Part I: Ache
She is a long woman, lean and pale. Long legs pull your eyes up to where they meet. Her long neck carries them further, to her face, that sweetly weak chin, her mouth. Only her lips are full bodied.
She has never liked her body, thinking that she is much too tall, that her hips are too wide, that her butt sticks out, that her chest is too flat; but men, and some women, enjoy watching her walk past and turn to look when she can't see them, to imagine her naked, imagine crawling between those never-ending legs, imagine her eyes swollen and half closed with desire. Many a man or woman has sighed with a private disappointment after she has passed, the strength of the sigh depending only on the strength of imagination.
She is right, though, at least about her absent breasts. Her chest is flat: two peas on an ironing board, as some men used to joke. No one will move his (or her) hand from chest to breast and delight in the smooth curve, because there is no curve. No one will feel the rubbery texture when her breasts are pushed up from below.
She could fix this, she supposes, by having a doctor insert gelatinous bags beneath her nipples, but it wouldn't any longer be her. It might even -- one might think -- take attention away from her neck or her mouth. Perhaps her breasts would grow larger if she had a child, though she is unlikely ever to know. People come as complex packages. This is what comes in hers.
What else comes is fascination. She watches the breasts of other women in her dance classes surge forward with centrifugal force during their steps, then bob around; furtive looks so well camouflaged that no one has ever suspected her, mixed with chatty commentary on technique but full of longing, enough longing to make her ashamed. She sometimes gossips about how men talk about tits and bazooms, but that's an excuse. She has seen her own reflection in the studio mirror often enough, and found nothing noteworthy there.
She is certain she couldn't attract a real lover and hasn't a clue as to how her husband came to want her. She thinks it couldn't have been her looks. Now that several years have passed since they married, and his interest has diminished, she understands that he must be tired of having to work himself up for someone who lacks a true woman's body. Along with that understanding, she has almost convinced herself that she is reconciled to a life of little passion.
That reconciliation is an illusion: while standing before the mirror after bathing a few weeks back, she suddenly made a despairing cry and began smacking her chest with her hands. It took almost an hour to regain composure, to fix her face, before she could meet people with her usual gracious smile, backed by an inner light.
In any event, while a life of little passion defies longings it doesn't banish them. Hers is as deep a well of desire as anyone's, producing forbidden fantasies that entrance like visions of water on the desert, but being a good Christian woman she isn't going to act on them. It shames her a little that she even has them. Hers may be a liberal church, full of good, open-minded people, but she struggles to be morally straight. Judge not. Only judge yourself.
Her fantasies slip into her mind at night when she is most vulnerable, forming from the swirls of almost- sleep thoughts, little universes of lust growing out of nothing, brushing her belly, awakening her body. She doesn't feel she deliberately calls them out, but there they are, and they are insistent, full-color images of sex with this man or that from her job, movies, even her church. Sometimes he is anonymous. It really doesn't matter. They didn't used to include full naked bodies on display.
Ever more during one of these fantasies her hand will slip from her side to her waist to her pubic mound, over the almost hairless mound to a spot where she can stroke herself with stealthy fingers. On occasion she resists. When she does touch herself she moves the fingers slowly between her labia, circling her clitoris, getting high, afraid of waking her husband while surrendering yet again. There are times that she can't keep herself still or quiet, when she'll finally go into the living room or bathroom to finish.
The acts she conjures once came mainly from R-rated films or the explicit romance novels she has taken to reading, but that ended when she stayed alone at a hotel that had a pay-per-view adult movie channel. On a whim she picked a movie almost at random and was devastated. Which was stronger, disgust or desire? She probably doesn't know to this day, but her repertoire of fantasies began growing that night.
After masturbating, once her breathing has slowed and she considers the visions that have driven her pleasure, she feels vile. Shame is her other secret burden; so much of it for such a good person. She certainly wouldn't ever cheat with any of those men. Once or twice a man from work came on to her, just a little, and she cut him down right away.
For awhile there was one man in her fantasies more than any other, a dance partner in their little community ballet. They've teamed on and off in "The Nutcracker," practicing once a week, then meeting daily during performance week. She is a principal dancer. He is a volunteer from the community who replaces a non-existent male dancer, there being no senior men in the company.
They've enjoyed playing dress-up, dancing, pantomiming. They've held hands. He has kissed her hand, often, often. He is actually the only man besides her husband whom she has touched regularly in any way for years, and one evening last Fall the hand kiss suddenly made her wonder what it would be like if he kissed her mouth. What if he pulled her to him and... did what? That. All of that.
She had been expressing amazement at the dances of Herr Drosselmeyer's toys, paying attention to the actions and positioning of the party goers, but at the thought her vision was obscured by quick flashes of fucking. She wouldn't use that word, but it's what she saw. It was followed that night by a detailed fantasy of degenerate sex that wouldn't make her feel guilty: what if he kidnapped me and forced me to submit? What would he make me do?
Please don't hurt me. You don't have to hurt me. I'll do anything you want.
The intensity and the pleasure frightened her, enough that she decided to avoid him, to talk only when on the floor, but the thoughts recurred throughout the season, finally fading only after the performances ended, when she wouldn't see him for eight months because their lives are completely separate and he too has a spouse.
How many little ballet troupes are there, hundreds? All performing "The Nutcracker"? How many fantasies are generated by them? How many come to nothing?
One shouldn't think that hers is a life of quiet desperation. She keeps telling herself it is a good life, economically, religiously, intellectually, and much of the time it is exactly that. Every life has some issues, she argues persuasively. She keeps herself busy.
She has growing periods when can't stand to be around other people. She withdraws to her room to think and be alone, to trace the passing of the years, to fantasize and to wonder what happened to her life, how at one time everything had seemed possible.
Along with her romance novels she has started reading poetry from her old college textbooks. One Sunday afternoon she read "To His Coy Mistress." When she came to the line "time's wing'd chariot hurrying near," she threw the book across the room.
That was her life until this evening, when something happened.
What was it? As winter passed, her fantasies had shifted around to focus on some stranger she saw at the grocery, when she unexpectedly saw him -- the him. It is out of season for him, late spring, but there is a party thrown by a couple who turn out to be friends of friends of each. It's how a small world works. It's also how her God shows His sense of humor by -- just for the fun of it -- setting the stage for her seduction. Or perhaps He has another wager with Satan.
The earth is enjoying one of its magic times, the air rich with unimaginable varieties of blooms. The flowering began weeks ago and will continue another month, first early bloomers like forsythia, fruit trees, and daffodils, then the later blossoms to carry springtime along. The azaleas and their kin are colorful; the dogwoods, though, are achingly white and this is dogwood country.
It rained earlier today. The air is still sweet with it, the walk damp underfoot, and isolated drops still fall from the oaks, but the sky is almost clear and there is the slimmest crescent of a moon. Lone baby clouds scoot low in the sky, hurrying to a place people never see. Down below, the trees and shrubs have been waving to the sky all afternoon, a physical hosanna to whatever deities of Spring they worship.
She first saw him when she looked up from the walk, her mind filled with patterns of mud and raindrops, smelling the rain-cleansed air, aware of the clouds. He arrived in a sudden gust, without his wife, and when she saw him she felt the earth lurch, or the time, or something. Her husband was with her, but he groused about these boring parties and finally asked if she could find a ride home later, so that he could leave. Then he gallantly offered a ride.
So the air was charged from the beginning, exactly the same as always, but different in that indefinable way known to shamans, as though an invisible wave had washed away the part that was familiar, leaving a world that is alluring but strange. Jamais Vu. She feels shaky, physically ill at ease, and she thinks if she has a bite to eat it may help her. Or if she gets away from him. She doesn't want to think about him.
He walks to the table with her.
They have to talk, of course. She comes up with something interesting to say while he spreads baba ganousch on pita, nothing really, but they are able to chit-chat. It may all amount to nothing. She takes fresh vegetables and some kind of dip. It may be easy. She feels nothing special, and is about to relax when he takes her hand to pull her away from blocking the kitchen door.
Yes, the hand feels the same. It is a large hand, warm, not rough, and without warning there is the memory of rehearsal, of how his hands always did feel especially warm to her.
She hadn't considered his hands when they first met, when his daughters took ballet and he spent his time playing with the smallest children, helping them do backward flips and giving them airplane rides. She had just thought he was funny, still a big kid though much older than she.
His hands. They announced themselves later, when the two of them had played husband and wife so long that they could casually hold each other's before going on stage, and his would help warm hers until the lights heated the air.
There is another, related memory, the one she doesn't want to remember, the one of yearning and remorse. It is of that first, really cold night of dress rehearsal last December, how she had been shivering and huddling backstage, and how he had seen her and put his tuxedo jacket over her shoulders without being asked. When she had hugged it around herself she had smelled him and been suffused in his body heat. Though this was after her decision to avoid him, the smell and the feeling and the fact that he was so thoughtful had made her think about him all night long and want him to hold her.
It was bad, so bad that she had forgotten a step during one of their dances together.
She couldn't not think of him, but she'd stayed away from him as much as she could and she hadn't really thanked him. She knows she was cold to him and once again feels shame.
The memory arouses fantasies and regrets from wherever they have been resting, leaving her shy, making her wish she could extricate herself, making her want to stay. Oh, why did her husband have to leave?
She puts aside the plate of vegetables. He gets her a drink and their hands touch when she takes it.
Someone asks them to show a step from the ballet. This inspiration is doubtless generated by higher powers: these are arts people, sure, but there is no reason for this. The question leads to discussion of which step to show, a hasty improvisation, and the required holding of hands. The kiss on the hand. She tries to look lighthearted.
There is real improvisation when he spins her under his overstretched hands, catches her, and lets her lean down in his arms like a swing dancer. Their bodies touch, brush, catch on each other. For a second his face is right over hers and he looks her full in the eyes while she leans against his arm and body and tries not to look back up at him. She is frozen. She thinks he may kiss her right now.
An epiphany: all at once and without words she knows that he desires her.
Why doesn't she laugh and get up, move away? She could. It would be easy, if only she and her body weren't so busy betraying each other.
So she lies back in his arms and looks up at him blankly, swallowing, unable to muster the coquettish look she would once have used, telling herself not to be stupid but out of the blue feeling those sensations, the tingle or spark or subtle movement about her sex, the sensation like a tiny electrical current, the odd stirring in her lower belly. She knows them well, just hasn't felt them from contact with a man -- not like this -- in a long time. She feels herself growing vaguely damp where her vagina touches her panties. She thinks she can feel a bit, just a tiny bit, of trickling, a minute tickle along the walls of her labia, before finally he lets her up.
He wants me. He does. Me.
The thoughts echo, circle, blend with the fragments of fantasy and the sensations in her belly, and tell her that something is happening to her. Can anyone else tell? She looks around at the other guests, laughing and clapping or not paying them much attention at all. Thank you, Lord.
She needs separation and self-control, so leads him to a couch where she sits in a corner, but her leg touches his because all the seats are taken. She crosses her legs and her arms and leans as far into the corner as she can, to make herself invisible, to sort her feelings and get control of them.
There is general conversation. He is telling stories about major blunders during their performances, about prima donnas and untied Pointe shoes. She makes just a small comment now and then. She's normally active in these things, but she needs to look at him closely and can't do it while people look at her.
Why does she feel this way? Is there a clue in his flesh? If he acts childlike sometimes, and he looks younger than his years, how can his eyes be surrounded by fine wrinkles that form folds upon folds when he smiles, and why does one eyelid droop a bit more than the other? Was he injured once?
The hostess announces a fresh plate of canapés. She calls them "munchies."
Our good woman is not hungry now, not at all. She looks around the room. The picture window is framed with a deep green cornice and drapes. She tries to watch the man via his reflection, but there are ghost figures behind him. When she focuses on them they become two teenagers who must belong to people inside, embracing just outside on the sidewalk. Their foreheads and noses touch as they talk, then they kiss deeply and open-mouthed, pasturing on each other.
Her mind flicks instantly to the political campaign, how Al and Tipper Gore had kissed at the Democratic convention. She hadn't liked it at all, because it was so hard and unmoving -- a fifties movie kiss.
Back flicks her mind and she is again being held by her dance partner, but this time he does bend to her and start to kiss, the kiss of the teens, lips and tongues, a kiss that goes on and on, lovingly and sensually, until there is one final flash and she realizes two things: that they couldn't kiss like that in front of everyone and that the hostess is holding a tray of munchies out toward her.
The conversation is all party talk, never turning toward anything serious, but twice, when someone asks about her husband, she says, "Oh, he's fine," in that voice, the one that says she doesn't want to talk about him. The second time, her dancer friend turns just a little to look at her with a serious expression.
"Isn't it stuffy in here?"
Yes it is, suddenly. He asks if she would like to walk on the deck out back.
Thank God! There may not be such an easy opportunity to stop this later. He hasn't been obvious, but she saw how he looked at her. She knows he wants to be alone with her, and that he knows that she knows, and all that. They understand each other completely, so when she says 'no' he will understand that, too.
"Just a minute. I have to find my shawl."
It is time, time for time to accelerate. Not the clock, but the experience. There is a sense of something rushing, of movement in the earth, though the wind has gone away to rest, and the air is finally still. Expectant. Naturally the night is empty for them, as though prepared in advance.
She feels it. Does he?
It is cool enough for her to pull her wool wrap tightly, but the night doesn't seem to affect him a bit; he doesn't even wear a sweater.
What's he saying? There's some flowering ajuga just below the deck. There, see? He leans out over the rail of the deck to make his point, standing closer to her than he should and she can feel the heat pouring off him. She looks, but she's too aware of his closeness to pay attention, so just says "Um hmm."
It isn't that she's thoughtless. She's thinking the whole time, setting scenes and conversation, visualizing possibilities. How would he take it if I put my hand on his arm, if I simply rested it there? I could lay it there only for a second. What would he do? Would he freeze? Get shy? Take it as an invitation?
She almost does it. No, no, no! This is getting absurd. It's time to go back in.
They don't. Different music begins, something slow and familiar that she can't quite place. He asks, "Dance?" and takes her hand at almost the same instant. Inside her the alarm bells go off, clanging in the night, warning her that this isn't any longer fantasy, telling her to refuse as she turns toward him to look, first to his mouth, then up to his eyes. She sees the party inside through half-open blinds, only for a second before the view is blocked by his body. Say no thank-you, she tells herself. She doesn't say anything at all.
This is how it happens, not to everyone but to her. She hasn't decided in her mind to let this man fuck her. She probably couldn't make such a decision, not coldly, not in advance. There is simply a flow to events. One would think that she would get help with her resolve.
So they begin to dance. It is slow motion. It is like lightning. She puts her free hand on his shoulder, feels his hand on her waist, lets him begin the step, judges his stride and his rhythm. They're too far apart, dancing like children, so ludicrous. She is talking to herself, trying to understand what is happening, though what seems most important is that she shouldn't stand so awkwardly apart from her partner, so she steps closer and lets him slide his hand around to the small of her back, to pull her gently to his body. He is large; he almost envelopes her.
Her face is at his shoulder. It brings the memory of December, how his tux jacket felt, the heat, the faint smell of Mennen now replaced by the real thing. She can feel his real heat with her cheek. Then, without any internal argument at all, she lays her head on his shoulder and leans her body completely up against his. It is a big step, her first one to push the situation along, and it scares her to death.
Their hands had been almost at his left shoulder and her face. He releases her hand to put both arms around her waist, and she puts both of hers around his neck, so that as they rock slowly together on the deck their bodies touch all the way down. She makes a tiny grunt, scarcely a high-pitched whisper, that she hopes he doesn't hear. She makes it because she wants him and she is afraid to want him.
Good Lord, I'm thirty-five, almost middle-aged. Why am I acting like a fourteen year old?
She's skidding on her straight and narrow. Does this make her guilt more pleasurable? Or a greater barrier? She wants to stop everything; she can do everything except make it stop. No, she might yet break away.
What is he doing? He is leaning his head to her. He kisses her hair, making her shiver, beginning a little frisson that sweeps all the way down her back from her scalp to her ass and brings a catch to her breathing.
The next thing isn't a single thing. It is two, more than two, some number, something kaleidoscopic. There is no order that she can recall later. She smells him again, with her cheek feels a muscle move in his chest, feels herself pull him closer, for the first time feels his penis as a hard shape against her belly. She holds her breath again, memorizes the outline of his cock on her body.
She can feel herself growing wetter, hotter. The feel of wetness seeping is obvious now, so beautiful a sensation, so perfect a mark of longing if he would touch her there. He kisses her hair again and inhales her. She can feel his breath. His penis. His face. A hand at her chin, lifting her face. He is erect against her. They begin a kiss.
Only then does she step back, all at once, gasping out her regrets.
"No. Please. I'm sorry." What can she say? "What are we doing?"
Almost everyone knows that passion in the night can be frightening with its power to push aside all daytime considerations and lead people to a world in which there's no wrong or right, only hunger. How many know its other characteristic, its fragility, how a word can stop it dead, break it like a light bulb, leaving only useless remains?
He lets her stand apart from him but he doesn't let her go. She could walk away but it would have to be her choice. She wants him to talk, because she has run out of things to say that wouldn't make this worse. Maybe he can end it gracefully, in a way that will salvage their friendship. Perhaps, so she waits, but he doesn't answer for a moment.
What he does is take an enormous breath that comes back out as a slow breeze, like exhaling cigarette smoke, and only then does she realize how deeply he is affected.
"I'm sorry." He looks away from her, then back, as though unsure what to say.
"No, I'm not." Another stop.
"I am and I'm not. Oh damn. I am sorry I did something your weren't ready for."
"But I wasn't alone in it, was I?"
She decides, without deciding, to be flippant in her defense, and a little cruel: "Do you always come on this fast with other women?"
He drops his hands and jerks away.
No, no, no, no. I didn't say that! Say I didn't!
There is no place to hide out here. One hand rises to cover her mouth before she knows she is doing it. He starts to say something in an angry tone, then stops himself and turns toward the railing. She thinks he might just walk away, which she won't be able to stand, but instead he stands almost perfectly still for a moment, then turns around slowly toward her, takes another large breath and finally starts talking in a very quiet voice, so softly that it is not at all accusing, so long that it is almost a monologue.
"How long have I known you? A decade? More? Have I ever come on to you before? Do you think I never wanted to?" He laughs a little self-deprecating laugh, though there's no amusement on his face.
"I've wanted to for years. Well, some things you know are never going to happen. I knew I wasn't ever going to try to seduce you."
He pauses for an instant.
"Anyway, before tonight I knew it. So I decided I had to stop thinking about it. I thought maybe I could just enjoy being with you for a bit, and let it go."
He leans against the deck railing and looks out to the lawn, while she pulls her wrap around herself more tightly and looks at the floor, knowing she has ruined everything. Her mind flicks back to the fantasy of the kiss; the hostess interrupts as an omen, the munchies are symbols of dread. He is talking.
"It didn't work. After awhile I realized that, yes, I'm sure there are people who can do that. Mother Teresa came to mind." He makes that little laugh again.
"Not me, though. I couldn't keep from looking at you. You must have noticed."
She is about to say something but can't bring herself to talk. She stares at a post of the deck rail, as though it is the unmovable center of all creation. He continues.
"Last fall I think you were upset with me. I guessed I was being too obvious, so I tried to stay across the floor from you as much as I could. Anyway, it was actually a relief when 'The Nutcracker' ended, because I didn't have to see you all the time."
He takes yet another enormous breath, exhales, goes on:
"Then tonight, you were different. I... I don't know how exactly. Willing. There was something in how you looked at me. Hell, I probably imagined it. I'm sorry I put you on the spot. Anyway. You can say I'm inappropriate, wrong, whatever. Just don't say I'm fast."
She listened quietly during most of it, not moving, not even taking her hand from her mouth. Only her eyes changed, growing wider and sadder and then wet. The exception came when he got to the part about her being upset with him. Then she squeezed her eyes shut and wiped them with her fingers. Now that he has finished, she has to say something:
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to say that. Please believe me. I've just been... I mean I was... I'm afraid. I am. I was afraid of where we were heading. I can't do that. We had to stop."
She wipes her eyes again and looks at the ground so that he won't be able to see her face. Her voice becomes so quiet that it scarcely rises above the music filtering through the closed door:
"And, no, you weren't in it alone."
It is done. So why, as they stand on the deck looking at each other, each reluctant to go back to the party, each knowing they need to, does she hope that he will stall a little longer?
Jumbled lines from some poem steal upon her like ground mist, telling her that her whole world has rolled up in a ball, moving her toward an overwhelming question, and that because she was afraid she couldn't give the answer that might make her happy. For one brief moment she had almost been happy. But now it is time to go home.
Part II: Redemption
Reset the scene. The air has leaked away. The night isn't expectant; the joke has been played. Two people stand apart and alone, batting idle thoughts into the dark. Nothing of significance will come of this.
She has made her decision to do the right thing, to live with that burden. Now she can't stand the thought of reentering the crowd, nor can she stay on the deck with him. There is a third option. She turns toward the steps and walks down into the yard, to be alone.
Everything is hard. She thinks: How will I get home tonight?
If this were a movie he would follow her, to confront her. She would welcome that; it would give her the chance to give in, having tried to be good. Nonsense. She knows that she wouldn't, gets almost teary thinking: I'll always do the right thing. If she gets far enough away she may be able to let herself cry over doing the right thing.
What he does is follow her and take her hand from behind.
"Don't go. Please don't. Stay with me for awhile." He is still speaking very softly, but urgently.
"I don't know," and she looks to the house. Do the right thing. She needs an excuse to repulse him. "What if someone had come outside just then? We could have been caught."
Oh you idiot! No! That's not what you mean. Tell him the truth. Tell him you can't be with him ever.
He counters: "Then let's just walk in the yard and talk. Just talk. No kissing, okay?"
He makes a wan smile, more a grimace than a grin. She gives up on leaving, and she leaves her hand in his. Neither really knows what that means, but it is something.
Of course she loses her words again, distracted by his hand. He leads her across some stepping stones, past a few new bushes in mulched earth and a dogwood that is so bright it gleams in bits of reflected light. They are holding hands. She stumbles a little, and so has to catch onto his arm, an arm that is as warm as the rest of him, while she tries to hold her wrap tightly to her chest.
Why are we still holding each other?
Anyone could tell her.
Her behavior last fall weighs on her. She didn't know then that she had hurt him, not exactly, not like that. She wants to apologize, but how do you bring that up? She certainly can't tell him what drove her. There are some things one just doesn't say. They are both so shy now that they may not say anything at all, but she tries because she can't stand the silence.
"I'm really sorry about... back there. I shouldn't have let things go so far. I think I led you on. You must think I'm terrible."
He doesn't say anything, though it's his turn. They are still holding hands but he isn't saying he doesn't think she's terrible. She stops waiting, and goes on.
"I don't know how it happened, and it frightened me. And about last fall..."
A deep breath. The night is full of such breaths. He pauses in mid-step, eyes open wide in the dark, and finally says something, finishing for her:
"You don't have to tell me. I know I should have controlled myself more."
"No. It wasn't you. Oh Lord no. Please believe me. I did try to avoid you. I'm sorry about that too. But it wasn't your fault. There were other things going on. I really can't talk about them."
"That's okay. You don't need to excuse me. I'm sure I deserved it."
"No! No, you don't understand. Listen. Oh God!"
She finds herself looking desperately left and right, to the trees, the lights, the house, looking for the right words. They aren't there, so she gives up and stares him directly in the face:
"Look, the truth is I was attracted to you, and it scared me then, too. Okay, I said it!"
To whom is she confessing?
She can't face him and looks away right after she finishes, then waits to hear him respond, but he is silent again. When she looks back to him he has the strangest expression. What parts are amazement and delight, thoughtfulness and fear she can't tell at all. He takes both of her hands, holds them firmly, and she is afraid of what he will do, but then he drops one and they start to walk all over again. As they move through the dark he keeps turning toward her as though to express something he can't quite say.
They avoid the center of the long yard, open grass lighted by floodlights, and hug the landscaped edges. Some tiny night bird flashes away, perhaps tired of watching them from an oak. It must have seen the two people walk randomly, slowly, always to the side, away from the open yard, to the hidden areas. There are footsteps, nothing else. They look to the ground, occasionally to each other. That cool, damp ground is heady and sweet. Too cool. She lets him put an arm around her to warm her ("Is this okay?") and as she nestles against him in their walk, she can feel the night reviving itself.
Far out in the shaded part of the gardens, hidden by a magnolia from the house and the possibility of discovery, he turns to her. He is very close, though touching only her hand.
"May I kiss you again?"
"No. We agreed: 'no kissing.' I don't think we... "
She doesn't finish.
Just as she started talking he had lifted his free hand to her cheek, not quickly, almost lazily, not quite touching it. It is an odd movement. She has a dreamy memory of the way her cat sometimes touches her face when she is at the computer and he wants her to get him food, reaching out very gently and very slowly, pads getting closer and closer to her cheek.
She stops to look at his hand, hovering not an inch away. It seems as though he is waiting to see her reaction, then his palm is at her cheek again and, yes, it is still warm. She thinks: he'll seduce me with temperature.
What he uses to seduce her is the most unoriginal of lines: "I'll stop anytime you ask me. I won't do anything you don't want me to do."
Her response will be that he should stop now, that she doesn't want to do anything.
She doesn't answer.
It's been scant minutes since their crisis; can there be a second chance already? How did it build so suddenly? She draws in a breath to say the words that will end it finally. They look at each other, half covered in shadows, empty of words in their shelter.
It seems quieter than it really is. There are distant music from the party, some car tires hissing on the streets, this or that other noise, but nothing makes any impact. They are two breathing statues, and they stand that way until they both realize that her answer is "yes."
This time she doesn't stop him. He moves his mouth over hers, opens her lips with his, and brushes them lightly. Their lips caress one another, back and forth, first the outside parts, then that exquisitely soft flesh just inside the mouth. When his tongue probes into her mouth she is blindsided by such an unexpected jolt of lust that at first she does nothing but breathe and feel him invade. It is several seconds before she sucks his tongue in deeply and tastes him. He sucks both tongues back into his mouth. She knows that he could do anything with her that he wanted and she wouldn't object. She has crossed over.
They may have kissed forever before he moves his hand from her face down to her neck, then to her chest. It is another dreamscaped movement, as a feather pulled by gravity, until his palm comes to rest on her left nipple.
At that she stiffens, especially in her shoulders, though she doesn't completely step away. It is like a dance with them tonight. Together, apart. Where will it end?
She speaks in an odd, low voice. Anyone could tell something was different, not just from her tone but from her choice of words, the way she looks at the ground, and her shoulders. The night birds could tell it. It is as though she is shouting to the trees, not of a rejection of the touch, but something else.
"You're barking up the wrong tree, there. You won't find what you're looking for."
He knows what she means. He leaves his hand on her, lifts the other to her chin and raises her face with exquisite care. If she had resisted he wouldn't have raised it. They gaze.
"Won't I? Won't I? I've known you so long, I know what you have. Believe me that you have what I want. I'm not sure how to convince you of it, such a beautiful woman."
He has an idea.
"Don't you... yes, doesn't it tickle when you're stroked?"
He brushes both nipples with just the tips of the fingers of both hands, and watches closely as takes an almost inaudible breath. Her shoulders are still tight, but she's waiting.
"And isn't your skin tender, so you get chills if you're caressed like this?"
He moves his hands up above her nipples, then slides his fingertips down and around them, barely touching her on the outside of her thin blouse, then up across her nipples and again down and around. Up, around, barely touching her, letting quivers follow his hands over and around her nipples. She begins to pant quietly while he does this, and her eyes close almost completely. Her shoulders finally release.
She is a still life. She is holding the ends of her wrap to the side, away from her front, and she stands silently except for those shallow breaths, looking down at his hands, leaving him to do what he will.
He doesn't hesitate. He unbuttons her blouse from the top button all the way down, and she lets him. Then he caresses her fully on her bare skin, through the opening in the blouse, again following that circular pattern, becoming familiar with her breasts, happy in her responsiveness, confident in his touching. He pinches her excited nipples as his hands pass over them, until she seems in her own mind to be all swollen nipples and goose pimpled flesh, until she is all shivers and her eyes close. She begins to sway.
He pulls her to him and holds her, faces together, and starts kissing her again. She pants into his mouth.
"Take off your panties."
She is back in the present before his words disappear. Her eyes go to the deck and the back door. When she speaks she is breathless and her whisper squeaks:
"We can't do that here!"
"Just your panties. Please. Give them to me."
She stares at him for five seconds, ten seconds. It is time for a final decision, the one she's already made. So she rucks up her skirt and grasps her panties to pull them down her thighs. At her knees she reaches the tops of the boots she has worn against the weather and has to work them down.
He takes the panties and shoves them into a pocket. Then he takes her with his left arm while he snakes his right hand under her dress and up the insides of her thighs to her pudendum. While his hand is moving up she again tilts her head back, but instead of swaying she leans against him. When he reaches her sex, where she is so wet and slippery that his fingers go right between her lips, she moans, almost silently because she has so little air.
That's when she sees the back door open. A figure, now three, are half out onto the deck.
"Someone's there!" She whispers, hardly getting the words out, wanting his hand but afraid of being caught. He has already pushed two fingers up into her vagina as far as they will go and is massaging her with his thumb.
He turns around to face the house but continues to hold her to him and to pleasure her. Now she can't see the house. She listens but doesn't hear anything, and it is hard to concentrate because he won't stop sexing her. His hand never moves away. His thumb moves slowly up and down inside her lips, just barely grazing her clitoris going in both directions.
What do I do? She trusts him with her security and forces her face into his shoulder, working all the while to be quiet while her body surges.
"They're gone," he whispers down to her finally, then he is moving his face over her hair, kissing her hair, her face, and she turns her face up to him, searching for his mouth, finding it, breathing hard.