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The Need Within Her

by Jason Lenov

Jack and Emily are happily married. A lewd remark by a passing stranger stirs something within Emily. Confessing to Jack about the exchange prompts him into making his own admission. The two embark on a dangerous journey, one that tests the boundaries of their marriage. Will they make it out the other end?

Chapter One

At five past nine on a cloudy Monday morning, Emily Robertson, known to those closest to her as Em, slumped into a wooden kitchen chair and sighed. She eyed her red painted toenails and considered whether she should add a fresh coat. Jack liked them when they were bright. A heaviness settled on her as she thought of Jack, of the kids, now absent after a weekend home, and finally, of where she was in life and more importantly, where she was headed.
The thought that she should pick herself up, don her running gear and pound out her usual morning routine, three miles through the forest then to the dishes, left her as quickly as it came. She was tired. Running would set the day straight. But the weather outside was anything but inviting and her legs were sore from standing in the kitchen cooking the previous day.
So, after not much thought, she decided she would skip the exercise just this once and have her second coffee instead.
The thought of fumbling with the espresso machine Jack had bought just last month, grinding the beans, packing the grounds and steaming milk was about as appealing as grinding out a run. She wished they hadn’t thrown out the old drip maker. It had been so much easier, had a timer and you could make a good old-fashioned pot of coffee from a can without all the fuss.
Jack had insisted that the coffee from the five hundred dollar machine tasted so much better. Emily smiled at the memory of teasing him about whether this was his mid-life crisis purchase and did this mean there wouldn’t be a little red sports car in the driveway?
Jack, reliable, hard-working, devoted Jack, had taken the joke the way he took all her jokes. With a cheerful grin and a rebuttal along the lines of better this than a blonde.
She hadn’t let on that that had stung. Even though he hadn’t meant it to, and even though he would never do a thing like that and would feel terrible if he knew he’d hurt her, it had pinched her in a way she hated to admit, even to herself.
Because these days when she looked in the mirror she saw lines on her forehead that hadn’t been there before. These days she had to dye her hair more often to keep the grey back, had to put on makeup when she was going out to the store, not so much for anyone else as for herself. These days smiling felt like work instead of a joyful thing. None of that was Jack’s fault. It was just life. That’s how life went. No matter how much she didn’t like it. But the coffee maker was his fault and she indulged in a friendly resentment about it. Nothing serious, just the sort of sore feeling you had when no one wanted to eat at the same restaurant as you.
And yet the weight that had brought a tension to her shoulders, the cause of which was shrouded by a morning-brain fog, crept down through her body, to her gut where it sometimes lived whenever she let a lack of purpose get the better of her. Frowning at the unpleasant sensation and wondering what to do to chase it away caused an idea to blossom in her mind.
It made her giggle when she acknowledged it. Because Emily didn’t do bad things. Emily didn’t go behind Jack’s back or make decisions without consulting him. They were a team. Had been for twenty years. They were in this thing called life together and had been their entire adult lives. But that morning, for some as yet inexplicable reason, Emily Robertson, housewife, mother and solver of everyone’s problems of thirty-nine years, made a decision to go out and buy herself a small drip coffee maker and some grounds in a can. It tickled her more than a bit, how such a simple thing could titillate. Not just buying the thing but keeping it a secret from Jack. She didn’t keep secrets. She didn’t keep anything from Jack. Why would this most mundane of purchases be the cause of such a thrill?
It wasn’t even that he would have minded. He’d look at her funny, sure. After their small spat, that wasn’t even a spat, about throwing the last one out, he’d look at her funny and smile and probably kiss her on the forehead and then never say another word about it.
But there was something…exciting about the prospect of keeping this to herself. Exciting and a little bit terrifying.
What’s terrifying about keeping secrets from Jack? Jack her handyman. Jack her rock. Jack her man who’d never done a selfish thing, who always made sure everyone else was taken care of before taking care of himself.
It felt a little sinful having a tiny little secret, something she took out when he was at work and indulged in. An easy coffee. A reprieve from the unnecessary complication of the espresso machine. Her thing.
It made her giggle and it made her wince. Before she could have another thought about it, or perhaps before she could change her mind, Emily found herself grabbing the keys to her Mazda, stepping into a pair of old worn sandals and heading out to the garage. It was only on the road, half-way to Spencer’s, that she allowed herself to examine the idea again.
Emily Robertson, pretty Emily as she’d been known to all the snarky girls in high school, Emily who’d raised two kids, helped them with homework and scraped knees and heartbreak, Emily who had been there when Jack had been laid off, Emily who could put a good spin on things no matter how bleak they looked, stared into the yawning blackness of a part of her mind she rarely visited, a part she tried to pretend wasn’t there, and balked at what she saw.
Because much like Jack, Emily was devoted to everyone else’s affairs. She liked tending to things. Worrying about other people’s problems had been an easy way to ignore her own. To pretend like they weren’t there.
So it was on that cold, cloudy, heavy Monday morning that Emily saw something in herself that she’d never seen. It was on that morning that Emily first admitted to herself that through all the bandages and hugs and noise and chaos of the kids growing up, all the tending and mending and caring, there was something she’d ignored.
A pang of melancholy shook her. One so powerful and present that when she looked in the rear view mirror, tilting her head to see her own reflection, devoid of makeup, tiny crows feet at the corner’s of her pretty eyes creeping ever wider as she squinted, Emily Robertson emitted a sound that could have been called a sob, but that would have been far too kind a word for the noise she’d made.
A guttural, gurgling, shaking warble that brought tears to her eyes and caused her to mash the brakes and pull over to the side of the road. A sound that made her shoulders shake as she tried to keep the next one in.
It passed after a moment. When it did she found herself clutching the steering wheel with white knuckles. Relaxing her grip and letting one hand fall into her lap, she dared to twist the rear view mirror with the other and face the person she’d become.
“What the heck is wrong with me?” she whispered, wiping tears from her eyes and cheeks. She stared into her baby-blues, trying to crawl into that reflection, into the woman staring back at her, trying to know herself in a way that she’d resisted all these years. “Who are you?”
The question shocked her but seemed as inevitable as the sunrise. Time stood still for a moment. Then the laughter came. Great fat tides of it rolling through her and making her clutch her sides.
Because Emily Robertson didn’t cry. Not for of herself, of all people. When the kids first went to school, sure. When she watched them graduate. Then when they moved out. A few other times. But those weren’t tears of sadness. They’d been tears of joy and worry, tears spilled at time passing and at how quickly it all went.
Emily was a soldier, or that’s how she thought of herself. Soldiers didn’t have time for why am I here’s or where am I going’s? Soldiers knew their purpose. They were born to fight. And that’s what Emily had done every day up until that sullen Monday.
She fought to live a good life. Fought to keep her husband happy and her kids fed. Fought not against any particular enemy but the one within to keep life humming along at a happy, near-frenetic pace, so that things didn’t get to dreary or filled with too much time to think.
What did any of that have to do with coffee?
Except Emily didn’t know that yet. The idea of buying herself something she wanted (not that she really needed it) and keeping it a secret from Jack had caused a slight shift in her perception. A detachment, of sorts, from the idea of herself she’d carved out in her corner of their marriage. Steady, cheerful, smiling Emily who always faced adversity head on and with a headstrong resolve to win, or make the best of it if she didn’t. That was who Emily believed herself to be. Emily who loved Jack and the children he’d given her, even if the first one had been a happy little accident. That Emily didn’t buy things for herself and keep them secret.
She laughed again. “I’m actually going crazy.”