Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Plain Love: Chapter 10

Perfect. Yeah, not quite, I say to myself more than once as the GPS guides me to where Lorna lives. I hate thinking about the long list of imperfections, that reads like the cautionary fine print of a pharmaceutical ad. That’s probably why up to now I’ve kept my emotional distance from women even when I’ve slept with them. Things are just easier when the situations don’t matter so much, when the next morning it’s all over even if it is repeated again. Maybe that’s all I need this time too, an in-the-morning-it’s-over kind of encounter, just to get her out of my system. Why deliberately make things more complicated?

Lorna’s neighborhood has got this run-down but coming-back look, with a haphazard collection of residences and small restaurants, and coffee-houses and pubs, alongside auto-body shops and antique churches, with a number of artists’ boutiques and second-hand shops thrown in for good measure. I imagine Lorna walking to get coffee on Saturday mornings, perhaps on Sunday mornings walking to one of the small churches I pass. She could probably afford better, but I bet she loves living here and takes pride in the fact that she does.

Before the night I was turned into a redevelopment project myself, I frequented neighborhoods like this, and worse, for the adventure, the walk on the wild side. As the rather privileged son of a diplomat and a French Literature professor, I had grown up in a world of international assignments and private schools. My renegade and progressive parents had done what a lot of people like them do, I guess, given their children every advantage they could, while ensuring that we at least had field-trips into the world of those less fortunate. Dad is one generation away from the Delta, and Mom’s been a minority in every setting of her life. They wanted to shelter Nancy and me, but they also wanted us to understand where we came from and know all of who we are. 

So it was no wonder that I, at least, was always looking for ways to keep it real. Me and my crew would drive in from our high-rise office buildings and gated communities, and park our expensive vehicles along the various side streets to avoid the parking meters that dotted the main drags. Then we’d party all night, dancing to bands and DJs who could only afford to advertise themselves by word of mouth, or by plain paper flyers stapled to telephone poles. In our fashion designer street uniforms, we’d come for the music, the booze, the drugs, flashing our no-limit credit cards, often issued in our parents’ names, and rub shoulders—and bodies—with the blue-collar and unemployed classes who paid cash until their money ran out and then they’d spend ours. By dawn of course we’d be back where we belong, sleeping it off on the other side of town.

That was my life then. A fearless, at times careless, existence. Confident in my plusses, contemptuous of the minuses. Cindy was right. I was young and dumb. Until consequences caught up with me. Wiser now, I cling to the parts of town that are smoothly paved over and predictable. An uneven sidewalk is a hassle I do not need. I make it a point to avoid crowded clubs with their narrow passage ways that make crossing a room a gauntlet for a cyborg. I’m aware of my vulnerabilities and usually act accordingly.

Except here I am, in pursuit of a perfect stranger. A woman I’ve known a week today, who, if I’m honest with myself, I want to know for the rest of my life. It’s not making sense to me, and yet I make every turn the GPS tells me to make, eventually turning into Lorna’s condo community.

Which is a set of older, nondescript red-brick buildings that look like they used to make up your typical middle-grade apartment complex before a smart landlord realized it was more profitable to sell the units than it was to rent them. Hopefully the interiors are more impressive than their outward appearances, although from what I can see of the grounds everything’s neat and cared for. No doubt Lorna and her fellow tenants foot that bill with their homeowner association fees. In my building these fees also pay for a concierge, covered parking, a pool, and a gym. But there is a kind of charm to Lorna’s community. It’s nice, I guess, that the whole world is not modern and new. 

I park in front of Lorna’s building and call her house phone via the Blue Tooth function in my car.

She picks up on the first ring, and I’m immediately buoyed by her melodious voice. What’s this hold she’s got on me?

“Hi,” I say, looking up at the concrete steps to her building through the windshield, “I’m downstairs.”

A real man would meet her at her door. Cyborgs are not real men.

“Okay,” she says. “I’ll be right down.”

If I ever believed in anything akin to God or destiny, I have certainly ceased believing in the benevolence of those concepts. There is no great Reason for things. Fate is random. Chance encounters, be they on a dark street or in an airport, can change your life forever. And you never see any of it coming. Lorna emerges and turns to lock her door. I’m falling for her. A woman who does believe in those concepts. For God’s sake, literally, she sings in a church choir. She’s a good girl who I suspect is too good for me.

By the landing light I can see she’s wearing a dark blue skirt and a light blue blouse, and carrying what else—a cardigan sweater. Since I haven’t made up my mind, I haven’t told her where we’re going tonight, but my clever girl is suitably dressed for just about anywhere that isn’t black tie. I wonder if she owns anything formal. I’m not much of a prince, but I wouldn’t mind taking her to a ball.

Wearing another pair of low-heel pumps, Lorna trots down the stairs, her full breasts bouncing a little with each step. She’s athletic-looking, wholesome. A girl next door if ever there was one. In high school and college, I knew girls like Lorna, they were the sidekicks, the brainy best friends of the pretty popular girls. They got the good grades but rarely got the boys. I’d notice them and then look passed them. Nancy used to try to set me up on a dates with them. Tiffany’s great, Eli, she’d say. Nita has the biggest crush on you. Please take Melinda to the dance. Sometimes I’d go on those dates, for Nancy’s sake, and even have a good time, but always I moved on. Maybe I can do that again.

Before Lorna gets to the car, I press the button to unlock it. She opens the door and gets in. I catch the scent of vanilla.

“Hi!” she says again, giving me a smile that is practically effervescent in car-cabin’s light.

Nancy’s going to like Lorna.

“Hi,” I also say again, enticed by her cinnamon-colored lips.

I badly want to kiss her, feeling the tightness in my belly again, but I hesitate despite seeing that she’s expecting me to. The last time I kissed her my fucking leg went wild. I don’t want that to happen again. It will I know, but I resist risking it. It’s enough that the cabin light also reflects off the metal of my chair that’s in pieces on the backseat.

“How was your day?” she inquires, her lovely face before me.

Sidekicks are terribly underrated. I finally see this now. Not wanting to let either of us down, I kiss Lorna quickly, leaning across for just a brief touch of my lips to hers, and the act leaves behind a smile on both our faces. When I sit back, she reaches for the passenger shoulder seatbelt, pulling it across her breasts, buckling herself in.

“You look nice,” I say, because she does.

“So do you,” she returns the compliment. “And boy, this is some kind of car,” she adds gingerly touching the dash. “I think this is my first time riding in a BMW.”

I almost ask how can that be. It’s just a sedan. I also feel a bit compelled to explain to her that my father instilled in his children a loyalty to German engineering when it comes to automobiles. It’s not pretention with us, it’s merely practical. Both my parents drive Mercedes, and Nancy’s minivan is a Volkswagen. But I don’t explain my family’s car choices, and just say, “Thanks.”

Besides the seats are pretty scuffed-up from stowing my wheelchair. There was a time when such marks would have driven me crazy. Like a lot of men, I fretted over my car. But with my new circumstances, and necessarily different priorities, I’ve been forced to relinquish a number of my former vanities. 

“Where are we going?” Lorna asks.

“I thought maybe you could recommend a place,” I say.

And I marvel a little at my willingness to put my half-man-half-wheels body in such inexperienced hands. The able-bodied inevitably misunderstand accessibility. What if Lorna chooses badly? Oh well. Cards on the table.

“Do you like German food?” she asks.

“Why because I like German cars?” I ask back a bit snippily.

I suppose I’m still a little defensive about the BMW.

“Well,” she says oblivious to the attitude. “Maybe. But since we had French last time, I don’t want to bore you with plain old American.”

“American’s fine,” I reply in a corrected tone. “But German’s good.”

“Great! Everybody calls it the Village Bakery, but it’s a restaurant too, and they have a bar. It’s very good. Even German expats say so.”

“Okay,” I say shifting the car into reverse. “The Village Bakery it is.”

With the car in reverse, the rearview camera sends its image to the dash screen, and it kind of embarrasses me, although it’s really just another helpful tool. 

Lorna becomes fully engaged with giving directions to the restaurant, using her hands to point out the turns as we go. She never seems to be curious about how I drive, which usually intrigues my passengers. When we arrive at the restaurant I can see there is adequate handicap parking and an easily navigable ramp. We both release our seatbelts.

“It’s probably better for you to get out first,” I advise, “before I get my chair.”

“Oh sure,” she replies.

Once out she comes around to my side of the car to wait. And watch. My imperfections are on full display now, and this is just a preliminary round. I try not to think about it as I go through the motions that I’ve now done maybe a million times too many. Not until I’m resettled in the chair do I let myself look at Lorna, and when I do I find her face wearing a warm smile for me.

“I always have the sausage plate,” she tells me on our way to the beginning of the ramp. “Mustard’s my favorite condiment. And you know the Germans make the best.”

“Agreed,” I say.

She walks ahead of me up the ramp and waits at the entrance for me to open the door for her. Maybe I’m not her first crippled cowboy.

The Village Bakery is indeed that, and the first thing you see inside is the bakery display case filled with all manner of confections plain and elaborate. On one side of the establishment there’s a pub with a T.V. broadcasting some kind of game, giving the place a sports bar feel. The restaurant is on the opposite side, and softly lit. A friendly hostess greets us and leads us to a table for two. Laying the paper menus on the table, she quickly removes one of the chairs before I ask her to. “Your server will be right with you,” she tells us and leaves, returning soon after with two glasses of ice water and cutlery rolled up in paper napkins. I take off my gloves and pick-up one of the menus to read. 

“So is this okay?” Lorna asks.

“Yeah,” I say nodding honestly. “The food looks good.”

“Have you been to Germany?”

“Yeah, when I was kid. My dad was on assignment there.”

“Really? What does he do? Is he a journalist too?”

Too? I’m not a journalist.”

“True. You’re not a reporter, but your op-eds are really good.”

“You’ve read them?”

“Some. I googled you,” she confesses with a smile.

I wonder what she’s seen and am tempted to ask her, but I don’t want to sound like a narcissist. Besides, she’s here, isn’t she? Whatever it was hasn’t worked against me.

“So what does your dad do?” she returns to her earlier question.

“He’s retired now, but he was Foreign Service.”

“An ambassador?” she asks setting aside her menu.

“No,” I say. “Just a Service Officer.”

I’m down-playing my father’s accomplishments. The fact is before retiring he had risen to the rank of Senior Foreign Service Officer, and he still does consultant work internationally.

“Oh,” says Lorna. “My dad was a high school principal. Mother didn’t work.”

Hers is a traditional family, I’m sure. From Red River Parish. It’s now my turn, and I tell her, “My mother teaches French Lit.” Then I bring us back to the menu and ask, “So what are you having?”

“The sausage plate,” replies Lorna.

“Creature of habit, are you?”

“Maybe. But it’s my favorite. Why not have it?”

I like her.

“You’re right,” I say. “Why not.”

It’s late when I bring her back home. Parking the car, I shut off the engine and stare up at the insurmountable—for me—concrete steps that lead to her door.

“So you’re flying out tomorrow morning,” Lorna says attempting to fill what is suddenly an awkward silence.

“Yeah,” I reply, not helping very much.

“You must be platinum or something.”

More like titanium, I think.

“Not quite,” I say. “I don’t fly the same airlines every time, and sometimes I drive.”

“Thus this beautiful thing,” she says patting the dash.

“It does come in handy,” I concur.

I wish I could drive it up those goddamn steps. I want to see the inside of her home. How does she decorate? Is her cat friendly? But she might as well live on the moon. 

I sigh. She notices.

“I’m glad you like the restaurant,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite places. I go there after church sometimes for their brunch.”

I nod, gazing at the way her short haircut tapers at the back of her neck. Without permission or forethought, I gently run my fingertips along the soft dark hair. She smiles at me. My belly contracts. The fact that I like long hair is suddenly more like a memory, because I like Lorna’s hair. She leans towards me and I kiss her, this time venturing deeper into her mouth, stroking her tongue with mine, tugging at it hungrily. I feel her hand on my arm. Twisting my back as much as I can I slip this arm around her, drawing her to me. The weak lower back muscles protest the strain but I want her too much and more. Her breasts are now against my chest, and the sweet low moan she makes diminishes the pain. Her arm around me provides support, compensation. I can hold on, rely on her.

Until we both have to catch our breath. Collapsing against the seat back, while my back angrily has its say, I hope that the darkness covers my legs as they spasm. But Lorna reaches over and strokes my right thigh, massaging it. I look at her.

“I can’t feel that, Lorna,” I say, the words nearly choking me.

“I can,” she says. “You feel good.”

I look down at her hand again, the way it touches me, caressing and squeezing the wasted, useless twitching flesh clothed in black gabardine.

“Eli?” she says bringing my eyes back to hers. “I wish you could come up.”

Her voice is soft and breathy in that way that tells me she means it.

“Me too,” I say, loss punching me in the gut as it does time after time.

“Maybe next time we can go…you know…to your place.”

Her gaze is straight forward, unashamed. Her suggestion draws from me an ironic smile. Church ladies have definitely evolved in the modern era. Denomination notwithstanding Lorna Eaton is not my father’s mother. Her temperament reminds me of Cindy’s. Coy is not her style. I take her hand from my leg and raise it to my lips.

“I would like that, Lorna,” I say, my fingers now threaded through hers. “When I get back from Phoenix, you can come over. We’ll order in.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she says happily.

Then with a soft kiss on my cheek, she pulls away from me to get out of the car; only I don’t let go of her. She waits.

“Lorna,” I begin. “You…you realize…I mean you get that it’s different with me, right?”

“It’s different with everybody, Eli,” she says.

Which is a nice thing to say, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me to explain what I need to explain.

“I’m a T-10 T-11, incomplete,” I continue. “There’s some sensation in my legs below my injury. Nothing really useful. No movement. Well—no voluntary movement anyway. What I’m saying is…is that I can’t…function like other men.”

It occurs to me that I’m still holding her hand, as if I’m trying to keep her from running away. I’ve told this story before, lots of times, but never while I was holding a woman’s hand. Am I pathetic or what? Yet I can’t let go. Lorna leans across the console again, surrendering her mouth to mine with an insistence that dissolves my hesitation. My abdominal muscle fiercely contracts again, and my arm goes around her and I hold her to me once more. The lingering scent of vanilla seduces me. After a time, Lorna speaks softly in my ear, “I don’t want other men, Eli. I want you.”

Monday, May 30, 2016

Plain Love: Chapter 11

I don’t want other men, Eli. I want you. Oh God—did I actually say that? Inside my condo, my back pressed against the locked door, I take a long moment to assess myself, while an impatient Freddie rubs himself against my legs. So much for decorum. Mother would be horrified. I’m pretty horrified myself. I even suggested that we go to his place next time. A: that assumes there will be a next time and B: what am I a sex maniac? But it’s the truth. I do want him. I’ve wanted him since the moment I saw him at the airport, and he flashed that brilliant smile at me. Was that only a week ago? Thank God he didn’t call me in D.C. I probably would have met him in his hotel room. I’m all for being a modern woman and everything, but this borders on throwing myself at him. Heaving a huge sigh of surrender I finally move away from the door and put my purse and sweater in the foyer closet. 

Leaving Freddie contentedly crunching on his generous portion of late night cat treats, I head to the bedroom and get undressed. Look, it’s obvious that I conceded the white wedding gown a long time ago, and I’m wise enough not beat myself up about the “right-nows” who ultimately became the “let’s-be-friends”. In fact, maybe it’s commendable that I never married just to fulfill expectations that may or may not be my own. Divorce rates being what they are, it would appear that the marriage contract doesn’t exactly guarantee happily-ever-after. But I’m not promiscuous. And a woman wants a man’s respect. And that usually means he makes the first move. 

In the shower the warm water feels wonderful washing over me. I’m still a little shaky from all that kissing downstairs in Eli’s James-Bond of a car. I cover myself in the lavender foam of bath wash and it calms me down too. After all Eli did make the first move, with that ruse about needing an SME on homelessness. I smile just thinking about it, but I’m wondering too why he couldn’t just ask me out straight-up. I must admit it was a smooth move. He played the game so easily. Does he do this all the time? 

I can’t function like other men. I guess that would make him a little nervous about asking a woman out. You can’t just overlook a wheelchair. It’s not like height or weight, or questionable oral hygiene. I mean, if it wasn’t for the wheelchair he’d be up here right now, wouldn’t he? Inside me instead of inside my head. No, you can’t look over the chair, you have to look right at it, and accept it for what it is, what it means. Like the fact that he can never be here because I live on the second floor. 

After the shower I step out to dry myself off, and when I’m done I stand naked before the full-length mirror that’s attached to the bathroom door. Alonso said he read that it’s psychologically healthy to look at yourself in the buff. It’s supposed to teach you self-acceptance. He may be right. The figure before me isn’t so bad. My neck’s okay and I kind of like my collar bones now that I’ve lost enough weight for them to show. The price you pay for fuller breasts is that they aren’t as perky as the ones belonging to the models you see in the lingerie ads. I always try to do the right exercises to keep my chest muscles strong, but let’s face it, breasts are not made of muscle tissue. My belly’s a little soft too but reasonably flat, still, thank goodness for the hidden elastic in waistbands and let’s not forget the forgiveness of spandex. Although my butt’s really pretty good, and I’ve got strong legs, which I’ve always appreciated, and decent ankles. However I wish my feet were smaller, but there’s nothing I can do about that. All in all, I can consider myself attractive even though I wish there was a way for me to lose ten pounds before I see Eli again.

In the bedroom, I sit on the side of the bed to finish my skin care regime which means applying lavender-vanilla scented lotion all over my naked body in the never ending quest for commercial-grade skin. Mainly I use the simple creams and fragrances that you can buy at Bath and Body Works, and vanilla is my signature scent. Mother’s penchant for expensive and overpowering perfumes long ago taught me to steer clear of the perfume counters in department stores. 

When I’m done with the lotion, I do as I have always done as far back as I can remember, I kneel down beside the bed and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Saying the prayer closes my day, even if it’s almost dawn and I’m not sleeping alone. On the accompanied occasions, I will compromise to avoid the appearance of false piety, and say the prayer silently in bed. Before the amen tonight, I list all my requests for blessings for family and friends, adding Eli’s name at the end. He is my friend. I wonder if he’s religious, and I picture some kind of combination of Baptist-Muslim faith, Morocco and Mississippi coming together, which is kind of amazing. 

I get into bed, slipping between the cool cotton sheets. They’re 500-count. I don’t mind spending extra money for good linens, well—luxury linens. I like spa-quality towels and high-end-hotel sheets. Yes, I feather my nest. My condo décor is carefully designed to suit and reflect my tastes, to say who I am. I enjoy having people over to share it and admittedly to show it off. I’m sorry Eli can’t see it.

The house I grew up in is my mother’s house, all of it, including what was once my bedroom. It was and is all about her tastes, her style, her art. Sometimes it would feel as if Daddy and I were just two more fixtures, like the leather Barcalounger and the china cabinet. But this is my place. And when Mother comes to visit she wonders why I spend so much money on fresh flowers instead of buying silk ones that last and look just as pretty according to her. She reminds me that the towels in the guest bathroom and the sheets on the guest bed don’t have to be expensive. And if I wouldn’t spend so much on custom framing for my art prints I could save more to take nicer vacations. I don’t argue with her, but I don’t change either.

Before reaching to shut off the tiffany-style lamp on the mahogany nightstand, I look affectionately around the room, at the water-blue walls where I have hung my collection of custom-framed Claude Monet prints. I bet Mrs. Abbot would like these prints, she’d at least appreciate them anyway. But Eli will never see them, not here on these blue walls. He can’t sit at my dining room table, the one I found at a flea market and refinished myself. He can’t see the books I’ve read or listen to music played on my Bose Radio. Other men have, but he can’t function like other men.

I suspected that he couldn’t get an erection, which probably means he’ll want to go down on me. I don’t actually like the term to go down and to eat out someone sounds worse. To me both ways of saying it, saying cunnilingus, is like saying fucking for making love, and the word fuck puts my libido on ice. I know every act of sex is not an act of love, but at least I always hope it will be. To fuck is to give up on intimacy, and without intimacy what’s the point? Freddie jumps on the bed and curls up on the empty side. I turn off the light.

I’m not too fond cunnilingus either. I prefer to see my lover’s face and if it’s buried between my legs the best view I get is the top of his head. It makes me feel detached, as if I don’t need to be there as long as my vagina is. Maybe Eli can take medication to get an erection, but if he doesn’t feel anything why would he want to? Wouldn’t that just be frustrating? 

Tammy loved having sex, and she used to regale me with her many stories about her sexual adventures, which too many times seemed like fucking. She told me she’d even had sex in the hospital after she got shot. I remember being a little appalled by that but keeping the prudish opinion to myself. Of course Tammy could walk a little. She had feeling below her injury, useful feeling. Eli does not.

But he wants me too. I swear to God, I nearly took flight when he confessed to tricking me into a date, and the only reason I’m not flying right now is because I am determined to keep my feet on the ground by constantly telling myself that I don’t know this man, so I can’t be in love. But the way he kissed me Tuesday night and again tonight, the way he held my hand on the plane before, the man has firepower and I’m happily blown away. Maybe his brain can’t get through to his penis, but maybe that doesn’t matter so much.

So what if his traditional physical beauty ends at his waist. The rest of him is so incredible, who cares. I don’t know how long ago he was hurt. Tammy’s legs weren’t skinny. They were just slim, sleek even. She used to like to cross them all the time, when she was wearing skirts or pants. If she wasn’t in her wheelchair or you didn’t know her, you couldn’t really tell anything was wrong. From what I’ve seen of them, Eli’s legs look fine too. Of course I haven’t seen them, and I can tell he hates the spasms so much.

When I touched his leg I couldn’t tell anything was wrong. It felt normal, a little thinner than usual maybe, but it wasn’t skin and bones. I felt muscle, and most importantly I felt him, and the feeling went all through me. Because he goes all through me. I keep imagining myself under him, experiencing his weight upon me. I confess to liking the missionary position when I’m having sex, making love. I like to look up into my lover’s face. I wonder if he can he do that, if Eli can get on top of me. Maybe he’ll just think it’s silly.

In the darkness, under the top sheet and the comforter, with Eli’s perfect face before me, I tentatively reach down between my legs, and feel the soft crinkly hair. I wonder if I should consider finally shaving here. Lots of women do. It just never struck me as necessary. But maybe if it is what Eli is used to I should. Alonso says that lots of men shave their pubic areas too. Maybe Eli does. I hope he doesn’t shave his chest though. I hope the same dark hair that trims his face decorates his chest too. I want to touch it, stroke it. He’s a beautiful man, but I’m glad he’s not pretty.

I let my imagination turn my fingers into Eli’s fingers. In reality his are bigger though, stronger. There are places in his palms that are tough, smoothed over callouses but callouses all the same. I dream my hand is his between my legs, and then I can almost feel his hands on my bare breasts. The vibrations throb. The blood rushes down, creating a swelling heated pool of desire that burns and aches, yet is somehow a lovely feeling. It’s thrilling, full of anticipation. You get that it’s different with me, he said. Whatever it is, however it is, it will be wonderful. I can’t feel that, Lorna, he said to me tonight. But he must feel something, because he wants me. I can feel that.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Plain Love: Chapter 12

I watch Cindy gracefully get out of bed. She pauses for a moment, sitting on the side of the bed, languidly stretching her slender arms over her head. She’s in no hurry, but the morning light will not find her outside of her home, the home she shares with Ned, her second husband. He will wake up next to her as is his contractual right. She will return to him as guiltlessly as she leaves me; and we will both let her get away with it, as we always have. Me, perhaps for more obvious reasons. Although Ned’s reasons could be pretty obvious too. Cindy is beautiful, and it is Biblically alleged that a woman is the glory of a man, assuming, I suppose, that the man is her husband.   

I push myself up into a sitting position, resting my back against the padded headboard. As usual Cindy has reserved a great room for me, although maybe the room is also for herself as well. She’s not your Motel 6 kind of woman. She demands nothing less than four stars, five if such a room is available for a negotiated lower price. She takes her fiduciary responsibilities to the firm very seriously. Even though the fact that I had to fly from Phoenix to D.C., instead of going back to Atlanta this week, is due to her urging Hal and Dave to hold an in-person senior staff meeting. She confessed as much to me over dinner tonight. “Things are really working out in Ohio,” she said. “I just thought you’d like a chance to brag.” When I told her it’s too early for that, she just smiled and replied in her west Texas drawl, “Aw shucks, Elijah, strut a little. Everybody does.” The accent is strictly for effect. Small town America may have produced her but it could not contain her. Like Lorna, Cindy bolted, and never looked back. One would never know that she hails from a west Texas town that’s too small to even have a post office.

Without a word now she smiles at me over her shoulder. Her rose-colored lipstick has staying power but just barely. Her eye makeup is smudged. We went at it pretty hard tonight. It’s been a while since we had the chance. I guess she must have missed me. I’m surprised the noise she was making didn’t earn us a call from the front desk, which has happened on occasion.

She rises. The soft light from the bedside lamp strokes her creamy nakedness. Her supple back tapers into her narrow waist, and then rounds out into her slightly curvy hips. Her butt is flatter than it used to be and it has slipped a little, but one would have to know her as well as I do to detect the imperfections. I see things about her that Ned can’t, but I suppose one day he will.

Cindy doesn’t like to fuck in the dark. If ours is an afternoon rendezvous, then she insists the hotel drapes be open. If it’s at night, we leave on a lamp. Even when I begged her to let me hide my broken body she wouldn’t let me.
“I like looking at you, Eli,” she told me. “It’s part of your magic.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “A limp dick is very charming.”
She just smiled at my bitter joke and the light stayed on. Which is a good thing, I guess. An important part of my recovery, my therapist told me, and eventually I did get used to it.

Except for every single first time I go through it again. Lorna will be another one of those first times, if we get that far. I can tell she thinks she’s ready for it, and I keep wondering if she’s done this before with another man like me.

Cindy closes the bathroom door behind her, and next I hear the water running from the tap. She’s probably pissing. Women don’t want you to hear them pissing. Cindy can buy my bowel and bladder supplies, but God forbid I hear her take a dump. I should probably get up and cath too, but I’ll wait until she leaves. I’m vain just like she is. She may like looking at me, even now, but I don’t like what she sees. Now that we’re done for the night, I keep the inoperable part of my body draped like a cadaver with the white bedsheet.

A few minutes later Cindy emerges from the bathroom, still naked, and comes back to the bed bringing a warm wet washcloth. She’s prepared to wash my face. I am wearing her scent, though in the aftermath it is less a hot scent and more a fishy odor. I need to brush my teeth too. My guess is she’s at her sexual peak, capable of flowing with the force of a river off a mountain top. I take the towel from her hand and wipe my face myself. I hate it when starts that maternal shit with me, especially after we’ve fucked. I’m not her baby boy, and I don’t like being constantly reminded that I’m the kid in this relationship. My abrupt assertiveness only earns me another one of her pretty smiles, as if she’s amused by it.

“I got you a late check-out,” she informs me walking over to the closet. “I’m sure Hal won’t mind if you telework until it’s time for you to go to the airport.”
“I need to come into the office,” I say.
Must she always be the arranger? I can take care of myself.
“All right,” she says, stepping into her panties. “Suit yourself. I can swing by and pick you up.”
“I’ll take a cab,” I reply.   

She faces me to put on her bra. For Cindy, putting her clothes back on is just as much a part of the ritual as taking them off. She does it for effect and it is effective. She’s methodical, deliberate, one piece at a time. Time was watching her, before and after, my cock would be hard enough to cut steel, big and thick, the blood vessels bulging beneath the skin. By the time she was finally done I’d be all dick, starving for her, without a will of my own. If we were at the beginning, she’d come to me, and pressing herself against me, push me down onto the bed and straddle me. Like the needle in a compass, my dick would find its true north and disappear into her warm wetness. She’d look down at me and say, almost triumphantly, “Slowly, Eli, take me slowly.” And I’d try to, but a lot of times I’d just explode. No hang time at all. She’d laugh and say, “Now you have to come back for me.”

Despite my cock being a useless remnant of its former self, the third eye essentially blinded, I still enjoy watching Cindy do her dance of veiling and unveiling. It remains a feast for the two eyes in my head. And added bonus: it pleasures her too. Some women seem embarrassed by their nakedness, and some women should be, but Cindy is not one of those women even at her age. She delights in flaunting it. And men delight in admiring it. I don’t blame her. I was once the same way. Sometimes I almost want to tell her, “Enjoy it while you can.” I know too well that the day—the night—can come when such an advantage is ripped away from you. Watching her settle her breasts into their respective cups, I hope Cindy is lucky enough to lose it all gradually, as Ned continues to look on lovingly.

I like Ned. I’m happy for them. When Cindy first met him, Ned was a rising political star from Georgia. She will never admit it, but a number of us around the office speculate that she convinced him to trade his legislative goals for more lucrative ones he could achieve as a lobbyist. Ned may never make it into the history books now, but he’s doing very well on K Street. And Cindy is doing very well right alongside side him. I’m told the discarded first Mrs. Ned is living out an obscure life somewhere in southern Georgia.

Occasionally Ned drops by the office when I’m there, and sometimes I see him at parties. I used to be taller than him too. If he knows or even suspects anything about me and his wife, he never lets on. I never let on either. After all this time I’m sure there’s office speculation about me and Cindy too. But Ned and I are nothing but cordial to each other. He signed the office get-well card I received when I was in the hospital. A lot of people think Washington is a city of lies. They’re probably right; but so is the world. Complete and total fealty to truth-telling is for philosophers and theologians. The rest of us live here, on Planet Earth.

Facing the full-length mirror attached to the closet door, Cindy retouches her makeup. Mascara, lipstick, blush. I think of Lorna’s mostly unadorned face. Judging from my shirt collar she must have been wearing at least a little foundation the last time I saw her. It was nice when she took off her glasses. They don’t appear to be very strong as she seems to do fine without them. I wonder why she doesn’t wear contacts. She has lovely eyes, and there are times that she looks at me and I almost feel like I can walk again, or like maybe it really doesn't matter so much that I can't.

Without any obvious provocation, I commit the cardinal sin and ask Cindy about Ned. At the mention of her husband’s name, she freezes for an instant, leaving the blush brush hovering over her right cheek.
“He’s fine,” she says dryly after the instant.
“When I saw him yesterday, I thought he looked a little tired. Too many K-Street parties, I guess.” Cindy’s facial reflection in the mirror is one of disapproval. The rule is when we are sharing a hotel room, a hotel bed, we are free agents, without responsibility or attachments. It’s worked well for the both of us, for years. I’m not even thinking that I want to change it, it’s just that it doesn’t quite feel so simple right now. 

There are texts in my phone confirming that I will be seeing Lorna Saturday night. I get back to Atlanta on Friday and I wouldn’t mind seeing her then, but I know I have to make sure everything’s ready, perfect—as perfect as I can make it anyway. She’s coming to my place, and despite home-base being a helluva lot easier for me than anywhere else, I’m still nervous. It could be one of those first times. The third date often means at least the proverbial third base. It’s going to be new for her and therefore new for me all over again. She wants me to believe it’ll be okay. I want to believe it too. But I never get to know that anymore until the first time is behind me, and even then there can be doubt.

I’ve endured the look, the shocked expression that’s quickly blinked away and replaced with a wanly sympathetic smile, when a new woman sees my naked floppy legs and shriveled dick for the first time, as she waits for me drag myself onto the bed. Out of my chair, the heap permanently left behind on the street that night becomes starkly obvious. My face, my brain, maybe even my connections, or just curious fascination, might have lured her to this point, but faced with the real deal more than one woman hasn’t been willing to complete the transaction.      

There was a first time with Cindy too, and I remember being terrified. It had been a long time since I was a novice, and here I was one again but worse. I couldn’t rely on my body anymore, so I couldn’t trust myself. I couldn’t even trust Cindy. But she was incredible. She took charge of the whole situation. Cindy isn’t normally a talker during sex, but that first time, and times after that, she coached and comforted me, showing me what I could still do and convincing me that I satisfied her. After that first time as we lay in each other’s arms I was so grateful to her, relieved, that I couldn’t talk. Everything wasn’t over after all. “I missed you so much,” Cindy said to me that day. “Don’t ever leave me again.” And I haven’t.

As I watch her finish with her makeup, Cindy asks casually, intentionally changing the subject from her husband, “What time are you coming in? I can order lunch and have it delivered.” I want to keep talking about Ned, somehow counting on that to let me bring up Lorna. My gut feeling, and I do still have that, keeps telling me that this time is different. If we work out, then three’s going to be a crowd. However, Cindy’s smooth gear change throws me off. If I go back to talking about Ned, she’ll definitely detect that something’s up, and she’d be right.

Putting on her blouse, she follows up, “Well?”
“Don’t worry about me,” I say lamely.
“I always do,” she replies, stepping into her skirt.
To my great advantage, I think to myself. Cindy’s a wild bird, but she is in my hand. She’s the known quantity, and more importantly she already knows me. And she loves me. I love her too. It’s not pure or even practical, it just is.

Pretty Fat Update -- The Memorial Day Weekend Edition

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting!  It means the world to me!

In this next chapter, Emily discovers something about Brody that he definitely didn't want her to know.  Please enjoy!

Chapter 9

Table of Contents

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Plain Love: Chapter 13

Truth be told, my feelings for Eli probably can’t pass a purity test. Some of them, maybe the majority, are just categorically lust. Not that that matters really. Mainly he’s just nice to look at, even in the wheelchair. Maybe even a little bit because of it. It’s kind of sexy the way his shoulders move when he’s rolling himself. I’ve always been a sucker for broad-shouldered men. I’m eager to see Eli’s bare, eager to kiss and caress them. I bet the muscles are huge. His arms are also powerful too no doubt, and I’m yearning to see them undressed. I’m yearning to see him—undressed. I keep imagining my hands running all over that swarthy beige flesh that reminds me of the way I like my coffee, all full of cream. I can’t stop thinking about the possibilities. I try to go on like nothing’s happening, but my belly is full of butterflies, nervous ones that flutter frantically dying to light somewhere—well, on him.

These feelings are not so practical either. I keep wanting to get way ahead of myself. I keep wanting to be in love. Normally I’m a slow bloomer. Even when I like a guy I make him wait. He has to prove himself a little. I usually wear my panties pretty tight, but not this time. I’m dying to seal the deal—whatever deal that is. I tell myself that I’m just being a thoroughly modern woman, that I’m liberated, how this is the new millennium, and my mother’s rules do not, and should not, apply. But again, the truth is, practical or not, pure or not, I just want Eli Abbot, and I feel like if I don’t get to have him, in some form or fashion, it will be the loss of a lifetime.

Alonso returns to our table. It’s Friday night after work, and he and I, along with two other office mates, are out for Happy Hour. The music is loud and so is the conversation around the table. Linda, one of our four, is bitching about some slight or something that Stephanie, our supervisor, has done or said. I’m not really following because one: I like Stephanie, and two: my mind is on tomorrow night with Eli; that’s assuming he makes it back to town and there’s not some work emergency that could determine the fate of the free world. Carla, the other person who makes up our four, but who reports to another supervisor, gives Linda advice on how she should handle the situation. Now that he’s back Alonso just laughs and advises both Linda and Carla that whatever it is they are complaining about is no big deal. I couldn’t agree more, especially since I only agreed to going to Happy Hour because I thought I’d have a chance to talk with Alonso about this thing with Eli. However, in the context of this office foursome I’m not about to do that.

So I’m horrified when Alonso brings up the subject of my new boyfriend, which Eli is not I hastily say.
“Not yet,” Alonso says. “But will be. Third time’s the charm.”

“Oooh, do tell!” Linda says hungrily.

“Yeah,” chimes in Carla. “Is he tall, dark, and handsome?”

“Sí!” says Alonso. “Absolutamente.”

Eli was tall in the video clip I shared with Alonso. He still is really.

“Alright,” says Linda. “Details, girl. ‘Fess-up. We know still waters run deep.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I insist.

“Yeah, but do you want him to be?” Carla asks as Alonso just grins.

Sí! screams my mind, body, and soul as my lips mutter, “He’s really nice.”

My friends hoot like there’s been some kind of score.

“He’s on T.V.,” Alonso announces.

“Really?” says Linda.

And with that Alonso is off and running with all the details of my budding romance. Except for one really big one that he doesn’t know about—the wheelchair. It’s still my secret, and I’m not really sure why, except that maybe it’s not really important, or maybe it is. Right now my friends are celebrating my romantic triumph, enthralled by Alonso’s enthusiastic account; and true confession, it feels good. As if I have any right to be, I’m proud of Eli, and proud of myself too. No matter what happens, he’s the most exciting Mr. Right I’ve ever dated. But I wonder what all of them would think if they knew he doesn’t function like other men. Would the office tortoise, me, be a little less impressive if they knew the hare, Eli, couldn’t walk?

I’m still asking myself the same question the next night, as I turn into the parking garage attached to Eli’s building. The garage attendant, whom Eli has alerted that I would be coming, takes down my license plate number, gives me a pass that I’m supposed to place on my dashboard, and tells me which space in the visitors’ section of the garage is assigned to me. Eli’s building is about what I expected, glass, steel, and granite, a monument to modernity, much like the rest of the new, ever-growing Midtown Atlanta. They do leave a few relics of the past: The Fox Theater, Margaret Mitchell’s House, but really midtown is mostly all about upward mobility, and I do mean upward. It’s no surprise that this would be Eli’s ‘hood, if I dare call it that.

A man seated at the lobby front desk buzzes me into the building. Indeed, I’m reminded of a hotel as I enter the lobby and approach the large desk that’s all polished wood trimmed with brass. Alonso would love it. He loves Buckhead and once he finds the man of his dreams, I’m sure he’ll move to a place like this, where the real estate prices are high and the parking is a premium. I give the man my name and Eli’s name. Then he actually calls Eli on the phone to announce me. I think of Scarlett O’Hara and the little silver trays on which the slave butlers carried calling cards. Times they are a-changing. The desk attendant directs to a bank of elevators across the way from the desk. I thank him and he wishes me a good evening. I hope so, I say in my head.

During the ride up, I check my face one last time using my compact mirror. I’m anxious and it shows in the light sheen on my face, which I quickly but carefully mop away with a light dusting of pressed face powder. Instead of wearing them, I’m carrying my glasses in my purse, a small shoulder-bag this time. I’m not planning on needing to see far away. The elevator reaches Eli’s floor and pings. The doors open and I step out into a quiet corridor of blues, browns, and grays. I stop for a moment and try to absorb the calm tranquility the space suggests. Everything’s going to be fine, I tell myself, and even if it isn’t it won’t be fatal.

I ring Eli’s doorbell and wait, and notice that the peephole is at an impossible position for him. Seconds later he opens the door. My first thought is God, he’s hot. Tonight he’s wearing a red polo shirt with short sleeves that reveal the biceps I always knew were there. The dark hair on his strong arms matches the beard on his face which I have come to adore.

“Hi,” he says pushing back from the door so I can come in. “Welcome.”

“Hi,” I return making my eyes stay on his face although his arms remain available to me through the miracle of peripheral vision.

Do I get to kiss him hello, I ask myself, do I dare? While I’m wondering about it, thank God Eli catches my hand and pulls me down to him. I go merrily, gratefully, and we kiss, lingering long enough to show that we are glad to see each other. Nine days is plenty of time to conjure up the demons of insecurity even if there are a couple of calls and texts in between. 

I’m pretty much ready to crawl right into Eli’s lap but I do manage to keep my feet on the floor, despite the appreciative look he gives me going up and down and then back again to my eyes. He likes what I’m wearing, and I’m wearing jeans in spite of Alonso’s advice; jeans and a teal-colored, v-neck blouse because I’ve been told I look good in teal and a v-neck is both slimming and inviting. Following the kiss, Eli wants to know if I had any trouble finding his place, and I say no due to the magical wonders of GPS. Didn’t that come from the space program anyway? Talk about your flying to the moon.

By the time Eli is leading the way from the entry into his living room, my heart is still racing but my senses are normalizing. I’m able to notice the soft music playing for example. It’s something classically jazzy though not sultry, so it creates a neutral mood. Thank goodness.

His living room is almost Spartan. I hear my heels tapping against the dark hardwood floors. Most men are minimalists by nature, I guess. The colors of his living room range from desert sand walls to the chocolate brown leather oversized sofa. There are a few golden accents to brighten things up: a splash of yellow in the abstract painting on the wall over the sofa, pale gold throw pillows on the sofa, the polished brass trim around the built-in fireplace.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Eli asks.

“Yes,” I say. “What do you have?”

“Wine, water, sparkling and plain,” he runs down a list, “Beer, vodka, scotch.”

“Wow. You’re like a bar or something.”

He turns his chair and heads to the kitchen. I follow him.

“You never know what you’re gonna have a taste for,” he says.

“Right,” I reply.

His kitchen is an open space and continues the neutral color pattern from the living room. He can roll his wheelchair under the sink and I’m pretty sure the dark granite counters are lower than usual. Tammy could stand at her sink, at her counters too. I suppose that’s not an option for Eli.

“I’ll take some wine,” I say seeing the open bottle of merlot sitting on the counter and two waiting goblets.

It’ll take the edge off I think. He pours the wine. I come to the counter and take my glass.

“Cheers,” Eli says raising his.

“To your lovely home,” I say gently connecting my glass to his glass.

We both take a drink.

“Thanks,” Eli says, and then smiles at me in that special way he has, the victor’s grin I call it, and I vibrate like a silenced smartphone receiving a text. God—I hope I’m reading it right.

“I hope you like spinach lasagna,” he says. “It’s what’s for dinner.”  

“I do,” I say just happy to have something else to focus on. “Did you make it?”

“I made the order anyway,” he smiles crookedly. “And I can vouch for the restaurant.”

“Do you know that owner too?”

“No, just the head chef.”

“Of course,” I laugh.

I’d bet dollars to donuts that Eli Abbot was one of those popular kids in school. Aside from his good looks, he’s got that personality that radiates confidence and draws everybody to him. A part of me still can’t believe he’s not married. And if nothing else, there has to at least be a wanna-be-significant-other somewhere. Maybe he’s in one of those commuter relationships, where she lives in one city and he lives in another, which by definition kind of makes me a jump-off, and I don’t even seem to mind it. He’s just that magnetic. I can do this—be just a friend with benefits. 

While the lasagna warms, we return to the living room to drink our wine and talk for a while. I sit on the sofa. He stays in his chair. I’m already wishing he’d sit beside me, already wishing we were making out. Of course maybe that’s the wine talking. Dinner first, I tell myself. The night is young. Be patient. Things are going well. I’m glad I didn’t follow Alonso’s advice tonight about skirts. Eli and I match. His jeans are the same color as the ones he wore in the airport. Maybe they are even the same ones. I never imagined that just days later I’d be sitting on his leather sofa drinking his wine. It’s like I had to wake-up to have this dream. Okay—now I know it’s the wine talking.

Sitting across from me like this, Eli is pretty much on full display, the good and I guess what some would say the bad, meaning his disability. I’m careful to mostly keep my eyes above his waist. It’s not dark in his living room and right now there’s no table to cover him, or a seat back like on the plane. Tammy used to say that that was the worst part of it—people staring. She had learned to ignore it she said, but there were times when it bothered her. Maybe it bothers Eli too sometimes. In any case, I try not to stare but I do have to look at him. I want to look at him.

He’s wearing Oxfords again, and I wonder if he does that to make sure his shoes stay on his feet. Tammy used to complain about that, about her shoes coming off, and she usually wore shoes she could lace-up or strap-on. Maybe Eli does the same. I catch myself looking at his legs which for now are very still. The left one sort of leans into the right one creating an angle; but otherwise they look relatively normal.  Like he could stand up and walk into the kitchen. But he can’t. I know he can’t. And it okay with me that he has to place his wine glass between his legs to push himself in his chair. When I think of him naked I’m imagining his legs too, his feet, and his penis whether it functions or not.                

Eventually while Eli is putting supper on the table, I have the chance to examine his living room more closely. I made the obligatory offer to help him, as any good guest would do, but he declined, as any good host would do. He has a nice view of the city but I can’t really appreciate it with my glasses stored in my purse, so I focus on the interior. Being someone whose walls are replete with art work and photographs of friends and family, I decide his walls are pretty barren, almost austere. There’s the one enormous abstract painting hanging over the leather sofa, and another picture which I’m guessing to be of him and his family.

“Is this you with your folks?” I ask about the picture.

“Yeah,” he answers from the kitchen. “My parents and my sister.”

It’s bigger than the usual 8X10, and that gives me a warm fuzzy. Eli is proud of his family and is not embarrassed to show it, at least that’s what I get from the big picture. The portrait is professionally done in black and white, and by a photographer with some artistic skill. Mississippi and Morocco all blended together, with a family dog, a golden retriever, I think. Eli is younger. There’s no beard, and he’s kind of skinny, although you can tell he was going to be a bigger man someday judging by his father, who is tall and broad, like maybe he played football or something. Eli’s mother is very pretty. She appears to be shorter, and softer in the picture, and clearly Eli has her dark intense eyes. His sister is also pretty and seems to have taken some height from their father. Their faces seem to glow even in black and white. They seem happy, natural, easy together, not like the still-life portrait that is my family picture.

“It’s a beautiful picture,” I say to Eli. “How old were you when it was taken?”

I walk over to the dinner table and set down my wine glass. The lasagna serves as a centerpiece, with a salad on one side and toasted garlic bread on the other. The plain white porcelain plates glow under the hanging pendant lamp. Eli sets a nice table. I’m impressed.  

“Eighteen,” he tells me. “We took it the summer before I left for college.”

“You were very handsome,” I say.

“Were?” he teases me.

“Yes,” I smile. “You are now too, of course.”

“Am I, Lorna?”

I’m taken aback by the sudden seriousness of his tone, and his gaze is penetrating. My smile fades. But yes, he has his mother’s eyes. Surely he knows that he’s still beautiful. I mean, he’s friggin’ irresistible. Damp panties don’t lie.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Plain Love: Chapter 14

What’s she supposed to say, I ask myself, as I watch Lorna stand there frozen by my question. It’s certainly not my best player move, but then I’m not playing. This time’s for real. So I need to know. This was her idea, coming to my place. But maybe she’s having second thoughts. And if she is, I want to know that now. Before the lasagna gets cold. 

Because she can go, I tell myself. I won’t stop her. Lorna Eaton won’t be the first and she probably won’t be the last. She just may be the best. However, she doesn’t go, she comes to me; and placing her hands on my shoulders, she leans down and seizes my mouth with hers. It happens too quickly for me to think about it. I only react, I respond, greedily taking control of the kiss, pulling her tongue into my mouth and her body onto my lap. 

Her frame is soft and hard at the same time. She’s warm, sinewy. Her plump, full breasts caress my chest. I finally feel what she’s been hiding beneath all those middle-of-the-road, conservative clothes. It’s fire. She groans a little, whimpering softly. Or maybe it’s me making those sounds as I strain to receive every bit she’s offering me. What remains of my abs contract violently as if they would break through with a wake-up call to my dead dick. Groping her firm ass, I’m convinced I can sense the weight of it on my lifeless legs. The delusion of possibilities is almost real. 

She pulls back after a time and I bury my face at her throat. I love the way she always smells of vanilla. Cupping my cheeks with her warm, moist hands, she brings my eyes to meet hers. “Yes, Eli,” she says quietly. “You are handsome.” I feel extremely foolish for putting her on the spot like that, but I’m glad too. The cards now on the table make me feel like a winner—at least for this hand. Gently she strokes my beard with her thumbs as a smile spreads from her lips to her eyes. I smile back.

“You’re very convincing,” I say sheepishly.

“I even like your beard,” she tells me and then delicately presses her lips to mine once more before leaving my lap.

My right knee does a little bouncing. We both ignore it.

“It’s a fairly recent development,” I reply rubbing my beard myself, recalling her touch.

“Gives you a certain gravitas,” she adds. “It makes you look like you should be hanging out in those smoke-filled rooms politicians are famous for.”

“Good thing,” I say.

“So shall we eat?” Lorna asks, as if to return the genie to the bottle. “I think the wine’s going to my head.”

She goes over to the sink and washes her hands.

“We can’t have that,” I say, enjoying the view of her butt covered in the tight denim. Her hips are comparatively narrow, but there’s a bubble in her rump, a tight womanly roundness.

During dinner she turns the tables on me, by mostly making me do the talking as she asks the kind of open-ended questions clever counselor-types are known for; the kind that gets them a guided tour deep into your life. Half-way through the meal and by the time I was working on my third glass of wine, Lorna knew all about the summer vacations Nancy and I spent in the Delta with Grandma Maggie, a woman determined to fatten up her citified grandchildren with barbequed pork ribs and fried cornmeal-covered catfish.

“Couscous was not really her thing,” I say talking about Grandma Maggie, Dad’s mom. “But she was a great cook and we loved it.”

“You’d be right at home in Red River Parish,” Lorna says.

Maybe I could be, I think, but I can just imagine the look on her parents’ faces if their only child showed up with a disabled boyfriend. Once upon a time I was a mother’s dream date: good brains, good genes, good body. Once upon a time…

Dinner with Lorna is great as usual. I literally enjoy her company, and even though I very much want more, the conversation with her tonight is not some bullshit preliminary round to endure before the main event. She’s the main event—the complete package. Too bad I didn’t meet her when I was—complete.

When it’s obvious we’ve finished eating, Lorna gets up and begins clearing the table.

“You don’t have to do that,” I say as she carries our plates to the sink.

“You cooked—sort of,” she replies. “So I clean—sort of. At least I load the dishwasher.”

Which she does while I watch, and she carries on with her interviewing. She pauses my storytelling whenever she needs information, like where I keep the Tupperware and do I recycle. She appears to be completely comfortable in my kitchen, and I’m encouraged to imagine her here many times, some of which are in the morning. But maybe that’s the wine talking I think to myself while she pours the last of the bottle into my glass. I decide she’s really not much of drinker, and think again how great it would have been to know her before. I might have been smarter in her company.

The kitchen cleaned to her satisfaction, Lorna leads us back into the living room, where she takes a seat on the sofa. My turn, I think, yet I hesitate. It’s not like she hasn’t seen me transfer before. I got in and out of the car in front of her, and that’s more of a process for me than moving onto the sofa. But I’ve got fucking butterflies, and if they could my knees would knock. My living room isn’t huge and somehow she feels a hundred miles away from me, as if she’s on an island of leather and I’m trapped on my tiny island of steel.

“Tell me about this painting,” she says turning to study the abstract over the sofa.

“I don’t know what’s to tell,” I reply pushing towards her. “Nancy picked it out.”

“Does it have a title?” Lorna asks.

“I’m sure it must,” I say locking my wheels and setting my feet on the floor. “Damned if I know what it is though.” I scoot forward and prepare to lift myself over to the sofa.

“I think I kind of like it, but I don’t know why,” she says. “I’m pretty traditional when it comes to art. Monet, Van Gogh, Jacob Lawrence.”

When I land beside her she turns back to me, smiling.

“I like folk art too,” she tells me. “Although I suppose that makes me country, as opposed to being citified.” She chuckles at the term I used earlier. “Me and Mis’ Maggie would have gotten along very well.”

I position my feet, and Lorna nestles in next to me. I drape my left arm around her shoulders and pull her in close. She tucks an arm across my waist in a place where I feel it. Regretting my earlier attempts to pump the breaks tonight, I realize now that I should have made a fire in the fireplace. It would have been nice, but I thought it would have been overkill or something. Oh well next time. I like thinking there will be a next time.

We’re quiet, listening to the music, and to our own private thoughts. The wine in me has calmed down the butterflies. Or maybe it’s not so much the wine, as it is the woman. She’s had a calming effect on me since day one. I smile. Maybe it’s the vanilla.

“You do know that I don’t go around picking up men on planes,” she says. “This has never happened before.” I can’t say the same thing. On more than one occasion I have met a woman on a flight and then met her later in a hotel room, and after that never saw her again. I guess we’re about at the point when we’re supposed to talk about this, the people in our past, as well as the ones in our present. It’s one of the big differences between relations and relationships. The relationship benefits come with entitlements. 

Before, I usually wore a condom, even with Cindy. She insisted. “I know you, Eli,” she said. “You want it all.” I suppose I did. After all it was mine for the taking. Once my days of penetration were behind me, I didn’t worry about the bugs anymore, or the babies. After I had taken that one chance too many, and the worst thing in the world had happened to me, risk took on an entirely new meaning. “It’s like you said,” I say to Lorna now. “Meeting on a plane is classier than in a club, right?” And maybe I would have been better off for a lot of reasons. 

The club remark makes her laugh softly, and she agrees, “There is that.”

“You certainly meet a classier type,” I say, lifting her chin and kissing her smiling mouth.

I think she was wearing lipstick tonight but between dinner and desire it’s all worn off. 

We should talk about it, the past performances, the present ones too, although the present tense might be harder to discuss. There is Cindy, but I’m not sure I get to have my cake and eat it too. I’m also not sure I want to. This right here could be a game-changer. But I begin, “In the past I was always pretty careful. You know, condoms. And now, since…well there’s really no need. But if you want me to get checked out--”

“I trust you, Eli,” Lorna interrupts me.

I have to wonder if she should.

“I’m also okay,” she informs me about herself. “I’m not a virgin but I am particular.”

Every woman thinks she’s particular but if they truly were, men would have to be either gay or celibate. The truth is when it comes to men, it’s fairly obvious that women will regularly lower their standards. Lucky for me.

Lorna strokes my right forearm, and makes her way to my right hand, fiddling with my fingers.

“Afraid my hands are pretty rough,” I say.

“You’re a man,” she replies. “They should be.”

She brings my hand to her lips and kisses the palm. My belly tightens. She’s right. I am a man.

Pulling her closer I take her mouth with mine. She makes the little whimpering sound, and places one arm around my neck. Goddamnit I want to be inside her! But all I can do is fill her mouth with my tongue. She sucks on it, pulls it deeper, almost biting it. The memory of what it feels like to enter a woman throbs down what’s left of my spine until it crashes into a wall of fused bone and titanium screws, and can go no further. Still I hold onto her, pulling her towards me until she’s up on her knees beside me. I separate my mouth from hers long enough to tell her to straddle me. I want her in my lap again so that I can feel her body with every part that I can. But she resists, and I panic. I’ve pushed her too far too fast. My hands fall away from her.

“What is it?” I ask as if I don’t already know.

“Eli,” she begins, and I prepare myself. “Don’t you think I’m too heavy?”

“What?” I ask dumbfounded.

“Your legs,” she whispers the explanation. “I-I don’t want to hurt you.”

I choke out a dry laugh.

“Hurt me?” I say. “Lorna, I’m not made of glass. A little titanium maybe.”


“It’s okay,” I insist. “I won’t break.”

“I’m not saying--” she starts.

But I raise my hand to stop her, and she purses her plain, pretty lips and is silent, sitting back on her heels. It looks like I’ll have to teach her about paralysis after all, but not now. The teacher wants a recess. I grasp my right leg just above the knee and lift it away from the left. “You’re not too heavy, Lorna,” I tell her as I then do the same with the left leg, moving it away from the right, creating a v-shaped opening on the sofa between my legs. “Now,” I say pulling her to me again. “Come close.” Kicking off her shoes, she does, scooting in tight, planting her bare feet on either side of my thighs, her arms around my neck. Her jean-covered crotch is so close to mine that my mind can lie to me and tell me that I feel her there.

Because I do feel her. Her hands, her mouth, her breasts, her breath. I reach down and press my fingers into the warm space between her legs, urgently massaging the sweetness I imagine just beyond the denim and cotton. She presses into me more. She does want this. She wants me. Emotions of desire and delight and desperate frustration do battle inside me. Running my manly hands under her blouse I grope for the tiny metal fasteners that are keeping her bra in place and denying me the naked access I yearn for to her delicious brown mounds. When at last the bra gives way she pulls back and raises her arms over her head. It’s all the invitation I need to remove blouse and bra; and I do, tossing them aside.

I stop for a moment to take in her succulence, the way her breasts move with her deep breaths, the hard dark points of her nipples. Before, by this time I’d have a woman pressed into the sofa with her legs spread open. But since sex is very different for me now, I rely on all my senses for the experience which takes more time, more finesse. That’s what they counselled in rehab; and it is what Cindy showed me. My banging days are over. Eventually I take each one of her aroused nipples between my lips, alternating between the two, drawing on them as if they were spouts in a vessel of nectar. As open, as willing, as she is, Lorna is also modest, and looks down avoiding my eyes. However, the way she kneads my shoulders, the sound of her ragged breathing, these things give her away and affirm and encourage me. I am pleasing her.

So when it’s my turn to remove my shirt, I do so willingly too. I allow her to pull it over my head, and when our eyes finally meet again, hers shine. Most of my life I have been pretty much a gym rat, even during the times when I am on the road. These days it’s really more out of necessity than vanity, but it pays off in both cases. I weigh much less than I used to but given that the lighter weight is about 50% dead weight it requires more energy to move it around. My arms, shoulders, upper back and upper abdomen are lean and strong. The top half of me can write the check, if only the bottom half could cash it.

But I have learned how to make up for it, I remind myself as she caresses my chest, her palms running along my pecs, and up and down my biceps. She leans in and kisses my neck. I’m tempted to tell her what I like, where I have heightened sensation, give her a roadmap to me as it were, but I don’t, preferring instead to let her explore, which serves to intensify each hot-spot experience she finds. I relish her roaming free. I revel in it. I had a feeling it would be like this with her, that she would feel so good.

But then her fingers fiddle with the top button on my jeans and my pleasure nose-dives, because beneath that button is the no-fly zone. I catch her hand and move it away. “There’s nothing there,” I say, shaking my head. Nothing there I want her to see anyway. I know it’s inevitable if we keep seeing each other, but I’m just not ready. A faint furrow shadows Lorna’s brow. She doesn’t believe me, so my actions come across as rejection. Which in a way I guess it is, a rejection of the me I became that night when the liquor was smooth and the woman was hot, and I did the dumbest thing I’d ever done in my young life.

“We’re never going to be naked together?” Lorna asks.

I’m being ridiculous I know. I want her nakedness. I crave it. But I know she won’t show it to me without a relationship, a friendship or more. And relationship benefits come with entitlements.

“Let’s take our time,” I say, killing dead the mood we have had.

“You don’t want to?” she asks meeting my eyes directly.

This is what I have admired so much about her since the first time we met. She’s willing to put it out there, for me or to me. She thinks I’m rejecting her and she demands I make it plain. She won’t play the game.

“It’s okay if you just want to be friends, Eli,” she dryly tells me, withdrawing, figuratively and literally.

The air around us chills. A minute more and she’ll get up, get dressed, and get out. I pull her back to me, holding her tightly.

“Baby,” I say, maybe even pleading a little. “I’m all in. Believe me…I just want us to take our time. I-I need for you to understand me. What I’m about. How things are.”

She pulls away again so that we are once more face to face.

All of this would have been so much easier if Lorna had known me before. Hell—she could have probably helped me make sense of this new me. Some of the guys I met in rehab had wives, fiancées, girlfriends, women who were more than just visitors and acquaintances. Before that night, I had been the kind of guy who pretty much prided himself on not needing anyone; but there I was in rehab needing everyone. Of course things got better. I’m not a pathetic victim anymore. I have worked my way back. I lost a lot but I’m not a loser. And I’m not good at it, losing I mean. And I can’t lose Lorna. I don’t even really know why because I don’t really know her, but I just can’t.

Oh fuck—my eyes are watering! What am I going to do now, cry? I haven’t done that since rehab. I swallow hard, determined to hold everything back. I feel myself trembling. Or maybe it’s Lorna. Maybe I’m having one of those goddamn spasms. “Okay,” she says quietly, her face softening. The deep breath I take indicates that I hadn’t being doing that for a minute. “You’re very hot,” she adds offering a smile that warms up the space between us. “But slow and steady can get it done.”

Steady. It’s a little crooked but I smile too. The word steady has an old-fashioned ring to it. I mean do people go steady anymore? I certainly don’t have a pin to give her. But I like what the word implies; even though definitely there are implications.

“Can we do it that way?” I ask. “Slow. And steady?”

Her face is cheerfully calm, but her luminous brown eyes smolder with a fire restored. And I’m already doubting my own proposition. I want her right now, this minute. Her heat radiating between us is enough to almost make me swear I feel warmth again where there can only be cold.

“As you like it, Mr. Abbot,” she says revealing a temptress she has heretofore kept concealed by her respectable modesty. “I’ll do my best. But I am the weaker sex. And I’ve got it bad for you.”

She leans in again and kisses my mouth. The muscles in my belly contract fiercely, as if to drag my dick along with them into an erection, and I strain forward with all that I have to show her.