For Robin and Grace, with love
Tim Clarke took just a second to remember the moment. His daughter Grace sat beside him on the couch in front of the empty fireplace. She was looking at the cover of the book on her lap with the kind of concentration that only a seven-year-old can muster. He could smell the cookies that had just finished baking; a plateful was sitting on the mantle with the usual glass of milk. He could see the snow falling outside the house, the large flakes dancing in the glow of the front porch light.
He took a half-second too long.
"Are we gonna start?" Grace asked.
"Sure," Tim said. "You go first."
Grace opened the book — a book that she had owned since her fourth Christmas and no longer really needed to use — and began to read.
"'Twas the night before Christmas... '"
"' ... and all through the house, '" Tim read, taking his turn.
"'Not a creature was stirring. Hey! You were supposed to start this year!"
Tim laughed. Grace had said the same thing the previous Christmas.
"Too bad," he said, sticking out his tongue. "' ... not even the Mouse.'"
Grace gave him a mock glare. Tim just smiled. Even now, four years after the accident that had claimed his wife's life, it was sometimes hard to look at Grace without seeing Sarah's blue eyes and blonde hair. And it was hard not to remember that she didn't care for the nickname that Sarah had given her.
Grace returned to the book.
"'The stockings were hung... '"
"' ... by the chimney with care."
"'In hopes that Saint Nicholas... '"
"' ... soon would be there."
Tim watched Grace turn her head to look out the window at the snow. Even in this snow-jaded part of upstate New York, this counted as a big storm. Grace's head slowly turned to the fireplace.
"Don't worry. Santa won't let a little snow stop him."
"It's snowing pretty hard, Dad."
"Not too hard for reindeer, honey."
"That's good. I had a dream about Santa last night and he told me he was going to get me what I asked for."
"I hope you didn't ask for anything that wasn't in your letter," Tim said.
"Sort of," she said, a sly look spreading over her face. "I wished for a mom."
"Yeah. I miss her."
"Me too, Mouse."
"And I know it won't be the same, but I think we need another one, y'know?"
"Don't say 'y'know, ' Grace," Tim said. Thirteen years of teaching high school English had left him with certain reflexes. "Santa Claus doesn't usually bring people on his trips. It would be awfully cold in his sleigh."
"He told me he would," Grace said. "Don't you like girls, Daddy?"
"Of course I like girls," he said. "I married your mom, didn't I? And we had you."
"Did you go on dates and stuff?"
"Sure. We went to the movies and out to dinner. And we liked taking walks together and going skating and cross-country skiing."
"Don't you want to do that again?"
"If I find the right girl, sure."
"Well, that's what I asked Santa for," Grace said. "The right girl. Santa told me to ask for anything I wanted. So I asked him for something for both of us."
"And what did he say?"
"He said I would get a new mom before I got a new PlayStation."
Tim laughed. That was a pretty safe bet, given the cost of new gaming platforms.
"I didn't even know you wanted a new PlayStation. What's wrong with your old one?"
"Nothing. It just doesn't play all the new games."
"I'd rather have a mom anyway."
"Well, thank you for asking, Grace," Tim said. "For both of us. That was very thoughtful. Just don't be too disappointed if we don't find a woman under the tree tomorrow morning, okay?"
"Whatever you say, Dad. I love you."
"I love you too. We need to finish so someone can go to bed."
"Yeah, right. I'm gonna catch him this year."
"I meant me, honey. Daddy's tired. And he knows who's going to be waking him up at seven o'clock. Just remember the rules."
"I know, I know. I can't go downstairs before seven. But I can still sleep on the stairs, right?"
"On the landing," Tim said with a nod. "I'll get your pillow and your comforter as soon as we're done. Deal?"
When Tim's alarm clock went off, he looked over at the red numbers. Eleven o'clock. Just enough time to transform the living room and still get some sleep. He got up as quietly as he could and crept out of the room. The hundreds of miniature multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree cast a festive glow on the staircase. Good thing too, Tim thought. Without the light, he would have tripped over his daughter, sleeping peacefully on the landing.
He stepped over her and silently went about the bittersweet task of creating Christmas. It was something that Sarah had loved to do, even before Grace was born. The old farmhouse that they had bought twelve years ago seemed to come to life at Christmas, as if the other seasons of the year were simply appetizers. After Grace, the decorating had grown to occupy nearly two hours. Tim had scaled it back in recent years, but still spent the time necessary to convince Grace that Santa had visited.
When he was finished, he toyed with the idea of taking her back upstairs; kids that age were like rag dolls when they were asleep. But Mouse would be disappointed not to wake up on the stairs. It would still be dark, but in the light of the tree she would be able to see the filled stockings, the plate where the cookies had been, and the empty milk glass. She would convince herself that she had just missed him. Next year, she would tell herself. Next year, provided nobody had spilled the beans about Santa Claus, she would catch him in the act.
Tim tiptoed upstairs and returned to his bed. He was counting on seven hours of sleep before Grace burst in to wake him up and drag him downstairs.
The knock at the door was faint at first. Grace wasn't sure how long it had been going on before it finally woke her up. It grew louder and more frantic, becoming more of a banging, until she quite distinctly heard a woman's voice say, "Shit, shit, shit" on the other side of the door.
She glanced upstairs, wondering whether to wake her father. On the one hand, that usually took a good deal of shaking; Dad was a pretty sound sleeper. On the other hand, there was the Christmas Day injunction: she could go to the bottom step, but no further, until Dad was up and ready.
She went to the bottom step. A quick glance at the tree brought a frown to her face. She had obviously missed him again.
"Oh, please," the woman said again, her voice cracking as she gave the door a final blow with the side of her fist.
Grace decided that the woman's obvious distress represented an exception to the rule. She walked over and pulled the door open a foot. The woman had turned around to stare at the snowstorm and hadn't heard the door open. She was wearing a short parka and apparently little else. Her long blonde hair flew back and forth in the wind. Her bare legs were covered with goose bumps. She was wearing high heels that added four inches to her height.
Perhaps she was a retard.
The woman whipped around. She was obviously tired and she had been crying.
"Oh, thank God," she said. "My car skidded into the ditch in front of your house and my cell doesn't work here. Could I, um, use your phone, please?"
Grace's eyes traveled up and down the woman.
"You forgot your pants," she finally pointed out.
"Yeah," the woman said. "I am a little cold standing here, honey."
"Maybe you should have worn pants."
"Sweetie, could I please, please, please come in?" the woman begged. Tears were forming in her eyes again.
Grace rolled her eyes and let the woman into the foyer.
"You're not, like, a retard, are you?"
I'm sorry?" the woman said, turning around to talk to Grace. She had been staring at the tree.
"You're not wearing pants, your phone doesn't work, and you crashed your car."
"What's your name?"
"Hi, Grace. I'm Claire. It's a long story, Grace. Could you tell me where the phone is, honey?"
"In the kitchen, on the wall."
Claire walked through the dining room toward the doorway to which the young girl pointed. Grace was right behind her.
"Thank you," Claire said as she picked up the phone. "I'm just going to call my Dad. He'll come pick me up and you can get back to sleep. I guess Santa's been here already, huh?"
"Yeah. I knew you weren't him anyway. He comes down the chimney."
"That's right. Gracie, are you going to stand right here while I call?"
Grace nodded solemnly.
It was an old-fashioned, black dial phone, one that matched perfectly the house in which Claire had found refuge. She dialed the numbers as the little girl watched.
"Stupid machine," she muttered. "Dad? Mom? Dad! Mom! Are you guys there! Pick up the phone! Hello! Shit. Call me back, please?"
She read the number off the phone and then looked over to see that Grace's eyebrows had shot up underneath her blond bangs.
"You said a bad word," Grace said.
"I'm sorry. Don't tell your parents, okay? It looks like I'm going to be here for a while."
"It's only my dad," Grace said. "My mom is dead. Do you want some pants?"
"Um, sure. That would be very nice. Thank you, Grace. Maybe you should wake up your father."
"I know where the pants are."
She ran off and returned several minutes later with a pair of her father's sweat pants from the hamper in the laundry room. Her eyes widened again as Claire peeled off her coat to reveal a red silk top and red panties.
"I know," Claire said with a shake of her head. "Men. You don't have something like a a sweat shirt, do you?"
Grace rolled her eyes one more time. Several minutes later she had Claire properly and warmly outfitted.
"You don't need to stay up any longer, Grace. Why don't you go back to bed?"
Grace stared her down.
"You don't want to leave me here wandering around your house, do you?"
Grace slowly shook her head from side to side.
"Let me try my mom's cell phone, okay? Maybe she has it near her bed and I can wake her up."
She dialed the number.
"Mom? It's Claire! Thank God I got you. I'm stuck out here on..."
"Coleman Road," Grace said.
"Coleman Road? Anyway, I — you what?"
Her body seemed to sag as she listened to her mother talk.
"Yeah, sure, but I —"
She listened some more.
"John had a..."
Claire looked down at Grace.
"He had somebody else with him when he came home.
"Yeah, Look, I know you never liked him. Oh, you did not. And you were right. So when will you guys be home?
"The fifth? Are you serious?
"Okay. No, I have an audition on the third. I'll see you guys in a while.
"No, no. I'll be fine. As soon as this storm is over, I'll find a motel. Then I'll head back and stay with Susan or something. Have a great time, okay? Love to Dad."
Claire hung up the phone and slumped into a kitchen chair. After a few moments she looked over at Grace.
"I guess I'll be sleeping here tonight, if that's okay with you."
"Sure," Grace said. "You can share my bed. We only have two bedrooms that have heat. Come on."
One of the advantages of living in a farmhouse on a long driveway was that Tim seldom saw a need to close the red-and-white checked curtains that Sarah had picked for their bedroom. Blinking his eyes open, he watched the big flakes of snow that were falling at a forty-five degree angle outside the window.
It took him only a moment to realize that it was well past dawn. And that he had awakened on his own.
Tim got up and pulled on his bathrobe, fully expecting to find Mouse still asleep on the bottom step. She was not there, however, nor was she downstairs gazing at her presents. He returned upstairs, two steps at a time.
"Mouse?" he asked through the closed door to her bedroom. He knocked lightly on the door and began to reach for the knob. His daughter appeared at the door, her eyes still heavy with sleep.
"Shh," she said. She put a finger to her lips and quietly pulled the door shut behind her. "You'll wake up Claire."
Tim smiled. It was the indulgent smile of a rural single parent accustomed to his only child's imaginary friends. He winked at Grace and tiptoed downstairs with her hand in his.
"How 'bout some Christmas music?" he asked when they reached the living room.
"Dad! That'll wake Claire up for sure. Jeez maneez."
"Okay," Tim said after a brief pause. "Shall we start with our stockings?"
"Of course not, honey. Tell me something. Did you and Claire stay up late last night?"
"Not that late. She was pretty tired when she got here."
"I see. So how about we have some breakfast?"
"Sure," Grace said. "Maybe then she'll wake up."
Tim stopped abruptly in the dining room and Grace ran smack into him.
"Honey, whose coat is that?"
"Claire's. And those are her shoes."
"The high heels there?"
"Yeah. Other than that she was kinda just wearing this weird-lookin' underwear. I was afraid she might be some kind of retard."
"Grace, you know I don't like you using that word."
"I didn't call her a retard," Grace said. "I just asked her if she was a retard."
"I know. Still, when you see her ... Anyway, she said she was cold so I gave her some of your sweats and turned my heater up last night. Is that okay?"
Tim turned and squatted down in front of his daughter.
"Grace, is the woman who left this coat and these shoes here sleeping in your room?"
"Was that bad? After we were in bed, she said she'd sleep on the couch but I told her we weren't allowed downstairs before seven. Plus, I was sort of afraid she might steal my presents."
"Daddy's just going to look in on Claire, okay honey? Why don't you go get yourself some juice?"
"Okay. Make sure you're quiet, Dad."
Tim pushed open the door and was met with a blast of hot air. The small electric heater that his daughter used to supplement the house's poor heating system had evidently been running for a while. As a result, the woman in his daughter's bed had kicked off the bed covers and was lying in the bed dressed only in a red negligee and red panties. Her sweats were on the floor beside the bed.
He should have stepped back and knocked on the door. But she was facing away from him, in her side and he was caught by the way her long blonde hair was splayed out on the pillow. He watched the effect of her rhythmic breathing on her slender figure. His eyes lingered on the creamy white skin that lay exposed by the high cut panties arcing across the middle of her firm, round butt. And then there were those legs. Those long legs that stretched out the length of the bed. Long legs that moved with sensuous slowness as they straightened and twisted toward him as he stood there watching. Long legs that suddenly disappeared beneath the comforter as the young woman yanked it up.
It was a shriek of embarrassment and stunned recognition. As he stared into her wide blue eyes, Tim realized that he knew her as well.
"Oh my God. This is your house? Oh my God."
"I'm sorry, Claire. I, um, was just making sure you were okay. Why don't you put those sweats on and come downstairs?"
He backed out of the room and fled down the stairs. Back in the kitchen, Grace was breaking eggs into a bowl for him to scramble. Claire joined them in a few minutes.
"Hey, Claire," Grace said. "Merry Christmas."
"The same to you honey. And, um, you too of course, Mr. Clarke."
"You guys know each other?" Grace asked.
"Claire was in twelfth grade when your mom and I first came here to teach," Tim explained.
"Your mom was my first drama teacher," Claire said, smiling at the memory. "She was just so encouraging."
"She means in contrast to me," Tim said.
"He gave me a B-minus."
"She deserved a B-minus."
"Your mom thought I was a wonderful actress."
"She still deserved a B-minus."
"I so did not. It was the only grade I ever got lower than a B-plus. That grade got me wait-listed at Juilliard."
"But she got in."
"After months of waiting."
"You're an actress?"
Tim and Claire both stopped to look at the young girl, whose eyes had been darting back and forth between the two as if she were watching a tennis game.
"That's cool," Grace went on without waiting for an answer. "Can you cook the eggs now, Dad? I'm hungry. I put in some extra for Claire."
"Thank you, honey," Claire said. 'That was very sweet of you."
"Coming up," Tim said. "You handle the toast, okay?"
Grace ran back to the pantry to get the toaster as Claire and Tim continued to talk.
"Look, I'll be out of here this morning, Mr. Clarke. Like I said, I didn't know it was your house. It turns out my parents are on some cruise in the Caribbean, but I'm sure I can get somebody to pull me out of your ditch."
"Have you looked outside yet?"
"No," Claire said. Her eyes drifted toward the window. "Shit."
"That's a bad word," Grace said, returning with the toaster.
"I'm sorry, Gracie," she said. "How old are you, honey?"
"I'm seven. How old are you?"
"I'm, um, thirty."
"Okay," Grace said. "Were you telling Daddy why you came to visit us in your underwear?"
"She was just about to," Tim said with a smile. He poured a dollop of milk into the bowl and turned on the burner.
Claire gave Tim a glare before deciding how to proceed in Grace's presence.
"Maybe we could just say that my boyfriend and I had a disagreement last night, so I left the house without really thinking and headed home."
"Well, I think you're going to be stuck here for at least the next three days," Tim said. "So where do you live?"
"I did live in Brooklyn," Claire answered. "I'll have to find something else when I get back. It was his place."
"Before your 'dition?" Grace asked.
"My what, honey?"
"You told your mom you had a 'dition on the third."
"An audition," Claire corrected her. "I can stay with a girlfriend until then."
"That's right," Claire said.
"She remembers everything she hears," Tim said. "So be careful what you say around her. All right, Mouse. Start toasting and I'll start cooking. So what are you auditioning for?"
"A play by Richard Whitman. Habitrail."
"Don't tell me. You're auditioning for Katherine."
"As a matter of fact I am. You say it like there's something wrong with it. And how do you know about it anyway? It's brand new."
"It's not as new as you think. I saw it back in college, when he was still working on it. It's just never been to Broadway before. And there's nothing wrong with Katherine. She's the pretty one, right? Gets the guy, lives happily ever after?"
"But you'd make such a much better Stephanie."
"Stephanie?" Claire screwed up her face. "But Stephanie is a whack job."
"She's also the emotional center of the play," Tim said. "That's been your issue all along, Claire."
"What are you talking about?"
"Sarah loved your acting, the way you could command a stage and draw an audience's attention. But you always went for the pretty girl roles."
"You're saying I'm not pretty?" Claire asked.
"I think you're pretty," Grace interjected.
She was now toasting her third set of bread as Tim divided the eggs up among three plates he had taken down from the cupboard.
"Of course you're pretty," Tim said. "You're a beautiful woman, Claire. But pretty girl actresses are a dime a dozen. You could be such a good actress. A real actress. Doing real acting. There are lots of women who can play Katherine. And do a good job. But there aren't many actresses who can play Stephanie."
"If I'm such a good actress, how come you gave me a B-minus? Mrs. Clarke gave me an A-plus."
"Sarah taught a drama class. I taught a literature class about drama. And in my class you never applied yourself like you did in hers."
"Can we open presents now?" Grace asked.
Tim and Claire looked over at Grace. Her plate was empty, while the plates of the two adults held scrambled eggs that were growing colder by the minute.
"Honey, Claire and I are —"
"—going to be arguing all morning, at this rate," Grace complained. "So maybe we could go into the living room and you guys could finish yelling at each other there."
"Mouse, we're not yelling. We're just having a discussion."
"Yeah, right," Grace said with a snort. It had seemed like such a good idea, asking Santa Claus for a new girlfriend for Daddy. She hoped he hadn't screwed up her other presents this badly.
"I tell you what. You go on ahead, and Claire and I will finish our eggs. We'll be right behind you and then we can open our presents."
Grace raised her eyebrows and gave her father a skeptical look.
"We won't even talk about grades or acting, okay, honey?" Claire said.
Grace gave a quick nod and dashed into the other room.
"What a sweetie," Claire said as they returned to their breakfasts.
"Yeah. Thank you for the card you sent after Sarah died, by the way. I still have it somewhere. It meant a lot to me that you wrote about her teaching."
"She was my favorite teacher," Claire mumbled. "Even more than my professors in college."
"That means a lot, too. Well, we'd better not keep Grace waiting. Have you had enough?"
"Yes. Thank you, Mr. Clarke."
"I think you can call me Tim now, Claire. Shall we see if Grace has managed to keep from peeking?"
Opening the Clarke family Christmas presents took no more than fifteen minutes from beginning to end. One of them was a board game and Grace wasted no time in insisting that her father and her new friend play it with her. The morning passed in high-spirited competition that ended with Claire claiming the win. Tim escaped his daughter's demand for a rematch by noting that the turkey had to go in the oven, so Grace and Claire played a second time.
Grace skipped into the kitchen a while later, loudly proclaiming her victory. Claire followed a few minutes afterward, having replaced the game pieces in the box.
"Dinner should be ready around two o'clock," Tim said. "Claire, some of my clothes might fit you. Unless you'd rather wear sweats all day. Or if you have clothes in your car, I'd be happy to go out and get them for you."
"I wish," Claire said. "Maybe if you have some jeans or something, that would be great, Mr. Clarke. Tim. Actually, I'd like to run out to my car and get my script, since it looks like I'm going to be trapped here for a few days, anyway."
"Yay!" Grace cheered.
"Because you're a ... a..." Claire said.
"What? Are you afraid of the words? A slut? A whore? Maybe you'd feel more comfortable with a woman of loose morals."
Grace giggled as she watched her father read from the script that he and Claire shared.
"Okay," Tim said. "Time for a break. And time for you to go to your bedroom, Mouse, and watch one of your new DVDs."
"But I wanna watch you guys!" Grace protested.
"I know, honey. But it's an adult play and Claire and I need to talk."
"Fine," Grace said with an exaggerated sigh. She stomped off upstairs without any intention of putting the DVD into her portable player.
"Do you want some water, Claire?" Tim offered.
"Thanks. That would be great. And thank you so much again for reading with me. It's so much better with somebody else. And you sure are getting into Stephanie."
"I can't believe you would prefer to be Katherine. Stephanie is so much better of a role."
"I know that. But I've never done anything like Stephanie."
"I know," Tim said with as much gentleness as he could. "Maybe it's time for you to try, though."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Claire nearly spat the words at Tim. "You could sit in your suburban house and look the window out at your Volvo and your little dog and your 2.3 children and think how much better your life is than mine."
Tim opened his mouth to answer but Claire had a full head of steam.
"Have yourself a fucking party! Invite the neighbors over! Look at my sister, everyone! Look at the fucking loser! She can't stay off drugs, she can't stop drinking, she can't even satisfy herself."
Tim had the next line but found that he was watching the tears running down Claire's face. A giggle from the top of the stairs broke the mood.
"Mouse!" Tim growled.
"I wasn't listening!" Mouse protested. Tim and Claire heard the patter of feet in the hallway and the slamming of Grace's door. They both burst into laughter.
"That was wonderful," Tim said.
"It's hard," Claire said after a deep breath.
"Of course it's hard. That's what makes it good."
"Thank you, Tim. Thank you for encouraging me to do this. I still don't know if I'll be able to audition for Stephanie but I've learned a lot just reading it."
Claire, you just walk in there and you say 'look, I realize I'm here to read for Katherine but I'd rather read for Stephanie.' All they can do is say 'no.'"
She took another breath.
"Okay, Tim. I'll try."
She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"Take the chance, Claire," Tim said. "Sometime you just have to take the chance."
" ... and God bless Daddy, and Mommy in heaven, and our new friend Claire, who could maybe stay just one more day?"
Claire laughed out loud as Grace opened one eye from her position kneeling beside the bed.
"It's been four days already!" she said. Two days after Christmas, just when it looked as if the county would be arriving any minute to clear the road, the next storm had dumped another foot and a half of snow.
"Don't you want your bed back, honey? I feel bad making you share with me for another night."
"You would stay longer if you and Daddy didn't spend all day arguing," Grace pouted.
Claire laughed again.
"You know perfectly well that it's a play, Grace. The characters in the play do a lot of arguing."
"All I know is for the first two days Dad did most of the yelling, and then you switched and you started yelling."
"Sweetie, I was planning on reading for the part of Katherine, who doesn't yell much. So when we started reading, your father did most of the yelling. But he's sort of convinced me to try out for the part of Stephanie, who yells a lot. So we switched parts halfway through.
"So you're not mad at Dad?"
"Oh, no," Claire said, a gleam in her eye she knew that Grace wouldn't understand. "Not at all."
"And Daddy's not mad at you?"
"I hope not, honey," Claire said. A smile flitted over her face. That would make for a most unpleasant night. "Ready for bed?"
"You bet. G'night, Claire."
Claire heard Tim go to bed half an hour later. She waited another half an hour before slowly pushing herself off of Grace's bed. The little girl was in a deep sleep, a smile on her lips. It was her father's smile, that crooked grin that she had become very fond of over the last few days. It was a smile that she hoped to see again in just a few minutes.
She would do without the high heels. It was much easier to tiptoe barefoot on the soft pine floor. The heels were still downstairs anyway. She crept out of the room and pulled the door closed behind her. The door to Tim's room was ajar and Claire eased it open. The light of a crescent moon illuminated the figure on the bed. Tim was sleeping on his back. He had built up the fire in the woodstove before he came up and the heat in the living room below poured up through the grate in the floor. So he had no need for the heavy quilt at the bottom of his bed. Instead, his body was outlined underneath only a flannel sheet.
With exquisite care, Claire leaned over and pulled it down. Her former teacher was sleeping in a pair of loose-fitting pajama bottoms and looked delicious in the moonlight. She put one knee on the bed and stopped, her heart beating wildly as Tim mumbled and shifted his position. Finally he stopped. Claire climbed onto the bed, lifting her other leg to straddle Tim's calves.
Sometimes, she thought to herself, you have to take the chance.
She leaned forward and kissed him softly on the tip of the chin and then again on his shoulder. He didn't move and she began to work her way lower. Her lips lingered on his nipple, sucking quietly.
Tim's moan startled her. She hadn't even realized that his fingers were entwined in her hair. Was it good or bad that he was dreaming about his late wife? Was he going to be angry when he woke up and found that it was her?
She slid down ever further, kissing his ribs and his belly. She took a deep breath and slid her hand into the opening of his pajamas to pull out his cock. She stared at it briefly, letting her hot breath flow over it She longed to take it in her mouth, to feel it grow, to unleash its power. Even now, his sheer maleness was almost intoxicating.
But the patience he had shown with her over the last four days, his careful efforts to help her look deep within the wannabe starlet and awaken the real actress that lurked inside, demanded that she take no less time with him. She extended her liquid tongue and lovingly lapped at his balls, at the skin at the top of his thighs, and finally at his prick itself.
He probably saw himself as no more than her teacher even now. He would probably think the love that she now felt for him nothing more than one of the schoolgirl crushes that he probably had to deflect every semester. It didn't matter. She could feel him inside her even now — inside her mouth, inside her pussy, inside her soul. As her tongue traveled up and down his prick, she knew that this was more than the mere thanks given the master by his pupil. But if that was all she could give him, so be it; she would make sure he was never thanked this well again.
As her tongue finished its circuit, she felt a twitching and knew that it was time. She took his cock in her fingers, using her thumb to massage the oh-so sensitive area at the base of the head. And then she pulled it gently toward her mouth and her lips surrounded the head even as she continued her massage. Tim's cock tasted just as delicious as it looked, though, and her fingers unconsciously slipped around it so that she could begin fisting it with her palm. She started taking more and more of his cock into her mouth, sucking him with abandon.
Claire found herself unable to make a rational decision. She could feel twin trickles of wet stickiness sliding down her inner thighs. She longed to squeeze them together. Maybe she could shift herself to kneel between his legs rather than astride them. Maybe...
A thrill coursed through her body. Tim's voice was still heavy with sleep. He was dreaming about her now. It was her lips that he imagined on his cock, her tongue on his glans. The thrill ran all the way through her, stiffening her nipples, fluttering in her belly, and finally reaching her pussy. She felt herself climaxing. Without anything other than the silk touch of her panties against her, she was cumming.
"Mmmmm," she groaned, burying her nose in Tim's pubes, swallowing more dick than she had ever thought possible. Suddenly, he was cumming too, his cock shooting steam after stream of gooey jism into her open throat. God, hadn't the guy gotten any since his wife died? Didn't he ever jack off? She couldn't possibly gulp all of this down, could she? She felt her cheeks beginning to bulge.
But then Tim moaned. His fingers tightened in her hair, holding her close against him. And Claire felt a blissful release. She realized she was more than capable of swallowing everything she could give him. His pleasure was contagious. She felt herself cumming yet again, this time solely in response to her partner's climax.
She opened her eyes. He was done spending and she could tell from his voice that he was awake. She looked up at him, his softening prick still in her mouth. Had she fallen asleep? Had she fainted? Her eyes held his, waiting for him to chastise her, to express his shock, to order her out of his house. He looked at her for what seemed forever. Her stomach was fluttering again. Her breaths were coming quickly.
"I want to make love to you," he finally said.
It was perfect. She felt faint again. She lay her head against his thigh and just let herself feel. Tim reached down and grabbed hold of her shoulders.
"Come here, love," he said, giving her a gentle tug.
She looked up at him with a smile.
"I already came, love," she answered. "Right here. But I want to do it again and again and again."
Flurries were swirling around the late '90s Honda Civic that was headed south on the New York State Thruway over the school's Easter weekend at the end of March.
"Are we there yet?"
"Has the car stopped?"
"Then we're probably not there yet," Tim said. He looked over at Grace in the passenger seat. "Only another half hour, honey."
"And then we go to the play?"
"First we go to a party. Uncle Dave always has a party before his plays."
"But Claire will be there?"
"For a little while. Then she'll have to go get ready."
"Where's the party?"
"At Juilliard, where Claire went to college."
"Where she was waited."
"Wait-listed," Tim said with a laugh. "Yes. It means that they haven't decided about whether to let you in or not. In her case, she did get in."
"Even though you gave her a bad grade?"
"Well, I did make a phone call for her," Tim said, looking over and giving Grace a wink. "Your grandpa knew a guy in the admissions office, so I let him know that I didn't think the grade really reflected her potential."
"That was nice of you, Dad."
"Your daddy can be nice, you know. Look! You can see New York. See the skyscrapers?"
"I don't believe it!"
The tall, bearded man in the jacket and dark turtleneck stared at the couple walking toward him. The younger of the two broke free and ran toward him.
He bent down and caught her as she threw her arms around his neck.
"Hello, Richard." Tim approached at a much more sedate pace.
"I can't believe you're here. I thought I'd given up sending you invitations since you never came anymore after..."
"You did take me off your list," Tim assured him as they embraced. "I got an invitation from your star tonight."
"Sylvia's not your star," Tim scoffed.
"Well, she does have top billing," he said. "You know Claire?"
"She was one of my first students. Sarah's, too. Is she here yet?"
"Not yet, no. Well, that explains a lot. You wouldn't believe her audition. Her agent puts her up for Katherine, and she comes in looking gorgeous. And I look up and look back down. And then she says, 'Mr. Whitman, I'd like to read for the part of Stephanie.'"
"And she had it," Dick said. "Right then. She had that quality in her voice. I didn't even need to hear her read the part. But once she did, it was even better of course."
"Claire and Dad yelled at each other all Christmas," Grace piped up.
"Did they?" Dick asked. "Your daddy was the first director of this play, when we were in college together. Oops, my mistake. There she is over there."
Tim watched Grace take off again. He desperately wanted to follow. He and Claire had talked a few times since she left and he had been the first one she had called when she learned she had gotten the role. But he didn't want to look desperate.
"That's not Sylvia she's with, is it?" he asked Dick.
"No, no. That's her understudy, Allie Wadsworth."
"You took a chance casting Claire. The other woman is a more typical Stephanie. She's got a sort of edge to her."
"The poor woman seems to despise life. That's Claire's only problem. Too damn happy. I asked Allie to be my picador tonight."
"You know, the guy who sticks the bull before the matador takes over. Allie's supposed to give Claire a little goad tonight."
She was doing a good job. In the last three minutes, she had managed to suggest, without being overtly offensive, that the only reason Claire had gotten the job was that she had slept with the play's producer. Claire was quietly fuming, searching her brain for a snappy retort when she heard Grace's yell.
She too knelt down to accept Grace's embrace. She looked up to see Tim. Not wanting to appear desperate herself, she decided not to run over there. Instead, she introduced Grace to Allie and explained how they had met.
"And that's your father over there?" Allie asked. "Talking to Mr. Whitman?"
"He's your uncle?" Allie asked with malicious glee.
"He's not really my uncle," Grace explained solemnly. The malicious glee in the voice of Claire's friend had gone completely over her head. "He and Dad went to school together."
"Well, that explains a lot," Allie said.
"What are you talking about?" Claire was getting angry now.
"Somebody made a phone call, that's all."
"I read for this part," Claire said between gritted teeth. "Your little suggestion that —"
"Dad made a phone call," Grace said.
Allie laughed aloud.
"What?" Claire asked her.
Grace looked up at her with wide eyes, uncertain of the look she was getting.
"Daddy told me he made a phone call for you."
"Son of a bitch," Claire said. She looked over at where Tim was talking with Dick. Her reservations about going over there had disappeared.
"You fucking son of a bitch!" she said, trembling as she stood in front of him.
"You made a phone call, you son of a bitch," she spat. She threw her drink in his face. For good measure, she added a slap to his cheek before storming off.
"That's perfect," Dick said.
"What?" Tim asked.
"That's the attitude I need. She's gonna slay 'em tonight."