© Copyright 1999 by E. Z. Riter
The attached work of fiction is intended to be entertainment for adults in locations in which it is legal. If it is illegal in your location, DO NOT read. This is a copyrighted work. Reposting or any other use strictly prohibited without the express, written permission of the copyright holder, except may by posted as part of a review or posted to free-access, non-commercial archive sites.
Finally. The first warm day of spring. And, it was a Saturday. I was eager to work the garden Barbara and I had planted and tended together. My work would be a labor of love, preparing the flower beds for planting. The smells of the rich earth, the feel of the dirt in my hands, the warmth of the sun on my back, were healing and reinvigorating.
Barbara was thirty-one and I was twenty-three when we married. My friends thought I was crazy for marrying an older woman. Barbara's eleven-year-old daughter, Vicki, was additional evidence of my insanity as far as my friends could see. But I could see much farther. I saw in Barbara what I hoped for in a wife.
I lost Barbara to a drunk driver. I retreated to our garden to maintain my sanity. The beauty, the order, of the plants were stabilizing. The new growth gave me hope my life could again be filled with beauty.
As I lugged the tools from my storeroom, I thought of Barbara. As I carried the sacks of mulch from the car, my eyes teared. Barbara would have been appalled by those tears. She was probably sitting on the white cloud hovering over me, watching as I leaned on the handle of my spade in disconsolation. I could see her head gently shaking back and forth in a silent 'tsk tsk'.
"Jack," she would say, a hand lifting my chin to make me look at her. "Life goes on. You need to live each day to the fullest, to relish its beauty and uniqueness. No pity parties. No gloomy Guses. Come on, Jack. Get on with your living."
Yes, Barbara would say that. She faced more than one loss with grace and serenity I envied. Barbara would be right. It had been seventeen months since she died. It was time to stop grieving and get on with living.
Saying it is a lot easier than doing it. I had told myself a hundred times to start anew, but my own advice fell on sterile soil. Maybe it was the passage of time. Or, maybe it was the spring season when life is renewed. I knew now was the time to start. I shoved the spade into the heavy soil, driving the blade deep with my foot. I turned the first shovel full. I began.
By two thirty, the sun was high overhead. The temperature had soared. My muscles moved easily in the hot sun beating down. Sweat poured from me, its residue prickling my skin. By evening, those muscles would be sore. In spite of jogging and gym time, some muscles always ached from the hard toil of spring.
Dirt streaked my sweat covered body. Dressed only in shorts and sneakers, I was on my hands and knees. The earth felt good. I was lost in the reverie of the gardener, communing with nature a handful of soil at a time.
A shadow passed over me. Ten pink toes sticking from the thongs of sandals came into view. I fought to still a quiver as I sat back on my haunches, hands on my thighs. My eyes slowly traveled over the shapely calves to long, muscular thighs. Perhaps for too long, my eyes hesitated where thighs widened into hips covered by brown shorts. Continuing past the narrow waist, I lingered on the swelling under her bright green halter. I finished my visual journey staring into twinkling, big, brown eyes over a grin bordered by dimples.
"Hi, Beth. Join me. Please."
Gracefully, she knelt and leaned forward to be kissed. She always did that, offering a cheek to me in greeting. The angle was askew: our lips touched. We each looked away, but not before our eyes had met for an instant.
"It's good to see you," she said, a small catch in her voice.
"I've missed you," escaped from me. I looked away quickly. "Vicki's not here. She went to the mall."
"I knew she'd be gone. She told me you were starting on your garden. I came to help."
"All the way from college to spend spring break working like a Turk. It doesn't sound very appealing."
What did she not say? What was the look she gave me? That look evaporated like my sweat on this hot day, leaving a residue which prickled my imagination. She was grinning when she answered.
"Hey! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. I'm a good worker."
"Well, put on some work gloves and let's get after it," I replied, my own smile matching hers.
Beth was my step-daughter's best friend and college roommate. She was fifteen six years ago when she arrived at our house for a party. Even that first time, I noticed her. Those big, brown, eyes and warm, quick, smile drew my attention. Beth had an easy way about her, as though being happy and positive was so embedded in the core of her personality, no other emotion was possible.
As the girls grew, Beth was a frequent visitor to our home, spending almost as much time there as Vicki. Barbara welcomed Beth with open arms. I, too, developed a caring relationship with Beth. I told myself we were like father and daughter. I resisted the thought of a different relationship, which sometimes required conscious effort.
As we worked and talked, my mind's eye suffered from double vision. Beth and the present overlaid memories of the past which flowed like a disjunctive home movie. A party Barbara and I chaperoned when the girls were sophomores in high school. Trips to the beach. Quiet evenings in winter by the fire, all of us bundled for warmth.
There were sad memories, too. Memories of life after Barbara. Without being asked, Beth moved into the house, occupying the guest bedroom. What needed to be done, she did with a quiet and loving competence. She listened and consoled. After living with us for four months, she left as unobtrusively as she came.
When she left, I was surprised how much I missed her. There had been nothing sexual between us, but our relationship had deepened. Since that time I talked to her often. I must admit I sometimes called Vicki at school hoping Beth would answer. With each call, each visit when the girls came home, our relationship ripened.
I had been blinded by grief to the loving woman near me. The sunlight of that bright spring day pushed away the shadows letting me see clearly, maybe for the first time.
She was on her knees, legs spread for leverage. Her brown hair was piled on her head, secured by a blue and white bandana. She was valiantly pulling on the stump of a dead bush to extricate it from the soil. Holding it with both hands, she was wisely using her legs and shoulders to pull. I could see her muscles flexing under sweat-sheened skin. Her muscles stopped and she was looking at me.
"Are you going to watch me or help me?" she asked.
I was shaken back into the present. Beth had a soft, gentle expression as she stared at me over her shoulder. Perhaps it would have been easier for her to turn her body. My view was certainly better with her turning the way she did.
"Well, Jack?" she said.
A wise gardener would have used a shovel to cut the bush's roots below the surface, making the task much easier and quicker. A wise man would have knelt in the soil to be next to Beth. I knelt. Dirt covered her calves. Her thighs were streaked with the same brown color. There was a smudge on her cheek where she wiped sweat away with her dirty glove.
A rivulet of sweat slid down her throat, caressing the mound of her breast before disappearing into the halter. Beth watched me watching her.
Kneeling now, facing her, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer feminine attractiveness of this woman. As I leaned toward her, she moved to meet me. I saw her lips part and her eyelids flutter. Our lips touched in a soft and gentle kiss so electrifying I twitched all over. When my eyes opened again, she was still leaning forward, her eyes closed, a sensual expression on her face. Her eyes opened dreamily.
"Maybe I should get the sharpshooter to cut the roots," I said.
"Maybe," she replied in a low, husky tone. "Or, maybe we can dig it out with our hands."
Working in the dirt around the dead and forlorn shrub, we used our hands to scoop away the soil, to pull out the roots. No speech was necessary. Four hands worked as one to slowly free the bush from its death trap. We sometimes touched, bumping into each other: a thigh against a thigh, a hip against a side, an arm touching a back.
I could smell her. She smelled of light perfume and natural womanly odor heightened by her sweat. Her sweat was sweet, unlike my own. It was fragrance spewed by a flower: alluring, appealing. I could hear her ragged breath when she struggled: a little grunt, sometimes a "humph," as she worked the soil. Heat radiated from her. Not just physical heat or reflection of the day's glorious sun, it was energy, a magnetic field drawing me to her.
"Okay. It's loose enough. Let's pull it out," I said.
Shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, we each took a handhold on the dead bush. Moving as one, we pulled, our muscles straining. The roots gave with a pop. Beth squealed as we fell back together. She landed on her back. I fell over her. I gazed into her face, seeing a twinkle and the tip of a pink tongue snake between her lips. I bent to kiss her. Her arms went around me, holding me to her.
We kissed, slowly, deeply, powerfully. Her breasts were against my chest. Her hands stroked my back. Again, I brought my lips toward hers.
"Am I interrupting anything?" Vicki's sharp voice rang out.