It was past three in the morning when Greta awoke to the sound of the shower running. She was alone in bed. Twice already during the night, she had reached her arm across to Phillip’s side and found it empty. She had thought about getting up and going into his office, where he was probably working on the case as he often did before he left on business, but the bed was so warm and Charlotte would certainly be up at six and demanding her attention. At least, that’s what she had told herself.
She got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. Phillip was standing in the shower with his eyes closed, hot water streaming over his head. The moon shone down on him directly from the skylight above, and his pale skin looked even paler in the light. She stared at him, thinking that he looked like something holy.
He opened his eyes and gasped at the sight of her.
“Jesus!” he said, and put his palm over the left side of his chest, over his heart. “You’re awake.”
“So are you.” Greta stood just outside the open tiled shower in her cotton nightgown. If he noticed that it was the nightgown, he gave no indication. He took the bar of soap, lathered it up between his hands, and then ran it over his body, turning away from her as he washed between his legs.
“You were sound asleep when I got home,” he said to her over his shoulder. “I hope I didn’t wake you up.”
He put the soap back, but it slid out of the holder and hit the floor and found its place on the drain. He left it there.
“What time did you get home?” she said. “I tried to stay up reading for a while after I put Charlotte to bed, but— ”
“How is she?”
“Good, good,” he said.
Greta pulled the nightgown up over her head and let it fall to the floor. She stood for a moment and waited for him to take in the sight of her naked body. He looked at her, smiled dimly, then looked away.
“Can I join you?” she asked as she entered the shower without invitation.
“I’m almost done,” he said, stepping aside.
She bent down and picked up the bar of soap.
“Let me do your back,” she said. She rubbed the soap over his broad shoulders and along his back, then put the soap aside and ran her bare hands over his warm, slick skin. Her hands traveled around his sides and down his stomach and found his penis. It was soft and wet. She cupped it in her hands as she would a small and delicate animal.
“I’m really tired,” he said by way of apology.
She took her hands away and turned him around to face her.
“It’s okay, honey. We’re not supposed to anyway.”
“And remember while you’re away, no— ”
“I know,” he said. She noticed the edge in his voice.
“Hey.” She put her hands up to his face. “Don’t do that,” she said.
“I’m sorry.” He took a deep breath. “I’m just really, really tired.”
“I know,” she said. “Did you prepare the presentation?”
“Mostly,” he said.
“Mostly?” She stepped back and looked at him. “It’s after three in the— ”
“I mean yes,” he said. “It’s a hard one, and some of the data is just . . . The details are unclear and . . .”
He trailed off, shaking his head. Suddenly, he pulled her to him and embraced her.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m sure that once you get in there and sit down with them, all of the— ”
It was then that she noticed that his body was shaking.
“Phillip?” she said, but he only held her tighter. She saw the tears now, and it scared her. It was such a rare occurrence for Phillip to cry; the last time was when Charlotte fell off the monkey bars at school and briefly lost consciousness. When Greta had finally managed to get through to Phillip’s international cell phone and tell him that the tests had come back as only a “slight concussion” and that he didn’t need to fly home, he started crying so violently that he had to pull to the side of the road.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what?” Greta asked.
He didn’t answer.
“For what?” she repeated.
The water started to run cold. She reached her arm out from under his and turned the handle to the left. Phillip’s eyes were bloodshot, the sea-glass irises sharp and bright in contrast to the red.
“Everything is going to be okay,” she told him.
He grasped on to her tighter.
“Do you hear me?” she said.
“Yes.” His voice sounded very small. “Oh God,” he said, and started to speak, but the words caught in his throat. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I . . .”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s all going to be all right. Do you understand?” Greta was surprised by the authority she heard in her own voice. “It’s all going to be all right.”
She repeated it again.
And again and again and again.