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Laura's Dark Side
A Wife Sharing Romance

by Arnica Butler

Laura and Chris have an ordinary marriage. Like most ordinary marriages, it’s missing something.
They have ordinary friends, too. Or, at least they thought they did.
When Laura and Chris see firsthand that Jenna and Rob have their own solution to the marriage blahs, they have wildly different reactions - at least outwardly. But behind Laura’s shock and disappointment in her friends, she’s hiding a very dark secret... one she doesn’t want to admit, even to herself.
Luckily for her, Jenna has a stable of dark men who know just how to unlock the needs of a woman like Laura.
Is Chris ready for the ride?

Chapter 1
Laura had the menu up for a long time in front of her face. It was made of hand-pressed paper and printed with some kind of rough stamp and smeared ink. The menu seemed to have been designed, expressly, to be difficult to read.
It was the sort of hipster thing, that along with a lot of the other hipster things at this restaurant, was making Chris regret seeking the advice of the only young, female, “cool” person working at his company. He had asked Avery for a “good, sophisticated restaurant,” perhaps overestimating how much their definitions of “good” would overlap.
He had wanted something special for this, his and Laura’s first date in probably five years, a celebration of the end of summer and the fact that their eldest child could reasonably be expected to babysit on his own. Chris could have asked one of the guys where to go, and they would have likely done as he predicted and suggested a chain restaurant they deemed “sophisticated” because it served steaks.
And they probably would have been a lot more comfortable at a place like that.
There were a lot of mirrors in this place, Bourbon and Feast – referred to by Avery and other people her age a simply “Bourbon.” In many corners of his vision, Chris had a full view of himself and Laura. An out-of place couple, circling around forty, somehow over- and under-dressed at once. They were glaringly out-of-place against the exposed brick, out-of-place in their slightly aged clothing, out-of-place with each other.
The choppy silence of a twelve-year marriage was between them on the table, like a cement block. Laura was trying to break through it, lobbing the occasional attempt at him, and he supposed he was trying as well. But it was tough going. It was hard to make a joke anymore: they didn’t share enough of their time together to have private jokes. It was hard to talk about something new and interesting: they didn’t do anything new enough to be interesting.
The kids had been a good glue, for a long time. Interestingly, they had also served as a wedge between them. But now that the kids were older, had their own interests, and had returned some of the time they had leeched away from their parents for so many years, Laura and Chris found themselves with not much left to talk about.
And creeping around every corner was the terrible thought, the one he liked to stay away from as much as he could: what if there was nothing between them anymore, or worse yet, there never had been? What if Laura had only married him because she had gotten pregnant, and there was no other reason than Liam, and then Chris Jr., to keep her tied to him?
And then, looming just ahead of that thought, a terrible abyss: And what would happen would Liam and Chris moved out and started their own lives? Laura let the menu fall away from her face. She was shaking her head slightly, a frown turning down the corners of her mouth. Chris smiled: the menu was probably giving Laura fits. It was too sloppy, too illegible, too disorganized for her. “I can’t read anything,” she stated.
She looked up at him. His spirits buoyed. Here was something they could talk about, ground on which they could meet. Should he suggest they ditch the place and go eat at the Chinese restaurant across the street? It almost seemed more romantic, with its tasseled lamps and red interior, its menu of terribly photographed food and place mats with Chinese horoscopes on them.
Nostalgia seized him.
Laura was a monkey, and he was a horse. It was so long ago that they had huddled in a dingy Chinese restaurant, on the same side of the booth, reading the descriptions and laughing.
He was nothing like the horse of Chinese calendars, and she was nothing like the monkey. “I... cannot... read anything.... on this menu,” Laura said.
It was not too late to suggest that they go. A light rain was falling outside, the yellow and red fluorescent sign beckoning them to the comforting anonymity of yet another restaurant named Jade Garden. They could dash through the drizzle and pile into a booth together, drink some plum wine, share Kung Pao chicken and drop things with their chopsticks.
At Bourbon, where they were trapped instead, a waiter appeared. He looked not much older than their eldest son, and his presence made the distance between the present and the past yawn wider.
“Can I tell you guys our specials tonight?” he drawled, in the overly-casual, aloof and mildly incompetent voice that all kids from his generation seemed to use for all communication. “Please,” said Laura, dropping the menu on the table. She tucked her dark, silky hair behind her ear.
Her hair was down, yet another oddity in the evening. It had been so long since she had worn it down that she seemed wildly uncomfortable with it, continually pushing it away or back, obviously wishing it was pinned up, as she did for work. Her tucks and fidgets were endearing. Laura was a slight, dark beauty, with the sort of pretty features that occasionally soared to stratospheric heights of beauty in the right light, or at the right moment. She was taller than most women at 5’ 10,” which was not a problem for Chris, who was 6’1.” Laura had been a bit on the thin side when she was younger, and she had developed a set of gawky gestures and habits from her years as an angular, too-tall teenager. Her body had since plumped nicely to slender curves, her features had softened, and she was quite striking.
But she never played the part. She hunched over to reduce her height, brushed her hair from her face or bunned it away, and dressed in such a way that she gave off the distinct impression that she was a mousy-haired, bookish, average-looking girl. (She wasn’t: her hair was dark and shiny, falling in long waves if she let it; her eyes were light brown and glittering, and her figure was the sort most women her age would kill for).
The waiter, meanwhile, seemed to instantly regret his offer to tell them about the specials, and to forget the specials completely, and to be quite annoyed at Chris and Laura for even asking. He picked up the menu and began to read from it, his voice a monotone best described as sarcastic. Then he let it flop onto the table as though it were diseased.
“You need some time to decide,” he half-asked, half-observed. “I’ll get you some drinks. Wine?” Laura looked at Chris.
“Uh... white?” she said, timidly.
“I have a Pet-Nat, a Muscadet, and a white Merlot, but do you really insist on white? Because I have a Cinsault.”
Laura looked bemused.
“The Cinsault sounds perfect, we’ll have a bottle,” Chris said quickly.
The waiter looked pleased, then immediately disappointed. “It’s just... you’re not having the foie gras mousse are you?”
Laura looked at Chris, who had nothing to offer by way of opinion, and then she told the waiter – uncertainly - “”
“It’s ethically sourced,” the waiter objected, suddenly defending the foie gras mousse. Laura’s mouth hung open, and she widened her eyes, as though she could understand better if she did so.
“I don’t think so,” Chris said, smiling at Laura. The waiter nodded, his faith in their choice completely restored. “The Cinsault, then. I’ll be right back with that.”
They leaned in toward each other. “What is that, even?” Laura whispered.
“The wine, or the waiter?” Chris retorted.
Laura smiled. “Both. Either. I have no idea what’s going on.” She leaned back in her chair, looking at the menu. “I feel like our waiter is really disappointed in us,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Chris told her. “And... I’m sorry about this place. Avery recommended it, so I’m not really sure what I expected.”
Laura was holding up her water, a slightly tinted beverage in a strange glass, which had been served with dishes of gelatinous probiotics.
The time was ripe to ditch this place, to run back in time to when they were young, not successful, about to get married because of a pregnancy, and a time when nothing on any menu had been turned into a mousse...
“I think I’m going to order that mousse,” Laura said, smiling. “Just to vex him.”
This took Chris aback a bit: it wasn’t like Laura to be mischievous. Maybe she was in the sort of mood to go for Chinese, maybe she was in the kind of mood to be a little carefree, a little naughty... maybe even to have sex?
But it was too late: the waiter was coming back with the wine, the bottle was open, and there was no way back to a simpler time in a Chinese restaurant. It was 2018, they had been married twelve years, they had steady jobs and a mortgage, a financial adviser and new sofas that matched the rugs and the drapes.
There was no other life.