"Fuck," the thick blonde spat between pants. Her perfectly manicured fingers clinched the Egyptian cotton sheets tighter.
"That's what you need, slut!" He said as his dark hand connected once more with the alabaster skin of her upturned bottom, turning it an indecent shade of red.
Moving her hips back, she felt his thickness invade her once more; reaching depths that sent her spiralling out of control. She moaned and moved quicker. It seemed as if 'it' were just out of reach. Always out of reach. Always.
Jade woke up. Her knuckles were white as they gripped the sheets of her bed. Her legs were tangled in them. Her ample bosom glistened with a fine sheen of perspiration as did her upper lip.
"Fuck," she cursed as she kicked back the covers and headed down the hall. Another cold shower beaconed. It seemed that cold showers were her personal cross to bear. Or they had been for the past six months. Menopause. The Change. Or whatever the politically correct term. It sucked.
Flipping the switch on the wall, light flooded the tiny bathroom. Like everything in her life, it was in a perpetual state of transition. The essentials worked of course. The new toilet had been installed even before she moved into the derelict building that was her mid-life crisis.
The lavatory and tub though had taken longer. She had scoured the Internet for antique fittings that were both free and in working condition. For over two months, she had survived with only the campers' shower that she filled with water each morning and left to warm in the sun.
But finally, she had found just what she sought. Devon, one of her 'students,' had run across the exact items she sought in one of the older homes that the city council had authorized for demolition. She had jumped with glee and thrown herself into his strong arms. It had taken them hours to dismantle the plumbing and the help of several of the others to load and unload it from the old truck that had replaced her sports car.
She had regretted her choice of the top floor apartment when they tried to haul it up four flights of stairs. It had gotten stuck on the second floor landing, refusing to budge despite the brute strength of six young men pushing and pulling from all sides. Finally, Devon had suggested they take out the bathroom window and use pulleys to lift it up the outside of the building. Of course, it was so late that they had to wait for the next day.
Even now, the walls were only half painted. The area around the big bear claw tub was a patchwork of multi-color ceramic tiles of various sizes, shapes and textures. It reminded her of an Amish quilt or the Joseph's coat of many colors from the Bible. The bare wooden floors were partially stripped and sanded. It was her latest project that she worked on when time permitted.
Of course, as the days got shorter, the wind hollowed louder, the sun's rays grew weaker and the working poor of her adopted Detroit neighborhood drew their coats tighter about them as they hurried about their day; Jade's focus was upon other more essential tasks. The last of her summer garden needed to be harvested before the first frost. The make-shift pens for the chickens, rabbits and goats needed to be repaired and made ready for the approaching winter freeze. And always, the spirits of her wounded 'students' needed mending; seemingly on a daily basis.
Turning the tap, she stepped up and over the side of her precious tub. Lifting the shower nozzle that was attached to the spigot, she closed her eyes as the cool water slid down her over-heated body.
"Damn," she thought as she added yet another "must do" to her never-ending list. The last of solar panels on the roof needed to be connected. While the ones that were already functional supplied enough electricity for the summer months, they would not be sufficient for the heating of even the few occupied units in her 'project.'
Jade pushed all thoughts aside and let the refreshing water wash away all cares for several minutes. With a deep sigh of never-ending exhaustion, she reached for one of the luxurious towels that bespoke of the comfortable life she had once led. She wrapped it about her curves and stepped carefully over the side of the tub. She hugged its warmth and softness about her body as she walked back down the hall to the kitchen.
Like her bathroom and her life, it was starkly unfinished. The old solid wood cabinets were stripped bare. The walls were yellowed with years of grease that clung fiercely despite several attempts to wash it all away. The old brown and green linoleum was torn in several places. Yet all of the electrical sockets had been replaced and shown a bright white against the starkness of it all.
Jade lifted the kitchen tap and filled the kettle with water. She turned on the propane and lit the front burner, settling the kettle on it. She rummaged through the cabinet above the sink for the instant coffee. It was a far cry from the Venti black eye that has sustained her for long days on the trading floor and longer evenings spent hunched over a laptop researching stocks and carefully watching markets in Tokyo and London. But caffeine was caffeine, no matter its form.
She had just filled the mug with a heaping spoonful of the dark crystals when there was a knock on the door. Jade's brow furrowed as she looked at the old coo-coo clock that hung on the wall in the living room. "Who could that be at six thirty-five?" Fearing that it was some emergency with Mrs Taylor, the eighty-five year old woman who occupied one of the first floor apartments, or perhaps the new family from Texas that had arrived just the evening before, she rushed to the door, forgetting that she wore nothing but a towel.
Throwing open the door, Jade was greeted with the image of Devon, loose jeans that hung low revealing more than just the waistband of his black underwear. He wore a thick hoodie with the emblem of the high school he had attended just a couple of years before.
He smiled as he held out a steaming Styrofoam cup. "It ain't no fancy Latte, but it is fresh brewed. Did it myself just before my shift ended."
Jade smiled as she took the cup, "A man with hot coffee on a morning like this. I think it might be love."
Stepping back, she allowed Devon to enter the apartment. "How did it go?"
"McJob ain't that bad. It is work and money. In this city, you can't expect much more."
It was a sentiment that Jade had heard before. Not only from the younger people, but even professionals, who had once made this place famous for its cars and music, had relegated themselves to...something less. It was what had drawn her to this place. To her 'project.'
"Remember it is just a stepping stone."
"Yeah, right," he said as he followed her into the kitchen. "If I work real hard, then in a couple of years I can go to junior college and even be a manager. Smelling of greasy fries and working sixty-hour weeks, what a life?"
"You know damned good and well that is not what I meant. I have graded your practice SATs. You have potential and you know it. As long as, you stay away from the old crowd and out of trouble. Don't end up dead or in prison." Jade believed in shooting straight. It had served her well on Wall Street. She was not about to change now.
Devon smiled that dazzling bright grin that usually meant he wanted something. "Me and de boyz still ain't figured you out, lady. What the hell you doing in this place?"
"The boys and I, Devon. The boys and I." She corrected as she brought the cup to her lips. The first sip scalded her tongue. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders as she answered, "Guilt? Idealism? Stupidity? Insanity?"
The deep, rich peel of laughter washed over her skin like the cool, crisp water of the shower.
"So which is it?" he asked.
"All of the above," her voice sounded as if it were more of a question than a statement. She had spent the past few months carefully avoiding her own motivations.
He leaned against the cabinets. His arms crossed in front of his chest. Silence filled the chilly morning as he waited for a further explanation.
Thinking of all the long hours and days that this young man had spent scavenging old buildings, lifting heavy treasures, stripping paint, sanding floors, tilling soil and hundreds of other chores, Jade figured she owed him this much at least.
Her fingers trembled around the Styrofoam. "My office was on the hundredth floor of the South Tower." She stared at her toes as she spoke. How long had it been since she had a pedicure? "I was on vacation in Barbados that morning. Everyone that was at work that morning..." Her voice trailed off.
Lifting her head, she looked at Devon. "So yeah, guilt is a big part of it. Why me? Why did I survive when others didn't? Don't get me wrong. This isn't some pity party. Two weeks later I was right back to work. Trading, selling, buying. Making money for my clients, my company, myself. We were told it was what was best. We all needed to get on. It was the best way to honor their memories."
His brows furrowed. "But how do you know all this stuff then? I mean the gardening, the animals, the building."
She chuckled. "That would be the idealism. I come by it honesty. When I was three, my parents took my brother and me and moved to a commune in California. We grew all our own food, organically. At five, I worked alongside hundreds of others picking tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, whatever was in season." She smiled wistfully.
"At five? Ain't dat young?"
"It wasn't as bad as it sounds. We got up early and all ate together in the dining hall. Then we went out into the fields with our parents or another adult. We would work until it got too hot, and then come back for lunch and lessons. Then the evening we spent together with our group. It was kind of nice actually."
Devon shrugged his broad shoulders.
"It was all I knew. By the time I went away to college, ours was one of the few families left. Dad and a couple of his friends turned it into a profitable business providing organic produce to natural foods stores."
"So you gots your business sense from your dad. You get your stunning looks from your ma then?" he teased.
"Very funny, Devon. But speaking of organically grown produce, I need to change. We have work to do."
He groaned. "You a real slave driver, lady. Give a guy a break. I just pulled an eleven to six shift in the wonderful world of fast food."
Jade smiled as she put her hand on his shoulder. "I didn't mean you specifically. There is plenty of other we's around to help. You get some sleep. See you this afternoon if you feel up to it."
"Lady, I am always 'up to it' when it comes to you."
She shook her head. "Yeah, right. Last time I checked I have your mama by almost ten years."
Devon reached out to where her hand rested on his shoulder. His large dark hand covered hers and squeezed. "But she isn't nearly as interesting a lady as you, Jade. I got a feeling that I ain't even heard half your story. But I'm going to."
His hand slid slowly up her arm, past her shoulder, until his fingers were tangled in her long, red hair. He drew her head forward slowly. His black eyes held her gaze.
Then the solid floor gave way beneath her bare feet. His warm lips brushed slowly back and forth over hers.