The fire alarm sounded more like a foghorn, a blunt and continuous column of brutal noise. At 2:30 AM, most of the apartment building's residents were asleep, and had to jump up with a start out of bed. Rick, however, had gotten caught up in an intense (and lengthy) online argument about the viability of interstellar colonization, and was looking up material to use in his next salvo when the sudden droning broke into his private thoughts. In truth, this was his usual sleep patterns, staying up until the small hours, then dropping dead on his couch and waking up a bit after noon. He rarely slept in his bed, for reasons that didn't make much sense even to him.
It was the third fire alarm of that year, and Rick assumed that it was caused, like all the others, by drunken late-night cooking or a forgetful smoker or a duplicitous fog bank. Still, he went through his carefully-prepared routine, trying to stick the alarm in the back of his mind as he neatly packed his laptop case full of his most cherished possessions: computer, external hard drive, smart phone, a slim case of rare Magic: the Gathering cards, and a signed copy of Snow Crash. With that bag slung over his shoulder he began calmly making his way down the stairs, passed the alternately panicked and sleepy people jabbing at elevator buttons.
There was a crowd of people in the cold courtyard of the building, in various states of underdress. One joker had wrapped himself only in a towel, but seemed to be currently regretting his attempt at humour. There was this strange sociality caused by the alarm. People gathered in groups, caught up with neighbours they hadn't talked to in a while, made jokes and pressed together for warmth. Many of them were even smiling.
And then there was Rick, on the outside. He didn't know any of these people. It seemed tremendously silly to make friends with people he had nothing in common with, simply because they happened to live close to him. He kept to himself,, and as long as he could get to his apartment he would be fine. He had an endless array of entertainment there -- the Internet, of course, as well as a constant stream of the latest video games and movies. Rick went out occasionally, to tournaments and conventions and the dreadful parties of polite ex-coworkers, but he could go for weeks on his own without ever longing for company.
Here and now, with all those entertainments taken away, though, he discovered a strange feeling of loneliness. Even if the nattering of all the moms, with children pressing into their knees, was totally vapid and dull (as he was sure it was) ... he wanted to be in that conversation. It was stupid. It was a fire alarm. It wasn't a goddamn social occasion.
But he felt it, and the stupidity of that feeling made him even more frustrated. Tiring of the cold, Rick waited for a place to take shelter and wait until the firemen came to declare the obviously not-burning building a false alarm. The street was a patchwork of apartments and stores, but the only window with a light in it was the all-night Shopper's Drug Mart half a block down. He headed towards it.
Evidently Rick wasn't the only one with this idea, as the aisles of the store were jammed with the same chattering groups of stranded people as there were in the courtyard. Rick sighed and contented himself with the warmth. Some people had bought snacks from the store, one cluster of hipsters ravaging a box of granola bars, but for the most part they loitered. The store attendant looked on the sudden crowd in a daze, as though she was trying to determine whether or not she was in a dream.
Rick paced the store. There were a few other singletons there, generally strange-looking men with haunted eyes, although those might have been vagrants off the street. They didn't make Rick feel better. Ah well. Who cared what these people did or thought, anyway?
There was a small stand of top 40 books across from a sale on shampoo. Something to read would help pass the time. Rick picked out #1 (if it was #1, it had to be good, right?) and sat down on the dirty white floor to read it. He tried to find a way to lean against the precarious cardboard stand without knocking it over completely.
"I wouldn't bother with that one. The author's a hack."
Rick looked up. It was a woman, and clearly not one who had gotten out fully prepared. She was wearing a brown bathrobe that looked as though it had seen better days, with the hint of a black nightgown beneath it. The loose ends of the robe swished in front of Rick's face. Up past that woolly expanse was the face of the middle-aged woman, wrinkles just beginning to show, a few streaks of grey in her curly black hair. A quartet of dimples was arranged in her right cheek like a constellation. She looked entirely interchangeable with the moms grouped in gaggles that Rick had consciously done his best to ignore.
The woman kept staring, and rick realized that she was expecting an answer. "Oh, um, thanks. I wasn't expecting much, really, but I thought it'd keep me amused while we waited for, you know, the alarm."
"You're from my building?" said the woman. "Honestly, I wouldn't be able to tell. You look like you're ready to go out to work."
"I guess I am," he said. "I work from home. Freelance."
"That must be nice."
Rick shrugged. "It has its advantages. I mean, no one's watching the clock or anything -- I just have to get stuff done. Beyond that, I'm free." He stopped suddenly. Why was he telling this woman he didn't know about his life? She probably wasn't even interested. "I'm sorry. Why are you talking to me?"
She looked a bit taken aback at the question, but not angry. "Why? I dunno. To make conversation. You looked kind of lonely and, like you said, you gotta kill time."
"I wasn't lonely," Rick said quickly.
"My apologies then." The woman extended her hand. "My name's Jackie. Room 809."
"Rick. Room 807."
Jackie's hand hung in the air for a minute before she let it fall to her side. "Wow, you're two doors down! I can't believe we haven't met."
"I don't really socialize much."
"Me neither, to tell you the truth." Jackie moved her pinky to subtly point to the mom group cackling about something. "I'm not really the PTA meeting type."
Rick was beginning to get annoyed at this woman. The conversation seemed maddeningly superficial. He was sure he would never see her again, so what was the point of introductions? Still, he saw no plausible excuse to extract himself from the situation.
"What do you think is the story with all these alarms?" Jackie said, watching the flickering fire-truck lights give the darkness a strange red tinge.
Rick shrugged. Another pointless question. "They're too sensitive, I think. I had the same thing in my dorm in college."
Jackie crouched down next to him, and Rick instinctively shifted away. Her flabby, stubbly legs repulsed him in a way he couldn't quite define. "You want to know a secret?" He shrugged again. "One time it was me. I was kind of hung over, and I was trying to make oatmeal, but I forgot to put the water in. Next thing you know, the place is full of smoke."
"Maybe you shouldn't drink so much, then."
"This was one time, okay? It was after my girlfriend's birthday."
"You're a lesbian?"
Jackie looked taken aback, which had been pretty much the goal of the remark. "No. Girlfriend, as in my best friend. It's just an expression. Not that I have anything against, you know, gay people..." She trailed off.
Awkward silence, Rick's kingdom, reigned. He flipped through the pages of the paperback bestseller. It really did look like a piece of shit, he thought.
Jackie stood up abruptly, and in the process her bathrobe flared up. Rick couldn't help but look up to catch a glimpse. He could see her bare thighs, and a glimpse of a puffy triangle of brown hair. He hated when women grew out their pubic hair like that. Keep it bald, or just have a little landing strip, like everyone else, he thought. But then, the only time he saw anything like that was in porn that thought it was being au naturel or whatever.
"I think we can go back in now," she said.
She pointed to the crowd down the block, which was slowly filing into their building. If Rick turned his head to an awkward angle, he could see the bored firemen piling into their vehicle. He got up and grabbed his bag.
"You going to sleep after this, Mister Night Owl?" said Jackie.
Rick didn't like her teasing tone. It sounded too familiar, like she hadn't just met him five minutes ago. Or maybe it was ten by now. It was hard to gauge time within awkward silences. "Maybe. Probably not. If anything, this probably just woke me up more."
They shuffled out of the pharmacy's automatic doors. "Me, I need to be up at six to get to work. Hopefully I can get back to sleep ... normally I take a pill, you see, but I already took one this evening, and I don't know if it's okay to take two..."
God, how could she be talking about her medication and intimate habits? They had just met. You didn't share your personal habits and embarrassments with someone you just met. If you could help it, you didn't share them at all.
Of course, since they were on the same floor they were together until they got to their rooms, much to Rick's chagrin. Jackie reminded him of the middle-aged students from university (there was one in every class) who never stopped talking about their lives and their kids. They did a strange little dance when standing in the mob that had formed in front of the elevators. Jackie suggested taking the stairs, Rick said that he would wait and tried to wave goodbye, Jackie decided to wait with him because she really didn't feel like taking seven flights in her robe, Rick said he would take the stairs then, and in the end they both ended up pulling themselves up the long stairwell with its stucco halls and flickering white lighting.
"You know," said Rick, as he hauled his flabby body up the last flight. "If we had waited for the elevators we would be there by now."
"I guess," said Jackie. "But this feels so much more productive than waiting, doesn't it?"
Rick grumbled some guttural rebuttal and wheezed his way up to the top step. A rush of dizziness hit him, and he was afraid he might fall down, but he managed to stumble his way towards the door to the eighth floor. "I need to exercise more," he said in between pants.
"Me too," said Jackie, who was less sweaty but looked equally winded. They both laughed.
They were back in the comfortable and generic off-white hallway, where their doors sat nearby. The floor was quiet save for some faint laughing, presumably at the circumstances, from behind a closed door. "Well," said Jackie as she reached room 809. "After all of this excitement and exercise, I'm sure I won't be able to get any sleep."
Rick shrugged. "Well, hopefully you will. Good n--"
"I gotta take all this energy out on something, I guess." Jackie jerked her head towards her door ever so slightly.
Rick blinked quickly. Wait, was she -- no, she couldn't be. It was just his imagination. But was she-- no. No way.
"Well, good luck with that. Bye."
Jackie was halfway through a suggestion that they should talk more sometime, be neighbourly, when Rick sidestepped quickly into his apartment and swung the door shut behind him. He felt as though he had escaped a savage predator. But of course, she hadn't wanted to fuck him. That would be gross. Honestly, did she think he was that desperate?
Well, he was that desperate. But not for her. He wanted a pretty young girl, someone who was smart and soulful and would accept him for who he was, virginity and all. And that girl had to be coming along soon. He had been waiting for decades.
Jackie's heart was spasming as she let herself into her apartment. God, as if she hadn't made enough of a fool of herself running around on the street in just her robe. At her age she had imagined she was past spontaneous flings with younger men. And to be rejected, not just then but through all her attempts to make conversation ... she felt ugly. Monstrous.
Of course, Rick was no prince himself. He was known around the apartment complex as a weird loner, a pudgy geek-boy growing into a fat boy-man. Antisocial in the extreme, and rather obnoxious about it.
But there was something about him that drew Jackie to him. Maybe she sensed some kind of untapped potential. Maybe he was the closest thing to a bad boy she could find in her relentlessly polite social sphere. Or maybe it was just the weird tumblers of her libido doing their usual spinning.
Jackie tried to shake it out of her head. He wasn't worth getting upset about, no matter how strangely cute she found his acne scars. What she needed to worry about now was getting more than three hours of sleep for her shift tomorrow. Being the manager meant that you could doze off a bit in your office, but it was still better to be up and at'em. The problem was that she didn't feel tired at all.
She went over to Dante's cage and offered him some food. The iguana, appearing to be disturbed by the loud noises, immediately got up and trod over to the pellets. "All I need is you, right?" said Jackie. "No stinky boys necessary." Dante looked up at her skeptically, as if aware that she had left him to possibly die in a fire.
She had been living like this for twenty years, she thought. Every year she thought that soon she would get married and move into a big house and start pumping out babies, although that had become biologically unlikely. But every year it just didn't happen, and she contented herself to this. It was a nice way to live, she thought. Screw what other people thought. If living independently was so great when you were in your 20s, why did that have to change as the years went on? And the years only seemed massive in hindsight -- when lived through, they had seemed to slip through her fingers.
But it didn't comfort Jackie. She was sure that was just the weight of societal expectation bearing down on her, the arbitrary pain she felt whenever she did something un-feminine. In any case, now was not the time to be pondering the direction of her life. Now was the time to go back to bed.
She lay there, under the covers, hands pressed to her side as if to make her a smooth missile to fly to the land of slumber. But the thoughts just kept coming, no matter how hard she mentally batted them away. It was a reckoning, a self-confrontation like something out of a banal nightmare.
The next time Rick and Jackie ran into each other was a few days later, when they both left their apartments at the same time. Rick looked at her suspiciously. How was it that you could be unaware of people for months, and then they just suddenly kept showing up?
"Good morning," Jackie said. "Where are you off to?"
"The bank," Rick said stiffly, choosing not to give any details.
"I see." Jackie's lips pursed for a while as if searching for something interesting to say, and failing. "I'm going to work."
Rick nodded and stared at the elevator door. The creaky metal box began its slow descent. Rick had always wished that the elevator went faster than its gentle chugging, but never so much as now. There was something about this woman that really got under his skin.
"Do you know Jeff and Don?" she said.
"They live in 802. Anyway, they're having a floor party soon -- I forget what the occasion is, but they always manage to find one whenever things get too dull. You wanna come?"
Rick instantly thought back to his first year of college, when he had been foolish enough to sign up for a dorm in hopes of making friends and transforming himself into a cool college guy. He had ended up with a boisterous jock roommate, constantly chasing him out of the room so that he could score with drunk chicks. Rick had wandered those floor parties in a haze, sat in corners watching beer-pong games silently, and occasionally been roped into conversations where he was the unacknowledged butt of every joke. They didn't bully or insult him like the idiots in high school -- they just treated him like a joke, a comedic character who had been by stroke of good fortune placed in their lives. The girls, identical in their bleach-blonde hair and trendy clothing, had looked at him like a cute pet as he silently lusted after them.
But most of the time he had spent his parties curled up in his hard dorm bed, staring at a computer screen, trying to ignore the raucous sounds outside. Sometimes he would make snide commentary in his head, subjecting the moronic conversations of his alleged peers to the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 treatment. How many times could they play the same song, for instance? And why did someone always end up having to be talked out of the bathroom at 3 AM, when he had class the next morning? He had decided, in the end, that college was just the same assholes from high school all over again.
And he suspected that if he got to know his neighbours, the "average Joes" of the "real world", it would be yet another iteration of the same assholes. So, in short, he did not want to go to a "floor party".
"I think I'm busy then."
Jackie smiled. "I haven't even told you what time it is yet."
"Oh. Well when is it?"
"Tonight at 8."
"Like I said. Busy."
Jackie smiled. She looked like one of those do-gooder teachers who was always encouraging him to join some kind of club. "Yeah right. I'm going to drag you there, I hope you know."
"Joy." His voice was sarcastic but, for some stubbornly illogical reason, Rick felt a genuine tinge of relief, and maybe even happiness, within his chest.
The truth of the matter was, Rick didn't work that much anymore. In college he had invented a time-saving algorithm while fooling around during one of those late lonely nights, and had the good sense to patent it. It was a bit of code that didn't do much on its own but made everything a bit easier -- a bit of universal lubricant, as he described it, which in turn optimized output. It was now widely used, and the residuals from that were enough to keep Rick afloat by themselves, especially given his generally low expenses. (All he really needed to live was a small apartment, a good computer with a good Internet connection, and a supply of instant food. He wouldn't know what to do with more luxury.)
He took a couple freelance programming jobs here and there, and tooled around on a role-playing game that was and would probably forever remain a pet project, but for the most part his life was easy. Once upon a time, he had thought that a life like that would be heavenly, and he did enjoy most of his days. It was only when he looked back on months and years that he felt a kind of hollowness, or perhaps just a sense of waste. It was like that one Star Trek episode with the flowers that drugged you.
Rick had just spent twenty minutes in a meeting with a banker younger than him, one of those preppy types who expected to rule the world in a couple years. Rick explained over and over again that he just wanted safe investments, but the banker had kept trying to sell him some sketchy high-profit derivatives, until finally Rick had to threaten to literally just take his excess cash and shove it under a mattress. God, he hated dealing with people.
"Rick? Rick Dinsmore?"
He wheeled his head around, and caught his breath. It had been -- God, it had to have been a decade since he had seen Megan, but he knew instantly that it was her. She had let her dark hair grow out long, and filled out her previously scrawny form a bit since he had last seen her. That had been at an end-of-summer LAN party where their weird band of dorks and outsiders had played FPSs all night, desperately trying to fuse together before the gravitational forces of college scattered them across the country irrevocably. She looked more conventional now, but maybe that was just because she was at the bank.
Rick realized that he hadn't been talking, just working his lips a little. Megan was beginning to shuffle away, perhaps worrying that she had mistaken a stranger for him. So Rick tried to swallow the strange spiky thing that was in his throat and nodded his head. "Meg!"
"It is you!" She rushed him and caught him up in a hug that was entirely too stiff and powerful for someone of her size and body mass. Rick revelled in her warmth, feeling his heart speed up in his chest. His head felt hot, like he had been in the sun too much and was sure to wake up the next morning with red burns peeling off his cheeks. "God, for a minute there, I was worried that I had just been shouting at some random person."
"No, it was me," he said stupidly. "God, you look gorgeous." Why hadn't he been able to say that to her in high school, when he had brooded constantly in her shadow, feeling as though he would melt in the radiance rolling off her in waves? Of course, now it didn't matter, now it just felt like a pleasantry more than anything.
Megan looked him up and down. "You aged pretty well yourself. It's so weird that we would run into each other here."
"Yeah." Rick felt himself sweating. He should have showered before this. Why hadn't he showered?
"So how have you been this past decade or so?" They had made promises to keep in touch after high school, but never had. Rick had pressed the issue, sending countless instant messages in the first year of college, but Megan's responses eventually died away, with her much more successful college social life taking up all her time.
"Oh, you know ... hanging on." Rick stared at the strange pattern of flecked dots on the bank floor. "Doing some programming work. What about you?"
The details spilled out of Megan like he had unplugged a stopper: her life, in an incoherent jumble. Rick was able to pick out that she had just got out of law school and was interning at a firm in town, and that she was very excited about all of this. She had been there at the bank to take out a lone for her new house.
"It's great that you're back in town," said Rick. "We should, er, get together some time." That was, he was sure, the way adults talked. He had seen it on TV.
"Yeah!" Megan beamed. "Man, remember when we would get together in my basement and watch the Terminator movies like, every other weekend? Those tapes were completely wrecked by the time we graduated. We should do that again. There are like, two whole more Terminator movies by now."
"Eh, they weren't very good."
"So I heard. But we should do it anyway. Add me on Facebook and we'll make some plans."
Rick tried to look up at Megan's face, but it was like some super-gravitational force was pulling his head down. The end result of the struggle was that his eyes were stuck in the middle, staring down her revealing red blouse. "I don't have Facebook."
He managed to get his head up just in time to see an expression of complete puzzlement on Megan's face, as though he had said he didn't breathe oxygen. "Um, okay. Here, give me your cell. I'll text you."
Rick hastily scribbled down the number. All the while he felt vaguely disturbed. This perky, conventionally hot, social networking young professional didn't seem like the grungy outcast Megan he had known in high school. To be honest, she seemed interchangeable with any of the vapid young girls whose eyes passed right over him and filled him with a rage he didn't quite understand. It felt a bit like he was being deceived. He had heard once about a mental disorder where the person believed that everyone around them had been replaced by perfect imposters, and that seemed like what he was feeling -- except that this bubbly Megan was about as bad an imposter as you could get while still being the right gender.
This new Megan's fingers moved in a flicker over her phone's number pad, presumably entering him into a database of hundreds of fascinating people. "Got it. Man, it's been great running into you, but I've got to be on the other side of town in half an hour. See you later!"
Rick stood in a daze after he had gone. The security guards gave him funny looks, but he was too wrapped up in that strange and most rare bliss -- a pleasant surprise.
Rick stood in front of the door covered in flaking green paint. He knew that he shouldn't be intimidated by that door, as it looked the same as his and indeed every other one in the building. Indeed, the paint even seemed to fall away in the same clumps, forming identical constellations of hard metal underneath. But he couldn't bring himself to knock, especially when he heard the occasional enthusiastic bellow from beyond the door. His fists felt like lead weights.
He was caught lingering in front of the floor party by the next partygoer, holding a two-four to his chest with both hands. "Hey man. Can you get the door for me?"
Rick froze, trying not to panic. This guy looked a bit like the kids who had beat him up decades ago -- the ones who were not so much strong or muscular as just big, with more than a bit of fat around their bellies. Maybe he had been one of those kids, and having to share a hallway with him was purgatory for them both. He realized that at this point not opening the door would lead to greater awkwardness, and put his hand on the cold doorknob.
"Head on in. Don't worry, the party's swinging, nobody's gonna chase you out. You from this floor?"
"Awesome. I thought I had seen you around."
Rick pushed the door open. Inside was a cacophony of sights, sounds, and smell -- too many sensations for Rick to handle at one time. Radio rock clashed with the jocular commentary from the football game on the TV and what sounded like at least five different people. There were so many people that Rick's eyes could decide on one person or group to focus upon and instead flitted around the room like a manic squirrel. The corner of the box of beer nudged at his back, and he stumbled forward into the living room.
"Hey!" It was Jackie, already a little red-faced from drink, sitting on a far couch. "I knew you would come. Everyone, this is Rick. He's the hermit from 807."
A general roar of greeting went up, and Rick managed to move his hand in a sideways motion that vaguely resembled a wave. He was stock still, not sure where to go -- social death seemed to await at every corner. No, that was ridiculous. This was just a stupid party. No need to act like a spaz about everything.
He walked over to Jackie, making tremendous effort to use a casual enough gait. She had an indulgent smile on her face. "So this is it?"
"Yeah. It's fun to let loose and hang out with friends every once in a while, isn't it?"
"I don't know any of these people."
She tsk-tsked, sounding disappointed. "Well, let's solve that." This was followed by a round of introductions, each one more forgettable than the last. The people seemed shockingly frail and unimpressive up close, far from the booming thunder he had heard from the hallway. Some were balding, others walked with slight limps, while still others had speech impediments or accents (it was hard to tell which was which sometimes) that made everything they say sound like a bad sketch comedy bit. The floor party included people of all ages and ways of life, including a few people younger even than Rick, college kids crouched in a bohemian circle. It was a singularly unimpressive cross-section of humanity.
Jackie kept her position near Rick, like some kind of personal assistant. She inserted him into conversations like some kind of power tool, constantly fed him leading questions, and smiled at all his hesitant attempts at jokes.
One time he had went to go to the bathroom and Jackie followed him without thinking. He turned and cast her the dirtiest look he could muster up. "I'm not a special ed kid, you know," he said, whispering cruelly enough that it could reasonably be described as a hiss. "I don't need a helper."
"Of course not" said Jackie. Now it was her turn to stare at the floor. "Sorry, I didn't realize, I was..."
"Whatever." Rick went to storm off to the bathroom, but it was currently occupied. So he just stood there awkwardly and stared at Jackie until she backed off into the crowd, doing all of the storming for him.
After that Rick turned into his usual jellyfish mode, floating on the tides of banal conversation, nodding, sitting in corners, never drawing much attention. He quietly excused himself an hour or two later, telling Jeff (the one host he could find) that he had work to do. Nobody really noticed as he slipped away. Even Jackie was on a couch talking to a couple women he didn't know. They looked like representatives of the council of moms he had seen during the fire alarm.
It hadn't been that bad, he thought on the short walk back to his apartment. The people were nice, if kind of boring. It certainly wasn't the most painful social occasion he had been to. But it had been resolutely dull. Most of all, these just weren't his people. He had tried to tell an Internet-derived joke at one point and gotten nothing but blank stares. These were the peoples who got up early every morning, went to work, came home in the evening, said hello to their kids, had supper, watched sports, kissed the spouse goodnight, and then started it all over again. That lifestyle was unfathomable to Rick.
Then again, it wasn't like he had a lot of friends in the geek crowd either. But ... Megan.
It hit him like an electrical shock. Megan. How had he forgotten about her, even for a moment? She had been so pretty, and so friendly ... and she wanted to get to know him again. To reconnect. She had asked for his number. Jesus Christ, that had to be a sign.
In his apartment Rick found his way to his apartment and immediately collapsed onto his couch. In the stucco configurations of his ceiling he saw Megan's face. Megan, who he had nursed a silent crush on for all of high school. She was his idea of the perfect girl -- hot, in the casual-alternative-tomboy sort of way, smart, geeky, nice, and most of all willing to talk to him. He had never asked her out, of course. He didn't think she had any interest in him, and besides which, he didn't want to jeopardize their friendship. (Or at least that was the noble-sounding excuse he used for his cowardice). Most of all he treasured the chance to be close to her, to breathe the goddess's breath, and wouldn't risk giving that up in order to chase an impossible dream.
But he had lost her, and lost her through inertia instead of courage. This time he could do it. And she would be mature enough and smart enough to see his feelings for her, and consider him for more than his surface appearance. Maybe a break was what they had needed, to see each other in new contexts.
As he stared up at the ceiling, it all unfolded before him like a reel of film. Their relationship, the awkward first date, the slow flames of love, kissing, sex ... Rick felt as though he was narrating it all to his future children. A strange feeling of wonder came over him. He was glad he hadn't thrown himself after the dumb girls from college, or changed himself trying to appeal to him. It had been a long wait, but his first time with Megan would be truly special.
He stayed on the couch for a good long while, caught up in the intoxicating dreams.
When she was a kid, Jackie had wanted to be a doctor. The power to help people -- no, not just help people, but repair them, save their lives and make them whole again -- it seemed like the ultimate goal, the only thing worth pursuing. She adopted menageries of abandoned or stray pets, often nursing injured ones back to health before releasing them into the wilds of suburbia. But she had no head for science, and was politely told by a high school guidance counsellor that her marks in the quantitative subject had more or less disqualified her from that dream. For a while she pursued being a social worker, but had flunked out of that program eventually as well.
By any account she should have outgrown her impulse to fix people, but it kept coming back. It was all that could account for a long string of sleazy boyfriends she had wanted to transform into model citizens. In her fantasies they would hug her close at nice middle-class barbecues and talk about how they owed everything to her. That was what romance was made of, after all. But it never ended up that way.
Rick was a different kind of project. She didn't have to tame him into domesticity -- if anything, she needed to induce a little wildness. At first she had thought that all he had needed was to get laid, but her attempts t that quick fix had just made him uncomfortable. And the floor party hadn't really worked either.
Jackie felt vaguely as though she was a spider carefully lying in wait for some innocent prey. Maybe this was where the whole "cougar" thing came from. It certainly felt nice to be the predator for once.
Still, how to track this most elusive of game...
She had managed to detach herself from the party fairly early. Not as early as the fleeing Rick, of course, but before the vague aura of regret settled over the night and everyone started talking really quietly. She made her way to her apartment, vaguely drunk, and considered dropping in on Rick. If she really tried, she could seduce him -- he didn't seem like the Puritan sort, after all. But that was a bit too blatant for her style.
In the hallway of her place she managed to kick off her shoes without falling down, which was always a risk after these sorts of parties. Dante stared back at her with those black, never-blinking eyes, hungry for food. Jackie managed to pour him some, although her shaking hand sent it spiralling all over his cage. Maybe she was more drunk than she thought.
It was past her usual bedtime, and she had another early morning, but she didn't feel like sleeping. Jackie collapsed on her bed. Rick was still hanging around the back of her mind. What a weirdo. Why couldn't she stop thinking about him?
Inspiration struck. Jackie fumbled around beneath her bed until she produced a familiar, innocuous looking shoebox. Inside, however, was a rainbow of plastic and silicon, all of it distinctly phallic. She had built up quite the selection over the years. In her lighter moments, Jackie liked to think of herself as a connoisseur of sex toys. In her darker moments she just thought that this box was tremendously depressing.
She chose her weapon of choice for tonight, a thick devil-red vibrator. She flipped the switch and felt it purr in her hands. Yep, this one definitely had enough battery power left.
Jackie tugged off her top and bra, and shimmied out of her skirt and panties. She left her clothes neatly folded right next to her nightstand. She liked to be organized, so there would be nothing interrupting her.
She caught her nude body in the mirror and took a moment to examine it. She was still a nice-looking woman, if she did say so herself. Her breasts were heavy and fully round, near perfect fleshy spheres that sagged just a little bit, with her dark red nipples pointing directly to the crotch of an invisible suitor. Her pussy, sitting coyly beneath a bushy black triangle, was bright pink and glistening, almost like a toy. Hell, Jackie thought, forget still. She looked better than she had twenty years ago -- different, but in her mind better.
Jackie sat back onto her soft bed and stretched out her limbs to her fullest extent, spreading herself eagle in order to really feel the full length of her body. She began with her breasts, running her fingers gently over their soft flesh, just barely brushing her areolae. She liked to imagine a lover hovering above her, touching and teasing her, gently kissing her neck and waiting until she begged him to take her. Sometimes it was a past lover, although few of those has been so gentle in bed. Sometimes it was a movie star, or someone she had seen on the street, or just a vague ur-male with whatever traits she found attractive that second.
This time, it was Rick. She could see him, naked above her, his slim muscular form pulsing with nervous energy. This time the halting softness of his touch was not due to teasing, but from the hesitancy of inexperience. She imagined gently guiding his thick, hard cock to her folds and feeling him push in, ever so slowly. It sent a shiver of excitement through Jackie, and her nipples suddenly felt tight and hard.
Her hands roamed her body, directed by only some vague subconscious will. They made intricate circles on her thighs and the undersides of her knees, caressed her belly and her flank, before rising up to grab her breasts, rougher again this time, kneading the flesh directly and flicking a thumb over her peaks. She pictured Rick getting bolder, discovering the delights of the female form, and a mature body and earthy sexuality that none of his younger girlfriends could have offered.
There was now an urgent feeling of need and hunger coming from her pussy, and Jackie never could resist temptation for very long. She ran her fingers along the slit, another form of the tease, and brushed the area around her clit. Carefully, as if mimicking the fantasy actions of her younger lover, she put a tentative thumb on the little bud of pleasure and slid her index finger into her thoroughly wet cunt.
She could bring herself off just like this, she knew, making circling rhythms with the thumb and curling her fingers up to reach her G-spot. In fact, she shuddered at some of the orgasms she had had, times when she had reduced herself to goo using only her fingers. And, as she fell into that steady rhythm, arcing her back to put herself fully into the cycle, that was a tempting thought. But her red vibrator still lay there on the bed patiently, and the second her eyes fell across it she knew that she needed it in her.
Jackie now imagined Rick, nude and perched at her entrance with his long hard cock, but still a little afraid. She would ask him if she thought he was disgusting and he would tell her she was so beautiful he was scared. She would kiss him and whisper something comforting in his ear and then, slowly, he would push his cock into her.
In the real world, she was too worked up for the slow approach. She thrust the red phallus into her all at once, and sat up at the shock of sudden fullness. This one usually felt a little uncomfortable at first, but once she got used to its girth she could well and truly fuck herself. Slowly she began working her wrist in a familiar circular motion, driving the toy up and inside of her. It wasn't quite the rhythm of fucking, but in some ways it was better.