– Chapter 15 –
“Tell me about your wife,” she said in the morning, with her head at the foot of the bed and her toes tapping out a rhythm on the wall above the headboard. Gideon flounced onto his left side and propped himself up on an elbow. Maranatha felt deliriously happy and childlike, and though in the back of her mind she worried that too much silliness would remind him of their age difference and make him recoil or rush her back home, she couldn’t wipe the grin off her face, even when her cheeks began to ache with the effort.
They were up until 4 am. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was after 11. They’d squandered all but an hour before check-out and she knew they should hustling to avoid the late checkout fee, but the thought of leaving this bed was just too maudlin. Tears burbled deep in her stomach. She bit them back, already missing him. She’d have to go home eventually and Anne would need to know where she’d been all night, even if she didn’t ask outright or right away. Maranatha was already concocting her cover, something vague and uninteresting that didn’t reference Gideon at all and wouldn’t require any follow-up.
She covered her eyes with one hand, sobered. It was all too much.
Gideon’s lips landed on hers and she peeked out at him through her fingers.
“What do you want to know about her?”
“I want to know whatever you want to tell me.”
His brow furrowed as she’d watched it do all night and goose bumps rose on her arms. He kissed her forehead. “This isn’t a bed conversation,” he said. “Get up. I’ll take you to breakfast; we’ll talk it out.”
In the shower, she wondered what secrets he was saving for the public sanctum of a restaurant. What shocking revelations would he admit, where he knew—or at least hoped—she wouldn’t make a scene? Maybe he’s still married, she thought as she lathered and savored the hot water bouncing against her skin.
He’d wait for her food to arrive and while she was chewing her first bite, he’d confess that they’d been separated for years but neither had formally filed for divorce because they considered it such a grievous sin. And she’d ask if they ever planned to dissolving their union. There, he’d hedge and she’d cry over her own stupidity.
This seemed the only possible outcome. Fools rush in.
She debated asking if he had pictures of her, perhaps a wallet wedding photo that nostalgia had kept him from discarding. Envisioning Gideon married was one of Maranatha’s most torturous pastimes. In her mind, his wife was like Lisa Bonet or Erykah Badu, the type who seemed more faerie or goddess than woman, an earthy transient cyclone who gorgeously spun into lives for the sole purposes of titillating, then wrecking.
He’ll tell me this story about how much he used to love her, Maranatha thought as she turned off the water and stepped onto the cold bathroom tile, and I’ll see, in the clouding of his eyes and the slight tenseness of his jaw, that he still does.
She toweled off and wrapped herself then headed for the door.
Gideon was just outside when it she opened it. She walked right into him, hiding her face in his chest. Musky and warm, his skin smelled faintly of hotel linens. She felt his chest rise as he drew a deep breath and held it. He grabbed her shoulders and brushed past her to step into the steamy bathroom.
She wondered if his mind was racing, if he remembered her as vividly as she remembered him, if he was rapidly reevaluating this entire scenario, in the harsh light of morning. There were so many things they hadn’t discussed last night, about their pasts, shared and separate, and what should happen in their futures.
Sitting across from each other in a sticky IHOP booth, wearing the same clothes they’d peeled off one another the night before, was surreal. Maranatha fidgeted, unwrapping her silverware and tearing at the paper napkin that’d held it together.
“Don’t get shy on me now,” Gideon chided, even though he was crinkling his straw paper into an accordion and rubbing the sweat down his water glass with his thumb. They’d just ordered: a big steak omelet for him; a Belgian waffle with strawberries for her. The place was bustling, for a weekday morning. While she waited for him to bring up his ex-wife, she wondered how loud her voice would rise during that conversation and how many forks would freeze between plate and mouth, as the diners honed in on her likely outrage.
“You wanted me to tell you about my ex.” He shrugged. “We were married for six years, been divorced for three. I liked her; she liked me. It didn’t work out. We met a year after I stopped teaching.”
“Do you ever miss teaching?”
This was absolutely not the question she wanted to ask. She wanted to stay with the wife, in case this window closed and he decided to turn coy and mysterious later. But she needed to know this, too. And there was something in the flat and distant tenor he adopted, discussing his wife, that assured Maranatha their relationship was well past over. It wouldn’t be difficult for him if Maranatha brought his marriage up later. But what had happened between them at Holy Pentecost could be a much sorer subject. It made her nervous, being with him, unaware of what he really thought about it. Kissing her had ruined his teaching career; she wouldn’t blame him if he still harbored resentments.
This was the topic they’d carefully avoided under their tent of bedsheets. They’d talked about books and music, about film and their college experiences, about their collections of lovers; but they’d said nothing of what it felt to be banished from the school where they were raised, how it was simultaneously humiliating and freeing, how they hung their heads before learning to hold them level, if not always high.
“I don’t miss it often. I wasn’t really good at it.”
She knew he didn’t believe that. What was it in them both that made them so damned self-deprecating?
Part of her wanted him to angrily grit that he could’ve been great at educating. He could’ve been a principal by now—at a real school, a fair school, a place that didn’t condemn its students’ curiosities or adventures, no matter how ill-advised they might be. She wanted him to care about the impact she’d had on his life. His dispassion unnerved her.
All business, he blurted, “I never apologized directly to you—”
“You never had to. I—”
“I deserved to lose that job. Honestly, I never really wanted it; I just took it in an attempt to straighten my life out.”
“You should’ve known not to come back to HP to get your life right.”
He chuckled, “Yeah. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking straight.”
Their server slid their plates onto the paper placemats before them. Neither said grace before they began to eat.
While Gideon shook A-1 onto his omelet, Maranatha stared at him until she it occurred to her. How could she have been so dense? All the emotion that had seeped out of his voice was actually crowding his face. He looked sheepish and wounded and slightly tinged with scorn. But he also seemed relieved and admiring and present.
“You’re stunning,” he grinned, concentrating on his spearing a bit of steak with his fork.
She slid out of her side of the booth and sat next to him, watching him finish chewing and wipe his mouth with a napkin before turning to face her. She kissed him, her face flushing with awareness. Public displays of affection weren’t typically her style. It’d never occurred to kiss anyone in a booth at an IHOP before.
When they parted, they pressed their foreheads together. Gideon whispered, “Sometimes, I feel like I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,” and Maranatha whispered back, “We do suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
And they laughed and kissed and nuzzled their noses, until the server ventured over to refill their mugs of coffee.