Bill Somerton parked his Malibu in front of the small two-bedroom house shortly after one o’clock on the afternoon of that second Monday in October. He stepped out into the mid-seventies warmth and turned his attention to the unscreened patio of the white-trimmed baby-blue house that his friend and mentee Shelly Pearson shared with her mother. She sat waiting on the padded bench, shielded from the midday sun, and smiled as he approached the porch steps. She rose as he stepped onto the landing and the two exchanged a polite hug.
“I’m so glad you were able to stop by,” she said.
“Always ready to help.”
“How long do you have?”
“Hour, hour and a half.”
Shelly nodded with a smile, opened the front door, and watched him walk through it and into the living room where he crossed to the coffee table. He picked up the printed draft of her latest short story, took a seat on the small couch, and began reading.
“Have you eaten?” she asked.
“I did,” he answered, without looking.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
He nodded as he read: “Water would be fine.”
She stood for several moments and watched him skim through the stapled pages like he had done so many times before. It was always his way; a quick read, a second a bit slower, then out with the red pen for a third meticulous critique once he understood what she trying to accomplish. She watched and then went into the kitchen where Bill might have half-consciously heard her getting glasses from the cupboard, ice cubes from the refrigerator, and then that unmistakable sound of the bubble exploding in the upturned bottle of water. She returned to the living room with two not-quite-full glasses of ice water in time to see him remove the red pen from his shirt pocket. He turned and smiled as she sat the glasses on the coffee table and took a seat beside him on the small couch, which was narrow enough that some might have thought of it more as a love seat.
“You think it’ll be good enough to read tonight?”
“I think so. There’s only a couple of awkward sentences.”
Bill returned to the story and she watched his finger as it traced over the words and lines like she had done many dozens of times before at their Monday night meetings; twice a month, twelve months a year, for over three years. She watched and her imagination once again transformed their innocent meeting into a romantic liaison that would, like always, end with him making love to her in the moonlight, under the stars, while owls hooted and cool breezes soothed their clamoring bodies. Yes, she dreamed of liaisons, but their rendezvouses always ended with a few congratulatory words and a fond pat on the hand – while she ached to pull his mouth to hers and kiss him with all of the desire that broiled within her.
She thought about those Monday night meetings at the community center and how they ended with her driving home to her own lonely little bedroom while he drove a different route to his home on the upper end of town. She thought about those Monday night meetings and of the promise she’d made herself only the night before. The long worried promise that she was not going to be lonely for him anymore.
She nodded, and then with a brashness that surprised even herself, she raised her hand to slide it down his bare forearm and come to rest upon the hand that held her story so gently.
“Do you,” she asked, “think I’m pretty?”
Bill Somerton lowered the stapled pages to his lap and clinched the red pen in the fingers of his right hand as he first studied her hand, lying soft and warm against his own, then turned and faced his young friend and mentee who now sported a coquettish grin.
She smiled and scooted closer until her legs and thighs were snug against his and her face poised inches away.
“I asked if you thought I was pretty?”
Bill hesitated as he seemed to evaluate the import of her unexpected question even as the warmth of her body seeped through his clothes and made his skin flush and his cheeks blush. He leaned back and studied her face for answers while he took several bewildered breaths. He closed and then reopened his eyes, shook his head, and sighed.
“I think you’re very pretty.”
“Would you like to kiss me?”
He lowered his head and turned away to stare at the copy of the draft that still lie unedited in his lap. He struggled with cautious deliberation to find the words, plain simple words, words that would not hurt his young friend.
“You already know I can’t.”
Shelly moved her open palm to the side of his face and prodded his cheek with her fingers until he looked into her eyes. As she leaned even closer he smelt the fresh mint of her mouthwash and felt her warm breaths as they reached out between her lips and tasted his own.
He raised his left hand, took hers, and moved it away from his cheek to where the white and yellow gold band on his ring finger reflected in her green eyes.
“You know I’m married.”
She slid the fingers of her hand away from his grip, covered the back of his hand, and lowered it so his face was no longer obscured and his wedding ring was no longer an excuse.
“Maybe just a little one?”
She brushed her bare lips across his face and he pulled back as the red pen fell the carpet. He hesitated, but then leaned forward and stretched upwards, ignored her expectant mouth, and kissed her on the forehead. He fell back against the couch, pressed his hands into his lap, and stared into her green eyes.
“I didn’t mean one that little.”
She giggled as she pulled the manuscript from his lap and tossed it on the polished coffee table where it bounced against an untouched glass of water and then off and onto the carpeted floor in front of the dormant fireplace. She sought his lips and he turned and lowered his head away from her.
“Shelly, I can’t.”
“Kiss me nice.”
She leaned into him, caressed his face, and pulled against his shallow resistance even as he squeezed his eyes shut and blocked out the afternoon sunlight.
The furrows deepened on his forehead and worried veins jutted outward as she kissed him on the ear, the cheek, and his temples. Her hand caressed his fingers and extorted the tenseness from them. He raised his head and opened his eyes to find her anxious for his affections. He succumbed as she leaned forward and kissed away the grimace and left behind a queer smirk and an eroded resolve.
“What about your boyfriend?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
He looked cross-eyed into her green eyes as they disappeared behind their lids and wondered even then how he could make his escape. She was the temptation that had never tested him during the entire twelve years of his marriage to his beloved Cathy.
“No Shelly, I can’t.”
“It will be our secret.”
She fingered the back of his head, his nape, along the side of his face, and traced the outlines of his ears and cheeks with her nose and lips.
He smiled and his shoulders drooped as her fingers explored his face. He closed his eyes to an image of his wife and stiffened as his resolve and conviction crumbled. He opened his eyes to her beauty while his stomach churned and his pulse raced. He pushed away from her and wondered what flavor of madness had gripped his demure young friend.
“I have to go, now.”
“It’s not time.”
Shelly nuzzled the inside of his thigh with her right hand and separated his knees, which twitched and convulsed with indecision.
“Damn it Shelly, we’ve been friends for such a long time and I don’t want to screw that up.”
“You won’t screw it up. You’ll make it so much better.”
She pushed her right hand into his groin and smiled when she found the bulge in his Levi’s then turned with satisfaction painted on her face and straddled his lap. She locked her arms around his neck and kissed him hard upon the lips.
He tasted her forbidden mouth and savored the imperceptible floral and somewhat fruity scent that conjured the image of sweet violets in his mind. He pulled back but found his head stopped by the couch as she pressed forward. He wanted to kiss her but forced his thoughts to recall his own wife and children. He commanded his hands off the couch and held her waist as he turned his head and nudged her away.
“If I kiss you I’m afraid that it wouldn’t stop there.”
“I don’t want it to stop there.”
He raised one hand from her waist and toyed with the long red hair that flowed in delicate waves down her back and forward across her shoulders, and over the flowers that decorated the front of her white blouse. He pushed his left arm around her waist and pressed his fingers into the small of her back and urged her body even closer toward his own. She slid full forward and pressed her flowered breasts against his chest and thrust down upon the front of his blue jeans. He pulled her forward until their noses touched.
“I do want you.”
“Kiss me, and then make love to me.”
He slid his hand behind her head and they tipped and leaned into each and explored. He tasted her mouthwash, the faint perfume on her neck, and the saltiness of her cheeks and forehead. She pulled her arms from around his neck and placed her open hands against the sides of his face where her fingers pinched his ears and she returned his kisses with the gentle tip and capable blade of her tongue. She thrust her navy-blue slacks hard against the expanding madness in his jeans.
He slowed his kisses, pulled his head back, and opened his eyes. He watched her eyes open and focused his attention on them as they relaxed and crossed. He loosened the grip on her waist, raised his hand, and stroked her freckled cheeks with his fingertips as she smiled and cooed. He passed his fingers through her hair, over the front of her white blouse, tracing about the flowers. He contemplated the outline of her thin bra, invisible behind the cotton fabric, and desired what it concealed. He put his arms around her waist, closed his eyes, and kissed her again.
She returned his advance and then stood in front of the couch, took him by the hand, and led him down the short hallway of the small house to her bedroom.
As she undressed Bill locked the door and closed the blinds to the window that looked out onto the unfenced front yard, sidewalk, and to the street where his silver Malibu sat parked and waiting.
* * *
Shelly lay contented alongside Bill on the mussed bed. Her head rested on his right shoulder, her right leg straddled his, and her fingertips inscribed figures as they wandered about the scattered hairs of his chest.
“You surprised me today,” he said.
He caressed her shoulder, her arm, the freckled skin below her throat, and then her soft breasts and firm nipples.
“Because, you know, how shy you are?”
“I got over it.”
Bill lie silent for several minutes while Shelly continued to explore with her fingertips.
“You know; if my wife finds out about this …”
She raised her head and kissed him long and hard on the lips renewing his excitement and refueling his desire.
“You don’t need to tell her.”
“I certainly won’t.”
“I don’t know …”
“I’ve wanted you to make love to me for a very long time.”
“But I was always afraid to say anything.”
“Maybe you …”
“Didn’t you ever want me?”
“I know you did.”
“Was this morning’s phone call just a ruse?”
“Uh-huh, this time it was.”
“And all the other times.”
“I really did need your help.”
“That’s what I do.”
“And I wanted to be near you.”
He guided his left hand down the front of her chest and caressed the darker skin above and between her breasts while his eyes focused on hers. They were green; green like the rare old-mine emeralds that he had once seen, protected behind the thick glass, in some long forgotten museum. Precious wondrous eyes that were nestled in, no – cradled by the beautiful face that was accented with just the right amount of freckles, and then all framed, as a masterpiece should be, by her thick, long, wavy red hair.
“You are very pretty.”
“I could look at your face forever and never grow tired of it.”
“I’d like that.”
She smiled, moved her hand between his legs, and toyed his excitement erect and wanting.
“Make love to me again.”
* * *
Bill dressed as he watched Shelly bend over and scoop her panties from the pile of clothes on the floor. He watched as she smiled, unlocked the bedroom door, and walked the few short steps down the hall and into the restroom. He straightened the blankets, gathered her clothes from the floor, and laid them out across the pillows. He sat on the foot of the bed, waited for her, and watched the hallway with a confused and mixed feeling that combined both joy and remorse. He stood when she returned wearing only the white pair of panties and an expectant grin, which he returned with an archaic smile. She spread her arms wide and he caught her when she fell into his. He hugged her naked torso and felt her bare breasts through his shirt and wished he didn’t have to leave.
“I want you to come over again, soon.”
She rested her cheek against his shoulder for a moment and then pulled his head down while she stretched up on her toes. She kissed him with her eyes closed, her lips parted, and her tongue searching.
He caressed the side on her face with the tips of his fingers while he kissed her on the forehead, eyelids, and the tip of her nose.
“I’m sorry. No.”
“I’m working tomorrow but I’m not scheduled for Wednesday.”
He shook his head: “No, I can’t.”
“My mother doesn’t get off work until five o’clock.”
“I’ve got to get going.”
“We won’t be disturbed.”
“I’m going to be late.”
“I’ll still see you tonight, right?”
She resisted his meager attempt to disengage from their embrace and locked her fingers behind his back.
“You know, for our meeting. It is the second Monday.”
“Right, I almost forgot.” He paused and added: “I’ll be there.”
She loosened her hold and lifted her eyes to his.
“Give me a ride?”
He hesitated and then shook his head: “I can’t.”
He watched her eyes narrow and her lips tighten and droop. She sniffled and sulked and then followed with a louder repetition of the first snuffle. Bill continued to shake his head in protest but his enthusiasm waned as she pouted and whimpered.
“Okay,” he relented. “I will.”
He tightened his embrace and kissed her lightly, slid his hands up and onto her shoulders, and then stepped back. She reached for his right hand, slid it down the front of her chest, placed it atop her breast, and held it there for a moment while she beamed a coy smile.
He stepped close for one more hug and then nodded as he pulled away and backed toward the bedroom door where he stopped and examined her while she modeled the skimpy pair of white cotton panties and smiled after him. In the hallway he paused again for another full minute and admired the miracle of God’s handiwork poised before him. She laughed and he turned and strode the few steps down the hallway and made a u-turn into the living room.
He stopped for a moment and placed his hand against the wall that separated him from her bedroom.
What the hell have I done, he thought. Dear God in heaven I’m so stupid.
He slid his fingers down the wall as if it were her delicate arms, shook his head, massaged his wrinkled brow, and strode out of the house. He stopped again on the front porch where her bedroom jutted out and into the yard. He imagined the young woman standing naked in the room behind the painted siding and his frown straightened and then plummeted earthward again as he remembered his crime. He descended the front porch steps in a single leap and then slammed his fists hard into his thighs and winced from the pain. He followed the walkway to the street and guilt grew heavier with every painful step.
He stood beside the driver’s door, looked back to the entrance of her house, and remembered the vows that he had made twelve years earlier. He berated himself without mercy as he entered the Chevy. He scolded the trespasser with each jagged breath and denied him expiation. He damned himself inside the car as he heard the engine start. He glared at the small blue and white house where he had committed his heinous crime and then saw her as she stepped out onto the patio, barefoot, in a bright yellow bathrobe held together by her left hand, and with the fingers of her right pressed against the side of her worried face.
He perceived her angst, feigned a smile, and was rewarded with a simper and a wave. He nodded and pulled away from the curb. He drove away annoyed with his hateful transgression and grew even more distressed that Shelly’s neighbor eyed him with vexed accusation.
“Dear God, forgive me. I swear it won’t happen again.”
That was it. The decision was made. He would give her a ride to the meeting but he would tell her that he would not meet her again. After all his marriage and family were important to him. And, although he remained haunted by his transgression, he took solace in his resolve to do the right thing from that moment on. With resolute determination he arrived at Mountain View Elementary School to find that the line of parents who usually waited to pick up their children had already gone and left behind a handful of disgruntled children that included Mark and Susan.
Susan climbed into the front passenger seat wearing a scowl that seemed to signal a scolding while Mark buckled himself into the rear passenger seat behind his sister. She turned to her father and the scowl seemed to soften and fade into concern when she saw the anguished look on her father’s face.
“Dad,” she asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said, absently shaking his head.
“You’re upset about something. I can tell.”
Bill forced a smile that didn’t seem to fool his daughter, and at a loss for anything else to say about it, he drove silently home with Susan studying him most of the way home while Mark’s eyes went back and forth from Sister to Dad with the muscles in his forehead pinched together.
Bill pushed the button on the remote clipped to the visor to open the garage door as he pulled into the driveway and then idled while he waited for it to open.
“Don’t you have your meeting tonight?”
He turned off the ignition and the three of them went in through the garage where Bill stopped to close the automatic door while his children ran into the house through the utility room.
“Even Susan knows something is wrong,” he mused softly as he watched the door close and make solid contact with the concrete floor.