A Happy Marriage

Justine’s anger was petty and she knew it. She tensed up her shoulder muscles, deliberately resisting Steven’s attempts to work the knots out of her back. Objectively, she knew he had done nothing wrong: Steven’s parents had called to announce that they were coming into town for dinner; therefore, the dinner she had planned with Ryan had to be canceled. Her indignation had nothing to do with how much she liked Steven’s parents, whom she thought were much better people than her own. But she felt unjustly thwarted by fate—like missing a school dance in a new dress because of a flat tire.

Her sense of injury was acute and carried a physical pain that was just on the edge of pleasure—a sensation that she wanted to give herself fully over to in private, or at least in silence. Steven was now whistling.

Steven was constantly whistling. Or humming—sonatas, sometimes full symphonies, from start to finish. He liked to have music around him at all times, even if he had to be the source of it. Last night he had asked Justine to sing for him in bed. She had a terrible memory for lyrics, especially when put on the spot, and ended up softly singing “Auld Lang Syne” in a loop, quavering and flat, until she felt his body soften into sleep. Steven was a great sleeper.

Justine logged on to her email and typed out her cancellation message to Ryan, hitting each key with petulant force. She studiously ignored the saucer piled with peeled and glistening orange slices that Steven always placed on her desk with her tea at half past seven. Steven had been careful not to leave even a whisper of the pith—she could not tolerate anything bitter, especially in the morning.

Justine had fantasized about Ryan ever since she’d met him at a literary soiree she’d been invited to by her agent friend Jerry. Ryan was striking, but it was the unapologetic, almost indecent intensity he was directing at her when she first met his eye across the room that had arrested her. He was an animal, and his stare was a challenge. She held out for two hours before she returned his gaze and closed the distance between them.

Closeness only improved his looks. He had fine, symmetrical features, which he held with unnatural stillness. Justine found herself leaning in. His mouth curved up and she realized that he had reeled her in without lifting a finger. His smile infuriated her. She scowled. He laughed, a genuine laugh that crinkled his eyes. Even as she sucked in air, trying to resist the electricity that rippled through her, a primal part of her whispered in her ear, I need this.

People on couch
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