The Marriage Lie
I awaken when a hand winds around my waist, pulling me head to heel against skin heated from sleep. I sigh and settle into my husband’s familiar form, fitting my backside into his front, soaking in his warmth. Will is a furnace when he sleeps, and I’ve always got some place on me that’s cold. This morning it’s my feet, and I wedge them between two warm calves.
“Your toes are freezing.” His voice rumbles in the darkened room, the sounds vibrating through me. On the other side of our bedroom curtains it’s not quite morning, that violet-tinged moment between night and day, still a good half hour or so before the alarm. “Were they hanging off the side of the bed or something?”
It’s barely April, and March hasn’t quite loosened its icy hold. For the past three days, leaden skies have been dumping rain, and a frigid wind has plummeted temperatures far below average. Meteorologists predict at least another week of this shivering, and Will is the only soul in Atlanta who welcomes the cold by throwing the windows wide. His internal thermostat is always set to blazing.
“It’s because you insist on sleeping in an igloo. I think all my extremities have frostbite.”
“Come here.” His fingers glide up my side, his hand pulling me even closer. “Let’s get you warm, then.”
We lie here for a while in comfortable silence, his arm snug around my middle, his chin in the crook of my shoulder. Will is sticky and damp from sleep, but I don’t care. These are the moments that I cherish the most, moments when our hearts and breaths are in sync. Moments as intimate as making love.
“You are my very favorite person on the planet,” he murmurs in my ear, and I smile. These are the words we’ve chosen instead of the more standard I love you, and to me they mean so much more. Every time they roll off his tongue they hit me like a promise. I like you the most, and I always will.
“You’re my very favorite person, too.”
My girlfriends assure me this won’t last forever, this connection I feel with my own husband. Any day now, they tell me, familiarity will fizzle my fire, and I will suddenly start noticing other men. I will stain my cheeks and gloss my lips for nameless, faceless strangers who are not my husband, and I will imagine them touching me in places only a husband should have access to. The seven-year itch, my girlfriends call it, and I can barely imagine such a thing, because today—seven years and a day—Will’s hand glides across my skin, and the only itch I feel is for him.
My eyelids flutter closed, his touch stirring up a tingling that says I’ll likely be late for work.
“Iris?” he whispers.
“I forgot to change the filters on the air conditioner.”
I open my eyes. “What?”
“I said, I forgot to change the filters on the air conditioner.”
I laugh. “That’s what I thought you said.” Will is a brilliant computer scientist with ADD tendencies, and his brain is so crammed with facts and information that he’s always forgetting the little things…just usually not during sex. I attribute it to an unusually busy time at work combined with the fact he’s leaving for a three-day conference in Florida, so his to-do list today is longer than usual. “You can do it this weekend when you’re back.”
“What if it gets warm before then?”
“It’s not supposed to. And even if it does, surely the filters can wait a couple of days.”
“And your car could probably use an oil change. When’s the last time you took it in?”
“I don’t know.”
Will and I split our household duties neatly down gender lines. The cars and house upkeep are his department, the cooking and cleaning are mine. Neither of us much minds the division of labor. College taught me to be a feminist, but marriage has taught me to be practical. Making lasagna is so much more pleasant than cleaning the gutters.
“Check the maintenance receipts, will you? They’re in the glove box.”
“Fine. But what’s with all the sudden chores? Are you bored with me already?”
I feel what I know is Will’s grin sliding up the back of my head. “Maybe this is what all the pregnancy books mean by nesting.”
Joy flares in my chest at the reminder of what we are doing—what we’ve maybe already done—and I twist around to face him. “I can’t be pregnant yet. We’ve only officially been trying for less than twenty-four hours.”
Once last night before dinner, and twice after. Maybe we went a bit overboard in our first official baby-making session, but in our defense, it was our anniversary, and Will’s a classic overachiever.
His eyes gleam with self-satisfaction. If there were space between our bodies for him to beat himself on the chest, he’d probably do it. “I’m pretty sure my guys are strong swimmers. You’re probably pregnant already.”
“Doubtful,” I say, even though his words make me more than a little giddy. Will is the practical one in this relationship, the one who keeps a steady head in the face of my Labrador-like optimism. I don’t tell him I’ve already done the math. I’ve already made a study of my cycle, counting out the days since my last period, charting it on an app on my phone, and Will is right. I could very well be pregnant already. “Most people give wool or copper for their seventh anniversary. You gave me sperm.”
He smiles but in a nervous way, that look he gets when he did something he maybe shouldn’t have. “It’s not the only thing.”
Last year, at his insistence, we sank all our savings and a significant chunk of our monthly income into a mortgage that would essentially make us house poor. But, oh, what a house it is. Our dream house, a three-bedroom Victorian on a quiet street in Inman Park, with a wide front porch and original woodwork throughout. We walked through the door, and Will had to have it, even if it meant half the rooms would be empty for the foreseeable future. This was to be a no-present anniversary.
“I know, I know, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to buy you something special. Something so you’ll always remember this moment, when we were still just us two.” He twists around, flicks on the lamp, pulls a small, red box from the drawer in the bedside table and offers it to me with a shy grin. “Happy anniversary.”
Even I know Cartier when I see it. There’s not a speck of dust in that store that doesn’t cost more than we can afford. When I don’t move to open it, Will flips the snap with a thumb and pulls the lid open to reveal three linked bands, one of them glittering with rows and rows of tiny diamonds.
“It’s a trinity ring. Pink for love, yellow for fidelity and white for friendship. I liked the symbolism of three—you, me, and baby-to-be.” I blink back tears, and Will lifts my chin with a finger, bringing my gaze to his. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like it?”
I run a finger over the bright white stones, sparkling against red leather. The truth is, Will couldn’t have chosen a better piece. The ring is simple, sophisticated, stunning. Exactly what I would pick out for myself, if we had all the money in the world to spend, which we don’t.
And yet I want this ring so much more than I should—not because it’s beautiful or expensive, but because Will put so much thought into picking it out for me.
“I love it, but…” I shake my head. “It’s too much. We can’t afford it.”
“It’s not too much. Not for the mother of my future baby.” He tugs the ring from the box, slides it up my finger. It’s cool and heavy and fits perfectly, hugging the skin below my knuckle like it was made for my hand. “Give me a little girl who looks just like you.”
My gaze roams over the planes and angles of my husband’s face, picking out all my favorite parts. The thin scar that slashes through his left eyebrow. That bump at the bridge of his nose. His broad, square jaw and thick, kissable lips. His eyes are sleepy and his hair is mussed and his chin is scratchy with stubble. Of all his habits and moods, of all the sides of him I’ve come to know, I love him most when he’s like he is now: sweet, softhearted, rumpled.
I smile at him through my tears. “What if it’s a boy?”
“Then we’ll keep going until I get my girl.” He follows this up with a kiss, a long, lingering press of his lips to mine. “Do you like the ring?”
“I love it.” I wind my arm up and around his neck, the diamonds winking above his shoulder. “It’s perfect, and so are you.”
He grins. “Maybe we should get in one more practice run before I go, just in case.”
“Your flight leaves in three hours.”
But his lips are already kissing a trail down my neck, his hand already sliding lower and lower still. “So?”
“So it’s raining. Traffic’s going to be a bitch.”
He rolls me on to my back, pinning my body to the bed with his. "Then we better hurry."