o, the thing about me being a widow at the ripe old age of thirty-five was that no one knew what to say or how to act around me. My couple friends still invited me over to their parties, barbecues, and the like, but the conversations always drifted into the land of awkward.
Oh you look great. I haven't seen you since Rob . . . since the funeral. Did you do something to your hair?
The few single friends I had tried to pull me into their world. I didn't quite fit with them though. While they were clubbing or barhopping trying to find the perfect guy, every time I met someone my brain automatically compared him to Rob. I wasn't
looking for that special someoneâI'd found and lost him.
Being a widow is not quite the same as being divorced. I'd been quite happy being married, having regular, boring sex with my amazing husband, followed by eating cold pizza in bed while we watched the hockey game. It was what I'd always wanted.
was who I'd always wanted.
Seriously, fuck cancer.
As a result, I found myself on my own more and more. It wasn't a bad thing, really. I'd been with Rob since I was nineteen and we'd been friends long before we'd officially started dating. We'd grown up together, had the same interests, same fears. Hell, we used to speak in nothing but punch lines, only to dissolve into giggles together when no one else in the room knew what the hell we were talking about. Not having him by my side had forced me to slowly become a singular entity instead of a plural.
Being on my own was . . . strange. Rob had been gone nearly two years and I still found myself turning to say something to him at the weirdest times. Though over the past month that started happening less frequently. I couldn't tell you exactly how I felt about that. Guilty? Oh my God yes. But I knew it meant I'd finally started to move on. I hadn't told anyone about my mental shift. Instead, I found myself going to this quiet place in my head, speaking less, observing more. It was different. I guess I'd become different more out of necessity than any real desire to change.
We'd known his time was coming to an end and took the last month of his life to simply enjoy each other. It was on one of our various trips to the beach that he handed me The Envelope.
“What's this?” My fingers were damp from the ocean spray and sticky from the ice cream I'd just finished. “If this is some death letter thing, I can't read it.”
He grinned at that. “Naw, it's not sappy or anything. But yes, it's for after I'm gone.”
“Lyssa, listen to me. I promise you it's not what you think.” He huffed, puffing out his shallow cheeks. “How many guys have you slept with?” The breeze moved his shirt and the sun made his brown eyes sparkle. If he had any hair left it would have blown from his forehead. My heart ached to run my hands through his hair once more. “And if you say more than one I'll promise not to be pissed.”
“Don't be an ass. You know you're the only man I've ever been with.” We'd talked a lot about that after we'd gotten married. Rob had a small measure of guilt that I hadn't had a chance to sow my oats. Somehow he thought because of my limited dating experience I would get bored or grow to resent him.
“That's my point.” He took my hand and pressed the envelope into my palm once more. “Don't open this until you're ready. Hell, you might not want to open it at all. Just . . .” He gave my hand a squeeze, but for the first time in a long while, he couldn't meet my gaze. “I know you said you didn't think you'd want to be with anyone else.”
“I don't.” The thought made me ill.
“Baby, you shouldn't be alone. You have too much light and love inside you. The thought of you being on your own, of not having anyone to share in the joy you have to give? No. I know you. There will come a time when you'll realize that you're ready to move onâ”
“âand I know you'll feel guilty about that. You'll ignore the feelings for as long as you can, thinking that you don't need anyone. Then something will happen. You'll see someone and in that beautiful brain of yours you'll be all
nice ass, dude,
and that will be it. You'll cry about it but you'll realize you're ready.”
“Please. I wouldn't cry.” Because it wouldn't happen. Ever. “Not over a nice ass.”
He chuckled, finally looking me in the eye. “You'll cry. But then you'll remember this conversation and know that I was right. So I'm going to say
I told you so
now. Then I want you to take this envelope and open it.”
“It's about sex.”
I stood there with my mouth open. “What?”
“Just some ideas I had for you about sex when I'm gone. Getting back on the horse. Riding the cowboy. That sort of thing.”
I wasn't ready to think about him being gone, let alone wanting to have sex with someone else. “I don't want to talk about this anymore. Seriously, shut up or I'm going to punch you.”
He didn't let me forget about the envelope. He tried to get me to talk about it, but I would always cut him off. When I shoved it into a pile of papers in the closet, it found its way back onto my dresser. That box in the basement of papers that was older than me? Materialized on top of my desk. The recycling bin? Back onto the counter. I could have continued to play that game, but then Rob took another turn for the worse and all thoughts of envelopes and what they contained were the last things on my mind.
The cancer won.
And I was suddenly alone.
It really wasn't as bad as I'd first assumed it would be. I thought a lot about Rob, and missed him terribly for the better part of the first year. I functioned, worked, went out, but that was more of an automated response than actual living. There'd been more tears than I ever thought possible. My chest ached and my stomach churned. When I didn't feel ill, my mind wandered. I couldn't pretend to have any focus. My friends and the people at work never called me on my distraction.
Then I started to emerge from under the darkness and began to live once more. I still missed Rob, thought about him daily, but the tightness in my chest eased. That's when the guilt kicked in. At least he'd already told me it would.
I stopped going out to our friends' homes for a while. They'd begun to get used to me as a singularâAlyssaâand not a pluralâRob and Alyssa. With their ease came my anger that they were all still couples. Their lives hadn't been shattered and swept away without their permission. They'd smile, laugh, and all the while I wanted to scream at them.
So I stayed away.
It helped. I was able to catch my breath, cry, hit things, and slowly my brain adjusted. I could be allowed into public once more, no longer a danger to happy couples.
One thing that helped was changing up my routine. I'd rearranged all the furniture in our condo, painted the walls, even put up some new pictures. Rob would have hated them. I wasn't a fan myself, but it served its purpose. I started going to a new coffee shop half a block farther away from our building. I saw new people as I went, had to train a new barista named Len, smiled at a street performer who always played the same three songs on his guitar. It was good.
By the time the beginning of June rolled around, the tension had bled from my shoulders. It had taken me nearly two years, but I knew I was going to be okay.
That was when it happened.
A new guy moved into the complex.
Our building was a renovated school, each unit composed of three converted classrooms. Rob loved that we had a working water fountain just outside our front door. For fun, we'd mentally labeled the condos by classes. We were English because of the sheer number of books we had. Mr. and Mrs. Le Page were French, the Chin family were Home Ec and on and on. The new guy had moved into Tourism, the condo owned by some company that let their out-of-town employees stay there for extended periods of time. It was just down the hall on the side opposite our place.
And he had a nice ass.
I knew this because my first sight of him was him bent over, pushing a large box through his front door. His jeans were stretched tight as his long legs worked against their load. I don't know how long I stood there, but it was enough that I hadn't unlocked my front door and he must have felt my gaze on him. He looked over his shoulder and smiled.
My body shivered. Even with the distance between us, I felt the intensity of his gaze.
Then I heard Rob's chuckle in my brain, that little one he'd give me when he knew he'd won an argument. I had to get in before I looked even more the idiot. I waved to the guy and immediately fumbled with my key. I knew he was watching me, which made the entire process of opening the door a monumental task.
Click, whoosh, bang
and I was safely inside. I pressed my forehead to the door and contemplated the probability of dying from embarrassment. Given my current state, upward of forty percent chance of death.
have a nice ass.
It was in that moment that I remembered my conversation with Rob at the beach and his envelope. I was guilty, but that guilt wasn't nearly as strong as it had once been. With my hand pressed against the wood, I pushed away and slowly made my way to the bedroom. The envelope had taken up residence in my underwear drawerâI knew Rob would approveâdeep beneath my panties and socks. I hadn't thought about it for quite some time, but rather than feel sad about the prospect of opening it, I had a strange tingle of anticipation.
I held it in my hands as I sat on the edge of the bed. The stains from my ice creamâcoated fingers were still on the envelope. Chocolate with fudge. I ran my thumb across them.
Nothing else adorned the front of the envelope, no indication of what may be inside. I huffed, then licked my lips before I finally slipped my finger beneath the edge and tore the paper open.
Hidden inside was a single piece of paper wrapped around a bundle of index cards. I ignored the cards for the time being and spread open the paper. I took a moment before I could read the note. This was something new from Rob and my heart broke a little bit more. Those invisible fingers squeezed at my chest.
I love you. I know you love me. I'm glad you're ready to move on and start having some fun once again. I also know you well enough to realize you'll only go so far before you stop. Don't do that. And for God's sake, don't get into a serious relationship right away either. I always thought you hadn't taken enough time to figure out who you were as a person before we hooked up. We jumped into being a couple and lucky for us we worked and it was awesome.
You always said you never regretted being with me so young, but you also didn't date anyone else. You didn't sleep with anyone else. I took that experience from you and I always hated that you didn't get to explore. I wanted to give you my permission to go out there and experiment. Have fun. Fool around and don't feel the least bit guilty about it.
I thought I might also offer you some suggestions on how to get started.
Humor me, okay.
I've had a lot of time on my hands recently. When you weren't here, I started this little project. I call it Alyssa's 30 Days of Sex. Please don't have sex thirty days in a row because I'll be jealous. Not really. If you can do that, go for it. Seriously though, jealous.
Anyway, even if you don't use any of these cards, I had a lot of fun imagining you enacting them. You'll read them and think
OMG boy dreams!
That's cool. They are. Change them up if you want.
Even when you weren't with me, you made me happy. I'm going to stop now before I get sappy. Go get laid and enjoy the kinky sex.
Love you, baby.
I laughed. It was such a Rob thing to have done. I had no difficulty picturing him coming up with ideas for his cards while going through his chemo. Come to think of it, that explained most of the Internet pop-ups I'd been forced to clean off his laptop after he passed.
Sex cards. He wrote me freaking sex cards. I fell in love with him all over again. My best friend and lover was giving me advice on how to hook up with other people from beyond the grave. The idea was a mix of weird and sweet, the perfect descriptor for him.
My fingers shook as I flipped through the cards. Tears filled my eyes, but I couldn't stop myself from giggling. If he were still here, I would have punched him on the arm for confusing the hell out of me. I kept laughing as I flipped through the stack. He didn't actually expect me to do some of these? Threesome. Public sex. Get tied up. Have sex with a vibrator in my ass.
Actually, that one sounded interesting.
Eventually I went back to the first card and looked at it closely. On the top of each one he'd printed
30 Days of Sex,
and directly below it, the day it represented. This one had
written across the top and only one word written in his messy scrawl in the middle of the card. While it appeared to be the simplest to complete, I had a few doubts about starting on this insane game.
That was something I'd forgone doing for so long I wondered if my body remembered how.
Light was fading outside and it would be time for bed soon. Memories of Rob and the new guy with the nice ass were bumping around in my brain. My nipples grew sensitive and rubbed against the padding of my bra as I shifted back on my mattress.