A/N: This fic is the second story in what I’m now calling my Astronomy series. It’s the continuation of “Intergalactic,” but the focus is now on the partners of Jupiter and Renzo: Rashaun and Madalena, respectively. I don’t expect for “Interplanetary” to be as long as its predecessor, but we’ll see what happens.
Rashaun had a weird little speech impediment that affected how he said the word “you.” It was a mild annoyance when she first met him, but Jupiter barely noticed it now.
“I’ll be over soon, baby. I miss ya. I haven’t seen ya in almost two weeks.”
“All right, Shaun.” Jupiter said. “See you when you get here.”
She hung up her phone and sighed. All she really wanted to do was go back to bed; she wanted to curl up on the side of the bed Renzo slept on, inhale the remnants of his scent and replay memories of their night together. She didn’t want company, but Rashaun had been trying to reach her since last night and it was only fair that she return his call. He wanted to see her; they’d been apart for nearly two weeks. He had to go to a conference and make a presentation to his firm upon returning, and so it kept him busy for the past few days. She didn’t mind his absence.
Jupiter went into her bedroom and looked at the rumpled bed. She had just experienced one of the best nights ever and she wanted to savor it. But she needed to get rid of the evidence that she spent the night with a man not her boyfriend. Jupiter picked up her T-shirt and panties and laid them on the bed. She grabbed the towel from off the bed sheet and put it in the laundry hamper. The spot that the towel covered was now dry and Jupiter made the decision to wash the linens and actually went to remove them before stopping.
I don’t need to hide this from him. We’ve got an open relationship. I know he’s fucked other women and I’ve never said a word about it. I’m going to leave my bed just as it is for now—I do need to wash those sheets—and I won’t hide what I’ve done.
She went into the bathroom. Used condoms and their wrappers were in her trash can. Other than that and the disheveled bed—not to mention how she herself looked—there wasn’t much evidence that she’d been with another man.
“Fuck it. He’ll deal with it or not. I don’t care.”
Jupiter put her T-shirt and panties back on and tossed her robe on the bed. She finger-combed her tangled curls and rummaged through her drawer for a pair of comfy shorts. It was after 11:00. Her stomach rumbled; she ate breakfast and got fucked again nearly five hours ago. It had been absolutely amazing. Her vagina was tender from all of the recent activity. Among other things, Renzo had a bigger dick than Rashaun.
I don’t feel bad about it at all.
Her stomach rumbled again. She started to call Rashaun back to ask him to bring her something to eat, but thought better of it. She didn’t want to drag out what she knew was about to be an unpleasant experience. He was going to be very unhappy. Renzo had told her that in spite of their agreement to an open relationship, Rashaun was going to be unhappy to learn that Jupiter was actually participating in it.
‘He will be upset to learn that you are actually seeing someone else. Men can be extremely selfish.’
Jupiter grabbed an apple out of the fridge, unlocked the front door and sat on her couch with her phone, waiting for him.
* * *
To Jupiter’s surprise, Rashaun entered her house carrying two bags of food and a drink holder from Five Guys. Her stomach seemed to roll over and beg. She hadn’t had Five Guys in a long time and the smell of the fries made her mouth water.
This made her happy. “Please tell me that there is a bacon cheeseburger in that bag with my name on it.”
“Indeed, Jupe. With a side of fries and a Coke, and I got ya a salted caramel shake too.”
This made her very happy. “Oh Shaun…thank you! I’m starving and didn’t know what I wanted…give me that bag! Come, let’s eat in the kitchen.”
They sat in her breakfast nook, where, several hours ago, she ate breakfast with her new lover. Rashaun had for himself two bacon cheese dogs with barbeque sauce. Not much talking took place as they devoured their meal. The caloric avalanche was a blessing to her empty stomach.
Jupiter burped and covered her mouth. “Excuse me. That was so good. I haven’t had Five Guys in about two years. What made you stop there?”
“I was driving and saw the sign and all of a sudden, I absolutely needed to have a bacon cheese dog and a coffee milkshake. It’s okay to splurge every now and then; it’s not like we eat Five Guys on a regular basis.”
Jupiter leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Shaun.”
“That deserves some lip, don’t you think, Jupe?” He turned to face her.
Jupiter hesitated just the tiniest bit. Then she leaned over and gave him a peck on the lips.
“Jupe, you can do better than that. I haven’t kissed you in weeks. Haven’t held you or made love to you in a long time.”
The thought of having sex with Rashaun after a blissful night with Renzo made Jupiter a little queasy. Besides, she was sore. She smiled weakly. “In a little while, maybe. How are things? How have you been? I know you’ve been traveling. How was that accounting conference?”
“I got back from Xerocon about six days ago and had to give a presentation to my peers about what I learned at the conference. It was why I didn’t call ya; I had three days to prepare for my presentation. Ya know I need to impress my bosses; I want to be a junior partner before 35.”
“Shaun, you got at least six years before then. There’s no need to rush. You’ve only been employed there three years. From what you say, your superiors like you, so just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get there.”
“I know. I just got big plans for us and I want to make sure that I’m financially stable enough for when we get married.”
Jupiter nodded. “You’ve actually been thinking about marriage?”
“On and off, ya know. I’m not ready yet, not even close. But that’s a goal. I want us to have a nice apartment downtown and ya can teach science at one of the public schools. Maybe have a couple of kids a few years after that.”
Jupiter just listened. Rashaun knew how she felt about her house, but he didn’t know how she felt about children or teaching high school.
“So I got a five-year plan. Ya know, like the experts say. At the end of the five years, ya will be Mrs. Dr. Riley and I’ll be a Senior Associate at Ngenge, Nave & Nguyen, in position to make junior partner.”
“Rashaun, don’t be so rigid, okay? Life throws curve balls all the time. What happens if none of those things come to fruition?”
“Jupe, that doctorate is yours in a year. I know that to be a fact. That’s happening. I am on track to be a Senior Associate in three more years. That’s happening. We’re going to get married at some point; it’s something we both want, so that’s gonna happen too.”
Jupiter sucked down the last of her milkshake and got sad that there was no more. She said quietly, “Mama and Daddy were supposed to be in the front row, watching me get hooded. That didn’t happen.”
Rashaun touched her chin with one finger. “Baby…don’t be sad. They’re with ya in spirit and I know ya believe that.”
“The point is that nothing is set in stone. I’m listening to your dreams and while I think they’re nice, I feel like you’re setting yourself up for failure. What happens if you do something that might get you fired? What happens if I don’t want to move downtown? What happens if I decide to do post-doc work? What happens if I…if I don’t want to have children?”
Rashaun knocked back the rest of his coffee milkshake. “I’m not stupid enough to get fired, Jupe. Give a brotha some credit. I’m good at what I do. And what’s this nonsense about post-doc work? I thought ya was sick of grad school.”
“Post-doc research isn’t graduate school, Shaun. I actually will get some sort of stipend or salary. I might need to work on some areas that will increase my expertise so that I can get a good faculty position at another university. Dr. Candreva told me that there were some universities that were interested in me possibly joining their faculties.”
Rashaun looked at Jupiter as though she were speaking another language. “I thought ya wanted to be a science teacher?”
Even though she’d confessed to Renzo that sometimes she felt like following in her parents’ footsteps, it was never something she mentioned to Rashaun. “I never told you that. You assumed that because my parents were science teachers and my degrees are all in science. I’m all about the research, Shaun. I love my work. I think I could do good things if I became a professor. You never know where it may lead.”
Rashaun said flatly, “There’s no real money in academia, Jupe. You’d make a lot more teaching public school. Hell, private school even. I ran some numbers and the average professor at a public university in this city makes about sixty to seventy grand a year. You can do a lot better than that.”
Jupiter was starting to get annoyed. “Dr. Candreva brings in almost $180,000 per year.”
“Yeah, but he’s a tenured professor who writes textbooks and grants.”
“Dawnstar pays him $180,000 a year. The royalties from his books and speaking engagements push his income way, way over $200,000 and he says I have the ability to do the same.”
“He said that to ya?”
“And ya believe him?”
“Why would he lie to me, Shaun? That man has been Team Jupiter Jordan for eight whole years. That’s longer than I’ve known you. Dr. Candreva wouldn't take on the responsibility of educating me and training me if he didn’t believe I had what it takes.”
Rashaun shrugged. “Don’t get upset, Jupe. I just believe there’s other more viable options out there for a woman with ya skill set.” She was smart enough to do anything she wanted to do, but Rashaun couldn’t think of anything she could do with a doctorate in astronomy other than be a high school science teacher.
Jupiter shook her head, trying not to get agitated, but this was one of the reasons why she’d begun to sour on her relationship with Rashaun. “You don’t believe in me.”
“I didn’t say that.”
She got up abruptly and began clearing the table. “You may as well have. You just rattled off your five-year plan without considering if it matches my own.”
“Why wouldn’t it? We’ve talked about this, Jupe. We agreed.”
Jupiter threw the bags and containers in the trash can and wiped down the table. She walked into her living room and stared at her phone, wishing she could talk to Renzo. She put the phone on the end table. Rashaun got up and sat next to her on the couch.
“Jupe, what’s wrong? What’s the matter?”
“You’re not listening to me anyway, so I’m not about to waste my time telling you.”
“What do ya mean I’m not listening?”
“Did you hear me say I don’t want to move downtown?”
“Why not, Jupe? It’ll be close to the job—”
“Your job! Not mine!”
“But if ya get a job at one of the public—”
“I DON’T want to get a job at one of the public schools downtown! I DON’T want to give up my house!”
Rashaun stared at his girlfriend for a long moment. He looked like he was confused. “Jupiter, what in the hell is going on with ya? I didn’t come here to fight!” Quite the opposite.
“I’m not giving up my house. I’m not moving downtown. I’m not going to become a science teacher. I’m not sure I want to have kids. Does any of that coincide with your five-year plan?”
“Jupiter, ya could make a mint selling this house. It’s worth over $350,000 on location alone. Ya dad was smart to buy it when he did before the price of the real estate in Catamaran Beach skyrocketed. Ya pay off the remainder of the mortgage and we could use that money to—”
Jupiter shook her head. “This is what I’m talking about. You’re not listening! I’m not selling my house. It’s mine. All mine. I don’t have to pay not one cent on a mortgage or in rent. Why in the hell would I give that up?”
Rashaun stared at her, his eyes wide. “Ya mean ya own this house outright? There’s no mortgage?” The hell? Why hadn’t she told him?
“No! My father paid for it in full when he won the lottery and he willed it to me.” Jupiter’s father had also left her a strong financial portfolio so that she would always be taken care of, as long as she was careful with it. Rashaun didn’t know that either and she sure as fuck wasn’t about to mention it.
“I didn’t know that. Ya never said anything about it. I assumed ya had a mortgage, but I couldn’t figure out how ya could pay it on a TA’s salary.”
‘And never thought to ask,’ he realized. ‘What other secrets does she have?’
“Well, you assumed incorrectly. Now do you see why I don’t want to sell it?”
“It’s a long way from downtown, Jupiter. It takes me at least 45 minutes to an hour to get here from work. That’s why I can’t see ya every day, baby. Ya live all the way out here and sometimes downtown traffic is insane. Don’t ya want to spend more time together?”
“I don’t want to have children.” Jupiter thought she may as well entertain herself listen to him try to rationalize that. She still wasn’t 100% sure, but she tossed it out there anyway to see what he would do.
“Why the hell not?”
“I don’t think I have the patience or selflessness, and I’m not sure I’d be a good mother. Also, I don’t want to be bothered and if you’re a parent, you’re always bothered.”
“That’s bullshit. Ya will be a fantastic mother. I’ve known that from jump.”
Jupiter stared up at her ceiling. “It’s like you don’t know me at all, Shaun.” A part of her had suspected as much, but this conversation brought it all to the forefront. “Everything you want for your life, I don’t want for mine.”
“Ya wasn’t always like this, Jupe! Shit, when we were back in college, ya wanted the same things!”
“I was twenty-one, Shaun. Twenty-fucking-one! You can’t hold 27-year-old me to my 21-year-old dreams! I’m not that girl anymore and haven’t been for years! Because you don’t listen or pay attention, you’ve missed the fact that I’ve changed. All you see is what you want to see. You think I’m a trophy, a reward. You want me to give up my house, my career dreams, and my bodily autonomy so that it fits what you want your life to be like: Partner at Ngenge, Nave and Nguyen with a PhD teacher-wife and two kids. Nope! I don’t want any of that.”
Rashaun stared at her, confused. “When did all this change for ya, Jupe?”
“I’m not even sure when. There just came a point where I wanted nothing but to focus on my research. I enjoy the conferences. I enjoy connecting with like minds. I like working in the observatory. I got a lot of pride and pleasure in helping Dr. Candreva write that science book for children. I want to do more of that. I like teaching freshman astronomy. I like working with master’s students. I love what I do and you shat on it like it means nothing. Maybe it doesn’t to you, but it’s everything to me.”
Rashaun blinked rapidly. Who was this imposter? “How do ya feel about me, Jupiter? Should I assume ya still love me?” Had he been blissfully unaware of her true feelings?
She met him head-on. “I care for you, Shaun. But love? I don’t. Not for a while.”
Rashaun stood up and walked over to the porch doors. None of this made any sense. Prior to today, Jupiter had always been agreeable to whatever he wanted. And while he enjoyed the freedom aspect of their relationship, he knew that Jupiter was the woman he wanted to spend his life with. He had assumed the same of her.
Now to hear that she didn’t want the life he planned to give her, that she didn’t want his babies, that she didn’t love him and didn’t want him, period…there was no way he could have been this wrong about her. No. She had to be under stress. Her major professor was killing her spirit with the way he was butchering her dissertation and she was taking it out on him. There was no way she meant all of what she was saying.
“Ya talking nonsense, Jupe. I’ve been gone a while and I’ve been very busy, but I know ya. I know ya, Jupiter Jordan. Ya schoolwork’s got ya stressed all the way out. We need to take a break and go somewhere. We need to reconnect with each other. I love ya and I know ya love me. Ya just tired and can’t see ya way past ya dissertation. I’ll be glad when ya get away from that bastard. He’s driving ya crazy.”
Jupiter rubbed her temples. Again, he didn’t retain a word she said. “How many women have you fucked this year, Shaun?”
“How many women have you fucked this year?”
“Why would ya ask me that?”
“Because I want to know.”
“Are ya jealous?”
“Answer the fucking question, Shaun. How many?”
He sighed loudly, annoyed and agitated. Something had happened in his absence. He had tried to contact her yesterday, but she never responded to his texts. He should have hopped in his car and come to her house last night. But when he didn’t hear back from her, he decided to spend the evening with one of his side chicks—Shara was her name. She was a decent lady, very pretty, but average in other areas; similar to his other side dishes. Good enough to date and fuck but not marry.
“Three or four.”
“This year alone?”
“Same three or four, Jupiter! I’m not out here fucking every single woman I see!” Though he was enjoying being able to do so whenever he wanted and not necessarily with his rotation. Life was too short.
“That’s good to know.”
“Ya can’t be mad about this, Jupe! We agreed to an open relationship.”
“I know we did. Want to know how many guys I’ve fucked?”
Rashaun snorted and then took a deep breath. He was trying to remain calm. Jupiter was hysterical and it was not a normal state for her. She was upset about something—he wasn’t entirely sure what—and it was better to let the storm pass over. “None. Ya not like that, Jupe.” He knew that she wasn’t the type to run around with different dudes. Her schoolwork was her priority. Dating other guys? Not so much.
“Not like what? You think you know me so well?” Jupiter thought about Renzo putting a dent in her pussy with that marvelous dick he had and forced herself not to smile.
“I do know ya,” he said. “Since we agreed not to be exclusive, ya haven’t been with anyone else. I would know if ya had.”
Jupiter burst out laughing. “How would you know, Shaun? What would give it away?”
He shrugged. “I would just know. But ya not like that, baby. Ya never gave me any cause to think ya wanted another man in ya life. I know we agreed to an open relationship, but that was because ya didn’t want me to get on ya nerves when ya had to focus on school. It wasn’t so that ya could sleep around with other men.”
“So you don’t believe I would cheat on you?”
“No. I don’t.” Then he looked at her as if a light suddenly came on. “Did ya?”
Jupiter shrugged her shoulders. “What do you think?”
Rashaun started to get agitated. “Jupe, did ya sleep with another man? Did ya have sex with somebody else?”
‘He will be upset to learn that you are actually seeing someone else. Men can be extremely selfish.’
“Yes,” she said. “I fucked another man. Just one, but that one was plenty.” Lord, was he ever.
The expression on Rashaun’s face rivaled that of a thundercloud. “Ya…ya cheated on me?”
Renzo was right. Rashaun wasn’t happy to learn of her…indiscretion. “No,” she said. “We have an open relationship. You see other people, I see other people…that’s what that means.”
“Ya fucked another dude?!?!”
“He’s not a dude. He’s a grown-ass man. Why are you so upset? You just owned up to having three or four sideline hoes.”
“Because—because…ya don’t…ya wouldn’t…”
“Oh, so you thought the open relationship applied only to you?”
Rashaun closed his eyes and balled his fists. He took several deep breaths trying to calm down. “Ya let another man fuck ya? Ya allowed another man to stick his dick in ya? Ya gave some sorry-ass punk rights to my—ya—pussy?”
“I own the rights to my pussy, Rashaun. And now I know how you really feel. I suspected it, but now I know for sure. You don’t own me. You don’t control me. You don’t get to dictate what I do, how I do it, or who I do it to. And yes, I let another man all up in it. I let him bust all kinds of nuts on me and in me. How is that different from what you’ve been doing with your mini-harem?”
“Ya lying,” he said. “Ya trying to get back at me for earlier.”
“Get back at you for what? Go look in my bedroom and bathroom, see for yourself.”
Rashaun stomped down the hall to Jupiter’s bedroom and opened the door. She sat back on the couch and waited. A minute or so later, he was back.
“That’s why ya didn’t answer my texts?”
“Rashaun, you know I don’t want to be bothered on Friday nights. You know that’s my private alone time.”
“Private my fucking ass!! Ya wasn’t alone last night! I KNEW I should have come over!”
Jupiter decided to throw salt in the wound. She was over this scene and she was tired. “He said you’d be upset when you found out. Why are you dismayed about something you’ve been doing for the past three or so years? Why am I not allowed to take advantage of our agreement?”
“Do ya love him?”
“What? No, it’s not like that. Do you love your side chicks?”
“Of course not. It’s just sex and companionship when I can’t be with ya.”
Jupiter rolled her eyes. That last part was a fucking lie, but she wasn’t going to call him on it. “Honestly, Rashaun…I think the best thing to do is to end this. We’ve grown apart and we don’t share the same goals. You want a life that doesn’t interest me, and you don’t seem to care about the things I want.”
“That’s not tru—”
“I don’t want to teach at a public school. I don’t want to sell my house and move downtown. I don’t love you. I don’t want to marry you. I don’t want to have children. I don’t want what you want, Shaun. It’s better if you find a woman who does. I’m not trying to hurt you, but hell, here we are.”
He was incredulous. “Ya don’t care about me at all, Jupe? How long has this gone on?”
“At least a year. I didn’t want to rock the boat, not with my schedule the way it is. But there’s no need to sit on it. It’s not fair to either of us, Shaun. I want you to be happy—I do—but you won’t be with me. Our paths have deviated and I’m going to follow mine. You follow yours. Go for that promotion and N, N and N. Find a good woman, marry her and put her in that downtown apartment. Have a couple of kids. You can have the life you want.”
“But I want ya in that life with me.”
“Why, Shaun? I just told you how I feel, so why in the hell would you want a woman who doesn’t love you and doesn’t share your dream?”
He looked at her, searching for the right words. “I thought we were good together. I thought we could be a power couple.”
“Not something I’m interested in.”
“Jupiter…ya not thinking straight. I don’t know what I did to upset ya, but I’m sorry. I apologize. Ya didn’t need to go and fuck another guy to get back at me. Ya just tired. Ya schoolwork’s got ya all messed up in the head and ya not thinking about what ya saying. I love ya. I’ve loved ya since that frat party. I’ll be good to ya, treat ya right, and give ya anything ya want. Don’t leave me.”
“Again, you’re not listening. What must I say for you to get it through your head that I don’t want to be with you anymore?” Jupiter wondered if she should start to worry. Rashaun was normally very levelheaded, but now it seemed like he was a bit off. Like her words didn’t register.
“Why don’t ya love me?”
Best to be matter-of-fact. “You’re not the man that I want or need. You can’t give me the things I want or need. You don’t support my dreams. You ignore me. The things I want don’t matter to you. And,” she braced herself, “we’re sexually incompatible.”
“Sex between us isn’t good.”
“Says me. You don’t satisfy me, Rashaun. I rarely have an orgasm when we have sex, in spite of me having to put your finger on my clitoris every time.”
He stared at her stupidly. She didn’t like having sex with him. And here he was thinking he was laying the pipe to her liking; thinking that he always left her satisfied. Yeah, he needed help in finding her sweet spots, but didn’t every man need a clitoral tutorial?
“And we don’t kiss because I don’t like kissing you. Are you SURE you want to marry a woman who doesn’t want to kiss you? Do you want a woman who thinks that your stroke game is weak? You can do better than me, Shaun. Please. Let’s end this amicably and go our separate ways.”
Rashaun was still reeling from the sex part. “Amicably???”
“I don’t want to fight. I’m tired. I’ve put this off long enough and it’s not fair to you to be tied to someone who doesn’t want to be tied to you. Let’s just part ways.”
“Who is he?”
“Him. The asshole that fucked ya. Who is he?”
“No one you know and I’m not telling you anything else.”
“Ya was fine before ya let him in. We were fine before ya let him in. He put these ideas in ya head.”
“No one put these ideas in my head. You can’t even acknowledge that I can think for myself. What the hell kind of wife did you think I was going to be? A docile doormat? You don’t know me at all.”
“Ya coming out of nowhere with this, Jupe. A couple of weeks ago, we were happy and now ya telling me ya don’t love me and don’t want me…”
“Shaun, be reasonable. You’re an accountant. Use that level-headedness and hear me: I am breaking up with you. I will always care for you, but I don’t love you and don’t want to be with you. We have nothing more in common. I don’t really want to be with anybody. I just want to be left alone. Go and find you a woman who wants to give you her heart, give you her love, and give you babies. You deserve that. Who knows? Maybe you’ve already found her in one of your side chicks. Get her off the bench and into the game.”
“I feel like a fool,” he said.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” she replied. “You shouldn’t because you aren’t a bad guy. I don’t mind being the villain. Hate me if it helps. But please listen to me; hear me: We are no longer a couple.”
Jupiter got up and retrieved her wallet. She handed Rashaun a $20. “This is for my food you brought. Thanks.”
Rashaun nodded numbly and took the money. “Jupiter…I’m sorry.”
She took his arm and started walking towards the door. He needed to go. “I’ve got some things to do, so you need to leave. Don’t apologize. You have nothing to apologize for, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I had no idea…” he said as he allowed himself to be led. “I don’t even know who ya are anymore.”
Jupiter opened the door. “Take care of yourself,” she said, gently urging him out of it. Rashaun walked out, not sparing her even a brief glance. He went to his car, paused before entering and stared blankly at Jupiter before getting into his car and driving away.
Jupiter closed and locked her door, wondering if she should fear for her safety.
Renzo was home for almost two hours when Madalena emerged from the master bedroom. He was in his office, re-reading Jupiter’s chapter, scribbling notes in the margins. Her dissertation was about the structure of dark matter in galaxies. Renzo read intently, the red ink pen between his lips. He preferred the old-fashioned way of grading student work. He was frowning over a paragraph when he heard a knock on the door. Now that their last child was out of the house, Renzo worked in his office with the door open. Madalena never entered it; she would knock twice on the door if she needed him.
“Renzo, are you hungry?”
“I could do with some lunch.”
“Do you mind if I order something? I’m not in the mood to cook.”
Renzo raised an eyebrow. Since when? Madalena loved to cook, always had. Knowing that, Renzo made sure to buy her a house that had a sizeable kitchen so she could cook to her heart’s delight. “Really, Maddy?”
“I was out late,” she said. “We played cards until almost two in the morning. Laura and I were on a roll.” She leaned against the doorway. “You were out later than I was.”
Renzo stared at her. Madalena was dressed in jeans and a Dawnstar State T-shirt. Her hair was down and she looked tired. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.
“Is it something that we have to talk about?”
“What do you feel like eating?”
“I’m happy with whatever you want to order, Maddy. I’ll meet you in the den in five minutes, okay?”
She nodded and walked away.
* * *
Renzo sat on the couch, eyes closed. He was thinking about Jupiter; how amazing last night and this morning were and how relieved he‘d been to learn that she was perfectly willing to become his mistress. He wasn’t stupid enough to think that it would last; he knew that once she got tired of it, she’d end it. But last night and this morning were sublime…
Madalena’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “I ordered a penne smoked sausage casserole from PotRoast. I’ll warm some bread and throw a salad together to go with it. There's leftover lemon cream cake from Wednesday.”
Renzo was very careful with his next words: “You ordered a penne casserole from who?” Madalena normally made pasta by hand; a recipe handed down from her great-grandmother. To his knowledge, she had never used PotRoast before.
“PotRoast is a meal delivery service, Renzo. They’re connected with a lot of restaurants in the area and you order from one of their restaurants and someone brings it to you. I had lunch with Laura and Rita at Fire Mountain Grill last week and we ordered the penne sausage casserole. It’s amazing. It’s absolutely delicious. You'll love it.”
Renzo shrugged, thinking of last night’s meal from PotRoast. “I’m fine with it if you are. I’m just used to you always cooking.” She normally cooked at least four days per week, in spite of having a full-time job as a kindergarten teacher. Cooking was one of her passions.
“With Lazzaro gone now, I don’t feel the need to cook nearly as much unless you request something specific.” She sat next to him. “What’s going on, Renzo?”
He stared at his wife of 28 years. Regardless of their issues, Renzo loved Madalena deeply. She had always been supportive and she took good care of him and their children. She was a wonderful wife and mother and once things were rolling in his favor, he rewarded her love and loyalty with an upgraded wedding ring, a beautiful five-bedroom brick house on an acre of land in Roseland Hills, a brand-new car, and a yearly solo vacation to any place of her choice. Theoretically, Madalena didn’t have to work, but she loved teaching kindergarten and didn’t want to give it up. Whatever she wanted, Renzo got it for her. Renzo knew that Madalena's so-called friends were envious of the life he provided for her, especially Laura.
“I’m not sure how to say it other than to just say it, Maddy.”
“I’ve…well…I’ve found…well…I finally found a…lady friend.”
Madalena looked at him, confused. “What? What are you talking about?”
“Do you remember when you started having trouble with menopause a couple of years back?”
Madalena closed her eyes. “Ugh, don’t remind me.” She was still in the thick of it.
“Do you remember what you told me that night, a few weeks after I left our bed?”
Madalena tossed her hair back over her shoulder, sighing. “How could I forget, Renzo?” It still pained her to think about it, even two years later.
“Well…well, I finally found myself in a position where…I found someone.”
It was as if it took Madalena a moment or two to catch up. “Wait, are you telling me that you found someone just now?”
“You mean…you mean you didn’t get somebody immediately? You’re just now deciding to…exercise your option?”
“No, I didn’t, and yes, I did.”
“Really, Lorenzo?” She called him Lorenzo when she was serious about something or upset about something. “You haven’t…stepped out at all?”
“Not until last night,” he said.
The look on her face was one of shock. “Why?”
“Why? Maddy, give me some credit. I had to come to grips with the fact that I could no longer make love to you. You’re my wife and I love you. I had no desire to find someone else until I dealt with that. And then I buried myself in my work. I wasn’t interested in having a…friend…for the sake of sex. There has to be a connection; otherwise, it doesn’t work for me.”
Madalena couldn’t keep her face straight. “So you’ve…connected…with another woman?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Madalena closed her eyes. She clasped her hands together and took a deep breath. “I didn’t know you…how long did you wait?”
“A little over two years. Like I said, this is a recent event.”
Madalena’s eyes popped open. “You, my husband…a man with quite the drive…waited two years to have sex?” She found it hard to believe. Her Renzo was a man who loved lovemaking and up until her unexpected condition, she loved making it with him. Not being able to hold or be held by him led to many a teary night. She still missed his presence in their bed, even though two years had passed.
“Did you think I would react immediately? Like go out the very next morning and find a willing woman?”
“I didn’t know what to think, Renzo. My body, my emotions, and my mind were going crazy and I couldn’t make a single rational decision. I just…I didn’t want you to be angry with me for cutting you off so abruptly.”
“Maddy, I was never angry with you. Just the situation we suddenly found ourselves in. I was shocked that you actually suggested I find a…friend. I didn’t know what to think or how to act, so I didn’t act. I just waited. I threw myself into my work so I wouldn’t have to think about it or deal with it until…well, until.”
Madalena looked into Renzo’s gorgeous hazel green eyes. It was his eyes and smile that originally caught her attention. He had good teeth, and thank the Virgin Mother that their children inherited their father’s smile and not hers. She was still trying to fathom Renzo waiting two years to have sex again, and wondering whom he chose to have it with.
Her voice was tentative. “Was it…Marcelle?”
Renzo looked at her, confused. “Who?”
“Marcelle. Don’t you remember meeting her? Marcelle Mazzeo; Laura’s sister-in-law.”
Renzo frowned. He didn’t remember meeting anyone by that name. “I don’t recall. When was I supposed to have met her?”
Madalena looked at him oddly. “You don’t remember? Laura had a cocktail party about 18 months ago and Marcelle was there. She’s a biochemist and works downtown at Neptune Labs. Laura introduced us and told Marcelle what you did for a living and you started talking to each other. I stepped back and watched you two interact.”
Renzo’s mind whirled. He remembered the cocktail party; he hadn’t wanted to go, but Madalena insisted. There were a lot of people there and he recollected talking to some of them, but he had no memory of a Marcelle. He mainly remembered wanting to go home. He hated cocktail parties.
Madalena said, “I thought you two hit it off well. You guys were very chatty. She was curious about what you did for a living. How can you not remember her, Renzo? She stood out.”
Renzo shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t, Maddy. I’m sorry. I can’t even remember what she looked like. I talk to so many people.”
Madalena took a deep breath. “She was my height, dark curly hair, shoulder-length. Big brown eyes, nice smile. Slender, small breasts, long legs, great thighs. She wore a killer little black dress with grommet-studded stilettos. You don’t remember her? At all?” Madalena thought Marcelle was quite unforgettable.
Renzo was flabbergasted. “Apparently I’m supposed to.”
“Well, I guess it’s safe to say that it wasn’t Marcelle you…befriended.”
“Why would you assume that I would, Madalena?”
“Well, she’s your type, and she’s a scientist, so I figured it would work out okay. That, at some point, she’d be available to you if you wanted her.”
Renzo’s mouth opened but no words came out. Jupiter’s words rang in his ear. ‘Did she have someone picked out for you?’
His own words bounced around in his head. I don’t have a type.
Renzo stared at her. “Maddy, I don’t have a type. Where’d you get that from?”
“I just made an observation. I used to look like Marcelle before we had kids. I figured it’d be okay.”
Renzo’s head jerked forward, as if he’d been hit. “You thought that I would take a sexual interest in a perfect stranger just because you—for some bizarre reason—thinks she looks the way you believe you used to look?”
Madalena shrugged. “Clearly I was wrong.”
“Let me clear one thing up, Maddy. You’re beautiful; you always have been and you always will be. There’s nothing wrong with the way you look and I disagree that Marsha—or whatever her name is—looks like you. I have no memory of her; not even close. Why would you want me to…be friends…with someone you know?”
“I just thought I would be able to handle the situation better if I knew who your friend was. If I kept her close. I did not know that you hadn’t…entertained…anyone at the time.”
“Honestly Maddy, I felt it was better to focus on my research instead of running around like a horny devil, causing problems for the both of us. I didn’t want to embarrass you like that, nor me. It may have put some distance between us, me throwing myself into my work the way I did, but like I said, I had to process the sudden change in our marriage. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was running on fumes; that it was only a matter of time before my need eclipsed my resolve and I cheated on you.”
“I appreciate that,” she said. Renzo worked a lot to begin with, always had, so she hadn’t really seen any difference in his work habits after they stopped sleeping together. He was away a lot, but it was all about work. That whole time, he had been protecting her from the shame of an illicit affair instead of actually having one.
Renzo decided to put it on out there. “Is there someone you’d prefer I be with? Someone like Michelle what’s-her-name?”
Madalena rubbed her fingers together and fiddled with her wedding ring. It took her a long time to respond. “Someone like me, Lorenzo.”
He sighed. Oh fuck. That’s a huge problem right there. Jupiter was as different from Madalena as night was from day.
“I appreciate that you didn’t go crazy trying to have an affair after I gave you permission to do so. I didn’t know you’d gone without any sexual intimacy for two years. I love you more for putting me first in that situation. But you have needs that must be met and if not by me—your wife of almost thirty years—then by my proxy.”
“Maddy…it doesn’t work that way. I didn’t even know that was your objective—for me to meet a woman that you’d be comfortable with me having sex with. I can’t just sleep with another woman. Like I said, there has to be a connection. You know me well enough to know I don’t connect with just anybody. It’s probably why I don’t remember Marcy what’s-her-name.”
“What kind of connection are you talking about, Lorenzo?” Just what in the hell did he mean by that?
“It’s not just physical, if that’s what you mean. I’m too old for that sort of thing. It’s got to be on a deeper level than that.”
“Such as? I need specifics, Lorenzo. I need to know.”
Renzo stared at her, keeping his expression even. He understood now. So you can go find a suitable woman to be my mistress and give her your seal of approval. As long as she looks like you.
Madalena would never approve of Jupiter then, if that was the case.
He sighed. “It would be nice if she were interested in astronomy, physics, or any other science at a high level. If she works at a university or other research institute, a professor or something along those lines…someone who knows what it’s like to work in academia and respects it. A like mind, Maddy.”
“That is why I don’t understand your inability to connect with Marcelle. She’s a research biochemist at Neptune Labs. She’s all of what you just described.”
Renzo shrugged and his stomach growled. “I don’t know what to tell you, Madalena. I don’t. I can barely remember her name; much less muster any interest in being with her. And how can you be sure that she would have wanted me in the same way?”
“Oh please, Lorenzo! Any respectable heterosexual woman would want you in that way! I’m well aware of this.” Madalena’s cadre of girlfriends stayed reminding her about her hot-as-fuck husband, especially Laura. She knew they wondered how a stud like Renzo ended up with a plain Jane like her. “Besides, I saw the way Marcelle was looking at you while you two talked. She would have had sex with you right there on the spot if it had been an appropriate thing to do.”
Jupiter’s words rang in Renzo’s mind. ‘On sight. Sometimes it’s like that for us girls.’
Madalena continued. “You were practically charming her right out of her panties. So why wouldn’t I think you two are compatible?”
Renzo shrugged again. “I’m not sure what you want me to say, Maddy. I found a friend; you don’t know her and you don’t travel in the same circles, so you’ll never meet her. I won’t embarrass you and neither will she.”
Madalena looked at her husband. “I want to meet her.”
Renzo shook his head once, hard. "No." Jupiter would have a shit fit. “Out of the question.”
“I want to meet her, Lorenzo. I should know the woman who’s fucking my husband, don’t you think?”
“I’m sorry, Maddy, but no. No. You’re not going to meet her and she does not want to meet you. She knows her role in this arrangement.”
Madalena glared at her husband. “Those decisions should be made by me, Lorenzo! I’m the injured party here! She does not get to choose or decide on anything!”
“You told me I could have a girlfriend and that you’d be fine with it. You didn’t lay out any stipulations or rules regarding that. After I thought about it, I realized that you trusted me to be discreet. I plan to honor that. So no, you can’t meet her. You won’t meet her. Why would you want to? Why do you care so much?”
“Like I said, I can handle this situation if I know who it is my husband is with. Does she work at DSU? Is she in your department? What’s she like?”
Renzo shook his head. “I’m sorry, Maddy. I’m not going to answer any questions about the friend you said I could have. It really isn’t your business.” He didn’t want to be harsh, but he truly believed Madalena wasn’t thinking straight. “What purpose does it serve for you to know who she is?”
Madalena’s eyes glassed over. She looked like she was about to cry. Renzo leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “Maddy, I don’t want to hurt you and don’t want you to be distressed over this. If you had certain expectations of me, then you should have told me that night. At least I would have had some idea about what was going on in your head. But you can’t dictate whom I choose to be with. All you really need to know is that I love you; she knows that I love you, and I’m not going to leave you. She has no delusions of grandeur, no dreams of becoming the next Mrs. Candreva, nothing like that at all. I will spend Friday evenings and Saturdays with her unless you need me. My absence won’t detract from our schedule, but I do need to have that time with her and hope you understand.”
“A whole day and a half per week?”
“More like a day. I’ll be home Saturday evenings.”
A lone tear slid out of Madalena’s eye. “Does she look like me, Renzo?”
“Maddy, why does it matter how she looks?”
“I need to know,” she said as another tear rolled down her cheek. “Does she look anything at all like me?”
Renzo sighed and took one of her hands. “No. And that is all I will tell you. It shouldn’t matter to you how she looks.”
“I’d feel a whole lot better if you were making love to someone who looks like me, Lorenzo. At least I’d know I am still on your mind while you’re taking care of your biological imperatives. I couldn’t bear it if…if I lost that part of you as well.”
Renzo caressed her hand. He had no idea how to respond to that. He loved Madalena, but she was nowhere in mind when he made love to Jupiter. Not even close. Renzo knew that when he was with Jupiter, he was 100% with her and it couldn’t be helped. He had pined for her for far too long.
“I don’t know how to respond to that, Maddy.”
She took his other hand and squeezed them; thin tears sliding down her face. “Please let me find you a suitable mistress, Renzo. I can deal with this a whole lot better if I have a say in it.”
“I’m sorry, Maddy. It’s too late. I have what I need and I don’t require multiple women. I wish I’d known how you felt about all this initially, but I can’t change what’s done. Please accept it and leave it be. Like I said, I won’t embarrass you.”
Madalena let his hands go and got up, wiping her face. She didn’t know what to say or how to respond. This whole situation was hers in the making; she should have given her husband strict directions on the kind of woman he could have. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about where his head was when it wasn’t with her. She knew what kind of lover Renzo was, and that connection he kept talking about he needed to have—those two factors combined could lead to more than just sex between him and his mistress. If she was able to reach Renzo on a level not many others could get to, then that made her dangerous.
Madalena didn’t know what to do.
Renzo stood up and pulled her close. “Don’t worry, honey. It’s not going to last forever. And like I said, I’m not leaving you. I love you. I always have. You’re my Madalena, the mother of my children and the love of my life. I’m sorry that we’re in this situation, but it can’t be helped. I need you to be happy, baby. How can I make you happy without giving you the thing you want most right now?”
Madalena wrapped her arms around her husband and pressed her forehead against his chin. “All I really want is for us to be the way we used to be, Renzo. I hate that I can’t…I hate that I even suggested you get a mistress. I didn’t know what to do; I just didn’t want to lose you.”
“You won’t lose me, Maddy. I’ll say it every day if you need to hear it. But I need you to understand that certain things are now in place and it’s too late for me to change them.”
“So soon?” she said. “Last night was your first night with…her…and she’s already claimed you?”
“No,” he said, stroking her hair. “That was all me and she agreed to it. It frees up your weekend, love. You’re free to do whatever you want and you don’t have to check in with me. We’ll still go to Mass on Sundays if you like, and the week is ours to do with what we want if neither of us are working. Lazzo is gone now, so it's just us two.”
Madalena’s voice cracked. “Just tell me, Renzo…is she white?”
Renzo continued to stroke her hair. “I’m not going to tell you anything, Maddy. Stop asking. Stop torturing yourself.”
“I miss you,” she said, her voice thick with tears. “Our bed is so…empty. I feel so alone without you beside me, Renzo.” The only time she didn’t was when she got hit with a hot flash in the middle of the night. They were extremely uncomfortable and only then, she was grateful that she didn’t wake him up with her discomposure.
“Really?” he said. Once he got his emotions under control, he didn’t go back to sleeping beside her because he thought she’d gotten used to sleeping alone and he didn’t want to disturb her. “I thought you’d gotten used to sleeping by yourself.”
“I have, but it’s not without sadness or loneliness.”
He put his hands on her cheeks and looked into her eyes. “May I come back?”
Madalena nodded and stopped holding her tears in check. “Please.”
Renzo kissed her forehead and then her lips. “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“I don’t know. I thought you couldn’t stand the idea of lying next to me without being able to touch me.”
He held her in his arms. “I couldn’t. It took me a long time to get through that. By then, I thought you were fine by yourself; that you didn’t have to deal with the pressure of me wanting to have sex and you were able to get the sleep that you need. And there was that whole hot flash thing. Are you still having those?”
“I am,” she said. “That’s the only time I don’t mind sleeping alone because I’ll wake you up.”
“I’m sure I can handle it,” he said. He kissed her again and let her go before looking at the clock on the wall. “When did you order the food?”
Madalena looked at the clock. “I’d better go make the salad and warm the bread.”
* * *
That night, Madalena took a shower and put on one of her pretty satin nightgowns; something she hadn’t worn in over a year. She hoped that she wouldn’t suffer a hot flash while in bed; she was looking forward to sleeping beside her husband again and didn’t want anything interrupting that.
She turned back the bed and sat down on it, wondering when he would join her. After their meal, he went back to work and she relaxed on the settee in her sitting room and read a book. Madalena felt a little better about things; she and Renzo clearly needed to have that conversation, but she was still desperate to know the woman he had connected with. She meant it when she told him that she wanted him to be with a woman that looked like her, but Madalena could glean from Renzo’s reluctance to share details that whoever the woman was, she didn’t look anything at all like her. It irked her; it was stuck inside her mind like an itch that couldn’t be scratched.
‘Let it go for now,’ she told herself. ‘You have a victory; your husband has come back to your bed…don’t ruin it by pestering him about her.’
Madalena turned. Renzo was standing in the doorway in his usual sleeping attire: a T-shirt and pajama bottoms. She thought he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Still, even after 30 years together.
“Can I come in?”
“Of course,” she said. “You don’t have to ask me that.”
He entered the bedroom, went around to his usual side and then got in bed with his wife. Madalena pulled the covers up and curled up next to him. He put an arm around her and began to rub her back. Madalena laid her head on his chest and slid her hand underneath his T-shirt. She had not touched her husband like this in two years. The feel of him caused her to close her eyes and sigh in love and in relief. She traced his muscles with her fingers, enjoying the way he felt and allowed her hand to go wherever it wanted.
“Is it okay if I do this?” she suddenly thought to ask. “I haven’t touched you in so long. It won’t…frustrate you, will it?”
“No,” he said, brushing a kiss against her forehead. Jupiter had taken all of the edges off and he could handle something as lightweight as Madalena touching his chest. “I don’t mind. I’ll be all right.”
Madalena continued to caress him, sighing contentedly. She thought that now, she would finally be able to have a legitimate good night’s sleep…as long as the hot flashes didn’t come.
“I’ve always loved you. From the day we met, my heart was yours. There hasn’t been a time when I’ve never not loved you. You have given me everything I could ever want. You’ve always done right by me, as you promised my parents you would. I love you more than you’ll ever know and I will never get over the ache not being able to make love to you causes me. All I have is this. Please let me have this.”
Jupiter’s words echoed in his mind. ‘Don’t hurt Madalena. It cost her more than you’ll ever know to tell you that you could have another woman in your life to do the things she can no longer do…I won’t do anything that might shame her. So you make sure you do the same.’
Renzo had to admit; it was nice lying beside his wife again. He realized he had missed her as well. “I love you too, Maddy. Everything will be fine. Just…just let me have what you said I could have and we’ll be all right. Don’t concern yourself with who she is, what she looks like, what she does, or anything of the sort. You have nothing to worry about.”
Madalena didn’t respond to that, because the need to know—the itch—was still there. She would make every attempt to ignore it, but it was lodged in the forefront of her mind. She had to figure out a way to overlook it if it meant having Renzo back in their bed. But an itch was an itch, and itches had to be scratched.