“You are loud,” Shaun observed, when Lea had come back from the bathroom. She offered him a warm, wet washcloth, which he took gratefully.
“You were warned,” Lea reminded him, getting back into bed. “Shove over.”
“I didn’t say it was a bad thing. Hearing your... appreciation for what I was doing was encouraging, and helpful.”
“Judging by the things you just did to me, I know you paid a lot of attention when they were teaching you about the female reproductive system,” Lea teased him.
“Oh, yes. And supplemented with independent research,” Shaun assured her.
“How’s your back? And head?” Lea asked, more seriously.
“I could not have cared less about either of them while we were having sex. Now, they hurt.”
“Yeah, that’s because this bed is tiny.”
“No, that’s because thrusting is taxing on the back muscles, and I still feel a little dizzy after coming.”
“Oh, just what every girl wants to hear: ‘You hurt my back, and you give me a headache’!”
“Well, it’s true. It is hard work — ”
“Yeah, it is!” Lea smirked.
“ — But it’s fun work.”
“Mmm. Extremely fun work. In all seriousness, Shaun, the bed may have been tiny, it may have been your first time, it may have been our first time, but that was amazing. You sure you haven’t done that before?”
“Well, you’re pretty good at it. You want to do it again?”
“Yes, but — ”
“I need Tylenol and a different bed. You’re right: this bed is too small.”
“Wait, I’m sorry, did you just – let me find my ear trumpet – what’s that? I’m right?” Lea joked. “You’ll have to speak up, sonny.”
“You’re right: this bed is too small.”
“That’s what I thought you said.”
“I want to really drag it out this time. You’ve heard of ‘kissing senseless’ — ”
“ — Which I still don’t agree is possible,” Shaun cut in.
“ — Now, get ready for ‘fucking senseless’.”
“Okay, that, I accept, is possible. There is an instant during orgasm where the mind goes completely blank. Senseless, if you like.”
“I’m hungry, though. Like, ravenous. Do we have anything in the fridge? Are you hungry?”
“Do we have apples?”
“You and your damn apples, Shaun. Yes, we have apples. I know that much.”
“Then that’s what I’m having. I didn’t get to have one in the hospital. They took it away from me. People are always taking my apples away,” Shaun complained, pulling his pyjama pants back on, and getting out of bed with a groan.
“Well, you know what, you’re gonna have to share them. I cannot be bothered actually assembling some sort of lunch.”
“I’ll peel and chop. I have to wash my hands first, though.”
Lea put her own pyjamas back on, and eased herself out of bed as well, following Shaun to the kitchen.
Shaun ran the faucet until the water became hot enough to wash his hands in.
Lea sat at the counter, waiting, admiring the view when Shaun bent over to open the crisper drawer. Don’t slap him, don’t slap him, he’ll knock his head into the shelves, and then where will you be?
“What are you staring at?” Shaun asked, bringing the apples over to the counter.
“Oh, nothing,” Lea replied, innocently. Shaun gave her a doubtful look.
“The most wonderful ass I’ve ever had the pleasure of tapping,” she admitted. “God, what you’re hiding under those khakis and button-down shirts. Can you just, like, walk around naked all the time at home, please? I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at you.”
“No, thank you. I don’t want to sit on our furniture naked. That’s unsanitary. And I’d get cold.”
“Oh, I bet I could warm you up. And we could just lay down towels everywhere.”
“That’s a lot of laundry,” Shaun noted, handing her a freshly sliced apple, which Lea immediately started wolfing down, as though she had never seen food before.
“I give you solutions, and all you do is give me problems, Murphy,” Lea fake-scolded him.
“No, the amount of laundry we’d create with your towel idea would definitely be a problem,” Shaun replied.
“Of course it would, with that attitude,” Lea remarked.
Shaun came to sit beside Lea. With one hand, he stroked her back, and with the other, he picked up his own apple slices to eat.
“Wait... isn’t an apple a day meant to keep the doctor away?” Lea asked, teasingly.
“You’ll have to be specific. Which doctor were you hoping to keep away?” Shaun asked.
“Every single one of them... except for you.”
“I noticed you never asked about your pyjama shirt,” Lea said, conversationally.
“I left it in the bathroom. Did you see it?”
“... Yes. Was it too hard to put on?”
“Sort of. I could probably have done it. But I also remembered you saying, ‘Or you could just leave it off’ to me, in the hospital.”
“Are you comfortable, like that? I mean, I really like what I’m seeing, but — ”
“It is strange walking around without a shirt, but I am finding your reaction makes the discomfort worthwhile.”
“And there have been... other rewards,” Shaun said.
“Oh? How’s that?” Lea asked. She thought she might have an idea exactly what Shaun was referring to, but just in case she was wrong...
“I was lucky enough to get to have sex with you. I may even be lucky enough to get to do it again sometime soon.”
“Stop saying you’re lucky, Shaunie. Luck had nothing to do with it. You are wonderful. By virtue of the person you are, I am in love with you. If anyone’s lucky, it’s me. Lucky that I ran out of batteries, and knocked on my hot neighbour’s door. And the rest is history. You’ve gone from being my hot neighbour, to my hot friend, to my hot roommate-slash-best friend, to my extremely hot boyfriend.”
“Lea, I don’t know that I can describe you quite like that, but – I would if I could. You already know I think you’re beautiful.”
“Hey, it’s okay. I don’t need you to talk dirty to me.”
“I’d like to learn how.”
“That’s fine, and we can try it, but if it never comes naturally to you, that’s going to be okay. I know exactly how you feel.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I know that when your thoughts change, your touch becomes more, like, insistent. It’s taken me a day and a half to work that out.”
“Okay,” Shaun murmured.
“Or when you first got on top of me in bed. You started slow and cautious, and then, as you got used to the rhythm and the sensations, you pushed deeper, and harder, and faster. Because you wanted more. You wanted me. And you wanted me to know it, too.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Your hands were lazily wandering my body. That changed. Your grip got tighter, less gentle. Every time I tried not to get loud, you went harder and faster, until I couldn’t stay quiet anymore.”
Shaun had a far-away look on his face at this point. Lea decided to just keep talking. He’d rejoin her, eventually.
“Shaun, how you feel about me is evident in how you touch me. You were ecstatic to be fucking me. And telling me that, literally saying: ‘I want to fuck you so hard that you can’t help but scream my name’, it’s not something that I can imagine you... actually doing. I don’t think that’s your style, Shaun. And it would turn me off if I could tell that you weren’t at ease saying it. It would be awkward.”
“I don’t want to be awkward,” Shaun agreed. “If I’m awkward, then you won’t want to have sex with me.”
“Things get easier. Do you remember our first kiss?”
“It was kinda awkward. You’d never kissed anyone before. And my pushing you into the deep end, by basically commanding you to kiss me, made that a lot worse. It made you so nervous, that you couldn’t keep the tequila down. You didn’t have that many shots.”
“I was very nervous.”
“Then there’s our second kiss. That was different. We both know that. Do you want to explain to me how?”
“It was... easier. We were sober. I wasn’t as nervous. You asked permission to put your arms around me. You gave me time to prepare. You didn’t ask permission to kiss me, but you didn’t order me to kiss you, either. That was a very nice kiss. I hated saying ‘goodbye’, but that kiss was enjoyable.”
“Then, our third kiss was different, again. I never really asked you what you thought about it, actually.”
“When you kissed me, everything came flooding back. And it hurt. A lot.”
“Where did you go, that night?”
“I hid in the parking garage. And I cried, and I panicked, and I couldn’t make myself go back until the middle of the night. And then I found you in my bed.”
“Yeah. Um, I’m sorry.”
“It was... difficult. It got easier when you started sleeping in your own bed again.”
“Were there any bright spots in that month I stayed?”
He thought for a moment. “No. I’m sorry. There weren’t. All I could think about was how much more I wanted. And how scared I was to say anything about it. Well, perhaps the bright spot was that you were back.”
“We danced around that... something between us, all that month. And the longer I stayed, the more we drifted apart.”
“I was not ready to be with you. Not... like this.”
“Yeah, I think I realised that, too.”
“The fights we had in my old apartment, and then outside the hospital, and then still coming back home to you... that was very painful.”
“Yes, it was excruciating. So many times that month I wished I’d done things differently. But maybe if I had, we would have just crashed and burned anyway.”
“I do not want our relationship to ‘crash and burn’,” Shaun said. “I will read up on how to avoid that.”
Lea laughed gently. “That’s a shared responsibility, Shaun. It takes two to start a relationship, two to keep it going, and two to make it fail.”
“You will need to show me what to do.”
“Honestly, in a lot of ways, we already do a lot of it just by living together. We compromise on stuff. You’ve loosened up on things. In a lot of cases, the way you like to do things makes sense. It’s good always knowing where the remote is. It’s good having two toilet paper dispensers. It’s good coming home to a tidy kitchen. And my clothes are cleaner since I started using two pods in the washing machine.”
“They do make sense.”
“Yes, Shaun, they do. But there have been times where I prefer to do something my own way, and you’ve had to accept that. Or, we compromise, by integrating our two different approaches, and basically coming up with a hybrid of both. Where that’s not possible, you do things as you see fit, and I do things as I see fit. And that’s hard. Most people are awful at compromising. I think we’re pretty good at it.”
“I think I’m bad at it. But it’s important to me that I be better at it, because I want to keep living with you. I like living with you. Actually, I love living with you. That’s likely because I love you.”
“And you haven’t loved me less when we’ve had to compromise. And I haven’t loved you less, either. Watching you change and grow is something I’ve loved doing, and in truth, has made it easier to fall for you, because I see who you’re becoming, and that is a person I really want to be with.”
“I feel the same way about you.”
“And other things have gotten easier. Our fourth kiss – new and special, again.”
“I did a very bad thing. I made you cheat on your boyfriend. Not good. I just went ahead and did what I wanted.”
“Hey, I wanted you to do it, too. And – well, Jake’s opinion on the matter wasn’t positive, but we also were never exclusive. I didn’t tell you that because – I’m not sure it would have changed how you thought about it, anyway.”
“What does that mean, ‘exclusive’?”
“It’s when both halves of a couple agree to only see one another. When you’re not exclusive with someone, you’re free to date other people, and so are they.”
“That sounds incredibly complicated and tiring. Are we exclusive? Do you want to date other people?”
“You asked me to be your girlfriend.”
“Yes, I did — ”
“That’s asking to be exclusive. I’m your girlfriend now, Shaun, and you’re my boyfriend. I am not interested in dating anyone other than you. I gather you see things the same way? You just want to date me, and no-one else. Right?”
“I’ve never wanted to date anyone other than you, Lea,” Shaun said. “I don’t want to date anyone other than you now, either.”
“Then that’s that: we’re exclusive, we’re going steady, we’re a serious couple – however you’d like to put it, it’s you and me... and no-one else. And that’s not a compromise. That’s a mutual agreement.”
“But there’s one thing you need to understand, too. Obviously, I hope this relationship lasts for a long time – and I’m open to the concept of it lasting forever — ”
“So am I,” Shaun interrupted.
“ — However, break-ups are different. They are often a disagreement. And, unlike starting a relationship, where both people in it need to agree, it’s not very common for them to agree on breaking up. One person can say it’s over, and the other person is expected to accept that. I mean, nobody goes into a relationship expecting it to end – that’s a waste of time — ”
“But you said it takes two to make a relationship fail,” Shaun said, confused. “So how is a break-up a mutual failure state, if only one person needs to want to break up?”
“It’s pretty normal for both people to notice something has changed or has gone wrong with the relationship. But accepting it’s over is very difficult. You still love the person, but being with them is no longer a better option than being alone – or being with someone else.”
“It’s like when I lose a patient,” Shaun said. “I don’t want to accept I’m going to lose them. Accepting I’m going to lose them is the hardest thing I do in my job. I have failed. There is no amount of education or magical number of years spent in medical school that can make that easier.”
Lea nodded slowly.
“We can keep someone alive, but they aren’t living. There comes a time where we have to say we have done everything we can. We have to let them go. Bringing someone back from asystole — ”
“Asystole?” Lea asked.
“Flatlining. The absence of cardiac contractions.”
“Shaun, please try to explain it to me in English.”
“Unless we’ve purposely stopped someone’s heart to perform surgery... it means there’s no heartbeat. We can perform CPR, we can treat it with medication, but only about 15 percent of people come back. And of those who come back, it’s usually just a stay of execution. Delaying the inevitable.”
“They’re dying anyway,” Lea deduced.
“Yes. They’re dying anyway.”
“God, that’s difficult.”
“Hearing their heartbeat come back is tempered with the knowledge that, yes, we bought them time, but we didn’t necessarily buy them quality time.”
“I see how that works into your understanding of break-ups not necessarily being mutual,” Lea said, carefully.
“Yes. I understand. Sometimes relationships end, and there’s nothing more anyone can do.”
“But it’s important that you remember... don’t be in this relationship just always bracing for the end. The end comes, or maybe it doesn’t. I can promise you, Shaun, that to be in this relationship, and constantly worrying that it might end... you could miss seeing and experiencing so many wonderful things. Just enjoy being with me. Enjoy finding out what we can offer one another. Embrace it for what it is, and what it will teach you.”
“Okay, Lea. I will try.”
“And, Shaun, if there comes a day where being in this relationship is not making our lives better, that can never erase what we once were to one another. That can never negate all the things we did, and saw, and said. The time we spent will not have been wasted. And... I know that... even if this doesn’t work out for forever... I wouldn’t want to have missed any of it for the world.”
“I wouldn’t, either.”