Janine Barton looked at the man she'd accidentally bumped into in the aisle of Sav-A-Lot. He was tall, lean and a little craggy, an outdoors type with a dusting of silver on each temple-- and then suddenly the years fell off and his face thinned and smoothed out in the memory. "Tom McGreevy?" she said, eyes widened in surprise.
"My gosh, Janine, I haven't seen you in..."
"Don't say it," she said. Instantly she felt bashful contemplating the good-looking middle-aged man in front of her, and thinking of all the ways time had changed her own looks since high school. "Are you back in town now?" she asked.
"No, no, I'm still in Wyoming," he said. "Just back to take care of some business with my folks' estate. Are you and Kurt..." he said, glancing down at her bare ring finger.
"We've been divorced about five years now," she said.
There was an awkward silence. "Well, it happens to the best of us," Tom said.
Another silence. "Well, it's good to see you," Janine said, by way of winding the conversation up politely.
"Hold on a moment. Do you have anything you have to get back to--"
That was a bit forward, but then Tom was a no-nonsense guy. Or, he had been 25 years earlier. "No, actually I don't..."
"Let's go get a cup of coffee," he said. "I'd love to catch up with you."
"All right," she said, more delighted than she would have cared to admit.
After that start the conversation flowed easily, as if nothing had changed in all the years, even though the topics reflected far different concerns from high school. They were both divorced, not for any great reason, just because they and their spouses had grown apart. Tom's kids were in college, Janine had never had any. Tom was successful in the construction business in Wyoming, an hour outside of Jackson Hole, Janine was doing well enough as a hospital administrator. These were the markers of middle-aged life, exchanged in casual conversation.
Underneath that conversation, though, Janine sensed another one going on. She and Tom had been friends, even confidantes, in high school, yet because of some strange teenage logic, the very fact that they had gotten along so well as friends had seemed to make any form of romantic relationship impossible to think about. Now, though, with the years and all the preconceptions of that time long forgotten, Janine felt like she was falling under a spell that had always existed between them.
Now, though, different concerns, adult ones, stood in her way. Primarily the fact that, no matter how glad Tom might be to see her and chitchat, she didn't feel she presented a very romantic picture. Over the years she had rounded out quite a bit, in fact, that had been one of her ex's prime complaints, put none too delicately toward the end. A few hesitant efforts at dating had similarly resulted only in direct hits on her self-esteem. (Well, except for the black orderly who had told her how much he liked white women with junk in the trunk. He was quickly transferred.) It was hard for her to think that a ruggedly-good-looking self-made man like Tom would exactly be interested in a dumpy bureaucrat, which is how she thought of herself when she really wanted to get herself down.
They were finishing up and, again, starting to say polite words of parting when Tom again made an unexpectedly blunt move. "You should come visit me in Wyoming," he said.
She looked at him, a little shocked, and he quickly added, "I've got a big house, you could just about have a wing to yourself. It's great country--"
"Even in winter time?"
"It's beautiful when it snows. And there's plenty to do-- if you like to cook, I have a fantastic kitchen that hardly ever gets used. Plus snowmobiling, cross-country skiing-- you won't be bored."
Won't be, he said, not wouldn't be. "Sounds like you've already decided for me," she said, smiling.
They talked about possible dates, work schedules, Tom needing to go to Portland in a week for a project. Janine felt that if something was going to happen between them-- and she wasn't sure that she wanted it to, but she was sure that she didn't want the possibility vanishing before it even appeared-- she'd have to make the visit soon. So they settled on the middle week of February, and she opened her datebook to look at the dates they'd settled on.
"Oh look, I didn't even think about that," she said. "I'll be there for Valentine's Day."
"Perfect," Tom said.
As the plane landed at the airport, Janine couldn't help but feel a charge of sexual anticipation, even if she wouldn't have put that name to it. She'd put a lot of effort into pulling together a wardrobe that would accentuate her round shape and make assets out of the things she had-- a prominent bust, a round behind, thick but shapely legs. Some girly pampering at a local salon had left her feeling better about everything she had to offer. And then there was that one special present to herself, hidden in the interior zippered pocket of her suitcase.
Tom picked her up in his Range Rover and they drove the hour to his house. He pointed out a few neighbors along the way, but the small ranch-style house of his closest neighbor, a woman named Corinne, hardly prepared her for the sight they pulled up to-- an enormous wood-shingled house with a vast deck, sunroom, garage big enough for half a dozen cars... "I guess the construction business out here is good," she said, chuckling.
"I spent two years building this for Stacy and me to live in," he said, with unexpected bitterness. "We lived in that cabin down there for the first few months. Then she moved into a condo in a place I built in town. Maybe being that close to me for a few months was the reason she decided to get away for good."
He showed Janine where she was staying and she was properly grateful and enthusiastic ... but he seemed preoccupied. Maybe it was business. She let him have his space, bothering him in his office only to ask if he'd like her to fix dinner. "That'd be great, whatever you feel like making," he said. Not seeming to care one way or the other.
They had a pleasant dinner and continued catching up, just about completing the inventory of high school acquaintances and what they were up to now. But something seemed to be on his mind. And where in the coffee shop she'd felt like she could have asked him anything, somehow here, she felt like it would be intruding. Like she was already in the way a little, and shouldn't tread any further. Maybe this was what his ex-wife had felt in this place. Or had she even ever lived here? Maybe he was the only one who had ever called this home, even for a night. It seemed that way.
It didn't surprise her that when she created the opportunity for him to sit with her in front of the fire with a glass of wine after dinner, he chose the chair perpendicular to her. If he was going to make a move-- and she had deliberately done nothing to discourage that-- it wasn't going to be tonight.
The next few days went much the same. Tom was perfectly gracious as a host ... as gracious as a professional hotelkeeper. He showed her around the property, including the cabin, and he taught her how to snowmobile, though she was afraid to take the great rumbling beast between her legs much above 10 mph. She was having a good time ... but not the kind of time she'd hoped for.
And it was time to admit to herself that that was what she had hoped for. She'd hoped for the feel of a rough, muscular man in her arms, for the kiss of his lips upon her, for a tongue between her legs, a ... well, you know, she didn't want to say a word for it, even to herself. The night before Valentine's Day she slept restlessly, and when the day came, she decided she was going to, too.
She had a plan. She borrowed one of the trucks and drove into town to pick up a few things at a fabric store. He was away on business for the day, so she left him a note telling him where to meet her tonight, then drove down the hill to the cabin.
The cabin was simple enough but add in a few Martha Stewart-y tricks, including a red sheer over the lamps, and within an hour or so she had turned it into a Valentine's Day hideaway love shack, red curtains and scarlet satin sheets and a pink sheer canopy nailed to the ceiling. She arranged a bottle of wine and two glasses on the table, and then she turned to herself. Opening the hidden package from a supplier of lingerie for "plus-size" women, she took off her clothes and slipped it on-- a red satin teddy which showed her ample cleavage to its best effect, lace panties, red fuck-me heels, a sheer robe with a feathery fringe. Then she turned to dolling herself up-- and she had to say, with enough work she looked pretty damn wonderful. If you were open to finding a big gal sexy, there was an abundance of sexiness about her that she hoped he would be dazzled to see.
And in fact, there was a pair of eyes watching her, already.
She turned to look at the source of a scratching sound she heard and found herself looking straight into a pair of beady eyes surrounded by fur, gazing at her from a dark corner of the room. In the dim, reddish light she couldn't make the creature out, but her mind ran rapidly through a host of possibilities-- raccoon coyote baby bear mountain lion Sasquatch-- none of which were reassuring in the least. And so she let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Corinne Bedford pulled into her driveway in her ten-year-old Volvo. After five days at a conference in Santa Cruz, it was depressing to return to an empty house in snowy Wyoming, especially on Valentine's Day. This time last year she and Stephanie had still been together and happy; it wasn't until early summer that things seemed to go sour, and by fall, Stephanie had moved out "to explore my feelings." That was always the risk when a middle-aged woman took up with a younger one, but saying that didn't make it any easier for Corinne.
At least the cats were happy to see her as she poured fresh food into their bowls, and looked at the mail that had been piled up on her counter by the student who had been watching the place while she was away. Nothing interesting, certainly nothing personal, nothing for her on Valentine's Day.
She turned on her computer to check email, the cats arranging themselves around her like acolytes of a giant deity. God, there it was again, a big red heart on the home page, she'd never realized how they beat the message home on this day until a day came when she was the one being left out. After a couple of romances with younger women, which always seemed to fall apart when the young one got restless, she longed for a stable love with someone her own age.