Valentine’s Day. It was pretty much a cliché, and I was kind of embarrassed to be looking forward to it. I hadn’t had a happy one of these in such a very long time. The first few years Derrick and I were together, he had made a big deal out of it, flowers, candy, cards. My co-workers at Friends for Life used to be so impressed, so envious. Even after I knew for certain that there were other recipients of Derrick’s over-the-top attentions, he had maintained the charade with me. God—was our whole married life a lie? I recalled hating to see the flowers waiting on my desk. It was such a front, and an affront too, making me an accomplice in my own betrayal. But that was yesterday, yester-year, more than three of them in fact. Once the lawyers were called in there had been no way to keep up the farce.
Now there was a new lawyer smack-dab in the middle of me—well figuratively speaking at least. I was still working on/waiting for the literal centering. And if I had my way, got my wish, this Valentine’s Day I would have just that. I wasn’t sure what it would look like exactly. I had researched the Web to get some idea, but until Madison told me, or better yet showed me, I could only speculate and fantasize.
Target resembled one very giant Valentine, all decked out in many shades of red in just about every department. Even the hardware and household-cleaner aisles were adorned with red hearts. There were chocolates, and candles, and even sexy lingerie. From the cheesy to the chintzy, to the surprisingly classy, we were very ready for Cupid.
I found myself getting a little excited about it, even though I was truly too nervous, too uncertain about me and Madison to let myself be out and out happy. We were going okay, good really, but it was just that we were going slow. I did understand it, Madison’s pacing, but that didn’t mean that I liked it. Not that I was fast or anything, not usually hot-to-trot, if anybody actually used those terms anymore, it was just that I was a woman in love, and being a gay divorcee, definitely archaic, I was ready to take it to the next level, to consummate it. I did love my romance novels.
It was all I could do sometimes to contain myself during very civilized suppers while Madison repeatedly seduced me with his wisdom and wit. He’d be talking current events and the lessons of history and my body would be so badly quivering with anticipation that I could barely muster a monosyllabic reply. All I’d be really thinking about was the kissing goodnight that would mean at least a hint of the elusive frottaging I was so hungry for. Later, after I had settled down from the desire and, to be honest, the disappointment, I’d realize how prudent Madison was for not starting something he was not yet ready to finish.
But now it was Valentine’s Day. Maybe I could push him a little. Madison clearly liked me. Even Madame Denise seemed to realize that much. She still hovered a little when Madison and I went to Le Bon Café, but she was very classy about it. My lattes weren’t poisoned and if she did spit into my cup the coffee was always hot enough to render the effects harmless. So yes, I was getting to be a fixture in Madison’s social life, and as I said he was smack-dab in the middle of mine.
I had decided to make him a special Valentine’s Day dinner. I was a very good cook and I wanted to show him that side of me. As I made my plans I had to laugh at myself. Who was I trying to be, June Cleaver, intent on strutting my womanly stuff in the kitchen to impress a man? I supposed some things would never change. And maybe I was more like my sister, Pam, than I cared to admit. In any case, my plan was to cook dinner for Madison at his house. The menu included salmon, mashed potatoes, and broccoli which I had carefully chop into bite-size pieces to make sure that everything was fork-friendly. Madison seemed to rarely need his cuff to hold utensils in his hands. Once he threaded an object between his contracted fingers, he appeared to be able to securely hold any number of tools, including a fork. He did have this gadget called a Rocking T knife that allowed him to cut things without much difficulty, but really it was just as easy to cook around such needs. For dessert I made my famous chocolate cheesecake garnished with fresh strawberries. Imagining him allowing me to feed him a strawberry got me all gooey inside. I was also bringing a nice Chardonnay. I had been tempted to buy champagne but that seemed like another not-yet. I just wanted to push a little, not shove.
When I had announced my Valentine’s Day plans, Madison had been a little skeptical, even resistant.
“Isn’t it customary for the man to take the lady out to some fancy French restaurant?” he had asked.
I seriously doubted his father had ever done that for his mother, and I had wondered again just who had come along and at least a little bit yuppieized Madison’s style.
Because there had been other women before me, before the suspected Denise too. Madison Reese might be a slow-go, but he wasn’t a no-go. I was definitely not the first woman who had fallen for him. The man who was now my gentleman caller had a past as they say, even a live-together-on-the-verge-of-engaged girlfriend. We weren’t at sex yet so I didn’t have any legitimate health reasons to ask him about his sex life; and Madison wasn’t exactly the kind of man who would kiss and tell. What I had been able to piece together thus far was mostly the result of my professional training. I knew how to listen—and for everything. It was the live-together girlfriend who had chosen the condo.
“How cliché,” I had dismissively replied to his question, and then in my most alluring voice I had whispered into his ear, “Nous avons une fête privée, oui?”
And I honestly meant that. I wanted a private party, not to go somewhere where we’d be surrounded by a whole lot of couples trying too hard the way Derrick and I used to. I wanted the coziness of Madison’s condo—even if another woman had picked it out. I wanted his sectional sofa, his fireplace, his arms.
Following my little French flirtation I had breathed softly against his ear and lightly traced its outer edge with the tip of my tongue; and his left leg had shaken a little. I had noticed this kind of thing happening before when we kissed sometimes, and I was curious about what it might mean, but asking Madison about it seemed almost as premature as the sex talk. He’d tell me when he was ready.
“Oui,” he had acquiesced with a low chuckle. “Mais les sons dangereux.”
Dangerous. Okay. Dangerous wasn’t necessarily bad.
Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday, and I made sure that I had the whole day off. Of course the Saturday afternoon before, Chandra had tried to insist that I had to come in the next day, how there was going to be a mad rush with last minute Valentine shoppers. However I was armed with the store manager’s approval in advance so I thwarted her attempts to screw with me this time. Maybe I didn’t have any power but I did have planning, and I had moved to block. The day was mine, and the evening that would be mine and Madison’s.
I was hoping that Ted would take Pam and the kids out for a Valentine’s Day brunch or something, but I might have known that my fundamentalist brother-in-law would view the holiday as pagan, what with its little winged cherubs fluttering around intent upon legitimizing lust. So before I could get gone, everyone was back from church. At least all the food was pre-prepared and packed in two reusable grocery bags in the fridge. I had even baked an extra chocolate cheesecake for the family. After all, pagan or not, Valentine’s Day was also a celebration of chocolate.
Part of my plan was also to take a taxi to Madison’s house since I couldn’t bear the thought of him having to pick me up in order for me to make him his gift. He was all the time offering to give me a ride and I was all the time declining it unless it was part of one of our dates. I had my pride. I could take public transportation just like everybody else. Except today I didn’t want to transport an entire meal via the bus. I could have asked Pam to let me borrow her car, but since I was also hoping that maybe Monday would turn into another holiday i.e., I’d be spending the night with the man of my dreams, taking Pam’s car didn’t seem like a good idea. So taxi it was going to be.
As I was putting the finishing touches to my appearance, Jennifer burst into our room and immediately wanted to know why I was all dressed up. I wasn’t really, or not especially, although I was wearing a dress, the classic little black one. It was one of the items that I had saved from my life before. Most of everything else that the judge had granted me I had sold in garage sales and consignment shops in an attempt to pay back some of my debt. But I had saved a nice pair of heels too, which felt kind of funny on feet that now lived in flats. I debated wearing black pantyhose but that was probably a little much for a Sunday afternoon at chez Madison.
“I have a date, Jennifer,” I explained, loving the way the words sounded in my ears—and on Valentine’s Day too.
“You got a boyfriend?” asked Jennifer, like that was some kind of miracle.
Maybe it was. And yes, yes I did.
“Yes I do.”
“Is he cute?”
“The cutest,” I smiled.
“I want to meet him.”
Everyone did. I just needed to make sure there was a reason to.
While the rest of the family was having Sunday lunch around the kitchen table I was forced to come in to collect my grocery bags. Ted gave me a look but said nothing. Jennifer announced that Aunt Paige had a boyfriend, and Jessica informed her that having a date wasn’t the same thing as having a boyfriend.
“Is Madison picking you up?” Pam asked.
“I’m taking a taxi,” I replied.
“A taxi?” said Ted sarcastically. “How much is this party costing you?”
I’d be eating peanut butter sandwiches for the next couple of weeks, but that was my business. My bills were all paid, including what I owed him.
“Cancel it,” Pam said, getting up from the table. “I’ll drive you.”
“No!” I said a little too strongly. “I mean that’s okay. Please, finish your lunch. It’s not that far.”
Ted sighed loudly. God—I worked his nerves. The sooner I got out of his house—for good—the better.
“I said I’ll drive you,” Pam repeated herself.
And not wanting to prolong this cozy kitchen scene I surrendered to her will, even though it meant interrupting her lunch, and demonstrating yet again that I was burden to my little sister.
I gave Pam Madison’s address and she programed her GPS. For a while the mechanical female voice was the only sound inside the car. I felt obligated to say something but I couldn’t come up with an innocuous enough topic. It wouldn’t be fair to complain that her husband had embarrassed me.
“Nice neighborhood,” Pam observed when the GPS showed us that we weren’t far from Madison’s building. “Midtown. I guess he must be doing okay.”
I had been almost as reticent about Madison as he was about himself. Now with a wave of guilt washing over me, I decided it was time to talk.
“He’s a lawyer,” I confessed.
“A lawyer?” Pam asked surprised.
“Yes. For the government. The Labor Department.”
“Wow. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know. Never came up I guess.”
“A lawyer. Not too shabby, Paige.”
“That’s not the only reason he’s great.”
“So he’s great, huh?” Pam picked up on the word instantly.
“Yeah,” I said. “He is. Really great.”
“I guess that explains it.”
“The dinner. You wearing a cute dress. I haven’t seen your legs in months.”
“Madison never has,” I said realizing how true that was.
The GPS declared that we were arriving at Madison’s building.
“You can just pull around the corner and drop me off,” I said pointing to the next side street.
“So I guess I don’t get to meet him today,” replied Pam.
“Well he lives on the 11th floor, and--”
“You can’t call him to come down and meet you.”
“What’s the deal, Paige? He’s not married, is he? You’re not having some kind of affair?”
No and no, I thought. Although if I played my cards right tonight I might get to yes to her second question.
“Pam, come on,” I said. “No. I may not be a saint, but I’m not a cheat.”
“Okay, I’m sorry.” She put the car in park and left the engine running. “But you’re being so secret about it.”
“I know it seems that way, but there’s just nothing to tell yet. I mean Madison’s a great guy, we really like each other, maybe something will happen, but please, let’s give it some time, okay?”
“So you’re serious about him?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Is he serious about you?”
“I think so.”
“Well just be careful, Paige. You know how you are. I don’t want you to get hurt. Don’t rush into anything. And I know I don’t have to tell you to use protection.”
Protection. I hadn’t really thought about that. The mechanics of it. Oh God it was complicated. Leave it to Pam to curb my enthusiasm. But I put on a brave, bright smile.
“No you don’t,” I said, getting out of the car with my bags before she said something else for me to choke on.
“And I guess he’ll be bringing you home, right?” she asked.
“Yes, but don’t wait up,” I replied quickly closing the car door.
The instant I saw Madison it all came rushing back. Every ounce of the irrational exuberance, a warm spring filling my pretty panties before we had kissed hello. The bouquet of red roses in his lap didn’t help. I was thrilled and embarrassed at the same time.
“Going somewhere, Mr. Reese?” I said making like he must be surprised to see me as I closed the door behind me.
“No need to,” he played right back, looking suavely scrumptious, dressed in black slacks, white oxford shirt, black oxford shoes, even wearing a belt. Add a jacket and a tie and he’d be ready for court. Not too shabby indeed.
“Oh I thought you were about to make a delivery or something,” I said nodding towards the flowers.
“More like an exchange,” he replied nodding towards my grocery bags.
Depositing the bags on the floor first, I kissed him quickly on the lips, but slipping his arm around my waist Madison held the kiss longer.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said when we parted.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he returned. “I wasn’t sure you’d like roses, but--”
“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed taking the bouquet and burying my blushing face in the fragrant red blooms.
“They are a little cliché,” he noted.
“Traditional, Madison. Red roses are traditional, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Laughing lightly, he lifted both grocery bags into his lap, the muscles in his shoulders and arms rippling slightly.
“Well maybe we should get them into some water then,” he said heading towards the kitchen.
And just like that we had the perfect centerpiece for our romantic table; good thing too since I had forgotten to bring one despite my obsessive party planning.
In the kitchen, I could feel Madison’s golden brown eyes upon me, as I nervously unloaded the bags, placing the perishables on the empty top shelf in his stainless steel fridge. Would he like the way I cooked? Would he think my little black dress was silly? The food put away I stood before him, as always ready to pounce but determined to be gracious. It was inevitably like this when it came to Madison, a war going on inside of me: Mary versus Madonna.
“Take your coat?” asked Madison.
I certainly wasn’t dressed like a Mary today. The black dress was short in the skirt, deep in the bodice, and huggy all around.
“Okay,” I replied forced to come from behind the trench-coat covering.
Hoping that everything was in the right place, I removed my coat, and when I shyly met Madison’s eyes again, I was greeted with their brilliance, the golden brown luminous. I smiled at him. No wonder I had saved the dress. Every woman in the world, rich and poor, was entitled to something that made a man look at her like this. I handed him my coat, and Madison pulled me down to meet his lips again.
“Great dress,” he said when I stood before him once more.
Great guy I thought.
“I’m glad you like it,” I said. “I thought it was time to show you I’m a girl.”
“Never doubted it,” Madison smiled warmly.
And all I could think about was hoisting up the short skirt of my great dress and sitting open-legged across his lap. However, what I did was make myself busy retrieving the apron I had brought with me and tying it around my waist. I had a meal to cook.
And I soon found my domestic groove even though it was in Madison’s kitchen. In fact I liked his kitchen. Everything was operating room-neat and in place. There was no sign of male-characteristic disorder in any of the condo rooms I had seen. Of course I hadn’t seen his bedroom yet. But in any case, I guessed having a weekly visit by a housekeeper, who had been hand-picked by his mother, kept everything pristine, including his bedroom too I was willing to bet.
With the red roses in the middle of the table, we had our dinner to the gentle, another-era sounding music of classical guitar which was perfect. Madison said the food was perfect too, and I reveled in his pleasure. Cooking for someone could be an intimate act, right? At least it had felt that way when Madison had done it for me. It had made me feel special, and I hoped that he was feeling the same way now. Once upon a time I had counseled that closeness, even sensuality, did not have to solely depend upon the physical. Over and over again I had assured despondent clients, facing an unfixable virus, that there were many, many ways to make love. I had been telling them the truth then. I was telling myself the truth now. If I didn’t get to spend the night with Madison tonight, then it would still be the best Valentine’s Day I had had in a very, very, long time, and I intended to eventually dry the rose petals and keep them forever.
While I cleared the table, Madison made the coffee to have with the cheesecake. I stole glances at him as he completed the task, marveling at his methods, and considering how hard it must have been for him to relearn how to do everything from a wheelchair and with fingers that didn’t work. If I stayed lucky enough long enough, I’d get to introduce Pam to not just a great guy, but an amazing person.
Seated at the table again, I anxiously watched while my amazing person took a bite of my chocolate cheesecake. Resting his hand on the table, the fork still threaded through his fingers, Madison sat back in his chair, closed his eyes and sighed.
“It’s okay?” I finally had to ask unable to wait a second longer.
“No,” he said, shaking his head slowly.
I thought I would die. Then grinning, Madison opened his eyes and looked at me.
And once again, I wanted with every fiber of my being to sit in his lap.
Nevertheless I was content just sitting next to him on the sofa, which we eventually did. By this time the music was classical piano, and it provided a luxurious background as a fire danced dreamily in the fireplace. The other side of the Equator notwithstanding, whoever had decided to make Valentine’s Day a winter holiday had been very smart. The middle of February was still cuddle weather.
We talked a little about the music and Madison said he would get us tickets to the symphony if I liked. If I liked? I wanted to pinch myself because I must have dreamt this man up. It was as if he had walked right out of the pages of one of my favorite novels, or like I was a Bridget Jones and he was my very own Mark Darcy. And to think I had found him in Target.
“That would be lovely, Madison,” I cooed and I could wear this very dress, maybe borrow Pam’s pearl necklace.
During all my bougy years with snobby Derrick, he had never taken me to the symphony, but then again, in retrospect my ex-husband had never really been classy and certainly not classical; although he probably would have gone to Macy’s to buy a new coffee maker.
“Maybe we could invite my sister and her husband to come too,” I suggested, surprising myself with the idea, but then liking it immediately for all kinds of reasons.
“You’ve told them about me?” Madison asked.
“Sure. I mean I’ve told my sister, and she tells her husband everything.”
“So they know?”
“About this gorgeous guy I met in kitchen appliances?” I smiled snuggling closer. “Yes.”
“And they’re okay with it?”
Something in the tone of Madison’s voice made me raise my head to look into his face.
“’Course. Why wouldn’t they be?”
“Because I’m crippled,” he said matter-of-factly.
“And that means what,” I replied.
“I’m not exactly the pick of the litter, Paige.”
“First of all,” I informed him. “You’re not a dog. And second, you’re not the one doing the picking in this case.”
A little smile tugged at one corner of Madison’s mouth and I kissed it hello. Okay. It was probably best to prepare my family for Madison’s wheelchair, particularly since now he believed that I had. I would start with Pam and let her work on Ted. Maybe Ted would even give me some kind of saintly credit for being compassionate. At least he’d have the passion part right.
The hello kiss led to greater rewards and soon Madison and I were back in the happy place, the fire we made burning hotter than the one watching us from the fireplace across the room. Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff. My head was spinning with the ancient dance, and suddenly Madison was guiding me into his lap. I looked at him, bewildered by the gesture. “I won’t break, baby,” he assured me with another one of his crooked smiles. “Straddle me.”
The skirt of my dress rose up revealing my now wet panties. By hooking his thumb in its bodice Madison pulled my dress down further revealing my breasts, stroking their bulging crest with his tongue, as I covered his dark head with my own hungry caresses. Pulling his head away from my breasts I went after his mouth with mine, craving his penetration in the only way I knew how to have it. Slowly Madison ran one hand up and down the inside of my thigh until eventually he landed, at first lightly over my vagina. Instinctively my thighs closed around that hand, squeezing, pulling, as if to bring it inside of me where I might hold it forever. I murmured his name, craving for more, as he cupped my burning, throbbing flesh. Then his thumb slipped underneath the silk of my panties and softly pressed into my opening. I clung to him, as again, my body tried mightily to pull him into me more deeply. Yet Madison kept his thumb only at the edge, barely entering me, as if to tinker with my passion and make me wild.
“Oh Madison,” I heard myself moan. “Please. I-I can’t take this.”
Abruptly he stopped, taking his hand away before becoming stonily still.
“What is it?” he asked coldly, his gaze hard on my face. “What can’t you take?”
“When we do this,” I began to explain awkwardly. “It’s-it’s making me crazy. I-I just want more.”
“And I can’t give it to you. I thought you understood that, Paige. It’s not like it’s not obvious.”
“What?” I asked confused now. “I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”
“I’m a quad, Paige,” he said holding up his hands as if to show them to me. “According to most people, that makes me less than half a man. But you gave it shot. I appreciate that.”
Stunned by his stupidity I grabbed his hands with my own, squeezing them hard.
“Stop it!” I said angrily. “Don’t ever say that about yourself again! What I want more of is you. You,” I pressed our hands together against his chest, “naked. And me,” I pressed our hands together against my breasts, “naked. Doing any and everything we want to and can do. But you want to take it slow. That’s what I’m talking about. I get that. My brother-in-law says I’m a control freak and that’s why Derrick cheated on me and divorced me. So I’m trying to work on it. Let the man be in charge, okay? But you can’t play with me like you did just now and then send me home. Roses or not. For God’s sake, Madison, I share a bedroom with two little girls. What am I supposed to do?”
I let go of his hands.
“If you want to take it slow fine. Just don’t dangle me over the edge. I don’t know a lot about your injury and maybe it’s not the same for you anymore, but I’m still firing on all cylinders and you’re burning up my motor.”
Madison shook his head chuckling dryly.
“I’m sorry if that offended you,” I said. “I just want to be clear.”
“What are you saying, Paige?” he asked. “You want to be with me?”
I sighed wearily. For heaven’s sake, how did he not know that? I moved to just sitting next to him again.
“Yes,” I admitted. “Happy? The man is supposed to say it first, you know. Now you’ll think I’m easy.”
Madison shifted his weight.
“I think I did say it first,” he said. “Since we’re keeping score. I asked you out, remember?”
“You were cutting a deal,” I said smiling a little.
“Call it what you will,” he smiled back. “It worked.”
He placed his hand on top of mine, and I threaded my fingers through his.
“I don’t want to push you, Madison,” I said. “But I think maybe we could work on, you know, being more open…about ourselves.”
With our fingers entwined Madison raised my hand to his lips, instantly sending every nerve in my being scampering back to eager desire.
“It’s Valentine’s Day, Paige,” he quietly replied. “Push me.”