Love and Other Mysteries

Mysteries: Love, Sexuality, Spirituality and Life

Unraveling – Part 126

It was unusually cool for May in the Mediterranean, and Libby and Paul were enjoying a fragrant and gentle sea breeze as they strolled along the Spiaggia Grande hand-in-hand.  It occurred to Libby that to the casual observer she and Paul were probably  mistaken for lovers; beautiful Americans on a romantic interlude abroad.  The thought gave her pause …

They had never been lovers – Paul may have believed otherwise, but she never had.   Even when things were right and good between them, sex was never part of what worked as it should.  It was never easy for her, and it never satisfied. She couldn’t recall ever feeling more alone than she did after sex with Paul.  

Was she comparing Paul to John?  Or had she always been deeply dissatisfied and in mourning for what might have been – what should have been?  It was the latter, of course, but it took Libby several distracted minutes to reason and conclude …

“You’re thinking of John, Lib”  Paul said quietly, his voice tinged with pain.  

She looked at him sadly, ashamed of her thoughts.  “I’m sorry, I am, but every moment feels false; it’s still very difficult for me.” 

“Even now, with him back in your life, I – we, feel less than genuine to you?”

“The girl you fell in love with is an illusion, Paul, and so is the woman she became.  I’m so, so sorry.” 

He hugged her gently, “I know, I’m sorry, too.  Sorry I wasn’t there for you when you could no longer suppress your desire, sorry I hurt you, sorry I can’t be the man you need me to be.” 

She closed her eyes and the tears came, but his embrace was warm and comforting and she did not break away.  For the first time since the nightmare began, she realized Paul’s remorse was heartfelt – his words spoken in honest feeling and emotion, and in full self-control.  He was becoming her friend again, and she was allowing him to.

Paul, my trip to Stockholm next month … John will be there.” 

He softly let her go and looked into her eyes to absorb what he heard.

It’s OK if you see him, you know that,” Paul said gently.

“I won’t keep secrets from you, I owe you the truth.  We didn’t plan to attend the conference together, but I’ve known of the coincidence for several months.  I feel ashame …”

Paul cut her off, “Lib, I was falling apart, and worse, when you discovered that you’d both be in Stockholm, or you would have told me – I know that.  I’m not sick anymore, you can be honest with me without fear.”

He held her again … 

And she was once again aware that he would never let her go.  

Unraveling — Part 125

Libby lay quietly, John’s arms folded softly around her – she was exhausted from sex and the sensual, romantic spanking that had come just before. She was also at peace; in these serene moments, her life made sense.  The rain was still falling, but it was gentle now – warm and fragrant as Spring rain ought to be.  She could hear the sea waves crashing near the shore just outside their bedroom window, and John softly breathing – his heart beating beneath her cheek as she lay on top of him … 

The bedside clock read 2:18 am when John softly whispered, “Are you awake?”  

She nodded softly into his chest, her movement barely perceptible, “I didn’t want to wake you …” 

“Are you hungry?”  He asked

Without thought, she slowly sat up making John groan with unexpected pleasure as she began to move rhythmically, grinding against him … 

“Are you hungry?” She teased, her voice dark and sultry – baiting, inviting, seducing

With an urgency no longer foreign to her, John lifted her from him and turned her face down onto the bed; his fingers found her wet and ready and he stroked expertly until she gave herself to him in wave after wave of ecstasy 

“On your knees, Beautiful – I’m going to ride you like the powerful animal you are”

She obeyed without hesitation, knowing her body would respond to his despite her exhaustion and well sated state; she was aware that a lesser man, a lesser lover, could never reach her now.

He entered her hard, in one motion – unapologetic; his need was raw, primal and determined to have its way.  He simply took what he wanted … 

“Come for me, Libby …” His voice was silky, but his command clear

In a desperate shudder she obeyed – from a place deep inside her, a place she hadn’t known until that moment, her body, mind and spirit complied with his whim, his will … 

His pleasure followed her’s – with an intensity she knew only from this man, he came in a rapturous burst – a long, hot moment of ecstasy and ethereal pleasure.  

They returned to earth slowly lying side by side listening to the waves break just beyond their window … 

John gently stroked Libby’s cheek with the back of his fingers, “You are a magnificent lover, Elizabeth …” 

She smiled, “I didn’t know life could be like this” 

Looking deep into her eyes he replied, “Neither did I.”  

Unraveling — Part 124

Rain was falling with ferocity as Libby and John sat near the picture window of his beach house sipping iced tea and gazing out at a dark and angry sea.  Humidity hung heavy in the air, and the temperature outside was close to ninety degrees Fahrenheit – the calendar said Spring, but it felt like Summer!  Summer in the American South – heat, humidity, rain and the occasional hurricane; Libby loved the island, and this house, but southern weather was another thing altogether! 

John looked at her, then gently swept back a wisp of hair that had worked its way out of the chignon she wore whenever the weather was sticky.  His smile was warm; she was wearing a light summer dress in emerald green, no make-up, and she was barefoot – this was not the surgeon whose skill he so admired, this was the woman who belonged to him, the woman he loved more than life itself.  

Libby spoke softly, “How did my mother look when you saw her last week?”  

“Radiant, as ever.  She was energetic and feeling well, but she worries endlessly about you – she’s made peace with dying for herself, but not with leaving her daughter …”  

“I spoke to her oncologist day before yesterday; she’s holding holding own, no progression or further metastasis – I’m cautiously hopeful, for now.”  

“She has so much regret where you are concerned, Sweetheart.  So much she’d change if she could; she told me how she spoke to you the day your father died …”

Libby closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to remember; “She did and said what she felt she had to – I understand that now.”  

“Do you?”  

“I was three thousand miles away, she didn’t want me to spend hours on a plane, alone, with no hope.  It wasn’t an unforgivable lie.”  

“The lie doesn’t haunt her, Libby – but telling you to say goodbye to him, and demanding that you not cry in the hospital, that you keep yourself together, remain stoic and accept in that immediate, icy, terrible moment that your father was gone with no emotional response what-so-ever, fills her with shame …”  

“It was classic Kate, John.  I was never permitted to show the world how I felt – she got landed with an emotional child, one she didn’t understand or know how to reach, and my emotions and sensibilities were too much for her, they embarrassed her – I embarrassed her.  I’d like to say she did the best she could, but I won’t lie to you.  She coped by living abroad much of the time, ignoring the fact that she was a mother.  When he died, and she demanded complete self-control from me, she was protecting herself from having to cope with  my feelings …” 

John looked at Libby, eyes glossy with tears that did not spill;  “No, she was protecting you – and only you.  Your father wasn’t just your rock, he was your touchstone – you depended on him for unconditional love, support and strength, but you were capable of living without him; she knew that – you did not.  If you had been allowed to fall apart there, in that terrible place in time, you’d have been forever changed.  You had to know from your first moment on earth without him that you could be all he taught you to be, all he expected you to be – and you could do it on your own, alone. You had to leave him behind and remain whole.”  

Libby was crying now, unashamed; “I didn’t know why …”

“She feels like she should have been able to do what she did kindly, and with compassion, but she didn’t know how; all she knew was she couldn’t allow you to believe, even for a second, that you were unable to cope with the pain of his loss, or live without him.  She wanted to hold you, comfort you – as any mother would in that moment, but she’d never been that mother to you, Libby, she’d been Kate, the Ice Queen … 

Libby lost herself in John’s words, and his embrace for several minutes, then pulled away

“Can we go to dinner a little later than planned?  I need to call my mother.”  

 As she was walking up the stairs to retrieve her phone,  John asked

Paul doesn’t know anything about what happened between you and your mother the day your father died, does he?”  

She gently shook her head from side to side

My heart breaks for how alone you have been …

but I promise you will never be alone again.”  

Unraveling — Part 123

Paul handed Libby a glass of wine, then sat beside her in front of a softly glowing fire; the room was dark and the shadow of the flame flickered and danced … 

Will you be alright while I’m away next week?”  She asked Paul, gently touching his hand.

I’ll manage,” he replied with no discernible emotion.

“Paul, you know I have to go, you understand that, don’t you?”  

Paul nodded silently

Neither spoke for several minutes, the Paul began

Do you remember Scott Bascombe?” 

The name was familiar, but Libby could not assign it a face; “Not really, why?”

“He was a year ahead of us at school, he was on scholarship, too; he was never accepted by kids like you, so I’m not surprised you don’t remember him.”

Libby cringed at, “kids like you,” but said nothing …

Paul continued, “He died last month, not sure how, but there was no mention of him in the monthly alumni letter; no memorial, no tribute, no obituary, no senior picture side-by-side with one taken recently.  Nothing, it was like he didn’t exist.”  

“Paul,”  Libby began cautiously, “I’m so sorry, but exclusion from the newsletter had to have been nothing more than oversight, which I’m sure the committee will rectify next month.”

If it had been you, or any other member of a prominent family, there would have been no oversight.”  Paul’s words were clipped, his tone heavy and angry.

This point of contention had stood between them since the beginning of their friendship; it had followed them into marriage, felt resolved when Paul became successful and wealthy in his own right – but it had returned with a vengeance in the days surrounding her affair.  Libby now realized it had never been resolved,  Paul had merely stopped dwelling on it for a time – had stopped hating her for having been born privileged.  

With the softness reserved for comforting an upset child, Libby said, “I thought we were past all of this.  You are successful, accomplished and financially secure …”

Paul did not allow her to finish before he began, “but that isn’t enough.  I will never be enough, I will never be like you.”

His restless, troubled mind tormented her; how much of his pain and anguish could be laid at her doorstep?  Their once peaceful life together had become so tumultuous, so complicated …

Libby was torn, cast on a sea of conflicting emotion; sometimes grief stricken for the pain she was causing Paul, other times frustrated by his inability to maintain perspective, let go of what he could not change, and be happy with who and what he was.  

And no emotion was as strong as her love for John – her waking thoughts always with him, always counting the seconds until she’d once again be in his arms …

but that love, wondrous and right as it was, filled her with guilt and shame … 

She wanted him desperately, but the cost of her desire was high.

Unraveling – Part 122 Con’t …

Libby sat on her bed trembling, still recovering from the panic she had felt when Paul suggested sex, but even more so from the intensity of her own reaction.  An inability to keep her emotional responses in check was foreign to her; she was always so controlled, so contained within herself – she struggled to believe she actually said the things she had said.

But she had said them, and they were a true indicator of how she felt – those feelings weren’t going to just go away, but she couldn’t address them with Paul, especially in the way that she had, and she knew this:

Paul could not remember all that he had said and done at the height of his illness; he had vague recollections, but nothing detailed or definitive, and at this point in recovery it was not in his best interest to be suddenly reminded of his worst moments …

She needed to check on Paul, but she didn’t know what to say or do.  He was stable, but still vulnerable and fragile.  She felt upset by this, and possibly even resentful – she did not like herself in this moment …

She found him in the music room, absently plunking out a tune she did not recognize on her piano.  He hadn’t bothered to turn on a light, but the fire flickered and the shadow of his silhouette glowed in the sheen of the parquet de Versailles floor as he sadly attempted to coax the song into life …

“Paul,” Libby said quietly, not wanting to startle him; she continued when he looked up “What are you playing?”

“I don’t know.  I used to, but I don’t anymore”  he said casually, a great deal of uncertainty now in his voice.

Libby stood behind him, and gently placed one hand on either shoulder, “You will find your way again, you won’t be lost forever” She said gently.

He sighed a little, then began “I don’t want to remember everything I did, Lib – I don’t want to be the monster who hurt you”  He turned to face her, then added, “I want to be the man you want and need for me to be.”

Kneeling in front of him, she took his hands and gently said, “I want and need for you to be who you are, nothing more.  I miss the man who was my best friend, I don’t need for you to be something or someone you are not — I never needed that, I never wanted you to change.  This was about my getting what I need without damaging you – I know that isn’t what happened, and I’m sorry I caused you pain, but you cannot be someone you are not.”

He looked at her in adoration, then gently touched her cheek and said, “You’re sorry?  Lib,  you aren’t responsible for what happened to me; I was going to have a break down – if our marital issues hadn’t been the catalyst, something else would have been.  I was an abused child, I have Bipolar Disorder that went undiagnosed while we treated for only Depression, and that was when I actually took my meds; I have PTSD from all the things I saw my father do to my mother, and lived through his doing to me.  I have an anxiety disorder and a fear of abandonment, none of which is your fault; I was a walking time-bomb… I was going to get sick, and it was going to be ugly, with our without what was happening to you.  I’m sorry I couldn’t maintain my position – I truly did, and do, want you to have what you need – although I will always wish I could be the one who gives it to you …”

He stopped there and softly kissed Libby’s cheek

She sat in his lap and embraced him for the first time in many months. 

Unraveling – Part 122

“Libby, can we talk about John?”  Paul asked softly, a hint of trepidation in his voice.

Seated across the table from him, she put down her fork and reached for her wine before nodding gently

“You look at him in the way I have always wished you would look at me”  Paul said in obvious pain, pain Libby loathed herself for causing; she struggled to find the right words – the right truthful words

“You are different people, you mean different things to me”  Libby knew her response was inadequate, and not what Paul needed to hear; she was failing.

“I have never been your lover, Lib, but I want to be.  I was so wrong to tell you I couldn’t give you what you need – I should have tried.  I want the chance to try now.”

Libby’s head was spinning, and it felt as though all the oxygen had been sucked from the air.  She tried to breathe, tried to take slow breaths in and out as she often instructed her trauma patients, but it wasn’t yet working; her heart was racing, she felt chilled and yet she was sweating – she realized she was having a panic attack just before Paul knelt in front of her in concern …

“What can I do, Lib?”  His voice was kind and afraid

She shook her head gently and held up her hand to indicate she didn’t need assistance – taking slow deep breaths, she tried reminding herself that she was safe – Paul was stable and she didn’t have to do anything she wasn’t ready for.  She didn’t have to sleep with him, and she didn’t have to play whatever sexual game he had in mind …

The flashbacks to the night he hurt her came in snippets, as though she were looking at photos of the scene one by one in rapid succession.  She tried to find new pictures, desperately searching her mind for pleasant memories to replace the horror that threatened to pull her into itself and never release her.

She had tucked that night away inside her – not running from it, but not facing it either.  She remembered  what John said about dark memories, especially dark memories that had not been sorted through and resolved, and their ability to resurface during heavy and intense sexual scenes – but all Paul had done was suggest the possibility of sex …

In the moment her breathing eased, she realized that terrible night, and what Paul did, was part of her now.  She would never again be who she was before.  Paul had taken something from her he could not give back, and not even his being ill when it happened mattered in this context.  Why didn’t matter now, couldn’t matter.  This was her pain and her reality and it had nothing to do with Paul’s God Damned illness!  She was left broken, and that mattered at least as much as did the fact that he was sick when he hurt her.

He was still kneeling in front of her, still looking scared – she wasn’t sure he yet realized she’d finally caught her breath, but all that was about to change

Slowly, she lifted her eyes to meet his – it took him less than a second to register her intensity

“You will never be my lover, Paul.  If that was ever on your horizon, you altered course the night you RAPED ME. ”  Paul lowered his head in shame, daring not to look into her eyes now …

“You called John a monster; said he was sick and depraved … but he didn’t bring this horror to my life, YOU DID!”

Paul said nothing, but he was trembling slightly and Libby heard a faint whimper when she asked, “What is a man, Paul?”

All he could do was shake his head from side to side …

She asked again, demanding this time; “What is a man?”

Still he could not reply

“A man, Paul, is honorable.  He is strong and full of integrity, he is possessed of self-control and restraint.  He is powerful, he is true to himself.  He is patient – tranquil, but is passionate and adamantine in determination.  He is loving, caring and gentle.  He is courageous.  He is confident.”

Libby stood and walked to the doorway from the dining room to the hall, but paused just long enough to ask …

“Who is the monster, and who is the man?”

 

Unraveling – Part 121

Libby was absently folding John’s shirts and placing them into his suitcase, but her thoughts were busy trying to reconcile all that had happened in the six days since he had arrived. 

John’s brother was being discharged to a rehabilitation facility later in the afternoon.  His mind was alert and he was left with only minimal left side paralysis, which physical therapy would address and minimize further.  His outcome could not have been better.

Paul seemed determined to adjust to her relationship with John, but Libby still felt unsettled; being John’s lover and girlfriend was the easy part, being Paul’s wife – whatever that meant now – was what she didn’t know how to do.

She had John back, and that made her ridiculously happy, but her marriage was in a state of ruin. Home was not the comfortable oasis it should be, and once was, it was a place of pretense and emotional deception …

Suddenly John, fresh from a shower, was behind her – she smiled when he wrapped his arms around her, and she allowed herself to relax completely as she fell against him for support. “I’m so glad Matthew’s prognosis is favorable, but I wish you weren’t leaving today” She said quietly.

Gently he turned her to face him, “I will be back in two weeks, you are going with me to Baltimore for the awards ceremony next month, and in June we have Stockholm – and I was hoping you’d be able to sneak in a few days with me on the island before you and Paul leave for your cruise in May.”

Libby nodded, “That all sounds wonderful, but that’s the easy part. There is so much wrong with my marriage, I don’t even know how to begin …”

“You begin repairing one thread at a time – you can’t look at the whole picture now that will only overwhelm you. Might I suggest a place to start, Libby?”

She nodded, and he continued

“You have to decide whether or not your marriage is worth repair.”

Libby closed her eyes for several seconds, and when she opened them, replied

“You once, very wisely, told me I wasn’t ready to leave Paul until I could leave and feel nothing – and you then pointed out that I do love him. That love has never been passionate, but it was real and valid for a very long time. I will, in one form or another, always love Paul, and I will always regret the pain my sexual awakening caused him, but he will never be, nor has he ever been, the right man for me. I want to repair the damage we have done to each other, I want to recover at least some measure of the friendship we once shared, and I want to find a way to take care of our children in love and understanding just as we always have …” she stopped and wiped the tears from her eyes before adding

“But I don’t think our marriage can be repaired.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unraveling – Part 120 Con’t

The room was still, and utterly silent except for the sound of the filter coming from the aquarium of brightly colored tropical fish Alyson kept behind her desk; she spoke first, looking at Libby, “I am so sorry, I did not mean to further complicate this situation.”

Libby knew Alyson’s slip was an innocent mistake; so much had happened in the year plus a few months she’d been their therapist … the events that occurred at Dachau were always on the agenda as something Paul needed to know, but Paul became ill and the timing was never right.

“Please don’t worry, I understand”  Libby said to Alyson

“Libby,”  John said, “I’ll explain this to Paul if you need me to, but it is your truth and I think you should tell him if you can.”

Taking a deep breath, Libby looked at Paul and began

“That morning, while we listened to the guide tell us exactly what had occurred there – the beatings, the naked prisoner, the pain he endured, I had an orgasm … ”  This explanation was tremendously abbreviated, but Libby felt no compulsion to provide details.

Paul looked shocked, but not entirely surprised; it was as though he’d just heard the news of another drive-by shooting, only this time the shooting wasn’t random — a national tragedy happening in some distant city, this time it was happening in his neighborhood.

“My fantasies had been getting darker, but I was unprepared for the moment and I was left scared and confused – sickened and repulsed by myself …”

“Libby,” Paul cut her off, “Why didn’t you tell me then?”

“At first I couldn’t, and later that evening, when I tried  telling you how profoundly affected I was by what I had heard, you found it difficult to believe, given what I see professionally, that Dachau had the ability to move me at all.  I couldn’t go on, couldn’t tell you then what had happened to me …”

Remembering, and knowing now how callous his remarks must have felt to Libby, he put his head in hands in shame; when he looked up, he said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me to be.  What happened to you doesn’t matter to me; I still love you, it’s OK.”

Libby tried to smile, but just couldn’t – “I knew I had to have answers, and I didn’t want to spend years in therapy finding them, so I found John through Lisa … “

Paul closed his eyes and gently shook his head back and forth in disbelief, wondering how any of this could have happened

“Paul,” John said, “You are right to tell Libby that what happened to her is OK, because it is, and it shouldn’t matter to you in any way that would alter your feelings for her – but I don’t think you actually understand it that way.   Pain is erotic for Libby, and even though that clearly disturbs you, her sexuality does not exist in sharp contrast with the rest of who she is, nor is it a flaw you have to overlook – she isn’t imperfect, or somehow less, because of what happened to her at Dachau; therefore, there should be no “I ‘still’ love you,” it should be only, “I love you.””

Once again the only sound in the room came from the aquarium, the swimming fish oblivious to the scene playing out on the other side of their glass home; Paul glared at John, but held his silence;  Libby spoke first

“Alyson, do you have any suggestions for how we might move forward?” 

She nodded, then addressed Paul, “An amendment you might consider is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – this works well for many of my patients trying to establish boundaries in similar relationships.  You already know she is seeing John, there were never lies or deceptions, but you don’t need  details that will only disturb you, it is time to move beyond that.”

Paul nodded, more in acquiescence than true agreement, then added, “I will respect Libby’s privacy, and I won’t try to stop her from seeing John.” 

Unraveling – Part 120

Libby and Paul arrived at Alyson’s office right on time with Libby wishing the next several hours of her life were already a distant memory.  She reminded herself over and over again that this session would not last forever, that this afternoon it would be in the past and she would be on to other things, but she could not recall ever feeling more anxious; her sense of trepidation was completely overwhelming and she had no idea how it  could be possible that Paul hadn’t noticed her trembling.

Alyson, hearing the bell in the waiting area, came out to greet them, but instead of ushering them into her inner-office, she sat with them in reception.  She began softly, addressing Paul

“I hope your first trip since returning to work went well, and we’ll spend some time on that if you need to in a private session, but right now we have something very specific we must discuss.”  Paul suddenly looked concerned and unsure, and he turned to Libby

She began in shaky voice, “John’s brother became seriously ill while you were away, and John has been here since early Sunday morning.”

Paul looked as though he couldn’t quite grasp what was being said, and he struggled to ask, “Have you seen him?”

Libby nodded in the affirmative, then added, “Yes.”

“Are you his brother’s treating physician, is that why you saw him?  Libby you were just doing your job …”

“No Paul, I am not the treating physician”

Beginning to understand, Paul looked to Alyson for help

“We’re all sorry if this feels like an ambush, but we thought it best if you found out here … are you OK, Paul?  Can we go on?”

The look of fear in his eyes was like a dagger in Libby’s heart and she reached out, putting her hand on top of his.

Softly Paul said, “please continue”

“We can’t go on without John,”  Alyson replied, then added, “He is in the inner office waiting for us, are you ready to go inside?”

Paul said nothing, but stood when Libby did; he was holding her hand very tightly now, as though that alone might save him.  She was unsure what feelings she could sense in Paul in that terrible moment – shame, guilt, fear, perhaps loathing for the man in the next room, or was it something else entirely?

John stood when they entered, greeting each of them in turn – Paul did not respond

“John,” Alyson said, “Would you like to begin?”

John addressed Paul in calm voice, devoid of all discernible emotion, “Libby and I saw each other by chance last Sunday morning – as circumstance dictated, that meeting was unavoidable.  However, since then we have been together by choice, and  you need to know that we intend to keep seeing other.” 

Paul sat stock still, looking at his shoes; he did not look up when John continued

“We are telling you this now in keeping with the terms we all agreed to when Libby and I began seeing each other last spring; no lies, secrets or deception.  If those are still your terms, we will continue to abide by them just as we always have.  If you’d like to amend them, we’re open to discussion, as long as you realize we will be together.” 

After several long and uncomfortable moments, Paul said in strained voice, “You slept with my wife while I was away, and not you want me to tell you that it’s OK if you keep sleeping with her?”

“Paul,” John said, “I did not sleep with Libby while you were away, I haven’t slept with Libby in months.  You can believe that or not, but it is the truth.”

Paul looked at Libby hopefully

“We wanted to go slowly, giving you time to adjust incrementally;  I didn’t sleep with him.”  Libby said as though she were addressing a fragile patient

“What amendments to our agreement could I make? ” Paul asked, “I don’t want this to happen, but that isn’t possible according to John.” 

“Paul,” Alyson interjected, “No one here wants you to feel powerless, no one, but some things you are simply going to have to accept.  The world has turned, and you are here now – that morning at Dachau happened to Libby and the chain of events it set off has left you in this place …”

Paul interrupted, “That morning at Dachau happened to Libby?  What in the name of God does that mean?” 

In the same moment Alyson realized her slip, she noted Libby reaching for John …

Unraveling – Part 119 Con’t …

” I love you too,” John said softly, “But I’m not afraid to say what you need to hear.”

Libby nodded her understanding, more relaxed now;  “I know Paul’s character – all of his character – is on trial here.   Being married to me has not been terrible; it has given him a chance to live a different life – a privileged life, a life he finds exciting and desirable.  He has taken the benefits, but he has failed to live up to the responsibility that came with them, I cannot argue this point.  You believe, as assuredly as my father would have believed, this absolves me of my obligation to Paul …”

John nodded slowly, “Your father raised a remarkable woman, and I know that loyalty, duty and honor, as well as  a commitment to legacy and family, were engrained in you in the cradle, but self-sacrifice to this degree was not.  Your loyalty to your marriage now, after all that Paul has done to you, comes from your shame and guilt over the fact that you married him for the reasons you did.   You gave him everything, Libby, it was Paul who changed the rules of the game.”

She knew he was right, about all of it.  She smiled, then said, “It’s been a very long time since anyone spoke to me the way you did earlier …”

“I’m sure it has.”  John replied, kissing her cheek before adding, “when I told you we weren’t going to hide, I didn’t mean only in hotel suites for sex — I meant we’re no longer going to conceal our relationship.”

Libby’s eyes grew wide with disbelief, but she remained silent

He continued, “Breathe, sweetheart … I also didn’t mean with total disregard for discretion.” John smiled, then went on, “I don’t want to pretend you’re nothing more than a colleague while we are in Stockholm in June.  I want to take you, as my date, to an awards ceremony I must attend next month. And I want to introduce you to my family, beginning with Matthew’s wife and children tomorrow morning … ”

She looked unsure, but remembered what he had said about having fallen in love with her, and how that had changed his own path.  For too long John’s feelings had taken a back seat in their situation, for too long the focus had been on she and Paul.  He asked almost nothing of her, and he gave her everything.   

“OK – we can, with discretion, begin letting people know we’re in a relationship.”

“Thank you Libby,  but I wasn’t asking your permission.” 

She wanted him desperately …