Coming home is as difficult as it is easy. It should be one or the other; terrifying or welcoming, but it’s both, and Stan kind of hates that; he kind of wishes it would settle and choose. But like the rest of his thoughts, it refuses to be easy. He walks down the step-stones on his front yard and he hates it and he loves it. He goes to Derry and he hates it but he loves it because his friends are there and it is home. He goes back to Atlanta and it is still the truest home he has ever known, even without his parents and even without his in-laws and even without his childhood friends that he barely remembered anyway. He remembers them, now. This is one of the things that he is Dealing With. There are quite a few of them.
“It’s good to be home, isn’t it?” Patty asks him, the first night that they sleep in their marriage bed together again. She says this despite the fact that she is clearly and transparently terrified of their bathroom; the place where they have shared so many showers and shared so many kisses and gentle touches. He has taken her in that bathroom; they have made love there. It is also the place where he ruined her life and she is terrified of it; perhaps she is even angry at it, and angry at him. She won’t say. He is angry at himself; he can tell that well enough. They dance around each other and pretend they can’t see the cracks in the other's armor. They know each other too well to truly hide. They are soulmates after all; and God has tied them together for better or for worse.
“It’s good to be with you,” is what he says in response to that question she asks. His isn’t going to lie to her. And she’ll try and maybe fail not to lie to him.
They were home again -- protected by their sturdy walls and their family portraits in frames and the hedges in their yard -- but Patty Uris did not yet feel safe. She wanted to feel safe, she yearned for it, but -- the actual feeling escaped her. She thought that Stanley might feel the same; when she asked him if he was happy to be home, he took a very long time to answer her question.
The thing was that she just wanted to feel normal again. And she knew that it was such a blessing that her normal was safety and love but -- she wanted it back. In the Derry Town House she had cupped Stanley’s face between her hands and kissed him, wildly, hungrily, and his uninjured hand had risen and slipped under her blouse, caressed her stomach, before it dropped again and he held her hip until she pulled away. That was the extent of their touching, Since. She missed him; and now they were home and the absence of his touch was felt even more keenly.
“Stanley,” she said; when they were lying un-touching in bed together for the ninth time, “Do you -- do you not want to touch me anymore?”
“What?” Stanley sat up in bed and his hands went to her face. She could feel the weakness in his left hand; how long would she feel that for?
“Baby-love,” he said, “Of course I want to touch you! Haven't I been?”
“Yes,” she said, and then she blushed a furious pink, up to the roots of her hair. “But, I mean...touch me as my husband.”
His eyes went wide; she couldn’t read his expression with only the light of the bedside lamp.
“Oh,” he said, softly. “I didn’t...know if we were ready for that.”
“Why wouldn’t we be?”
Stanley leant towards her, tucking his forehead against the curve of her shoulder. She was wearing only a thin night-dress and could feel the warmth of him through it.
“Because I hurt you,” he said into her flesh. “I said I wouldn’t, but I did.”
Patty’s heart was pounding in her chest. She reached out, touching his chest through his night-shirt.
“I miss you,” she said.
“Oh God, baby-love,” Stanley said, and he raised his head to look her in the eye. “I miss you too.”
He kissed her, and finally there was a bite to it, a hunger; she opened her mouth against his and tongued at him; feeling that pent-up heat and painful passion. Arousal was building within her; hot and fast because it felt so long since he last touched her like this.
“You want to?” she asked, nervously, between desperate kisses -- she had to stop to breathe, and watched him panting beside her.
“Oh,” he said, and it was half a groan -- “Yes --”
She touched between his legs and she saw that yes he did want. Patty closed her eyes; her legs flexing and releasing with the build of want growing within her; her own want of course, but his too --
There were times when they were newlyweds that that building desire alone would have made her come; the knowledge that Stanley wanted her was good, but this was something else -- feeling his arousal, the physicality of it -- sure it was vague but --
"You do want me," was all she could manage to say.
"Oh, lover," Stanley said, and he pressed his body against hers -- it sent a shiver down her spine. "I wouldn't lie."
Not about that, anyway. There was no room in her mind for doubt. She wanted -- she wanted -- her brain was shorting out.
He wanted, too, they both wanted the same things; their tastes in-sync as always. She was overwhelmed by it all, suddenly, and pulled back away from him.
She had no more words; she grabbed both his wrists and pressed them to the bed above his shoulders, so that he was forced to lie down before her. She was careful, very careful, with his left wrist, and paused a moment to feel the rabbit-race of his pulse under her palm.
Stanley got what she was intending with this position; he wiggled himself onto his back so that he was fully under her. He smiled up at her, his face as open and inviting as his body.
"I want you inside of me," Patty said, and she brushed one hand against the small jut of his hip bones; over the sensitive curve of his lower stomach; Stanley shivered and she could feel his arousal; she shared it.
She reached between his legs, and her hands against his member sent a jolt down her so strong that she had to let go of his other hand -- he was already hers, no need to hold him down -- and bring it between her own legs. Waves of shared desires overlapped within her; she gasped, and Stanley moaned.
My God there is such joy in this, she thought, and she felt her own wetness between her fingers; dipped her hand into her warmth.
“Can I,” she said, “Stanley, now --”
“Yes,” Stanley breathed, “Yes of course -- please --” His face was upturned, his eyes half-shut and dark; his eyelashes fluttered. She loved him.
She settled down upon him and led him inside of her. Her body clenched; her muscles flexed; her breath hitched.
“Stanley,” she said, and she was so overjoyed to have him back that she nearly cried. She was touching and being touched. Stanley moved his hips and she gripped at his shoulder. He was filling her, touching her insides; intimate and close in a way no one else had ever been with her. Stanley belonged to her alone, and she to him -- oh!
“Yes,” she said, “together --” and then they moved; he knew how to move for her, he always had. He felt the same sensation that enveloped her, and she felt his feeling; she gasped again and pressed her hands to his chest, over his upright nipples.
“Patty --” he said, like it was all he could say, and she heard so much in the two syllables of her name.
Stanley moved with her and in her; again and again and again until she twitched in her own quiet happy way; he felt the orgasm through her and came with her immediately after; it was always like that with them; they were that close, one after another for the first orgasm of the night; sharing in it --
Stanley murmured some indecipherable, still within her, and the sensation of it was so much, and she was so overjoyed -- she laughed and as she did she felt a tear leak from her eye.
“Don’t cry, baby-love,” Stanley whispered, and she pulled herself off of him and laid on his chest. He buried a hand in her hair and she kissed him; the intense arousal and come-down bright in the back of her mind. What next: would he use his hands? His mouth? And she had her own hands and her own mouth too. The night was so long and it was all theirs; to be had and to be shared.
“I’m not crying,” she said, into his chest. She curled her hand around the back of his neck. “I just missed you.”
She felt the beat of his heart beneath her chin. She closed her eyes to listen. He rubbed at the back of her head.
“Missed you too,” he said. “I always…” he trailed off. “I always want you,” he said. “Even. Even when…”
“I know,” she said, even if that was going to have to be something they had to talk about, at some point. She raised her head so that she could look her husband in the eye; she smiled at him. There were things for day-time, and things for night-time. They were held by the darkness, now, held by its quiet safety.
Stanley smiled back at her; it was not a grin, but it was wide enough that his teeth peeked out. She loved his smile. Patty leaned down and kissed him, and he kissed her back; fingers clasping the sides of her face. Again, again, again; each kiss an explosion of light behind her eyes. A long night, together. Together, together, together.
I love her! Stan thinks with a simplicity that reassures him, when he is inside of her; the weight of her on top of him and the waves in his head, of thick sweet heavy desire, delicious; longed-for, Yes I love you Patty and I have missed you!
She knows that; or at least she should; he tries to show her as best he can. Touching her is a privilege; it’s something he barely deserves but God they want each other and they love each other and it is a miracle; a miracle that he can do this. He is within her; her hands touch him; her body moves with him -- oh! Patty! Lover! Beloved! It is everything; near-overwhelming but it leaves him happy; more than that -- it leaves him content. Her, too -- and that is everything.
In the morning, Stanley fried eggs for her; he cut the tops off strawberries and set them in a little bowl; he put sugar in her tea. She laughed at that final one and she said, “Stanley, please, I can sugar my own tea, can’t I?”
“I want to take care of you,” he said, simply. He was wearing only his undershirt and his loose cotton trousers for sleeping; she thought he looked as gorgeous as when he was perfectly done up in a suit.
And well, what he wanted was not so wrong.
“Sit down with me,” she said, and he did. She raised one of the strawberries -- it was perfectly red, and glistening still from being rinsed -- to his lips.
“I want to take care of you, too,” she said. He smiled, and took the gift. The red juice clung to his lips; she kissed it off.
Patty’s fingers brush against his lips and it is like an electric spark. Stan feels a bit of heat to his face; and he thinks again a thought that he has had; that they are now-again like newlyweds, or newly-manifested soulmates, perhaps.
She kisses him and then she turns back to her breakfast with a little smile on her face. He lifts a strand of hair out of the way of her eyes. He looks at his soul-mark on his wrist. That, too, is a familiar thought: Still silver. And still with a racing heart and blushing flesh.
“Let’s go somewhere,” he says to her. “Now, later. Whenever you want.”
She turns and looks at him. Still that smile. One side of her mouth is hitched-up.
“So you can buy me things?”
Stan shrugs, and it makes her laugh.
Patty drove them to an antiques store. She was not a collector and nor did she need to find ‘nice vintage pieces, for the home’ like her mother did -- but it was a quiet, soothing little store and she liked it; plus she thought that Stanley did, too.
The owners had an ancient cat who thought he ran the place. When they walked in, he padded over, meowing sharply. Stanley knelt to pet him, and as his left hand curved over the old cat’s arched back she felt the little twist of pain it brought him. Stanley barely twitched, which made her happy; she knew that he felt guilty that he hurt. She let her hand brush over the crown of his bowed head, parting his dark hair beneath her fingertips.
“Oh hello, Patricia!” the elderly proprietor said, stepping from behind the counter with a broad smile on her well-lined face. She was the only person not in Patty’s family that called her Patricia, but she found it charming rather than odd or annoying.
“I feel I haven’t seen you in ages! Have you and your husband been well?” She cupped Patty’s face between her hands. Patty did not know how to answer.
Stanley stood, slowly, to his full height, and pressed his hand into the small of her back. He smiled at the lovely old woman.
“We’re well, Mrs. Ulutto,” he said. “There was a brief bad time, but it’s passed, now.”
Mrs. Ulutto switched her keen gaze to Stanley. She let go of Patty’s face.
“The way you speak, Stanley,” she said. “Have I ever told you that you sound like my husband?”
“You’ve mentioned it,” Stanley said, because she had -- and then he and the old woman grinned at each other, and Mrs. Ulutto grabbed his face and kissed him on both cheeks.
(Mr. Ulutto’s health was unreliable, so he was not around the shop as often, but they had met him and it was true -- he and Stanley had the same habit of sometimes-odd statements, spoken quite plainly -- Patty had noticed it before Mrs. Ulutto ever mentioned it. It had charmed her; she liked to imagine herself and Stanley as a wrinkled old couple. She still wanted to imagine that, although it was harder now.)
There are nice places to go in the city. He likes to take Patty there. Or, she likes to take him there. Today she is driving. Every day Since, she has driven. He can still drive. It causes a bit of pain in his forearm when the muscles of his wrist flex in unexpected ways. She can feel this. He does not suggest that he drive, but eventually he will have to. That is a day that will come. Lots of days will come, because that’s how days work; one after the other after the other after the other. But at least there are nights in-between.
Often they visited a shop such as the Uluttos’ and bought nothing, but she needed to thank Mrs. Ulutto somehow -- for caring, for asking, for kissing Stanley’s cheeks -- and she looked with a close eye. She purchased a small woven star that Mrs. Ulutto said “had sat there for years, just years, but isn’t it darling?” It was homemade, and it was darling. She gave it to Stanley to hold while she drove them home, and then she set it on her dresser so that she could see it every morning.
Patty doesn’t realize when she starts humming, which is sweet, because she will often hum when she is happy, content, at peace, and Stan likes it when she is those things. She hums on the way home while he turns over a little star in his hands. The fabric is worn thin in places, but it is still pretty. He can see why she likes it. He holds it carefully, to keep it safe.
Stanley would be going back to work soon, Patty knew. She didn’t really like to think about it. She didn’t want to be scared of it, but she was...she simply did not want to be physically apart from him for so long. Eventually school would start and she would be gone from the home, too, but part of her wanted to wait until then. They had the money, why not? But she knew in her heart that Stanley could not just sit still and do nothing.
Work would be good. Work would be fine.
On the last Sunday before he returned to work, they went out to dinner. They split a glass of wine and Stanley touched her knee under the table. They kissed briefly in the car and then Patty spent the whole drive back burning with want. She felt twenty-two years old again; she would have done absolutely anything to have her way with him. But as it was, he was already hers.
He pressed her against their living room wall and kissed her, his hands gripping the side of her face. The want rose up within like a serpent, she bit his lip, hard.
Stanley pulled back, and grinned at her with his blush-red lip.
“Oh,” he said, slyly. “Feeling like that…?”
“Yes,” she said. She gripped his neck. His hair tumbled loose around her knuckles. She kissed him again.
They made it to the bedroom, eventually. Stanley started laughing as they threw themselves on the bed.
“We’re like kids,” he said. “This is ridiculous!”
It was, and Patty began to giggle wildly. She blushed, and hid her face. But it was building within her, and within him, too. She could feel it, it was back -- the waves; the shared arousal; he was erect beneath his trousers and she knew that.
“Stanley, ” she said, breathlessly.
“Yes,” Stan says. “Yes, Patty.” Yes I do want, yes to everything, yes to the furious heat that is building inside of you -- it is part mine and I feel it too.
“Yes,” he says again and he slips his hand under the top of her blouse, so that he can press his fingers against her mark. Her skin is flushed vibrant-warm with life.
“I think,” he says, his voice low in a way he knows that she likes, “That you should make me feel whatever it is you want to feel. Take it from me, Patty.”
“Stanley,” she breathes, and he does not like that, does not like her a broken record that can only say his name. He closes his eyes and he presses his face into the curve of her neck and her hair falls like a curtain around them.
“What…?” she says. Her arousal comes and goes in heady, glitzy waves, up-and-down, up-and-down, like a heartbeat.
“Please,” he says.
“Okay,” she says, as simple as that. For a moment she lets her hands roam over his body, her fingertips brushing down his center. She unbuttons his trousers, and then he sits up and slides them down over his hips, kicking them off into the untidy heap of rumpled clothing that only ever occurs when they are in this specific mood.
He can feel the spike this creates in Patty. She is wet between her legs. She groans, and pulls off her blouse, undoes her bra so that her small breasts sit with their upright nipples. He cups his hands around them, gently, she gasps and then wriggles out of her pants, too. They are both only in their underthings, now.
Patty presses between his legs. “Yes,” she says, “Oh, Stanley, you know --”
He knows; he has always known; he will always know as long as they are both of this earth.
He kisses her, wet and sloppy and screaming with want. Patty opens her mouth and it is like his mind goes blank except for images and feelings; her lips; her tongue; her teeth; her hot breath. Yes yes yes. His pulse is high in his throat. He pulls his boxers off with one hand and then he is naked before her; still kissing still touching and still panting with it. Her breath is on his neck, short hot gasps. They tumble down onto the quilt on the bed, both of them on their sides.
Stan’s hand travels up Patty’s thigh, towards the wet and inviting spot of warmth, but she puts a gentle hand on his wrist, her thumb pressing his mark.
“No,” she says. “My turn,” and Stan closes his eyes, lays back. There is the sound of a drawer being opened and explored, and Stan spreads his body out on the bed, his hands rubbing his own nipples where they stand alert. His opens his eyes as Patty starts to giggle -- she’s sitting on her folded legs, her face is shining with sweat, and her hands are coated in too much lube.
“Patty --” he says and then he is laughing, too.
“Well,” she says, as she starts to lean down over him, “I won’t hurt you, at least.”
“You never do,” he says, and he pulls one leg towards his chest and then she is touching him, so tentative, so gentle.
“Stanley,” she says, and then she is inside of him, and his head presses back instinctively against the bed. He does not say anything because for a time he cannot; but he gasps, and then moans -- she does like it when he makes noise --
she sets a rhythm, she is very good at that --
she finds the spot within him and presses it --
and he gasps again; his eyes fly open and the orgasm shakes through him; he bites his own lip and Patty presses herself against him to kiss the small blossom of pain, her hand still inside of him.
“Baby-love,” he says, what else is there to say; everything is bright sensation and love, love, love.
She got to sleep with her husband again in their lovely big bed; sleep with him, and -- even nicer -- sleep with him; she could pull him close and cling to him in the night. She fell asleep holding his wrist; she awoke with his head pressing against her chest. She kissed his hair, and then she did cry, only very briefly but she did, and it was from happiness.
Stanley cooked her breakfast. Even though he was going into work that day, he still took the time to do that. He cut the green leaves off of strawberries. She no longer felt panicked when he held the knife, although it did still make her sad. But she loved the precious red berries and the sugar he put on them.
Before he left, she sat on the bed and tried not to cry again. She did not want to seem ridiculous, but she was seeing now that the weeks since Derry had been a brief reprieve that was ending. It scared her; of course it did.
Stanley knew this because he knew her. He padded lightly into the room in his sock feet. He looked sharp, very sharp, although the long ends of his hair still curled wildly around his neck (he had not cut his hair since May). He was wearing the small brace on his left wrist again.
"Don't cry, Pat," he said.
"I'm not," she said. "I know that it's good you're going back to work. I've just gotten used to this, I guess."
He smiled at her, and she saw the fondness in his eyes. The love and understanding.
"Me too, baby-love. But we'll always have the nights."
Sometimes the things Stanley said were so sweet she wanted to swoon. She felt the heat rise in her cheeks. Stanley sat beside her on the bed. Gently, he took the comb out of her loose hands.
"Let me braid your hair?"
"Oh," Patty said. "Um --"
He smoothed a wave of dark hair away from her forehead, and then turned so he was behind her. He ran the comb through her hair very carefully.
"I'm going to do things with my hands," he said softly. "Sometimes it'll hurt me and sometimes it won't. And maybe I'll heal or maybe I won't. But I have to do those things anyway."
He partitioned her hair into three sections, and she felt it; the moment where the movement of his wrist turned just wrong and sent some small pain down his forearm.
"I know," she said, eventually. Well, alright. If he could stand to feel it then she could too. And in the end Stanley was correct; they both had to stand it. There was no going back.
She let him braid her hair. He let her feel his pain. The braid was simple, neat, and precisely done. She turned towards Stanley and smiled at him.
"Thank you, my darling," she said, and she thought he heard all of the other things she was saying in those simple words.
Patty Uris let her husband go to work. While he was gone she ran some laundry, and she looked out the window at where his car usually was, and she made up a lesson plan, and she wrote a page in her diary. Occasionally she thought she felt a twinge of pain, but it could have only been her imagination. In the afternoon, Stanley came back to her. He had not even been gone a whole day, but she still came out to greet him in the driveway as if he'd been gone for months.
He laughed as he climbed out of the car, probably having had expected that.
"Hello, lover," he said. "I missed you.”
Her heart was pounding in her chest; she knew that her fear was unreasonable, yet still she felt it. But for the first time Since, she felt confident that her fear would fade in time.
“I missed you too, Stanley,” she said, and she kissed him chastely and simply on the lips. His lips curved in a smile against her.
It wasn’t hard to be away from her per se -- he did not like it, but he was used to it; they were soulmates, sure, but they were not joined at the hip. But he knew that it would probably hurt her, so he did not look forward to it. And sure enough when he came home that first day Patty was waiting for him in their driveway and she was biting her lip and her posture was tense.
“Hi, lover,” he said, and when they kissed it felt like maybe healing, maybe forgiveness...maybe learning to be separate people again. They could be separate people and still love each other. He had promised her that so long ago and he would never dare break that promise; there was no part of Stanley Uris that could stop loving her.
The first day Patty went back to work, she came straight home as soon as she could. Technically she left early, but it wasn’t like the students were in, and she had lots of goodwill built up regardless. She had no reason to be nervous. She drove exactly seven miles over the speed limit and was home as quick as a dream.
She parked the car. In the yard, she could see her husband kneeling in the brown dirt. They had put the hedges in together, and they did not keep a garden. Patty got out of the car.
"Hallo, baby-love," Stanley said. He stood up; there were dirt-stains on his worn jeans. He clapped his hands together to get off the excess soil. "You're home early. It was supposed to be a surprise."
Patty knelt down where he had been, uncaring if her own pleated slacks where dirtied. She could always wash them.
She reached out to touch the little white flowers sitting proudly in the fresh soil.
"Oh," she said. "Stanley…"
"They won't be flowering much longer, I'm afraid," Stanley said, and he crouched back down beside her and he took hold of her outstretched hand. "But if we're good to them, they'll bloom again next year."
"Oh," she said again. It was all rushing up inside of her, the anger and the gratitude and the sadness and fear, all of it, good and bad -- she turned towards Stanley, and kissed him fiercely.
He laughed when she pulled back, grinning at her. "So you like them?"
There was a giddiness, now, a shared joy. "I love them," Patty said. "Let's plant more of them...oh...let's fill the whole yard up with daisies, Stanley, please…"
"Sure," he said, as easy as breathing, and she knew then that he would really do it, too, if she wanted.
That was all there was to say. Over the delicate white daisies in late bloom, she leaned forward and kissed him again.
Bellis perennis -- the common daisy. A lovely little perennial; to be planted in full sun; she blooms at dawn and her flowers last. She’s native to Europe but grows perfectly well in places like Georgia, the U. S. of A. These are facts, easy facts, about a common garden flower. These are details about the world that are not hard for Stanley Uris to learn. Knowing them helps his mind grapple with the more difficult things, the terrifying truths and the ideas that seem far off and disconnected. He cannot shake the fear that creeps up his spine with every thought of the thing that was under Derry; he cannot and will not forget...but a daisy-plant helps. Patty helps. Love, in all its incredible living-beautiful forms helps. It is not good for a man to be alone. So it is said. So it is true. He is not alone, and love will bloom between them, again and again and again -- every year, so on and so forth, so help them God.
“A whole yard of them,” he says to Patty, laughing a little; sharing her joy. “Sure. Why not?”