As the two trudged on
they came upon
a verdant glade.
In the center of it was a fountain
from which sweet, icy water flowed.
cooled by the deep and pure below.
One turned and asked,
"Shall we stop to drink and pray
that the flood will work its spell,
lift us from our private hell,
soothe our hearts and wash what stains it will away,
to 'fresh our heads and feet
and whatever lies between
to let anew our spirits play?"
Avery lay on his back. Jolene was dozing on her side next to him. Her head rested in the space between the ball of his shoulder and pectoral muscle, a kind of pillow, improvised years before. He searched under the covers, and found his discarded pajama bottoms. He draped them over his bare groin, lest the final, tardy drops of fluid leak onto the top sheet.
He knew Jolene hated it when he covered himself that way while she stayed completely nude. He could never understand why she thought it important that the remnants of their love-making drain out of him uncontrolled to be smeared on the sheets while they slept. It was most unpleasant. He didn't know how to tell her.
"Perhaps she wants proof in the morning," he thought, "like a golfer leaving a divot."
Ever since they were first a couple, and through marriage—breaking into its third decade—Avery had always laid on his back after love-making with Jolene nestling herself alongside him, her head resting in that space on his chest. They never spoke during the after-time. He felt the familiar softness of her breast nuzzled to his ribcage. He'd felt it every time—hundreds of times. Only little things had changed over the years.
For example, Jolene used to idly tease and pinch his nipple as they lay together sorting their thoughts. He really missed that. He wished he had the courage to tell her that he wished that she would go back to doing it, and perhaps suck the bud between her lips, as he did to hers during foreplay. His maneuver didn't seem to please her very much any more. So, he didn't tell her his secret wish. It wouldn't have been right to tell her—too one-way and there was also a risk of derision.
He did continue with breast play during the arousal phase, just in case...
Another thing that had changed was that in the old days he would have put up with the gooey little mess. Jolene's nipple ploys would get him going again and before long they were thrashing about in the sheets anew—spare semen be damned. In youth, lovers are never ready for sleep.
One thing that hadn't changed much was Jolene. She still wore her chestnut hair long, over her shoulders, like she did when Avery had first seen her walking across the quad on the campus. Most women would have cut their hair into a shorter style by the time they reached Jolene's age. She didn't—she just kept it long.
The years brought a few crevices and creases in her face, but no one seemed to notice that. She was taller than most women, but not as tall as Avery. To most it seemed like she could fit into the same clothes the she wore in college. There were some lumps and extra bumps that most did not see, but Avery knew where they were. He knew them all.
"I love you, Avery," she whispered. He thought she'd fallen asleep.
"I love you, too," Avery answered back. He meant it; Avery knew she did, too.
It was the signal that in a few seconds she would dismount her old makeshift pillow, taking her soft breast with her, and turn over on her other side and drift off to sleep. As always, Avery would lie still for a short while longer, reviewing his recollections as they became thoughts.
He supposed that it truly was love-making after all these years. As it matures, intimacy tames and neither climax nor thrills matter as much as they once did. It had taken decades for the quest to fade to contentment, he told himself as he stared into the darkness. It was only important to achieve intimacy. It was important to do so on a regular, if not frequent, basis.
Sleep was important, too. There was no reason to neglect either need. A check mark on the mental calendar, a good night's rest—no complaints registered by either party.
Avery had, of course, begun their intimate contact in the usual way. He was always quite careful to allow for a full period of arousal. He educated himself on the subject on many and varied websites which, he judged, offered sage advice.
He knew she needed time; he was familiar with the 'plateau'. He reviewed the process just gone by in mental playback.
She was in bed first. The lights were out. He was quiet when he came into the room. If she had been already asleep he wouldn't have wished to wake her. If not, she would be waiting for him.
He shed his clothes and crept into the master bathroom, brushing his teeth and donning his pajama bottoms. Through the darkness, he could make out the shadow of her motionless form under the covers.
He could sense that Jolene was awake when he slipped into bed beside her. It was the way she was breathing and how she'd moved to the center of the bed to allow just enough room for him. She was lying on her side with her back to him, as always.
He lay on his back for a few seconds, not wishing to appear presumptive. Then he turned on his side, casually touched her hip. If she chose, she could have pretended not to notice him.
She didn't. Jolene moved backwards and spooned herself against him, canceling any doubt. His hand rested on her flank again for a longer stay—a confirmation. She turned to face him.
Avery always worked top to bottom. He began with a kiss. First came kissing, then breast play, a slow and careful route to the vulva. It was the correct way to go about it. He was always careful to be patient with her.
Their lips met in a tender kiss. He let it become more demanding. After a minute or so he pushed his tongue through her lips. She always liked that. She pushed back and the game was on.
At first he spread his hand over a breast, through the fabric of her nightie. He tested the stiffness of the nipple. There it was—very nice. It was important to him to find her nipple hardened. It was, in fact, pleasing to the touch. More than that, it told him that she was in the process of arousing.
He always made sure that her acquiescence was borne of desire, not courtesy. He would never have been able to bear it if she submitted to be polite. He never detected she'd ever done that, but the fear of it never left him.
Her encouragement led to a caress of the soft roundness and then a return to the nipple. She sat up and pulled her nightie over her head. It always surprised Avery how good Jolene looked in those initiating moments. She appeared as a shadow in the darkness. Her feminine form was not very much changed from what so inspired him when they were first married.
He knew that she wasn't the same in full light, of course. It was amazing what darkness could do for a body. It must have been the reason that love-making was saved for the night. Was it cheating to allow the darkness to create the illusion or for him to accept the ruse? He shuttered his mind and reached around and pulled her down to him.
He held her back to his front and wrapped his arms around her. His hands closed over her nude breasts. He knew she wouldn't lie still for very long, but while she did he would do what he might to bring forth the remaining pleasure from the soft, roundness and the hard nipples.
He was gentle, stroking and lightly pinching; doing to them just as he would have had her do unto his own, if he could have asked her. He hoped that she liked it. He knew better than to expect passionate writhing or moans of pleasure. She didn't push him away.
Before too long, as was her custom, she disengaged and turned to face him. Her body was open to him. He debated for a few seconds if he should let his hand venture below. It was hard to be certain that she was ready. He knew that breast-play was over for the night but he kneaded them again for a few moments, just to reassure her that he still liked them. He hoped for a purr of contentment. It was not to be.
He felt her hands. They stroked him through his pajamas. She tugged on the elastic waistband. It was her signal to him to slip out of the sleepwear. She insisted on equality in nakedness. He rose up on his elbow and tugged them over his hip. He shrugged them down, out of the way where he could retrieve them later.
When he was finished taking care of his pajamas he turned back to her and they hugged. He knew she liked that. There was no kissing; no erotic noises. Only silence and two unclothed bodies pressed to one another, and an occasional hand stroking where it could reach—between the shoulder blades or on a thigh.
She was warm. After a while he clutched her bottom and pressed her against him hard. He measured her response. She opened a thigh and then closed it, capturing him between her flesh. It was a pleasant warmness and it seemed to excite her.
When he thought it was the right time he slipped his hand lower; a check her for wetness.
Everything was good. While he was stimulating her with his hand down there Jolene pushed up at his shoulder. He knew what that meant.
"She wants to take me in her mouth."
That part wasn't in his plan, but it happened often enough that Avery knew enough to allow for it. He shifted to his back. She nestled herself between his legs and bent her mouth down to take him in.
It felt nice, but he never let himself go all the way when Jolene did this to him. At his age, after all, a single eruption per night was all he could generate, and he knew Jolene would prefer him not to waste it. It would be alright for her to pleasure him around the edges.
When her jaw tired he would sense it and he would nudge her up his torso. She would straddle him so he could return the oral favor. It was the final phase of preparation. After that it would be a short time until she ripened, and then—entry.
Avery smiled to himself. A few minutes later he was atop her and she was guiding him in. He glanced at the clock. He would try to make it last longer than average this night. He thrust himself up and further into her.
It always took a minute or two of trial and error to find out what pleased Jolene on any single occasion. She usually liked it deep and slow. It was what Avery always tried first. Jolene was not the demonstrative kind of woman, but Avery could always tell if she was being pleased.
It was a sense that he had. Sometimes he wished that she would tell him, or scream out in orgasm or dig her nails into his back in ecstasy. They were far too old for that, he knew. This quiet intimacy was far better, he was sure. And he was certain that Jolene felt that way, too, for she never complained.
When they woke it was Saturday morning. They arose early. One of Jolene's nieces was getting married in a town at the far end of the state. It would take most of the morning to drive there. The wedding was set for one in the afternoon. Afterward, there would be a reception dinner. They decided to stay overnight at a nearby motel and drive home on Sunday morning.
Jolene got out of bed first and was already getting dressed when he stepped into the bathroom. He saw himself looking back at him in the mirror. He noted that he was getting rounder in the belly and the hairline was retreating almost day-by-day. Thankfully, he was taller than most men and that helped him with his spread, more or less.
"I'm not the only guy with this problem," he reminded himself.
There was always the co-worker comparison of notes in the coffee room at work. When a man reaches his fifties lies give way to confessions.
Avery was quick to finish his shower. As he toweled off he thought if they stepped on it they could stop for lunch at that place they used to enjoy at one of the lakes that they would pass on the way. He thought it was a nice idea.
"Hey, Jolene," he called out to the bedroom, "what do you think of having lunch at Ford's Landing?"
"What?" she yelled back.
Avery wasn't certain what Jolene meant by her response. It was possible that she didn't hear or understand him. The bathroom fan was running, after all. It could also have been a ploy that she sometimes used. She would feign incredulity to let him know that another of his ideas had come to naught. It was a clever way to say 'no'. It made Avery abandon the plan and that way she didn't have to explain herself. At least, that's the way Avery viewed it.
He was pretty sure that he'd yelled out loud enough for Jolene to hear him. He had to be one hundred percent certain. He put on his robe and walked into the bedroom.
"You know," he explained, "that restaurant on Lost Lake that we used to like."
"Oh, that one," she replied. "I don't think we'll have time. The wedding is at one, and we're not sure where the church is. Besides, I already made some sandwiches to eat on the way." She gave him one of those 'nice try' looks and he started to turn away toward his own side of the room. "Wait, don't go quite yet," she said. She turned her back to him. "Help me with the clasp on this necklace."
She lifted her hands to each side of her neck, with an end of the strand held tight by her fingers. Jolene was still in her slip and she smelled of bath powder. Avery stepped behind her to help with the necklace. He paused a second and stole a glance down her cleavage.
The delicate fingers securing the ends of the necklace reminded Avery of how she used to pinch his nipples when they were younger. He thought about that as he struggled for a second with the clasp. It would have been easier with his glasses on. With the clasp done he went to his own side of the room to get dressed.
Avery put on his underwear and then stole a glance at his wife from the other side of the bedroom. He turned just in time as she stretched her arms, and then the rest of her body upward as she let her dress cascade onto her form.
Avery didn't glance long. Jolene might have looked into her mirror at any second and caught him ogling her. That wouldn't do, so he fixed what he'd seen into his mind and went back to getting dressed.
"I always think of how it was," he thought to himself. "Those were good days."
It was true. There had been a time when Avery could make music on that long, slender body like a master. He could stroke it, caress it and draw his bow across her strings ... She would sing her sweet, beautiful music.
Before long, her climax bounced into his hand like a tennis ball. At the right moment he tossed it in the air and served an ace. That was when he could please her and make her happy. It was in the days when they were younger and hadn't quite settled down. Avery admitted to himself that he never understood the process. Just as the kids went out on their own, he and Jolene coasted into a more restful existence.
"I'm going downstairs to pack up the sandwiches and wrap the wedding gift," Jolene told him.
She was already dressed. Avery was trying to get the knot in his tie just right.
"I'll be there in a minute or two," Avery called after her as she made her way to the stairs.
He looked at himself in the mirror. An unhappy man looked back at him, unsatisfied by memories.
"What have I got to complain about?" he asked himself. "Most guys don't even get that."
It was going to be a long drive to the little town where the wedding was going to take place. They checked one last time to make certain that they had packed everything and the house was locked, and then they were on their way.
"I'll give you one of the sandwiches after we get on the interstate," she said. "It's early for lunch, but we didn't have breakfast."
Avery nodded. It would help kill the time. Jolene was chatting away about her niece's groom. Avery didn't really care. He'd spotted him at a family picnic, or two. The young man looked alright. Avery didn't know the niece much better, so he didn't consider it much of his business.
He almost sighed as Jolene prattled on. He stifled it just in time. It would have been a signal for her to keep quiet, and Avery hated those hours of silence more than he did her going on about a young man who was none of his business.
"What did you say his job was?" Avery butted in.
Jolene swiveled her head and gave him a look.
"You haven't heard a word I've been telling you," she complained. "He's a Civil Engineer, just like you. He just got his degree from State."
"Oh, yeah," Avery replied. "I did hear you say something about that."
It was a lie and Jolene had been correct. Avery hadn't heard her tell him.
"She probably told me about five miles back when I was trying to change lanes when we were going through that construction zone," he thought.
He knew that was a lie, too, if only to himself. The truth was that he had shut her out. He was thinking about other things. He decided to say no more, for fear of betraying his inattention even more than he had. They drove along in silence. Jolene tilted her seat back. He knew that she would probably drift off to sleep in a short while. He would be alone with his thoughts.
"Where do you think they'll honeymoon?" she asked in that dreamy way that made Avery wonder if she was thinking out loud, or expecting an answer.
"Probably Myrtle Beach or someplace like that," Avery answered. "Someplace warm with a beach."
"Mmmm," Jolene purred, "maybe they'll go to Virginia Beach, like we did."
"Could be," he said. "It's closer—probably less expensive."
He stole a couple of seconds from watching the road and glanced over at her. He thought, but couldn't be certain, that her eyes were closed. He wondered if it was the motion of the car that made her drowsy. Maybe she was remembering their honeymoon, so she could tell her niece of all the things the newlywed couple could do and what they could see see, as if they'd still be there after the passing of over thirty years.
"So, has he got a job?" he asked her.
She jerked her head up, as though she'd been dozing.
"Yes, I think so. My sister told me that he was starting a job at the State Highway Authority," Jolene said and then paused for a second. "Don't you dare corner him and talk shop."
Avery didn't answer. Jolene eased her head back down, hiding behind her sunglasses. He hadn't planned on talking shop at all with the young man. He told himself that he would, if he felt like it. He thought that Jolene should have given him enough credit to know better than to buttonhole a groom at his wedding to talk shop. He didn't see Jolene rouse herself again.
"I'll get you out a sandwich. I brought a napkin along so that you don't get mayonnaise on your dress trousers."
She smoothed a napkin over his right thigh and handed him the sandwich. She popped the top on a soft drink can and set it in the holder in the console between them.
"Are you going to be alright driving with one hand?" she asked.
Avery was already eating and nodded 'okay'. He looked over and saw that she was draping a napkin over her lap, as well. Avery was happy that she was. It was better that she was awake. They wouldn't have much to say while they were busy eating, but he felt less alone.
They were passing the interstate exit for Lost Lake. It reminded Avery that they could be making their way to the restaurant at Ford's Landing, rather than eating tuna sandwiches as they drove. He started to say something to her. He stopped himself. It would only stir up something to no good end. They passed the exit and neither of them mentioned it.
It had startled Avery when Jolene smoothed the napkin on his thigh. He hadn't expected it and he jumped a little. He was sure that she'd meant nothing by it, although he thought he might have seen a trace of a smirk on her face. If he had, it disappeared in an instant.
It was hard to admit. Avery found that he enjoyed Jolene's accidental goose on his leg. He stole a glance at her and saw she was still working on her half-a-sandwich and looking out the window at the hills in the distance. He drew a breath and was about to ask her why she never pinched his nipples when they were in bed anymore. He stopped himself just in time—she would have laughed at him. He asked himself about it, instead, as he drove.
They arrived at the little town and found the church earlier than they had to. It all proved to Avery that he had been right about stopping at Lost Lake for an early lunch. He had to be careful not to cop an attitude. That would only mean trouble later and it was pointless to embarrass Jolene in front of her family.
"Well, maybe I do have a little bit of an attitude," he admitted as he stood to one side as Jolene hugged one of her cousins.
He would hide it. No one, not even Jolene need know. It was one thing that was all his, for better or worse.
"Do you think we ought to go in and find a seat?" he asked.
Jolene swiveled her head around to him, away from the group of women with whom she was gossiping and giggling.
"I suppose so," she answered.
Jolene and her cousins broke up their conclave and dispersed to find their spouses. Avery met up with Jolene and they started up the church steps. She took his hand, and that surprised Avery. He wondered if it was for appearances in front of her clan. That wasn't really something that Jolene would have been prone to do.
He remembered where they were. Weddings had a peculiar effect on women that he didn't quite understand. He was well aware of it, however, and he let her take his hand up the steps until she gave it up when the usher took her by the arm and escorted her to their pew, Avery following behind.
"Avery, take the seat on the aisle so you can take some photos," Jolene called back to him as the usher stopped at an empty row.
She slipped sideways into the pew first, Avery falling in step behind her. He was used to the duty. He had been the designated shutterbug at every family wedding that he could remember—except their own, of course. The entire clan assumed that since he was an engineer by trade that it was up to him to operate anything that had a switch, lever, a gear or a shutter. Jolene had convinced them, so it appeared to him.
'What's-his-name' was an engineer, too. So, it occurred to Avery that in the future the young groom might supplant him in his unofficial position.
"You'll need a few more inches around your middle and a lot less hair if you want my job," Avery sneered in silence.
Avery had long admitted to himself that he enjoyed his little extra task at Jolene's family gatherings. It gave him a purpose and a reason to be busy. It was a good excuse to buy an extra toy once or twice a year. He'd become good at it.
It was a bright, pleasant day outdoors. The front door of the church was left open to allow fresh air inside, so it was much brighter to look backwards toward the outside than forward toward the sanctuary. All the guests were seated, so Avery knew that the ceremony was about to start.
Just as he was thinking that the organist punched out a few chords. The assembled witnesses stood. Avery stood, too. He turned his face to the brightness in the back of the church as the procession of bridesmaids appeared in the center aisle and made their way up the aisle.
Finally it was the bride's turn, in her long, white, satin gown and lacey veil to fill the light. The sun streaming through the open door made a halo around her. She paused for a few seconds in the light, frozen in place. At last, the organ music pushed her forward. Her long, white gown gave her the appearance of a floating cloud.
Avery checked his camera to be sure it was armed and ready. He began to calculate the optimum distance to begin shooting the pictures. That back-lighting was going to be a problem. He gave himself credit for seeing that right away.
"Just let Mr. 'What's-his-name' try to tackle that problem."
He'd talk shop with him later.
Avery gazed into the light, and then at the bride, trying to finish his calculations. The sun shone through the lace of the veil. It outlined the bride's face and form in the satin gown. Avery noticed how smooth and tight the gown was fitted to her. The shininess of the satin enhanced the sleek lines of her body.
He saw her hipbone silhouette as she pushed a thigh against the fabric of the gown when she floated forward. First was the right side. She brought her feet together and then stepped with the left and the other side revealed itself to him in its turn. With each step his mind was able to define the shape better.
It made a triangular frame for the center of her. Avery imagined what was within that frame. It was too good for 'What's-his-name' waiting for her at the altar. Avery took a deep breath. He thought he sensed a curious incense scent in the air.
He paid no attention to the attendants as they passed. They were all cute and youthful, inconsequential to Avery's sensibility. The bride drew closer. He noticed the bodice of her gown. It was cut, perhaps, a bit too low. The breasts spilled over the top of it.
They were neither large nor petite. They were fine and white, like the gown. Avery imagined how perfectly round and pure they were—perfection in waiting. If it was he for whom they were waiting, he would know how to treat them.
Avery looked hard at the cups underneath, trying to detect a hardened nipple winking at him. There was none, but Avery was not disappointed. He looked harder at the cups and made himself see the nipples resting within them. They would be pink with rose-colored areolas patiently awaiting the grasp of his lips, the lave of his tongue. Others would see the cleavage as a display of that promised to the groom. Avery knew the real message it was sending to him...
The bride approached closer. Avery clicked off three quick photos. The bride kept moving. She looked straight ahead, neither blinking at the flash nor acknowledging Avery as she passed by. There was, however, a look on her face that Avery knew. It was common to all women when they knew they were the star, perfect, the desired one. It was a satisfied look, as Avery knew. It was being desired that created the satisfaction, rather than the reality of quenching it. All these things he had learned through the years.
She passed by them and he watched her, hoping that the sculpted buttocks outlined themselves against the gown as had the graceful lines of her hipbones. He was not disappointed. As the young woman in white moved by Avery glanced at Jolene standing next to him. He wondered if she suspected what flights had flown through his fancy. She didn't seem to and, really, how could she?
After the ceremony and the reception line on the front steps of the church, the wedding party retreated back to the sanctuary for signing the marriage documents and the photographs at the altar. Outside the guests milled about wondering what to do. The reception was scheduled to begin in another ninety minutes.
Avery was exchanging small talk with Jolene's brother-in-law, Bert, and showing him his camera.
"I wonder if the bar's open at the reception place," he wondered out loud.
The women swiveled their heads at the men with a disapproving look.
"Let's go check into the motel," Jolene said. "There's just enough time for that and to freshen up in our rooms. The reception hall is right next door, so I'm told."
So, it was decided that they would attend to details first. It didn't really matter to Avery that much. Jolene's brother-in-law was kind of a drag. There wasn't much left to discuss after the workings of the camera were dissected in the church courtyard. The motel was a mile or so away from the church.
"Did you get some good pictures of the bride?" Jolene asked after Avery started the car.
"I think so. Nice looking girl," Avery answered.
There was a short silence. Avery glanced at Jolene, afraid he had said something he should not have said. She had an expression on her face, halfway between a smile and a smirk.
"Her gown was a little tight, wouldn't you say?" she asked.
"I didn't notice," Avery said. "I was too busy focusing the camera."
"I doubt that!" Jolene retorted. "I wouldn't be surprised if those hips made you forget to focus the camera. You're always on the lookout."
He wouldn't deny it. Well, he did focus the damned camera. The main point was that he'd helped himself to an eyeful more than his fair share. She knew it, just like always. How did she always know?
"How would you know?" he shot back at her.
She started laughing.
"How indeed!" She patted his thigh. "It's alright, as long as you look and don't touch."
He fell silent; he was defeated. First she'd invaded his private thoughts and then taunted him with her ill-gotten knowledge. His only refuge was silence. It was his comment about the bride's nice looks that opened him up in the first place.
They passed the place for the wedding reception on their way to the motel. It was on the adjoining property, as a matter of fact. Jolene's sister and her husband were already inside. They spotted their car in front of the door.
Jolene's brother-in-law was at the desk signing in.
"Hey, do you want to get adjoining rooms?" Bert asked.
"Jeez, I don't know," Avery replied. "I hadn't thought about it."
Avery didn't really want to. He had an idea why Bert had suggested it. Jolene was a few years younger than her sister and he'd figured for a long time that Bert had some kind of wild fantasy. Bert had always been crazy in that sneaky kind of way, and Avery realized that Bert's big idea was a no-go from the start. Any post-reception get-together would undoubtedly devolve into a cheese-and-crackers pajama party between the sisters while he and Bert sipped soft drinks from the machine down the hall. Avery knew. He saw Jolene stow the crackers as they packed the car.
"If you want to do that, we'll have to change your room," the flustered clerk spoke up. "All of our adjoining rooms are on the first floor."
"Saved!" Avery exhaled silently.
"Oh no," Avery interjected right away. "The first floor's too noisy. We need a good night's sleep—long drive tomorrow. Let's just keep what we've got."
The clerk nodded, and completed the check-in. He appeared relieved, as well. Bert's face took on a sulky expression.
"You don't mind, do you, Bert?" Avery asked. "We'll sit together at the reception and get caught up there."
The two rooms ended up being on the same hallway—on the second floor—about a half-dozen doors away.
"You were thinking fast to put an end to Bert's adjoining rooms idea," Jolene said when they were alone in their room.
Avery was unsure if Jolene was glad or sad at what he'd done. He reckoned that caution was the best strategy.
"I'm sorry, Jolene," he pleaded. "It's just that we'll be tired by the time the reception's over. Like I said..."
"It's okay, Avery," Jolene interrupted. "It took me by surprise, too. I was never for it."
"Oh, well—good, then," he stammered. He had to admit that Jolene's agreement surprised him.
"Sometimes Bert gets kooky ideas in his head," Jolene interrupted Avery's thoughts. She was arranging her things in the bathroom as she spoke. "What do you suppose he was up to?"
Avery calculated that in exchange for her agreeing with him Jolene deserved an honest answer.
"Well, if you want to know the truth," he began. "The fact is..." He stopped speaking. He didn't know how to put what he knew into words.
"What?" Jolene demanded, appearing at the bathroom door with hands on hips.
"Well, in my opinion..." It was too late. He'd started down the road. He had obliged himself to finish telling her. This was sure to be trouble. "I think he..." He was still having trouble saying it. "He was hoping to see what you look like in your nightgown," he blurted out, and added, "if you know what I mean."
There! He did it—delicately stated, but truthful nonetheless. The last part was to acknowledge his euphemism.
"No, Jolene, that's what I think," Avery answered.
Jolene thought for a minute. A smile spread over her face. Avery wondered if, perhaps, she wanted to show Bert what he wanted to see. More likely, she was taking pleasure in the knowledge she had just gained—that he wanted to see her, and do who-knows-what-else.
"And wouldn't you like to see Clara the same way?" Jolene demanded, jarring Avery to attention.
It was going too far. Avery feared what might happen if he lost control of things.
"I figure I already know, more-or-less," he said. "You're sisters, aren't you?"
Jolene cocked her head.
"Anyway, it's getting late," Avery reminded her. "We should get going."
They didn't bother to stop and collect Clara and Bert. They would meet them at the reception hall.
"Let's walk," Jolene said. "The weather's nice and it's right next door. Then we won't have to bother with parking."
Avery looked at the sky. Not much was happening. The late afternoon heat promised to turn into a balmy night.
"Sure, why not," he said, and they were on their way.
Avery knew the routine at Jolene's family weddings. First, was a cocktail hour, or so, at the bar, followed by a buffet dinner. The family had a lot of nieces and nephews, so there were many chances to practice the routine. This one was going off without a hitch.
Jolene wanted a Whisky Sour before dinner. Avery wondered why as he ordered it for her. It was a change. She usually nursed a white wine. Avery had a Scotch, as always. He looked around for Bert and Clara and finally spotted them at the other side of the room. He glanced at Jolene out of the corner of his eye to see if she was looking for them, too. She seemed to be wrapped up talking to one of her cousins.
He would have been surprised if Jolene had really been interested in Bert's surprise proposal. But, who could know? Jolene had become so unpredictable in recent years and Avery sensed for a long time that she was under-satisfied by him in bed, no matter how hard he tried.
He should have been angry at Bert for his crude attempt to gain permission for a round with Jolene. He was angry, but hardly in a way that would make the veins in his neck swell and his face turn crimson with rage. Maybe he should have said 'yes'—that would have served him right. Certainly he had no mind to accost Bert and set him straight. Probably, Bert endured some of the same frustrations with Clara as he suffered with Jolene, Avery reasoned. His anger calmed and turned into an irritation.
Avery figured that every man comes to a point in life when he senses the need to assert himself one final time—to prove potency and knowledge, and above all, the nerve to put those qualities to use. Avery—like most guys, stifled those feelings when they made themselves unwelcome guests. He kept them inside as inner thoughts. Perhaps Bert was having a hard time doing so.
There was no one close-by with whom Avery was interested in chatting, so he had time to ponder all these things. At long-last the guests began to move to the dinner tables.
"I'll find our place. You can get me another one of these," Jolene whispered to him, and pressed her empty cocktail glass into his hand.
"Are you sure?" he whispered back. "I think they'll probably serve champagne at the table."
"If you want, you can find our place cards and I can go to the bar," she answered.
Avery couldn't have that—his own wife bellying up to the open bar—so he turned without a word to fetch the drink. He still had plenty of his own scotch left, and he judged that to be a good thing.
He tipped the barman and turned to see that Jolene was sitting at a large, round table on the other side of the room. Bert and Clara were assigned to the same table, but on the opposite side. That suited Avery. He could keep an eye on Bert and see if he still had Jolene on his mind. Speaking of Jolene, she was sitting next to him, so he could keep his eye her, too, while she finished her second Whisky Sour.
Avery set Jolene's drink in front of her and took his seat. She was nibbling on a dinner roll.
"They're going to call our table to the buffet soon," she said.
He looked across the table to check on Bert. It was no use. The centerpiece hid him and Clara from view. Jolene began sipping on her fresh cocktail. It occurred to Avery that everyone was having a good time—except him. He always considered these family affairs more work than pleasure.
He sat through the dinner and all the toasts. It came and went, and he paid attention to very little of what went on. He didn't even remember what he ate for dinner. There was always a roast beef selection at these kinds of buffets. Avery always selected roast beef whenever he had the chance, so he must have eaten roast beef. He'd be damned if he could remember it.
Of course, there was champagne. The waiters filled all the glasses and left the remainders of the bottles on the tables. They drank it when the best man made a toast, and when the groom made a toast back, when the Father of the Bride made a toast and the Father of the Groom made one back to him. By that time the champagne bottles were empty, so the toasts were over... (Avery judged the groom's toast a good one, by engineering standards.)
There wasn't an actual band, but one of those DJ people who played selections through the stereo system. Before Avery knew it the bride was throwing her bouquet over her shoulder and behind her. Avery watched the eager bridesmaids, all standing in a row, hoping to catch it.
They were excited and the rising blood in their cheeks made them glow. They wore sleeveless summer gowns of pink, shiny fabric with low, draping necklines, something like Roman maidens of ancient times. To Avery's eye, a few of them looked like Jolene did when she was young.
After the tossing of the bouquet all the maidens formed a circle around the fortunate one who had the bouquet land in her hands. They began a ritual of squealing and giggling and hugging one another. They abandoned all reticence as bare arms and chiffon-draped breasts pressed together. Avery watched the dance and he thought he could feel the warm skin soothe away the chill of the air-conditioning in the banquet room.