Two Lonely People


The next morning Doctor Erin released me for checkout and said she was sending a note to my regular doctor for follow-up. Cindy wheeled me out to the car and Mandy drove me home.


The funeral went by in a blur and a week later Mandy went back to school. She wanted to take the semester off but I insisted I would be okay. The truth was I wanted to be alone with my pain. Mandy had cleaned out most of Clara's stuff ... although seeing her empty closet seemed worse than the way it had been. It seemed like I couldn't focus on anything but I knew I had to. There was a lot of paper work, friends of hers to notify, bank accounts, etc.

Some days were better, some days worse. I tried drink but I was afraid of it so I limited myself to one glass of wine when I was by myself. One day I was cleaning up Clara's files on the computer, deciding what to keep, and what to delete. I logged on to her email account to see what I had to do there. The business emails I handled as needed; most were from department stores or such – I just closed those accounts.

I went through her personal emails and responded to everything telling them of her death. Most of them were people I didn't know so I deleted them from the address book. Ones from common friends I added to my own address book. There was a long email from Jillian. It recapped what Clara had told me on the plane and she said she was filing for divorce. At the end she told Clara that she wasn't sure why she felt comfortable enough to share this with her but she wanted to. I replied, telling her about Clara's death and apologizing for reading her highly personal note. I kept her email address and we corresponded periodically.

I'd lost about ten pounds since Clara died, but my doctor was nagging me to exercise more. I used to swim competitively in high school and college but other than our vacations I hadn't swam in years. I finally joined a health club that was really nice, located near the Sonoma County Airport. After a month I joined the Master's swim group and started swimming seriously. I lost the few pounds more that I needed to lose and a few more. I was getting in shape quickly and lost a couple inches off my waist and added them to my chest and shoulders. Physically I was feeling good and, according to my daughter, looking good.

I had trouble writing for a while but finally got started again. I wrote a travel article for the Travel section of the SF Chronicle about Ixtapa and the new hotel we had stayed at – it was funny: I got a letter from them offering me a free week! I also wrote a short story about dealing with grief after the sudden demise of a loved one. This was going to be published in The New Yorker. Writing this story was very cathartic for me and I began dealing with my own grief!

Some days were very dark for me, I felt like giving up. On these days I would go for a long drive, maybe along the coast, and I would feel better. Mandy would call me a couple times a week. She came down for Thanksgiving with her dorm mate and the house was lively and sunny for a week. I told Mandy I was going to sell my time-share, but she talked me out of it. I had told her what Clara had said about continuing to travel. She was going to bring Phil home for Christmas.

I got a nice card from Erin for Thanksgiving. She offered condolences again for Clara and hoped I'd recovered okay. Cindy sent me a Christmas card that was funny with all of her goings on. I wasn't looking forward to Christmas – that was always a special time of year for Clara and I. Mandy and Phil came and the house was filled with light again. I hadn't done the tree so she got after me for that. The more I saw of Phil, the more I liked him. He seemed very mature and levelheaded. They were clearly in love so I felt better about Mandy's future.

There was going to be a big dinner dance at the Country Club. Mandy thought she would have to twist my arm, but I had continued to play golf and had a lot of friends there. The three of us arrived a little late... people were just walking in to the dining room. We got to the edge of the dance floor and saw Erin and Cindy at a table by themselves. Cindy jumped up and before anyone realized it she had us sitting at their table. We did the intros and sat down and relaxed a bit. I wound up sitting next to Erin.

She turned to me and apologized, "I'm sorry for Cindy dragging you over here. You probably had plans to sit elsewhere. She's just so impulsive!"

I smiled and replied, "Yeah, I know! It's okay, it's actually good – I wasn't looking forward to sitting with any of the couples that were our close friends. Besides I can't think of three lovelier ladies to sit with than the three at this table!" I was looking at Mandy and Cindy as I said this last.

Mandy laughed and Cindy blushed as I turned back to Erin, "I didn't know you belonged to the club?"

"Yes, we joined because of Cindy's tennis. She is on the varsity at school and I wanted her to get more regular competition. She likes to play against the boys. Outside of serves, she plays most of them fairly even."

We had dinner and the conversation was nice. Everyone seemed in a good mood. When the dancing started Phil and Mandy jumped up right away. I was watching them, wishing Clara was here to see her dance with her future husband when I felt someone tapping on my arm.

Cindy was pulling my chair back and said, "You promised me the first dance!"

I good-naturedly stood up and bowed to her, "Miss O'Connell, may I have the pleasure of this dance?" and led her out to the floor.

As I looked back I could see Erin laughing at us. It was fun and Cindy was still a chatterbox.

When we got back, I bowed to Erin and asked, "Mrs. O'Connell, may I have the pleasure of this dance?"

She was laughing again, her green eyes sparkling, as I led her to the floor. It was a slow number, one that Clara and I always enjoyed dancing to. A couple of tears came to my eyes and I turned my head away.

Erin wiped my tears away with her thumb and whispered, "It's really hard, isn't it? It's been five years since Joseph died and I still can't accept that he's gone."

She stepped in a little closer and we finished the dance. The rest of the evening was fun... it was good for me to get out.

I went into San Francisco with Phil and Mandy for New Year's Eve. I really didn't want to go, but Mandy wouldn't take no for an answer. It was nice to see how close Phil and Mandy were getting. I wondered briefly if they were sleeping together and immediately decided it wasn't my business. I just wanted her happy, and except for missing her mom she clearly was very happy!

I took Erin to the opera and dinner in San Francisco and had dinner at her house a couple of times. We seemed to be getting closer but neither of us were ready to move very fast. I really enjoyed being with Cindy though. She clearly liked me a lot and we would talk about everything under the sun. It was amazing the things she was interested in! I played tennis with her one time at the club and that was enough for me; she killed me and made me feel my age!

Erin invited me to the Valentine's dance at the club; Cindy was there with the number one boys tennis player from her high school. He was the one boy that dominated her in tennis! I think that's why she liked him. We danced a lot and I had more fun than I expected. On the last dance Erin and I were moving around on a slow number and I felt her moving me to a corner. When we were in a little alcove she stopped and kissed me on the cheek.

She pulled back a little and said, "Mike, I know how hard it is for you! Not a day goes by that I don't grieve for my husband. I want to be honest with you: I like being with you; I really enjoy your company and Cindy likes you a lot. I know you aren't ready for anything serious and I'm not either. Can we continue to see each other... to be something more than friends, but..."

I looked at her and tilted my head down and kissed her nose, "Erin... sure! I do like you guys a lot and I enjoy being with you. Hell, Erin – I need to be with you. I don't know if whatever we have is going anywhere but I don't want to lose it. How about I fix dinner next week and Cindy can bring Josh. I cook a mean Osso Bucco!"

Erin leaned into me and we finished the dance. Josh took Cindy home and Erin and I went into the bar for an Irish coffee. We chatted amiably, and I noticed again how attractive she was. She had tight curly red hair that she wore short. It was so curly it was almost kinky. At some subconscious level that I couldn't control I wondered if her bush was that same red, kinky hair! I took her on home and we continued seeing each other off and on.


In April I went back to Ixtapa to the Ocean Dreams. This was the free week they had offered me. When I checked in the clerk gave me a message from the manager. He wanted to take me to dinner the next night at a really nice Italian place by the Marina in Ixtapa. I was taken to my room and found they had put me in a suite! It looked great, but the journalist in me wondered what the catch was.

It turned out that they wanted me to write articles for their publicity campaign. It seemed it wouldn't be anything too complex and they – the Managing Director was there too – offered me an interesting deal. In return for the articles they would give me thirty days free at any of their hotels and one cruise each year. In addition they wanted me to be their guest of honor on their inaugural cruise in the Mediterranean in the fall, right before Labor Day.

It was a no-brainer for me. I had the time and I didn't need the money. They were offering expenses and meals. We shook hands and they said they would give me a contract for signing the next day. As I left I saw Jillian with two girls. I stopped to say hello and she introduced me to her twin daughters: this trip was a present for their thirteenth birthday. I wound up sitting with them for dessert and coffee.

They were going in to Zihuatanejo the next morning shopping and invited me to come with them. I went back to the hotel with them in a taxi and walked them to their room. I'd had fun and I was somewhat surprised by it. I went back to the room and read some of the publicity stuff they gave me at dinner and started looking it over; writing down some notes.

The next afternoon I saw Jillian down on the beach sitting under a palapa and asked, "Can I join you, Jill?"

"She smiled and answered, "Sure! And if you can keep these sand fleas from biting me I'll buy you dinner!" as she showed me dozens of angry red bites around her ankles.

"Is that a promise?"

"She said, "Absolutely!"

I reached down and took her hand and pulled her up. "Come on, let's go up by the pool!"

"Wait a minute! That's cheating!"

"I laughed, and answered, "No, it's not! If you get any bites up there I'll buy dinner at the restaurant of your choice!"

Somehow she convinced me that there was one new bite out of the dozens of bites she already had. I knew I was being had but I didn't really care. I was starting to be attracted to Jill. She had a pretty, very brief bikini and I hadn't realized how horny I was! I suddenly realized it was a year since Clara had died and a year since I had any real sex. By "real" I mean I don't count my own pathetic efforts.

I did take her to dinner; in fact, I wound up taking most of my meals with her or with her and her daughters. I spent a lot of time with her around the pool and by the end of the week we were playing a little grab-ass, you know, "accidentally" touching under water while playing volleyball (yes, she talked me into it!) or falling down in the surf. I could tell she was attracted to me. Her daughters mostly seemed to just accept me, or put up with me. It was hard to tell with thirteen year olds.

By the end of the week we were doing some kissing and light petting in the water at night. It's hard not to with a woman that exudes sex and is wearing a bikini! But nothing serious really happened and we parted fairly casually.

I did have another meeting with the Managing Director and signed the contract and lay out some specific plans. I was getting excited – I didn't realize how bored I was! I actually started writing while I was there – I never travel without my iBook. I gave Alejandro a couple drafts of write-ups and he liked them a lot!

I went home feeling slightly guilty that I had been unfaithful to Erin. But nothing had really happened so I was able to convince myself that I had done nothing wrong. I continued with Erin the way that we had been: dinners, opera or a couple plays at the Orpheum in San Francisco. One or the other of us would fix dinners. Summer was better because I could grill outside. I was good at it and I had that spectacular view.

One evening after grilling a Chateaubriand and drinking a nice Alexander Valley cab from Stryker Sonoma we were watching the sunset over the Russian River Valley. It was really spectacular since there was a dense layer of fog at the lower levels. As we stood there I put my arm around her and she tensed up and turned and said she had to leave pretty soon. I guess women have this sixth sense, since I hadn't said anything. We were seeing each other a little less frequently. Erin kept saying how busy she was. I was thinking, "She doth protest too much!"

I don't know what would have happened if things hadn't come to a climax at that inaugural Med cruise of World Cruises. The cruise started and ended in Barcelona, with stops in Marseilles, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, Tunis, and Palma de Mallorca. I was spending three nights in Spain afterward: I was going to the Rioja district. I had always enjoyed the wines from there and wanted to write a travel article about the area.

They were true to their word and gave me a stateroom with a large balcony. There was even a spa in the bathroom. I was unused to this kind of luxury. The Captain would move from table to table, but I was a guest at the officer's table. The food was incredible and they had some really nice wines. It was fun talking to the officers and each of them set up a tour of their domain and responsibilities.

When I went to breakfast the next morning I saw Jillian sitting alone. I was a little surprised but I guess I shouldn't have been. I knew she was a member and everyone had been offered special prices for this inaugural cruise in the Med. She looked up and saw me so I walked on over and sat with her. It was nice to see her and I guess I was pouting a little over some perceived slight from Erin, so I gave her a kiss on the cheek and a big hug. I could feel her breasts pushing into me.

We ate together and had fun catching up on what the other had been doing. At the first stop in Marseilles we went into town. We didn't take the scheduled tour; I guess we instinctively wanted to be alone. I had been there a number of times so I hired a taxi for the day and showed her the sights that tourists don't see. We had a great lunch at a small place I knew of. Jill said it was the best food she had ever had in a restaurant. The great wine might have had something to do with that.

That night I invited her to my suite for dinner. I'd asked the ship's officer in charge of all the restaurants and he said I could do that... just to give him a call. We had a light, simple meal, Coq au Vin, with a nice Alsace Gewürztraminer. It was chilled just right with a very clean taste and just a hint of sweetness on the finish. Dessert was great as it almost always is on cruise ships.

After dinner we sat on my balcony as we steamed towards Genoa. We finished the Gewürtz and I opened a bottle of Martell Cognac Cordon Bleu that the managing director of Ocean Dreams had sent aboard as part of a welcome basket. We took our time with a glass of that wonderfully soft and fragrant brandy and somehow wound up in the spa with the second. We disrobed naturally as if we had been married twenty years!

As we stepped into the spa, the jets swirling the hot water, I had a flashback to that last plane ride I'd made with Clara. I could feel the pressure of her hand on my arm as she had implored me to continue with my life if anything happened to her. I felt sad; I slid closer to Jill.

Jillian was even more spectacular nude than she had been with a swimsuit. I would venture that most women need clothes and makeup to look their best, but she had neither and looked wonderful! Her breasts had only a slight sag and were what I would call medium-sized. I've never understood all that number and A-B-C-D mumbo jumbo. I guess it's the same way I felt about art... if I liked it I liked it! And I liked what I saw!

She had a pretty well-defined tan line and her breasts were a creamy white. Her areolas were darker than I would have thought, and her nipples looked like she had been nursing. Totally erotic and I couldn't pass them up. No, I didn't get any milk, but damn, it wasn't from lack of trying. Jill had a passion for love wholly unexpected by me. We started in the spa with us taking turns with oral sex and then moved to the large queen sized bed.

Loving Jill was totally different than with Clara and that helped me make the transition. Jillian was very vocal in her orgasms and seemed to have a lot of them. I told myself that this was due to my skill as a lover but I'm sure I realized she was just that way. What did surprise me was how affectionate she was. During that first long night together she was continually petting me ... touching me intimately, rubbing my back and arms and kissing me lightly almost any place handy. It did make me feel special.

We were together most of the trip and every night. I was afraid I was slacking on my agreement with Ocean Dreams but I couldn't feel bad about it. I figured I'd have to come back on my own nickel and pick up what I'd missed.

We grew quite close together and established an intimacy that astonished me. I felt the first twinges of love and tried to understand it. The last night I hinted at that with Jillian.

"I've really enjoyed this time together, Jill! I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm surprised how quickly you have moved into my heart!"

She looked a little surprised, maybe startled, and answered, "I've really had fun too, Michael. I hope we can meet on vacation again."

I guess I was expecting something more than that; I'm not sure what. I guess in light of what happened later I should have paid more attention. We said our goodbyes when we docked back in Barcelona, she to head to the airport and me to Rioja.

The trip to Rioja was lovely. I made Logroño my base and drove around the area calling on wineries, both large and small. There were several I liked around Calahorra, but I must say I had the most fun in Ausejo. It was a small town, less that 500 people, and it was known more for their vineyards than their wine. But the people were especially friendly; there were a couple of very small wineries with exquisite wines. The hotel there was, somewhat kindly, a two-star, but there was a small, unpretentious restaurant that served the local wines and great food!

The food there was simple, wholesome, and very tasty. I got to know the people and wound up writing an extensive article for Travel Magazine that was well received. After that I went back to Barcelona and I flew back to... I didn't know what kind of reception.

Truth was I was confused. Flying the long trip home, to Kennedy airport then on to San Francisco, I thought about Erin and Jillian – and Clara. I thought about Jill and immediately got an erection. Hell, that must mean something! I thought about Erin and felt, I don't know, maybe confused. I knew Clara would have loved the trip to Rioja, much more that she would have liked the cruise. I finally gave up, and with the aid of a couple of scotches, went to sleep.

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