A quick note. A funny thing happened while writing this story. It started out to be a sex story with all the four lettered words and graphic descriptions you'd expect from a stroker. However my characters refused to co-operate. When I'd sit down at the keyboard they simply wouldn't do what I wanted. Gail decided she wasn't just an addle-brained hose bag with a sex addiction, and Bob, ever the class act, wouldn't treat her like one. I did it their way and what I ended up with was a quirky little romance. So, if you're looking for a lot of hot sex, turn back now, it's not happening today. But if you stick around to read their story, I'm sure my two little malcontents will be appreciative. Either way, thanks for stopping by.
If one were to see Gail Madison as she walked through March's Department Store they probably wouldn't be impressed with her one way or another. At first glance she was neither attractive nor unattractive. In her late thirties, she seemed slightly taller than average for a woman. She was lean, but not skinny, however the loose fitting slacks she wore to work exaggerated the thinness of her legs; actually, while slim, they were well formed and shapely. Her blond hair seemed relatively short, but it was long enough for her to wear it in a small comma shaped pony tail, with bangs in front covering her forehead. Light complexioned with pale blue eyes, her otherwise pretty face had a kind of washed out appearance. This, combined with the solemn expression she usually wore, gave one the impression she was aloof and unsociable. The fact is you might say that she had just missed being beautiful, however you have to know two things. First, just missing being beautiful isn't a bad thing, it means you're better than average. Secondly, her friends, the ones who'd seen her relaxed and happy, knew that she hadn't missed at all; she was beautiful in her own way. And now, unbeknownst to her, Bob Rice knew it also.
Two nights earlier, she and her friend, Marion from housewares, had gone to a local Christmas street festival. It was an enjoyable night, chilly but not very cold with some occasional snow flurries to add to the holiday ambiance. Local amateur artisans were selling their wares, food stands abounded, and a brass band played carols amid the abundant Christmas decorations. That's where they ran into Bob.
Bob Rice was manager of the Sporting Goods Department at March's. They all knew each other casually, nodding acquaintances. The store seemed like a large place, but if you worked there awhile, you became aware of everybody else that worked there. So when they stumbled into each other that night, it was like an unexpected meeting of old friends. They exchanged greetings much more warmly than they ever had at work. The spirit of the holiday was at work. It seemed Bob was there with a friend, whose wife was working at one of the stands. He wondered off on his own while his buddy stopped to visit her.
"And where's your wife tonight?" Marion asked.
"Ex-wife," he responded jokingly, "and I don't really care where she is, as long as it isn't here."
"That puts you and Gail in the same boat. Mine is working tonight."
He looked at Gail and smiled, "Another happy loser. How long have you been a member of our little club?"
"Five years and counting."
"I've got you beat, seven years. Look, there's a stand over there selling mulled wine, can I buy you guys a round? I assume you're both over twenty one."
Marion, who was a few months shy of fifty, chuckled and looked at Gail, "I think this one is gonna' try and get us drunk. But I'm game, how about you?"
"I think we can risk it. I'd love one actually."
So the three of them made their way down the crowded street to the stand where a large sign proclaimed it to be "The Wine Shoppe". The wine wasn't bad, nothing to brag about but it was warm and spiced and pleasant. One had the feeling they had taken every short cut in the book while making it. But one must expect this at a street fair. As they stood sipping the wine, Bob looked at Marion.
"OK, I've got your story, husband's busy." Then turning to Gail, "Now, what are doing here all alone? Nobody's snatched you up again?"
"Hey," Marion interjected her voice full of mock insult, "she's not alone, she's with me. And for your information, Gail's particular as to whom she lets snatch her up."
Far from angry, Marion knew he was fishing of answers and wanted to keep the conversation going. She raised her head theatrically with her nose in the air in a pose of wounded superiority.
"So, there." Then turning to Gail, "Tell him, sister."
Bob and Gail laughed at her performance. Grinning, Gail spoke up, "I think you put him in his place sufficiently."
Bob lowered his head in a sign of chastised humility. But when he looked up, looking at Gail's face, her cheeks flushed from the chill, the open mouthed smile, the lights from the decorations reflected in her eyes, he saw the true beauty in her. While Marion suspected it, Gail didn't realize that at that moment she'd stolen a piece of his heart.
As for her being alone, she had always figured after her divorce she would meet someone. All she seemed to attract however were men who were on the make; ones who believed all divorced women where easy. It was the old "once they've had it on a regular basis, they can't live without it" myth. She avoided these ones like the plague. But she didn't understand that the somber expression that she often wore gave her an unfriendly appearance. This tended to keep the type of men she was interested in away, until now.
Bob was tired of being alone also and now that he was aware of Gail he decided he had to move quickly. The more her saw of her, the more enthralled he became. He really couldn't believe she was unattached and available. Then he remembered, he hadn't paid any attention to her until he saw her that night. That was about to change.
So when Gail went into the stockroom and saw Bob talking to her boss, she was surprised. She'd never seen him in the Ladies Wear backroom before. But, figuring it was none of her business, she went about her work. As she was unpacking a shipment of blouses she heard him behind her.
"There's one half of the dynamic duo."
She looked over her shoulder and flashed him a smile. "Hi, what brings you to Ladies Wear?"
"Looking for a new girdle," he joked, "I put on some weight since Thanksgiving and I need a quick fix."
"Wrong department, foundation garments are next door in lingerie."
"Aw, wrong answer. You were supposed to tell me I don't need a girdle."
Again she flashed the smile, "Well, how would I know? You said you needed a new one, for all I know you've got a full corset on underneath."
"You've got me there." He didn't want to risk insulting her by offering to show her what he was wearing underneath. He changed the subject.
"It seemed to me the other night that you're really into the whole Christmas thing."
"Yes, I am," she turned to face him, "it kind of brings back memories of when I was a kid. Don't you like it?"
"Of course I do. Here's the thing; I've got two tickets to this Christmas concert, pageant, or whatever that the City Cultural Association is putting on and no one to go with me. I was wondering if you'd consider going."
She stopped and thought for a moment. A guy who she'd never have expected to pay her any attention had just asked her out for a date. You can't judge a book by the cover, but the little she'd seen of him, he didn't seem to be one of the horny clowns she'd been meeting, just out for a cheap, quick romp between the sheets, but then you never could be sure. Well, she thought to herself, she couldn't bitch about not meeting men if she didn't give them a fair chance.
"Sounds interesting, when is it?"
"Thursday, next week. Starts at eight"
"I think I'm free." Believing she sounded a little too casual, she added, "I'd love to go."
"Great, we can talk at lunch and work out the details. Now, I've got to get back to work." He started to walk away, paused, then called over his shoulder, "Thanks, I'm looking forward to it."
He had not only asked her for a date, but they were having lunch together. The million dollar smile on her face was replaced with one of pleased bemusement as he walked away.
"I'll be damned." She murmured to herself, "Who would have guessed it?"
Their lunch together was simple, he met her in the employees break area and they made plans. On the night in question, he would pick her up at six; they'd have dinner, and then off to the concert. Afterwards, that would depend on how they felt. In the days between, neither really spoke much about it. They were both eagerly anticipating it, but were both trying to appear nonchalant. It was time lost, it was foolish, it was also human.
The day of the concert, it occurred to them that neither knew how to dress for this thing; they decided casual would be best as long as they didn't go in jeans and tee-shirts. When Bob arrived to pick her up, Gail realized they had similar taste in clothes. Both chose sweaters and slacks but, then she thought what else would you wear this time of year? At least they weren't matching outfits. She always hated seeing men and women dressed alike. He had a Nordic print sweater over tan slacks; she'd chosen a black turtleneck over dark blue slacks. They had similar taste, but with a different touch.
They had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where over pasta and Chianti they finally began to get to know each other. She asked about his hobbies.
"Don't know if I have any, really. I've a rack of beer steins, I guess that's a hobby. Not the instant collectables type, the older ones; brewery promotionals from the fifties and sixties. From back in the days when distributors passed them out to bars for advertising. I read and watch TV a lot, does that count?"
"No on the TV, yes on the reading. I read a lot too. My kindle is always close at hand."
"I haven't gone electronic yet, I'm a dinosaur that likes the feel of paper and ink. I've a closet full of paperbacks; can't seem to bring myself to throw them out."
"Well, that's a hobby also. What sort of things do you like to read?"
He hesitated, "Most of the classics, but the early twentieth century stuff is my favorite: people like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Lewis, and O Henry, of course."
Her elbows were on the table with the fingers of her hands interlocked, forming a kind of bridge that she rested her chin on.
"Interesting, I read a lot of classics too, but I must admit there's a few Harlequin Romances in the mix." She shrugged her shoulders, "I'm a girl after all. But I didn't hear any Sports Illustrated or Playboy on your list."
"No, but I do have a copy of the first Playboy I ever bought safely tucked away."
"We'll overlook that one. Your first one, you're entitled to. It must've been a milestone in your younger years went you finally worked up the nerve to buy one."
He gave her a bewildered look, then in a quiet voice, "Younger days hell, it was two weeks ago."
Gail gave a laugh and, lifting her chin up shook her head. It was one of those small things that make a big difference, they had just learned to relax around each other. From there on the conversation flowed easily. They talked as if they were old friends, no one would guess that they had never said more than hello to each other until a week and a half ago.
Leaving the restaurant, they drove to the theater where the concert was being held. Inside the lobby, above a counter they saw a sign, "The Wine Shoppe". It was the same one from the street fair.
"Hey, look" he laughed, "it's our place."
"It's nice of them to follow us."
"Yeah, a regular movable feast. So let me buy you a mulled wine, for old time's sake."
Sipping the warm, sweet wine out of a paper coffee cup, Gail thought she'd really rather the Chianti they had with dinner. But on the other hand, mulled wine was traditional to the season and it added to the holiday atmosphere. It was like fruitcake, few people claimed to liking it, but almost everybody bought one for the holidays.
Finishing their wine, they went in and found their seats and waited for the show to begin. It was an enjoyable program. The local amateur philharmonic orchestra was the main feature playing a mix of Christmas carols and selections from Handel's "Messiah". A couple of choirs sang accompaniments. Gail actually enjoyed it, but she had the impression that Bob wasn't quite as enthusiastic as she was. In fact, she suspected that when he excused himself the go to the men's room, he was actually hitting the Wine Shoppe. She thought it was sweet of him to bring her even though it wasn't his cup of tea. Then she realized that he didn't know she liked orchestra music when he asked her to come. He'd probably bought the tickets just to have a reason to ask her out; she found that to be endearing.
After the concert they stopped at a bar for a nightcap, figuring the wine they had at dinner had probably worn off. It was a bar Bob was familiar with; he steered her towards a table where they could talk rather than the bar itself. He ordered a cheese platter and a beer for himself, Gail stayed with wine.
"So, what do you do on the holidays," he asked her, "anything special?"
"Christmas Eve I like to go to midnight mass, been doing that since I was a kid. Christmas day I go to my sister's, the whole family gets together for dinner. How about you, what do you do?"
"Nothing special, it varies from year to year. I didn't know any churches still had midnight mass. Seems like most have it at eight or nine at night anymore."
"No, some still have the shepherd's mass. You Catholic by any chance?"
"I was raised as one," he shrugged his shoulders, "guess it didn't stick. Haven't been to church in years. Never did go to midnight mass on Christmas, I always wondered if I missed something."
"It's just a mass, but the organist plays carols, and the choir sings them. A lot like what you suffered through tonight."
"I wasn't suffering," there was a surprised tone in his voice; "I enjoyed being there with you. Didn't you like it?"
"I loved it, I just, I didn't mean," she paused, "I was just trying to be funny. But, if you'd like to see a midnight mass, you're welcome to come with."
He looked up, "You're serious?"
"Of course; I'd love the company."
"As long as you're sure I'm not intruding, I'll be there. But, this isn't something you do with your family or anything is it? I really don't want to butt in on them."
"No, I usually go alone. My brother and sister never got into it that much. I'd love to have somebody with me for a change, I feel kind of conspicuous being there by myself."
"Well, we can't have that. If you're sure it's OK, I'll be there."
It was that simple, he was going. He was amazed that he had just made a date to go to church of all places and wondered exactly what hold this woman had on him. All he was sure of was that he wanted to be with her and was willing to take every opportunity that presented itself to do so. What, he thought to himself, was the name of that old song? "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered", that was it; it certainly seemed to apply to him at this moment. Oddly, it was a good feeling.
When he took her home, Bob walked her to her door. Gail wasn't sure what to say, but she knew she had to break the silence.
"Would you like to come in? You could have one more, for the road."
"No, I mean I'd like to, but I really have to get up early tomorrow. Can I have a rain check?"
"Christmas Eve. After I get back from church I usually have something to eat. If I have company, it'll give me an excuse to have something special. Unless you've changed your mind about it."
'No, no I haven't, I'll be there. And I really do have to get up early. Trust me, I'd like nothing more than to have a nightcap with you right now, but I'll be useless tomorrow."
When they reached her door, he watched as she unlocked it and swung it open. She turned to face him and spoke softly.
"Good night then, I guess."
"Yeah," he nodded his head. "We can work out the details for Christmas Eve at work." He paused slightly, "Good thing we work together, otherwise how would we ever finalize our plans?"
It was an awkward statement; Gail just looked at him and smiled. Then he placed his hand on her cheek and bent down to kiss her. On the surface it was a just a simple kiss, tender and uncomplicated. In reality it was three kisses; the first a general kiss on the lips followed by two more, one on her lower lip and one on the upper lip. Gail was tempted to respond passionately, but felt the unpretentiousness and honesty of the kiss conveyed more emotion than any French style, tongue in mouth, spit swapping lip lock ever could. She chose not to do anything to corrupt it.
As he straightened up after the kiss, she looked up at him. Her breathing had grown heavier and she felt a fluttery feeling in her chest as she became physically aroused, but still she did nothing. She was savoring the mood. If he wanted to wait a month of Sundays to take it to the next level, she was willing to wait. For the first time she was sure he had feelings for her; she wasn't sure how deep they ran, but he wasn't just trying to get into her pants. She was enjoying every second of it. She'd discovered what a turn on anticipation could be.
"See you at work," he whispered.
Gail nodded and watched as he went down the walk. Then she closed the door and turned around, leaning back against it. Arms crossed she looked up at the ceiling briefly, then closed her eyes. She was trying to understand what was happening. This man whom she had seen around the store ever since she'd started working there and who'd never seemed to notice her, had just made a date to go to church with her, despite not being very religious. She'd seen him talk and flirt with other women at work, women who were more attractive or younger than herself and he was completely at ease, the picture of self-confidence and yet she'd just watched him shuffling and uneasy, like a teenager with his first crush. She'd been disappointed when he turned down her offer to come in, she'd felt kind of slighted, but then there was that damned kiss, the unspoken promise of more to come. She had literally melted.
She was beginning to allow herself to believe that perhaps it was love, but that might be wishing for too much. Still, if all he wanted was to get laid, he could have had that tonight, she'd been his for the taking. But he'd chosen to go slow. Perhaps, just maybe, she thought, he wanted to win her rather than just take her. She hoped so, the next few days would probably tell. Then looking down at her breasts above the crossed forearms, she exhaled and lightly bit her lower lip nervously. The next few days will tell, she thought as she walked away.
Christmas Eve arrived; they both had to work during the day until March's shut their doors at six in the evening. As closing time approached, everybody began to exchange holiday greetings. When Bob came up to her, she was half expecting him to cancel out on her.
"So, ten, ten thirty at the latest OK?"
"Yep, the church is only five blocks from my place. I like walking there and looking at the lights. Is that all right with you?"
"Oh, this is your show. We'll do whatever you usually do. A walk on Christmas Eve sounds good to me. I'll be there."
"I'll be waiting." She almost called him honey, but caught herself at the last minute.
At ten thirty the doorbell rang. When she opened it, Bob was standing there holding a shopping bag. He stepped in and held the bag out to her with an air of uneasy self-consciousness.
"Ah, for under your tree, assuming you have one; merry Christmas."
"I do, and thank you, how sweet. You didn't have to, I'm glad you did, but I really wasn't expecting anything."
"My grandmother always said never go visiting empty handed," he responded almost shyly, "especially on the holidays. You know, knock on the door with your elbows, because your hands are full."
"Well, thanks to your grandmother too, it's a lovely tradition."
"I don't know if it was lovely or just Granma's way of making sure we always brought her stuff when we dropped in."
"Nonsense," she chided, "if your Grandmother was anything like you, she was probably a class act. You got it from somewhere."
She didn't realize it, but that was the first direct complement she'd paid him. The effect was subtle, but far reaching. For the first time Bob was sure that this enchanting woman had a favorable opinion of him. Now he was waiting for the right moment to let her know how he felt, how much he wanted her. He watched as she set the shopping bag down by a four foot artificial tree and removed the three wrapped packages, placing them in the modest pile already under it.
She was impressed with the fact that he'd brought three; she had gotten him something too, but had thought that it might be too early in their relationship for presents. Now she felt foolish; obviously it wasn't. Fortunately she'd wrapped it before she'd changed her mind, it was in the closet ready to go.
"Great minds must think alike," she said as she went to retrieve it. "I got something for you, too. Merry Christmas."
She returned and handed him a small package. "Here you go. It isn't much, but I hope you like it."
"Thanks, I'm sure I will. Now, we're not going to open these now, are we?"
"That would be up to you, I prefer to wait until Christmas morning."
"That's what we'll do then."
Her hair wasn't in the usual pony tail. Hanging down, slightly wavy, it framed her face attractively. It was longer than he'd thought. Combine that with her smile and he couldn't take his eyes off her.
"I've never seen you with your hair down before. It looks nice that way."
"Thanks, I like to keep it pulled back mostly, but on special occasions I wear it down." Then something occurred to her, "I don't mean last week's concert wasn't special, but we had decided on going casual."
"Oh, don't apologize, you looked great. It's not an either or kind of thing, you look good both ways."
She had to admit, he had a way of saying the right thing. When the time came to leave for church, they started out walking side by side, commenting on the decorations they encountered on the way. About half way there he reached down and took her hand, surprised she gave his a quick squeeze. Much like the kiss the other night, there seemed to be something more to it than met the eye. She wondered if it was just wishful thinking on her part, but it did seem like he honestly cared about her. The problem was she had been fooled before and didn't want it to happen again. Still, it was a pleasant feeling, walking hand in hand. For the first time in a long while, she wasn't alone.
At the church he realized it had been so long a time since he'd been to mass, he no longer remembered the parts of the ritual; when to sit stand or kneel. This would not be a big problem, he would just follow the crowd and do what they did. But it also meant that once the mass started he had reason to keep looking over at Gail to be sure he was doing things right. He was struck by two things. First her apparent devoutness, she didn't seem to be just going through the motions like so many others. The other thing was the change in her expression. No longer the somber look he had seen in the store for years or the gorgeous smile that had seized his heart. It was replaced with one of beatific serenity. It was beguiling; the term Christmas angel ran through his mind.
After the mass ended, the organist and the choir gave a short program of Christmas carols, mostly with a religious theme; "Oh Holy Night", "Little Town of Bethlehem", "Silent Night", etc. It was simple but it helped put one in the spirit of the holidays. When they left the church, Gail took his arm as they walked back to her place.
"Thanks for coming, for once I didn't feel like an old maid."
"You're far from an old maid, besides, I kind of liked it."
"Coming back into the fold?"
"No, I don't think so. Don't let's get carried away."
The thought that he might feel that she was pushing it ran through her mind. It hadn't been her intention to be preachy. Good men were hard to find, and she felt she was with one now. The last thing she wanted was to drive him away with a perceived fit of religious fervor. Then she felt him pat her hand that was holding his arm and she knew he hadn't been insulted. They walked quietly the rest of the way, each not sure what the other was thinking. Finally they reached her door and went in.
"I know I said I'd make something special, but I got really busy the last few days so all I made was a fondue. I hope you don't mind."
"No, not at all. In fact it is a little late to have a big meal, bread and cheese works for me."
"It's been warming up in a small crock pot, so it should be ready now. Put your coat anywhere and go sit on the sofa, I'll bring it in."
"You sure I can't help with something? I mean, I'd be glad to."
"Yeah, OK, you're in charge of the drinks." She started cutting some rye bread into cubes, "There's some wine and beer in the 'fridge. Wine for me, take what you want. There are glasses in the top cabinet."
Looking in the refrigerator he saw a six pack of Bud and a bottle of Manischewitz. He poured her a glass of the sweet wine and took a beer for himself. Taking them into the living room, he set them down on the coffee table and returned to the kitchen. She handed him the plate of bread cubes, then followed him into the living room with the crock of melted cheese. She had decided on the fondue deliberately, in order to eat it they had to sit close together.
While they sat dipping the forks full of bread into the cheese and sipping their drinks, they talked about their childhood Christmases. They made comparisons, saw the similarities and the differences. From there they talked about their exes; each concluded the other had foolishly married a jerk. As the cheese ran out, so did their energy. It had been a long day and now it was two in the morning. Gail wasn't sure what she'd expected to happen, but whatever it had been, it hadn't happened. It had been an enjoyable night and she was glad he'd come, but that was all.
However, when she leaned forward to deposit her fork in the crock she felt his hand on her back. Straightening up, she turned and faced him. He leaned over and kissed her. Not the same type of kiss as he'd given her the other night, this one was hard and passionate. Feeling his warm firm lips pressed against hers, she kissed back eagerly. Again, she felt the first pleasurable sensations of arousal, but again it ended as quickly as it started. The kiss ended, he cradled her head against his shoulder.
"It's late, Gail, it's time for me to leave."
She nodded her head in agreement, but felt a wave of disappointment sweep through her. Had this guy gone this far just to dump her? What kind of strange game was he playing with her? What she didn't know, couldn't know actually, was that he was haunted by the image of her in the church; the simple piety and the serene countenance. To think of sex with her on this night seemed like some bizarre sacrilegious desecration. How do you contemplate intercourse with a Christmas angel?
"I want to remember tonight like this, no other way," he said cryptically. "What time do you think you'll get home tomorrow?"
"By five at the latest."
"How about I come over about seven, then? We can have our own little holiday get together. Would that be all right with you?"
"Sure, fine, I'll be looking forward to it."
"OK then, I'll be here. Can I help you clean up or anything before I leave?"
"No, I'll get it in the morning."
With that they got up off the sofa and went into the kitchen. Gail filled the crock with hot water while he put on his coat.
"Tomorrow," he said simply and kissed her cheek.
"Tomorrow," she agreed.
With that he walked out the door, leaving her to her thoughts. She went into the living room and sat on the sofa, staring at her tree. She was trying to sort things out. He seemed hold out promise, then withdraw. On the other hand, he had a point, it was late and she did have to get up early in the morning. He hadn't run out, he was coming back tomorrow night. She had the feeling tomorrow she was either getting laid or dumped, she wasn't sure which. Furthermore, she wasn't sure which she wanted; if she only knew if he was serious or not.
She began weighing the facts. The last couple of weeks he'd shown a lot of interest in her, but it could be he was just horny and she was there. He'd not only brought her a Christmas present, he'd brought three, that should prove something, but what. Either he cared about her or he was willing to spend a few dollars to get her between the sheets; she didn't know which. He didn't seem like the type who would knock off a quickie and run, but that type seldom show their true colors until it was too late. All she was sure of was tomorrow night something was going to happen. All she could do was hope for the best.
In the morning, the first thing she did was open the three presents he'd left. They were a pleasant surprise. The first was a sweater, nothing too expensive, but nice. Heavy and warm looking, it was black on the top and shoulders and red on the lower body. She knew it was a good match for her natural coloring. The second was a gift box of perfume, her favorite scent. She wondered if it was a coincidence or if he'd known which to buy. The last was a bottle of Sherry, quite a contrast from the kosher wine she'd been drinking last night. She smiled to herself thinking that maybe that was his plan; get her looking good, smelling good, and drunk, then screw the hell out of her. Strangely, it was a pleasing thought.
Then she thought of her present to him; a hard cover copy of Hemingway's "A Movable Feast", in a way it seemed trite next to what he'd given her. But then she remembered they'd never agreed to exchange gifts, so it really was the thought that counted. She hoped he would understand that.
All through the day at her sister's Bob was all that was on her mind. Her thoughts vacillated; one minute she thought of him as just a horny prick who she shouldn't give the time of day to, the next he seemed like the best thing that ever came her way. It did, however, give her a thrill to have this little secret that something important was going to happen.
As they ate and praised the meal, she would have loved to announced, "Yes the roast is great, love the gravy, the bread pudding is to die for, and tonight I'm going home and have my ass pounded into the mattress."
But she didn't, she kept her thoughts to herself. The funny thing was as the day wore on a strange feeling began to grow in her. It took a while before she realized it was the early stages of arousal. The expectation of what might happen later was actually turning her on. When the time came to go home she was a nervous wreck; she felt as if she were leaving a world of safety and comfort to walk alone into a strange and dangerous place.
Arriving home she had two hours to kill, two hours alone with her thoughts. She thought about her ex-husband and the two men she had brief affairs with after her divorce, all had ended in heartbreak. She didn't need any more sorrow in her life. The problem was she wanted physical contact with a man again; to love and be loved. But she still didn't know what Bob's intentions were. Was he looking for love too, or simply a quick "slam, bam, thank you mam" and out the door? Hope for the best she thought to herself, and expect the worst, that way you won't be disappointed.
When the doorbell finally rang she answered it with a feeling of nervous excitement. When she opened the door and saw him all doubts disappeared. It was funny, she only had these qualms when he wasn't with her. He came in holding a plate covered with tin foil.
"Christmas cookies and a hunk of fruitcake," he explained. "I know that a lot of people don't like fruitcake, but this one is particularly good."
"I'm sure I'll love it." She took the plate from him and set it on the table. "Thanks for the presents, the sweater is great. I wore it to dinner today. By the way, how did you know what perfume to get?"
"I asked Marion."
"I'm surprised she kept her mouth shut, but she never said a word to me. I've never had Sherry before, I thought we could sample it tonight."
"Sounds good, it would probably go good with the fruitcake. Oh, thanks for the book, by the way."
"I wasn't sure, but you said you liked Hemingway, and then your statement about the mulled wine stand being a movable feast, it seemed like a natural."
"I did wonder if that was the tie-in. But, I've always thought "A Movable Feast" and "The Sun Also Rises" were his two best works. Actually I have it in the car, I kind of thought you might like to gift inscribe it."
"Of course, why not go get it?"
It occurred to her that if he wanted her to put her name in it, he must have liked it. It may not have been a big present, but it was a good one and she felt some satisfaction. While Bob went to his car to retrieve the book, Gail took the plate of cookies and fruitcake into the living room and set them on the coffee table. Then she got the bottle of Sherry and two glasses and put them on the table next to them. By then he was back with the book and handed to her.
"What should I write in it?" she asked. "I've never done this before."
"I guess just Merry Christmas, your name, and the date. That way every time I look at it, I'll remember tonight."
She got a pen and inscribed it the way he'd suggested. "I've never been immortalized in a book before, it's a kind of unique feeling."
"Thanks", he said simply. Then he kissed her cheek. Looking around, he set it on an end table, out of the way.
They sat on the sofa together. Gail picked up a corkscrew to open the Sherry.
"No, no corkscrew needed." He pulled a penknife out of his pocket. "All you have to do is cut the plastic capsule and pull the cork out by hand. It's done that way so you can stopper it back up, Sherry is something people usually only have a couple of glasses at a time."
"Learn something new every day," she remarked, watching him open the bottle and fill the two glasses. They each took a slice of the fruitcake and began to eat it, sipping on the wine to wash it down. "You're right, this is a good cake and the Sherry goes well with it. Is it me or does Sherry taste like raisins?"
"I think the proper term is reminiscent, but yeah, it does. My aunt makes the fruitcakes months ahead, and keeps spritzing them with rum or brandy, not sure which. I always liked them."
She nodded her head in agreement as she finished her piece. Then leaning forward to pick up a cookie, she felt his hand on her back. It rubbed her twice in a circular motion and then moved up to the crook of her neck. The moment she'd been waiting for was at hand. Setting her glass down, she slowly sat upright and faced him. He stretched out to set his own glass down, then shifted himself closer to her while his hand moved from her neck to her shoulder, pulling her tight against him. His free hand brushed across her cheek as if he were smoothing it out, then followed the line of her jaw until it was under her chin where he softly nudged it upwards to face him. Then he leaned down and kissed her.
It was a serious kiss; there could be no mistaking its purpose. Gently at first, then growing more passionate, their lips worked against each other. Any nervousness she'd felt earlier, any doubts, were washed away by feelings of pure lust. Almost involuntarily, like a reflex action her tongue pushed past his lips into his mouth where his own tongue made love to it. His hand dropped from below her chin down to her hip holding her firmly. When their lips parted Bob began nibbling on her earlobe, eventually kissing her neck, working down to the hollow of her throat. Gail tipped her head back giving him easy access. The only sounds in the room were her soft sighs and an occasional groan of pleasure. She was no longer thinking but merely reacting. He returned to her lips, kissing them firmly, mouth slightly opened, waiting to accept her probing tongue.
The hand on her hip moved to her leg and began rubbing her inner thigh. Even through the denim fabric of her jeans, this sent shivers of pleasure through her. She felt the dampness in her vagina and a tingling itch; she was fully aroused. But then she felt his hand move from her thigh across her stomach and under her sweatshirt. When it reached her ribs, it was as if she'd suddenly awoke from a dream with a start. She jerked away from him and her arm swept downward, half pushing, half knocking his hand out from under her shirt. Bob pulled back in confusion.
"Aw, Jesus. Gail, I'm sorry. I didn't, I mean I..." He was searching for words, "I'm sorry, I thought it was all right, I'm sorry" Looking at him, she saw the concern and confusion on his face. Grabbing his arm above the elbow with both hands she rested her forehead on the point of his shoulder.
"No, it is all right, it's my fault." Now it was her turn to search for words, "I should have told you, God damn it, I should have. I'm sorry for all this. The time never seemed right, and then tonight I got swept up in the moment. Forgive me."
"Tell me what? Please, honey, you can tell me now. What is it?" His hand was on her back again. She didn't even notice it was the first time he'd used a term of endearment when talking to her.
Straightening up, she took one hand off his arm and pressed it against her forehead for a moment. The she looked straight ahead, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
"Six years ago I had a mastectomy, I only have one breast." She spoke slowly and deliberately. "When you reached under my shirt, I panicked. I know I should have told you sooner, but it's not something I like to go around talking about. Then tonight, like I said, I got caught up in things. I should have told you ahead of time. For that I'm truly sorry."
"Don't be, I understand. I assume it was cancer?" She nodded. "That concerns me more than the breast. What's the prognosis, I mean are you still fighting with it?"
"I get checked on a regular basis, so far so good. They think I'm in the clear."
"That's good, but you scared the hell out of me young lady, let's not have a repeat of this. Then when you started all that you 'should have told me' stuff, I thought you were going to tell me you were a guy or something like that. You can tell me anything, you don't have to be shy."