(Author's note: This story is dedicated to singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg, who passed away on December 16th, 2007, due to prostate cancer. He was 56. The song "Same Old Lang Syne" has always been a favorite of mine, and it is upon this song that the following story is based. I hope you enjoy.)
For the first time in my life, I was not looking forward to Christmas. Jaclyn and I had separated five months before, following almost a decade of marriage. We didn't split because of infidelity; I had never cheated on my wife, and to my knowledge, neither had she ever been unfaithful. We had just lost the magic, and we knew it.
The clerk's voice startled me slightly as she spoke from the other side of the deli counter. She was indicating the pile of thinly-sliced turkey upon the deck of her slicer, a questioning look on her face.
"That's fine," I said, then forced a smile. "Just that, and the Muenster."
I tossed the two plastic bags into the basket I held, which already contained a jar of sliced pickles, two beefsteak tomatoes, a jar of spicy mustard, and a loaf of potato bread. The following day, I knew, I would be gastronomically spoiled by Mom's traditional Yuletide feast. For the evening, however, I simply wanted a good, old-fashioned 'sammich.'
And a beer. Or three. Those I already had, chilling in the fridge in my apartment.
The massive grocery store was bustling with last-minute shoppers getting those 'damn, I can't believe I forgot' items, as well as depressingly familiar sad-sacks such as I, who had no sexy Christmas elf to go home to. Not that Jaclyn would have ever dressed up as an elf. Our sex life had been pretty vanilla, to be honest. Pattern of my life.
I wandered around the aisles, looking at displays of various 'special items' on sale. I chuckled ruefully as I passed a bulk stack of three-foot-tall artificial Christmas trees, complete with lights and tinsel. I had not graced my simple one-bedroom apartment with holiday decorations; that seemed a pathetic gesture to me. But for a moment, I considered the tree-in-a-box. I had never had a Christmas without flashing green and red lights in the living room. It seemed a shame to abandon such a tradition, even though I now lived alone.
As I contemplated the stack of trees, another man, about my age, perhaps a few years older, approached and hesitantly took up one of the boxes, placing it in the cart he pushed. Eerily, I noticed that the other contents of his cart almost perfectly matched mine, except he had a twelve-pack of light beer as well.
"Never thought I'd ever get one of these stupid things," he said sourly, not looking to me as he spoke. "But, hey . . . it's Christmas, right? Even if the bitch left me."
The squeaking of the wheels on his shopping cart seemed to be the only sound in the world for a few seconds. I watched the guy trundle away, thinking how . . . sad he was. Dejected. Morose.
And then I realized I wasn't much different. I looked back to the stack of tiny artificial trees, tasting something sour that rose up from my throat. No . . . that's not me.
I made my way back through the aisles, wanting to get home and make a world-class sandwich, pop a beer, and pretend to enjoy sitting on the couch in my underwear with crumbs on my chest while watching some lame show on TV that my wife hated. And then, suddenly, in the Sauces and Pasta aisle, there she was.
I passed right by her, barely noticing the soft, sunshine-colored hair above a slender frame wrapped in a beige jacket. I caught a whiff of perfume, something faint but sweet and flowery. It enticed me, making me glance back over my shoulder.
I only saw her face in profile, framed by soft, curling wisps of light golden hair. However, there could be no mistaking that round little nose, the way she nibbled her lower lip as she considered the merchandise before her. I found myself staring, stopping in my tracks. I blinked a few times, wondering if it really was her.
She looked up, turning her face toward me, that cute little furrow forming between her ethereal brows. Her eyes were just as blue as I remembered, and they stared at me for a long moment before suddenly flashing open wide, accompanying a broad smile which revealed fine, alabaster teeth. "Dan? Holy shit!"
I smiled back, unable to keep myself from looking her over. It had been over a dozen years, yet Angie looked almost exactly as I remembered her. She had gained a little weight, but not much; her face looked a bit fuller, her hips a tad roomier. She still looked great in jeans. "Wow," was all I could say.
For a moment, we just stared at one another, neither of us able to speak. In the space of an instant, my mind flashed back to our senior year in high school. Holding hands in the halls as we went to class. Laughing and joking as Angie sat on my lap in the cafeteria. Sharing our first kiss at the Homecoming Dance . . . .
"So . . . how've you been?" she asked, still beaming. "Wow! Look at you! Been keeping in shape, huh?"
I blushed, shaking my head at this strange coincidence. The last time I had seen my high school sweetheart had been at graduation. Now, here we were, face to face in a grocery store, twelve years later. Just like that.
"Um . . . good," I said at last. "Ups and downs. You know how it is."
She nodded, eyes glittering. Jesus, even in the stark, fluorescent light of a supermarket aisle, Angie still had that ability to look radiant. I had a hard time seeing the thirty-year-old woman before me as anything other than a cherubic, skinny young cheerleader who loved chili-cheese fries and Aerosmith.
"Yeah," she said, her initial exuberance fading, replaced by . . . something. Nostalgia, I assumed, since I was feeling the same thing. Her eyes darted down to my left hand briefly. "So, um . . . you got married."
I smiled, somewhat painfully. "Uh, yeah. Nine years." I noticed a good-sized rock on Angie's finger. "You, too."
Her cheeks colored. She shrugged. "It's nice, isn't it? Having someone to come home to."
I pursed my lips a moment. It was . . . "Sure is."
We just stared at each other, sharing another of those awkward moments before we both laughed self-consciously. "Hey, uh . . . so how was Baylor?"
Angie rolled her eyes. "Not worth the tuition," she said with a dry laugh. "Really, it was all right. That's where I met Sam, so I guess it was worth it."
"Sam . . . your husband?"
Angie nodded. She blushed again. "He, uh . . . he was one of my professors."
I chuckled, clucked my tongue. "Bad girl," I said playfully.
"No, it wasn't like that," she said, then looked away slyly. "Okay, I had a crush on him when I took his Psych class, but we didn't start seeing each other until after I graduated." She rolled her shoulders in, giving me a coy look that simultaneously seemed a little sultry. "I was a good girl in college."
I laughed softly. "You look good, Angie. Really. Your husband's a lucky man."
Angie's eyes dipped slightly. "Yeah, um . . . ." she laughed self-consciously.
I had a rare moment's understanding. The memories were infecting both of us, and while the nostalgia was pleasant, there remained that feeling of . . . what if. We both felt it, and it was dangerous. Not so much for me, but apparently a serious threat for her.
I took a step back. "Good seeing you, Angie," I said.
Her last look upon me was wistful, perhaps even regretful. "Yeah. You, too."
The bag felt heavier in my hand than it should have been as I trudged out to my car. The parking lot of the supermarket was a sea of grey slush. Fresh white snowflakes fluttered down like intermittent butterflies from the cloudy sky overhead, sticking to my face and making my hair damp. What would have otherwise been a pleasant 'winter wonderland' scene was instead annoying to me.
Well, ain't that a kick in the head, I thought, fishing out my keys as I neared my car. I get kicked to the curb by my wife, lose my business, and now I meet my first love in a grocery store, who's happily married. Thanks, God. Thanks a whole fucking bunch.
"Dan! Dan! Hey!"
I looked around over the roof of my car, finally seeing Angie bouncing up and down beside a silver mini-van, the sliding door open. I suddenly wondered if she had kids.
Angie jogged around the cars between us, her light-toned hair becoming dark as snowflakes fell into it. She stopped a few paces from me, eyes wide and bright. "This is stupid," she said.
I frowned. "What is?"
"This! Us!" she cried, thrusting her hands out before her. "Jesus, Dan, we haven't seen each other since high school graduation, and all we can do is say, 'have a good life?'"
I let out a short, harsh laugh. "Well, to be honest, it hasn't been all that great," I said, leaning on the slippery, slush-covered roof of my car.
Angie smiled sympathetically. "You wanna get a drink?"
I laughed for a long moment, then nodded. "Sure."
Christmas Eve. Wouldn't you know it? Most of the bars were actually closed, at least in the particular area of town we were in. I left my car at the supermarket parking lot and rode shotgun in Angie's comfortable mini-van. I noticed a few scattered toys, of the variety that belonged to toddlers and infants, laying on the floorboard and in the back seat. There was a child's car seat in the middle row behind me.
"How many kids?" I asked, after Angie had parked the van at the end of a business park. We had managed to find a liquor store that was open, and I had picked up a six-pack of Hefe-Weisen.
"Two," Angie said, sipping her beer. She glanced to me with a sheepish smile. "Curt's four, and Tracy just turned one a month ago."
"Congratulations," I said, holding out my bottle.
Angie tapped hers against mine, and we drank again. "You?" she asked. "Got any kids?"
I shook my head. "We found out a few years ago that Jaclyn can't have kids," I said. I let out a short laugh. "And trust me, we were trying."
Angie smiled broadly at first, but it faded. "I'm sorry."
I shrugged, watching snow flakes falling on the hood of the mini-van. "I'm still young," I said.
"You're not with her anymore, are you?"
I sighed at Angie's question, looking down at the bottle in my hands. "We're . . . separated," I said.
She settled her hand on my arm. Her skin was cold at first, but the contact sent a warm rush through me, reminding me of heady, passionate nights in which Angie and I – repeatedly – nearly consummated our relationship. "I'm, sorry, Dan."
I took a breath, smiled upon my first love. "Not every relationship can be perfect, right?"
Angie's eyes softened, glistening wetly as vicarious tears formed upon them. Or maybe they weren't vicarious. "Not too many are," she said.
". . . he's a kid!" exclaimed Angie an hour later, as we were finishing our second beers. "Sixteen years old, and he's actually hitting on me!"
I laughed, took another swig from my beer. "Hey, can't blame a kid for trying," I said. "At least he had good taste."
Angie shot me a look. "Think I wanna end up on the Today Show, another teacher who boffed one of her students?"
I shook my head, still grinning with mirth. "And you always said you were going to be a psychologist."
Angie huffed, tilting back her beer. "Sometimes, I am," she said. A forlorn look crossed her face. "Jeez, Dan, these kids . . . I mean, even at my school . . . these kids come from good homes, rich homes, most of them . . . but they're still fucked up. I feel like I'm their mother half the time. Or, not even their mother. More like a sex counselor."
"What do you mean?"
Angie fell back in her seat, cradling the beer bottle against her chest. She had opened her jacket, since the heat was running in the van, revealing a baby blue blouse underneath. I noticed that her breasts had gained a cup size. They were no longer the perky little buds on her chest that I remembered.
"Last year, one of my freshman girls came up to me after class. Asked me what a blow job was. Turns out her boyfriend pretty much gave her an ultimatum. Full-on sex or a blow job."
I shook my head. "Damn. What'd you tell her?"
"What could I?" Angie practically shouted. "I can't tell one of my students what a blow job is! I could get fired, lose my certification!"
"So . . . ." I prodded.
Angie shrugged, breathing in deeply through her nostrils. "I told her to talk to her mother," she said. "And, I told her that any boy who gives an ultimatum like that isn't worth her time."
"So what happened?" I asked, finishing my beer. Automatically, I took the last two from the case and popped the tops.
Angie shook her head. "I get a call, three days later, from the girl's mother, telling me I have no right suggesting oral sex as a means for a girl to keep her virginity. She wouldn't listen to a thing I had to say, and obviously didn't listen to her daughter. She just wanted to blame me for being the person her daughter came to when she needed answers. Stupid bitch."
I couldn't help but chuckle. "Well, obviously, you didn't lose your job over it."
"Almost," Angie said. "Had to go through 'arbitration and interview.' I was cleared, but Mrs. Albright still demanded a transfer for her daughter to a different school. The girl was crying that last day in class, telling me I was her favorite teacher. That just about broke my heart, Dan."
I was silent for a moment, contemplating my beer. "I'm not a teacher, but I know it's not an easy job."
It was a long time before Angie said anything. We sipped our beers quietly, staring out at the world as the snowfall became thicker, practically obscuring the world around us. "Dan?"
I watched Angie as she finished her beer and accepted the fresh one from me. She curled her legs up on the seat, turning to face me. Her eyes were glowing like bright blue flames. I felt something thick in my throat as I tried to swallow. "Yeah?"
"I still think about Prom Night, sometimes," she said.
I smiled, staring back. "I do, too."
She studied me for what seemed like an eon, her eyes darting around my face. "We could have," she said at last.
I nodded, feeling a pang of regret. "Yeah, we could have."
Angie took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "You know, it's funny," she said. "I think about that night, making out in your crappy little Honda—"
I laughed, a nervous reaction, but said nothing as she continued.
"—I mean, you knew I wanted to, right?"
Now it was my turn to take a breath. The circumstances of that night, of my decision, ranked amongst my Top Ten of failed opportunities. I nodded, slowly, hesitantly. "I knew."
"But . . . you didn't want to?"
I rolled my head toward her, meeting her bright, beautiful blue eyes. "That's just it," I said. "I wanted to. But not in my car. Not like every other girl in the world."
Angie stared at me, her eyes a little red, her cheeks soft and full and flushed. Jesus, was she sexy at that moment. Sexy and beautiful, the girl of my dreams having grown into the woman of my dreams.
"I never felt like just any girl in the world with you, Dan," she said softly, her voice barely more than a whisper. "I wish you had known that, then. It didn't matter where . . . I wanted my first time to be with you."
Her words stung. In high school, I'd heard all the time about having sex in a car. That was how it was done. But it was so typical, I figured. And Angie was too special. So, that night after Prom, I had stopped things when they became too hot. And Angie had figured I spurned her. She broke up with me a week later.
"I wanted you," I said truthfully. "I just figured you deserved more than . . . doing it in a car. Maybe, if I'd thought ahead—"
I gritted my teeth, staring down at my bottle. "What."
I heard her move, felt her fingertips brush my chin. I flinched slightly, but quickly gave in to her touch, closing my eyes as Angie caressed my face. She leaned close – her perfume washed over me, and I could feel the heat of her body – and brushed my ear with her lips.
"Let's pretend it's Prom Night," she whispered.
My heart began racing. Automatically, I slipped my hand to her hip, feeling the gentle firmness beneath. Our faces were inches apart. I could smell the sweetness of the beer on her lips. We were too close to actually look into one another's eyes, and that closeness brought back all those memories of fumbling nights and heavy petting. I was getting hard already, in anticipation of finally consummating, after more than a dozen years, my love for my first girlfriend.
But . . . .
I took her hand. "You're married."
"Not tonight, I'm not," she whispered. I didn't stop her, nor did I retreat as she pressed her lips lightly to mine with a soft, yearning moan.
That singular kiss made up my mind, and I pulled Angie to me, across the gap between our seats. Angie moaned as she settled herself upon me, fumbling with her jacket. I slipped the garment off her shoulders, never breaking our kiss as it escalated in passion. Angie was hungrily sucking on my lips and tongue, making it clear she wanted me.
Angie pulled back, just a little, so she could see my face and catch her breath. Her eyes flickered, and she looked dazed. I could imagine she felt a hint of doubt at that moment, but it vanished as she smiled devilishly. "Let's get in the back," she suggested.
I trembled a little, following the woman who, as a teenager, I had once called 'Imp' because she was so mischievous. Just as Angie had gone from teenager to adult, I wondered if the 'imp' had become a succubus.
I didn't care. I had been a fool to turn her down once; I was not going to be a fool again. Angie crawled between the captain's chairs to the middle bench seat, necessarily stopped over so that her firm and well-formed ass was placed on display for my appraisal. Angie had always possessed an incredible ass, but never had I been in a position to see it from quite that angle, not so close, at any rate. Arousal spiked as I realized I would finally have the chance to see it uncovered.
She fumbled with the baby carrier for a moment, unhooking the seatbelt that kept it secure. Her fingers were slightly shaking, telling me she was as nervous as I. Angie did not look at me as she pushed the baby carrier up and over the back of the seat, out of sight. For a moment, she just sat there as I crouched on the floor of the mini-van.
"Angie—" I began.
"Don't talk me out of it," she said simply, looking into my eyes at last. "Jesus, Dan . . . you know what?"
"I thought about you, when we drove in the other day. Soon as we passed the theater we always went to, I thought about you." She smiled slightly, the blush returning.
I smiled, as well. "Toy Story," I said, remembering. "I still can't believe we did that."
Angie's eyes glowed again. "Sam wanted to get that movie for the kids," she said. "I told him no, that I hated the movie. I mean, I couldn't exactly tell him that, every time I see it, I remember jacking off my first boyfriend in the theater."
Her words, and the memory, only made my cock harden even more. "Sometimes, that seems like last week, when I think about it," I said.
Angie smoothed her hands upon her jeans, licked her lips seductively. "As far as I'm concerned, right now," she said. "It was last week. And I want to do a lot more than give you a hand job."
She slid to her knees on the floor, lifting her hands to unbutton her blouse. I watched her trembling fingers, her moist, parted lips, her intense eyes. She opened the blouse, slipped baby blue fabric from her shoulders. Her bra was white lace, through which, thanks to the glow of a street lamp outside, I could just make out the dark rose of her nipples.