"You know I had this funny feeling that you were coming for trouble
but I never knew so here I go just running after you”

- Black 'n Blue (1985) - “Miss Mystery

  

           SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
Paul B. Johnson State Park
Sunday - March 16, 1986

My first speeding ticket!

It was my very first speeding ticket and while most people can remember their first speeding ticket, few remember their first speeding ticket with the same kind of fond memories that I do … I received my first speeding ticket twenty-one months after I had gotten my driver’s license and trust me … my first speeding ticket was long overdue with the kind of driving that I had become accustomed to.  In fact, everyone, including me, was surprised that I hadn’t gotten a speeding ticket sooner (or more of them) but then the kind of people who habitually get speeding tickets are usually either too dumb to ever be behind the steering wheel in the first place or the kind of rank amateurs who don’t know how to drive fast on public roads and who generally go about doing it badly whenever they do.

The day that I got my first speeding ticket started out pretty much like any other had started out that year … Rick called shortly after lunch and asked me if I wanted to cruise down to the local state park a few miles south of town.  It was going to be hot that Sunday afternoon in March and that held the promise of lots of sunbathing beauties at the park, high school and college girls wanting to thaw out after the winter.  A few of our coworkers from County Market were headed there as well and that meant at least a cooler of cold beer, chilled wine coolers.  Good times for Rick since I would be doing all of the driving and he would be doing all of the drinking.

I agreed probably more readily than I should have and an hour later found Rick and me slowly cruising the park in my 1978 red and black Chevrolet Camaro Rally Sport.  We were on the lookout for babes with bikinis and friends with alcohol.  It was truly a beautiful day, the sun was shining brightly, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the Spring of ’86 would be coming to an end soon and with it my junior year in high school.  What a year it had been so far!  Summer would start soon and after that, my senior year … my last year in high school!

I was excited!

There was lots of activity on the water front, boats and skiers on the lake, people fishing and swimming near the shore and all manner of oiled down, bathing suit or bikini clad or scantily clothed beauties soaking up the sun on towels here and there, walking along by their selves or in groups.

And that’s when I got my first speeding ticket.

How fast was I going when I got my first speeding ticket?

Thirty-five miles an hour.

Yes, you read right; thirty-five miles an hour but since the posted speed limit was fifteen miles an hour, you can honestly say that I was easily doing well over twice the legal posted speed limit when I got busted for speeding my first time.  At least that’s what I like to tell people when they ask me how fast I was going when I got my first ticket.  It’s worth the effort just to see their expression.

The truth is that I was going down a steep grade with the automatic transmission shifter pulled all the way back and down into first gear, my foot was off the accelerator, and I was coasting in a fifteen mile an hour zone.  I couldn’t tell you if I was doing six miles an hour, eight miles an hour, ten miles an hour or how fast I was going … I do know that I was going slow … way too slow for my or my Camaro Rally Sport’s liking since she tended to run a little warm when driven for a prolonged time at low speeds … like cruising around at fifteen miles an hour on hot asphalt on a hot day around the lake at a state park.  It should also be noted that two weeks ago I had installed true custom dual exhausts on the Camaro Rally Sport along with free flow turbo mufflers and the whole exhaust system rumbled nicely, especially at low speeds, in low gear, on a steep downwards grade.  If I had to describe the newly acquired sound of my Camaro Rally Sport, it would be that it emitted a “very aggressive, deep burble” and I guess it was the sound of my new exhaust system that first drew the ire and then the adverse attention of one very gung-ho park ranger with a real chip on his shoulder and something to prove that day.

Lucky me.

The first time that I saw the park ranger he was stepping out into the road to block my path waving commandingly for me to pull over at the bottom of the hill.  Now, I don’t know about this guy but my mommy taught me at an early age that it wasn’t a smart thing to step out in front of a moving car, no matter how slow it was going, especially if the driver’s head was turned in such a way that the driver was looking at women in skimpy bikinis instead of you but that’s the situation that the park ranger put himself into.

As it was I didn’t see the park ranger until it was almost too late … I was driving very slow, looking out my right side window at all the bikinis soaking up sun by the lake side when I turned my head back around to check the road ahead.  It’s a good thing that I did because that’s when I saw the park ranger step out from the side of the road not fifty feet ahead, stand directly in front of my Camaro Rally Sport, turn his head and raise his hand in the universal indication to “stop” or maybe he was a mime and he was trying to hold back a wall that was closing in on him to crush him.

I stopped all right but it wasn’t pretty.

The following actions all happened almost simultaneously; my gloved left hand gripped the steering wheel tighter and I let go of the console mounted gear shift with my right hand.

My right arm flew up and locked arrow straight out in front of me, palm mashing flat the horn button of the Camaro Rally Sport’s steering wheel as I prepared to swerve hard in order to avoid the sudden appearance of what I took to be some dumb ass state employee with a death wish.

My right foot went from hovering over the accelerator to stomping down hard on the brake pedal.

The power front disc and rear drum brakes of the Camaro Rally Sport instantly grabbed down hard.

All of the Chevy’s forward speed bled off almost instantly, the Camaro Rally Sport coming to a loud horn blowing, complete stop with barely a chirp of rubber from the protesting tires.

The Camaro Rally Sport rocked on its suspension before settling out.

The horn was still blowing at the park ranger who now stood only about five feet in front of the Camaro Rally Sport’s front end with his hand still raised in the “stop” gesture.

We came to a stop so fast that Rick was caught completely by surprise, letting out a long string of hate filled profanity directed at my ability or rather his perception of my inability to drive my own car.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Rick asked, looking around confused after having been thrown around in his seat at the sudden brake stop.

“Trying to not run over that stupid retard.” I said flatly, right palm still pressed flat and hard against the horn button in the center of the steering wheel.

“What stupid retard are you talking about?”

“That stupid retard.”

Rick looked out the front window and shook his head.

“Where did he come from?”

“Hell if I know.  If I hadn’t seen him in time and slammed down on the brakes, he’d have been my hood ornament.”

“What the hell?!  Did he step out in front of you?” Rick asked, puzzled at the situation.

“Yeah.” I said, watching the park ranger sneer at me.

Then I realized that I still had my hand locked down over the horn button.  I let off the horn button and the silence was abrupt. I sighed heavily and leaned my head out the window to stare at the angry park ranger standing in front of my car.

“Hey!  What is your problem?!” I shouted at the top of my lungs; suddenly mad at this park ranger for stepping out in front of me and expecting me not to run him over.

“Pull it over!” the park ranger shouted.

He pointed at me with his right hand and finger while motioning where he wanted me to go with his left arm.  He repeated the identical gesture twice.  When I didn’t immediately start to edge the Camaro Rally Sport forward and over to where he wanted me to go, he pointed at me with both hands and fingers then used both hands to slowly, exaggeratedly show me where he wanted me to pull over to.

“NOW!  Pull it over NOW!” the park ranger shouted at me.

“Christ!  What does that muppet want with us?”

“Hell if I know but he’s telling me to pull over there.” I replied, feeling my body start to slow down as well.

“Why?!” Rick asked.

I sighed and turned to look at Rick.

“I don’t know why the stupid retard wants us to pull over, Rick.  Why don’t we just pull over and either ask him or sit here in the car and wait for him to tell us why he wants us to pull over.”

Rick didn’t seem to have a snappy comeback to that so a deep huff from him sufficed.  I could tell that he was trying to work on a comeback … trying and failing.

Honestly, at the time, I didn’t know what was going on so I dutifully pulled over thinking that there might be an emergency or an accident or that the road ahead might be closed to traffic and we were going to be asked to turn around and go back the way that we had come from …  I mean, if a park ranger steps in front of your car and almost gets reduced to a road waffle, you kind of believe, instinctually, that it might be important and worth pulling over for.  In hindsight, I started to feel a little bad that I had been girl watching and not paying attention to the road even though I was in first gear at little more than a fast idle but … lesson learned.

I pulled the aggressively burbling Camaro Rally Sport over into the little turn around area and wedged it between a 1985 blue and silver GMC Jimmy and a huge gold colored ’76 gold Lincoln Continental Mark IV that was pulled into the run off backwards, its long heavy nose facing the road.  I noticed that I was the third driver that the park ranger had pulled over and he was even now stepping out in front of an old silver and red Ford Mustang II and signaling them to pull over.  I put the console mounted transmission shifter up into Park and kicked down the parking brake.

“He’s got that Jimmy, the gold Lincoln, us and now he’s pulling over that Ford?  What the hell is going on?” Rick asked out loud.

“I don’t know.” I mused.

“What is his damn problem?!  Has there been an accident?” Rick asked, confused, looking around at the other cars that were parked next to us.

“I don’t know.” I said, again, louder while relaxing in my driver’s seat and tapping my fingers on the edge of the driver’s door.

I really didn’t know why the park ranger had pulled us over but I was sure that I would find out soon enough.

“Well, you pulled over …” Rick started fuming again.

“That ranger was motioning for me to pull over …”

“You could have driven around him …” Rick said.

“I almost drove over him …” I mused.

“You should have driven away from him and left him standing there in the middle of the road with his thumb stuck up his ass.  Damn, he’s only got a beat up old Chevy state service truck.  You could have left him easy, doubled back and been out of the park before his head stopped spinning.”

“He’s probably got a radio.” I said, looking down at my own CB radio that occupied the center console and dash below the aftermarket Kenwood stereo.

“Yeah.  A walkie talkie.  Maybe.” Rick chided, fuming.  “Why the hell did you pull over?”

“I pulled over because I thought there might be an accident or the road might be out up ahead …  I mean, he just stepped out in front of me and put his hand up … What was I supposed to do?”

“You were supposed to tell him to kiss your tax paying ass and leave him in a cloud of dust.”

“Pushing the long skinny pedal flat to the floor isn’t the answer to every situation.” I said, knowing that I was right in what I had done.

“Well, speed should have been your answer to this situation.  Speed and your middle finger.” Rick chided.

I didn’t say anything … Rick was in one of his moods where only cold beer, being the center of attention and lots of it was going to make him happy and less argumentative.  Anything other than that, any answer back to what he said was just going to be an invitation for him to argue more or try to drive his point home even deeper.  A long moment of silence passed.  I reached up and cut the engine off … no use wasting gas idling.  A cool breeze blew in through the open windows carrying with it the smells of early spring.  I turned the key back one notch and turned up the Kenwood stereo, tuning in WHSY Rock 104.5, my local favorite radio station that played the contemporary stuff as well as classic rock.  .38 Special’s “If I’d been the One” was about halfway done and I settled back in my seat a little bit further, took a deep breath and rubbed the bridge of my nose with two fingers, massaging hard and raising my sunglasses up on my furrowed brow.  Damn it felt good and I closed my eyes to enjoy the moment.

“I wonder why he’s pulled all of these people over?” Rick asked.  “We weren’t playing the radio loud at all and we don’t have any beer.”

“Yet.” I said.

“Yet!” Rick agreed with just a hint of sadness.

I opened my eyes just in time to see the park ranger finish up talking to the couple in the Jimmy.  The girl behind the steering wheel didn’t look very happy with the ranger.

“Well, I’m sure that we’re about to find out soon enough.  Here comes Ranger Prick.” I said.

“Ranger Prick!”  Rick laughed out loud then looked over at the park ranger as he made his way from a GMC Jimmy pulled over beside us on the right, walked in front of the Camaro Rally Sport and back around to his state truck.

“Son of a bitch looks like Elmer Fudd trying to audition for the Bee Gees.” I mused.

Rick laughed again.

“You have got to be kidding me.” Rick said, laughing.  “If that screwy retard is a park ranger then I’m the damn Easter Bunny.”

“I’m dwiving in mah kar listen’ to da ray dee oh …” I started singing softly, imitating Robin Williams’ rendition of Elmer Fudd singing Bruce Springstein’s “Fire.”

This only caused Rick to laugh even more and I couldn’t help myself so I joined in as well.  Now, I’m sure that the state park service had some kind of dress code but if they did, I seriously doubted that the park ranger who had pulled us over had ever been told about it.

Let me describe this park ranger for you.

He wore brown ankle hiking boots, brown socks and tan, multi-pocket camp shorts with a wide leather belt.  He wore a park service button up shirt that was open for the top third of the buttons, exposing his far more white than tan and not quite so hairy chest as well as the gold chain he wore.  Dark stains were visible under the arms of his shirt.  His mirrored shades were carried on the front of his shirt by inserting the leg of the frame down through the button hole of one of his breast pockets.  His hair was the kind that a much older man would have sported naturally and I felt sorry for him rather than feeling any kind of intimidation.

“Did anyone tell him that the ‘70’s are over?” Rick asked.

“Wow.  I think that we just found the long lost member of The Village People.”

This caused Rick to laugh out loud again and I realized that if I kept Rick amused he might just not be so critical of everything that I did and therefore he wouldn’t be getting on my nerves.  No, I doubted that the park ranger’s wardrobe was on the list of approved appearance guidelines but that was how the he was dressed as he stepped back over to his park service Chevy pickup truck.  The park ranger looked up, counted the cars around him, then rummaged around the interior of his truck until he found a metal clipboard with some official looking forms on it.  There was just the hint of a smile on his face as he marched over to my Camaro Rally Sport, folded his arms, cocked his head and looked down at me sitting in my car.

“You got any beer or alcohol in your car?” He asked loudly in a voice that people parked on each side of us could easily hear.

“No … but if you’re thirsty I could run go and get you some.  Wouldn’t take me very long, either.” I said in a friendly manner, smiling.

“Run go get him some!” Rick said loudly, spontaneously laughed out loud at that statement, kicking his feet against the floor board and holding his sides.

Rick probably laughed a lot louder than he should have which made the park ranger straighten up an extra full inch in stature, sucking in his stomach and sneering.  I could tell that he was about to say something but I cut him off.  If I was going to get a ticket or whatever it was that the park ranger had clipped to his board then I was going to have some fun with this penis clown before it was all over with.

“Hey!  Is your truck dead?  Do you need me to jump your truck off because if you do I’ve got some jumper cables in the trunk and I can …” I asked, looking up at him, speaking before he could.

“I need you to be QUIET.” The park ranger said loudly, sneering at me.

I shut up but I didn’t stop staring up at him, never breaking eye contact; his eyes to mine.

“I pulled you over because you were speeding.”

Huh?

What?

Speeding? 

With my foot off the accelerator, the automatic transmission racked back into first gear and coasting downhill?  That didn’t make a lot of sense.

“Speeding?” I asked, confused and amazed at what I was hearing and still not sure that I had heard him correctly.

“Yes.  Speeding.” The park ranger said as he leaned over a little to emphasize his point.

“You’re kidding, right?  Speeding?” I said back, confused at the situation.

“You were speeding.”

“How could I be speeding when I was coasting downhill with the engine idling and the transmission racked all the way back in first gear?!”

“You were speeding.” The park ranger said again.

“Uh.  How fast was I going?” I asked, still lost in amazement at the hilarity of the situation.

“You were doing thirty-five miles an hour in a fifteen mile an hour zone.  That’s speeding.”

“Thirty-five in a fifteen zone?!  In first gear?!  Coasting?” I asked out loud, not believing what I had heard.

“That’s bullshit!  Ask him if you can see his radar gun …” Rick said.  “Otherwise he’s talking out his ass and he’s got nothing on you.”

I motioned for Rick to be quiet.  Rick had a way of turning simple problems into compound predicaments and the favorite tool that he used to do this was his big mouth.  His great big mouth.

“Ask to see his radar gun.  Oh, that’s right!  He doesn’t have a radar gun!  Unless he carved one out of wood!”

“Do you think that speeding in a state park is funny?” the ranger asked, clutching his clip board like he was a preacher and it was his Bible or maybe it was his security blanket.

“I think that pulling someone over for coasting downhill in first gear and saying that they were speeding is funny.  Thirty-five miles an hour?!  Since when is thirty-five miles an hour speeding?”

“It’s speeding when the posted limit is fifteen miles an hour!” the ranger said.

“I was coasting downhill in first gear and you’re busting me for speeding?  What did I do, pass a snail?”

The ranger started to get mad.

“I was idling downhill … coasting … you screwy retard.” The last three words I said only loud enough that Rick could hear them.

Rick snickered.

“Don’t get smart with me, boy.  I got you.  I heard you coming half a mile away over the spillway.” The park ranger said smugly.  “The park speed limit is posted at the front gate, fifteen miles an hour.  You were doing thirty-five miles an hour now give me your license and don’t give me any more attitude.”

I sighed because it all just didn’t make sense.

“So, let me get this straight.  You don’t have a radar gun in your state truck there but you heard my car off in the distance and because you heard my car, you equate noise with velocity?”

The park ranger glowered at me, fuming.  I decided to push his buttons just a little bit further.  Hell, I was in it this deep already.

“So … is a basic high school education a requirement to be a park ranger or can you be a park ranger if you have no comprehension whatsoever of physics or mathematics at all?”

“Son, your smart ass mouth just got you a ticket.”

“I was going to get a ticket anyway …” I muttered.

“Peel out and let’s leave.  Hell, Fred Flintstone could outrun this retard in the Flintstone mobile.” Rick said.

“Shut up.” I said flatly to Rick.

The park ranger obviously thought I was talking to him.

“What did you say?” he asked.

“Nothing.” I replied.

“Nothing?  Give me your license because I’m not going to ask you again.” Park ranger said, stabbing a finger in the air at me while his other hand went to his belt and his walkie talkie.

Walkie-talkie.

Boy, that was intimidating.  If he pulled that walkie-talkie out and called for backup I’m sure I’d be in a whole world of trouble.  I sighed, dug out my wallet and surrendered my driver’s license to the park ranger.  The corner of his lip curled up as he read over my license, did an almost military precise turn and walked briskly back to his state truck.

I guess everyone in life had to have a hobby.

Mine was making fun of idiots.

Ranger Prick’s hobby must have been busting people’s balls whenever he could to make up for his lack of a set of his own.  It probably gave him a sense of power.

“Son, your smart ass mouth just got you a ticket.” Rick mimicked the ranger.

“Do you want to say that a little louder, Rick?” I asked.  “I’m sure that if you keep making smartass comments that he can hear that I’m going to eventually wind up going to jail over this.”

“Yeah.  They’re going to put you in jail … a jail made out of Lincoln Logs.” Rick said flatly.

Rick looked around at the three other vehicles parked at the bottom of the spillway, at the other drivers all fuming at having been pulled over for who knew what.  I stared at the state truck and watched the park ranger pull up his metal clipboard, stick my license in the snap clip at the top and start to fill out a form that looked pretty official from where I sat.  Maybe I was going to really get a ticket and maybe it was even going to be a real ticket, like where I’d have to pay real money and not like do arts and crafts or make a bead necklace to get out of it.

I should have been mad as hell … I should have been but I wasn’t; in fact, I was pretty calm.  In fact, I was kind of happy which surprised me because I didn’t exactly know why I was happy and I thought about that.  While Rick fumed in the passenger seat I lost myself in thought at what was going on.

It was my first speeding ticket.

My first speeding ticket!

Call it a rite of passage.

Oh, my parents were going to be pissed and I was going to catch hell five ways from Sunday for getting a speeding ticket but then I thought about it and I had to smile.  Thirty-five miles an hour in a fifteen mile per hour zone.  Ha!  My parents weren’t going to know what to do when I showed them this!  On one hand, I just got my first speeding ticket and it had been for over twice the posted legal speed limit.  On the other hand, the ticket was for doing thirty-five miles an hour which no one could honestly say was anywhere near the definition of speeding.

My first speeding ticket.

Thirty-five in a fifteen zone.

Yeah, I was such a menace to society; a real rebel and outlaw.  They better lock me up and throw away the key because the streets weren’t safe with me behind the wheel.

I laughed, just a little, because I actually looked forward to telling my parents about the ticket, just to see their initial reaction and then to watch as the hilarity of the situation sank in with them and they pondered whether to punish me or not, whether they could punish me or not.

I went back to musing on my current situation.  I was getting a speeding ticket for doing thirty-five miles an hour in a fifteen mile an hour zone and the park ranger didn’t even have a radar gun.  How did he know how fast I was going?  How could he tell how fast I was going?  He said that he had heard me … that he had heard my Camaro’s exhaust and because he could hear me that meant that I was speeding.  Hell, he was just guessing at best and what made me mad was the fact that he was basing the ticket on the fact that he had heard my car rather than having actually seen my car in motion.  He was equating noise with speed which made no sense at all.  I mean, I could turn my radio up all the way and make a lot of noise but that didn’t mean that my radio was doing a hundred miles an hour just because it was really loud.

“Huh.” I said out loud.

“What?” Rick asked.

I didn’t answer him.

I smiled because I guess that a high school education really wasn’t required to be a park ranger … maybe you just had to be good at dressing badly and stomping out abandoned camp fires and filling out forms and threatening to throw campers in Lincoln Log jail if they didn’t obey the rules.

I snorted at that.

“What?” Rick asked, again.

I shook my head and ignored him.

This ticket wasn’t going to be that expensive, no matter what Ranger Prick tried to scare me into believing, but it was the simple principle of the matter that made me angry … Getting a ticket for speeding in a state park, especially when you weren’t speeding, was tantamount to a shakedown.  I felt like I was being mugged by a pair of park rangers and apparently they were making money hand over fist at this little spot.  The more I looked at the two rangers, sitting in their truck, writing out tickets, the more I thought that this was just a license to steal.

“Maybe he’s trying to make a quota.” Rick said, oddly enough syncing with my own thoughts exactly.

“Maybe he’s collecting for the Park Rangers Secret Ball.” I said.

Rick smirked and looked out the passenger side.  I leaned up in the driver’s seat to scratch a sudden itch behind my left ankle and that was when I noticed her parked beside us …

Her.

Looking at me.

Her.

She was sitting there in that big gold ’76 Lincoln Continental Mark IV parked next to my ’78 Camaro Rally Sport with less than fifteen feet separating us.  She was an older woman, mid to late thirties if I had to guess, long brunette hair cut in a style that was popular a few years ago.  She wore a cream colored sun dress, two thin straps over her shoulders, and Wayfarers.  She was looking at me, her arms crossed on the door sill of her car and her chin resting on her arms.  She was looking at me … just … looking.  I don’t know how long she had been looking at us … at me … but it must have been longer than I had noticed her doing it.

She pushed her Wayfarers up on top of her head.

We made eye contact.

She had really pretty eyes.

She smiled, looked away for a second, turned to make eye contact with me again and smiled, again.  I guess she had heard everything that I had said to the park ranger, the distance between us wasn’t that much and the exchange had been kind of loud.  If so, then she definitely got a show out of my little bit of civil disobedience.  I finished scratching my ankle, leaned back and looked over at the woman.  Her Ray-Ban Wayfarers to my cheap sunglasses.  She smiled.  Again.  Her smile was mesmerizing, bewitching, and for some reason that made all the bullshit that I was going through right now just a little more tolerable.  I couldn’t help myself and I smiled back.  My thought right then was "what did I have to lose?"

“What the hell is this dumb son of a bitch trying to do?  Get the Ranger of the Month award?” Rick asked in a hushed whisper directed to me, snapping me back from the thoughts that I was having.

“I think he’s trying to impress her.” I said.

“Who?” Rick asked, looking around.

“Her.  There’s a female ranger in the front seat of his truck.” I said, pointing towards the park service truck.  “Pretty young too and not bad looking except she’s got a scowl on her face like she’s got cramps or something.”

“Wow.  I didn’t see her.  You’re right!  She doesn’t look happy at all.”

“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t be happy either if you had Disco Elmer Fudd as your partner for the whole fucking day.” I muttered in reply.

“Disco!  Elmer!  Fudd!” Rick repeated as he laughed out loud.

… and the female park ranger didn’t look happy.  She sat there, looking sternly bored while the other ranger wrote the tickets.  Every now and then she would look around at the people that her partner had pulled over and she’d scowl … just scowl.  I guess there weren’t any happy rangers at Paul B. Johnson state park today and probably not a lot of happy campers, either.  I guess a scowl was now standard issue with each ranger badge and shirt patch.  I even saw her yawn and stretch and when she had finished that she just sat there … scowling, like everyone who wasn’t wearing a park ranger uniform was somehow beneath her.  She was younger than the other ranger was, raven haired and attractive if it weren’t for what could be that permanent scowl on her face. 

A transfer might do wonders for her …  or a new career choice.

I smiled at that thought then turned to look back at the gold Lincoln parked next to us and again made eye contact with the woman sitting in the driver’s seat.  Wow.  I'd been so lost in my own thoughts that I'd forgotten about her there next to us.  She lifted her chin from her arms, sat up straight in the driver’s seat and took her sunglasses off, setting them on the Lincoln's wide dash in front of her.  I watched as she pulled her long hair back with her fingers then let it fall again as she checked herself in the side view mirror and then the rear view mirror. Satisfied with whatever she had been working at she picked up her sunglasses from the dash and started chewing on the end of one of the frame legs, slowly turning her head to the side to look back in my direction, smiling coyly as she did.   The woman in the big gold Lincoln was very attractive and the best thing that I had seen all day at the state park … so much more attractive than all the high school and college girls that Rick had been drooling over since we started cruising the park looking for his beer buddies.

Rick could have his young girls …

At this point in my life I was only interested in women … older women … and what had my attention right now was a woman … a real woman … and we were staring at each other across a gulf of about fifteen feet … staring eye to eye and she was slowly chewing on the end of her Wayfarers.

“You’re moody.” Rick said.

“Not moody.  Just quiet.”

“Quiet?  You’re only quiet when something’s got your attention … so … What’s got your attention?” Rick asked.

“Not what.  Who.” I said.

“Okay.  Who?” Rick asked.

“Her.” I said, not bothering to break eye contact with the woman.

“Who?” Rick asked again, looking around.  “The bitchy park ranger?”

“No.  Her.”

I could feel Rick moving around in the passenger seat to try to see what I was looking at.

Her.

She had small earrings, single punches, conservative in nature, and a strong chin … not that droopy kind that comes with certain women and age.  The years had been kind to her but her eyes looked … sad.  Her smile almost seemed like an effort, like something thrown out there with little hope of it even being seen but when she smiled again, the second time she had done that, her smile was the kind of smile that was worth waiting for.  She threw her smile like it was the only thing that she had left and she threw it like she didn’t expect to get much back for the effort.

“Who?  Her who?”

“Over there.  Parked right next to us.  The woman in the big gold Lincoln.” I said in a low voice, nodding my head slightly to my left.

“Huh?  Where?” Rick asked, ducking his head some and trying to stare out my window as well, getting a little close for my comfort.

“Right.  There.  Parked next to us.  Her.  Sitting in the big gold Lincoln.  The old, big, gold Lincoln.”

Rick leaned over so far that he almost put his head on my shoulder.  I could feel his breath on my neck and ear and I was tempted to remind him that we weren’t dating but right as I was about to speak, Rick caught sight of the woman in the gold Lincoln and he fox whistled … softly but right in my ear.  I doubted that it carried much outside of the Camaro Rally Sport and if the woman sitting in the gold Lincoln heard it, she didn’t give any indication of having noticed.  I shoved Rick back off of me, with not a little effort, sat back in my seat, turned back to my left and continued to watch her.

“Try not to stare, dumbass, and for God’s sake don’t drool on my shoulder or lap.”

She must have noticed that I was staring at her because she took a long time to stretch, raising her arms way above her head, clasping her hands together behind her seat, grabbing the headrest of the Lincoln and arching her back.  Her breasts bunched up under her sun dress, filling it and pushing it out as she turned her head slowly from side to side, letting her long hair swish across the span of her neck.  She finished by lowering her arms and running them down the small of her back, jutting her chest out again as she finished stretching.  She knew what she was doing, she knew that I was watching her and I couldn’t help myself.  She was preening … and I was mesmerized as she put on a show for me.

Rick was less than impressed.

“Damn!  You’re right!  She’s not half bad looking … for someone’s mother.” Rick chided, laughing.

“Someone’s mother?  She’s not that old.” I said.

“Not that old?  The hell she isn’t!  She’s as old as your mother is!” Rick said.

I looked again as she continued to preen there in the driver’s seat of her Lincoln.  Rick may have been right.  The woman in the Lincoln may have been my mother’s age but that didn’t stop me from admiring her beauty.

“She may have a few years on her but she is top grade fine.”

“Fine?  Hell, she’s got to be in her late thirties at least … maybe her forties.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“What’s wrong with that?!  That’s old!  She’s old!” Rick said.

“Her age doesn’t bother me.”

Rick laughed.

“You’re nuts!  You seriously want to put it to that?”

“And you wouldn’t?” I asked.

“Hell, no!”

“I would.” I said.  "I'd take that for a test drive and knock the frame out from under it."

“You’re … nuts!  She’s … old!” Rick stammered.

“She’s fine.” I said.

“Fine.  She’s old!” Rick said laughing.

“There’s not a gray hair on her.”

“Not where you can see it!  That pussy is probably full of dust and cobwebs.  Face it, Shields … She’s old!” Rick chided.

“…” I started to saying something, really feeling the need to get defensive and not really knowing why.

Rick was getting under my skin right now and he knew it and that was making him happy.  Rick liked to get under people’s skin, maybe as much as the park ranger liked writing tickets and maybe for the same reason.

“How can you be into women who smell like Oil of Olay and get off on Tupperware parties?  Why don’t you pop a tent over someone younger … ?” Rick said.

I turned to face him.

“Someone younger?” I asked out loud.

“Yeah.  Someone younger than … her!”

“Someone younger than her?  Someone like Pam?” I shot back, immediately regretting saying it.

Rick was about to say something then shut up when he thought better of it.

“Fine.  Whatever.” He said.  “It’s your dick so put it in whoever you want to.”

“Gee, thanks, dad!  I think I will!” I said sarcastically.

“Fine.” Rick said.

“Fine.” I said.

Rick started to say something else but ended up with a short huff instead.

I turned back and stared at the woman in the gold Lincoln parked next to us.  She smiled again, third time, took on a demure look and the silent flirting continued in earnest between us. She stared at me.  She had beautiful eyes.  She put the end of her Wayfarers in her mouth and slowly chewed on them, staring at me and just for a second she cut her eyes at me.  Minutes passed on that warm Sunday afternoon and not a word was said between us.  Me watching her made me completely forget about the ticket that I was getting.

Me watching her made me completely forget about anything else in the world.

The ranger finished the ticket he was writing and gave it to the female ranger who slowly got out of the state truck and walked over to where we were parked, moving between the woman in the gold Lincoln and me.  The female ranger handed the ticket and driver’s license to the woman in the big gold Lincoln, said a few words to her that I couldn’t hear then turned and walked back to the park services pickup with about as much enthusiasm for her job as you could expect given the circumstances.

I’d probably be next.

The woman in the gold Lincoln started her engine, a big engine by the rumbling sound of it … probably something like a big 460 cubic inch V8 choked to death by a two barrel carb and soda straw sized exhaust pipes.  Ford was famous for putting big engines in their luxury yachts and choking them down to nothing with wimpy carbs and tiny exhausts and with that thought I found myself sorry that she was leaving.  So much for that little show.  I turned my head forward and closed my eyes, thinking about the ticket and how stupid it was that I was getting this ticket.

Suddenly I was back in the real world.

Suddenly I wasn’t as happy as I had been a few seconds ago.

Next to me, the woman in the gold Lincoln looked down at the license, then at the ticket and then back up to the license.  A confused look crossed her face then she smiled, put her transmission back into Park and put her Wayfarers back on.  I was leaning back in the driver's seat, head reclined and eyes closed when I heard the big heavy door to the gold Lincoln squeak open then slam shut.  Curious, because the Lincoln was still idling and curious because if she had gotten out to give the ranger a piece of her mind then I might get to see what her body looked like.  I opened my eyes, turned my head to the left and saw the woman walking towards us, ticket and license in hand at her side.

She was an older brunette, tall, slender, almost six feet tall at least, with a nice shape to her from what I could see; thin but not skinny, long legs and tan leather sandals to go with her cream colored sundress.  Her tan suggested that she spent her spare time outside more often than not, the outdoors type or her job let her stay that way.  The woman had a really nice body … shaped, curved, proportional.  Nothing really stood out but then nothing was lacking either.  I watched her walk up to the side of the Camaro Rally Sport and stand there a few feet away, arms crossed in front of her and holding her ticket and license in her hands.  There was the smell of flowers, strong now, so I guessed it was her perfume.  Whatever the scent was, it hadn’t been noticeable until she had walked over and stood near the Camaro Rally Sport.  I had no idea what she wanted but she had my undivided attention at that point in time.

My.

Undivided.

Attention.

I saw my reflection in her Wayfarers as she approached and I guess she saw her reflection in my sunglasses.  She looked down at the ticket in her hand then looked back up at me.

“Christopher Shields?  Excuse me?  Are you Christopher Shields?” she asked.

I stared at her and a really weird feeling came over me right then.

How did she know my name …?

“Huh?” Rick asked, trying to lean over again and look out the driver’s side window at the woman standing there.  Of course all he saw of her was from her waist to her tits.

I pushed him back.

Hard.

Again, that took some effort because Rick was a big guy.

“How does she know your name?” he asked, chuckling because he was obviously confused.

That was the common question.  I didn’t have an answer for him so I shrugged my shoulders as he leaned over again, crowding my space.

“Hell if I know.  Hey!  Get your retarded ass off of me.” I said softly, pushing him back, again, over into the passenger seat.

I’d stopped asking why weird stuff happened in my life years ago because it just did and that was how my life was.  I’d gotten used to it, even looked forward to it from time to time because it kept my life interesting.  I couldn’t say the same for the company that I usually kept.

“Christopher?  That is you, right?  Your name is Christopher, right?” she asked again, her voice unsure as she looked at the ticket in her hand again then back at me.

“That’s me.” I said, still not sure how this woman knew my name or what she wanted with me.

She smiled and handed me the ticket.

“Well then, I think that this belongs to you.” She said.

I took the ticket from her.  Sure enough, it was my name was on the ticket …

“How did …”

About that time the female ranger walked back over and realizing that we had already worked out the ranger’s mistake, she handed the woman her ticket and with what amounted to an afterthought handed me my driver’s license.  The female ranger had all the enthusiasm of the clinically bored.  She thought about saying something, saw the three of us looking at her, thought better of it, turned and walked back to the state park services truck.  I guess her day already sucked enough and she hadn’t wanted to provoke three angry tax payers who knew that they’d been handed paper for nothing other than some idea of a quota or a need to increase park revenue through the thinly veiled guise of traffic enforcement and public safety.

“They’re more interested in throwing paper at us than making sure that we get the right ticket back.” I said.

“He’s on a power trip.” the woman said.  “She’s not far behind.”

I looked at the ticket and grinned because this was a rite of passage.

I held the ticket up.

Oh, I wanted to keep this piece of paper!

I hoped that I could keep this piece of paper!

It was my first speeding ticket, my very first speeding ticket!  Who knew that a little piece of paper, a reprimand given for bullshit reasons, could bring such a feeling of joy and accomplishment in my life but then I lived my life differently than others.  Others would see this as a failure … I saw it as a rite of passage.

“What did they get you for?” I asked her, not bothering to look up from my ticket.

The woman looked at her ticket, studied it then pursed her lips.

"What?" she asked.

"Your ticket.  What did he cite you for?"

She looked down at her ticket.

“Speeding; twenty-three in a fifteen zone.”

“Twenty-three in a fifteen?” I mused out loud.  “He got me for thirty-five in a fifteen and I was coasting downhill with the transmission pulled all the way back into first gear.  How does he know how fast we were going?  He doesn’t have radar.”

“I think he’s just guessing and trying to get his quota filled this afternoon.” She said.

“He’s not the only one trying to fill something this afternoon …” Rick said slowly, mockingly.

If the woman heard him she didn’t understand that the jab was directed at her.

I ignored him.

Rick didn’t like to be ignored.

Rick liked to be the center of attention so he snatched the ticket out of my hand and started reading over it.  I let him have it.  He mumbled as he read each box of the ticket, skimming it quickly.

I turned back to talk to the woman standing beside the Camaro Rally Sport.  I guess this made Rick even more agitated because he leaned over, shoved the ticket in front of my face and began to gesture as he talked in a voice that was one step below shouting.

“This is bullshit!  You hear me, Shields?  Bullshit!” he said angrily and loudly at last, almost loud enough for the pair of rangers to hear him even where they sat in their truck.

The woman standing beside my Camaro winced.

I winced because Rick was almost shouting in my right ear.

“Total.  Bull.  Shit.” He said as he held the ticket up and stabbed a finger at it so hard that he popped the paper, making a loud crack and almost pushing his finger through the paper.

If Rick ripped or tore my first speeding ticket then I was going to be pissed.  The woman standing next to my Camaro Rally Sport became a little concerned at Rick’s outburst and took a step back away from the Camaro.  Damn it!  Rick was ruining this for me, because I was getting something that he wasn’t … attention.

“What do you care?  You’re not the one that’s going to have to pay it.” I muttered.

“It’s still bullshit.” He said, handing the ticket back to me.

I read over the ticket myself.  Speeding was the only box marked even though the ranger had threatened me with far more.  I was surprised that he hadn’t put a check by the boxes marked reckless driving and racing and I was glad that there wasn’t a box marked “smartass punk” or “kid with a big mouth.”  If there had been such a charge then in my case, I could easily have moved that from a misdemeanor to a felony with little effort at all on my part.

“You can wipe your ass with that … it doesn’t count if it’s in a stupid park.  Those rangers aren’t real cops.  You’re stupid if you pay that because they’ll never come looking for you if you don’t pay it.”

Somehow, I knew better than that.  Especially being a young driver like I was with an almost brand new license.  Everything was geared against young drivers, especially insurance rates for kids like me with fast cars like the one I had.

I continued to look the ticket over.

It felt strange and wonderful to hold that piece of paper in my hand and instead of being scared or mad, I felt a certain kind of awe.  My information was all there, address, social security number, everything from my driver’s license including my date of birth but the ranger had spelled my last name wrong … “Sheilds” instead of “Shields.”  I thought back to the basic rule or grammar that I had learned years ago in elementary school … “You put the letter “I” before “E” except after “C.””

Idiot … but then like I said a basic high school education wasn’t a really big determining factor of if you got to be a park ranger or not.  If you could chase a squirrel away from a bird feeder or piss on a camp fire and put it out they probably hired you on the spot.  I glanced over the rest of the ticket to see what else the ranger had gotten wrong …

There was my birth date but on second glance it was the wrong date.

Huh?

Uh.

Hold on …

I looked at the ticket again.

I had been born in 1969 but the ranger had not only gotten my name spelled wrong but he had put down that I was born in 1967.

That was odd.

I looked again to make sure that the “7” wasn’t just a “9” with a really flat oval, the byproduct of being written in haste and anger.  No, it was a “7” all right, no mistake about it.  Not that it mattered that the ranger had listed me as being two years older than I was but I thought it was still a little odd.

What could a mistake like that on a ticket do for me?

Would that affect how the judge reviewed my case?  Would I have to prove that I was sixteen rather than eighteen?  Could I get off on some kind of technicality because the ranger had made all of these mistakes when he wrote my ticket?

Probably not.

Yeah, it was my first speeding ticket but it was all bullshit and now it was full of clerical errors and stupid mistakes.  I don’t know if that diminished it in any way or not.  I wasn’t quite sure right then.  Remembering how angry the ranger had acted towards me I was surprised that there weren’t little drops of spittle on the ticket.  He seemed to be issuing tickets as fast as he could so it was little wonder that he had made a mistake or two.

“You’ve got your ticket and license back so let’s cruise and find the others.  There’s beer waiting.” Rick whined loudly.

“Yeah, for you.” I said, turning to look at the woman standing next to me.

She had taken a step towards the Camaro, I was sure of it, and she seemed to be waiting … wanting for me to say something.  I felt awkward because I didn’t know what to say.  I felt that I should say … something.  There was this … feeling … in the air, like something was happening but Rick’s whining was ruining the ambience and the mood.  Sometimes Rick could be a real anchor to hang out with.  The woman looked like she was about to say something … there was a pause, a long pause.

Say something, I thought.

“Let’s go, Shields.  Damn it!  We've wasted enough time already.” Rick said loudly.

Yeah, I wasn’t going to get anywhere with Rick whining in the passenger seat.

I needed to say something so I said it.

"Sorry.  We need to go.  We’re supposed to meet some friends from work.” I finally told the woman, thinking it was about the dumbest thing that I could say at the moment and almost wincing after I said it.

“Oh.” She said, sounding disappointed.

“Yeah.” I said, sounding disappointed as well.

And like that it felt like the moment was over.

I cranked the Camaro Rally Sport, put my foot on the brake and shifted from Park to Reverse.  The transmission engaged gear with a dull thud.

“Hey!” the woman said.

“Yeah?” I said, surprised that she had spoken.

“Where do you work?” she asked, just like that.

I wasn’t expecting that and it took me a second or two to recover.  When I did I just threw everything out there for her.  What the hell ... what did I have to lose?

“County Market.  You know the really big grocery store across the highway from Cloverleaf Mall there in Hattiesburg?”

The woman nodded as I started backing out from where we had parked.  I had that nagging feeling … something else needed to be said so I took a chance.  I stopped, hard enough to rock the Camaro Rally Sport on its shocks and hard enough to jolt Rick in his seat.

“Aw hell.  Now what?” Rick asked.

“Shut up.” I told him.

Before Rick could say anything I leaned my head out the Camaro Rally Sport’s window.  The woman had turned and was walking slowly back to her big gold Lincoln.

“Hey!  I just thought of something!” I said loudly.

The woman stopped, turned and looked at me over her shoulder, almost cutting her eyes at me.  She had really beautiful eyes.

She had really beautiful eyes.

“Shields?  What are you doing?” Rick asked loudly.

“Shut up.” I growled at Rick, under my breath.

It was an angry, serious growl.  The kind of growl that promised an impromptu ass kicking if it went ignored.

Rick shut up.

What I was doing was wishing I had an ejector seat on the passenger side, like James Bond’s Astin Martin had in “Thunderball”, but I didn’t say that out loud even though my right thumb kept pressing down on the gear selector button, clicking it on and off, just like it was an ejector seat switch.  Instead, I ignored him ... again.  It was getting easier to do as the day grew longer because Rick had almost used up all of the patience that I had reserved for him.

The woman stood there, looking at me.

Expectantly?

“Listen!  I’m working tomorrow night, four to ten … at County Market.  Why don’t you stop by and see me?” I said.

"You're working?" she asked.

I nodded.

“Tomorrow night?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Four to ten, late afternoon and night shift.  Stop by if you can and we'll talk for a while.” I told her.

She smiled, tilted her head slightly.

There, I’d said it and even though it didn’t feel as right as I wanted it to at least it didn’t feel as wrong as I was scared that it might even though it still felt kind of awkward.  Rick muttered something and I turned to look over my right shoulder to back out of the spot we were parked in.  An incredulous look came over Rick’s face.

“What?!” Rick asked in a loud whisper, laughing.  “What did … ?  Were you just hitting on her?”

“No.” I said, still looking over my shoulder and backing the Camaro Rally Sport into the road.  “I was not hitting on her.”

“Yes, you were!  You were!  You were hitting on her!” Rick exclaimed.  “You were hitting on that old woman!  Dude!  What is your problem?”

“I wasn’t hitting on her, Rick.”

“Yes, you were.  You hit on her and she’s old enough to be your mom!”

“I wasn’t hitting on her.”

Rick laughed, stomping his feat and throwing a little tantrum there in the passenger seat.

“You were hitting on someone’s mom!  Like you really had a chance at that!” Rick chided.

“Yeah, whatever.” I whispered.

And that’s when he really started laughing, rocking in his seat and kicking his feet hard enough against the floorboard of my Camaro Rally Sport that I thought he might dent the metal.

“You are so retarded!” he said.  “Hitting on someone’s mom!  Man!  That's desperate!”

I did a slow reverse J-turn and shifted from reverse to neutral to drive.  The transmission clunked into gear and I took one last look past the over dramatizing Rick to see the woman again.  The woman turned and stood there watching us, her hands were clasped in front of her, her license and ticket held tight.

“Keeps life interesting.” I said.  “If I was hitting on her then the worst that she could do is say no.”

“Or laugh at your stupid ass all the way back to her home!” Rick added.

“Or that.” I whispered as I agreed more to myself than with Rick.  

“Probably wouldn’t be the first time a girl laughed at me for trying to talk to her.  Damn sure won’t be the last.”

If Rick heard that last bit he didn’t comment.  Putting my license and ticket in the pocket on the front of my shirt I slowly drove away from where we had pulled off with all the other cars and their unlucky drivers.  I drove slowly away, keeping the Camaro Rally Sport at around ten miles an hour … and when I looked in the rear view mirror the woman was still standing there, holding her ticket, watching us drive away … just standing there, watching us drive away … and there was a smile on her face.


Rick and I cruised on around the lake, keeping our speed well below fifteen miles an hour.  If I was going to get another ticket from Disco Elmer Fudd it was going to be for going too slow.  Rick and I eventually found our friends on the far side of the lake.  Right from the start I was the brunt of most of the conversation and now that Rick had beer and an audience of his peers he could be the center of attention which is what Rick liked best.  He proceeded to let our run in with the park ranger be known in every single detail.  Rick chided me for not only thinking that the woman in the gold Lincoln was attractive but also for the fact that I had tried to pick her up by inviting her to stop by County Market the next time that I was working.  I endured the good natured ribbing but as I sat there on the wooden picnic table, Pepsi can in hand, staring out across the lake at Paul B. Johnson state park I couldn’t get the woman in the gold Lincoln out of my mind.

Fifteen minutes later, the two park rangers drove slowly by in their pickup truck, checking the various groups of park visitors.  I guess that they had finished handing out their daily quota of tickets and were either moving to a fresh spot to set up their next speed trap or they were calling it a day.  Rick saw the park pickup truck with the two rangers drive slowly by and pointed it out to the rest of the group. The ranger who had written me my first ticket stared at my parked Camaro Rally Sport then leered at me as he drove past.  His look was that of a hair trigger, like he would jump on me again if I gave him even the tiniest excuse to do so and that he was looking forward to the opportunity to do so.

What an asshole … I thought and that was about the nicest thing that I say about the ranger.  The female ranger, sitting on the passenger side, simply watched us with the same tragically bored look that she had had before.  She wasn’t scowling like she had been but she was nowhere near smiling.  I watched them, watched her as they drove past, finally seeing her turn her head to face forward when her interest in us had been filled or she realized that any fun she might get out of hassling us wasn’t worth the effort that went into doing it.

A few minutes later the big gold Lincoln Continental Mark IV cruised slowly by with both windows down.  The woman looked over as she drove past … it looked like she was looking for something … or someone.  Rick noticed the big gold Lincoln and brought it to everyone else’s attention.

“Hey!  Hey, everyone!  Look!  There goes Shields’ new girlfriend!  The one he was hitting on!  She’s as old as his mom!” Rick chided, laughing and nudging me to make sure that I saw the gold Lincoln.

I turned around and watched the gold Lincoln drive slowly by.  The woman looked my way, dipped her head and watched us over the top of her Wayfarers for a few seconds as she passed then looked forward and slowly drove on.  The big motor under the hood growled lowly as it moved all of that metal carefully along at the posted speed limit of fifteen miles an hour.

“… Or should I say your new old girlfriend.  Ha!  I bet you want to Oil of Oh Lay her!”

Rick then started hopping around like he was either riding a bucking horse or dry humping the air in front of him all the while he kept shouting “Oh lay!”

The others in the group thought that was hilarious and laughed.  One even spewed Old Milwaukee right out of his nose as he almost choked on his beer and another simply patted me on the back sympathetically while telling me it was okay, that it was just Rick and that it was just the beer in Rick.  I just smiled and nodded, taking the good natured ribbing for what it was and watching the gold Lincoln as it slowly passed on out of sight down the park trace.  I didn’t know anything about Rick’s sex life but I felt sure that I had had more sex than he ever had and I could count the number of times that I had been with Pam on two hands and about half a foot and that was just since late December.  The more Rick drank the more he couldn’t let go of the idea that I had found the woman in the gold Lincoln attractive let alone that I was actually having thoughts about her and he continued to ride me every chance he got about the situation.  Even though the jokes continued at my expense off and on for the next two hours, becoming more and more vulgar as the beer and wine coolers were depleted, I just couldn’t shake the funny feeling that I had … It was like everything that had happened today had been predestined.  Even now I wasn’t upset about getting the ticket.  

Still … there was just the weirdest feeling to the afternoon, like something in my life that was
supposed to have happened had just happened, like some rite of passage had just been completed and not even getting my first speeding ticket could diminish that feeling in the least.  When I thought of the woman in the big gold Lincoln I kept getting the strangest feeling …

... the strangest feeling.


          Monday, March 17, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


It was a little after seven that night and I was working at County Market on the Front Wall displays with Rick and one of our night managers, Mixon.  I was working with my red bowtie hanging loose, my shirt unbuttoned on the top two buttons and already I was starting to sweat from building the third of seven new displays that Mixon had decreed we would put into the Front Wall that night.  Rick, our previous day exploits still fresh on his mind, just couldn’t let the whole speeding ticket incident go and was reciting it detail by detail to Mixon, laying it on thicker and thicker, as we worked on filling and squaring the displays.

“... And then, to top it off, Shields tries to hit on this old lady by telling her that he worked here at County Market and that she should stop by here tonight to see him when he was working.”

Mixon looked from Rick to me.

“You tried to hit on her?”

“She asked where I worked.  I told her.  I don’t think that was hitting on her.”

“You also told her when you worked and asked her to stop by and see you.  You hit on that old woman!  Admit it!” Rick said.

“Old woman?” Mixon asked.

“Old woman.” Rick said, laughing.  “She had to be in her late thirties … maybe early forties.”

“Forty’s not old.” Mixon said.

Rick got a sheepish look and said nothing as Mixon slung a case of grape Faygo cola into the huge, six case wide display we had there on the Front Wall.  Glass bottles clinked on glass bottles loudly and the whole display rocked back and forth causing Mixon to grimace just a little. I’d seen the kind of mess that a full column of Faygo could make if it came crashing down.  You did not want to be anywhere near that kind of soft drink disaster let alone part of the clean-up crew.

“What did she look like?” Mixon asked me.

“I’ll tell you what she looked like … she was old.” Rick said.

“I was asking Shields.” Mixon stated flatly.

I shrugged my shoulders and used my box cutter to slice the top off of a box of Duncan Hines chocolate cake mix, stuck my hand between the boxed product and the cardboard then made a U-shaped cut across the front to create a display window for the cake mixes.

“What did she look like?” Mixon asked me, again.

I stopped working.

“She was about this tall …” I said, showing Mixon with my hand.  “Nice hair, nice figure.  She had these beautiful brown eyes … and this ... smile.”

Mixon looked at me then copied the motions that I'd gone through.

"This high and a nice smile doesn't tell me what she looks like." Mixon chided.

I shrugged my shoulders, not really wanting to be having this discussion and wondering how it started let alone how I got dragged into it.  Oh, that's right ... Rick started it.

"She wasn't bad looking." I said.

“So she wasn’t bad looking?” Mixon asked, turning to look at Rick in order to give him some grief.

“If she comes in tonight you can judge for yourself.”

Rick put his box cutter down on top of the box he was about to cut for display.

If she comes in …” Rick chided.  “Which she won’t.”

I shrugged my shoulders, looking back towards the cashiers and seeing Pam talking to another cashier.  Pam caught my eye and quickly looked away.  I thought about the events of the past few months and went back to my task at hand.

I was sixteen.

She was eighteen.

She had been my first.

I had been her second.

She had been a mistake.

“Do you think that she is going to show up tonight to see you?” Mixon asked, stepping between us and throwing another case of glass Faygo soda bottles on the display he was building.  His smile said that he was starting to have fun with this.

“The only place that she’s going to show up is in his dreams … his wet dreams!” Rick said, laughing and pointing his box cutter at me for emphasis.

I shrugged my shoulders again and went back to stacking product and straightening a display.

“If she does, she does and if she doesn’t, she doesn’t.  Never hurts to try.” I muttered to Mixon.

“See!  I knew he was hitting on her!  Like he had a chance!  She’s not going to show, Shields.  No way that woman is going to show up here for you!” Rick said.

“You never know!  She might …” I said.

Mixon was good with that but Rick wouldn’t let it go.

"She's not going to show, Shields."

"Fine." I said, really wanting to drop the topic and just get the Front Wall finished.

“Fine." Rick mimicked.

"Fine." I said, again, and leaving it at that.

But that wasn't good enough for Rick.

"I bet you …” Rick said, digging out his wallet and pulling out a bill.

“You what?” I asked.

“I bet you, Shields.  Come on, I bet you.”

“Bet me what?”

“I bet you five bucks that she doesn’t show up tonight.  I need some folding money for beer after work so what do you say?”

Mixon looked at me and back to Rick.

“Are you going to take that action?” he asked.

“Why should I?” I asked.

“Because taking his bet is probably going to be the only way to shut him up so I can get any work out of him tonight.” Mixon said.

“Then why don’t you pay him?” I asked.

“Because it’s not between him and me, it’s between you and him.  I don’t care if your woman shows up or not or how old she is I just want this wall done by nine and it’s not going to get done if RIck doesn’t shut up and start working.”

I sighed, dug out my wallet from my back pocket and looked inside.  I had a twenty, a ten, two fives and a few loose ones; all I had left until I got paid this Friday.  What the hell, it was only money.  I might as well be throwing it down a wishing well but I was getting tired of Rick riding my case over what had happened.  The truth was that I had done something that Rick was too scared to have ever done … I had talked to a woman.  Just like that, I’d talked to her and flirted with her.  It would be worth a five spot to get him to shut up.  I pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to Mixon.  He took the five dollar bill from me and then walked over and took the five dollar bill from Rick.

“There’s nothing like easy money except maybe cold beer … especially when you’re paying for it.” Rick said as he laughed in a taunting manner.

“What the hell are you talking about?  I buy most of your beer as it is.  I’m probably the only sixteen year old in Hattiesburg that spends ten dollars a week on beer and never gets to drink a drop of it.”

Mixon laughed at that and Rick fumed.  I went back to working … grabbing up a box of Kellog’s Frosted Flakes and starting to cut it for display in the Front Wall shelf.  Seeing that I wasn’t taking his baiting any more, Rick grew silent, smirking every now and then but not saying anything.  Even if I lost the bet it had been worth five dollars to buy some relief from Rick’s constant jabber and taunting.  Even Mixon seemed relieved that Rick had shut up, if only for a little while but like they said … silence was golden … especially in Rick’s case.  The problem with silence being golden is that sometimes you just had to buy it and it usually didn’t come cheap.



I was a few minutes late getting off work that night.  Mixon had called the bet at quitting time and I’d lost my five spot to Rick who flaunted it at me as he went to buy beer.  He chided me about my taste in women and walked away laughing, snapping his winnings crisply between his hands for emphasis and just to rub it in.

"That was girl money." Rick said.  "Girl money."

Yeah.

It had been girl money.

Who was I fooling?

Rick was probably right but it never hurt to try either; I may not have been the best looking guy walking this planet but I damn sure wasn’t shy.  There was never a need to be shy … if you were interested in a woman, just tell her.  Talk to her, get to know her, ask her out and if she doesn’t want anything to do with you move on because there were millions of women out there and it made no sense to waste any time on just one, especially if she didn’t want to waste any time on you.

You could waste a lot of time with the wrong person and that was time that you could never get back.

Pam had taught me that.

I knew what I wanted and I knew it was out there, somewhere.  I waited fifteen minutes there in the parking lot … waiting for what I wasn’t sure, but I sat there on the hood of my Camaro Rally Sport with my back to the windshield … drinking a Cherry Coke, thinking … watching the traffic pass by on Highway 49 and the late night customers coming and going from County Market and Cloverleaf Mall.  Being a teenager was tough, every day was tough … you had questions that didn’t have answers or nobody gave them to you.  Every day you learned something new and it was usually learned the hard way.

10:18 PM.

The woman from the water park may not have shown up but thinking about her doing just that had been something nice to think about during my shift, helped me pass my time.

“Would have been nice …” I said softly, thinking of her as I slid off the hood of my Camaro Rally Sport.

I hopped in the driver’s seat, started the Rally Sport and slid Bon Jovi’s self-titled cassette into the Kenwood.  I drove away listening to Bon Jovi’s “She don’t know me”, strangely appropriate, and trying to figure out which local fast food restaurant was going to get my money tonight.



          Thursday, March 20, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


I’d spent the week thinking about the woman.  I caught myself looking for her … in traffic when I drove my car, at the mall when I went shopping, everywhere I went I looked for her … for her car … and I never saw her once.  I figured there couldn't be that many old big gold Lincolns in this town or area so spotting her should have been easy but I never saw her.

Thursday was another 4 to 10 shift, get the shopping carts in from the parking lot for the first hour then front wall duty with Brad Davis for the next three hours following that.  Brad was a new guy, first year at Jones, and he’d been at County Market for about two weeks now.  Normally I didn’t like new guys to help me on the big projects like Front Wall, Middle Aisle or Produce and Dairy but Brad was a good worker.  A little slow but a good worker, he learned quick and he didn’t need constant supervision.  You could give him a project and he’d do it.  I liked that so I didn’t mind working with Brad because I knew that he didn’t drag ass and that meant I didn’t have to pick up any of his slack.

The yellow Duncan Hines cake mix display that I’d set up two nights ago was being moved to the right in order to make room for some EZ-Tyme biscuit mix.  EZ-Tyme was good stuff and it was cheap which meant that it sold a lot and that meant that the display had a lot of product movement speed to it.  In other words, you would always be refilling or even rebuilding the display on a daily basis where other stuff you might add a box to it every few days or maybe once a week.  Front Wall was our bargain display, where we sold some of our best products cheap and we hit you with the Front Wall just as soon as you came in the store.

It was sometime around 8pm and I was behind the Faygo display, four feet deep back and under a rack unit, standing on an old wooden pallet topped with plywood and surrounded by old dirty spiderwebs and a bunch of those long, grayish brown granddaddy long-legged looking spiders you saw in places that didn’t get a lot of human visitation.  I hated spiders but I had to move the display of cake mix over and the easiest way to do that was to get up into the display, back behind the product itself, and use my feet to just shove it over the foot or so that I needed it moved.  Otherwise I was going to have to unstack the whole cake mix display and move it one by one and that was the stupid way to do it.  I liked to think that laziness was the mother of all invention and right then I was being pretty lazy moving the display the way that I was doing it but the lazy way worked in my book for both speed and final outcome.  So there I was, behind the display, back against the braces of the shelf unit, pushing with my feet to get the stacked cake mix boxes where I wanted them to go and that’s when I caught a glimpse of her …

Her!

The woman from the water park!

She was in the store and walking past the front registers and down the Middle Aisle displays.  She was dressed casual, yellow shirt, tan slacks and dark colored sandals.  I saw her look left towards the deli and then right towards the medicine aisle, looking for something … or maybe ... someone.  Her brunette hair flowed across her shoulders and a large, soft leather purse was slung over her right shoulder by a single wide strap.

It was her!

My head got a warm flush to it and my heart raced in my chest.  I was sure that it was her!  I pushed the cake display with everything that I had and the display moved, slowly at first, denting the side of the case slightly, but it moved.  It took me a few minutes but I got each of the six columns of the cake display shoved over and then was able to climb out from the dust, the dirt, the darkness, the tight confines, the spiders … and back out into the light.  Brad was waiting outside the display and I reached for his work apron, using it to wipe my dirty, dusty hands off as he looked on in mild if amused anger.

“Why don’t you wear a work apron?” he asked, looking at where I’d wiped my dusty hands on his already dirty apron.

“Why would I want to wear one of those?” I asked.

“Because these things keep your clothes and hands clean?” he said flatly.

“No.  Those things make you look like a dork and only new guys wear those.  They’re lucky I wear one of these stupid red clip on bowties …” I said.

“I’ve noticed that you don’t really wear a bowtie as much as you unbutton your shirt and just let it hang from your collar one ended, dangling.”

I looked down at bare chest, chest hair, my Saint Christopher medal and the dangling bowtie.

“And unless one of the owners of the store decides to show up this is about as dressed up for County Market as I’m ever going to get.”

Brad lifted a box of General Mills Captain Crunch cereal from his green stock cart to the fold out metal tray and pulled out his boxcutter.

“I couldn’t ever get away with half the stuff that you do.  They’d write me up and shove me out the door and I need this job, sad to say.” Brad said.

I shrugged.  Honestly, I did get away with murder at County Market, and I enjoyed every single minute of it but when you were a good worker, a really hard worker, then management cut you a lot of slack.  I brushed myself off, turned to see if I had any dirt or dust on my shirt or jeans and then headed off towards the back as Brad went back to his green stock cart and began to cut open the box of General Mills Captain Crunch cereal that was going in the Front Wall next to the cake mix I had just moved, on the side opposite of where the EZ-Tyme Biscuit Mix was going.  I grabbed my boxcutter, slipped it into my back pocket and walked around by Produce.

“Hey!  Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’ll be back.  Gotta go check on ... something.” I told Brad, leaning back around the corner just long enough to tell him what I was doing then I was off again.

His only comment was a grunt, given without even looking up as he continued to use his boxcutter to cut and shape the front boxes of the Captain Crunch cereal display.  Like I said, Brad was easy to work with, a bit slow but methodical.  It may have taken him twice as long to build a display as it did me but his displays always had this sort of mathematical perfection to them, that photo perfect layout like you see in advertisements in magazines, marketing perfection from any camera angle.  That and he didn’t say much when he worked, nothing much other than what needed to be said so I liked that about him as well.  Sometimes I just needed an extra pair of hands without an extra mouth coming with them.

As I walked down the Produce aisle, I could look down each and every aisle, the width of the store, to see if I could see the woman from the water park or not.  I stepped up my pace … she had vanished from sight somewhere about Aisle 4 which was the International Foods and Magazines and Greeting Cards aisle.  I walked past that, looked down it … nothing but some other customers.  Aisle 5 vegetables, 6 was juices, 7 was canned meats and 8 was sugar and flour … different but all the same with no sign of her.

Where could she be?

I know that I’d seen her …

I moved on past Aisle 10 where we kept the baby foods and rounded the corner where Produce turned into the Meat Department with all of its standing coolers, lean over coolers and counters staffed with smiling red coated employees.  Something about the Meat Department employees always bothered me … It was like they were not only a separate department (we didn’t handle anything in the Meat Department) but how the Meat Department was almost like it was on another planet.  The change in temperature from the rest of the store, the smiling employees who stared at you from behind the counter and lean-over coolers, how they always worked with meat, how they used these big powered band saws to saw up meat custom order, the aluminum tables with rollers way in the back where they slid the raw meat into screaming power saws, the blood on the floor, the pieces and chips of raw meat on the floor and how the red coated Meat Department employees were always smiling, always jovial, sometimes in small groups laughing and smiling like everyone else in the store was part of their little private joke, laughing and smiling like butchers should never be or do.  It was almost like they were characters in a Steven King novel.

I walked around the stand-up freezers that marked the outer boundaries of the Meat Department.

She wasn’t there, either.

I walked past one of the coolers, headed towards where Middle Aisle divided the Meat Department in half.  There were lots of customers here but none of them were her … maybe I’d been mistaken when I thought that I’d seen her but I hadn’t been just looking for her … no, I’d been looking for whoever was wearing the dress, sandals and purse that I thought had been her and still I hadn’t seen any woman in the store dressed like the woman I had seen walking down Middle Aisle.  County Market was a big store but it wasn’t that hard to find one person in the store, not if you knew what they looked like or what they were wearing.

I stopped near one of the end displays on Middle Aisle in the Meat Department, there was a trash can there, a small one.  I flicked open my box cutter, checked the razor blade and saw that it was nicked and jagged, I hadn’t changed the blade in about a week.  I flipped the blade and saw that the other side had been used up pretty much as well so I tossed the old blade in the trash can and pulled a new blade from my pocket, removed the paper wrap from the sharp metal edge and reloaded my box cutter.  I looked up and down Middle Aisle and across the Meat Department, tapping my box cutter flat against the palm of my hand then twirling it between my fingers … looking … seeing nothing.

I sighed, frustrated.

I knew that I’d seen her … the woman from the water park and now I couldn’t find her.  It was like she had just ... disappeared.  What if I hadn’t seen her?  What if I had wanted to see her and had just thought that I saw her?

Then I had another thought … what if she really was here then what was I going to do when I found her?  Talk to her?  I’d thought about her for the last few days, even fantasized about what I would do if she came to see me, what I would say, how the conversation might work out but all of that felt useless right then.  It felt like I had spent three days studying for a major social studies test then found out when I got to class that I was taking an algebra test instead.

I was assuming that she was here for me because I asked her to stop by and it struck me right then that was assuming a whole hell of a lot on my part.

What if she wasn’t here for me?

What if she didn’t even remember me?

What if she was just here to shop for some groceries?

That would be awkward and might even be a little creepy.  I’d find her on a side aisle, walk up to her … Hey!  Remember me?  The kid in the red Camaro Rally Sport from the water park?  We got speeding tickets together and I thought you were flirting with me so I flirted with you and took a chance and asked you to stop by and see me at work and here you are, where I work, just like I asked you to and so I’m going to assume that you’re here to see me.

Suddenly the thought that I might be in way over my head sent a really cold chill of self-doubt up and down my spine … suddenly, finding her seemed like a dumb idea … a really dumb idea.  Suddenly I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t reading a lot more into the situation than there actually was.

I stood there trying to decide if I should go looking for her or just let it go.  I was lost in my own thoughts when I saw Brad come walking down the Middle Aisle, wiping his hands on his red apron and looking up and down each aisle as he went … searching.  I guess he was looking for me because about halfway down Middle Aisle he noticed me standing there at the end of Middle Aisle at the start of the Meat Department and he quickened his pace towards me … as much as Brad could quicken his pace.  Brad moved like a hobbit … a hobbit on permanent disability.

“Hey!  There you are!  I was looking for you.” He said.

“Yeah.” I said.  “Sorry.  I was looking for someone.  I thought I saw them come in the store.”

“Were you looking for a woman?” Brad asked.  “Yellow shirt, sandals and a big leather purse?”

My world came to a screeching halt.

“Yeah!” I said, probably more readily than I should have and kind of regretting my anxiousness.  “Where is she?”

Brad gave a little smile.

“Is she your mom?” he asked.

“Uh, what?  No!  She’s not my mom.” I said quickly.

“Older sister?” Brad asked.

I shook my head.

“So … Who is she?” he asked.

Even then I wasn’t sure who she was.

“Someone I met a few days ago.  She said she might stop by and talk to me one night this week.”

“She talked to me.” Brad said, smiling.

“Huh?  She talked to you …?  You talked to her? When?” I asked.

“A few minutes ago.  She asked about you.” Brad said.

She asked about you, he had said.  My heart skipped in my chest.

“Where did you talk to her?” I asked him.

“Up on Front Wall.”

I knew then that I had to talk to her.  If she had asked Brad about me then she was here to see me.  I pushed past Brad and started to walk towards the front of the store, each footstep had a purpose and that purpose was to get me one step closer to the woman from the water park.

“She’s not there.  She left already.” Brad said to me behind my back.

… and like that I stopped and waited.  

The good thing about Brad was that he didn’t talk much.  

The bad thing about Brad was that he didn’t talk much.

“She left?” I finally asked, not sure if I heard him right or not and not sure if I had wanted to hear what he had said.  “Like, she’s gone?”

“Yeah.  She’s gone.  She left.”

“Why?”

Brad shrugged his shoulders.

“She seemed like she was in a real big hurry.  She asked Jack about you and he told her that you were up on Front Wall.  She came up there and looked around then asked me if I had seen you.”

“She came looking for me and I went looking for her and we missed each other along the way.  Story of my life …” I said flatly, biting my lip and getting mad at myself.

I sighed and stared up at the ceiling.

"Story of my life." I whispered.

Brad looked at me, waiting.

I took a deep breath and looked at him.

“What did you tell her?” I asked.

“I told her that you had gone to the back for something and she said to tell you that she was sorry that she missed you and that she might catch you another time …

Another time.

“And …?” I asked.

“And then she left.  That’s about it.” Brad said, shrugging his shoulders.

I looked up at the ceiling and then closed my eyes.

“Damn.” I said softly.

I had missed her!

Her!

The woman from the water park!

She had come here looking for me and I’d missed her!

She had come here.

Looking for me.

And I’d missed her!

I let that particular sequence of events rattle around my head a little bit then sighed.  Brad started to walk away back towards the Front Wall then stopped and turned to say something.

“Oh, she did ask me when you were working again and I told her that you were working tomorrow night ...”

I lowered my head and looked at him.

"You told her that I was working tomorrow night?" I asked.

“Yeah.  That was okay, right?  To tell her you that worked tomorrow night?” he asked.

I nodded, still not sure what had just happened only that I had missed it.  I guess my look conveyed something I didn’t want to convey because Brad didn’t say anything … he just shrugged his shoulders and walked on back to the front of the store.  Now I realized how I felt about what had just happened.  I felt sick.  My chest hurt.  The woman at the water park, the one that I had invited to come see me had come to see me and I had missed her.  That might have been a good thing since I hadn’t really known what I was going to say to her if she came in the store.  I mean, I had practiced what I would say to her but that had just been wishful thinking because after Monday night I had doubted that I’d ever see that woman again.

Apparently I had started something between us.  I wasn’t sure what it was but it was something and I had started it and she had come calling at my invitation to the place that I worked.  Yeah, I thought to myself as I headed back towards the Front Wall … I had definitely started something.

But … what had I started?

And more important, where was it going to lead to?

That night I stayed after work for about twenty minutes, just in case the woman from the water park did decide to show back up.  I sat on the hood of my Camaro Rally Sport, my back to the windshield, drinking a Pepsi from the vending machine and listening to Black ‘n Blue’s song “Miss Mystery” off of last year’s Without Love cassette.  It was a song which, I felt at that time, was a pretty appropriate song since this woman had basically swept into my life and everything about her was a mystery.



          Friday, March 21, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


I was anxious and excited that day.  The whole day I thought about the woman from the water park, I thought of what I'd say to her, how I'd say it ...

All that night I had looked for her but she never showed.  My head was on a swivel all during my shift looking up from what I was doing, trying to see everybody who came in the store.  I’d even volunteered for Front Wall duty, something my manager had jumped at to change and add me to.  He got a great Front Wall worker and I got to be right there, at the front of the store, near the entrance, if she came in to see me.

But she didn’t.

I waited and watched for her, all shift long … but she never showed.

Another four to ten shift at County Market with Rick on the Front Wall was over and done with.  Rick and I had to gather up the shopping carts from the parking lot before we could punch out and leave but that didn’t take long.  All the time that I was gathering up the shopping carts I kept looking around the parking lot, looking for the woman from the water park and her big gold Lincoln but I never saw her.

Rick and I punched out on the time clock, he went to get beer and I went to the magazine aisle to get the latest issue of Hot Rod magazine (the cover spread promising “10 easy modifications” and a “350 IROC Camaro vs. Mustang GT” drag test which I looked forward to reading).  I went through Jeanne’s line to pay for the latest issue of Hot Rod magazine.  Rick jumped in front of me and dropped a case of Bud Lite on the conveyor belt.  I let him go ahead, not seeing any use in pointing out that he had cut in line and not really caring at the same time (especially since it wasn’t my hard earned money he was buying his beer with tonight).

Rick paid for his beer with a twenty then asked me if I wanted to go get something to eat and go cruising with him.  Even though it was a Friday night, I just didn’t feel like it or rather I didn’t feel like spending time with Rick right then.  Rick had backed off almost all the way from teasing me about the woman at the water park when we had worked together but even so I still just didn’t feel like hanging out with Rick tonight.

Not tonight.

There was that weird feeling in the air, the feeling that I’d had all day long, the feeling that I couldn’t shake.  I’d had a full week at school, I had a ten page short story due in English class on Monday and right now, tonight, I just wanted to relax and unwind and to see what kind of trouble I could get into on my own. I needed to clear my thoughts and that was next to impossible to do with Rick in tow with all of his constant talking, his juvenile antics and his incessant need for both beer and attention.  Sometimes the more beer he drank the harder it became to tolerate Rick; he was definitely a person that you liked to hang around but in measured, chosen amounts of time.

Rick hugged his double bagged beer tight to his chest as he walked away like he was the happiest person in the world and I guess, right then and there, he just might have been.  I watched him grab a bag of ice from the cooler at the front of the registers and then walk out the front doors.  There I stood, lost in my thoughts again.  I don’t know how long I stood there but I guess it was long enough.  Jeanne gently threw a small wadded up paper towel at me, the same one that she had been using to clean the glass on her laser bar code scanner, and asked me if I wanted to buy the magazine that I was holding in my hand.  I had to snap myself back to the here and now, unaware that I had been somewhere else, lost in thought.  I slid the magazine and a five dollar bill toward the scanner.  County Market discounted its books ten percent at the register, it basically took care of the tax on the magazine but even so I had enough change left over to get a canned soft drink from one of the vending machines outside on my way to my car.

I took my receipt, grabbed up my magazine, said goodnight to Jeanne and walked out the front of the store into the humid Mississippi night air, taking my red clip-on bowtie and name tag off the first chance that I could and unbuttoning my shirt an extra notch.  I stood there, alone, on the sidewalk at the front of the store and flipped through my new magazine, just doing a recon of the articles while trying to decide what I wanted to eat.  Having the freedom to eat at any fast food restaurant you wanted to was initially great until I realized that after a while they all kind of started to taste the same.  Rick started his faded red Ford F150 pickup truck, cranked his radio loud and drove slowly past me standing there on the sidewalk.  I looked up as he stopped in front of me, brakes squealing slightly and exhaust throbbing loudly.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go cruising?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Yeah, it’s past your bedtime, isn’t it?  Hey!  Don’t wait too long for Mary Poppins to show up!” Rick shouted, throwing his head back and laughing almost maniacally from the driver’s seat.

I shook my head and Rick saluted me with a single middle finger pointed skyward then drove off with Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the devil” playing loudly through his self-installed aftermarket stereo system.  I closed the magazine and walked to the end of the sidewalk, to the advertisement covered benches and the loudly humming Coke machine.  A patina of insect husks was scattered across the top of the vending machine … a graveyard of winged casualties from the nightly worship of the fluorescent light fixture above it and their inability to ever obtain that which they seemed to desire the most.  I guess life was like that to one extent or the other … just one big tease filled with unfulfilled desire and ultimately undeserved disappointment followed by unearned punishment.

The woman from the water park hadn’t come by the store tonight.

I batted away a few of the flying insects as I dropped some silver into the machine and selected a Cherry Coke.  The aluminum can rattled noisily down from the guts of the Coke machine and I took the cold drink from the dispenser trough, used a clean part of my shirt to wipe the top of the can clear of dust or grime and popped the top.  The Cherry Coke wasn’t sweet tea from Sonic but it was here and now and sometimes that was all that mattered when you were thirsty and tired.  I took a long drink as I leaned up against the metal support pole for the awning of the sidewalk, looking out across the parking lot there on the side of the store where Ingo and Pam had parked their cars.  Ingo and Pam were in the store, probably doing some grocery shopping.  Pam really wanted to play house and that was about all she would ever be good at … playing house with Ingo.  She stayed over at his place more than she stayed in the dorm on campus.  That’s all she thought of life, that it was just one big game of playing house.  If she flunked out I guess she’d just move in with Ingo and work at County Market full time.

And they'd get married.

And they'd have kids.

Maybe not in that order.

After what Pam had put me through I found that ignoring the two of them was easier to do as time went on, even if Ingo had started appearing at the Market waiting on Pam to get off every night that she worked.  I guess if he was overprotective before she had her fling with me then he was more than that way now that she had run back to him.  Sometimes it felt like Ingo was gloating.  It didn’t matter, though, because she wasn’t my problem anymore and he certainly didn’t have much to gloat about.   It wasn't like I wanted her back or I was going to challenge him or anything.  I'd had Pam.  She wasn't much.  If she was his entire world then Ingo was a really sad individual with low expectations.  Sometimes in life there are things that you may think are gold but the only reason you have them is because they’re worthless to other people.  Pam was like that, worthless to anyone but Ingo and Ingo was worthless to anyone but Pam while neither was the wiser for it.  Sometimes life was funny strange like that as well … delicious irony served up when you were the hungriest for it.

No.

There had to be something better out there than Pam.

I just had yet to find it.

I kicked off from the pole that I was leaning up against and started walking across the parking lot towards where I had parked my '78 Chevy Camaro Rally Sport way up the hill under the light.  I was burning Friday night time and that only came around once a week so it was at least semi-precious in nature.

I had to get out of here.

I looked at my watch … It was eight past ten on a Friday night in Hattiesburg, a college town.  There had to be some fun out there somewhere especially on the early start of a weekend … odds were better than good; the only problem was in finding it.  I weighed the possibilities for what they were and took another drink from my Cherry Coke.  There, at the top of the hill at the edge of the parking lot was my ’78 red and black Chevrolet Camaro Rally Sport sitting in the spot that I always parked it in under the utility pole light.  I walked up the hill to my car, changed out of my work shirt, trading it for a black t-shirt that I’d thrown into the back seat of the Rally Sport earlier, sat back down in the driver’s seat and listened to WHSY Rock 104.5 FM while the Rally Sport idled and warmed up.

The warm night air came in through the rolled down driver’s side window.

10:16 the digital green numbers on the Kenwood stereo proclaimed as the sharp, folksy guitar riffs of Jay Ferguson’s “Thunder Island” began.  I hadn’t heard that song in a long, long time and it was an old favorite of mine, enjoyed and cherished long before I could ever drive, call it an oldie from ’78, a long time ago when I was in third grade and music was just starting to be an escape to me.  I put my head back into the seat, relaxing and listening to the guitar riffs.  I took a drink from my Cherry Coke and closed my eyes.  My eyes burned because I’d been up late the past few nights so I kept my eyelids closed, let my eyes rest behind my lids and let my mind wander.  I was going to count to five and open my eyes.  By the count of twenty I still hadn’t opened my eyes then “Thunder Island” was halfway over and I still hadn’t opened my eyes.

“I like that song.” She said from within arm’s reach of my left.

I sat bolt upright, almost spilling my Cherry Coke and turned quickly in my driver’s seat to see who was talking to me, to see who had walked up on me while I was sitting here, eyes closed, listening to my music and not paying attention to anything in the world.  That had been dumb … real dumb to let myself fade out like that.  It could be anyone who had walked up to me there while I had my eyes closed and I wasn't paying attention.

Anyone.

And there she stood … her.

God!

It was her!

The woman from the water park.

I tried to say something but I couldn’t because I was paralyzed from the neck up.

“Christopher?” the woman asked as she stood there next to my Camaro Rally Sport, her arms folded across her chest.

I let out a breath that I didn’t know that I had been holding.

It was her!

No way!

It was her!

The woman from the water park!

The woman with the big gold Lincoln!

“Remember me?  Down at the water park?  We met last Sunday afternoon?” She asked, almost as if reading my thoughts and she gave a little nervous wave before folding her arms across her chest again.

And she was nervous … that much was easy to tell.  I wondered if she was naturally reserved or just really shy?  With not a little effort I found my voice and answered her, hoping that I wouldn’t stammer out of being caught like this by surprise.

“Yeah ... ” I said though not as loud as I would have liked to.

I should have said something else, something more.

“Oh, God!  Look ...  I’m sorry.” she said softly, concerned.  “I scared you, didn’t I?”

I looked around, hoping that I hadn’t spilled any Cherry Coke on me.  Yeah, she had scared me.  I’d totally let my guard down in a place I thought I was safe, waiting on my RS to warm up, listening to an old favorite song, window down, eyes closed, my mind in neutral and far away.  I had been totally oblivious.

“No.  I just shut my eyes for a few minutes, listening to the song there and I guess I got lost in my thoughts.”

“I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that …  Didn't really think I was sneaking up on you ...”

“Hey!  It’s okay.  I wasn’t expecting anyone to be this far out in the parking lot … it’s one of the reasons I park here, to be away from everyone else.”

"Oh!" she said, obviously thinking about that..

I quickly looked around and there, behind me, was her big gold Lincoln parked perpendicular to my Rally Sport.  How did I not hear that disco tank pull up behind me … I must have really been zoned out to have missed something like that idle up behind me … or maybe she really had snuck up on me … on purpose.

“You do remember, right?” she asked, her look now more concerned.

“Yeah.  Yeah!”  I said, still not really believing that she was actually here.  “We met each other at the water park last Sunday.  I remember.  I mean, it’s not often you get to be part of a group ticket giving set up by a reject from the Village People.”

She gave a soft laugh and then smiled and nodded.

One recurring thought kept running through my mind as I stood there next to my car.  She was here, standing on the other side of her car; the attractive older woman that I had talked to last week at the water park when I got my first speeding ticket!  She was here and she had parked her gold Lincoln next to my Camaro Rally Sport.  I’d thought about her all week long, I’d practiced what I was going to say, what I was going to do when or if she ever did show up and right now all of that scripting I had worked on, all that practicing and waiting for my chance to be cool and smooth had just checked out of my brain and run away from me.

My heart was redlined.

My mind was blank.

I had nothing other than the one fervent hope that my jaw wasn’t hanging open and I wasn’t standing there looking like some awestruck teenage jackass.

She was here.

She was here!

Just the two of us … and then it hit me; she had called me by my name and it wasn’t the first time that she had done that.  She had called me by name last week at the water park as well, like she knew me.  So how in the hell did she know my name?  I had never even seen her before last week and I damn sure hadn’t ever met her before then so how did she know me by name?

That was the part that was driving me crazy trying to figure out.

“I thought you might stop by last Monday night …” I said.

She seemed to think to herself.

“Thought?” she asked.

“Thought.  Hoped.” I said, venturing.

She smiled then and I think she blushed.

“Thought or hoped?” she asked.

What?  

Wow.  

Was she flirting with me?  

I had to think about what she had just said for a second and then I chose my words carefully.

“Both.” I said at last though not as loud as I probably should have but it seemed the best answer I could give with my mouth dry and my throat half way the same.

She lowered her head slightly and when she spoke she spoke softly as well, turning to look off into the distance.  Jay Fergusson finished up "Thunder Island" and Journey's "Wheel in the Sky" started playing on the radio ... another long time favorite of mine.

“I’m sorry.  You asked me to stop by and I really wanted to … but something … some things … came up last minute and I just couldn’t.” she said, seemingly exasperated when she mentioned “things”.

“That’s life.” I said.  “Brad told me that you stopped by last night.”

“Who?” she asked.

“Brad.  The guy you talked to last night.”

She nodded, tilted her head.

“You asked me to stop by and see you and I wanted to … I just had to do it when I could and hope that you might be here whenever it was that I could stop by.”

“And you did.  Last night.  I’m just sorry that I missed you.” I said.

“That was my fault. “ she said, sighing heavily.  “It probably wasn’t a good time to drop by here.  I didn’t have much time, I probably shouldn’t even have stopped by but … I saw your car parked up here on the hill and … I wanted to stop by while I could, maybe catch you at work … and ...”

“And we missed each other.” I said.

“I guess so.  One of the guys in the store, you said Brad was his name …?”

I nodded.

“Brad said that you’d be working until eleven tonight and I wanted to get here in time to see you so … well … here I am.  I finally made it.  Me.” she said sounding somewhat sarcastic then trailing off.

“Ten.” I said.

"What?"

“Ten.  I got off work at ten …”

Her expression immediately took a dive.

“Oh!  Ten!” she said, looking at her watch.  “Oh.  So … you’re already off ... work …”

I nodded.

“Yeah, I punched out a few minutes ago.  Got a book and a drink.” I said, holding up the magazine and the can of Cherry Coke.

She seemed to think about that.

“And if you weren’t off why would you be sitting in your car way out here listening to the radio?  Good one.  Smooth.” She half whispered to herself, chiding herself, nodding in some personal understanding and then hugging herself tight.

“It’s okay.” I said instinctively, trying to reassure her but not knowing why I was doing that or why I would have to.  It just felt like I should do it and it seemed to help the situation that was building between us.

“The guy I talked to last night said you got off at eleven and I was trying to get here early enough to see you tonight.” She said flatly, not even bothering to look up.

“Nope.  I’ve been off the clock for a while now.  I was just on my way to get something to eat.”

“Oh.” She said, yet again, lower, with definite disappointment.

And with that it was like she had said all that she had to say.  I got a sense of impulse from her, like she hadn’t planned much ahead, like she was winging it and that when things didn’t go according to how she had thought they might go she was lost and spinning her wheels trying to compensate.  There was just an instant of silence and then I took up the slack because at that moment in time I felt that if I didn’t say something that we would probably not have very much more to say.  Ever.

“I’m glad you stopped by … Last night and now, tonight.” I said.  “And since I’m off work, now, and since you’re here, now, and since Rick’s not around, now, well … maybe now we can finally talk ...  some.”

I opened the driver's door, stepped out of my Camaro Rally Sport and stood in front of her.  She looked up then, quickly, and smiled.  I watched her as she stood there, across from me.  If we had reached out for each other our fingers would have touched with plenty of overlap.  She was tall and slender, maybe even a bit taller than I had remembered her being.  I’d say that if we were standing toe to toe we’d be nose to nose, a little more or less.

I looked at her and drank her in with my eyes from bottom to top; red painted toe nails, dark brown leather sandals, sun tanned skin, white multi-pocket knee length camp shorts, narrow leather belt, a yellow short-sleeve buttoned blouse and her below shoulder length brown hair.  I doubted that I looked as good after my six hour work shift …

“I came by Tuesday night but I didn’t see your car anywhere in the parking lot so I didn’t stop, I just kind of drove through the parking lot looking for your red car, here, to see if you were working or not.  I guess you weren’t working that night.”

I thought about what she just said.  Wow!  She came by, looking for me, Tuesday night and I hadn’t been here.  So that was a couple of times this week that she had actually come by the store looking for me, I noted to myself.  That gave me more confidence than I was going to let myself have.

“You’re here.  Now.” I offered.

“I’m here.  Now.” She said, almost resigning herself to the fact, smiling.

“I waited on you … last Monday night …”

“You didn’t wait on me, did you?  Monday night?” she asked, concern in her voice.

“A little while, yeah, in case you did decide to show up.” I said.  “I didn’t want you to think that I’d asked you to come see me and then hadn’t really meant it, you know?”

“Tell me that you didn’t wait on me after work last Monday night …” she chided me and there came a blush again.

“I did … but not long.  When you didn’t show up during my shift I waited for you about ten minutes after I got off work and then I left.  Kind of gave you the benefit of the doubt and all …”

“You wanted me to show up, didn’t you?” she asked, crossing her arms and looking at me slyly.

I nodded.

“I wouldn’t have asked you to drop by and see me if I hadn’t wanted you to and I stuck around afterwards just to make sure that you didn’t think that I hadn’t meant what I said.” I told her.
   
“I’m sorry you waited.  You shouldn’t have.  I wasn’t even sure if you meant what you had said to me that day in the park.  People say a lot of things, you know … I learned a long time ago that just because someone says something they don’t always mean what they say.  Sometimes people say things just to … say things.”

“It wasn’t just talk.  I meant it when I said it and it wasn’t … it isn’t a problem.” I said.  “That day at the park last Sunday, I wanted to stay and talk to you then but I had Rick with me and everything was so rushed.  It just got a little crazy there for a while, didn’t it?”

“That’s how it seemed.” She said, nodding.

“It just felt like talking to you would have been … I don’t know … a good thing?  Like talking to you would have somehow made getting the ticket kind of worth it, you know?”

She blushed and smiled.

“That probably didn’t make a lot of sense.” I admitted.

“I think that’s one of the nicest things said in one of the most roundabout ways that I’ve ever heard …”

I shrugged my shoulders because I guess it was.

“Things just didn’t work out that day …”

“Your friend was kind of pushy.” She said.

“Yeah, with Rick whining about wanting to find his friends and getting some beer and me having to do all the driving … it just felt like …”

I tried to search for words, stared off across the highway at Cloverleaf Mall and all the traffic.

“Everything felt really rushed that day.” She said softly.

“Yeah.  It just felt like we didn’t have any time to talk.  That’s why I asked you to come around and see me last Monday night, if you had wanted to … maybe things wouldn’t be so rushed.”

“And I couldn’t … and you waited on me … after work.”

“Don’t worry about Monday night … I usually hang around here a few minutes after work just to unwind, listen to some of my music and figure out what I’m going to do after I punch out.  Just like I was doing tonight.”

“But you did wait on me …”

“I waited because I wanted to see you again.” I immediately winced and I hoped that she didn’t see that.  I hadn’t intended to say something like that but there it was out in the open for better or worse.

She seemed to think about that for a few seconds.

“Did you wait on me after work any other night this week?” she asked, real concern evident on her face.

“No … but I thought about you.” I said.

This time she really blushed.  I could see that condition clearly even in the poor light of the parking lot.  She smelled of flowers, a perfume I wasn’t familiar with but one that was deliciously inviting.

“A little or a lot?” she asked, looking up and giving me that smile again.

Huh?  It took me a second to realize what she was asking me.  Oh, man.  She was flirting.  How do you answer a question like that?

“Sorry.  What did you say?” I asked her, feeling guilty for having been distracted by something as simple as the fragrance of her perfume.

“I asked you if you thought about me a little or a lot?” she said, smiling and turning her head to the side playfully.

She was flirting.  Again.

“A lot.” I said mainly because I had.  “I thought about you a lot.”

She crossed her arms again and looked away across the parking lot towards the highway.  Right then I didn’t care how old she might be because she was a really attractive woman.  Rick could go blow smoke up a monkey’s red distended ass if he didn’t think so …

“You said that you thought about me a lot.” She mused out loud, leaning back against the fender of her Lincoln.  “So … What did you think about the most?”

That was an easy question to answer and I shook my head as I chuckled.

“Your name.” I said, honestly and truthfully.  “I thought a lot about your name.”

“My name?” she asked, obviously surprised and confused by the look of her expression.

“Yeah.  Your name.  Actually, I’ve thought a lot about your name the last few days.”

Her expression became one of obvious surprise and … concern?

“My name?  What’s wrong with my name?” she asked incredulously.

“Nothing, I guess … That is, if I knew what your name actually was which by the way, I don’t.  You know my name but I don’t know your name.” I said.

She was obviously at a loss for words.

“So, you see I thought about you a lot the past couple of days but what I thought about the most was your name.  I spent the last couple of days thinking about you, trying to imagine what your name was, trying on different names for you, trying to see which one fit the best.”

“Which one fit best …?” she repeated softly.

“Yeah.  You know … Susan.  Sarah.  Catherine.  Michelle.  Claire.  Bunny.”

“Bunny!?” she asked, looking up suddenly, laughing, her arms going straight to her side, her shoulders hunching up in an incredulous display.

I waved her quiet, smiling and laughing.

“No.  I just threw that last name in to watch your expression.  You …”

She looked at me in a somewhat serious way, cutting her eyes at me.

“Your name isn’t really Bunny, is it?” I asked, cautious, hoping that I hadn’t just really stepped into it with both feet.

She shook her head and I felt relief.

“You don’t remember my name?” she asked, still the incredulous tone and another look of concern on her face.

“It’s kind of hard to remember your name when you never actually told me your name.”

“You know my name.” she chided.  “I told you my name last Sunday when we talked.”

I shook my head.

“No, you never told me your name.”

"I ... didn't?" she asked.

I shook my head.

“What?  Never?” she asked.

“Never.” I said.

“I never told you my name?” she asked, doubt in her voice directed at me.

I shook my head.

“You know my name and since I don’t think that I ever told you my name either then I figure you got my name from my ticket, you know, the ticket that female ranger gave to you by mistake …”

She thought about that for a second then nodded as a look of sudden and complete realization appeared on her face.  I heard her give a small, surprised gasp.

“You got my name from my ticket, didn’t you?” I asked, smiling.

And now she looked positively embarrassed.

“Didn’t you?” I asked her again, sure of myself and my reasoning this time.

“Yes.” She said, embarrassed. “I got your name from your ticket but I thought for sure I told you my name when I gave you back your ticket.  Are you sure that I never told you my name?”

“Nope.  You never told me your name.”

“You’re sure?  You’re really sure?” she asked, still not fully believing me and with a slight smile beginning to form at the corner of her mouth.

“I’m sure.  In fact, I still don’t know your name … We’ve been discussing this for five minutes now and about all I do know about you is that your name isn’t Bunny and that’s probably a good thing that it isn’t.”

She thought about that for a minute, looking away and going pensive.

“No, I guess I never actually told you my name.  Things were so rushed that day I just thought …” She mused in a voice barely loud enough for me to hear then she laughed quietly, shaking her head at the memory.

“Wow.” She added, softly.

She stopped and sighed, looking down at the pavement.  Another long instant of silence and she bit her lower lip in thought.  She did that a lot, I noticed.  The instant dragged on then she looked up, purposefully … like suddenly she was in charge of the situation which, I guess she was since I felt like more of a bewildered spectator than an actual participant in what we were trying to share at this point.

“So?  What did you finally decide to name me?  Uh, call me?”

“What?” I asked.

“You said you’ve been thinking a lot about my name … what name did you give me?”

I smiled.

“Mary.” I said.  “I finally settled on Mary.”

“Mary?  Why?” she asked.

“I picked Mary because Mary sounds … mature ... and it sounds educated and that’s what I imagined you were; that’s how you seemed to me when I first met you and that seemed like a fitting name for you … Mary.”

She had a kind of natural beauty; a kind of beauty that I imagined didn’t take a lot of upkeep to maintain.  She was the kind of woman that could get out of bed, run a brush through her long hair, throw on some clothes and be out the door without ever touching lipstick or eyeliner and she’d still be attractive.

“Mary?” she asked.  “So out of all of the names that you could think of you picked Mary?”

I blinked and realized that I’d let my mind wander and wonder, again, about her.

“Yeah.  Mary.  Like the old Jimi Hendrix song ... "And the Wind Cries Mary".” I said.  “I thought you were a Mary.  Uh, I mean, I named you … I mean, I thought of you as being named Mary.”

She thought about that for a second then nodded.

“Mary.” She said.  “A bit old fashioned I suppose … but close."

Huh?

Mary was close to her name ... her real name.

"How close?" I asked, curious as to how close I'd come to figuring out her real name.

"My name’s Marie.” She said softly and then she smiled; that same tantalizing smile that she had given me last week at the water park when I’d watched her as I was driving away.

"Marie!  I was close."

"Pretty close." she agreed.

"I hadn’t thought of calling you Marie but now that you told me what your name is … yeah, it fits you.” I said.

And it did.

Perfectly.

Marie.

Her name was Marie.

And now I knew her name.

I finally knew her name.

“Well, I hope my name fits me because I’m kind of stuck with it.” She said, forcing a laugh.

And like that something between us fell away and we were closer.

“And it sure beats being named “Bunny.””

Marie laughed and nodded.

“Yeah.  I guess it does.”

“Marie.  That’s a start.” I said.

“It’s a start.” She agreed.

“Actually, it’s more than a start because it’s a whole lot more than I had five minutes ago.  Here I’ve been thinking of what your name might be all week long and now I actually know.” I said.

“Now you know.” She agreed happily, using her arms and hands for emphasis.

Then there was silence, the awkward kind that I never liked, when the driving energy between two people seemed to start to lose momentum ...  I didn’t feel like letting that happen … not with her, not with Marie.

Not if I could help it.

“For what it’s worth, what I said about the name Marie … the part about that name sounding mature and educated … look, all of that isn’t just a name … that’s what I imagined you were, that’s how I remembered you from the waterpark last Sunday and …” I trailed off, having lost my train of thought and not really sure what I was even trying to say.

Marie smiled.

“I know what you’re trying to say and I appreciate it.”

“I guess tonight I’m saying a lot of stuff the wrong way …” I said.

“I appreciate it when you say it, no matter how you say it.”

“No matter how long it takes me to say it …” I added.

“That, too.”

And then I had an idea.

“Look …  I know that we’ve been trying to catch up with each other all week and all but … it’s late,
Marie ...  I had a long day and I just got off six hours of work.  It’s Friday night, I’m hungry and I need to get away from this place and the farther, faster and sooner the better.”

Her expression grew concerned for a second and then she seemed to resign herself.  She had that same look like I’d seen her give at the park when Rick had pitched his little fit and I’d had to drive away, leaving her standing there.

“I … understand.” she said, sounding a little bit disappointed and leaning back on the gold Lincoln in visible reservation.

She lowered her head and bit her lower lip.  This was not the way I wanted the conversation to go …  Not the way at all.

“No, I don’t think that you understand.  I really need to get away from here and …”

Marie looked … what?

Lost?

Dejected?

Rejected?

“… And I’d like some company if you’re not doing anything else right now.”

When I said that a kind of little shudder passed through Marie.

“What do you say, Marie?  Come with me?  Let’s go somewhere.” I said.  “Somewhere other than … here, in this parking lot.  Somewhere that we can sit down and talk for a while.”

Marie looked up then, probably quicker than she intended to because her look betrayed her emotion.  Her eyes lit up, she stopped biting her lower lip and a small smile formed on her face.  She had beautiful brown eyes, dark brown eye brows and thick lashes.

“What did you have in mind?” she asked.

“Just … talk.” I said, thinking that I’d explained it pretty well already.

She shook her head.

“No.  Sorry.  What I meant was where did you want to go to get something to eat?”

“Oh, sorry.  Nothing fancy for sure …” I said.  “God knows I’m not dressed for that.”

Marie gave a little laugh, looking me up and down almost like for the first time but that smile of hers came back then, the same smile I’d see last week at the water park and then again when she drove up.  That smile was amazing in its immediate power to make me desire her.

“How about IHOP over there on Hardy Street?  It’s open late, it’s relaxed; we can hang out there for a while, they let people dressed like me in with no questions asked … which doesn’t speak much for their customers, I guess.”

Marie gave another short laugh, looking me back over.

“And …” she asked.

“And we can talk until we run out of things to talk about, until you get bored with my company or until they run us out of there.”

Marie seemed to think about that.

“I’m buying if you say yes.” I said, throwing that out there to see if it would help her make up her mind or not.

“You’re buying?” she asked, surprise in her voice.  “Why are you buying?”

“I’m buying because right now, tonight, all I’ve got to burn is money, time and half a tank of premium in my Rally Sport here.” I said, patting the fender of the Camaro Rally Sport that I was leaning up against.

I turned, walked around the passenger side of my car and used my key to open the right side door of the Rally Sport, thinking that if I didn’t do something I’d spend the next hour here trying to coax her into going to get something to eat with me and that I’d spend that hour watching her stare at either her feet or the highway out in front of the store.  I lifted up on the handle of the passenger side door and opened it for her.

“I’ve got an empty seat right here, next to me and I’d like some company, Marie.  If you get bored or tired or things don’t work out or … whatever, I’ll bring you right back here to your car, we can call it a night and go our separate ways.  No demands, no promises.  What do you say?” I asked.

To my credit Marie really seemed to be thinking over the idea.  She looked from her gold Lincoln to the empty passenger seat in my Camaro Rally Sport and then back to me standing there by the open door … twice.  It was almost like she was wrestling with something or weighing something in her mind, her face gave that much away.  Finally she gave me a half smile, not that wonderful full smile that she’d given me a few minutes ago, but a half smile nonetheless.  Marie looked off towards the highway.  She was bouncing lightly on her heels as she stood there in front of me … nervous or happy?  It was hard to tell but she still had that half smile on her face so I chose to think it was the latter.

She folded her arms across her chest, lowered her chin and stared at her feet for a few seconds then slowly lifted her eyes to stare at me.  It was like she still wasn’t decided but … close.

“Look.  It’s Friday night.  Come on, Marie.  Good looking guy like me, fast car like this?  I can’t vouch for the food at IHOP but it sure beats standing here in the parking lot in this heat and humidity and making small talk on an empty stomach.”

She laughed, shook her head and cut her eyes at me.  Cut those eyes sharp in a bewitching way.

“You certainly don’t sell yourself short, do you?” she said with that smile again.

So we were back at least to her smiling at me.  I took that for what it was worth and ran with it.

“I’m six foot tall, Marie.  I find it really hard to sell myself short.” I said, sticking my thumbs in the front pockets of my jeans.

Marie threw her head back and laughed out loud then; a good, strong laugh preceded by a short, sharp snort and it was like laughing was something strange to her, like she hadn’t laughed in a long time and like she was happy to do it even though it was something that seemed unfamiliar to her.

“Something to eat, some company and a chance to just sit and talk for a while?  It’s been a while since someone’s offered me all that at one time … with no demands attached.” She mused, lapsing into silence.

“No demands attached.” I said, matter of factly.  “If we run out of things to talk about or things start to drag and you get bored I’ll have you back here at your car before you know it.”

“Fast car.” She said, smiling.

“Fast car.” I said.  “In fact, if you need proof I got a ticket  in this very car just last weekend.”

Marie laughed again.  I waited, now with my arms folded across my chest as she thought some more, looking from me to the gold Lincoln to the Camaro Rally Sport and back to the highway behind me again.  It was now obvious that she was a little nervous.

“So … Is this a date?” she asked softly.

“What?” I said, still not sure if I was hearing what she was saying.  The heavy late night traffic in the background was interfering with me picking up on everything that she was saying, especially since some of the stuff she was saying she was mumbling more to herself than to me.

“A date.  You know, dinner, company and conversation.  Two people, a guy and a girl, together.  That’s what usually makes up a date … last time I remember going on one.”

“Has it been a while since you’ve been on a date?” I asked her.

“Yeah.  It’s been a while … a long while.”

I thought about that.  Why had it been a long while for someone who looked like she did?

“I … guess.  Maybe.” I said, feeling awkward and not really sure where the conversation was starting to drift to or how to answer her.  I didn’t really think I was asking her on a date … just more of a get together.  A date seemed kind of formal, like maybe we needed to get to know each other a bit more before it could be considered a date.

Those are the thoughts that were running around my mind right then.

“So … are you asking me out on a date?  Tonight?” Marie asked, loud enough that I could hear her this time.

I shrugged my shoulders because I really didn’t know how to respond to that.  I thought about the situation and gave it the best answer I could.

“I’d like to think that it’s what you make of it.” I said.  “Just you and me and like I said, no demands, no promises.  We’ll see where it goes … at least for a little while.  I mean, there’s something here, between us …”

“You think?” Marie asked in a sultry voice.

“If there wasn’t, Marie, then I wouldn’t have thought about you all week long … and you wouldn’t have come looking for me at work all these nights like you did.”

Marie nodded.

“Yeah, I guess that was kind of a dead giveaway, wasn’t it?” she mused.  “Not exactly playing hard to get.”

“You don’t have to play hard to get with me; I'm not fond of games ... I like to know where I stand.”

Marie thought about that.

“Come on.  Let’s go.  Just for a little while.” I said, trying to get something definite out of her.

“Just for a little while?” she asked softly with a teasing look on her face, arms still folded across her chest but wearing a big smile.

“Just for a little while.” I said.  “If it turns into a date then it turns into a date.  If not then it doesn’t.  If it doesn’t work out, hey, we’re only out some time.”

She nodded and looked around the parking lot one last time.

“Come on.  Get in.” I said, motioning to my Camaro Rally Sport.  “I’m driving and buying and you’re riding.”

She started to walk towards the Camaro then stopped.

“Wait.” She said flatly.

A cold wave crept up me and I hoped that I hadn’t pushed her too far, that she hadn’t changed her mind.  Marie looked around the parking lot nervously then pointed to the side of the store.
 
“Let me move my car.  I parked funny and I don’t want to leave it here parked this way.” She said.  “Is it okay if I leave my car parked … down there beside the store for a little while?”

“It should be fine down there.” I said.  “At least for a little while.”

Marie smirked at me.

“Meet me over there on the side of the store.  I’m going to park down there.” She said, starting to get back in her gold Lincoln while motioning over to the area on the side of the store.

I watched her as she got back in her car; she didn’t so much walk as she glided.  Glided.

Yeah.  I could watch her move back and forth all day long and never get tired of the swish that her hips had as she walked.  I wasn’t sure what it was that I had going for me or what it was that had caught Marie’s eye and made her interested in me but I wasn’t stupid enough to waste the opportunity that I’d been given.  Whatever it was must be working and I decided to milk it for all it was worth.  I closed the passenger side door of the Camaro Rally Sport, slamming the heavy door shut then walked around and stood there with the driver’s side door open, looking out over the mostly empty parking lot.  Marie cranked the huge gold Lincoln’s engine, put the transmission down into drive and drove slowly across the parking lot.

I quickly traded out my dirty white short-sleeve button up work shirt for a clean black T-shirt that I always kept on a hanger in the back seat.  I opened the center console and dabbed on a few fingertips of Stetson cologne that I kept there to freshen up after work if the situation called for it.  I stood next to the Camaro Rally Sport and looked down to where Marie was parking her big gold Lincoln near the side of the store.  I took a deep breath, got in the Camaro Rally Sport and slowly drove down the hill to meet her, smiling because the last time that I’d driven this slow down a hill I’d gotten a speeding ticket … and met Marie.

I picked Marie up at the side of the store, stepping out of the idling Rally Sport to once more open the passenger side door for her.  This surprised her and she smiled as I let her slide down into the Camaro Rally Sport and I shut the passenger side door for her.  I sat down in the driver's seat, noticing that she had already put on her seatbelt and was halfway turned in her seat to watch me get in the car.  I buckled up and shifted down into drive.

Once she was in my car Marie seemed to relax and we drove in relative silence to IHOP there on Hardy Street with nothing to keep us company except the throaty rumble of the small block under the hood and the quiet roar of the air conditioning turned on high.  Now IHOP certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice for a first date, if this really was a date, but this late at night it was probably the best place left open and the atmosphere certainly was casual if to a fault.  The kind of people that occupied IHOP at this time of the night weren’t the kind to care about who came and went or how long we stayed.  Ten minutes later we were walking into IHOP and being seated by the hostess.  There weren’t many customers at that time of night, the bars hadn’t let out yet, so we placed our order and were served pretty quickly.

Marie was starved for attention and apparently she had been for a while now.  She gave off the air of someone who had been rejected or ignored a lot, someone who wasn’t used to being told “yes” or having someone pay attention to them and I found that strange given that she was an attractive woman.  When it came to conversation, Marie did most of the talking and I was only too happy to listen.  Most of the stuff that we talked about was trivial, nothing deep, nothing personal, but she would get on a tangent and ride it to the end and I was only too happy to follow her along her conversational meanderings.  Sometimes she chided herself for getting too deep into something or going off too far from the topic but I didn’t mind.

Somewhere along the way she told me her last name was Rogers and that she had been born in the state of Washington.  Upper Pacific Northwest.  She mentioned LSU once and hinted that she worked for a company that kept her on the road a lot, sometimes even out of the country, which made for a constantly changing schedule.  Anything past that and Miss Mystery wouldn’t say much, more than living up to the nickname that I’d given to her.  For some things Marie seemed open and willing to talk, for others she became quickly guarded and quiet.  I learned not to force the issue as that seemed to make conversation flow a lot smoother.  I also learned that if I let her, Marie was only too happy to do most of the talking, almost like she hadn’t had anyone to talk to in a long time.  Conversation was easy with Marie, you just let her do the talking and you steered her from there with a kind word or a short reply.

I paid for our dinner in cash, left a good tip for our waitress, got a large to-go cup of sweet tea and looked at my watch; it was a quarter after eleven.  We’d been at IHOP for about forty minutes all told.  When I asked Marie what she wanted to do she didn’t immediately answer.  It was like she was thinking, thinking a little too hard, maybe, or maybe just not ready to give me an answer.  As for me, I wanted to spend more time with her but I didn’t want to do it sitting here at a table at IHOP.  I needed to get mobile, I didn’t like just sitting somewhere … I wanted to be alone with her, just the two of us so I offered her two choices off the top of my head … we could ride around Hattiesburg, cruising, talking and spending time together or if she was bored and had finally had enough of my company I could take her back to her big gold Lincoln at County Market and we could call it a night.

“No.” she said, flatly, in a half-whisper, holding her hands on the table.

"No to ... which?" I asked her.

She looked up at me almost as if she was lost.  There was a second there when it looked like she was almost scared that I was going to call it a night and take her back to her car at the store.  I was a little lost as well because Marie was hard to read, she flowed in waves, sometimes high, sometimes low.

“Don’t take me back to the store ... not yet.” She said and left it with that.

I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that but her decision was fine with me because it was what I wanted as well.  I smiled because I was glad that I’d have more time to spend with her.  I didn’t know very much about her just that I really liked being with her and apparently the feeling was mutual if I was at least reading that right.  There was just something about Marie … this was all happening so fast and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

“I want to spend more time with you, Marie.” I told her mainly because it was true.

Marie looked up then and gave me a smile.

That smile.

We got up and left.  I held the restaurant door open for her and we walked across the still hot and humid parking lot to my car.  I unlocked the passenger side door of the Rally Sport for her, casually holding her hand while helping her down into the low slung Chevy then shutting the heavy door only after she had belted up and gotten comfortable.

That’s when I realized that I had just held her hand for the first time and that’s when I knew for certain that I liked holding her hand … I really liked holding her hand.

When I got in the Rally Sport on the driver’s side, Marie leaned over slightly towards me, her flowery perfume was still strong enough to attract and confuse at close range.  The force of her presence next to me, her scent, having her move near me, around me so close inside my personal space … it was a heady experience.  I turned, her eyes to mine, and I smiled.  Marie was a really attractive woman and I found it hard to break eye contact.  Inches separated us … it might as well have been miles right then and there.  I could smell her perfume, almost feel her breath and I fell into her eyes, staring … just staring.

“You have really pretty eyes.” I told her before I could stop myself from telling her.

Marie smiled and blushed, looking away slightly and like that the moment was over.

Broken.

Gone.

Yeah.

I cranked the Rally Sport, put it into gear and edged slowly out of the parking lot, turning East on Hardy Street.  I hadn’t gone quite a block when Marie asked me to turn around and go the other direction, back West, back towards highway 98.  I wasn’t sure why she had asked me to do that but I didn’t have anything better to do and if turning the Rally Sport around and going the other way meant that I would get to spend more time with Marie then I didn’t have to be told twice.  I nudged the Rally Sport over into the left turn lane, did a U-Turn at the intersection near the old Avanti Cinema and headed back West on Hardy Street, passing the IHOP where we had just had dinner and continuing on.

She started talking.

She explained that she wasn’t used to manners, that she wasn’t used to someone opening the door for her to get into a car and out of a car, holding the door for her at a restaurant, pulling her chair out for her to sit down at a table … she thought it was all really nice how I treated her. 

She called it old fashioned and she told me not to take that as anything bad.

When I told her that I'd been brought up as a gentleman, she smiled and cut her eyes at me and twirled a strand of her long hair in her fingers.  Her voice was a sultry whisper, barely louder than the air conditioner in the dash but it was doing a number on me when combined with both her perfume and her nearness.  Marie was intoxicating, the kind of intoxicating that could lead you to make poor decisions without regret and the kind of intoxicating that gave me the courage to reach for her hand to hold it again.

My hand found her hand.

She stopped talking, her voice trailing into silence as she looked from my hand to me.

She slid her hand into mine and I held her hand, tight.

A smile crossed her lips.

She cut her eyes at me.

It took her a few seconds to remember what she had been talking about but when she did she started back up where she had left off only now we were holding hands and now she seemed … happier.

I really liked holding her hand.

I found that it was the little things that I was doing, the things that came natural to me that she was eating up like they were coated in honey and cinnamon.  Marie seemed to crave the smallest of attentions, a casual compliment in passing about how she was dressed, a comment on how I liked how her long hair looked or when I told her that she had really pretty eyes … it was the little things like that which she seemed to hang on every word like each word was sugar coated gold. 

Marie, it seemed, had been starved for attention and she had been starved for attention for a long time now.  I couldn’t understand that, not with someone like Marie who was as attractive as she was.  She could have her pick of any man that I could think of so why me?  Was it because I had paid her attention or because I was paying her attention now?  She seemed lonely and she seemed like she had been lonely for a while now.  That was the feeling that I got from how she acted, from how she talked.  I also got the feeling that she was happy with me and that she was happy to be with me … that somehow I made her happy and that she craved that.

Her hand still in mine.

We pulled up at a traffic light and stopped.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked, not sure what she was wanting.

“Just keep driving.” She said softly.  “Let’s just ride around for a little while longer, okay?  I’m enjoying this.”

“I wish we could have done this that Sunday that we first met.  Riding around the lake like this, with you, maybe sitting down under a tree somewhere and just …” I said.

“Talking?” Marie asked.

“Just being with you, like this.” I said.  “This is … nice.  We don’t even have to talk.  Just being with you is nice.”

Marie looked at me, smiling, squeezed my hand then looked back out the passenger side window, losing herself in her thoughts once again.  It was hard to read her, if I could read her at all.  She was here then she was gone again.  When she was here I was her focus, when she was gone again she was on her own.

I had said that we would drive around and talk but she did most of the talking and I did a  whole lot of driving.  I drove west on Hardy Street, past Elam Arms, past the Junior Food Mart / Eagle’s Nest, past the Krystal, and the Western Sizzlin’ steak house all the while managing to hit every single damn red light that Hattiesburg had to offer along the way.  There was a quiet between us, a silence but it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence like before in the parking lot at County Market.  No, this silence was the kind you could lose yourself in with someone else at your side, the kind of silence when two people seem to be so in tune with one another to the point where no words need to be spoken.  It wasn’t so much silence as it was simply quiet togetherness, the kind that has the promise of a coming certainty to it that is almost tangible.

I was content to let the radio do most of the talking as I sipped sweet tea from my Styrofoam to-go cup.  WHSY Rock 104.5 FM was playing some good songs right then; we had left IHOP listening to the last part of The Eagles “Tequila Sunrise”, followed by Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” and now ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy.”  Lately I’d become quite partial to ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy”.  The video to the song, playing often on MTV, was a science fiction special effects laden extravaganza.  Marie, apparently, had finally run out of things to talk about because she lapsed into silence as we drove.

We had the windows of the Rally Sport rolled up, driving with the air conditioning on to fight the ever present south Mississippi humidity and heat.  Marie rode with her legs crossed at the ankles, leaned over slightly towards me in her seat, her left elbow resting on the center console and our hands still together.  Marie had great legs and I caught myself looking over at them every chance that I got.  She caught me doing that twice and offered no reproach sterner than that now familiar coy, knowing smile … that same spellbinding smile that she had given me all night long now.  I guess she was eating up that attention as well because when she caught me looking at her legs she blushed, looked down and then back up at me … expectantly?

I wanted to put my hand on her leg.

I wanted to run my hand up and down her leg.

I wanted to feel the warmth, the smoothness of her skin with my fingertips.

All of these thoughts ran through my mind like a runaway locomotive as I held her hand.

We drove slowly west down Hardy Street, got on Highway 59 at the 98 / 59 interchange and I started driving north on Highway 59 towards Laurel.  Loverboy’s “Queen of the Broken Hearts” was playing on the Kenwood and Marie still sat quietly, looking out the window of the passenger side at the passing scenery and occasionally back at me.  She sighed one time, loudly and when I looked over I saw that she lost in thought, again.

Where was she?

There was an uncomfortable silence between us.

Should I say something?

Should I do something?

This was all so quick, so … strange, that I was lost.  I felt like I was being dragged along … like my life was on rails and all I could do was hold on and let whatever it was that was going to happen take me all the way to it ... but to what and to … where?  I’d thought about this woman a lot in the last week, played out scenarios in my mind for if she actually came to see me, rehearsed what I would say to her, even entertained fantasies about her … but now ... now that it was happening, now that everything was playing out the way it was I felt lost.  All of this was beyond anything that I'd imagined would happen, beyond anything that I'd ever rehearsed or planned for.  So far the best I had been able to do was think twice before I said anything and to be as private as I could without being rude or obnoxious.

The old saying “God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we should listen twice as much as we talk” kept coming to mind tonight and I was doing plenty of listening.  Marie, it seemed, was happy to talk and all I had to do was pay attention to her and every now and then give her a simple affirmation or confirmation of what she had just talked about.  She talked and I listened ... and took mental notes.  Slowly but surely I began to build a picture of her ... her past, her life.  All I had to do was let her lead and just follow her.

So far it had almost been easy.

So far.

I thought about taking the off-ramp that would have let me head north on highway 49 to Jackson.  I’d have gotten off at the Pep’s Point exit and cruised the back roads until I came out near North Forrest High School then made my way back to Highway 59 somewhere around Eatonville.  That would have been a good cruise, I’d done it often enough when I wanted to be alone but tonight I wasn’t alone and something told me to stick close to the city.

I took the off ramp at the Highway 49 / Highway 59 interchange and headed south on Highway 49, back into Hattiesburg.  Up ahead, just past USM, was Hardy Street and further on down the highway was County Market.  The digital clock on the Kenwood stereo said it was 11:35.  When we got to the stoplight at the intersection of Hardy Street and 49, Marie turned to me and asked me to take a right by USM and I did, edging the Rally Sport over into the turn lane and onto Hardy Street, heading back towards IHOP.

Back the way we had just gone.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked her, looking over at her.

Her hand still in mine.

Something in her had changed.  Before she had been quiet, undecided and now she seemed decided, committed.  She had made up her mind about something, something that she had been wrestling with since she first got in my car back at County Market … that much was easy to see.  She had been lost in thought before.  Now she seemed focused and out of that focus came a single imperative.

“Drive.” She said.

Okay.

“Where to?” I asked.

“My place.” She said, softly, looking up at me, a smile on her face.

Huh?!

“Your place?” I asked and immediately regretted asking it because I sounded so confused when I said it.  I was just glad I hadn't stammered it out.

“Uh huh.” She said.

“It’s not far.” She added quickly.

Her hand gripped mine tighter.

Tighter ... then lessened.

“What about your car?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“You can take me back for my car later.  You said it would be okay if I left it there for a while.” She said.

Later?

How much later?

I looked over at Marie and she had a look in her eye, a look that I’d never seen in a woman before but one that was instantly recognizable to any male of the human species, ingrained through thousands of years of masculine development and dominant heritage.  If I believed in the theory of Evolution and if I actually believed that somewhere down my family line there used to be some Neanderthal ancestors then the emotions, the feelings and the urges I was having for this woman were all communicated between us in a simple, held stare.  I nodded and nothing more was said because I really didn’t know if anything should be said and I felt that if I had said something … if I had said anything … it probably would have just sounded dumb anyway so I kept my mouth shut and I drove.


Her place, as it turned out, was a two bedroom apartment at Chateau Grand so true to her word we didn’t have far to go once we hit Hardy Street … just a bit past the IHOP and down near the University Mall.  We had passed this place about fifteen minutes ago.  This time, as fate would have it, I managed to get all green lights on the way.  There was a certain amount of anticipation between us and I felt that I probably had the greater share.  I was treading water here.  I felt like I was in over my head, way over my head and the only thing I could do was my best.  I just hoped it was good enough.

The night felt heady as I drank the last of the sweet iced tea from my IHOP to-go cup.  Her perfume was carried on the currents of the Camaro Rally Sport’s air conditioning, blowing on the third out of four fan speed settings, and I drank her scent in.

Chateau Grand.

I’d seen these apartments often enough, from a distance, near the University Mall, behind the Pizza Hut and the old Bonanza steak house but I’d never been to these apartments before … mainly because I’d never known anyone who actually lived here.  No friends.  No relatives.  The Chateau Grand were older apartments populated by older people; they had been here since before I could remember which was at least back to the fall of 1976 when my family had moved to Hattiesburg and the apartments had been old or seemed old even back then.  They weren’t the oldest apartments in Hattiesburg … but they were damn close.

“Turn here and take a left ...” She said quietly and I did, putting my turn signal on … tic-tic-tic … and edging the Rally Sport into the turn lane, turning by the familiar red angled roof of the Pizza Hut that I’d frequented since I was a child and driving down South 37th avenue.

She had me make another left on Essex Street where I turned left again onto North 35th Avenue.  I turned into the complex’s parking lot, pulling up at the rear of the apartments and she pointed to a parking space between a sky blue 1965 Ford Mustang convertible and a faded dark blue on blue full size 1979 Chevy station wagon.  I glanced up and down the row of vehicles ... a late '70's white Chevy pickup, a tan Chrysler New Yorker, a white Buick Lesabre, a white Chevy Citation X-11, a dark blue Chevy Impala, a baby blue rusted Chevy LUV pickup that was jacked up in the back, a old yellow Ford Futura and a Mercury Cougar.  All in all it looked like a used car lot and not a high end one at that.

I pushed the console mounted shifter up into park, stomped down on the floor mounted parking brake, turned the Rally Sport off and sat there.

Suddenly there was nothing but the slight hiss of the air conditioning dying in the dash.

My heart was racing so loud I thought that Marie could hear it.

A quick glance at my watch told me it was 11:48PM. 

Marie sat there ... looking at me … waiting? 

Yeah.

I quietly took a deep breath, got out, tossed the keys in the air and caught them in my hand as I walked around the back of the Chevy and opened the passenger side door for her.  Something was going to happen.  I could feel it.  Marie was waiting patiently for me to open her door this time and she slipped sideways in the seat, lifting her legs together at an angle out of the Camaro Rally Sport and reaching a hand out, quietly asking for me to help her get the rest of the way out of the car.  Her legs would have made her a great dancer … if she never had been one.  Man, she had great legs.  I held out my hand to help her climb out of the low slung Chevy and she took my hand; it was more than just a friendly grip … she had a hold on me like she didn’t want to let go … and she didn’t … even when I helped her out of the Camaro Rally Sport.

We were holding hands.

Again.

It was the second time tonight that I’d touched her, that my skin had been against her skin, and I knew that I wanted to touch her more; a lot more.  The feeling that I was getting from her right then and there, mixed with the looks that she had been giving me during dinner and on the way over to her place was that what I really wanted from her probably wasn’t going to really be a problem … not tonight.

Not with her.

My head was swimming from how fast this was all happening and from what little control I felt I had over what was happening.  We stood there, separated by inches, her hand in mine, our eyes staring into each other’s.  An eternity seemed to pass where no words were spoken, nothing was said, it was only Marie and myself, holding hands, and enjoying each other’s touch.  She reluctantly let go of my hand and I shut the car door behind her then locked the Chevy.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked.

“A while.” Marie said.  “Would you like to come in for a drink?”

“Yeah.  I think I’d like that.” I agreed.

“Good.  I think I’d like that, too.” She said, smiling, then turning and walking away.

I stood there for a few seconds.  Marie had just invited me back to her place and invited me in for a drink.  No woman had ever done that before.  I took a few seconds to relish that being a definite “first” in my life.  I looked up and saw Marie looking at me expectantly.  She had stopped after a few steps and turned around to see why I wasn’t following her.

Why wasn’t I following her?

What the hell was wrong with me?

Get it in gear, Shields, I told myself; get it in gear!

I chose not to say anything, merely nodded, caught up and fell in step behind her.  Marie smiled at me then dug her keys out of her purse as she walked ahead of me.  I followed her across the complex through the simple courtyard to her apartment.  Her sandals tapped out each foot step across the concrete sidewalk, my own boots doing the same, out of sync, and creating a weird staccato that echoed in the enclosed breezeways.  I took the time to admire her gait again and the swish of her bottom in those camp shorts as she walked ahead of me.

Feelings in me began to stir.

Feelings for her.

I may not have had much experience with women but I wasn’t exactly naïve. 

Wary?

Maybe. 

Expectant? 

Maybe. 

Cautious?

Hell, yes.

Marie unlocked the apartment, flipped on a few lights on the wall behind her and leaned up against the front door, holding it open for me as I walked by her and then on inside.  The apartment had a neutral smell to it, not new, not old … just there.  It smelled like it was partially lived in, like one of those demo units that apartment complexes sometimes have set up to show potential renters.  Light scents of fruit or flowers tickled my sense of smell while an artificial cold that was in stark contrast to the heat and humidity outside was much more noticeable.

“Nice place.” I said.

“I like it.” She said.

I started to look around the apartment … it seemed an unconventional layout. The front door had opened into a wide living room, there was what I thought was probably a porch to my left just outside the living room though heavy drapes obscured the view.  There was a closet just behind the front door, and a door to a bedroom across the living room and to my left.  The living room branched off into an eating area and the kitchen next to that.

“I’m going to step to the back …”

When I looked at her questioningly she smiled that smile again.

“Have a look around if you like.  Make yourself at home ... I won’t be long.” Marie reassured me, pushing off from the wall.

I nodded, watching Marie walk across the living room to the bedroom, enter and close the door behind her … and like that I was left alone in a strange woman’s apartment with nothing to keep me company but my irresistible curiosity and the irrepressible need to find out more about just who I was with and just how far down the rabbit hole I had tumbled.

Her apartment was painted in dark earthy tones that had been popular in the 1970’s but here in the ‘80’s seemed out of place, almost medieval in outlook.  The carpet was dark colored, the paint on the walls was dark; it was just a dark apartment that seemed to soak up any light.  It was also sparsely furnished but what it did have was tasteful and well done.  I looked around, curious, wanting to know more about her because I barely knew her name let alone anything about her and yet here I was.

In her apartment.

Invited in for a drink.

No diploma on the wall; no framed and displayed professional certificates of any kind.  The artwork that was on the wall was dated, classical, what you might find in an older person’s house … much older than Marie appeared to be.  There was a large tan sectional sofa, a tan love seat with ottoman, a mismatched chair and a half with ottoman, two end tables, a glass topped coffee table and a tan recliner with a tan ottoman all apparently from the same manufacturer and grouping.  I slightly revised my opinion of the interior decorating by moving the period back to early 1970’s Mexican family restaurant estate sale but it did somehow go with the colors of the apartment.

There were a few Celtic crosses, medieval looking iron candle sconces and various pieces of artwork and relics that looked tribal but definitely were not African, not as far as I could tell but that was only because I thought that they didn’t have the look that a typical African piece should have.

Polynesian?

Samoan?

What did I know?  I didn’t have the background to know for sure but the relics and tribal art were scattered all around the apartment, on almost every surface or hung on every wall.  It was almost like a small museum but from what culture I still couldn’t be sure.  Maybe it was a mixture of cultures or just one culture through various historical periods.

Odd but neat.

The spacious living room turned to the right into a dining area.  There was one of those old paintings depicting an old man, eye glasses folded, praying over the bowl of soup and some bread.  I’d seen that painting way back in first grade in the mid ‘70’s in my classroom.  The painting was hanging near a small oak dining table.  Heavy wood, thick, well made and dark stained.  Two equally well built chairs were placed at the dining table.

Either she ate alone a lot or she didn’t expect a lot of company.

Or … she was alone … and had been alone … and ate up every bit of attention that someone might give to her because she was lonely.

Things clicked in place … sort of … or at least some of tonight seemed to make a little more sense.

The only photos I found were near some built-ins on the front wall.  The built-ins looked recent, even handmade.  There were several color photographs but none of them were of Marie … The photos showed a man, obviously American, bearded, fat and older, and a woman, half his height (and half of his age and weight by the looks of it), very petite, thin and obviously of South American descent.  She wasn’t pretty by any standards other than, I guess, the standards that belonged to the man in the photos.  He seemed to be enjoying her company because there were enough smiles shared between them.  The backgrounds were varied and exotic, no two alike … but who was the man in the picture?

A friend?

A coworker?

Her father?

Her grandfather?

Her aunt and uncle?

Her husband?

No.

Not a husband. 

Marie wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. 

Still, that didn’t mean anything. 

A woman at work was married and she never wore her wedding band on her finger.  Marie could have her wedding band and engagement ring zipped up in her purse for all I knew … or cared, I realized with a slight smile as the thought rolled through my head.  Right then I didn’t care if Marie was married or not … I was here, she had asked me in for a drink, and I was going to play this for as much as I could get out of it.  I thought back to the ridicule that Rick had put me through last Sunday and Monday night over Marie and I smiled.  If he could see me … us … now … his jaw would hit the floor.

“Go to hell, Rick.” I whispered as I thought of Rick, out there, somewhere in Hattiesburg, riding around in his old beat up red Ford F150 truck, drinking Bud Lite, listening to Van Halen and trying to convince himself that he was having fun on a Friday night.

If I had taken Rick up on his offer then I wouldn’t have been around when Marie had stopped by looking for me and I certainly wouldn’t be here, now … but where exactly was I?

Was I in trouble?

Was I in danger?

After all, what did I really know about Marie?

Trust your instincts, I told myself.  This didn’t feel like trouble … or danger; no, this felt eerily serene.

Calm.

New.

Strange.

Wonderful.

... Like it was supposed to happen.

I felt like I was on rails, like I was in a roller coaster that was creeping along and I was belted in for the ride.  I looked around and thought that whether I’d stepped through the looking glass or fallen down the rabbit hole it wasn’t that bad looking of a situation from where I was standing.  I looked up at the built-in book shelves, simple but sturdy.  The books on the shelves were all heavy in weight as well as content, all theological in nature, tomes on religious beliefs from around the world, travel guides to places that I would never have considered going to and classic literature in hardbound, very old editions plus the occasional dictionary in English as well as other dictionaries in a variety of other language editions.  There were also Bibles in various editions as well as various languages.

Now that was a little strange.

Marie lived in this dark apartment, surrounded by a large variety of reading material of a deeply religious nature and highly intellectual level along with what looked to be genuine artifacts of historical and/or religious relevance.  If the stuff in her apartment wasn't real then it was a bunch of really good fakes.  Was Marie a teacher, perhaps a professor of theology or religion at the university?  Was she some kind of archaeologist?  That might explain her busy schedule that she had talked about but, no, she said she worked for a company that kept her traveling.  Did the company sell bibles?  Suddenly I realized that I had no idea what Marie did for a living but the more I tried to think of what she might be the more intrigued I became and the more determined I was to find out all I could about her.

Hell, I could be sharing a drink with the tit-slinging equivalent of Indiana Jones for all I knew.  A thought crossed my mind … a naughty thought of her and a brown fedora, an old leather jacket, a gun belt, a bullwhip, boots … and not much else.  Yeah, I’d pay full admission price to see something like that.

Marie was definitely Miss Mystery.  I smiled and started whispering the lyrics from the song to myself.

“You know I had this funny feeling that you were coming for trouble but I never knew so here I go just running after you.”

I walked back over to the separated kitchen and found a plastic salt and pepper shaker, shaped like an old woman and an old man.  The two figures stood in a ceramic base that said “Nicaragua.”  A toothpick dispenser said “Brazil” on it and showed a painting of a rain forest.  The refrigerator was stocked with soft drinks and your basic run of groceries; butter, bread, eggs, cold meats, juices.  Some of the other stuff seemed exotic, foreign specialty foods that I knew that we didn’t sell at County Market … the kind of foods that you would have to get from a dedicated supplier like a mom and pop grocery store where the owners didn’t speak any English and neither did the containers the food came in.

The woman in the pictures …

The drawers were full of basic kitchen supplies; silverware, napkins, placemats, one held old bread loaf twist ties and stacks of cut and uncut coupons though many of the coupons were out of date by weeks or, scattering a few of the ones on top to see the ones below, outdated by months.  The refrigerator held another mystery; a whole bunch of magnets in the shape of faraway places and labeled as such; Peru, Venezuela, Portugal, Spain, Colombia, Bogota, Chile, Mexico, South America … and still more, some from places I didn’t think ranked a name on a magnet.  A magnet held a church bulletin with some highlighted prayer requests, the bulletin itself was dated for a Sunday four weeks prior, from some non-denominational church in Laurel; a church I wasn’t familiar with.

Preacher?

I didn’t know of any women who were preachers.

Preacher’s wife?

Having an affair with a preacher’s wife was a guaranteed ticket to hell if ever there was one.

Preacher’s sister?

Might not be the express train to hell that a preacher’s wife was but probably close; call it flying coach instead of first class.

I shook those thoughts from my mind and went back to thinking of Marie as some kind of sexy world hopping, bullwhip cracking archaeologist instead.

I heard water running through the pipes in the other end of the apartment, perhaps a toilet flushing and a minute later a door being unlocked so I finished up my random snooping, pondering why someone would have such a large collection of refrigerator magnets from so many different countries?  She said that she worked for a company that required her to travel a lot but what did Marie do for a living?  When she said that she travelled a lot I thought she meant around the United States but maybe she meant travel around the world.  Travel like that took either a good job or a good bit of money and an equal amount of time.

Was she a stewardess on an airline?

That would explain the travel but not the interest in religion.

Did she work on a cruise ship, maybe out of New Orleans?

Again, travel but not the religion.

Did she work for the government?

Did she work for the university?

Was she here from somewhere else or did she barely live here because she was always on the go, always somewhere else?  I guess the answer was the same as why someone would have a large collection of photographs, of people other than their self, in picture frames out on display in their apartment.

Miss Mystery … or was it Mrs. Mystery?

I realized that I was taking a lot for granted without knowing a lot about Marie.

I heard her open a drawer somewhere outside the kitchen, footsteps, the sound of a box of matches opening and a match being struck to life.  Long seconds passed and then she walked back in and stood next to me in the kitchen.

She was barefoot.

Painted toe nails, a deep wine color.

I'd missed that earlier and she had been wearing sandals.

Her long hair was brushed and she smelled of flowers, stronger now, freshly applied and her fragrance mixed with her physical nearness was almost overpowering in a sensual way.  I closed my eyes and slowly, deeply breathed her in.

“I really like your perfume.” I said quietly, slowly opening my eyes.

She had moved closer to me while my eyes were closed, so close now that we were almost touching.

“It’s from Rio, from a little open air market.” She said, softly, moving slowly around me from my right to my left, almost touching, almost brushing up against me.

Teasing.

“Rio?” I asked.

She nodded and made an mmmmm sound.

“Rio de Janeiro.”

"Brazil?" I asked. 

"Last time I checked that's where Rio was." she said, smiling.

Dumb, Shields.  Of course Rio de Janeiro was in Brazil.

“Go there often?” I asked intrigued since this was another piece of her past that I now knew about.

“I’ve been a few times.  Mostly business.  Travel.  Not lately, though.  I haven’t been back down … there … in a few years ...” She said, trailing off into silence.

I was about to ask her what she did for a living when she flicked her head and her long hair back then leaned back against the refrigerator, her arms and hands behind her cushioning her back, supporting her.  Her look said that all of the small talk, what there had been of it, was done with.  Marie had the look of a woman who had already made up her mind.

“Have that drink with me?  Now?” she asked cutting her eyes at me.

Yeah.

No more small talk.

“What are you offering?”

Marie bit her lower lip and looked around the kitchen.

“There’s a bottle of red there in the stand.” She said, motioning with her eyes to the counter top near the refrigerator.

I spotted the bottle of wine but it really wasn’t my first call for a late night drink, more like something that we should have started the evening off with if we had gotten an earlier start to the evening.  The truth of why I wasn’t fond of red wine was that the last time I’d had wine I’d tried to get drunk off of it.  Oh, I’d made a mess of things with that little exercise and ended up throwing up red vomit all into a friend’s toilet all the while promising God that if the mess in the toilet bowl in front of me wasn’t fresh blood from my disintegrating stomach lining that I’d never abuse wine like that again.  So far, God and I were keeping our gentleman’s agreement.

“I’m not real big on wine. Got anything else?” I asked, hoping that she did.

She looked at me then, that smile came back, and she nodded with her head this time to a different part of the kitchen … never taking her eyes off of me.
 
“I know you said that wine wasn’t your favorite but it’s a good vintage.  I had a glass last night but if the wine isn’t to your liking then I’ve still got other stuff ... gin, vodka, most of a fifth of whiskey.”

Whiskey.

“Whiskey is fine.” I said, steering the topic back to something that I could stomach.

“Whiskey it is, then."

"Besides, wine’s more for  small talk and I think we’re past all that.” She added with a slight smile.

I really didn't have anything smart to say to that, the best I could hope for was that my expression wasn't that of dumbstruck.

“If whiskey is what we’re drinking then there’s a bottle of Jack Daniels and some shot glasses in the cabinet there by the sink.  Can you handle that?” she said, nodding with her head in the direction she wanted me to look.

“Drinking or pouring?” I asked, never taking my eyes off of her.

“Both.” She said, leaning there against the refrigerator and running her eyes over me.

I moved over closer to her, standing near her, partially blocking her against the refrigerator.  She had started to flinch, to move ever so slightly out of my way and then she gave a slight quiver as she stood her ground.  Our eyes roamed over each other and finally met, point blank range.  I could feel her breath and as I moved just a little closer I could hear her catch her breath and hold it.  And there she was, doing it again, biting her lower lip, looking at me … expectantly.

“I take my whiskey neat.  You?” I asked.

“Same.” She said quickly, letting her breath out again and matching the tone of her voice to mine.

I pointed up to the cabinet where she had nodded her head towards and she nodded again before slipping past me, almost touching me as she went, teasing, again.  I watched her glide by and she stopped halfway through the threshold, reached out, and leaned up against the threshold, placing her whole body against the trim and molding herself to the door frame.  She turned to look back at me, cut her eyes and gave me that smile again as she moved off.  She threw one last glance back at me and as she did so there was that look again, like I was being anticipated.  She ran her hand through her long hair and played with it as she glided around the corner with that tantalizing swish of her bottom in those camp shorts.

Barefeet on vinyl.

Barefeet on carpet.

I stood there for a second after she was gone, took a deep breath, slowly let it out and shook my head.  I kept trying to figure out what I had hold of here or what had a hold of me but I still didn’t know for certain.  Did I really need to figure it out?  I thought about that as well.  Marie had made up her mind ... so ... why hadn’t I made up mine?

The cabinet by the sink wasn’t so much a cabinet as it was a hidden bar with a cabinet door on it.  I stood there, staring at the contents of the cabinet … it was like an all you could drink liquor buffet, an alcoholic’s wet dream come true.  Inside there was whiskey, bourbon, vodka, wine, and a bottle of tequila with US customs stamps on it.  If Marie kept this cabinet stocked then she had a varied and intense taste for the bottled spirits.  All in all, there was some serious hardcore alcohol and liquor in a space that was only three feet tall, a foot and a half deep and two feet wide by my first guess.  Since it wasn’t advertised I guessed that it wasn’t something that someone wanted everyone to know about and since it wasn’t secured I guessed that no one under the age of consumption had access to it in this apartment … except for me, tonight, now.

Whiskey.

Oh, I’d developed a taste for whiskey several years ago, at a sleep over at a friend’s house while his parents were out on the town.  I was thirteen and he was fourteen but we thought that we were grown.  That first time I held that bottle of Jack Daniels in my hand … it looked so good, that dark liquid inside the glass.  The smell almost took your breath away and the first taste did.  I thought I had been poisoned but seeing my friend’s reaction I decided that I wasn’t going to make as big a fuss as him and so I took another drink.

Fought it.

Took another.

Fought it.

Somewhere in that personal battle I realized that this would become routine the more that I did it.  After a few drinks from the bottle I started to feel funny … good, but funny.  Then I started to feel great.  The world got kind of out of sync, I felt funny, funny things became funnier.  I liked this feeling, this weird, funny, out of sync with the rest of the universe feeling that I was having and I had started something, something that would only grow with me the older that I got.

My adventures with whiskey became as regular as I could make them and I was the first thirteen year old to get a hangover among my friends.  I’d been smart enough to take a shower the next morning, brush my teeth and go through two mouthfuls of mouth wash to get any trace of the whiskey off of me and my breath.  I guess that I’d succeeded in that.  When my mother asked me what was wrong I’d told my mother that it was fatigue from staying up too late and playing too hard and she believed me.  After that, I worked on my tolerance as much as I could, matching my intake to what I knew I could hold.

The first time that I threw up whiskey taught me that throwing up whiskey wasn’t something that I wanted to do ever again … or do often if it could be avoided.  The more I drank, the better I got at it.  Overall, I think I’d done all right because by the time that I was fifteen I could drink any of my friends under the table and even some freshman as well as a few sophomore college students if I had to, if the parties that I’d been invited to and had stayed all night at were any indicator of my ability to drink and hold my liquor.  Hell, I’d even won a few bets along the way as well, surprised a few people including myself on an occasion or two and made a few mistakes along the way but every party you could walk away from was a learning experience.

There we go … found you.

I had to move an unopened bottle of Taaka vodka to get at the whiskey and I found both Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker there at the back.  I grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniels out of simple taste preference; it had been opened but was still almost three quarters full.  That familiar label … I think I would have drank it even if it had some pirate age skull and crossbones on it.  I grabbed the bottle of whiskey and a pair of shot glasses, thought better of that and grabbed two tumblers instead then shut the door on the liquor cabinet and walked on out of the kitchen with my hands full of good stuff waiting to happen.

Right then there was nothing between Marie and I but air and opportunity.

The rest of the apartment was darkened now.  The candles in the wall sconces had been lit, the lights had been turned down low with their dimmers and the room was bathed in flickering candlelight.  I guess that took me a little by surprise and if I felt that surprise I hoped that my face didn’t show it.  She stood there, barefoot, beside the small brown oak dining table.  There were only the two chairs and the only decoration present was an artificial magnolia floral center piece on a green trimmed, vanilla colored runner that draped a good bit of material off each side of the table.  Two tall white candles burned one to each side of the floral center piece and I knew what she had been doing before she had joined me there in the kitchen.

She watched me with curious eyes as I set the bottle of whiskey and the two tumblers down on the table.  The way that she kept looking at me … it was almost like I was some kind of present and she couldn’t wait to open me up.  She seemed ready to spring, to pounce, but always holding back, anticipating but never following through and being all the more spurned for it.  Her looks had become those of a patient, restrained animal.  It was exciting and scary at the same time and I began to wonder just who was teasing whom.

“You didn’t see the shot glasses?” she asked, curious.

“I did … but I saw these instead and thought better of it.” I told her, holding up the tumblers.

“Well, I guess it’s up to you since you’re pouring.” she said.

“That’s kind of how I saw it ... ” I said, nodding to myself and glad now that I had chosen the tumblers instead of the shot glasses.

Three years of playing around with the good stuff that comes in the kind of fancy bottles that adults feel the need to hide away in the tops of their closets and in locked cabinets had given me a pretty good background in what I liked, how I liked it and what it did to me if I liked it a little too much.  A deep buzz was a wonderful thing but it had to be carefully maintained and I’d gotten quite good at it in the past year.  I could keep a buzz, a really good, deep buzz, going for hours without losing it or tossing my cookies … the secret was moderation and pacing yourself; liquor wasn’t something you went after hamfisted, no, it was practiced, it was a dance and it was nothing if it wasn’t choreographed to the inner music of your own soul.

Marie said something but I was lost in my thoughts.  Damn.  Why was I letting my mind wander so much?  

Why here?  

Why now?  

Being with Marie was just … easy.  There was something about her that I felt comfortable with and that made me let my thoughts wander.  I snapped back to the present.

“Sorry.  I was … thinking.  What did you say?”

Marie smiled coyly.

“I asked if you were always like this?” she asked, running her finger around the rim of the tumbler as I twisted the top off the bottle of Jack Daniels, sniffing the aroma of the bottled spirit, finding it both familiar and to my liking.

“Like what?” I asked, not sure what she was asking.

“Sure of yourself.  Easy to be with.” She said.

“You mean ... cocky?” I asked.

Marie shook her head.

“No.  Not cocky.  More … confident … than cocky.  Cocky is just arrogance trying to be sure.  It’s empty for the most part.  I don’t get that from you.”

I shrugged my shoulders because I really didn’t have an answer to her question.  Her own answer to mine had been deep enough for me to take a few seconds to mull it over.

“So?” she pressed.

“So … what?” I asked, still not sure what she was asking or what she wanted.

“So … are you like this most of the time?”

“Most of the time.” I said because I’d learned that as well from experience when I was fifteen years old and had started going to my first college age parties courtesy of some of the guys that I worked with at County Market.

“I guess I’m just not used to that in …” she said and trailed off.

“Never mind.” She whispered.  “It doesn’t matter.”

Silence.  Pensive.  I began to wonder exactly what it was that she was used to … being alone?  Being ignored?

“So … What are you like the other time?” she finally asked.

I snapped out of my wondering thoughts.

“What am I like the other time?”

“Yeah.  What are you like the other time?”

I smiled.

“The other time I’m really quiet and hoping not to get noticed by all the useless and boring people as I’m making my way out of the nearest door.” I said.

Marie laughed softly at that as I poured a finger’s worth of whiskey into each tumbler then set the bottle down, picked up the two tumblers and handed one to her.  She reached over and took the glass that I was holding back for myself.  I let her have it then held up the offered glass as if in a toast.  She raised her eyebrows just a touch when I did, cocked her head and bit her lip again, just a little.  I hadn’t figured out if that was a nervous habit, if she knew she was doing it or not, if it was some kind of “tell” or what but damn, when she did it I liked it when she did it.  It was sexy.

“A toast?” she asked.

"Two people, candles, whiskey ... seems like something needs to be said."

She smiled then, just a little, maybe somewhat amused ... maybe just interested.  I looked at the whiskey in the glass then at her.

“To you, to me, to us, and to good whiskey.” I said coming up with something off the top of my head.

It sounded okay once it was out there … not good, not bad but okay.  Marie nodded in silent agreement to the impromptu toast and we touched tumblers with the sound that glass makes when it meets glass.  I held my glass up to the candlelight, swirled the whiskey around in the glass, looked at it again then held it up close to my nose.  Man-made ambrosia.  They say that smell is the greatest trigger of memories and when I sniffed whiskey the familiar smell ran through my nose like chain lightning, my mind exploded in memories of all sorts, most not even related to my days of drinking.

The smell of whiskey.

Liquor stores that my mother and grandmother had taken me into when I was really young ...  Walking among the rows of bottles and colored liquids, trying to imagine what all of these bottles were for … seeing the giant Beefeater statue, the old musket on the wall, and all the other displays for the various liquors with their old time depictions of horses or cowboys or people from a different era.  I remember the smell of liquor stores … that wonderful aroma of brewed spirits all mixing together but it was the aisle where the whiskey was that I really liked walking down.  I could stand there with my eyes closed and just breathe the scent of bottled whiskey in and out.

I loved the smell of whiskey, almost as much as I loved the smell of burnt rubber, of gasoline … of the scent of a woman held tight in my arms.  The first two I could lay experience to on with almost a weekly if not daily occurrence, the whiskey less so.  The latter had been few and far between but nonetheless enjoyable when it was to be had and I’d had enough so far to know that I liked what I’d gotten.

Here, now … whiskey in a tumbler.

Marie.

Candles.

Her smell.

The smell of whiskey.

Her being close to me.

Barefoot.

The hint of things to come.

These were the good things in life, monumental good things and that’s what my first drink of whiskey was ode to, right then, right there; all of those things.

I closed my eyes as I put my glass to my lips, drank deep, feeling the whiskey hit my tongue, letting it flow across the inside of my mouth and I held it there, basking in the flavor of the spirit.  After a few seconds of quiet contemplation I let the whiskey do its warm, slow burn all the way down my throat.  It was a familiar fire and one I’ll admit that I’d not been intimate with for a few weeks now, far longer than I should have.  However, the good thing about drinking whiskey was that it was a lot like riding a bike: once you got the basics, you never forgot how to do it and the more practice that you put into it the fancier the tricks you could do to impress your friends.

“And that … is good whiskey.” I half whispered mainly because it was and it had been a while since I’d had a drink.

I opened my eyes to find Marie watching me with her drink still in her hand.  Her look held questions.

“You seem to take your whiskey pretty seriously.” She said, smiling, arms crossed and holding her own tumbler close to her chest.

“Is there any other way to take whiskey?” I asked.

Marie seemed unready for my return question and she thought about it for a few seconds.

“I suppose not.  You just got me curious for a second there is all.” She said as she sipped on her whiskey.  “You’ve got your own little ritual.  Most people just drink the stuff.”

“I’m not like most people.” I said.

Marie smiled then and looked at me like she was trying to evaluate me on some level.

“No, you’re not.  You’re definitely not.” She said, raising her glass.

She took another drink of her whiskey.  Her expression said that I had more experience at this than she did … a lot more experience which surprised the hell out of me since there was such an obvious difference in our ages.  Maybe there was a big difference in our backgrounds as well and how we took our pleasures, what we were used to and what we expected out of life itself.  I took my tumbler and belted back my second swig of whiskey, draining the glass.  She managed to take another sip of her whiskey without the obvious grimace and slowly twisted in place to the inner music of the whiskey beginning to do its charm.  Her eyes stared into mine.  She had pretty brown eyes that seemed to almost glow in the gathered candlelight.

Whiskey brown eyes.

I’d once read that you should always compliment a woman’s eyes.

“You have really pretty eyes.” I said because the truth was that she did.

“You told me that already, tonight.”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t see your eyes like I can see them now.  I thought you had really pretty eyes before
but …  

"But ... what?" she asked.

"But now I’m sure of it.”

“And how are you sure of that?” she asked in a whisper.

“The candles here … they really bring the color in your eyes out.”

Marie blushed then, held her glass close to her chest using both hands and continued to stare at me.  She wanted to say something … but didn’t.  I could see it in her face.  Maybe it had been worth saying but it hadn’t been the right time to say it or she didn’t know how to say it.  I watched as she raised her glass again, sipped down the last of her whiskey and confidently held out her tumbler for a refill.  I picked up the bottle by its neck and poured myself another finger as she slid her glass up next to mine.

I may not have known what Marie’s game was tonight but as it stood, it was late on a Friday night, we had spent dinner together talking about a whole lot of nothing in particular and now we were back at her apartment.  Candles had been lit, I was on my third finger of whiskey, she was on her second finger of whiskey and we were on a first name basis.  A little voice in my head told me that it couldn’t get any simpler than that.

My watch said it was 12:11 PM which meant that I’d been here at Marie’s place a little over twenty minutes and here we were sharing whiskey in tumblers from a bottle of Jack Daniels.  Neither one of us was feeling any pain, in fact, the apartment with its dark wood furniture and leather appointments all lit by candlelight were really starting to relax me.  She sat her tumbler down on the dining table and I stood beside her ready to pour her more whiskey when she reached up and put her hand over the top of her glass to cover it.  I tilted the bottle back and took a step away as she picked up her tumbler, held the glass dangling in three fingers at her side and slowly walked back into the kitchen.  I took my tumbler and the bottle with me as I followed her.

Marie stood there at the kitchen sink, looking out the kitchen window with her back to me, lost in whatever thoughts … or regrets … that she might be having.  She finished the whiskey in her tumbler then rinsed it out under the faucet and put the glass in the sink upside down so it would drain.  I stood there next to her, looked at the bottle of whiskey and put it on the counter top.  I took a sip of my whiskey and held the tumbler in front of me as I stood there, next to her.

“Marie?” I asked softly.

I wasn’t sure where we were or why we had reached the point that we now stood at.  She lowered her head just a little but said nothing.  There was a pending quiet between us, the feeling that the silence should lead to … something … but neither one of us seemed sure as to what that was or how to make it happen.  It was almost like there was an invisible wall being built between us, one brick at a time, one row of bricks at a time, and I could almost hear them being put into place.

Marie sighed heavily and it seemed that she was … frustrated?

I took a deep breath as well and another drink of my whiskey, staring off across the dimly lit kitchen and trying to understand just where I was and what kind of situation I was in.  I had the feeling that I probably didn’t have much time to figure all of this out … if it really needed to be figured out at all.

I was blowing this … that much was obvious.

I felt like I was screwing up something that was being handed to me, something monumental and opportunistic.  I felt that time was running out and once whatever chance I had was gone then it would be gone forever and I’d probably regret this missed opportunity for the rest of my life.  That was the set of feelings and thoughts that I had right then.

There was an opportunity here, an opportunity for me, for her, for us, for there to be something between us but something just wasn’t clicking, maybe I just wasn’t clicking, and that opportunity was fading.  I turned in time to see the clock on the countertop change from 12:15 to 12:16.  Just like that, another minute gone, another tick of the clock past and what was I doing but using my boots as anchors and staring at a little bit of whiskey that was left in my glass.

I looked over at Marie.

She didn’t look back.

Touch her, I thought to myself.

Touch her, damn it!

Just reach out and touch her!  Rub her arms, caress her shoulders, lift her long hair up and kiss her there on the bare skin of her neck, lean close and whisper in her ear … do something!  The worst that she’s going to do is turn around and slap you or tell you to stop it or maybe ask you to leave but if you’ve come this far I doubt any of those things are going to happen.  You flirted with this woman last week at the water park.  You asked her to come see you at work and this woman came to see you Tuesday night, Thursday night and now tonight, at work.  She came looking for you … she came looking for you at the place you work, just like you asked her to.  Three times she came to see you.  You’ve spent the last week thinking nonstop about this woman and tonight she came to see you and you took her out to get something to eat and then she invited you back to her apartment for drinks.  This woman has freshened up in the back, she’s shared a bottle of whiskey with you … She’s barefoot, she’s lit candles all around the apartment and cut the lights down and that wasn’t because she wanted to save electricity.

Are you getting it yet, Shields?

There’s no one here but you and her.  You and her and she invited you back here so that she could be alone with you!  You’ve been here almost half an hour and besides some small talk the best you’re doing is standing here trying to figure this situation out and trying to figure out what to do next?  What the hell is wrong with you?  What the hell is there to figure out?  Do I need to draw you a picture of what you’re supposed to do with a woman like this when she acts like this to you?

Are you even listening to me?

Fine.

Here’s what you do, Shields; you either start putting out or you start getting out … right now.  If you don’t put out, be the Boy Scout and tell her that you’re sorry but you can’t do this then take her back to get her car at the store then you can go home and go to bed … alone.

But …

… and I promise you this …

… if you don’t do something to her, with her, tonight, right now, then you will remember this night for the rest of your life as the night that you didn’t grab what was there to be grabbed with all you had for all it was worth and you didn’t make it … and her … yours.  You will remember this night for the rest of your life but you won’t remember it with anything except a whole bunch of what-ifs and a whole lot of regret.

Yeah, that much was obvious.

I took another sip of whiskey and glanced sideways at the small clock sitting there on the countertop; 12:17 AM.

Put out or get out, make a decision, Shields, and make it now.

And, like that, I made my choice.

“Hell with it …” I muttered as I drained almost the last of my whiskey in one long swallow.

I put my glass down on the countertop, probably harder than I should have, on the other side from where I had placed the bottle.  Marie jumped slightly at the thud of glass on counter top and tensed as I stepped up behind her … was she shaking a little?  I thought I saw her tremble.  I reached out for her, with arms and hands that felt like they were made of solid lead and twice as heavy.  I stopped halfway then slowly reached the rest of the way for her. 

It took a lot more effort than I thought it would have.  The last few inches that separated my fingertips from her skin seemed less like inches and more like miles.  Marie turned her head slightly, dropped her chin and closed her eyes, like she knew what I was about to do … like this was what she had been waiting for.  She rose up just a little on the front of her feet like she was anticipating me … I could see that she was biting her lip and … she  was slowly moving her head up and down like she was listening to some song that only she could hear.  I put my hands on her arms just above her elbows, stepping in close, and began to slowly run my hands up her arms, across her shoulders, to the edge of her neck, touching … feeling. 

This is what I wanted to do. This is what I’d wanted to do since I’d first put eyes on her that Sunday afternoon at the water park.

She let out a long sigh, went back flat on her feet, swayed slowly there, under my touch and I continued to slowly, softly rub her, moving across her shoulders, down her arms and back up again, slowly, gliding my fingertips across her bare skin.  I slid my fingers back up her arms, across her shoulders and touched her long hair.  I used both of my hands to slide my fingers slowly up the back of her neck gently pushing through her long hair before running my fingers back out again, slowly, dragging my hands and fingers through her long hair as I went.  Her hair was warm, soft, silky and smooth.  It flowed through my fingers like dry water and fell away in long strands.  I moved in close, stuck my face into her long hair and breathed her in deep.  She smelled of shampoo, flowery, something I had no idea what it was but somewhere in the back of my lizard brain whatever the scent was it woke up the caveman in me.  I breathed her in and she pushed her head back against mine, rubbing her head against my cheek and my head, sighing.  I moved back from her, running my fingers through her long hair.

Her hair was soft … so soft.

I wanted to touch her … I just wanted to touch her.

No.

I wanted to do a lot more than that to her; in fact, I wanted this woman like nothing I’d ever wanted before … and I was going to have this woman if she gave me half the chance.  Marie was new to me, she may have been older than I was but everything about her, every part of her that I touched and every part of her that I felt was new to me.  She was so different from Pam.  She was so different from any other woman I’d been with.  Marie had experiences that I didn’t.  She could give me experiences that I’d never had and that I very much wanted right here and now.  That’s how I felt about her, about being with her.  She was something that I wanted to experience, to have, to be with and to explore.  Marie was a safari, an adventure waiting to happen, an unknown territory to explore.  There was a long stretch of time there when I had touched her that I had expected her to tell me to stop or I had expected her to turn around and either grab my hand or even throw a slap at me but she didn’t …

She hadn’t. 

In fact, Marie did something that I didn’t expect her to do … She tilted her head back towards me, arched her back and gave a deep sigh.  Her back bowed, her groin and hips went flat against the countertop and her shoulders leaned back towards me as her head fell back and her long hair went slack.  Her full breasts jutted out under her yellow blouse.  Her eyes were closed and her lips were pursed, partially open.  She let her long hair fall straight back towards the floor and I ran my fingers through it.

Soft.

Flowing.

Like dry water.

I rubbed her long hair against my face, breathing her scent in again.  I reached up as close to her head as I could and slid my fingers back in through her long hair, gently gliding them slowly back down, all the way to the end of her long hair.  I did this several times, every other time that I did I pulled on her long hair, gently, tugging her back towards me just a little.  When I pulled on her long hair she either sighed or moaned.

“I like that … when you run your fingers through my hair slowly … like that.” She whispered.

I took my time, running my fingers through her long hair, letting her long hair slowly fall between my fingers.  I ran my fingertips up the back of her neck, behind her ears, over the top of her head, pressing, massaging.  Marie moaned softly and gripped the countertop to keep from falling backwards as she balanced herself against my advances, almost rising up on her tip toes.  I clenched my fingers tight and pulled her long hair back then, steady but firm, causing her to groan louder and grip the edge of the counter harder with both hands.  Marie made a soft sound like a low growling tiger and then a sound like a whimper.  I kept running my hands and fingers through her long hair, pulling, slowly then harder and harder until her head was actually being pulled backwards and she was moaning, trying to pull her head forward against the strain of my grip.  She made noises that I had no experience that a woman would make … or could make.

“Pull my hair.  Like that.” She said between clenched teeth.

I did.

“Pull it … harder.” She groaned softly but firmly.

I pulled harder, using my grip on her long hair to bend her even further back towards me. Her breath quickened then and she adjusted her stance, grabbing onto the counter top so hard that her fingertips went red and her knuckles went white.

“Harder.” She whispered.

“Harder?” I asked, not sure if I had heard her right or not.

“Harder.” She whispered through clenched teeth and hot breath, turning her head slowly from side to side.

I pulled her long hair back, hard, working both my hands up into her long hair and grabbing two handfuls of her long hair, moving down and gently but firmly pulling as I went, moving down slowly and out to her shoulders and letting my fingertips glide across her skin there as she growled out a long, deep moan that sounded more animal-like than human.  I pulled her long brown hair back, hard, as I pressed myself against her, my groin to her bottom, pinning her against the counter top from behind and she bucked back, making noises that I’d never heard any woman make before, they were primal noises, almost animal-like growls and whimpers.  She slowly moved her hips, grinding her bottom backwards against my groin, into my groin, into my growing desire for her.  I stirred and moved forward, pressing my groin to her bottom, pressing her against the cabinet in front of her and holding her tight against it.  She in turn pressed back against me, her breath coming in quick pants, groaning and growling down low.

What the hell did I have a hold of?  

Strangely enough, “tigress” was the word that popped into my mind right then.
 
“Let go.” She said suddenly, pushing back against me more determined now.

Huh?

“Let go.  Please.” She said again, softly but firmly this time and I did, taking a step back from her and unpinning her from the counter as she caught her breath in quick pants.

Did I do something wrong?

Had I gone too far?

Marie, her back still to me, looked up at the ceiling and sighed deeply … or maybe she was catching her breath.  She paused, just long enough for me to worry that I really had gone too far with her then she quickly reached up and hurriedly unbuttoned her blouse, three buttons down from the top, with fumbling, shaking fingers.  She tilted her head to one side, letting her long hair flow to the left as she pulled her now loose collar wide exposing the right side of her neck and her shoulder.

Bare, tan skin, the kiss from the sun over a long time, lightly sprinkled with freckles.

She turned to look over her shoulder at me as she cut her eyes and held her blouse open like that, expectantly.  She nodded towards me, nodded for me to pay attention to what she was showing me.  I reached up and lightly ran my fingertips across the bare tanned skin of her right shoulder and neck and I could hear her catch her breath again and hold it.  Soft, warm tanned skin under the touch of my fingertips.  I moved in closer, my head against hers as my fingertips traced her bare skin.

“Kiss me.  Here.” She said, pointing to her neck.

I did.  Slowly at first, moving up and down her neck and shoulder, finding what bare skin I could and putting my lips to her flesh.  I could smell her perfume.  Each time that I kissed her, my lips to her tanned skin, I could smell her perfume on her skin.  Her eyes were closed.  Each time that I kissed her, my lips to her tanned skin, she would draw in a sharp breath and hold it.  I moved slowly across the area of bare skin that she had shown me, kissing softly as I went.  The fifth time that I touched my lips to her bare skin she whispered …

“Kiss me … harder.”

My hands on her hips, holding her, my body pressed up against hers … I nibbled her there where her neck starts to rise from her shoulder and she made a low, guttural moan, grinding her bottom back against my groin again.  I pressed into her and she pressed her bottom back.  I felt her skin in my mouth, my tongue gently flicked her skin before I closed my teeth down on the nape of her neck.  She tasted … clean and dirty and salty and sweet.  Her perfume was intoxicating, mixing with her natural scent, and I drank her in with every breath I took.  I nibbled again, harder, and she moaned deeper, rubbing her head back against mine.

“Harder.  Kiss me harder.” she moaned.

I did.

Once.

Twice.

“I want you to bite me.” She whimpered.

Whimpered.

I stopped what I was doing because I didn’t know if I had heard her right or not.  When she noticed that I had stopped, she turned her head to look at me over her right shoulder.

“Bite you?” I asked in a whisper.

“Bite me.” She whispered again.  “On my neck.  Here.  Just like you were just doing only do it a harder.”

“Bite you?” I said, still not sure I had heard her correctly.

“It’s okay.  I want you to.  I like it.” She whispered.

It was okay, she wanted me to and she liked it?  

Jesus!  

This was something totally new to me!

Marie used her fingers to show me where she wanted me to bite her and I did, lightly, with my lips acting as a cushion between her skin and my teeth.  It didn’t seem very effective or erotic to me, more like a really soft pinch.  In fact, I had trouble applying any pressure while trying to shield her skin from direct contact with my teeth.  I thought I was doing okay.  Evidently I was being too gentle and evidently I was doing it wrong.

“No.  Use your teeth.” She said in a low voice, louder now than her whispering had been.

She pointed to a spot on her neck halfway to her shoulder so I did, with my teeth, lightly.  I clamped down and held her with my teeth, feeling my breath hot on her skin as she moaned and writhed against me.  I pressed myself into her, pinning her against the counter again as she writhed against me.  The smell of her perfume, the taste of her skin in my mouth … my fingers dug into her soft skin and she moaned.  I bit down again, pinched up her skin between my teeth and I flicked my tongue across that pinched up skin, left to right, slowly.  She moaned deeply.

“Bite me harder.” She whispered in a growl.

“Harder?” I asked her in a whisper as I moved my lips near her ear.

She reached back with her right hand, put her hand on the side of my head and pulled me to the side of her head.

“I want you to.” She begged in a hushed voice.

I moved down to where she had showed me and bit her then, slowly increasing the pressure I was applying to the spot she wanted me to and she let go with a moaning growl again.  Marie shook slightly, raising and grinding her bottom against my groin, putting her head straight back, then moving her head slowly to the left side where her long hair slapped against my face.  Her eyes were closed but her mouth was open and her expression was one of pure, strained ecstasy.

“I want this.” She moaned. 

I bit her, on the neck.

Once.

“God.  I want this.” She moaned.

Twice.

Goose bumps rippled up her arms, I could feel them under my fingertips.

“You’re giving me a fever.” She whispered, her voice going low and sexy with a heavy emphasis on the word fever.

She dropped her arms, her right hand found mine, her fingers spread to fill in between my fingers and then clenched tight, her left hand came up to find my left hand, her fingers meshed with mine while I still held her head.  I took this as it was and continued to work her shoulders and neck with my mouth, tongue and teeth.  She shuddered again and moaned there in my arms as I pressed myself into her, forcing her against the counter.  She leaned back into me and I bit her on the shoulder, even harder than before.  Marie let out a long, pained whimper.  A quick shudder ran through her entire body, then another little shudder.  I let go of her hands and wrapped my arms around her from behind, running my hands up and down her body.  Her arms came up over her shoulders, her hands grabbed my head and pulled me into her.

“God, you’re really giving me a fever.”

She bent her head forward, using her left hand to lift her long hair up and out of the way so that I could get at the back of her bare neck.  I paid a lot of attention to that area, biting her there, nibbling and nuzzling as she pushed her bottom back against me, grinding her bottom into my groin.  She grunted as she tried to push back from the countertop but I parked my boots, shifted my weight against her and held my ground, pressing myself into her in turn and pinning her.  I drank in her flowers scented perfume, drank in the scent of her long hair, the salty taste of her skin, flicked her ear lobe with the tip of my tongue and ground her earlobe softly between my front teeth.  She tried to turn to face me over her shoulder and made a purely animal-like growl as I went back to kissing, nibbling, and biting her neck.

“... have me.” She said in a sultry whisper as she writhed harder, slowly up and down then back and forth, serpentine-like now, gyrating in place, lifting the bare part of her leg to rub against my jeans. 

She pushed me back slightly then, away from the edge of the counter, grabbed my right hand and slid my right hand down lower until it was halfway between her navel and her crotch, over that wonderful curve in God’s design of women where her stomach starts to fall into that v-shaped space between her legs.  My palm was flat to the shrouded zipper of her camp shorts, my fingers spread, pulling her back into me, crushing her back into me.

“You can have me.” She whispered.

Marie pulled my left hand down from her neck and hair, pulled it across her chest, across her now wrinkled and unbuttoned yellow blouse, putting my palm inside the open top of her blouse and placing it there over her right breast as she pressed my hand down hard.  When she did I squeezed, with both of my hands, top and bottom.  I felt her swollen nature, felt her need for me there as well.  She moaned and bucked, throwing her head back and I continued to work her shoulder and neck with my mouth, tongue and teeth as my hands cupped her, chest and groin, kneading.

“This … ah … uh … mmm.” She whispered between breaths, never finishing what she had started to say or if she did finish then what she said was too low to be heard or understood by me.

I grabbed two handfuls of her like I owned her.  Marie let out a long, guttural moan and became an absolute out of control tigress in my arms, bucking and writhing, trying to break free of the hold that I had on her despite the weight and leverage that I was putting against her.  I realized then that despite the cool nature of the apartment that both of us were starting to sweat.  I could feel her sweat on her skin, smell the slight trace of it and her skin began to taste saltier under my tongue. 

I could feel my shirt sticking to my back.

She writhed under me, moaning and sighing, grunting and growling, bucking her groin against my hand, her hand on the outside of her shorts trying to push my hand deeper into her crotch, her other hand on my hand that held her breast, mashing it tighter to her chest, trying to force it back and forth, rubbing.

Her breath was coming short and loud and fast.

She turned her head to face me as best as she could ...  

The look in her eyes … her whiskey brown eyes.  

The sounds of her fast breathing, almost panting, as she stood there … the tip of her tongue slicing between her lips to moisten them and then vanishing again into her mouth as her lips parted and her breathing became rapid and heavy again.  She made a sound then, it was a moan that was long and drawn out and the look on her face was something that I would remember for a long, long time to come.

Three months ago I’d lost my virginity to Pam, an eighteen year old cashier that was flunking out of college and who would never amount to anything in her life other than a sub-mediocre housewife, at best, who would be totally dependent on whoever she married to take care of her.  I’d lost my virginity because she had been lonely and I’d been bored.  Tonight I figured I was going to lose whatever else I had left to lose at this point to Marie and I was more than all right with that.  Hell, if Marie had asked for my soul in equal trade right then and there I’d probably have given it to her willingly and with no regrets.

Marie was going to be my second, of that I had little if any doubt, and right then I wished to hell that she had been my first because Marie was everything that Pam wasn’t … Marie was sensuous, she was passionate, she was hungry, she was alive and she was wild.  Marie knew what she wanted and she was determined to get it now that all the ice was broken, now that all the small talk was done with and now that the whiskey was doing its magic on both of us.  Yeah, there was only one thing left to do and Marie and I were already on our way to doing that …

Well on our way.

Her head went to the side again and my lips and teeth found her hot, sweaty neck.  Her smell was feminine, raw, mixed with her perfume.  She was more intoxicating than any liquor, any drug could have ever been.  I let the flesh of the nape of her neck slide through my teeth.  She struggled against me, trying to turn around to face me, but I put my muscles into it and held her fast.  She grunted and became aggressive then, so different than the quiet, demure stranger that I had been drinking whiskey and trading small talk with just ten minutes ago.  Marie was a whole new animal, a caged wildcat that had been spurned for far too long and now she had come into heat.

I didn’t know her story …

I didn’t care.

This was here.

She was now.

This was happening.

I was having this woman.

Tonight.

Right here.

Right now.

Marie was hot and bothered, she moved, she shimmied, she swayed, she writhed, she growled, she moaned, she panted, she whimpered, she whispered, she begged, she responded, she grabbed, she held and she gave just as good as she got if not more so.  Right then if I knew just one thing about how tonight was going to turn out it was that we were both going to be really sore and tired tomorrow.  

It was also then that I realized Marie had stopped talking …

I don’t know how long ago but she had stopped talking to me in words that I could understand and now the only noises that she was making were composed of animal-like sounds, whines, whimpers, grunts, moans and low cries.  Marie pressed herself back against me, hard, finding me not willing to move and she growled a delighted kind of frustrated groan.  I slowly let her go and turned her around to face me.  She stood there before me, her long hair was disheveled, her blouse wrinkled and halfway undone. 
Her look was that of a wild, even desperate woman, a long strand of her hair hanging low covering her left eye and side of her face.   Marie took a step forward.  Her hands began sliding up my chest, her fingers digging into me, clawing, gripping, through my shirt.  She slid her hands over my chest, exploring, feeling, taking for her own.  We melted into each other, nuzzling against each other, cheek to cheek, my lips sliding down to her neck, down to where her open blouse let me get at her bare upper chest, back up her throat and under her chin.  She whimpered as she lowered her chin to force me to pull back from her neck and chin then she head butted me lightly, nuzzled me, tilting her head slightly sideways to invite and accept me and her eyes were there to guide me on in.

I reached over to my tumbler on the counter top, found a little bit of Jack Daniels still in the bottom, dipped my finger there, wet it and ran my whiskey moistened finger across Marie’s lips.  Her breath took in sharply.  She licked my finger, flicking the tip of my finger with her tongue as she did so, a taunting, naughty, knowing, experienced look on her face.  I took my finger, dipped it back in the whiskey and wet her lips again but this time I kept my finger away from her open mouth … her look became one of frustration as I taunted her, teased her, and then I moved in, our lips met, crushed hard against each other, parted, and we kissed.

Our first kiss.

 … Our first real, mutual kiss; tongue wrapped, whiskey laced, hot and wet, deep and hard.  

I tasted the whiskey on her lips.  Desperate, needed, wanted and desired.  She moaned deeply as our lips touched, molding, our tongues darting in and out of each other’s mouth as our hands slid across each other’s body with a mind of their own.  My mouth crushed down on hers.  The taste of whiskey, the smell of flowers, the hint of musk and sweat, the feel of Marie in my arms, my lips to hers, her tongue wrapped around mine, the feel of her skin under my palms, along my fingers; right then and there she was all that I needed and everything that I wanted.

She grabbed my head, pulled me to her.  We kissed.  Again.  Long, hard, deep, finally coming up for breath and then we kissed again just the same.  Kissing her was every bit as sensuous as nibbling her and biting her had been, maybe even more so.  Her hands groped for me, explored me, ran up and down my chest then slid around me to my back, her left hand going high to pull my head hard against hers and her right hand dropping to spread her fingers across my bottom as she pulled me into her as hard and tight as she could, groaning, trying to mash her groin against mine.

I broke our fourth kiss, used the side of my head to gently push her head to the side and then kissed her again on the side of the neck, moving down towards her shoulder line again, biting her there.  Her breathing was coming in quick sighs and moans now and one of her legs moved up the back of mine, slipped and went back up again like she was trying to climb me.  I moved back down, kissing her under her neck, across the top of her chest, right at the edge of where her breasts began.  I could almost hear her heart beat in her chest.  She shuddered again, a quick, deep shudder.  She grunted and grabbed my head in her hands, pulling me up as her mouth found mine again.

We kissed.

Long, hard, deep as she pulled my hair hard, grabbing my head and pulling me into her face, crushing my lips hard against hers.  I pulled away from her, turned her around facing the cabinets and molded myself against her.  She reached forward and steadied herself against the counter, leaning on her arms and hands.  I went in to her neck and slowly clamped my teeth down again on her neck and shoulder line, biting, slow and hard, my hot breath against her bare skin.  She moaned and put the side of her head against mine, hard, pressing, rubbing her head against mine while she moaned.  I nibbled her shoulder line, moving along her shoulder, to her neck, up behind her ear, to her earlobe, forcing her head back up and off of mine as I did.  A tremble broke through her body.  I took her earlobe in my mouth, sucked on it, then I bit down on her earlobe firmly, pulling back as I did so, pulling her head back towards me.  She moaned again as another tremor passed through her body and she ground her bottom back against my groin ... hard.  Her hands came up and grabbed me, pulling me into her from behind as she ground back against me again.

Serpentine.  

Slow writhing.  

Her breath was coming hot and fast, short and shallow.  

The next few seconds all ran together ... one of those instances where a lot happens at the same time in the blink of an eye.  I ran my left hand up across her stomach, across her chest, slowly, before sliding my hand into the loose folds of her unbuttoned shirt.  She sighed and moaned as I pushed my left hand up under her bra, my left hand to her hot, smooth, bare skin, cupping her right breast, easily finding her nipple and gently pinching it between my thumb and forefinger while at the same time I ran my right hand down the inside front of her camp shorts, shoved my right hand down inside her already damp panties as she moved her legs slightly apart in anticipation.  My hand pushed farther down into her panties and across the coarse softness of her pubic hair, my fingers gliding through her  damp curls until I found where her nature parted and her womanhood began.   I cupped her there ... she was swollen, hot, wet, slick  …  and at the same time I pulled her back to me ... breast and crotch, I grabbed two handfuls of her and held her like I owned her ... like she was property.

"I want you." I said, my voice strong and close in her ear, taking her ear lobe in my mouth, sucking and nibbling on it gently.

... and that’s when the whole universe exploded.  

Marie made a sound that I’d never heard any woman ever make before.  Her breath rushed in and she made a deep, even hurtful moaning sound that rose in intensity.  Her legs slammed shut against my right hand, bunching my fingers together hard enough to hurt.  She reared up, reared back like she was trying to buck me off of her and that's when I felt her tremble in my arms, hard.  

Oui!  Et voila!” she cried out in a half-whisper.

I didn’t even have time to think what that meant as she shuddered, paused, then shuddered again harder in my arms.   I felt her quiver against my hand.

She made sounds then.

Whimper.

Shudder.

Moan.

Shudder.

Moan.

"Gah ...." she said in a long drawn out whisper.

Marie’s head was back.

Her eyes were closed.

Her mouth was open.

Her breath came in fast and shallow pants.

Her chest heaved up and down.

I didn’t move I just held her tight, pulling her close to me top and bottom, as her whole body trembled in my grip and she seemed to melt back into me.  Her fingers held tight to the counter … almost to the point of pain and her moan rose almost to a cry then faded to a whimper.  I grimaced through a smile as she whispered “oh” over and over again, every few seconds, just after each large shudder wracked her body.  After a few seconds, Marie’s head leaned forward, her hair fell around her head then she flipped it back, slapping me with her hair as she put her head on my shoulder and fell backwards into me again, almost full weight.  I readjusted my stance to support her and I held her there in my arms as she shuddered slightly and went almost completely limp in my arms.

“Um.” She half-whispered and that was the last sound that she made short of the sound of her breathing heavy.

Slow and heavy.

I held her and didn’t let go, held her tight, held her close to me from behind, left hand still holding her right breast, the other still grabbing a handful of her womanhood, my hand still caught between her tight held thighs.  When she seemed to have stopped shaking so much I slowly, lightly nuzzled her neck with my stubble covered cheek and held her tight.  I just held her in my arms, her eyes shut and her mouth hallway open.  Her breath came rapid and shallow then started to deepen and lengthen.  I had a pretty good idea what had just happened and all I could think right then was it had never been that way with Pam.  

Marie made another little sound, almost an apologetic sigh and grunt.  I supported her and didn’t do anything to take away from this moment she was having, this moment I had given her.

Damn, I thought to myself.

I did that.

I did that to her.

I caused that to happen to her.

Me.

Part of me was jumping up and down on the inside, throwing myself a parade and the other part of me was just awestruck ... trying to take it all in and make sense of it all.  I'd never seen a woman do that before ... Pam had never done anything like that before.  This was all new to me.  I nuzzled her neck and gently kissed her cheek when she turned her head towards me.  Her hand came up and rubbed the side of my head and face as she put her head to mine, rubbing.  I buried my face in her neck and she leaned her head over, pressing down, holding me there.  Her fingers spread as she drove them through my hair, clenched my hair tight in her fingers and pulled back, hard, peeling me away from her neck.  She slowly uncrossed her legs, released the grip her thighs had on my hand and I slowly let go of her groin, carefully taking my hand back out of her camp shorts.  I turned her slowly around to face me, reaching an arm around her, putting my hand on her bottom and holding her closer to me.  Marie looked like she was about to say something and then simply closed her eyes and her mouth and put her head against my shoulder.  I took her in my arms and held her close, waited until her breathing had become deep and slow again, waited until she had once again slowly opened her eyes.  I kissed the side of her neck softly as her lips pursed and her head went slowly forward and down, her long hair draping.
 
I didn’t know what to say.

It felt like I should say something ... I felt like I really should say something but I couldn’t think of anything to say that seemed appropriate to the moment so I just stood there, holding her tightly to me, as tight as I could, losing myself in her, losing myself in the moment, thinking that this was something that I'd never forget as long as I lived.   

It was hot in the kitchen … we were both sweating and until that moment in time I didn’t realize that she hadn’t been the only one whose breathing had been rapid and shallow.  She turned to face me and molded herself to me, putting her head to my chest and her arms around me.  Her arms slowly went up and down, hands wide, fingers spread, from my waist to my shoulders and back again.

“You don’t play ... fair.” She finally whispered her head flat against my chest, her long hair draped over her face, mouth agape slightly, breathing hard but slowly.

“I don’t remember saying that I would.” I told her, whispering it to her as I still held her tight.

It seemed like a long time passed while I held her … just held her.  Time ceased to have any meaning, there was just Marie and me, her in my arms, me holding her.

“God.  That was ... Ah, I’m still shaking.” She said at last.

And she was, ever so lightly, every now and then.

“I noticed.” I said, smiling, feeling her in my arms as the tiny tremors occasionally raced through her body.

I held her for a minute, maybe two, just savoring the moment, just slowly rocking in place with her in my arms.  She wrapped her leg around mine, leaving my right thigh to ride up against the inside of her left thigh, the inside of her crotch.  I felt her slowly lift and lower her leg, rubbing the back of her bare leg against the denim of my jeans and pants leg, almost like she was slowly getting ready to climb me.  I ran my fingertips slowly up the side of her cheek.

“Not bad for an eighteen year old.” She whispered to me, her face almost buried in my chest.

I wasn’t quite sure that I had heard what she said so I thought that shrugging my shoulders and nodding was better than asking her what she had said or meant.  I wasn’t sure that we had finished … I know that I hadn’t and I hoped that we weren’t.  I still had a need and I held her close to me.  A long time passed, at least to me, then she leaned away from me, nuzzling her cheek next to mine.

Our lips crossed, touched, met and we kissed.

Kissed again.

Soft.  Our tongues danced slowly around each other this time, not the ravenous wrestling match that we had enjoyed just moments before.  Marie leaned back from me, slowly opened her eyes and looked at me.  Her breathing was deep and slow and we stood there, her arms on my shoulders, my hands on her hips, slowly swaying in place, dancing to silent music.  I looked at her … she was a mess … Marie looked like she had just been mugged by a hurricane.  Her shirt was hallway out of her waistband, unbuttoned, one collar turned the wrong way.  Her hair was disheveled, some hanging down in her face and my thoughts went back to what she had said.

“Marie?” I asked softly.

She tilted her head to look at me, stared into my eyes.

“You said something … out loud … when you  …”

“Mmmm?” she asked, curious, looking at me now with those big whiskey brown eyes.

“We at vola?  I think that’s what you said.  At least that’s what it sounded like.” I whispered as I stood back from her.

Marie’s clothes were a mess, her long hair was a mess and she looked up at me through fallen bangs.

“What?” she asked in a half whisper, using her right hand to sweep her hair from her face.

Her look was one of mildly shocked surprise.

“We et vola.” I said softly, trying to say it like I remembered her saying it.  “You said we et vola or what you said sounded like that.”

Marie’s look became one of concern and ... quickly growing embarassment?

“I said … no.  Are you serious?  I said that?” she asked, definitely surprise on her face and maybe … embarrassment.

I nodded.

“No!  I didn't!  I really said that?!” she asked.

She was starting to blush as I nodded again.

“Of course I said that … how could I say that … how could you … how could I …?” she muttered, like she was looking through a list, rattling off questions that had no answers.

Fading into silence she simply hung her head, her long hair falling about her face.  It was easy to see that she was embarrassed now.  She looked away and ran her fingers through her long hair, pursing her lips then biting her lower lip.

“God.  I can’t believe I said that … that … when …” she whispered, closing her eyes and shaking her head, smiling.  

“God.” she said, a lot louder than a whisper, in a tone that made me think of self-condemnation.

There came the sound of soft laughing, from her.  Marie turned, an embarrassed look on her face as she buried her face into my chest, shaking her head slightly from side to side.

“Hey.  Hey!” I said softly, trying to get her attention and get her to pull her head out from my chest.

“What?” she asked, flatly, not bothering to lift her head from where she had buried it in my chest.

“It’s okay.  What you said … I kind of liked it.”

“It was dumb.  It's just something that I say ... that I ... do ... sometimes ...”

“It was French, wasn’t it?  What you said … when you …”

I waited.  She looked up, stroked a strand of hair from her face and smiled at me.  Her smile was bashful, almost apologetic.

“I never took French but I think I can recognize it when it’s spoken … some of it at least.” I said.  “It is French, right?”

Marie moved a fallen bang out of her face and looked at me.

“Yes.  What I said was French.”

I nodded and smiled.

“Sorry.  I guess I kind of lost myself there with you.  Like I said, you don’t play fair.  You had me in a fever.  I was in another world.”

“I don’t mind.  I really don’t.” I said, trying to reassure her.

“Yeah.  Yeah, I bet you don’t.” she teased, looking me eye to eye.

She was still embarassed.

“So …?” I asked.

“So …?” she asked softly, cutting her eyes at me and trying not to smile.

Trying and failing.

“So … what does it mean?”

“What?”

“What you said.  What does it mean?”

“Why?” she asked, cutting her eyes at me.

“I’m curious.  I don’t know what it means and it obviously was something that you said when …” I trailed off.

There was obvious and then there was too much obvious.  I left it at that.

“Tell me.” I pressed.

Marie just held me, her head slowly moving back and forth in a "no" manner.

“Tell me.” I said.

“No.” she whispered.

“Yes.”

“No.” she said louder.

“Yes.”

Marie huffed.

“It’s silly.  It’s just … something I say sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“Um hmmm.  Sometimes."

"When?"

"When I’m happy.”

“When you’re happy?”

“When I’m happy ... or when I'm comfortable with someone.”

“Tell me.”

“No.” she said, coyly, almost giggling.

“Yes.” I said, leaning in.

“No.” she said but with less resistance in her voice this time, giggling even more.

“Tell me.” I said, moving in closer and she quickly darted her head away, giving a little cry.

As she darted her head away, she exposed her neck and I darted my head in between her shoulder and her neck.  She moved her head back, pinning me, squealing and laughing, trying to cover her bare neck and trying to push me away but I was already where I wanted to be and I decided to leverage an answer out of her.  I kissed her on her neck, she pulled at me, I nibbled her then moved slightly up, finding her ear, nibbling her ear lobe and whispering to her in a soft voice to tell me what the words that she had said meant.  She broke quickly under my soft assault, sighing, grabbing my head in both hands and holding me tight.

“Okay!  Okay.  It means … yes, there it is.” She half whispered but whole smiled, reaching forward with her mouth and slowly kissing me.

“Yes, there it is?” I asked, not really understanding.

“And it’s not “we et vola”, it’s oui, et voila.” She whispered in a husky, seductive voice, using proper French and not seeing the need to explain anything else.

Yeah, it sounded better coming from her lips than from mine.  I mulled over the meaning of what she had said at the height of passion.  No, nothing more needed to be explained.  Marie pulled back, looked at me then frowned.

“God!  Of all the … I go and ... I can’t believe I came in French.” She said softly, running her hand through her own hair, laughing more to herself, her voice mumbling, heavy emphasis on the words came and French.

She folded her arms and seemed to pout a little, biting her lip and smirking, slowly shaking her head like she was having a good laugh at herself on the inside.

I thought about what she had just said.  She came in French?  And she was embarrassed?  If that was an orgasm she had just had then there were Richter scales nearby that had probably recorded it.  I reached out and touched her side, along her arm and finally ran my hand up to her cheek.  I traced the side of her cheek and she reached up and held my hand tightly to her face as she turned to look up at me.

“It’s not embarrassing.” I said.

“It’s embarrassing.” She said.

“It’s not embarrassing.” I said.

“Yes, it is.” She said still hiding her face.  “Of all the things that I could have said … when … with you … I had to go and lose myself and … say something … stupid … something … silly … like … that.  Like that!”

“Actually, you whispered it, kind of out loud but you still whispered it, right there almost in my ear and for what it’s worth I thought that was really … sexy.”

Marie slowly looked up at me, cutting her eyes like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Sexy?” she asked.  “You thought me saying that was … sexy?”

“Sexy.” I said.

"Really?" she asked, almost in a shy like manner.

"Really.  I mean, I’ve never had anyone say anything like …”

I struggled to find the right words, any words, to fill the hole that I felt that I was digging.

“Say anything like …” Marie asked, probing.

I sighed.

“I’ve never had anyone come in French for me before.”

There.

I’d said it.

Marie seemed to think about that for a minute, tugging at one of her bangs.

“No.  I seriously doubt that you have.” Marie said, skewing her jaw to the side and looking at me smugly.

“Wait.  I didn’t mean it like that.” I said.

Damn it.

Marie put on a pouty face and I chastised myself mentally for ever having said anything about it at all.

“What did you mean, Christopher?” she asked, still pouting and looking almost angry.

Great.

Now we were headed for an argument or … something … which was the last thing that I wanted right then.  Especially right then.

“I meant that … I’m not used to people … to a woman … that I’m with … saying something like … that.”

Marie stood there, pouty and maybe angry, arms folded, cutting her eyes at me.

“And what exactly does a woman usually say when you’re running your hands all over her body?” Marie asked in a put on miffed voice.

“Honestly?” I asked her, seeing that maybe, just maybe I had a chance to pull this nose dive out before I cratered the night all over the place.

“Yeah.  Honestly.” Marie demanded, folding her arms in front of her.

It was then that I realized that we were playing and I saw a perfect thing to say to try to steer us back to where I thought we needed to be going.  It was everything I could do not to smile.

“Well ... usually what they say is “Oh God!  I’m not THAT drunk!  Get the hell off of me!  Help!  Help!  Somebody call the police!” …” I said with a perfectly straight face, my blue eyes staring into her brown eyes.

Whiskey brown eyes.

Wait for it.

Dead pan, jaw skewed, eye to eye with me.

Wait for it.

There came a second for what I had just said to sink in and when it did the corners of her mouth trembled and then she giggled and then she threw her head back and roared out laughing.  I couldn’t help it and seeing her laugh like that made me laugh as well.  After a minute Marie composed herself, snorted, giggled and managed to finally get her composure.  Looking at me, she cocked her head … expectantly?

“Really?” she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders and she smiled.

“Do you speak French?” I asked.

“Oui.” She said, far more coy now than she had been a minute ago.

“Fluently?” I asked.

“Oui, oui.” She said in a sultry whisper.

“Wow.  Okay, so how do you say “Oh God!  I’m not THAT drunk!  Get the hell off of me!  Help!  Help!  Somebody call the police!” in French?” I asked her.

Marie laughed and put her hand over her mouth.  A few seconds later she took a deep breath, shook her head and looked at me.

“Well, it certainly doesn’t sound like “Oui!  Et voila!” that’s for sure!” she said, shaking her head as she laughed.

I laughed in turn and shook my head.

“No, I guess it probably doesn’t.  It probably doesn’t sound anywhere near as sexy as what you whispered, to me, here, when you were … when I was holding you tight and ...”

“… And …?” she asked.

“When I was holding you tight and making you mine.” I said.

"Were you making me yours?" she asked.

"I was making you mine." I said.

Marie reached up and caressed my cheek.  I leaned into her hand and she put her other hand to my head, pulled me to her and kissed me, softly, then deep and slow.  When she withdrew there was another look about her …

“Thank you.” She said softly.

“For what?” I asked her, blue eyes to her brown eyes.

“For being with me … now.  Here.  With me.  For just … taking your time with me.  I haven’t had something like that in … a really long time now.” She said, sighing and closing her eyes.

The last few words were a husky whisper.

I didn’t know what to say so I just put my hand out and ran my fingers across her cheek, up the side of her face and moved some loose strands of her long hair out of her eyes.  She took my hand in hers, held it tight, squeezed it hard, then held it to her cheek and closed her eyes.  We stayed that way for what seemed a long time, her just nuzzling my hand with her eyes closed then she reached to my waist and pulled up my black T-shirt as far as it would go.  Tugging twice I got the message and raised my arms above my head.  With a grunt of her own she pulled my T-shirt straight over my head and off, wadding it up and throwing it on the counter behind me where it knocked over the old man and old woman salt and pepper shakers I had been looking at earlier.  Her hands ran through my chest hair, slowly, her palms moved over my stomach, up to my breasts, over each breast and back down again.

Her hands were warm.

My skin was sweaty.

Her fingers were hot, pressing into my skin, sliding across my chest.

Friction.

Exploring.

She picked up my gold Saint Christopher medal, pulled it to the end of its gold chain and me along with it, looked at the gold medallion and paused.  It’s like time stood still as she studied my chain and pendant, turning it carefully in her fingers, looking from it up to me and back down again at the medal.

“This is … Catholic, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Saint Christopher medal.” I said.

“Saint Christopher medal?  Really?” she asked.  “You have your own personal saint?”

I nodded.

“But ... It’s Catholic?”

“Pretty sure it’s Catholic.  That's not going to be a problem, is it?”

Marie looked at me sharply, her expression a mixture of … surprise … fear … anger?

“You’re not Catholic, are you?”

I shook my head.

“No.  I'm Lutheran.  I just like this better than a crucifix.”

She put her finger on my Saint Christopher medal.

“I don’t know anything about Lutherans.  Does your faith require you to wear a … Catholic symbol … like this?” she asked.

“No.” I said.  “Lutherans are kind of against regulations but I figure it can’t hurt if I do.  It’s kind of all from the same place, I guess.”

Marie looked at the medal again, turning it this way and that on the chain, running her finger over the details of the relief.

"Catholics have a lot of saints." she whispered.

"That they do." I agreed.

“So … who is Saint Christopher?”

“You’ve never heard of Saint Christopher?”

She shook her head, looking at me, curious.

That was strange, considering the amount of religious material present in her apartment.

“He’s the patron saint of travelers.  He protects those who travel or who are on a journey.”

"And ... are you on a journey?" she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I'd like to think that life is a journey.  It only stops being a journey when you let it stop."

She looked at me then ... surprise in her eyes.

"Wow.  That's pretty deep."

I shrugged my shoulders.

"It's just how I see life." I told her.  "Life only gets boring when you let it."

She nodded then looked at my Saint Christopher medal again.

"Not many people have their own personal saint.  You must be really good to have your own saint.” She said in a sultry, amused tone.

“Comes in handy sometimes.” I said.

“I bet it does.” She agreed.  “Gives you some extra protection.”

“The way my life is, I need all the extra protection I can get.” I said, thinking back to just a few months ago when Ingo had tried to run Pam and I down in his little piece of junk Capri.

“Yeah?  Really?  Like extra protection from what?”

My mind snapped back to the here and now.  I looked at her disheveled hair, her ruffled clothes, her whiskey brown eyes …

“Oh, you know … Like extra protection from some horny woman who yanks my T-shirt off and wants to have her way with me late at night in the kitchen of her apartment.  That kind of situation.”

"That kind of situation?" she asked, starting to snicker.

"Yeah.  That kind of situation." I said, smiling.

Marie laughed so hard she half snorted.  I chuckled and watched her as she regained her composure.  She took my Saint Christopher medal in her fingers again, looked at the Saint Christopher medal again and then cut her eyes at me.  A really mischievous smile formed on her lips as she held the medal in her fingers.

“You know what?” she asked, her voice going low and soft.

“What?”

“I think this Saint Christopher medal of yours is broken …”

“You think so?” I asked, playfully.

“Uh, huh.” She said in a husky whisper.

“Yeah?  Why do you think that?” I asked, looking down at the Saint Christopher medal in her fingers.

Marie looked at me, pulled hard on the medal and pulled me close to her as she leaned her head closer, putting the tip of her nose to mine, her forehead to mine.

“Because if this is supposed to protect you from some horny woman who just yanked your T-shirt over your head and wants to have her way with you in the kitchen of her apartment then let me tell you what, Christopher … this little piece of metal is doing nothing for you tonight.” She whispered, looking at me with that smile.

That smile.

“Nothing?” I asked playfully.

Nuh-thing.” Marie said back, mouthing the word slowly and taking extra care to pronounce the two syllables deeply.

Before I could think of anything to say to that she dropped the Saint Christopher medal back to my chest and then things picked up where they left off.  She leaned down and licked my chest where my Saint Christopher medal was, lifting it from my chest and chest hair with her tongue, taking the medal into her mouth and holding it between her teeth.  I looked down at her and she looked up at me, cutting her eyes in a sultry fashion as she gently tugged on my Saint Christopher medal, pulling on it, pulling me closer.  She flicked the medal from between her teeth to her tongue, sucked my medal into her mouth, ran her tongue over the chain, pulling on me to come closer to her, using my Saint Christopher medal as a leash.  She bit down on my Saint Christopher medal, roughly tugging on it before letting it slide out of her mouth, slide from between pursed lips that seemed to kiss it as they let it go.  The medal landed against my chest, warm and wet with the attention that her mouth had just given to it.

She touched the Saint Christopher medal, ran her finger tip over it and flicked my Saint Christopher medal with her finger again, tracing it then moving her finger up my chest, up my throat, along my cheek to the side of my face where she held me in her hand.  She was about to renew her advances on me when I dropped low, put my arms around her and lifted her up to where she was sitting on the counter top.  She took my head in her hands and we kissed, her leaning down and me reaching up.  This kiss was much longer, deeper, more passionate and it was the kind of kiss that you could not only melt into but that you could completely lose yourself in and that’s just what we did.

I pulled away from her and moved from her lips back down her neck, to her throat, to the bare skin of her chest where the valley of her breasts began.  She had a light dusting of freckles there, the first time that I’d noticed that.  I wondered if she had freckles anywhere else on her body and I decided that I was going to find out.

She gripped my head and sighed deeply, throwing her head back as I reached down and pulled her blouse out of her camp shorts, running my hand up under it and along her back, along her stomach, along her side.  Her skin was hot, damp with sweat.  I smelled her natural scent on her skin and breathed it in … just as intoxicating as her perfume had been, maybe even more so.  I opened the top of her now loose blouse, exposing her chest, the upper curves of her breasts and most of her bra, kissing her there lightly, tracing the curves of her now exposed chest.  She hung her head and cradled my head in her arms, panting and rubbing her face against the top of my head as I nuzzled her breasts.

I lifted her up, sitting her on the counter top, she bounced on her bottom and scooted back with a quick grunt and sigh.  She grabbed my head and pulled me up to her, our lips met, our tongues danced in each other's mouth.

Desperate.

Hungry.

Her clothes and hair really were a mess ...  

I broke our kiss and put my head on down past her waist, pulled her shirt up, nibbled her bare flesh just below her ribs and she squealed, swatting at me as I nibbled her on her soft skin.  Goosebumps flashed across her skin.  She squealed and arched her back, pushing down on me and I pushed her back into the cabinets, rolled her backwards over my shoulder and lifted her up over my shoulder by her bottom.  She gave a half-startled cry as she fell over my shoulder and hung there, her arms waving wildly as she tried to steady herself, to balance herself.  I stood, slowly, with her slung halfway over my shoulder, carrying her caveman style as I turned and walked out of the kitchen. 

I had to have this woman. 

Every Neanderthal instinct in me was telling me that I had to have this woman.

It was my turn now.  

I was going to have this woman and from the sounds that she was making I think she knew it as well.

Knew it.

Accepted it.

Wanted it.

I headed across the living room to what I hoped was the master bedroom or at least the bedroom that she had gone into and closed the door behind her earlier.  Marie bounced on my shoulder, I held her securely there, left arm across the back of her legs holding her tight to me and my right hand on her bottom … firmly on her bottom, fingers spread, gripping.  Her legs came up bent at the knees, her ankles and feet pointing the way ahead as she balanced herself with her arms holding my waist from behind.  She giggled then laughed, her long hair spilling down as I carried her bouncing on my shoulder across the living room to the bedroom.

I found the bedroom; there was already a pair of lights on beside the bed and a couple of candles lit on the dresser.  

Candles.  

This had been planned.  

I’d been expected.  

What we were about to do had already been approved … by her. 

This was happening and the more I thought about it the more I realized that I really didn't have any say in the matter.

I leaned down and gently rolled her forward over and off my shoulder to where she hit the bed, bounced once and lay there, knees bent, legs spread, supported on her arms, looking at me like she had no idea what to make of me or what to make of the situation that she now found herself in.

“Ever been carried off to bed like that before?” I asked her.

She shook her head slowly from side to side, half smiling, then biting her lower lip in anticipation.  I slowly got onto the bed, moving on top of her, supporting myself above her on my arms, looking down on her as she looked up at me.  She ran her hands up and down my arms, across my bare chest, her fingers through my chest hair and she took hold of my Saint Christopher medal as it dangled there in the air between us, pulling on it gently, tugging, drawing me slowly down on top of her, towards her waiting lips. 


"Feeding on ... Your hungry eyes
I bet you're not so civilized
Well, isn't love ... Primitive
A wild gift ... That you wanna give"

-Scandal - "The Warrior"


          Saturday, March 22, 1986

Chateau Grand Apartments
Hattiesburg


I woke slowly.

TKO’s haunting “I can do without you” slowly turned into ZZ Top’s “Gimme all your lovin’” … a weird mixture of the two songs that  I realized I was just imagining in my head, part of a dream that was fading quicker than I could remember it.

… and then it was gone and along with it the haunting melodies echoing to silence. 


Silence.

Strange.

I licked dry lips and felt the deep fingers of sleep withdraw from my mind like old rotting roots being pulled up out of the ground.  My body ached … arms, legs … neck, back … 

I was sore all over.

And then I realized that I wasn’t where I thought I was.

I wasn't where I was supposed to be.

Hell!

I wasn’t where I normally should be.  The bed I was on wasn’t mine.  I was naked.  That much I was pretty sure of ...  I reached out, silently, with every sense that I had, all the while without moving at all.  The beginning sense of panic was fought back down and replaced with a deep sense of curiosity.  I was trying to remember ...

I wasn't where I was supposed to be so ...

Where was I?

The sensation of soft cloth against my body.

Slow, cool air moving over my skin.

There was silence with small, unknown sounds.  The whisper of the air conditioning through the vents in the ceiling, the slow hum of the ceiling fan as it rotated on its lowest setting … whuh … whuh … whuh.  The soft clinking rattle of the brass chain against the porcelain lighting fixture as the overhead fan vibrated on its mount.

And there, next to me … she stirred softly.

She.

Her.

I could feel her in bed with me.

Realization snapped me alert.

Her!

Marie.

The woman I’d met at the water park.  The woman that I had flirted with and who I had asked to come see me at work and who, last night, had done just that.  And here I was, in her bed, naked, next to her, spent.

I felt strange but in a good way.

My mind raced as I tried to put pieces to questions and answers to puzzles.  My mind still wasn’t all the way awake.  There was that slight fear that comes with having done something spontaneous without a lot of forethought.  Parts of me hurt, the tops of my thighs felt like they were carpet burned where she had ridden me, my wrists hurt where she had put all of her weight against them supporting herself, my groin hurt like I’d been tackled there repeatedly and that part of my mouth that anchored my tongue down felt like it had been stretched and yanked on by someone who had a favorite pair of needle nose pliers and who had never read let alone ever intended to live by the basic humanitarian codes set aside in wartime by the Geneva Convention.

It took me a few seconds to remember why all of that hurt, to climb up out of the deep sleep that I had been in and to remember where I was, who I was with and just what we had done.  The memories came rushing back then and all I could think of was … God … whatever price I would pay one day for what we had done, right then it felt like a bargain in the making.

The things that we had done ...

We had made love … 

No, we hadn’t made love.

We hadn’t made love because there was no love to be made.

No, Marie and I had fucked and we had fucked like animals, like two desperate, rabid, sex starved animals which I guess is what we had been.  All civilization cast aside ... Neanderthals ... heathens ... there had been nothing but the two of us.  There was passion and emotion, neither hampered with promises or commitment, boundaries or limits.  There was sex without love … just pure, physical desire, wanton and bestial.  Something with Marie and me had clicked, deep down, something primitive, something primal, something ancient and instinctual from the moment that we had first met nearly a week ago and now here I was, in her bed, spent, naked and recovering from the kind of sex that leaves both marks and the kinds of memories you one day look back upon and smile.  Of that I had no doubt.

I looked over at her laying there next to me.

After I'd carried her back to her bedroom ... to her bed ... time had ceased to exist.  I took my time with her and gave her everything that I had.  She was new to me and I explored her, every inch of her body.  Time had become meaningless ... minutes stretched into hours, hours into days ... all while I was with her.  What we had done to each other, with each other, wasn’t love.  There had been no love.  What we had shared had been desire and desperation and need and want and exploration and pure physical pleasure bridled by the most primitive of natural urges; loneliness.  I had gone after Marie like there was something desperately missing in my life, like there was a void that only she could fill, that only being with her in the most simplest, most natural way that two human beings could ever be with each other could fill.  There had been no poetry, only graffiti.  No elective cosmetic surgery, just a viscous, drawn out knife fight.  It had been beautiful and ugly, good and bad.  We had thrown ourselves at each other with such utter abandon that what we had done together could never have been mistaken for an orchestrated ballet; no … what we had shared had been more like a wrestling match held in the middle of a demolition derby while a thrash metal band played in the background.

The sounds she had made ... cries, moans, screams, grunts, groans ... words whispered, profanity muttered, desires expressed and requests asked for, begged for, through clenched teeth and pursed lips.  Marie wasn't afraid to ask for what she wanted.

After that we had fallen asleep … her first then me, together, holding each other, there in bed with the lamp on the end table still on.  We didn't say anything because there was no need to.  Simple touches sufficed.  I had slowly rubbed her bare skin, softly, petting her, up and down her naked body, slowly, until she had fallen asleep there in my arms and then I'd fallen asleep there, next to her, holding her.

Bare skin to bare skin.

Her warmth against mine.

I looked over at the clock on the bed stand … 3:38 AM in red, digital numerals.

I’d slept about an hour and a half and awoken almost as suddenly as I had slipped off into sleep.

I lay there, lost in thought, in a bed that I’d never been in before tonight, naked, sore and tired; lying next to a woman I’d never been with before tonight.  I could feel the warmth from her body, her skin against mine.  I could smell her long hair, her skin.  I could feel the rise and fall of her chest and somehow I knew that she was happy.

Content.

Safe.

Secure.

Right here.

Right now.

Marie was happy.  I didn't need her to tell me that ... I could tell that by her posture, by her body language, the sound of her breathing and the slight curve of a smile on her lips.  Marie was sleeping; her breath was slow and deep.  I was sixteen years old and this was the first time that I’d ever spent the night with a woman.  I guessed that it was some kind of achievement to note in the diary of my life … God!  I was sure that there would be other times like this later on and throughout my life but this … this was the first time for that situation and that made tonight, right now, special, at least for me it did and I lay there thinking about that fact for a while … wide awake, eyes open and mind lost deep in thought as the woman that I had shared my body with lay asleep next to me.

I took her nakedness in, marveling at her body, her curves, finding each freckle on her body, each tiny mole, and trying to force myself to remember this just the way it was.

Last night, being with Marie had been the twelfth time that I had had sex in the past four months but only the second woman that I had ever gone to bed with.  I lay there thinking about that as Marie stirred beside me and snuggled closer, interrupting her breathing slightly before getting comfortable and going back to a more restful pattern.  I didn't move at all and almost immediately her breath went back to slow and deep.  I doubt that she had really woken at all or even knew that she was doing it … she was just naturally seeking out that which made her happy or made her feel secure.  I turned my head to look at her … She was a really attractive woman by any standard that you would use to measure physical beauty.

I lay there for what seemed a long time, gently stroking Marie’s face with the soft touch of my fingertips, stroking the curve of her ear, the soft skin of her neck, touching her long hair and slowly running my fingers through it.  Every now and then she would make a soft noise, a good noise and then her breathing would go back to steady.  I lay there, looking at her, thinking about how I had managed to wind up here with her, in her bed, next to her.  Looking at her naked body I felt an urge, a desire, and a need for her … a real need, a primal need, begin to awaken itself deep down inside me.

My passion for her awoke.

I wanted her.

Again.

I slowly pulled away from her then gently rolled her over on her back, spread her legs and eased down between her legs.  I ran my arms up under the back of her thighs, feeling the smooth skin of her inner thighs against my cheek, slowly moving on up, kissing her as I went, before finally resting my head on her belly and kissing her there … softly, kissing her around her navel, sticking the tip of my tongue into her navel, flicking the edge, above and below.  The smell of her skin, the warmth of her skin against the tip of my tongue.  She didn’t open her eyes but I could tell she was awake now, enjoying the moment, surprised to be woken up in this manner.  Her head went back and her lips opened as her breathing began to quicken and shorten.  Her hands came up, her fingers spread across the side of my head, through my hair, pushing me gently back downward.  

Slowly.

Downward.

I let her guide me, kissing, teasing, flicking my tongue across her warm, bare skin, kissing her softly as I moved under her guidance.  She looked down at me, looked down at the attention that I was giving to her, her stomach slowly rising and falling, her back arching, her fingers running through my hair, digging in, pulling and guiding me where she wanted me to pay her attention.  

Downward.

Slowly.

I took my time, exploring her, working her up to the point of release, each short quiver and moan from her a prelude of the inevitable, ever building cascade.  Her whispered requests guided me and soon her body was shaking again, her breath coming in quick gasps.  I took her to her edge then pushed her straight over.  She moaned loudly, a moan that became a sharp cry as I let her have her release.  I stilled myself completely as she trembled under me, as her fingers pulled at my hair, as she held me in a vise-like grip with her closed thighs and as she rode her release in waves there under me.  Each wave a moan or a grunt and a short, sharp tremble of her body.  It was like last night at the kitchen counter only this time I could feel her release much closer ... I could almost share it with her.  Her fingers flexed against my head, in my hair, with each wave that she rode, pulling, tugging, petting.  

The sounds she made.  

My name whispered.  

When she was spent and had relaxed I slowly moved up and away from her, leaning over her, supporting myself on my arms, my Saint Christopher medal dangling like a pendulum.  She opened her eyes and her look was a half questioning one.

"I want you." I said.

Before she could say anything I pushed myself up, sat up on my knees and gently urged her to roll over on her stomach.  She willingly complied as I grabbed her by the hips and pulled her up on her hands and knees then took her from behind, sharing my still unspent desire for her.  I reached forward and grabbed a handful of her hair, pulling her back to me, pulling her head back and she bucked hard back into me, slamming into me and I met her charge with my own.  

The sound of skin on skin.  

Her grunting and moaning.  

She tossed her hair and pulled her head away, I let her hair slip through my fingers as she hung her head straight down and repeatedly slammed herself back into me, matching my thrust with her counterthrust.  She was a piston, loading and unloading herself against me.  Methodical.  Machine-like.  Reciprocating with the only end result being to burn up against me.  I held her hips loosely as I let her have her way for a while, maintaining my balance as I relaxed and let her take charge.  When she slowed her pace I grabbed her hips with both hands and began to take over where she had left off.  She accomodated my desire by putting her bottom up as high as she could while she put her head down on the bed, turning her head sideways to the left and bracing herself with her arms held to each side to support herself.   

I tried that position but it didn't seem to really work ... for either of us ... 

The angle was wrong.

"Hold on ..." she said.  "Here.  Let me do this ..."

Marie grabbed a pillow, put it under her hips and groin, then went down flat laying across it with her bottom slightly elevated and that position worked great.  I didn't say anything, I just took her; took her like I wanted her.  This time was longer than the time before and I started slowly, taking my time, two becoming one again ... hot skin on hot skin.  I tried to clear my mind as I started to drive into her however her constantly softly urging me to take what I wanted, to take what I needed, in the way that she said, in what she said and how she said it, in how she moved under me ... all of that only caused me to quicken my drive against her but strangely it didn’t bring my own release any closer.  For some reason my release moved farther and farther away, making me work harder and harder for what I wanted and I chased my desire with everything that I had.

The sounds she made.

I pinned Marie under me, her breath mixed with hard grunts, muffled screams into the bunched up sheet in front of her and even sharp cries mixed with the occasionaly seemingly agonized blasphemy as I lost myself fully in her.  Her fists were clenched tight, gripping bunches of the sheet up in her hands, her head was turned to the side, her eyes closed tight, her mouth open wide and the sounds she was making only drove me to work her harder and faster there under me.  Seeing her half pained, half pleasured facial expressions that changed with each stroke.  I had never had to work for what I wanted this hard but what I wanted kept eluding me.  

It was like I had forgotten how to find my own release.

It was like everything was numbed to the point of being utiltarian.

This was starting to feel like a ... chore.

It was making me frustrated.  

I was right on the edge, always on the edge but never enough to drive on over into completion no matter how fast or how hard that I drove myself into her.   I was relentless but I was one straw short of breaking the camel's back.

Just one straw ...

Always one straw.

"Damn it." I muttered, stopping and resting.

Two still one.

I was supported on my outstretched arms, catching my breath as sweat ran down my back and forehead.  Marie turned her head and said something but I didn't understand her.  I changed my posture slightly, put my legs over the back of her legs, my ankles across her ankles, using my legs to force her to spread her legs wider there under me.  I took her arms, grabbed her wrists at her side, pulled her arms out to where I could support myself on my outstretched arms and lifted myself up as I pushed her down, hard, into the bed.   She gave out a long gutteral moan as I put all of my weight on her ankles and her wrists, setting her up the way I wanted her positioned, the way I needed her positioned and then I went at what we were sharing for everything that I had left in me ... I treated her like she was surplus property and I owned her.

Marie cried out, her palms open, turned up at the wrists, her fingers splayed wide apart and her legs started trying to come up under me at her knees, to lift up, but I wouldn't let her.

I was relentless.

I didn't stop.

I couldn't.

I had it now.

I could feel it.

I was close.

So close.

This was going to work this time.

I was chasing my release and it was close.

The sounds she made.

The sounds we made.

Skin on skin.

Two as one.

I had her pinned at ankles and wrists with all of my weight and I was just driving myself against her with a strength and force that was intended to leave no stone of her temple left standing.  There were sounds, deep animal-like sounds, all around me ... my world was filled with noise and chaos and physical exertion.  I was sweating.  Droplets of sweat from my brow fell on her shoulder, on her back as I drove into her time after time after time and that's when I realized that some of the noises, the deeper more animal-like noises, were coming from me and not her. 

That was another first for me ... 

Before now, before Marie, I'd never lost myself in someone like I was losing myself in Marie, not even earlier this morning when I'd first taken her in this very bed, when we had first shared our bodies.  That time had been cautious, somewhat guarded ... a time of exploration restrained only by immediate desire.  My eyes were closed but I could see everything.  My breath came through my open mouth ... fast and shallow as I drove myself into her, looking for my own building release.  The air down my throat was hot, my lungs were burning, my head was beating with my pulse in my temples and my skull felt like it was going to explode and the only thing I saw was the color red.

Her face was again buried in the sheets, the muffled sounds she made grew more desperate with each thrust but that only made me work harder for my own release, the sounds she made only drove me to throw myself into her harder and faster.  I looked over my shoulder ... her feet were hanging just off the bed, cocked all the way back at her ankles, her toes curled towards the bed, her fingers spread out as wide as they would go, all the while with her pinned there under me.   I shifted my weight on her wrists, hard, jerked her arms into a better position for me and found new leverage.

I was lost in a blinding white glare of total abandoned sensuality.

So close.

I drove once ... 

Hard.

Twice more ...

For all I had ...

As hard as I could.

Everything happened then at once.  

Teetering on the edge ... slipping over ...

There!

I let myself go, surrendering myself wholly to what I had worked so hard for.

I finally found my release.

I made a sound then ... it was primal and drawn out as my whole body shuddered.

God!

I felt like the head of a match striking and coming to life.

Supernova.

Marie!

I may have screamed her name in my head.

I may have screamed her name out loud.

It sounded the same either way.

Her fingers dug into the sheets and she bunched them up in her closed fists.  Her head came up, her teeth clenched, one long moaning grunt from her as she was biting the sheet, pulling it up with her teeth in front of her, her eyes shut tight.  

Nothing else mattered right then ... 

I didn't even realize that I hadn't stopped driving into her with everything that I had.  

My body was on automatic ... my mind lost to the blaze.  

Brilliant white glare; I rode the expanding shock waves of a dying star.

I think Marie cried out something half blasphemous as the sheet fell from her mouth … it wasn’t French but it did start with an “F” and it was just four letters long though she did manage to pronounce it in three syllables, followed instantly by her taking the Lord's name in vain … said in what sounded like a half-cry of pained anguish and half cry of pleasured exhultation.  I felt her shudder under me then she went slack at the same time.  I really couldn’t be sure because right then I was lost in myself and not paying her or her whimpering or her sobbing or her crying any more attention.

Damn!

That time had been so good that it actually hurt!  

Suddenly I felt weak and fell on top of her, full dead weight, and she moaned loudly again, reaching back with her hands and arms to grab me, to pull me into her, to pull me closer, to run her hands over whatever skin of mine she could touch, just slowly running her hands over my skin, up and down.  I just lay there, on top of her, both of us collapsed upon each other, her under me and the two of us still joined as one.   I caught my breath as my body slowed, as the pounding in my head lessened …   

Compared to Marie, having sex with Pam had been like fucking a still warm corpse.

My skin to her skin, me looking down, and marveling at this woman under me, this woman who had shared … who was sharing … her body, her nakedness, her raw sexuality with me.  I moved her hair out of her face and kissed her on her temple, on her cheek and nuzzled her.  There was just the two of us, me on top of her, there in her bed, the sheets all messed up and her whispering words that were either too soft for me to hear or I was still too out of it to even recognize for what they were or what they might mean to what we had shared or what we were sharing. 

There are moments in a man’s life that he will never forget and right then I thought to myself that surely this had to be one of those moments ... at least it was for me.  I would never forget this moment, with her, not ever.

I thought about saying something but nothing seemed like it was good enough to say so I didn't.  I just lay there, on top of her, kissing the bare skin of her left shoulder and rubbing my right cheek against her hair.  Marie’s eyes were closed, her mouth open slightly and her breathing slowly returning to normal.  Every now and then she would tremble under me, a sort of hard jerk sometimes followed by a little jerk after.  Her fists clutched in the sheet again as she lay there under me, her head to the left, her eyes shut softly and her mouth open with lips pursed.  Every now and then she would whisper "guh" softly and nothing else.

I lay there, on top of her, just melting into her, feeling the warmth of her body to mine, feeling one finally become two again and still I held her.  After a few minutes Marie slowly opened her eyes and looked up at me, looked over her left shoulder at me, a lock of her hair fallen across her face.  Her look ... she just looked at me ... like she had never seen anything like me before. 

Maybe she hadn't.

I'd sure as hell never seen anything like Marie before and that was the damn truth!

She turned to stare straight ahead, wiggled her bottom, once, twice.  I let go of her and tried to rise up but she moved under me, rolled me off of her onto my back, then took the pillow out from where she had been lying across it.  I scooted over on the bed and she moved to lay on top of me with her head nuzzled in the right side crook of my neck.  My arms went around her, my hands moved up and down the bare skin of her back, her bottom ... up and down, slowly, just caressing her.  She reached out with her left hand, found my left hand, bent it up to beside me then took my left hand in her left hand, laced our fingers and then got comfortable halfway atop me.  I kept rubbing her, caressing her with my right hand.

She said nothing.

Nothing could be said.

Nothing needed to be said.

I could feel the rise and fall of her chest against mine, feel her breasts, her bare skin, against the bare skin of my chest.  I reached up, ran my hand up and down her back, down her bottom, cupped her, squeezed her lightly, then just started running my hand up and down her bare back, up and down her bottom, finally resting my hand on her bottom.  A light kiss to my neck, another to my cheek and a nuzzle of her head against me.  Her hair draped against my shoulder and neck.  I felt her hot breath against my skin.  

Her left hand and fingers squeezed my left hand, once, twice, held and then released.

I got up, went to the bathroom, found a washrag, ran some hot water through it then used it to wipe down.  Marie came in after I finished and I washed the washcloth off, got it warm again, and handed it to her for her to wipe down.  I leaned up against the wall, watching her.  She finished, put the washcloth back in the tub then came and stood in front of me.  Her arms came up, went around my shoulders, pulled me to her.  We kissed, a soft, slow kiss, then she took me by the hand and led me back to bed.

We lay there, side by side, and she snuggled up next to me, wiggling her bottom, wanting to be spooned.  

I wrapped my arms around her, my right arm under her neck and back across her chest.  She tucked my arm around her and put her head against my arm.  I put my left arm over her left hip and across her stomach, my little finger at the border of her groin where her thick, dark brown pubic hair started.  I moved my little finger slightly, ruffling her pubic curls gently, coarse and soft at the same time, tracing the line where her bikini panties had been hours earlier, moving in and out of the border of her groin, moving slowly, lightly from pubic curls to bare skin and back again ... just tracing, just lightly touching, lightly tracing, slowly back and forth, her panty / bikini line.  She moaned contentedly as I conformed my body to hers and she pulled the sheet and blanket up around us, getting comfortable then adjusting her posture against me.  She was beside me under the sheet, cuddled up, with me spooning her from behind … my left arm wrapped around her and her hand resting on mine, her fingers laced with mine.  

Freckles dusted her shoulders, her upper back, the side of her arms …  I kissed her softly on her arm, on her shoulder, and on her neck where the fall of her hair exposed bare skin.  

Just lightly kissed her over and over again, the feel of my lips against her warm skin.

"I guess last time wasn't enough?" she asked in a whisper, slightly amused.

I stopped kissing her shoulder.

"Huh?"

"That's twice tonight.  Are you going to let me get any sleep before tomorrow morning?" she asked, smiling.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Depends on if I wake up horny again or not." I said.

Marie laughed.

"God! I don't know if I can take you waking up horny again!" she said, smiling.

"That's the chance you take when you close your eyes next to me." I said, thinking that sounded pretty damn good for something I just threw out there on the spot.

Marie laughed again, softly.

"I have to warn you ... I'm a light sleeper." I told her.

"Maybe I'll just smother you in your sleep ... use a pillow to make sure you never wake me up again." she said playfully, grabbing a pillow and turning around to try to put it over my face and head..

I took the pillow away from her and shoved it under my own head.  She got another pillow, put it under her head, and snuggled back down next to me, letting me spoon her from behind again.  My fingertips traced her skin, lightly, softly, played with her hair.  A minute passed.  Her breathing was soft.  Another minute.  Every now and then a contented little mumble or groan as I traced my fingertips over her skin, across her shoulders, the top of her arm, the side and back of her neck, her ear ... behind her ear, down the side of her throat, across her chest, tracing her neck line, tracing the area where a necklace would fall if she were wearing one.

"That's ... feels nice." she whispered.

"It's supposed to." I said.

"Why do you do that?"

"What?"

"Just ... touch me like that.  Just rubbing me like that with your fingertips."

I shrugged my shoulders and kept tracing her.

"Do you want me to stop?" I asked.

"No." she whispered.

"You're not used to this ... are you?" I asked.

"No." she whispered but it was a flat whisper.

"I can tell." I said.

She turned then to look at me.

"How can you tell?" she asked, her voice low.

"I can tell because you're soaking this up.  Ever since I first touched you last night you've soaked up every bit of attention I've given you, like you were starving for it."

She thought about that.

"Guess I have at that ..." she whispered.

"Like a flower in the desert." I said.

"Yeah.  Pretty much." She laughed softly.

I didn't comment on that, just kept touching her, rubbing her lightly ...

"Hey." she whispered.

"Yeah?" I asked, not looking at her but rather at her skin, at the freckles, at my fingertip gliding over her skin.

"Look at me ..." she said, turning around to face me, still wrapped in my arms.

I looked right into her whiskey brown eyes.

"Hey." she said again, smiling.

"Hey." I said, eye to eye, then letting myself smile.

She leaned forward then, slowly, shutting her eyes.

Closer.

Closer.

I closed my eyes and leaned in.

Hot breath.

Lips touched.

Slowly parted.

Her tongue slipped past my lips.

My tongue met hers.

We kissed.

Deeply.

Softly.

For a long time.

Then she withdrew, just as slow as she had engaged, and she turned away from me, snuggling down beside me again.  I moved back in close to her, spooning, pulling her to me close.

"I think you got a bit spirited there towards the end, didn't you?" she whispered.

That was an understatement.  Parts of me still hurt in ways that they'd never hurt before and I think the same might go for her as well.

"What can I say?  You go face down, bottom up that really brings out the Tarzan in me." I whispered.

There was a pause as that sank in.

"Go face down ... bottom up ... Tarzan!" she chortled.

Marie threw her head back and laughed out loud, threw her head back so hard that she boned me in the forehead, barely missing my nose.  When I jerked away to grab my forehead in pain she just laughed even harder, curling up there in a ball, facing me, wrapped in the sheets and laughing until tears started coming down her cheeks.  I don't know if it was what I said or what she accidentally did to me but it wasn't long before I started laughing as well.  She rubbed the back of her head and I rubbed my forehead as we laughed.  Marie then set up in bed and looked at me.

"So that was ... whatTarzan sex that we just had?" she asked, catching her breath.

I rubbed my forehead which still throbbed from her unintentional head butt.

"No ... when we do skull knocks like that, that's more like Neanderthal sex ... I don't advise having Neanderthal sex because I don't think you would like it very much."

She smiled.

Whiskey brown eyes.

"Okay ... I have to ask ... what is Neanderthal sex?" she asked, snickering and reaching out to rub my forehead.

"Well, let's put it this way ... foreplay for Neanderthal sex is pretty simple, not much to it at all ..."

Wait for it.

"It's simple, huh?"

Reel her in.

"Yeah.  I hit you over the head with my club and then grab you by the hair and drag you back to my cave to have my way with you."

Marie laughed again then smiled at me, looking at me over the top of her knees which she had just pulled up to her chest.

"And what would you do with me once you got me back to your cave?" she asked, cutting her eyes at me.

"Oh ... I'd probably throw you over a rock, you know, face down, bottom up and just do you Dino style."

"Dino style?" she asked, laughing a little behind her drawn up knees.

"Yeah ... you know ... Dino style ... like Fred Flintstone's pet dinosaur?"

"I'm almost afraid to ask ... what's Dino style?"

Wait for it.

"Well ..." I started.

"Yeah?"

I reached over suddenly, grabbed her, and flipped her around on the bed, pulling her to me.  Before she could even cry out in surprise I was behind her grinding my groin against her bottom making the high pitched "BowWowpWowpWowp!" sounds just like Fred Flintstone's cartoon pet dinosaur, just rooting and rutting against her in a comical fashion.  Marie laughed hard and tried to pull away but I pulled her back against me and just played into the whole role, rolling over on my back and letting her collapse there on top of me, laughing, kicking and squirming.  I let go and just lay there with her on top of me, each of us catching our breath.

"So ... That's ... Dino style?" she asked going limp as my hands came up around her and held her tight to me, my chest to her back, her hair flopped over me, partially over my face.

"Well, I have to slobber a bunch on you, lick you a lot and then bury the bone but ... yeah."

"I think you've already done that ... all of that ... " she laughed, shaking her head. 

"Yeah.  I guess I have." I whispered.

I pulled her back to me and held her, again.  She didn't resist and we held each other like that for a minute ... maybe more ... me lost in her presence there next to me and every now and then her giving a small chuckle and shaking her head slightly.

"You know ... getting dragged back to the bedroom by my hair ... that just might be fun." she whispered.

"Yeah?" I asked.  "You won't say that when your bottom gets a carpet burn on it from getting dragged across the shag ..."

"Dragged across the shag." Marie said as she laughed.

"Tonight's feature presentation on Adult Masterpiece Theater is "Dragged across the Shag" starring Cock Hudson and Ivanna Humpalot." I said in a very professional, elderly sounding voice.

Marie laughed hard.

"You make it sound like some kind of ... stag film." she said, catching her breath.

"Wow!" I said, chuckling.

"What?" she asked.

"Stag film?" I asked.

"Yeah?  What about it?"

"Sorry.  It's just that I haven't heard a porno called a "stag" film in a long time."

"That's what we always called them.  A bunch of boys back in high school used to brag about having one.  They told me about watching it.  Asked me if I wanted to see it." Marie said.

"Did you?" I asked, curious.

"No.  Didn't think it would be a good idea to be the only girl there with eight or ten football players." she said.

"Might have been the script for a new stag film." I said.

"That's what I was afraid of ... "

I stroked her as she lay next to me.

"Have you ever seen a ... "

"Stag film?" I asked, snickering.

"Yeah.  A ... hell, a sex movie." she asked.

I nodded.

"A few times.  Can't say there's much to the script or story.  It's pretty mindless but then I don't guess you watch something like that expecting Shakespeare.  Some of the stuff gets ridiculous ... like the scenarios that they put together.  It's weak, really weak, like some guy is buying a house and ends up having sex on the sofa with the realtor to close the deal." I said.

"Seriously?" she asked.

"Seriously.  Like I said ... no real plot.  Buy a house, have sex with the realtor.  Pool cleaner boy has sex in the pool house with the rich unhappy wife.  Silly stuff like that ... like I guess they somehow need a backstory to explain why two people want to have sex."

"How many of those films have you seen?" she asked, turning her head to look over my shoulder.

"Four or five." I said.

"Okay ... how old were you when you saw your first ... sex film?" she asked.

I thought back.

Memories.

"Saw the first one when I was thirteen."

"Thirteen?"

I nodded.

"Okay ... tell me that story."

"Not much to tell.  It really wasn't all that monumental at the time, either." I shrugged my shoulders next to her.

"Tell me anyway ..."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I want to hear about it."

"Okay ... My friends and I were all together at my friend Matt's house and one of my friends said he had a porn tape.  Matt said we'd watch it after his parents went to sleep for the night and since we had two horror movies we just watched those instead.  I remember that we watched "House by the Cemetary" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" and we watched them back to back.  We waited on his parents to go to sleep then we took the VCR, the TV and a pair of extension cords and we all went outside in the backyard to his dad's wooden storage shed."

"His dad's storage shed?"

"Yeah."

"Wow." she said.

"That place smelled like old pesticide and fertilizer and potting soil and bugs but we sat out there watching the porno, all of us in this big half circle around the TV and VCR in the dark with just the glow of the TV to light up the place.  There was Chris, his brother Pat, Jay, his brother Mark, Kenny and Matt and me.  We had a pair of extension cords run all the way out to the shed and since the shed didn't have any windows and his parents slept like they were dead we thought we were pretty safe from prying eyes."

"But you weren't." she said.

"Nope." I said, laughing.

Marie took a sudden deep breath.

"You didn't get caught by his parents, did you?" she asked.

I shook my head.

"No.  Better.  We got caught by Matt's older brother, Mark."

"You're serious."

"Yeah.  Mark came in from a date and noticed that the TV and the VCR in the living room were missing.  At first he thought the house had gotten robbed but then he looked around, saw the pair of extension cords going across the backyard out to the shed and kind of figured out where the TV and VCR had gone ... he just hadn't figured out why."

"What did he do?" Marie asked as she started giggling.

"Let's put it this way ... he snuck out there and he scared the crap out of everyone in the shed."

"No!" Marie said, laughing.

"Oh, yeah, he did!  We were all sitting there in this old dark shed, watching this porno ... I even forget what it was called, didn't really matter I guess, because we were pretty much making fun of it all the way through and suddenly the shed door just slams wide open and we hear this big deep voice shout "What are you boys doing out here?!""

Marie started laughing hard and I started laughing at the memory.

"Man!  You should have seen it!  When Matt's brother threw that shed door open and shouted at us like that I think nearly everyone in there almost wet their pants." I said, laughing so hard that I almost couldn't catch my breath.

Marie was laughing so hard now her body was wracked next to mine.

"Oh, God!  That's funny!" she choked out in between laughing.

"Yeah.  Almost everyone in the shed jumped straight up, two bailed and started to run across the yard ... I don't know where they thought they were going.  I think the two calmest kids in the shed were Matt and me and for different reasons all together."

"What did Matt do?"

"That's the weird thing.  Matt didn't even blink an eye, it was almost like he knew that was his brother doing the pranking.  I guess they pranked each other so much that Matt just suspected his brother would be the one throwing the door open rather than their dad.  Any way, after that everything was cool.  His older brother never sold us out and we joked about it for a long time after that ...  Still remember that, all these years later ... "

"That's funny." she whispered, giggling again.

"Yeah.  Now it is.  When it happened, not so much but I guess you had to be there."

"What did you do when his brother busted in on all of you like that?"

I smiled.

"Well, I was sitting next to the shed door using it as a back rest and when Mark jerked the door open I literally fell out of the shed backwards.  I didn't have time to be scared or do anything other than be really surprised that suddenly I was falling over backwards.  I went from watching the porno to suddenly leaning on empty air and nothing.  I was flipping backwards, seeing night sky, moon, stars, grass, Mark standing there shouting like he was Matt's dad, seeing two of my friends jump out of the shed and start to run away and then I hit my head on the ground and saw a bunch of new stars and bright lights."

More giggling.

"How old were you?" she asked.

"Thirteen."

"Thirteen!  God you were young!  I was seventeen when the guys asked me if I wanted to see that sex film."

"Gotta start somewhere ... better early than late I guess." I said. 

"I guess." she whispered.  "Still haven't seen one ... uh ... sex film."

"Don't worry.  You haven't missed anything."

She murmured something I couldn't understand and I ran my hands through her hair, slowly.  She closed her eyes and I stroked her cheek, her neck, and her shoulder.

"Still ... dragging you by the hair from one end of the apartment to the other ... I don't know ... you might actually like it." I whispered.

"You never know ..." she whispered back.

"Well, I do know that you seem to like it when I pull your hair ..." I said.

Marie smiled, took a bit of her long hair and twirled it nonchalantly.

"Can't help it.  Doing something like that kind of lets me know I'm yours.."

Huh?

Marie turned in my arms to face me.

"Let's just say that pulling my hair does for me what ... I think ... me being face down, bottom up does for you." she whispered.

"Brings out the Tarzan in you?" I asked.

"I wouldn't say that ... but pulling my hair brings out the ... wild woman in me." she whispered, moving closer and kissing me on my forehead then moving down and kissing me on the lips.

"You're serious?" I asked, not believing her.

"Rowrrrrr." she half growled, half purred in her throat.

"It does?" I asked, feeling myself stir once more at the sound of her growl.

"Mmmmhmmm." she said, again, moving in closer.

"And do you know what?" she whispered, her lips right next to mine.

I felt her hot breath on my lips.

"What?" I whispered.

"That part where you got on top of me and you put your legs over mine and grabbed me by the wrists and just took control ... "

"Yeah ..."

"Yeah, that really and I mean really put me over the top there towards the end."

Really put her over the top?

Wow!

"Really?" I asked.

"Seeing stars really." she whispered, nuzzling me.

Damn.

I didn't have much time to think about what she had just said because her lips were on mine.

Her tongue to mine.

Her lips to mine.

We kissed like that ... just lightly, just lips touching, tongues touching, lips touching.  Hot breath, wet lips.  Our kissing went on for what seemed forever then she suddenly withdrew.  I hadn't opened my eyes the entire time we'd been doing that but now I was looking at a really mischevious look on her face.  She bit her lower lip.

"And ... Going to sleep now.  Nighty-night." she whispered, in a little girl's voice, almost teasingly.

Before I could say anything she turned, suddenly, readjusted the sheets and covers to cover her, rolling and yanking all of the cover off of me and wrapping it around her.

"Hey!"

She didn't answer, just made a fake snoring sound.

"Hey!"

I poked her in her bottom with my finger and she flinched.

"What?" she asked, not even looking at me this time.

"You've got to give me some cover."

"Nuh uh.  Get your own.  I'm going back to sleep."

I looked around the room ... nothing.

"There is no more cover." I said.

"Tough.  Now leave me alone.  I'm going to sleep." she said.

"Not with all the covers on you, you're not."

"Just watch me, buster." she growled.

I frowned then poked her in her bottom with my finger again.

Again.

Harder.

She huffed.

"What?" she asked, playing like she was irritated.

"Am I going to get any of that?" I asked, poking her in the bottom again while looking at how she was covered up.

"I'd say you already got some of that." Marie chided, smiling and slowly turning to look at me over her shoulder.

"Come on ... Give me some of the cover.  I'll get cold." I said.

"If I give you some of the cover then I'll be cold." she whined, playing with me.

"There's plenty for both of us ... at least there was before you rolled up like a burrito there so share and I'll spoon you and keep you warm."

Marie looked at me ... mischevious.  

Still a bit playful.

Still wanting to play.

"What if I don't want to share?" she asked.  "What if I'm comfortable ... Just.  The.  Way.  I.  Am?"

Each of her last words a separate sentence in and of itself.

I sighed and looked at her.  She could tell that I was getting a little frustrated but she still wanted to play.  That much was evident.  Well, I had a little play left in me as well.

"If you won't give me any cover then I guess I'll just have to make you."

"And how do you think you're going to do that?" she asked.

Suddenly I reached forward and grabbed her in her sides, tickling her ribs through the covers and she jerked her body plank straight, let out a howl, squealing and squirming around as I tickled her.  She tried to get away but I was on her, holding her, tickling her.  Oh, she was ticklish!  I had to remember that!  She kicked and pawed at me like a playful kitten but she had wrapped herself up in the sheet and cover being playful and now that was working against her by trapping her.  I flipped her over on her stomach, wrapped up like she was it was easy as flipping a rolled up rug.  She was still rolled up partially in the blanket and sheet so that in and of itself was restricting her movements but below her knees was now exposed.  

Bare legs below the knees.

The bare bottoms of her feet.

I sat on her legs, just above her knees, stradling and pinning her.  I reached down and grabbed one of her exposed legs, bending it back and I began to tickle her exposed foot.

"Oh God!  No you don't!  Don't you dare!  If you do I swear I'll ..." she pleaded.

I did ... and that's when she went absolutely nuts; thrashing around, laughing, crying, threatening, pleading, begging ... trying to reach back for me but I'd played this game before.  I had her laughing so hard that she could barely catch her breath.  I had all of my weight over a part of her legs where she couldn't do anything but flop at the torso and squirm at the waist.  I was limiting her ability to turn around and in doing so I was also staying out of her arms' reach.  I had her right where I wanted her and I tickled her feet as she thrashed.  I tickled her until she was begging me to stop, tears in her eyes, her breath coming in gasps, and her threatening me that if I kept that up that she was going to wet herself or she was going to wet the bed.   I let her up and while she was recovering, sitting there, her legs pulled in tight to her chest, looking like a kitten that hadn't decided if it was through playing, I took the cover she had taken all for herself and I did my best to spread it across the bed or at least across us.  I patted the bed beside me and she slowly, cautiously moved in to curl up next to me.  I tucked us in, her next to me, me spooning her.

"I thought you had to pee ..." I said.

"I would have ... if you hadn't stopped tickling me."

"You know, if you had wet the bed then I'd have made you sleep in the wet spot." I said.

"Meanie." Marie said as she kicked me, playfully, by slamming her foot back against my shin.

The swipe of a kitten's paw.

Quiet.

Me holding her ... just holding her.  Touching her softly, tracing her body with my fingertip, lightly, just barely touching her.

"You really don't play fair, you know that, don't you?" she chided in a whisper that faded out to nothing.

"Would you have it any other way?" I asked her, curious as to what her answer might be.

Marie took a few seconds to think about that.

"No." she whispered, closing her eyes.

Didn't think so.

I bit her lightly on her shoulder and she moaned, touched her hand to my head, pulling me to her as I kissed her shoulder, her neck and nuzzled her head.  I put my arms around her and snuggled her in close.  Within minutes she was asleep again, breathing softly there as I held her.  I held her, thinking about her, thinking about us, thinking about what we had done ... and if, after this time together there'd ever be another time like this.  

I was lost in deep, maybe even selfish thoughts of Marie when hard earned, hard won sleep found me as well.



My alarm went off at five and I woke to that unfamiliar bedroom once more.  For a second I had that fear again of not knowing where I was or how I had gotten there because nothing was familiar but then everything came rushing back.  I guess I’d fallen asleep thinking about Marie and the events leading up to the here and now.  The lamp was still on and I was still in bed with Marie.

Marie.

My first speeding ticket and a roller coaster week had brought me to this exact moment in time.  I thought back to those events again, quickly replaying them in my mind but not dwelling on any one in particular for any long amount of time.  I turned my head there on the pillow and looked at the naked Marie asleep next to me, cuddled up beside me, her right leg over mine, her right arm and hand on my chest and her head in the crook of my shoulder.  She was wearing my black T-shirt now and nothing else.  When she had gotten up out of bed to go get my T-shirt out of the kitchen I had no idea but there she was, wearing my black T-shirt.  I admired the curves of her body, how her bottom arched and how I got just the peek of her dark brown bushy pubic curls there exposed next to my thigh.  I ran my fingers through her long brunette hair … my fingers moving slowly through her long hair.  

Hair like dry water, falling, flowing through my fingers.

The smell of her hair.

The smell of her skin.

The smell of her there next to me.

Realizing I had only about an hour before I needed to be home, it was with some amount of sadness that I woke her gently with soft touches, soft words and soft kisses because it was time to go and I needed my shirt back because nothing causes your parents to really interrogate you like being out all night long and showing up the next morning bare chested.

Once she had gotten comfortable with being awake she climbed out of bed, stood and stretched.  I marveled at her stretching, her arms high, hands clasped as my T-shirt rode up on her arched back fully exposing her bottom … her sexy bottom.  My eyes fell to that space between her thighs where I could catch a glimpse of the dark pubic curls of her nature, the puffy "w" shape of her womanhood and I felt an urge for her, a want for her, a need for her, again start building way down low inside me.  I wanted to lose myself in her, again.

I watched her stretch in front of me … 

Marie finished stretching and she turned to face me, the bottom of my T-shirt riding an inch above the dark brown pubic curls that formed the upside down triangle of her groin.  That instant in time, that image of her like that, was seared into my memory.  She started to take my T-shirt off, slowly.  I watched the shirt rise past her navel, clear her belly, rise over her full breasts and then slide over her neck and head.  Her long hair popped out of the shirt as she pulled it over her head.  She handed the shirt back to me and I took it from her but I didn’t put it on, I just kept staring at her naked body, taking her in, letting my eyes slowly wander across her curves, her features, across everything that made her all so decidedly a woman ... so decidedly a very desirable woman.

“What?” she asked in a half whisper, smiling, crossing her arms and covering her breasts in doing so, almost hugging herself.

“You.” I said.

“Me?”

“You.”

“What about me?” she asked, half cautiously, half curiously.

“Everything.” I said, no hesitation on my part.

Marie blushed.

“Everything about you … you’re …” I said and tried to find a word that didn’t sound dumb or inadequate.

“What?” she asked, smiling.

“Beautiful.” I said.  “You’re so ... beautiful.”

Marie leaned close to me, slowly closing the distance between us, and kissed me gently on top of the head.

“What time is it?” she whispered.

I looked over at the clock on the end-table.

“A quarter after five.  I’ve got to get going.”

“Got things to do today?” she asked.

“Yeah.” I said, realizing that I had absolutely nothing to do at all today.

I told her that I was going to get a quick shower and that I had to leave after that.  Marie walked up and stood in front of me.

“Don’t forget …  I need you to take me back to the store to pick up my car.  We left it there last night, remember?” She said softly, nuzzling her head against my chest.

Oh, yeah.

Right.

Damn.

I’d forgotten all about that little detail of our adventure.  Logistics could be a real bitch sometimes, especially if you were trying to get somewhere on time and someone else was involved.


I stepped into the shower and started to let the hot water run over me, closing my eyes and relaxing, feeling the hot water play over the sore muscles in my neck and back.  I don't know how long I stood there, hot water running over my body but the next thing I knew as that the shower curtain was roughly pulled aside and Marie stepped in as well, naked, pulling the shower curtain back closed behind her.  She had a mischievous look on her face as she moved up next to me, her now wet body conforming to mine as her hands roamed and her mouth and tongue found mine.  The hot water ran between us, over our bodies as we stood there kissing deeply, our arms and legs wrapped around each other, slithering against each other, our skin slick as hot water cascaded over our bodies.  Our lips met, our tongues wrapped around each other.  I felt my need for her awaken again and she felt it too, sliding both of her hands down to my groin, taking me in her hands.

I started to say something but Marie gently pulled away then slowly dropped to her knees in front of me.  I felt her cheek on me, rubbing me across her cheek and lips, then I felt her lips on me, her mouth, her tongue, her hands and I let her worship me.  She let me be selfish this time.  She built me up to completion and this time it was a straight forward rush that left me weak.   My grip on the shower curtain rod and the shower head threatened to pull one down on top of us and jerk the other right out of the wall but they held even as I let go.   Marie never withdrew from me, her hands moved around to my bottom and fingers spread, pulling me into her, taking everything that I had without complaint.

That had been ... unreal.

When I finally opened my eyes I stared down at her.  Marie, her hair slick with water, beads of water across her body, opened her eyes slowly, withdrew from her attention to me and looked up at me.  She slowly stood in front of me, pulling me to her and wrapping her body around me again.  There in the shower, her worshipping me like that … I counted that as a first as well.  It wasn't the first time that I'd showered with a girl but it was the first time that a girl ... no, a woman ... had done that to me, all the way to completion, especially in the shower.

And it had been given to me with nothing expected in return.

Given because she wanted to give it. 

I put that in my Book of Firsts as well.

My hands ran down her wet back, up again, found her bottom, pulled her into me, cupped her and held her.  There was something so sensual about touching her wet skin, her slick bare skin as the hot water cascaded over us.  She crushed her lips against mine and her tongue slid into my mouth and mine into hers and we kissed, deep, for what seemed an eternity.  Tongues dancing around each other and hands sliding over skin soaked slick in the hot water spray of the shower.  When she withdrew she put her forehead to mine, the tip of her nose to mine and we stood like that for what seemed like an eternity.

God …

I didn’t know what to say because anything that I thought I might say just sounded really, really dumb so instead I just pulled her to me, pulled her water slicked hair in my clenched fingers and she moaned, opening her mouth a little as I pulled her head up to be level with my own.  I moved in, my lips wrapped around her lips and my tongue found hers.  I pushed her back, hard, into the tiled wall of the shower.  We kissed, long, hard, deep, there in the shower with the water running over our bodies.  I let my kiss show her what I thought of her wants and her desires and how much I appreciated what she was willing, what she wanted, to do for me.  I pulled her hair, hard, to twist her head like I wanted, to expose her neck and shoulder, to nibble and bite her, to crush my lips against hers and try to yank her tongue out of her mouth with my own tongue.  I rubbed across her cheek, across her neck, up to her ear, nibbled her ear as she moaned and groaned there in my arms.  And like that we kissed and held each other for a long time there in the shower ... losing ourselves in each other amidst the tight confines and the steam of the water ...

Afterwards we bathed each other, taking turns exploring each other and quickly rinsing off after the hot water finally started to run out.  I stepped out of the shower, dried off, and then helped her step out.  I dried her off, taking my time and held her there in front of the wide mirror above the dual sinks, just held her and stared at our reflection, our bodies wrapped in towels, holding each other, nuzzling each other.  She turned to me, put her arms around me and her towel fell to the floor.  I ran my hands over her naked body, losing my towel in the process as well.  She turned, her back to my chest as we stood there, again, just lost in each other, lost in our reflection as if seeing ourselves, as if seeing each other for the first time.  She put her head against my shoulder and I ran my hands through her still damp hair.  There we were, skin to skin, chest to back, bare feet on cool tile floor, our image staring back at us from the mirror, our image searing itself into my memory.

Marie's body wasn’t super model fine and it probably wouldn’t have ever graced the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated but it wasn’t dumpy or plain either.  It was almost catalog stock, the kind of body you might find on a woman that was modeling women’s clothing in a Sears catalog or a woman you'd find on display in a copy of Hustler Rejects or even a polaroid from the magazine's "Beaver Hunt" section.  She had long arms, long fingers.  Her breasts were large, natural and bouncy, each a good handful and maybe a little more.  Several light bronze colored stretch marks radiated from her large areolas across the surface of her breasts, like a spider web, almost invisible until you got really close or the light hit them just right.  Her large nipples stood out like the tips of my thumb and when she was excited lines popped up around her nipples like the exposed roots of an old stump.

Her bottom was sexy, full, and upside down heart-shaped.  Her stomach had just a hint of droop to it and where it began to drop down into her groin another set of light bronze colored stretch marks radiated up from her upside down dark brown pubic triangle, more noticeable than the stretch marks on her breasts but still not so much that they stood out or drew attention away from her natural beauty.  The radiating stretch marks above her groin made me think of the classic rays radiating up and away in a caricature of the sun.

There were no scars on her body but she had a dusting of freckles across her nose, across her shoulders, across her chest, across the tops of her breasts, down her arms … dots from the sun.  Her legs were long and strong and when she stood there with me, we shared almost the same height.

Marie had a great body.  

It wasn’t perfect meaning it wasn’t sculpted by personal trainers and unlimited budgets all with the eye to sell something in a commercial venue and make an obscene profit off of gullible women who weren't comfortable with who they were.  No, Marie’s body was natural and she was natural, not some animated mannequin put on display for profit’s sake.  Marie was the woman who had just moved in next door … the single woman you took quick glances at when she was outside working her yard or getting her mail.  Marie was a suburban fixture … She looked like someone's mom ... anyone's mom.  If she didn’t drive that big, gold Lincoln she would have been right at home driving around in a full size Pontiac station wagon or Chevrolet passenger van, maybe with a pair of kids riding along inside.  She could have been a librarian, a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, a legal secretary, or any of a hundred different jobs that a woman like her could have made her life around … but right then and there, she was in my arms with my hands slowly moving over her body, taking her all in, and marveling at her natural beauty.

Marie was a mystery and the more I tried to solve that mystery the deeper the mystery became and the more questions I had to ask myself about her.

Marie was natural, she had a natural beauty to her and I lost myself in her.   I lost myself in the feel of her warm, smooth skin under my fingertips as I slowly glided my hands and fingers over her, barely touching her, my fingertips barely touching her skin ... gliding.  I lost myself in the smell of her skin as my lips hovered over her shoulder, kissing her, moving gently up her neck line to her ear.  I lost myself in her sighs, in her quick little gasps when something I did sent a tiny jolt through her body and set her skin alive with goose bumps.  I was lost in Marie, I was lost in the moment, just being with her, right then, right there.  It was all that I wanted ... just being with her, right then and there, like that, holding her, gently touching her, fingertips gliding over her skin, watching the reflection of her there held in my arms, her mouth slightly open, her eyes closed, and listening to the sounds that she was making ... soft sounds.

Her eyes were closed, her mouth open slightly and she was moaning in a low, soft way … maybe less of a moan and more of a … purr.  

A contented, secure purr.  

I wanted to say something to her but nothing felt like I should say it so instead I held her in my arms for a little while, for what little while we had left together there in the last of the darkness that we shared before the sunrise.

We got dressed, putting on the same clothes that we had worn the night before … her probably for simple convenience and me because I didn’t have anything else to wear.  My T-shirt smelled of her … her perfume, her natural body scent, a hint of her sweat and even somewhat like her long hair.  I reveled in it, breathed her in deep.  Her scent, even though faded, was still heady and intoxicating.

We left and she locked the apartment door behind her and took my hand as we walked down the breezeway to the parking lot.  It was early light, overcast and gray.  I held the passenger side door of the Camaro Rally Sport open for her and helped her in.  Our drive back to County Market that early morning was spent in silence listening to nothing but the dull roar of the small block V8 under the hood.  Marie sat there in the passenger seat, legs crossed at her ankles, leaning on the center console with her left arm through my right arm and her head on my shoulder for the whole trip.  I put my head on top of hers and nuzzled her in turn.

I’d never been with someone like Marie before.

Neither of us said anything because I guess right then and there neither of us really needed to say anything.  It was as simple as that.  We were each lost to our own thoughts and those thoughts were probably about each other … at least I know that my thoughts were about her.

          Saturday, March 22, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


I pulled my Camaro Rally Sport up beside her big gold Lincoln and put the console shifted three speed automatic transmission up into Park.  Dew covered her car from hood to trunk in a fine, visible layer of wetness.  Marie hadn’t moved from where she sat leaned over the center console with her head resting on my shoulder.  I tilted my head and nuzzled her again, breathing in the smell of her long hair and closing my eyes as I did so.   Eric Clapton's "Layla" started playing on the radio.   It was a long song, almost seven minutes worth of limited lyrics, a dump truck load of haunting guitar chords and a seemingly never ending piano coda.  It was on my list of favorite songs, one of few that Clapton did that I liked, but "Layla" was definitely on my list.

God Marie smelled good, every part of her. 

I wanted to be with her, again. 

Here and now. 

I couldn’t get enough of her; there was just something about her.  With her, here, now, I could lose myself completely in her and that was a feeling that I just didn’t ever want to end.  I wanted to turn the Camaro around, drive back to her place, pull her clothes off and spend the rest of the day in bed with her, naked, exploring her, sleeping with her, showering with her, holding her … over and over and over again until I was just physically too spent, too raw, too sore to do anything else.  I wanted to utterly lose myself in this woman, totally and completely.

Again.

Time after time.

But was she feeling the same way?

Marie hadn’t said a word the whole way back to the store and even now we sat in silence.  There was that uncomfortable silence again … that damn uncomfortable silence like we were running out of momentum … like what we had shared was ending now … possibly forever.  Maybe somewhere out there, in the soundtrack of my life, some sad piano was softly playing in adagio, had already reached its crescendo, and was even now fading out.  All that was missing was some biting cold and a constant down pour of rain.  I would have said snow on the ground but it just didn’t snow in Mississippi.

Was this the first and last time that I’d be with Marie?

I didn’t want to think about that as a possibility.

I didn’t want that.

Maybe it was selfish of me but I wanted Marie.  I wanted to see her, to be with her, again.

I wanted her all to myself.

As many times as I could and as often as I could.

I wanted to say something but everything I thought about saying just sounded clichéd when I played it over in my mind so I went with the only thing that I felt was safe to say and even that sounded overly clichéd.

“Can I see you again?” I asked, finally breaking the silence.

That sounded really stupid, maybe even greedy, but it was the only thing that sounded the least stupid when I thought about saying it.  I really wanted to see her again more than anything and I was scared of what her answer was going to be.  I was scared that last night was just a one-time thing, a fluke, something that really shouldn’t have happened but somehow happened anyway and now could never ever happen again.

“Do you want to see me again?” she asked, not even bothering to look up.

Huh?  That was a dumb question, I thought.  A really dumb question given what we had just shared in the last few hours.

“Yes.  I want to see you again.  
What kind of question is that?I asked her softly, kissing her on the top of the head and trying to reassure her.

Marie looked up then, staring into my eyes.  There was a kind of sadness in her expression and I felt afraid that what we had shared last night would be all that we would ever share.  I didn’t like the idea of that.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“It’s … complicated.” She said with a frown.

“Not for me it isn’t.  I know what I want ... I want you.” I said, smiling and trying to get her to smile.

It didn’t work.  If anything, she sank farther down into her sullen mood.

“No.  Not for you.  Never for you but for me …it’s just … all of this ... it's complicated … For me.” She answered in a whisper, frowning.

I sighed.

“Marie?”

Nothing.

“Marie?” I said, louder this time.

This time she started a little then slowly looked up at me.

Can I see you again?” I asked, still not sure if she had given me an answer or not.

“I think so.” She said, looking out the passenger side window.  “Probably.”

“Probably?”

“Probably.” She whispered.

I sighed and looked at her but she didn’t seem to want to make eye contact.  Suddenly I felt frustrated.

“You know, that’s not really an answer …  That’s more like … I don’t know … more like a guess than a real answer.” I said, knowing her reply certainly wasn’t the answer I was looking for.

“Sorry.  That's the best I can do.” Marie said flatly as she shrugged her shoulders, pulled away from me and sat up in the passenger seat.

Best that she could do, I thought?

“Best I can do ... for right now.” She whispered, almost as if reading my thoughts.

She put her arms around her chest and stared at the floor of the passenger side.  I put my head back into the driver’s seat, closed my eyes and said nothing.  Silence.  We were swimming in awkwardness.  I had to get some kind of control, get some kind of answers and make some kind of sense of what we had shared and where we might be going with that.

“I guess the real question I need to ask you is … do you want to see me again?”

“Yes.” Marie said firmly with no hesitation though she never looked up when she said it.

That made me feel better, a lot better than I’d felt just a minute ago.  Where there was a will there was a way or so my mom had always told me.  There was definitely a will to see each other, now all we had to do was work out a way to see each other … but what was keeping us apart?  What was complicating what we had?  This woman was definitely a mystery.

“And it’s not if I can see you again so much as it’s going to be when I can see you again.  Right?” I surmised out loud.

“Yes.  Something like that.” Marie said, still staring at the floor of the passenger side.

“And that’s all going to have to be up to you?”

Marie nodded.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s ... complicated.” She said flatly.

“Complicated.” I mused.

“It's complicated.” She said.

I wasn’t quite sure that I was happy with that answer but it seemed to be the only answer I was going to get from her, at least for now.

“So … can I call you … Now that I know where you live maybe come by and see you sometime at your place?  You know, pick you up, take you out …?”

Marie turned to me, concern in her eyes.  Real concern so hard that it made my blood go cold.

“Don’t do that.  Don't ever do that.” She said, flatly, authoritatively and I could tell that it was a command that was also cast in stone never to be broken because that’s the way her words hit me right then.

Marie had just drawn a line and told me never to cross that line.  I guess my expression gave me away because when she looked up at me her stern expression softened a bit, just a bit.

"Why?"

“Just … please don’t do that.”

Not getting any answers ... so I threw something out there to break the suddenly uncomfortable silence between us.

“Ok.  Let me guess.  Doing that would … complicate things?”

“Yes, it would.  Very much so.” she said, no hesitation in her voice.

“Right.  So you can come find me but I can’t come and find you?  That’s how it is and that’s how it’s got to be?”

She started to say something then shrugged her shoulders and sighed.  I looked over and stared at her.  She was lost in thought, deep thought.  Her expression said that she was really wrestling with something, deep down inside.  The haunting piano chords of "Layla" played softly on the Kenwood.

“Look … how will …” I started to ask but Marie interrupted me.

“If you come by my place I may not be there.”

That confused me.  Why wouldn't ...

“Work?” I asked.  “Is it because of what you do?”

She started to say something, she looked like she really wanted to say something and then just didn’t.

“It’s work, isn’t it?”

“It’s …” she began.  “That’s part of it.  Kind of."

"Okay ..."

"Look, Christopher, like I said ... all of this ... it’s just really, really …”

“Complicated.” I said flatly, probably quicker than I should have.

She nodded, like I’d taken the word out of her mouth and I guess that I had.

“Complicated.” I said again, flatly.

“I know that I’m using that one word a lot but … it’s the only word, the best word, I know of that … describes … what it’s like … right now ... for me.”

I sighed maybe a little too loudly and she seemed to take that the wrong way.  I could almost see her getting defensive and ready to go into full blown argue mode so I put up my hands to reassure her that arguing with her was the last thing that I wanted to do right then and it really was.  Hell, I was just trying to figure out what I'd gotten myself into, how deep I was in it and where it was going, that is, if it was going anywhere at all.

“Hey!  Look!  I’m sorry.  I know.  I know.  It’s complicated.  For you.  I understand that.  It’s okay.  Look!  It’s okay!”

I showed her my open hands, motioning that she should calm down and back down.  She calmed, visibly.  I sighed more to myself this time as I turned in my seat, put my chin in my hand resting on the window and just stared out into the early morning nothingness that was the County Market parking lot.  I thought about everything that had happened … to me, between me and Marie, about last night … and it all brought me right back to here.

Right here.

Right now.

Sitting in my car with her.

“Marie, what happened between us, last night …”

Marie looked up at me then, whiskey brown eyes and a touch of sadness.

“That was … incredible … but it’s … not …” I paused, trying to find the words I wanted.

The words I needed weren't there.  

“It’s not … what?” she asked, concerned.

I went looking for the words I needed and I couldn't find them.  I couldn't find the damn words that I needed to say.  My mind was spinning gears and I was shouting at myself, inside my skull, to hurry up and say something ... something pertinent, something that meant something.

"What?" she asked again.

I sighed and held up a finger for her to wait a second as I collected my thoughts, found the words I wanted to say and tried to get my brain in gear with my mouth.  All in all it was an epic effort right then and there and I barely succeeded in combining those tasks.

“Look … what we shared last night … if we never shared that again … if what happened never happened again or if what happened never could happen again I just want you to know that I’d still want to see you … again … and again.  I'd still want to be with you.  I’d want to see you any time that I could.  I’d want to spend time with you, whenever I could, even if I could never … we could never … have what we had like we had what we had last night ... again.”

Marie stared at me ... just stared at me.

"Yeah.  Diagram that sentence for some bonus points on your next test." I whispered.

Marie bit her lower lip and closed her eyes.  She looked like she was almost about to cry.

Think fast, Shields!

Think fast, damn it! 

Think fast!

You're going to lose this!

You're going to lose her!

You're going to fuck this up!

My mouth popped into gear a second before my brain did but this time I think my mouth was smarter than my brain.

“Just being with you, like here, like now … I’m happy, Marie.  You make me happy.  I don’t have to have anything else but you, here, with me, and I’m happy.”

And that was the truth, it really was.  

There was just something about this woman that just being with her was one of the better things in life.  She slowly rocked back and forth in place, slowly, like she was working out some huge problem in her head.  She really looked like she was going to cry and when I thought that she might tear up she turned her head, made a sniffle sound and then turned back to face me.  She was at the edge of her composure and it was starting to show.  Depending on what I said or how I handled this, the water works were in the future if I screwed up.  She was that close to opening the faucet on those whiskey brown eyes and I don’t think that I could have stood to see that, not from her, not from those beautiful eyes.

“I understand.  Hey, I understand.” I told her.  “It’s got to be this way because it's complicated.  It’s up to you if and when you see me again.”

Marie nodded, sniffling again.

I reached over and put my hand against her cheek, lifting her head slightly.

"If that's the way it has to be ... if that's what it takes to see you again ... I can live with that, no problem."

Marie sniffed but still didn't look up at me.

“It’s just better if I see you … if I come to see you, when I can.  It’s got to be that way … okay, Christopher?” she said, her voice starting to break and crack.

“Okay ... and I'm fine with that.” I said, trying to reassure her but the only reassurance I got from her was a nod of her head.

“Otherwise it could get … it’s going to get … complicated.  Really complicated."

Marie laughed softly then to herself.

"Ha.  Yeah.  Really, really complicated really, really fast.  Boy, will it …” she said, trailing off.

“And you don’t need complicated …”

Marie suddenly threw her head back and laughed out loud, she did it so quick that I almost jumped in my seat.

Need?  Do I need my life to get complicated?  God!  No!  Hell no!  Complicated is the last damn Goddamn thing I need in my life right now!  The.  Absolute.  Last.  Goddamn.  Thing.” she exclaimed as she shoved her hand and fingers into her hair, dug tight and closed her eyes, mouthing the last words as independent sentences in their own right.

I waited, not sure what I had gotten myself into but not willing to bail yet.

“Guess I should really have … taken all that into consideration before … Christ!  It doesn’t matter now.  Not that it ever really did, I guess.  Just one more thing to have to deal with in my life right now.” She muttered, the last part whispered to herself.

I mulled over what she had just said, trying to make sense of any of it and not really being able to.

“Damn it.  It was just so simple last night.  Why can’t it just be that simple all the damn time?” she whispered, frustrated.

“Because it’s complicated.” I whispered.

I said that and immediately regretted it because part of me felt that Marie was going to hear that and just lay into me with her fists like a runaway jackhammer.  Surprisingly ... she didn't.  Surprisingly she started to calm down.

“Because it’s complicated.” She agreed, after a long silence between us.

“And you don’t need complicated in your life, do you?” I asked.

“No.” she said, without any hesitation.

“No?  Or hell no?” I asked, smiling.

Marie gave a soft laugh at something she must have found funny.

“Hell no.” she whispered, agreeing with me and using her fist to wipe her eye.  

“Hell no, I don’t need complicated in my life right now.  I’ve got too much that’s way too complicated in my life right now and I don’t need any more damn complications, thank you.”

I looked into her eyes, water logged whiskey brown eyes.

“Am I a complication?” I asked her.

She seemed to think that over, longer than I was comfortable with.

“No." she said.

"No?  Or not yet?"

She smiled and nodded.

"Not yet.  You might be.  You could be.  Maybe.” She said, shaking her head then thinking about it more.

Right then I was really starting to dislike the word “complicated” especially how she was using it and how often she was using it.

“So … How complicated are we talking about?” I asked, trying to get … something … from her.

“Like I said … really complicated.” She said, apparently trying to leave it at that.

“More than I can imagine.”

Marie threw her head back into the seat and gave a mock laugh, a hollow mock laugh while closing her eyes.

“Oh!  A lot more than you can imagine.” Marie said.  “Oh, a whole hell of a lot more than you can imagine.”

“That bad, huh?” I mused.

Marie nodded but said nothing; her silence was an answer in and of itself and I felt like I had gotten all I was going to get from prying.

“So it has to be this way … for us.” I asked, mulling over everything that had been laid out.

“It has to be this way  … for me … or there can’t be … what we had … ever again.” she said in a whisper.

Silence.

“You mean what we have."

Marie looked up at me then.

Whiskey brown eyes.

Wet.

Sad.

"I'm not giving up on you, Marie, no matter how complicated what we have might be.” I said as I turned to look at her and put a hand on her shoulder.

Marie looked like she suddenly collapsed but it was just a frantic move to drop sideways and fall limp back across the center console of the Rally Sport. She put her arms through my arm and gripped my arm tighter, really tight and put her head into the crook of my neck, like she was trying to hide from something … like something was after her and I was the only thing in the world that could save her.  She literally fell across the center console and into me.  She said nothing, just put herself into me and held me tight, really tight.   I didn't hesitate ... my arms came up around her, moved up and down her and then pulled her into me even tighter.  I held her like I'd never held anyone else in my life and I held her like I wanted her to know that I'd never let her go no matter what.

"I'm not giving up on you." I whispered.

... and that's when the water works began.

I could feel her body shaking there in my arms, I could feel her crying more than I could hear her crying.  I sighed, softly, to myself, and leaned back into the driver’s seat, pulling her tight to me.  This was another release for her, a different kind of release and like a few hours before I just held her close and let her ride it out on her own.  I felt her tears … warm then cold, soak through my shirt.  I heard her sniffles almost as an after effect.  I felt her body heave, her breath come in sniffs and sniffles and the sounds she made, not as loud as the sounds she made last night and definitely not happy sounds.  I reached down, held her, kissed her on top of her head, put my head to her head and just held her.  Minutes passed like that and neither of us said anything.  Every now and then I heard a sniffle or two but nothing more.  Every now and then Marie would shake slightly and I realized that she was still crying. 

Was there a difference in the layers, the tiers, the levels of a woman's sadness and did that dictate the type of tears that she produced?  Suddenly that was an important question to me ... as important to me as the likelihood that it would never be answered.  

Crying? 

Weeping? 

Was there a difference?

I guess the real difference depended on what she was feeling and what she was going through on whether or not she was actually crying or weeping.  Maybe crying was when you were said and weeping was for when you were happy.  Maybe they were interchangeable.  Maybe you could only weep if you were a girl or a woman or you had all that fancy plumbing inside you and all those strange chemicals running through your body that women had.  I gave up trying to figure it out and just held Marie tight to me.  I let her have the time, all the time that she needed because I felt, somehow I knew, that she needed this as much as she had needed what we had shared last night.  I don't know how I knew that ... just that I knew that.  I sat there, in the driver’s seat, holding her next to me, as "Layla" finally ended, music that seemed somewhat appropriate to what we were sharing.  I was just starting to realize what I had more than willingly gotten myself into but I was still feeling right then, right there that whatever it was that I had gone and gotten myself into that it was worth the trouble ... worth more than the trouble.  A few minutes passed, six minutes if I could match times on the Kenwood. She had been crying for the better part of six minutes ... starting softly, going full blown tears then tapering off back to soft sobs and finally to just her jamming her face into my arm, holding me so tight that the sleeve of my T-shirt was bunched up in both of her hands.  I put my other arm around her, pulled her really tight to me and put my face to the top of her head, breathing her in deeply and holding her.

I kissed the top of her head.

Once.

Twice.

Why did what we had shared have to be complicated?

Why did something like this have to be complicated?

Why did life have to be so damn complicated when it came to being with someone who made you happy and just being with who you wanted to be with?

Life, I had come to realize as of late, was one really fucked up experience and as if to strike home that point Lynyrd Skynrd's "Tuesday's Gone" started to play on the radio.  Another classic favorite of mine and another very long song.  More than half of "Tuesday's Gone" had played out before Marie finally pulled her head out of the crook of my neck, nibbled quickly on my stubbly jaw line and then looked up at me.  Her hand went up to my face, cupping my cheek as she turned my head to look her eye to eye.  Her whiskey brown eyes were red.  Red.  Puffy.  Wet.  Tear tracks down her cheeks.  I reached up, used my finger to slide along her cheek, to wipe her tear track.  She looked like she wanted to say something.  Her lips trembled, she almost spoke and then said nothing.

“What?” I whispered.

“I …  I want to see you again.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“I’m sure.” She whispered and there was a confidence to her answer.

“More than anything else in my life right now, if I’m sure of anything then I’m sure of that.  I want to see you again, Christopher.”

“When?” I asked, regretting doing so since I thought it made me sound impatient, maybe even clingy.

She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, a pouty look of indecision.

“I don’t know.  Soon.  I want to see you again, I really do.  It’s just that I don’t know when I can see you again, Christopher.  All I do know is that I am going to see you again.” She said.

Wow.

Okay.

"You are going to see me again?" I asked, not sure if I'd heard her right.

"I am going to see you again." she said in a broken whisper.

“Promise?” I ask.

Her look said that she simply couldn’t do that and I accepted that for what it was.

“Well, if you can’t promise me that then I guess I’ll just have to trust you.” I said.

“I guess you will at that.”

“Marie …”

She put a finger to my lips, then two fingers, before I could start to speak.

“Don’t ask …  No more questions.  No more answers.  Just trust me.  Okay.  If this is going somewhere then let's just see where it's going.  Please."

I nodded.

"I want this, probably more than anything else right now I want this and it’s the only way this can be, between us, but you have to trust me.  You have to trust me.”

That last part had been almost whispered.  I took a deep breath and looked out across the parking lot again.  Just holding her there, in my car, in the early morning quiet of the almost empty parking lot … that was something that I didn’t want to stop doing.  Ever.  There was something about this woman, something mysterious, something sensual, something strange, something that I’d never had before with anyone else and it was that something that I craved like a starving man at an all you can eat buffet.  
Lynyrd Skynrd's "Tuesday's Gone" finished playing on the radio, another long ballad filled with blues and regret.  Local commercials started in and I reached forward and turned the Kenwood's volume all the way down.

“What we have … is it going to be worth the trouble that you’re going through … to have it with me?” I asked, still curious about her situation and what she wasn’t telling me and what that might mean I was getting myself involved with.

Marie sighed and seemed to think … think hard.  She wiped her eyes and then her cheeks and still she thought.  After several seconds she nodded.

“Yes."

"You're sure?" I asked.

"I'm sure.  I thought it was worth it when I came here looking for you.  I thought it was worth it last night when I … invited you back to … back to ..."

"Your place?" I asked.

"My place." she whispered.

"Your bed?" I asked, smiling.

"My bed." she said, smiling.  "I certainly thought it was worth it when we were together … all that we’ve shared.  Last night.”

“And this morning?  Right here, right now.  After all that has happened?  Is it still worth it?” I asked.

“Yes.” She said, no hesitation this time, leaning away from me and putting her back to the passenger side door and window, looking at me and crossing her hands in her lap.

“I still think it’s worth it this morning … Maybe even more so now.  Being with you … When I’m here with you … right now ….  It’s worth it.  You’re worth it.  To me.  I really think so.”

“Think so or know so?” I asked.

Marie didn’t answer.  Instead, she reached over, took my head in both of her hands, pulling me to her as she put her lips to mine.  We kissed there, hard, deeply, arms around each other, arched over the center console of the Chevy.  When she finally withdrew, it was with some obvious sadness and regret and I knew then that I’d be seeing Marie again.  I knew that way deep down inside and at that point the question wasn’t “if” so much as “when”.  The answer was, of course, whenever she came back into my life … whenever she could come back into my life.  Right then I realized that being with her wasn’t going to be easy for me either but it was going to be worth it and that being with her was going to pretty much be at her whim no matter how hard I tried to change that or rearrange that aspect of what we had … at least for now it was going to have to be that way.

“What we’ve got … it’s a little more than complicated, isn’t it?” I asked.

“A lot more than you think.” She said.  “Can you live with that?”

“I can live with that.” I said.  “If it means seeing you again, if it means being with you again.  Yeah, I can live with that.  I can live with anything that you throw my way.”

“Good.” She said, letting go of me then getting out of the Camaro Rally Sport and shutting the passenger door behind her.

“Miss Mystery.” I said loudly.

“What?  
What did you say?” she asked as she walked around the front of the Camaro Rally Sport to the driver’s side door, leaned over into the Camaro Rally Sport through the open driver’s side window and looked back in at me.

“There’s a song I like … by a band called Black-N-Blue, it’s called Miss Mystery.  You probably never heard of them or heard of the song but you’re "Miss Mystery".  Just like in the song.”

Marie thought about that for a second.

“Do you have that song?”

I nodded.

“You’ll have to play that song for me.”

“Now?” I asked.

“Next time.” Marie said, looking down at her watch and making a face.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Yeah.  I’ll play it for you.  Next time.”

“Promise?” she asked.

“Promise.” I said.

She stood there … almost ethereal in the hazy early morning light.  

A goddess of lore and mythology made manifest, mist and sunlight.  

Bewitching.

“When do you work again?” she asked, looking from County Market to me.

I thought about my schedule and the week to come.

“I think I’m working again Monday night then Thursday and Friday nights.  Pretty much the same as last week.”

“Three nights this week.” She whispered, almost like I’d just given her three chances, three options to choose from which I guess I just might have.

“Yeah.  Tell me about it.” I agreed.  “Three nights makes for three long days.”

“School?” she asked.

“School and ... all.

She nodded and stepped back and I stepped out of the Rally Sport, walked her around to her gold Lincoln, stood in front of her and took her in my arms for what I felt, what I somehow knew was the last time then and possibly for a while.  She didn’t resist, in fact, she stepped into me.  Her mouth and tongue found mine.  My arms went around her and I kissed her back, long, hard, deep, letting my hands roam across her back.  It felt like a last kiss and as soon as we moved apart I immediately wanted her in my arms, close to me again.  Her look said that she felt the same way, maybe even more so than I did.  When I broke our kiss off I reached into my pocket and dug out the sales receipt for the car magazine from the night before.  I reached over into my Rally Sport, found a pen and wrote my phone number down on the sales receipt.

“Look.  Here’s my private number.  I still live with my parents but I’ve got a private line in my bedroom.  Call me if you want to talk or to, you know, meet up somewhere to get something to eat or go out or ...” I said, wincing because it sounded corny but I really wanted to see her again.

Marie looked at the piece of paper that I'd given her, silently mouthing the numbers to herself.

“You know … Call me.  If you want to.  If you need to.  If you can.  When you can.  If nothing else than just to talk … just to hear your voice.  I’d like that.  If I can’t see you … I’d like to hear you … hear your voice.” I said, almost wincing at how corny, how almost begging that sounded.

Marie smiled, took the slip of paper from my fingers and leaned forward to give me another quick kiss.  We said goodbye and I leaned on the roof of Rally Sport, arms crossed, chin resting on my arms as I watched her start her big gold Lincoln and drive out of the parking lot.  She was stopped briefly at the red light at the intersection then she turned left on Highway 49 north and I watched the Lincoln slowly vanish from sight as the last guitar licks from Skynard's "Tuesday's Gone" faded out.

We were playing a game now, her game, by her rules, and only she had a copy of the rules which meant that she could change them anytime that she wanted to and she didn’t have to tell me when or if she had changed them.

Her.

Marie.

My own personal Miss Mystery.

I stood there for a while, trying to wrap my teenage mind around what I had been through in the last eight hours because it wasn’t just a lot, no, it was a hell of a lot to come to grips with.  I looked out across the early morning parking lot of County Market, thankful that I didn’t have to go to school or work today because Marie had worn me out, physically and emotionally.  Last night, the last eight hours now, had been an emotional roller coaster.  Ups and downs and all arounds.  I was sore in places I didn’t think I could be sore in just from being with a woman in bed.  Now, if I couldn’t be with her then all I wanted to be was alone.

For a while.

For a good while.

And I wanted to sleep for a few hours.

Actions have consequences and sometimes those consequences have to be reconciled, when things happen to you then you need time to sort those things out and right now I needed some time to think about all that had happened to me in the last week.  Marie had thrown me for a loop, she had shaken my world up and that was something that I didn’t like happening to me.  I didn’t like not being in control, I didn’t like not knowing everything that I could about someone else and that was something that I was going to have to sort out and the sooner the better.

Right then I honestly didn’t know what I had gotten myself into but I knew that I sure as hell liked it.  I tossed my set of keys lightly in the air, caught them, jumped in the Camaro Rally Sport through the open window without even bothering to open the door and started the motor.  WHSY Rock 104.5 FM was playing Eddie Money’s “I think I’m in love” and I drove out of the parking lot deciding to let the song play out by taking the long way home.  I was late as it was and being a little later wouldn’t make that much more of a difference.



I got home, later than I wanted to get there but not so late that I couldn’t explain away where I’d been and why I’d been there.  My parents were already up, sitting out back on the patio, having their morning coffee and reading the paper.  I sat down at the wrought iron table and talked to them for a while.  They wanted to know where I’d been and what I’d been doing all night.  I didn’t see the need to tell my parents the whole truth so I changed up a few of the details of my story.  In fact, I told them that I’d gone out drinking after work with a college friend from work and that I’d had a little too much to drink at his place and thought it was better if I just spent the night there rather than get back on the road and try to drive home.  When my parents asked who the friend was, I told them just a college guy I worked with and that was good enough for them.

My parents saw the fact that I’d done something smart on top of doing something dumb but that, yes, I’d made the right choice.  Their only anger, limited as it was, was that I hadn’t called them and told them what I was doing.  I apologized and told them not to worry about me.  Time had gotten away from me and by the time I realized how late it was it had been way too late to call them.  Hey, I was a good kid.  I had a good head on my shoulders and I knew what to do and what not to do and so I got out of having spent the night with Marie with little more than a slight look of disapproval at the way that I was leading my young life.  I went back to my bedroom thinking that I had, quite possibly, the coolest damn set of parents in the whole world.


I was tired and had the rest of the day and that night to myself.  I pulled off my harness boots and shirt and lay there on my bed, intending to catch a few more hours of sleep just to top off what little sleep I’d gotten last night and all I could do was think of the night before.

“Oui, et voila.” I muttered, smiling, remembering what Marie had said.

French for ... Yes, there it is. 

Damn.  

She had said that, in French, at her release, held tight in my arms, her body shaking and trembling.  She had said that and then she hadn’t been able to say much of anything for a little while after that.

I reached down and fingered my Saint Christopher medal, just playing with it, sliding it along the gold chain and remembering that it had been in Marie’s hot, wet mouth, that it had been held between her teeth, that her lips had caressed it just hours ago and that shortly after that it had been sandwiched between her chest and mine as we writhed together in her bed, each trying to drive the other into submission and neither willing to yield.

“Not bad for an eighteen year old …” she had said.

“Not bad for an eighteen year old … What the hell did you mean when you said that …?” I mused, remembering her words, repeating them in a whisper.

I thought about those words, mulling them over and wondering just what had she meant by saying that?  I thought and thought and thought and then exhaustion overtook me; my eyes closed and I fell asleep.

My dreams were vivid, short and intense and it didn’t take long to get into them either.

I was in a Sammy Hagar video … 

I was in the music video for his MTV hit “I can’t drive 55” only it wasn’t in California it was in Hattiesburg and it was me, driving a ... black "Bandit" Trans Am balls out and being chased down Highway 49 north by … park rangers from Paul B. Johnson State Park.  I was on the highway and they were all chasing me in their state park trucks and somehow they caught me and hauled me into a courtroom and the judge, dressed in black, was … Marie!  The name plate on the bench said “Gambrell” but it was Marie in the judicial robes!  She even had the little hanging gallows on her desk with the Kenner big headed Han Solo “Star Wars” action figure with the noose around its neck only when I looked at it the head on the Han Solo figure it was my head.

“Not bad for an eighteen year old.” She said, banging her gavel.

Judge Marie pushed a button on the gallows and the Han Solo figure with my head on it dropped down the trap door and swung back and forth as Black-N-Blue’s “Miss Mystery” started playing loudly in the background, the opening guitar riffs synching with the swinging of the toy figure with a deafening intro.

I woke with a start … 

I was in my own bed, in my own bedroom.

Alone.

Marie!

Did all of that happen?

Did any of that happen?

Was Marie real?

Had last night really happened?

I let my heart slow down as I thought about the dream, as I replayed it in my mind.  Something at the back of my mind nagged at me … something that I’d forgotten.

The speeding ticket!

I’d forgotten all about my speeding ticket!  My mind had been on Marie all of the week and the speeding ticket had totally slipped my mind!  

My wallet!  

The ticket was in my wallet!  I quickly pulled my wallet out, looked in past the folding money that I carried and there it was, my speeding ticket from the water park nearly a week ago.

I still hadn’t paid it!

Hell!

I pulled the ticket out, unfolded it and looked it over again … 

There!

Now I remembered!

My birth date was wrong … it was listed as being in 1967 instead of 1969.  The park ranger had mistakenly put me down as being two years older than I really was which would have made me eighteen years old as far as anyone reading the ticket was concerned.

Eighteen years old … as far as anyone reading the ticket … was concerned.

And then it hit me!

Marie had been handed my ticket by mistake so she probably read over it trying to find out what she was being charged with, how much she was going to have to pay … she had seen the wrong name on the ticket, seen the type of car on the ticket, and realized the ticket was meant for me instead … the guy in the red Camaro Rally Sport parked next to her, the guy that had been paying her attention and who she had been preening for and that’s when she had probably started looking at the details.

Name (that’s how she knew my name and I didn’t know hers …).

Date of birth … June 1967.

Wrong, but that’s what she had to work with.  Okay, figure out the age … June 1967 to March 1986, two years earlier meant two years later ... sixteen plus two ...  Wow!  Eighteen years!  Actually almost nineteen years old, three months shy, but according to the ticket I was an eighteen year old!

Marie must have looked at the ticket, seen my date of birth and thought that I was an eighteen year old.  Most eighteen year olds living in Hattiesburg were college students, either at USM or at one of the surrounding area junior colleges.  Paul B. Johnson State Park was full of college kids looking for a good time.

Oh, man!

Ha!

Wow!

Okay.  So if I was right about this then Marie thought that I was eighteen years old because that dickhead ranger had made a stupid mistake writing my birth date on the ticket!  When she had become interested in me, when she had snooped around my ticket for who I was, what my name was, where I lived, how old I was … she couldn’t have known about the ranger’s mistake because even though the ranger had given her the wrong ticket she had given her the correct driver’s license.  All that Marie knew about me was what she had read about me on my ticket and some of that information was wrong, accidentally wrong, but she had no way of knowing that.

Wow.

I lay there, smiling at how things had come together in just the right way.  So, Marie thought that I was an eighteen year old due to her being curious about me and a simple clerical error on the ranger’s part …

That was great!

I lay back on the bed, smiling at how strangely everything had worked out to bring me to this exact moment in time.  Yeah, Marie may have been looking for something that day and she may have thought that she had found it in me when the female ranger handed her my speeding ticket by mistake.

And then there was the other side of the situation.  What would happen if Marie found out that I wasn’t eighteen years old?  What would she do if she found out I was just some kid, just a junior in high school instead of a freshman at college?  I had a pretty good idea what she would do … and I didn’t like that idea because I liked the idea of being with Marie.

If I wanted to have more of what I had with Marie last night then there was no way that she could find out that I was just sixteen instead of eighteen.  If Marie was going to keep a few secrets to herself then I felt that I was surely entitled to keep a secret of my very own, just one secret, and that’s exactly what I planned on doing, especially if it meant that I could keep on seeing her like I had seen her last night.  Yeah, if Marie needed an eighteen year old in her life right now then I could play that part no problem.  After all, if last night had been the audition for the part that I was supposed to play then I think I had just been chosen for the leading role in whatever bit of drama she was scripting.  The only thing I could hope for was a happy ending to whatever story she was letting me in on one chapter at a time.

“Not bad for an eighteen year old.” I said softly, chuckling.

If she only knew …

She.

Marie.

I checked my wallet ... both of my condoms were gone ... so it wasn't a dream.

No.

I could still smell her on my t-shirt.  

Whiskey and flowers.

Her natural scent.

Her.

Marie.

I drank her in.

Last night had happened.

The clock said it was 1:28 PM.  

I got comfortable and fell back asleep thinking of Marie, smelling her scent, thinking about her, thinking about the last week, thinking about last night, holding an extra pillow close to me and imaging that it was her there in my arms.

I woke up at 4:15 PM, got a shower, visited with my parents then went back out for the night.  I cruised Hattiesburg, listening to heavy metal on the Kenwood stereo system and then went to Cloverleaf Mall and hit my usual haunts; Bookland and Camelot Music.  I bought the latest issue of “Heavy Metal” magazine, “Terminal Road”; the eighth and latest post-apocalyptic “Traveller” paperback by D. B. Drumm, and “Seven Days in Sammystown”; the cassette album by the New Wave band “Wall of Voodoo” mainly because it had the single “Far Side of Crazy” on it.  I drove around Hattiesburg after that, listening to that entire album, twice, on the Kenwood and just sponging to “Far Side of Crazy” in particular.  “Faded Love” and “Don’t Spill My Courage” were pretty decent songs as well, the first one strangely enough reminding me of Pam but not reminding me of Pam near enough as The Replacements’ song “Miss Mascara” did from their recent album “Tim”.

I played “Miss Mascaracara a few times while just riding around Hattiesburg.  

Listening to that one song in particular, over and over, seemed to help me get my thoughts in order.



          Friday, April 4, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


Two weeks without Marie had me thinking about her all day, every day.  

What we had shared … 

I hadn’t talked about that with anyone else, not even with any of my friends at school, certainly not with any of my coworkers and especially not with Rick.  What Marie and I had shared just seemed like it was something private, something special shared between the two of us and no one else, something better left not talked about.  Two weeks without hearing anything from her and I was starting to worry, to have second thoughts and to doubt her intentions but when I pulled into the parking lot of County Market that Friday afternoon and saw the big gold Lincoln parked in the spot next to the usual spot where I always parked my Camaro Rally Sport and my heart skipped a beat.  Marie had actually shown up before I went to work and was waiting there for me in the parking lot.

She was here!

Marie was here!

That was either good … or really, really bad.

Right then I didn’t know if I should be happy to see her or really scared that she was here, waiting on me.  The way I saw it she was either here to see me again or she was here to tell me that whatever we had shared had been some kind of mistake and that what we had was over and done with before it had even had a chance to really get good.  With some concern I parked my Camaro Rally Sport next to her gold Lincoln, stuck my red bowtie and my employee name tag in my left shirt pocket and stepped out of the car, prepared for the worst.

My heart was racing right along with my mind.  I hadn’t felt like this since I’d caught Pam cheating on me and sneaking back to her dorm that morning.  Marie must have seen me pull up because she was already out of her gold Lincoln, moving around the front of it and walking quickly towards me.  I started to say something but she moved right up against me, put her arms around me and her head against my left shoulder.  I slid my arms around her and she squeezed me tight, holding me … just holding me.  I gripped her tight as well.  Her perfume was strong and I drank in her smell deeply, burying my face and nose in the top of her head as she in turn buried her face and head into my chest.

A good minute passed as we stood there, wrapped in each other’s arms, saying nothing … just holding onto each other.

Silence.

“Hi.” I finally whispered, nuzzling my face against her long hair.

“Hi.” She whispered back, smiling but still not moving.

I squeezed her tighter, like I'd just been given something that I never thought that I'd ever have again, like I'd been given a second chance and I guess that I had.

“I missed you.” I said, still holding her.

She said nothing, only squeezed me tighter in her arms and pulled herself harder into me.  Her grip on me only tightened and I heard her sigh as she rubbed her cheek against my chest, nuzzling me, like a cat.

“I guess you missed me as well.” I whispered.

She gave a little noise that sounded a lot like “uh-huh” but was muffled because her face was buried.  We stayed that way for a minute or two, just holding each other and slightly swaying.  Time became irrelevant to me when I had Marie in my arms.  Marie finally looked up at me, whiskey brown eyes, but she still didn’t say anything.

“How did you know …?” I asked.

“I stopped by Tuesday and asked one of the guys working here when you worked next and he told me.  So … here I am.  I even got the time right this time, didn't I?”

Behind me came the sound of tires on pavement as Pam pulled her faded gold ’78 Chevy Monte Carlo into the parking lot.  Pam drove past us, staring at me and Marie as we held each other there by my Camaro Rally Sport.  Pam had a look of disdain on her face and she quickly turned her head and drove her car on down the hill.  I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she parked on the side of the store where she always did, where Marie had parked her gold Lincoln and left it Friday night before last and where Marie and I had said goodbye the last time that morning after.

Pam was working the same shift that I was, four to ten, and she stared at Marie and me again as she got out of her car.  What was Pam’s problem?  Sometimes it felt like she was wanting both Ingo and me and then sometimes it was like if she couldn’t have me then nobody could have me but at the same time she could have Ingo all to herself.  My misery seemed to be something that she desired in some weird way and even though it was over between us, even though there could never be anything between us anymore I still felt that she hadn’t let go all the way … Sometimes it felt like this was some kind of perverse game that she was playing with Ingo and me only he wasn’t smart enough to see what she was doing and I wasn’t wanting to play by her rules anymore.  I watched Pam go on inside the store and I looked at my watch … five till four.

I still had a few minutes to burn with Marie.  Not many, but a few.

We stood there on top of the hill, still holding each other, still whispering to each other, well after Pam had gone on inside the store.  Marie had noticed the way that Pam had looked at me, at us, and she asked what Pam’s problem was in some not so nice questioning.  I gave her the quick rundown of my history with Pam, the thirty second rundown.

“You dated … her?” Marie asked her voice loud for the first time.

“If you want to call it that.  She left her boyfriend for me and we dated until she cheated on me with her boyfriend and then she ran back to him.  It was … complicated.”

Marie laughed.

“It sounds ... retarded.” She said, running her hand up my chest.

“Well, I guess that’s as good a word as any to describe it.  Maybe there’s even a fine line between something being complicated and something being retarded.”

"Maybe not so much a fine line as a dotted line as in "cut here" ..." Marie said as she laughed again.

“Anyway … It was a mistake is what it really was.” I said looking down the hill across the parking lot and at Pam’s faded gold '78 Chevy Monte Carlo. 

“I was stupid.  I learned a lesson the hard way and now it’s over.”

“Are you sure?” Marie asked, fingering the row of buttons on my shirt and then using one finger to turn my chin to look at her.

“Am I sure that I was stupid or am I sure that it’s over.”

Marie smiled.

“Oh, there’s no doubt that it was stupid.  What I’m wanting to know is if you’re sure that it’s over?”

“I’m sure.  As far as I’m concerned it’s over.  As far as she’s concerned?  I could care less.”

Marie looked at me, eye to eye and her expression took on a serious look.

“So, I don’t have to worry about you and her?  I don’t have to worry about, you know, you two getting back together?” Marie asked, cutting her eyes at me and running her finger across the hairs of my exposed chest where she had pulled my shirt open.

I laughed out loud at the idea, especially now that I’d had some experience with both women.

“That is one thing that you most certainly do not have to worry about.  No regrets and no second chances there.  No second chances.  Not for her.  Not for anyone.  Ever again.”

“That bad, huh?” Marie asked.

“Trust me.  She wasn’t worth the time that I spent with her.”

“Am I?” Marie asked.

“What?” I asked.

“Am I?” she asked again.

“Are you ... what?” I asked, still not sure what she was getting at.

Marie sighed.

“Am I worth the time you’ve spent with me?”

I pulled her tight.

“No regrets so far other than it’s been a while.  Too long between being able to see you.” I said.

“Couldn’t be helped.” She said.

“You’re here, now.  That's what matters.”

Marie smiled, slowly unbuttoned the next two buttons of my white work shirt and opened my shirt with her spread fingers and hand, moving the button down collar away from my neck and moving closer to me with her lips.

“What are you doing?” I asked her, softly, feeling goose bumps rise on my skin even in the warm afternoon air.

“I want to give you … something.” She whispered in my ear.

“Something?” I asked.

“Uh huh.  Just … a … little … something.”

The way that she whispered that in my ear, her teeth nibbling on my ear lobe, her hot breath on my neck as her hand fully went into my open shirt and rubbed her palm across my right breast and nipple, her fingers moving through my chest hair.  Desire awoke and rose in me at her touch, stiffening, and I think she felt it as it did because she gave a low growl and moved her body still closer to mine, rubbing slightly up and down as she did, putting her weight against me and pinning me against my own car.

What was she going to give me?

Here?

In the parking lot?

In front of all of these people?

My mind raced with possibilities and screamed at potential consequences.  I had minutes, maybe less, to walk down the hill, across the parking lot, get to office at the front of the store and to clock in but right then I was tempted to just say the hell with it all, get in my Camaro Rally Sport and drive off … somewhere … with Marie.  If she had asked me to do just that then I very well might have … so powerful was the feeling I felt with her there next to me, in my arms, and her lips moving along the side of my neck, my ear, and my cheek. 

She was a drug and I was an addict strung out on her from the first hit.  I held her as she moved against me and I closed my eyes.  There we were, making out in the parking lot of County Market, at the top of the hill where everyone could see.  She had me pinned back against the side of my Rally Sport.  Her hands moved over my chest, slowly, rubbing me.  My hands went along the sides of her head, moving through her long hair as she moved closer and closer to what she wanted.

“What … are you … doing?” I asked her, my own voice coming in ragged whispered fragments.

“I’m giving you something you can show to your ex.” Marie said and I felt her lips on my neck, I felt her suck on my neck, take my skin into her mouth … biting it, hard.

Okay.  That felt kind of … different but different in a good kind of way.

Harder.

Uh.

Harder.

Ouch.

Oh, man, I thought, as Marie bit down harder, sucked, gripped part of my skin in her teeth and yanked.  Yanked hard.

Damn!

Marie really bit down then.  Hard.  Pain shot through me but it was mixed with a kind of tingle that washed it away as soon as it hit.

Son of a bitch!

It felt like she had taken a chunk out of my neck.  Marie pulled back, forcefully turned my head to admire her handiwork and smiled that smile that women smile when they’re faced with one-upping a rival.  Great, I thought as I reached up and rubbed my neck.  I leaned down to look at my neck in the driver’s sideview mirror of the Camaro Rally Sport.  Marie laughed a soft laugh.  Looking at my neck I saw that Marie had given me a … hickey.  Not exactly what I had thought she had in mind but …

Great.

The side of my neck where she had put it was visible even with my collar buttoned and I never wore my collar buttoned when I worked at County Market.

“Let her see that and know just how much of an ex she really is.” Marie said in a tone that suggested that Marie did not like competition, even former competition, for my attention.

“What did you …?”

“I just marked my territory.” Marie said.  “You’re branded, Cowboy.”

She marked her territory?

I was branded?

Whoa!  

Wait! 

Cowboy?

Did she just call me “Cowboy”?

I was her ... Cowboy?

I hoped that I wasn’t smiling as big as I thought I was smiling right then.

“Cowboy?” I asked.

“Cowboy.” She said, smiling.  “You make me think of a Cowboy … if this was a hundred years ago … you’d be a Cowboy.”

“Horse, hat and all?” I asked.

“Horse, hat and all.” She said as she turned and started to walk back towards her gold Lincoln.

I thought about that, smiling, as she started to get back in her Lincoln.

“Hey!”

Marie paused, leaned on the roof of her car and looked at me.

“Hey, what?” she asked, shielding her eyes from the glare.

“I'm going to see you tonight?  After work?” I asked her, rubbing my neck lightly.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” she asked with a mischievous smile.

“You want me.” I said, feeling a little bit cocky now.

"Wouldn't be here if I didn't, Cowboy." she said, matching cocky for cocky and giving me that same smile she had given me weeks ago at the water park. 

I watched as she slowly got in her big gold Lincoln, started it up and drove away. 

Damn. 

Marie really hadn’t given me an answer and it was going to be a hell of a long shift spent thinking about her.  If I got to see her tonight then I hoped that tonight would be a repeat of what we had shared two weeks ago.  I sighed, took a deep breath, looked around the parking lot and then looked at my watch.

4:03 PM.

Oh, crap!

I was three minutes late for work!

I jogged across the parking lot and into County Market, punched in six minutes late, apologized to my night manager for being late, checked the work schedule to see that I was doing mopping and sweeping for the first hour of my shift so I headed to the back to get the big soft gliding push broom.  As I was walking down the Middle Aisle Pam was walking back towards the registers up front.  We passed on opposite sides of the Middle Aisle and she stared at me.

“Hey.” She said, half-heartedly, almost dejectedly.

I ignored her completely.



Later, sometime after five, Jeanne found me on her break and shared some of her Skittles with me as I was pulling trash and empty cardboard from the displays and shelves on the aisles.  I was tearing a box down into pieces when she walked up and stood there, a sly smile on her face, a bag of Skittles in her hand, and her receipt for the Skittles stuck to the bag with a red “THANK YOU” sticker.

“So … where did you get that strawberry?” she asked, pointing towards my neck.

“What?” I asked.

“That hickey, you know, that strawberry.  There.  On your neck.  Who gave that to you?”

I reached up and touched my neck where Marie had sucked on it out in the parking lot.  I’d almost forgotten about in the last hour because I’d been so busy with sweeping and mopping and now pulling trash.

“Oh.  This?” I asked.

Jeanne nodded.

It was still a little bit tender.

"Just something an old ... girlfriend ... gave me."

“Uh huh.  Pam saw your hickey.  It must have upset her pretty good because she’s mentioned it to me about five times so far in the last hour.” Jeanne said flatly, somewhat annoyed probably because Pam had brought her, again, into what Pam and I had once had.

My hickey upset Pam?  I thought about that and smiled, maybe just a little, but I smiled.  I’d tell Marie about it later.  She’d get a kick out of that bit of insight.

“What has she got to be upset about?  She cheated on me.  She left me.  She’s back with Ingo.  She’s got what she always wanted.”

Jeanne shrugged her shoulders in probably the most nonchalant way that she could.  

“Hey!  Don’t beat the messenger.  All I’m saying is that strawberry there on your neck has got Pam pretty upset.  I was cleaning the registers and Pam started helping me and it wasn’t two minutes before she started in on talking about the hickey there on your neck and asking me if I’d seen it or not.”

“What does she care?” I asked.

Jeanne shrugged her shoulders.

“I mean, seriously, what does she care if I have a hickey or not?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe she cares who put it there ...” Jeanne said as she shrugged her shoulders again.

Jeanne poured some of her Skittles into the palm of her hand and tossed them back into her mouth.

“Maybe she’s never had a hickey before …” Jeanne said softly.

“Yeah, well, I guess the closest thing that Pam’s ever come to getting a hickey from Ingo is that deep tissue bruise he gave her when he hit her in the back with that beer bottle that he threw at her that night she was trying to get away from him.” I said, remembering the events of just a few months ago.

Jeanne wagged a finger at me in a way that politely chastised me to be nice.

“So ...  you're seeing someone now?  When did this happen?” Jeanne asked, holding the bag of Skittles out for me to take some from her as she finished off the few that she had left in her hand.

“About three weeks ago.” I said, leaving it at that as I tore another empty box to pieces and stuffed it down into the shopping car with the already sizeable amount of cardboard pieces that I’d collected.

I’d be heading to the incinerator soon to drop off my trash and make room in my buggy for more cardboard.

Jeanne had that inquisitive look on her face.

“And?” she asked, smiling.

“I met her down at Paul B. Johnson’s while Rick and I were cruising the lake looking for some of his friends.”

I instantly, and I mean instantly regretted saying that because now Jeanne could ask Rick about Marie and I wasn’t sure that what I had was something that I, or Marie for that matter, wanted everyone knowing about and Rick had a big mouth sometimes.  Right then and there I felt that it was just going to be better in the long run if I just didn’t talk about Marie to anyone else, if what Marie and I had was kept more or less just between us … at least until I could figure out just exactly what it was that Marie and I actually did have between us.  Doing that seemed, to me, to be the best way to keep things from getting complicated, as Marie would have said.

“Is that the one that was supposed to show up that night at work when you lost the bet to Rick and had to buy his beer for him?”

Wow.  

That seemed like a long, long time ago now.  

I nodded.  So, Jeanne knew about that as well.  Great.  Rick must be running his mouth big time which meant that could be a problem.

“So your woman finally showed up, huh?”

I nodded.

“She’s a little bit old for you, isn’t she?” Jeanne asked.

I looked up at Jeanne as I tore a cardboard box down and put it flat in the shopping buggy on top of a pile of similar torn down boxes.

“Who said she's old?”

“Rick said she was old ... ”

I didn't answer, merely pulled an empty box off of the shelf and tore it down before dropping it in the growing flat pile of cardboard in the shopping car.

“So … How old is she?" Jeanne asked, eating a few more Skittles.

“Older than me, older than you.” I said as I shrugged my shoulders.

Jeanne smiled then.

“Rick said that you're probably dating someone's mom.  If you are, you know that makes you a home wrecker.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Are you wrecking another happy home, Christopher?"

I shrugged my shoulders again.  Lately I'd gotten good at shrugging my shoulders.

"Because if you are then that would make two homes that you’ve wrecked in just the last couple of months.” Jeanne said, leaning up against the shelf and looking down intently at her bag of Skittles.

Wrecking a happy home?

I hadn’t thought about it like that …  When I didn’t reply, Jeanne laughed and started walking away.

“Yep.  I knew it!  You’re wrecking yet another happy home!  Christopher T. Shields.  Professional home wrecker … References available upon request.” She said, laughing and walking off.

That’s when I noticed that she had left the bag of Skittles with me and her sales receipt as well.  The bag was still almost a third of the way full of candy. 

“Thanks!” I shouted as she waved over her shoulder rounding the corner of the aisle and heading back to her register up front.

I helped myself to the few that were left in the bag and turned to watch her go but she was already around the corner of the aisle and headed back to her register and like that I was alone again.

Home wrecker?

Was I really a home wrecker?

Pam and Ingo hadn’t been much of a home to wreck … hell, they weren’t even married!  Pam had been given a promise ring by Ingo, nothing fancy like an engagement ring, just some stupid little metal ring that he had probably gotten out of a coin operated vending machine and she was nuts over having it because it was probably one of the nicest things that she had ever had and it was her golden ticket out of the only life she had waiting for her if she didn’t grab onto Ingo with both hands and hold tight.  Whew.  Say all of that in one breath.  I guess I had busted them up, for a while, but I hadn’t done any home wrecking per se.  Hell, it had been Pam that had wrecked her own home when she had started flirting with me, when she had started coming on to me, when she had cheated with me behind Ingo’s back while he was off for the holidays up in Jackson and when she had broken up with Ingo to be with me.

I hadn’t wrecked that home … it was already wrecked when I came along and it really wasn’t a home,
more like two clueless people playing house.  Not much to wreck there.

But with Marie …

Marie …

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure. 

Suddenly I wasn’t so sure of what I was doing.  After all, Marie had said that what we had was complicated and that if we didn’t play by her rules that it would really get complicated and that was going to go really badly for her, especially for her.  I couldn’t call her, I couldn’t go by her place to see her, to visit with her, to pick her up and take her out …  The way that she said all of that made it sound like she didn’t want what we had to ever get beyond just the two of us.

Our little secret.

But what did I have with Marie?

What did I really have with her?

Miss Mystery.

I reached up and touched the hickey on my neck, rubbing it softly and remembering how it had gotten there as well as the look that Marie had given me when I asked her if I was going to get to see her tonight.  That smile she gave me, that same smile and right then Duran Duran’s “Hungry like the wolf” began playing softly in the back of my mind.

Mouth is alive, juices like wine and I’m hungry like the wolf …

Lodged into the background of the song there was the sound of a woman in ecstasy, whining and moaning in the throes of rising passion.  That song had been okay when it first came on the radio a few years ago, I’d even liked it for a while until I’d burned out on it, but this past week I’d almost worn out my Duran Duran tape listening to that one song over and over again … simply because it reminded me of Marie and the sounds that she had made when we were together.

I was hungry like a wolf for Marie but … was I wrecking a home now?

The truth is that I really didn’t know if I was wrecking a happy home or not or even if I was wrecking an unhappy home or not.  I honestly didn’t know very much at all about Marie and at that point in time I could honestly tell you that I didn’t really care, either.

I’d been with Marie. 

I wanted Marie. 

I’d waited two weeks to see her again, thinking about her every single day and night and now, today, this afternoon before work she had come to see me.  She had come here, again, to see me, again, and that wasn’t because she didn’t want to see me again.

I wanted her and she wanted me.

I wanted Marie, complicated or not, and if I was wrecking a happy home when I was with her then I guess that was something else I’d have to answer for one day.  I hoped that final judgment would be a lot later than sooner when and if I did finally have to answer for all that I’d done in my life so far.  It was my personal belief that the longer you put off final judgment, the more time you had to spend on stacking up forgiveness and redemption or at least that’s how I saw things.  I just wondered how much of a sin Marie was going to be … and how long it would take me to pay off whatever debt of spiritual impropriety it was that she was saddling me with?

If I was lucky, if I was really, really lucky then God graded on a curve.

At least I hoped so.



Time passed slowly that night because my head was filled with thoughts of Marie.

Good thoughts.

Naughty thoughts.

Memories.

I ran into Jeanne again as she was putting out restocks and I ran into Pam again as well.  She asked me which aisle an item was located on and I told her.  She didn't even say "thank you" and that was the total extent of our conversation that night.  I know that we had to work together and that what we had shared certainly complicated things between us but sometimes it just seemed like either she forgot what she had done to me, what she had put me through or she was still holding out that maybe I was an option in her life, like Ingo was the sure bet but if, somehow, he didn’t work out that she could always just bat her eyes at me, shake her ass and come running back and all would be forgiven and I’d take care of her for the rest of her life.

I shuddered involuntarily at that thought.

I looked at my watch.  It was 9:47PM.  I was going around straightening displays and had about an hour and fifteen minutes left before I got off of work.  Ten minutes later I was called to the office for a personal phone call.  I figured it was probably Rick wanting to see if I’d hang with him when I got off work, Rick wanting me to go drinking and cruising with him.

I was wrong.

It was Marie.

Her voice was sultry and she asked me to come on over to her apartment when I got off work.  I told her that I didn’t have a problem with that.  She then asked me if I remembered how to get there and I told her that I did.  I told her that I would be there as soon as I could after eleven but sometimes I had to stay late if they needed me to.  She told me to hurry if I could because she had a surprise for me.  I hung up and went back to work with the biggest smile on my face.

Ten o’clock rolled around and I didn’t have to stay late or help put out restock with the night crew and for that I was glad.  I gathered up the last of the shopping carts in the parking lot, punched out and left … passing Ingo sitting there in his beat up old Capri as he stared at the front entrance of County Market, leering, waiting on Pam to get off work.  He turned to stare at me as I walked past and for a change I decided to make eye contact with him.  His stare was blank as his eyes tracked me and his head slowly panned to follow.  Ingo had all the charisma of someone who had been embalmed and he could be a real creepy kind of guy if you let him get to you which I didn’t.  Ingo didn’t scare me, he just kind of creeped me out in that way that made me want to walk up to him and beat on him, especially for how he had treated Pam while she was with me … for how he was probably still treating Pam now that she was back with him.

I smiled at him then, a big smile, because I knew that I could do just that if I wanted to; to be as old as he was Ingo was a wimp.  Hell, I was surprised that he even liked girls but then I guess he needed Pam to pick out which clothes he was going to wear for the day and to help him get dressed in the morning since his mother was way up in Jackson and not around to do that for him anymore.  I also smiled because I knew that whatever he might be thinking he was going to be getting into that night with Pam, well, I’d had the same thing from Pam that he was going to be getting and it wasn’t anything to brag about.  In fact, in hindsight, it was pretty forgettable and if that was the best that he’d ever had, if that was the best he was ever going to get then his life was already a living hell that I didn’t envy.

Ingo could have Pam.

I didn’t have to get revenge on Ingo or Pam for what they had put me through the last few months, no … letting them get back together and be together was better than any revenge I ever could have come up with let alone implemented on my own and the thought of that … the realization of that tiny bit of truth … put a little extra spring in my step and a smile to my face as I walked up the hill of the parking lot to where my ’78 Camaro sat parked.

Maybe Ingo would get Pam pregnant.

Oh, that thought brought a smile to my face because if he ever got her pregnant then his life was fucked with a capital "F".


I drove my Camaro Rally Sport home, changed out of my dirty work clothes into some clean casual clothes, freshened up, threw on some English Leather cologne, brushed my teeth and told my parents that I was going to be out all night.  After the five minute interrogation my parents let me go, somewhat reluctantly, with the promise not to do anything stupid.  When they asked who I was going out with, I told them I was hanging out with a college friend from work and that I might not be home until late tomorrow morning.  I told my parents we were going to pull an all-nighter with some videos and pizza and to add emphasis to my charade I called ahead from my house to Pizza Hut to place an order for a large, thin and crispy pepperoni and Italian sausage pizza.  Ten minutes later I was backing my Rally Sport out of my parents’ driveway and headed to pick up the pizza.

This time was going to be different.  This time I’d set it up where I didn’t have to be back at the crack of dawn.  This time I had all the time in the world with Marie that I possibly could want and if it worked out that I could spend the night with her then I was going to spend the whole night with her.  I'd wake up with her in the morning, in her bed, and not have to worry about getting home early or taking her to pick up her car.  This time I padded the logistics in my favor.  The Pizza Hut I called my order into was literally within walking distance of Marie’s apartment, in fact you could even see the red roof of the restaurant from her apartment’s front door.  I picked up the pizza and a two liter of Coke at a little after 10:30.  I was hungry … no, I was starving.  I hadn’t had anything to eat since noon and I figured Marie might be hungry as well this late at night.  After all, a handful of Skittles would only go so far in saving you from starvation.


10:47 PM.  I knocked on the door and held the pizza in both hands.  I waited.  The locks were undone and the door was opened just enough that Marie could look out at me from behind the door, safe with the chain on it.  Her long hair was done up on top of her head, nicely, not hastily.  She had spent some time doing that.  I could imagine the effort she had put into it and I wondered why?

Was that effort for me or had she been somewhere else?

With someone else?

“Delivery?” she asked, smiling and obviously amused.

“I’m hungry.” I said.  “I haven’t eaten anything since noon so I thought I’d pick up a pizza on the way over.  I got enough to share.”

“What kind?” she asked.

“Pepperoni and sausage.” I said.  “Large.  Thin and crispy.  My usual.  Nothing special.”

Marie took a sniff at the door then seemed to cut her eyes at me.

“You put on cologne.” She said.

“I changed clothes too.  Went home after work and got all handsomed up to see you.”

“You got all handsomed up?” Marie asked, smiling.

“Yes, ma’am.  I handsome up real good when I put a mind to it.” I said, smiling.

Marie laughed.

“Well, I suppose you can come on in.” She said in a sultry voice.

She undid the chain from the door, opened it then invited me in.  I walked on in, past her still standing behind the door and I stepped on through into the apartment as she shut the door behind me.  I wasn’t expecting to see what I did when I turned around ...

There was Marie, wearing this strapless black dress that barely touched the top of her knees.  She wore black high heels, black stockings and with her long hair done up on top of her head she looked like she was going for a long night at some high end social gathering.  She stood there with her arms behind her, her hands flat against the wall and her bottom resting against her hands.  My eyes roamed up and down her body as she crossed her legs, looked up at me and smiled.

That smile.

That same smile.

Was it practiced?

Was it natural?

It was so enticing …

“Oui.  Et voila.” I said, smiling.

“Oui.  Et voila.” Marie said, saying the phrase much better than I had said it while drawing her hands across her body and then out as if presenting herself to me.

“Is that … my surprise?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Good surprise?” she asked.

I nodded probably more enthusiastically than I should have then remembered that I was holding a hot pizza.

“Uh … I brought pizza.” I said, holding the pizza box out in front of me for her to see.

“Uh huh.” Marie said.  “I can see that.”

“And you, uh, brought ... that.  Dress.”

“Uh huh.”

"Black.  Dress."

"Uh huh."

“And … uh … matching lingerie.” I said, looking at her stockings.

“As far as you know.” Marie said, nodding and smiling.

That smile.

She was not playing fair.

“Matching lingerie?” I asked her.

“Well, you might just have to have a look for yourself to be sure.” She said, reaching down and lifting her dress just a bit to show me that her stockings really were thigh highs.

“Uh, you’re not playing fair.” I said, pointing a finger at her accusingly.  “You’re really not playing fair at all dressed like that.”

“Turn-about is fair play.” She replied.

"Not if you cheat when you play." I said.

"All's fair ..."  she cooed.

“I guess you win.” I said.

“Oh, no.  I'm not letting you give up that easy.”

“I know when I'm beat.  It’s hard to compete with that when I’m wearing … this.” I said, pointing out just how casual I had come dressed to her place.

“Well, the night is still young.” Marie said.  “There’s still time for you to catch up, that is, if you’re really keeping score.”

“And you say that I don’t play fair …” I mused.

“You don’t play fair, Cowboy.”

“Yeah … but …”

“But …” she said, mocking.

“Wow.  That dress and all … that … just … wow.”

“So … How do you like it?” she asked, turning slowly to the left and then to the right.

“I … I like it.  A lot.  I like it a lot.” I stammered, unable to take my eyes off of her.

Marie turned slowly in place for me, showing me her dress and her body from all angles.

“You’re beautiful.  You are really … just … beautiful.  That dress really …” I whispered.

She blushed.

“That dress really makes you stand out …”

Marie gave a sudden look of concern.

“Makes me stand out?!” she chided, cutting her eyes at me but not in that good way that she sometimes cut her eyes at me.

“Uh, yeah.  Stand out.  I mean … In a good way!” I quickly added.  “That dress really makes me want to look at you … wherever you are in a room.  That dress really draws my attention.  Commands it, actually.  Hell, I can’t take my eyes off of you right now.  If you were in a room full of women you'd be the only one I'd be looking at and I wouldn't be able to help myself.  You're ... mesmerizing.”

Marie relaxed and smiled.  I even think she blushed, a little.

"Mesmerizing?" she asked.

"Mesmerizing.  Captivating.  Enticing."

Yeah, she was definitely blushing now.

“Wow.” I whispered.

“But … Do you like it?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Well, what about this?” she asked, reaching behind her back and slowly unzipping her dress.

I would have said “what?” out loud except that I was rendered totally speechless by what she was doing.  All I could do was watch her and hope that my mouth wasn’t hanging open like some slack jawed yokel farmer who had just seen a UFO buzz his herd of cows.  The soft whirr of the zipper barely carried the distance.  She put her arms over her head, wiggled once, twice and the dress fell slowly to the floor, bunching up around her ankles. 

Oh.

My.

God!

She really was wearing matching lingerie!

Marie was wearing black high heels, black thigh highs, a black garter belt, black panties and a black bra. Around her neck was some black beaded necklace that tied the whole ensemble together rather nicely.  Silence as my eyes drank her in and she let me take my time doing it, slowly turning in place again, rubbing her hand across her bra, down her bare stomach and across her panties, pulling the side of her panties down slightly on her hip then slipping down to her thigh highs and running a finger through the band there.  I could see just the bare wisp of a few dark pubic curls peeking out from the top of her panties when she slid the elastic down, teasing.  I was mesmerized and completely under her spell. 

The way her breasts filled the cups of her bra. 

The way her panties curved her over bottom. 

That little open space between the inside of her thighs, just below the inverted mound of her nature. 

Taking her all in I guess I had to add another notation to the “firsts” part of the diary of my life.  It was like a Victoria’s Secret ad had come to life in front of me.  Marie was acting like a naughty pinup girl, like an image you’d find on the nose art of a World War II fighter plane or bomber.

“How about this?  Is this a better surprise?” she asked.

I was truly speechless and I felt my desire for her start to awaken.

“I didn’t know if you would like the lacey stuff or not …” she mused.  “I haven’t worn this in a … long time … I wasn’t sure I could find all the pieces but I thought I might surprise you and wear this.  Tonight.  Just to wear it again … just to see your expression.”

I looked her over, top to bottom and back to top, standing there, me holding the pizza box and probably gawking.  In fact, I was lucky that I was still holding the pizza box and that it wasn’t on the floor at my feet, dropped due to shock and amazement.

And then her look changed.  She frowned and quickly lowered her head.

“Sorry.” She said at last, slipping out of her self-petting and preening.  “I’m sorry.  Look … this is … This was silly of me to do this.  I don’t know what I was thinking …  I shouldn’t have …”

She hurriedly reached down and picked up her dress, slid it back up and started to put it back on.  Her look said she was embarrassed … or ashamed.

No!

No!!

No!!!

I quickly stepped forward and put the pizza down.  When I reached out to touch her, she looked down and almost moved away from me.  I took her in my arms and held her tight.  Her perfume was intoxicating, as was the smell of her long hair.  I rubbed my hands over her bare back, softly, slowly.

“I like lacey stuff.” I whispered.  “Black’s my favorite color.  I don’t even know why they make this stuff in white or pink or any other color, I’d never ask you to wear anything but what you’re wearing right now … if you’d wear it just for me.”

I felt her nod her head against me but she didn’t say anything.  I held her like that, just rubbing her softly, holding her.  She smelled so good.

“This isn’t how it was supposed to go.” She said.  “I’m screwing this up.  I am really screwing this up.”

“No.  No, you’re not.” I said softly.

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I haven’t worn this stuff in … God.  I can’t remember.” She whispered.  “I don’t even know why I wore it tonight …”

“You’re wearing it now.” I whispered, not really knowing what else to say and feeling that was about the best thing that I could say.

“I just wanted to feel … I don’t know … wanted … again.” She said, shrugging, exasperated, trying to find the right words to say.

I held her tight and put my face into her long hair, kissing her on top of her head.

“You’re beautiful.  Wearing this makes me want to be with you.  Wearing this makes me want you; it makes me want you even more than I thought I could want you.”

She nodded her head against me.  I held her for a little while longer and then whispered that the pizza was going to get cold. She gave a forced laugh and stepped away from me.

“Well, so much for a shoulder to lean on.” She said.  “Even pizza wins out over me.”

“Marie …”

“No.  Go ahead and eat.” She said.  “I’m going to go to the back and change out of this silly stuff …”

“No.” I said firmly and loudly.

“What?” she asked, shocked … surprised.

I realized that I had to stop her from taking all of that off.  I had to remove any doubt she had as to how much I liked what she had done and how much I appreciated her effort.

“No, you’re not changing out of any of that!” I said and she stopped, looked at me, one arm at her side and the other across her breasts holding the other arm.

“Why?  It’s silly.”

“It’s not silly.”

“Yes it is.  This was just … silly.  Dressing up like this ...” She said, starting to get defensive and withdrawn.

“It’s not silly.  You said that you wanted to feel wanted, to feel needed but wearing that makes me feel wanted … it makes me feel needed … by you.  When you wear that, you make me feel special.  You make me feel special that you went to the effort to fix yourself up for me like that.”

She didn’t ask it but her eyes asked “you do?”

“Is that my surprise?” I asked her.

Marie nodded.

“That matching lingerie really …” I trailed off, unsure of what words to use.

“What?” she asked.

“That lingerie really makes me … happy.” I said, cringing at the word that I chose and feeling that it was so inadequate.

“What you’re wearing … it just makes me want you even more … and I didn’t think that I could want you any more than I do right now but I do.  I want you more than I’ve ever wanted you before.  Marie, you’re beautiful but that … all of that makes you just … magic to my eyes.  You’re bewitching and wearing that puts a spell on me.” I added and thought that sounded not only inadequate but pretty bad as well.

And just when I thought that I was really screwing things up … she smiled.  She smiled and she blushed.  I took that for what it was so I pressed what little I had to work with.

“So … I have to keep on wearing this?” she asked coyly.

“Yes, you do.  In fact, you have to eat pizza wearing that.” I said, pointing at her lingerie.

“Oh, I do, do I?” she asked, putting on a pouty face and putting her hands on her hips.

“Yes, ma’am, you do.”

“And then what?” she asked, smiling a little, being demure.

“And then I’m going to take my time letting you know just how beautiful and how magical and how bewitching you really are by slowly running my fingers and hands over every square inch of that lace and lingerie.”

Marie cut her eyes at me seductively.

“Come here.” She said extending her finger and beckoned to me.

“I’ve got pizza.” I said.

“I’ve got something better than pizza.” and she didn’t need to tell me twice.

I went to her, took her in my arms and held her tight, pulling her in tight to me.  I ran my hands up and down her back, her arms and grabbed her long hair, pulling hard so that I could force her head to the position that I wanted, a position that let me get at her shoulders, neck, and cheek.  It was just like this afternoon only she had a lot less clothing on and I had all the time in the world to be with her.  I buried my face in her neck, kissing and nibbling.  She sighed and panted, running her hands up my back, over my head, holding me tight, trying to climb me.  Our lips met, parted, our tongues found each other and we kissed deep, long, hot.

“You’re giving me a fever.  You know that, don’t you?” She said.

“I tend to have that effect on you lately.” I said.

"Yes, you do." she whispered.

I reached down with my right hand and started running it up the inside of her thigh.  She spread her legs slightly in anticipation and I reached between her thighs, to her groin, to her panty covered nature and gently cupped her there.  She was running a fever.  I could feel it through her black panties with the tips of my fingers.

Soft.

Hot.

Swollen.

Damp.

When I didn’t do anything other than cup her there she started writhing in my arms under my attentions, grinding her groin against my hand and making little whimpering noises.  I cupped her, held her to me, and continued to work her neck and shoulders before I moved over to her lips and mouth.

Hot breath.

Short breaths.

Almost panting.

Her thighs squeezed tight around my hand as she slowly ground her groin against me and moaned softly.  She moved her body up and down against mine like she was slowly trying to climb me.  My lips touched hers, warm, wet. I pushed my tongue past her lips into her mouth, found her tongue again and kissed her deep and long.  When I withdrew I put my head next to hers and just held her there, like that, two as one.  After we broke our kiss I don’t know who was the more out of breath, me or her.

“God, I really missed you.” She whispered. 

“I really missed you, too.” I whispered in her ear as I slowly pulled my hand out of her crotch and nibbled on her ear lobe one more time.

She sighed deeply, turned her head to meet mine and molded herself to me.

“Prove it to me.”

“Now?” I asked.

“Now.” She whispered in my ear.

So I did.

Pizza and Maslow be damned, some things just took precedence over basic survival and Marie, in lingerie, telling me to take her now was one of those things.  We skipped the foreplay which for us meant that we bypassed the whiskey and all the small talk and we just dove into each other.  When she was finished with me she had left a pile of discarded clothes, mostly mine, on the floor leading all the way across the living room to the master bedroom … the pizza forgotten where I had set it down on the coffee table. 

Duran Duran's song kept playing softly in my mind.  Our mouths were alive, her juices were like wine and I was hungry like a wolf … but not for pizza.

I took my time with her; the lingerie was like a set of boundaries that I explored with my fingers, lips and tongue, slowly, teasing her.  True to my word I showed her how much I appreciated her lingerie and her choice to wear it for me.  I showed her how much it meant to me that she had put that much effort into surprising me and fixing herself up for me.  It had been two weeks since my bare skin had last touched Marie’s bare skin and we made up for lost time.  We threw ourselves into each other, losing ourselves completely.  Once again it was primal and bestial; it started desperately, built to a fervent hedonistic act then worked itself into its own groove until finally ending.  The sounds she made, the words she uttered in teeth clenched whispers, the feel of her wrapped around me, of her gripping me, of her nature around mine, of her legs across my legs, her stockings against my bare legs.

The feel of her using my shoulders and her legs to rise off of me as I lay there, to rise and fall, to never miss her mark, the feel of her heart shaped bottom slamming down against my bare thighs, her arching her back, her long hair falling behind her, her eyes closed, her mouth open, sometimes grimaced, sometimes pursed, and her breasts bouncing in front of me with each rise and fall.  She would pause sometimes, sitting there on top of me, running her hands through her long hair, sometimes running her hands over her breasts, shaking slightly, shuddering sometimes, sometimes saying something that I could barely understand and then she would start the rhythm over again … taking up the slack and picking up where she had left off. 

The sound of skin on skin.

Her whispers, her mutterings ... too low for me to understand what she was saying.

Like she was invoking some kind of incantation.

It was like she was casting a spell.

There are things that once a man experiences them that he will remember these things for the rest of his life and Marie gave me those experiences there in her bed and with those experiences the memories that I would have to cherish.

Afterwards we lay there, holding each other, she still on top of me, my hands slowly sliding up and down her bare back and bottom.  My fingertips gliding over her soft, warm skin.

Spent.

Again.

I rolled, pulled her tight to me, drawing her in to conform to the shape of my body beside her.  She looked at me, put her fingers to my lips and traced my lips.  I kissed her finger and then put my head on the pillow beside her, using my finger to trace the bare skin of her breast, her chest, and her neck line.  She closed her eyes as I drew her lightly and softly, my finger the pencil and her skin the paper.  We stayed that way for several minutes.  I felt her next to me, I could hear her heart beating in her chest, feel the rise and fall of her chest with her breathing.

“What made you dig out the lacey stuff?” I asked, my voice a whisper, tracing my finger across the wide band of her thigh high stockings … the last of her lingerie that she still wore.

“Did you like that?  Was it a good surprise?” she asked.

“Yeah, I liked it.  I really liked it!  That was a really good surprise.”

“Really?” she asked.

“I thought that much was obvious.  I was just curious why you did it.  I mean, I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

She got comfortable next to me.

“That’s why I did it and … because I could. I wanted to surprise you.  I wanted to do something nice for you, something special because maybe I needed to feel sexy and pretty and wanted again.”

“Needed or wanted?”

“Both.”

“You are sexy … and you’re not pretty, you’re beautiful … and I want you.” I said.

“I know.  You show me that when I’m with you and that makes me happy.  I just wanted to make you happy.  Maybe give you back some of what you give to me … of what you’ve given to me in this short time that we’ve … known … each other.”

“Being with you makes me happy.  When I’m not with you …” I said, trailing off because I didn’t know what else to say.

She hugged me tighter but didn’t say anything.  I lay there, next to her, holding her.  We lay there like that for several minutes and then my stomach rumbled noticeably and that’s when I remembered the pizza in the other room.

“Is that your stomach?” Marie asked, smiling.

“Yeah.” I said, laughing.  “I forgot that I was hungry, seeing you in your lingerie.  I guess my priorities got messed up.”

Marie laughed softly and ran her hand down my cheek.

“I think your priorities are set just fine.” She said, smiling and looking at me.

I laughed.

“Yeah.  I guess they are.”

I started to get out of bed.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I’m hungry.  I’m going to get a slice or two … you want some?”

“Yeah.” Marie said sitting up. 

“Yeah, I think I do.  You warm up the pizza and I’ll get us something to drink.  Is Coke okay with you?  I’ve got a two liter in the fridge.”

“Yeah, that’s fine … as long as it’s not Diet Coke or that New Coke stuff.”

We both got out of bed, me naked and Marie sitting down to start unrolling her stockings.

“Uh uh.  Don’t even think about it.” I said loudly, wagging my finger and she stopped, huffed then smiled.

“What?” she asked, surprised at me raising my voice to her, looking up at me.

“You know what I said.  You have to eat pizza in the sexy stuff.”

Marie huffed and blew a strand of hair from her face.

“All of it?  You want me to put all of that stuff back on?” she asked, finding her bra on the floor and reaching for it.

“No.  I’ll let you off with just the stockings but if you try to take them off I’ll make you put them back on and … I’ll make you put all of it back on.”

Marie sighed.

“I should never have dug these old things out if you’re going to make me wear them all night.”

“Not all night.” I said.  “But I did say that you had to wear them while we ate pizza and I’m going to hold you to that.”

“Oh, you are, are you?”

“Yes.  I am.”

Marie stood up, walked down the hall in front of me, stopped, reached down and picked up my shirt that she had pulled off of me. 

“Hey!  What do you think you’re doing with that?” I asked her.

“Wearing it.  I’m cold.” She said.

"What if I'm cold, too?" I asked her.

"You can wear my dress." she said, smiling.

I laughed and shook my head.

"No, I don't think so." I said.

Marie held my shirt in her hands, bunched up, sniffed it then closed her eyes with the wadded up shirt held to her face.  She opened her eyes, smiled at me and then put my shirt on, quickly pulling it on like a jacket and leaving the buttons undone.  I watched her as I pulled on my black bikini briefs and my jeans.

“What?” Marie asked, turning to look at me and smiling.

“You really like wearing my shirts, don’t you?” I asked.

“Your shirt smells like you.  I like how you smell.  You have a good smell.  Your natural scent, the smell of your skin, your hair.  I like rubbing my face against your skin, smelling you.  
It’s one of the things I find really attractive about you. ” She said. 

“And what are the other things.”

“Things.” She said.

“What things?” I asked.

"Things." she said again, smiling and blushing.

"So ... you're not going to tell me?"

Marie shook her head playfully, slowly, but she didn’t say, she just smiled that smile again and walked in front of me, wearing nothing but her black stockings and my shirt.  I watched, mesmerized, as she walked down the hall, thigh highs, bare bottom, dark wisp of pubic hair glimpsed every now and then teasingly in that hollow space between her legs as her bottom swayed, my button up shirt covering her nakedness from the waist up.  I knew that I'd remember that sight for a long time to come as well.

I got the pizza from where I had set it down in the living room and warmed up a few pieces in the microwave while Marie filled two glasses with ice and poured the Coke.  Watching her move around the kitchen, naked except for the black thigh high stockings and my shirt, was mesmerizing and I guess she thought the same because we kept catching the other taking long glances.  After I’d warmed up four slices of pizza I followed Marie back down the hall to the bedroom and we sat there on the bed, in various stages of nakedness, eating warmed up Pizza Hut pizza off of a paper plate and sharing a tall glass of Coke on ice.

Afterwards we got under the sheets, had heathen sex again then held each other and just basked in the afterglow.  Sometime during the afterglow we fell asleep but I couldn’t tell you who fell asleep first … it might even have been a tie.
 

Marie woke me the next morning with her hands and mouth, worshipping me to completion and even the afterglow.  I added that to my list of firsts that she had shown me in our time together.  It was the second night that I’d ever spent with a woman.  It was the second time that a woman had ever done that to me without expectation of something in return and the first morning that a woman had ever awakened me like that.  Afterwards I returned the favor not out of some sense of balance or fairness but because I wanted to.  

Afterwards I wanted her again and I really gave her bed a workout.  At one point she got so loud that I had to put a hand over her mouth to stifle all the noise that she was making and apparently that turned her on even more.  The more I tried to restrain her and fight her into submission the more aggressive she became, the deeper her growls and the louder her cries became.  Fury and desire rose between us; I finished well after she did and fell into her, collapsing on top of her, catching my breath as best as I could as she shuddered every now and then, rubbing her arms and hands up and down my back, holding me while our hearts and breathing slowed, her arms slowly moving up and down my bare skin, her fingers spread, rubbing me, touching me, caressing me.

“I did.” She kept whispering, every now and then, softly, sometimes as a small tremor ran through her body.  

I didn’t know what she meant by that … somehow I just accepted it, holding her there, two as one, our arms and legs wrapped around each other and two hearts trying to touch.  We showered and ate breakfast in the living room; Eggo waffles, warmed in a toaster, buttered and with a shared glass of milk.  Short of some small talk not much was said.  Breakfast wasn't really about the food, it was more the afterglow ... just being together, just being near.  Marie was the kind of person where just being with her was like talking to her and silence was our conversation.

I looked at the clock on the wall; 7:48AM.


After breakfast Marie and I went back to bed, snuggled, made out without having sex and fell asleep again in each other’s arms.  I woke up at 11:15 and realized that my parents were probably going to start getting worried.  I told Marie that I had to run some errands and she said that she had some to run a few as well.  When she asked me if I had to work that night I told her that I was free.

"How did you manage that?" she asked.

"It happens sometimes, less often than I'd like.  Luck of the draw, I guess ..." I said as I shrugged my shoulders.

That smile crossed her lips again.

“Want to meet me back here around seven, Cowboy?  Tonight?” she asked.

“You’re sure?” I asked.  “You didn’t get enough of me last night?”

“I’m sure and no, I didn’t.  Did you get enough of me?” she said, smiling.

“No.  I mean ... yeah ... I mean ... Yeah, I can do that.  I want to see you again.” I told her, trying to process what she said, what she was offering and my own desires.

"Promise you'll come back?  Tonight?" she asked.

"Yeah.  Promise." I said.

Wow.

Spending two nights in a row with the same woman … I was going to spend two nights in a row with the same woman at her apartment!  

I put that down in my Book of Firsts as well.

I got dressed, kissed her goodbye, a long deep kiss, at the door and left.  My parents were being good with me and I didn’t want to upset that relationship or throw any kind of chains around the kind of freedom that I was enjoying being able to come and go as I liked.  Hell, as it was Marie only lived about two miles from where I lived; I could have walked or ridden my Schwinn ten speed bike to see her if I had wanted to.

I spent the afternoon at home, cleaned and washed my Camaro, cut the yards, took a much needed nap, got cleaned up then went out for the night.  I told my parents I was going to be gone all night again but that I would be back in time for church.  Amid some grumbling I left and spent the night with Marie.  This time she was in a better mood … the lingerie was gone but that didn’t matter because I took her out to eat at IHOP again, kind of making it our special place, as much as IHOP can be a special place for two people, then we went back to her apartment and surrendered ourselves to our shared needs and desires.  

When we were alone together we were heathens, savages, pagans … we lost ourselves in each other totally and completely. 

There was only Marie.

Marie was passionate, as ravenous for me as she was uninhibited … unashamed of what she had and how she could use it.  She explored me and my boundaries as much as I explored her and her boundaries and the more we explored each other’s boundaries the more elastic or even non-existent we found those boundaries to be.  It was the thrill of discovery, of exploration, of limitless passion for both of us and it was the most wonderful thing that I had ever felt in my life.  Things that I'd read about in dirty magazines, things that I'd thought about for years, things that I'd always wanted to try with a woman ... Marie was willing, even eager and she had some ideas of her own.

We never said no to each other.

I lost myself in her and she lost herself in me.

Marie’s body was a playground without rules … without fences or limits.  Marie’s body was my own personal playground, my own private playground.  She told me what she wanted and told me how she wanted it.  When I wanted something from her she was just as willing to give.  Marie was pure undiluted hedonism when you got her hot and bothered and so far, experience had taught me that getting her hot and bothered wasn’t that hard if you just put her on a pedestal, made her the center of your attention and worshipped her with everything that you could give her.  It felt like someone had neglected Marie for a long time and that much was pretty evident.  Marie was ravenous for affection and attention and she ate up anything and everything that I offered her; she ate up everything that I gave her.  She met me with a need, with a desire that said that she was making up for lost time, lost chances, and that whatever her life was she was running a deep debt on affection and physical attention being paid to her.

When we were together Marie was an uncaged tigress let loose to prowl and hunt.  Marie was animal-like in bed that night and we didn’t go to sleep until late that evening.  As I lay there, with Marie snuggled up next to me sleeping contentedly, I listened to the still not familiar sounds of the apartment around me and I thought of just how lucky a guy I was.  Here I was, sixteen years old and I was banging this older woman like a drum set on the stage of a KISS concert.  Marie moaned softly in her sleep and I pulled the sheet up over her shoulders, wrapping my arm around her and snuggling in behind her.

Sleep came quicker than I thought it would.  

I slept until almost 1am in the morning and woke her gently in my usual way, exploring her.  I let her be selfish, built her up slowly until her release and then I let her sleep again.  I set my alarm on my watch and woke in plenty of time to spend more time with her, shower with her then make it to church.  When I left, it was with a feeling of certainty that I’d see Marie again … I had no idea when that might be, how many days or maybe even weeks would pass before I saw her again but I knew, I just felt way down deep inside, that I’d see her again.  

How long Marie would be with me I didn’t know but I planned on enjoying every single minute I could with her, as often as I could.  I told myself that I wasn’t going to take what we had for granted and that I was going to cherish every single minute that I got to spend with her and I guess that was, like most things in life, easier said than done.  It was definitely a convenient affair that I was having with her even if it was entirely at her whim, beck and call but I didn’t mind …  When you're sixteen and you've got someone like Marie in your life you learn to be pretty easy and open with how things flow.

My parents didn’t say anything this time around when I came home with just enough time to get dressed for church though my mom did ask about the hickey on my neck.  She was concerned, really concerned, that I had gotten back with Pam again and the thought of that worried her since my parents did not like Pam ... at all.  I was quick to reassure her that I hadn’t, that it was an entirely different girl that got a little carried away when we were making out last night and mom pretty much let it slide with a noticeable sigh of relief, something she obviously wouldn’t have done if she knew that I’d spent the last two nights rolling in the sheets having marathon sex with a woman who was probably as old as she was.  I wore a white button up shirt with a button down collar, add in a red tie to the outfit and with my dark suit coat on you couldn’t even see the hickey at all which was a good thing since if I’d gone to church with a hickey on my neck where everyone could have seen it I think my mom would have died from embarrassment.



           Jeanne / My Junior Prom
Hattiesburg Prep
Friday
April 11, 1986


Tonight was the night of my Junior Prom. 

It had been a week since I’d been with Marie, my second time with Marie, and the memories were still fresh enough that they sometimes kept me awake at night thinking about her.  It had been three weeks since I’d first been with Marie and four weeks since I'd first met her.  

Wow.  

One whole month.

The past month had really been one hell of a roller coaster.  Since my time with Pam was over, since there was no way that I could ask Marie to be my prom date and not wanting to miss my junior year high school prom just because it was, after all, my junior year high school prom (and the first prom that I’d ever been to) I did the next best thing that I could …  I asked Jeanne to go with me, more as a friend and less as a date.

Jeanne had no problem with this and it sure beat going stag.

Stag.

There was that term again.

Stag.

A male deer.

A single male deer probably looking to get lucky.

Stag.

What an antiquated term.

At the time, Jeanne was seeing some guy named Aaron.  Aaron was this blonde haired, blue eyed, athletic rich kid who wore preppy clothes, drove a black Porsche and had one hell of a bitch for an ex-girlfriend.  Aaron was on the outs with his girlfriend and Jeanne was picking him up on the rebound.  That was a bad move; at least it seemed to be a bad move to me.  Jeanne saw it as a relationship in the making, helping to pick up a fallen Prince Charming.  I saw it as Aaron trying to get what he could with Jeanne while he was taking a break from having to deal with his over demanding, over controlling ex-girlfriend and her family.   In short, Aaron was going slumming and Jeanne had stars in her eyes.

Jeanne was like me, she always attracted the ones that were somehow bad for her.   

Maybe one day Jeanne would start learning from her mistakes.

Hell, maybe one day I’d actually start learning from my mistakes.

I guess it would be interesting to see which of us got there first.

I changed into a rented tuxedo that I’d gotten from Floyd’s Formals on Hardy Street, bought a corsage at the Sunflower grocery store in the University Mall and drove over to Jeanne’s house to pick her up.  The air conditioner was blowing on high and WHSY Rock 104.5 FM was playing Boston's "More than a feeling" on the Kenwood.  As I was stuck in traffic on Hardy Street listening to the guitar riffs of Boston's hit I thought about Jeanne and my mind wandered back to the first time that I had met her …   She had started work at County Market around the same time that Pam had, way back in the fall of last year right as football season was gearing up and we were getting ready to enter a really busy seasonal shopping time.  That was almost eight long months ago.  Both Jeanne and Pam were from way north of Hattiesburg, up near Jackson.  Pam was from a little pothole in the road called Star, Mississippi and Jeanne was from a little bit closer in Mendenhall; both were going to USM this year.  It was Pam’s freshman year and it was Jeanne’s junior year, having transferred in after graduating from Hinds Junior College.

Pam was two years older than I was.

Jeanne was four years older than I was.

Pam was still a little girl; lost, confused and desperate.

Jeanne was a woman; mysterious, confident, sure, and exotic.

I smiled as I remembered seeing Jeanne that first time.  

I had been working Front Wall with Rick and Jeanne was checking customers out at her register.  She was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen, easily the most beautiful woman working at County Market.

She had a natural beauty.

She was a new employee.

I’d never worked with her before.

I'd never seen a woman as beautiful as Jeanne was before.

She was the take your breath away kind of woman that graced magazine covers and for which mere mortals could only hope to attract the attention of.

“What are you doing?” Rick asked as I stood there by Front Wall staring at Jeanne.

“Checking out the new cashier.  Have you seen her?”

“Which one?” Rick asked.

“The brunette there, the one with the pretty eyes and smile.  Register five.”

Rick looked down the line of registers at the cashiers.

“She’s new.  When did she start?” Rick asked.

“Today.  I think.  Maybe.  I don’t know … this is the first time I’ve worked with her.  I got a price check for her a few minutes ago.  She is fine.” I mused.

“What’s her name?” Rick asked.

“Jeanne.” I said.

Almost as if on cue Jeanne turned, saw me looking at her and smiled … and with one single smile from her I was smitten.

“She doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to take her to my prom this year.  She’s going to be my prom date.” I told Rick.

“Who?” Rick asked.

“Her.  Jeanne.  The new brunette.” I said, pointing towards Jeanne with my box cutter.

Rick looked at Jeanne again and gave one of his loud laughs.

“Her?  Oh dream on!” He said, laughing.

“Watch me.”

“Dream on, Shields!  You don’t have a chance in hell with someone like that!”

“It’ll happen.” I said.

“Right …” Rick chided.



And it did … just not the way that I’d thought that it would.

Jeanne was with me but she wasn't with me.  Thinking back now to all that had happened I might have had a chance with Jeanne … might have ... that is, if I hadn’t blown that chance by going and getting involved with Pam.  Pam and Jeanne had been friends and somewhere along the way when I'd become friends with both.  I guess I'd made the mistake of mentioning to Pam that I was interested in Jeanne ... more than interested because the fact was that right then I wanted to date Jeanne.  For whatever reason known only to her, Pam had decided that she wanted me for herself and I was stupid enough to get involved with her even though she already had a weirdo boyfriend slash pseudo fiance.  The problem with having a relationship with Pam was that it had been a disposable relationship from the start and I never should have gotten involved with her.  Pam had been a mistake; I should have just ignored Pam all together and gone for broke with Jeanne right from the start.  Jeanne had been the one worth chasing after, Pam hadn't been worth the waste of time, and, hindsight being what it usually was, I saw that now when I should have seen that way back then.

Mistakes made and lessons learned ... the hard way, as usual.

For a year that had started with nothing but promise nothing had gone like I had wanted it to go this year, not with Pam and not with Jeanne.  Nevertheless, here I was, taking Jeanne to my junior year high school prom just like I had told Rick that I was going to do all those months ago.  I was finally taking Jeanne to my prom … just not the way that I had wanted to take her to my prom.  The circumstances were different but the end result was the same and I guess in life that’s all that really matters.  Life doesn’t care how you get somewhere, or how you get something ... no, life only cares that you get it, when you’re supposed to get it.  Being happy isn’t always an option in life, hell, most of the time it’s not even on the menu; this I was coming to learn the hard way at an early age and this ... being here with Jeanne like this,  was just another hard lesson.  

Sometimes life gave you what you wanted just not the way that you wanted it.

Jeanne was renting an old wooden house on the east side of West 4th Street, a bit on down past Hattiesburg High.  It wasn’t a good section of town and it was only getting worse as the years rolled on and the undesirable aspects of Hattiesburg’s society moved closer and closer into housing that became increasingly affordable as the older gentry fled to other parts of the city when and as they could.  Why she had moved here from her townhouse over at Foxfire Apartments was a question that I hadn’t asked her yet but I guess she had her reasons.  I parked my Rally Sport in the two broken, overgrown concrete ruts that served as a primitive driveway on the side of her house, got out, adjusted my tux and walked up to the front door.  The old rotten wooden steps creaked loudly under the weight of my footsteps.  In a few more years they probably wouldn’t be safe to use at all.

I knocked on the front door of her rented house.

Old wood.

Cracked paint flaking.

I waited.

Old metal railing rusting.

Nothing.

I knocked louder this time.

Footsteps from somewhere inside the house … coming closer.

The sound of a very old lock being undone, tried first one way then another; Jeanne answered the door.  She was stunning … just … stunning … on so many levels.  She wore a strapless bright red dress that she really filled out and she was drop dead gorgeous to the point that I was almost speechless.

Almost.

“Hi!” I said and that was all I could say because Jeanne was stunning, the kind of stunning that would literally take your breath away and reduce any 20th century man to monosyllabic Neanderthal grunts at best.

“Hi!” she said, smiling.

Jeanne had a great smile. 

“How do I look?” she asked.

My brain was rebooting.  I'd never seen Jeanne much out of her work smock and white button up shirt and here she was dressed in a way that would slay lesser mortals who gazed upon her figure.  There was a pause, a silence as I tried to force my brain to work.  Her eyes were saying that she was waiting on an answer, an answer that was taking an eternity and a day to crawl from my brain to my lips.

“Stunning.” I said, because it was true, and I managed to say it right before the silence became uncomfortable.

Okay, that answer was multi-syllabic but close enough.  

Jeanne blushed, cutting her eyes at me.  Jeanne was an exotic beauty … the kind that ancient city states would have gone to war over to possess.  I gave her the corsage which she wore on an elastic band on her wrist and she helped me pin on my red rose boutonniere.  After that, she grabbed a small matched purse bag, said goodbye to her roommate and I walked her down the steps and down the sidewalk to my Rally Sport.  I opened the passenger side door for her, helped her get into the Camaro and then we left.  We didn't talk much on the way which I guess was for the best; if we had any thoughts we kept them to ourselves and didn't share.

Ten minutes later we were arriving at Hattiesburg Prep out by the old Beverly Drive-In, down Old Airport Road.  We made our entrance, were announced to the gathered crowd, and made our prom pictures.  Most of the music was contemporary Top 40 … Prince’s “Purple Rain” soundtrack album and Morris Day and The Time were popular as was Chicago’s latest album.  It wasn’t heavy metal but at least it wasn’t redneck country so thank God for small mercies.  Jeanne was easily the most beautiful woman there at the prom that night and she didn’t even have to try.  I had several compliments on her beauty and an equal number of envious glances from the other guys, especially some of the seniors.  Jeanne turned heads like whiplash.  A few of the other girls cast sharp envious glances her way … Jeanne exuded a natural kind of beauty, an exotic kind, the kind of beauty that even with all the money the other girls had paid to get ready for tonight, for their special night, they still couldn’t hope to match.

Here, in this place, now, in this time, Jeanne was mine.  

Jeanne and I danced closer than I expected that we would but not as close as I would have once liked to have danced with her given my sophomoric desire for her, what had easily amounted to a crush, just a few short months before.  The first time I saw Jeanne I was smitten by her but as the months passed and we got to know each other, as the emotional train wreck that was my affair with Pam happened, as Marie came roaring into my life, as cold, hard reality stepped in and dashed any stupid teenage crush that I might have had on her I came to realize that there would never be anything between Jeanne and me, never anything serious, never anything like I had wanted there to be.

Jeanne was an exotic, a rarity.  She had a natural beauty few other women could boast of but the odds of anything other than the most basic of friendships occurring between us were astronomically close to zero.  So close to zero as to be laughable … Jeanne might as well have been a glossy photo on the front of a photographer’s magazine, torn off and stapled to my bedroom wall beside my bed for as close as I would ever be able to get to her and to think that I thought, just a few months ago, that I could actually have, no, might actually have, something meaningful, something deep, something long lasting with her was nothing more than the fodder of testosterone fueled teenage boy daydreams.

I thought back to the women that had been in my life so far this year … Jeanne, Pam, Marie.  Each had been a learning experience in and of their own.  Pam had been a mistake.  A terrible mistake but she had been a learning experience, a trial by fire, and I wasn’t the same person that I was before I met her.  I guess that was good … it just didn’t feel like that sometimes.  Pam had taken something from me and even I could see that.  I don’t know what it was that she had taken from me but she had taken something and she hadn’t been nice when she had taken it.  Maybe somewhere down the road of life I’d need what she stole from me, maybe not.  Time and luck would tell, one way or the other, but I felt emptier for having ever known her.  Pam didn’t feel like a relationship … more like a romance if it had been written by Faulkner ... or Faust.

Jeanne wasn't so much a case of unrequitted love as she was just a daydream, a youthful fantasy fueled by out of control raging teenage hormones … wishful thinking on my part … and the tantalizing tease of our flirting with each other when we worked together.  The allure of wishing for something you could never have.  Jeanne was a high school boy’s glossy pinup in his locker … something he could stare at and think about ... nothing more.  My time with Pam, not to mention my current involvement with Marie, certainly complicated things to the point that I didn’t see any real way that I could ever have a chance of having any kind of relationship with Jeanne other than what we now shared.  Part of me, a bigger part of me than I was comfortable admitting, regretted not making a play for Jeanne all those months ago but I guess if I had then things between us would have gotten … complicated.  

Complicated.

There was that damn word again.

What Jeanne and I shared, this strange friendship, might not exist and things between us would certainly have been complicated, especially at work, if I had ever told her how I really felt about her all those long months ago.  Part of me thought that if I had told her up front how I felt about her then I might be here with her in exactly the way that I'd wanted to be here with her all those months ago.

Or I might not even be here with her at all.

Chances not taken.

Paths not chosen.

Words not spoken.

Feelings not shared.

Complicated.

I grimaced at that thought.

Complicated.

Yeah, if I had to use one word to describe this year, just one single word to describe my entire life right here and right now that word would be … complicated.


I guess Rick had been right from the start.

I had no chance with something … with someone … like Jeanne.

I was just a mortal.

No chance in hell.

Never had.

Never would.

Still … for two hours I had Jeanne alone to myself … something that I had hoped for, even wished for since I first saw her all those months ago, last fall, standing there at her check-out register at County Market.  Now it felt strange; this wasn’t the feeling of accomplishment that I thought it would have been because Jeanne wasn’t mine.  She was with me but she wasn’t mine.

This felt … distant.

This felt … forced.

This felt much less a date, much less two friends going to have fun and more like a casual business arrangement.

A favor being called in.

The truth was that tonight I needed someone for show, I needed a placeholder in my life to validate this coming of age experience and Jeanne was available but she was available for display only.  She wasn’t mine.  She was borrowed and in that regard she was mine in the same way that the tuxedo I was wearing was mine.  She was mine for a little while and she was a warm body filling an empty slot in my life, a slot that was empty only because things hadn’t worked out between us like I had wanted them to, because Pam had left me and because Marie wasn’t (and couldn’t be) here.  Jeanne was a stunt double in my dating life and even though we were a couple that night Jeanne’s thoughts were obviously on Aaron while she was with me and my thoughts were on Marie while I was with her.

She talked of Aaron often.

I thought of Marie often.

Jeanne’s perfume reminded me of Marie if not for the particular scent more so just for its presence.  Jeanne’s hand in my hand reminded me of Marie.  Dancing close to Jeanne, my right palm to the bare skin of her back, my left hand on her shoulder, reminded me of Marie.  The warmth of her skin.  The occasional brush of her hair against my face as we danced close.  I could almost close my eyes and imagine that it was Marie, not Jeanne, that was there with me.  Almost.  Marie had spoiled me in regard to companionship and for that I felt something akin to regret when I was with Jeanne.  Here was Jeanne, a woman that I had strong feelings for, had even had a serious crush on, since before I ever knew Pam and way before I ever knew Marie.  Eight months ago I had told Rick that I was going to take Jeanne to my prom this year and here I was, with Jeanne, at my prom.  Just like I’d said I would … 

... just not for the reasons I intended.

My own Pyrrhic victory.

Jeanne was another mystery in my life … but she wasn’t my mystery, not like Marie was, because I didn’t have a building interest, at least not anymore, in Jeanne like I did in Marie.  Maybe it really was my age, I thought as I danced with her, and I found that funny since Jeanne was just four years older than I was yet I was in way over my head being involved with Marie who was herself easily twice Jeanne’s age.  Twice and probably then some.  Jeanne was four years older than I was.  I was a junior in high school, she was a junior in college.  At this point in life age was relative, at least to me it was, because Jeanne could have been thirty or forty years old and I'd probably have still felt the same way about her. 

Jeanne.

She looked at me and smiled as we danced close.  That same smile that she had smitten me with eight months ago but it wasn’t the kind of smile that Marie could give me, not that kind of smile, and it never would be … never could be.   Jeanne was a mystery in my life but she wasn’t my mystery and if she wasn’t my mystery then what was she?  What did we have, where was it all going and more importantly … why?   Often enough Jeanne and I went out cruising and drinking wine coolers together after work and we had a lot of fun at work when we shared the same shift or our shifts overlapped but after everything was said and done we were just friends ....  Good friends but just friends.  We were just two souls hanging out late at night in the urban wasteland of Hattiesburg, unwinding and trying to make sense of this chaotic thing called life in a college town full of constant change and flow.  Jeanne and I were really good friends but still just friends and no matter how I looked at it that situation was never going to change. 

But … did I want to change that situation?

Did I really want to change that situation ... especially now?

If I could have a choice, right here and now, of being with Jeanne or being with Marie who would I choose?

Marie.

I realized then that these two hours with Jeanne … that this was all the time in the universe that I was ever going to get to be this close to her and right here, right now, dancing with her, slow dancing, arm in arm, holding hands, our bodies almost touching, her perfume strong, her eyes deep, her smile mesmerizing … this was the closest that I would ever get to being with Jeanne, to having my sophmoric daydream come true with her so I cherished that small amount of time that I shared with Jeanne while I had it.  I cherished what I had with her for what it was, for as long as I could have just that and … like all good things in life … it was over all too soon.

Two hours.

The blink of an eye.

Time to go.

After the prom I drove Jeanne back to her place, offered her my hand to help her out of my Camaro, walked her to the door, thanked her for going to the prom with me and said goodnight to her.  It didn't feel like the end of a date, no, it felt like I was returning something to a store, something that didn’t fit or something that I already had one of.  She kissed me on the cheek, as girls often do at the end of a date, picked up the bottom of her red dress and walked briskly on inside the house.  I stood there, her kiss still warm on my cheek but it didn’t feel like a kiss, no, it felt more like a receipt for having checked something back in from where it had been borrowed ... like a book from the library or a movie from the video store.  As I turned to pull the front door shut behind me I heard Jeanne call out loudly to her roommate and ask if Aaron had called while she was out.

Jeanne had been a placeholder in my life tonight and maybe ... just maybe ... I’d been a placeholder in hers as well.

Two hours.

Friends ... just friends.  

That was all Jeanne and I would ever be and I realized that now.  I also realized how far I’d come in just eight months, the choices I’d made, the situations I’d been through, everything that I’d learned the hard way.  I thought I had known everything there was that a guy could know eight months ago.  I'd thought that I was grown …  Man, had I been wrong.  I had been so wrong.  So damn wrong.  My time with  Jeanne and Pam and Marie had taught me a lot and I’d learned the hard way each and every step along the path that brought me to this point in time, right here, right now.  I wasn’t the same person that I had been eight months ago.  In fact, looking back at who I had been way back then I didn’t even recognize that person from eight months ago.  

That wasn’t me.

This was me.

Standing here.

Right here.

Right now.

Alone.

A lot had changed in eight months, a whole hell of a lot.

I had changed.

My needs had changed.

My wants had changed.

My desires had changed.

Misconceived preconceptions had been replaced with cold hard facts, more often than not in a merciless fashion.  Life this year had been a crucible to say the least.  I tossed my keys in the air and caught them and I kept thinking that I had finally been given something that I had wanted for eight months now, a tiny taste, a tease of what could never be and that I was somehow both far richer and far poorer for the experience.  As I stepped off Jeanne’s porch and started walking back to my '78 Chevy Camaro Rally Sport I thought back to eight months ago … it felt like a lifetime ago, it felt like an entirely different period in history.

“What’s her name?” Rick asked.

“Jeanne.” I said.

Almost as if on cue Jeanne turned, saw me looking at her and smiled … and with one single smile from her I was smitten.

“She doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to take her to my prom this year.  She’s going to be my prom date.” I told Rick.

“Who?” Rick asked.

“Her.  Jeanne.  The new brunette.” I said, pointing towards Jeanne with my box cutter.

Rick looked at Jeanne again and gave one of his loud laughs.

“Her?  Oh dream on!” He said, laughing.

“Watch me.”

“Dream on, Shields!  You don’t have a chance in hell with something like that!”

“It’ll happen.” I said.

“Right …” Rick chided.

And it did … just not the way that I’d thought that it would.

Kiss my ass, Rick.


          Friday, April 25, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


Two weeks later, Jeanne and I were sitting out in my Camaro in the parking lot after work.  I don’t think we ever talked about our shared experience at the prom after the prom … I guess it really was more of an arrangement and less of a date, at least that’s what it felt like to me.  I wouldn’t have been mad or upset if Jeanne had felt the same way.  Jeanne had been as much a part of my prom as my tux had been and for pretty much the same reason.  To think what we had shared was anything else would have been fooling myself and right then, at that point in my life, I just didn't feel that naive.

Jeanne and Aaron didn’t last long.

I didn’t figure that they would.  

Guys like Aaron are easy to read, easy to see what they wanted … they were walking stereotypes; the kind that Hollywood makes bad movies and long running sitcoms about.  The trouble is that they end up fooling a lot of really nice girls like Jeanne and the really nice girls like Jeanne get hurt and that just makes nice girls like Jeanne hard and jaded.  Jeanne was telling me about Aaron and how he had run back to his ex-girlfriend, that somehow he and his ex had worked things out and patched things up, all the while Jeanne was spending time with Aaron trying to get close to him because she really liked him.  Jeanne kept talking; she needed to talk, to work things out, to tell someone about her troubles and tonight I was her designated shoulder to lean on.

I didn't mind.

I didn't have anything better to do with my time than sit on the hood of my Camaro, listening to one of the most beautiful women in Hattiesburg tell me her personal problems and ask me for advice on how to deal with what she was going through ... like I was some kind of expert.  What did I know?  Still, part of any good friendship was being there for your friend and part of being there was just that ... being there.  Listening.  Trying to help.  Knowing when to listen, when to talk and when to just shut up and let someone ramble as they throw up what it is that's making them sick on the inside.

I took a long drink of my can of Cherry Coke and that’s when I realized something … here I was with Jeanne and yet while I was listening to her tell me about her problems with Aaron all I could do was think about being with Marie.  I realized that not only had I accepted that any kind of relationship with Jeanne other than a simple friendship was never going to be anything more than wishful thinking I also realized that I didn’t really have any regrets about coming to that realization either.

Something had changed.

I didn’t want Jeanne like I had wanted her before.  

Eight months ago I’d given a lot to be with her.

A whole hell of a lot ... in fact I'd probably have mortgaged a testicle to be with someone like her.

Right now all I was prepared to offer her was some of my time, my friendship, my shoulder to lean on and maybe an ear to bitch in when she needed it. 

Did I still feel the same way about Jeanne that I had just a few months ago?  

No, I didn’t think so.

In fact, I was sure that I didn’t.

The mystery that was Marie had quickly obliterated the wishful thinking that was Jeanne until the point where my teenage daydreams of being with Jeanne were finally gone …  Jeanne had been replaced by Marie.  Daydream replaced with reality.  Fantasy with fact.  Jeanne had stopped being an object of desire to me, she had stopped being something that I couldn’t have and had just started being … what?

A coworker?

A friend?

Both?

Was this what Jeanne felt towards me when she was with me … this kind of plain sort of just being with someone else, someone familiar, just because you were really comfortable around them, because it was convenient to be with them and because they were fun to be around? 

No strings. 

No promises. 

No commitments. 

No hold me ups and no tie me downs.

No passion.

No regret.

Nothing more?

Was it as simple as that?

Jeanne started saying something about Aaron and I thought about relationships, in general and mine in particular, especially the ones
that I had had this year, and I realized that I shared something with Marie that I could never share with Jeanne … an intimacy that was both bound and boundless.  I would spend whatever time I could with Marie because even though Marie was an irregular, sporadic part of my life she was still the surest part of my life and that, unlike my daydreams of being with Jeanne, was something that I knew that I could count on and having something you could count on … having even just one solid thing that you could count on in your life, especially when you were my age, was worth more than all the hoping and wishing and daydreaming in the world.

Just one solid thing you could count on in your life ...

Jeanne had been wishful thinking.

Pam had been a mistake.

Marie was real.

Jeanne said something and I smiled ... not because of what she said but because I suddenly realized, in an epiphany kind of way, that I had finally started learning from my mistakes.



          Complications


After that first night when Marie and I had met in the parking lot at County Market and that one afternoon two weeks later there in the parking lot when she gave me the hickey on my neck, Marie almost never dropped by the store to see me which was probably a good thing.  Whatever secret or secrets that Marie was wanting to keep, her not showing up at work to see me kept tongues from flapping behind my back and maybe hers as well.  When Marie wanted to spend time with me, she would either call the store to talk to me for a few minutes or there would be a hand written note under the windshield wiper of my Camaro Rally Sport asking me to come to her place or meet her somewhere to eat after I got off from work.  If neither one of those happened then I waited there in the parking lot for fifteen minutes after I got off from work, half as a courtesy to her and half wishful thinking on my part and if Marie didn’t show then I got on with my life.

That was the agreement.

Hell, it might even have been a pact between us, set in stone never to be broken.

Don’t look for her because she would come looking for me if it was meant to be and if we could be together.  If not then it wasn’t meant to be.  Looking for her would … complicate things.  Complicate things up bad.  That was the agreement, an agreement that became not only a standard operating procedure for me but a ritual as well.  Marie would come looking for me if her schedule or whatever it was that complicated her life allowed for it and that part always made me curious, even a bit suspicious.  What kind of life could she lead if she didn’t want me to look for her, if she didn’t want me to show up at her apartment when I had time to spend with her, if she didn’t want me to call her and just talk to her?  What kind of relationship did we have it if only existed a few days a month, if even then?  Why all the secrecy and the long times between seeing each other?  I tried to turn what I had with Marie around in my mind but I just couldn’t ever figure out what game she was playing or why the rules were the way that they were but mainly I couldn’t figure out what I was to Marie … in her life, what was I to her?

Boyfriend?

Maybe, though it certainly didn’t feel like that.  If I was Marie’s boyfriend then it was the weirdest boyfriend / girlfriend relationship I’d been in yet.  Still, it wasn’t bad … no, not bad … just kind of weird, maybe even happenstance.

Convenience?

I was probably pretty convenient for Marie, considering that she was the one who always came looking for me and she had asked me to never come looking for her.

Lover?

Yes!  

Oh, God, yes! 

Dear Penthouse Letters

Toy?

Hmmm. 

Maybe. 

Was I a toy?  

I could see me being Marie’s toy, something fun and naughty that she pulled out on the side when she got lonely and needed attention or companionship which went right back to the convenience aspect.  Was it really a relationship that I had with Marie or was I just getting used as a toy, as a plaything, when it was convenient for her?

Diversion?

Probably.  

I could see her, bored to tears with her life, bored with her job, whatever job it was that she had, looking for something to break that mundane monotony and along comes … me.  

New me.

Convenient me.  

Toy me.  

Plaything me.  

Diversion me who never tells her “no”, who is always as happy to see her each time as the first time.

Complicated?

That went without saying.  

Boy, did it ever …

Mystery?

Hmmm.

I doubt I was a mystery to Marie but Marie was one ongoing mystery to me.  The one thing that kept bothering me was why was Marie setting the rules for us being together?  The obvious answer was that Marie was married or at least heavily involved with someone and that she was seeing me, being with me, while she was pledged to someone else.  I could see where me showing up at her place, where me coming looking for her when she wasn’t ready to be with me or able to be with me would bring all sorts of unwanted grief into her life.  Her life would get … complicated, fast, just like she said.

If she was married and having an affair with me then was I worth a divorce?  I could see Marie being married, yeah, I could easily see that and I could also easily see why I would want to avoid making things complicated in her life if not for Marie’s sake then for my own sake.  If Marie was married and if she was seeing me on the side and if I was just a toy for her, a diversion, her bit of happiness in an unhappy life, then surprisingly, no matter how I looked at that situation I was fine with that.  After all, Jeanne had called me a home wrecker when I’d been dating Pam and when she found out that I was seeing Marie she had asked if I was wrecking another home.  Maybe I was wrecking a home, another home … maybe I really was a home wrecker.  But maybe, just maybe, Marie’s home had been wrecked long before I came along in her life and maybe I wasn’t so much a home wrecker as I was just helping her climb out of the wreckage that already filled her life.

Either way, I didn’t care.

I really didn’t.

I really didn’t care because Marie was my goddess and I worshipped her.  

She was my physical and sexual religion and part of the excitement of being with Marie was her mystery and trying to figure her out.  Part of the excitement of being with Marie was that there was no great big story to her that I actually had to figure out and wade through just to be with her.  Being with Marie was simple, there was no drama, no complex plot.  She came into my life like a whirlwind, a sexual hurricane, and then she was gone for a while and then she came back just like before, just as quick and strong.

Being with Marie was easy because it was simple to be with her.  Our connection was physical and sexual, tactile, sensual … so much of being with her was just being with her, of losing ourselves in each other in a way that I never thought was possible.  Part of the excitement of being with her was that I never knew when we would be together … just that we would be together … eventually, this week, maybe next, probably the week after that, maybe even the week after that.  I had her and I didn’t have her.  It was the anticipation and the longing that always made each time that we were together seem like that first time all over again.  It was the thought that being with her was wrong in some way and that just made her all the more desirable.  Each time with her was a chance to explore her again, to discover her again, to have her again fully and completely.  There didn’t seem to be any regularity to when Marie would get in touch with me but somehow she knew when I was working and she would call the store during my shift and ask me to come see her after I got off work … all part of the mystery that was Marie.

For what it was worth, after discussing the hickey incident over a bag of Skittles that night at work, Jeanne never talked about Marie again (to me or anyone else that I could tell) and to my credit Marie became my best kept secret.  I didn’t even talk about Marie to Rick even though a tiny, childish, selfish part of me really wanted to tell him all about her and what she and I were doing if only for the simple reason of both proving him wrong about her and of seeing his jaw hit the floor hard enough to crack the pavement.

It wasn’t worth it, though.  

Proving Rick wrong at the chance of losing being with Marie wasn’t worth the risk.  

No, Marie was a mystery to me but she was also a secret ... my secret.

I went through the rest of April without hearing from or seeing Marie but I thought about her … a lot … and I thought a lot about what we shared and the more I tried to figure out what we had the more the mystery of Marie deepened.



          The 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
and the Summer of 1986

In late April of 1986 I was in my ’78 Chevy Camaro Rally Sport cruising down old Highway 42 on my way to Petal when I lucked up and found a 1979 black and gold Pontiac Trans Am sitting on a used car lot just across from the old Hercules chemical and munitions plant.  I'd been looking for a black and gold "Bandit" Trans Am since I was 14 and just like that, life had thrown me a kindness.

It was a 1979 black and gold Pontiac Trans Am … for sale.

I stopped and checked the Trans Am out.  The TA was everything that I had ever wanted in a sports car; big factory aluminum wheels, black on black, T-tops, big V8 under the hood and looks that could kill.  From the time I had been eight years old and had seen “Smokey and the “Bandit”” in the theater I had wanted a “Bandit” Trans Am and here was one, for sale!

$3600 cash.

That price was no problem.

I’d get a loan for the TA, float the note, sell the ’78 Camaro Rally Sport for $3600 and pay off the loan.  Basically I’d trade one car for another, get a better car in the bargain and skip out completely on having to owe anything. 

A week later, after a lot of wheeling and dealing, I drove the black and gold ’79 Pontiac Trans Am off the used car lot.

I sold the ’78 Camaro Rally Sport, with not a little regret, in May of 1986.  Jeanne, Rick and I took the Camaro on one last farewell cruise of Hattiesburg and ended up in the cul-de-sac where we always did … my personal sanctuary, drinking Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers and unwinding after a long shared shift at work.  I raised a toast of my wine cooler to my first car … and all the fun and hell that I’d had in it.  We each shared memories of the car like we were losing a friend ... or remembering a friend that had passed on ... and in a way I guess we were.

That Camaro Rally Sport had been my first car.

I’d done a hundred miles an hour with Rick down Lincoln Road in this car.

I’d had my first kiss in this car.  Vicki …

I’d made out for the first time with a girl in this car.  Kim …

I’d lost my virginity to Pam back in December there in the back seat of this car.

I’d gotten my first speeding ticket in this car and I’d met Marie in this car way back in March.

I’d taken Jeanne to my junior prom in this car in April.

… and now this car, my first car, was about to be gone.

Forever.


I spent a Saturday morning swapping the Kenwood stereo system over from the Camaro Rally Sport to the Trans Am and sold the Camaro Rally Sport to a fifteen year old two weeks after I bought the TA.  The kid had just gotten his license so I guess I was passing the flame on to him.  In fact, I actually made money on the sale of the Camaro Rally Sport and used that money to get a custom dual exhaust system (courtesy of Jerry’s Muffler on the bypass) put on the TA as well as new shocks and brake pads all the way around.  When the mechanic looked at the brakes he was surprised that the TA had rear disc brakes.  It was a rare option, he told me.  A really rare option in 1979.

What sadness I had from selling the ’78 Camaro was short lived, though, because in the Camaro’s place I had bought one very bad ass 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, a rare and wonderful black and gold RPO Y84 Special Edition, the car that I had wanted all along and the one that I wish I’d had from the start.

I now had a “Bandit” Trans Am.

A real “Bandit” Trans Am.

Oh, hell, yes! 

I finally had my “Bandit”!

The ’79 TA had the kick ass 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood (“6.6 Litre” proudly displayed on the shaker scoop with a nod to the English way of spelling "liter"), a 750 CFM Rochester Quadrajet four barrel carburetor, a TurboHydraMatic 350 three speed automatic transmission, the legendary WS6 performance and handling option, quick ratio power steering, rare four wheel power disc brakes, 10 bolt Safe-T-Trak limited slip differential, 15” x 8” aluminum wheels, manual windows, power door locks, Fisher glass T-tops (larger than the uglier Hurst T-tops), that black and gold color scheme and what I swore was at least three hundred feet of gold pinstriping covering her from nose to tail.  She was one of the most beautiful cars that I’d ever put eyes on and one of the fastest that I’d ever put a foot to the floor in because that 403 under the hood had a lot of guts to it … a lot more than the 350 small block in my Camaro had ever had.

And the Pontiac had her own smell … she smelled used … hot and used.  That black Naugahyde interior had a unique odor in the hot and humid Mississippi weather, especially if the T-tops were on, the windows were rolled up and the TA had sat for a while with the hot sun beating down on the interior through the front glass, the glass hatch roof panels, that big curved glass rear window and the side windows.  The carpet was old and that contributed as well to the overall olfactory ambience, that and the liberal amount of Armor-All protectant that I coated the interior surfaces in to keep them from drying out and cracking in the constant solar bombardment.

It was a smell that wasn’t all together unpleasant.

It was a tough smell.

It smelled like … car.

Used car.

Tough car.

Fast car.

Used to be someone else’s fast car.

Bad ass car.

My car now.

It was perfume, of a sort …  She had a scent all her own, unique, and just then, right then, I thought I might could understand why women liked the smell of a man so much.  I came to love that smell on hot days and how that smell would mix with the smell of cold air from the old air conditioning, blown through seven year old dash plumbing.  Hearing the AC kick on, hearing the rumble through the dash, the roar of the air blowing from the vents and I’d just sit there, in the driver’s seat, caressed by the cool currents of air … I’d close my eyes and be taken to other places on the wings of old smells and times I never spent with the Pontiac.

The TA also had a personality.  Oh, yes, that Trans Am had her own personality, one that I came to know quite well in the many years to follow.  Often I’d talk to her while we were driving, I’d tell her things, thank her for doing something incredible, thank her for just getting me around for a day.  I guess I treated that Pontiac like a lady, washed her, waxed her, bought only the best for her and took care of her and in turn I really think that she took care of me.  It was one of those rare relationships that guys have with a car … a relationship that comes along maybe once, maybe twice in a guy’s life with a car that he really, really loves and a car that really, really loves him back.  There was a connection between me and the Pontiac, a symbiosis maybe; we needed each other.

She wasn't just a car ... she was a friend, a best friend; someone I could count on.

The ’79 TA also came with two bonuses in the trunk … a well-worn cassette tape of Journey’s album “Escape” with a copyright of 1981 on the label and a somewhat worn issue of Penthouse magazine dated July 1982, both hidden under the loose trunk floor mat.  The Journey tape had a scratch to it that played annoyingly during “Open Arms” and a squeal that played every now and then during “Wheel in the Sky”.  The Penthouse had no really significant collector value that I could discern and I figured the trunk was just a convenient hiding place for this bit of porn for the previous owner; the teenage son of a local florist in downtown Hattiesburg and a student out at North Forrest.

The Journey “Escape” tape broke in the Kenwood the first Saturday of August.  Luckily it was a “clean” break, the tape simply snapped, the music stopped mid-song and the reels took up the slack then free spun on their spindles.  I scowled at my luck then shrugged my shoulders, drove over to Camelot Music in the Cloverleaf Mall and bought a replacement copy.  “Wheel in the Sky” became a song that I listened to over and over again there for about three weeks that summer because it just seemed to fit my life so closely.

I wanted to get away from Hattiesburg … maybe I wanted to get away from Mississippi all together.  I just wanted to go … west.  Midwest.  Maybe Northwest.  Not to California because things were stupid out there and just getting more stupid with each passing year.  No, I wanted to go someplace with mountains and snow and wilds and forests; maybe Colorado.  The TA’s big engine was rated for high altitudes so it would run fine at high elevations above sea level.  I wanted to go someplace where there was just long, straight stretches of road with nothing on either side … where I could see mountains or buttes in the distance, where sunrises and sunsets were magnificent, where there wasn’t a lot of humidity …  I wanted to go someplace where there was a small town, some place far away where I could live alone or with someone … special.  I didn’t want to live in a neighborhood or a suburb like I did now.  I wanted to live so far out that I never saw any of my neighbors, that I could walk outside naked in the sunrise or naked in the sunset and just enjoy all of God’s creation.

Colorado.

Wyoming.

Somewhere like that.

Somewhere far away from here, from everybody, from everything.

Maybe.

After college I’d leave.  I’d start saving up now.  Five more years and I’d hit the road to somewhere far away, somewhere that had wide, flat open places and mountains on the side … where I could live away from most of humanity, where I’d be dependent on myself and could make something of my own, of my very own.  Five more long years stuck in this place, stuck in Hattiesburg.  It seemed like an eternity but I realized that it would probably be over in the blink of an eye.  Five years from now I’d be looking back on this moment, remembering this conversation and probably asking myself either why wasn’t I hitting the road or what was taking me so long to get going.

Life was funny strange like that.

Yeah, just me and the TA … headed west into the setting sun, t-tops off, heavy metal blaring out the Kenwood stereo system, wind whipping at me through the open tops and rolled down windows, that big 403 under the hood rumbling as it guzzled premium and took me where ever I wanted to go.

The 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood was amazing.  It was a dinosaur of a motor, a relic from another era, a sledgehammer, an artifact of high performance.  The 403 was strong, strong enough to jerk an elephant through a keyhole, strong enough to boil the rear tires from a dead stop all the way through first gear and to snap them hard and loud shifting to second gear and it could even spin the rear hides, just a bit, when it shifted into third gear if you kept your right leg stiff and didn’t let your boot up off the long skinny pedal until you ran out of numbers on the speedometer.  The 350 cubic inch small block V8 Chevy under the hood of the Camaro Rally Sport had been fast but the 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood of the Pontiac would have smoked it, no sweat.  In a side by side race the TA would have run away from the Camaro Rally Sport like it was standing still.

Effortlessly.

No sweat at all.

Driving the TA around the streets of Hattiesburg made me feel like I was a Great White Shark let loose in a wading pool full of toddlers.  That 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood of the Pontiac was a bad ass monster of an engine.  In a year and era when everything was downsizing, when the latest offerings in Firebird and Camaro came with a 305 cubic inch V8 as their biggest motor I had a 403 cubic inch V8 under my hood.

In a land of miniature ponies I still had a dinosaur.

No substitute for cubic inches.

The TA had T-tops, not those dinky little, weird shaped Hurst T-tops but the larger, better Fisher T-tops.  I loved the T-tops … man, did I love the T-tops!  Cruising around with the T-tops off and the windows down, with the music playing from the transplanted Kenwood stereo system, the sound of that big V8 growling under the hood, the rumble of the dual exhaust system, the roar of the wind past you … that was what I thought heaven must be like … a gas guzzling V8 with loads of bottom end torque and endless roads with hard curves thrown in every now and then for good measure.  That and really good weather where you could always roll the windows down and take the tops off.  If it got hot enough, I’d just throw the AC on as well.  Gas was cheap, you could afford to run the AC wide open with the tops off and the windows down, especially on a hot day.

I parked my ’79 Pontiac Trans Am in the same spot at County Market that I had always parked my ’78 Camaro Rally Sport.  Man, it looked good up there on that hill and I’d often look at it, casting glances every chance I got when I was out on buggy detail, just to reassure myself that that Pontiac up on the hill, that bit of American V8 muscle, was mine.

I parked my TA there because that was my spot, the same spot that I’d parked my car in for almost two years now and because that’s the spot where Marie would look for my car … my old car.  If she didn’t call me then I hoped that Marie would see the TA and figure out that it belonged to me.  With her “please don’t come looking for me, I’ll find you” policy I had no real way to get in touch with her so I simply took a blank sheet of white copier paper, folded it in half and inside I wrote …

“This is my new car I just bought.  I sold the Camaro so don’t look for me to be driving the old red Chevy anymore.”

I signed my name so that she would know it was me and took out my English Leather cologne from the center console, dabbed my finger at the tip and smeared a trace across the note just under my name.  When I went to work, I’d put the note under the windshield wiper.  I hoped that if she didn’t see my Camaro that curiosity might get the better of her and that she would cruise by the Pontiac and see her name on the note stuck under the wiper arm.

I left the same note on my windshield, for two weeks, on every night that I worked at County Market.  Two weeks, every night that I worked, I checked the cologne scented note on my TA as often as I could and each time that I checked the note was still there. 

Two weeks. 

Marie hadn’t come by the store and I hadn’t heard from her.  For two weeks every time I got off work I’d take the note from under my windshield wiper and put it in my glove compartment, ready for the next time that I worked and I’d wait … fifteen, twenty minutes after work for her.  I’d wait on Marie to show up there at County Market but in all of that time she never showed.

Not once.


          Friday, May 16, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


I was working a 4 to 10 shift at the store, five hours into my shift, when I went out to get in the shopping carts about nine o’clock that night.  I looked up at my TA parked on the hill and saw that the note on my windshield was gone!   At first I thought maybe one of the other guys at the store was playing a trick on me, maybe they had gotten curious, walked up the hill, read the note and now I’d never hear the end of it tonight at work.

But … what if? 

What if Marie had finally come by? 

What if she had read my note? 

What if I was going to see her again, soon? 

Tonight?

I hadn’t seen her in over a month … five weeks now, give or take.

My heart skipped a few beats as I stared up the hill at where I had parked my TA.  There, on the windshield, under the wiper, was a much smaller piece of pale blue paper.  Curious, anxious, I quickly walked up the hill and pulled the piece of paper from under the windshield wiper, hoping that someone from the store wasn’t playing some kind of joke on me.

The note smelled of perfume.

Her perfume.

It was from Marie.

It had to be!

I unfolded the paper and read the three words that she had written;

“Hot car, Cowboy!!!”

Hot car.

Cowboy.

Cowboy; that’s how I knew the note was from her.  No one else called me that.  Marie had called me “Cowboy” that second time that we were together.  She had told me that in a different time that I would have been a Cowboy, hat, horse and all.  Her Cowboy.  She had given me a hickey, saying that she had branded me so that Pam would know that I was taken, spoken for, … owned, by her.  I looked around the parking lot but I didn’t see her car anywhere.  I looked out at the traffic on the highway but the big gold Lincoln was nowhere in sight.  I held the note up again to reread it.

Cowboy. 

It was Marie’s nickname for me and she used it often.  I looked at the note, lifted it to my nose and breathed deep.  It smelled of paper and … her perfume.  

It smelled of her.  

Flowers.  

Flowers far away, carried on the wind.  There, just below her writing, was the perfect outline of her lips, done in lipstick.  She must have pressed the paper to her lips before leaving it.  Parts of me stirred in remembrance of what those lips could do and how they felt when they were pressed against my lips, against other parts of my body, against my bare skin.  I put her note in my shirt pocket and walked back into the store.  Every now and then, when I got a chance, I’d take the note out, read it again, and smell it again just to get a whiff of her perfume.  Thoughts of her carried me on through my work shift, naughty thoughts.

Thoughts of desire for her.

Marie called later that night, asking me to come by her apartment when I got off work.  Hearing her voice again … knowing that I was going to see her again, soon, tonight.

Hell, yes!

I got off work, freshened up, changed my dirty work shirt for a fresh button up tan expedition shirt I kept in the back of the TA and headed over to her apartment.  She wanted to see the TA and after I showed the Pontiac to her she wanted to go out cruising.  We ended up driving around Hattiesburg in the TA, windows down, T-tops off and air conditioning cranked up high.  We ate at Sonic on Fourth Street and after about an hour more of cruising we went back to her apartment and I spent the night in her bed making up for lost time … making up for nearly five weeks of lost time.

Five weeks without Marie; it was the longest that I’d ever gone without seeing her and it had felt like an eternity.  Apparently she felt the same way if I could take how she acted when our clothes came off as any kind of indicator.

I was Marie’s Cowboy.

Yippee ki yi yay.

Ride 'em, cowgirl!

The next morning we had an early breakfast at the Waffle House there on Highway 98 west and went cruising again in the Trans Am.  T-tops off, windows down, Marie in a red strapless sundress, Wayfarers on, wind blowing her long hair as that big V8 rumbled under the hood.

The Kenwood was tuned to WHSY Rock 104.5 FM and Sammy Hagar's "There's only one way to rock" saw us out of Hattiesburg.  The Scorpions “Rhythm of Love” started playing on the radio after that.  We cruised out west towards Columbia, down the really bad two lane highway known as “Bloody 98”.  Somewhere near Oloh, Marie undid her seatbel, grabbed the roof's center T-bar and slid over into my lap, just like Pam had done months before when she and I had first started cruising.  Marie put her arms around me and her head on my left shoulder as I drove.  Every now and then she would reach up, stroke my cheek or neck, and kiss me.

Sometimes a quick kiss, sometimes a longer kiss.

I could smell her perfume.

The wind through the open tops and rolled down windows blew her long hair back, waving it in the air currents.  I caught myself looking at her more often than not.  Often she would look at me, longingly.  She said very few words, but she touched me a lot.  Her fingers on my chin, on my cheek, the back of her hand stroking the side of my face, her finger tracing my lips ... slowly, softly.  I loved driving around with Marie beside me ... it was just the two of us, alone, together and the rest of the world could go to hell for all I cared.  As long as I was with Marie I had everything that I needed.

I drove one handed, left hand on the steering wheel and left arm supporting Marie, wrapped around her, right hand on her waist, sometimes on her thigh.  I slowly bunched up her dress with my right hand, grabbing it and pulling it up, inch by inch, working it slowly up around her knees ... then over her knees and starting to draw it up over her thighs.  She smiled and slapped my hand playfully but when I continued she didn’t resist any more after that.  I took off my driving glove and used my right hand to rub her knee softly, my fingertips to her bare skin, then slowly slid my right hand up the inside of her right thigh.  My fingers went under the bunched up lower of her sundress, feeling the warm skin of her inner thigh and gently traced her panty line, slowly, lightly, the touch of my fingertip against the material of her panties, against her bare skin, tracing it across her waistline, down the crotch line, over near the bottom, and back up the other side.

“You’re going to have to pull over somewhere if you keep doing that.” She whispered in my ear, grabbing my head, pulling it to her and nibbling lightly on my ear lobe.

Her breath hot and fast in my ear.

My need for her stirring as she sat, as she wriggled in my lap.

“I’m a good driver.” I said.  “I don’t need to pull over.”

Marie let go of me, moved back over the center console (using the overhead T-bar for support) and sat back in the passenger seat.  It wasn't an easy move to do, not at highway speed, but Marie pulled it off with more grace and agility than I thought she could have.  She buckled her seat belt again and sat there, her head back in the cushion of the seat.  She gave me a mischievious look and slowly raised her sundress.  My gloved hand found the bare skin of her thigh again.  Somewhere just past Oloh I reached up and took the driving glove off my right hand then moved my now bare right hand over to her right leg.  She gave a little start as I touched her, ran my hand over her leg, up and down, and then slid my hand down between her legs to her groin.  Marie sat back in the passenger seat, spread her legs slightly and I petted her there, slowly, sensually, teasing her, then bringing my hand up to her waist line then slowly back down again across the material of her panties.  She moved there, in my lap, getting into a better position.  She leaned over into me then as I petted her, fingertips gliding over her groin, over the sheer material of her panties, down to her nature where the panties were stretched tight over her rise and fall.  I drove, left hand on the wheel, right hand down her panties and Marie sitting there in passenger seat, her left hand on top of my hand as I petted her with only the material of her panties separating her hand from mine.  I pulled my hand back, traced the elastic waist band of her panties then slipped my fingers behind, sliding my hand down into her panties.  Marie drew in a sharp breath as I felt her pubic hair under my fingertips, rough and smooth, course and fine.  I found her nature, ready, anticipating my attention.  Just a little bit of this and she was holding me tight, moaning and sighing. 

“God … you’re in trouble now, Cowboy.” She whispered, her breath starting to come faster and shallower now.

“You think so?” I asked her, again, smiling, darting my eyes from quick glances at the road ahead to longer glances at her beside me.

“Mmm-hmmm.  You’ve got my trouble brewing.” She said as she moved to a better position,  using her left hand to hold my right hand and guide it while I petted her.

Brewing was right … her anticipation was noticeable in her expression, in the sounds that she made in how she felt under my fingertips.  

Hot.  

Swollen.  

Wet.  

Slick.

“I want to be selfish, Cowboy.  Let me be selfish …” She whispered, closing her eyes.

I let her be selfish.

Marie moaned and began to work herself to match what I was doing to her.  She moved, slowly, back and forth, there in my lap.  Her eyes were closed, her lips pursed as I worked her with my hand, finding her core spot and never letting up once I found it.  Marie rode my hand there in my lap and it was everything that I could do to drive the Pontiac, keeping it straight on the two lane, and work with Marie to let her be selfish.  She moaned, deep, then rose up some in my lap, starting to move against my hand, starting to writhe and grind against my hand but I never let her slip off the spot that I’d found … the spot that was driving her, pushing her, to her edge.  Her right hand pressed hard on my right hand, separated by the material of her panties, my hand inside, her hand outside; she grabbed my hand, tried to move it, tried to guide it, and I let her.

Marie’s moans and sighs were adding a lot of interesting background vocals to AC-DC’s “Back In Black.”  Traffic passed us in the oncoming lane at breakneck speed, sometimes the driver’s expressions at seeing that black Pontiac roar by, Marie in my lap, her eyes closed, her mouth open and then we were gone in a roar and a flash, just there long enough for me to see their expressions and for them to see Marie’s expression.
 
55 mph. 

Just us, just me driving and Marie riding my hand to her own selfish glory.  I drove … enjoying her … casting quick glances when I could from the road to her and back again.  Her head was back, almost hanging out the window as we drove.  Her hair was caught in the wash of the Pontiac at speed, blowing behind her in the wind.  Eyes closed, mouth open, breath coming fast and shallow; her expressions told me that she had given herself over to the moment, that she was concentrating on building herself up to her release and that nothing else, right then, mattered to her in the least other than her own pleasure.

“Muh.” She said out loud, drew in a deep breath and kept on working herself against me.

AC-DC finished up and Loverboy started in with their “Working for the Weekend”.  The irony wasn’t lost on me.  Halfway through the song Marie gave a short little gasp and cry then shuddered against me.  She put her head into the left crook of my neck as she clamped her thighs together, tight and her body shook.  Hard, then soft.  She shook again, gave another little grunt and moan and shook again.

The Pontiac roared on as Marie sat there, in the passenger seat, my hand in her groin and the TA shaking with the vibration of the big V8 under the hood.  I let her ride her release out and waited until she had stopped shaking.

“Oui et voila?” I asked, glancing from the road to her and back to the road again.

Marie huffed loudly.

“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you, Cowboy?” she whispered, her breathing still heavy.

“Nope.” I said flatly, smiling.

The green display on the Kenwood radio said it was 9:33 AM.

“Oui et voila.” She said in a whisper.

Her thighs were still gripped around my hand and I let her compose herself before I slowly pulled my hand out of her panties.   I reached down, got my driving glove and put it back on my right hand.  We drove like that for a little while.  When I looked over at Marie she was looking out the passenger side … the wind was still blowing her hair but she was staring off into space, silently, lost in thought.  Where she was I didn’t know, only that she wasn’t with me right then.  Wherever she was, I hoped it was a good place.


We drove out to Columbia, took the old two lane Columbia-Purvis Road all the way down to Purvis.  In Purvis I stopped for gas and then we hit Highway 59 back to Hattiesburg.  We were gone almost an hour and a half all together and when we got back to her place I spent the rest of the afternoon with her, losing myself in her affection.

She never got to take her sun dress off that first time … I wouldn’t let her.  Afterwards we lay there, togther, holding each other.   Time meant nothing when I was with Marie ... it was like I was isolated from the rest of the world.  There, in her bed, holding her, bare skin to bare skin, the warmth of her body next to mine, the cool air from the overhead fan falling down on us.  Marie turned to look at me, putting her hands on my chest and resting her head on her hands, looking at me.

Marie was quiet ... contemplative.

“Why?” she asked at last.

“What?” I asked her.

“Why do you … ?” she started then stopped.

Whiskey brown eyes.

Staring.

Silence.

“What?” I asked her, curious, smiling because I really wasn’t sure what she was getting at.

“Why do you treat me like you do, when I’m with you?”

“Huh?  Whoa!  Did I do something wrong?” I asked, sitting up slightly, suddenly concerned that I’d done something wrong.

“No!  No.  Wrong words.  Sorry.  Why do you give me so much attention?  Why are you so good to me when I’m with you?”

“Do you want me to stop?” I asked her.

Marie quickly shook her head.

“No.  No, it’s not that.  Listen!  Please.  Just listen.  It’s just that … I’m not used to that … to this … to all of this.  It’s nice, really nice ... it’s just that I’m not used to someone … treating me like you’ve treated me … like you treat me.  I’m not used to it being like this.” She whispered.

I shrugged my shoulders, not really sure if I should say something or just keep my mouth shut and listen.  Erring on the side of caution, I chose the latter option.

“When you’re with me you take your time.  You touch me and hold me.  You don’t make me feel like … something.  You make me feel like … someone.  Does that make sense?  Am I even making sense?” she said.

“You’re my goddess.  I worship you.” I said, smiling at her.

“I’m … wait ...  your what?” Marie asked, surprised.

“You’re my goddess.”

Goddess?  Wow.” She said, running her hand through her hair, pursing her lips and thinking.  “That’s a new one, Marie.  I don’t think you’ve ever been called that before.”

“Goddess.” I said.

“Goddess.  Yeah ... Sometimes it feels like that, it honestly feels like that.  It feels like you’re trying to worship me.”

“Good.” I said.  “It’s supposed to feel like that.”

Marie thought about that for a minute.

“I’ve been called a lot of things in my life but “goddess” certainly isn’t one of them.  I might could get used to that …” she said, giving a little laugh and smiling but I could tell she was still unsure.

“Get used to it.” I said.

“I just might.” She replied, giving a partial smile.

“You better.  You know, I can’t say that I’ve ever really had a goddess in my life before so all of this is kind of new to me, too.”

Marie harumphed in disagreement.

“You make it so easy.  To be with you, to let myself go when I’m with you.”

I laughed.

“What?” she asked, smiling, confused.

“It’s an act.” I told her.  “I’m just winging it as I go.”

Marie huffed and rolled her eyes.

“Right!  I doubt that.”

“It’s true.” I said.  “When I’m with you, I just … treat you like I think you want to be treated, I treat you like I think you need to be treated.  Making you happy makes me happy.  That’s the only rule I play by.”

“Bullshit.” She said flatly.

Part of me was shocked because I think that was the first time that I’d ever heard Marie use profanity.

“It’s true!” I said, laughing.

“Bull.  Shit.  You don’t play by any rules that I know of when we’re together, Cowboy.” She chided.

I sighed.

“Actually, yeah, I do.  I really do.  I play by lots of rules you just don’t ever see me playing by them.  When I’m with you, when I’m not with you, yeah, I’ve got rules.  Lots of rules and they more or less all revolve around you now.” I said.

I reached out and touched her face, stroked her cheek.

“I don’t think I understand …”

“You’re my goddess.  I worship you.” I said again.

“Okay.  Moving on past that part, I understand that part, kind of, but why do you worship me?  I mean, it’s like you put me on some pedestal.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it … God, I love it … I just don’t know how to respond to it sometimes but I love it.  It’s just that … I just wonder … why?”

“Why not?”

“That’s not an answer.  You can’t answer a question with a question."

"Whose rule is that?" I asked.

"That’s my rule, Cowboy.” She said.

“Okay.  How about because I can.  Is that a better answer?” I said.

“Yes, you can.” Marie said, smiling a little smile and whistling.  "
Still doesn’t really answer my question or make it a better answer."

“Okay, if you’ll accept that, how about because I want to.”

Marie smiled then, not that smile, but the kind of smile that I knew she smiled when she was happy.

“I can accept that.”

“And because you’re worth it …”

“And … there’s the problem.  You see, I don’t believe that.”

“You don't believe that?  Why not?” I asked.

“I’m … not worth it.”

“God.” I said aloud.  “You’re being serious, aren't you?”

“Please … I’m not worth it.” Marie said flatly.

“You are.” I said.

“Am not.”

“Yes.  You are.  I do it ... I treat you like I do because you’re worth it … and because I want to.  If you weren't worth it I wouldn't be here.”

Marie looked at me then with her whiskey brown eyes and put her hand to the side of my face, rubbing me softly there.

“I guess when I’m with you I want you to know that there’s only you and no one else.  When I’m with you, you have my complete and undivided attention.  When I’m with you, Marie, you are the center of my universe.  Nothing else and no one else exists and it’s been that way pretty much since I first set eyes on you that day in the water park.  There you were, in that big Lincoln parked next to me, I saw you for the first time and I haven’t stopped thinking about you since.”

Marie’s eyes got a little wider.

“Is that how you feel?  How you really feel?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Is that how you really feel ... about me?”

I nodded because it was true.  Marie looked at me, our eyes met and held.

"When I'm with you ... yeah.  That's how I really feel."

“That’s really weird because I feel the same way.” She said.  “That day … there was just something between us that I felt and when you left with your friend … I felt lost.  I felt like something … important … had driven away and I knew that I had to find you, again.  If I could find you, again, and then I remembered that you told me where you worked.”

I picked up her hand in mine and kissed her on the top of her hand, lightly.

“If we feel the same way … then what’s wrong?” I asked her.  “Why are we having this talk?  Is it me?”

“It’s not you, it’s me.  I’m not used to all of … the attention you give me.” She said.  “It’s nice.  I feel …”

Marie looked down again.

“I’m not sure I deserve what you give to me.”

I sighed and looked up at the ceiling of the bedroom.  A real sense of foreboding came over me then because I thought I knew what was coming.

“Are we breaking up, Marie?” I asked, calmly.

“Uh?  What!?” she asked, loudly, surprised.

“Are we breaking up?  Hell, I don’t even know if we’re even actually dating or not or what the hell it is that we’re sharing when we share it.  I guess what I’m asking is … are you not wanting to see me anymore?”

“What?!  No!  I mean, are we?  Do you want to stop seeing me?!”

I shook my head.

“No.  I want to see you whenever I can, as often as I can.” I said.

“Then I don’t understand the question … breaking up?” she said, her look one of confusion.

I sighed and tried to choose my words very carefully.

“Sorry, it’s just that this is the kind of conversation two people have when one’s trying to make excuses for not wanting to see the other anymore.  This sounds … this really sounds like the “let me down easy” talk, like the “we can still be friends” and the “I don’t deserve someone like you” talk that people have when one person wants out and has already found someone else they want to be with.”

Marie looked up, real concern in her eyes.

“No!  That’s not what I meant … that’s not what I mean … I just don’t know why …”

“Why?”

Marie nodded quickly, her eyes searching mine, confusion and … fear … in her expression.

“Why?” she asked. “Why, Christopher?  Just tell me that.”

"I've been trying to tell you why for five minutes now." I said, feeling a little frustrated.

"Tell me again.  Tell me in a way that I know it's the answer I'm looking for."

“Ok ... Why?  That’s easy.  I’m lucky to be with you, Marie.  I am so damn lucky to be with you.  That’s how I feel when I’m with you.  I feel lucky and special.  I feel like I’ve won a lottery or a jackpot.  When I’m with you, I feel like I’ve beat some really long odds … I feel like I’ve really got something special and when you have something special you treat it like it’s something special because you feel lucky to have it and you don't know how long you're going to have it.  Each time I'm with you, I try to treat you like it's the first time I'm with you ... and the last ... because I don't know what we have.  I really don't ... but I like it ... and I want to have it, with you, as long as I can so that's why I treat you like I do.  You're special, to me.  You mean something, to me and that means that you're worth something, to me.  You're worth a great deal, to me and I don't think I can say it any better ... any clearer or any plainer ... than that.” I said, shrugging my shoulders and feeling like I'd just given away all I had of something that I had but what it was I couldn't have told you.

It was just that feeling.

Marie’s eyes teared up then.  I watched her eyes water and I watched a single tear drop run a wet track down the side of her right cheek.  She turned her head and sniffled.  I saw her wipe her cheek with a finger and then stare off into space, across the bedroom like she was trying to work things out.  It took her a few seconds to compose herself and when she did her voice was low and troubled.

“When I’m with you I feel ... spoiled ... and it’s been so long … so damn long since anyone has made me feel like you make me feel that … I’m not sure that I believe that I deserve to feel that way … anymore.  I don't know if I can trust what I feel because I haven't felt like this in a long time.  I'm just not used to it.” She whispered.

“Maybe you need to be spoiled.  Maybe you haven’t been spoiled enough in your life.  Maybe you haven’t been held
often enough, kissed often enough, touched often enough.” I said.

Marie looked down at the carpet.

“Laid often enough.” I added.

Marie caught her breath in sudden surprise, a little look of shock on her face when I said that, the shock turning to coy amusement.

“I wouldn’t know what all of that felt like … I mean, before I met you.  Well, excluding the sex part.  I knew what that felt like.  I’m not used to being spoiled by someone.  I’m not used to all of this and …”

“Does it scare you?” I asked.

Marie nodded, a lot quicker than I would have thought she might.

"So ... you're scared?"

She nodded again.

“You’re scared of us?”

She shook her head.

“Are you scared of me?”

She nodded.

“Seriously?  You’re scared … of me?”

“I’m scared of you, Christopher.  Actually, I'm terrified.  I'm scared right out of my mind.”

Wow.

Okay.

Not what I'd ever wanted a woman to say to me and I had to pause, to think about what she said and try to figure out how to take that.  I thought about that for a minute then I leaned in closer to her as she slumped down in front of me, slightly.  Her face tilted up to me as I looked down at her and I stared into her whiskey brown eyes.  Now it was my turn to ask her what was apparently her favorite question of the night.

"Why?"

"Huh?"

"Why?"

"Why what?"

“Why do I scare you?  What about me scares you, Marie?”

“You scare me, Christopher.”

I shook my head.

“Yeah, I get that ... but why?  I don't understand ...”

“You scare me because I’ve never felt like this before.  You make me feel like I’ve never felt before, not with anyone.  When I’m with you I’m lost but … I don’t feel lost.  When I’m with you I’m not me, I’m not the me that I usually am and that scares me and … I can’t wait to be that way again, I can’t wait to not be the usual me again and to be with you and to get lost when I’m with you and I guess that scares me too.”

“You’re scared of me because when you’re with me you’re not … you?” I asked, trying to follow her line of reasoning.

“I’m scared of you because when I’m with you I lose control.  I lose control of myself.  I’m scared of you because when I lose control of myself I like that.  I like being not who I am when I’m not with you.”

“Okay.  Diagram that sentence for five extra bonus points on the next exam …” I muttered.

Marie huffed and smiled and then just stared at me.  Her eyes to my eyes, just stared.  I sighed because this was some pretty heady stuff.  I was trying to understand it all and process it with my 16 year old mind.  I sighed, scowled and thought about what she was saying.  After I thought that I had an answer for her I gave her what I had … the only thing that I could come up with and I hoped that it sounded good enough to her to answer her questions and calm her fears.

“Marie, look …  I don’t mind giving you attention because that’s what makes me happy.  I don’t think you’ve gotten very much attention lately, not for a long time … not like you need to.” I said.

Marie turned her head away from me and stared at the far wall.

“I guess I haven’t.  I’m not used to this, Christopher.  I want this.  I really want this … but …” Marie said softly, flatly, still looking away.

A few seconds passed then she looked up at me, her eyes questioning.

“Getting what I get from you, when I’m with you …”

Marie suddenly rose up on all fours, straddling me, looking down at me, her whiskey brown eyes, her long hair draping around her head, falling like a brunette waterfall over my head and around my face.

“Am I worth it?” she asked, looking down at me.

Huh?

“What?  What do you mean?”

“The last time we were together you asked me if you were worth it and I told you yes.  Now I’m asking you.  Am I worth being with, Christopher?  Am I worth waiting for, not knowing when you’ll be able to see me?  Am I worth the trouble that you go through to see me, Christopher?”

“Do you really have to ask me that?”

“Yes.” She said.  “I need you to tell me.  I need to hear it from you.”

“Yes.” I said, no hesitation on my part.  “You’re worth it.  You’re worth every minute that I’ve had to wait to see you again and you’re worth every minute that I have spent with you.  You are worth every single minute that I will ever get to spend with you.”

Marie closed her eyes and nodded. 

“Hey.”

No response.

“Hey!”

A few seconds later she opened her eyes and looked down at me.

“What?” she asked softly.

Her eyes were watered up and a single tear drop fell, landing hot then cold against my bare chest.  I reached up and wiped the tear track from her cheek.

“Sorry.” She whispered, rising up to support herself on her knees, straddling me and wiping at her eyes.

“Marie, if you’re going to get treated like a goddess then somebody’s got to put you on a pedestal and remind you that you’re a goddess.  Might as well be me.”

Marie leaned down and kissed me, put her left hand to the right side of my face and held me there.  We stared into each other’s eyes for a long time before she broke eye contact, lowered herself down on top of me, put her head down into the crook of my neck and nuzzled close to me.  I held her tight and just enjoyed the moment for as long as I could keep it that way.

“You’re worth it.” I whispered to her.  "You are so worth it."

“You make me feel that way, when I’m with you.” She whispered back.

Marie snuggled back up next to me and I held her tight.

“You really make me feel that way, Christopher ... when I’m with you.” She whispered again.

I ran my hands over her body, softly, lightly, slowly.  I took my time touching her, tracing her lines, her curves, running my finger over her bare skin ... ear, neck, side, hip ... her bottom.  She closed her eyes as I played my fingers over her like she was a keyboard.  As I played her, her desire for me renewed itself as did mine for her.  Forty minutes later, what had ended as one seriously heady discussion ended again with both of us naked, spent, me spooning her from behind and her holding me tight in her arms.

Sleep found us after that but I don't know who it took first.


Afterthoughts of that time spent with Marie ...

Marie liked the Trans Am better than the Camaro Rally Sport, saying so over and over again, and I had to agree with her.  The Trans Am was a lot better car than the Camaro had ever been.  The seats were a lot more comfortable, it felt roomier inside even with the glass T-tops on and with the tops off I loved to cruise around with her and see her long brown hair blowing in the wind.  I loved the look of her tanned legs when she wore shorts and I loved the feel of her skin under my fingertips when I ran my hands over her legs, over her thighs, when I held her hand, her fingers interlaced in mine.

Days and weeks at a time between being with Marie gave me time to think about what we had and what we didn’t have.  I’d long ago stopped trying to guess what Marie’s story was because I stopped caring about anything other than just being with her when I could.  I didn’t care what her story was; I didn’t care if she had secrets or if she was keeping things from me.  If being with her required that I not ask too many questions then I had no problem with that.  I didn’t want to know anything about Marie that I didn’t have to know especially if that would ruin what we had … whatever it was that we had I was happy to have it even if it meant that we had to play by her rules and strange as those rules were.

Ignorance really was bliss but if you knew it was ignorance were you still ignorant of the fact?  I didn’t know but for what it was worth, within the limitations that had been placed on me, I cared a lot for Marie.  Somehow I felt that Marie felt the same way about me.  Her recent changes in how she was with me showed me that something had changed in how she related to me, to us, in how we related to each other and to what we shared together.

It was deeper and more meaningful, for want of two better words.  

What we shared wasn’t love, or if it was love then it was love as defined by some definition I wasn’t familiar with.  Maybe it was some kind of love, some outlaw, edge of the definition kind of love.  Love really loosely defined or defined in really broad strokes of a brush on canvas.   What we shared was physical and basic, it was instinctual and primitive.  What we had was banal; it was pure, raw sex with no promises and no regrets.  We didn’t make love when we were together because there was no love there to make.  Maybe we made care or made hope or made lust or like I said maybe we just made up for lost time and made up for what was missing in our lives.  Whatever it was that we made when we were together, skin to skin, there was just her and me and us and passion and need and desire and hunger that had to be fulfilled until that passion, that need, that desire and that hunger had been fulfilled.

Wholly and completely.

I gave her what she was missing in her life and she gave me what I wasn’t getting in mine and I guess when all was said and done it really came down to just that.  Balances were being restored.  Needs were being met.  Desires were being fulfilled and wants were being satiated.  What we had was what we were going to have and we were going to have it for as long as we were going to have it until we didn’t have it any more.  It was as simple as that, at least it was for me and in that simplicity I found that I cared for Marie probably more than I should, probably more than was good for me to do so because it was the kind of care that I knew would one day, sooner or later, hurt me badly.  It was the kind of affection that would change me when it was gone, it would change me forever and probably not for the better.

It was the kind of care that was better known as love.

Was it worth it?

Was it going to be worth it?

Was she going to be worth the white hot searing flame, the emotional pain and the blackened cauterization of my senses, the jagged mountain sized hole she was going to tear in my soul when she was gone?

I thought so. 

Right here, right now, I thought so. 

I really thought so.

Right then and there I had Marie back in my life and my life was complete and whole again, if only for a little while and if only while Marie was in my arms, her lips to mine, her eyes closed and her soft sighs as my fingertips traced the curves of her body, skin to skin.

No ... I didn't think so.

I knew so.

Without a doubt.

I knew so.

          Friday, June 20, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


It had been two days since my 17th birthday.

County Market.

I was working a four to ten shift and so was Pam.  I’d gotten to work just in time to see her and Ingo standing by their cars, talking, in the parking lot there on the side of the store.  Ingo was dressed for work in his Domino’s Pizza outfit.  I walked past them, smiling at just how irrelevant they had become in my life, at how irrelevant they were in anybody’s life right then.  I punched in on the time clock, checked the task sheet and got to work on my assignments with the first hour being to round up the shopping carts in the parking lot.

It was hot outside.  I kept a couple of paper towels in my pocket to wipe the sweat off of my forehead and neck while I was doing shopping carts and took a break every quarter hour to walk to the back and drink from the water fountain.  After my hour outside was over, I went inside and stepped into our ice cream cooler which Rick had dubbed “Hoth” due to its white ice and frost covered interior and the twin fans of the high capacity cooling unit which tended to whip the frost crystals through the air like a tiny blizzard.  It was the quickest way to cool off after being outside in the summer heat for an hour.  After I felt the beads of sweat on my chest and back turn cold I knew it was time to leave.  I walked out of the cooler and saw Pam walking by.

“What were you doing in there?” she asked, confused and amused to see me come out of the ice cream cooler in a swirl of cold air, mist and ice flurries.

“Recharging my cool.” I said flatly as I closed the heavy door behind me then walked away.

If she said anything in reply I didn’t hear it and probably wouldn’t have cared if I did.

I had been assigned to do the Front Wall almost by myself and wouldn’t have help until the third hour that I was reworking the Front Wall.  I made out the Front Wall list, counted the stock I had to replace and headed towards the back store room to start gathering everything to work the Front Wall.  Mixon had come by and told me that he would help me with the Front Wall, that as soon as I made out the list to find him and he’d help me pull all of the stock.

I started walking slowly toward the back of the store as I pulled my box cutter out of my back right pocket and checked it.  The blade had gotten dull and I needed to flip it to a fresh side.  I flicked the razor blade out and looked at the edge.  In fact, looking at the blade’s edge it appeared nicked and ragged … no wonder that last box had been so hard to slice open. 

I slid the blade guard off of my box cutter, slipped the razor blade out of the blade holder, flipped it around to a fresh side and reassembled my box cutter with all the skill and finesse that any Old West gunfighter would have shown with their Colt revolver.  I twirled the box cutter in my fingers like a baton, working it first forwards then backwards, losing myself in the useless gesture for no other reason than I could.

Cowboy.

Another time, another place and I’d been a Cowboy … with a hat and a horse.  That’s what Marie had told me … that I’d have been a Cowboy.  Right now I was her Cowboy.  Right now, right here, in this time, I was Marie’s Cowboy.

Cowboy.

“Could you help me, please?” someone asked from a side aisle.

I turned to look around me because I knew that voice.

Her!

It had been three weeks and two days since I had heard that voice last but I knew it anywhere.  I stopped in my tracks.  Aisle 4.  International foods, Magazines and Cards.  I slowly turned and there she was …standing at the end of the aisle with an empty shopping cart, leaning over the handle of the cart, cutting her eyes at me.

Marie.

She was holding a small shopping list and trying not to smile that smile.  Trying and failing badly.

That smile.

Marie was wearing brown dress shoes, tan slacks, a brown leather belt, a white short sleeve button up blouse and her long hair was done up all on top of her head.  I hadn’t seen her long hair done up like that since … since the night she wore her black dress and black lingerie for me.  She smelled of flowers but I couldn’t tell you which ones only that I liked whatever type of flowers they were.  Flowers, on a breeze, the scent blown in from far away.

“Could you help me find a few things?  It’s a short list, I promise.”

I didn't know if she was wanting to play a game but I stepped into the role right there with her.

“Have you ever shopped with us before?” I asked her, trying not to smile.

“No, I’ve never shopped here before.  It’s an awfully big store.  I don’t know where anything is and I’d really like someone to show me around, if you’ve got the time.” she said, handing me the list.

“Yes, ma’am.  I’d be glad to help.” I said, looking at the list.

Her grocery list was an index card with items listed by number, one through eight and from the way that they were listed they were scattered all over the store and in no particular order.  Whether that was accidental or on purpose, I couldn’t tell but we had some walking to do and that meant that we were going to get to spend a few minutes together, on the clock.  I told her where the first item was and started to lead her that way, walking beside her as she pushed her shopping cart around to the Dairy aisle.

“Your ex-girlfriend isn’t going to get jealous is she … What with you walking around the store with me?”

I looked up at Pam standing at her register in time to match her stare.  Her look was half venom and half despair.  I broke eye contact and kept on walking beside Marie.

“Probably.  That’s her problem, though.  She can get naked and go jump around 
on a rusty pogo stick in hell for all I care.” I said.

Marie tried not to laugh out loud … and failed.  She put her hand over her mouth quick enough to muffle what laughter did come out.

Pam was working tonight, same shift.  Ingo would be waiting on her, as usual, out in the parking lot later tonight, probably after he finished his shift over at Domino’s.  He had to make sure that no one put a claim on his property.  Pam wasn’t mine anymore and truth was that she probably never had been either remembering my adventures with Pam from just a few months back.  I’d just been a toy for Pam, a diversion at best, something to take over the slack while she was on the outs with Ingo or while Ingo was away.

Was there an Ingo in Marie’s life?  Did she run to me when she didn’t have her Ingo to run to?  Whoever he was …?  Where ever he was?  I didn’t know … and I wasn’t sure if I cared or not.  If Marie was a repeat of Pam then what I had with Marie was a lot better than what I’d ever had with Pam, especially if I was having it for the same reasons.

It was a slow night at County Market.

We worked through Marie’s list, taking our time and strolling around the store.  I reached up and got her next to last item off the shelf and dropped it in the shopping cart with the rest of the items that had been on her list.  Most of what she was buying was stuff that we’d gone through when we were together at her place.

“What’s the last one?” I told her, handing her the list back.

She looked at me with her whiskey brown eyes.

Whiskey.

The last time that I’d been with her our foreplay had deteriorated into an apartment wide running wrestling tickle match and a short lived pillow fight that included a naked chase around the apartment and bedroom, her squealing and screaming, and a whole lot of jumping up and down, naked, on the big king sized bed there in the bedroom.  It took a while to get back into a serious enough state of mind to have sex because it’s hard to have marathon sex when you’ve got a bad case of the giggles but somehow we managed and that made it all the more special.

That had been a good night, a really good night and whiskey had made it even better.

I’d taken some of the whiskey in a tumbler and finger painted it on her belly then licked it off, following that up with other areas of her body especially her breasts and groin. I’d finger painted the naughty parts of her body, drank in her natural scent and the smell of the whiskey and I’d run my tongue over her skin, following the drying trails of finger painted whiskey that I’d made on her skin.

That night I’d seen a side of Marie that I hadn’t seen before … a kind of little girl side that was happy in the way that it’s really good to be happy in, the simple kind of happy that’s always the best kind of happy to be.  That night I got to be a kind of happy that I hadn’t been since I was just a child; the kind of happy that you forget to have when life gets complicated and when you have to start punching a clock somewhere to earn money to buy things that you used to get for free just because you were young and you had parents that loved you.

I may have been young but I wasn’t as naive as I had been three months ago.  In fact, I was nowhere near as naïve or inexperienced as I had been just three months ago and even back then I thought I’d known it all but now, today, nearly three months later, after having been with Marie and …

God.

Marie was an education in and of herself.  She was a learning experience.  I’d grown up so much in the last year.  I thought back to myself, a year ago … where I was, what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I thought … all of that was gone, obliterated under what I’d learned, what I’d experienced and what I’d come to know in the last twelve months, especially the last three months.

Marie said something that I snapped back to the here and now.

“Sorry.  What?” I asked, not realizing that I had blanked out remembering our last time spent together.

She pointed at the last item on her list.  The number ten, with a question mark beside it.  What could she be asking about ten?  It was blank … if she didn’t know what it was how was I supposed to know what the tenth item was?

“What’s this item?” I asked, holding the card and reading it.

“Hand it here and let me see.” She said, smiling.

I walked over to her and held up the grocery list.  She moved to stand really close to me, so close that I could smell her perfume.  She pointed her finger at the last item.

“I thought you might get that one, Cowboy, seeing as how smart you are.”

“No. Sorry.” I said, looking at the last item again.  It was just a question mark next to the number ten.

“You’re serious?!” she asked flatly.

“Serious.  It's a question mark and I’m drawing a blank … Sorry ... it’s been a long day.”

“It means … Are you still getting off work at ten?  The number ten, a question mark.  So much for a subtle hint …” she said in a low, sultry voice, tapping the last item on the list with her red painted finger nail.

Oh.

Oh, damn.

I got it.

It was almost a slap your forehead kind of moment and I guess my expression was better than the reaction she had been expecting because she smiled at me.

That smile.

“Ten?  Thereabouts.” I said, looking at my watch.

Ten o’clock was a little over three hours away.  The way I felt it might as well be three eternities away.

“Good.” She said.  “I’ve got plans tonight.  You’re part of them.  Is that going to be a problem?”

“No, ma’am.” I said happily.  "I don't see that as being a problem at all.”

“I didn’t think so.” She said, smiling.

That smile.

Marie turned her shopping cart around and headed towards the front of the store and the registers.  I watched her walk away, the swish of her bottom in her tan slacks was mesmerizing because I knew what those slacks were hiding from view.  She turned at the corner of the aisle, took a moment to cock her head, give me a knowing look, smiled at me once again and then went to check out.  I stood there, leaning up against the rack display, a huge grin on my face.

Behind me, Mixon walked up with a checklist for the chores that still had to be done.

“Hey!  Are you going to do any work tonight?” he asked me, smiling and taking the Front Wall list on its clipboard from me then starting to look over the list that I’d made.

“Yeah.” I said, watching Marie walk away.  “I plan on doing a whole lot of work tonight …  I’m going to do so much work tonight that I might just pull something, maybe even throw out my back for a few days.”

Mixon looked up at that and then looked to where I was looking.

“Is that her?”

I immediately got cautious.

“Who?”

“Your older woman ... the one that was supposed to show up that night that you lost the bet to Rick.”

I thought about telling him it was her, that she had finally showed up but something deep down inside just told me it wasn't any of his business and that the less people here knew about Marie the better.

“Her?” I asked, pointing towards Marie.

"Yeah.  The woman you were talking to."

"No.  That's not the one I lost the bet about." I said.

"So ... who was that?" Mixon asked, flipping the Front Wall list over the back of the clipboard and making some notes in pen.

"Friend's mom." I said.  "I haven't seen her since we used to all ride together in a car pool a few years ago.  She was surprised that I worked her."

"So ... Did your mystery woman ever show up?" Mixon asked, looking at Marie again.

I shook my head.

"No.  She never did.  I guess it was all just wishful thinking." I said.

I watched Marie check out.  The fact that Marie had chosen Pam’s register to check out in only made me smile.  Marie recognized who Pam was but I wasn’t sure that Pam would recognize who Marie was.

Marie was marking her territory.

Again.

Rubbing Pam’s face in the fact and Pam didn't even know it.  Pam looked up, saw me watching Marie check out at her register and then it was like an electrical shock … Pam recognized Marie for the time that she had spent with me and she looked from Marie to me and back to Marie.  Pam’s expression was priceless.  My face was stone.  
At the front of the store, Marie bagged up the few items that she had bought and walked on out of the store to her big gold Lincoln parked there on the hill next to my car.  Just a few hours separated us from each other like just a few layers of clothes separated my skin from touching her skin.  

I turned to face Mixon as he made some notes on the side of the Front Wall list.

“I’m ready if you are.” I said and we walked on to the back of the store to start pulling stock for Front Wall.

"Come on.  I'll drive, you pull the stuff."

I nodded and fell into step with Mixon as we headed to the storage area in the back of the store.  Mixon hopped on the gas powered green forklift, started it up, drove it over to the empty pallet stack and got a pallet loaded on the forks.  I hopped up on the pallet and held onto the front fork guard as Mixon whirled the forklift around and sped away towards the first area that we would start pulling merchandise from to restock Front Wall tonight.

“Rick owes you money back.  Seriously owes you money back.” Mixon shouted above the roar of the forklift's engine.

"For what?" I asked, shouting back at him.

"You know for what." Mixon said, smiling, and left it at that.

I turned around to face forward and watched the backroom scenery whir by.  Yeah, I guess Rick did owe me a refund on that bet.  

For the next couple of hours, my thoughts were only about Marie and what we shared, what we had shared, and what we were going to share again tonight.



I punched out at five after ten and headed down the middle isle.  On the speakers overhead the Marshal Tucker Band was just finishing up with their old hit “Fire on the Mountain” when Exile started in with “I want to kiss you all over.”  I smiled because I hadn’t heard that song in a long, long time … long enough to have forgotten it even existed but now I wanted to add that group to my tape collection in my TA just for that one song.  It was surprisingly catchy for a disco era song and I found myself singing softly along with the song while I walked.

Half remembered lyrics, wrongly remembered more often than not.

I walked out the front of the store, still mouthing the words to the song as it played over the outside speakers.  I walked down the sidewalk, past the Coke machine there at the end of the sidewalk and I looked up to where my TA was parked way out there up on the hill at the edge of the parking lot and there was Marie, sitting on the hood of my Pontiac. The music and seeing her must have done something to me because I evidently swaggered across the parking lot like I owned it.  Marie watched me as I walked across the parking lot and up to my Pontiac, a smile on her face the whole time.

Not that smile but a smile nonetheless.

Even this far up the hill I could still hear the chorus of Exile’s hit from the late ‘70’s and the words matched what I was feeling right then.  I really did want to kiss Marie all over … over and over … till the night closed in. 

My lips on her lips. 

My lips on her bare skin.

Her writhing and moaning underneath me as two became one.

Marie was sitting on the hood of my black and gold ’79 Trans Am, her bare feet flat to the paint, her long tan legs pulled up to her chest and her tan arms wrapped around her legs with her chin resting on her knees.  She had changed clothes; red running shorts striped in white, a green T-shirt with some company logo on it for what looked like a logging firm and there by the front driver’s side fender of my TA, a pair of white sneakers and white sport ankle socks stuffed down into them.  Her shirt was stained dark with sweat in spots and she leaned over, hugged her legs up to her and wiggled her toes, peeking at me from just over her knees, just like a little girl.

“Hi, Cowboy.” She said playfully.

“You’re here.” I said not really believing my eyes.

“Can’t think of a reason not to be.” She said.

“You’re … here.” I said and decided to really think twice before I spoke again, each and every time, for the rest of my life if I had to.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” she asked, still peeking at me from behind her pulled up knees.  “You’ve got something that I want.”

“And what is that?” I asked.

“You.  I want you, Cowboy.” She said softly.

I shrugged my shoulders in reply because I really didn’t have a good reply to that. I wanted her as well so I guess our needs and desires were mutual.

Usually Marie chose not to show up at work, in fact I could count the number of times that she had shown up here to see me on one hand even if I was missing a few fingers.  Now, tonight, she was here.  This was special or if not special then somehow different.  Maybe something had changed, maybe something was going to change.

Change.

Where was her car?  Her Lincoln wasn’t parked next to my TA.  I looked around the parking lot, slowly.  In fact, her Lincoln wasn’t parked anywhere that I could see it and it was pretty hard to hide something that big.

“Uh … Where’s the Disco Panzer?” I asked, looking around again for the big gold Lincoln and still not seeing it.

“Back at my place.” She said.  “It was a pretty night, nice weather, so I walked over here.”

I looked back out at the neighborhood behind County Market, back west towards where I lived, then northwest towards the Thames area, towards University Mall … towards Marie’s apartment there at Chateau Grand.  Suburbs and neighborhoods, streets some lit others not.

“You walked?  All the way … from your place?  That must be like three miles, maybe more.”

“I used to run track in high school.” She said.  “A three mile walk isn’t bad, the neighborhoods are nice.  Took me about an hour.  I jogged some of the way.  Haven’t done that in a while.  It felt good except that hill going up South 34th is a lot steeper than it looks.  I’m not in as good of a shape as I thought I was.  Guess I’ll have to get out and start jogging more because my legs started burning just walking halfway up that hill.  May need you to rub them out for me.”

She ran track in high school.  She certainly had great legs for it and I bet she moved like the wind when she was younger and managed to get up to speed … I wish I’d known her way back then.  I wished, for a minute, that she was my age, that we were in school together and that we had at our age, at my age, what we shared right now.

More daydreaming on my part.

Marie had walked from Chateau Grand near University Mall to County Market on Highway 49 and she had done so by going through the neighborhoods in the Thames school area and the subdivisions in between.  I leaned closer to her, sniffed her, took a long smell and made a mock expression of disapproval.

“You might need a shower.” I said.  “A long walk like that in this kind of humidity.”

I took another pretend sniff of her and wrinkled my nose.

“Make that a long shower.  A really long, hot shower.”

Marie raised her arm and pretended to sniff her arm pit.  She wrinkled her nose.

“You know, you’re probably right.  I think I just might get a really long, hot shower, now that you mention it.  I also think that I might need someone to wash my back.” She said, looking pouty.

“I think I can help you with that.”

“And … help me wash my other places, too?” she asked in a soft whisper.

“No problem there, either.” I said, smiling.

“I didn’t think so …” she said, cutting her eyes at me.

Marie straightened out then, letting her long tanned legs go flat against the hood, leaning back against the front window of my Pontiac and turning to face me, crossing her arms in front of her to support her.  I stood by the left front fender looking at Marie reclined there on the hood of my Trans Am, admiring her curves.  Her shoes were put together there on the pavement next to the driver’s side front wheel, her feet were bare on the hood of my Trans Am.  I’d done that before, sat where she was sitting on the hood of the Pontiac, wearing nothing but my jeans, the bare skin of my arms and chest open to the night air..  The metal of the hood would have been warm and cold, the feel of that temperature contrast against my bare feet, the feel of that big bird decal, my back against the cool glass of the windshield …

“The guy and the girl down the hill, there on the side of the store.  Pam is her name?  She stared at me a lot when I went through her checkout line.  I recognized her when I checked out.  I think she recognized me.”

“She did.” I said.

“I don’t think she likes me.”

“She’s probably jealous.” I mused.  “Remember, she saw us out here once before … that time you gave me that hickey.  And now she’s seen you spending time with me again, tonight.”

I looked and saw Pam and Ingo standing by Pam’s ’78 Chevy Monte Carlo, looking up the hill at us.  Ingo was just staring at us in that creepy way that horror movie serial killers stare at people before they eventually kill them.

“So that’s your ex-girlfriend.”

“Yeah.  I doubt you were impressed.”

“Oh, I wasn’t.” Marie said firmly.  “Is that her boyfriend standing there beside her?  The creepy guy?”

“Yeah, that’s Ingo, her boyfriend.”

“Ingo?” Marie asked incredulously, stifling a laugh.

“Yeah.  Ingo as in I-N-G-O and Ingo was his name, oh!” I said, singing the last part just like the old children’s song from my youth.

Marie laughed out loud.

“That can’t be his name.” she said.

“It is.” I said.

"You're serious?" 

"I am."

“Poor kid.  Who would name their child that?”

“It’s German, I think is what Pam said.” I told her.

“Yeah, but even if it is German … who would name their child that?”

“Someone who doesn’t love their child very much.  Trust me, it shows.” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“Poor guy.” Marie said.  “He stared at me when I walked up and sat on your car and he’s been staring at me ever since.”

“He can’t help it.” I said.

“Do you think he’s jealous, too?” Marie asked.

“Oh, no.  It’s nothing like that.  No, he’s just special …”

“Special?”

“Yeah.  Special … in the same way that education can be special.” I told her and Marie laughed out loud, putting her hand over her mouth to stifle her laugh because it had really been loud.

Loud enough to cause Ingo and Pam to turn and look back up the hill at us.  I stared at them then turned back to Marie.  I ran my eyes over her as she sat there on the hood of my car, leaned near her and kissed her on the lips.  She tasted sweaty, salty.  She smelled of physical exertion but not an unpleasant kind of smell … reminiscent of that first night that we were together … afterwards.  Musk. I liked that smell, it was uniquely feminine and fueled my desire for her.  Her breath was hot on my cheek.  I softly licked her lips and then kissed her deeply, crushing my lips to hers, my tongue finding her tongue, her arms and hands coming up around me as I did so.

The universe shrunk to just the two of us.  Nothing else mattered right then, there was just Marie and me.  Marie moaned deeply as we kissed and after I pulled away she rotated on the hood of my Trans Am, dropped her legs off the side and spread them, motioning for me to slide between them which I did.  She locked her legs around me, crossing them at the ankles behind my back, put her arms around my neck and leaned in close.  We kissed, again, softly at first and then with an ever increasing passion that led to deeper and harder kissing and before we knew it we were gasping for breath, our tongues heavy from the workout that we’d given them.  Her lips were hot, salty and wet.

Our tongues slowly let go of each other, our lips parted and Marie made a motion that I should turn around which I did.  She locked her legs around me again at the ankles, crossing them in front of me as she scooted up to my back behind me.  Her hands found my shoulders and neck and began to rub me there, massaging, kneading.

Oh, God!

That felt so good!

I shut my eyes, leaned back into her and let her work out tension that I didn’t know I was carrying.  That song by Exile was still playing in my mind … the chorus was so catchy, so easy to just bounce around your mind.

“Wow.  You’re really tense.  Long night?” she asked.

“Yeah.  Thinking about you made it a lot longer.” I answered.

“I bet thinking about me makes other things a lot longer too.” She whispered and I laughed.

“Wow!  You’re frisky tonight.” I said, turning to look at her over my shoulder.

“Can’t help it.  Being around you makes me that way.”  Marie said as she leaned back in close to me, sniffed then slowly pulled back away.

“You know, I might not be the only one who needs a long hot shower.”

“I never said that I didn’t need a shower.  Not made of sugar and spice and everything nice like girls are.”

“Humph.” Marie said.

Marie massaged me for a long time and I stood there, leaning back into her, resting against the front driver’s side fender of the Trans Am.  I had my eyes closed, her hands on my neck and shoulders and I could hear the traffic pass on Highway 49.  She went up my neck and down, across my shoulders and back again, kneading, pushing, working her fingers into my muscles. 

It felt incredible.

“That feels good.” I said.

“It’s supposed to.” She said.

“Yeah, well, it feels really good.  Thank you.”

She paused, leaned forward and kissed me on top of the head then nuzzled me and all I could think about was that damn chorus to that old Exile song which kept playing in my mind over and over and over.

A few minutes later she stopped massaging me and drew her legs back from around me as she lay back on the hood of the Trans Am, her back to the windshield of the Pontiac.  She let her legs slide out straight under her and leaned back against the windshield, supporting herself on her elbows and arching her back jutting her breasts upwards against the material of her T-shirt.  I slipped my arm under the back of her knees and under her arms, lifting her off the hood of my Trans Am and carrying her around to the passenger side door.  She held me tightly as I carried her, her eyes never breaking contact with mine.  I set her down gently on the asphalt, unlocked the passenger side door and held it open for her.  She sat down in the TA and started to brush her bare feet off.

Shoes.

Her shoes were still around on the other side of the Pontiac, along with her socks.

“I’ll get your shoes.” I said.

“Hey?  Can we take the tops off?” she asked.  “Maybe cruise around Hattiesburg for a while, you know, listen to some music and just cool off?  What do you say, Cowboy?”

“Would you like that?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’d like that.” She said, smiling.

“Sure.” I said.  “I’ve got three quarters of a tank.  I’m in the mood for a little fresh air.”

I popped the trunk, started the TA, cranked the windows down, took the T-tops off and stored them in their protective bags in the trunk.  I picked up Marie’s sneakers from near the driver’s side front fender and handed them to her as she took them and casually dropped them on the floor in front of the passenger seat.  She leaned over and supported herself on her elbow resting on the center console.  I didn’t even bother with the door, I just hopped into the TA through the open roof and the rolled down window on the driver’s side, bouncing once and landing in the driver’s seat.  I threw my seat belt on, cinched it tight, flipped the air conditioning to high fan speed and max cool and turned to her to see if she wanted to go get something to eat.

“Let’s …” I started to say but I didn’t get a chance to finish.

Her lips met mine halfway and before I could catch my breath we were locked in another deep kiss, her left hand pulling my head closer to hers and her right hand sliding up along my thigh.

“I’m hungry.” I said.  “Let’s …”

“Go parking out by the lake and take off all of our clothes and scare all the wildlife with the sounds we make?” she asked, cutting her sultry eyes at me.

“After we get something to eat.  What do you feel like?”

“Well, what I feel like apparently isn’t what I’m going to get anytime soon.” She huffed.

“Afterwards.” I said.  “Now what do you want to eat?”

She shrugged her shoulders but never broke eye contact.  She reminded me of a cat flexing, rocking its bottom to each side right before it pounced on whatever had caught its fancy.

“What do you feel like?” she asked, turning it around on me.

I looked down at Ingo and Pam still standing by their cars, turning now and then to look up the hill at us.

“Anything but pizza.” I said.  "Suddenly I'm really not in the mood for pizza."

“How about Sonic?  That's quick and you could get your sweet tea that you're always drinking.” Marie asked.

“Yeah.  I could do something like that.  In fact, I really want some tea.” I said, putting the Trans Am into gear and driving on out of the parking lot.

“Take the long way there.”

I nodded and did just that, turning onto Highway 49 south in front of County Market, catching the cloverleaf onto Broadway Drive.  We cruised past the Domino’s where Ingo worked, we cruised past Dossett Pontiac, we followed Broadway Drive until it ran into Hardy Street and then meandered down Hardy Street until we eventually passed her place, hit North 38th across from the University Mall and wound up at the Sonic on 4th Street about 20 minutes later.

We got something to eat at the Sonic then drove around Hattiesburg listening to The Replacements’ album “Tim” particularly the song “Bastards of Young.”  I’d grown fond of that song since MTV was using it as a bumper intro for their summer movie reviews.  Marie nuzzled up next to me with her arm through my arm, leaning across the center console and her head on my shoulder.

I reached down and popped the tape out of the Kenwood and WHSY Rock 104.5 came up.  Donnie Iris’ “Ah Leah” was finishing up and then Journey’s “Still they ride” started playing on the Kenwood.  I liked that song, it had been a while since I’d heard it and we just cruised and listened to classic rock for a while.  Almost an hour later I pulled into the cul-de-sac by the lake out in the unfinished subdivision.  My sacred place.  I killed the lights and turned the key in the ignition backwards to the auxiliary position where the radio would work and I left it on WHSY Rock 104.5 FM.  In the distance heat lightning flashed, brilliantly lighting up the insides of white clouds on the horizon; no thunder, just lightning … far off.  We watched the illuminated display for several minutes, some of it was quite fantastic.

Finally Marie unbuckled her seat belt and slid over the center console and into my lap, her hands pulling my head down to her, her lips going for mine.  Her skin tasted salty.  Her smell was a combination of musk, sweat and flowers.  I immediately wanted her.

We were together, again.

We were heathens, again.

My hands roamed her body and I took my time.

Her green T-shirt slowly came off to Starship’s maudlin tune “Sara.

Her beige bra came off to Journey’s more upbeat “Don't Stop Believing.

Her red shorts came off to Prince’s over the top “Party like it's 1999. ”

Her white panties came off to .38 Special’s “If I’d been the One” and as I petted her it was easy to tell that Marie had really missed me as well.  

I found out that the T-tops and the rolled down windows gave you a lot of room to play around inside a ’79 Pontiac Trans Am and that the number of positions you could get into were a hell of a lot more than you could ever get into in a hardtop F-body like my old Camaro had been.  Seeing her standing there in front of me, naked, her left foot perched on the top of the door, her right foot on the passenger seat and the small of her back to the front of the roof where the T-top cleared ...  I took advantage of that position and the angles that it gave me. 

Marie was my goddess and I worshipped her.

When that became too much she lowered herself and slipped under the T-bar, squatting and sliding into the passenger seat.  She stood up again on the passenger side and motioned for me to move over.  I sat in the passenger seat and she turned around, facing forward, sitting down in my lap, slowly, and then falling back onto me with a deep shudder and a long sigh as her groin settled fully onto mine, I felt her slide over me, take me in ... a really good feeling.  I held her, nuzzled her from behind, kissed her, ran my hands over her naked body, top and bottom.

My bare skin felt her warmth.

She took lead then, her left hand gripping the center roof of the T-bar and her right hand gripping the passenger side grab bar on the dash.  At one point I thought Marie was going to yank the pull grip off of the dash but we changed positions before she could do any serious damage to the interior of the Pontiac, an interior which definitely hadn’t been designed with what we were doing within it in mind.  We tried, we threw ourselves into each other but we just couldn’t get comfortable enough to let ourselves go and while it was fun it wasn’t ever going to be fulfilling ... too much effort for too little reward.

A few minutes later Marie let out a frustrated sigh and I sat back, letting her fall onto me and I held her.

“I don’t think ... this is going to ... work.” She complained in an aggrivated whisper.

I nodded.

“Let me up.” I told her.

“What?”

"Let’s get out."

"Get out?  Why?" she asked.

“Trust me.  I think you're going to like this a lot better.” I said and she did, getting off of me, opening the passenger side door and getting out.

The overhead light was blinding in the darkness that we'd gotten used to and I shut the door quickly to turn it off.  Marie stood there, naked, in the moonlight.  Heat lightning flashed behind her, ripping through the clouds and she stretched, backwards, arching her back behind her and spreading her arms then starting to work out kinks that I could only imagine that she’d gotten in the last ten or so minutes.

Warm wind blew across my bare skin.  I walked around to the back of the TA, opened the trunk and grabbed a thick blanket from a gym bag that I kept there as Marie sat back down inside the TA and closed the door so that the overhead light would go off.  I threw the blanket across the hood and front bumper of the TA.  Marie smiled as I patted the blanket covered nose of the TA in obvious expectation that she take her place in front of the Pontiac.  Right now the TA had stopped being a muscle car and had taken on the aspect of an adult jungle gym ... a sexual playset.  The hood seemed wider than the Camaro and flatter as well, even with the big, “6.6 LITRE” decal emblazoned shaker scoop protruding from the cutout in the middle.  With the old blanket, now warming by the residual heat rising from the engine bay through the metal hood and with the radio playing classic rock softly, sex with Marie became something akin to epic in nature.
 Her bent over, face down, ass up, over the front bumper of the Pontiac, her hands grabbing for leverage in the headlight wells, with the blanket under her keeping her bare skin from getting rubbed raw on the paint ...

... my fingers in her hair, pulling her back ...

... the sounds she made, the sounds we made. 

The more she let loose the more I let loose in turn.

After a few minutes I withdrew from her, picked her up in my arms, carried her around the side of the TA and put her on the still warm hood of the Pontiac on the passenger side.  I got up on the hood behind her, guided her into the same position that we'd started with and tried to pick up where we'd let off.   Her mouth got really dirty then and she growled out demands of what she expected me to do, what she wanted from me.

The sounds she made in between her demands.

I threw myself into her with everything that I had ... feeling my heart race to the point of almost bursting.  My lungs burned with the humid night air.  Sweat dripped off of me and onto her, ran into my eyes, stung.  Marie bucked under me.  She was mine, here and now and I was having her.

Primal.

The sounds we made.

When we were like this we lost ourselves in each other and the only thing that mattered was her for me and me for her.  I felt her release before I ever had mine.  Mine eluded me and the harder that I drove for it the more Marie squirmed and thrashed under me.  Marie collapsed under me and cried out but I kept going until I couldn't stop and then I fell down on top of her .  I lay there, with her under me, moaning softly.

Afterwards I lay there next to her on the old blanket, warmed by the hot metal hood of the Pontiac, spooning her from behind.  The Kenwood was softly playing Billy Squier's "My kinda lover" on WHSY Rock 104.5 FM and I started whispering the lyrics to her, my lips next to her ear.  Marie gave a small laugh.

"Am I your situation?" she asked in a soft, half whispered voice.

"You're my situation." I told her.

"Am I your kind of lover?" she asked playfully.

"You're definitely my kind of lover." I told her, softly kissing the bare skin of her shoulder.

Marie moved some hair out of her face then moved back to a more comfortable position against me.

Bare skin to bare skin.

My hands slowly tracing the curves of her body, moving hair from out of her face, fingertips across her shoulders and neck, down her side, down her waistline and up and over the bare skin of her hip, her thigh and back again.

Softly touching.

Barely any pressure at all.

Gliding over her bare skin.

Fingertips. 

"You're my situation." I whispered.

The flat of my palm. 

Two fingers at a time. 

One finger at a time. 

I touched her like I was painting her, like I was mapping her for some cartography project that could only use fingerpaint techniques to produce a map.

"You're my kind of lover." I whispered.

Marie made a little sound then and I knew that she was asleep.  After that for a long time there was just the sounds of the Mississippi summer night and me touching her, softly, never stopping, never having to say anything because our bodies had already done all the talking for us.  Marie was asleep in my arms as we lay there on the hood of the Pontiac.  I kept touching her, tracing her, painting her even as her breathing became deep and steady.   Marie was someone I could lose myself in and I held her to me, tight, her warm skin against mine there in the dark and the moonlight as the Kenwood played Charlie Sexton's "Beat's So Lonely" and then The Replacements' "Bastards of Young."  I held her as she slept in my arms.  The warm summer breeze on our sweaty skin, the heat lightning in the distance, the sounds of the Mississippi night, the classic rock playing on WHSY 104.5 FM on the radio. 

I held her ... just held her, thinking about her, about us, about what we shared.  I didn't want this moment, this night, to ever end ... like if I could make this one moment in time last forever, frozen in time, just us ... just here, now.

I held her all the way through Bob Seger's "Night Moves."

I held her all the way through Bruce Springstein's "Born to Run."

I held her all the way through America's "Horse with no name."

I held her all the way through CCR's "Run Through the Jungle"

I held her all the way through Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" ... the long version.

I held her, me naked, her naked, bare skin to bare skin,  listening to the radio in the Pontiac, listening to her breathe, watching the heat lightning flash on the horizon and hearing the sound of traffic way off in the distance ...  heavy trucks on the highway and the sounds of the Mississippi night ... these are things that I swore to myself right then and there that I’d never forget, could never forget, as long as I lived.

These were things worth remembering.

As a guy, these were things worth remembering for the rest of your life.


Twenty minutes later I gently woke Marie and told her that we needed to go.  I carefully rolled off the hood and helped her sit up.  She sat there on the hood, naked, her legs spread and me standing there in front of her, holding her,
my head to her chest, her arms around me and my arms around her.

"What time is it?" she whispered.

"Don't know.  Don't care." I whispered back, drawing her tight to me.

She kissed the top of my head, her fingers moving along the side of my face, through my hair ...

"I want a shower ..." she whispered.

"Me too." I agreed.

She let go of me, yawned and stretched.

"You let me sleep.  How long did I sleep?" she asked.

"Almost an hour." I said.  "I let you sleep through a bunch of songs and I just lay here, listening to the radio and holding you."

"Really?" she asked, surprised and curious.

I nodded and Marie sat there, running her hands through her hair and staring up at the night sky. 

This far out from the city there was no bleed over of the light and you could really see the stars.  I took a quick glance then started folding up the blanket that we had used, putting it back in the gym bag in the trunk before closing the rear decklid.  Marie climbed into the Pontiac without even opening the passenger side door.  I watched as she got on top of the roof, like she was riding a horse, her bottom resting just past where the T-bar ended at the back of the roof and her bare legs hanging down into the interior of the TA, one to each side of the T-bar, swinging gently.  She leaned forward, her breasts and hair dangling, stretched out as far as she could then pushed herself slowly backwards until she was sitting upright again.  I watched as she tucked her legs in under the roof line of the Pontiac, leaned back slowly, slowly lowering herself backwards all the way until she was stretched out across the back of the roof of the Pontiac, her back to the large, curved rear window.  Her hair was splayed out across the trunk of the Pontiac and her arms trailing across the deck, almost an upside down crucifixion.  I hoped that my mouth wasn’t hanging open because when I saw her do that I thought that she had broken her spine.  She lay like that for a minute and I walked over to admire her.  Her eyes were closed then she slowly opened them as she turned her head to look at me.  She was upside down to me, her arms spread out across the length of the rear three piece factory deck spoiler, her hair spread out along the spoiler as well, strands draping over the lid.

A smile came across her face as I leaned down, bent over her and kissed her.

Softly at first, building into a harder kiss, deeper.  Her hands came up to hold me, my hands ran palms flat against her stomach, reaching up towards her nature, gliding over her warm, sweaty skin, the soft folds, before moving back down towards her breasts.

We kissed like that, me leaning over her, her upside down laid out across the back of my TA.  I finally pulled myself away, slowly and looked at her.  Her eyes were closed, her chest rising and falling quickly, her breasts rising and falling with each breath.

She was beautiful.

“Damn.” I whispered.

Marie’s eyes snapped open, looked at me.

“What?” she asked, a little concern in her voice.

“Nothing.  It’s just that … If I tried that … I’d snap my spine.” I said.

Marie smiled and put a finger to her lips, pensive, sexy, sensual.

“It helps if you stretch every day.” She said, laughing.  “This isn’t bad.  I’m not sure I can get back up though …I might need your help.”

I stood to the side of the Pontiac and watched her as she arched her back, stretched her arms and grunted loudly as she lifted herself back up.  For a second, for one brief second, her form was silhouetted against the moon, the moonlit lake and the starry sky.  An image forever burned into my memory.  I heard her back bones pop then she worked her shoulders and popped those as well.  She sat there, again, legs dangling inside the TA, naked in the moonlight, arms in front of her, hair hung down, looking down at me and smiling.

“See?” she asked, letting her head drop back and her hair fall down her back, turning to look at me with a sultry glance.

“I’m impressed.” I said.

Marie smiled.

“Hey.  Do you have any more tea left?  I'm thirsty.” she asked.

I nodded, reached into the Pontiac, found my cup from Sonic and handed it to her.  It was a little watered down from the melted ice but still … She sat there, on the roof of my TA and drank, holding the cup in one hand, her lips pursed around the straw, her other arm supporting her by holding the T-bar like she was about to ride a wild bull.  I stared at her and she looked at me.

“What?” she asked, smiling, stopping drinking.

“You’re beautiful.” I said.

"You keep saying that." she told me.

"Someone's got to remind you because I don't think you get told often enough."

Marie smiled and looked at me in that happy little girl look I got from her sometimes.

Marie was beautiful.

Right then and there she was one of the most beautiful things that I’d ever seen.  She smiled again, she might even have blushed.  She took another drink and handed me the Sonic cup back.  WHSY Rock 104.5 started playing Berlin’s “You take my breath away” and I put the cup back in the Pontiac then moved to stand up inside the passenger seat of the Pontiac, to the right side of her.  I put my hands on her waist and looked up at her.  Her hair was hanging down, like Spanish moss in a tree, and I moved my head slowly to each side, letting her hair drape over me, let it caress me, fall over me.

“I like this song.” She whispered.  “I really like this song.”

“I like it too.  I like hearing it when I’m with you.”

“Why?” she asked.

“It reminds me of you.  When I hear it and you’re not around it reminds me of being with you.  There are things you do, Christopher … there are times when I look at you … that you take my breath away.”

She put her hands on my shoulders, my face was at her breasts and she pulled me close to her, cradled me and put her head on top of mine.  I smelled her scent on her breasts, smelled her sweat, smelled the last of whatever perfume she had misted her chest with and drank her in.  I moved my right arm up to wrap around her waist and I ran my left hand up and down her right leg, slowly.  My ear was flat to her chest and I could hear her heart beat.  She held my head, kissed me on top of my head then held me close, tight.  At that moment in time, naked, there in the heat of the summer night, with the warm breeze blowing off the lake, the moon and the stars in the sky and Marie in my arms sitting there naked on top of my TA, listening to that song on the radio … there was no other place in the world that I wanted to be and I wanted that moment to last for the rest of my life if not to last forever in time.

We dressed, shared the last of my sweet tea from Sonic, and got back on the road.  Our sweat grew cold and dried on our skin as we drove back with the T-tops still off and the air conditioning turned all the way up.  We went back to her place and the first thing that we did was take a shower together, a long hot shower that lasted until the water went cold and then some.  Afterwards we dried off and walked around her apartment buck naked like it was the most natural thing to do.

Heathens.

I made a pitcher of sweet tea, we lit some candles, had a shot or two of whiskey and then had sex in the living room on the couch and love seat.  We had to use a blanket from the bedroom because the material of the couch and love seat kept sticking to our skin, painfully most of the time.  We took things really slow, exploring each other as we went.  It wasn’t the breakneck pace of caveman sex that we had enjoyed out with the Pontiac, no, this time it was a slow waltz that seemed to last for hours. 

It was different than what we had before but different in a really good way. 

We spent a lot of time kissing and petting, light kisses followed by deep, long, hard passionate kisses.  I kissed her that night more than I had in all our other times together combined.  Her sighs, grunts and moans only drove me further into deeper and deeper passion with her.  Marie was a really good kisser, passionate, both willing to give and wanting to receive.  Like so many other things that we shared, kissing was something that Marie was just really good at and it was something that she enjoyed.   Things escalated slowly in a really nice way … not so much predictable but scalar nonetheless, like we had all the time in the world and no hurry to get where we were going as long as we just kept going and I guess right then that we did have all of that, even all of the time in the world.  We didn’t fall asleep until nearly four in the morning and by that time we were both worn almost completely out.

Spent.

Sore.

I was late getting home the next morning … really late.  My parents didn’t say anything because I think that by now they had gotten used to my sometimes eccentric schedule and since I’d never gotten into trouble they were more than lenient with my coming and going.  That Saturday night was almost a repeat of the night before except that a long summer shower kept us inside her apartment instead of getting to cruise around in the Trans Am.  We started out in the living room again, using the love seat almost exclusively.

I took my time and set the pace, exploring her with my fingers, hands and mouth.  Marie, for once, was content to let me do so.  This was the pedestal that I put her on, this was the temple where she shared her body with me.  Like the song from the night before I kissed Marie all over, over and over, until the night closed in on us and she took and she took and she took and the more she took the more I was willing to give.

Marie was my goddess and I worshipped her.




          Friday, June 27, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg

I had the Friday night off, a rarity when working at County Market.  Normally you had to ask off for a Friday or Saturday night, given that so much of the work crew and cashiers were drawn from the local college and high schools … everyone wanted a Friday or Saturday night off so it was almost by request only.  Sometimes you got lucky, like I did tonight, and you just landed one in the mix. 

I had gone by County Market to double check my schedule for the next week and when I came out Marie was parked next to my Trans Am up on the hill.  That surprised me because I’d never seen her this many times in a week.  Usually I saw her on a Friday or a Saturday and we’d spend the night together then it would be two or three weeks before I’d see her again.

An eternity.

I began to wonder if this was going to be bad news.

Marie was already out of her gold Lincoln and starting to walk down the hill towards the store.  I met her halfway across the parking lot and she was confused at first because I wasn’t wearing my white work shirt, nametag and clip-on bowtie.  When I explained that I had the night off her expression lit up with both happiness and surprise.

“No way!” she exclaimed.  “You mean you don’t have to work tonight!?”

“Nope.” I said, smiling.

“You’ve got a Friday night off?  Who did you have to bribe to get something like that?”

I laughed and shrugged my shoulders.  Sometimes I was just lucky, I guess.  County Market couldn’t work me every Friday night … though they often tried to.

Apparently she had been driving by, had seen my black Pontiac parked up on the hill and was going to stop by to see if I wanted to spend time with her later that night when I got off work.  I told her that I had the whole night free and we kissed right there in the middle of the parking lot.  I remember we must have kissed for a lot longer than I thought because at least two cars drove slowly around us as we held each other and just … kissed.  You could really lose yourself in Marie’s lips … her hot, moist lips and she had a tongue that slipped easily in and out of my mouth, announcing her desire for me and it was usually accompanied with either a soft sigh or a little moan from her.

I slowly broke off the kiss and told her that I wanted to do something different tonight; her look became one of cautious skepticism.

“Is it kinky?” she asked, smirking.

I shook my head and told her that I wanted to go see a movie and not just any movie but Tom Cruise’s new runaway blockbuster macho fighter jet jock movie “Top Gun” … the one that had that Berlin song “You take my breath away”, the song that she and I both liked so much (and seemed to hear so often when we were either driving around or making out late at night in the Pontiac).  Suddenly Marie got really excited.  She told me that she had wanted to see that movie as well and it didn’t take much more persuading to get her to say yes.

I followed her over to her apartment, let her drop off her big gold Lincoln and waited in the Pontiac while she freshened up.  We took the long way to the mall, driving down Hardy Street then up Broadway Drive until we got to Cloverleaf Mall there on Highway 49, just across from County Market.  We went early, parked outside the cinema entrance, and had enough time to walk around the mall for about half an hour before we needed to buy tickets.  I took her to Camelot Music where I bought the soundtrack to the movie on cassette.  Looking at the playlist, the soundtrack had Kenny Logins’ wildly popular song “Danger Zone” on it as well as Berlin’s “You take my breath away” and other songs, even one by Cheap Trick and one by Harold Faltermeyer who had done previous work on the “Fletch” and “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtracks.  The Cheap Trick song was disappointing but the Kenny Loggin’s song was really getting a lot of air play on the local stations, probably a little more than Berlin’s song then again it might have been too close to call at that point.

Marie and I caught the seven fifteen showing of “Top Gun” at the Cloverleaf Mall cinema
twin, her treat and she wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Marie paid cash and we sat way in the back of the theater, held hands and shared a large buttered popcorn and a large Coke during the movie.  Halfway through the movie Marie’s hand slid up my thigh and found my groin.  The look in her eyes told me what she expected from me.  My hand did the same to her shortly thereafter.  Her hand went back to her groin, found mine and held my hand as I rubbed and petted her.  I slipped my hand down into her pants, past her panties, past the coarseness of her pubic hair and found her nature and her womanhood between.  I played her, slowly, like a piano, working my fingers to music that only I had the sheets to.

She leaned up to me then, her lips to my ear.

“If you keep doing what you’re doing then you’re going to get yourself into a whole lot of trouble, Cowboy.” She whispered with a stern edge to her voice.

“You think so?” I asked.

“I know so.” Marie moaned softly.

“I bet it’s a good kind of trouble.” I whispered in her ear, necking with her and kissing her neck.

“The best kind.” She whispered.

“Well I guess I’m just a trouble maker then.” I whispered.

Marie nuzzled close to me, rubbing her lips across my neck, sending electricity through my senses.  She began to writhe under my touch.  My fingers petted her, explored her.  The more I worked her fever, the more she writhed against my hand.

"Let me be selfish ..." she whispered.

"You want to?  Here?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Just ... let me be selfish.  Okay?"

I kissed her on top of her head and went back to playing her with my fingers.  Marie let herself go then and began to squirm in her seat, slowly, sighing, moaning softly as I played her.  Her right hand went down to mine, followed my hand, guided it.  Minutes like this passed, I played her as I watched the movie, she leaned into me, squirming slowly in her seat, her left arm wrapped around my right arm, holding herself to my arm tight.  Her head was lowered, her eyes closed, her mouth open and she was making small sounds that didn’t carry very far, certainly not to anyone who might be disturbed by what I was doing to her right then and there.  Once she turned, rubbed her cheek against my bare arm and bit me softly to keep from moaning louder than she did.  

A few more minutes of playing her, about at the limit of my fingers and how long I could use them at any one time and Marie let out a deep whispered “muh", then a little moan and slapped her thighs together, hard, trapping my hand between them as she shuddered in her seat.  This happened just as Tom Cruise did a flyby of the air control tower in his F-14 Tomcat and caused some high up officer to spill his hot coffee on himself so there was a lot of noise on the screen at the time and I doubt if anyone heard her find her release there in her theater seat.   I waited, not moving my hand, as I felt the tremors pass through her body, through her thighs clenched tight, through the fingertips that still touched her womanhood.  After a few seconds the tremors stopped and Marie slowly opened her eyes.  I slowly pulled my hand back out of her pants and put my arm around her.  She held my left hand, leaned over and put her head on my shoulder.
 
“You really ... and I mean really don’t play fair.” She whispered, nuzzling my shoulder.

I reached for the Coke and took a sip.

“You know I don’t.  It’s not my style.”

“That … was good.
 Thank you. She whispered, nuzzling her head in the crook of my shoulder, turning to watch the movie with me.

I turned to her and kissed her on top of her head, smelling her hair and nuzzling my face against her then spent the rest of the movie thinking about what I wanted to do to her when I got her back to her place.


After the movie we took the tops off the Pontiac and cruised on down to the Sonic on 4th Street to get something to eat.  I put ten dollars’ worth of gas in the tank and we cruised around Hattiesburg for the better part of an hour after that, just listening to the “Top Gun” soundtrack, talking about the movie and holding hands.  After that, we headed back to her place and got there right at eleven but it was a half after ten the next morning when I finally made it home … tired, sore and almost completely worn out. 

Heathens.

That was the first of only three movies that Marie and I ever went to see together … the second movie was James Cameron’s action blockbuster “ALIENS” and we went to see that in the fourth week of July, and the third movie was “Crocodile Dundee” later in mid-October just as the fall weather had started to set in for the season.  All three movies played at the same theater that “Top Gun” had been playing at there in the Cloverleaf Mall and the other two movies ended up more or less the same with me leaving her place late the next morning.  After that, anytime that we were in a restaurant or cruising in the Pontiac or anywhere that we were alone together and it was quiet, whenever I used my hand to let Marie be selfish I would refer to it as a “flyby”.  It became kind of a running joke between us, thinking back to that time in the theater when we went to see “Top Gun” and I let her be selfish there in the seat next to me.  For the next few weeks, whenever we were out in the TA together, my hand would find her leg, move down inside her thigh and slowly pet her.

“What are you doing, Cowboy?” she’d invariably ask.

“Requesting a flyby.” I’d tell her and smile.

And unlike Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick”  in “Top Gun”, I never got denied a request for a flyby, not the first one.  Marie never called it a “flyby”, she always referred to it as letting her be “selfish” but I didn’t mind. 

Semantics and semantics was just the act of calling one thing, the same thing, by different names.


          Friday, July 18, 1986
County Market
Hattiesburg


After two weeks of family vacation in Tennessee, Texas and the upper parts of Mexico, I was ready to get back home to Marie and to my ’79 TA.  I’d left my TA with John, the family mechanic down at John’s Car Care and he’d put new sparkplugs and plug wires in the TA, replaced the rotor and cap in the distributor, serviced the transmission, tuned it up, scoped and timed the engine, and steam cleaned the engine bay.  John also rebuilt the Rochester Quadrajet four barrel carburetor which had started to give me problems the week before I left on vacation, acting like there was a V6 under the hood instead of that big V8.

When I got the TA back the change in how she ran was unreal; it felt like I had a new motor under the hood.  She pulled strong when you put your foot into her, she burned rubber all the way through first gear, barked second hard, and slipped the rear tires in third gear.  With the open shaker hood scoop put on, the howl of that 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood was a heavy metal orchestra to my ears.

County Market missed me as well and they showed their affection by working me that Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday after I got back.  That was a lot but since I was out for the summer I could manage it no problem.  Work all night, sleep all day.  I was happy to have Saturday and Sunday off.

Monday night, no Marie.

Tuesday night, no Marie.

Thursday night, no Marie.

When I got off of work Friday night there was still no Marie but there was a folded piece of pale blue paper under the driver’s side windshield wiper of my Pontiac.  It smelled of Marie’s perfume, the perfume that she had worn that first night we were together, the perfume that she said she got at the little open air market down in Rio.  

I opened the piece of paper … Marie’s handwriting, neat and small.

“I want to go to the coast tomorrow and spend the day.  If that sounds good to you then pick me up around six in the morning and we’ll head out early.  I missed you, Cowboy! – M”

Marie!

I smelled the note again, folded it and put it in my shirt pocket.  So Marie wanted to go out of town, to the coast.  I assumed she wanted to go to Gulfport or Biloxi. 

Marie!

I was going to get to see her again.  Part of me was happy and part of me was confused.  The way that she had asked me to pick her up at six tomorrow morning meant that I obviously wasn’t going to be seeing her tonight and after almost three weeks without seeing her I was missing her, too, in more ways than one.  Marie was my drug and I was definitely going through withdrawal.

I took the T-tops off, drove over to Taco Bell on Hardy Street, got something to eat and then spent the next hour just cruising around Hattiesburg for a while … losing myself in my thoughts, most of which were about Marie.

Sincere thoughts.

Anxious thoughts.

Naughty thoughts.



I woke up at 5:15AM the next morning, got a shower, and then dressed in my tan button up expedition shirt, blue jeans and harness boots.  I checked my wallet, $178 in cash (which I felt should be enough for whatever it was that we were going down to the coast for).  I spritzed on some English Leather cologne, grabbed my sunglasses, my TA keys, my driving gloves and headed out.  My Timex said it was 5:35AM so I was still doing good on time. 

Dad was sitting outside, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.  I told him that I was heading to the coast for the day and a little interrogation on his part made me add that I may be spending the night with some friends but that I’d be back tomorrow in time for church … maybe.  I made sure to add “maybe” to my schedule for being back in time to go to church just to cover myself in case I wasn’t.

As an afterthought, I turned back around, grabbed my black leather jacket, my travel kit and threw a pair of large beach towels, some Coppertone suntan lotion, a spare pair of sport socks, spare pair of underwear and a spare black T-shirt in a black gym bag just in case.  If Marie wanted to go to the beach … if we were there at sunset or later, I thought a nice touch would be a couple of candles lit in the sand while we watched the last of the day disappear so I went to where my mother kept her candles, took four cake candles with glass bowls, a box of matches and carefully put all of them in my bag as well.

I put the black gym bag in the trunk of the TA, took off the T-tops, rolled down the windows and cranked the big 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood, letting that monster start to idle and warm.  While I was belting in and selecting what tape I wanted to listen to on the drive over to Marie’s apartment, dad walked up and reminded me to drive the speed limit, that the highway patrol liked to set up speed traps near Wiggins, and that he’d rather flush money down the toilet than give it to the MHP for a speeding ticket.  I told him I might be back late and if I wasn’t that I may be back tomorrow morning in time for church.

“Are you going to see a girl?” he asked.

It was one of those moments … I couldn’t lie to my dad.

“Yes, sir.” I said.  “We’re going down to the coast for the day and she wanted to get an early start.”

“Is this the same girl you’ve been seeing for the past few months?”

I nodded.

“The one you’ve been staying out late with and spending the night with then coming in late and shooting me a line that it was some college kid you know from work?” he asked.

Wow.

Crap.

I really couldn’t lie to my dad because my dad was cool.  No, my dad was way damn cool.  Decades later I’d find out that dad and I had eerily similar childhoods, that the stuff that I was doing right now was stuff that he’d already done when he was my age but right then all I could do was stare at him and wonder how my dad knew.  How did he know?  I nodded, playing it as loosely as I could and not really knowing what to expect now that everything was out in the open.  The last thing I wanted to do was to get grounded and have to call up Marie and tell her "sorry I can't come over and take you down to the coast and fuck your brains out but I'm not a college student, I'm a high school student and I just got grounded by my parents so ..."

Yeah.

That would definitely be game over with Marie.

My mental gears were grinding thinking how I was going to get out of this situation.

“It’s not that girl, Pam, is it?” he asked.

Pam?

I almost laughed.

“No!  God, no!  It’s not Pam!”

“Is it that good looking cashier?  The one you went to the prom with?" dad asked.

"Jeanne?”

"Yeah.  Her?"

No.

Maybe if things had turned out differently this year, maybe it might have been her but things hadn’t turned out like I thought they would have and it wasn’t so …

“No, sir.  It’s not Jeanne.” I said.  “Jeanne and I are just friends.  I think she’s got a boyfriend.”

My dad looked visibly let down at that statement.

“Well, if it’s not Jeanne, do I know this girl?  Do you work with her?” dad asked.

I shook my head.

“You don’t know her and I don’t work with her.  I met her down at Paul B. Johnson a few months ago and we kind of hit it off from the start.  She got a ticket the same time that I got mine, from the same park ranger.  After that we … just ... kind of just hit it off.”

“Have I met her?” dad asked.

“No, sir.”

He thought about that for a few seconds.

“Am I going to?” he asked.

I paused longer than I wanted to.

“Do I want to meet her?” dad asked flatly, some concern in his voice.

“You might meet her.  She has a weird work schedule.  It’s not like we’re dating … we just kind of see each other and spend time with each other … when we can.  What we have is … kind of ... complicated.”

Damn.

Complicated.

I grimaced because that was probably the last word I wanted to use in a conversation right then.

“And you’re going to spend the night down there?”

“Uh … I hadn’t thought about it.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I guess it depends on how much trouble we get into.”

I winced when I used the word trouble.  Dad seemed to think about that then nodded and patted the door to the Pontiac.

“All right.  Don’t let your mom find out you’re going off to the coast to spend the day with some college girl and don’t do anything stupid while you’re down there … or with her.”

College girl.

Yeah, I guess that worked as a description for Marie about as good as anything ... for now ... and by stupid dad meant get her pregnant.

“Yes, sir.” I said, musing on all that my dad had just said.

“Okay.  If you need something, give me a call but it better not be a call from the Gulfport or Biloxi jail at two in the morning. Understand?”

Before I could answer, dad handed me a $20 that he had kept hidden in the palm of his hand then turned and stepped back, his coffee held in his hand. 

“What’s this?” I asked him.

“Date money.” He said.

I stared at the $20 bill and kept thinking just how damn lucky I was to have a dad as cool as the dad was that I had.  I folded the twenty and pushed it into the Pontiac’s ash tray then put the Pontiac in reverse and started to back out of the driveway.  Dad stood there, drinking his coffee, watching me back the TA out of the driveway and drive off down the street.  Yeah, my dad was pretty damn cool when it came to me coming and going.  My mom just kind of went along with it.

I started to wonder if she knew as well … she probably did.  I bet when I left that she probably got a cup of coffee, joined my dad and they had a good laugh at how I’d tried to keep stuff from them without them ever knowing.  I bet as soon as I was gone that my dad told my mom everything and that they let me think that I got away with all that I got away with.  I began to wonder … just how much did my parents know?

Then I began to wonder … how much was I just like my dad when he had been young?  Decades later I'd find out that my dad and I were pretty much alike in how we grew up and with our luck with women and that was something that would really bond us in our later years but for now, like I said, I had one hell of a cool set of parents.



The drive over to Marie’s apartment was short and filled with anticipation.  I hadn’t seen her in three weeks now.  Maybe absence really did make the heart grow fond.  I wondered if she was feeling the same way about seeing me that I was about seeing her.

As soon as I hit South 34th Avenue I pushed Foreigner’s “Four” cassette into the Kenwood and keyed up “Urgent”.  A long time personal favorite of mine, a lot of that song reminded me of what I shared with Marie and what I was feeling for her, right then.  I pulled into the parking lot at Marie’s apartment a little later than I wanted to, almost ten after six that morning.  I hoped that absence not only made the heart fond but also made the heart more forgiving in the wake of me being late.  I walked up to her apartment door, knocked and waited.  Marie answered the door after the second time I knocked … and she was stunning.  She wore a yellow strapless sundress, brown leather sandals, her hair pulled back, her Wayfarers pushed up on top of her head and she carried her big brown soft leather purse, the one with the wide strap, slung over her shoulder.

There was a moment of silence while I drank her in with my eyes.

Stunning.

“Sorry, I’m late …” I said and that was about all I managed to get out before Marie stepped out, took me in her arms and held me tight, putting her lips to mine.

Moist.

Warm.

A hard, deep kiss making up for lost time. 

After what seemed a long time Marie broke the kiss and nuzzled up the side of my face with her face.  Yeah, I guess she felt the same way about the amount of time that we’d spent apart as well ...  I put my arms around her and held her tight.  I breathed her in, perfume and scented hair.

Her perfume was spellbinding.

She smelled great.

Oh, God, she smelled great!

“I missed you.” I said.

“I really missed you.” she whispered, slowly opening her eyes.

Whiskey brown eyes.

“I missed you more.” I whispered.

“Nuh-uh.” She said.

“Uh-huh.” I said.

She leaned her forehead to mine, nose to nose, eyes staring into eyes.

“Think so?”

“Know so.” I said.

"Show me." she said, smiling.

I took her head in my hands, pulled her to me, my lips to her lips and kissed her, again.

Deep.

Slow.

Long.

Soft lips.

Moist lips.

Hot lips.

Our lips parted and our tongues danced as our mouths crashed into each other’s.  When I pulled away her eyes were still closed and her breath was shallow.

"Wow." she whispered.  "That was some kiss."

"Told you I missed you."

"I guess you did."

There was an awkward moment when I really felt like I needed to just take Marie back inside her apartment and pull her clothes off and there seemed to be a moment when she was expecting me to do just that but the moment passed.

"Ready?" she asked.

"Yeah.  When you are." I said.

Marie touched her lips in an afterthought then turned and pulled her apartment door shut, locking it behind her.  Should have gone for the moment, I chided myself as I took her hand and we walked down the breezeway to the parking lot where the TA was parked.  I flicked my sunglasses open and put them on, walking on out to the passenger side of the TA.  She stopped on the curve as I walked on over to the passenger side door, ready to open it for her.

“What?” I asked, looking back at her standing there on the sidewalk.

“It's just ... I missed this old car …” she said.

“Old car?” I asked mockingly.  “It’s not even ten years old yet!”

“It’s an old car and you know it.” She said.  “And I missed it.  I really missed it.”

“I know.  I had to leave it behind for a while, too, while I was on vacation.”

“And I missed you.” She said.

“I know.  I had to leave you behind for a while, too.”

Marie stepped up to me, her nose to mine, her eyes to mine.

“Did I already say that I missed you, Cowboy.”

“You said that already.” I told her.

“Yeah, well I’m probably going to say it some more before the day’s over with.  You have to say what you mean.” She said, smiling.

Marie stood by the Pontiac and looked at the washed, waxed and detailed TA, pulling her Wayfarers down to help with the sun.  I opened the heavy passenger door for Marie, helped her into the TA, shut the passenger side door behind her, went over to the driver’s side door and hopped up and over into the Pontiac’s driver’s seat without bothering to open the door.

The seat gave a small protest as I bounced down into it and settled.

The jingle of keys as I turned the ignition switch all the way forward.

The big 403 cubic inch V8 engine grumbled loudly to life and caught on the third rotation.

The Pontiac began to lope at idle, shaking slightly.

All the needles on the gauges took their place and stabilized.

I turned to the right in my driver’s seat, reached behind her seat to get a better hold and looked from the front window to her to the rear window and back to her.

“Ready?” I asked turning again to look out the rear window to make sure nothing was behind us.

Marie gave a short, sharp laugh at the well synchronized, almost choreographed series of events that she had just witnessed.

“What?” I asked.

“I will never get used to seeing you do that.” She said.

“What?” I asked.

“That … Dukes of Hazzard … way of you getting into this car.”

“More like Smokey and the Bandit.  It’s a trick, just something fun to do if you know how to do it.  Anyway, it saves time.” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“I suppose it does.” She mused.  “Still, I like seeing you do that.”

“Why?” I asked, kind of surprised.

“Because it’s neat when you do it … and I like seeing you do it.  Somehow ... it's you.”

I cocked my head, thinking about that as I backed out of the parking spot and drove the Pontiac out of the parking lot.


The sun was out, there were only a few clouds in the sky and it was going to be a beautiful day.  I was excited … this was the first time that Marie and I had been out of town, out all day, together.  It was going to be a new experience.

I stopped by Sonic and got a large sweet tea then headed down 4th Street, past USM, took the service road and merged onto Highway 49 South.  We shared the sweet tea as we drove.  Marie asked about my two week long family trip and I told her the rough details … the beauty of the mountains, the river walk in San Antonio, nights where bands played live along the river.  I’d even driven down to Mexico, just across the border and spent a day.

I tapped the cruise control on at fifty-five miles an hour.  The wind through the rolled down windows and the open T-tops was blowing Marie’s hair gently.  The sun in her long hair, on her skin, the smell of her perfume on the breeze through the TA.  God, I’d missed this time spent with her.  She saw me looking at her.

“What?” she asked.

“You’re beautiful.”

“I missed that, too.” She said.

“What?”

“You being nice to me.  I missed you telling me that I’m pretty.”

“You’re not pretty, you’re beautiful.”

“You said that already.” She said.

“Yeah, well I’m probably going to say it some more before the day’s over with. You have to say what you mean.” I said, smiling.

Marie blushed, realizing that I’d copied word for word what she had told me earlier.  She scooted over some in the passenger seat, put her left arm around my right arm, her head to my shoulder and snuggled up as close as she could while I drove.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I popped Foreigner’s tape out of the Kenwood just as WHSY Rock 104.5 began to play Scandal’s “Hands Tied”.

“I like this song.” She said and nothing more had to be said.


On the way down I listened to the CB radio to try to find out where the highway patrol or local cops might have set up shop and thankfully had plenty of warning to avoid the speed traps that my dad had warned me about.  As it was, we saw two highway patrol units on the way down to the coast, the first was running a radar speed trap near the northern outskirts of Wiggins and the second one was pulled over with a newer model white Cadillac about ten miles outside of Biloxi.

With cruise control set at 55 it wasn’t that hard to avoid a speeding ticket, especially with so much bear bait on the road that day passing me like I was standing still.  There was some talk that maybe in the next year the national fifty-five mile per hour speed limit would be repealed … there was talk that the speed limit might go up to sixty-five, maybe seventy miles an hour!

I could only hope and if so I couldn’t wait.

55 … 65 … 70 … It didn’t matter, though because I wasn’t in a hurry today … in fact, I wanted to make today go as slow and last as long as was possible so that I could have as much time as I could with Marie.  I even caught myself notching the cruise control back to 54 … just to piss off any cops we rolled past and to make the trip lasted just a little bit longer.

It had been weeks since I’d seen Marie, this was our first time going off alone together and I needed this.  I needed this and I needed to be with her.  We drove down to Gulfport with very little said between us, just the radio playing classic rock, the rumble of the 403 under the hood, the growl of the dual exhaust behind us and the howl of the wind in the slipstream to keep us company. 

We hit the coast around eight, got breakfast at a Waffle House on the outskirts of Biloxi and then cruised east down Highway 90 along the beach.  Marie watched the beach scroll by as we drove … I wasn’t sure what she wanted but about two miles down Highway 90 she asked me to pull over and park in a turn off beside the beach.

I locked my two cases of cassette tapes and Marie’s purse in the trunk and we walked hand in hand, near the water.  My boot prints next to her foot prints because she had taken her leather sandals off.  I carried her sandals for her in my left hand, my right hand holding her left hand as she walked in the surf line.  Every now and then she would giggle or laugh as a wave would wash up over her ankles and she would clench at the bottom of her sundress, pulling the bottom of her sundress a little higher to keep it from getting wet.  A few times she had to almost pull it above her knees and I stared at her long legs, remembering how we had started this morning out there at her apartment.

Long tanned legs.

She had run track in high school.

I thought of how much of her life I had missed and how much I wish I could have been with her for.  What was she like when she was younger?  Was she prettier?  I found that hard to believe because I thought she was beautiful now.  She had a natural beauty, that timeless beauty that so many women spend so much money trying to achieve or imitate.

The waves gently lapped at her feet and ankles, sometimes rising a little higher to her lower calves.  She just stood there, looking out at the Gulf and I stood behind her.  I felt like I should say something but there was just a feeling about the moment, like anything that I would say wouldn’t be right or adequate so I waited a few minutes then stepped up behind her and put my hand on her shoulder.  She turned her head, put her hand on my hand and I stepped in and put my arms around her.  She melted back into me, wrapping her arms around my arms and holding me.

Nothing was said; we just held each other and stood there at the surf line of the Gulf of Mexico.  I stopped trying to figure out what the moment was about and instead just took it for what it was; a moment in time, quiet, with Marie in my arms.

“I missed you.” She whispered, still staring out into the Gulf.

“Yeah, I think you did.” I whispered back.

“You know I did.” She whispered.  “I nearly went crazy counting the days until I could see you again and you know it.”

“I missed you.” I said.  “I thought about you.”

“Did you think about me a lot?” she asked.

“You know I did.” I said copying her again, word for word, and she smiled.

“Yeah, we’ve got to stop doing that.  It's too easy to do and it's going to get old.” I noted.

A few minutes later, Marie turned and we kissed another long, slow, deep kiss that seemed to last forever.  I ran my hands up and down her back as our tongues danced in each other’s mouth.  The feel of her skin against mine made me realize that I had other passions for Marie that had gone without, passions that were now desiring to be fulfilled and the sooner the better.  Our kiss lasted, started to slow then renewed itself with twice the intensity before slowly fading … before our lips parted and we drew slowly away from each other.

“That never gets old.” I whispered.

Marie’s reply was to simply put her forehead to mine, the tip of her nose to mine, and stand there quietly for a while.  After that she brushed her feet off, took her sandals from me and put them on then took me by the hand and we walked on the beach for another half hour, just holding hands and being with each other.  Finally she mentioned that she wanted to go looking for some stores.  We walked back to the TA, spending the next hour just driving around, just cruising and being with each other.  The wind whipped her long hair through the rolled down windows and the open T-tops, the sunlight catching highlights in the floating strands.  Marie and I held hands and listened to classic rock music on the local stations, just being with her, right here, right now, like this, was enough for me.


We explored Gulfport, Biloxi, Gautier and Ocean Springs.  We did everything and nothing, just losing ourselves in anything that we found interesting … antique stores, art stores, consignment shops, old book stores and a pair of pawn shops that I’d wanted to visit but never had the chance to.  We got pretzels and tea at this mom and pop grocery store that Marie took me to on Pass Road and we sat on an old wobbly wooden bench outside watching the passing traffic then we did some window shopping at nearby stores that were within walking distance, some of the stores we even went in and looked around but a few were teases at best and disappointments once you went inside.

We had a late lunch at two at the little short order grill type restaurant built into the Walgreen’s drug store there in the Edgewater Mall.  After lunch we walked around the mall and visited the various stores.  At McCrae’s, Marie tried on several dresses and bought nearly two hundred dollars’ worth of clothes including a pair of white slacks, a pair of tan slacks, a dark brown wide leather dress belt, a white strapped sundress, a white and tan evening dress, two tan skirts, a red button up blouse, a white button up blouse, a pair of hip hugging Lee jeans, three bras, three pairs of panties and two pairs of casual shoes.  When I looked at the pile of clothes that she had accumulated I told her that I didn’t know that we were going on a safari today or that I’d hired a team of porters to carry her belongings.  Marie stuck her tongue out at me, grabbed up some of the clothes and asked where the dressing room was.  The sales woman who was helping her with the clothes showed Marie where the dressing room was and Marie asked me to bring the clothes she had picked out, the clothes that she couldn’t carry herself.

Marie tried everything on, disappearing into the dressing room to change then coming out to show me what her choices looked like on her and asking my opinion of her choices.  I’d give her my honest opinion, sometimes it matched her opinion, sometimes it didn’t but she didn’t buy anything that I really put my foot down on and said that I didn’t like.  When we got to lingerie, she slipped into the dressing room and called to me a few minutes later.  I nodded to the sales woman, stepped back into the dressing room and there Marie stood, wearing the new matching bra and panties and nothing else. 

Tan skin, beige lingerie …

She stood in the hallway between dressing rooms, arms to each side supporting her against the walls of the narrow hallway, legs crossed slightly at the knees, a sultry look on her face.

“What do you think?” she asked.

I couldn’t help myself.

“I wouldn’t wear that bra with your sundress.” I said.  “The straps would show across your shoulders.  Might look a bit tacky.  Maybe even trailer park chic.”

Marie stuck her tongue out at me and turned in place to a full length mirror, sliding her hands over the material of the bra, down her belly, her hips, over her panties.  The material of the lingerie was thin, so thin that almost every line and curve of her womanhood showed through.  Marie turned in place, modeling for me.  I nodded.  Behind me the sales woman stepped in and retrieved some empty hangers from one of the nearby dressing rooms but I felt that she was just making sure that Marie and I were behaving in a public place.  I’m sure that in the sales woman’s career that she had stories of couples that hadn’t behaved in the dressing room …  Marie noticed how the sales woman cast a sideways glance at us.

“Ma’am?  What do you think?” Marie loudly, confidently asked the sales woman.

The sales woman nodded then left hurriedly.

“I think I made her uncomfortable.” Marie said in a whisper to me, laughing.

“Yeah, I think you did but I also think she was snooping.”

“She was.  Nosey bitty.  That’s why I tried to make her uncomfortable.  I can't stand people like that.”

Marie modeled the bra and panties for me again.

“So?  Keeper?” she asked.

“You or the unmentionables?”

Marie smiled.

“The unmentionables, silly.  Do I keep them?”

Yeah, I liked how the bra and panties fit her and I told her so, explaining why I liked them.  Marie liked the fit of the panties and tried on the other two pairs … a matching black pair with little frilled trim and a white matching pair with a fancy border.  I was her fashion opinion on the other two sets of lingerie as well.  Marie beckoned me to come closer and when I did she stepped back into the dressing room and stripped bare.  There she was, naked, handing me the clothes that she had tried on and asking me to take those to the sales counter outside. 

I took the clothes she had selected and paused, admiring her bare naked body.  Marie blushed, reached over and slowly shut the dressing room door … slowly, smiling, blushing.

She was beautiful … clothed or bare but it would be a lie to say that I didn’t like her bare more than I liked her clothed.

I took the clothes up to the sales counter then went back to get the rest of the clothes that Marie had picked out.  I knocked on the dressing room door and she answered it, buck naked, posturing and posing for me, seductively.  I guess I wasn’t expecting that … still … 

I made a wry face and casually pointed to the almost full length mirror in the dressing room.  Her expression changed to a confused one and she looked where I was pointing.

“What?” she asked.

“You do know that’s a two way mirror and that there’s probably some poor security guard sitting behind that mirror watching you.”

Marie turned quick as a cat towards the mirror, her arms flashed over her breasts and her hand spread to cover her womanhood.  Her bare bottom was there for me to see.  Marie had a nice bare bottom.

“Is not.” She said defiantly, looking at the mirror cautiously.

“Yeah, it is.  My friend does that for a part-time job.  He works at McCrae’s in Cloverleaf Mall and all he does is sit in this tiny little cubicle with a two way mirror and he has to watch women undress all day, making sure that they don’t shoplift or try to steal anything.  He says mostly it’s old women, old ladies but every now and then he gets in a real looker and he gets a good show.”

Marie’s face took on a look of surprise and incredulous disbelief.

Oh, this was going to be good.  I locked my face as straight as I could.

“Do you really think that’s a two way mirror?” she asked, her voice lower now, more cautious, concerned.

“Yeah.  There’s probably some poor schmuck sitting behind there making sure you don’t shoplift and right now he’s thinking that this is the best day, ever, of his career.”

Marie turned her head to look at me, surprise and fear on her face.  She studied my face and then her expression turned to one of confidence … even out right defiance.

“I don’t believe you.” She said, smiling.

“It’s true.” I said, trying not to smile.

“You’re lying.” She said.

“I’m not lying.” I said, losing my poker face and smiling, then chuckling.

Marie chuckled as well.

“See?  You’re laughing and that means that you’re lying, Cowboy.  You’re.  Lying.  To.  Me.” She said, pointing her finger at me accusingly and wagging it with each single word.

“I’m not lying.” I said, laughing and shaking my head.

“Yes.  You.  Are.” She said defiantly.

“I’m … not.” I said, trying one last time to be convincing.

“Liar.  Liar.  Pants on fire.” She said slowly, mockingly, pointing her finger again at me.

“I am not lying.” I said, still not able to stop laughing.

“Well, then, if there really is someone sitting behind there then let’s just give him something to really talk about.” She said.

Marie dropped her arms and, naked as the day she was born, she put her hands on her hips and strutted like a hooker up to the mirror.  She stood two feet in front of it and began to rub her breasts, cupping each one in her hands, rubbing finger and thumb over her nipples then sliding her hands down her stomach to her nature.  She pressed her breasts and groin against the mirror, the side of her face flat to the mirror.  She touched herself, ran her hand across her crotch as her other hand went through her long hair, fingers spread top and bottom then she stopped, backed away, appraised the situation then stepped forward, cupped her hands to her eyes and tried to look through the mirror.  When she peeled herself off of the mirror she turned and bent over, ass spread full to the mirror as she looked behind her and wiggled her ass in the mirror,  then she turned and looked up at me, not even bothering to raise up to straighten herself.

“You think he got a good show?” she asked.

I know that I did.

Holy …!

I thought quick … this had escalated beyond … way beyond … what I had planned so I had to improvise.

“You’ll know if you see a ten dollar bill come out from behind the back of the mirror.” I said.

Marie feigned incredulousness and slapped me on the side of the arm. 

“Does not.” She said flatly.

Then she walked over and looked at the mirror, ran her finger along the edge and tried to look behind it.

“There’s nothing but wall back there.  Solid wall.” She said quietly.

“I think.” She added softly then went and looked at the other side of the mirror.

“Yep.  Nothing but wall … so there.”

“Oh, well.  I guess you’re not going to get that ten dollar bill.”

Marie’s expression was one of shock and amusement and she slapped me, again, on the arm before gathering up her clothes and getting dressed.

“That’s not a two way mirror, Cowboy, and there’s no one sitting on a chair behind there and the only person that got a good show today was … you.” She said, smiling, pointing her finger at me like it was a gun as she got dressed.

Suddenly I had a great idea. 

I waited for Marie to get dressed and to gather up all of the clothes that she had spent the last fifteen minutes trying on.  She walked out with the clothes she was going to buy piled high and heavy in her hands and I waited until her back was turned on me before I whipped out my wallet, grabbed two ten dollar bills and ducked back inside the dressing room where she had been.

I slipped part of one bill behind the edge of the mirror and let the other drop to the floor.  I hurriedly stuck my head out of the dressing room just in time to see Marie turn the corner and start to head out.

“Hey!”  I called out, trying to get her attention.

“What?” she asked, stopping and looking back, a half smile on her face.

“I think you need to come see this.” I said, putting some concern in my voice.

“Come see what?” she asked.

“You really need to come see this.”

“Come see what?” she asked again, but this time taking three more steps towards me.

“Come see this.  There’s something in here for you!”

“What?” she asked, cautiously, taking a few steps more towards the dressing room, clothes in her arms still held tightly to her chest.

“Just come see this!” I said then ducked back into the dressing room, hoping that curiosity would get the best of her and waiting for it to do so.

Oh, this was going to be good!

This was going to be so damn good!

I waited.

A few seconds passed.

A few more seconds passed.

Marie walked up, cautiously, peeking slowly around the corner and then she stood in front of the dressing room door, expectantly, a tired look on her face now.

“See.  What.” She said flatly.

I pointed to the ten dollar bill hanging out the back of the edge of the mirror and then to the other ten dollar bill on the floor of the dressing room.  You couldn’t miss them, they were the only two things in the dressing room.  Marie’s eyes immediately went to the ten dollar bill that I had slid behind the edge of the mirror and as fate would have it, the ten dollar bill took that exact instant in time to slip out from the mirror and fall to the dressing room floor, right near the other ten dollar bill.

“No.  Way.” Marie said in a low, deep groan.

Marie dropped the clothes that she was carrying and slowly put her hands up to her mouth.  She blushed then, her mouth almost a perfect “o” in surprise before she covered it from sight.

“No.  Way.” She said again, this time through closed hands, disbelief in her voice.

I reached down and picked up the two ten dollar bills, turned each one over, then held them up for her to see.

“Usually the guys who have to sit behind these mirrors only give out ten dollars, if you’re good and if they get a good show but you …”

I low whistled and held the two ten dollar bills up closer for her to see.  Marie stepped over the clothes she had been holding and grabbed up one of the bills, looking at it to see if it was real or not and then she walked over to the mirror and looked at it, trying to find where she might have missed it being a two way mirror.

She had been so sure, so confident just a minute ago yet here was evidence to the contrary of what she had told herself to believe.  Marie looked from the mirror to the ten dollar bill in her hand then back to the mirror.  She put a hand up on the mirror, staring at it and her reflection within.

“No.  Way.” She whispered.

“Way.” I said, holding up the other ten dollar bill in my hand and waving it in front of her.  Her eyes followed the movement of the bill in my hand like a cat followed the movement of a string in front of it.

“Oh my God!  There really is someone behind there …”

“Yep.” I said, trying not to smile and instead putting all of my concentration on the ten dollar bill in my hand.

“There really is someone behind there, Christopher … There really is someone behind there and they … saw me …” she said, her voice trailing off into silence.

“They saw me touch myself and moon them!  I was just playing … I thought you were just kidding so I put on that little show but …”

Marie gave a little start, leaned her head closer to the mirror and stared at it.

“There really is someone behind there …” she whispered softly in disbelief.

She slowly shook her head side to side.  I could barely contain myself … this was really good, probably one of the best pranks I’d ever pulled on anyone and I was milking it for all it was worth.

“There was actually some guy back there, watching me!”

“He’s still back there, still watching you.”

“Oh God.” Marie said in a whisper.

I nodded, really working hard not to bust out laughing at her surprise and disbelief.  She was really convinced that someone behind the mirror had seen her put on her show and now she was scared to death of what might come of it.

“There really is a guy sitting behind that mirror and he must have liked what he saw because you got two tens!” I said.

“He saw me!” Marie said, her voice muffled because her mouth was still covered by her hands.

Suddenly I pretended to realize something.

“They saw you.” I said flatly and faked a bit of concern on my part.

They saw me?  What do you mean they saw me?  What do you mean they?” she asked, not understanding.

I took the ten dollar bill from Marie, matched it with the other one I was holding and held them up again for her to see.  Two bills in my hand.  She looked at the bills in my hand then back to the mirror and back again to the bills in my hands. I gave a low whistle of appreciation.

“Either the guy sitting back there really liked your show and he gave you two tens or after you really got going he called one of his buddies out of one of these other dressing rooms and they both watched you then each of them gave you a ten.”

On the inside I was tearing myself up laughing.  On the outside, I was stone faced.  Marie continued to stare, mouth covered, wide eyed, in disbelief at the mirror.

“Noooooo.” She whispered.

“You know, if you got two tens maybe there were some other guys back there watching you.  They hire one for each of these dressing rooms …”

Marie’s face had a look of pure terror on it right then.

“Maybe his other buddies went to get some big bills broken.  I say we wait here for a few minutes and see if any more tens start to come out from behind the mirror.”

Marie turned to look at me, her eyes were almost tearing up.

“You never know.” I said.  “There’s a network of tunnels and access passages behind these walls … whoever is behind here might have called in his friends from other departments to watch you.  There might have been ten guys back there all crammed into that little room watching you while you were putting on your strut.  Hell, you might be looking at a pile of cash in a couple of minutes.  Might even go a long way in buying most of this stuff you tried on.”

That brought a new look of horror to her face and she turned to me, almost as if she was about to plead for something.  I turned, picked up the clothes that she had dropped and started carrying them towards the front where the sales lady would ring them up.  Marie still stood there, her mind racing, trying to come to grips with what she might have done, especially if she had done it in front of a complete stranger … or two … or more.  I let her go for a few seconds more then I turned to her, clothes in my arms and I decided to let her off the hook.

“Or … I could have just taken a pair of tens out of my wallet, stuck one in the back of the mirror, dropped another on the floor and really had you going there.” I said as I showed her the two ten dollar bills in my hand and, with some effort with the clothes in my arms, I shoved them both down in my front pocket of my jeans.

Realization and … relief … dawned on her face but her expression quickly became one of delayed anger.  Delayed but rapidly building anger.  Her skin tone went from white as a sheet to strawberry red.  It was almost frightening to see the change in temperament come over her and right then I knew what someone must look like in the few seconds before they murder someone in cold blood.

“Syke!” I said, laughing.

“Oooooo!” she seethed, her voice starting as a whisper and building to a loud grunt.

I couldn’t help it, I busted out laughing.  

"Oooooooooo!" Marie hissed.

Marie fumed, she stomped her foot, hard, into the carpet and seethed again, trying to come to grips with what I’d pulled over on her.  Right then I should have started running, as fast as I could but my survival instincts weren’t as honed as they would become in later years so I was just screwed.  When she stormed out of the dressing room and made a direct line for me I was laughing too hard to put my legs into gear and that’s the only reason why she managed to catch up to me and deal with me.  Her finger whipped out, inches from my face and she pointed at me, stabbing the air in front of me.

“You are in a hell of a lot of trouble, Cowboy!” she growled.

I had no reply other than to laugh so hard that I almost passed out because I couldn’t catch my breath.  I was trying to move around, to keep the pile of clothes in my arms between me and her, to use it as some kind of cushion to protect me from her but I wasn’t as quick as she was.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and all of that.  Marie punched me on the shoulder, hard, twice, hard enough to hurt … hard enough to almost make me drop her clothes, hard enough to probably be heard outside the dressing room.  Her expression was one of relief and anger and laughter.

“Ouch!  Damn it!” I said, still laughing at what I’d done to her but trying to move out of her way or at least dodge any more hits she might throw at me because, man, those two punches had hurt!

“You deserved that!” she said, raising her hand again, open palmed, and trying to find an angle to hit me again from.  “You deserve something worse, probably, and you might just get it!”

“Yeah, well, don’t kick me in the nuts because then I’ll be useless to you the rest of the weekend.”

“Don’t tempt me, Cowboy.  Don’t temp me because the way I feel right now I just might do that.” She said.

“Well, if you do, that would be like vandalizing your playground equipment.” I said, laughing again.

You could tell that Marie was thinking about that, she stepped forward, brought her knee up towards my groin and I side stepped.  She did it again from a different angle and I side stepped again.

“Uh, huh.  Got you jumping around, don’t I?” she asked, mocking me.

“Hey!  We don’t trash the playground equipment!” I said, leaning back against the hall wall of the dressing room area and trying to catch my breath.

Marie punched me again, hard, twice, in the right arm.

“Ow!  What was that for?” I asked her.

“That was two for flinching.” She said.

Marie stood there, arms crossed, she was fuming, her face scowled, her lips cut to the side in a silent growl.  God she was beautiful even when she was ready to tear my nuts off by hand.

“I had you going, didn’t I?  I really had you going.” I said at last after my breathing had gotten back to normal.

Marie sighed and wiped a tear from the side of her cheek … a tear of relief?

“Yes.  Yes you did.  You really had me going there for a while.”

“That will teach you not to prance around naked in front of strange mirrors.” I told her.

“Oooooo!” she seethed then walked on out of the dressing room and up to the register where she worked hard to quickly compose herself.  If the sales lady was curious as to what was going on she did a great job of keeping that curiosity to herself.

I was still chuckling to myself and catching my breath from laughing as hard as I had been laughing when I stepped out to the sales counter with the last armload of clothes.  I put the clothes up on the counter and the sales woman began to sort the clothes by tag, folding them on the counter.  Marie made small talk with the sales woman, they laughed at something and Marie pulled out several large bills to pay cash.  I wandered through the lingerie section, heading towards the main walkway where Marie joined me a few minutes later.  I offered to take her bags for her and she let me carry them.

“Since you’re a jackass, you might as well carry stuff like the pack mule that you are.” She mused.

“I thought I was a Cowboy.” I said, feigning sadness.

“You’re what a Cowboy rides … the back end of it.” She said, smiling.

I leaned in closer to her, she pulled away, I stayed, and she relented.  I kissed her on the neck and moved my lips close to her ear.

“No.  You’re what this Cowboy rides.” I whispered.

Marie broke a smile then, gave a little laugh, cocked her head to the side to catch mine and then shoved me away.  Her expression became one of stern seriousness through some effort on her part.  She started walking towards the perfume counter, raised her hand in the air and snapped her fingers twice as she walked away.  She didn’t wait.  I obeyed, picking up all of her bags and following in her steps.

We stopped at the perfume counter and she bought some body powder and some Este Lauder “Beautiful” perfume.  She took a tester, misted her left wrist and held her arm out so that I could smell it … The first whiff brought to mind flowers, too many to identify, a heady bouquet.  I closed my eyes and sniffed her wrist again, long and deep.  A late spring day, woods in the distance, flowers blooming, the wind carrying the scents combined.  I could almost see her walking in a wooded glade, in her sundress, just like she was here but with flowers blooming around her.  I breathed deep again, lightly kissed her wrist then nibbled it.  Marie gave a short sharp intake of breath, pulled her wrist back and rubbed it, giggling and smiling as goose bumps flashed across her skin.

Este Lauder “Beautiful.”

“Hey!  I wanted you to sniff me, not eat me.” She whispered, happy.

I moved in close to Marie's neck, rubbed my cheek and chin up the side of her neck and put my lips near her ear.

"What are you doing?" she asked, playfully.

I drank her scent in with a long drawn in breath.

“Just fair warning.  If you put any more of that perfume on I’ll have to skip dinner and consider you take-out ... or drag you back into the changing room and consider you take-here.” I whispered.

“Well, I guess being take-out or take-here is better than being considered drive-thru.” She said as she misted her other wrist, rubbing her wrists together then misted her neck, both sides, and misted her bare chest above her breasts.

I watched her as she ran her fingers over her neck and her chest where she had misted herself.  Her hand, fingers spread, stopped in the middle of her chest, she lowered her head and cut her eyes up at me.

“Whoops.  Well, I guess I’m in trouble now, aren’t I Cowboy?” She whispered, putting the cap back on the perfume tester.

“I’d say you’re living pretty dangerously.” I whispered.

The woman behind the sales counter was trying not to smile at our antics.  Marie handed her the tester back, paid for the perfume, cash, handed me the bag with the perfume and I slipped it down inside the other bag with her clothes.

“I really like that scent.” I whispered.  “It fits you.”

“I like this perfume.” she said, smiling.  “I found it last year and I’ve been using this fragrance a lot.”

“I still like that other perfume you wear …”

Marie looked up at me.

“Which one?” she asked, curious.

“That perfume you wore that first night we were together.  The one you said that you got …”

“ … In the open air market in Rio.  Yeah, that one.  I’m almost out of that, though so I don’t use it much.”

“Too bad.” I said.  “I really like the fragrance.”

“It was expensive and I don’t have much left so I tend to save it for special occasions.” She said, cutting her eyes at me.

I guess that first night that she had spent with me had been something that Marie would consider a special occasion because she had worn that amazing fragrance that night.  Care as I to remember, she hadn’t worn it since which is why I wanted to smell it again.

“This is close …” she said, sniffing her wrist again.

“No.” I said.  “It’s not.”

Marie sniffed her wrist again.

“Close enough.” She said.

“Not even.” I replied very flatly.

“Men.” She said, huffing and smiling.  “Always wanting the expensive stuff.”

“That’s because the expensive stuff is always the good stuff.”

Marie huffed again and half rolled her eyes.

“Are we done?” I asked her, looking around to see if there was anything else she might be interested in looking at.

“I think so.  That’s about what I came down here for today.  Do you want to walk around the mall and look for anything else?  We can take a look and see what else there is to do here.”

I looked down at the bags at my feet.  It was surprising that one woman could buy that much stuff in so little amount of time.  It was also surprising that clothes could weigh that much.

“Look … I may be a jackass but I am not a pack mule.  Let me go put all of this stuff in the TA so that I’m not lugging it around with me.”

Marie got a sly look on her face.

“What’s the matter, Cowboy?  Don’t want to be seen carrying bags with woman’s clothing, shoes and perfume in them?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“No, I don’t mind carrying them … it’s just that you bought a lot and I’m starting to lose feeling in my fingers.  These bag handles are cutting off the circulation and my hands are getting numb.  I’m a Cowboy, remember?  Not a pack mule.”

“You’re a horse’s ass.” She said.

“Jackass.” I said.

“Not much of a difference there,  if I care to remember.  Both look kind of the same if they're in front of you.” She corrected me.

I told her that I was going to carry her stuff out to the TA and that I’d meet her back here.  She told me to just meet her outside of McRae’s, right outside in the main concourse of the mall.  I told her I’d meet back up with her in fifteen minutes or less then I carried her clothes and perfume out to the TA and locked them in the trunk.  When I came back in the mall, she was sitting on a bench on a large planter just outside of McCrae’s, eating from a box of buttered popcorn and sipping on a large Coke that she had bought from the mall’s Karmelkorn.  She patted the bench next to her, I sat down beside her and she shared the popcorn and Coke with me.

I guess she wasn’t mad at me anymore for the prank I’d pulled on her.

“You got some nice things to wear today.” I said.  “I liked what you picked out.”

“I’ve been needing to buy for myself for a while.  Wardrobe was getting kind of outdated.” She said.

She stopped and turned to look at me.

Whiskey brown eyes.

“What?” I asked.

“Thank you for being patient, for helping me shop … and for giving me your opinion.”

“My opinion?  Yeah, for what that’s worth I’m not really much of an expert on women’s clothing … except when it comes to lingerie.” I said with a straight face.

Marie gave a surprised look, turned and frogged me hard in the arm before staring back off into space and eating the popcorn.

“I just know what I like to see you wear and I’m glad that what I like to see you wear is what you like to wear as well.” I said, rubbing my arm.

“You had an opinion on what I showed you, it mattered to you how I looked and that … that mattered to me.” She said.

“You’re fun to shop with.” I told her.

“Thank you.”

“You have good taste in clothing.” I said.

“I’d like to think so.” Marie said.

“And, I might add, exceptional taste in lingerie.” I added.

Marie blushed, laughed out loud and put her hands to her mouth to stifle her outburst.  When she got a deep breath she turned to me there on the bench.

“The bra and panties … Was that really your favorite part of shopping with me?  Seeing me try on the bra and panties and prancing around in my birthday suit?” she asked, cutting her eyes at me.

I shook my head.

“No.  My favorite part of shopping with you was … is … just being with you.  Spending time with you.  Like I’m doing now.  The rest of the stuff is just ... stuff.  Being with you, spending time with you ... that's what's important to me.”

She smiled and looked at me.  Her eyes were something else that I could lose myself in if I stared at them too long.

“You could be painting a house or building a barn for all I cared and I’d still want to spend time with you even if it was just to watch you doing something.  Sharing something with you, seeing what makes you happy, that’s what I like.  That’s what makes me happy when I’m with you.  Just being with you makes me happy, no matter what you do, no matter what you’re doing.”

Marie didn’t say anything, she just slowly leaned over on the bench and put her head on my shoulder, nuzzling me softly, while dropping another handful of popcorn into her mouth.

“I like being with you, too.” She said.  “You make me happy.  It’s really easy to be happy when I’m with you.”

“I’m sure you’re happy other times, like times when I’m not around.” I said.

She was silent for longer than I felt was a comfortable silence.

“Sometimes … sometimes when I’m not with you I’m … happy … and when I’m not with you but I think about you … I’m happy then.  Knowing I’m going to be able to see you … to spend time with you … I’m happy then.” She said, trailing off.

“I’m really happy … then.  You make me happy.” She whispered, almost like she was finishing a thought.

I nodded, not wanting to pry too much and we slipped back into mutual silence, slowly finishing up the popcorn and Coke as we watched the myriad mall visitors walk by.  Marie and I were lost in our own thoughts until I broke myself out of my silence and looked around.  People were gathering in ones and twos and small groups around a big group of display stands set up in the middle of the mall walkways.  Pictures and drawings were set against the backdrops of the display stands, on all sides from how the people were moving around the displays and from what their facial expressions told me.

"That's an art exhibit." Marie said nonchalantly, her head still on my shoulder.

"Yeah.  I kind of figured that it was."

"Local talent?"

"Probably."

Silence.

I got a handful of popcorn.

“I’d like to look at that if you don’t mind … you never know about the local talent that’s out there.”

"You like art?" she asked.

"Some of it.  I'm not against it.  I just know what I like."

Marie nodded and looked around the mall, offering me the last of the popcorn and Coke.  I refused and she got up, took one last sip from the Coke and threw both away in the trash container nearby, using her last napkin to wipe her hands and fingers.  She walked back to the bench, adjusted her purse and held out her hand, fingers fluttering up and down, signaling me that she wanted me to take her hand and join her which I did.
 
Hand in hand, we toured an art exhibit on loan from a local high school … some of the talent on display was quite good though I didn’t necessarily agree with the awards ribbons that had been given.  I thought that some of the work that received first and second place was of lesser quality than some of the stuff that didn’t get an award but then I guess anyone could be an art critic and beauty really was in the eye of the beholder.  There was the usual run of still life offerings, portraits, some photographs and some hand drawn pieces, collages, sculptures and handmade creations.

I especially liked the hand drawn portrait of Jim Morrison and there was a pen and heavy paper sketch of Jimi Hendrix playing a guitar while sitting on a tricked out chopper.  That one in particular I would have bought if it had been for sale because it was just way too cool.  It had no award on it and I hoped that whoever had drawn it would fare better in life, perhaps catching the eye of some professional somewhere and landing an opportunity to do what they liked in life while drawing a good paycheck.  Whoever had drawn that, their talent was that good.  It was marketable talent, in the right market.  I just didn’t know if the gulf coast was that market.

Maybe out west.

Maybe further out west than I wanted to go one day, probably like all the way out in California.

We walked slowly around the art exhibit and took our time.  There really was some good work on display.  After we finished looking at the art, hand in hand we walked on around the mall.  I stopped in the local "Spencer's", a gag and novelty gift store, and found some sexy pink dice.  Two dice ... six sided, you rolled them and instead of black dots each side of the die had a word on it like "lick", "suck", "kiss" and the other die had body parts on it like "ear", "neck" ...  Two dollars and ninety-five cents ... on clearance.   I couldn't pass them up and bought them, wondering when I'd get a chance to try them out with Marie.  I'm sure she'd get a laugh out of them and for three bucks a laugh from her and a smile was worth it.

She walked up to me at the register as I was getting my change.

"What did you buy?" she asked, reaching for the bag.

I grabbed the bag and held it close.

"Something." I said.

"Uh huh."

"I think you'll like it when you see it."

"I'm not so sure ..." she muttered.

"I'm sure." I said, smiling, and left it at that.

I guess we spent more time than I thought shopping and walking around in the mall because after we finally left it was almost five in the afternoon.  The heat from the parking lot was still coming off the asphalt in shimmering waves as we walked to where I’d parked the Pontiac.  When we got back to the TA I didn’t bother with taking the tops off again, I just switched the AC to max and let it cool us as best as it could.  Marie was hungry, she wanted to eat dinner at a place called “McElroy's”… she said it was an older place but the food was good, care as she remembered.  It took me a while to find the place since I’d never been there, her as well as she was working off memory and it had been years since she had last eaten there.

Steak and seafood.

Marie requested a particular table and got it.  That felt kind of odd, like maybe she was reliving memories and that I was only along as the chauffer for her visit to the past.  It was the second time today that what she did had made me feel like that.  The time earlier today on the beach, I’d felt like I was just along for the ride and here, now, again I got that feeling as well.

Whatever past memory she was trying to reenact, whatever part of her past she was playing over she kept it to herself.  She didn’t offer to share and I didn’t pry into something I might not want to know anything about.  While I’d been with Marie I’d learned that ignorance really was bliss, that what I didn’t know couldn’t hurt me and that I didn’t want to dig too deep if I wanted to keep what we had, what we shared.

Marie paid for dinner, cash, a large bill, and got change.  So far, today, she had paid for everything, cash, and had made a point of it.  She said that I spoiled her but right then I felt that not only was I getting spoiled by her but that I could get used to that kind of treatment.  I was also smart enough to understand that I shouldn’t get used to that kind of treatment because it might not last but while Marie was willing to foot the bill for everything and pamper me with money I was happy to let her do it.  It was nice to have someone treat me like that.  It was nice to see my wallet not getting beat up or mugged on a date and put on life support afterwards.


After dinner I led her out to the Pontiac, opened the door for her and helped her sit down into the passenger seat of the TA.  We left the tops on, enjoyed the air conditioning and drove from Ocean Springs back down Beach Boulevard.  She asked me if we could go walking on the beach again.  It was almost six-thirty; the sun was setting so I pulled into a turn off near Beach Boulevard and the 110 exit.  This time I remembered to grab my black gym bag from the trunk and sling it over my shoulder.  When she asked me what I had in the bag I merely told her it was a surprise, best kept for the long walks at sunset on a beach.  I took her purse and locked it in the trunk then locked up the Pontiac and we hit the still warm, day long sun kissed sand.

We walked along the shoreline, heading west into the setting sun.  Deer Island was off to our left, boats kicked up spray in the Gulf as they returned to their tie-ups and huge fishing boats roamed farther out, the lights on their rigs and masts looking almost like constellations dotting the level of the horizon.  I held Marie’s sandals in my right hand, my left hand held her left hand and her right hand held her sundress up out of the lapping waves as she walked barefoot again a
in helllong the shoreline.  We walked into the sunset, walked for a long time, and only turned back after the last of the light from the setting sun had vanished below the horizon.  The TA was a long way behind us, more than a mile by my guess, parked there on the side of the highway.  It was amazing how far you could walk, on a beach, when you were busy losing yourself in someone else.

I looked around … there was about maybe ten minutes of sunlight left in the day and where we were looked good enough.  There was a dune with some sand grass growing from it, something with some height to it to give us at least some partial cover.

“Let’s stop here.  I’ve got something to share with you.”

“What?” she asked.

“A surprise.  It’s not much but I think you’ll like it.”

"Is this what you bought at that store in the mall?"

Store in the mall ...?

Oh!

Spencer's.

The sexy dice.

I'd forgotten all about those.

No.

"No." I said.  "This is another surprise."

"You're just full of surprises, aren't you?" she asked, a mischievous smile on her face.

I play-mocked her in return.

"So ... what is it?"

"You'll like it." I said.

“Oh, I will … will I?” she asked playfully.

“I think so.”

“Are you trying to make up for scaring me earlier in the dressing room?”

I shook my head.

“No.  This is just something I thought would be nice while we were here on the beach.  I thought this up last night after I got your note.”

I let go of her hand, knelt in the sand and unzipped the black gym bag.  She stood beside me, curious, standing there with her hands held in front of her, looking on at what I was doing.  I took the blanket from my bag, set it on the sand and tried to smooth it out as best as I could.  Next I pulled out the four cake candles, using my hands to dig out a small wind break in the sand to set them down into the wind break at each of the four corners of the blanket.  I pulled out the box of matches and lit the candles as Marie stood there, watching me, the candle light flickering over her tanned skin and yellow sundress.  When all four candles were burning, I sat down on the blanket, patted next to me and she smiled, not that smile, but a smile nonetheless.

… and then there was just us and the sound of the waves rising and falling, the occasional gull crying somewhere off in the distance.  The dune shielded us from sight and from almost all of the sound of the late night traffic on Highway 90.  What little noise from the highway that made it past the dune was drowned by the roar of the waves.  I smiled because it really had worked out a lot better than I had ever expected it to.

“What now?” she asked.

“Now you get closer.” I said.

Marie slowly moved towards me, kneeled beside me, and lay on the blanket next to me, looking up at me as the candlelight danced and made shadows there in the falling night.  The wind swayed the sand grass on the dune behind us.  I lay down beside her and got comfortable, reaching over to stroke her cheek, to stroke her long hair …

“Think you’re going to get lucky with a blanket and some candles on a beach, Cowboy?” she asked.

“No.  I thought we could sit here and just spend some time together ... alone.  Just you and me and a blanket and some candles.  Spend some time together and make it special.  It doesn't have to be anything ... naked.  It just has to be here, with you.  Good surprise?” I asked her in a whisper.

“Good surprise.” She said softly, in a whisper, turning her head, dropping her chin, cutting her eyes at me and smiling.

I turned on my stomach and faced the Gulf.  Marie got comfortable beside me.  We snuggled close, watched the almost full Moon over the Gulf, the myriad of stars, snuggled, spooned and made out for a while there on the cooling sand … nothing heavy, just holding each other, light kisses, gentle kisses, followed by full deep, long and slow kisses ... losing ourselves in the simple pleasure of just being with someone else.

We held each other.

There was no hurry.

There wasn't much talking because there wasn't a need to talk about anything.

We were making up for lost time by taking our time.

I ran my hands and fingers through her long hair, brushed her cheek and took my time being gentle with her.  I hadn’t seen her in almost a month and now that I had her to myself again I took my time exploring her, paying her attention, relearning her.

My hands kept a respectable distance from her more desirable body features and I think that amounted to almost teasing her because she moaned softly several times when I played my hands over her figure without ever going all the way to touch her like I wanted to touch her … like it grew increasingly evident that she wanted me to touch her.  After a few minutes of this, Marie rolled over on top of me, her long hair hanging down around her face and shoulders, her long hair swaying slightly in the cool night Gulf breeze. 

Her scent was mesmerizing, Este Lauder.

Flowers, lots of flowers, their scent on the wind and now at night.

The candlelight flickered, catching sparks in her whiskey brown eyes.

I stared up at her, mesmerized, Marie, candlelight in her eyes, the stars and Moon behind her, the cool of the sand through the blanket under me and there she was … lowering herself slowly down on me, flat on my chest, her breasts to my chest, her lips to mine, my hands roaming up and down her back, stopping at her neck and at the gentle rise of her bottom, never trespassing, never straying.

We kissed … and kissed … and kissed.

We stayed like that for a long time, saying very little but touching and kissing a lot, just losing ourselves completely in each other, rediscovering the simple pleasure of just being with each other.

We lay there for a while and I held her, pulling her close to me, spooning her from behind there on the blanket and gently rubbing her neck, her ear, running my hand slowly through her long hair, losing myself in her and she in me.  We lay on the blanket for almost an hour and a half … until the candles had burned down to almost a third of their original size.  When it seemed really late we finally packed up, not without obvious regret, and walked along the dark beach the long distance back to the TA.

While I stowed the gym bag Marie asked me to take the T-tops off again so I did, storing them in the trunk and handing her the big leather purse.  I rolled the windows down, turned the air conditioner to high and we buckled up.  I felt a pang of sadness as I nosed the Pontiac west along the Beach Boulevard, headed towards where Highway 90 intersected with Highway 49. 

The time that I had just spent with Marie had been magical.

The whole day had been magical.

Marie’s silence after we got back to the TA seemed to mimic my feelings on the matter as well.  I think the blanket and candles and the time that we’d just spent on the beach with each other had been more than a surprise …  It had been something that we both had really just needed.  I realized then that time spent with Marie, any time, no matter what we were doing, was time that was never wasted.


The green numerals on the Kenwood told me it was half past ten.  We were cruising down Highway 90 headed west towards the interchange of Highway 90 and Highway 49 north.  The highway was sparsely traveled right now, just a few cars and trucks coming and going.  The mall would be closing soon and about all that was left open on this stretch of road were some bars and the myriad of fast food restaurants.  Further on down, with those places behind us, the residential areas began, interspersed with old motels and motor lodges and antique homes set overlooking the beach.

Somewhere near the old naval retirement home I glanced back and saw a late model bright red Dodge Daytona coming up quick in the right lane.  The ground effects told me it was a Turbo Z model, the top of the line Daytona and it looked like a new 1986 model because it had T-tops and I don't think T-tops had been an option until this year.  So I had a turbo four banger creeping up on me.  We cruised on and I noticed the Daytona start to close on me from behind, faster now than it had been.  About two car lengths away the Daytona’s driver floored it and the Dodge roared forward, catching up, passing and then pulling ahead of the TA with the exhaust growling and the turbocharger whining through spool-up.

Marie jumped a little in her seat and turned to watch the Daytona blow past the Pontiac on her side.

The bright red Daytona had quickly pulled about two car lengths ahead of us then the driver let off the gas, allowing the Daytona to coast back down to speed.  This allowed me to catch up to the Dodge and just when we were dead even, side by side, the Daytona driver punched it again.  The engine under the hood of the Daytona roared as the Daytona’s front end lifted up slightly; the Dodge’s exhaust roared and the Daytona leapt ahead under full throttle easily pulling distance on the TA.

He had an automatic.

Three speed automatic like I did.

Not the five speed manual.

The driver looked back over his left shoulder at the Pontiac, smiled, slowed down again and matched the speed of his Dodge to my Pontiac and then there we were, cruising side by side down Highway 90, headed west, on Beach Boulevard.

This guy was playing with me.  I seriously doubted if he really wanted to line his 2.2 liter four banger up against my 6.6 liter V8 but then again maybe he did.  Just because you were newer didn’t mean you were necessarily better.  It was a Dodge Daytona Turbo Z, it wasn’t a Ford Mustang SVO.  That would have been an interesting lineup.

I glanced over at the Daytona … T-tops off, black cloth interior and two teenagers in the front seats, a dark haired guy and his blonde girl or I assumed it was his girl … it might have been his sister for all I knew.  He looked over at the TA, at Marie and at me.  He revved his engine … a growl that sounded subdued, even shackled when it wasn’t blowing past me at wide open throttle.

“That’s a bad ass Trans Am!” he shouted.

“Thanks!” I shouted back, giving him a thumbs up.

His hand on the steering wheel extended a finger forward in the classic “you want to run them?” poise.  He revved his engine again, another growl.

I figured that unless he had a good running start he wasn’t much of a threat to me.  Once his turbo got blowing he made some good power but his turbo took a good three to four seconds to spool up and in that time he had no torque whereas the 403 under the hood of the Pontiac was a torque factory from the instant that the long skinny pedal went flat against the carpet.

No substitute for cubic inches and all that.

The girl sitting beside him leaned over to get a better look at the TA, at me, and at Marie, even raising up in her seat some to see better.  She didn’t have a happy look on her face and I wondered if it was because of poor genetics, because of Marie, because she was stuck with the driver of the Daytona or because the girl in the passenger seat just wasn’t a very happy person to begin with.

Whatever it was it wasn't my problem.

Marie turned towards me.

“What’s his story?!” she asked, looking from the Daytona to me and back to the Daytona.

“He’s just showing off.  Guys do that when they have fast cars and pretty girls sitting in the seat beside them.” I said, smiling.

“So … why aren’t you showing off back at him?” Marie asked, smiling.

“Because I don’t have a pretty girl sitting in the seat next to me.” I said flatly.

Marie’s eyes got really wide and she huffed loudly then punched me in the arm good naturedly.  Hard enough to hurt.  Kind of.

The kid in the red Daytona pulled ahead again and then fell back.

“Is that what you call showing off?” she asked.

“More or less, when you’ve got something like that.  He’s doing the best that he can.” I said.

“Pretty car.” She said, looking at the Daytona again.  “I like red.”

“What a coincidence.” I said.

Marie turned in her seat.  Up ahead was a red light.  I pushed down the brake pedal and brought the Pontiac to a casual stop at the light.  Next to me in the right lane the bright red Daytona pulled up beside us.  The driver looked over, expectantly, and revved his engine again, once, twice, three times.

Growl.

Turbo whine.

Growl.

Turbo whine.

Growl.

Turbo whine.

The Dodge driver nodded with his head forward, towards the road ahead.

“Let’s line ‘em up!” the Dodge driver said.

“Is there a bet?” I asked him.

He seemed taken back by that, thought for a second then shook his head.

“I just want to see what my Daytona will do against that TA.  What do you say?  Run for fun?  Wanna just go for it?”

I nodded and turned to Marie.

“What did he say?” she asked.

“He wants to race us.  I think.” I said.

“Us?” she asked.

“Us.  You.  Me.  More me than you, I guess, since I’m driving.  He wants to race us.”

“He does?” she asked.

“He does.” I said, looking from the driver down to Marie beside me.

Marie seemed pensive, she bit her lower lip and looked around.

“Are you going to race him?” she asked, finally turning to me.

“Do you want me to race him?” I asked, watching the light on the other side of the intersection.

Marie looked over at the bright red Daytona beside us, eyeing the two teens, then she looked down from the front of the Daytona to the rear, her gaze traveling down the side of the bright red Dodge.

“I don’t really think it’s up to me …” she said.

“I think it is.”

Marie thought about that.

“What kind of motor does he have?”

“A two point two.”

“And you have …”

“A six point six.”

Marie mulled that over.

“Like I know what that means.” She said flatly.  “So what you’re saying is that yours is bigger than his?”

“Well, I haven’t looked in his pants but …” I said, trailing off.

She hit me, again, good naturedly.

“Ooooh.  You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, mines bigger.” I said, smiling.

“So, there’s four point four difference between the two of your motors?”

“Ten four.” I said, edging that in.

Marie’s expression chided me without saying a word.  The way she cut her eyes was slightly scathing.

“And what does that four point four difference between your two motors mean?” she asked.

“No substitute for cubic inches.” I said, smiling.

Marie’s look said she still didn’t understand.

“It means that I can smoke him without really breaking a sweat.  Probably.” I said, smiling.

“Probably?” she asked.

“Probably.” I said.

“Really?” she asked, a hopeful look on her face.

“Really.” I said.

Marie’s look was still one of disbelief.

“Seriously.  I can smoke him.  Smoke him bad and smoke him fast.” I said flatly.

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“You’re a jackass, remember, and there’s a reason you’re a jackass and that reason is you lied to me.”

“Yeah, but that was in fun.”

“And this … this isn’t fun?”

“No.” I said.  “No, this is serious.  I don’t lie about serious stuff.”

She gave a sigh and bit her lip pensively, lost in thought.

Silence, a few seconds’ worth.

“Do it.” She said flatly, a little smile forming on her lips.

Huh?

What?

“You’re serious?” I asked her.

I turned and looked at her, then in the rear view mirror.  We were the only two cars in that area right then.  Headlights in the distance ahead of us, headlights in the distance behind us but right now we had nothing but road and opportunity.

“You’re really serious?  You want me to run him?”

“If you can.  Yeah.  Do it.  Race him.  I want to see you race him.” She said.  “No, I want to see you leave him in the dust.”

“Okay.” I said.

Behind us some traffic was closing in on the light but if we put the long skinny pedals down we’d be gone before anyone knew what we were doing and we’d be gone long before they cared.

I think the Dodge driver had almost given up on getting to race the Pontiac.  He was sitting there, leaned over, kissing the girl in the passenger seat.  I pressed down on the brake pedal, shifted the transmission selector from Drive up into neutral and revved the 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood, long and hard; once, twice, three times.  The shaker hood scoop torqued to the right each time I revved the motor and the whole Pontiac shook with growl that faded to a spasm that rolled from the engine back to the rear bumper.

“Heads up, man!  Let’s do this!”

The teen next to me looked over in partial surprise.  His girl took on a dour look.

“Are we going to do this or do you want to go parking with your girl there?” I asked.

I revved the Pontiac’s V8 again.

“Yeah, we’re doing this!  Hell yeah!” the Dodge owner said as he laughed and revved his engine in turn.

I could hear the turbo spool up and down with a ghost-like whine.

Challenge accepted.

“Hey!” I shouted.  “What year is your Daytona?”

“1986!” the teen shouted back.  “I just got her a month ago!”

“That thing is brand new.” I muttered to myself.

I looked the Dodge Daytona over.  It was a sharp car.  I can’t say that I’d have traded my TA for his Daytona but I was a little jealous of the guy.

“Do you have a stick in her?” I shouted back.

“What?” the kid asked.

Maybe this kid had no clue what he was stepping into.

“Do you have a manual transmission or an automatic?” I shouted back.

“It's an automatic.” the kid shouted back.

What I thought.

“Three speed.” I muttered, confirming what I thought the kid had and thinking about my chances, liking the fact that they were still better than good in my favor.

“Is that important?” Marie asked, snapping me away from my thoughts.

“Huh?  Oh, no.  Not really.  It just means that I’m going to get the jump on him and blow his doors off.  He’s a four cylinder.  I’m a V8.  He’s front wheel drive, he’s fuel injected, got a turbocharged engine but no charge air intercooler like the Buick Grand National so he’s …”

Marie looked at me like I had suddenly started speaking in tongues which, I guess, to her, I had.  I let my out loud thinking fade.

“Is all of that … what you just said … going to be a problem, you know, for you?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“Not for me, it’s not.”

Marie eased over and put her left arm through my right arm, hugging me tight.  Her left hand clicked the shifter detent and dropped the three speed TurboHydraMatic 350 automatic transmission from “D” to “S” and finally down to “L” with some amount of effort.

“What are you doing?” I asked her, smiling.

She smiled and looked up at me, cutting her eyes.

“That’s what you do, isn’t it?” she asked.  “You move that down all the way and then you move it up when you start to go faster?”

I chuckled.

“What?  That’s right, isn’t it?” she asked, frowning.

“Something like that.” I said.  “There’s a little more to it.”

“Show me.”

One gloved hand on the thick padded black and gold Formula steering wheel, one gloved hand on the console mounted shifter.  Marie let go of my right arm, sat up straight in her seat, checked her seatbelt and leaned back in the seat slightly.  I looked up in time to see the light on the other side of the intersection go from green to yellow
 
“Ready?” I asked her.

She nodded a little less than enthusiastically but the way that she sat there in the passenger seat said that she was probably more concerned than excited. Her posture also told me that she had never done anything like this in her life before because she was postured more for a full on television covered moon launch than a heads up drag race late at night on a city street.

The light on the other side of the intersection went from yellow to red.

There was a pause. 

My left gloved hand gripped the big thick padded Formula steering wheel, my right gloved hand was palm open, held flat on the gear selector ready to slap gears manually from Low to Super and from Super to Drive.  My left foot stood on the brake and my right foot hovered over the accelerator, ready to stomp it flat to the floor.

Behind us several sets of headlights were approaching, maybe three quarters of a mile, it looked like a good group of cars coming this way.  Late night traffic.

I put my left foot on the brake, my right foot on the accelerator and pressed down, letting the Pontiac torque up.  The whole TA flexed and creaked as the engine made power and the brakes held that power in check.

2000 rpm on the tachometer, needle holding steady and powertrain straining against the brakes and the chassis.

The traffic light in front of us went from red to green.

When the light in front of me turned green I dropped the hammer.  My left foot sidestepped the brake pedal and my right foot mashed the Trans Am’s accelerator pedal all the way to the floor as I stood on that pedal with my boot for all I was worth. The four power assisted disc brakes all released at the same instant, freeing the TA to launch.  The 403 cubic inch V8 under the hood roared like something big and reptilian from an era long, long ago forgotten and the entire Pontiac seemed to leap out of the hole, pinning Marie and I back in our seats and locking my seatbelt tight on the hard acceleration.

The big Rochester Quadrajet four barrel carburetor opened wide inside the shaker hood scoop, a loud angry hissing that instantly turned into a deafening bellowing roar of air being drawn in at high velocity amid the scream of the big V8.  The shaker hood torqued hard to the right in its opening, slamming to the side as the needles on the gages started to arc from left to right.  The rear tires instantly spun in place, screaming, burning rubber as the Saf-T-Track limited slip differential tried to find traction.  I fought to keep the TA pointed straight when it wanted to get all squirrelly out of the hole, starting to slip the rear end sideways.

That big 403 cubic inch V8 roaring.

The tires screaming.

The exhaust growling.

It was an orchestra that I loved to attend every chance I got and the 403 under the hood pretty much meant that I had not only a front row seat for every performance but season tickets as well.

My gloved hand held the steering wheel gripped tight and kept the TA pointed straight despite its incessant desire to slip sideways.  Marie held onto the dash mounted grab bar with her left hand and the passenger side door handle with her right hand, her legs were almost plank straight and I bet if she had a few more inches of height she would have been making a dent in the end of the floorboard of the passenger side with the balls of her heels. 

“Oh.  My.  God.” She said, the look on her face was full of concern and that’s all I got to see of her because that’s when I threw all of my attention into the race at hand.

I heard a dull roar then matched with a high pitched whistle, somewhere next to me … the bright red Daytona giving it all that he had but I ignored it.  This guy was stock, at best he had 147 horsepower … at best.

As far as horsepower, the other guy had thirty-eight horses less than the 185 horsepower that my 403 had, stock for stock but as for torque, well his torque curve was as flat as his girlfriend’s chest, at least what I could see of her chest in the quick glance that I got.

The bright red Dodge Daytona immediately started to fall back.  The guy was good but not great and I started to realize that I had this little street match done.

The needle swung across the gage face of the tachometer …

3000 RPM.

4000 RPM.

I waited until the needle swung to the middle of four grand then slapped the shifter over to the right, one indent and up, locking it through the Hurst Dual Gate inspired factory slap shifter.  There was a click as the positive indent captured the gear selector in its travel forward.

Second gear, “Super” gear.

The rear tires of the TA barked loudly and the Pontiac rocked slightly.  I don’t know who was more surprised … the Daytona driver or Marie sitting beside me and then I remembered … this was the first time that I’d ever really hammered the TA hard with Marie riding in it.  There had been times when I’d given the TA a little gas to pass someone, especially on Highway 98 when we’d headed out west, but I’d never staged her and left the line hard like this, never held her down to the floor and power shifted for all I was good for with Marie in the passenger seat.

Marie was definitely getting an experience she probably never had before and it was probably an experience that she wouldn’t ever forget.

The tach needle dropped back down the gage face and started to climb again, trying to catch back up with the still arcing speedometer needle.  I never let off the gas.  You could do that with an automatic … just keep your foot planted to the floor as you ate up real estate at an unreal pace.

I looked around but didn’t see the Dodge.

“Where is he?  Do you see him?” I asked above the scream of the 403 and the roar of the true dual exhaust.

Marie looked over to her right … the bright red Daytona wasn’t beside us anymore.
She leaned forward in her seat to look out the right side of the TA.

“He’s about a car length behind us!” she shouted.

I looked back, longer this time, in the rear view mirror.  I could see the bright red Daytona behind us now.  Call it one and a half car lengths now and we were walking away from him; even at full power, the Pontiac was walking away from the newer model Daytona but then having four point four liters more “unffff” under the hood, true dual exhaust and some street gears in the rear pumpkin would do that for you.

The gap between us was widening and there was nothing that the Dodge driver could do about it.

Two car lengths, easy.

I had this.

I had this, no problem.

Three car lengths.

“Let me know if he starts to catch up …” I said turning back to pay attention to the road in front of us.

Like that was even a chance.

Marie looked over again out the passenger side and then turned back to me.

“Catch up?  I actually think he’s getting farther back!” Marie shouted excitedly.

“Good!” I said loudly and kept the Pontiac’s accelerator planted flat to the floor.

The Pontiac was eating up some roadway.  Behind us the first of the group of headlights from the vehicles that had been approaching began to pass through the tire and exhaust smoke that the ’86 Daytona and my ’79 TA had left behind.

The big 403 under the hood was screaming through its power band.  When I snapped a quick glance beside me Marie was looking out the passenger side, keeping track of the bright red Daytona, moving her head so that she could see out the side view mirror.  She looked up at me then, smiled, and quickly looked back at the Daytona … like a child on an amusement park ride.

The ’86 Daytona started to fall farther behind.

The Pontiac’s tach needle swung to the north side of 4000 RPM.

Towards the yellow line.

I upshifted again, second to third gear, Super up to Drive, slap stick, positive indent and the rear tires chirped just loud enough to be heard over the roar of the engine, the rumble of the exhaust and the scream of the wind whipping at us through the open tops and rolled down windows.  I was over four car lengths ahead of the bright red Daytona and still pulling away at a good walking pace.  I held the long pedal to the floorboard.  We were approaching 100 mph on the speedometer (and it hadn’t taken us long to get there either) when the driver of the Daytona flashed his quad high beam headlights in rapid succession.

Once.

Twice.

Three times.

I quickly tapped my brake pedal three times then firmly stepped on the power four wheel disc brakes hard enough to haul the TA down from nearly 100mph back down to 55mph in the time it took to take a good breath.  Marie looked back at the bright red Daytona, just now beginning to catch up.

“Wait!  What’s wrong?” she asked loudly, concerned, not understanding what was going on or the basics of street racing.

“He flashed his lights.  It’s over.” I told her.

“He flashed his lights?” she asked.  “What does flashing your lights mean?”

“It’s what you do when you can’t catch up or you want to stop the race and you’re the car that’s fallen behind.”

“Is that it?” she asked.  “We’re not racing him anymore?”

“Nope.  It’s over.  He didn’t want to run us anymore.  We won.”

“We won?” she asked, running her hand through her hair, sweeping it out of her face where it had been blown.

“We won.” I said, smiling at her.

“We won.” She said, flatly, then a little smile came across her lips.

Somewhere far behind the Dodge and the Pontiac were the headlights of the vehicles that we’d left behind.  Marie leaned into me and hugged me tighter as the bright red Daytona pulled up beside me once again.  The driver honked his horn, nodded his head and gave me the thumbs up sign.  The girl in the passenger seat still didn’t look happy but Marie was almost floating in her seat.

“Man!  We punched it back there but I couldn’t catch you out of the hole and all I heard was tire’s screaming and you were gone!  Man, you were gone!” he shouted excitedly.

“She’s fast!” I shouted back.

“I know!  All I saw was your tail lights!  How fast did you get up to?”

“Almost a hundred.” I shouted back.

The Dodge driver shook his head.

“I barely got to eighty!  Hey!  You wanna sell that TA?  My brother is looking for a TA just like that one!  I can give you his phone number.” the Daytona driver shouted back, taking glances from the road ahead over to me and back again.

I shook my head and he nodded, almost sadly.

“I hear that!  I wouldn’t want to sell it either!  Good run! Stay cool, man!” the Daytona driver shouted back.

“Yeah!  Good run!  Be cool!” I shouted in return.

The bright red Daytona stayed with us another stoplight, hanging back just enough that I knew he wasn’t looking to run again then the Dodge flashed its lights one more time before turning off of Highway 90 onto a side street.

“He pulled off back there.” Marie said.

“Yeah.  I saw.  Happy?” I asked her.

“What?” she asked.

“Did you like that?” I asked her.

“That was …” She said, smiling.

She didn’t finish her thought and as I caught a quick glance at her, I think she was shaking just a little.

“Yeah.” I agreed, smiling.  “It’s like that the first few times then it gets better.”

Marie looked up at me, pulled her arm tight through mine and hugged me close.

“I think my heart is still racing.” She said.

“Well, as long as you didn’t wet my seat there, we’re still friends.”

Her mouth dropped open and she pulled back slightly, pretending to be shocked then moved in close again.

“You know, I’ve never done something like that before.” She said.

“Never?” I asked her, surprised.

She shook her head.

“Serious?” I asked her again.  “You never raced anyone in your car?”

She shook her head, laughing.

“Well, it’s not like I’ve ever had a car that was fast enough to race anyone … or that anyone wanted to race me in my car.”

“I guess there’s a first time for everything.” I said.

Marie seemed to think about that.  She looked from the highway ahead then back to me and back to the highway ahead.

“Do you race a lot?  On the street like that?” she asked, in almost a whisper.

“Sometimes.” I said.

“Sometimes?” she asked, louder.

“Sometimes.” I said, smiling and looking over at her, hair in the breeze.

Marie seemed to think about that as well.  She let go of my arm and sat up straight in her seat, looking from the highway ahead then back to me and then back to the highway ahead.

“Do you always win?” she asked.  “You know, when you race someone like that?”

“More often than not.” I said, unable to help myself and then smiling.

We drove on for a few more blocks.

“All those things you were telling me ...”

"Huh?" I asked.

"All of those things ..."

“What things?”

“You know ... the turbo ... injection thing and ... the stuff ... about the other car.  All that stuff that you said the other car had ...”

“Yeah?”

“How do you know all of that?  I mean, I see a car and it's just, you know, a car ... you look at a car and you could probably tell me everything about it … from if it has a turbo booster thing on the engine to how much air to put in the tires.  How do you know all of that?”

I laughed.

“I’m being serious.” She chided.  “How do you know all of that?”

“I read.  A lot.  Car books.  Car magazines.  I read them and re-read them.  I’ve been reading car books since I was like ten years old.  If I like something I study it until I know everything about it.  Call it a passion of mine.”

Marie thought about that as well and then she turned to me and smiled.

That smile.

“What?” I asked her.

Marie shook her head.

“It's just that you surprise me sometimes.”

“Is that a good thing?” I asked.

“Yeah, Cowboy.  That's a good thing.”

I reached down and turned up the Kenwood.  A local rock station was playing the last few seconds of Eddie Money’s old classic “She was Shaking” … good song; it would have been perfect to have raced the bright red Daytona to, if we could have heard the music over the roar of the Pontiac at full throttle, windows down and the T-tops off.


I made a right turn off the beach front Highway 90 onto Highway 49 North.  Somewhere sixty something miles ahead was Marie’s apartment and the end to a really great day.  It was so close to me that I could almost see it.

Eddie Money finished his song and Toto’s “Africa” started playing on the Kenwood.  I’d always thought that was such a departure from the hits that had established Toto as a solid Top 40 rock band but it was probably the one Toto song that I could listen to consistently time and time again, the drum beats really called out to me.  Parts of the lyrics spoke to me as well, here now with Marie … the part where the singer said that nothing could drag him away from her, that dragging him away from her was something that would take a hundred men or more to ever do.

That’s how I felt, right then, right there, with Marie.

A hundred men or more couldn’t have dragged me away from her … but in about an hour I was going to be dropping her off at her apartment and telling her goodbye … at least until I could see her again and I never knew when that would be.  I just hoped that it wouldn’t be over a month like it had been since I’d seen her last.  I guess that’s what had made today so special, absence really did make the heart grow fond and whatever we shared, because I still didn’t have a name for it, only grew brighter and hotter the longer we were apart.

The clock on the Kenwood said it was 8:48PM.

“We’ll be back in Hattiesburg in about an hour or so and I'll have you back to your place about midnight.” I said.  “If you want to, I can pull over at this Shell station just up ahead, put the tops on, put the windows up and you can get some sleep on the way home.  I've still got that blanket in the trunk if you want to curl up with that.”

Marie didn’t say anything, just leaned her head back in the cushioned headrest of the passenger seat and closed her eyes.  I took that as her answer and we drove like that for another two stoplights.  A quick glance every now and then left me admiring the woman in the passenger seat next to me and each stolen glance made me realize that no matter what we had, no matter what it was that we shared, it was something special and I was one hell of a lucky guy to have someone like her look my way even once let alone share what we had shared ... to share what we did share.

I glanced over and saw her looking at me … just looking. 

Her eyes took me in. 

Looking. 

Whiskey brown eyes.

“I really enjoyed spending time with you there on the blanket with the candles on the beach ...” I said, breaking the silence.

“I don’t want to leave.  Not now.” Marie said, changing subjects and interrupting me.

“Not now?” I asked.

“Not tonight.” She said softly, turning to look back out the rear window of the TA as we drove north on Highway 49.  The lights of Orange Grove on the outskirts of Gulfport flowed past on each side of the TA.

I knew how she felt.

Today had just been a kind of … magic.  Slow magic, two people, no worries, no cares, just magic held hand in hand.  The time on the beach, shopping for clothes for her, walking around the mall, dinner … the beach … candles in the sand, the Gulf and the Moon.  Behind us the Moon was high in the sky, only a few stars were visible over the lights of the city around us and the lights on the highway.  I wanted it to go on forever, just the two of us.  A thought occurred to me and I threw it out in the open.

“We could go back, drive along the beach and find a motel room …” I ventured, not really being serious but if the idea stuck then I had enough money for that, no problem.

Marie turned in her seat then, almost quick as a cat, sideways and facing me, her left hand on the back of the seat to support her, her right hand gripping the grab bar on the passenger side of the dash.  Her eyes cut at me as she bit her lip.

“We could do that.” She said.

“We ... could?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah, we could.” She said, nodding her head.

I laughed out loud.

I noticed that she didn’t laugh out loud.

“Wait.  You’re serious?” I asked her, not really believing that she was taking me up on my idea but one look and I knew … without a doubt, I knew that Marie was serious.

“I'm serious.  Turn the blackbird around, Cowboy.”

“We’re staying?” I asked, smiling.

“We’re staying.” She said, turning around in her seat and sitting back down flat.

I turned to look at her.
 
She cut her eyes at me and smiled, that smile, and that was all that I needed.  I put my left blinker on, turned the TA around and headed back towards the beach.

“I guess we’re staying.” I said, starting to smile.

“You’re damn right we are.” She said flatly.

I smiled because right then I couldn’t have been happier.


We cruised Highway 90, Beach Boulevard along the beach, heading east, until we found Connor’s Motor Lodge, an old renovated L-shaped single story motel which looked as decent as it looked cheap.  It wasn’t the nicest motel on the coast but it was a far cry from the roach ranches that tended to dot the beach.  Pastel and neon in a style that was popular to tourists in the 1960’s greeted us as I pulled the Pontiac up to the front office.  The elderly man at the counter didn’t bat an eye as he registered us in my name.  I reached for my wallet but Marie set her big purse on the counter top and paid cash, a flash peek of her wallet showed me that she wasn’t hurting for the green, especially in the way of large bills.  Another mystery … Marie asked for a specific room ... number 24, which I thought was really strange … really strange.

The elderly man looked at his available rooms, gave her the room key she had requested and I swear he smiled when he did, like he had already concocted some wild scenario between Marie and I that was playing out in his mind even as we turned and left.  We pulled around the side of the L-shaped motor lodge and parked right in front of our room.  Marie unlocked the room door and went on in, turning on lights and leaving the room door open.  I put the T-tops on the Trans Am, rolled up the windows, took off my driving gloves and threw the gloves up on the dash.  I got my travel bag out of the trunk and got Marie’s bag of clothes and her new shoes.  There, in the trunk was the bag from Spencer's ... the sexy dice that I'd bought.  As an afterthought, I grabbed that bag as well before locking up the TA and walking on in the room that she had rented for us for the night.

The décor was a decade out of date, at least, but not much past that.  It reminded me of the old Family Inns chain of motels that my parents used to stay at every time we went on vacation in the mountains of Tennessee back in the 1970’s.  Pastel colors, faded, dull and soothing … still soothing in their outdated decay.  The room smelled of too much antiseptic and too many years of too many different people.  The drapes felt almost dried out, like the sun had finally turned the cloth brittle in all the many, many years that it has relentlessly, remorselessly beat down upon the material from the outside.  There was a slight cigarette odor, just enough to tickle your nose but not enough to really make you want to ask for another room, almost old smelling.  The TV was a small color Zenith with no remote control and a UHF knob below the main channel selector knob.

UHF.

Was there even a UHF station in this area?

Was UHF even still being broadcast?

Anywhere?

Ancient technology.

I basked in the ambience that the room held.  

Oh, if walls could talk ...

Marie already had the big industrial air conditioning unit cranked high and had pulled the curtains and drapes shut.  I put her bag of clothes and her new shoes on the chest of drawers near the TV and shut the door, locking it behind me with a chain and the deadbolt.

I was tired.

It had been a hell of a great day.

I put the her bags and my travel kit down on the bed and opened the bag from Spencer's.

Sexy dice.

I opened the pack and threw the cardboard back and plastic container away, hefting the two pink dice in my hand and tossing them in the air, catching them again.  They were light.  I threw them on the bed and looked at the results.

"Kiss" and "Breast".

Okay ... this could be fun.  I picked the dice up and rolled them again.

"Suck" and "Ear".

Yeah.  These dice were definitely going to get rolled a few times the next time Marie and I were inclined to get naked.

I put the dice in my pocket and looked around the hotel room.  About the newest thing in the room was a General Electric clock radio.  I turned the volume knob down, turned on the FM radio then gently turned the volume up.  Static.  I moved the selector switch to try to dial in a local station and found one playing something I could tolerate.  The end of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” faded away on the clock radio and ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy” started playing.

Never failed.

That song was following me through my life.

Somehow.

Some way.

I looked over at the clock radio.

It said 11:38.

Huh?

Wait.

No.

It didn't feel that late ... it wasn’t that late … couldn’t be.

I looked at my watch.

My watch had 9:52.

I was pretty sure that my watch was right … or maybe time just flowed different here in this room.  I know that time sure flowed differently when I was with Marie.  Maybe that’s why she wanted this particular room.  Maybe this room was some kind of space-time shunt, something like the Bermuda Triangle only with four walls and air conditioning.  Regardless of whatever was going on, right then all I really wanted to do was to take off my boots and socks and just lie on the bed and let the world pass me by.  If I couldn’t get a scalding hot shower and stay under the water until my back and ass turned lobster red, working out all of my knotted up muscles and tension then I just wanted to melt into the bed, letting the rumbling old air conditioning blow cold currents across me as I unwound and relaxed and fell asleep.  I didn’t get a chance to take my boots and socks off but I did sit on the corner of the bed, lean back and lay there with my feet hanging off.

Either that position was more comfortable than I imagined it would have been or I was more tired than I had thought.  I don’t know how long I lay there … but I must have fallen asleep and it hadn’t taken long to do so either. 

"Hey." Marie said softly.

"Mmmmm." I asked.

"You're not asleep, are you?"

"Could be." I said as I opened my eyes which seemed to take a lot more effort than I thought it would.  

I lifted my head to look at her and that took a whole lot more effort than I thought it would.  Marie was still in her sundress but now barefoot.   She had that smile on her face and her hands were behind her back.  I sat up on the bed as she stood there in front of me …

“Another surprise?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“No.  I think you’ve seen these before.” She said.

She put one hand on her hip, the other hand held out with her pale blue bikini panties twirling slowly on her extended finger.  She let the panties stop twirling then let them drop to the floor and my eyes naturally followed them.  Distracted by the falling panties, Marie was on me, pushing me back then, onto the bed, climbing on top of me.  There was an aggression about her, a driving need.  Sitting astride me, Marie pulled her yellow sundress up and over her head, becoming completely naked except for her earrings.  She straddled me, her dark brown curls of her upside down pubic triangle and nature now bare to the crotch of my denim jeans, her hips rubbing herself against me, slowly, teasing.  I looked down and up at her, taking in her bare beauty.  Marie leaned forward, over me, arching her back like a cat … her long hair draping my chest, her breasts and nipples almost touching my shirt.

Almost.

Her perfume … 

Her perfume!

Oh, yes!

God! 

Yes!

She was wearing that perfume … the perfume that she had bought down in Rio at the little open air market!  I breathed her in, grabbed a handful of her long hair and pulled her down to me.  She tried to pull away but I held her fast, putting my lips against her right ear.

“I thought you only wore that perfume for special occasions.” I whispered.

Marie laughed softly, fought me, pulled up and away, teasing, put her hands on her hips, looking down at me and cutting her eyes at me.

“Who says that this isn’t a special occasion, Cowboy?” she asked.

"You brought it with you on the trip?" I asked.

She nodded and smiled.

I smiled.

She smiled.

That smile.

“So we’re not going to bed?” I asked slyly.

“Oh, we’re going to bed all right.  We’re just not going to sleep.  Not right away at least.  Maybe not for a while.”

She lowered herself to me, our lips met.  We kissed, deep, long.  When she withdrew she stared at me, her eyes to mine.  She lifted herself up, supporting herself on her arms, hovering over me, her face in front of mine, her long hair draping down around me.

“I want you, Cowboy.” She whispered.  “Now.”

I put my arms around her and started to rise up, to get to a better position but she rose up even further instead and pushed me back down, hard.

“I said I want you now.”

“What?  Like this?” I asked, not sure what it was she was wanting or how she wanted me to answer her need and her desire.

“I don’t care how.  Just now.” she said.

“What if I’m too tired?” I asked, wanting to push her just a little.

Marie smiled mischievously and shook her head slowly side to side in an “uh-uh” manner.

“You know what, Cowboy?  I really don’t remember giving you a choice in this matter.” She whispered.

“No?” I asked.

“No.” she said very matter-of-factly tossing her head back to clear some hair out of her face and then using her pursed lips to blow the few strands that were left up and out of her way.

Marie lifted up, still straddling me, and her hands went to the front of my pants, fumbling, hastily undoing my belt, the button on my jeans and then my zipper.  Marie’s hands peeled back my pants, dug deep and found what they were looking for, a part of me that was already waiting for her attention.  I guess I must have made some kind of sound because Marie looked at me with a knowing look.

“Uh huh.  You like that don’t you, Cowboy?” she asked in a sultry voice.

I nodded.

“I didn’t hear you, Cowboy.” She said.

“I like that.” I said softly.

Marie grabbed me hard and pulled.

“I still didn’t hear you!” she growled.

“I like that!” I said loudly, closing my eyes and losing myself in the moment.

“Good.”

That was a different Marie that night, a Marie that I’d never seen before, a rare form for her.  That was a good night, God, that was a really good night being with her.  Afterwards I remember lying there beside Marie and just looking at her on the bed there next to me.  She was asleep, breathing deep and regular, naked, next to me on bed.  Foreigner began to play “Waiting on a girl like you” on the radio and I used a finger to slowly trace the lines and curves of her body.  She moaned a few times, little, soft moans but she never woke or did more than lightly stir.  After the song was over I snuggled down next to her, put my arms around her, spooned her from behind and fell asleep there next to her.



I woke up to a room lit by late morning light filtered through curtains and drapes that were long ago sun bleached.  The air conditioner rumbled to preset life with the machine equivalent of both arthritis and indifference.  The clock radio was still playing music softly but it had been turned down so low that I couldn’t recognize the song, just the fact that there was a song playing.

Some song.

Something.

Not worth the effort to turn the volume up to find out what the song was.

The clock radio said 10:26 and then I remembered that the clock radio was wrong.  I looked for my watch, found it on the floor next to the bed and Marie’s wadded up sundress, and checked to see what time it was.

My Timex told me it was 8:40.

I slowly got out of bed, went to the bathroom and used the toilet. The tile was cold against my bare feet.  My body was sore.  Marie had been aggressive last night, more so than any other time that I’d been with her.  I almost expected to see blood in my urine.  My shoulder hurt and I reached up to rub it, felt a really tender spot and realized that Marie had given me another hickey sometime during our time together.  She had cried out and bit down on my shoulder, digging her hands, fingers into me and wrapping me in her legs like she was a boa constrictor trying to crush me.  I probably had some scratch marks on my back if I looked in the mirror.

I sighed, trying to remember what all had happened … and couldn’t because I realized I needed caffeine.

My mind was numb as I stood there using the toilet.

The bathroom was surprisingly clean if not equally drab and outdated. Green wallpaper and slate tile, the grout dirty with traffic and age. Two towels, two wash cloths, a small wrapped bar of soap with no manufacturer’s name on it, just a pair of crossed flowers and a three quarters picture of a rising sun, looking for all the world like a hippy pirate symbol.  There was another folded piece of linen which could either be a floor mat or just a short towel, maybe made for a midget.

I voted floor mat and set it down in front of the tub … perfect.

High up above there was a piece of wallpaper starting to curl and peel away from the sheetrock in the upper corner and some old brown rust around the fan vent in the ceiling.  I was glad that I’d brought my travel kit now along with some spare clothes.

Marie.

She stood there, silent.

"What?" I asked.

"Hurry up.  Don't flush.  Just finish."

I stood back from the toilet when Marie pushed past me to sit down.

“Make some coffee?” she asked.

"Coffee?"

“Please?”

Okay.

“Sure.”

I went out to the sink and found the complimentary coffee and made two cups of coffee.  Coffee wasn’t my favorite thing to drink and I preferred sweet tea over coffee but it was all I had without getting my clothes on and driving somewhere to find some tea.  Marie finished, flushed then walked out and stood next to me, taking her coffee while I made mine.  There was some kind of powder creamer but only four packs of sugar.  I don’t know how Marie felt about her coffee but mine was looking to be a bit bitter.  Marie leaned against the sink, her bottom to the edge, buck naked, standing there and sipping her coffee.  She had a natural beauty, even first thing in the morning.  She had the kind of natural beauty that I could really wake up to every morning for the rest of my life and I thought that if Marie really did belong to someone else then whoever that son of a bitch was he was the luckiest man in the world ... or the dumbest.

“What time is it?” she asked.

I went over to the end table and picked up my watch.

“8:51.” I said.

There was no way that I would make it to church this morning with my parents so hell and lugnuts on that.

“Checkout is at eleven.” She said.

“We’ve got some time then.” I said.

“For what?” she asked.

I slowly took the fresh cup of coffee from her, put it down on the sink then led her back to bed, my body to hers, slowly forcing her to walk backwards as I advanced on her steadily.  I pressed her backwards towards the messed up bed but Marie turned around, ducked and moved quickly past me, picked up her cup of coffee and drained it in one long pull, almost teasing me while she did it, taunting me that she couldn't be herded as easily as I thought she could be.  She blotted her lips dry with a tissue then turned and walked quickly towards me, reversing the roles we had previously, pushing me back towards the bed enthusiastically.

“Sex can wait, Cowboy.  Never waste a good cup of coffee.” She whispered, climbing on top of me.

“Never?” I asked.

“Nuh, uh.  Never.” She said, climbing on top of me.

And that's when I showed her the pink sexy fun dice I'd bought at Spencer's ...


We showered together in a bathroom that was way too small for two people, finding that the shower was more than cramped with two people trying to use it at the same time, especially with someone tall and slender like Marie.  Marie slipped in the tub, trying to edge around me in the shower, almost taking me down with her as well, and I caught her but not before she bounced on her heart-shaped ass on the bottom of the tub.  At first I thought she had hurt herself and was crying but then I realized that she was laughing and trying to get back up in the near slick tub.  I helped her up, held her close, reached down and rubbed her bottom where she had fallen.

“I’m okay.” She said.  “Nothing hurt but my pride.”

“No.” I said, rubbing my hand over her wet, bare bottom.  “This is serious."

"Serious?" she asked, smiling.

"Yeah.  I think you broke your ass.”

“Really?” she asked, smiling.  “How can you tell?”

“Well, for one thing there’s a big crack running right down the middle of it.” I said with a perfectly straight face.

Marie laughed out loud, a mixture of surprise and amusement in her expression.  I pulled her to me and held her tight, running my hands up and down her back, her bottom, caressing her and just holding her.

“Does that feel better?” I asked.

“Why don’t you kiss it and make it better, Cowboy?” She asked playfully.

“I thought I already did that before the shower.”

“You can never have too much of that …” she said.

“What?  Kissing your ass?”

She pulled away, slightly, and looked at me with that smile.

That smile.

"More like French kissing my ass ..."

"Or sharing an Australian Kiss ..." I said.

"Uh ... Australian Kiss?  What's an Australian Kiss?" she asked.

"It's just like a French kiss ... but down under."

Marie laughed.

I moved in closer to her.

“How about I do this instead?”

I pulled her to me again and we kissed, long and deep as the hot water flowed over our bodies.  That's what I liked about motels ... the hot water lasted a lot longer than it seemed to at Marie's apartment.


I got dressed, fresh clothes from my bag and Marie dressed from the clothes that she had bought yesterday at the mall; she kept her sandals from the day before but she put on her new tan slacks, new bra, new panties, her new leather dress belt and the new red button up blouse.  I brushed my teeth and shared my tooth brush with her.  I spritzed on some English Leather and she sprayed on some of her new cologne, the Este Lauder “Beautiful”, sprayed it liberally.

“That stuff gets you in trouble.” I said.

“Not as much trouble as the expensive stuff.” She said.  “Whenever I wear the expensive stuff I wind up sore all over and walking funny for a couple of days afterwards.”

“What a coincidence ... whenver you wear the expensive stuff 
I wind up sore all over and walking funny for a couple of days afterwards, too.” I chided back.

Marie stuck her tongue out at me and wagged her head.

I packed up our stuff in the trunk of the TA, drove her around to the front office and waited in the Pontiac while she dropped the key off and checked out.  As we pulled away in the Pontiac, I watched the Connor Motor Lodge get farther away in the rear view mirror and I knew that no matter what, that in the years to come that every time that I ever drove by the Connor Motor Lodge I’d look down the row of rooms to Room 12 and I’d smile remembering all that Marie and I had done in that room and the time that we’d spent there.

Breakfast was at another Waffle House then we parked near the Edgewater Mall, got out and walked on the beach one last time.  I didn’t think we’d be long this time so I left the black gym bag in the trunk along with Marie’s purse.  Marie was quiet, lost in thought was my guess, wandering through her past, through her memories.

Whatever past or memory she was reliving or trying to exorcise from her soul I felt like I was playing another part in it, again, here and now.  Was last night some kind of personal anniversary?  Our time together had been incredible but I still felt like I was an extra in some movie sequence for which I wasn’t being provided the script.  Marie seemed to be pulling lead on most of where we went and what we did and I felt like I was being pulled along, like I was a substitute for someone else, a stand-in for someone who wasn’t in Marie’s life any more.  The only time that Marie didn’t act like she was in charge of our weekend was when I interjected something that I wanted to do into her plans … like the blanket and the candles on the beach last night.

Marie had been lost when I’d done that … it obviously wasn’t part of her memories or what she was trying to relive and she had been lost to it, unable to follow a script that she didn’t have for something that had never happened to her.  She had looked lost last night and she had been lost but then she had lost herself in me there on the blanket last night.  That had felt … right.  After all that we had done together so far this weekend that time that we spent on the blanket felt like it was … us, just us and not part of some memory or forgotten script.  The time we spent together last night in the beach front motel felt like it had been us as well, and this morning, that too.

The beach seemed a key location as well.  We had walked the beach a lot in the last day.  This made the third time that we’d done so and I got the feeling that there was a lot more to this weekend than Marie was telling me … if she would tell me at all.  So far, being with Marie had been a whirlwind but I’d had my secret that I’d been keeping and it had been building ever since that first time that I’d been with her.  I didn’t know how long Marie and I would have together but I was about to enter my senior year of high school … after that would be college and I’d probably have to go away out of town if not out of state for that.  College was definitely going to complicate things with Marie, especially if she thought that I was already in college and suddenly I’m having to go from a four year university like Southern Miss to some two year junior college like Hinds or Jones or Pearl River.

Maybe it was this weekend, this time spent with Marie so far, the moody discussion we had had in her apartment yesterday and now reliving something from her past … All of that had finally made something inside of me decide to just tell her everything … even if it ruined what we had.  I guess being with Marie made me realize that whatever we had, it wasn’t going to be based on any lie from me.  Yeah, I thought, stopping and standing my ground in the sand … Now was as good of a time as ever to come clean with Marie.

“I bet Rio’s a lot prettier.” I said, staring out into the Gulf and trying to break the silence.

“It is.” She replied.  “But you learn to take what you can get.”

She walked on ahead but I stayed where I stood, looking out across the water, lost in my own thoughts, wondering if I was doing the right thing … wondering how the next few minutes were going to change my life for the worse and possibly forever.  After a few more steps she turned and looked at me, one hand holding her sandals, the other shielding her eyes and Wayfarers from the sun.

“What?” she asked.

“Does that apply to me?” I asked her.

“Does what apply to you?” she asked.

“That you take what you can get?”

She swept hair from her face and looked at me.

“Why do you ask?”

“Just curious, I guess.” I said.  “I was just wondering where I fit in with your life …”

Marie tilted her head to the side and looked at me.

“Beggars can’t be choosers but choosers don’t have to be beggars.” She said.

“What does that mean?” I asked her.

“It means that I chose you, Christopher.  That first time we met ... I chose you.”

I stopped and she took another step, turned and faced me, never letting go of my hand.

"You chose me?"

Her silence was her answer.

“Why me?”

"Why you?"

"Why me?"

“Why not you?” Marie asked, laughing a little, surprised at my question.

I didn’t have an answer for that.  Marie looked at me, tried to read my face and sighed.

“Do you remember that first night that we were together … there in the parking lot of the grocery store?  Do you remember telling me that you were six feet tall and that you found it hard to sell yourself short …?”

“Yeah.” I said, remembering having said that but only vaguely because that first night had been a whirlwind with her.

“I thought that was one of the best lines any guy had ever told me.  You had a lot of confidence that night.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“One of the things that attracted me to you in the first place, one of the things that I’m attracted to you now, is your confidence and how you carry yourself.  You were just so sure of yourself when we met … you weren’t full of yourself, just sure of yourself ... there's a difference and I liked that.”

My world was teetering on the edge and there were questions that I wanted to ask her but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear the answers.  Maybe my expression said everything that I needed to say because I could tell right then that my poker face not only wasn’t working but I think it was broken as well.

“Marie …” I said.

She took her hand down from her face, put it in her other hand in front of me and stood there, expectantly.

"Remember when you asked me why I was with you?  Now I want to ask you the same thing."

"Why am I with you?" she asked.

I nodded.

"The sex.  It's just about the sex." she said, flatly.

Huh?

"The sex?  That's ... it?" I asked.

"What did you think it was all about, Cowboy?  Something deeper?  Something meaningful?"

My expression betrayed me and Marie's expression quivered then broke.  She shook her head, still smiling and laughing.

"Oh!  Wow.  I didn't think I'd ever get one over on you but maybe I just did."

I thought about that and she smiled.

"What?"

"I was kidding!  God!  You should have seen your expression when I told you that!  It was like someone had just run over your puppy!"

She danced around me slowly, teasing me.

"I got one over on you.  I.  Finally.  Got.  One.  Over.  On.  You." she chided, sounding like a little girl on a playground.

"Yeah.  Maybe you did." I mused.

Marie smiled, obviously pleased with herself.

"So ... it's ... shallow ... like that?" I asked.

"What we have ... It's not that shallow, Cowboy.  Not for me it isn't.  Don't get me wrong, I like the sex.  You may be eighteen but you fuck like you’re twenty-five.”

I turned to look at her, surprised at what she had said.

“Hold on ... I ... What?” I asked her.

“You heard me ... and I wasn't kidding you about that.  I meant what I just said.” She said, smiling.

“Yeah, I heard you but I’m just wondering … What you just said … I mean ...  Is that a good thing?” I asked, because I was curious and I really didn’t know.

“Oh, that’s a good thing, Cowboy.” Marie said.  “Trust me, that’s a very good thing.”

“So … Have you ... fucked many twenty-five year olds?” I asked, realizing that I probably shouldn’t have asked and regretting having asked it.

Marie laughed out loud then grew silent and and looked away, putting her head in her hand and running her fingers through her hair, looking out into the Gulf and blowing softly through her pursed lips.

“Wow.  Derailed that, didn't you?” She said at last, softly.

“Sorry.” I said.  “Probably shouldn’t have asked that … it just kind of came out.  Wasn't thinking ...”

Damn.

"Look ... I didn't mean it that ... way."

“So ... Are you asking if I’m … what?  If I'm loose?  If I'm ... easy?” she asked, turning to look at me and cutting her eyes at me in a way that wasn’t entirely comfortable for me to look at her.

I shrugged my shoulders because I really didn’t know how to ask her what I wanted to ask her.

“I guess I’m just … curious.” I said.

“Curious?  About what?  Curious if I make it a habit of having sex with eighteen year olds?”

I shook my head slowly.

No.

“Curious as to where do I fit into your life, Marie?"

"What do you mean ... where do you fit into my life?"

"Am I special or am I just a number?”

“Does it matter?” she asked.

I thought about that.

Yeah, it did.

“Yeah, it does.  It matters to me.  I can’t really explain how it matters, just that it does.  Am I special or am I just a number?” I said.

Marie looked at me, not sure if she understood me or not.

"What am I, Marie?  What am I ... in your life?  Am I a number or am I something else?"

“You’re not a number.” She said, without hesitation.

She was my second.

I was curious.

“If I was a number …”

Marie looked at me, sharply.

“If you were a number …?”

“Yeah.  If I was a number … What number … would I be?”

"What number?  Like what are you on a scale of one to ten?"

"No.  Like how many were there before me?"

"Oh!" she said.

Then her expression changed, like realization had hit her hard.

"Oh." she said a second later.

Marie bit her lip in thought.

"What number are you ... like how many guys have I slept with before you?"

I nodded.

“Five.  If you were a number, you would be five.  Lucky number five.” she said, doing a little thing with her hands.

I would be five.

Four others before me.

She was my second.

I was her fifth.

I mulled that over while thinking that I’d learned something about her or at least something that I hadn’t known before.  Whether or not that was important I still didn’t know.

“Now, before you ask, because you either want to ask or you' re going to ask, sooner or later, I’ll tell you about the other four.  The first three were mistakes.  One in high school my senior year.  I was a late starter, had kind of a sheltered life so I didn’t know a lot about boys because I didn’t get to date much as my dad was kind of strict.  When I did finally get to date I was a junior in high school and I went a little boy crazy.  No, I went absolutely boy crazy.   I was on the track team my junior and senior year in high school and my first ...  he was an assistant coach from the local junior college doing his co-op my senior year and it was just … bad.  Yeah.  That’s not a good memory.  That's really not a good memory there."

Marie gave a small shudder and took a few seconds to fight off … bad memories?

“The next two were in college, with about a year and a half between them.  I thought they were real.  They weren’t.  I got used, I got hurt, and I got my heart broken, bad, by the second, let the third get me on the rebound, thought that was the real deal and … it wasn’t.  Same story, pretty much.  Same story, different person.  The fourth, well, yeah.  I’m going to have to just say that’s … it’s ... complicated.  So … You’re the fifth.  If you want to be a number, if you want to know where you stand in line then I guess you’re my fifth, in that order, from first and worst to now and … wow.”

“Two.” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“You’re my second.” I said.  “I’ve only had sex with one other woman before I met you.”

The look on her face was priceless; frozen shock and amazement.  Waves crashed against the beach but other than that it was pure silence.

"Bullshit." she said loudly.

"Two.  You and ... her."

“Bull.  Shit.”  Marie said flatly, two words, staring right at me.

“It’s true.” I said.

“Bull.  Shit.” Marie said again, flatly but louder than before and now with a bit of surprise creeping into her voice.

“I’m not lying.  You were … you are … the second woman that I’ve ever had sex with.”

Marie looked at me, almost desperately trying to find some tell-tale that I was lying to her and when she couldn't she put her chin in her hand and stared out across the Gulf.

"You're lying." she whispered.

"I'm not." I whispered.  "I'm really not."

“Okay.  Wait.  Supposing that I believe that ... which I don't ... then who was the first?” she asked.

“Pam."

Marie took on a quiet, startled look.

"Pam?"

"Pam."

"That ... That cashier that you work with?"

I nodded.

Marie got a funny look on her face.

“God!  You're serious?”

I nodded, staring out into the Gulf.  When I didn't say anything else Marie whispered a quite "wow."

“You are serious.  Wow.” Marie said, musing on that.

"Go ahead and say it."

"Wow." she said.

“Yeah."

"That ..."

“Yeah."

"Wow." she repeated.

"It was a mistake.  She was my first.  I can’t say it was really any good, other than it being the first time and I’d never had that before so at the time, yeah, yay, I'm getting laid, whoo-hoo, great stuff.” I said, throwing my arms up sarcastically and pretending to be excited but in a really monotone voice.

“How many times did you …?”

I counted back in my mind, trying not to wince at the memories.

“Before you?  She and I did it … eleven times.”

“I still don’t believe you.”

“Why?”

Marie shrugged.

“You just seem so much more … experienced than I am.  I feel like I’m following you, trying to keep up with you when we’re together.”

“You’re serious?”

“Yes.  I’m serious.  The first time we were together … I’ve never had … someone like you … before.  You blew my mind.  It was all new to me.  All of this was ... is ... new to me.”

“I’ve never had someone like you before, either.  You’re new to me as well.” I said.

Marie smiled, blushing.

“I guess we’re just good for each other, then.” She said.

“I guess so.  I guess sex is just better when you’ve got someone … good … to be with.”

“I guess so.” Marie said.  “Before now, I couldn’t have told you.  Sex was … just … something ... that ... you know ... happened.  Something that I felt like I should do if I was in a serious relationship.”

"Seriously?"

"Seriously.  Sex was kind of like ... work.  It was work, at least for me, something that I felt I had to do in order to be with someone else.  It was fun, sometimes ... most of the time it was ... just ..." she said trailing off.

“Yeah.  It wasn’t very much for me, either, when I was with her.  She wasn’t very good.”

"She wasn't very good?"

I shook my head.

“What do you mean?”

“She was selfish, all the time.  You know, like you like to be selfish?  She only knew one position and that was the same position that she used if she was on the couch watching TV or going to sleep for the night.  She always took and never gave.  She just wasn’t very good, she wasn’t creative … being with Pam, there towards the end, it was more of a chore to have sex with her.”

Marie laughed and shook her head..

“A chore?” she asked.  “I’ve heard sex called a lot of things before but never … a chore?”

“Yeah.  A chore.  Having sex with her gave me the same pleasure as, say, mowing the yard.  It was something that I had to do and the quicker I got it done the quicker I could go on with something else.  I got hot and sweaty and I did all the work so, yeah … Chore.”

“Chore."

"Chore." I said.

"I could see that.” Marie whispered.

“Pam even told me that all she had to do was to lay there and let me do all the work.  She told me that, like, the second time that we had sex and she was serious.  I can’t say it did wonders for my self-esteem … or my ego ... or really made me want to have sex with her.  I think a blow-up doll would have been a better lover for all I ever got out of it.”

I sighed at the memories.   So much time wasted with such a waste of time.

“Pam was my first but she was such a letdown ... such a monumental letdown ... when it came to sex that I’d really began to question sex itself.  I’d read stories in men’s magazines since I was eight years old."

"Since you were eight?" Marie asked, amazed.

"Yeah, I'll tell you about that sometime.  I really did read those magazines for the articles.  Anyway, I guess I had this preconceived notion of what sex was supposed to be like … you know, earth shattering, mind blowing, something special between two people … and then I had sex with her … I finally had sex for the first time.  I lost my virginity and it was just this mediocre experience, nowhere near what I expected and it just got worse and worse each time that we did it.”

I looked at Marie.

“It really got to be tedious.  I mean, I had built myself up to this notion of what sex was supposed to be great and fantastic and out of this world and when I finally get to have sex for the first time it’s …”

“Not what you thought it was going to be?”

“No!” I said, nodding.  “It’s nowhere near what I had made it out to be in my mind, nowhere near what I’d always read about, what I was expecting and I’m thinking … either I got this all wrong or something’s broken.  Turns out, something was broken.  She was broken.”

“And I’m not broken?” she asked.

“Hell, no!  Sex works with you!  Man, does sex work with you!” I said.

Marie laughed out loud then got really sullen.

“Listen.  Would you believe me if I told you that I had something like that, too.  My first … time … first guy … wasn’t very good, wasn’t even gentle.  I let him because I thought that was what I was supposed to do, you know, to make him happy because he was my boyfriend and I cared about him.  My first boyfriend.  Well, first serious boyfriend.  Oh, let me tell you ... I was in love.  Real head over heels.  Thought it was it, thought he was the one, going to last forever ...”

“The track coach?”

She nodded.

“He was a looker, Cowboy.  Caught my eye and never let it go.  Four years older than I was … He was my first but I wasn’t his first.  I guess that made me think that, you know, maybe he would know what he was supposed to do?  He just took and took and acted like I was lucky that I was with him and for a while I felt like I was lucky to be with him so I just did what he asked because I thought he knew what he was doing.  He didn't.   With him it was definitely quantity over quality ...” she said, shuddering then trailing off into silence.

I looked at Marie, sitting there, staring out across the Gulf.  I expected her to say more but when she didn't I decided to pick up where she had left off.

“Yeah.  That’s how I felt with Pam.  She thought I was lucky for having sex with her but the truth was that she was such a boring lay that it really was a chore and each time I was with her I went into the act thinking … it’s going to get better.  This time is going to be better.  She’s going to start doing something other than just lying there.  She’s going to get creative or she’s going to start giving back or she’s going to start making sounds and letting loose and she’s going to start  … I don’t know … making me happy?  Making it actually worth having sex with her?  I'm going to start feeling ... something ... when I'm with her.”

“But it never did … it never was.” Marie whispered.

“It never was.” I agreed.

Marie nodded.

“You’ve had more …” I began then stopped, looking for the right words.

“What?” she asked.

“Experience.” I said at last.  “You’ve had a lot more experience than me.”

Marie shook her head.

“No.  I wouldn’t exactly say that.  Experience doesn't work like that.  There’s a difference in quality and quantity.  Yes, I’ve been with more guys sexually than you have.”

I laughed out loud.

“What?” she asked, confused.

“Well, you got that right because you have definitely been with more guys sexually than I have …” I muttered.

“Jackass!” Marie said as she laughed and then smiled, realizing how she had said what she had said.

“What I mean, jackass, is that I may have been with more lovers than you have but that doesn’t necessarily make them better.  One of them was pretty … bad.  It was a mistake.  If I could I wouldn’t have done it … not knowing then what I know now.  I just never would have ...” She said, trailing off.

Marie looked out across the Gulf.

“Experience can be good or bad, Christopher, and life is full of experience.  Just because someone has more experience doesn’t make it the same as someone having better experience.  Do you understand?”

I thought about that, nodding.  It made sense when she put it that way.

“You can have all the experience in the world but it doesn’t matter if you have more bad experience than you do good, Christopher.  Experience is something that we all get, how we get it determines what kind of person that we are.”

“So … what am I?” I asked.

“A good experience.” She said.  

“And a good person ... and a great lover.” she added.

I mulled that over, hoping I wasn't blushing.

“You say that I have more experience than you do but do you know what, Christopher?  When I'm with you, when we're together I’m just trying to keep up with you.”

I looked at her.

“Trying to keep up with me?  I don’t understand.”

“You’ve got so much more experience than I do when it comes to …” she trailed off.

“Sex?” I asked.

She nodded, blushing.

I laughed and shook my head.

“No.  No, I don’t.”

“Oh my God!  Yes, you do!”

“Yeah?  How do you figure?” I asked.

“The way you … treat me when we’re ... sex.  How you touch me, what you do to me, you just …” she gave a small sigh.   “I’m not used to that.  That’s not how I’ve come to know sex or … understand it.  Like I said, experience is … just because I’ve had more doesn’t mean that it was all great or better or mind blowing, you know?”

“Marie.  That first time with you …”

I paused, trying to pick my words.

“That first time with you … I had to have you.  Not just because I wanted you but because I had to know if sex was just this boring stupid chore that was going to be some tedious part of my life until the day I died or was it going to be what I thought it was going to be.  I guess I was desperate to know.  I mean, Pam was really bad at sex and if you had been that bad at sex I would have just … I don’t know, walked away from sex for a long time ... maybe forever ... because either I wasn’t doing it right or women were different than I had thought they were or … something just wasn’t right and it wasn’t working the way that it should be, the way it was supposed to be.”

“That first time with you …” Marie said.  “I felt the same way.  I had to have you and I had to know if it was me doing something wrong or if it was just my bad luck to be with … guys who didn’t know how to be with me, who didn’t … who were selfish.  In my life I’d gotten to where I felt like I was …”

Silence.

“Something convenient to be used?”

She nodded.

“Yeah.  That’s how Pam made me start to feel.  I felt convenient for her.  I was Ingo’s stunt double when it came to sex for her.”

“Oh my God!” Marie said laughing.  “That's terrible!  A stunt double for sex?"

"Stunt double."

"Really?”

I nodded and laughed.

“That’s what it felt like for a while there.  If he wasn't around she could always just get her jollies with me.”

Silence.  

"Wow." she said as she stared back out into the Gulf.

Marie pulled her legs up to her chest and put her arms around her knees.  I drew … something in the sand with my finger.  I needed to steer us out of this so I threw something out.

“So … "

Marie turned to look at me.

"So ...?" she asked.

"So ... did I rekindle your belief in the inherent magic of sex?” I asked.

Marie snorted then laughed out loud, shaking her head, letting her legs slide all the way out then falling flat on the sand beside me, looking over at me.

“Wow.” She whispered.  “Like I said … when I’m with you I’m just trying to keep up, Cowboy.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, I kind of feel that way, too, with you.  When I’m with you, when we have sex then sex matters.  It matters now.  It finally matters.  Sex is finally … magic?”

“Magic?” she asked.

“Yeah, sex is kind of magic with you.  You know, like they sing about in songs on the radio.  When I’m with you I can kind of know what it’s like to have sex with someone that's good enough to write a song about.”

Marie looked into my eyes.  I'd never seen that expression on her face before.

"What?" I asked, smiling, not knowing what she was thinking.

“What you just said ... Do you know that has to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever told me?”

“Wow.  I finally said something right and got the words right, too.  I must be getting better.” I said.

Marie smiled.

“You’re not like the … others.” She said.  “You make me happy.  You try to make me happy.  You let me be happy.  When I'm with you I can ... be ... me.  You’re a playground that I have all to myself with all the fun and no stupid rules.”

“Well, there is one rule.” I said, scowling.

“Oh?  And what rule is that?”

“No clothes allowed.”

"Yeah.  I guess there is that rule." She laughed.

“Marie … You’re not like … her.” I said.

“Oh!  I would certainly hope not!” she admonished, closing her eyes lying there in the sand.

“No.  Just … listen.  You’re not like Pam.  I can lose myself in you.  Maybe that’s what makes it so … special.  Losing myself in you when I'm with you.”

Marie bit her lip in thought.

“So Pam was really your first?”

“Yep.” I said, picking up a small shell beside me and tossing it out into the surf.

“I still can’t believe that.”

“She was.  Sad to say, but she was.  Just my bad luck to be with her when it came time to lose my virginity.”

“Can I say something?” she asked.

“I thought we were saying something.”

“Listen.  I’m being serious now.  Being with you … is like being with no one else that I’ve ever been with in my life, Christopher.”

"You're serious?" I asked.

"I'm serious." She said as she nodded.

“That’s how I feel  …  I’m comfortable with you, Marie.  I think you’re the first woman that I’ve been with that I’ve really been … comfortable with.  Not that I’ve been with a lot but being with you … when I’m with you I don’t feel like it’s a mistake.  Maybe that’s what it is that makes me want to see you, to be with you.  What we have ... this works, the way I thought it should work.”

I looked out across the waters.  This time I drew my legs up to my chest, hugged them tight and just tried to explain to her what I’d been feeling for weeks … for months now.

“When I saw you that day at the water park … there was just something about you.  You were mesmerizing.  I wanted you and I wanted you like I’ve never wanted anything in my life before.  There was something about you.  Something different.  You cast a spell on me, Marie.  You were bewitching.”

Marie laughed out loud.

“Oh!  So now you’re calling me a witch?” she asked.

I smiled.

“A good one.  Yeah.  A good witch.”

“Christopher ... If you want me to wear ruby slippers to bed … all you had to do was ask.  You didn’t have to start with the name calling.”

“If you wear the ruby slippers you have to wear the black and white striped nylons as well.”

“I figured as much.  Probably a big black pointed hat, too.”

Good witches don’t wear big black pointed hats.” I said.

“What if I don’t want to be a good witch?” she asked, smiling.

“Truth is, I’d prefer it if you were the bad kind of witch.” I said.

"Bad kind ... or just naughty?"

"Naughty.  The bad kind probably has bad green skin and warts." I said.

"Ewwww." Marie said as she took my hand then spoke.

“What if I told you … Would you believe me if I told you I felt the same way about you that day?  The day we met.  The exact same way.”

“Maybe.”

“Well, I did.  I felt just like that … I felt that you were different.  There was something about you that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.  
I still feel like that.  Maybe even more so now, especially now after we’ve talked like this.” Marie said and she laughed softly.

I nodded.

“You cast a spell on me that day, Christopher.  I was drawn to you.  Still am.  Right here, right now, I’m drawn to you, maybe even more so just because of this, just because you are who and what you are.”

She sighed.

“I can’t get enough of you, Cowboy.  You’re a drug and I’m hopelessly addicted.”

“And … I can’t get enough of you.” I said.

Silence between us.

I thought about things that had been said.

Marie was lost in thought as well then she laughed a little and that surprised me.  She reached over and put her hand on my hand, holding me.  When she spoke it was calm and soft.

“From the moment that I met you … I knew there was something about you … something different.  The way that you looked at me.  The way that you talked to me.  The way that you paid me attention.  You made me feel ... special.”

I took both of her hands in my hands and gripped them tight.

“And I fuck like a twenty-five year old … don’t forget that part.” I said.

“Love for Jesus!  You’ll never let me forget that I said that, will you?” Marie asked as she laughed.

“Nope.  Probably not.” I said.

“Figures.  You know, I’ve really got to start watching what I say around you.”

I let go of her hands and leaned back, resting on my bent back arms, staring off across the Gulf.

“Being with you is important.  Right now, you’re probably one of the most important things if not the most important thing in my life, Marie.”

She didn’t say anything but for a second there was a slight movement in her expression, like I’d struck a nerve somewhere deep down.  That was interesting … maybe there was an angle there, something I could ask around with her and see where it got me because now I was curious.

“Didn’t we have this discussion sometime a couple of weeks ago?  Didn't we talk about something like this?” she asked.

“Yeah, but now it’s my turn.  I told you why I was with you but why are you with me, Marie?  What makes me special?”

“You mean besides the fact that you fuck like a twenty-five year old?” she said, half teasing.

There was that look again from her, playful mischievousness.

“Besides that, yeah.  Sex is good, I get that.  I’m being serious.  I want to know.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.” I said, probably louder than I should have.

Marie’s look was one of thinly veiled exasperation.

“Marie, look … my life the past year has been a whole lot of ups and downs.  I’m just trying to understand what I could have ever done to … what did I do to make you want to be with me?  Why … no … how … how is it that someone like me gets the attention of someone like you?  I keep thinking about that and I can’t find an answer.”

Marie sighed and took a deep breath.  She leaned back on her hands, imitating my posture and stared out into the Gulf.

“How about this for an answer, Christopher?  Do you know why I’m with you?  I’m with you because I want to be.  I’m with you because you make me happy.  When you look at me, when you hold me, when you touch me I can tell that I’m the most important thing in your life right then and it’s been a long time, a very long time, since anyone made me feel like you make me feel.  You make me want to be with you, as much as I can be with you, whenever I can be with you and I haven’t felt like that in …”

She smiled as she looked back up at me.

“Suffice it to say ... What is important to me is how you treat me … that’s what matters.  That’s what I’m looking for when I’m with you.  That’s what I need when I’m with you.  How you make me feel when I’m with you makes me want to be with you … and makes me want to come back to you … when I can.” She said.

“When you can …” I muttered.

“Whenever I can.” She added.

“Whenever you can.” I muttered.

“As often as I can.” She said.

More silence passed between us.  A minute passed, maybe two.  I guess we were each trying to digest what the other had had to say.  It was a lot to take in and I was lost in thought when she broke the silence.

“Do you brag about me?” she asked.

“Huh?  What?” I asked, not sure what she was asking me.

“Do you brag about me?”

“What do you mean?” I laughed a little because I wasn’t sure what she meant by that.

“Do you talk about ... us?  You know, do you tell your friends what we do when we’re alone together?  Do you brag, you know, like guys always do?”

I guess my look was one of surprise.  Marie’s look was hard to see because she had hung her head again.

“Not all guys are like that.”

Most are.  The first guy I was ever with, he was like that.  Second one, too.  A reputation ... not easy to live with ... or down.” She said flatly.

“No.” I said at last and she looked up at me.

Whiskey brown eyes.

“Complicated.” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“I’m not the kind of guy who goes around bragging about how much sex I’m getting or who I’m getting it with and my masculinity isn’t based on whether or not I’m getting laid or not on a more or less regular basis.  Sex isn’t a game, it’s not a sport, at least not to me it’s not.  Sure there are rules and boundaries but you don’t keep score.  At least I don’t unless maybe it gets way too one sided then I just quit and walk away.  I guess I just see life differently than that … I’m not like other guys.  I’m not like that.  Don’t guess I’ll ever be like that.” I said, trailing off.

Marie said nothing, just continued to look at me.  I thought about what I’d just said and felt I needed to clarify it.

“Look, what we have is complicated.  You said so yourself. The way that I see it is that you’re my mystery.”

“I’m your … What? Wait ... I thought you said that I was your goddess.”
she asked. 

“You are … but you’re my mystery as well.”

“I don’t follow you.”

I sighed.

“Look.  You said that what we have is complicated.  Now, try to see things from where I’m standing.  You hit me like a whirlwind.  All I know about you is what you've told me so far.  You come in and out of my life when you can … We're playing this ... what we have ... by your rules.  I spend my time either with you or waiting to see you again not knowing when that will be.  You’re my mystery.  My own private little mystery, Marie.”

“I’m your mystery?” she asked.  “Wow.  I’ve never been called that before, either.  First I’m a goddess then I’m a witch and now I’m a mystery …”

Miss Mystery.” I said, thinking of the song.

“What?  Oh!  Like that song you told me about.  You know, you still haven’t let me listen to that song …” she chided.

“When we get back to the TA.  First thing, it’s going to be the first thing that I play for you.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.” I said.

"So you don't talk about me or us to your friends?"

"No.  What we have is special.  I'm not going to taint that or jeopardize that just to stroke my ego."

Marie nodded, looked out across the beach then down at the sand where we sat.  Another minute passed.

“Am I the only one?” she asked.

“What?”

“Well, since we're dumping our souls out here on the beach, I want to know if I'm the only one."

"The only one?"

"Yes.  Are you seeing anyone else, Christopher?  I mean ... besides me …?” Marie asked.

“No.” I said, probably louder than I intended to.

Marie nodded and turned away.

“Why should I?  In fact, why do you even ask that?” I said.

She didn’t turn back to look at me.

“I can’t say that I’m the most regular or predictable thing in your life …  Like you said, I come in and out of your life, when I can.  You spend your time either with me or waiting to see me … Seems to me that there’s room in your life for …”

“No.” I said, again, louder.

Marie looked back at me, now, her eyes moved, like she was searching my face for something, some tell, some sign that I wasn’t telling her the truth.

Whiskey brown eyes.

“Marie, you take up all the room I have to give to you, to give anyone, in my life.”

“It’s just that …”

“There’s no one else.  How could there be?  How could you even ask that?”

And there it was again, that little tic in her expression like I’d struck that same nerve again, only harder this time.

“Marie, for what it’s worth, I’m yours and yours alone for as long as you’ll have me.”

I reached over, pushed her down hard into the sand and moved to be next to her, close to her before she could start to get up.  I leaned in over her face, staring down at her, as I spoke.

“It wouldn’t be fair … to you … or to the other person … and I’m just not the kind of guy that is driven by that sort of thing.  If I’m with someone, like I am with you, sharing what I do with you, then I don’t take that lightly.  There’s a commitment, at least on my part, to be with you, to share what we share.  You’ll leave me before I leave you.”

“You think?” she asked, half smiling, sniffling and her voice cracking.

“I know.” I said, matter of factly.  “And when you do you’re going to tear a mountain sized hole in my soul … sideways.”

Her half smile disappeared and a second later a single tear appeared in the corner of her left eye, rolled down her cheek and was lost to the sand.  I reached up and wiped away the tear track then stroked her cheek.  

“Look.  You said that you chose me … that means something to me, Marie.  Actually, it means a lot … a hell of a lot to me.  I don’t know exactly what we have but I do know that I only have it with you … I only want to have it with you.  Just you and no one else.  For as long as I can.  For as long as you're in my life.”

I reached out and gently put my hand to the side of her face, she leaned into the palm of my hand and closed her eyes.

“You said that you chose me, Marie … well, I chose you, too.  I chose you and what that means is that there is you, only you, and no one else … until there’s not us anymore … until you’re not in my life anymore and you’ll be making that choice, not me.”

“You think so, Cowboy?”

“I know so.  I’ve known so ever since I first looked into your whiskey brown eyes that day at the park.”

"Whiskey brown eyes?" she said.

"You have whiskey brown eyes." I said.  "I've never told you that?"

She shook her head, smiling.

"No one's ever told me that I have whiskey brown eyes.  That's kind of ... nice."

"You do ... whiskey brown eyes and I lose myself in your whiskey brown eyes every time I look at you."

She smiled softly then she opened her eyes and continued to stare at me.  A single tear appeared in her left eye and slowly rolled down her cheek.  I moved my hand across her cheek, up her face and back down again, wiping the tear away.  She really was beautiful, here in the sunlight, on the beach.

A thought occurred to me and I smirked, stifling a chuckle.

“What?”

“Just that … All of this … It’s ... complicated.”

“I know …” she whispered in an apologetic tone.

“Damn is it complicated …” I mused, staring out into the Gulf.

“I know …” she said, a little louder this time.

She sighed heavily.

“Complicated.” She said flatly.

“Fucking A.” I said softly in agreement.

Marie looked startled then stifled a small laugh.

“Wow!” she said.

“What?” I asked her.

“I think that’s the first time that I’ve ever heard you use profanity.” She said.

“Really?” I asked.  “I normally use it a lot.  Probably way too much.”

“Serious profanity and no, not around me you don’t.”

I thought about that for a bit.

“No, I guess I don’t.  That's funny.  I never noticed that I'm not a potty mouth around you.”

Silence.

“You know, that first time that we spent the night together, you said that what we had was complicated.  Well, I think I see that now more clearly than I ever did before.  What we have, it really is complicated.”

“Oh, things aren’t as complicated as they used to be, Christopher.” She said flatly.

“Huh?” I asked.

I watched her as she stood up beside me, and brushed the sand from her dress.  She offered her hand and I took it, letting her tug me gently to get up, take up the slack and fall in step beside her.  Suddenly she seemed happier for some reason.  I saw her smile, not that smile, but the other smile.  The smile that said that she was happy, really happy.

“Nope, things aren’t nearly as complicated as they used to be.  Not anymore.  Things got a whole lot better after I met you.” She half whispered.

Or at least that’s what I think she said in a half whisper.

And she was happier, now.

Sometimes you just get a feeling from another person and right then I got the feeling that we were done talking, especially talking about what we shared.  I didn’t understand what was going on and I gave up then on trying to get any more answers out of Marie.  She was a mystery but for now she was my mystery.  Beggars can’t be choosers but choosers don’t have to be beggars.  She chose me … that’s what she had said.

She chose me … and I realized I had chosen Marie as well.  There was something between us ... something we both recognized.  We needed each other, we needed to be with each other.  I was happier, now, because once I’d told her the truth we were still together.  I thought that when I’d told her the truth that what we had would have been over but now it felt like it was even stronger.  Wow.  You do the right thing and life didn’t kick you in the balls for doing it.  

Life was funny strange like that sometimes.  

Not often, but every now and then, yeah.

“So … are we done here?” she asked.

“Yeah.  I think we are.” I said.

“Good.” Marie said, starting to walk beside me.

There was a spring in her step, she was happier now and she had a smile on her face, a playful little girl on the beach kind of smile.

“You know … I’m really glad that we took the time to have this little talk.” I said nonchalantly.

Marie threw her head back, laughed out loud then quickly turned and punched me, in the arm, hard … hard enough to hurt.  I rubbed my arm then she put her arm through mine and we walked on down the beach, me leading and her leaning on me.

“Just when I think I’ve got you figured out …” she whispered.

“What can I say?  I’m complicated.” I told her.

“Oh, don’t you even start with that bullshit again, Cowboy.  Don’t you even start.” She chided playfully.

I laughed and thought about what I'd learned.  Marie had answered all of the questions that she was going to and I’d asked all of the questions that I wasn’t scared to know the answer to.  Marie was my mystery and if anything the past two days had only deepened that mystery.  Life was funny strange like that, more so than not.  When we got back to the TA, true to my promise I keyed up “Miss Mystery” on Black & Blue’s cassette “Without Love” and played it for Marie.  When the song was over she reached up and hit rewind on the Kenwood.  The music search went to the beginning of the song and played it again.  She did this twice more after that, neither one of us talking, just the music playing as we drove.


On our way out of Biloxi, headed to Hattiesburg on Highway 49 North, I pulled into a Shell station to fill up the TA.  Marie went inside, paid for the gas with cash, then bought a 32 ounce fountain Pepsi in a plastic Mardi Gras festive cup.  I checked the oil, cleaned the windshield and watched her standing there by the gas pump, sundress, Wayfarers, sandals, purse … sipping the drink through a long straw.  I walked around the front of the TA to where she stood and she offered me the drink, never letting go, just holding the drink up and the straw in her fingers.  I took a few swallows, nodded, told her thanks and opened the door for her.  When she got in the TA and I’d shut the door I started walking back towards the store.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To pay for the gas.” I said.

“I took care of that.” She said, holding up a receipt.

I stared.

“What?” she asked.  “Can’t a woman be independent?”

I shook my head, walked back over to the TA and hopped into the driver’s seat without opening the door.  Marie smiled and sipped on her drink.

“You’ll have to show me how to do that.” She said.

“Not in a sundress.” I replied, cranking the TA and putting on my seatbelt.

“I bet that you’d like to see that.” Marie chided.

“Yeah, and so would everyone else who was in the parking lot.  No, you’ve already busted your ass in the shower this morning, I think busting your ass once today is enough.” I said, putting the TA into gear and slowly driving out of the parking lot.

Marie stuck her tongue out at me playfully then slid her Wayfarers on and leaned back in the passenger seat.

We drove back up to Hattiesburg in silence, no radio, not much talking, just the mechanical sounds of the Trans Am and the roar of the wind through the open T-tops.  Marie leaned across the center console with her head on my shoulder.  She reached over and took the driving glove off of my right hand then her left hand and fingers interlaced in the fingers of my right hand.  Our time together, this time that we had, was coming to an end and after today I didn’t know when I’d see her again. 

It was the wait that was the hard part of being with Marie.

I thought back to all that we had done together this weekend and I smiled because I knew that no matter what happened in my life that I would remember this weekend spent with Marie for a long time to come, probably forever.




          My Senior Year of High School
September 1986 to May 1987


Yeah, life was pretty good there in the summer of 1986 during that three month period of time spent between the end of my junior year and the start of my senior year in high school.

I was a senior!

I was finally a senior!

I had a black and gold '79 Trans Am, I got to see Marie about seven times over those three summer months, I went to see two major action movies with her, and I spent an incredible Saturday and Sunday with her down on the coast.  All in all it wasn't bad for a spread of about ninety days give or take and I even managed to get two weeks of vacation in that time; a week in Tennessee and a week in Texas including traveling across the border down into parts of northern Mexico with my family.

Yeah, the summer of 1986 was a pretty good one.

I quit County Market in late August of 1986, wanting to take some time off to enjoy my senior year of high school, to slow my pace during my last year of high school before I graduated and went off somewhere to college.  I told Marie that I was quitting and that she couldn’t get in touch with me by leaving me notes on the windshield of my Pontiac when I worked there or calling the store to talk to me while I was working but that she could still call me at home.  From then on if I got a call on a certain night during the week or during the weekend it wasn’t any problem at all to hop in the TA and drive the mile and a half up the road to her apartment to either pick her up and take her out for a while or spend the night with her … I no longer had a schedule to look at or a job to dictate where I’d be spending three to four nights and days a week.

Yeah, the summer of ’86 was a summer to remember and would be for a long time to come.

Going into my senior year of high school in the fall of 1986 I felt like I owned the world and I guess, in most respects, compared to my classmates, I did.

The private school that I was going to finally closed its doors for good at the end of my junior year so I went to another high school my senior year, the big new high school over in Petal way out on Highway 42.  It was a 15 mile drive one way just to go to school, 30 minutes, give or take, and I did it with the windows down and the T-tops off, each day that it wasn’t raining, even in the dead of winter.  Fingerless driving gloves and black leather jacket, cowboy hat and Ray Bans.

Petal High School was all new for me with all new faces and yet the same old stories.  

The principle and my dad were old college friends so there was a connection there.  I was the complete stranger which meant that no one knew me and I knew no one in turn.  That was both good and bad since my early impression of Petal High School was that it was a bit of a closed societal system, maybe even caste oriented; if you hadn’t been going there for years or you didn’t live in Petal then you were different and not different in the good kind of way.  If you weren’t from Petal then you got treated differently at Petal.  People were mostly aloof but in a polite way.  Trying to get to know someone at my new school felt like getting stabbed in the back with a rubber knife; you knew the intention, you just didn’t suffer as much from the result.

I could kind of understand where some of the aloofness came from.  Some of these people had been with each other, had gone through each year of school from daycare and kindergarten, through elementary, junior high and now all the way through high school until now and part of that I was jealous of.  Nothing in my life had ever really been long lasting except my immediate family … friends, where I lived, where I went to school, nothing had ever stayed the same for very long but to know someone … to go to school with them for twelve years or longer, year after year ... to grow up with the same people, for that kind of stability and permanence to be in my life was something I could only dream about even though I wasn’t quite sure that I would want it were it ever offered or made available to me.  Since I’d been born, I’d lived in six different cities and from the time that I’d started kindergarten I’d gone to seven different schools.  The people I started this journey with all those years ago … none of them were with me now and I couldn’t tell you where any of them were.

That fact alone made me a little sad and it only reinforced to me the fact that life just seemed so … temporary.  People, by and large, were just transient intrusions in your life, some were awards, some were rewards, some were decorations, some were potholes and some were dead-ends.  The idea of being with the same people for so long seemed as alien to me as it was tantalizing in both concept and nature.  I couldn’t really understand it because I had never really experienced it and honestly I didn’t know if I wanted something like that or not.  I liked being mobile in all aspects of my life and I guess that was just something that had been forced upon me at an early age.  Freedom was important to me, I didn’t like being caged, and I’d felt for years now that it wasn’t my job to carry other people through life rather it was their job to try to keep up with me.  Either that or get the hell out of my way.  I didn’t mind you sharing my journey but you had better not get in my way or fall behind … if you did, I’d either knock you over or leave you in the dust.

Marie was freedom.

Marie offered me a kind of freedom I’d never experienced before and, true to her words, my relationship with Marie complicated things from the start of my last year in high school.  Heading into my senior year I realized on day one that I was a taken man, spoken for and owned in a … complicated … kind of way.  There couldn’t be anyone else, at least no one else serious, not if I wanted to keep on seeing Marie and I knew that I couldn’t stop seeing Marie because she was the closest thing to an equal, in a woman, that I’d met yet.

Looking around at all of the new faces I realized that I had something real with Marie and while it wasn’t something steady it was steady enough to discount any attempt at any other kind of relationship other than maybe the most simplest of friendships.  Like I had told Marie that day on the beach … there was no one else but her.  How could there be?  Still, I dated other girls my senior year.  I dated, with no expectation of anything other than being with a member of the opposite sex and wasting time on a Friday or Saturday night.  The girls I dated were place holders, keeping me company until Marie came back into my life, fulfilling the simplest and most basic of needs.

It wasn't sexual.

It wasn't even romantic.

It was just two people going out and spending time together doing something.  Spending three or four hours with a girl from my high school was just that ... something to get me three or four hours closer to when Marie would come back into my life.  I went out with other girls from my high school not because I was looking for a replacement for Marie but because being with them for three or four hours was better than being by myself for those three or four hours.

Exploring the social side of my new high school I actually dated several times that fall, never anything serious.  With the plethora of pep rallies, fund raisers, home games and the like it was easy to link up with a girl and go out with her to a school function and I saw very little in the way of romance in that regard.  In fact, trying to be a part of the student culture at Petal was tedious.  I didn’t like people very much so events like football games, pep rallies, and other large crowd gatherings taxed my patience and made my skin crawl.  Still, I tolerated it more as an experiment on my part …

Seeing the band play together.

Seeing cheerleaders go through their motions.

Seeing how serious the football players took their assumed roles in life …

High school was a coming of age passage, of a time when all the things that you thought mattered or were important were slowly (sometimes quickly) shown to you, in the harshest way possible, not only to be totally unimportant but completely irrrlevant to your life and everybody else's life as well.  Seeing the crowd get moved by simple things that shouldn’t have the power to move a single person let alone a crowd of people was as eye opening as it was life lesson giving.  It was all a study in psychology and sociology, it was a grand play from my point of view.  Some of the actors were amateurs and some of them were professionals but in the end it was all just a play and I was little more than a casual, even disinterested observer who found some slight amusement in wasting my time at such gatherings.

Dating at Petal was easy enough.  I was the new guy so there was interest in me from that aspect alone.  Every girl at Petal was new to me and I was different to every girl so the interest was shared even if there just wasn’t much to keep my interest in any one girl for every long.  I dated not to replace Marie but to remind me of what I shared with her.  Each date I went on only reminded me of what I had in Marie and only served to whittle away the idle time between the days and nights that I could spend with Marie and those days and nights that I couldn’t.  If I was looking for anything at that time with someone else it was the occasional temporary companionship that the social interaction of casual dating brought … two people going to dinner, to a movie, talking and sharing the stories of their life.

Basic companionship.

Not even really friendship.

Two strangers passing the time.

Sharing stories about their life.

Learning from each other.

Learning about each other.

Nothing else wanted.

Nothing else expected.

I tried to stay aloof when I went out on a date.

I never talked about Marie; didn't really see the need to do so because she was my own personal mystery … and my own personal secret.  I didn’t know anyone really well at Petal so the less that they knew about me was probably an advantage for me and since I hadn't figured out everything about Marie yet the less I spoke about her the better.  Hell, she could be the wife of my high school principle for all I really knew.  

Wouldn't that be a mess if it got exposed?  

Hey!  

The new guy from Hattiesburg is boffing the principal's old woman!

No.

It was just better to keep quiet about Marie.

I was the new guy at Petal High.  For the last three years I'd been raising hell out this way, from the outskirts of Hattiesburg all the way to Petal, to Runnelstown and to Richton and beyond.  I'd raised hell with James and Steve and now Flynn and that rowdy bunch but everyone was anonymous back then.  If we met people at some street meet they were just some rednecks from Perry, Greene or Stone County who thought they had something fast until we'd shut them down, take their money and go back home.  

Now it was different.  

Here I was actually being mixed into the population of Petal and those who bled over from the nearby counties.

A wolf walking among the herd of sheep.

It was all really interesting to me.

I went out with several girls at my high school because I thought they might be interesting enough to go out with, interesting enough to get to know something about … more often than not that assumption proved entirely wrong which meant that while I did date often I almost never dated the same Petal girl twice and sometimes, if I did date the same Petal girl twice I often found out the hard way that twice was one time too many.  Sometimes I found out that dating a Petal girl once was one time too many.  Found that out the hard way more than once my senior year.

Compared to Marie, other girls my age were boring and I guess that was something that I'd found out two years ago when I was dating Vicky and Kim.  Vicky had been boring but she had been my first girlfriend.  Kim wasn't boring ... but she was my age so ... not much experience and not much I could learn from her.  Pam had been a college student, a few years older than me.  Jeanne was older than me and also in college ... and now Marie.  With each relationship that I had I guess I had learned ... older women were my speed in life and Marie was definitely wide open throttle for me.

Marie had said that her experience didn’t matter because it wasn’t good.  I had to disagree with her on that.  Marie had experience in life, she knew how to live her life.  The girls I saw at Petal my senior year were awkward … they were still trying to figure out life, they were still being shocked and surprised and awed and scared of the things that life threw at them from every direction and for the most part they put on a good show ... for the most part.  Marie seemed to just take it all in stride and get on with her life.  The girls my age all put on drama contests when something happened in their lives.  Looking around at the microcosm of my senior year it was like I was watching a fusion of "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Three's Company."

The girls my age my senior year may not have been broken … but neither were they broken in, either.  When I was with one of them there was no mystery, there was no fire, and no interest other than the simple social interaction of being with a member of the opposite sex, of being with someone new, someone I’d never been with before and of wasting time together that I would have otherwise wasted all by myself.  I never expected to hold hands when I went out with someone else and I never expected a goodnight kiss when it was over.  I always treated my dates like a gentleman.  I always met them at the door, I held the car door open for them, closed it for them, held the door at the restaurant or the theater, pulled their chair out for them at the restaurant … I always walked my dates to the door and said goodnight.  Part of my amusement was in discovering how many of the girls that I dated hadn’t been exposed to that kind of treatment before.  I guess when you dated someone who drove a four wheel drive, hunted deer for fun and watched NASCAR every time it was on television you kind of didn’t get exposed to the finer things in life.

Sometimes I was invited into their homes afterwards.  I never stayed long.  When I did get a goodnight kiss, the few times that I did, it always felt like a chore that was being checked off a standardized date night to-do list; the goodnight kisses that I received were few and far between and they always felt more like a thank-you wrapped in a room temp pucker; they were all, without exception, dry, stale, empty and meaningless … and I accepted each one for what it was.

Perfunctory.

Earned.

Awarded automatically if certain criteria were met during the evening.

A somewhat dated token of companionship.

A useless gesture.

A waste of effort.

Meaningless.

Lost on me.

The teenage hormonal equivalent of getting a gold star for doing something good.  Sometimes it felt like that kiss that Jeanne had given me that night of my junior prom ... a receipt for returning something from where I had borrowed it for a little while.

The girls I asked out were not mysteries … in fact, it didn’t take a whole lot to figure them out.  Most of their lives had been and still were boring.  These girls were looking for escapes from their fates.   A lot of them saw the writing on the wall ... high school was their time of glory and after they graduated it was only going to be downhill after that.   College was an option only for a few of them and some were even looking for an excuse to drop out early … marriage was a hot topic, especially if they could get married their senior year and drop out of school to go play house with someone else.  Talk of marriage and babies and having a husband with a good job like working full time at the brand new Walmart ...

I thought of Pam.

Pam would have fit in here, perfectly.

No one that I dated was a mystery to me my senior year.  Marie was a mystery and that captivated me; the whole mystery of our relationship was something that no girl my senior year could come close to matching let alone replacing.  The truth was that I don’t think that I could have stopped seeing Marie because what I had with Marie was something really special and, at least to me, almost irreplaceable.  Again, it wasn’t just the sex though that was a good part of it.  No, that was a great part of it … a really great part.  No, what made being with Marie so special, so irresistible was the freedom that I felt with Marie … the total freedom of both being with someone and of not being with someone.

When I was with Marie she was the center of my universe.

When I wasn’t with Marie, my universe revolved around me and me alone.

Marie was a mystery … a mystery with no drama other than the drama that we made.  I didn’t have to jump through hoops to be with Marie and Marie didn’t play games with my affections.  Marie was a commitment on my part but she wasn’t a ball and chain on her part.  I was loyal to Marie but that loyalty came without spoken promises, without loaded conditions, and without defined limits.  My loyalty to Marie was both earned and given, freely.

Marie was a gift not a penalty.

It was like having someone and not having someone at the same time.  As long as I was with her I could be with her.  When I wasn’t, I couldn’t and even when I wasn’t with her she was still mine and I guess I was still hers.  It was simple … so simple … and I wasn’t ready to give up what I knew I had for what I thought I might could get not when the amount of work required to replace Marie wouldn’t have been worth the effort or the reward given even the best of what I had to work with there at Petal during my senior year and all told that just wasn’t that much.

Marie was the perfect girlfriend … all the benefits of having a girlfriend with none of the liabilities or restrictions and there was no way I was going to do anything to jeopardize that relationship.

All in all, my senior year of high school was one of the best years of my life, made even more so by Marie’s unpredictable, whirlwind companionship as she came in and out of my life on a schedule that only she could keep and for reasons that only she knew.


          The winter of 1986
Hattiesburg


The first few months of the fall of 1986 grew cold.  I broke out my denim jacket and a short time later switched it out for my black leather jacket and my western hat.  Eddie Money had a duet with Ronnie Spector, “Take me home tonight” that was getting a lot of airplay on the radio.  That song soon replaced Berlin’s “Take my breath away” as the special song for Marie and me.

I saw Marie twice in October, at the start of the month and then again at the very end.  Somewhere between those times the Halloween costumes were out in the stores and I bought her not only a pair of dress-up ruby slippers but also a set of black and white striped nylons, both straight out of a “Wizard of Oz” type costume and both from the local Walmart there in Petal, stopping by to browse and shop one afternoon on my way home from school.  I boxed the striped nylons and the ruby slippers up and gave them to her one Friday night.  When she opened the box she laughed out loud.

“You didn’t!  
Oh my God, you did!” she squealed, pulling the nylons and the ruby slippers out, holding them up.

I told her that she had to wear them because she was going to be my witch for the night.  When she asked where the rest of the costume was I told her that was it, that was all she had to wear and that was what she was going to wear.  She said she’d wear them as long as I didn’t try to drop a house on top of her or share her with a bunch of munchkins.  Marie went into the back bedroom and put the stockings on and the ruby slippers then paraded around for me in nothing but the stockings and slippers.  Then she told me that she had a surprise for me, she pranced back into the bedroom and when she came back into the living room she was wearing a big black pointed witch hat, a nice one with cloth and a wire rim reinforcement.  Black hat, striped stockings and ruby slippers and that was all.  I laughed out loud and then I ran my eyes over her.  

God, she was stunning.

“Hey!  I thought only bad witches wore those kind of hats …” I said standing up from the couch and walking over towards where she stood.

“Oh, a hat like this can be worn by a good witch who plans on being naughty …”

“Do you plan on being naughty?” I asked.

“Oh, I plan on being really, really naughty.” She said, smiling, walking up to me and pulling me close to her.

That had been another really good night.  Marie didn’t melt when I got her wet, she did her fair share of clicking her heels behind my back and she didn’t even have to order the flying monkeys to take flight to get what she wanted when we were together.  It didn't take a crystal ball to see that what we did together that night was magic.

Pure black magic.


Fall quickly turned to winter.

The cold set in early that year.

Marie and I spent our time in her apartment; the air was run up so hot that it was almost dry of humidity.  Marie’s body was hot against mine and that’s what I remember the most of that fall and winter … that and her apartment with its dark collection of furniture and colors took on a kind of medieval keep feel to it.  Outside it was gray and dreary most of the time and the cold bit deep.  When it rained it got miserable quick and stayed that way being slow to come back to sunshine and being dry.

Inside Marie’s apartment it was dry, hot, with a kind of fall / orange / pumpkin sort of glow to everything.  The apartment smelled of leather and candles most of the time.  She never put up any decorations for the season, not the first one that I could remember and I think I remember that more than anything else about that time spent with her.  That part of our relationship … the changing of the seasons, always felt so empty and uncelebrated, at least in regard to the little things that I’d become so used to as a child.

Marie.

White fuzzy sweater.

Tan slacks.

Wide belt.

Knee high long boots.

Long leather coat.

Scarf.

Mittens.

Woven cap.

Marie.

White fuzzy sweater.

Panties.

Bare legs.

Knee high long boots.

Marie.

White fuzzy sweater.

Knee high long boots.

Marie.

Knee high long boots.

Eating carry out, sipping hot chocolate laced with Amaretto or whiskey while sitting on the carpet or cuddling in the love seat watching “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson or “Late Night” with David Letterman or watching some VHS tape that I’d rented earlier that day from Videophile way down on Hardy Street.

Laughing.

Snuggling.

There’s something about cold weather that makes you just want to be close to and with someone else, especially during the seasonal holidays.  Marie was moodier than usual during that time, almost clingy, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle.  I just had to pay her extra attention which I really didn’t mind doing at all.  What extra attention I gave to her was usually paid back … with interest, sooner or later, whenever we were together.



          December 13, 1986
Early Christmas
Saturday


Marie and I spent an early Christmas night together.

For the last month we’d played around with the idea of giving each other a present.  It had started out as a smart ass remark about what each was getting for Christmas and then it had slowly gotten more serious until the point when we had decided that presents really were needed.  Tonight we exchanged presents sitting there on the carpet in the living room of her apartment.  I gave her a large hand-wrapped box.  She gave me two small hand-wrapped presents, one a flat box and one a rectangular box, each about as big as my hand.  We argued playfully as to which one was going to open their present first.  She out-argued me and so I agreed to open my presents first.

Having no idea what she might have gotten me I opened up the flat, square box first; a new pair of fingerless leather driving gloves, a nice pair, heavy duty trucker or motorcycle rider quality!  I guess my expression was what she had been expecting because I tried the driving gloves on and they fit, a little snug but they were leather and they’d stretch.

“You needed a new pair.” She said.  “Your old gloves were getting a bit ratty.”

“I’ve had them about two years now and they were cheap to begin with … So, yeah, I guess it was time for another pair.  Wow!  These are nice!  They're ... thick ... and padded.” I said, laughing.

"Do you like them?" she asked.

"Yeah!  These are a lot better than the pair that I have!"

While still wearing the new pair of driving gloves I opened the rectangular box.  The driving gloves had been a surprise but this … Wow!  I guess I wasn’t expecting something like this at all!

Ray-Bans.

Aviators.

Gold finish with dark green lenses.

Classic.

Brand new.

Real Ray-Bans.

I’d been meaning to buy a pair of Ray-Ban Aviators for myself but I just hadn’t gotten around to it.  Meaning to but being too lazy to do it … besides, Ray-Bans were expensive so I usually just stuck with a cheap pair of imitation Aviator style sunglasses, sometimes smoked, sometimes mirror finish.  I bought my sunglasses at the turn display at the local convenience stores and when those cheap sunglasses broke (as they more than often did) I was only out a few dollars and the next pair was waiting for me at the next convenience store that I stopped at.

But these …

Ray-Bans.

Aviators.

Wow!

The other sunglasses that I had worn for the last few years had pretty much been disposable, every single pair.  Not these.  These were heavy duty, expensive sunglasses, old style military grade hardware, the kind of sunglasses that you really took care of, the kind that Tom Cruise had worn in “Top Gun”.  Yeah, I’d have to change some of my evil ways and bad habits to adapt to having a pair of sunglasses like these.  Marie watched as I removed the Ray-Bans from their protective case, opened them up and tried them on.  She had guessed at the size that I would need but she had gotten the size spot on.  The Ray-Bans were the larger style Aviators with the bigger frame and the large size lenses. 

Solid glass lens, heavy.

When I put them on they felt so right that I immediately questioned why I had ever wasted the last two years and all of that money with the cheap stuff when I probably could have had a pair of Ray-Bans like this all along.

“Do you like them?” she asked.  “You’re a hard person to buy a gift for but once I thought about it … I don’t think I could have gotten you anything other than what I got you.”

I nodded.

“I love them … and yeah, I’m hard to buy for but this … this was great!  Thank you!”

Now it was Marie’s turn.  I handed her my present.  It was big, heavy.  She turned it over a few times, shook it, trying to guess what it was.  I thought I did a pretty good job on the gift wrapping.  When she tore through the gift wrapping and opened the box she caught her breath.

A leather overcoat.

A really nice one.

She pulled out the leather overcoat and held it up.  She sniffed it and told me that she loved the smell of a leather coat.  I’d thought about her gift a lot and the overcoat had seemed something that she might want and might get some use out of.  I’d bought the overcoat at McRae’s in the Cloverleaf Mall and had the sales lady box it up for me.  The wrapping I’d done myself.  The look on Marie’s face told me that she really liked the gift.  In fact, Marie loved her brown leather overcoat.  I made her model it for me … wearing her black boots, a pair of black thigh-highs, her new brown leather overcoat … and nothing else.

That was a good night as well. 

A really good night.


          New Year’s Eve
December 31, 1986


Marie called late that day and wanted me to spend New Year’s Eve with her.  I had already promised a church friend that I’d come to his year-end party so I told her that after the party I’d drop by.  Knowing that I was going to see Marie that night I told myself to cut my friend’s party as short as I could.  I welcomed the New Year with a church friend, at his parents’ place, with some other classmates of mine including two girls that I’d both gone out on dates with earlier in the Fall.  My church friend seemed to be interested in one of the girls and she, in turn, was starting to show an interest in him. 

I hoped they worked out. 

We had a bonfire in the backyard, a small one, but it threw back the winter chill as it cast flickering orange, red and yellow light across the fenced in backyard and made the shadows of the bare limbed trees dance.  I made small talk and after what I thought was long enough not to be considered anti-social I left and went to Marie’s place and spent the night in her bed and in her arms.  I woke up, January 1st, in Marie’s bed, holding her in my arms, in a new year.

Life had never felt more perfect.

1986 was gone.

It was 1987.

The first day of 1987.

A new year.

I’d graduate high school this year.

I’d start college this year as well.

1987 was going to be a cool year and I looked forward to what the year would bring.

Winter slowly became spring.

Marie’s clothes grew shorter and lighter.  She stopped wearing her long winter leather overcoat that I’d gotten her, her scarf and her mittens.  Marie’s hair was longer now by a good four or five inches if I had to guess, and I was often mesmerized watching her long hair catch the highlights of the sun when we cruised around in the Trans Am with the T-tops off and the windows down.

I loved her long hair.

I loved to run my fingers through it.

She loved me playing with her long hair as well.

The smell of her long hair as she nuzzled close to me.  Nights spent at her place, her snuggled up next to me on the love seat, me running my fingers through her long hair.

Hair like dry water.

Falling through my fingers.


I saw Marie once in February, a late February Saturday night.  I  stopped by Walmart and got her a dozen red roses.  It was the first time that I'd gotten her any flowers and she loved them ... cutting them and putting them in a vase.  Later that night we took four of the flowers, picked off all of their petals and spread them on the bed before losing ourselves in each other.  The smell of rose petals, the feel of rose petals against bare skin ... I marked that down as a first as well.

I saw Marie three times in March, once at the first of the month, again the third week in the month and again on the last weekend of the month.  The middle of March saw warmer temperatures and saw us return late at night to our private Garden of Eden; the cul-de-sac overlooking the lake there in the undeveloped subdivision off Richburg Hill Road.  The Pontiac Trans Am, windows rolled down, T-tops off, became our playground once again, on that third Friday in March after which we retreated back to her apartment for the night.


          The Trip to New Orleans
Friday, March 27, 1987

I spent one last long weekend with Marie … a glorious, hedonistic weekend with the two of us going out of town, out of state, down to New Orleans, Louisiana.

I picked Marie up at her apartment on Friday, March 27, and we headed down to New Orleans for a long weekend.  Again, her idea and again, her treat but I think that she’d been planning this for a while now because it was both sudden and orchestrated on her part. 

Marie wore her black dress and stockings, the same dress that she had worn that second time that we were together, the dress that she had surprised me with.  Her long hair was pulled back into a single pony tail tied off high.  She smelled of flowers and opportunity.  On the drive down to New Orleans she took my hand and put it on her thigh.  I let my hand wander, exploring her as I drove.  She had worn her lingerie again, under her dress … matching lingerie; black stockings, black bra, black garter belt, black panties.  She took my hand and guided it as I drove.  I let her be selfish.  It had been about a year since Marie had dressed up like that for me and she was absolutely stunning, turning a lot of heads as we walked, hand in hand, on the River Walk that late afternoon and the French Quarter that evening.

We checked into a motel in the French Quarter, ate at a restaurant on the River Walk, walked the French Quarter until late and then went back to our motel and spent the night the way we always did when we hadn’t seen each other in weeks.

The next morning I woke her early with my desire.  We spent time together, showered, dressed casually, walked the French Quarter again, ate beignets and had coffee at Café-Du-Monde on the River Walk, hit the Farmers’ Market, and lost ourselves in Jackson Square amid the shops and artists that surrounded that area.  We went back to the motel, had sex, napped, had sex again then got dressed and went out as the sun was setting over the Crescent City.

We walked the streets, she bought Hurricanes for us at Pat O’s and we sat on the bank of the Mississippi River, me holding her close, watching the dirty green water flow by and the paddle wheel boats and sometimes a big commercial ship go up and down their paths.  As the night grew darker we listened to street musicians and I pulled her into a narrow alleyway, pressed her against the wall, and kissed her long and deep as people walked by just a few feet away.  Her hands roamed and so did mine as we kissed.  New Orleans was our city that day and night, we owned it, just the two of us, and time slowed to a crawl while we were together.  It seemed like we had time for anything and everything.  We finished the evening with drinks in the revolving restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.  We sat there, talking, me making her laugh, us drinking, as the city outside the windows rolled by four separate times.

We went back to our hotel and lost ourselves in each other, Marie seeming more passionate than usual.  We didn’t go to sleep until around two in the morning and when we did it was lying naked on top of the unmade bed, the air conditioner humming loudly, cool air flowing over the sweat soaked sheets, over our naked, tired, sweaty bodies.  The window curtains were drawn open and the two of us just lay there, holding each other, staring out at the city lights from our room up high.

I woke her in the middle of the night.

I woke her early the next morning.

We showered, dried off and I held her in front of the bathroom mirror … just like I’d done that first time that we were together.  Marie was beautiful, her long hair, her body.  I stood there, holding her in my arms, swaying gently.  She closed her eyes and a smile crossed her lips.  We played around as we got dressed.  I found a cart and carried the few bags that we had down to the Pontiac in the parking garage while she checked out.  I pulled up and met her at the lobby entrance, hopped out, opened the door for her and then we left New Orleans.  Breakfast was a simple affair, taken at a McDonald’s on the outskirts of New Orleans.  

We didn’t talk much the rest of the trip.  I noticed that she stared out the passenger side window of the TA a lot.  One time I thought she was crying.    Every now and then she would look at me, sometimes with a little smile, and then she would go back to staring out the window.  Marie wasn’t with me then.  I don’t know where she was but she was there all by herself, that much was easy to tell.

That was a really good weekend with Marie, a really, really good weekend.  

It was also our last trip away together but I didn’t know that at the time.

I guess you never really do … life being funny strange like that sometimes.


          My Senior Prom
April 1987


My Senior Prom.

There was a kind of sadness in Marie, it had been creeping in, slowly, over the last few weeks.  I’d first noticed it when we’d spent the weekend down in New Orleans but it seemed more pronounced here, now.

If I had to describe it with one word that word would be “sullen.”

So, with my senior prom looming close I had to scramble to find a prom date which was kind of hard at Petal since every girl there had basically been promised at birth to some other guy in Petal.  Jeanne was out of the option list as well since I’d pretty much lost contact with her after I’d quit County Market last summer and that meant that if I was going to take a date to my senior prom that I’d have to ask a girl from my school.  Pickings were slim to begin with but I rapidly discovered that every girl at my school was spoken for by the time that I’d decided that I really did want to go to the prom with someone rather than go stag so I ended up going with the resident German exchange student, a blonde haired, blue eyed girl named Suzanne.  Suzanne wasn’t hard on the eyes and I wondered why no one else had asked her out then I remembered that Suzanne was like me … a stranger.  Everyone else had basically been promised since birth to someone else so I guess it was only natural that the two biggest strangers at the school would end up as prom dates … birds of a feather and all that.

My senior prom played out pretty much like I figured it would; it was an empty, emotionless social affair accompanied by bad music and decorations a hobo would probably have considered as being poor in taste.  After all of the movies that I’d seen where an epic prom was thrown … neither of my proms in high school had come anywhere close to be the social extravaganza that I had been led to believe that they would be whenever I got old enough to attend them.

All year long I’d grown increasingly annoyed by Bon Jovi’s latest album “Slippery when wet” and that night it seemed that the people who provided the music only had one album to play, that album was Bon Jovi’s “Slippery when wet” and they only knew how to play two songs, “You give love a bad name” and “Never say goodbye”, over and over and over.

Suzanne and I moved with clinical disinterest among the gathered groups of people.  We danced like two animated mannequins.  The girls with glitter, the guys with party tuxes … for some of those present this would be the biggest social event of their entire life and I felt sad for them.

Suzanne and I danced, as a man and a woman, two strangers thrown together for just one night, might dance.

Suzanne and I were subjected to slideshow presentations of people we’d never met before this year.  We watched with mock interest memories and experiences that neither of us had been a part of and that neither of us could share in other than the most basic level.  The collected past school memories of my classmates proved to me in spades that people, by and large, were extraneous and that friendships and relationships were disposable as well.

There were a lot of slides.

There were a lot of memories.

None of them were my memories.

I didn’t appear in a single one which gave further belief to me that not only had this year been a wholly disposable experience it had been a rather shallow one as well, as far as being at a new high school had been.  The relationships that I’d made this year, the few friendships that I’d made, none of them would last very long after we had gone our separate ways post-graduation and that, life had taught me over and over again, was just the way that things and people and feelings and relationships were.

The only constant in life is yourself.

Being with someone was generally done out of convenience.

Friendships even more so.

You learned to rely on yourself and never on anyone else.

Being alone was the natural state.

Everything was disposable.

Everyone was temporary.

Don’t get attached to anything … or anyone.

Everything comes and goes, sooner or later.

The longer it lasted, the more it hurt when it was gone.

Nothing lasted forever.

Nothing.

No one lasted forever.

No one.

Enjoy what you had while you could because if you had it you were lucky and when you didn’t have it, well, you were lucky to have had it in the first place so deal with it and walk on because chances were if you had it once you’d have it again … and again … and again.  And you would lose it again … and again … and again.  Life was like that, meeting people, losing people, meeting new people to replace the people that you’d lost.  There it was, my senior prom, and I was already looking forward to my ten year high school reunion just to see what some of these people really would turn out to be like.  Everyone had dreams … some better than others.  Some people were clearly deluding their selves but I’d spotted those early.

I’d made some judgments already, some of those judgments were pretty harsh and unkind but here I was, cup of punch in hand, bored out of my mind with a date that did nothing but fill yet another empty slot in my life, a date who was little more than a social convenience and even then just on a temporary basis.  Two proms so far and both had been taken with what amounted to dating stunt doubles.  I had no delusions that I was doing the same service for her.  Even my prom date for the night, Suzanne, was headed back home to Germany after she graduated next month.

The chance that I’d ever run into her ever again in my life was somewhere just above infinitely small.  I looked at her standing there, her blonde hair done up, her blue eyes and she smiled.

“What?” she asked, blushing.

“You’re very pretty tonight.” I said and honestly, she was.

She really blushed then.

Suzanne was the prettiest tonight that she had ever been all year long and I think that one fact was lost on everyone but me … and her.  She had really fixed herself up.  She was Plain Jane every time else but tonight … wow … diamond in the rough and everyone but me was missing it.

She had gone all out for something that would last only a few hours at best.

Everything was temporary.

Extraneous.

Replaceable.

Suzanne and I stayed out late, hopping from after-prom party to after-prom party, tearing up the back roads in my ’79 Trans Am.  Suzanne asked me to get a bottle of red wine to share, just the two of us, by ourselves … I politely declined her offer explaining that it wasn’t her but someone else.  I had someone else and it was ... complicated.  I took her back to her foster parents’ home at around 6am the next morning and I got home a little after seven.  My parents were already up and after a short interrogation on how the prom went (most of which I embellished to the positive) I told them goodnight and headed for my room.

I needed a few hours of sleep.

In hindsight, as I lay there on my bed reminiscing about the past night and my entire senior year in general, it all felt like that long weekend that I had spent with Marie on the Gulf Coast last summer.  I felt out of place, I felt like I was the leading role but in the wrong play.

It was a feeling that I just hadn’t been able to shake all year.

I saw Marie once in April.