When we get home, I send the kids to brush their teeth (“that means you, Katie!”) and then off to bed. Patrick is watching television on the sofa when I come in, but he shuts it off to give me a hug and kiss as I walk in the door. It’s a relief to see his smiling face after the less than warm welcome I got at Blake’s apartment.
“You look stressed out,” he notes.
I nod and let him lead me to the sofa, where I rest my head against his shoulder. Patrick goes to the gym a few days a week, and he’s in very respectable shape. He’s more solid than Blake, who was always more on the lanky side. And he’s blond, whereas my ex-husband has black hair. Objectively, Patrick is better looking—most women would prefer him. My mother says he reminds her of Paul Newman.
And of course, Patrick isn’t a paraplegic.
“Was Blake a jerk to you?” he asks.
I sigh. “It wasn’t his fault. The kids told him we got engaged.”
Patrick’s lips form a straight line. “He needs to move on. You’ve been divorced for four years.”
“I know.” Except we were a happy couple for twelve years. Until…
That day. The day when everything changed.
“It’s unhealthy,” he goes on. “I get that he’s depressed over his situation, I don’t blame him, but he needs to see a therapist or something. I mean, do you think it’s even safe for him to be spending time with the kids?”
My spine stiffens. “He’s a great dad.”
He shrugs. “Whatever you say. Anyway, are you hungry? The Chinese food is here.”
As he says the words, my stomach lets out a low rumble. When is the last time I’ve had something to eat? Lunch was at least eight hours ago. “Starving. Lets eat.”
We go over to the dining table, where there’s a brown paper sack full of delicious smells. My stomach rumbles again the second I rip it open. And Patrick got a lot of food. He always seems to get enough food for the entire week. But that’s fine, because the kids eat like horses. They can have leftovers tomorrow for dinner.
“You got mushu pork?” I ask.
Patrick comes up behind me and kisses my neck. “Of course I did. I know that’s your favorite.”
I’m so hungry, I could eat half the bag. He even got crab Rangoon, my other favorite. But of course, the days when I could stuff my face and not gain a pound are long gone. “You’re the best.”
He winks at me. “Wait’ll you hear my surprise.”
I start scooping pork onto a plate. “I can’t wait. What’s my surprise?”
He takes a dramatic pause. “I’m throwing you… a massive 40th birthday party next month.”
I put down my serving spoon and stare at him. That is not a good surprise. He knows I’ve been dreading this birthday. That I can’t even say the word “forty” without feeling a horrible pit of dread in my stomach. The last thing I want is to advertise how old I am to the entire world. I mostly want to spend that day hiding under a pile of coats until it’s all over.
“Hear me out, babe.” Patrick raises his hands. “Okay, I know you’re not excited about turning 40—”
“That’s an understatement.” I’m dreading it with every fiber of my being.
“But you shouldn’t,” he says. “I’m 43, and let me tell you, these are the best years of your life. Especially for you. You’ve got your career established, you don’t have to run around after a couple of stinky toddlers, and may I add, you still look great.”
I toy with a lock of my long red hair. Blake liked it short, but I’ve spent the last five years growing it out. Now I’ve been thinking I should get it cut again, because I’m too old for hair this long. “I don’t know, Patrick…”
“Look.” His blue eyes meet mine. “I think this is a great opportunity, not just to have a fun time, but also for networking. A 40th birthday party—that’s exciting. We could turn this into the party of the century, and I bet you’ll triple your business. Think of the commissions.”
I pick up the serving spoon again. “I guess that’s true…”
Patrick’s eyes light up, encouraged by my response. “And you don’t have to lift a finger, Audrey. I’ll take care of everything. This is what I do—PR for events like these. All you have to do is show up and be the birthday girl.”
I stir the container of Mushu pork absently. Maybe he’s right. I haven’t had a birthday party since… God, since before the kids were born. Blake used to make a big fuss over my birthday, even though it came right before the tax deadline—his crunch time. Our first birthday together, he took me out to a French restaurant he couldn’t afford, then he brought me back to our apartment where our friends were waiting to surprise me with cake from my favorite bakery. It was one of my best birthdays to date.
Then after we had the kids to deal with, he would generally limit it to a thoughtful present, a nice dinner and some very nice stuff after. Ever since we started dating, we always made love on my birthday. On the first birthday when we weren’t together, my friends took me out and made sure I had a good time, but my entire body ached for him.
Patrick makes an effort too. Maybe not quite as big as what Blake used to do, but last year he took me out to a nice restaurant and bought me a box of expensive chocolates. We had only started dating a few months earlier, so it would’ve been strange if he made a huge deal out of it. Anyway, I was depressed about turning 39. Before that, I always had a buffer between me and 40. But when you turn 39, the buffer is gone. Any day now, you could turn 40.
So I spent the last 11 months dreading this birthday. My life has become a ticking time bomb. But maybe Patrick is right. Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong—these could be the best years of my life. I should just own it.
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s do it!”
Patrick lets out a whoop and throws his arms around me, nearly knocking over a container of lo mein. Wow, I didn’t expect him to be this excited about throwing me a birthday party. It’s really sweet.
Except it occurs to me that this party will be a very good networking opportunity for him as well. This party will be just as good for him as it will be for me.
Right away, I scold myself for that thought. Patrick is doing something thoughtful for me. I should just feel lucky my fiancé is such a nice guy.
Today is the day my cleaning girl comes.
I finally broke down and hired one last year, because when you get to a certain age, it’s not cute or charming when your place is a pigsty. Audrey always kept our apartment clean, and I never appreciated how much she did. Of course, I did have my own chores I was responsible for. I took out the trash. I loaded and unloaded the dishwasher. I also changed fifty jillion diapers—ballpark figure.
Laura is running the vacuum while I’m working at my computer. I’m working from home again today, but because I’ve got company, I’m at least dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. And I’ve got a dress shirt draped over the couch for a Skype meeting with a new client in a couple of hours.
Audrey used to be the one that took care of the vacuuming though. She used to do it with her headphones in, and she used to sing to herself and sometimes dance too. It was really cute. Sometimes I used to just watch her.
My phone chimes on the table next to me. It’s Greg calling, probably from the office, so I pick up. He’s the physical presence at the office, because I mostly work from home. But we’re equal partners. Greg is also my best friend. I don’t have a brother, and he’s the closest thing to it. After my accident, when I was a fucking disaster, he’s the one who yelled at me to come back to work, which is what saved me. But he admitted later that he spent the first month checking over everything I did because I was admittedly not that reliable back then.
“Blake,” he says on the other line. “Hey, how’s life in boxers land?”
I roll my eyes. “I’m wearing jeans.”
“I’m not sure I believe you. The last five times I came by, you were wearing boxers.”
That could be true. “Well, they’re comfortable.”
“So Blake,” he says, “you think you can show your face here on Monday? We’ve got two new staff members that I’ve never even met in person. I was going to throw a little lunch thing.”
I feel a tap on the shoulder. Laura is standing behind me with her vacuum. She points to the area under my computer desk. I nod and wheel back a couple of feet so she can vacuum. Her straight chestnut hair falls over her neck, and I can see freckles on her shoulders. I get a whiff of that Pine Needle spray.
“Yeah, okay,” I say. “I’ll be there.”
“You need to get out of the house more, man.”
I blow out a breath. “I’m fine. Really.”
He’ll find out about Audrey getting married soon enough. I don’t feel like talking about it now, especially with Laura leaning over me.
“Okay,” Greg finally agrees as Laura moves onto my laundry. “But Rachel and I are taking you out to dinner one day next week. Pick a day.”
I suppress a groan. Back when I was married to Audrey, the four of us used to be close couple friends. Now I’m their third wheel. Literally. “Dude, it’s tax season. I thought you knew that.”
“Bullshit—you gotta eat. Give me a day, or Rachel is going to text you until you do.”
We finally settle on Tuesday night, but I’m already plotting to have a headache or something along those lines. Like I said, I love Greg like a brother, but sometimes I wish he would just let me be miserable in peace.
When I hang up, Laura is putting the last of my laundry in the dryer. She’s bending over, her tight blue jeans stretching over the curve of her ass. She has a great body—she’s only 25 and doing this work to get herself through graduate school. When she stands up again, she kicks the door to my dryer closed and gets it started. When she smiles, she looks a lot like Samantha on Bewitched. Great show, by the way. (But I definitely prefer the original Darren.)
“So.” She tugs at the strap of her tank top. “That’s the last of your laundry. We’ve got about an hour to kill till the cycle is done.”
Then she lifts an eyebrow suggestively at me.
“Okay,” I say.
I push myself away from the computer desk, and a second later, she’s sitting on my lap. She’s got her fingers laced into my hair, and I’ve got my lips on hers. My right hand slides inside that tiny little tank top, of the soft skin of her back.
So yeah. I’m sleeping with my cleaning girl.
Not a lot. Just four times. No, five. Five times. We’re not dating or anything. It’s just sex. It all started when she was waiting for the clothes in the dryer and she joined me watching reruns of I Love Lucy on the couch. It was the episode where Little Ricky won’t stop crying and Mrs. Trumbull keeps complaining. This wasn’t the most romantic episode, so it was even more strange that somehow in the middle, we started making out. She would be way out of my league in terms of dating, even if I didn’t have the wheels. I’m 15 years older than her, for starters. And even if I were 10 years younger, she would still be out of my league. Although I thought Audrey was out of my league when I first met her.
Laura and I make out for about 10 minutes with me in my chair and her on my lap, then we decide to move things to the bedroom. My bad right wrist screams with the effort of pushing myself with her on top of me, and halfway there I have to take a break.
I nip at her ear. “Any chance you could walk it from here?”
Her fingers slide up the back of my neck. “No way. You gotta work for it, Campbell.”
By the time we get to my bed, her face is flushed and hot. She climbs onto my bed and squirms out of her tight little jeans. Her legs are soft and smooth—I wonder if she shaves on the mornings she comes to clean. I run my fingertips over her inner thighs before I lower my lips onto her skin.
“Blake…” she gasps, before I even get to her pussy. “Oh God…”
I love how much she loves it. I love the way she squirms and squeals when I finally lower my lips onto her clit, flicking with just the right amount of pressure. I used to do this for Audrey sometimes before, but I wasn’t nearly as good at it as I am now. This is my main move now, so I’m damn good at it. I wish I’d figured that out before Audrey and I broke up—maybe it would have been enough to get her to stay.
It’s so fucking hot just watch her. I always thought going down on a girl was fun enough, but now I savor every second of it. I enjoy the taste of her, the way she squirms, the way she screams, the way she presses her thighs against my ears. It floors me.
I try to go slow and draw it out, but Laura is too sensitive. Within a few minutes, she’s screaming so loud, I’m pretty sure the whole building can hear. Good—they should know the guy in the chair is getting a little action. I give her a second to recover, then I lower my lips onto her clit again. She goes another four times before her sweaty body finally goes limp.
“Jesus, Blake,” she gasps. “I think I blacked out. You are really good at that. I mean, Jesus fucking Christ.”
I wipe my lips with the back of my hand, then transfer into bed beside her. Her entire face is pink and she has a sheen of sweat. She starts kissing my neck and I let out a groan of my own. When we first started hooking up, she mentioned having sex, but I quickly took it off the table. I don’t enjoy sex that much anymore. First of all, I can’t feel it. I have zero sensation below the belt. So intercourse has become a stressful ordeal of hoping I don’t lose my hard-on, and basically just having to lie there because I can’t thrust effectively anymore. Maybe we would try it if we were in a relationship, but it’s not worth the stress for a hookup.
Anyway, everything above the belt has become more sensitive. I explained that to Laura, so she goes to town with her mouth the same way I did, kissing and licking me everywhere I can feel. There’s no orgasm, but by the end of it, I’m just as sweaty and breathless as she was.
And then we hear the laundry machine ding.
“I better get started on that.” She winks at me. “I have a class to get to in an hour. Unless you want to take care of laundry.”
“Wow, that is so tempting.” I squeeze her shoulder. “But I’ve got to get back to work too.” I also have a meeting in about an hour. I want to look respectable and not like a guy who just had his face buried in his cleaning girl’s pussy an hour ago.
Even so, I would offer to do it. I don’t mind putting away my own laundry. But there’s potentially a slippery slope here. Because I’m paying Laura to be here. So she’s not cleaning my place and doing my laundry, but I’m giving her money and we’re having sex, what exactly am I paying her for? It’s a disturbing thought.
I watch Laura get dressed, feeling a little sad as her blue jeans cover up those perfect white legs. She trots out to the living room, and I hear the creaking of the dryer opening up. And then, next to my head, I hear a buzzing sound.
She left her phone on my night table.
I glance at the screen—there’s a text message from some friend of hers. I don’t know any of Laura’s friends. We’ve talked a bit, but we’re not dating, so it hasn’t gotten that detailed. I have no intention of spying on Laura‘s text messages. But the message is right on the screen when I look over at it:
What are you up to today? Cleaning for the hot old guy with the “magic tongue”?
My mouth falls open. I’m assuming she’s talking about me—she apparently told her friends we’re hooking up. I don’t like to think of myself as “old” but I guess 40 seems pretty old to a 25-year-old. At least she said I’m hot. And I really like that magic tongue comment. All in all, I’m not displeased with the text message.
And then there’s a second one:
Too bad he can’t walk.
I suck in a breath. Well, that makes me feel like crap. I drop my head down against the pillow. I shouldn’t have been looking in the first place. What’s wrong with me? But it’s not my fault. The text messages just kept appearing on the screen. If you have friends who are going to text you about oral sex, you should make it so the text messages don’t appear on your goddamn lock screen.
“Hey.” Laura pops her head into the room. “Did I leave my…” Her eyes light up when she sees her phone. “There it is! I was worried I lost it. I’m always losing my phone. Have you ever, like, been looking for your phone for like 10 minutes, and then realized you were talking on it the whole time?”
I manage a thin smile. “Not really.”
“Just me then?” She laughs. She walks across the room and picks up her phone. She reads the messages on the screen and her eyes widen. I look away, trying to pretend I didn’t see it. “Blake, um…”
I struggle into a sitting position and swing my legs off the side of the bed. “Yeah.”
She chews on her thumbnail. “That was… really nice. I enjoyed it. A lot.”
I shift myself into my chair in that one swift movement I’ve perfected over the last five years. I remember when I first started doing my own transfers, it seemed impossible. But my arms are a lot stronger than they used to be and my wrist is healed up. My whole upper body is in the best shape it’s ever been, even at 40. I catch her staring at my bare chest before I throw my T-shirt back on. Not too bad for an old guy.
“Me too,” I say.
“So…” She chews on her lip. “Same time next week?”
I don’t know what she’s talking about. Is she talking about cleaning? Hooking up? I’m beginning to feel like this was a big mistake. Not that you really need to be told hooking up with your cleaning girl is a mistake. It’s one of those things that you just know. It’s knowledge you’re born with.
And the worst part is it doesn’t make me feel even a tiny bit better about Audrey getting engaged.
“Okay,” I say. “Sounds good.”
She goes off to put the rest of my laundry away. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a week, but right now I’m thinking I’ll arrange to go to the office next week when she’s here. It’s just better that way. I need to move on, and have a real relationship with a woman, and it’s not going to be with my 25-year-old cleaning girl.