Awake begins in the shame and pain of a marital desertion. Lori is reluctant to let Brandon into her life, afraid to be hurt again. Once she opens that door wider, Lori experiences an explosive awakening. With Brandon's help, Lori rediscovers her sexual power and, through that, confidence and hope. Yet three-thousand miles separate suburban Maryland and Seattle. Their intense but infrequent visits are disorienting, particularly as Lori feels pressured towards a more suitable post-divorce life. When Lori makes an impulsive decision to take her kids on a trip to Seattle, she sparks a chain of conflicts that might end their still-precarious romance.
Lori woke, uncertain of the time, in exactly the same position. Brandon was curled around her from behind, still holding her tight. She listened to his steady breath and could feel it blow softly across her shoulder. Tears welled again. When had she last spent the whole night, any part of the night, tucked into someone's arms?
Lori reluctantly extracted herself, though, because she really needed to pee. She climbed awkwardly over Brandon to get to the open side of the bed. Thankfully, a couple of candles remained lit, and she made her way through the unfamiliar room and into the hallway. She could see through to the living room dimly lit by the glow of street lights, and she noticed Brandon's t-shirt on the floor.
She went and pulled it on. Passing over her nose, she breathed deeply to smell his smell, just like she used to do with her kids' clothing. A stolen snuffle as she gathered up miniature shirts and jeans and sundresses, hoping in those whiffs of sweat, spilled food, and grass stains, that she might catch hold of their fleeting joys. Brandon's scent was different, still familiar, the aroma of deep compatibility. She wondered if smell could reveal such a thing? Her nose detected a trace of Brandon's cologne, woodsy, leathery, sensual, something almost animal- like that she remembered well. It felt intoxicating that he was so near.
On route back to the bedroom, Lori took a quick glance at her phone to make sure there were no texts from the kids.
Jeanette was inviting her to see a movie. Lori would have to make up an excuse. It was three in the morning, she noted, six in the morning east coast time. That seemed to trigger her appetite, and Lori poked through Brandon's refrigerator. She spotted a container of Greek yogurt. After several wrong picks, she found the drawer with the silverware, leaned against the countertop, removed the cover, and, half-aware, started to eat. It seemed a sudden recognition, her bare feet starting to feel the cold of the floor, she was three thousand miles away from her kids, just slept in a man's bed, not her husband, a strange bed, but one that felt, well, kind of like home.
Brandon appeared then as a shadow at the kitchen entrance. He turned on the light. When she flinched, he quickly adjusted the dimmer. He was as naked as in bed, yet she felt like she was seeing all of him for the first time. When they were young, Brandon was tall and very thin. Clearly, he worked out—just the right amount. Not over the top muscles like some boys gave themselves, looking awkward and bulky, arms so thick they no longer rested comfortably against their bodies.
She appraised Brandon, trying not to look obvious, the sculpted shoulders and biceps; slim and strong-muscled legs, relaxed at the moment; a well-defined stomach, no six-pack. Still, there were indents in all the right places, highlighting musculature and triangulating his sweet spot, which, with a quick peek, revealed a three-quarters-erect penis.
“What you lookin' at?” Brandon asked, smirking.
“I'll assume that's a rhetorical question.”
He laughed softly, such a warm, cozy sound in the dark,
early morning. “Have you been up long?” He walked over, tipped up her face, and kissed her on the nose.
“No, just a few minutes. I was suddenly wide awake and hungry.”
“Jet lag can be tough, and we forgot to eat.” Glancing at the yogurt in her hand, he said, “you probably need something more than that.”
“I just wanted a little something. This is perfect. It's my favorite brand.” Lori took another bite. “Want some?”
She scooped up a spoonful and fed it to him.
“You look good in my shirt, by the way, very sexy.” Brandon's mouth was half full, so the words sounded slightly garbled and sweeter.
Lori gave a twirl to acknowledge his compliment, then made a slight curtsy, pulling out the bottom hem. With her bowed head, she could see that her legs were still shapely, bare skin extending down from where the bottom of the shirt hit high on her thighs. She was frowning, though, when she looked back up.
“Peter hated when I wore his clothes.”
“God knows. I told him I did it to look sexy. He said he
didn't like other people touching his stuff.”
“Wow. Okay.” Brandon leaned back against the countertop
so that they were side by side. “Were you thinking about him right now? About home?”
“Actually, I was thinking about how strange it feels to be so comfortable here, with you, in your bed.”
“It's been so long since we've seen each other or even talked. Our “real” lives, our grown-up lives, happened apart. I thought you'd feel like someone I don't know.“ She glanced sideways, catching his eye. “You don't.”
“That's the thing about us,” Brandon said as he put an arm around her. “We knew each other before we started making up shit, before we did all the stuff that was expected of us.” He touched her cheek and turned her face back to him. “I bet I know the real Lori, the one maybe no one else sees.”
“That's interesting,” she said, shifting from his gaze, “because I'm not sure I know who Lori is anymore.”
“You knew back then.”
“Did I?” She looked at him again fiercely. “I can't remember it at all.”
“You were so smart, Lori. You were gonna save the world.”
“Wow. Should that make me laugh or cry?” Lori turned away. “It's funny; I always felt most alive when you and I were fighting some cause, being big fat pains in the world's ass. In the end, though, you scared me.”
“What? How?” He backed off the counter so he could regard her directly.
“You were uncompromising,” she said, “and restless. I was afraid where you would take me.”
Brandon gazed at her, not understanding.
“I guess I wanted my fights to be manageable, family- friendly affairs.” Lori smiled, even as she shook her head. She'd never quite put those old feelings into words before. “Instead, I've managed myself into, what? Boredom? Irrelevance? I don't want to sound melodramatic. I just don't feel like there's much left that's me anymore.”
“You're an attorney. You went to one of the best law schools in the country.”
“Yeah. My point exactly. I can hardly call myself a professional these days.”
“Stop that. Education doesn't just fade away, not unless you let it. You're a mother too. That's the most important job, even if our hypocritical society only pays it lip service.” Brandon lifted her chin, forced her to look at him.
“You're right. Being a mom has been my greatest happiness,” Lori paused, “and my undoing.” She looked down again, and went back to a silent place. After a few moments, she spoke to him with puzzlement. “I still can't believe you have a kid. You were so adamant you didn't want that.”
“I surprised myself,” Brandon said, leaning back again against the counter. “I think the reason I said those things was because I was afraid. My parents weren't great role models. I didn't want to repeat their mistakes.”
“Our kids will say that about us one day; you know that, right?”
Brandon laughed. “It's true.” He paused as if to elicit a memory. “One day, I'm sure it was more gradual than that; I only remember waking to a sudden, overwhelming need to have a child. It felt like the most important thing, more important than having a wife, though one kind of went with the other.”
“Is that why you married Jocelyn?”
“It was a big part of it. She and I were on and off again for so many years. We either had to break up for good or get married. Never the best circumstances to say, 'I do.' Of course, you were already taken.”
“Were you ever happy as a couple?”
Brandon gave a tired sigh. “Yeah. Maybe. Sometimes. Let's save that conversation for daylight. Do you think you can sleep a little more?”
“I think so.”
“I'll take you out for coffee in the morning. Have you heard we have a very intense relationship with our coffee in Seattle?”
“I've heard something about that.”
The brief banter made Lori feel light on her feet and sleepy. She followed him back to the bedroom. Brandon lifted the covers, climbed in after her, tucked her shoulders inside his own, her head under his chin. Lori was sure she must have tossed and turned, as she often did. Brandon was still holding her just as faithfully when they woke.
Second Chances continues the story of Lori and Brandon's bicoastal romance. Their sexy, fun weekends, crisscrossing the country to see each other, are bookended by the challenges back home. For Lori, that's a new home, job search, divorce proceedings, and conflicts with her teenage kids. With newfound confidence, helped by Brandon's skills in the bedroom and as handyman, cop, and father, Lori revels in a budding independence. Still, there's no avoiding that their time together is scheduled around the competition (exes, kids, and bosses). Brandon's aversion to risk, his loyalty to his daughter, and Lori's increasingly complicated life in Maryland all loom as potential, insurmountable obstacles, and Lori fears that shuttling between disparate worlds will break her. After a particularly empowering sexual encounter, Lori finds the courage to ask for what she wants-a second chance to build a brave new life with Brandon-but taking that risk could mean losing everything.
Lisa Battalia is an attorney in the field of gender equity and a writer. She is the mother of two newly launched young adults; a lifelong east-coaster who recently launched her own new life on Whidbey Island, WA.
Her other novels and short stories can be found at www.lisabattalia.com.
Instagram link: https://www.instagram.com/lisabattalia/