Sophie was playing a dangerous game. As she stood at the kitchen sink, soapy wash rag paused in the act of scrubbing one of the small CorningWare dishes her grandmother had given her fifteen years prior as a wedding gift, she pondered her predicament. She could hear her husband snoring away in the living room recliner, no doubt relaxed from a full meal after a long day’s work. They had married young, right out of high school, but fifteen years of marriage had treated them both well. It was comfortable, familiar, secure. But… As much as she wanted to, as much as she tried, to keep her mind on her husband, she just couldn’t. Not when all she could think about was him.
His name was Ian. She’d met him online the year before, in a forum for all things gardening. Green thumb that she was not, she had been seeking advice on which soils to use on her rose beds. Year after year her roses faltered, producing small, stunted buds that grew into small, stunted blooms, and she was sick of it. Ian responded to her pleas, sharing with her the loam ratio he used on his own greenhouse blooms, vital to his profession as a full-time florist. He wished her luck and told her to keep him updated with her roses’ progress. And she did. They messaged each other on a weekly basis through the forum’s private chat, she sharing the specs of her plant growth and soil consistency, he showing her photos of his early blooms. Queen Elizabeths were his pride and joy, and he was proud to show them off to her. One day, he shared a picture of himself holding a pot of Wild Blue Yonder blooms. He donned a cowboy hat and a goofy smile, and she found it endearing. When her roses began to bloom, she sent Ian a picture of herself giving a thumbs up in front of her plants, and he’d responded, “Simply beautiful.” She’d replied, “As they should be, I worked hard on them.” To which he returned with, “I wasn’t talking about the flowers.”
From there their acquaintanceship evolved into a flirty friendship, messaging each other on a daily basis, less about flowers and more about their personal lives. She told him she was married, and he said he just wanted to be friends, nothing more. Except…Sophie had realized she did want more. It had made her feel insane, to experience butterflies over this man who was not her husband, this man who, she learned, lived clear across the country from her, this man she barely knew. But messaging with Ian had made her feel more alive, more like herself, than she had in a very long time. She would lie awake at night, thinking of him, imagining the timbre of his voice or how it would feel to be embraced by him. One day, he had messaged her, “I don’t know how to say this but…I really like you. Romantically. I don’t want to because I know you’re married, but you’re the only thing I can think about…” That’s all it took for the romance between them to kindle from a flickering ember into a raging inferno.
Their clandestine affair was sequestered to text messages throughout the day and a rare phone conversation here and there, the latter often resulting in feverish desire and yearning. Sophie found herself wanting to steal away more and more to call him and hear the sound of his voice, relishing his Midwestern twang as he told her all the things he would do to her if he could. She knew they could take their relationship no further, not without life-altering consequences, but God did she fantasize about it.
Then, something crazy happened.
One night when she laid down to sleep, having been caught up in an uncharacteristic bout of sadness over her circumstances, she rose up out of her body. She was not scared, but fascination and curiosity consumed her as she floated above her sleeping self. Her bedroom, her husband asleep beneath the comforter, were wavering slightly in a shadowy haze, but otherwise her surroundings were fairly unchanged. A halo of light in the distance caught her attention and she took a few hesitant steps toward it, leaving her bedroom behind. Something about the light drew her in and she walked through it…into a bedroom. This one was brightly lit and clear, unhazy, unwavering. The bedroom was something out of an HGTV magazine. A woven area rug sat in front of a large sleigh bed donning a beautiful blue and brown quilt. Daisies peeked from a porcelain vase atop a deep mahogany dresser. Lace curtains framed the room’s only window, and when Sophie moved one panel aside to peer out, she could see only darkness. Opposite the door she came through, another door creaked open of its own accord. Tentatively she approached this door and pulled it open. Through the darkness she saw a man lying in his bed, and the man looked like…
“Ian?” she said softly, more in awe than to call out, but he heard her and turned his head on his pillow, a look of surprise scrawled across his face. He rose up out of his body, much the same as she, and walked toward her, incredulous.
“What–how–Sophie, are you doing this?” he’d asked her, stepping into the room, blinking at the bright light.
“I’m not doing it…at least I don’t think I am…” She looked at the man in front of her, awareness dawning that he was wearing only boxer shorts. Conscious of the fact that she was wearing her thin and shabby nightgown rather than the nice one her husband had bought her last Valentine’s Day, she felt her face flush.
Ian noticed her blushing, his eyes no longer darting around the foreign room but now steady on her, holding her gaze. He moved close to her, brushing her cheek softly with his hand. “Even if this isn’t real and only a dream…I’ll take it. I’ve wanted to do this for a while now.” He leaned down and kissed her, and she kissed him back.
That kiss was the catalyst for the next phase of their unusual relationship. Sophie did not understand the mechanics of their secret little world, nor did she care much to understand it. She didn’t think it was astral projection or a form of telepathy, but she did believe that their desire for one another willed into existence a pocket of reality in which they could meet and enjoy themselves. Their touch felt real. The passion they experienced together felt real. At first she was afraid that the effects would carry over into her real life, once they became comfortable enough to have sex, but observation told her that wasn’t the case. As far as she could tell, only her own sweat and trembling limbs were left when she laid her exhausted head down on her own pillow again.
Night after night she would lie down for sleep, waiting on her husband’s breathing to deepen in slumber, and will herself into their secret dream-room. Night after night she and Ian would explore each others’ bodies, learning each others’ most sensitive and most desired places. Night after night, their lovemaking was followed by talking, sometimes for only a few minutes as they lay in each others’ arms, sated and drained, sometimes for hours. Night after night Sophie returned to her place next to her husband, thoughts swirling dreamily around Ian and the continuous awe of seeing him even though he was 2100 miles away.
The room itself was an enigma, but its most fascinating feature was the fact that it continuously evolved. Each time Sophie entered it, the room would be different. Changed. She believed the space adapted to their needs and predilection for comfort, security, and romance. One time the room was patterned after a Japanese washitsu with shoji doors off to the side and a plush futon in the center of the room. Another time, the room became a lavish bath house with a steaming in-ground hot tub and vast, decadently-tiled shower. That was the first time she and Ian had made love in the shower, pressed against tile mosaic as hot water cascaded over them, and many times after that the room would form with an adjoined bathroom for just that purpose. Regardless of what caused the room to transform, Sophie found zero complaints.
As she stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes, she knew that she felt happier than she had in a long time, but also the most drained. Some nights she would not return until nearly sunrise, giving her a mere few hours of sleep before she had to wake for work, and she was determined to not let it take a toll on her. She was also determined not to think about the future. She could not foresee how long their relationship would last, but the thought of not having Ian in her life made her heart ache. Much the same as if her husband was not in her life. It began to inspire a dull dread in her, so she shook it off and finished washing dishes.