These days there’s a lot of money to be made if you’re in the right place at the right time, if you keep your shoulder to the wheel. That’s how Mike and Katherine got their nice house, their cars (hers with that new-car smell still in it), an art collection, and a healthy nest egg. The house is close to San Francisco. Her car is a Mercedes. The art is mostly modern, up-and-coming painters you’ll read about in ArtWeek any day now.
They’re young enough that they don’t have to worry about kids yet, so they don’t—if you asked them, both would say, “Oh, kids are definitely on the agenda,” though they’d sound a little vague. They’re old enough that the honeymoon’s over, neither of them quite remembering when it ended.
Seven years is a long time to be married. Still, aside from that, things are sweet. The rhythm of their weekdays, long-familiar now, has them clacking along toward the weekend like they’re on a polished set of tracks. They fill weekends with rituals of their own.
It dawns on Katherine very, very gradually that she can’t remember the last time they made love. She knows they did when they spent that weekend in Monterey—Mike’s last birthday. In that romantic B&B, how could they resist the impulse to fall into each other’s arms? And it’s always a little exciting to be away from home. But they had to break it off in time to get in a day at the aquarium—the whole reason they went—so Mike could see the shimmery glow-in-the-dark jellyfish, delicate neon tendrils floating in the black water. He had seen a special about them on the Discovery Channel, had to see for himself. She lost her heart to them too: she and Mike stayed in the darkened room for almost an hour, silent, side by side with their hands clasped together so lightly that for minutes at a time she lost track of the sensation of his skin against her palm.
That’s what she likes about being with him. It’s so easy. They can drive together silently, not feeling as if a conversational black hole has swallowed them; they can spend Sunday mornings reading the paper and trading sections with a touch on the arm; they fill each other’s coffee mugs without being asked and hand back the steaming, fragrant cups accompanied by a little kiss. After that they work in the garden, sometimes side by side, sometimes like her grandparents used to: Granddad in the vegetables, Gram in the flowers. She can imagine the next fifty years passing this way.
They must have had sex since Monterey—that’s four months ago—but she can’t remember it. Mostly now they do it late at night, right before sleep, but it’s not on a schedule like practically everything else. Neither is it very predictable, tied to watching the Playboy Channel or Real Sex on HBO; lately they don’t watch those shows much anyway. If you asked Katherine, she’d probably say she doesn’t really notice, nor does she notice being turned on, wanting sex, thinking about it very often. There was a time when she lived in almost constant arousal, but that was years ago. She and Mike had just met; she was so much younger then. She’s always too busy now, tired all the time, except when they get away for a few days. And they haven’t had time to leave town since that weekend in Monterey. Katherine’s a lawyer; Mike’s software company will go public early next year. And if you asked Katherine whether her friends have more sex than she and Mike, she’d probably tell you not much—everybody’s so busy now. Everyone has to concentrate on reaching for the brass ring. How else could you afford a house with a garden, two cars, the basics?
Katherine masturbates sometimes after Mike has fallen asleep. Lines of code lull him into light snoring, while Katherine’s legal cases keep her awake. She goes over arguments, making mental checklists of every point she’ll have to hit when she’s in court the next day. She considers this productive time, until she has it organized in her mind—then the arguments begin to repeat themselves and she’s so wound up over them she can’t nod off. When she gets to this point, she pulls her vibrator out of the nightstand. It’s one of those quiet vibrators, barely audible—even though Mike sleeps right next to her, once his breath has evened and slowed she won’t wake him.
If you asked her, Katherine would admit that this proximity feels erotic: a little illicit but comfortable too, like the comfort of being with him while they weed or watch glowing aquarium fish in companionable silence. She sometimes slows down her breath to match the rhythm of his, a lingering synchronicity within which they are alive, alone, together—it doesn’t matter that he’s not conscious of her; it calms her down. Her climax, when it comes, drifts up on her gradually, and its power always surprises her.
Sometimes she gently places herself against him: pressing against his back when he’s turned away from her, or reaching out with just her toes to make contact with his soft-furred calf. It’s funny that she doesn’t necessarily think of making love with him during these times, but in a way she is making love with him. If you asked her, Katherine would say that Mike knows she’s doing it, knows it in his sleep. (When she first developed this habit she used to ask him if he had dreamed about anything in particular, but he could never call up sexual dreams. Or if he knew, he never said so.) Katherine respects Mike’s sleep too much to thrash or buck, and really this is more about her own tension than about passion. And a tension-tamer orgasm can be quiet, an implosion that rocks her to sleep without rocking her world.
She wakes up refreshed the next morning and goes to court.
Mike has his own private time a couple of days a week, after Katherine leaves for the courthouse. He works a flex schedule, a perk of having stayed at his job for over five years, and two days a week he works at home. He’s just as efficient at the home office as at the one downtown, even though this one overlooks his and Katherine’s garden. In fact, he’s more efficient at home, getting at least as much work done in less time. He takes one if not two breaks to jack off, the first in the still-rumpled bedclothes right after Katherine leaves (she accepts without question that Mike will make the bed on the days he stays home).
The first one is his favorite, especially because the bed still smells faintly of Katherine; he buries his nose in the pillow and lets the scent keep him company as he strokes himself hard. It’s his way of keeping her comfortably close, even though she’s already halfway to work by the time he begins. He takes plenty of time, a slow hand-over-hand on his cock while his mind wanders; he’s in no hurry. His eyes closed, usually, he drifts through a lifetime’s worth of mental images until he finds the one that sends a jolt of heat through his cock, maybe makes it jump a little in his hand. That’s the one he’ll use, embellishing it into a fully fleshed-out fantasy. If you asked him, he’d say he doesn’t feel that he guides the fantasy. He feels like he’s along for the ride, almost like the folio of erotic images riffling inside his brain has a life of its own, each separate image, in fact, a separate reality that he’s simply stumbled into the way Captain Kirk is thrust into a new dimension if his crew doesn’t set the transporter controls just right.
For half an hour twice a week Mike drifts in and out of dreams that take him to all sorts of places, sometimes even out of himself. When his orgasm comes it almost always swells up like music at the climax of a movie, the place in the plot where you’re supposed to just give yourself over to the story, cry if it tells you to, or clench your fists in fear. When he’s done he almost always writes code for two or three solid hours before even thinking of making himself some lunch. When the weather permits he takes his sandwich out into the garden.
He doesn’t always take a masturbation break in the afternoon. Sometimes he’s on a roll and wants nothing more than to work—Katherine comes home at six or seven and finds him still at it, though on those days he falls asleep really early. But once every week or two he gives himself an hour or two to surf the Net.