They have been flirting for almost two years now; a slow, seductive dance playing out in a six foot by eight foot box, carrying them to their respective employers. Down town high rise, elevator packed with bodies so set on not touching another, with the exception of two. Two bodies that wanted exactly the opposite. Two longing for the slightest connection, arms unintentionally brushing against each other, then shifting slightly, to connect more, to absorb a little of the other's heat.
"Hey. Seventeen, right?"
Claire looked up from her book to meet a smile from the newest rat in the maze. She'd noticed him immediately, a foreign body in the familiar, crowded elevator. He was very handsome and very tall, like her husband. Claire, petite herself, had a thing for tall men. She'd rarely had a boyfriend under six feet tall. There was just something so cozy about being completely wrapped up in someone much larger than herself.
"I'm sorry?" she asked, puzzled.
"Seventeenth floor, right? I'm on twenty-three. Just started a new job here."
Claire set her book aside. It was crowded and noisy in the lobby café today.
"Right. Yes," she replied. "I work for Kramer, Stern and Strauss."
"Of course. You have the entire floor, don't you?"
He stood waiting, for what, she didn't know, with his lunch in hand. Ring. Married.
"Hey, look. There are no empty tables and you look like you might be finishing soon. Would you mind sharing your table with me? I won't disturb your reading."
"No, no. Of course. Please," Claire said.
He smiled again and sat down. He was really quite striking. Tall, yes. But broad, too. No string beans, thank you. Light brown hair and caramel-colored eyes. Quite the opposite from her husband's dark hair and blue eyes. She noticed him taking account of the band and diamond on her left hand.
Without another word, he set to arranging his lunch on the table and began fidgeting with his Blackberry.
Claire admired him for a moment, then finished the last few bites of her overpriced salad and closed her book.
"Busy afternoon," she said, standing. "Nice to meet you, twenty-three."
"Likewise," he replied, smiling up at her.
And so it began.
The next morning, he caught her waiting in the lobby with the other lemmings.
"Seventeen!" he greeted her enthusiastically. "Survived to face another day, have you?"
It was clear he worked out regularly, his crisp, button down shirt conforming to his torso, hinting at the firm frame beneath. Claire shouldn't think such things, but wow. He was yummy. She unconsciously bit her lower lip.
They pressed into the elevator with the other passengers, Claire's shoulders and back lightly brushing against his chest. For a very brief moment, she closed her eyes and imagined him enveloping her from behind.
Like trained beasts, everyone stood facing the doors. No one spoke, not to each other anyway. Some were on their cell phones, talking or texting, checking emails and stock prices.
Wanting to connect with him again, Claire made as if she were searching for something in her purse, stepping back as she did. He leaned forward, ever so slightly.
"I'm Michael, by the way," he spoke quietly, next to her ear. "Looks like your stop."
And it was.
"Claire," she said, turning her head to meet his eyes. She smiled, and then made her escape.
And so it continued, like this, for some time. Each day, finding their bodies just a fraction of an inch closer to each other and always wanting more.
One day, after altering her schedule to accommodate the current project, she found Michael standing above her again as she read and ate her lunch.
"I was beginning to think you'd quit." he said, smiling at her. "It's crowded again today. Can we share?"
"Of course," Claire smiled back, the flattery that he'd noticed her absence sending a warm sensation rippling through her. Eyeing him up and down, she momentarily let her mind wander places it shouldn't. He was so attractive and charming, confident. She'd often imagined him naked, solid; a stalwart lover, no doubt.
Michael sat down without taking his eyes from hers. He smiled again.
"So, where have you been?"
"Oh, I'm working on a project with our Los Angeles office and I've had to change my hours a bit to accommodate the time difference. I've been coming in and leaving later."
Claire found her book mark, placed it and set her book aside. Looking back up, she found Michael staring at her breasts. She was wearing a low cut, crimson pixie blouse that showed a tasteful amount of cleavage.
"Busted," he grinned, returning his eyes to hers.
Claire should have been embarrassed, but was emboldened instead. She liked the attention, the thought that maybe he'd had his own little fantasies about her.
"You shouldn't stare so long," she said, running her fingers up the neckline of her blouse, as if innocently adjusting it. "You could go blind."
He paused, studying her face and weighing her comment, then smiled again. "I'm certain it would be quite worth it."
She leaned forward deliberately and took a napkin from his tray. He lowered his gaze to accept the closer peek she offered.
"Do you mind?" she asked, meaning the napkin.
"Not at all," he replied, meaning something entirely different.
"Thank you," Claire smiled, settling back into her chair, making a task of tidying her lunch tray.
"You've no idea," she continued the game, boldly. Standing, she plucked her book and purse from the table and walked away without a second look, grinning to herself, her heart racing with excitement.
Late morning, a few days later, Michael poked his arm through the elevator doors just as they were closing.
"Good morning, Seventeen," he beamed. "What a pleasant coincidence."
He stepped into the once relatively empty box, now dangerously filled with two bodies.
"Twenty-three," she acknowledged, smiling.
He stepped closer, reaching around, instead of in front of her, to press the button for his floor. He didn't step back at all. Claire could feel his heat; smell the faint scent of soap and cologne rising from his skin.
"Where are you coming from?" Claire asked.
"What do you mean?" Michael replied.
"It's a bit late for you to be just arriving. Doctor? Dentist? Errand?"
"Oh, no," he answered casually. "I can keep pretty much whatever hours I want."
"So," he said, contemplating her face, "I think you were flirting with me the other day."
"Is that what you think?" Claire asked, praying he didn't notice the tiny tremor in her voice, while knowing he certainly would notice the flush rising in her cheeks.
"Were you?" he inquired, placing his hand on the wall just over her shoulder and moving a bit closer. His expression serious now, eyes fixed on hers, "Please say you were."
"I may have been," she replied, smiling impishly, finding a surge of daring in his 'please.'
"You're very attractive," he said, his face now just inches from hers.
"Thank you," Claire replied, tapping the ring on his hand. "And you're very taken."
"Indeed," was all he said as the elevator stopped on the seventeenth floor. It took all of her strength to walk casually, and not bolt, through the doors as soon as they opened.
It was a wonderful game without rules, except maybe one. If either got too close to crossing the line, they would simply tap the other's wedding band, indicating it was time to hit the brakes.
It buoyed Claire's self confidence to feel wanted. Not that her husband neglected her, but years pass, people fall into routines, life happens. Sometimes people forget to tell their lovers just how much they are appreciated and wanted.
Michael made her feel alive, attractive. She did as much for him, filling him with a passion and spark he hadn't felt in years. The two seemed to have so many "small world" coincidences and got on so well. Their conversations were effortless, sharing a lunch table at least once a week and the very infrequent dinner when they were both working late.
And always the game. Seductive. Wanton. Forbidden.
Lately, Michael had really been pushing the boundaries, finding every opportunity he could to touch her, to press himself closer to her. It both thrilled and frightened Claire. She didn't know what to do with her desire. She felt she should say something, cut the tie. But in truth, she wanted more. Her mind often trailed off to thoughts of him, of them, tangled together in a pure and raw, carnal embrace.
One afternoon, in a rare event, they found themselves alone in the elevator. Michael pressed the emergency stop button and cornered Claire.
"Michael! What the..."
"I'll be leaving soon," he interrupted. "I have an opportunity in New York. Don't you think it's time we stopped playing games?" And he wasn't playing. His expression was earnest, his eyes fixed on hers.
"Michael, I don't know what you're..." Claire's voice trailed off as she broke his gaze.
His hand gently raising her chin, reconnecting with her eyes, he spoke quietly. "I want you, Claire. I think you feel the same. I want you. I have to have you...before I go."
Adrenaline coursed through Claire. It was difficult to breathe. Wave after wave of heat assaulted her. She couldn't move, couldn't think. Finally, she managed, "The alarm."
Michael sighed and released the emergency stop.
"I can't," Claire said.
"I understand," he said, tapping her ring and forcing a casual smile. "I just thought you should know."
Claire was somewhat glad to be back to late mornings and late evenings. Her last encounter with Michael had left her reeling, but after a couple of days distance, she had recovered. His vague proposal was, after all, just a vocalization of what each had spent many hours fantasizing about over the last two years. And now, it was all coming to an end. Maybe with him leaving he felt a greater boldness than before.
She had mentally entertained his proposal several times since then. Most recently in the shower this morning, with the hot water running down her body, her skin slick with lotus blossom scented body wash, Claire leaned into the hot stream, closing her eyes and parting her lips as the water flowed over her face and into her mouth. She imagined him there with her, the steam caressing them both, lowering herself to kneel, her mouth poised at the base of his thick, hard cock.
Claire was pulled from her reverie by the sound of a tray clacking against her table.
"So here you are. I was afraid you were avoiding me," Michael said, sitting without asking permission. Very unlike him.
"Back to late days," she replied. "Big project."
"I may just have to adjust my schedule then," he said. "Next week is my last, you know."
"I really hope I didn't ruin things the other day. You have been a treasure to me since I first came here."
"I'm fine," she said. "Nothing is ruined. I think I am going to miss you, though."
Now Michael smiled. "I'm going to miss you, too. And I meant what I said. I want you, Claire. Before I go."
Claire couldn't swallow, but she also couldn't break his gaze as he studied her face for some answer. A part of her wanted to reach across the divide and kiss him hard, but she pretended this was like any other day in their game and reached for his hand.
But before she could reach it, Michael held up his hand and made a show of removing his wedding band and placing it in his pocket. Then he firmly took both of her hands in his and pulled her closer to him across the table.
"No more games, Claire," he whispered. "Will you fuck me?"
"Michael, I can't."
"But you want to." It was not a question.
Claire was completely flustered. This was worse than their last encounter. She tried to pull her hands free, but he held them tight. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one was. She looked down at their hands and then out the window. Anywhere but his eyes. She could hide her flushed face, but she couldn't conceal the tremor in her hands.
"Answer me," he implored.
Claire closed her eyes and took a deep breath, regaining her composure and determined to take back the upper hand in this game. And she had it, she told herself. After all, he was the one who'd thrown down his guard, leaving a gap in his armor. She relaxed her hands in his and sat up straight. She met his eyes with a face that revealed nothing, a cool smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
He waited. She said nothing. Now he looked around and shifted in his seat. She kept her hands perfectly still within his. His eyes returned to hers and he shifted his weight again. Claire smiled wider, enjoying his discomfort. Just dessert.
"Claire? Please answer me," he sighed. "You've thought about it, haven't you? You want to?"
"I can't," she replied as plainly as if he'd just asked whether she could speak Spanish.
"You've already said that. That's not what I asked you."
"Of course," she smiled, sliding her hands free from his, preparing to make an exit.
"It's settled then," he said, and he stood and left.
Claire's smile dissolved. Shit.
The next several days passed without incident. She saw Michael but once, and only as the elevator doors were closing on the crowded car as she approached. Claire was torn. She missed him already, but at the same time, she finally truly felt the dangerous ground they've been walking for so long.
"Claire!" Michael called to her from across the lobby. "Wait up."
Claire stopped as he approached.
"Twenty-three," she greeted him.
"Back to that, are we?" he grinned. "This is my last day, you know."
"Is it?" she asked innocently.
"Come on. Don't be like that," he said. "How about one last dinner after work to say goodbye?"
"I'm working late," she apologized. Her heart burned just a bit. Yes, she knew it was his last day, but it hadn't really registered until just then. Claire would miss their game. Some days, it was the brightest point in her day.
"Just a drink then?" he proposed. "To toast me on my new position?" He flashed a smile that was both pouty and completely charming at the same time, raising his eyebrows just slightly.
"I don't know," she said, checking her watch and looking around the lobby.
"What time do you get off?" he persisted.
"Late," she replied, trying to discourage him. "Probably 9:30."
"I'll meet you here," he said.
"Michael, I don't know," she tried to object.
"I will meet you here," he stated, placing a hand on her arm. "Let's just see what 9:30 brings, shall we? If you decide then that it's too late, fine. But, I will meet you here."
Claire waited until just about 10:00 before shutting down her computer and heading out. Surely Michael would be gone. She felt a bit empty, a bit sad, but needed this to be over with. It was fun when it was just a game. But, if Michael meant what he said, the stakes had become too high and an actual goodbye seemed unfathomable. It would be utterly, horribly, normal. They never discussed their relationships, their families, their hopes, their fears. Nothing mundane. And yet they had an irresistible attraction, connection. Not love. No. Understanding.
Michael's face lit up and he smiled as Claire stepped off the elevator. She'd been fishing through her bag trying to locate her keys and did not see him immediately. When she looked up and spotted him approaching, she froze in her tracks. Shit.
"Fashionably late," he said, slowly eyeing her from head to toe. "I don't know about you, but I could use a drink. Shall we?"
"I can't, Michael."
"Oh?" he asked casually, "Someone waiting for you at home?"
"No," she answered honestly. No one was waiting for her. Claire's husband was, as he often was, out of town for yet another sales convention.
"Then what's the harm?"
Harm. Claire could think of a lot of harm. Going anywhere with Michael tonight would be awkward in the least and, potentially, very dangerous. She couldn't deny that she wanted him and he'd made his intentions very clear. End game. All or nothing.
"I just can't," she sighed.
"No?" he smiled, stepping closer and brushing a lock of her curls from her face, tucking it behind her ear and then tracing his fingers down the side of her neck. "Are you certain?"
Claire paused, heat rising to her face and then down her spine. She opened her mouth to speak and paused again, glancing around the dim, vacant lobby. Other than a sleepy security guard, there was no one.
Encouraged by her hesitation, he let his hand wander from her shoulder down to the small of her back, where he slowly drew figure eights with his middle finger against her chiffon covered skin. His eyes traveled from hers to her lips, to her breasts and back up again. The heat was spreading through her; his touch awakening her.
Claire closed her eyes for a moment. Just a moment. Just enough to memorize that sensation. And then she took his hand and guided it away.
"Yes," she said, and he smiled. "I'm certain."
Michael's smile faltered momentarily, but he straightened himself and smiled again.
"Come on, then," he said. "I'll walk you to your car."
Claire said nothing as he guided her around the other side of the lobby to the elevators that led to the parking garage. She was shaky; her stomach fluttering. This was what she'd wanted to avoid. The dead man's march to their goodbye.
Michael was quiet as well, walking, it seemed, slower than usual.
When they reached Claire's car, she unlocked it with her remote and turned to Michael.
"Good luck in New York," she said.
"Can I call you from time to time? Just to see how you're getting on?"
"What?" he asked, looking confused, possibly a bit hurt. "I didn't mean..."
"No, no," Claire replied. "I left my cell phone on my desk. I've got to go get it."
"I'll come with you," he offered.
"No, Michael. I'll be fine," she said softly and touched his cheek. "Take care of yourself."
Claire sighed as she exited the garage elevator for the second time that night. As she walked to her car, she replayed her last encounter with Michael. She often did this at the end of a day, but tonight it didn't make her smile as it used to. She was distracted, a mix of emotions that could only be labeled sad, though she was loathe to admit it.
The sound of the automatic locks on her Murano resonated in the empty garage. When she reached to open the door, it was locked. Dummy, she chided herself, realizing she'd left it unlocked before and just locked it again. She pressed the remote again, climbed in and tossed her purse on the passenger seat.
As she reached for her seatbelt, one hand captured her left wrist while another clamped over her mouth.
"Don't scream," Michael said quickly and removed his hand from her mouth, but still holding her wrist firmly, her hand still poised on the shoulder strap of her seatbelt.
"What the fuck?!" she asked angrily.
"I'm sorry, Claire," he said shifting in the back seat, his other hand now winding something around her wrist and tying it tight. "But we're not finished yet."
Claire was dumbstruck as he climbed out of the back seat and opened the driver's side door. With her free hand, she reached for her bound wrist, immediately recognizing the blue silk necktie knotted securely around it and anchored to the hand-grip above the rear door.