I have never done this before. Even now my instinct for self-preservation is urging me: "Take your foot off the brake pedal and put it back onto the accelerator! Don't be a fool! Don't stop! Drive on!" The car comes to a halt 30 yards ahead of her. I watch in the wing mirror as she approaches along the sidewalk, shoulders hunched, arms clasped across her chest, head down, wet, frozen.
It has been a pig of a drive home from my office on the other side of Town: darkness, cold driving rain, searing headlights, flying spray. Is it just me getting more aware of such things as I get older, or does everyone really go fucking mad in this kind of weather? Luckily, driving has become much easier now that I have reached the residential suburbs. It also helps that the rain had eased to a thick, misty drizzle. Then, a few seconds ago, my headlights picked her out, slightly built, walking fast, shoulders hunched, head down, wet, cold and seemingly utterly miserable. There is something about her that makes me take notice. Is it something in the manner she holds her body? Or is it something about the way she moves? Whatever it is, it has caused me to break a decade-long driving rule: never stop to pick up strangers, not even a woman on her own and possibly in distress. It could be a trap. There may be an accomplice with a gun or a knife hidden in the nearby shadows! What a sick, paranoid world we now live in!
I watch her approach in the mirror. Goddamn it! She doesn't even have a proper coat on! She must be soaked to the skin! She comes alongside the car and I lower the window. "Excuse me, ma'am, do you have very far to go? It looks pretty cold and wet out there. Can I give you a ride?"
She jumps away as if startled by the sound of my voice. She stoops and looks inside the car but stays well back in case I try to grab hold of her. What does she see? Nice car, Mercedes, not new, four years old purchased second-hand a year ago. And the owner of the voice inside the car asking the question? Late fifties, going a little bit grey at the temples. Well dressed, trim build, but patently no fitness freak. A bit like the car, sleek, pleasant, comfortable but not handsome. My clients like me to look successful, but not too prosperous.
Would I get in the car with me, a total stranger, if I was her? Probably not! I would ignore my soaking discomfort and say "Thank you, but no thank you" and continue on my way. She seems just about to say something along those lines when another heavy squall of rain hits us. With a moan of despair she opens the door and gets inside.
The girl kind of perches on the edge of the seat squab, "I'm so wet I'll ruin the nice leather." Her voice is light and pleasant. I appreciate her consideration. Most people would have just sat back, grateful to be out of that awful rain and cold.
God, she is young! Much younger than I thought. No more than seventeen or eighteen! She is shivering violently. Her hair is plastered to her head, looks to be fair but it is impossible to say whether it is dark blonde or light brown. Intriguing pale grey eyes, narrow face, nose a little bit too big, generous lips almost blue with cold. There is no smell of cigarettes about her to offend me – not even her drenched state could hide that ugly smell. I reach over to the back seat where I keep the heavy woollen travel rug that I wrap around the frail aged parent when I pick her up from the rest home on a Sunday and take her out for a drive. Mom is always cold, even in the middle of summer. I hand it to the girl and tell her to put it around her; "You could have got hypothermia out there."
She nods agreement. Her teeth are chattering so badly she can hardly speak. She struggles with the heavy rug and I want to help her with it, but I am scared that she will think I am making a pass.
I pull away from the curb. The rain squall has stopped as quickly as it started, but she makes no sign that she wants to get out of the car. We drive for five minutes with only the quiet murmur of the engine, the clack of windscreen wipers and the swish of tires on the wet road to break the silence. There is hardly any other traffic around now. I ask her, "Do you have far to go?"
She doesn't speak for nearly another minute, "I'm sorry, I should have told you. We passed the end of my road a couple of blocks back."
I slow the Merc and prepare to turn around, "That's okay, I should have asked you sooner."
Her hand emerges from beneath the rug and she touches my shirtsleeve. Her fingers are freezing cold still. "Please! You have been so kind…stopping for me and all that. And I know it's a lot to ask, but could we drive for a little longer? If I get home soaking wet like this my Dad will kill me!"
I stop the car and turn to her. My mouth starts speaking without any input from my brain: "You're not going to get dry just by driving around in a car for a while. My place is only five more minutes down the road." Why the hell am I saying this? "You could have a hot shower and we could dry your clothes in the drier while you have a mug of soup or something."
She looks grateful at the suggestion, if a little apprehensive, "What about your wife? Won't she mind you turning up in the middle of the night with a total stranger?
It is only eight o'clock in the evening.
"I live alone. My wife died twelve years ago. My two sons are married and living overseas doing their own thing."
"Oh, I'm sorry…" She gazes steadily at me. She is trying to weigh up the risk I can tell, and very wise of her too. She comes to a decision, "That's very nice of you…as long as it won't be any hassle?" Her fear of her father must outweigh her fear of me.
"No hassle at all." Warm realisation flows through me – it really won't be any hassle at all! "You are most welcome."
We drive on. I ask her what her name is. "Carrie…"
"Short for Caroline."
"With your permission I will call you Caroline, it is a lovely name."
The girl smiles for the first time. She has nice even teeth. "Thank you, and you are?"
"I am Jim."
"With your permission, I will call you James."
We laugh companionably together. It is very odd, but I feel more at ease with this young stranger than I have felt with any other female in years. "Permission granted, ma'am!"
We do not speak again until reach my house, but our mutual silence is comfortable; there is no need to explain ourselves yet. I can tell that Caroline is impressed by the size of my home and the discreet affluence it indicates. I drive into the garage and lower the automatic door behind us. She looks surprised and then pleased when I move round to open the car door on her side and hand her out. She is not used to such old-fashioned gallantry. Now that we are both on our feet we find that I stand a head taller than she does. Caroline leaves her small hand in mine as I un-set the intruder alarm and usher her inside.
The heaters are preset to come on an hour before my usual arrival time so the house is cozy. I give her a quick guided tour of the downstairs area, showing her where the kitchen and lounge areas are, and then I lead her upstairs. "You will have to use my bathroom. The one I normally use for guests hasn't been used for a couple of years now and probably needs a good clean."
"That's okay," she murmurs lightly, but her fingers tense in mine when she finds that we have to pass thorough my bedroom to get to it. Thank goodness I made my bed before heading off to work this morning!
I show her into the bathroom and demonstrate how the instant hot water control works, "You can shower for as long as you like…the hot water will never run out! I'm afraid the only deodorants and stuff are for men, but they'll have to do for now. Now, you just hold on a minute and I go get you some towels and a bathrobe."
When I return the bathroom door is closed. I rap on it softly with my knuckles, "Towels and stuff ma'am."
Caroline opens the door a crack and snakes her bare arm out to take what I have to offer. "Just hold on a second, James," she says from behind the protection of the door. Then her arm reappears with her hand holding a neat pile of wet clothes. As I take them from her I catch a brief glimpse of bare shoulder, hip and thigh. Caroline is naked.
On my way to the clothes drier I see that she has given me everything, including her bra and panties. We have reached a remarkable level of intimacy and trust in such a short time! I cannot help looking at her underwear as I carry her stuff downstairs. Her lingerie is not new and it shows signs of frequent repair, but it is scrupulously clean. I put everything into the drier and head into the kitchen to break out a can of soup for my guest.
When Caroline rejoins me in the kitchen she is shiny pink and fresh-scrubbed from the hot shower water. She looks about ten years old dressed in my spare terry bathrobe, which almost buries her, and a towel wrapped around her head like a turban. When she come close and takes her soup from me I can tell that she has used my deodorant. It smells different on her. "Aren't you having any?" she asks indicating her mug.
"Maybe later," I reply. I am staring at her too hard! "Come through to the lounge and relax."
Caroline chooses my favourite chair to sit in, but I find that I do not mind. I choose another armchair almost opposite her. She tucks her legs up under her in the seat and sips her soup, "Mmmmm, that is good!"
"I hope you like minestrone."
I almost blurt out, "And so are you!" But I think it instead. The way she is sitting I can see part of the back of one smooth, slender thigh.
"You have a nice house, James, what to you do for a job?"
"I have my own real estate company."
"If you don't mind my saying so, you don't look like someone in real estate!"
"How do you come to that opinion?"
"I worked in a real estate office once." She named a very large agency that had several branches around the city. "The owner wore very ritzy suits and chunky gold watches and cufflinks and stuff."
"Aaah, they're in the residential market, those guys dress like that. I specialise in the commercial side…matching corporate clients with owners of rental office and warehouse space. I'm more of a real estate broker than an agent. You said 'worked…once', why did you leave?"
"Oh, the owner thought that my body came as part of the return for the lousy wage he was paying me."
I smiled ironically, "Yeah, that'd be Charlie D… all over!"
"You know him then?"
"Know of him…I wouldn't trust him as far as I could spit!"
Caroline throws back her head and laughs. It was a completely unaffected sound, quite unlike the sharp, nasal cackle that so many young women effect nowadays. The bathrobe opens tantalisingly at her throat.
"And what do you do for a living Miss Caroline?"
"I'm a student at college. I work part time around my studies to get the money to go to university…I want to study bio-chemistry."
"Wow! Heavy stuff! Way out of my league…commercial law was hard enough!"
"If you love a subject enough it's not all that hard…" She reaches up with both hands and removes the towelling turban from her head. Her breasts lift beneath the heavy terrry robe and her hair cascades down to her shoulders. It is dark blond with tight natural ringlets. The robe at her throat opens further, revealing a vee of upper chest. She doesn't bother to pull it back closed.
I kill my mildly salacious thoughts: "So you were on your way home from work when I stopped for you tonight?"
"Not tonight…I had been at a friend's house…" Caroline senses an imperceptible tensing in my body, I don't even know myself that I've reacted. "A girl friend, James…one of my classmates from school. Her dad usually drives me home, he knows my Dad vaguely from his paper mill days, but they had a breakdown at the plant and he had to stay at work to help fix it."
"So you started walking in spite of the weather and the risk?"
"Uhuh, stupid I know."
"So James, the knight in shining armour rescues the damsel in distress…can't say that I've assumed that role before."
"It suits you…"
"And what does your father do?"
"It's not all his fault, the poor guy. He got laid off at the mill…and then Mom ran off with his best buddy…we haven't heard from her since. Dad always was a heavy drinker, it went with the job, but now he's completely lost control. If I'm not careful he takes it out on me…you know, with his fists…so that's why I was glad to get dry tonight before going home."
"Your clothes should be ready soon."
Caroline smiles, "If it's okay with you, I'm in no hurry. I'm enjoying being here, talking with you, Sir Knight."
My heart and mind both go into a dizzy sort of flutter. Then reality checks kick-in: You stupid old fool, Jim…you could almost be her grandfather!
"James, have you never had any relationships with anyone since your wife died? Twelve years is a long time to…well, you know."
Her question has put me on the spot. "Oh, I suppose so…a couple of very brief encounters with some very nice ladies." I take a deep breath. I don't know why I should confess anything to this young woman, but the words tumble out anyway, "But mostly, when things get tough I find that the hostesses at Caesar's are "accommodating"."
Caroline raises her eyebrows questioningly.
"Caesar's, the gentlemen's club in Town," I explain, "the ladies are pleasant and they are safe."
"Aaaah, I see…" She does not look shocked that I go to a whorehouse – an up-market one to be sure, but still a whorehouse. "But why, James? You are an attractive man…in looks I mean… and kind and sophisticated, and "wealthy". You could have your pick of just about anyone."
Once again, my mouth runs off without my brain catching up, " I suppose 'just about anyone' has not been good enough…I've not met anyone with "the spark". Not until tonight that is."
"You mean me?" She sounds incredulous. "Why me? I'm nothing special!"
"But you are, Caroline, you are! Don't ask me what it is, but there is something about you that… Look, I broke all the rules tonight. I stopped and offered you a ride. I brought you here…no ulterior motives, by the way, just an irresistible compulsion to help you. For all I knew, you could have been a junkie or some kind of crazy…even now all you have to do is start screaming "Rape!" and I would be in such deep shit you could extort anything you like out of me to keep you quiet…"
My voice tails off uncertainly. Caroline is looking at me with a steady, unblinking stare.
Motor Mouth takes over again, "And now you are here…you are so beautiful!"
She smiles. Her eyes sparkle sending shivers up my spine, "Sir James, you are a very gallant knight indeed! But I am not beautiful…"
"But you are!"
"My hair is a dirty straw colour...and it's straggly." Caroline grabs hold of a few of her locks ansd twists them around her fingers.
"It is soft gold. And those little curls suit you."
"My face is too narrow."
I shake my head in denial.
"My eyes are too close together and they're this weird grey colour!"
"Your eyes are lovely."
"My nose is definitely too big!"
"Barbara Striesland's nose is much bigger than yours…"
"Oh! You're impossible! I am not beautiful!"
"Yes you are!" We are beginning to sound like a pair of squabbling kids! I try to get in the last word, "And you have nice, soft, kissable lips and lovely teeth!"
"Dammit James! Look! I don't even have a decent pair of tits!"
The revelation of Caroline's bare chest overwhelms my senses. Without realising I have moved I find myself kneeling in front of her chair, supporting myself with my forearms on its arms. I gaze in awe at her beauty. Caroline's frame still has the slenderness of youth and I can detect the outline of her ribs beneath her skin. Her breasts are not large, but they are exquisitely formed with perky, up-tilted nipples. While I marvel at their perfection, her aureoles darken and swell in arousal. Caroline's warm breath brushes my cheek.
With trembling fingers I loosen the tie at her waist. Caroline makes no move to stop me when I part the bottom half of the robe to reveal her softly rounded belly, her lower abdomen and the sweep of her thighs. The triangle of springy hairs at their junction is a delightful reddish-gold that barely disguises the commencement of her vaginal slit.
Caroline speaks. Her voice is faint with a heartrending tremble to it, "Are you going to fuck me now?"
I tear my eyes from her nakedness and raise them to look into hers. "No…" For the first time I realise that I am hugely erect and that my genital area is pressed against Caroline's lower shins and feet. My whole being is on fire with wanting her, but I also know with an unshakeable certainty that to take her at this moment would be wrong. I force the words through the dry constriction in my throat, "But, if I may, I would like to kiss you."
Caroline takes hold of my head in both hands and brings my lips to hers. Our mouths open and our tongues entwine. It is an exploratory kiss. There is desire and need, but it is under control. Her mouth tastes of minestrone soup. Perversely, I find myself wishing that I had prepared some for myself.
We break apart. Caroline still holds my face in her hands. Her lips have that puffy, bruised look of intense arousal. Her cheeks are flushed. Her chest heaves with her ragged breathing. Her eyes are heavy lidded with passion. It would be so easy…
"Come…I didn't bring you here for this. I will go and get your clothes and, after you have dressed, I will take you home."
Caroline's eyes glitter with tears, I have utterly crushed her. I have rejected her. She was going to give herself to me, but I do not want her after all.
I kiss the tip of her nose lightly, "The chivalrous knight desires the beautiful virgin princess totally, but he admires and respects her totally as well. I must take you home."
Her voice is husky with emotion, "How did you guess that I am still a virgin?"
I take hold of her hands and place her palms flat on my chest, "No guess – something in here knew from the instant I first saw you."
"Your heart is beating really fast!"
"I am pumping so much adrenaline I feel like a sprinter who has just won an Olympic Gold Medal!"
"James, will you kiss me three more times? I will lead the way."
Caroline guides me to kiss each of her breasts in turn. Her nipples harden at the touch of my lips and she lets out soft moans of pleasure. When she carries my face down her body, Caroline uncoils her legs and spreads them wide. Her sex is a beautiful, exotic orchid. I stare at her; totally mesmerised. Hunger for her body courses through me in a raging flood, yet when I kiss her damp, ozone fragrant lips I do not use my tongue.
Caroline arches her back and gasps. She wants me to go on, but the mentor in the back of my brain tells me once again that the time is not right. I raise my eyes and look up over the exquisite swoop and curve of her young body to her face. Her woman-scent fills my nostrils. Her eyes are burning beacons. "Thank you, James. That was so wonderful!" she murmurs, "take me home now."
I park the car about 150 metres along the street from her house. The houses are close together and to the sidewalk; old but generally well looked after. It would not be wise to park right outside her place. The rain has stopped completely now. Caroline opens her door quickly, letting a blast of cold air into the cabin. She leans across and kisses me on the cheek. Her lips are warm and oh so soft, "Thank you for everything, James," she breathes.
I watch her slim body as she walks away. I now know why I stopped for her in the first place – it is the loose, graceful way she moves.
Caroline does not look back, not even when she gets to her front door and fits the key into the lock. She disappears inside. I groan and rest my forehead on the steering wheel. The night has been highly charged with drama and emotion. I feel completely drained, exhausted. I know have lost something very precious, forever. My mind churns out of control, examining every priceless memory of her. Despair washes over me. I have let the moment slide by. If I try to see Caroline again, to wait yearning for her on her route home like some gauche, pimply teenager, she will probably laugh at me and walk on.