Healing is a matter of time, but also a matter of opportunity.
Friday evening at Charlee’s home, she was looking intensely at Eric, chewing on her lip, her face serious, while he sorted through the mail he was holding.
It had been almost three months now since their appointment with Dr. Holton and Charlee had been to a number of weekly sessions since then.
Eric stopped by his old home frequently to pick up his mail, which still came to the house they used to share. He had not changed his address, this was still officially his home. Still, even after living apart for over half a year now.
He could tell she was wrestling with a question, he placed the envelopes on the counter and faced her.
“Just say it Charlee.” he told her, slightly amused.
“I’ll never get over how well you can read me. Ahem … Eric … I allowed Cait to stay overnight at Hannah’s. Sleepover with Blakely.”
“Okay, you’re her parent too. No need to run that by me.”
“That’s not why I mentioned it. I wanted you to know that we are alone in this house.”
“Okay. Is that my hint that you want me to leave?”
“No! On the contrary. I want to ask you to stay. Overnight.”
“Are you sure you are ready?”
“I have no idea, Eric. But I’d like to try it out, if you are up for it. It may not work, but I really want to try. We’ll just go slow and stop when I feel it’s getting too much.”
“You have no idea how happy hearing that makes me. That’s fine, we’ll try and if it’s too soon, I’ll sleep on the couch or go back to the Beach House, it’s just 5 minutes from here. I am all yours, baby. Putty in your hands.”
Smiling she stepped closer to him, leaned against his chest, he carefully enveloped her with his arms. She neither stiffened, nor pulled away. Progress.
“This. Oh Eric, it feels so good.”
“Yes, it does.”
“We can do this. Eric, kiss me.”
He said nothing, but gently kissed her on the forehead, careful not to hold on to her too tightly so she wouldn’t feel cornered.
As he wanted to pull away, she pulled his face closer and kissed him harder, demanding. Hungry. When their lips separated, both slightly breathless she looked up at him slightly guilty.
“Sorry, got a little carried away. But Eric, I don’t know how far I can go yet. Just don’t want you to be disappointed thinking I am offering something I am not able to give yet. I am just asking you to be here, not … you know … that …. at least not yet …”
“Shhh. I didn’t think you were offering anything. This is already much more than I expected and a good sign that you are getting better. All I need is a small token of affection to lift my spirits every now and then.”
“Not just the spirits, though, huh?”
“Woman, don’t tease my like that. That’s just cruel.”
“I can feel you, Eric. All of you. Which is why I told you that I am not ready for that just yet.” she told him, but remained close to him.
“Oops. Well, you caught me. I have no control over how my body reacts to you, but for what it’s worth, this should confirm what I have been telling you about me still wanting you. Exhibit A poking you as we speak.”
She laughed, and still didn’t pull away.
“You really still find me pretty? Even though I am not as skinny as I once was?”
“Nope. I find you beautiful. Gorgeous. Sexy. I’ll refer back to Exhibit A still proving my point.”
Charlee giggled, and Eric winked at her, then smiled. Under different circumstances, this may have been an awkward moment, yet not only were they married and parents of two children together, but for the past several months nothing had seemed normal. In light of all, their current topic was basically even to be considered progress.
“Look Charlee, if you are really so unhappy with the way you look and want to get in shape, how about I pick you up after work each night and we’ll go for a run together. You’ll be too sore to worry about your figure in the first week or two, and then you’ll start noticing the changes.” Eric suggested soberly.
“You would do that for me?”
“I’d do anything for you.” his voice was sincere.
She stepped towards him again and kissed him. Longer than before.
“You up for it now?” she whispered.
“You are confusing me … remember, I am starved for affection and not all the blood is going where it should when you kiss me like that. Up for what exactly?”
“A run, Eric. Can we go now? Just please take it easy on me, you know I am not athletic at all.”
“Not exactly dressed for exercising right now.” Eric pointed up and down himself at the slacks and dress shirt he wore for work.
“You may still have a pair of jogging pants and a sweater here.” she smiled.
“Pretty sure I took all my clothing with me.”
“Not the stuff I have been sleeping in … they could use you in them for a change to they feel like you again.” Charlee’s eye begged him to stay.
Eric realized the deeper meaning of her words, that she kept some of his clothes to have him near, he smiled and nodded.
“Raincheck. Let’s stay in and just enjoy us being together like we used to. We can go for a run tomorrow morning. Bright and early.”
“All right. Oh, Eric? You are still staying overnight though, right?”
“If you really want me to. I would have to let mom and dad know, so they won’t worry and know to keep an eye on Jamie, meaning it wouldn’t be just our little secret. Are you okay with that?”
“Yeah, it was a little bit your mom’s idea anyway. She asked me how I was doing earlier and after she dismissed my platitudes, I burst into tears, told her I missed you so much. So she suggested to give it a try to test my boundaries. If you feel like a guinea pig right now, blame your mom.” Charlee giggled.
“Don’t mind being your lab rat. You really want me to sleep in your bed with you?”
“Our bed, Eric. And yes. Just not anything sexual. Pretty sure I am not ready for that just yet.”
The evening passed with them on the couch, part of the time Charlee snuggled into his arms watching a movie, before they turned in. Together. In one bed, for the first time in nearly 8 months.
Despite his burning urge to hold her so tight that they’d well may be just one single person, Eric instead tried hard to give her space and make her feel at ease, while he himself felt like a teenage boy who snuck into his girlfriend’s bedroom at night.
Initially they each started out on opposite sides of the bed, but much to his surprise, throughout the night Charlee inched closer and closer towards him until she snuggled into his arms, where she eventually fell asleep.
Eric instead lay away for hours wondering about the meaning of all this, while hoping things would really get back to normal again one day soon.
Many things went through his mind, among them Dr. Holton warning not to get their hopes up too high and too quickly, as sometimes with issues like Charlee’s it was one step forward and two back. While he was not one to argue with the professional, this surely felt like a huge step forward and it didn’t look like they were going back again either.
Saturday evening at Ewan and Ava’s mansion.
The entire group assembled in their living room, Eric, Sven, Hannah, Ava and Charlee on one side, Ewan on the other, currently shaking his head, gesturing wildly.
“I am so not wearing that ridiculous shirt!” Ewan shook his head, grimacing.
“What did you think we’d wear to bowling, you fashion victim? Armani suit and bow tie?!” Sven countered.
“Something less ridiculous than that shirt. We’ll look like trained monkeys!” Ewan argued.
“Everyone looks like that when bowling. It’s part of the fun.” Sven told him.
“Fun for whom? Those taking pics of us to put us on shaming websites?!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Ewan. Just wear the damn shirt or bowl shirtless, nobody cares. But let’s go already and quit standing here discussing a silly shirt! I promise you won’t die from wearing something you don’t like that is not silk or cashmere for once.” Hannah rolled her eyes.
“I veto that. You’re wearing it. Pretty sure the place has a shirt and shoes required policy. Just put on the dang shirt already or I will put it on you, you pool noodle!” Eric interfered.
“Fine, I’ll go change.” Ewan sighed defeated.
“Don’t get so distracted twirling in front of that mirror that you forget to put on pants too.” Sven quipped.
“No pants, Sven, if you guys make me go out in public in this thing, I’ll make it memorable for all of us. Wouldn’t want any pants to distract from my garter belt, ten inch heels and clown nose which would be the only things I could think of that go with that ugly insult to my corneas, you failed Scandinavian import.” he shot back into the room, before turning and running upstairs.
“I kinda wanna see that now, him in a garter belt and heels with a clown nose. Sorry Ava.” Hannah laughed in his wake.
“I probably have at some point in our relationship. We found out the hard way that Tequila shots are not his friend. That’s a story for another one of our girls only nights for sure.” Ava chuckled, Hannah and Charlee chiming in.
The rest of the evening was just as casual and filled with laughter, not only because none of them was particularly good at bowling. Founding a bowling club had been Sven’s idea, and he had club shirts made for all of them.
Seeing the group of friends and couples having such a relaxed and fun time, you would never guess the heartbreak some of them had weathered and some still were working through.
When the group celebrated their glorious failures at the bar of the bowling alley afterwards, Ewan nudged Hannah.
“Looks like they got the kinks just about worked out now.” as he pointed at Charlee melting into Eric’s embrace.
“Far from it, but they seem to be getting closer, baby steps, according to aunt Shea. I hope so much they can fix whatever broke. I cannot imagine one of them without the other.”
“Right? What they need is a vacay. No kids, no work, not distractions. Just each other on some remote island. They’d get closer out of sheer boredom if there is nothing else to do but each other.”
“Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, Ewan. Sex is the last thing they need right now. They need to fix their relationship on a whole different level first, before they can go there again.”
“Why? Tell me anything that gets two people closer than the mattress mambo, both completely exposed with drool dripping off their chins. And they’re already married, they’re supposed to screw.”
“I really feel sorry for Ava sometimes, you Neanderthal!” Hannah snapped, but could read in Ewan’s eyes that he still had not outgrown his passion for messing with her, likely never would.
“You telling me you don’t have to wipe off the drool when your hubby unwraps that six pack he is so proud of that he likes to flaunt it every occasion he gets?”
“Jealous much, you raccoon belly? FYI – I do not drool, I admire. And Sven admires me. Like civilized people.”
“Yawn, sorry I nodded off there for a moment. And raccoon belly? Excuse me? I have less than 10 % total body fat. And if you’re not putting out you better start leashing him when you go to work and tie him outside the restaurant or he’ll have the entire female population of the Bay impregnated before New Year’s.”
“Asshole! For your information – not like it were any of your affair – but things are quite hopping in the bedroom department for Sven and me, thank you very much!” Hannah stomped off, leaving a smirking Ewan behind, watching her kiss Sven passionately, who then possessively put his arm around her shoulder.
“Love you too, Hann. Just looking out for you. Your boy looked a little jealous there watching us standing so close. Can’t have that drama all over again. Rather piss you off a little, and it’s pretty hilarious watching you get angry. About as scary as an angry Care Bear.” he mumbled to himself.
“Who are you talking to?” Ava appeared.
“Myself. Best conversations I usually have are with myself.”
“I can see that. You always were your own biggest fan.” she teased.
“Thought you were my biggest fan.”
“Only because I am obligated to be by the ball and chain. Same reason I allow you in bed with me even though you perfected the art of man spreading while laying down and I spend half the night clinging on for dear life or I’d end up on the floor.”
She grinned at him, challenging him. Their relationship had started with them bickering like this and it was still kind of their thing. In her Ewan had found his match, even if it came to snarkiness and a big mouth.
“Is that so? Simple solution would be to just lay atop me, would make both of us happy. And if I am so insufferable I never made you sign a prenup. Just saying, you can dump me anytime and take everything I got.”
“Cool plan, except: I don’t want your damn money or stuff. Never have, never will. Besides, I enjoy torturing you too much and watch you squirm.”
“Ha, don’t want money or stuff, huh? Strange only that you exclusively wear designer clothes, expensive jewelry and live in a gigantic mansion on prime real estate to which some exotic car usually ferries you.”
“I don’t need all that, perfectly happy in jeans and t-shirt and a small shed. I doll up so that so you don’t whine and cry about me embarrassing you if someone sees us together and realizes I am married to the ‘oooh-aaaah-maaaazing Ewan Leif Cameron. Oh, swoon.” she teased.
“So, what is it that you want then.”
“Let’s see, I could do with a sexy, bronze complected hot guy with the most amazing blue eyes you ever saw, rubbing my shoulders in our hot tub when we get home. Know anyone like that?”
“Indeed I do! But you forgot ‘perfect hair’. Which the hot tub messes up. Why don’t we skip the hot tub and go straight to our bedroom, where we’d end up after a few rounds in the hot tub anyway? I know I am irresistible.”
“If by irresistible you mean brain-amputed sex-driven buffoon, you nailed it. Unromantic A.F.”
“Maybe, but I do have great hair.” he grinned.
“You should, as much time as you spend styling it. And I can’t wait till we get home so I can tousle that up just to mess with you.”
“Oooh, tell me more about things you’ll do to me when we get home …”
She leaned in and whispered something in his ear.
“Hey, guys, Ava and I have to run now. See you all when we see ya.” he called over to the rest of the group as he pulled a giggling Ava along with him.
Hannah looked up at Sven.
“Let’s.” he agreed.
Then it was just Eric and Charlee.
“Shall we go home too?” she briefly looked up at him as they were slowly moving to the music.
“I am not really ready to call it a night just yet.” he told her.
“Me either. I like it here like this.” she said as she snuggled against his chest.
“Slow-dancing at a bowling alley in ridiculous shirts to canned music?” he chuckled.
“Yep, just like that.” she smiled then put her head against his shoulder.
“Man, we both sure are cheap dates.” he chuckled.