As Linnea flicked through the channels on her TV, she was forced to admit that she'd already cycled past the ones she was now looking at three times. With a heavy sigh, she clicked the set off. Linnea didn't really want to watch TV, but she'd hoped that it might take her mind off of the general unease she couldn't seem to shake.
With the TV off, she became more aware of the sounds that had been at the edges of her consciousness--the low, bass thrum of music, the chatter of voices, the crackle of fire. It was all close. She realized that Woody and Sharon must be having a party next door.
Standing up and stretching, Linnea debated going over and joining the festivities. She hadn't specifically been invited, but her neighbors had told her repeatedly that she was welcome to come by any time. Since the divorce, she'd become a bit of a recluse leading the specific invitations to taper off.
"Come on, Lin. A party might be just the thing," she said out loud. Sometimes, it felt good to hear a voice echoing off of the walls, even if it was only her own. She struggled into a pair of jeans, chuckling at her own vanity. They hadn't fit her since college. After a recent loss of appetite, they only barely fit her now. Against the chill of an early summer night, she pulled on a black cardigan over her tank top, smoothing her long, blonde hair out of the neckline and letting it cascade down her back.
Girded for social interaction, Linnea went out the back door of her house. In the small copse of trees that separated her back yard from the lake, she heard the cicadas rasping the same song they sang every night. Following the sound of festivities, Linnea trod down the cobblestone path, through the trees and down to the sand.
As she placed her foot on the sand, Linnea heard a voice call out in patient exasperation, "Guys, you've got to stay on this side of the stone wall. That's not our property over there."
She smiled partly in recognition at the voice and partly at the consideration the speaker was showing for her property line. The speaker was Woody and Sharon's son, Stephen. Doing a mental calculation, Linnea decided that the part was probably for his impending high school graduation. With a little start, she realized that Woody and Sharon probably weren't involved in the party. The bonfire on the beach wasn't their style. Nor was the raucous music. Linnea almost turned back at the realization, but her eyes stayed riveted on the fire as she was drawn forward, like a moth.
Climbing awkwardly up the stone wall, Linnea almost stumbled over Stephen on the way down. Standing between her and fire, his features were mostly in chiaroscuro, reflected fire light giving his features a somewhat sinister cast. He looked up and extended a hand to help her balance on the way down. Gladly, she leaned against his arm, using it to support herself until she was on solid ground. Even then, his arm stayed draped loosely around her waist.
"Hey," Stephen said by way of greeting. If he recognized Linnea, he gave no sign. Reaching down for a cooler near his feet, he came back up with a beer bottle and offered it to her. She took it wordlessly. Even at this distance, the heat from the bonfire was intense, threatening to dry her out.
As she drank, Linnea wrinkled her nose, "Stephen, I smell marijuana."
Stephen nodded, eyes scanning like a hawk. After a few seconds, he seemed to find what he was looking for.
"Zeke," he called, waving someone else over. A gangly young man detached from the crowd at the fire's periphery and loped over to them. Stephen reached out his hand and Zeke put something in it. As Stephen offered it to her after taking a drag, Linnea realized that he'd misunderstood the point of her statement. For a moment, she opened her mouth to correct the misapprehension, but decided against it. Her objection to the smell had been pro forma.
Taking the joint seemed almost natural, even though Linnea hadn't done so in almost a decade--not since right before her own college graduation. Taking a deep draught of smoke into her lungs, Linnea realized that she had made the decision to stay at the party and try to blend in. If Stephen hadn't recognized her, the darkness and firelight should be enough to hide any obvious signs that she was somewhat older than the average celebrant for her to pass unnoticed.
The pleasant buzz of the smoke coursing through her body took the edge off of Linnea's embarassment at doing something so obviously age-inappropriate as joining the party. Turning to hand the joint back to Stephen, she realized that he'd moved off a little way and was now intent on conversation with another boy his age. Not wanting to either waste the joint or smoke it all herself, Linnea walked over to the edge of the circle of firelight.
The sounds of the party had been going on since before dusk. It was well past dark now and the party was in full swing. Many of the people dancing and drinking around the fire were dressed for swimming. Shirtless boys and girls in bikini tops writhed to the music, those closest to the fire sweating freely and everyone drinking. Between the bass beat reaching up through Linnea's feet to vibrate in her chest and the deep shadows cast by the fire on bare flesh, the whole scene seemed darkly pagan enough that Linnea shivered and glanced back up the hill to her own house for reassurance that she was still in the heart of suburbia.
Realizing that she would soon be sweating herself if she didn't, Linnea shed her sweater on a picnic table that seemed to have been pressed into service for that purpose. Taking another sip from her beer, Linnea pressed through the loose circle of bodies to get closer to the fire.
As she got closer, Linnea felt herself starting to relax. It was hard not to sway her hips to the music as she weaved in and out between people. She wasn't sure where she was headed, but she did know that she'd found exactly what she needed to lift her malaise. Once the divorce was finalized, she'd been feeling old and alone. Surrounded by young people, masquerading as one of them immediately made her start to feel better.
Lifting her arm to protect her beer must have looked like an invitation because an arm snaked around her waist, not so aggressively that she couldn't have stepped away easily enough. Instead, Linnea raised her other arm and swayed her hips more aggressively to the music.
It wasn't a song or even a style that she was familiar with. She recognized it dimly as "trance" and found it easy enough to dance to. After a minute of dancing, she leaned back against the boy holding her waist. He towered more than a head over her and Linnea could feel how defined his muscles were through the thin material of her shirt.
When she leaned back, her partner gripped her tighter, his hand sliding up a little under the edge of her shirt, resting on the bare flesh of her belly. Linnea felt a little bit light-headed at the realization that this was the closest she'd let anyone but her husband hold her since before she got married.
As the beat of the song changed, the boy behind her leaned down and half-shouted over the music, "I know you don't go to our school. I would recognize you. Are you a friend of Steve's?"
Linnea laughed. She'd passed as a high school student. She wanted to turn and kiss the boy for the unintentional compliment he'd paid her. Instead, she leaned her head back on his shoulder and said, "I'm a friend of the family."
The boy nodded. He had sandy, blond hair and a strong chin, "I'm Doug."
Linnea missed a beat, but recovered quickly, "Lin." It wasn't a nickname she used commonly, but "Linnea" was too immediately recognizable.
"Nice to meet you, Lin," said Doug. Gripping her hip, he turned Linnea's body so that she faced him, his arms locking firmly in the small of her back.
Linnea smiled up at him, "You too, Doug. Do you go to school with Stephen?"
"Last year. I'm at Ball State this year. I just came down for the party."
Linnea nodded against his bare chest. She was content for the moment to be in Doug's strong arms and smell the fresh, honest sweat on his skin. Unsure of where one song ended and the next started, she danced with him until her legs began to feel weak.
Doug seemed to sense her flagging strength, "Do you want to take a break, Lin?"
Linnea nodded gratefully. Keeping one arm around her waist, Doug led her away from the fire, down to the waterline, and farther away from her house. Down here, the beach was just a wide strip of sand between the water and the trees. Her ex-husband Hal and Woody had gone in together on trucks full of sand to create beach where previously the grass and trees had come down to the waterline. Being "beachfront" property had made the house much harder for her to get free and clear in the settlement and she'd given up a lot more than she expected to get it.
Idly, she wondered where Hal would be tonight. He'd gone on an extended vacation with his new girlfriend once the papers were signed. Some of what she'd given up to get the house, Linnea had gotten back as a concession for dotting the i's and crossing the t's in time for the two of them to begin their vacation.
"Beer?" asked Doug. They'd walked out far enough that all Linnea could hear of the party was a dull hum of conversation and a backbeat. There was a cooler on the last picnic table before the beach ended stocked with half-melted ice and bottles of Mexican beer.
Linnea nodded. She didn't want to get so drunk that she did something scandalous, but another beer seemed safe enough. Looking down the beach, she saw that plenty of couples were wandering back and forth between the party and this table.
Doug pulled a couple of beers out of the ice water, popping their tops off on the bottle opener attached to the side of the cooler, and handing one to Linnea. Dancing had been thirsty work she realized as she drank half of it in one swallow.
His arm still guiding her, Doug walked back down towards the waterfront to the dock where Woody and Sharon kept their motorboat moored. Listening to the planks creak and the water splash against the floats, Linnea looked up at the gibbous moon, thinking it should really be full on a night like tonight.
Having left her sweater behind, Linnea shivered a little at the breeze coming off of the lake. Doug sat on top of one of the thick wooden moorings, wrapping both arms around her from behind. For a few moments, both of them seemed content to look out across the water at the lights of downtown on the other side of the lake.
Then, Linnea saw a reflected light from somewhere on the beach. As her eyes focused, she realized that it came from a couple who had progressed between the necking and petting she'd seen up and down the beach. Hidden from any perspective but the one Linnea had, they'd become increasingly amorous. In the darkness, Linnea could see a girl lying on her back, her legs wrapped around her partner's neck, ankles locked below his shoulder blades. Her head was thrown back and her elbows had dug deep furrows in the sand. Her lover's hands gripped her buttocks, pale in the moonlight, pressing her into his face. Linnea was glad she couldn't hear them over the music. She was already blushing at the sight, but unwilling to look away.
Even in the semi-darkness, Linnea saw the divots the girl had dug in her lover's back with her nails. Her hands on his back were urging him to mount her, but there was a languor about his motions that suggested he was content to take his time driving her into a frenzy.
Even over the music, Linnea could hear the mewling noises the girl was making now. This seemed to urge her lover forward as he finally slid up on top of her, one hand covering her mouth to muffle the sounds. Her back arched as he entered her, showing some urgency now.
At the same time, Doug's hand rose from Linnea's belly, under her shirt to lightly cup one of her breasts. She couldn't believe she'd managed to momentarily forget him sitting there behind her, holding her. Letting out a little gasp, she pulled away. Doug removed his arms from her.
Pulling away had been instinct. Linnea turned to face Doug, his face etched with concern that he had stepped over some boundary. She knew that, now that she'd gotten away, she should make her excuses and go home. But, it had felt so good to be held by Doug. Besides, he didn't know who she was and he was headed back to college soon.
"You startled me," she said, stepping back into the circle of his arms, her head tilted back invitingly.
Linnea found herself trembling as Doug leaned down and kissed her. One hand slid up her back to cradle her head. The other rested lightly on the swell of her bottom. His tongue parted her lips, teasing and probing against her own. Linnea gave a low, guttural moan in the back of her throat as he did.
The kiss went on and on. When their lips parted, Linnea kissed his chest and then the flat of his belly. Doug guided her back to her feet, kissing her mouth again, his hands sliding down to cup her bottom like a seat.
As if taking his cue from the boy on the beach, Doug lingered over kissing Linnea, even as the need rose in her. Cradled and held as she was, she had no leverage to stop the kisses and move on to other things.
Hal had served her with divorce papers more than six months ago, but it had been a long time before that, more than a year since they had last really made love. Linnea hadn't known how much she missed it until now. Sliding one hand down from his chest, she stroked Doug's cock through his jeans and was rewarded with a low, guttural moan.
Doug's hands slid to her waist. Linnea kissed him on the chest again. As she looked up into his eyes, seeking permission to move forward, she saw that a tear in the corner of his eye and streaks shining on his cheeks.
"Doug," she asked, concerned, "are you all right?"
"I'm sorry, Lin," he rasped. "I can't. I shouldn't have taken it this far."
Linnea hugged him fiercely, partly to comfort him from whatever had given him such a haunted look, partly out of a desire not to leg go of him when it felt so good to be close, "It's all right," she whispered, cradling his head and mostly meaning it, "We don't have to. What is it?"
"I have someone," he said, breathing a heavy sigh, "at college. I swear. I didn't know she meant anything to me until just now. I thought we were just..." his words trailed off.
Linnea nodded, "It's okay. You're a good man, Doug. I hope she sees that."
Doug nodded, "Thank you, Mrs. Madison."
Linnea stiffened in his arms, her face going pale. Doug looked down at her, concerned.
"I... I didn't think you recognized me." she managed to stammer.
Doug shook his head, "I didn't at first. You've let your hair grow and... I don't know. You're different from how I remember you."
Linnea made to flee, but Doug held her firmly. She turned to him, "Doug, I'm sorry. I don't know what I was..."
Doug leaned down and kissed her again, silencing her. Even now, Linnea found herself melting into his arms.
When he broke the kiss, Doug stroked her hair. Linnea looked up, questioning.
"Lin," he said, "even being able to kiss you like that has been the fulfillment of a fantasy I had for a long time--longer than I even knew what I was supposed to do after the kissing. If it weren't so important to me that I not screw things up with Cathy... What's wrong?"
Linnea hadn't even realized that she was crying until he asked. She laughed, wiping the tears away. "Nothing's the matter, Doug. As unbelievably embarassing as what you just said is, it's quite possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever told me."
Doug frowned, "I thought you knew. All the boys who grew up around here had a crush on you."
Linnea shook her head. Doug leaned down, burying his hand in her hair, kissing her again. It was still passionate, but there was no urgency behind it.
"Let me walk you back to the party," said Doug. "I should be getting some sleep before I head back to college tomorrow."
Linnea nodded. Doug took her hand and led her back to the picnic table where her sweater was. He hugged her one last time before fading away into the darkness.
Looking around, Linnea saw that the party was still going strong. It seemed impossible to her that the world could have changed so little while she was gone. She momentarily considered going back and dancing some more, but the evening had accomplished its purpose. She picked up her sweater and decided to head home.
As she approached the wall, Stephen emerged from the shadows, "Can I help you get home, Mrs. Madison?"
"Stephen," she said, smiling at him, "I didn't think you recognized me."
Stephen climbed onto the wall, offering her a hand, "Of course I did. We've been neighbors for years. I was a was a little surprised that you joined the party. I thought you'd come to complain about the noise.
"I hope I didn't intrude," said Linnea as he helped her down the other side of the wall.
Stephen shook his head, "Not at all. It was good to see you dancing and having a good time."
They walked along the path a ways, Stephen releasing Linnea's waist and offering her his arm for support. She took it, leaning against him.
"Did you have a good time with Doug?" he asked. Linnea hadn't thought it was possible to blush any more tonight, but she did.
She also nodded, "We talked about a girl he's in love with at school."
Stephen nodded as well, "Cathy. I knew he was crazy about her, no matter what he said."
They walked into the copse of trees behind her house, "He also told me that all the boys who grew up around here had a crush on me. Is that true, Stephen?"
Stephen didn't delay in nodding, "Of course. You were always a stone fox, Mrs. Madison."
She laughed, "A stone fox. I like that."
At her back door, Linnea turned to face him, "Thank you for walking me home, Stephen."