My hotel room door opens as Shelley uses the key I'd passed her at the memorial. It had been a lovely service. I saw all the family I'd avoided for the last twelve years. They were a little surprised and less than pleased to see me, but no one was going to cause a scene, disturb the memorial. That was fine with me, I kept right on avoiding them and they returned the favor by ignoring me. That kept it a peaceful serene service that Ray would have hated, but it had been for the living, not for him, even though he was the star.
She walks into my room like she belongs there, and I pray that she feels she does. Just her presence transforms the anonymity of a featureless rent-a-space and makes it feel more like a home than anyplace I've been in years.
"I was afraid you wouldn't come," I say as she takes off the hat and veil. "You look lovely."
"You look good yourself," Shelley replies, removing her coat. "It was kind of a shock seeing you at the service... for a lot of people."
"I imagine so, after all these years," I reply, my heart in my throat. "Only two that seemed happy to see me were you and your sister. Is it true what Carla told me?"
"So that was the two of you whispering in the back of the chapel... well, whatever she told you probably was true, knowing her... what did my sister say?" she asks, kicking her shoes off her feet and under the chair.
"Ray died at the lawyer's office?" God, she's more beautiful than she was when I last saw her, years before. She wears those years so well, she's filled out some, the lines of her body softened... it makes her more perfect than ever.
"Yeah, when he realized that, unlike him, I'd never been unfaithful and his accusations were totally groundless, his heart just gave out. I know the hypertension and lack of any exercise other than banging his secretary didn't help," she adds, grinning ruefully, "but there's no doubt in anyone's mind, who was there, that it was the sure and certain knowledge of the screwing he was about to undergo that did him in. I'd finally had enough and had him dead-to-rights and he knew it." She giggles and for a moment I hear the little girl she once was. "Sorry, poor choice of words there. I suppose you think I'm a monster, laughing at my husband's death."
"No Shelley, you're many things but 'monster' isn't one of them." I motion towards the bottle of whiskey with my head and raise my eyebrows in question.
"Oh God yes," she exclaims, "Can you even imagine what it's like trying to appear the properly grieving widow at your husband's funeral when you were already in the process of an extremely hostile divorce... finally hurt the bastard in the only way you really can... especially when everyone there, except for Carla, thought he was the greatest thing since Jesus?"
"Hey, don't forget me!"
"I'm sorry... Carla and you," she says, her eyes reflecting her sincerity, "it was good to know at there were two people there on my side." She takes the drink I pour her, shakes her head, her raven tresses falling back to her shoulders in a silent shower. It's all I can do to remain standing. "Why did you think I wouldn't come here this evening?" she asks.
"Shelley, it's been twelve years. And you weren't exactly happy with me when we last spoke. I believe your words were along the lines of 'get the hell away from me'. I handed you the key on the sly just so you could pretend to have never gotten it" She's turned and seems to be waiting for something.
She points to her zipper with a clearing of her throat. "I'd already made it perfectly clear I was serious about my marriage vows and you were pushing the issue."
My hands are shaking as I hold the neck of the dress and pull the zipper down. "He was cheating on you even then... we both knew it."
"That wouldn't have made me doing the same any less wrong, Tim." She shrugs and there's an electric whisper as the dress slides off her shoulders to pool at her feet. She turns and my eyes are drawn to her smile even more than to her bra-clad breasts or the divine spot where her legs begin. "I've kept your number handy, waiting for the divorce to be final... I've kept all your numbers all these years. I kept expecting Ray to be the one to initiate proceedings."
I stand there like a statue as she unsnaps her hose from the garter belt, her every move a self-assured ballet. "You're kidding... you kept my number handy?"
As she reels off every phone number I've had in the last twelve years I realize that she's here, she feels the same way I do, this is going to happen, it's real, I'm not dreaming as I have so many times before.
"I had to stay away... from you, from everything. Please forgive me; it was the only way I could bear not being with you.
"Besides," I continue, "it was no great loss to either the family or me. I never really belonged there anyway... Ray was 'good son', I was some sort of... accident... in more ways than one."
"I know," she says, "and you're forgiven, if there's any forgiving that needs to be done, which I don't believe there is. If anyone should be sorry it's me for letting that travesty of a marriage go on so long.
"And as for the family... well, I pretty much sealed my fate with them when I left the wake this evening. I held up the key to your room and told them all exactly where I was going."
"God, you've got balls, woman!"
"I certainly hope not... might make the rest of the evening a bit too interesting." She's smiling at me and my whole world has focused down to that beautiful face. She's sitting on the edge of the bed, rolling her hose down her legs and I can smell her, smell her perfume. I find myself mentally fumbling around in lines from Shakespeare about age and beauty. She says something and I have to ask her to repeat it.
"You seem to be a little behind. Are you going to get undressed or stand there and make me do it? Either could be a lot of fun..."
Where her undressing has been a graceful dance, performed by a trained artist of the medium, mine is a spastic explosion of nervous energy suddenly released, buttons popping and garments flung in every direction, seemingly all at once. But it gets the job done and I stand before her naked by the time she's finished with the hose and belt.
She laughs, "Can I get a slow-motion replay of that, I'd like to actually see what happened?" and I laugh with her.
Falling to my knees, my face moves towards mankind's oldest temple. The smell of her perfume is overwhelmed by the aroma of her desire. My lips touch her inner thigh and murmur, "How can you be so calm?"
"I'm not," she replies and her trembling hand strokes my cheek. "I'm just a lot better at faking it... I've had a lot of practice in keeping a serene façade up every time Ray came home smelling of perfume and with another lame lie to cover his being out all night.
"I know it might sound funny, but I filed for divorce because I just couldn't go on much longer. I wouldn't betray my vows, so I had to dissolve them. I just never thought things would... go quite the way..."
And I'm standing, pulling her to her feet and my arms are around her, where they've longed to be, where they're meant to be. "I've been aching for you to hold me," she says as tears run down her cheeks and I kiss the hollow of her shoulder, her skin warm and soft beneath my lips. "When I saw you there, more than anything, I wanted you to come hold me through that damn service." My cock is pressed hard against her, only her panties separating us. "If I wanted to get really depressed, Tim, I could think about how many years it's been since a man held me like this."
My hands drift above her skin like a fog. I'm afraid to fully touch her; afraid she'll dissolve into another dream that will never come true. Her words slowly sink into my brain. "You don't mean Ray didn't..."
"Not for a long time... I was last year's... hell, last decade's model, and there was always a new, young, trophy girl on his arm, flavor of the month... hell, flavor of the week... I found it kind of a relief in a way... we share the same doctor and he's a friend of mine, not Ray's... heard about some of the fun little STDs Ray picked up. Can you believe my doctor actually suggested I keep condoms around in case my husband wanted to fuck me? Made me glad he'd stopped being interested in even touching me."
"Ray was a goddamn idiot. You'll never be last year's model," I murmur as I bury my face in her hair, breathing in the scent of it, jasmine, letting it surround me. "You've been my next year's model since the first time I saw you."
"Oh God, I know you're full of it now. The first time you ever saw me was the night before Ray and I got married and I looked a fright." I feel her nipples hard inside her brassiere, against my chest, each and every one of our breaths bringing small frissons of desire to her, tiny tremors running through her body that find echoes in mine.
"No you didn't... you couldn't. Oh, I won't argue that with everything going on it was a madhouse, but you were radiant... divine. I seriously considered beating Ray senseless, sticking him in a packing crate and mailing him to Siberia... tell you he chickened out."
"I wouldn't have believed you then... but after fourteen wasted years with Ray, I wish you would have. But that's stupid," she says, a sob breaking her voice, "stupid to wish for what you can't have, time you can't reclaim." Her breath is like a furnace against my shoulder. "So I'm through with wishing, through with thinking about the past. From now on, I'm only making wishes for the future... and wondering if you'll renew a certain offer..."
Does she think I've forgotten what I said that night, twelve years earlier?
"Shelley, once you're free of Ray I'll marry you if you'll have me. That offer?"