Recap of Chapter 21: Matthew and Chloe were hoping for a good reception when they showed up uninvited, but Martin seemed off. Matthew and Penny hid in the kitchen, giving them some privacy to talk. And now that Martin and Chloe were alone, there was nothing in the way of a serious conversation.

Holding Hands

“We have to talk” just might be the worst sentence in the English language, Chloe thought as she reached for the decanter and poured more whiskey in her tumbler. She could use some liquid courage for what would come next. Martin uttered those dreaded words and now they were alone with them hanging in the air. He motioned for a refill in his glass too and she obliged.

He patted the couch next to him and she sat down, choosing to brace herself in the corner, a throw pillow in her lap. He patted her knee reassuringly. “Here’s the deal,” he began. “I am happy to see you. It’s a lovely surprise. I don’t want you to think anything else.” She smiled slightly, wary of what he’d say next. “But our dating so far has not included any overnight stays and since we never talked about taking that next step, I think we should talk about it now.”

“This is what happens when you date a much younger woman.”

Chloe nodded, afraid to interject. She couldn’t recall a time when she’d been rejected sexually. She felt he was going to pump the brakes and it would be a first for her. Maybe that was her mistake. She was arrogant in her assumption that his interest extended into the bedroom. They had chemistry, of that she was certain, but here she was being let down. She wasn’t sure what to think in this unfamiliar territory. She was only certain that she shouldn’t have come.

Martin continued. “I’m an old-fashioned guy. I think that people having sex should be doing so because they are committed to each other. And, we haven’t talked about that either—about our expectations for a relationship. See, you’re here in my living room and it took a plane and a rental car to get here. This is where I live. Unless I’m visiting my daughter, I live here. I have my morning coffee on that porch out there, and collect mail in town from that grumpy woman, whom I consider a challenge to make smile. I have friends I meet on the lake and in town at the tiny grocery store I frequent. At night, I read books by the fire and go to bed early. It’s just me and Barney here most of the time and I’ve grown to like this life. I’m not sorry we met, but we met in Evergreen while I was visiting and going to parties. I don’t live there and have no intention of moving from my cabin out here in the boonies of Maine.” He reached for Chloe’s hand. “Where does that leave us?”

Good question. If she was being honest, Chloe hadn’t thought about commitment at all. She was attracted to Martin and wanted to surprise him by showing up at his cabin, where she thought they would tumble into bed and have a great time. She pictured wearing his flannel shirt in the morning and sipping strong coffee while he made them breakfast. Beyond that, she hadn’t really thought about much beyond the next couple of days. How to answer Martin’s question? Where does their situation leave them? She decided honesty was the best approach. “Could be the whiskey talking here,” she began, “but I hadn’t honestly thought about where it goes beyond here—beyond me showing up here. I thought we would have a romp and that it would be really great between us—if chemistry is any indication. I pictured us enjoying each other’s company and then I’d leave again. It would be bittersweet, but we would return to our lives with fresh smiles on our faces.”

Martin took it all in and caught himself paying special attention to her lips as she spoke. He had a sudden desire to kiss those lips. This is what happens when you date a much younger woman. Their independence guides them. They have no expectations about the future, especially women like Chloe who is self-sufficient socially and financially. They expect sex and don’t necessarily want anything in return. He could get behind that. They could have a romp (her words) and have a great time together, spend some time enjoying each other’s company and then part. No strings attached. He checked his wariness and made a point to listen to her words—really take what she was saying at face value. After a few tense moments, he abruptly stood, still holding his drink. He held his hand out to Chloe sitting on the couch.

Chloe was relieved to see him smiling, his open hand an invitation. She grasped it and he tugged her to her feet. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her passionately. “That’s the greeting I was hoping for,” she said, breathless. “Let’s go upstairs,” he said, passion dancing in his eyes. He grabbed the whiskey decanter and tucked it under his arm before leading the way.

Penny and Matthew were hiding in the kitchen, giving Chloe and her dad some space to talk. It got quiet—too quiet—so she couldn’t resist taking a peek. With her head poking out the kitchen door, she caught sight of Chloe heading up the stairs. She stepped out far enough to see that her dad was leading the way. “Well, I guess they worked it out,” she reported to Matthew, who was raiding the refrigerator for something to eat. “They’re heading upstairs.”

With his arms full of ice cream and chocolate sauce, Matthew said, “Good. I know that was what Chloe was hoping for. Ice cream?”

“Sure,” she said, reaching in the cupboard for small dessert bowls. “Let’s celebrate. She located the can of whipped cream, waggled it back and forth. Maybe we should have a little celebration of our own.”

“Now you’re talking,” he said, grabbing the can from her hand. He shook it, sprayed a line onto her neck and went after it, noisily smacking his lips and aggressively licking it off. Ticklish, Penny was reduced to giggling helplessly, but Matthew wouldn’t let her go. “Shhh,” she finally managed, squirming wildly. “You’ll wake them up.” Matthew shook the can again, an expression of mischief on his face. “Oh please—like they’re sleeping.” She made a face. It’s never easy thinking of your own parent having sex. “Let’s stay down here,” she suggested. Ice cream forgotten, they scampered into the living room, Matthew clutching the can of whipped cream.