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[When we here at Doing Freedom! talk about unsubscribing from coercive institutions that attempt to rule over us, people most often think of the governments under which they live. However, we are interested in many aspects of freedom, including freedom from untoward social pressures, emotional blackmail (usually from family), and the self-imposed misery that comes from choice-limiting, destructive habits.

One set of constraints that many people chafe under are societal norms regarding their interpersonal relationships. Now, I believe there are some pretty good reasons why most relationships take the form of a monogamous, one-on-one, man and woman partnership. It's pretty stable and works well for many people. I don't think it's inherently wrong in any way, but I do think that it's wrong for people to impose this structure upon others. I also think it's self-destructive to try to force oneself to fit the traditional mold, if it's at odds with one's way of being.

So, I offer this story, which is neither pro nor con plural marriages, but is meant to get people to think about the possibilities.]

Don Lobo Tiggre

hbar

TROIKA

Picture yourself in a cookie-cutter hotel, nameless and like a hundred others across the country, built from the same plans. Perhaps you're traveling and have stopped for the night. It's still early for bed, and there's nothing much to do in this sleepy college town. You go into the hotel bar for a nightcap, or some tea, if that's your preference, and some casual people-watching. It's only after you sit and order that you notice the man next to you; he looks like he's just come back from burying his only child. The bar's canned elevator music fades from your awareness as you focus on the man and discreetly look him over. He's dressed in new clothes, comfortable, but wrinkled and sweat-stained. He looks muscular, but not bulked out, and would be rather handsome, if it weren't for the red eyes, unshaven face... and were those dried tears staining his pale skin? He looks miserable, but he's drinking coffee, and there's no smell of alcohol about him. So, what's his story? After a polite amount of silence, you introduce yourself and ask if he's okay. You chat for a bit, and when he seems to have warmed up to you, you tell him you're sorry he's so troubled and ask him why...


Why, you ask? Why do I look as though I've just been to a funeral? Well, in a way, I have suffered a recent death... the death of a relationship. I don't mind telling you. No, it's good to have someone to talk to, even if you don't understand. You see, I'm trying to deal with the extinction of something beautiful... something impossible... something I don't think I can live without.

Oh God! What time is it? 9:30? Okay. Okay. There's still enough time...

It started when Jenny introduced me to a friend she'd made at school.

"John," she waved toward the woman at her side, "this is Oså. She's in my philosophy class."

"Pleased to meet you," I said. And I was! Oså was a striking, tall brunette with clear green eyes. "Thatís a Swedish name, isn't it?"

Oså looked a little surprised. "Why, yes. My ex-husband is American, but Iím from Sweden." She seemed a bit disconcerted by my gaze, and she looked down at the floor. Her voice had that marvelous Scandinavian lilt to it, but only slightly. "From Åre, in the north, actually..."

Jenny took her by the arm and led her out onto the deck. "Johnny, you put those eyeballs back in their sockets and be a dear, bring us some iced tea? We've got a lot of studying to do." She winked at me.

I gave her my best innocent look and headed for the kitchen. But Jenny was right. I had been staring. I guess I knew better than to expect every Swede to be a blonde, so I wasn't surprised, but there was something exotic about those green eyes, almost as though she had a trace of oriental blood. Jen was always right about that kind of thing; she could read me like a book.

She had plenty to go on. Neither of us had ever pretended that getting married would make everyone else in the world look ugly, nor that our hormones would disappear. We used to make a game out of pointing out strangers in a crowd that we thought the other would find attractive--got pretty good at it after a few years. It was all in good fun and neither of us felt threatened because we never cheated on each other.

Oddly enough though, when I brought the tea out, I did feel a quick stab of... What? Jealousy? Lust? Both? Oh, there was no doubt in my mind that Oså was a very attractive woman, but there was something about the way she and Jenny touched each other as they laughed and talked. They didn't seem to be doing much studying.

But I didn't want to say anything. I was real proud of Jenny for going back to school, after all these years. Mind you, her consulting business was doing just fine; she didn't really need the degree. Many of her classes, like the philosophy one she was taking with Oså, had nothing to do with her computer programming. Jen told me it was just something she needed to do, a self-esteem thing.

It was great luck that she'd found a friend who was about our age; she didn't feel close to most of her classmates. The guys seemed only to want to hit on her, and the girls seemed more intent on the guys than anything else. She did need someone to study with, and I couldn't remember enough about that kind of stuff to be much help.

But... Was it my imagination, or was there something more than sisterly about the kiss Oså placed on Jenny's cheek when she left that evening? Or, maybe I was just reading my own testosterone-driven feelings into a perfectly innocent gesture.

Or maybe not.

After that first encounter, I resolved to keep my mind, eyes, and everything else off Oså. I was really happy for Jenny, and didn't want to mess up her new friendship.

It was about three weeks later that she came by, allegedly to go to the library with Jenny. She stood in the doorway, not looking surprised at all, when I told her that Jenny wasnít home yet. That should have warned me, but I was distracted by her scent.

There was nothing perfume-like or artificial about it; it was her scent. A little sweaty, and something else... Something that made me think about sex. The French have a word for it, but I can't remember it now.

"May I come in?"

"Uh," I realized that I'd been staring at her again. "Sure, sure! C'mon in!" I ordered myself to get a grip. This was my wife's friend, a few minutes early. No need to be shaking like a kid on a first date!

She slid right by me and went straight to the living room bookcase. "Jenny has told me so much about you." She ran a graceful finger over the row of hardback editions of my own writing. In the quiet, her long fingernail made a scratch-scratch-scratching noise as it jumped from spine to spine. "And I've read all of these, which tells me even more about you."

I couldn't think of anything to say.

"Where do you get the ideas for your stories?"

This, at last, was comfortable terrain for me: one of the most frequent questions I get. I talked about writing while I got her a drink. I ended my spiel, as I always did, with: "My muse is rather fickle, she only visits me when she feels like it, and then decides whether or not she wants to stay." When I say this, people always ask why. This gave me something to go on about if I couldn't think of anything polite to ask about them.

"Jenny is a remarkable woman, you know."

The change of subject caught me completely off guard. "Er...yes...well...I love my wife very much." It was a totally lame thing to say, but nothing else came to mind.

"Love is good." She was standing by the bookcase. I was leaning against the sofa, which faced the other way. Oså looked straight into my eyes, as though she'd misplaced something and thought she might find it there. "But, a boy can love a puppy. What do you think of her?"

What kind of question was that? "You want to know what I think about my wife?" Was she drunk?

"Not really." She didn't look drunk. "What I really want to know is what binds you together. What it is that makes you love her."

In fact, she looked keenly alert and poised--a circling hawk that has seen a tiny movement in the grass below. "I..." A beautiful hawk. "I love her because she's so good at things I'm hopeless at. I love her because, even though she's too modest to admit it, she's smarter than anyone I've ever met, myself included. I love her because... in some way that is hard to put into words... we are the same. She has the most amazing capacity to express herself and make me feel loved. All of these things, and more, make up a person I can't help but love."

The hawk swooped--or poured, rather... She flowed across the distance between us with liquid movements that screamed femininity at the mammal base of my brain. The expectant energy in her gaze gave me tingling sensations in places only Jenny has touched.

Talons sought target. I knew I was experiencing something that was ninety percent hormonal, but the knowledge didn't help. I felt like I had to avoid her grip, or I'd never get loose. I swear I didn't want to do anything that would put the loving relationship I'd just been talking about at risk. I had to make one last attempt to remind her--and myself--that I was happily married. "I guess Jenny has similar thoughts, because we've decided to stick with each other for the rest of our lives."

"You know," she leaned closer, only the fabric of our shirts keeping her breasts from touching my chest, "some authors invent a hero who appears in many, or even all of their books. But not you. You've created many different heroes." Another change of subject. I was literally reeling back, trying to hold myself up with the sofa. "And yet, in each book, there is always a character who thinks a certain way. Sometimes he's on the wings, sometimes she's center stage. Always, though, there's this character: realistic, but visionary; kind, but merciless; intelligent, but emotional; hard working, but playful."

Omigawd! The talons closed, and I found that they were electrified. After all these years, someone noticed!

"At first, I thought it was you, making appearances in your own work." She was so close now, we might as well have been embracing. "Now that I've met Jennifer, I know it's more than that. It's both of you. It's your marriage personified."

I felt the electric shock spread through my nerves; every neuron was a super-conductor. She was right. No fumbling around, no guessing. She'd simply seen the truth and recognized it immediately. Can you imagine what it feels like to finally hear an answering cry, when you've been shouting into an echoless void for years?

She laughed gently. "Don't look so frightened. You wouldn't have written it that way if you hadn't been hoping someone would notice." She kissed my forehead. "And I am the one you have caught with your net!"

What? She was talking about my net, what about hers?!

She pushed me over the back of the sofa and landed on top of me. "I have loved you for years."

I took her head in both my hands and kissed her, hard.

It was some time later that I opened my eyes to see Jenny, leaning against the bookcase with her arms crossed. She just stood there, with her head cocked to one side. Oså hadn't seen her yet. Suddenly, I remembered how to move and heaved Oså halfway across the room. There was an ugly thump as her head hit the far edge of the coffee table and she sprawled on the rug.

Jenny sprang forward, but not at me. She crouched over Oså and rolled her head back and forth gently. There was no blood. "Well, don't just sit there Johnny!" There was anger in her voice, anger and...concern? "Help me move her to the couch and then go get an ice-pack, okay?"

"Okay." What the hell was going on?

Oså came to when we lifted her and Jenny fussed at her until she lay back quietly. When I got back with the ice-pack, Oså seemed clear-headed enough, telling Jenny that it didn't hurt too badly, and that she was sure I hadn't meant to hurt her. A bruise was swelling up over her left ear. I gave her the ice-pack and Jen held it in place.

"Well," Jenny said in a businesslike tone, "you may have a mild concussion, but you seem okay. Would you like us to call a doctor?"

"No, Jenny, I'm fine." Oså looked from a concerned face to a confused one. "Really, I'm fine. But you'd better talk to Johnny, he's the one who seems to be in shock!" She giggled.

Giggled!

Jenny turned to me and said sternly, "Jonathan Matthews, what do you mean banging my friend?" Then she giggled. "Oops! No pun intended!"

I gaped. For a man who is never at a loss for words, I was finding myself remarkably short on things to say. "Aren't you angry, Mrs. Matthews?" I finally asked.

"Oh, Johnny," there was nothing stern left in her voice, "I fell in love with Oså weeks ago and have been wondering when it would happen to you!"

Oså lay back, removing herself from the conversation. I was completely paralyzed, unable to think of what to say or do. Jenny sat back on her haunches and waited. At last, I asked, "What does that mean, you 'love' her?"

"What did it mean to you in the moments before you saw me just now?"

"Jenny, I'm sorry, I swear I've never cheated on you. You know that. I've never even gotten as close as I did just now. I don't know how my hormones busted loose like that..."

"No, don't apologize, this is too serious to gloss over. Johnny, don't you see? I donít know what it means either. But I know what I feel--what I felt the moment I understood just what kind of person Oså is. I have no idea what to do about it, but I know I can't be mad at you; you weren't doing anything I haven't thought of doing."

"Are you becoming a lesbian?"

"Oh, for Pete's sake!" Now Jenny did look annoyed. "John Matthews, this isnít about sex and you know it! Iíve seen you deflect sexual advances before... Can't you see that this is different? I didnít see what happened between you two just now, but I bet I can tell you something about it; she said something. She said something that grabbed you by your very soul and you couldn't get free." She gave Oså a gentle squeeze on her arm. "I know because that's what happened to me."

It was crazy, but I could see the love in her eyes as she spoke of Oså. Jenny had been a late bloomer--I could well imagine her having an intense emotional reaction to the sudden appearance of a best friend she'd never had.

And I... Well, now that the shock of seeing Jenny leaning against the bookcase had worn off, I knew the talons hadn't loosened their grip one bit. I wasn't ready to call it love, but I knew that Oså was the most appealing person--besides Jenny--I'd ever met. I didn't kid myself about my ability to walk away from her. Especially not if it was okay with Jenny.

And it definitely seemed to be okay with Jenny. Just watching her tend Osåís bruise told me all I needed to know. Oså stayed with us that night, went to fetch her things the next day, and didn't leave until the inevitable finally happened.

Over the next month and a half, I think I experienced just about every emotion known to man. It was insanely exhilarating, terrifying, and ecstatic all at once. Jenny was moody, but mostly bubbling over with girlish happiness. Until the shit hit the fan, that is.

We didn't have a plan.

How could we plan something none of us knew anything about? All we knew was that each of us was in love with the other, and the power of our feelings made it impossible for any of us to back away. There was little discussion. Oså simply spliced herself into our lives. It was an exploration of what was, to us, a stranger and newer world than anything we'd imagined. New minds, new pleasures, new commonalities and differences... New fears and new ways to hurt.

The most amazing and unexpected thing, to me, was that I never felt shorted or left out. Sure, there were times when Oså took some of Jenny's time from me, but usually that was to study, go hiking (I have an asthma problem and don't get along well with the Great Outdoors), or do some other thing I don't enjoy much. But then there were also times when I had Jenny all to myself, and others--usually when Jenny wouldn't have been around anyway--when Oså's experiences became an unlocked diary for me to leaf through and marvel at.

I was positively delighted to discover that Oså enjoys cooking as much as I do, and actually liked going shopping. And yes, I won't deny that there was a part of me that got a big kick out of being the object of so much affection from two incredible women. I don't think I'd ever fantasized about such a situation much, but I knew that I had something many other men only dreamed of.

For her part, Jenny was just beside herself to have someone around who wouldn't bite her head off when taken by a mood to write. I had always thought that Jenny and I could talk about anything and everything, but she told me more than a few times how happy she was to finally have a woman she could really talk to. I knew that she didn't like to shop, exchange recipes, discuss fashion, or do many stereotypically feminine things, but I hadn't realized how starved she'd become for feminine companionship nonetheless.

And boy did they talk!

More often than not, I'd fall asleep while they were still deep into the neural chemistry of REM sleep, rhythmicity in Beethoven, or something really exciting, like whether or not there was--or could be--a shred of reason in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Oså, it turned out, had been largely alone since her divorce. Having the attention of two minds focused on her simultaneously was a luxury she wouldn't even have been able to imagine before it actually happened. She found herself feeling a little guilt at having more emotional wealth than she quite knew what to do with... Like a poor person who's struggled all her life, and then inherits a fortune from a relative she didnít even know she had.

For all three of us, it was like the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution all rolled into one. It was a great freedom to take control over our own lives--regardless of all tradition--and feel so good about it. It was mind-stretching to realize that many things we'd all assumed were simply not so. Our culture teaches us that what we were doing was wrong, dirty, sick. To our amazement and surprise, we found it to be something beautiful and satisfying. Even when it was coming apart, it was still a beautiful thing. And it was an exciting battle against tyranny, to feel that maybe--just maybe--we could break free from the past and form a more perfect union. Our friends all thought we were crazy, but we didn't listen.

None of us mentioned Sin. No one talked about propriety. Oså took the un-romantic but infinitely gracious step of having a medical checkup with extensive testing. The relationship blossomed and each of us found the rewards we were receiving so overwhelming that we just didn't notice any of the warning signs, the hints that all might not be perfect in paradise.

The first real problem arose, oddly enough, from...

But wait.

Maybe I should tell you about the sex, first. Our friends always wanted to know about the sex, so I might as well get it out of the way.

You have to understand that none of us were swingers, and I had never dreamed of becoming a polygamist or getting involved in any kind of group marriage. Neither Jenny nor Oså had any great inclination toward lesbianism. The whole situation basically fell into our arms, and we took the ball and tried to run with it.

To tell you the truth, as much as I did find the idea of having two beautiful bodies to touch at once very arousing, I also found it more than a little daunting. Remember, this was no casual thing. I loved them both and I couldn't bear the thought of disappointing either. Was I up to such a performance? Could I really satisfy them both at once?

For their part, neither was embarrassed about the other, exactly, but they weren't turned on by the idea of making love to each other either. It seemed like it would be pretty awkward for them to have intimate contact with me while trying to stay out of each other's way.

So, we agreed to sleep together, but sex was something that pretty much happened one-on-one. At least at first. A funny side effect of this was that it tended to almost never happen in bed. Something else I didn't foresee--not that I had given it much thought--was that both of them seemed to benefit from the arrangement. Oså said she hadn't had that much loving passion in a long time. Jenny said that I was becoming more spontaneous and that our sex life was spicier and more energetic.

I can see you shaking your head, but remember, Jenny fell in love with Oså before I did. I think she wanted to share everything she had with her, give her everything she could that would enrich her life.

And you know something else funny?

I had thought that the sex would be problematical, but it was the sleeping arrangements that really gave me problems. I mean, it was just impossible to get comfortable. You see, I radiate a lot of heat when I sleep, and as much as I love playing spoons, it just got too damned hot with a warm body pressed full-length against me on both sides. Besides, if I moved or scratched an itch, it wiggled both of them. But if we spread out a bit, then I always felt like one of them was getting more cuddling than the other. About the only way to cuddle two women lying on opposite sides of you is to kind of pretend you're doing the butterfly stroke and throw one arm over each, and maybe try to press one of your feet against a calf, thigh, or foot of each. But doing that pushes your face full into your pillow. Not great for breathing...

Okay, enough of that. I was going to tell you about our first real problem.

As I said, and it even surprised me at the time, it wasn't sex that tipped the scales. Of all things, it was the exercise routine Jenny and I do in the morning that set off the first warnings.

It's not that we were earlier risers than Oså; she often seemed to be up--awake, but still lying in bed, thinking--before we were. It was the way we did our routine. You see, I may not be able to have a great time hiking, but I do take care of my body, and so does Jenny. Over the years, we'd built upon some classes we'd taken together and developed our own form of bushido. Ours is a martial art that--in my opinion--resembles Karate in the same way a laser resembles a flashlight. Our morning workout didn't involve any sparring or fight simulations; we left that kind of stuff for our evening workout. It was just a series of katas that made sure all our muscles were wide awake. We'd roll out of bed, stretch, and wordlessly--because it was such a well-established habit--move to the floor and start. It was only a simple 30-minute routine, but to someone not used to it, it must have seemed like a carefully choreographed dance.

A dance with no music, nor any sound other than rhythmic breathing.

Anyway, one morning as we were wrapping it up, we saw that Oså was lying on the bed, crying silently.

"Whatís wrong?" we both asked at the same time.

"Nothing!" She wiped at the tears, not quite successfully trying to get them to stop.

I sat, pulled her up against me, and held her. Jenny took her hand and asked again. "Please tell us! It doesnít matter if it seems silly. We care and we want to know..."

"Well, that's just it!" Oså didn't start wailing or sobbing, but was breathing hard. Her words came out as though wrenched from her. "We care! We know! We do our exercises together like the goddamned Bolshoi Ballet! You two have been married for almost ten years... I'll never be able to catch up with the way you know each other. You two are practically reading each other's minds while I'm lying here not even knowing if I'd want to spend years learning fighting technique, let alone how I'm going to fit in with the rest of your lives..." Her last words came softly, as the emotion of her realization drained from her, leaving her tired and not really wanting to talk any more.

She had a damned good point. Now that she brought it up, such a dilemma seemed pretty unavoidable to me.

I found myself having a strong feeling that this was a problem to which there was no solution. Nine years of marriage, plus many more of prior friendship, had built up a solid foundation of common understanding between Jenny and me. Our bond would only grow. No matter how much progress Oså made, would she ever catch up? It seemed to me at that moment that Oså would be permanently doomed to a sort of second class citizenship in our bizarre little troika. I didn't want that for her.

Couldn't stand the thought, actually.

It's not that I stopped loving Oså. Quite the contrary! I think that was the moment, as I sat there feeling her longing to join with us, that I first truly and consciously told myself that I loved her. She had shown such charm and grace during our whole experiment--in addition to all the qualities that attracted me to her in the first place--that I felt a greater admiration for her than at any point up to that time. I just didn't want to see her hurt by our effort to make something unworkable work.

I wanted to tell them both that I thought we should call the whole thing off. But... Oså was still upset, and it just didn't seem like the kind of thing that would make her feel better.

Jenny, on the other hand, knew just what to say to set Oså at ease. "Dear Oså, donít you see that it doesn't matter?" She wiped a last tear from her friend's face. "So John and I can get by without talking much, so what? It's just something we share, like you and I share the joy of walking though a meadow of tall grass. Thatís something he'll never know. If this thing, this beautiful thing we've got going here, is going to work, we've all got to realize that each combination of two will have a special and separate bond from that which we share as three. What you and John share will have a separate and special nature, different from what I share with you, or what I share with him."

Oså thought this over. It was obviously not something she'd considered before. Nor had I, for that matter, but it did make an immediate kind of sense.

"Don't worry," Jenny went on, "about things Johnny and I share that you don't. It's not that we're excluding you, it's just that that's the way we are. Some of them we'll be able to change, if we want to, some you'll just have to accept." She hugged us together. "We'll all have to accept things like that. You will, I will, and even John will, when you and I share something he can't fathom." She paused and looked each of us in the eyes. "Okay?"

Oså smiled and answered before I did. "Okay," she said.

I was a bit confused. Jenny's argument sounded right... But I couldn't completely shake the feeling I'd had the moment before: the feeling that there was no way in hell this was going to work. I felt in my gut that we'd better call it off before we all got seriously hurt. But they both seemed at peace with Jenny's take, and I couldn't bring myself to be the wet blanket. Besides, I knew it was too late to avoid the hurt. Way too late.

All of this passed in my mind very quickly, and there was only a little hesitation before I said, "Okay."

As it turns out, it wasn't Oså feeling left out that finished our little experiment in alternative lifestyles. It was Jenny's. It all came to a head the night they were attacked on their way home from class.

But let me give you some background, so it'll make more sense when I tell you what happened.

You see, Osåís presence brought a great deal of joy to both Jenny and me. That may not seem like it should be a problem, but believe me, it developed into one. It's not that my relationship with Jenny was tired or boring in any way. I think it was healthier than that between anyone else I know who's been married for almost a decade. But that very thing Oså felt left out of, that depth of familiarity that almost rendered speech useless, was what upset Jenny. She could pretty much predict anything I'd say or do to her, and it seemed to her that what I shared with Oså was fresher... more spontaneous.

And she was right, to a degree.

This was partly due to Oså herself. She was more outgoing than either Jenny or I had ever been. She reveled in doing wild and unexpected things. Hell, we all knew that it was she, and her greater lack of inhibitions, that had brought our ménage à trois together. She exulted in her passion for the new and unexpected in all walks of life. If we drove somewhere, and she saw a sign marking a historical location or a national park, she'd insist that we go explore it. If we ate out, it was always to a new restaurant. If we set out for a movie, we might end up at a theater. If we went to look for new toys for the kitchen, we'd more likely end up in an art gallery.

One day Jenny and I came home from a visit to Jenny's parents, whom we'd told nothing about Oså, and found a large, fat envelope stuck to the door. In the envelope was a note and another, smaller envelope. The note read:

Drive to Battlerock Park. Park by the north gate and open the next envelope. Don't open it until you get there!

--O

It was already dark, and neither Jenny nor I could imagine why she wanted to meet us at the park, which would already be closed. The note didn't give any hint as to a reason, nor any mention of any kind of emergency. But it was a request from Oså, so we complied. The next envelope contained another note and a yet smaller envelope. This note read:

There is a flashlight by the "Park Closes at Dark" sign. Use it to follow the main path to the center of the park. Climb to the top of the rock and open the next envelope.

--O

Laughing nervously and shrugging, we got out of the car and got the flashlight. There wasn't anyone around to stop us, so we climbed over the chain across the entrance and walked a ways in before turning on the light. The trees made it seem very dark and the shadows between their shaggy trunks swallowed up the light reflected from our beam. We made it to the top of the rock--a stone hill where some civil war battle had been fought--and opened the next envelope. There was another note and a tiny envelope. The note simply said:

Look up!

We did, and the sight took our breath away. Such a spread of diamonds had not gleamed in the night sky since I couldn't remember when.

"It's like camping in the mountains," Jenny told me after a while, "the park is shielding us from the city lights and it's a very clear night."

Together, we opened the last envelope. The last note read:

J & J,

The sparkling depths you see before you are not great enough to hold the love I feel for you!

Come home quick!

--O

When we got home, Oså had prepared an incredible five course meal... As good, if not better, as any I had ever made for a special occasion. But this wasn't a special day marked on the calendar, it was just Oså's way of telling us that every day with us was a special occasion to her.

Iím not ashamed to tell you that both Jenny and I cried when we hugged her, before sitting down to eat. That was the first night we made progress reducing our sexual inhibitions, but it's none of your business just what happened.

What matters in all of this is that, while Jenny and I thought we were flying along as fast as we could go, Oså's arrival was an unexpected boost from multiple afterburners. As I said earlier, I was exhilarated. The power of the boost was a shock and a delight. Oså's spontaneity woke an impish streak in me I didn't even know I had, and I started doing all kinds of crazy things, anything that would let my two crazy lovers know just how much they meant to me.

The problem was not that Jenny didn't enjoy the gifts and surprises, but that somehow--in her mind--she felt she was benefiting as a side effect of my passion for Oså. In a way this was true, as Oså definitely brought out a playful side of me that had been quite buried. But why should it have mattered that the boost came from an outside source? It was certainly not true that I was in any way less in love with Jenny, nor that my love for Oså was greater.

But it mattered to Jenny--not that I was observant enough to pick up on it, mind you!

Looking back, I can remember certain unexpected flares of temper, some raw nerves that subsided but were never really soothed. It's painfully obvious to me now what they meant, but at the time, it seemed that my earlier fears had been overblown.

I was wrong, boy was I wrong!

When Oså and Jenny arrived home that night, I was working in my attic study. I was on a roll, and had no intention of stopping. They knew how I was when I was writing and would normally wait for me to pick my own time to come down. But as soon as the door opened, Jenny called out to me in a voice than sent ice-water running through all my veins. I don't even remember going down the stairs, I only remember skidding to a stop in the foyer, breathing hard.

Neither looked hurt, but Oså's jacket was torn.

"What happened?"

"Some stupid punk with a knife jumped us in the parking deck on campus." I could hear the adrenaline in Jennyís voice. Her legs were spread as though she were still ready to drop into a horse-stance at the slightest sign of trouble. "The idiot tried to take our purses."

Oså had been badly shaken and was still trembling, but she piped up when she got her chance. "Oh Johnny, you should have seen her! I mean, I knew some of that stuff you do in your evening workout is pretty serious, but I never imagined what it would look like in real life. Jenny was... It was... Beautiful! No wild kicks and punches, no screaming, like in the movies... Jen barely seemed to move. She just stood her ground and told the kid with the knife what he could do with himself. He got mad, of course, and rushed her. I didn't see exactly how she did it, but Jenny sort of swiveled on her hips and the guy went flying past her, headed for the floor. That was when my jacket got torn; he grabbed for me as he was falling. Jen tried to warn him off, but that just made him madder. He jumped up at her, trying to stab her. Again, I missed how she did it, but suddenly I saw her half a step closer to him, her right elbow coming down on his back, her left hand wrenching the knife from his hand. This time he didn't get up. It was amazing!"

Jenny shrugged unhappily. "I didn't expect that lunge from the ground. He made me move faster than I'd meant to and I think I hurt him more than I'd wanted to. I was just going to scare him, you know..."

"Well, I'm just glad it was only one kid with a knife, and I'm damn proud of you!" I hugged her hard. I could feel firm muscles gliding underneath her skin. So much for computer programmers being wimpy nerds! She was still keyed up, so I let her go.

I turned and hugged Oså, who had calmed with the telling of the story, but was still a little shaky on her feet. As I held her I could feel the tension ebbing from her body. I held her tight and stroked her back, kissed her, and told her I was glad she wasn't hurt. She melted more in my arms, and it felt good to know I could give her comfort.

After a few moments, Jenny cleared her throat... loudly.

Looking at her, I saw the anger and adrenaline, still there. Instinctively, Oså and I stepped apart.

"You know," Jennyís voice was low and calm, a very bad sign, "I've tried really hard to make this work, but it's damn hard when you two make it so plain that I'm the third wheel."

"Jenny!" Oså was genuinely surprised.

"How can you say that!" I was shocked as well, but also felt stung by what seemed to me to be a false accusation.

"What do you mean, 'how can I say that'?" Jenny flexed her knees and balled her fists at her hips. That was a very bad sign. "I'm not asking for any kind of hero's welcome, but dammit, it's just not right to get a quick hug from my husband of nine years, who then goes on to give someone else a long and tender welcome home!"

Oså was speechless.

I wasn't. "She needed comfort and you need space to cool down in, or so I thought. Besides, this isn't just 'someone else,' this is Oså, someone you love as much as I do!"

"Oh, come off it John! I see it every time you hold her, every time you kiss her. Itís not the same between us." Jennyís anger began to fade, replaced by a soft but powerful sense of hurt. "You... You act like we did when we first met. Sheís got you doing crazy stunts like when you were younger. That, by itself, isn't bad, but...you just don't kiss me the way you kiss her...I feel old and boring."

Part of me wanted to take issue with everything she said. I knew I loved her as much as I ever had, if not more. And Oså was a year older than Jenny... But part of me also knew that arguing wouldn't help. Besides, Jenny was right; there was something exciting about Oså that had a lot to do with her newness.

What could I say?

Oså jumped in. "Jenny, let's sit down and talk about this." She pointed me toward the kitchen with a glance. "Johnny, make us some fresh tea, and let's all just calm down for a moment. Then we can talk this thing through, okay?" No one moved. "Jen, we haven't even had a chance to unwind, let's just sit and kick off our shoes while John gets the tea, okay?"

Jenny didn't quite stomp into the living room, but I've never seen her show that much suppressed emotion with her walk.

When I got to the living room, the tea was done simmering, but Jenny wasn't. The pungent aroma of Earl Grey usually brought a smile to her face, but it had no discernible effect this time. She sat fully erect on the edge of the love seat, while Oså tried to relax on the sofa.

I tried to smile as I set the tea down, but the muscles in my face rebelled. I had the feeling something awful was about to happen. I found myself revisiting my earlier feeling that what we were trying to do wasn't going to work. Even with the best of intentions, a threesome may just be something people are not designed for. Three is an unstable number in human affairs. But this time, instead of my feeling producing a desire to cut off our experiment, I felt an almost desperate need to prove myself wrong. I was remembering now that Jenny had been acting moody about some things, but dammit, we--all three of us--were great together!

All of this flashed through my mind as I set the tea down. Looking at the hard lines on Jenny's face and the tired ones on Oså's, I knew it was over. This time, it wasn't that I had nothing to say, but that I couldn't get any words past the lump in my throat.

Oså, on the other hand, had done some thinking, and had an idea. "Jenny," she began, "there is some truth to what you've said. I could see it in Johnny's face when you said it. We can both see that there is something to what you've said. The newness between John and me doesn't--can't--exist between the two of you. The problem, as I see it, is that we're both a little old fashioned and prefer boys, so you and I can't share the kind of excitement that exists between Johnny and me. This leaves you feeling left out. Right?"

Jenny thought about it and then nodded, without saying anything.

For my part, I wasn't about to interrupt.

"Well," Oså went on, "do you remember what you told me a couple weeks ago when I was upset? It was you who said that we'd all find some things we'd just have to accept, remember? I think this is just one of those things. I don't see how we can change it. In time, the relative newness might become less noticeable, but for now, it just is. Believe me, I know that recognizing the inevitable doesn't make it easier to bear, but remember, there is a lot to be gained. Don't forget to weigh the positive against the negative!"

Jenny looked stubborn, as I've only seen her a very few times. Then her chin quivered and she slumped back into her seat. "Oh, I know you're right!" Tears began leaking out of the corners of her eyes. I remember the first drop clearly because it seemed to take a long time to roll down her cheek, to fall into her neglected tea. "Of course I remember what I said! I've been reminding myself of that very thing almost since I said it. Why do you think I've been keeping this to myself all these days? I understand it well enough, but it feels awful just the same!" The anger was gone now, replaced by misery and defeat. "You were so sad, and Johnny was holding you tight... It's really not jealousy, exactly, it's more like this really hollow feeling of being left out of something wonderful. I'm glad you know what I mean."

"I know exactly what you mean!"

"And I really have been enjoying this...this...whatever we want to call it. No, even that's not strong enough; I love you Oså. I really do, and I don't mean to hurt you." Jenny's tears were coming faster now. She didn't seem to notice. "But Oså, John... I don't think I can do this anymore. I keep on telling myself that I just have to accept it, that it will be okay. But it isn't okay. It's only getting worse, and I don't want it to turn ugly. I don't want to get mean and say hurtful things to people I love!"

Oså and I moved to hug her, our own faces wet.

Jenny put an arm around each of us. "God, this hurts!" She squeezed hard, we squeezed back. "I don't know what to do... I don't want this to end, but I just know I can't take it anymore!"

No one said anything for several moments. After a while, Jenny's quiet heaving stopped. We all smiled and pulled slightly apart. I sat on the floor, Oså on the coffee table, and Jenny remained perched on the edge of the love seat. The silence drew on.

Finally, I tried to get back in the conversation, but I was still finding it hard to get the words out. "So... So, what do we do?"

No one wanted to answer.

Instead, Oså asked her own question. "Jenny, isn't there anything we can change to make it easier for you? Johnny and I could try to be...uh...less affectionate in front of you... There has to be something we can do!"

"That would be just as unbearable!" She shook her head. "Every time I saw you together, I'd feel awful, knowing that you were walking on eggshells just because of me. I love you both, and it seems like you should be able to be natural and happy around each other. No. If this is going to work, we are all going to have to be able to accept things like this." She started to cry again. "That's the way it has to be, and that's the way it can't be... I'm so sorry! I'm just not strong enough for this!"

"That's silly, you're the strongest woman I know," Oså answered. "But, it's not strength that's needed here, it's flexibility."

"I've tried, but I can't be that flexible... I just can't!"

"So what do we do?" I asked again.

Again, there was no answer. The question hung over us like a pall, smothering us. No one wanted to say the obvious, but there was no avoiding it. For a very long time, we all just sat there, each thinking his or her own thoughts.

Eventually, Jenny said, "I'm going to bed." She stood, and after a moment's hesitation, stooped to kiss Oså. "I'm sorry Oså, I really am." Then she turned and all but ran from the room, avoiding eye contact with me.

For a while, Oså and I just sat there. We could hear Jenny getting ready for bed, and then the house went quiet. It was Oså who spoke first. "Well, it'll take a while to warm up, and there's nothing in the fridge, but I guess I should head back to my apartment. Good thing I kept it."

"But Oså..."

"Yes?"

Nothing came out. What else could she do? Sleep on the sofa? And where would I sleep? Come to think of it, where would I sleep if she left?

"Dear Johnny," she took my hand, "I don't know what the right thing to do is, but I do know that I can't stay here while things are this way."

"You're right, of course, but how can I just watch you go? I love you! How can I go back to being with her as though you don't exist? But I can't leave her either!"

"I'm sorry Johnny, I don't know how to help you." She got up to leave.

"I can't choose between you! I can't! I just want you both to be happy..."

She put her finger over my lips, took up her purse, and headed for the door.

"Oså, wait!"

She shook her head.

"Oså..." I had a crazy idea about stopping her, by force if necessary. I started to follow her, but what good would it do? I knew she couldn't stay, and I could never add to her pain by trying to force her.

She was opening the door.

"Oså... I love you!"

She jerked the door shut behind her, as though the words hurt her.

I was utterly paralyzed.

I stood in the foyer, staring at the closed door. All of a sudden, many doors seemed shut to me, a myriad doors that had led to uncounted exciting possible futures. I stood there surveying all the remaining futures I could see, and none of them seemed to contain either woman I loved. How could I choose?

I couldn't.

I just stood there, trying to think. I heard the rattle of the ice-maker in the freezer releasing a batch of fresh cubes. I heard the electronic whine of the VCR as it switched on to record a movie Jenny and Oså had wanted to see. I heard the house itself creak as it stood, waiting for me to decide. And softly, oh so softly, I heard the sound of desperate crying coming from the bedroom. My bedroom. Our bedroom.

The sound was my wife of nine years, crying in a bed we had shared for almost as long, in a room that so recently been the site of night after night of celebrations of love.

I heard her cry, and I wanted to go to her. I wanted to hold her and tell her that I loved her and that everything would be all right. But I didn't move. If I did that, if I took her into my arms, I knew I'd never be able to let her go. And how could I spend the night comforting her, while Oså ached alone, alone in her own dark night?

Still I stood, and the crying came louder. Louder and louder, until I could stand it no more, and I went to her.

"Jenny," I said from the bedroom doorway, "Jenny, I have to leave."

She didnít move from where she lay, crumpled at the foot of the bed.

"Jenny, I'm not going to her, but I can't stay here." I found my throat full of gravel, each word hurting me as it scraped by. My chest started to heave as my own crying threatened to become uncontrollable. "Jenny, I love you, but I can't stay here with you, knowing that she's all alone... And I can't go to her, knowing that you are left behind..."

Still, she did not move, but I could tell that she heard me.

"Jenny, please... Just... Don't hate me!" I took her hand and kissed it, held it for a second, then fled. Unlike Oså and Jenny, I did run. But I couldn't run fast enough, not fast enough to avoid seeing Jenny's outstretched hand remain in the air, as though reaching for one last touch.

I ran from the house and didn't even stop for my car. I just ran and ran, until my lungs hurt. And then I ran some more. I tried to burn out my real pain with the fire in my lungs and legs.

It didn't work.

And so, here I sit. I'm desperate enough to gamble everything I have, because everything I have is nothing without the love I've lost.

It's been almost a week since I left home. A week of living death in this miserable hotel. A week of tasteless food, colorless skies, and faceless strangers--except you. Thank you for letting me talk it through to you.

Do you know what I'm going to do?

I'm going to take that gamble. It's quite simple really, it's not such a long shot. I'm betting that Jenny and Oså feel the same emptiness I do. I'm betting that they feel--to the very marrow of their bones--that no difficulty created by our being together can possibly be as bad as this. This is death, and even a difficult life is better than that!

We're not used to this, Jenny and I. We've had someone within touching distance for almost ten years. We've not had to sleep in an empty bed that wasn't that way temporarily and by choice.

It's really not such a long shot, it can't be. Nothing can hurt more than this! I know that when you asked, I said that I was trying to deal with this death, but that's not right. I'm trying to beat it. I don't care what the church, the government, the laws, the people, nor even our friends and family--or anyone else--has to say! We had something so unique and wonderful that no one understands it, and I won't let it die.

If there is a God, He can send me straight to Hell if He doesn't like it! There was nothing evil, dirty, or wrong about what we were doing. And Hell can't be any worse than this aching emptiness.

I am not giving up on love.

You see, I wrote them both notes, asking them to come to Battlerock park tonight, at midnight. I know they'll be there. I'm going to tell them that we must try again, and make it work. We will make it work because we have to; the alternative is too terrible.

Whatever the outcome, I have to try--we have to try!

In the end, that's all any loving partners can do, isn't it? You find someone and you try to make it last.

(c) 2000

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