Like most of my other stories, this is based on real people and real events. My own dear wife figures prominently; I'll let you identify her.
Some events have been tweaked, but this is pretty seriously autobiographical.
My first marriage was a fucking nightmare. I mean that figuratively AND literally. Shortly after the honeymoon -- within a month, I'd venture -- she became a harridan, for reasons I've yet to understand. Suddenly, nothing I did was right; nothing I could do would ever be right.
It was like someone flipped a switch. I may have been that someone; I'll never know, because we divorced three years later. Thanks to the constant tension, we never got around to having kids. (I did have an affair, as a result of her abusive treatment of me; but that is related in another story.)
Well, three years was the price I paid for thinking with the wrong head, and a small enough price, I realized. When it was all over, I was five years into my career, a successful journeyman computer programmer, specializing in mainframe database systems.
I decided it was time for greener pastures. I was thirty years old. I had a skill, I had the itch to be away from the bitch, I had a fat little savings account, and I had a paid-for car.
Seven weeks and twenty headhunters (or so) later, I motored into a new city, and within three more weeks I had set up housekeeping. For the first time in many moon, I felt pretty damned good about me.
I had signed on to work for a state agency through a contract firm. I settled into work very nicely. I tend to be outgoing, and made friends with my personality as well as my abilities.
One afternoon, I needed to talk to Fred, another employee of the same contract firm. I knew where his cubicle was, but, lazy ass that I am, I picked up the phone. He didn't answer.
So, I made the arduous three-aisle trip to his cube.
He wasn't there.
That, however, is not what caught my attention.
You see, we mostly doubled up in cubes. I had a very small one, and hence sat alone. Fred, on the other hand, had a cube mate named Jane.
She was stunning.
Let me define terms here. I thought she was beautiful. Most other people would not have said so. She was pleasant of face, dressed nicely -- and was, I guesstimated, a size fourteen.
As I stood there in the doorway, she looked at me and said, "Can I help you?"
I recovered. "Uhm, came by to see Fred. He's not here," I said, gesturing to his seat.
Her eyes widened. A smile came to her mouth, and she nodded as she said, "Goood! You figured that out all by yourself!"
I rolled my eyes, and we both laughed. Her voice was so sweet.
"Anyway, if you don't mind," I said, "tell him Jeff came by. I need to ask him something. It's work related," I added. It seemed a salient bit of information to add; I had noticed she was a regular state employee, and you don't want them to think all those highly-paid contractors (harrrumph) were standing around dillydallying.
I went back to my cube, and resumed work.
It was a struggle, though. I was haunted by Jane. She was gorgeous, she was tempting, she was...
She was off-limits, I scolded myself. I had no idea what policies governed fraternization, whether the state's or my company's. Still, it seemed wise to consider her unattainable. Hell, I hadn't even checked to see if she wore a ring.
Probably a lost cause, I rationalized, and went back to work.
All this occurred on a Thursday.
Saturday, I had reason to hit the local mall. Well, the closest one to me, anyway. I visited a bookstore, a CD chain, and a nationally-known department store. I was headed out of the department store, via an exit that required passing through the draperies area.
There stood Jane, behind the counter, looking like an employee.
I stopped in mid-stride. I looked at her, and she must have sensed it, as she locked eyes with me. She smiled and waved.
I walked right to where she was standing and said, "Are we moonlighting?"
"Yeah," she replied, in that sweet voice. "I've been working for them for years, off and on. I like to do something that doesn't involve a keyboard. Keeps a little extra cash rolling in, and I get a discount at the salon."
"You are wise, grasshopper," I said in my best Keye Luke. We shared a little chuckle over that.
"So," I continued, "when do you get off work?"
"Nine," she said. It was 8:30 p.m.
I hesitated. "I hate to be so forward, but would you like to run down to Village Inn for a bite? I mean, after work."
It was her turn to hesitate. "I guess so," she said after a moment.
I held up my hands. "Look, if you're uncomfortable, I understand..."
"No, no," she said quickly. "It's just ... well, I don't date much, and I'm ... I dunno, I guess I'm unsure about how to react."
"Okay," I said, "it's not a date. We're just a couple of friends, no, make that new acquaintances, having a bite in a public place." I winked.
She laughed. "Okay, you're on."
"So," I said, "how about I put this stuff," I held up my bags, "in the car, listen to the radio for half an hour, and swing by here when I see you come out?"
She grinned. "Works for me. See you in a while."
I walked out to the car, deposited my packages, and listened to the local NPR station; Jazz on a Saturday Night was the program, and the DJ had selected nice, light (not to say smooth jazz) pieces that put me in the mood to be adventurous.
At length, I saw Jane walk out the entrance. I pulled up, stopped the car, and hopped out to get the door for her. "Aren't you the gentleman," she said, and chuckled.
"One of my finer qualities," I replied.
We arrived at the restaurant within minutes, and were seated in short order. We talked, ordered, talked, and ate. Oh, and talked.
I could probably detail most of the conversation, but it would accomplish nothing. We spoke of our places of origin, our schooling, things like that. We were the same age, less a few weeks in her favor. She took the news of my divorce as a necessary part of my life; I secretly rejoiced that she had never been married, and had in fact never had a proper boyfriend, not since college.
We spent close to an hour chatting and eating. The crowd was thin, and I didn't feel we were taking up the waitress' earning abilities; but I said, "We should probably make our exit. These folks may be looking to get out of here."
I signaled to Linda, the nice young woman who had been serving us, and she brought us the check. I smiled at her and thanked her; and as she left, Jane watched me stroke out a five-dollar tip on a thirteen-dollar meal.
Her eyes widened. "You're generous," she murmured.
"Nah," I replied, "these people work hard. She boogied while we sat in the lap of luxury. Okay, not luxury," I added, rolling my eyes, "it's only Village Inn."
We both laughed a little.
We left the building and reached my car; at which point, she said, "You know, they say you can tell what kind of person someone is by how they treat a waiter."
I was silent for a few seconds, then said, "Like you said earlier, I'm a gentleman."
I opened the car door and let her in. Before I closed it, she said, "Yes, you are."
I fairly bounded around to my side of the car, got in, and drove her back to her car.
Once again, I got out to let her out; but she had already let herself out. "I'm capable," she said, smiling in the parking-lot light.
I screwed up all the courage I had, and said, "Uh, listen, I had a great time."
"I did too," she said, as she got into her car and started it. She immediately got back out and turned to face me.
"Do you suppose we could do this again?" I asked, hoping I wasn't begging.
She smiled again. "I'd like that." She started fishing in her purse.
"Uhm," I said, "do you suppose I could call you?"
She proffered a business card, from the state by the look of it. "Well, I certainly hope you will!" she said, indicating where she had written her home number.
On impulse, I took her hand and placed a little kiss on it. I winked; she giggled. "Gentlemen!" she exclaimed, and drove away after a final wave.
I was in heaven.
The next evening, right after dinner was completed, I worked up the nerve to call her. It was about seven.
Long story short, we talked until almost ten.
It was a magical, delightful, intimate conversation that taught us about one another and left me panting for more.
Finally, I said, "I'd like to cook dinner for you sometime. Are you free next Saturday?"
There was a pause; then, "I'm sorry, there must be static. Did you say, 'cook'?"
I chuckled. "I did indeed."
She laughed. "I can't boil water. I'd love to have you cook for me."
"So, Saturday?" I inquired.
"Saturday it is!" she exclaimed. We rang off after a moment or so more.
Through the next week, we had lunch together every day, and talked on the phone every evening. It was the beginning of a love affair; at least, it felt that way to me.
And that scared me.
Now, don't get me wrong. Jane was delightful. In the time I had known her, I'd had more fun than in the whole time I was with my ex.
But I knew I was susceptible. I had to play it cool.
The next Saturday found me playing chef as Jane sat and talked to me. We chatted about everything and nothing, great topics and small. When I placed before her a meal of chicken Marsala, sugar snap peas, sliced tomatoes, green salad, and fresh bread, I thought she'd swoon.
I had a one-woman fan club, no doubt.
Over the next couple of months we continued to talk at night, go to lunch together by day, and canoodle on the weekends; but when we were at work, we were at work. We maintain completely professional decorum. (In fact, I discovered later, no one knew we were together for many weeks.)
One Friday evening, we were in her apartment, sitting on her couch, enjoying one another's company. We had progressed to the kissing stage; but this evening, we began a kiss that turned passionate.
When it broke, I said, "My, that was good."
She looked at me. "It really was," she said distractedly, and laid her head on my shoulder. I placed a kiss on her forehead; then she said, "Your birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, isn't it?"
"Right you are," I replied.
She turned her face to mine. "So, what can I get you?" she asked, smiling.
I grinned. "Just you," I said, "and I think I already have that."
She chuckled. "Yeah, you do." We sat in companionable silence for a moment, then she asked, "I mean, I wanted you to be able to unwrap something."
I laughed. "Oh, do NOT give me a straight line like that!"
She scooted back a bit, and smiled. "What?" she asked. "I don't get it."
"No," I said, "it might be ... too much."
She punched me playfully. "I wanna know," she said.
I sighed. "Okay, I was going to say I'd love to unwrap you. But I'm a gentleman, remember?" I added hastily, holding up a hand.
She laughed again. "Silly boy," she muttered, and leaned back onto me.
There was a silence, as she rested her head on my shoulder. We sat, holding one another, concentrating on our own private thoughts; then, she said, "There is something we should discuss."
I sat back a little; she repositioned herself to face me.
"I've only ever had one ... well, boyfriend, I guess you could say. I was in college, I guess nineteen, maybe just over twenty. He was charming, about twenty-four or so. I," she paused, choked back an emotion, and continued, "I allowed him to seduce me. He told me he loved me, so it was okay, right?" She grimaced. "And then, a month or so later, he moved on. He told me it had been fun, but we just weren't right for one another."
I was angry that anyone would treat her that way, sad that she had been so naïve.
She continued, "You have to understand, I'm only here because I want to be. Here in you apartment, I mean."
"I'd never treat you like that," I said softly.