Back to Life Ch. 03byDawnJ©
A gray, rainy morning greeted Peter as he woke to walk the dog. He resisted the urge to check his e-mails until he returned, and after taking a towel to a very wet dog, he went to shower and change out into dry clothes before sitting with his laptop and a cup of coffee. Karen's note made him smile widely, and as he sat there sipping the hot brew, he decided it was time to step up the pace. She seemed interested in him, and was even flirting with him. He needed to make the next move. After pouring himself a second cup of joe, he re-read the part of her reply that had made his heart and other body parts clench:
"I've always been a sucker for words," she had written, "especially when they are wielded like a fine blade by a skillful wordsmith. They seduce me, they arouse me, they take my breath away. And if I were to be the happy recipient of the right sort of touch to accompany the words that touch my soul...well, can you imagine clay in the hands of a master sculptor?"
Even now he felt his blood heat as he thought of moulding her willing flesh to his will. He began to type. When he was satisfied with his latest note, he saved it to file and went on to the chores he had to do. The house help had come the day before, so his apartment was clean and his clothes laundered and ironed. He put away the things she had left neatly folded in the laundry room, and then tackled the school work he had brought home with him. It took the better part of the day, but by late afternoon, he was all caught up on his grading, had lessons planned for the week, including a test he was to give on Wednesday, and could happily attend to his evening meal, and the time he hoped to spend online.
After dinner, he sat in his favorite armchair, his fully-charged laptop on his knees, and opened his e-mails. Karen had answered again. She was returning to Birmingham tomorrow, and was spending the day with Toni and one Niall McLaren (he raised his brow at that...he'd have to ask about him), but would be home later if he cared to talk. Did that mean she wanted him to call her? What would he say if he did? It was one thing to be mildly flirtatious online, with an ocean and a screen between you and the recipient of your attentions, but it was an altogether different prospect to speak with that person. It was almost like being face-to-face.
He sent a reply via e-mail. Being as uncertain as he was, he didn't need for Karen to know how much like an untrained schoolboy he felt around her.
I'm glad you would like the stimulants I suggested. Who knows, perhaps some day we'll meet again serendipitously, and we can try them out. I think I could spend most of my days in your delightful company enjoying such pleasing pursuits. In the meantime, e-mails are lovely. I am imagining your smile as you read my silly musings, and it warms me.
I've written a lot of poetry over the years, but had stopped about ten years ago. Since meeting you, however, it seems Erato has returned. I've been saving them, looking for a place to publish them, and I'd be grateful if, when you are able, you would give a few of them your expert eye. The comments you have made on the notes tells me I can trust your instincts.
Who is Niall McLaren? I don't believe you've ever mentioned him. I hope you have enjoyed your day out with your friends. Take care.
Just before he sent it off, he remembered to ask her if she had wished to speak with him, and then he took Scrooge for his evening stroll, enjoying the rain-washed scent of the cool, damp evening breeze. Upon his return, he fed and watered the dog, and resisting the urge to check his e-mails, he sat at the piano and played out the tension brought on by his desires in the music of some of his favorite composers. It had been ages since he had spent more than a few minutes at the piano, and the exercise brought back happier times, when Alijd was full of laughter and desire and love. Chopin and Beethoven and Vivaldi and Mozart -- all flowed out of him in a river of emotion. He went where his heart went, playing pieces he had memorized from his childhood, pieces that marked some of the milestones of his life.
They had had no children, because Alijd had suffered a terrible accident as a young girl, and had been unable to conceive. Although he had asked on several occasions, she had refused to adopt, and he had given up around the time she had begun to withdraw from him. Now he knew it was too late for him, but he still wished in his secret heart that he could have had at least one child to call his own, one child to love, to live with as the symbol of his love for the woman who would share her body with the baby and with him. He sighed, and started when the clock struck the hour. It was late...had he been sitting here for two hours playing and remembering?
He went to make himself a cup of tea, cut a slice of the fruit tart he had bought at the shop, and sat by the kitchen window looking out into the endless night. His thoughts went everywhere, but always seemed to come back to the woman across the pond whose sensuous smile and full breasts were forever branded into his mind and heart. He needed to see her again, to make sure he was not merely exaggerating the qualities he thought made her the woman he should pursue. He had never been so often hard and aching in the last ten years as he had been in the last four months, and the almost nightly dreams that washed his body in sweat, and pulled his semen from his rock-hard member at least once a week in wanton disrespect for his vaunted self-control, shook him to the core of his being. He did not know this new self. It had never been like this, not even with Alijd. Even now the thought of Karen made his hand shake on the mug he held. The only way he knew to get back some semblance of control was to see her again, and to test the depth and truth of this attraction he could not seem to shake off.
His phone rang as he sat there, his tea grown cold, and he stirred himself to answer it.
"Hello there, Peter! It's Jannie! How are you?"
Peter smiled at the sound of his cousin's voice. They had grown up together, though she was older by six years than he, and she had lived in Friesland until she married an English country doctor and had moved back to the UK with him. That had been thirty years ago or so, and Peter only saw her now when they came over to visit, or he went to them.
"I'm doing well, thanks, Jannie! How are you and Duncan?"
"Oh, he's busy, as usual, and I'm happily retired now, thank goodness!"
"Well, congratulations to you!" he said, meaning every word.
Jannie's life had been a hard one, especially after both her parents died when she was ten years old, and she had been taken in by a great aunt whose idea of child rearing was medieval at best. She once had told him that the summers she spent with his family were some of the best she had spent, and that she had loved being his older cousin and giving him all the love she never felt where she was forced to live. Now she had three children of her own, whom she lavished attention on, and who returned her love in equal measure.
"Thanks, love! Now, I can't stop long, as Duncan will be home soon, and I don't want to spoil the surprise. I've sent you an invitation to his sixtieth birthday party, which will be a couple of Fridays from now. I'd like you to be here, Peter. It's been a year since we've last seen you, and I don't know if your summer plans can include us this year, as we're going to Scotland to his ancestral castle for a family reunion. I just wanted to let you know it's coming, and to see whether or not you think you can make it."
Peter did not hesitate. Here was his chance to get back to England, to see Karen, to move his plan along. He knew he would be able to take a day from work, and make it up when he got back, because the man who made the schedules was his friend, and he had not asked for such a favor in more years than he could remember.
"I'll definitely be there, Jannie," he said. "Is this just for family, or may I bring a friend?"
"You have a special lady friend, Peter? At long last?" Jannie sounded delighted, and though Peter wanted to lie to her, and let her believe that he was seeing someone, theirs had never been that sort of relationship.
"Well, it's hard to explain," he said. "For now, let's just say I'd like her to be. Maybe by the time I get there, she will be. At least you'll get to meet her, and we can talk further."
"Well, please do bring her along, then. I'd love to meet the woman who can make my reclusive cousin sound so uncertain!"
She chuckled, and Peter felt a warm glow spreading through him. Jannie reminded him of that past he had long forgotten, when he was part of a warm and loving family, where she had been more doting big sister than cousin. He smiled at her enthusiastic response, and tried to caution her.
"She might refuse my invitation," he protested, laughing.
"Oh, I very much doubt that, Peter. I know you too well. You are a very good judge of character, and if you're that interested, she must be, too, or you wouldn't bother!"
"I suppose you're right at that," he replied.
"I'm glad you'll come, love, even if you bring only yourself. It will be lovely to see you! I'd better go now, I hear Duncan coming in. Good night, dear!"
"Good night, Jannie!"
Peter went to retrieve his mug, emptied and washed it, and poured himself a large Drambuie, which he took upstairs with him. Settling into bed, he checked his e-mails at last, and found himself strangely elated when he found two messages from Karen. He read them slowly, sipping his drink. In the first one, she agreed to read his poetry, saying she enjoyed the ones he had sent to her, both those meant for her alone, and those he had written about the things he had been thinking of during his day. He was flattered by her praise, which was fulsome, and he sensed that she was not merely stroking his ego, but that she sincerely meant the things she said.
Alijd had not ever taken an interest in his writing, finding it "a frivolous and useless waste of time". She had not shared his love of music, and in the later years he had stopped playing while she was in the house, which meant hardly ever playing, because she complained it was too loud. He had even stopped playing the records and CDs he collected of music through the years by his favorite artists and bands. Shaking his head to clear it of the unhappy memories, he read Karen's second e-mail:
"Dear P, (it read)
While I'm not as accomplished a poet as you are, I thought you might appreciate this one that I wrote tonight after I got home. Please let me know what you think of it, okay?
One chance meeting
stirred something deep,
swelled something pure,
drew something sweet
from his soul's core.
One chance meeting
wrought him the hope,
let him adore,
brought up the dream
from his soul's core.
This poem is about Niall. I went back to the pub where we had supper and met him there the next evening. He sat at my table and we got to talking. He was interested in me, and gave me a number where I could reach him. When Toni invited me to her party, she said I could bring a friend so I asked him. When he arrived, I could tell at once that they were deeply affected by each other, and I think it's pretty clear, after today, that Niall and I will only be friends, which is fine by me, and by him, I'm sure. I'm happy for Toni. She deserves to be wanted and loved by someone strong like Niall. Perhaps some day you can meet them.
I'd best be off now. I have an early bus to catch. Sleep well, and sweet dreams!
Peter swallowed the rest of his drink, as much to calm his nerves as to soothe his heart. There had been another man since they met. That he was obviously not in the picture did not make him feel any better about the chance that he might have lost her before he had even gotten her. He supposed he should be grateful her friend Toni and Niall had hit it off, but even that knowledge, and the fact that she seemed to be perfectly happy with the arrangement, could not stop the spurt of irrational jealousy from spiking his blood. Now more than ever, he needed to meet her, before he lost himself completely to a stranger. He typed a terse response, unable to flirt with her as before, for fear if he continued to write he would let her see how affected he was by the revelation of a former rival for her affections. She could not know how he felt till he could look her in the eye and gauge her own feelings for him. Words without physical contact could be misconstrued, he knew. He told her the poem was thoughtful and showed the surprise of the speaker nicely, and that he liked the patterns she used in it. He said he would call her the next day in the evening after work, as he had something to ask her. Then he wished her a good night and a safe journey back to Birmingham, and signed off.
He wrote two notes afterwards. The first was as short as his e-mail had been, and painfully honest. He would not hide his feelings from her, but he knew that this note was not one he would share with her until he knew where they stood. The second, which he saved and sent with the week's set, shared his reminiscences after his phone conversation with Jannie. Talking about Jannie soothed him, and it set the scene for his invitation tomorrow, which he had decided he wanted to make on the phone. He needed to hear her voice, to gauge her feelings, to read the pauses, the breaths, the spaces between her words.
While Peter tossed and turned, unable to sleep, Karen was packing and getting ready to leave for home. Toni was still asleep when she stole quietly out of the apartment at four in the morning. She had left her friend a note, and as she rode in the cab to the bus station, she found herself smiling again at the way life works. Niall had returned yesterday morning, his usual cheerful self, and invited them both out for the day. His friends were having a barbecue, and they lived two hours away, so he thought a nice ride in the country would be a pleasant way to spend a Sunday with his two favorite ladies. Karen smiled at the memory. She was glad she felt not even a twinge of hurt that he had chosen Toni over her, because she would not have been able to return the heated regard with which he often pinned her friend. They had been circumspect throughout, though his friend had noticed the subtle signs of possessiveness in Niall's behavior, and had quietly ribbed him about it, when he thought no one was around.
She had not had time to read her e-mails before leaving, so she took the time to check them while she waited to board the bus. Peter's message was shorter than usual, and he had sent a set of notes for the week. Karen felt a vague misgiving, though nothing in the message gave her cause to feel that anything was wrong. She wondered what he had to ask her that needed him to speak with her directly. She had a whole day now to anticipate his call, and to prepare herself to hear his voice again. She read his notes next, trying to see if anything in them would give her a reason to worry that things were not right, but nothing felt wrong in them, either. She fretted about it the whole way home, and all day. By the time her phone rang after nine in the evening, she was a mass of nerves.
"This is Karen. How may I help you?"
"Good evening, Karen. It's Peter."
His voice stroked her, almost like a physical touch, and she inhaled deeply before answering.
"Hi, Peter. How are you?"
"I'm well, thank you, Karen. I hope you are, too?"
"Yes, thanks, I am."
There was definitely something wrong, but nothing he had said so far made it plain. Karen decided to take the bull by the horns.
"Is something wrong, Peter?" she asked quietly, and waited for his answer.
He paused, then cleared his throat and said, "Not really, no."
Which told her nothing, being the most inconclusive answer in the world. She bit back a sharp retort and waited, hoping he wouldn't make her wait too much longer before he relieved the growing tension between them. He didn't.
"I've been wanting to hear your voice again, actually, and to see you. And another rather serendipitous (that seems to be our word, doesn't it?) event might make that possible, if you're available."
He sounded conflicted, as though he wanted something he didn't think he would get from her. She clenched the fist not holding the phone and asked,
"And what is that?"
"My cousin Jannie is hosting a sixtieth birthday party for her husband in two weeks and has invited me to attend. I've accepted and she has said I may bring a friend. Would you care to join me?"
Karen's heart leapt, but she managed to keep her voice even. "Where is this party being held?"
"Jannie and Duncan live in Woodstock," he said. "It's very pretty country thereabouts, and if you're into day tripping, there's a lot of scenic touring to be done as well. Plus, it's close to Oxford and so on."
"Peter, I'd love to go with you, You don't have to sell me on it, okay?" Karen chuckled at him. He was clearly nervous, and she wanted to put him at ease, even though his nervousness eased her own mind. "Do I have to pack for more than an overnight stay?"
"Yes. We'll be arriving on Friday a little before the party, and staying till Sunday." He paused, then added, "You'll like my cousin. She was like a big sister to me when we were younger."
"When shall I be ready?" she wanted to know next.
"I'd like to set off by early afternoon, if you don't mind. Three o'clock would be good. It'll give us time to breathe before the party starts."
"I assume I'll be staying in a hotel?" Karen's tone was matter-of-fact.
"I'll let you know about that the next time we speak, I promise, but I shouldn't think so." He cleared his throat again, then said, "I'm glad you're coming with me. I've been wanting to break bread with you again, and to look into your lovely brown eyes as we talk of this and that."
Karen ducked her head and blushed, as though he were sitting next to her and could see her. "I've found that absence makes the memory go soft, haven't you?" She tried to pass off the attraction with a joke.
"No, I can't say I have," he disagreed softly, his voice a low seduction in her ear. "Your brown eyes have a ring of burnished gold around the very black center. There's no way to forget that. Nor would I wish to. I find them stimulating all by themselves."
Karen felt her cheeks warming again, and was happy he was not there to see her schoolgirl reactions. She chuckled, to hide her true feelings, and said,
"No more so than you blue eyes that can't decide if they're more blue than grey," she said.
He chuckled softly. "I've been told that before. They do seem to change color sometimes," he admitted, "but I'm not usually the one who notices it."
A small, comfortable silence ensued before Peter ended the call.
"I need to go now. I have to get up early in the morning. Lots to do before I go to work. Have a pleasant week!"
"Thanks, Peter. You too! Good night!"
"Good night, liefje!" Karen heard the endearment, and knew what it meant (Thank you, Betty Neels, she thought.) She hugged it to her heart as she hung up.
The next two weeks seemed to fly by, as Karen met her deadlines, met with Toni for a night out, so they could catch up -- she and Niall had hit it off, and Karen fought not to be envious of her friend's good fortune -- and by the time Peter called her to say she would be staying with him at his cousin's, she was in a fine state of anticipation mixed with some healthy trepidation. He had said the dress would be formal, as befitting her cousin's husband's status in the community, and his involvement in public life, aside from his practice. She packed and repacked her weekender, worrying over what to wear for the party itself, and what to wear while there so as not to embarrass herself or Peter. Finally, she settled on a little black dress -- when was that ever NOT a success? -- a sundress for Saturday and jeans and a t-shirt for Sunday. She finished packing, and went to sleep finally, after reading the notes he had sent her a few hours earlier.