Some men have the power to possess you with lust, to rip away your inhibitions and transform you into a frenzied animal. My husband was not one of these men. When he spoke you found yourself fading away, losing interest almost immediately as he recounted that anecdote about the lawnmower for the hundredth time. Normally that’s fine, you can look past the thinning hair and growing waistline. You can ignore the snoring and the toenail clippings left in the bath and remember the better days when he used to take you out for dinner, just the two of you, just because he wanted to. You can be happy with the occasional bunch of flowers; you can even look past his internet search history when he goes to touch you once every few months. But sometimes, every once in a while, you hunger for more.
It all started when my husband joined the gym. He’d done this before, of course, but this was a new gym and he wanted to impress his work colleagues. Maybe his new secretary was the catalyst. I’m not sure why, but I decided to go as well. I like to take care of myself and we got a package deal if we both took out memberships, so it seemed like a good idea. The kids were old enough to look after themselves.
My first trip was far from eventful. I survived ten minutes on a treadmill, swam for a while in the pool, and then sat in the sauna for half an hour. This became my routine; every evening I would run, swim and sweat. Much like the rest of my life it became a habit.
My husband and I barely spoke anymore. We never kissed. When he wasn’t working he was at the gym, and it got to be that he would leave as I woke up and get home after I’d gone to bed. I started getting up later just to spite him, and he would stay out late to do the same. We didn’t even talk on the phone, all our communication was through emails. After a while I wasn’t sure if he even came home anymore. You would assume I’d consider a divorce, who wouldn’t, but whenever I thought about it I would see the children, and I just couldn’t do that to them.
After about six weeks of not seeing my husband I was handed a flyer at the gym for spin class. I’d always hated cycling, it’s so undignified, but the employee who gave me the leaflet was rather attractive, albeit for a shorter man. You know those men whose arms are thicker than your thighs, and seemingly built out of pure muscle? He was that guy. His square chin was bristling with stubble and his hair was cropped short. He had a tattoo of a dragon wrapped around his left bicep and he smiled at me.
‘Come along,’ he said. ‘You might enjoy it.’
I giggled like a child and could feel my cheeks flushing. My eyelids involuntarily flickered at him.
‘Thanks, but I don’t know if spinning is the best thing for me. I’ll just be the old, slow one at the back.’
Old, slow one? My face was growing more crimson by the second and my hand had reached up to rub my other arm. How old am I, fifteen? I could have been his mother.
‘I’m sure you’ll do fine,’ he said.
He smiled again and reached over to me, his muscular hand softly gripping my shoulder to reassure me. God it felt good.
‘Can I put you down?’ he asked.
Could he ever.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Jennifer,’ I said. ‘Jennifer Pullman.’
Why did I say that? That’s not my name. It was, right up until I married my husband, then I became Jennifer Wilkins. I don’t know why I gave him my maiden name, but he grinned and wrote it on the list.
‘See you tomorrow Jenny,’ he said.
No one’s called me Jenny for decades. It’s either Jen or Mum, depending on who’s talking. Or Mrs Wilkins at work. I used to like being called Jenny; it’s the name men used when they were trying to get in my knickers.
When my husband and I met he was twenty three and I was twenty one. We dated for a few months but there wasn’t much of a spark, and then he had to move away for work, so we decided to just be friends. We’d talk a lot on the phone and he’d tell me he only had eyes for me. I said something similar, probably, but I didn’t mean it. I was in my prime and I spent more time in other people’s beds than my own. I was never exclusive. You know how it is, though. Time passes and you grow up.
About a year later he moved back. He seemed more mature and he’d saved up enough to put a deposit down on a house. In those days that was a big deal. He took me out for dinner and told me he loved me. I said it too. Maybe it was the wine. We were married within a year, and I fell pregnant shortly afterwards. We had fun in those days; it wasn’t like it is now.
Spin classes, as it turns out, are terrifying. I turned up and immediately felt out of place; the old, slow one at the back. The instructor was some young woman in a sports bra that all the men were drooling over, barking orders at us as we pedalled for dear life.
‘Increase resistance,’ she shouted. ‘Thirty seconds.’
It wasn’t even proper sentences. I had no idea what was going on but I sweated more than I ever have before. When I got off the bike I almost collapsed; my heart was pounding in my chest like a hammer trying to break out and my legs felt like the bones had been replaced with marshmallow. I had to steady myself so I grabbed the nearest thing, which happened to be the instructor.
‘You’ll be fine,’ she said. ‘Walk it off.’
Easy for her to say. I waddled out of there feeling broken and deflated in body, yet alive in spirit. Something had fired inside me. If you’ve never tried spinning you really should go. It’s the most horrific torture you can possibly imagine, worse than waterboarding, but afterwards you’re on such a high you just want to run up a mountain.
That’s when I saw him.
He was peeling off his shirt. I must have missed him in the class, maybe he was on the other side of the room, but I could see him now. It was his back, it rippled as he moved. He wasn’t huge, not like these bodybuilder types that you see, not like that dragon tattoo guy, more toned. He looked taller, and although he wasn’t the youngest guy there he was really something. At home my husband used to wear a t-shirt to bed; I hadn’t seen his back in six months.
Some other girls were looking at the muscular torso on display as well. Younger girls, prettier than me, yet to give birth and destroy their bodies. Back off ladies, he’s mine. One of them walked up to him, some slip of a girl, all eyes and breasts. I wish I looked that good. She put her hand on his shoulder, his skin glistening with a thin film of sweat. She smiled and laughed, flicking her hair, and he smiled back.
I needed a shower. What would he want with me, anyway? My clothes were sodden and I’m pretty sure I stank, and there’s no competition between a hot young singleton and an ageing wife. I turned my back on him, on all of it, and walked towards the changing rooms.
‘Hey,’ he said.
I stopped, frozen. He was talking to me? Surely not. I didn’t look back, I just waited. One more second. A hand tapped my shoulder.
‘Yes?’ I turned to face him.
His eyes were a deep, rich brown. Not fading to beige like I remembered my husband’s being. His chest was firm, his stomach muscles solid, like he was carved from wood. His tight shorts barely concealed the rest of him. I glanced back up at his face and his mouth curled into a smile.
‘You looked good in there,’ he said.
I wasn’t sure how to respond so I just stood there, all sweat patches and jelly legs, feeling completely unattractive. He, on the other hand, was becoming more gorgeous by the second.
‘I saw your name on the list,’ he said. ‘I used to know a Jenny Pullman, years ago. That’s not you, is it?’
My knees were about to collapse and fold in on themselves, but I held firm, just for a moment.
‘Maybe,’ I said.
Something came over me, a kind of primal sexual confidence. I raised an eyebrow and smiled through a pout, then span on my heel and walked into the changing rooms, swinging my hips as I went. When you walk like that you just have to hope that you look as good from behind as you feel. When I reached the door I glanced back. He was looking at me, watching me. I winked at him as I went through the door.
What the hell was that? I’m not that kind of girl, I haven’t been for twenty years, but a part of him brought out that part of me. I bet you can guess what part that was. I showered and dressed, put on some make-up and made sure my cleavage looked good before leaving, just in case. I’m glad I did, he was waiting for me in reception.
‘Can I take you to dinner?’ he asked.
He was wearing shorts and a loose shirt. I could see the top of his chest, his broad neck. Even when I was younger I never had a man like this.
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘When?’
He reached out and took my hand. His forearm was lithe and his grip firm; he seemed to command authority from the way he stood. I was so used to a forgetful, bumbling idiot that I didn’t know what to do. I was usually the one making decisions.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.
He smiled and walked me out the door. The skinny girls from earlier were standing outside, they watched me, jealousy flickering across their faces. This felt good, too good. You know when you’ve had hiccups and they’ve gone, and any second you expect another to lurch from your stomach? That’s what this was like. A shadow of impending crisis was hovering over me. I had to be careful not to trip over my own feet.
He took me across the street to a little restaurant I had never seen before. We were greeted by a young waiter with slicked back hair.
‘Davey!’ The waiter smiled warmly. ‘How are you this evening?’
I’ve heard David, or Dave, but never Davey before. I quite liked Davey, though. It suited him.
‘Fine thanks,’ Davey replied. ‘Table for two?’
‘Of course,’ the waiter said. ‘And who is this lovely young lady?’
Young? Still, it made me smile. Davey put his hand on the small of my back, his fingers pressing gently into me.
‘This is Jenny.’
‘Nice to meet you, Jenny.’ The waiter nodded his head slightly.
We were shown to our table and a menu was presented. Davey ordered a bottle of wine and a shared starter, some kind of seafood platter. The restaurant was nice, quaint, but to be honest I don’t remember much of the details. I just remember him.
‘You look so different,’ I said.
‘So do you. It must be the spinning.’
‘That was my first class.’
‘Really?’ he said. ‘I could have sworn you were a pro.’
He was making me blush and my eyelids were doing that automatic flutter thing again. To top it all my right foot had decided, all by itself, to edge forward and rub slightly against his shoe. Surely this isn’t how grown-ups are supposed to behave?
We ate, we drank, we talked about things that are probably important. He told me about what he had been doing since I last saw him, I explained my home situation. You know what it’s like in these moments, it all goes too quickly and before you know it the meal is over. Davey paid and we left, walking out into the street.
‘Do you want to get a room?’ he said.
I could have ripped his clothes off right there. It’s been two decades since someone said that to me, I’d forgotten how good it felt to be wanted. I laughed and told him it was a silly idea. He put his arm around my neck, my head resting in the crook of his elbow. That big, strong arm pulled my face closer to his as his other hand snaked up my back, pushing our bodies together. I could feel his breath on my lips as he looked deep into my eyes.
‘Well?’ he asked.
I couldn’t take it anymore. Months of no contact, keeping myself occupied, living a routine, and here was this amazing figure of a man holding me in his arms. What was I supposed to do?
‘Okay,’ I said.
I tilted my head to the side and my lips separated slightly. Kiss me, you big brawn. My eyelids flickered and he smiled slightly. I ran my hand up his neck, across his cheek and round the back of his head. I thrust my lips upon his. He held me tight, his strong frame almost lifting me from the ground. His tongue licked my lips softly and I parted my mouth, letting it in. We kissed like teenagers, and inside I could feel a tingling charge running throughout my body, emanating from between my legs. His hand slid up and down my back and I could feel his arousal pushing against my leg. I grazed my fingers down his beautiful chest and felt him through the fabric of his shorts.
That was when he picked me up.
On our wedding night my husband had tried to carry me over the threshold of the hotel room. It didn’t go well, he staggered sideways like a mutant crab and then half dropped me on the floor. The gesture was romantic but the execution atrocious, and I haven’t been carried since. Fortunately this time the man who held me didn’t let go. He lifted me like I weighed nothing and held me so firmly I felt completely safe. I rubbed my hand on his chest, giggling to myself, as he carried me down the street to the nearest hotel.
He set me down in the lobby and paid for a room, then we walked to the lift. He held my hand as we waited. I did think of my children, wondered if they were alright, but the oldest is eighteen now and can look after the other two. Sometimes you just need a bit of me time.
As soon as the lift doors closed I jumped on him, pushing his back against the wall. My hand had a mind of its own, reaching down into his shorts as I kissed him. He grabbed my behind and lifted me up, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. I could feel him between my thighs, bursting to get in. I took a fistful of hair on the back of his head and plunged by tongue into this mouth. The doors opened and he carried me out, my limbs enveloping him. I wanted him too much.
We reached the door to our room and as he swiped the card his lips brushed against my neck. I arched my head back and he caressed my skin with his mouth. He carried me through and slammed the door behind us with one swift movement from his mighty arm.
That night we made love as if it was the first time, entwining our bodies together. I felt closer to him than I ever have, and more attracted to him that I could possibly have believed. Gone was the overweight, boring grey husband that left his toenail clippings in the bath. He had been replaced by this handsome, muscular alpha male. I was in bliss.
Afterwards we lay there, my head on his chest, and I outlined shapes on his stomach with my fingers. He stroked my hair and kissed me on the forehead.
‘How did you do it?’ I asked.
‘Do you want the truth?’ Davey asked.
‘Yes.’ I sat up and looked him in the eye.
‘I knew you were slipping away,’ he said. ‘I could see it but I couldn’t do anything about it, and I hated that. I know I’m not what you wanted, and you deserve better, so I decided to become what you wanted. What you needed, really.’
I went to say something but he just smiled and put his finger gently on my lips.
‘It’s true,’ he said. ‘I know it’s true.’ He kissed me, softly, a kiss of love. ‘I’ve been staying out late and leaving early for you. I’ve been going to the gym, I had a personal trainer. You met him, I think.’
‘He has a dragon tattooed on his arm.’
‘I asked him to invite you to spin class,’ Davey said.
I’m not sure how to react to all this but I keep myself calm. I’m furious with him for abandoning me for months, but the results might make it worthwhile. I’m not sure yet.
‘I took a class as well,’ he said. ‘Confidence and self-esteem. I applied for a promotion at work and got it because of this class, so I kept at it. I’m sorry I’ve ignored you but I wanted to surprise you. I wanted to be different. I wanted you to want me.’
‘I do. Of course I do, I always did, it’s just sometimes what we had wasn’t enough.’
‘I know.’ He smiled at me. ‘And if you want to leave, I’ll give you everything. The house, the car, all of it.’
‘Because I love you,’ he said.
I laid down on his chest again, listened to him breathing. I was annoyed that he didn’t speak to me, see me, touch me for months. I could have been unfaithful. You would assume I’d consider a divorce, who wouldn’t, but whenever I thought about it I would see the children, and I just couldn’t do that to them. None of it matters now, though. I’m here, I stayed, and I’m glad I did.
Some men have the power to possess you with lust, to rip away your inhibitions and transform you into a frenzied animal. My husband was not one of these men. When he spoke you found yourself fading away, losing interest almost immediately as he recounted that anecdote about the lawnmower for the hundredth time. Nowadays that’s fine, I can enjoy the rippling back and muscular arms. I can accept the confidence and passion when he takes me out for dinner, just the two of us, just because he wants to. I can be happy with the occasional bunch of flowers; I can even look past his gym membership when he goes to book us a hotel room once every few months. Because sometimes, every once in a while, I hunger for more.
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician who lives by the sea on the Kent coast.