“Patrick, could you please go downstairs and bring up a case of peaches from the storeroom,” the short haired Asian woman behind the counter asked. “I need two cans for Mrs. Velazquez.”
“Sure thing, Mrs. C,” the blonde haired teenager said as he stopped stacking the shelf he was working on and headed for the basement stairs.
Less than two minutes later, Patrick Kerrigan returned from the basement with a small cardboard box in his arms. A quick slice with the box cutter he always carried in his pocket took off the top of the box and he placed two small cans on the countertop.
“Thank you, Patrick,” Lynn Chen said as, after adding the cost of the canned fruit to the bill, she added the last items to the large paper bag along with the rest of her customer’s order.
“I’ll put these on the shelves after I finish with the soups,” Patrick said as he returned to the task that had been interrupted.
As she handed the Hispanic woman her change, Lynn thought again how lucky she had been the day five months ago when Patrick had walked in off the street after seeing the help wanted sign in the window. She never had to ask him to do anything twice and most times, he anticipated what needed to be done before she did and just went ahead and did it.
Two years earlier, Lynn had inherited the small grocery store from a great-uncle who had passed away with no closer relatives. Despite Mr. Chen’s loudly expressed desire to turn a quick profit from the unexpected inheritance by selling both the business and the two-story building that had come with it, Lynn had refused to do so. In her eyes, the marginally profitable business was her chance to finally have something that was totally hers. Her husband of nearly twenty years wasn’t happy with her decision, but that had hardly been the only thing he’d been unhappy with of late, at least as far as his wife was concerned.
Philip Chen and Mei-lin, as she had been known back then, had been married in 1958, just a month after she’d passed her seventeenth birthday. Less than a decade before, her family had fled mainland China following the collapse of the Nationalist government with little more than the clothes on their back. Despite his being fifteen years her senior, Mei-lin’s parents saw Philip as a quite suitable husband, especially since his family was already established in the United States, with all the opportunities that might entail. At the time, her own opinion in the matter hadn’t been deemed important enough to be solicited.
Still, she had been raised to respect the wishes of her parents and so she married the man they had chosen. Ten months later, much to the delight of her new family, she presented her husband with twin sons, healthy boys to carry on the family name.
Most of the eighteen years since then had been spent raising those sons, during which time Lynn had also managed to educate herself in the customs and language of her new country. As her sons progressed through the various grades, she was able to get a good practical education that filled in the gaps in her own formal schooling.
None of which seemed to ever matter to her husband, who devoted most of his time to the restaurant he had started with his family’s help. An endeavor that proved so successful over the years that he was twice able to expand it. What attention he did give his still young wife was always centered on his desire to have more children, but after years of trying, it eventually became obvious that the difficult delivery of her twin sons had left Lynn unable to carry another child to term.
By the time her sons had grown to maturity, relations between the couple had devolved into a marriage in name only. Lynn eventually suspected that her husband now sought sexual gratification with some of the young girls that worked in his restaurants. Recent immigrants, his sponsorship had been one of the factors that allowed them to enter the country.
Therefore, when the grocery store had fallen into her lap, Lynn had leapt at the opportunity, despite her lack of business experience. Luck was with her, however, in the form of the two older men who actually ran the business for her great-uncle. They agreed to stay on for a few months while she learned the business.
Working seven days, and in many cases nights as well, Lynn learned just about everything she needed to know about running the store. In fact, she went so far as to practically move into the small three room apartment above, spending more time there most weeks than at home. Her confidence in her abilities grew monthly so when her instructors eventually decided that it was time for them to go, she met their announcement with far less trepidation than she might have originally imagined. What she hadn’t realized at the time was that outside forces would soon erode the confidence she felt.
Realizing that she couldn’t continue to pay the salaries that the two men had been earning, Lynn instead looked to hire a teenager that would be willing to work for less. Posting a notice at the local community center, she was certain that she’d have no problem finding suitable help. In fact, only a day later she had two young men apply for the position. So eager had both of them been, she had been hard pressed to pick between the two. In the end, she had just gone with the one who had applied first.
Then, to her surprise, the boy she hired quit after only a few days on the job with absolutely no explanation. She was even more confused when, after calling back the second young man to tell him the job was his if he still wanted it, a similar tale ensued. Over the following weeks, it quickly became a pattern as every applicant, no matter how eager they had been in the beginning, quit during their first weeks. One even walked out as soon as he discovered that he would be working for a woman. That seemed quite strange behavior for anyone in 1978.
Her suspicions had been aroused, however, when one of the applicants had slipped and referred to her by her Chinese birth name, which she hadn’t gone by in a number of years. That she had taken on an American name when the boys had started school had been one of the first points of contention between her and her husband. That he had long ago done so for business reasons didn’t seem to matter. In fact, since he was one of the few people who still called her Mei-lin, it made her wonder if he had anything to do with the rash of reluctant workers.
Sure enough, it turned out that Philip was indeed behind it, steering away most anyone who might be interested in the position as well as chasing away anyone who actually showed up to apply. After two weeks of working totally on her own, Lynn’s confidence had begun to give way to despair.
Then, just as she was beginning to think that she would have to give in to his desire to sell her inheritance after all, in walked Patrick Kerrigan off the street to enquire about the help wanted sign she had forgotten about putting in the window weeks before. The seventeen year old had recently moved in with his grandmother following the death of his mother. His father, Lynn would later learn, had walked out on his wife and two sons soon after Patrick was born.
Before that day, Lynn had never considered that she might look beyond the local Chinese community for help and now she felt quite short sighted for thinking that way. Still, she also felt she was obligated to warn the tall, at least to someone who was only five foot one, young man that going to work for her might cause him trouble. The athletically built teenager had been unfazed by the warning and said he really could use the job. Reluctantly hiring him, Lynn also told him that if events changed his mind, she would understand. Events that took only a few days to unfold.
Lynn had been watching through the store window that morning as two local teens approached Patrick when he crossed the street on his way to the store. She recognized one of them as the boy who had known her birth name; Philip Wu had been his name. Fearing that violence was their intent, the older woman started to head outside to try to prevent it. She’d only gone two steps when she saw the boy she’d recognized grab Patrick’s arm when he tried to just walk past him and his friend.
To both her and the Chinese boys’ surprise, her new employee executed a self-defense move that left Philip flat on his back on the concrete sidewalk. Patrick quickly turned to face the second boy, but he had quickly decided that he didn’t want any part of what was happening and ran off. Once his partner was back on his feet, he seemed to decide that as well, taking off in the same direction as the first.
When Patrick walked into the store a few moments later, he didn’t even mention the altercation until Lynn brought it up, saying that she had been watching at the window. The teenager shrugged his shoulders and said it hadn’t been a big thing. When Lynn said otherwise, adding that he could’ve been hurt, Patrick replied that his older brother had been with the Rangers in Vietnam and had shown him a few moves.
That incident proved to be the last of her husband’s harassments since he was unwilling to go beyond simple intimidation. Especially after he learned that Lynn had been so upset by what had happened that she’d gone and consulted a divorce lawyer to see what exactly her rights were if she chose to go in that direction. That had led a worried Philip to promise not to further interfere in any of her business affairs. Eventually they worked out an understanding between themselves, which included her moving into the second floor apartment full time.
Over the weeks and eventually months that followed, Patrick proved himself invaluable to Lynn in running the store. Even working just part time, he did almost all of the work of the men he’d replaced. He even came up with an idea or two that actually increased business. It wasn’t long before the relationship between the two of them changed from simply employer and employee to, if not friends, then at least co-workers.
In light of that change, Lynn had several times asked Patrick to call her by her first name instead of the more formal Mrs. Chen that he always used. After all, they were barely a generation apart. The problem with that was that his mother had raised him to always call his elders by their last name and try as he could, it just didn’t feel right to do so. Eventually, however, he managed to come up with a compromise, one inspired by characters on his favorite sitcom, and started calling her Mrs. C instead.
Also during those months, Lynn discovered that Patrick was having great difficulty with math in school. So much so that he was in serious danger of not graduating at the end of the semester. Acting more like a concerned parent than simply a co-worker, the Asian woman took on herself the role of tutor. Capitalizing on the experience she’d gained with her sons, both of whom were now away at college, Lynn put aside part of every day to go over with Patrick whatever had been covered that day in class. In the end, the tutoring made the difference and he graduated with a grade that while not outstanding was at least passing.
Previously, the young man had no real plans beyond graduation other than finding a permanent job. Now, with her help, he had applied to the City University for the fall semester, a change that pleased both Lynn and his grandmother. Until classes started at the end of the summer, he also began to work at the store full time.
No more than ten minutes after Mrs. Velazquez had left, what had been a clear mid-summer sky began to darken. Along with the unexpected clouds, the late afternoon breeze began to increase in intensity. The weather report on the radio news had forecast possible early evening thunderstorms but it looked like they’d missed the target by a few hours.
On seeing the change in weather, both Patrick and Lynn quickly ran out of the now empty store to gather up the collection of potted plants and other small items that were displayed on wooden racks outside. Experience had taught them that storms like the one now building tended to play havoc with such things if left exposed. Last year, a particularly intense wind had lifted a plant and slammed it against the store window, cracking the glass. Since then, Lynn had learned not to take chances.
Quickly they gathered all the paraphernalia into a couple of milk crates that they used to transport and store them in at the end of the day, carrying the boxes inside. Lynn was about to step back out on to the street to roll back the overhead awning when a brilliant flash of lightning filled the sky, followed seconds later by a booming crack of thunder that heralded a tremendous downpour.
“Standing outside with a six foot metal rod probably isn’t the best of ideas right now,” Patrick said as he placed his hand on her shoulder, thinking that she might still actually go out there.
“I guess you’re right,” Lynn agreed as she watched another bolt of lightning arc across the sky, hoping that the now angry wind didn’t damage the awning.
Together they stood there for a minute, watching people run for cover from the heavy rain. Once the street was deserted in every direction, with none of the pedestrians inclined to grace their establishment, they turned their attention to housekeeping tasks that there was never enough time to fully take care of.
As intense as many of these summer storms tended to be, they were also usually short lived, playing out their violent fury in a very short span. In the end, this one proved to be no exception as barely twenty-five minutes after it had started, the rain began to dwindle down to a trickle.
As soon as the first patches of blue began to reappear in the sky, Lynn was out the door to check on any damage. She didn’t get more than a foot outside when she came to an abrupt stop.
“Oh, oh, that can’t be good,” she thought as she looked up at a large water filled depression in the center of the canopy.
The force of the downpour had been such that instead of simply running off the edge of the awning, it had pushed the material inward, forming a bowl shaped indentation. As more water filled the bowl, the increased weight caused the material to sag even more until it hung almost a half foot lower than it was supposed to.
Lynn turned her head toward the open door, intending to call for Patrick to bring out a long broom that they could use to lift the bubble and let the water run off the side. Her mouth had just started to form her first word when it was cut off by the sound of tearing cloth as the overstretched material finally gave way. Down came the equivalent of a two-gallon bucket, soaking the woman from head to toe.
Hearing the disturbance, Patrick dropped what he had been doing and rushed outside. Presented with the image of a very drenched Lynn, water pooling around her on the sidewalk, the young man couldn’t help bursting into laugher.
At first, Lynn didn’t see the humor in the situation and greeted his laughter with a scowl. Then she realized what she must look like and also laughed at herself. In fact, she laughed so hard that she didn’t realize at first that Patrick had abruptly stopped and was now just staring at her instead. A glance down at her chest told her the reason why.
The heavy soaking had not only turned the loose fitting blouse she wore into one that hugged the contours of her body, but had also rendered it practically translucent. Clearly visible were the outlines of her breasts, the small, pert nipples of which poked out against the wet material. With tiny breasts that had held firm over the years, Lynn often went without a bra, especially during the warmer months, when doing so felt a lot more comfortable. She’d never had a problem with in until now.
Her face flushed with embarrassment, Lynn rushed past Patrick and into the store. By the time he followed her, she had already closed the door to her small office where he knew she always kept a change of clothing. When she emerged fifteen minutes later, toweled dry and wearing a fresh outfit, Lynn proceeded to go about her business as if nothing had happened.
A few hours later, after the store had closed for the day, Lynn sat alone in her small apartment. Most days, alone was exactly how she spent her evenings. Occasionally, she would make a trip to the community center if there were some event of interest going on, but those brief outings were becoming less frequent of late if for no other reason that they served to drive home the fact that she was still married in name only. Try as she sometimes wanted, she just couldn’t bring herself to take that final, irrevocable step to sunder the vows she had taken.
That she and Philip now led separate lives was hardly a secret to those who knew the both of them. The way most of the married women at the center looked at her whenever she engaged one of their husbands in conversation attested to that. That those conversations usually centered on business advice didn’t seem to matter. The same women who used to be her friends now looked upon her as a woman who no longer had a husband, and worse, was younger and still attractive, something that not many of them could say about themselves.
That Philip, in the absence of his estranged wife had for all purposes moved a girl young enough to be his daughter into his home didn’t seem to be as much of an issue. True, he hadn’t been that public about it, but still some people knew. And of those people, his closest friends kept their silence, even as they shared knowing smiles filled with envy.
“As if I would be interested in any of their husbands,” Lynn thought as she sat in her favorite chair, a glass of wine in her hand and an unwatched game show on the television. “Most of them would just be as bad as Philip, some even worse.”
Still, it had been a long time since she’d enjoyed marital relations and truth be told, she did miss it. Even what had passed as sex between Philip and her was usually better than the solace of her own hand.
Taking another sip of wine, Lynn reflected that it had been the incident with the soaked blouse this afternoon that had caused her to dwell on her lack of a sex life. Try as she might, she couldn’t erase from her mind the look on Patrick’s face when he looked at her practically exposed breasts. For the first time, she felt he was looking at her as a woman and not simply someone he worked with.
All through the rest of the day, Lynn could feel his eyes following her around the store. It didn’t matter that she had self-consciously put a bra on when she changed clothes, she knew he was looking. Or at least she thought he was watching, it could just have been her imagination she reminded herself. But if she was only imagining it, was it because she was hoping he was looking?
Getting up from the chair, she walked over to the hanging mirror on the wall and looked into her reflection. On her last birthday she had turned thirty-seven, but thanks to good genes and a sensible lifestyle she didn’t look like a woman nearing forty. Nor did she look like the young girl that had stood in front of the minister two decades ago either, but she would settle for looking somewhere in- between.
Her short hair, cut about an inch above her neck, was still deep black, without a trace of grey. Both her mother and grandmother, she recalled, had been like that so no surprise there. Her breasts, while small, were well rounded and as her ability to go braless attested, quite self supporting. Weight wise she had never been more than a hundred and ten pounds in her life. Most men, she knew, would still consider her an attractive woman.
What she lacked, she knew, was experience. If she ever did have the determination to go through with the divorce, what then? Did she even know how to get another man? Or would she spend the rest of her life alone as she was now?
Her life before she was given in marriage to Philip had hardly prepared her in that regard. If times had been normal, it might have been different, but they had been anything but. A late and definitely unplanned pregnancy, Lynn’s early life had been dominated by the twin catastrophes of the Japanese occupation of China and the civil war with the Communists that had resumed even before the Japanese had been defeated by the Americans. It was only the fact that her father had been a minor functionary in the government that allowed them to escape at all. What education on any subject she had prior to being thrust into adulthood had been fragmentary at best.
Much of that had been made up for along the way, her sons’ educations leading to her own. Still, there were areas that in no way had been covered. Unless of course she counted the varied adult material she would sometimes find hidden away in her sons’ room.
Most of it consisted of simple nudie magazines, the kind that she knew most teenage boys somehow always managed to get their hands on. A small minority, however, turned out to be of a different, more graphic sort. She was shocked to learn, after bringing those books to her husband’s attention, that they had come from his own private collection of which she had been unaware.
In reply to her concern that their barely teenage sons were looking at such things, he quickly replied that he would be more worried if they weren’t interested in looking. He actually exhibited a mixture of amusement that they had located his hidden treasure, and pride in the choice of what they had borrowed. Seeing that this was an argument she had already lost, Lynn didn’t broach the subject with him again.
However, once she knew of the existence of the collection, Lynn found herself surreptitiously borrowing a book from time to time herself. The things she saw and read about were a revelation to say the least. She couldn’t imagine herself or any of the proper women she knew ever doing some of the things she saw depicted in those magazines. At least not until she overheard three of the younger women at the community center discussing one of those very acts, albeit in hushed tones. A conversation they quickly ended when one of them realized that she could hear them.
While she had never done any of the things she read about, Lynn had wondered if she might enjoy them if ever she had someone to do them with. Or would that mythical person that she would take as a lover think her perverse for even thinking about them?
“Enough of this,” Lynn said to herself as she looked at the clock on the wall, “dwelling on what I don’t have isn’t going to do me any good.”
It was almost time for bed and it was her practice to take a shower before retiring. Turning off the television, she poured out the last of her wine into the sink, taking care to rinse the glass and put in on the rack to dry. Afterwards Lynn decided to call it a night.
Stripping off the oversized t-shirt she had changed into after dinner when she’d sat down to watch television, Lynn walked naked into the bathroom. Even though she planned to brush her teeth and take care of other personal needs first, she reached past the light blue curtain and turned on the water. It would take a few minutes to reach a level above lukewarm. Sometimes being your own landlord was really frustrating. She knew the building needed a new water heater, but the money for one always seemed to be needed for something else.
Looking again at the face in the mirror as she brushed her teeth, or more accurately at the view between neck and waist, Lynn idly wondered what Patrick had thought of her breasts. They were pretty small she knew, and didn’t everyone say that most Americans like large breasts? At least all those women in the magazines her husband had hoarded were well endowed. Surely some of them liked petite women like herself.
Realizing that she was again wandering into an area of thought of which no good could come of, Lynn cut short her brushing and turned to step into the shower without letting it warm all the way up. A cold shower might be exactly what she needed to put that foolishness to rest.
The water was indeed cooler than was desirable and for a minute or two it had the intended effect. But eventually the old water heater did its job and it wasn’t only the water that began to warm up.
Lynn had to admit, the increasingly hot water felt good against her skin. Taking the bar of soap from the small tray screwed into the tiled wall, she began to soap up her body.
As she ran her soapy hand across her breasts, Lynn could feel her nipples harden, making them so much more sensitive. It had been quite a long time since they felt a touch other than her own, but the memory of it always came back at times like this.
The image of when she had been a new bride and the center of her husband’s attention filled her thoughts, even as a wet hand glided down across her stomach, finding its way to the lightly haired mound between her legs. She brushed against it, the tips of her fingers hitting the most sensitive of spots just long enough to cause her to let out a soft sigh of satisfaction. Then her hand, joined by its twin, slid around to the cheeks of her ass to embrace the rounded flesh there. The path of both marked by a thin trail of soapy bubbles.
Again her hand moved to the front, moving upward along now excited flesh to close around the roundness of her chest, eliciting yet another sigh, this one just a bit louder. A playful squeeze reminded her that it was no sin to please yourself and she tossed aside any last caution.
Rinsing her hands in the overhead spray, she brought both of them again down between her legs, this time without hesitation. Following a path that had become all too familiar in the last few years, she parted the way with one outstretched hand and slid a finger of the other inside herself. It took no effort at all to find the small clit now only partially hidden. The cries that spilled from her lips were loud enough to be heard beyond the bathroom, that is if there had been anyone else out there to hear them.
Closing her eyes as she rested her back against the tiles, Lynn slipped several more fingers deep inside herself and began to masturbate. There was a part of her that wished it were something more, but another of her voices admonished her to be thankful for what she had. As a familiar, pleasing tingle began to spread out across her body, it was hard to find fault with that sentiment.
The tingle soon became a touch, then moved on to a tremble. Finally it became a tremor, one that only increased with each repetition, the frequency of which also seemed to intensify with the passing of time.
“Oh yes,” Lynn heard herself say. “That feels so nice.”
The water temperature had finally reached hot, a condition that also would easily describe her body. Fingers now a blur as they passed in and out of her, her body quaked in response to the forces she had unleashed.
“Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes!” she again heard herself say as what had started as a tiny flame exploded into a fireball, causing her body to erupt in orgasmic fury.
How long it lasted she wasn’t sure, only that she soon again became aware of the water running down her face, across her body and down her legs. Legs that at the moment felt very weak but satisfyingly so.
Staying under the cleansing spray just long enough to wash away the results of her pleasuring, a somewhat distressing thought came to mind. That the image of the only lover she had ever known had faded away sometime during the event was a common occurrence, that hadn’t daunted her in the least. What had was the fact that it had been replaced by someone quite familiar. One that she spent the better part of most days with.
“I’m just being silly,” she told herself as she finished drying herself off and, after moving back into the main room, settled into the small bed. “He’s just a boy.”
Then, just as she was about to close her eyes, another voice asserted itself, reminding her that Patrick had celebrated his eighteenth birthday only two weeks before.
The next morning, soon after opening the store, Lynn got in her car and drove across town. When, months before, Philip had asked her to sit down and work out a formal separation agreement between them, he had been greatly surprised when she’d shown up with a lawyer. The grocery store owner might not have been highly educated, but no one could ever accuse her of being a fool. The two of them negotiated a monthly stipend based on a percentage of the restaurant’s profits as the price of her agreement. Philip hadn’t been happy with that turn of events, but he knew that if she went through with a divorce he could lose a great deal more.
One of the first things Lynn had done with the extra money was to expand her own business, specifically hiring extra help to run the store on the weekends. If nothing else, it gave her back enough free time to start having a life again.
Knowing her husband’s propensity to sometimes let bills pile up until he was forced to pay them, she wasn’t that surprised the first, or even the second time her monthly check was late. After hearing Philip’s excuse that he simply forgot to mail it, Lynn made a little change in the agreement. From now on, she would make it a point to stop by the restaurant and pick it up herself. That would also give her a chance to take a look at the books now and then, just to make sure she was getting what she was supposed to.
Not wanting her visits to be too disruptive, Lynn usually made them in the mid-morning hours when the restaurant would be the least busy. Usually the only real activity before the lunch crowd began to come in was food deliveries and such.
Philip had yet to arrive when she got there so she let herself into his office and opened his safe to get her check. She’d always had the combination but had never used it until things went bad between them. There was no doubt that the check would be there, he hadn’t missed a month since she started picking it up personally. Looking at the amount, she saw that business was indeed good. So good in fact that it might not be a bad idea to have her own accountant go over the books again soon. Not that she thought he was cheating her, but just to let him know that she was paying attention should that thought occur.
After spending less than ten minutes in the office, Lynn came out to the dining area and asked one of the waitresses to get her a cup of tea. She didn’t recognize the new girl but the fact that she had been in the boss’ office was enough for her to be treated with deference. There were few workers and even fewer customers there at the moment so she had plenty of privacy to drink her tea while she browsed through the morning paper. By the time she was finished, the sound of a familiar voice from the entranceway told her that Philip had finally arrived.
It wasn’t necessary for her to announce herself; she knew the girl at the counter would’ve told him that she was here the minute he came in. Sure enough, less than a minute later he was sitting on the opposite side of the booth. The matter she wanted to discuss with him, one relating to the needs of one of their sons, took only a little longer. The welfare of their children was one area where they were always civil with each other and while he might complain about money on just about anything else, he never worried about the cost of his son’s education. A few polite inquiries followed about each other’s health and then Lynn said her goodbyes.
As she was leaving, she paused at the front counter to say goodbye to the woman there. As much a fixture at the restaurant as the long row of booths, Su-ching had been there almost from the beginning. While they spoke, Lynn noticed that someone was watching her from the bar. Not recognizing her, she asked her old friend who the girl was. The awkward silence she got in return told her all she needed to know.
“So that’s her,” Lynn thought as she turned and took a long, hard look at the girl standing only twenty feet away.
That she would be young was something that Lynn expected, but the reality still took her by surprise. Despite her husband now being in his early fifties, his taste in women hadn’t changed. The girl couldn’t have been older than she had been the first time he had taken her to his bed.
About the same height as Lynn, the girl had long black hair that stretched half way down her back. She had a very pretty face, but that was also as much a given as the well-developed shape of her body. Even from across the room it was obvious that the girl had a bust that could attract the attention of any man.
“Enjoy yourself while it lasts,” Lynn thought as she passed the girl on her way out, giving her enough of a knowing smile to leave no doubt that she knew exactly who she was. “If experience is any teacher, he’ll eventually grow tired of you and look elsewhere for his comforts.”
As the door closed behind her and she walked to her car, Lynn wondered if that was another reason why Philip preferred a separation to a divorce. The former allowed him an excuse not to make any other relationship more permanent and so allow it to be more easily ended.
After leaving the restaurant, Lynn made a quick stop at the bank to deposit the check before heading back to the store. As she made her way through the late morning traffic, Lynn found herself unable to get the image of Philip’s girl out of her mind. She knew that she had hardly been the first one to take her place in his bed, but somehow having a face to go with the knowledge made it seem so much more real.
Lynn found herself wondering if that girl, she hadn’t thought to ask Su-ching her name, did those things for Philip that she used to see and read about in the magazines her husband used to hide. Things she had never done herself but might very well have been willing to try if she had been asked.
Unbidden images of the two of them together came to her; visions of what Philip had looked like when they were first married and how she imagined his new lover might look without her clothes. The mental imagery produced a damp feeling between her legs and a fluttering beneath her chest. Inexplicably, she felt quite warm, despite the unseasonably cool breeze that had been blowing all morning. By the time she pulled the car into a parking spot in front of the grocery, she knew she needed some physical relief or she’d never make it through the rest of the day.
Entering the grocery store, she barely acknowledged Patrick as she sped past him and went straight to her office. Patrick thought that strange as she was usually so friendly all the time. Perhaps, he thought, she’d had a disagreement with her husband when she went to see him. It had happened before and that was the only time he could ever remember seeing her upset.
Five minutes passed, then ten, and Lynn failed to reappear from behind the closed door. Eventually Patrick began to become concerned and, after telling Sally Young, the college student girl Lynn had hired a few weeks before, to watch the counter, he cautiously approached the office. Listening at the door, he could hear some sort of activity going on behind it but wasn’t sure what to make of the sounds. It was only when he heard what he was sure had been his name that he gently rapped his knuckles on the wooden door.
No response came, unless he wanted to count what he was sure was a moan of sorts. Fearful that she might have been hurt in some way, he tried the doorknob and finding it unlocked, slowly opened the door.
It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dimness; the only illumination in the windowless room was coming from the desk lamp. It was immediately obvious that Lynn wasn’t at her desk as that chair was empty. Opening the door all the way, his line of sight moved to the small sofa he knew to be set up against the far wall.
“Oh shit!” Patrick exclaimed as a single glance told him he had made an incredibly wrong assumption.
Sitting on the couch, her clothing in a state of partial disarray, sat Lynn. From the location of her hands, one beneath her blouse and the other buried deep between her legs, there was no doubt as to what she had been doing. Suddenly the sounds he had been perplexed by made perfect sense.
“Oh God,” Patrick said, his face bright red with embarrassment, “Mrs. C, I had no idea, I never imagined...”
Hearing his voice, Lynn finally looked up and realized that she was no longer alone. Her own exclamation was in her native Cantonese and Patrick had no idea what she was saying, only that she seemed as upset by what had happened as he was. Having no idea what else to do, he began to quickly retrace his steps and head back out into the store. He got as far as the doorframe when Lynn called out for him to wait, this time her words in English.
Turning around, Patrick saw that she had used the brief time his back had been turned to compose herself as best she could. She was still closing the buttons on her blouse as she repeated her request that he come back. Thinking that the best thing at the moment was to listen to her, he did.
“Mrs. C, I’m sorry,” Patrick quickly began saying, “I had no idea that you were...”
“I’m the one who should be apologizing, Patrick,” she cut him off just as quickly. “There’s a time and place for everything, and this was neither.”
“I never would’ve come in here unasked,” Patrick went on, still intent on explaining his actions, “but I thought you might’ve fallen or something, and I thought I heard you call my name.”
“I called your name?” Lynn said, asking herself the question more than him.
Then it hit her, she had. As she began to lose herself in the joy of self- pleasure, the image in her mind was no longer that of Philip and his lover. Without her realizing it, it had again been replaced by that of the young man standing there before her.
“You must think me quite wicked,” Lynn said.
“Why would I think that?” he asked, a smile again filling his face.
“Because respectable women don’t... ,” she said, pausing as she sought the words. “Because they don’t do what you saw me doing in the middle of the work day.”
“I think you might be surprised by what respectable women do,” he said, his tone trying to be reassuring, “at any hour of the day and in any number of places.”
Lynn looked at him, unsure if that could ever be true. She desperately wanted it to be so, if only so that he might not think her perverse.
“I thought you might’ve had a fight with your husband again,” Patrick said, continuing to explain why he had intruded on her privacy.