After Roy leaves for the villa by the sea, Keeley thinks about it. She holes herself up in a dark room and works and thinks about it. She calls Rebecca and her mum and doesn’t tell them anything and thinks about it. She FaceTimes Roy and listens to intricate descriptions of every single decadent dish he’s eaten and thinks about it. She pulls out the small, rectangular card she’d tucked away in her wallet with SUZI CAMPBELL, BARKINGHAM PALACE printed on front and a handwritten cell number on the back, traces her fingers over the Call me anytime dashed off next to it, and thinks about it. For two weeks she thinks about it, and then she books a ticket to Spain.
Roy sweeps her up in his arms the moment she steps through the door. His big hands cradle her thighs and his beard scratches her face, her neck, the tops of her breasts, as he kisses her everywhere he can reach. Keeley’s always loved how small he makes her feel, how his hair and his height and his muscles declare this is a man holding you. She revels in the feeling as he carries her upstairs to the bedroom, fucks her with his fingers under her skirt until she comes twice, before he’s even undone his jeans. He pulls back, hands on his zip, and as she comes down from her gasping high, she’s suddenly overwhelmed by his hair and his height and his muscle. It’s all too much, too hard, too rough. Is she never to feel soft things again, just because society says you’re meant to be with one person and one person only? She flips over and buries her face in a pillow. He spreads himself over her back, guides himself inside her slick pussy. She clutches the pillow tight, thinks of soft curves and a round face.
Keeley’s never been in an open relationship before. Always thought they seemed like a recipe for trouble. But she’s also never been in a a relationship that she can see lasting for the rest of her life. Everyone else was short term in her mind, so she never felt the walls closing in on her before. Or if she did, she simply took a metaphorical sledgehammer, smashed them down, and moved on. But with Roy, she desperately doesn’t want to smash any walls. She wants forever with him. She only wants to add a wall of windows to let the sun shine through, to let a breeze in, to help her breathe.
She explains this to him, as best she can, two days after she arrives, the day she’s set to go home. She tells him about Suzi, shows him the business card.
“It’s not about her, though, really,” she says, a plea for him to understand. They’re on the edge of the bed facing each other, her packed bags waiting by the door, and she tries not to think of them as a quick escape. “It’s like the walls—”
“Yeah, the walls, they’re closing in on you, I’ve got it.” Roy waves away her metaphors and shakes his head the way he does when he’s trying not to say something mean. “What it comes down to is—you want us to see other people?”
He looks…devastated. She wasn’t prepared for it. She was stupid not to be. She presses on anyway. “Yeah. I—I think so.”
He nods tightly, looks away. “But you still want us to be together?”
“Yes, absolutely, yes.” There’s no doubt in her mind about that. It was never a question. He’s her guy. He gets up, paces away and back to stand in front of her, staring down.
“That’s the maddest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s not mad! It’s normal!”
“Normal?” His eyebrows raise incredulously. She hates how sexy it makes him look.
“Yes. It’s called polyamory, and it’s normal. Maybe not common. But it’s not weird or strange.”
“Sounds like an excuse to fuck around on your partner to me.”
“Roy, no. No. I would never fuck around on you.” She stands up with him, makes to put her arms around him but he steps backs. She’s not going to cry about it. She won’t.
“But I’m not enough, right? Not enough to give you what you need. That’s what you’re telling me.”
“No, that’s not it! That’s not what I’m saying.” She shakes her head and dashes away the tear that falls. “Or, it is, but not how you’re saying it.
“I love you,” she says. “You’re it for me. But I’ve just…I’ve got so much love in me, and there are so many beautiful and interesting people out there that I want to know. That I want to connect with. But I always, always, always want to come home to you.”
He stares at her, mouth pinched, brows furrowed. “Please, Roy, Please try to understand. Can you just—” she takes one of his hands, presses it to her forehead, takes the other and presses it to her chest. Closes her eyes and wills with all her heart. “Please, can you just try to feel it through osmosis or something. Can you osmote my feelings out of me?”
She feels his eyes on her, hears him snort, and she looks up at him through a sheen of tears. His eyes are teary too, but his lips are quirked in the smile he saves just for her, the one that says he has no idea what she’s on about but he’s so fond of her anyway. He pulls his hands away, but tugs hers with him, kisses the knuckles on each of them and tucks them against him.
“I don’t know. I don’t…it’s not a no. I’m not saying it’s a no, alright?” He shakes her against him, softly. Keeley nods, eyes wide. Hopeful. He pulls her impossibly closer to him. “How long did you think about this before you told me?”
“Took me two weeks to decide it was something I wanted. Another week before I could get up here.”
“Okay, so, three weeks.” Roy nods to himself. “Give me the rest of the time here to think about it and I’ll have an answer for you when I get back. Can you wait that long?”
She wants to say no. Can’t imagine spending three weeks in this torturous limbo. But that’s not fair and she knows it. “Of course, whatever you need.”
He releases her, steps back. “And if I decide that I don’t want to do this,” he scrubs a hand over his face. “Does that mean this is it for us?”
It’s the question that took Keeley the most time to decide. She’s still not sure of the answer. She tries her best anyway. “It’s not an ultimatum. I promise it’s not. But I can’t say it won’t be the end. I’m sorry, Roy,” she says, voice breaking on a sob.
“Hush, babe, don’t do that. Please, please don't cry.” He wraps his arm around her, and she lets him take her weight, buries her face in his shoulder and sobs harder when she feels a drop fall on her from above. They hold each other like that until it's time for her to leave. They drive in silence to the airport, but he kisses her like his life depends on it before he lets her leave the car. She hopes with everything in her it's not a goodbye kiss.
In the end, it doesn’t take three weeks. Roy texts Keeley a week later, says he’s cutting the trip short and will be back home the next day. She doesn’t get any work done the rest of the day, doesn’t sleep that night. The next morning, she puts up an out-of-office autoresponder on her email, and spends the morning obsessively checking his ETA on her phone. When he finally walks in the door, whatever he sees on her face must be bad, because he immediately drops his bags and gathers her up in his arms.
“I love you,” he says. “I love you. It’s going to be okay.” And she leans into him, lets herself feel his hair and his height and his muscles as they surround her, make her feel safe in a way that no one else ever has.
After they can bring themselves to stop clinging to each other, they move to the couch. Roy hands her a fluffy pillow and takes one for himself, and Keeley thinks, swiftly, probably unreasonably, that whatever he’s decided, she’s never letting him go.
As always, he gets straight to the point. “I don’t want to sleep with anyone but you. I don’t want to be with anyone but you.” He holds his hand up as she starts to speak, thankfully, because she’s ready to burst out that it doesn’t matter and she takes it all back, and they’ll do whatever he wants. “But if you want to…connect…with other people, then I think we can try it.”
She reaches for his hand, grips it tight when it slides in hers. “Roy, are you sure? Because you have to be really, really sure.”
“Fuck no, I’m not sure. But I think we should try. I think it’s worth trying.” She hears the words underneath: you’re worth trying for. “And we need ground rules.”
“Yes, absolutely. Hit me,” she says. “Oh, wait, wait.” She scrambles up to find her purse, rummages through for a fuzzy pen and bright pink notepad. “Okay, ready.”
“First,” he says. “I want to know about any time it happens. Preferably beforehand, but always afterward. I don’t want it to be secret.”
“No secrets,” she speaks as she writes down the rule. It’s a good one. “What next?”
“And you have to be safe. Prophylactics and whatnot. Testing.”
“Yes, smart. Safety first. What else?” Roy licks his lips, doesn’t meet her eyes. “Roy?”
“This is a big one, I don’t know…you might not like it.”
“That’s okay, we’ll talk about it. Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out.” His eyes swing back to her. He nods.
“I only…when you go with someone else, or whatever, I only want it to be with women.” Her eyes widen, but before she can even decide how he feels about that, he rushes on. “Not forever, maybe. Just for now. I don’t think I could handle if it were men right off the bat. But we could, I don’t know, work up to it. Talk about it. Is that okay?”
He’s squeezing the pillow tight to his chest and he won’t meet her eyes again, focused on the floor in front of him. Keeley scoots closer, pulls at his hands until they loosen, kisses his knuckles the same as he did for her just a week ago. She doesn’t know how she feels about the rule. Thinks maybe it’s sexist or misogynistic in some abstract way that people smarter than she is would know how to articulate. Has a fleeting thought that it’s too big of a demand, but she quickly pushes that aside. They’ll talk about it, he said. They’ll work up to it. She can compromise for him. “I can do that,” she says, and his eyes close in gratitude. She lets go of one hand and pulls over the pen and pad. “No men. (To revisit.) Anything else?”
He huffs out a relieved laugh. “Yeah, probably, but those are the big ones. Do you have any?”
“Even better, I’ve got printouts” she says, bouncing up with a smile. She feels. Light, buoyant. The weight that’s been pressing down on her is finally lifted. It’s going to be okay. They’re going to be okay. She practically skips into her office and snags a stack of paper off the desk. She hands them to Roy as she sits back down.
“Printouts?” He rifles through them.
“Yeah, see, I went online and found all this information about having good communication in a poly relationship and all the things you should talk about it. I thought we could go over it together?” She smiles up at him and he smiles back.
“That sounds great, babe. What have we got?”