A/N: I’m gonna ride this train until the wheels fall off. I’m not sure where this story is going to lead; I’m just glad to be writing again. This, the third entry in the Astronomy series, takes us back to literal star-crossed lovers Renzo and Jupiter, one week after the events of “Intergalactic” and “Interplanetary.”
Jupiter’s Friday morning meeting with Renzo was scheduled for 10:00. She got to campus at 9:30, checked her mail cubby and dropped her bag off at her cubicle. Oliver Kinsley, her office neighbor and Dr. Hu’s TA, was sitting at his desk when she arrived.
“Hi Jupiter,” he said, smiling at her. Oliver was a handsome ginger with bright blue eyes, a good sense of humor and was an easy-going sort. He always made sure to say hello whenever he saw her.
“Morning, Oliver. How’s it going?”
“Would you believe Dr. Hu has finally given me positive feedback on my Chapter Three? We’ve been dancing around it for nearly four months. I’ve written and re-written it at least three times and every time, he butchers it and gouges out my soul. I should be ready to submit my prospectus to my committee and schedule my first defense by the end of this month.”
“Congrats, Oliver! Believe me, I know how stressful that can be. Dr. Candreva and I went head up for nearly an entire year before he was satisfied with my prospectus.”
“A whole year?”
“He would not allow me to begin data collection until I had the first three chapters written and approved by him before sending it to my committee. Getting his approval is akin to being a masochist.”
“Oh that blows,” Oliver said, staring at her. “Dr. Hu at least let me start collecting some data while working on my prospectus.”
Jupiter shrugged. “Well, they’re different in their methods and it is what it is.”
Oliver leaned over her cubicle wall. “So Jupiter…what are you doing tonight?”
Jupiter looked up at him. “What?”
“What are you doing tonight? Are you free? A group of us are going to go to Zuzu’s Bar for some drinks around 6. Zuzu’s has a fantastic Happy Hour menu. Everyone’s coming.”
“I’m not sure,” she said. She most assuredly was not free; she was planning on having company. “I don’t think I am.”
Oliver looked wounded. “You never hang out with us, Jupe!”
“I’m a loner and a homebody, Ollie, and it just so happens I’ve made other plans for this particular evening. I never know how my feedback from Dr. Candreva will go, so it will either be a small celebration or I’m going to get drunk. He stresses the shit out of me either way, so I prefer to do either of those things alone. Sorry.”
Oliver sighed. “Well, can we at least get together for a meal before you graduate?”
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
“You keep turning me down.”
“Keep trying, Oliver. Maybe one day I won’t.” Jupiter smiled at him and got up from her desk. “I’m off to pick up my chapter. Here’s hoping it’s not covered in blood.” She patted him on the shoulder as she walked off. “Hope springs eternal.”
Jupiter smiled as she left the grad office. While she was cool with all the graduate students in the Department of Astronomy & Physics, she remained aloof most of the time. A few years ago, there was a bit of a scandal in the department and some of the grad students got caught up in it. Once everything finally got sorted out, the then department head had to step down and there was a schism in the grad office until that professor resigned from the DAP. The grad students who were on the same side as that particular professor found it tough getting over the mess and one of them ended up following the professor to another university. Jupiter was smart enough not to choose a side and emerged unscathed from the debacle. For the others, it was not so easy.
Jupiter was in the main office, waiting to be summoned. She sat on the couch and fiddled with her phone while she waited. She looked up to see a young woman enter the office and check in with the receptionist, who then waved her over to where Jupiter was. The woman sat down on the couch next to Jupiter.
“Hi,” she said.
Jupiter looked at her. “Hello.”
“Are you a student here?”
Jupiter chuckled. “Yes. It never ends, it feels like.”
“I’m transferring here from Sun Valley. I’m supposed to meet with one of the professors about the program.”
“Physics or Astronomy?”
“Physics, but I do want to take some astronomy courses. What’s your focus?”
“Astrophysics. I’m into dark matter.”
The woman nodded. “Do you like it here?”
“I love it,” Jupiter said. “But it’s not easy. Dawnstar’s Department of Astronomy & Physics has an excellent reputation and the faculty takes steps to make sure it stays that way. The professors can be merciless. Are you here for the Master’s program or the PhD?”
Just then, Renzo walked into the office, greeted the receptionist, and walked past Jupiter and the young woman without sparing a glance. He knocked on one of the internal office doors—Dr. Hu’s—before opening it and sticking his head in.
Jupiter smiled to herself. He looked absolutely delicious. Black Ferragamo trousers with suspenders, a gray pinstriped Brooks Brothers shirt with pearl cufflinks, a fierce pair of Jimmy Choos, and not a hair out of place. As usual. Even though she’d seen him on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as part of their normal schedule, both of them acted like nothing had happened between them, but here at the end of the week, Jupiter’s resolve was failing her. He was so handsome and she was so horny.
The young woman stared at him as he walked past. “Holy shit! Who is that?”
Jupiter couldn’t help it; she had a full-on girl moment. She thought: ‘That’s my man.’ She said: “That’s Dr. Candreva. He’s an astronomy professor and the Observatory Director.”
“Sweet God, he’s hot! Fuck me, I’ve never seen a professor that fine! Good heavens, is my meeting with him? I sure as hell hope so.”
Jupiter shrugged. “Well, if your meeting is at 10, I can tell you it won’t be.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m meeting him at 10. But I’m sure one of the other professors will be available soon.”
“Oh,” the woman said, her face falling. “I’m jealous. I’ve never seen a professor who looked that good.”
Jupiter couldn’t help but grin. “He has that affect on a lot of people. But he’s a merciless hard-ass with asshole tendencies. He’s not to be trifled with when it comes to the work. You forget how fine he is once he’s slaughtered one of your essays.” It was the truth.
Renzo wrapped up his chat with Dr. Hu and started to walk out of the main office before stopping. “Jupiter, if you’re ready, I’m ready.”
“Okay sir,” she said, standing up.
The woman looked at her. “Your name’s Jupiter?”
“Fifth planet from the sun…that’s me. And you are?”
“Lisa,” she said. “Lisa Lyle.”
“Nice to meet you, Lisa. Good luck.”
Jupiter then followed Renzo out of the main office. They went down the hall to where he shared space and a secretary with Dr. Mark Miller, the DAP Department Head. Valerie, their secretary, was at her desk.
“Hi Jupiter,” she said.
“Valerie, please hold my calls for the next hour or so.”
“Yes, Dr. Candreva.”
Renzo’s private office was off to the right. He stood to one side so that Jupiter could enter and then he closed the door. Jupiter turned and smiled at him. Renzo closed the distance between them in a matter of seconds and then he was toe-to-toe with her.
“I need a kiss,” he said in a low voice. “I need to kiss you.”
“Now?” she said. “We’re at work, Renzo. You’ve done a great job of ignoring me all week…”
“Which is why I’m so desperate,” he said. “I lost count of the number of times I wanted to pull you into my arms and kiss you breathless.” He grabbed her arms and put them around his neck. “My door’s closed and Valerie won’t let anyone in without my permission and Mark can’t hear us…please, sweet girl. I need to kiss you now.”
“Don’t make a habit of this,” she said. “I’m already paranoid that everyone can see it on my face.”
The kiss was bliss infinite and she felt herself becoming all oooey gooey on the inside. He smelled so good. Renzo grabbed her ass and pushed her into him, making her squeak. Jupiter’s hands went to his cheeks—freshly shaven—and pulled his head away when the kiss started to go into overtime.
“We have to stop,” she said, winded. “We can pick this back up this evening, okay?”
“All right,” he said, letting her go. “I’ve missed you so much in so many little ways.” While things were fine between him and Madalena, his need for Jupiter found its way in through the cracks of their revised marital existence. “I read your chapter three times.”
Jupiter pulled away from Renzo and sat down in one of the chairs. “Are you going to send me out of here pissed or pleased?” She had worked so hard on her chapter; she was fairly confident he would like it.
Renzo sat down behind his desk. “How do I usually send you out?”
“Pissed. You always say it needs work until you don’t say it.”
“Well then, nothing’s changed. It’s good, but not good enough. I had a chat with Dr. Hu and your statistician and we all agree that there’s more analyzing to be done. You’ve had access to the DES database for some time now, but I’m not seeing enough of that being referenced in your breakdown.”
Jupiter stopped listening after the words, “not good enough.” Renzo talked for at least two more minutes before he realized she wasn’t responding.
She snapped out of her daze upon hearing her name. “Sir?”
“Are you listening to me?”
Jupiter looked at her fingers, doing her best to hold back her emotions. “What more do you need me to do?”
“You didn’t hear anything I said?”
She looked over at the wall and in spite of her best efforts, one lone tear emerged from her eye and traveled down her cheek.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She pulled out her phone and set it to record. “Can you please repeat what you said, sir?”
Renzo watched her carefully, being even more cautious to keep his tone even and professional. “Valerie will send you an annotated copy of your chapter via email in case you can’t read all of my writing. But this is what you need to do, Jupiter…”
He continued to speak and Jupiter looked everywhere except at him, trying her best to hold back her tears. Nine weeks of steady analysis, to the point of headaches and hand cramps, and it still wasn’t good enough. She was convinced he was trying to kill her.
The little voice popped up. ‘Why are you so shocked by this? You know that you’ve had to re-write each chapter a minimum of three times before he’s satisfied. This ain’t brand new.’
Still. I busted my ass trying to circumvent his usual critique and no matter what I do...
When he was finished, Jupiter stopped recording. She looked down at his desk. “Is that everything, sir?”
“Not quite,” he said. He handed her the edited chapter. Jupiter quickly flipped through it. It was practically bleeding; there was so much red ink. “I will not allow you to submit substandard work,” he said. “I’m sorry that you’re upset with me, but I have standards for all of my grad students. This chapter falls short of those standards. Go home, take a couple of weeks off from writing, and then get back at it. If you need assistance, ask for it, all right?”
“Yes sir,” she said, doing her best to keep her tone even and failed at the end. “Is that it?”
“Yes,” he said. He hated that she was upset, but he wasn’t about to allow her to produce an inferior dissertation. Not with him as her major prof. “You can go.”
Jupiter got up, collected her phone and chapter, and walked towards his office door.
“I’ll see you later,” he said in a low voice.
Jupiter didn’t trust herself to speak, but nodded without looking back at him. It took everything in her power not to slam his door shut.
* * *
She stopped by the grocery store on the way home. Three pints of Haagen Dazs’ Vanilla Swiss Almond, bags of Ruffles and Cheetos Cheese Puffs, brownie mix, peanut M&Ms, fresh strawberries and a can of Reddi-Whip later, she pulled into her garage and removed the groceries. Jupiter did a mental recon on the amount of wine she had left and was satisfied she had at least two more bottles. A trip to Mesa Fresca was on the horizon.
Every time. Every single time. Jupiter didn’t know why she wasn’t used to his scathing reviews of her work. This had gone on for nearly three years. She went out of her way to try and impress him and each time, she failed. She didn’t know what the man wanted.
Jupiter turned on the oven when she entered the kitchen with her groceries. She got a bottle of wine out of the fridge, poured herself a glass and started drinking it. Today was a day for merlot. She went through the motions of putting things away and making a batch of walnut brownies. She bought a container of fudge frosting, as she liked for her brownies to be frosted.
‘I’m going to eat the whole fucking pan.’
When the brownies were in the oven, Jupiter connected her phone to the speaker system in her den and pushed PLAY. The room was filled with the sounds of Nina Simone’s “Blue,” and she headed towards her bedroom to change clothes. As she was taking off her boots, a petty thought came out of nowhere.
‘I should go to Zuzu’s Bar tonight with Oliver and the others.’
By the time Jupiter unzipped her jeans, the thought and the pettiness that birthed it had passed. She wasn’t about to drive to Zuzu’s Bar, which was downtown and 45 minutes from Catamaran Beach on a good day. Besides, she really did want to see her boyfriend, in spite of how angry he made her.
‘He will fuck it out of me tonight. He’d better.’
Jupiter removed her bra through her shirt sleeve and put on a pair of shorts. She removed her hair combs and fluffed out her curls. She was going to set up shop in front of the TV in the den, watch Hannibal on Netflix, drink wine and eat junk food for the next three or four hours. She was going to take three weeks off from working on her dissertation and spend the time catching up on her favorite shows and reading books.
A little while later, she was posted up in the den as planned when her phone rang. The only person it could be was Renzo. She looked at the screen to be sure and answered it.
“Open your garage. I’m a minute away.”
“Really? So early? It’s three in the afternoon.”
“I had no appointments this afternoon and decided to leave early. I have to see you, Jupiter. I won’t wait any longer.”
“All right,” she said. She got up, went to the garage and opened it. Sure enough, thirty seconds later, Renzo’s Mercedes pulled up next to her car. He got out of the car and retrieved his gym bag from the trunk. Jupiter closed the garage and went back into the house. Renzo dropped his gym bag at the door of the garage, removed his shoes and made his way to Jupiter’s den, where she was sitting. He stared at the spread of junk food on her coffee table.
“Are you on your period?”
Jupiter bit into a chip. “Not yet. Why do you ask?” She chased the chip with a large gulp of wine.
“What’s with all the junk food?” Madalena used to eat a lot of crap whenever she was near or on her cycle.
Jupiter served him a vicious side-eye. “This is what you reduce me to when you trash my work.”
Renzo sat next to her. “I’m sorry, sweet girl.” He leaned forward and kissed the side of her neck. “But it’s for your own good. You’ll get it right next time. You know my expectations are high.” He kissed her neck again and slid an arm around her. “But you’ll get it right. You always do. I’m not the least bit worried.”
Jupiter busied herself spraying a strawberry-topped brownie with Reddi-Whip. “I know. It still hurts. Every time, it hurts. I should be used to your unique brand of sadism, but I get got every fucking time.” She shoved the morsel in her mouth and chewed slowly. “Mmmmmn, heavenly.” After she finished chewing, she drank some more wine. She finished the glass and poured another.
Renzo picked up one of her legs and spread it over his lap. He began to rub the inside of her thigh methodically. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t like upsetting you. But—”
“I know,” she said, taking another drink. “I know, I know. It’s for my own good.”
Jupiter turned the glass up, finished the rest of the wine in one go, then grabbed the bottle and poured another glass. She tried to bring it to her lips, but Renzo grabbed the stem. He didn’t like seeing her like this.
“Stop that, sweet girl. Stop.” He took the glass from her and put it on the table.
“I’m fine,” she said. “This is my coping strategy. I’m not drunk.” She was good and tipsy, though.
“Please,” he said. “I know you’re still upset, but I’d rather you take your anger out on me and not yourself. Please don’t drink anymore.”
“It’s just a little junk food,” she whined, reaching for another chip. “You’re welcome to join me. It’s not going to hurt. How do you cope when you’re having a shitty day?”
“I work out,” he said, still caressing her inner thigh. “Sometimes I have sex. I don’t binge eat.”
Jupiter leaned her head back and gazed at the ceiling. “I eat junk food. I don’t do it every day, Renzo. Don’t worry; I’m fine. I’m not going to get drunk, I’m not going to eat this entire pan of brownies, I’m not going to eat that full bag of M&Ms, I’m not going to eat that whole pint of ice cream, and I’m not going to eat that big bag of chips.”
Had he not shown up, however…
“I’ll help you put it away,” he said as he continued to rub her thigh.
“You’d better not touch a single item on that table,” she said. “When I’m done, I’ll put it away. I told you that I’m all right. Either you believe me and understand it, or you can leave.”
Renzo kissed her cheek. “I’m not leaving.”
“All right then,” she said. She snagged one of his suspenders. “Why don’t you get comfortable and hang out with me on the couch?”
“Okay,” he said. He got up, grabbed his gym bag and went into her bedroom to change. Jupiter poured more M&Ms into one bowl, Ruffles in the other, and then got up. She put away the brownies, the ice cream and the snacks, and got water out of the fridge for her and for Renzo. She would be content with the M&Ms, chips and his nearness.
Jupiter sat back down just as Renzo emerged from her bedroom. He wore a blue and white Nike outfit and was barefoot. She waved a bottle of water at him. “Come sit. Is this better?”
“Yes. I don’t mean to be a dick, but I was concerned.” He paused in front of her back door, staring at the ocean. “Do you mind if we take a stroll on the beach? The sun’s out and it looks inviting. I haven’t done that in a long time.”
Jupiter looked over at him. “Really?”
“I wanted to do it last week, when we were on your deck. I love it out here.”
“Well, okay then,” she said. “I need to put on some sweatpants or something. It’s nippy out today.”
While Jupiter changed clothes, Renzo put on his Nike slippers and went out on the porch. The ocean was about 50 yards from Jupiter’s deck. The tide was out and it was extremely peaceful. A cloud temporarily hid the sun, but it was bright outside. There was a nice breeze coming off the ocean. This would be a pleasant place to retire, if Madalena was willing to give up their house in Roseland Hills. Which Renzo knew she wasn’t.
Jupiter emerged from the house, pulling a shrug over her shoulders. She put a towel on the stool next to the door. “Which way do you want to go?”
“I’ll follow you wherever you lead, sweet girl.” It was the truth.
Jupiter was barefoot and her yoga pants were rolled up to her knees. She looked at Renzo’s slippers. “You’re going to want to remove those. The sand out here is soft; very pleasant to walk on. Also, you should roll up your sweats if you don’t want them wet.” She walked down the steps and into the sand. “Come on, then.”
Renzo removed his shoes, rolled up his pant legs and then followed her down to the water’s edge. She held out her hand. “When was the last time you were at the beach?”
Renzo took her hand and held it. “Maybe 10 or 12 years ago, something like that. Vito was 15 or 16, I believe.” Vittoria was his eldest, his image, and his favorite.
They started walking along the shore and were quiet for a few minutes before Renzo asked, “So, did you ever talk to your young man?”
Jupiter nodded her head and sighed. “I did. You were right. He was quite upset to learn that I’d slept with someone else. But what was even worse about our conversation was his complete inability to understand or accept the fact that we have grown apart and no longer share the same goals.”
“What were those goals?” Renzo used the tip of his nose to nuzzle the skin between Jupiter’s fingers.
“He told me he had a five year plan. Basically, marry me, put a baby in me—twice—and make junior partner at Ngenge, Nave & Nguyen by 35. Sell my house and move to a downtown apartment, where I’d get a job teaching science at one of the public schools and we’d be close to home.”
Renzo kissed the inside of her wrist. The man was clueless. “How long have you two been together?”
“Four or five years.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. He doesn’t know you at all.” Renzo knew Jupiter better than her own boyfriend did.
“That’s what I said. He kept telling me that I was confused, that it was your fault for stressing me out, that I didn’t mean anything I was saying.”
“How is it my fault?”
“He thinks that the pressure you put on me interferes with my ability to think straight. It was as if he couldn’t countenance the fact that I can think for myself. I flat-out told him I didn’t want kids, didn’t want to teach public school, didn’t love him, didn’t want to marry him and that he couldn’t satisfy me sexually.”
“Ouch,” Renzo said. “All in one breath?”
“Yep. And even with that, he didn’t get it. I asked him what kind of wife did he think I was going to be and he couldn’t answer me. It was as if nothing I said mattered; he wanted what he wanted, and what he wanted was this perfect life he’d imagined for himself. Whether I wanted it or not didn’t matter. I told him to find someone else to have that life with. Why would you want to marry a woman who doesn’t want you? I don’t want him and I haven’t wanted him for years. It took me having an affair with you to see that.”
“I imagine he was disappointed.”
“He truly thought I was going to sell my house. He actually said I should sell the house, pay off the mortgage and we could use the rest of the money to do whatever the fuck.”
“Did he know about you owning the house in full?”
“No. I never told him before last week. Rashaun’s rationale was that Catamaran Beach is too far away from downtown—basically, from his job—and it was one of the reasons we didn’t see each other regularly. He doesn’t like to commute.”
Renzo shook his head. Jupiter’s ex-boyfriend was a total and complete idiot. “What an asshole. Catamaran Beach is 30 minutes from Dawnstar and an hour from Roseland Hills, and I would drive it every day for you, Jupiter. You can do so much better.”
He paused in walking and kissed her lips. She rubbed his nose and said. “Probably nice to drive if you’re in a S-600.”
Renzo pulled Jupiter in for another, longer kiss and then they continued to walk along the beach. “It’s so nice out here. Forgot how much I appreciate the beach.”
“I love it out here, as I told you. I can think. It can be nice and quiet, and then I get to listen to the ocean every night. And the nights are good for stargazing. But it’s a good thing I never told Rashaun about the financial portfolio my parents left me. He would have tried to spend every dime of it creating his fantasy life.”
“You have a retirement fund?”
“My father insisted on it. Once he bought the house for Mama, they decided that the best thing to do with the remainder of the winnings was invest it for me. When you don’t have a mortgage, it frees up a significant portion of your paycheck. So they had some disposable income as a result and didn’t need to use the lottery winnings in their day to day. So they left it to me. My father was really good with investing. The money will last me for a while if I’m careful with it.”
“May I ask how much the portfolio is worth?”
“When I last checked, it was worth about $300,000.”
Renzo whistled. “Wow. Not bad for a 27-year-old. By the time you retire—pending everything goes well—you may be worth a couple of million dollars. So you’re not pressed for anything financially. I like that. You’re free to do things without having to worry about money. You can be free to do what you love. Your parents did you a solid.”
“That was another thing,” Jupiter said. “Rashaun says I can’t make any money as a professor in this city.”
“Suva Oriana is an expensive city to live in, true, but it depends on where you go and what you do.”
“I told him how much you bring in and that you believe I can do the same and he just blew it off like it was nothing.”
“Of course you can do the same,” he said. “That’s what I’ve taught you to do. You won’t enter the profession making that much money at first, especially if you teach at one of the public universities downtown like City U, but if you get on at an institution like Dawnstar or Oceanside, you can make a lot more.”
“He doesn’t believe in me. He also thought he owned me. He actually said I gave the rights to his pussy to another man.”
“You heard me. It slipped out, but the point is that he thought it, believed it. Needless to say, we did not part amicably. I had to escort him out of my house.”
Renzo stopped walking. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“No. He was in shock, but I admit I did worry a little bit later that day. I think I may have to deal with him one more time before we’re truly through. It hasn’t all sunk in for him yet, but when it does…”
“Jupiter, do you think he might actually do something to hurt you?”
“Not really. Rashaun is usually very levelheaded. I hit him with so much at one time that he couldn’t take it all in.”
“I will be around whenever you have to deal with him again. If you had an inkling that you might need to fear for your safety, then you need to assume that you do. I’ll be here if it goes down here. If not, do it in a public place, Jupiter. For your safety. He may not do anything to you, but don’t take that chance, sweet girl. Sounds like you broke his heart, but he’s the buffoon for not listening to you or taking you seriously.”
Jupiter turned to look at him. “Renzo, you can’t be around when we have our final confrontation. That’s the last thing I need; him seeing you at my house and making the connection.”
“Then do it in public.”
Jupiter nodded. It was a fair request. “I never intended to hurt him, but I am not the kind of woman he needs. He needs one of those women who are fine with him making all the decisions, is happy to spit out kids and who will do whatever he says. I’m not that chick.”
Jupiter pulled on Renzo’s hand to urge him to keep walking. He said, “Have you heard from him at all?”
“No. Not since last Saturday. I give him another week or so before he calls again.”
“Please call me immediately after, all right?”
Renzo smiled lazily. Jupiter grinned back. The man had an unbelievable smile and it was infectious.
He said, “And you were right as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“In a way, Madalena did have someone picked out for me.”
Jupiter stopped walking, actually surprised by it. “What? Who?”
Renzo gently tugged on her hand to keep her moving. “Over a year ago, we went to a cocktail party hosted by one of her friends. I hate social events. Apparently, there was a woman present whom I conversed with and she is a biochemist for Neptune Labs. Maddy thought that we hit it off, so when I told her that I’d found someone, she assumed that it was her.”
“What’s her name? What does she look like?”
“Jupiter, I can’t remember. I didn’t even remember talking to anyone like that at the party. I can’t recall her name or anything specific about her. Maddy thought that she and I had had sex. She was surprised to learn that I had not cheated on her until last week. So anyway, the woman—her name starts with an M; all I recall—apparently looks a certain way. “
“What kind of way?”
“Long story short, Madalena wants me to be with a woman who looks like her. The woman at the party—Maddy believes she looks like she used to, and was…fine…with her being my potential mistress.”
“Madalena wants you to have sex with her doppelganger. I get it. Makes a lot of sense.”
“She said she’d be more accepting of the situation if she knew the woman, if the woman resembled her; if she kept her close.”
“You can’t blame her, Renzo. I understand. She needs to know that she is still on your mind when you’re with the other woman.” Jupiter got quiet, wondering if she was ready to hear his answer to the next question she had to ask. “Is she?”
“No,” he said, kissing her knuckles. “You’re all I see when we’re together. I didn’t tell her that, of course, but I’m not going to lie. When I am with you, sweet girl, I’m with you.”
Jupiter spared a moment of sadness for Renzo’s wife. To lose so much…
“It was good that we had the conversation,” Renzo said. “We got to air out some issues I didn’t even know we had. We’re sleeping in the same bed again.”
“She said she missed me; that she was lonely. I thought that by the time I got over the fact that we could no longer have sex, she was used to sleeping alone. She suffers from hot flashes and according to her, they’re terrible, especially at night. She didn’t want to wake me up.”
“So you’re able to lie with her at night and not get horny?”
“Yes. We kiss, she touches me, and then she goes to sleep. Now that I have you, it’s not nearly as stressful as before. I can lie next to my wife and not respond sexually. She said to me, ‘Please let me have this.’”
“What was the next morning like?”
“I haven’t seen her that happy or that content in a long time. I got up and went for a swim in the pool and when I came back to the bedroom, she was still asleep with a smile on her face. I took a shower, got back in bed with her and held her until the sun started to come up. When she woke up, it looked as if she were two or three years younger.”
“That particular stressor was gone, so of course.”
“It was nice. We had a good day; a good week. I missed lying beside her too. You’ll understand when you get married.” He paused, eyeing her expression. “You’re okay with that, right?”
Jupiter squeezed his hand. “Of course, Renzo. She’s your wife and you should be beside her. I have no illusions about our association. I am glad to hear that you two are okay. It’s important that you maintain a good relationship with Madalena, baby. In the end, it’s going to be you two. I will be gone.”
“I know,” he said, squeezing her hand in return. “There’s one other thing.”
“She wants to meet you.”
Jupiter shook her head. “Nope!”
“That’s what I said. She begged me to tell her what you looked like and I refused. She asked if you were white and I didn’t tell her. Then she said, ‘Please let me find you a suitable mistress,’ and I said no.”
“Wow. This is twisting her up inside. I guess she wouldn’t approve of my black ass at all.”
“Well, the two of you are complete physical opposites. I told her she needed to stop torturing herself worrying about who I’m with. I love her and I’m not going to leave her, but this is a battle she can’t win. It’s you I want. No one else will do.”
“Do you think she may follow you one day?”
“I come here directly from work.”
“That’s not what I meant. Like, she could be at school waiting for you to leave and follow you here.”
“Madalena doesn’t leave work until 4 p.m. every day and she likes to go home and take a bath. She is not a fan of traffic.”
“You’re underestimating her desire to know who I am. I’m going to say this once, and let me be clear: I do not want her coming to my house. I do not want her anywhere near me. I will be very unhappy to see her at my doorstep, so you better make sure she stays in her lane. Do you understand, Renzo?”
“I understand, sweet girl.”
“If that happens, we’re through.”
Jupiter turned and looked out over the horizon. Sunlight reflected off the ocean and she shielded her eyes. Renzo enfolded her in his arms, pressing her back into his chest. He kissed her temple, behind her ear, the side of her neck and her shoulder. “I understand, sweet girl. I can’t lose you. I will do whatever’s required to keep you happy.”
Together they watched the horizon in comfortable silence. Jupiter leaned back into him, sighing contentedly. It was nice being held like this. It was nice being with a man like Renzo. He knew exactly what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to say it. She was going to enjoy their time together for however long it lasted.
She wondered if she was going to develop a thing for older men as a result.
“You said that men can be extremely selfish. Does that apply to you as well?”
Renzo squeezed her tighter. “It does.”
“So you’ll be upset when and if I meet someone I want to have a relationship with.”
“There’s no if, sweet girl. There will be plenty of men in your immediate future who aren’t as self-centered as your ex and would do anything to be with you. To answer your question, yes I will, and I know there’s nothing I can do about it. I wouldn’t try to sabotage any relationship you have with another man. I’ll grieve in silence.” When that day came, he was going to be a morose motherfucker.
“Okay,” she said. “The wind is picking up and my nipples are getting cold. Let’s go back.”