind them. He looked from her to the door. “Should we be in here? Alone, I mean. Someone could—” He stopped, uncertain. Something felt off about it, surely, but he wasn’t sure he could put it into words.
“Someone could what?” Paige let her dangling feet swing. She tilted her left foot down and her shoe dropped off the heel, holding to the toe. After a moment she twisted her toes and the shoe popped back up. “Come in? See us? Are we forbidden to be in here together unsupervised? Do you plan to ravish me against the hamper? The basin?” She pointed at each and then stared at him, expressionless.
Ryan felt the crawling embarrassment, she was making fun of him, surely, this was a game, surely. Something these two did at parties, divide and conquer, some sick trick to make fun of—
“Ryan?” Paige touched his chin lightly, lifting it up so he could look into her eyes. “I think we’ll be okay.”
The internal conflict vanished in an instant, a puff of smoke. He smiled back.
“So, tell me about you and Jennifer.” She folded her hands in her lap and waited.
Ryan found the gesture adorable. Then he wondered if a mature woman like Paige would want to be called adorable, if it’d be somehow degrading. Jennifer still liked being called that, said it made her feel like they were teenagers. What age does one get to before they don’t want to feel that way anymore? “We’ve, uh, been married seven years.”
“Would you like me to scratch it?” she smirked.
Paige nudged him with her shoulder. “The itch. Seven.” She shook her head. “I mean, that’s when—”
The door snapped open. Barbara jumped when she saw them. “Paige.”
“Hello, Barb.” Paige crossed and uncrossed her ankles. “Need to check the tablecloth?” She tapped her heel against the circular glass door, where suds still splashed.
“And Ryan,” Barbara looked between them.
“Yes,” said Ryan. “I’m here too.”
Barbara locked eyes with Paige, and her face hardened for a moment. Ryan looked at Paige, who smiled and winked. “I’ll let you know when it’s done,” Paige offered, but Barbara didn’t stay to hear it.
“Well, she certainly thinks dirty things are going on.” Paige put her hand on his arm and looked at him.
Ryan looked at her hand.
“You’re turning red.”
“No,” he said.
Paige laughed, genuine. Had he heard it earlier, when he was momentarily certain that the Shepards had concocted a plot to embarrass him, that laugh would have filled Ryan with dread.
“I’m messing with you.” She held her forefingers over her cascading hair like devil horns, then scrunched her nose. “It’s fun!” Her grin softened when he stared at her. He opened his mouth a couple times.
Something here made him feel comfortable. Something so different from trying to talk to Noah, who always made things about himself, or Sam whose woes approached operatic levels. He almost asked her to tell him that she didn’t always want sex, that it wasn’t the mark of a good relationship, that it didn’t mean things were bad or wrong, that, well, that everything was going to be okay.
Because in the end, wasn’t that what he wanted? Just acknowledgment. Maybe even the acknowledgment that this was in fact a rough patch and the way out didn’t need to be a stampede. Just gradual work. A slope upward.
He realized he’d been staring at his hands. “So,” he began, entirely unsure of how he would finish the question. “Can I ask you something?”
He didn’t raise his eyes. “It’s sorta personal.”
“Have you ever—” When he did raise his eyes and look into hers, he stopped short. The concern on her face was real. She was listening in a way he hadn’t seen in he couldn’t remember how long. Certainly Dr. Petrillo, all pursed lips and paging through almost nonexistent notes, didn’t listen this way. Emboldened, he pushed forward. “Have you ever, um, had a dry spell?”
Paige thought for a moment.
Fearing an uncomfortable silence, Ryan threw some extra words out. “You know. Sex.”
Paige narrowed her eyes, nodding conspiratorially. “Ah. Yes. Sex.” Then she put her hands on the washer behind her and leaned back a bit. She looked at the ceiling, then back at him. “Sure. Everybody does. You in one?”
He nodded. “What do you do?”
“I dunno.” She shrugged. “I guess you just sorta have to work around it.”
He parsed her words, but couldn’t follow them through to meaning. “How do you work around it?”
She tilted her head and looked away. Opened her mouth, then closed it again. Began and then stopped. After a moment or two of this, she put her hand on his knee comfortingly. “You know, I think you and Jennifer have a lot going on up here,” she tapped her finger on his temple, “and you’re not paying nearly enough attention to what’s going on in here,” she pressed her finger against his chest.
Ryan wondered if she could feel his heartbeat quicken.
“And most importantly, down here.” She pointed a finger directly down, into his lap and the growing bulge Ryan hoped she wouldn’t notice.
“But such is life.” She patted his knee.