Fandom: Original Fiction
Word Count: 14'313 words
Characters/Pairings: Original characters - Maja, Jens, Janine, Jonas, Desiree, Derek, Maja's mum, Darlene Yang. Maja/Jens, Maja/Janine, Maja/Desiree, Maja/Derek, Maja/Jonas
Warnings: Non-graphic sexual content, non-graphic bad sex, dysfunctional familial relationship
Summary: A journey starts with a single step. Maja discovers her asexuality and explores it through the years in several relationships - some more successful than others - until she finds the person she'll end up marrying.
Link to art master post: here by the fantastic bookblather
You planned our honeymoon and seemed to get off on being really secretive. I acted like a hyper kid when I saw the view from our hotel room. It was just by the beach (of course, where else?). I couldn’t see where the ocean ended in the distance – the turquoise water blended together with the horizon.
“So I did good?” you asked wryly.
I was struck completely speechless by the gorgeous view, so I could only nod. Then I bounced – yes, bounced – over to you to give you a brief, chaste kiss on the mouth. You wrapped your arms around me and it made my body tingle pleasantly. I really do love hugs. Kissing isn’t as important, but hugs are vital. Humming softly, I said sincerely, “It’s perfect, Jonas.”
And it really was. It was only made more perfect by the fact that I got to share it with my favourite person in the whole world. You know what? My husband is the best husband in the world. People don’t believe me when I say it – they think their spouse is the best husband or wife in the world – but my husband truly is the best. Not only did you arrange the perfect location for a honeymoon, I know no other man that would let me roam the island alone, exploring the landscape with my trusty camera, without protest. Few men would stand for this abandonment by their new wife.
But you were content to let me roam around freely, as long as I spent a majority of the time with you. Maybe it’s because one of the first things we established when we got together is that you can have me during the day and during the night, but sunrise and sunset are mine. They’re my private moments. The times I used to sneak out and smoke a cigarette back when I smoked, which was long before I met you. The times I do sneak out of our bed and get my camera.
The reason I love sunrise is the bleak light slowly breaking out over the world. The colours are so soft and pleasant, like a watercolour painting with greyish light. There’s always a sort of stillness to sunrises because not a lot of people are nuts enough to be up and about. It’s my cherished time. Initially, I tried to share it with you, but you didn’t appreciate it fully. You’re not exactly a morning person, Jonas. Nowadays, you just mumble something obscene when my alarm blares and turn over, falling back asleep within seconds.
If I like sunrises because they are quiet, sunsets appeal to my inner drama queen. They also appear to appeal to a lot of other people because there always seem to be more people around to see a sunset than a sunrise. Night owls outnumber morning people, I think.
If sunrises, as a rule, are more muted and dyed in pastels, sunsets are bold and dramatic. There are bright splashes of colour during a sunset – vibrant reds and yellows or gorgeous blues and violets. They come as a surprise and blow your mind away with their astonishing beauty.
You’ve listened to these monologues over and over for the past fifteen years. You’ve always enjoyed looking at the pictures I’ve taken, and during our honeymoon, we would most likely end an evening looking through the pictures I’ve taken during the day.
It was easily forty-three degrees Celsius in the sun some days. Often, it was too hot to wear more than a swimsuit. To my great disappointment, I remember, it was too hot to cuddle close during the night. But we both agreed that waking up drenched in sweat wasn’t worth it. Not to mention that I honestly, truly, deeply hate the feeling of sweaty skin against sweaty skin, as you might remember.
It was surreal to be able to stay in bed all day if we wanted to. But most surreal was to think that, when we got home, it wouldn’t be to the flat we’d been sharing for the past few years. We’d taken another huge step and bought a house. Our friends were moving our things into the new house as we were lazing around on our honeymoon.
The only thing that acted as a cloud on the horizon during that week was that I had to nag you to put on sunscreen. The slight vexation I felt that second day was replaced by curiosity during the evening when you took my hand and led me towards the beach. You were babbling nervously about this amazing place a bit further down. I just had to smile at how cute you were – and still are – when you’re nervous.
It turned out that the concierge had told you about this palm tree which had a beautiful vantage point over the ocean. It had grown crooked and was leaning in such a way that made it just the perfect height for the two of us to sit in. We watched the sun go down over the ocean in silence. We were treated to a beautiful spectacle in warm reds and yellows. Bathed in red light, I leant in to kiss you. It might not always be perfect, our relationship, but in that moment it was.
We enjoyed many lazy days on the beach during that honeymoon, and we came home slightly tanned and very happy. We had sex twice and I enjoyed it in my own personal way, cherishing the intimacy and being so close to you. I love being that close to you sometimes – it feels like we’re almost climbing into one another’s skin. Connected physically and emotionally, I sometimes want to cry during sex because when it’s done right, out of love or enjoyment between two consenting adults, I think it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world.
All good things had to come to an end. On our final day we were walking along the – guess! – beach when you caught sight of a horse lying down in the sand. Its fur was brown and white. The colour probably has some fancy name, but I know jack shit about horses. All I know is that I’ve almost never seen you so excited as when you saw that horse. You carefully, almost reverently, approached the horse. Soon enough you were petting it and cooing over it. It made me smile because I remembered that your grandpa was a horse trader who loved these creatures. Some of your happiest childhood memories, you’ve confessed to me, involved staying on his farm and helping with the horses.
You looked so blissful and almost wondrous while petting it. You didn’t even notice me taking about fifty or so photos of you and the horse.
I had one of the pictures framed and it still hangs on the wall in my study.
The shit hit the fan once we got home. Honeymoon over, and it was time for a reality check.
“It’s not easy,” you said heatedly, and slammed the dishes, “hearing you say that sex’s boring. It makes me feel like I’m boring. And then sex. You say you’re fine with it, but every time I see your mind wander I start to feeling like you’re disassociating. Like I’m raping you, knowing you don’t really want it.”
“That’s not true,” I protested. “I want it.”
A suspicious look toward me preluded the flatly intoned question, “Really? What do you get out of it?”
“The closeness. Being close to you is important to me. You’re the most important person in the world to me, and I want to be close to you.”
Here was one of the reasons why some people think I’m insane to be in a relationship with somebody who’s not ace themselves. They say that it’s unfair to both of us and that I’ll only hurt you. And I do. Hurt you, I mean. Misunderstanding situations, laughing when you’re trying to seduce me, not explaining myself properly – I’m not good with words, as you might recall.
But a relationship is a little like rowing a boat – you have to work in tandem. Adjust. Compromise. It might be easier for two asexuals to be in a relationship – sure, I didn’t fight over this with Janine or Derek, but we had our own problems – but they still have to work. I love you, so I fought my insecurities, worked on our differences, to stay with you. That day, you didn’t believe me. You kept pushing and prodding until I stormed off in a huff. I didn’t have a plan for where to go, and I forgot shoes.
I had no idea where to go, so I just stood there on the sidewalk for the longest time. I heard a creaking noise, but didn’t pay it much attention. A voice called out, “Hey, you okay?”
I looked up in surprise. It was one of our neighbours, but I can’t really remember her face. What was her name? Marlene? No, Darlene, that’s right! Anyway, she was hanging out of her window, looking at me with concern. She must have heard the fighting. Face heating up, I called back, “Fine. Just a tiny argument.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
I wish there had been a camera to catch the look on my face. It must have gone from surprised to dumbfounded. In this country, you generally don’t go out of your way to interact with strangers. But I didn’t have anywhere to go, and she looked friendly. I shrugged.
She was very friendly, our new neighbour. She showed me out to her garden, and I caught a glimpse of a photograph of a woman and man standing in front of an Asian building – later in our acquaintanceship, I learnt that it was her grandparents back in Korea. She left me sitting on a beautiful wrought iron couch in the garden. The cushion underneath me was comfortable and I leant back to take in the entire garden. It was a beautiful rose garden. She’d made as much use as she could of the rather limited space – creating garden paths of red rocks leading up to a small stone pavilion where I was sitting. Behind me, red and white Wichurana roses clung artfully to an iron trellis. The memory of the powerful scent of roses is such a fond memory that, to this day, the scent of roses makes me feel calm and soothed. She really had a green thumb, Darlene. I haven’t spoken to her in years.
She brought out coffee and slices of cake and I thanked her quietly. After a beat, she asked me what was wrong. I planned to repeat my earlier statement that it was just a fight, but there was something so innately kind about her eyes that my frustration spilled out. For the first time in my life, I told a complete stranger about my asexuality, about the struggle to make it work with you, and how I love you so much it feels like I’m having a heart attack.
I cried, I’m going to confess. It wasn’t “woe is me”, self-pitying tears, but frustrated tears. Darlene tried her best to comfort me. She marvelled at how it seemed to be a hard life, but – she told me with her kind, serious eyes – that we both seemed, from my description, willing to work it through. As she said that, she raised her eyes a little and looked over me, towards her fence. I turned and realised that you were watching us. Before I could say anything, our neighbour invited you over.
You gratefully accepted the drink she offered once you came over, and she left us alone. I remember biting my lip and feeling like a child again. A child that had been dragged to the headmistress’s office. It wasn’t a feeling I particularly enjoyed.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I said awkwardly.
You were quick to jump on the olive branch too. “I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” I said with more bite than I intended. “But I shouldn’t have been dismissive to your feelings. We’re acting like kids playing at being adults.”
I wished that I still smoked. I remember that vividly – the itch to light up a cigarette and inhale deeply. Darlene came back for a cup of coffee for you and said firmly, in a voice that brooked no argument, “I’ll leave you alone to talk.”
Of course, nobody talked, at first. Instead, we sat there awkwardly, sipping at our coffees and avoiding looking at each other. After an excruciating half an hour, I put my cup down on the saucer and gather my courage. I said softly, hesitantly, “I know I’ve told you this before, but to use a common analogy, libido’s like an itch. When it starts to itch, you want a woman to help you out – you’re heterosexual. Should I get the itch, which is improbable since I don’t have that much of a libido, but whatever, let’s not ruin the analogy, I prefer not to involve anybody else. That makes me asexual. You with me so far?”
You nodded. We were covering old ground, so of course you were with me. I inhaled deeply and plunged on, “Good. What I’ve been neglecting to tell you is what sex is for me, personally. I think sex is fascinating. I think people are beautiful in their ingenuity to make each other feel good. I’m just indifferent to it in relation to myself, because hey, what’s the fuss? Photography is so more rewarding for me. But sex can give me a closeness that I crave and I do enjoy that. Like I said earlier, I enjoy being close to you.”
Another deep breath. This next part was something I was really eager to get across, but I doubted my ability to do so.
“You worry about consent because I’m not as into it as you are, which seems ludicrous to me. You ask me every time and back off when I don’t want to. You need to trust me that I will tell you if I’m not up to it. But you’re already miles ahead of my first boyfriend, who thought consent was something you did once, and, after that, you were always consenting.” I caught the look on your face. “No, he didn’t rape me. But he didn’t ask if I wanted to, took for granted that I did, and if I really didn’t I would leave, but sometimes I just did it to put up with him. You don’t do that. You ask me and you respect me. Do you understand the difference?”
“Yes,” you said, frowning, “I think so.”
“Good, because I do want to have sex with you. Not in the way that it’s my first choice for an activity, but if the electricity is out, sure. It can be fun. Messy, but fun. Can you please start saying something before I start babbling even worse than I’m already doing?”
You smiled faintly, but did start speaking to spare me from that.
“Everything you say – it makes sense logically. But I can’t help the way I feel when you say that sex is boring and I’ll remember, wait, we had sex yesterday. Maybe you didn’t really want it. Maybe you were just being kind. It makes me feel bad… sleazy. I can’t really get what it’s like for you, I know, and you can’t expect me to just get it automatically.”
“I don’t expect you to. I just need to be told when I’m doing something you don’t understand because sometimes this sex stuff just goes straight over my head. Did you know that in upper secondary, I would realise six hours later that the cute guy was totally hitting on me? I always took, ‘Is this chair free?’ literally.”
You started laughing. “It took me forever to realise when people were hitting on me, too. Sometimes people think that they’re being really clear, but they’re really not.”
We continued to talk. It was late when we left Darlene’s, but I can’t really remember what else we talked about. Darlene had hidden herself away until we were done. You clearly felt bad for driving her out of her own garden, but she waved away your apologies. I liked her a lot, I remember. It’s too bad we lost contact.
She lent me a pair of her sandals – black with just the tiniest bit of heel, funny what the brain chooses to remember – so I wouldn’t hurt myself on the way back. I had been lucky not to step on something sharp because a couple of kids had broken a bottle. I remember the glass glittering in the light.
I smiled at her, because there was an unspoken agreement that I would come over and talk to her some more. When I did, she offered me a part-time job in her flower shop, and I worked there until I established myself as a photographer.
I remember warm summer nights and drinking coffee, but not a single conversation topic or much of my time as an employee with her. I can’t think of why, but it’s sad.
She helped us a lot.
I’ve been pondering where to end this story. Now, when we’ve been married for fifteen years? When we got Shelley, our dog, our baby? I’m not a writer, so I had no idea where to end this story. Until I dreamt of the beach. Suddenly I knew exactly where we really became an ‘us’ instead of a ‘you and me’.
It was a few weeks after the fight. Maybe a month – I can’t quite recall, and it’s not important anyway. It was a morning like any other, but when you got back from your run, you told me that you wanted to go to the beach. I remembered that I immediately perked up because that summer was the hottest in years. Not as hot as during the honeymoon, but it was hot. Eagerly, I suggested we make a day of it. Like when we first met.
It was the first time we visited the beach that made us buy the house. To get to it, you had to walk down a steep, rather rickety staircase. I remember it clearly – how it would sway underfoot. I remember being nervous every time that it would give out under our feet. You used to roll your eyes at me, waiting on me down there. But every time I looked up from the worn wood and saw the beach stretching out in front of me, I thought it was worth the small fright. It’s beautiful, with all of its white sand.
Like any other summer day, the beach was full of people. But we managed to find a place to spread our towels. First things first when we’re on the beach – sunblock. You blustered and protested – “I’m not a child!” might have been exclaimed at one point – but one unimpressed stare later and you were down on your stomach. Brandishing the sunblock like a weapon, I went to work rubbing it into your skin. I frowned as I kneaded it into your skin and felt your muscles relax under my touch. I remember the feeling of your skin under my hands, rubbing, hands sliding further down…
A sudden moan made me jump. Before my eyes I could see the blush spreading down along your body. You flushed down to your swim-trunks. At first I was slightly confused, then – oh. Oh. I was completely mortified and whispered, “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” you gritted out through your teeth, deeply embarrassed.
It hurt that I’d accidentally made you feel this embarrassed. I kept apologising. You radiated tension next to me and your eyes were closed. Later, you told me that you were only embarrassed because you knew I was being completely chaste. Annoyed by my stream of apologies, you said through gritted teeth, “It’s a physiological response brought on by the fact that you in that bathing suit is hot, so unless you did it on purpose, stop apologising. It’s annoying.”
Your tone made me scoot back a little on the blanket. I remember trying not to feel affronted, but in a way I did. You didn’t have to snap at me. I bit my lip and watched you silently, anxiously. It felt like an endless vicious circle, with one problem popping up after another. Would it ever get any easier?
With an aggravated sigh, you pushed yourself to your feet. Peevishly, you told me, “If you’re going to self-recriminate, I’m going for a swim. When I get back, you better be done.”
There was no chance for me to answer before you jogged off, down to the water. Even with my thoughts rushing a mile a minute in my head, I admired the ease with which you slipped into the water. I watched you swim and felt myself calm. You’re a great swimmer, cleaving through the water with remarkable ease and grace, and it looked effortless that day.
You got out of the water and droplets ran in rivulets down your pale, freckled body. I itched to take a picture. You’re so beautiful to me, Jonas. I can’t explain the soothing effect it had on me to watch you swim. But when you got back, I had stopped self-recriminating.
“You done feeling sorry for yourself?”
You dropped down next to me as you said that line. By the quirk of your lips and the glint in your eyes, I knew that you were teasing me. I smiled and slid a hand in under your head to cup it, feeling the short strands tickle my palm.
“Yeah, I think I am. Is it just me or are we fighting more than we used to?”
You peered up at me as if searching for something. You seemed to find it, since you elbowed me lightly in the side. Settling down, pushing your head into my hand, you said softly, “No, not really. Remember when we moved in together?” I must have made a face, because you chuckled lightly. “Exactly. I think you’re just noticing it more ‘cause we’re married. We both expected it to fix everything and life would just be smooth sailing from now on. But we can’t kid ourselves like that. You need to talk to me and I need to stop slamming the bathroom door in your face. Marriage is like − a hammock, if you will. If you get off it too suddenly, I’ll fall off. We just need to work together better.”
Sometimes you kind of amaze me, but −
“A hammock, Jonas, honestly?”
“Oh, shut up.”
You shoved me playfully and I laughed loudly, without restraint, just so happy that we were here together. Things progressed nicely from that point, and it became the day I had envisioned. We swam in the ocean, and I dragged you under when you laughed at how bad I am at swimming outside of a pool. We lay side-by-side, basking in the sun, talking quietly about the garden and if we should get a dog. I was more for a cat, but we both know who won that fight, dog fanatic.
In the evening, a couple of college kids lit a fire. You lit up and took off with a jumbled promise to be right back. When you came back, you held a bag of marshmallows proudly over your head. You looked like a little kid being pleased with himself and made me smile like a child, myself.
We roasted the marshmallows over the open fire, and, if I close my eyes, I can almost remember the sticky sensation and the sweetness in my mouth. I can smell the fire and the ocean. I remember the awful music the college students listened to and the way you took my hand when it was time to go home. I remember that I felt like I was floating when we walked home. I hummed my favourite tune and leant into you so you almost stumbled over me. Despite the bad start, it had been an amazing day. I felt weightless, and your amused chuckling sounded to me like the way champagne bubbles would sound if they had a sound. The sound tickled me on the inside and made me giddy.
I waved to Darlene when I saw her through her kitchen window. She waved back, and it was clear that we made her smile. Not surprising, because we made me, myself, smile at that moment. Once we enter the house, I kissed you. A dry, close-mouthed peck that made me smile.
That night, we lay side-by-side, forehead to forehead, and just stared into each other’s eyes. It was scary and intense. I wanted so badly to look away, but I couldn’t. I wanted to watch you, and I did. It felt like we could touch each other’s souls in that moment.
I want to end it here because of a stray thought I had while we lay there staring into each other’s eyes. Oh, I thought, there you are. I’ve been looking for you all my life.