The Heart Shaped NeighborbyNigel Debonnaire©
This story takes place in 1978, twenty years before "The Heart Shaped Pendant."
It was an early October night, a warm Indian summer indulgence. I reclined on a lawn chair in my back yard with a cold lemonade next to me, basking in the southern zephyrs wearing only my shorts. It was a night to celebrate: my latest book, an adventure novel, had just made the New York Times bestseller list. Success was an unfamiliar sensation, but I was trying to get used to it. A star peeked through the gathering darkness, and the song Impossible Dream sprang to my mind. Yes, that's who I am, Don Quixote of the literary world. The only thing I'm missing is Dulcinea.
Marcia, Helen, Beverly, Amber. I've only slept with four women in my life, none of them Dulcinea. "Charlie Fredrickson, I guess you're a bachelor for life. You may not have somebody to sleep with, but at least you sleep. At least you have some peace, and when you're lonely, at least it's an honest loneliness." I sipped my lemonade and wondered for a moment if I shouldn't go in the house for a beer. No, this is all right, I said to myself. I'm secure in my life: I've got a wonderful little painted lady to live in, a challenging job teaching University English that doesn't include the 101 course, an excellent friend next door, and the book that's just reached the New York times best seller list for fiction. I've done all right for twenty eight; a couple of years I'll get the dissertation done and be Dr. Charles Fredrickson, icon. Well, maybe not that elevated status, but I'll be set for the long haul as a professor and ready to get tenure.
Besides, the impossible dream is happening. I've gotten three books published and this one is going to make selling the next easy; just have to keep that critical edge so I don't start shoveling shit just because I can get anything published. Things are going to be fine; I've got a lot and a lot to keep me occupied indefinitely. It isn't bullshit for me to say that I am at peace with myself and at peace with the world; that's all that matters.
A car door slammed and a light went on next door. Charlene was home, my best friend in the world. If she were only twenty years younger--well, I'd probably screw up a relationship with her, too. The back porch light went on momentarily and she stuck her head out the door. "Hi, Charlie, how's it going?"
"Not bad, Charlene, not bad. Class go all right tonight?"
"Piece of cake. You working tomorrow?"
"Nope, don't have another class till Friday and no scheduled office hours tomorrow either."
"Same for me. Let's drink some Tanqueray to celebrate your success."
I got up from my chair and ducked into my house.
Twenty minutes later saw me sitting with Dr. Charlene Thompson in her living room, Tanqueray and tonic in hand. We both believed in older furniture, and scoured the obscure antique shops of five states together to furnish our houses. She was an icon in the College town: tenured professor of English Literature at a prestigious private college for girls, many academic articles and books in print, as well as several books of poetry and a couple of romance bestsellers. I'd met her at an open mike session at the Houston Street bookstore and fell in love with her verse right away. She was similarly smitten with my effort and our intellectual admiration blossomed immediately into a close friendship. We were both from small Midwestern towns, were raised on the family farms when they were still plentiful and had worked our way up from small schools to prestigious graduate study. Shortly after we became friends, she told me about the house next door for sale and I gladly became her neighbor as well as her friend. She wore a white silk blouse with a frilly collar, top two buttons undone revealing a nice glimpse of cleavage, a plain brown skirt, two bare legs freshly divested of black shoes and hose, and two red toenailed feet propped on an tasseled ottoman. Her outfit was in perfect harmony with her strawberry blond hair turning silver, her bright blue eyes, and porcelain skin, de-emphasizing her generous hips, thick midsection and lengthening bosom. She was fifty three, but didn't really look it tonight. I'd thrown on a school t-shirt and jeans; although she had seen me in my shorts and mountains of beached whale flab before, it didn't feel right to chat with her casually inside wearing that little.
"Here's to you, Charlie, your first bestseller. May it be followed by many more." We drank the toast and she continued. "It will even help get you tenure, when the time comes. Now, before we get too lost in celebration, I know what your next writing project ought to be. You've been putting this off too long, but it's high time you got your dissertation done. Your topic was approved two years ago, your research is done, your bibliography is in great shape. All you have to do is write the damn thing."
"I know, I know. There just hasn't been enough time."
"Bullshit, you've been putting it off. You deserve the doctorate as soon as you can get it, just get it done."
"Well, your mother did call me about this as well as your advisor from England. I'll help you, Charlie, you won't be alone here. I'll do anything it takes to get you through this."
I put a hand on her knee. "Thanks. I'll get started on it this weekend."
She got up and took my drink to refresh it. "Up for some gin rummy? I'll get the cards."
Three hours later we were playing a very drunk game of gin rummy, full of distractions, bent rules and senseless giggling. Nothing new about that: gin rummy was one of our favorite pastimes. Another button on her blouse was undone and my jeans had wandered off on their own. We finished a hand and she brought up a topic we'd talked about before.
"You know Charlie, if you were twenty years older. . ."
"Or if you were twenty years younger. We'd set the world on fire, wouldn't we? That's all right; I'm fine with being an urban monk."
She shook her head slowly. "What was the problem with you? You've dated a couple of really nice women since I've known you, and I thought Amber was going to work out."
I scratched my beard. "I did, too, I wanted it to, probably too much. I guess I was too intense for her part of the time and too distant the rest. When we got past the initial hilarity and small talk, we didn't have enough in common other than being worried about being alone. Also, the sex got boring pretty quickly."
"Oh, come on. You're a pretty inventive guy; I'd have thought you'd be a master improvisor between the sheets."
"She wasn't. Just wanted missionary position after a some foreplay and after one orgasm she was done. It was all about her; I could lick her genitals all night, but she hardly touched mine."
"Well, that's not me, baby. I was the champion cocksucker of Pleasant county and loved every minute of it. My husband didn't dump me because I was bad in bed; I just didn't fit the description of trophy wife he wanted."
"He was an idiot. You're better off without him; the jerk got himself convicted of embezzling and spent fifteen years in prison as some Bubba's bitch. What country is he in now?"
"Who cares? Not me. I raised a daughter all by myself and did a damn good job of it. Not my fault men don't want to hang out with chubby women. There may be snow on my roof now, but the fire's still going where it counts."
"You tell'em; those fools don't know what they're missing. Any man should call himself honored to have you." I took a couple of long sips from my Tanqueray and tonic, and a strange thought crossed my mind. I debated saying anything about it, but Fate articulated it for me:
"Hey, I don't believe you, what you said a minute ago. It's too easy to brag about something when there's no way to prove it. Champion–at, ah, oral, ah sex--of Pleasant County: now how am I going to believe that? I'm from Missouri, you know."
"And so what does this mean? You want me to show you?" The look in her eyes were a mixture of equal parts pride, mock innocence, curiosity with a dollop of hunger and a hint of fear.
A quick flare of bravado blew into my mind and out of my mouth. "Okay, yeah. Put your money where your mouth is."
She wavered for a moment with an odd look in her eye, then left the room to dig around her purse. Coming back to the couch she plopped a twenty dollar bill on the table. "Get your money out there." I fumbled out my wallet from the jeans on the floor and matched it; we bet spontaneously on things before. She took a long, deep breath and collected herself with her eyes shut before reopening them. "Okay, okay, okay. I give you oral sex right now, and if it isn't the best you've ever had, you keep the money. If it is, I keep the money and you start the dissertation tomorrow."
I snorted several times in disbelief; was she really going to do this? She'd never backed down from a dare since I knew her. We had a staring contest: her eyes were two spark generators, and her lips pursed in a smug smirk. The room started getting very warm and I wasn't sure that I wanted to go through with this. A tongue flicked out to tease her upper lip and her eyebrows waggled. My reservation melted, partly from the gin, partly from curiosity, and partly from an odd lust just flown in from the left field bleachers. At last I said, "Sure, let's go sweetheart. Do it."
She sat down on her heels beside me and started stroking my crotch. My inebriation wasn't so deep that a response couldn't happen. Her touch was expert: the right balance between soft and insistent. Her face was remarkable as her eyes held mine with a smoldering leer, and they set off more sparks as my desire leapt through degrees of rigidity. My shorts reached maximum discomfort; she raised an eyebrow in question and I nodded a reply. She pulled them down and all the way off. In an unctious, Shakespearian voice she lilted: "Ah, my lord, naked as a forked radish are we? Let's see what revels you are bold enough to stand for this evening." A light column of air from her lips nurtured the flame rather than extinguished it; little wet teasing contact sent a shudder through me. My eyes jammed wide open, my hands trembled, my breathing accelerated and decelerated with the pace of her attentions. Who knew that such an intermittent flick of sparks could provoke such ardor? Then, the onslaught: my will was not my own. The voltage built slowly and relentlessly, higher and higher, faster and faster: her mouth and tongue had full control of my entire body. Where did she learn to do that, and why isn't she the most popular woman in town? The pitch of my tension went higher and higher until I thought it couldn't increase and three moments past that, my world exploded in a long, electric rainbow that I'd never seen before. It took an eternity for me to catch my breath: she didn't stop until I came to a soft landing from my orbital journey and her attentions lengthened my descent to reality.
She sat back on her heels in front of me, a broad smile on her face. I couldn't speak; I just waved the money off the table.
Charlene was gone the next morning, and I struggled with my emotions. What good was going to come from this? I couldn't believe that such a respected, serene, accomplished woman could do that. She had worshiped my body; I did nothing to deserve it. Her daughter was two years older than I was; she could be a grandmother before long. My family would be aghast: my parents still dreamed of grandchildren from my loins, and my sisters were fitness freaks who disdained anyone who wasn't svelte. My chubby form had attracted their ire from the time I came home from the hospital, but I'd grow used to it and was able to tune them out, however Charlene was more delicate than she seemed.
"You're going too fast, you're going too fast," I said to myself as I showered. "See what happens. Calm down" I fixed a late, slow breakfast and savored an spinach, garlic and mushroom omelet with freshly grated Parmesan. Doing the dishes by the kitchen window, I saw her weeding the flower bed on her knees directly across the way. She wore a pair of bright red shorts: her legs were next to one another and presented her derriere as huge heart. I'd seen her weeding the flowers in that pair of shorts, bare feet sticking straight out behind her, many times before, but that day it was spiking a new response for me. Shaking my head, I recoiled from my emotions a bit: was my perspective changing after last night's trip to Nirvana? She caught a glimpse of me looking out the window: her blue gloved hand came up for a wave and an almost imperceptible twitch of her hips and wiggle of her toes accompanied her usual buoyant smile. I felt extremely nervous for no good reason and finished my dishes quickly to start work on the dissertation.
Days passed, and we cruised through the semester. She was over frequently to read the first drafts of my dissertation, keeping me on task with subtle persistence. During lulls in my office hours I found myself staring out the window: the weather was still warm and the girls were still lightly dressed, their backpacks pulling their breasts forward aggressively. The sights were nice but try as I could my imagination could not conjure any erotic visions that struck significant sparks. My graduate seminar included three attractive young women: Melissa Jones, a brunette, twenty two year old newly wed from Minnesota with shapely hips of perfect curvature, Nancy Quarters, a blond thirty year old with a dancer's body, and Sheila "Homewrecker" Decker, a redheaded young knockout my age who was working on a doctorate. Homewrecker had done her Bachelor's and Master's with George Harris and rumor had it that they were lovers despite his wife and three children and her husband in the NFL. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have any of them in my bed, but it never lasted more than a few seconds since it was beyond credibility. A stroll to the girls' college where Charlene taught still regularly had the quad full of bikini clad young rich girls trying to perfect their tans before the weather broke; it used to jangle my nerves to walk over there, but it didn't jangle as much. Any warm thoughts I could conjure were memories of that night Charlene called my bluff.
A month after the gin rummy game, Charlene had a quaint suggestion for a Friday night. The drive in movie was on its last weekend of the year: the weather was still unseasonably warm, but the local high schools were having their climatic game against one another. We had gone to the drive-in several times together and the invitation was nothing unusual. "It'll be fun, Charlie, it's been since June when we last went out there. Your big old Chevy is perfect for this, and we'll pop a mountain of pop corn. There won't be many folks there. We can even sneak some beer in to drink."
"Okay. What's on?"
"Double feature: Animal House and Mother, Juggs, and Speed."
"Ah, an intellectual evening."
She punched me on the shoulder. "C'mon. Everybody needs a no brainer once in a while and you're overdue. Besides, I want to see what the girls find so funny about John Belushi."
"Well, they almost shot that movie near here, so I guess I'm interested."
"Great. You get the drinks ready; I'll get everything else."
We laid in provisions and fought the traffic across town. There were only two other cars at the drive in, and Charlene insisted we park in the back row as usual. Dress was very casual: we ditched propriety completely for sweats. Animal House was funnier than I imagined it could be, bringing back fresh memories of my college days. Charlene laughed hysterically, gripping my arm at times to hold on to her senses, and asking from time to time if frat rats were really like that. We munched our popcorn, sipped our beer and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
After the first show the other two cars pulled out, but Charlene beckoned that we should stay as I reached to turn the ignition key. The projectionist came back and asked if we really wanted to watch the second show; I snarled indignantly: "Sure, we're big Bill Cosby fans." He shrugged and returned. Charlene gave me a funny look and I laughed. "Hey, he's being paid. No harm in asking him do what he's paid to do." She laughed.
The second show came on in fifteen minutes and Charlene laid her head on my shoulder. This was easy in my old '65 Chevy Malibu: there was one big seat for however many and plenty of room for us despite our size. I draped my arm around her and she sat up with a start. "Time to get rid of that beer; I'll be right back." My jaw dropped. I had no idea what was going on: did she bring me out here to make out and is she having cold feet now? I watched the movie as she left and she returned before long, settling under my arm with her head on my shoulder. I felt an electricity I hadn't felt since I was in high school.
My hand rested on her arm near the elbow, and I felt something different very close to the inside of it. A questing finger found another part of her an inch away. It drew me like a magnet: a little hard bump intrigued me and I found myself tracing it and playing with it. Charlene purred into my armpit and a flash burned my brain: that was her nipple! She removed her bra when she went to the ladies room; a glance down told me that parts of her were lower than usual. I looked back at the movie and continued my play. She started fondly stroking my belly. The hem of her sweatshirt was close, and my hand wandered beneath it to contact the little brown bud in the flesh. A contented snuggling into my chest was the response.
Rachel Welch was gracing the screen with her two talents, and between those two and the one in my hand, a normal reaction took place beneath my waist. Magically, Charlene's hand descended under my sweat pants in encouragement. The screen blurred a little and I started losing track of the dialogue, but I didn't care: counterpoint for two soft hands and erogenous zones became the soundtrack. Our moans progressed at different rates; mine began taking off as a moment I'd experienced before approached. I was afraid of the results, of making a mess of her and my front seat, but her hot, wet magic mouth devoured me just as my world turned upside down. When I recovered my senses, the movie was nowhere close to ending: I started nuzzling her neck and stroking her thigh as she sat back up. A flick of her ear with my tongue brought a deep shudder: after a couple of repetitions, it became a staple move for me. My hand strayed to outline her petals through her suit; when they soaked through I moved under the waist band. One hand below, one hand on her right nipple and my tongue around her left ear and neck completed her ecstasy before the final credits. On the way back, I managed a surreptitious sample of my questing digit and found an unexpected incredible sweetness.
The next day, Charlene and I worked hard on the dissertation through the daylight hours, wrestling with the prose until our minds turned to mush. I fixed pasta for supper and she went straight home after planting a peck on my cheek. I had no idea where our relationship was.
Charlene was at a conference the next week, and I plodded on through my schedule of lectures, assignments and faculty meetings. I kept coming back to her: the images I saw didn't add up. She wasn't a stuffy academic; we were both off the beaten track as far as professors go with our extracurricular interests, but the sexual side of Charlene, the woman whose body I hungered to thrill, was something I was having trouble reconciling with the great buddy who lived next door and the elegant intellectual I admired and respected. That bothered me as well because I knew better: of course she was a real person with desires like everyone else; of course she wouldn't be happy with a high school peck-on-the-cheek relationship that nice girls supposed to have. Her writing was a sea of passions swept by both gale force winds and flickering breezes. The whipsaw shock of those two worlds, intellectual and carnal, was wearing me out. The other thing that bothered me was that I was undressing this woman with my eyes every time I thought about her and fantasizing of the different ways I could take her on a trip to the moon on gossamer wings.