“Would it be weird for me to ask you for some advice?” Winnie peeked sidelong at her new mother-in-law as they drove to the store. Lynnette had made good on her promise to take Winnie to purchase things she needed.
“You can ask me whatever you want,” Lynnette said with a soft smile.
“Since it’s about your son, I wondered if this might be an uncomfortable conversation.”
“Try me,” Lynette said.
“Well, you know how I’ve been sick the past few days?” Winnie barely paused at the end of her rhetorical question. “We haven’t exactly… you know… uh…”
“At all? I thought you were feeling better.” Lynette glanced over at Winnie with a creased brow.
Winnie didn’t want Joel’s mom to get mad at her, so she quickly added details. “We tried, last night. For the first time. And it hurt too bad for me to continue.”
“Oh, sweetie, I know exactly which aisle in the pharmacy section we should start our grocery shopping.”
“What does grocery shopping have to do with my sex life?” Winnie asked nervously. “Or lack thereof?”
“You need some lubricant.”
“Lube— what?” Winnie felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment.
“Lubricant. It’s okay, you can say the word out loud,” Lynnette chuckled. “It’s not a dirty word. Most couples need some.”
“They do? Why didn’t anyone tell us before we got married?”
“Look how uncomfortable you were just asking to me about it.” Lynnette raised her eyebrows. “And I’m your mother-in-law. Can you imagine talking to a friend?”
“Everybody always talks about the need for birth control.” Winnie breathed a sigh of relief that Joel’s mom didn’t blame her for their failure. “You would think someone would warn engaged couples about that also. Somebody needs to create a how-to manual for newlyweds.”
“I’ll tell you what, you write down everything that you learn in the first few months of marriage and you can be the one to publish that book.”
“What I Wish I’d Known as a Newlywed by Edwina LaFleur-Anderson,” Winnie joked. “That has a nice ring to it.”
“I like it! The perfect gift for engaged couples.” Lynnette changed lanes and slowed the car as they approached the exit ramp.
“Yeah, I’m a real expert.” Winnie snorted with irony. “We’ve gotten our marriage off to a great start. Joel’s held me over the toilet more times than he’s held me in his arms.”
“Things will improve,” Lynnette promised.
“I’m afraid that if I keep failing him… he’s not going to want me anymore.”
“If he’s anything like his father, trust me, he’ll want you.” Lynnette pulled off the expressway and waited for the light at the end of the ramp. “My turn to ask you a question.”
“Okay…” Winnie suspected she knew what was coming.
“Are you getting any counseling for your eating disorder?”
Wow, just throw it right out there why don’t you? No matter how she answered Lynnette’s question, Winnie was admitting out loud that she knew she had a problem. Was she ready to do that? Did she have a choice? Lynnette had already been open and honest with Winnie. She deserved to have Winnie be open and honest with her. Her answer was barely a whisper. “Not yet.”
“Does Joel know?” Gosh, his mom was blunt.
“I don’t know. He probably just thinks the only thing wrong with me is the way my body reacted to the rich food at our wedding.”
“Was the rich food the only thing that caused you to get sick on your wedding night?” Lynnette’s suspicion laced her sentence. What was she trying to say?
“Yes! Why would you ask that?” Tears filled Winnie’s eyes.
“Sometimes fear of intimacy manifests in physical sickness like that,” Lynnette said.
“I’m not afraid to be intimate with my husband,” Winnie insisted. “I tried to get him to have sex with me the night of our first date. He was too much of a gentleman.”
“He seems to love you very much,” Lynnette said, changing the subject. “You’ve brought out a softer side of him. I’m glad he found you.”
Winnie wasn’t even sure what to say next, so she sat there in her mother-in-law’s minivan, frustrated tears on her cheeks. Finally, she squeaked out, “I want to make him happy.”
“I think you already do make him happy, sweetie.”
“I hope so.”
“Just the same, let’s get you something to help with the physical stuff.” Lynnette pulled her car into a parking spot at the grocery store. After she parked, she turned to Winnie and took her hand. “I want you to promise me you’ll get some help for the mental stuff, too. Okay?”
“Okay,” Winnie said, meeting her gaze. “I promise.”
* * * * * * * * *
“Look what your mom bought me!” Winnie tossed a small box onto the couch next to Joel where he was laying watching a football game on television. Winnie didn’t know how he could watch so much football even after playing dozens of football games. He couldn’t get enough of football. This ought to distract him.
“Yours and Mine?” He picked up the little purple and blue box with excitement. “What is it?”
“She called it personal lubricant.” Winnie sat on the edge of the couch. Joel moved over to give her room.
“Wait, did you talk to my mom about our sex life?” Joel was either amused or mortified. Winnie couldn’t tell which.
“Well, I had to talk to somebody.” Winnie took a nervous breath. “I’m certainly not going to talk to my own mother. Danielle is far away and I don’t have any sisters. So, I’m stuck with your mother. And by the way she was awesome. She gave me lots of good advice and said that if you’re anything like your father you’re still going to want me even if we have trouble for a while.”
“Sweetheart, I’m going to want you no matter what.” He sat up halfway, concern on his face. “Did you really question that?”
“It’s just that, well, I don’t know how many times I’m going to fail you before you give up on me.”
Joel sat up all the way and pulled Winnie into his arms. His words were husky and sincere. “I’m never giving up on you. I’m never giving up on us.”
“I hope not,” she whispered, laying her head on his shoulder. “I’m afraid being married to me hasn’t been as much fun as you thought it would be.”
“We’ve had a few challenges. Nothing we can’t get past.” He pulled back and looked at her with a twisted grin, holding up the little blue and purple box. “This could make things more fun.”
“Before you get too excited, allow me to show you the other thing I bought at the store today.” Winnie tossed another box in his lap.
“Tampons? Seriously?” Joel fell back on the couch and pulled his hair. “We can’t get a break, can we?”
“Just think, we’ll appreciate our lovemaking that much more since we had to fight for it.”
“True.” Joel held open his arms and Winnie climbed onto the sofa along with him, snuggling her back against him. “One thing’s for sure, we’ve gotten really good at snuggling.”
“We have,” Winnie agreed. She considered telling him about the other topic she and his mom had discussed but decided against it when he reached for the remote control to turn the game back on. Some other time. Or never. She settled in to watch football with her husband, thankful for the distraction.
Book Club Discussion Questions: I love my mother-in-law but I think she and I both would be morbidly embarrassed to have this conversation. Not a bad idea about the What I Wish I'd Known as a Newlywed book. What other advice would you give newlyweds?