“So… how was your honeymoon?” Madame Jocie’s knowing grin was accompanied by an eyebrow wiggle. Winnie hadn’t even set her bag down near the door of the practice room.
“Nonexistent.” Winnie shook her head at her ballet mistress. “I got sick on our wedding night.”
“I saw you a few days later at the Rose Bowl and you seemed fine.” Madam Jocie reached for Winnie’s hand. “Did you get sick again?”
“Not exactly…” Winnie hesitated. How much did she want to confess to her ballet mistress? She’d already confessed everything to her mother-in-law. “We tried to have sex a few days later and it hurt so bad I made him stop. And then I started my period.”
“So, you haven’t… at all?”
Winnie shook her head, emotions pricking her eyes.
“You need to try again.” Madame Jocie’s horrified voice was definitive.
“I know. I just don’t know how to suggest we try again,” Winnie admitted. “I think he’s afraid to ask because he thinks he’s putting too much pressure on me.”
“Find a way to tell him otherwise,” Madame Jocie insisted.
“He keeps telling me that there’s more to marriage than sex.”
“That may be true but it’s still an important part of marriage.”
“I know, but—”
“No buts!” Madame Jocie pushed Winnie toward the door. “Forget practice. Go home and make love to your husband!”
“You don’t think I should—”
“The only thing you need to do right now is go home.”
“Okay, okay.” Winnie held up her hands in surrender. “I’m going, I’m going.”
* * * * * * * * *
“There’s the married man!” one of his teammates called out as Joel entered the locker room for the first time since Christmas break.
“Look at you, stud,” another of his teammates said. “How was your honeymoon?”
Joel gulped and set down his gear bag near his locker. “Great.” He avoided meeting anyone’s eyes and opened his locker.
They were all regrouping and reorganizing after getting home from the Rose Bowl and everyone went back to their business. Except Shane.
Shane leaned his shoulder against the locker beside Joel, his eyes narrowed. “I need to put in five miles before practice. You in?”
“Yup.” Joel slammed his locker shut and turned on his heels, thankful for the distraction and knowing exactly what Shane was doing. He was dragging Joel out of the locker room so he could get the full story.
They hadn’t gotten a quarter mile in and Shane spoke up. “Talk.”
“Let’s just say I still need a cold shower every single day.”
Shane stopped and pulled Joel to a halt. “What? Why?”
“Winnie got sick.” Joel pulled his foot up behind him, stretching his hamstrings. “And then she started.”
“Dude, tough luck.” They started running again. “She looked fine yesterday.”
“She was fine yesterday,” Joel said.
“So, what was the problem?”
“We fell into bed exhausted.” Joel felt the irony of that statement as he jogged off excess energy.
“That’s no excuse,” Shane said.
“We flew home from California yesterday, moved into our new apartment, had company over. What the heck do you expect?”
“I expect you to tell me the truth,” Shane said. “What’s the real reason?”
“I’m afraid I’m gonna hurt her again,” Joel mumbled.
“We tried. Once. She cried out in pain and that messed me up in the head. I don’t want to hurt her again.”
“So, slow down and do it right this time.”
“How the heck am I doing it wrong?” Joel’s voice rose without him meaning it to. “There’s only one way to do it.”
“Not true, man. You’ve gotta find a way that works for both of you. Do some research or something.”
“What do you want me to do a Google search for, ‘How to have sex?’”
“That’s a start,” Shane said.
“You idiot. I’m not doing research to figure out how to have sex with my wife.”
“Fine then, keep taking cold showers.” Shane had a point.
They ran in silence for a few minutes, Joel seething. Finally, he grumbled, “What if she doesn’t want me?”
“What?” Shane stopped him again. “Why wouldn’t she want you?”
“Because I hurt her.” Joel shuffled his feet and stared down at the pavement.
“You didn’t hurt her on purpose.” Shane’s voice was softer and more compassionate.
“I know,” Joel choked out. “Doesn’t make it any easier.”
“Maybe things won’t be easy. But it’s still important.”
“There’s more to marriage than sex,” Joel mumbled for what felt like the hundredth time in the past two weeks.
“You’re right,” Shane said. “But sex is still an important part of marriage and you need to find a way to make this work.”
“When did you become a marriage expert?” Joel felt a partial smile play at the corner of his mouth.
“About twenty seconds ago when my best friend needed a kick upside the head. Look, I’m not all that religious but I once heard a pastor say that there’s no way to get closer to God and to your wife than the joining of your bodies. This is part of God’s plan for our happiness on earth. You need this for your marriage.”
“Then get your act together, man.”
“Forget practice,” Shane said, pushing Joel hard in the shoulder. “Go home and make love to your wife.”
“But shouldn’t I—”
“No butts,” Shane interrupted, pointing in the direction of their apartment complex. “Go home!”
“Okay, I’m going. I’m going.” Joel turned back and almost sprinted toward the locker room.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Anybody wanna take a wild, stab-in-the-dark guess what Chapter Nineteen will be about?