A Lifetime in One MomentbyC.C. Rider©
Author's Note: I struggled with whether this was a "First Time" or a "Mature" story. In the end, I suppose it's about love and coming of age. So here it is.
I was there when Laura Hollander learned of the death of her husband. I was cleaning the Hollanders' pool, and Laura was sitting at the patio table reading a magazine when the doorbell rang. That was a quarter century ago. I am still certain today that had I not been there at that moment, events would not have unfolded the way they did, and I would not be the man I am today.
I was just a student back then, and cleaning pools after school was how I made my pocket money. I had about twelve regular customers in our gated community just north of Scottsdale. The Hollanders were my favorite customers because they didn't have any kids, so it was always peaceful in their backyard. It was professionally landscaped, too, and with its flowery hibiscus trees, billowing red bougainvilleas, and pungent gardenia bushes, it was a tranquil garden respite from an otherwise hectic, kid-infested neighborhood.
The Hollanders kept to themselves, and though Laura was usually at home when I was there, we didn't talk all that often (not before that day). She was always gracious, however. I would let myself into their backyard every Thursday at three, trying to be unobtrusive, but no matter where she was in the house or what she was doing, she would always come outside to say hello and offer me her hand and give mine a friendly squeeze. When I look back on it now, it was like the sun was always behind her at that moment, lighting up wayward strands of her curly sandy blonde hair. I remember her that way.
She always looked dressed up to me. Even in simple beach pants and a halter-top, I thought she was too elegant and attractive to be a housewife. She had long graceful limbs and a trim but womanly figure. There was a kindness in her hazel-green eyes that made me feel comfortable around her. She would occasionally bring out a pitcher of iced tea or fruit punch, and after about five exchanges of "Thank you Mrs. Hollander" and "You can call me Laura," I finally got used to calling her Laura.
On the day Laura's husband died it was unusually warm, a bright fall afternoon in the desert highlands. The air was dry without the faintest hint of a breeze. I was patiently skimming oily brown leaves from the pool. Laura was wearing sunglasses, so I couldn't see her eyes, and as I often did, I imagined she was watching me, admiring my long, lean muscles and honey brown tan. I worked methodically that day, luxuriating in her presence and the calm of the garden. When the doorbell rang, she took off her sunglasses and looked at me. "Who could that be?" her eyes said.
I went back to work. Moments later I heard her muffled gasp.
"Oh God no!"
I could see her bright sundress against the black silhouette of two police officers at the front door. One of the officers stepped into the house, hat in hand, and led her by the arm to an overstuffed chair. Laura sat down and put her face in her hands. The officer had his back to me, and I couldn't hear what he was saying.
I put on my shirt and organized my equipment. I thought about leaving, but I couldn't. I knew something terrible had happened, and I felt like I shouldn't run from it. I learned later that evening that her husband, Dr. Peter Hollander, had died in a car accident while in L.A for a conference.
It seemed like the officer talked for a long time, but I suppose it was only a few minutes. He set some paperwork on the coffee table and noticed me. I think he asked Laura a question. I saw her shake her head no and say something. I guessed the question was, "Is that your son?"
After a few more minutes, he showed himself to the door.
I couldn't look away from her. Her face was still in her hands, elbows on her knees, and she looked like she wanted to melt into that big chair. The sun moved before either of us did. I thought to tiptoe away again, but it still didn't feel right.
I wanted to say something, but I didn't want to startle her, so I moved some of my equipment around to make some noise. I saw her look up. I took a deep breath and walked over to the back screen door. She was looking at me, and her face was wet with tears, but she was not crying.
"Mrs. Hollander," I said knowing the moment called for some formality, "is there someone I could call for you, something...anything I could do for you?"
"No, Kevin," she whispered, "there is nothing anyone can do for me right now." She kept looking at me, and the sadness seemed to radiate from her.
"I'm sorry," I whispered back. "I'll go." I hung my head and began to turn away.
"Could you..." she started and I turned back. "Could you sit on the patio for a few minutes, just so I know someone's there, until I can get myself together a little bit."
"Yes ma'am. I can do that."
So I sat at the patio table and looked at the pool. I watched the sun make its way over the glistening ripples of water. I had never experienced such quiet. Then I heard her soft voice."
"Thank you Kevin. I'm okay. You can go."
"Are you sure?"
"I am going to be fine. My sister is coming."
"I can stay until she gets her..."
She pursed her lips in a way that told me she thought I was unnecessarily concerned. "She'll be here any second," she said, "and I really will be fine, Kevin. Don't worry."
As I looked at her I could sense her already growing resolve. Her face was still streaked with salty tears and her hair was in tangles around her face, but she had clear eyes and a determined expression. I felt strangely connected to her just then, like we were truly seeing each other in that moment. I saw that she was beautiful and strong-willed. I wondered what she saw in me.
"Thank you," she whispered and turned away.
I went home and stretched out in my bed and I felt an unfamiliar pain in my heart.
Laura's sister came to live with her for a while after that. It was about ten days after the funeral when I when I first came to clean the pool again. I wondered, curiously, whether I should ask Laura if she still wanted me to clean the pool. I don't know what I expected – that she'd let the pool go to hell now that her husband was dead? I brought a bouquet of flowers for her. The neighbors had gone in on some flowers for the funeral, but I wanted her to have something from me.
Laura's sister answered the door. The flowers made her think I was a delivery boy and she asked me whether she needed to sign for them.
"I'm here to clean the pool," I said. "I brought these for Mrs. Hollander."
"Oh you sweet boy," she replied with a genuine smile. She looked very much like Laura and she had Laura's same easy gracefulness.
"And I wanted to make sure it was okay to clean the pool."
"Oh, I am sure it is, but let me ask Laura..." She turned her head. I heard Laura's voice approaching.
"It's okay, Doris, I'll get it." She sounded tired, but there was warmth in her voice.
Doris opened the door wide for Laura.
"Oh Laura," Doris gushed. "What a kind gesture, don't you think? What a wonderfully sweet pool boy you have.
Laura looked at me and for the first time I noticed the bright amber streaks in her green eyes.
"He is not the pool boy, Doris," she said quietly. "He is the young man who owns the company that cleans our pool."
That made me smile, and I thought I saw Laura's lips purse in a strained smile.
"Hi Kevin," she said in a whisper.
"These are for you." I stepped forward and handed her the flowers. "I..." I started to say I was sorry, but decided not to remind her of her loss. "I hope you like them."
"There beautiful. Thank you." There was a long pause, and again I felt like she was looking inside of me. And then a tear streaked her cheek. "I'm sorry," she started, and then she turned away.
"There very pretty," Doris said too loudly. "She will be okay," Doris whispered to me unconvincingly, like she was surprised by Laura's reaction.
That night I was again afflicted with an unfamiliar pain in my heart. It would be a while before I learned of the importance of those moments with Laura.
Time passed and the seasons changed, and Laura, to her credit, seemed to have grown out of her grief and returned to her relaxed and cheerful self. I could tell, however, that she now looked forward to my weekly visit; I figured she saw it as an opportunity to talk to someone. She would ask about school and friends and my plans for after graduation.
One time I was uncharacteristically gloomy, and Laura asked if I was having trouble with a girl. It was like she had read my mind, and I told her about my conflicted feelings for Cindy, a girl I was dating.
"But do you love her?" she asked. She leaned toward me and peered at me as if she was trying to coax a truthful answer.
"Kind of." I replied.
"There is no 'kind of.' You either love someone, or you don't. So...?"
"I guess not."
"Then there's your trouble. Don't waste time with girls you don't love, Kevin. You'll only hurt them and make yourself miserable. And don't pretend to be in love just to get attention. Go out and find someone you love. Love first, then everything else."
I knew exactly what she meant. Though I had described my predicament cryptically, she had gone straight to the heart of my consternation. I broke up with Cindy even though I am certain that we would have lost our virginity together had we stayed together. But Laura was right; the time you spend with someone, the intimate time, is precious, and love and honesty are more important than sex (even if you're a virgin, or perhaps most importantly if you're a virgin).
I finally received my acceptance and a scholarship award from the University of Southern California in the spring. A few of my buddies wanted to celebrate by taking me to a bordello just across the border in Nevada. I declined. I didn't want my first time to be with a hooker. Of course, I didn't tell my buddies that. I don't think they would have believed I was still a virgin.
I had had a few opportunities since breaking up with Cindy, but every time I would recall Laura's advice. Then I would find myself wishing I could lose my virginity with someone I loved; it always killed my mood, and I always backed out of those one-night stands with some excuse or another. I know it seems silly now, but at the time I thought there was something wrong with me.
The summer after graduation Laura began to talk to me for longer periods of time. She had always been genuinely interested in what I had to say, and she listened intently, but I think my going off to college excited her and steeped her interest. She wanted to know about USC and what I wanted to study and where I pictured myself five, ten, twenty years. I sometimes spent an hour with her, sitting at her patio table drinking iced tea and talking. Her fascination with me made me feel good about myself.
I learned more about her, too. She and Dr. Hollander had married right out of high school, and they went to college together at Cal Berkley. Then she worked full-time to put him through medical school. They moved to Scottsdale when he started his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital. Laura no longer had to work after that, and she got pregnant. They lost the baby in childbirth, and while she didn't come right out and say this, I knew that Laura had also lost the ability to have children and that it had devastated her.
One day she told me she wanted to go back to school – was planning on it actually, "someday." It finally made sense to me, why she had been so fascinated about my situation. Unlike me, however, she knew exactly what she was going to study.
"Marine biology?" I looked back at her across the patio table with a quizzical look.
"Yes. I want to spend some time on a boat, in the fresh air, do research, help animals, and learn something totally new." She was as animated as I had ever seen her. Her eyes sparkled, she was all but giggling, and it was like all the years that separated us had melted away.
"I don't even know where one would go to study something like that?"
"San Diego," she said sprightly. Then she sighed. "Oh, if only I were younger."
"I am going to look pretty silly on a campus full of young people."
"I don't know about that." I meant it. She laughed.
"C'mon, Kevin. And it's not like there are many women at all, let alone any women my age, studying graduate level biology."
"Lie about your age." I said smiling. "Tell 'em all you're... twenty-five!" She shook her head and smiled. I continued. "Heck, I'd believe it. Who knows, maybe you'd have some fun."
This made her burst out laughing. When she settled down she looked at me, but she wasn't looking inside me this time. Instead, it was like she was trying to figure out my hat size. I don't know what she was thinking.
"Thank you, Kevin," she said coyly.
Several weeks later, I mentioned that I would only be cleaning her pool a few more times before I left for USC. A confused look came over her face, and I thought she was concerned about finding someone to replace me.
"Don't worry," I said, "I sold all my equipment to my partner Brad, and he's reliable. I will bring him around to meet you."
"It's not that," she said, and she was looking into me again. "I just..." She had a look of pain on her face that seemed familiar to me as she struggled for words. "I will miss you."
We were standing only a few feet away from each other. She was wearing an amethyst cotton shirtdress with a wide white leather belt, and I noticed that with the sunlit patio behind her I could see the silhouette of her hips and legs through her dress. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and her face was flush with color. Her skin was creamy, and faint freckles were dappled across her nose and under her eyes.
She was lovely and alluring, and a powerful notion to kiss her surged up within me, and it surprised me, and I think I trembled. And then she stepped towards me, put a hand on me cheek, and kissed me on the lips. Not with "passion" per se, but it was no quick peck either. Her lips were moist and soft, and as our lips parted I felt something like the prick of a pin that sent a charge of electricity through me. Then she stepped back and spoke softly.
"I can't believe you are leaving; it is all happening so soon."
She hung her head. Then she turned and went inside.
Until that moment, I had not thought of Laura in a raw, sexual way. I had fantasized about her on occasion, but they were silly fantasies involving things like her greeting me in the nude, or imploring me to swim naked with her – mere trifles of the mind. Until that day, fantasizing about actual physical contact with her seemed ridiculous. My fantasies about Laura were about to take a turn, and the one I indulged that night was significantly more urgent, vivid, and physical than any I had imagined before.
I didn't leave my room until ten o'clock the following morning. My mother greeted me in the kitchen.
"Good morning sweetie," she said with her usual cheer. "Oh, before I forget, Mrs. Hollander called. She has a project she wants some help with tomorrow morning. I told her you would rearrange your schedule. She said she would pay you. I think you should tell her you would be happy to do it for free."
Then my mom walked over to me and made sure she had my attention. "That poor, dear widow. You make sure you are especially kind and nice to her."
My mom smiled. "She is very fond of you, you know."
"She told me I was very lucky to have such an intelligent, handsome, and considerate young man for a son."
"She said that?'
My mom only smiled and patted my head.
I arrived at Laura's house at eight o'clock that Saturday morning. There was a small guesthouse with a garage in back of the main home, and the garage door was up. Laura was inside, going through some boxes. She waved me in.
"Oh thank you for coming, Kevin. It is so sweet of you."
She was wearing black stretch culottes that clung to her hips and legs like tights. Her sleeveless powder-blue blouse was open at the neck. Her hair was pulled back in a bob of sun-streaked curls. Her lips were a soft and deep red. As I took her hand, I noticed that her nails were manicured and painted to match her lips. She put her other hand on my shoulder and squeezed it affectionately.
"I have decided it is time for me to move," she said looking me in the eye.
"Like 'move' move?" I asked.
"Yes. Move away from here, start a new life. So, today I am cleaning out the garage. All I need your help with is moving the heavy things and getting the stuff from the shelves I can't reach."
"You've got it."
I spent the next few hours pulling down garden tools and boxes full of Christmas lights and the like. She organized the stuff, throwing most of it away, and she repackaged and marked the boxes she wanted to keep.
At one point she called me over and showed me a large framed picture of her husband and herself in front of a gaping expanse of canyon on what looked to me to be an antique motorcycle. The small, oxidized brass plaque said "The Grand Canyon: July 15, 1953."
"We were eighteen then," she said wistfully. "It was our honeymoon."
Laura was stunning in the picture. Her hair was longer and blonder, and she was thinner, almost skinny. Peter Hollander's face looked nothing like mine, but in all other respects he could have been me – thick, wavy gold/blonde hair, lanky and tall, a broad smile.
And then I did the math, and I almost blurted out something embarrassing; Laura was forty-six years old. She was three years older than my mother. That couldn't be. I looked at her and she was already looking at me. I must have looked a little bewildered because she smiled and her eyes flashed. She was so beautiful, I thought.
"Wow," was all I could offer. Then finally I said, "You're a really great looking couple."
"Thank you," she said. "Here." she started to reach for my face. "You're going to get hair in your eye." She brushed my hair away from my face. It fell back to where it had been as soon as she pulled her hand away. She laughed. I palpably felt something change between us. For a faint moment, I thought we were going to kiss. And then she turned away.
Later that morning, while I was sitting on a chair taking a break, she was clearing off a shelf above her head with her back to me. I had been watching her intently, and now some of my late-night thoughts were coming back to me. I caught myself admiring her tightly wrapped, shapely bottom. I sighed. What a great looking ass, I thought in my own juvenile way. I started to focus on her crotch and felt a stirring deep inside of me; then I heard her voice.
"Kevin, could you give me a hand here?" She was on her tiptoes, arms raised, trying to prevent a box from tipping and falling to the floor. I jumped up to assist. I stood behind her and reached for the box. I had to reach under her arm, and my whole body was pressed against hers. The box was heavy.
"What is in here?" I asked, my lips close to her ear.
"Here, let me..." and I tried to push up with my legs to get the box to tip back. It was then that I noticed my erection. I was in a pair a fleece gym shorts, no underwear, and I could feel the softness of her bottom and the stretch of the fabric of her tight slacks as I lifted and pressed against her. I had to try again, and again there was the friction and the pressing. She reached back and put a hand on my hip to steady us, and then I could have sworn she arched her back ever so slightly, as if to offer herself for another rub.
"I think I've got it," I said as I pushed the box back onto the shelf.
We didn't move for a second. I was still pressed against her. Her hand was still on my hip. I was certain she could feel my erection.