The sound of my own voice moaning no longer embarrasses me. At least, not as much as it used to. One should not, after all, be embarrassed by the things one cannot help; what's the point? Besides, the girls can't hear me. We are in Andrea's room.
I moan again, and arch into her touch as waves of bliss roll through my body. Exquisite. Nobody else can do this to me like she can; nobody else is capable of this. "Oh," I breathe.
"Good?" she murmurs, wickedness in her voice.
"Oh, oh yes," is all I can say. It is. So is she. I cannot get enough. I moan once more.
Her hands, always sure—sometimes firm and commanding, sometimes light and ticklish, but always sure—pause for a moment. Her voice sounds gratifyingly hoarse as she says, "Do you have any idea how hot you are right now?"
"Keep going," I say, because right now words come second to action. I just really need a few more moments of this, and only this, and I will be satisfied—or so I swear to myself. She moves her fingers slowly, tantalizingly, and then "Oh my God," I say, as my toes curl.
But then the unthinkable happens. She stops. I open my eyes in outrage, but she's looking at me apologetically. "Sorry," she says, "but my hands are starting to cramp."
"Oh, come on," she whines. "I've been at this for half an hour. Don't be greedy." She lets go of my foot, now slick and shiny with massage oil, and it drops ungracefully into her lap. "Your pedicurist only does this for fifteen minutes, and you pay her."
"She's not as good at it as you are." There is something dangerously close to a whine in my own voice. I ignore it, and instead decide to wiggle my toes hopefully.
"No," Andrea says firmly, setting the bottle of oil on the nightstand, and I scowl. No good. She only looks amused at my plight. But what does she expect? Eight months pregnant, on my feet in high heels all day long—is it my fault that I crave her fingers on my insteps as much as I used to crave them between my legs, that a footrub is better than sex could ever be? "I totally spoil you," she adds, looking very put-upon as she tells me this for what must be the hundredth time. "Seriously, you are completely—" She pauses and wrinkles her brow.
"Spoiled?" I suggest dryly as I reach behind myself and adjust the pillows that have been propping me up.
"Yeah, that's it," she says, and laughs. I have never met anyone so easily amused. Life delights Andrea. I delight Andrea. I do. I make her happy. The thought, as always, baffles me until I put it aside to concentrate on more urgent matters.
For example, it's time to see how happy I can make her tonight. "So," I say. "I'm 'hot,' hmm?"
She stops giggling, and suddenly looks very alert. I hold out one hand, and, as always, my breath catches at the fire that lights in her eyes, her face, whenever I offer myself. Andrea—sweet, innocent, wholesome Andrea—is always and already prepared to devour me at a moment's notice, even now, when I'm nearly as big as the bed itself. "Well?" I murmur, pleased at the low husk of my voice, pleased by the way it makes her pupils dilate. "What's your pleasure tonight?"
We cannot make love as we used to, of course, even a month ago. I'm too big, and I tire easily, and the frantic stir of my hormones has died down in recent weeks. But she still wants me. She always wants me. I have never been wanted like this. And now she crawls up the bed eagerly, kneeling at my side, leaning over me. She's bound up her hair tonight. She's beautiful.
"Kisses," she whispers, and leans in. "Definitely kisses."
Only that? But then she kisses me so lightly that I shiver, and I know there is more to come. I know she will want my touch, and I can offer that easily enough. Eagerly enough.
Her mouth ghosts over my own. I shiver again and remember the first time—I always remember the first time—that she kissed me. I'd resisted, hard, like some kind of ridiculous Victorian maiden. Or spinster. Was it because I knew what would happen, how it would feel?
No, I decide, as I slide one hand up to cup the back of her neck, inviting more kisses with the soft sighs and murmurs that drive her wild. No, I'd never anticipated that—I'd never anticipated anything about her, so why should her kiss have been any different? I hadn't anticipated that the brush of her mouth, as whisper-soft as it is now, would send a sudden, delicious curl of heat that began between my thighs and spread out everywhere, up to the roots of my hair and down to the tips of my toes, shocking me utterly. Or that she would pull away, leaving me wanting, and leaving herself wanting too.
We looked into each other's eyes, then, and the same thought surely occurred to both of us: that we'd get to the natural conclusion soon enough. That, in spite of my protestations, we would make love. That I would trust her that far; that I wanted it too; that I wanted her. I was happy to let her pursue me, flattered by her patience—which wouldn't have flattered me nearly as much if I hadn't also seen how ready she was to drop the act at the very first sign from me, that she'd be all over me from the moment I said the word 'go.'
Eventually I couldn't wait either, and gave the all-clear, and she shocked me more than ever at how she could play my body like a violin. That was when the whole moaning thing started. But the waiting, of course, had made it even better.
We follow the pattern tonight. Ostensibly we are content to kiss gently, almost chastely, while she combs her fingers through my hair. It's a thrilling, mutual tease. She spends her time lavishly on me, on my mouth, as if it is of the utmost importance to coax me ever-so-patiently where she wants to go. I return soft kiss for soft kiss, holding back, knowing that the moment I invite her, she'll overwhelm me, possess me, she'll—
Suddenly, shockingly, I cannot wait anymore, and I let her kiss and nibble my lips apart, groaning as she leaps into action, kissing me deeply, depriving me of air and sanity. It's not like it used to be—I really don't feel like sex—but I revel in her desire all the same. She is an astonishingly, gloriously sexual creature. I should have known that right away, should have made allowances for it, or at least prepared myself so I wouldn't have been cold-cocked in the stairwell of my own house. But I didn't, and now here we are, her tongue in my mouth and her hands in my hair as she delights in me. Apparently I inspire her.
It is both intoxicating and unnerving to be the object of such passion. Oh, she's hardly the first assistant with a crush. And I've been with partners, men, who loved me, who found me attractive, who wanted me. But nobody ever wanted me like this, wanted every inch of me right down to my fingernails, wanted me enough to wait for me without waiting, without even hoping, until it occurred to me that even she might not be able to wait forever—
("I just forgot for a little while," she said, her face too pale. "What you're really like."
I had never felt such panic in my life.)
—and I'd better do something about it. And now I reap the rewards as she kisses me like kissing me is an end in itself. For her, maybe it is.
Well, then. I'll give her a little more. I can't let it be said that I'm the only spoiled one.
I cup Andrea's breasts through her satin nightgown. She shivers and gasps, and I squeeze. They're a delightful handful. I can't think why I'd never realized that before we started sleeping together. "Good?" I inquire, and squeeze again.
"Yeah," she pants, already too far-gone for her usual asinine banter. "Really good. God." She kisses my forehead, my temple. "I've missed this. Missed you."
I hiss in sudden distress; why is she bringing this up now? She realizes what she's said, and quickly kisses my forehead again in remorse, before looking into my eyes. It's frightening how well she reads me, how well we read one another, and, most of all, how keenly we both still feel our separation.
We'd foolishly gotten used to it, to being two halves of a whole, always together like those ninety-year-old couples you read about in newspapers who say they were never apart from each other for more than a night or so during their entire marriage. It sounds suffocating, doesn't it? Or so I thought until I found myself actually pining for the first time in my life: missing my girl, my shadow, the constant presence at my side.
And that was only over Christmas, before she'd ever even kissed me.
But now we're apart more often than not. She's got her job, and I've got mine, and really, when you look at it like that, she had no choice but to move in, did she? It's not the same, of course, as working together, as creating something of real substance out of our perfect accord. Talk about getting spoiled.
And soon enough, if all goes well, we will have yet another distraction. A big one. So we must make the most of every minute. I kiss her, get us both past the unhappy moment, and she relaxes against me. Melts. I slide my hands down her back, cup her rear (lovely little thing), and squeeze again. She shivers and grins against my mouth. "Nice," she whispers.
"It gets nicer," I say, and tug the hem of her nightgown, sliding it up her thigh until she trembles, relents, and shucks it off entirely. Then her breasts are mine again, and I lick and bite and kiss them until she gasps and wriggles against me. She enjoys this, though not quite as much as I do. Then again, I enjoy it so much that I have begun to worry about breastfeeding my impending offspring, so perhaps I'm not the best yardstick here.
"Oh my God," Andrea whimpers, "Miranda." Her hands pat and fumble over my shoulders, my arms, my hair. What really gets her off, of course, is getting me off, and she misses that. No wonder she submits to my demands for outrageously long footrubs. The lingering tingle in my toes makes me generous, and I slip one hand between her legs.
It doesn't take long. "Miranda!" she gasps again, and clenches around my fingers, pulling my face up for a swift, hard kiss. She likes it rougher than I do, and so I keep stroking, firm and hard, until she begins tugging at my elbow and pleading for mercy.
Excellent. I slide my fingers out, and she licks them clean.
It's not perfect, of course, and it won't be again for a few more months. As she puts it herself, she likes doing; I like being done to. I wouldn't call it passive, exactly. I'm never passive. It's just that it's delightful to be pushed down on a bed and caressed and kissed and licked and nibbled from head to toe, and all by someone who desperately wants to do the pushing and caressing and whatnot. I call it synergy, really. But for now, it has to be put on hold until the mere thought doesn't wear me out. God only knows when that will be.
She snuggles in and kisses my shoulder. I shouldn't stay here. Sleeping is more wretchedly uncomfortable than ever, and I'm guaranteed to have to go to the bathroom at least twice in the middle of the night, so why disturb her? Besides, we're still trying to maintain a polite fiction in front of the twins: that while Andrea is important to Mommy, very important indeed, she remains safely and chastely cloistered in her room each night.
I'm pretty sure the girls don't buy it. But they like Andrea. Well, Cassidy does. Caroline adores her. I know this because I carefully mentioned to Cassidy once that I was happy she and her sister seemed to be getting along with Andrea.
"Sure, I like her," Cassidy said, shrugging. "I guess. I mean, there's nothing wrong with her, and she's nice, and she doesn't get in the way."
My eyes widened. "Doesn't get in the—?"
"Stephen got in the way," Cassidy said, and gave me a very direct look, the spitting image of her father. Greg had never let me get away with anything, but he could never be gracious about it either, and so we failed. "He was always in the way. It was like everything was totally different, all the time, when he was here, and it sucked." I stared at her, astonished. The twins had never said—never even mentioned—
"But with Andy, it's not a big deal," Cassidy continued. "She's just, you know, here. And she just does stuff and hangs out." She looked thoughtful. "Kind of like Patricia."
I laughed out loud before I could help it, and my daughter waited patiently for me to control myself. "Oh," I said. "Well. I'm glad that you and Caroline like Andrea as much as you like Patricia." It certainly could've been worse.
"No, I do," she said. "Caroline doesn't."
I blinked, alarmed all over again. I'd been sure that Caroline liked Andrea even more than Cassidy did--in fact, she'd seemed much calmer and happier, much easier to manage, since Andrea became part of our lives. "She doesn't like Andrea?" I said in disbelief.
"God, Mom," Cassidy said, and rolled her eyes at my stupidity. "She loves Andy. She's got the biggest crush on her, like, ever. Seriously. Duh."
For a moment I was horrified, imagining all kinds of awkward and awful scenarios. Apparently Caroline was even more like me than I'd realized, and for a wild second, I wondered if maybe she could be pacified if, say, I offered to keep Andrea until Caroline reached eighteen—or perhaps twenty-one?—and then passed her on down. I've never liked denying my children anything.
But then my sanity caught up with me, and I said, faintly, "Oh. Well." Then I added, "Let's not mention this to Andrea, darling." Cassidy just rolled her eyes again, and wandered off to do something else while I wondered if it counted as an Oedipal fixation when the person you fixated on wasn't actually related to you. Something else to mention to their therapist.
"What're you thinking about?" Andrea murmurs, and I come back to the present with a jolt. She has a soft, curious look on her face. She smoothes her hand over the rise of my belly, looking for all the world as happy and proud as any father. I suppose she has the right. "The baby?"
"Naturally," I lie. I'm always as honest as possible, of course, but I'm fairly sure that I shouldn't tell Andrea that she is Caroline's first love. Knowing her, she'd feel needlessly guilty and would try to have an earnest, halting conversation with my daughter that would end with Caroline in tears, and quite possibly Andrea too, and nobody around here would get any sleep until it blew over.
Andrea abruptly sits up, glancing eagerly towards her old, cheap stereo in the corner. The room is wired with surround sound to go with the plasma TV, but for some reason she never uses it. "Hey, you know what," she begins.
"No Mozart," I say at once. "I am sick of Mozart." I'm sick of classical music, period, but I don't have much choice, since…
"It's good for his development," she says firmly. "All the books say so. Relax. I just got a Bach CD. You'll both love it." She bounds off the bed, completely unselfconscious in her nudity.
I watch appreciatively, since it's less tiring than getting exasperated. Or envious. I can't remember the last time I bounded anywhere, my pregnancy notwithstanding. "I think you're the only person left in America who still buys CDs," I say.
"Sure am," she says. "I'm keeping those used music stores afloat all by myself."
"Why not get an iPod?" I ask, for the millionth time. Then I add, "You can get some Bose speakers to go with it. Tremendous sound quality."
She shrugs impatiently as she selects a CD from a plastic rack and pops it into the ancient device. "I'm not much of an audiophile."
"It would be better for him," I say cunningly. "I mean, surely the quality of the music directly connects to his intelligence."
"Ha, ha," she begins, and then blinks. "I mean, you think so? What if it really does?"
"What color do you want?" I ask.
Andrea gives me a mulish look. "I didn't say I wanted one," she says. She frowns on random presents, especially if they are expensive. My wealth makes her uncomfortable. She doesn't want there to be the slightest suspicion that I might be buying her affection, as if anybody would ever suppose otherwise, no matter what we did.
"I'd get it for free," I say, and shrug. It's true. Getting my hands on gadgets like that is easier than breathing: everyone wants to give the latest products to celebrities. It's the best sort of advertising. It's also the only reason Andrea accepted all those clothes for her birthday, knowing that I hadn't spent a penny on them. Very irritating.
"Well," she says, and looks undecided now. "I mean…"
A little blue Nano, I decide. Those are cute. I settle back against the pillows in satisfaction. "Just let me know," I say blandly.
"Well," she says again, and presses play. Music, evidently something by Bach, floats through the room, and I wince at the poor quality of the sound, thinking that the Nano will probably be as much for my benefit as the child's. And hers.
"So," I say. "Bach. How riveting."
"It's about time we got some class around this joint," she says, and crawls back onto the bed.
I roll my eyes. "Yes, given that my taste usually runs to punk rock."
"Sorry," she says blithely. "Next time I'll get some Melissa Etheridge just for you. Or the Indigo Girls. Or maybe one of those compilations from Lilith Fair." I snort. "I'd get you some Ani Difranco, but I think she might be a little, you know," she raises her hands and makes air quotes, "'out there' for you."
I am not leaving this bed tonight, I realize. She will continue to tease and vex me until we get sleepy and slide under the covers and doze off. She will put her arm around me again. And instead of lying awake thinking about work, the baby, the girls, the future, I'll go to sleep happy.
Well, until I have to get up and pee again, or until the baby starts kicking, at which point I will curse Andrea's sleep and wish I could steal it. She's young, she can live without it. I, on the other hand, need the rest because, Bach aside, it's what's best for the child. My son.
Our son. No sense in denying it; she pats my belly again with a dopey smile that turns—on a dime, you might say—into pure possessiveness.
And that's something else: forget desire, I have never been with anyone who loved me quite so fiercely as she. She's willing to take on the world to defend me, defend the children (all three), defend what we are building, as if nothing could be more important, not even work. As if she were born to play the lioness guarding the den. Or maybe the mongoose.
Luckily, because I am more prudent and far-seeing, she doesn't have to. A twenty-something girl fresh out of school should never have felt compelled to protect me. And though I'm touched and grateful that she did, it is past time for me to restore the natural order. It is time for me to look out for our odd little family, and give her a chance to find her own feet, make her own place in the world instead of worrying about mine. It is my turn, not to spoil her, but to give her opportunities to excel. I know she will use them. She will shine. She will be magnificent.
And what then? Will she leave? In spite of her devotion, when the world is at her feet, will she go? I chase the notion away. It is unthinkable. And if I dwell on it, if I let it cross my mind for more than two seconds, I'll—
"I hope he likes baseball better than football," Andrea says, still absorbed with staring at my distended abdomen. I instantly permit myself to be distracted. "I mean, I love football, but I actually played Little League. I can give him pointers."
"I'm going to sleep now," I say at once, sliding off the mattress with a grunt. She looks at me with disappointment until I turn down the bedcovers and carefully ease myself back on the bed, between the sheets this time. Then she smiles, and I know she is genuinely happy at the thought of sharing her bed with a woman who will wake her up several times in the night, and then finally will return to her own room before the twins begin to stir. Before I know it, she's whipped a couple of extra pillows out of nowhere, and is solicitously arranging them so that I can lie down on my side in something like comfort.
"So," Andrea says as I settle in. "You're not so much for Bach. What about Beethoven? He's not as precise—I mean, I heard somewhere that Bach is really good for building math skills, but maybe Beethoven taps into the poetry part of the brain or something—"
"Get the lamp."
She gets the lamp, and the room goes dark. "—or we could go more contemporary. Copland or Philip Glass or…somebody. I bet the twins could help. You know—"
I tug her elbow. She chuckles, stops talking, and leans in for one final, light kiss. "Night," she says.
"Good night," I say firmly, and, just as I knew she would, she puts her arm around me. More than nice, and quite accommodating, this girl.
I close my eyes and drift towards sleep to the soft, melodic strains of Bach. Tomorrow will come, as always, with its attendant share of surprises. I hope a footrub is among them. I'll have to wait and see.