Title: JUST ONE YOU
Category/genre: Adult Commercial Fiction
Author: Jacy Sutton
Editor: Rebecca Heyman
Original version here.
If happy enough is enough, then Elle and Beth have it all.
College professor Elle has a sexy young boyfriend who keeps her satisfied, at least in the bedroom. When she meets a new man who challenges her intellect and her assumptions, she has to decide if upending her life is worth the effort.
Beth married her high school sweetheart. She’s never even kissed another man. There was one guy, a long time ago, who tempted her... and he just got back in touch. Getting reacquainted with him could be thrilling, but it may threaten the only love she’s ever known.
Beth and Elle’s stories have eerie parallels that lead back to a mysterious shared memory -- and a single, life-changing choice. Only the past can reveal how each woman has arrived in the present, and what it will take for her to be happy.
Adley College, St. Paul
God, he was young. His hair was thick and blond with brown hues, his face smooth. His perfect limbs—slim, sinewy—lay at awkward angles on the small Victorian couch in Elle’s office. David often fell into a fast, deep sleep after they made love. A catnap to re-energize. He took her as though he was training for a triathlon, and typically he needed sleep or carbs afterwards. Elle enjoyed both.
If they’d been at her house, the tidy bungalow off Grand Avenue, she would have crept quietly from bed into the kitchen, preparing a meal quickly before he woke. She would grab a jar of the tomatoes she’d blanched last fall, the way she’d learned that summer in Rome, and toss them with fresh basil from the pot she kept in the sunny west window. To that, she would add ridiculous amounts of pasta in a futile effort to curb his oversized man-boy hunger.
But when they made love in her office, as they had today, Elle would curl up in the overstuffed armchair, tucked back into the old room’s small turret. She pulled her skirt back on, and her blouse, buttoning just two or three buttons, and let her bra lie on the floor where he’d discarded it. When David awoke she could go to him, open her shirt and press her chest naked against his as he roused himself from slumber, kissing her indiscriminately on her chin, her throat, her firm, upturned breasts.
Elle curled her slim legs under her on the chair and reached for the honey-colored, nubby throw blanket. The natural light from the window above allowed her to read without turning on the harsh overhead that might wake David from his sweet, swift slumber. And, if she was honest with herself, the natural light made her look younger. At least, not so much older than him.
She should read the Eudora Welty essays she’d promised to get back to her senior honors students, but the afternoon had an indulgent quality she didn’t want to relinquish. Possibly because they’d made love twice—not their usual.
Instead, Elle picked up her worn copy of Persuasion. A Save the Date postcard for her twentieth high school reunion poked out.
Twenty years. It couldn’t possibly be. But it also seemed like so many more. Mostly her days at Tennyson High were like an old, out-of-focus movie. She remembered a vague friendship with the girl whose locker was next to hers, and frustration with the group of kids whose antics led to hours of authoritative lectures and not much else from the tired, old Chemistry teacher. Even the memories of her high school boyfriend were dull around the edges.
Her most distinct recollections were of her high school English teacher, Mr. Green. He was the one who had given her Persuasion. During class he’d try to sway students toward American authors like Steinbeck or Twain, but near the end of the school year he handed her a hardcover of the Jane Austen novel. The book looked newly purchased, but he insisted he was clearing out old college texts. “This is your kind of thing,” he’d said. “People falling in love at the wrong time.” In hindsight, the sentiment sounded almost like a curse.
David sighed in his sleep. She guessed he wouldn’t wake for another twenty minutes yet. She’d rouse him after that if she had to. He had his graduate seminar tonight.
Elle tucked the blanket more tightly around her legs. She flipped to her favorite scene and traced her finger along the familiar words: “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.”
He wasn’t young anymore. Lord knows, neither was she. But she worked a bit harder at it. Moisturizer twice a day. Sunscreen and spin class. There had been about nine months of hot yoga. Before that, Pilates. And earlier still, step aerobics.
The hair didn’t help. He’d started to lose it right after Allie was born. It came off in lock step with Beth’s baby weight. He was still handsome, though. Slim. No more than ten pounds over his college weight. Hardly noticeable. Maybe only a bit around his waist.
Watching him from the back, Beth admired her husband of fifteen years. Bobby played the boom box so loudly he didn’t even turn when she pulled into the garage. He stood in front of the workbench, staring down intently. When Beth got closer she could see he was busy with the roller shade from Kyle’s bedroom. Kyle had pulled on it too hard and it wouldn’t spring back up. Those things were so touchy.
Bobby worked alone because Kyle was at his part-time job—bagging groceries at the upscale store nearby. It was the only place Kyle had found willing to hire a 14-year-old. He was saving to buy an iPhone. Beth and Bobby had agreed to pay half, impressed with Kyle’s initiative and his several impassioned speeches convincing them the schedule wouldn’t be too much: one weeknight and every Saturday, mid-morning till late afternoon.
Allie, a year younger than Kyle, had been selected for a premier volleyball team that practiced three suburbs away, typically a forty-five minute drive. Two friends had also been chosen. So Beth drove Saturday morning drop-off, and the mom of one of the friends did pick-up three hours later. The third girl’s parents had wisely begged off.
The first Saturday after the hour-and-a-half round trip, Beth came home and found Bobby in their master bathroom. He’d just finished recaulking the bathtub. The thought of making a thick, black, satisfying line through an item on the to-do list (the one pinned to the kitchen bulletin board, not the one in the laundry room), coupled with both kids gone, aroused Beth more than a bottle of Chardonnay and a roaring fire.
They’d celebrated Bobby’s handyman work with fast, furious lovemaking that left her gasping. The next week Bobby taped, then painted, the small half bath in the lower level. And last week the leaky faucet in the kitchen had been dismantled, repaired and reassembled.
Now, he was hard at work on Kyle’s shade. Beth stepped behind him and he jumped at her touch. He absent-mindedly pecked her cheek and said, “Give me five minutes.”
They’d never discussed this… arrangement. It had simply evolved, but it seemed to suit them both.
Beth went ahead of him into the bedroom, thinking about a shirt she’d bought at the end of the summer, a few months back. Allie had dragged her into one of those clothing stores targeting teen girls, where everything was poorly made, too revealing, and so cheap that kids could buy the clothes themselves. As Allie shopped for shoes at the back of the store, Beth spied a little white top, sleeveless with a deep v-neck. The lower half of the shirt was see-through while the rest had a thin white lining—a modest attempt at modesty. It was $9.87 and ridiculously revealing. Beth looked at it on the rack for several long minutes until Allie came to negotiate her purchase before wandering off again. With her daughter occupied, Beth grabbed the top and quietly asked the salesgirl to wrap it in tissue, which she then stuffed in her oversized Coach knock-off.
Today, Beth found it in her bottom drawer, back left corner. She hadn’t realized it was a kind of spandex and half a size too small, with the happy accident of pulling her together and making her appear a perfect 34C, when really she always thought of herself as more of a B-plus.
As she gazed down, scrutinizing, Bobby tramped into the room with a catcall. “My God, you’re hot,” he said, stepping to her without preamble and kissing her hard on the lips. It typically took Beth a few minutes to catch up to his fervor. She felt his lips press down hard, his tongue greedily encircling hers, and made a mindful effort to clear her thoughts. Forget shopping with Allie. Forget the roller shade. Forget dinner.
Bobby’s hand slid from around her waist and pawed hard at her breast, caressing it through the tight fabric. She closed her eyes and listened to his mumbled intimacies. She’d noticed during their lovemaking that his voice dropped an octave, so that it was unfamiliar. It had occurred to her, from time to time, that his honeyed whisperings could be nearly anyone: Brad Pitt, David Beckham—the man who came into the bookstore every Tuesday afternoon, always making sure it was Beth who waited on him; even the young teacher she’d had her senior year of high school.
Beth felt Bobby’s hardness push against her. She reached for the bottom of his T-shirt and pulled it over his head, exposing his naked chest. She laid her palm on him. So familiar—the contours of muscle; the thick, coarse hair, curled tightly like little springs.
“This shirt,” he growled. “You look like a Victoria’s Secret model.”
Bobby kissed her again, urgent and demanding. His insistence nearly always worked on her. The more she felt his desire, the more it stoked her own. She began to respond to the warmth of his skin pressed again hers, to the sound of his heated words. The combination of his reckless tongue and wandering grasp intensified the heat. “Yes, Bobby,” she murmured. “Yes, please.”