Falling in Love AgainbyYourLittleAngelle©
"Man! That one's going to make me go home and burn through an entire box of tissues!" Craig enthused, watching as the nude and curvy blonde on the catwalk sprinted back to the brass pole, leaping into the air to grab it with her dainty feet and hang upside down for a split second before slipping slowly to the floor, a practiced smile sculpting her cherry red lips.
"She's Cute," Joey agreed, sipping his watered down soda. "But her tits are too big." Craig rolled his eyes.
"We're here to have fun, Joey. None of that mourning shit."
"What? Just because I said her tits are too big?" Joey's hazel eyes sparked with barely contained anger. "Not every comment I make about a woman is because I'm comparing her to... I just can't win with you can I? I mean fuck, Craig." Getting to his feet, he snatched up the pack of cigarettes on the table and started for the exit.
Around him, patrons of Club Eden were mingling with strippers at the tip rail or on the floor, hidden behind cubicles for couch dances, or getting ripped off in the VIP room.
He hadn't really wanted to come in the first place and didn't need Craig's attitude tonight. If his friend's idea of support were to constantly dissect each of Joey's statements, he'd take his chances getting by alone, even if tomorrow would be one of the most difficult days of the year.
"Joey!" Craig called, but the slight young man kept walking, his dark hair gleaming softly in the ambient lighting as he left the club.
Breezing past the bouncers and hatcheck girl, he only craved fresh air and the silent confines of his car. The lot was pretty full for a weeknight, and he settled into his late model red sedan with a sigh, pounding the steering wheel with his fists.
I promised myself I wouldn't think about her tonight, he chastised himself as he cranked the engine into drive, not caring what Craig had to say about all this later. I've got to get back to my life sometime. Blasting the radio, his car cut through the night, the windows down to admit a brisk breeze. Can I go one day without saying her name out loud?
"Damn it, Beth." The tormented tenseness in his face told him all he needed to know as tears threatened to spill from his long lashes. Nope. Not one day.
Thankfully, the next day was a blur. Helping customers load huge television sets and costly computer set ups into their enormous cars and SUVs, settling complaints from lippy college girls who acted as if they totally understood all the fine points of gadgets when he knew they'd be back in an hour with questions, or placating disgruntled grandparents concerning the incorrect game they'd purchased for their spoiled grandchildren.
By the time lunch rolled around on that unusually warm February morning, he shouldered the shame and went out behind the building to have a smoke and make a phone call. There was no way he could make it through this, the day devoted to romance and lovers, without a little help.
"Hi, Nancy. Is Dr. Hansen in today?"
"Yes, Joseph, she is. Would you like to schedule an appointment?"
"I don't know if I'd like to... It's more of a should situation."
"I understand," Nancy's soft matronly tone sympathized. "She's got a five thirty space available. Shall I write you down?"
"I'd be happy to. We'll see you then, Joseph."
Flipping shut the sleek black mobile phone, Joey stared at his dingy, formerly white tennis shoes, then at his ragged nails.
"You're a fucking mess." He muttered to himself before stubbing out his smoke and trudging back inside to complete yet another meaningless workday.
"How are things going, Joey?" Dr. Martha Hansen sat perched on the edge of her expensive office chair, cutting through the dim office like a silvery knife with her long pale legs, white skirt, blouse, and jacket. Her platinum blonde hair was pulled back into a professional chignon at the nape of her swanlike neck. With a gaze clear and sharp as winter ice, she surveyed her client from within an impenetrable calm. "So what brought you back to see me today?"
Joey floundered under her subtle scrutinizing study of his every move, his eyes flicking nervously from the arresting beauty of his psychologist to the dusty beams of spring sunshine slanting in through the drawn and mostly closed blinds. Inhaling a lungful of her disarmingly seductive perfume, he focused his gaze on her delicate porcelain hands.
"Same thing that always brings me back here," He mumbled, his slender fingers clasped together in self-conscious stress. "She's been on my mind a lot lately and I feel like a pussy. Today has been hell, and it's really hard not to think about her when I see all the couples out celebrating or guys buying flowers and things for their girlfriends. I needed some advice."
Dr. Hansen's fair and feathery lashes fluttered for an instant before she jotted something down in the notebook effortlessly balanced on one dainty knee.
"Well, as I've mentioned before, you suffered a tremendous loss, Joseph. It's certainly not uncommon for you to have lingering feelings of blame and conflict. And I don't imagine the holiday today makes it any easier for you."
"I've got to get her out of my head," Joey frowned, running his hands through his handsomely tousled hair. "This has to stop. I went out with Craig last night, and though I didn't own up to it, three guesses where my mind was most of the time."
"Where did you go?" The question was asked as softly as drifting snowflakes on a chill wind.
"Club Eden." A delicate lift of Dr. Hansen's left brow confirmed she knew the nature of the club without his need to endure further embarrassment by elaborating the lusty specifics.
"Do you think being around all those nude women in such an arousing environment triggered memories of your intimate moments with Beth?"
Joey's eyes grew distant. In his mind, he sat in Beth's black leather recliner as she knelt above him, one calve on each arm rest, the dewy perfection of her delicate cleft just inches from his lips as she undulated to some sultry ambient music for a couple minutes, then giggled, collapsing on top of him to shower his chest with her dark silken hair and a million little kisses from her rosebud lips.
"Maybe." Joey conceded, returning his gaze to the woman sitting across from him. Dr. Hansen nodded almost imperceptibly.
"It's been..." She paused, flipping through notes taken in a diminutive script. "One year and five months since the crash. On a scale of one to five, where would you say your emotional pain level is right now?"
"Fuck..." He shook his head, curling a hand beneath his stubbly chin. "Maybe a three and a half or four. But I'm not doing meds again."
"I understand. Look, Joey. I'm going to ask a couple questions and offer some suggestions. They might be a little hard, but I think you're strong enough now to handle them. Don't worry. We're going to start with three steps today. Are you ready?"
"Hit me." He replied in the affirmative, flopping back against the plump chocolate colored cushions of her microsuade sofa.
A flock of tenacious crows scattered as Joey hurled the last of the trash bags into the apartment complex dumpster. Perching on cars, balconies, and even a couple on the snow-dusted pavement a mere few feet away, they cawed indignantly as he turned back toward the building, waiting until he was well out of reach before they returned to their contraband feasting inside the huge metal bin.
His footfalls echoed off the enclosed stair well as Joey ran the four flights up to his own apartment, his heart a pounding techno beat in his ears. It was exhilarating and felt rather good to push himself like that. When was the last time he'd actually run? He couldn't remember.
Back inside his own small one bedroom apartment, the evidence of his work lay sorted, stacked, folded, or bagged all around him. Leaving his apartment for a new start wasn't an option in this town. He was already at the maximum rent payment his income could support, and besides, he sincerely did like his place.
Deciding together that relocation wasn't a viable option, he and Dr. Hansen had detailed an uncomplicated and brief step-by-step plan to try and get his life back on track. The first step was now in full swing during one of Joey's infrequent evenings off, and it was bearing fruit... well more along the lines of ocean breezes.
After arriving home from his appointment and an impromptu trip to the grocery store, he spent an hour diligently sorting through the heaps of post, pizza boxes, and other debris accumulated over the last couple months. With less clutter to tend to, he had started to truly clean his apartment for the first time in a long time. And not just sprinkling that scented powder over the carpet before vacuuming, either. His efforts stretched far beyond plugging in a warming air freshener claiming to be scented like the sea. He'd been to the coast hundreds of times, and had only smelled rotting sargassum, fish, and that vague salty sea air. The air freshener, though a fanciful interpretation of the sea, was a hundred times more pleasant and helped contribute to a burgeoning atmosphere of freshness and life that had long ago vacated his place.
While sorting things room by room, he had taken a careful inventory of his belongings and those of Beth that still adorned his apartment. Especially the ones he'd been loathed to move let alone touch.
A few make up compacts and tubes of lipstick still lay nestled against the wall on her side of the sink, and her container of pens and pencils still stood next to his on the desk in their...his bedroom. Even the closet still held memories, for hidden back in the corner behind an old cardboard carton he had discovered one of her small high-heeled shoes. It was black and looked almost new, and he wondered if she'd worn it more than once and why he'd missed it during the first early days after the crash and his subsequent attempts to box up most of her things. Had she worn those heels on one of their dates?
When he'd finally worked up the strength and resolve to pull her black silk kimono printed with jade green leaves and tiny red rosebuds off the hook on the back of the bathroom door, his pulse had raced. Suddenly feeling light headed, he had to sit down on the edge of the tub, cradling the wispy garment to his chest as a traitorous tear slipped down his cheek.
"I miss you baby." He whispered to the stillness around him as he let the silken sash slip between his fingers like water. Raising the fabric to his nose, he thought he could still smell a hint of the heady tea rose perfume she'd loved to wear, and his mind took flight.
Memories returned of his darling Beth waltzing around their tiny living room clad in that kimono, holding the acceptance letter to the University of Michigan's med school in her dainty hands while golden sunlight wrapped her in its radiant embrace. Joey had stood by, trying to be happy and supportive though he feared that this new twist of fate would push their little paradise to the verge of collapse. The memories progressed to Joey holding her slender kimono clad body a few days later as they had breakfast in bed, discussing her plans to attend the prestigious college. And most difficult of all after many more days of arguing about logistics of her continuing education, the recollection of she in that very kimono one last time, slumped against the kitchen doorway sobbing when he told her that leaving to go off to medical school when he couldn't afford to come along was inconsiderate and selfish. How her face had seemed so wan and pale, dominated by her tear filled brown eyes and the expression of shock and disappointment his words had caused. Only a few days later, she would die in an accident, her car skidding on the icy roads to collide with a truck in the other lane, while driving back from apartment hunting, hoping to find a place they could afford together to ease his mind.
"I'm so sorry, Bethie," Joey's voice broke as he clutched the bit of lingerie closer, his eyes squeezing shut to try and stop the pain and tears.
Silence pressed in around him and soon soothed his inflamed heart. Like a soldier staggering ever onward despite a fatal gash to the chest, he got up and determinedly left the bathroom, the black kimono draped over his arms.
With great care, he lay the garment on his pillow, turned up one of his favorite songs, and began to clean in haste while he sang along to the underground UK band's latest hit, determinedly not looking at the heap of black silk on the bed.
"You're the catalyst that makes things faster," Joey yelled along with the lead singer as he tossed clothes into the basket to wash and shelved long neglected books.
By the time the western sky was streaked with pastel pinks, oranges, and even a little brilliant gold, he was well on the way to completing the next step of Dr. Hansen's suggestion.
Standing at the stove, now accompanied by The Cure, Joey contemplatively stirred the beef, tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano and other herbs to make the spaghetti sauce. The apartment was completely cleaned; a very handsome place once all the clutter and dust had been cleared away.
After cleaning, Joey had taken a shower, embarrassed at the difference he'd made and how far he'd let things go. The tiles around him gleamed and shone with the effort he'd put into restoring some order into his surroundings, and if anyone stopped by for an impromptu visit, which was unlikely, he wouldn't need to keep the bathroom and bedroom doors closed out of self-conscious shame.
Given the significance of this romantic evening for lovers, he put a bit more care into how he dressed. Selecting a pair of black slacks and burgundy dress shirt, he looked especially handsome, just as he did when taking Beth out to a fancy dinner. Daring for the first time since her funeral to put on some of her favorite cologne, he felt surprised and a little guilty that he wasn't overwhelmed with more torrential sadness. Rather, he got lost in memories of picnics in the park or brisk walks together down busy city streets in the rain. A smile touched his lips as he gazed into his own eyes in the mirror, his skin recalling the feeling of her lips and embrace while she breathlessly declared how nice his shirt smelled.
While pasta swished about in a low boil and the sauce simmered on the stove, Joey went to his coffee table and lit a small ivory votive. The golden point of flame danced gracefully atop the candle like a fiery ballerina in a soft breeze drifting in through the slightly opened window.
"It's tuberose," Joey said softly to the air around him. "I know it was one of your favorites." Shrugging sheepishly, he spared his shadowy reflection a glance in the glass, watching the sky darkening with each passing second. This isn't going to work, he thought as he returned to the kitchen. But the way I'm stumbling along now isn't going to work either.
The wine was chilled and the food was ready. Joey went to the stereo and put on one of Beth's favorite mix CDs, set a place for himself at the coffee table, then settled in to enjoy dinner for one, thus completing the last of three steps assigned to him by his gorgeous psychiatrist.
The apartment had been thoroughly cleaned, including removal of Beth's things. He had planned a way to say good-bye that made him comfortable and held sentimental value. And, now he would enjoy one last romantic dinner with his beloved, ending a day that would hopefully be like any other next year when paper hearts and boxes of chocolates flourished everywhere he looked.
Reclining against the sofa with his wine glass in hand, he raised it for a toast.
"To you, Elisabeth Jane..." Pausing, he decided to continue on with what his heart had longed for; he began again, giving her his last name. "To you, Elisabeth Jane Davis. My best friend, my lover, and the woman of my dreams..." His words faltered and he propped them up with the strength of optimism that things would turn out for the best after tonight. "I love you. I'll always love you. And most of all, I'm sorry for the things I said to you. I just didn't want us to have any more worries, and it came out all wrong. "I know you're with me tonight, and I thought we could have one last dinner just for us." Tentatively, he kissed the rim of the glass, and then hoisted it high. "To you, my love. I miss you so much and won't ever forget you. Happy Valentine's Day. Cheers."
Downing the wine in a few determined gulps, he refilled his glass. As he contemplatively chewed a bite of garlic bread, Joey recalled Beth's first bashful dinner invitation, and of course she had served him this dish with a nervous smile and expectant expression in her beautiful eyes.
They made love for the first time that night, and he finally knew the bliss of falling asleep in her sweet embrace as a tangible reality of soft kisses and softer flesh, not a long dreamed of fantasy. It had been beyond his most erotic hopes and lusty dreams. It was perfect.
After dinner and half the bottle of wine, Joey got to his feet, put his plate in the sink, and went to the bookshelf in the corner of the room to retrieve an album of photographs. Many were printed from their digital camera while others he had been given by Beth's mother to keep, including a couple featuring Beth as a wide eyed and adorable child.
Belly full of food and wine, Joey settled into the black leather recliner, album in hand to reminisce. It wasn't an act he looked forward to enduring, but as part of the greater attempt to fully accept and embrace the event and the full magnitude of his grief, he recognized that it was something that needed to be done.
Fittingly enough, when he was about a third of the way through the album and almost to the end of the wine, "Pictures of You" began to play. Flipping to the next page, Joey paused. Beth grinned saucily up at him from a blanket in the sand, her long dark hair capturing caramel highlights from the sun, her Gibson Girl body shown off to its best advantage in a lilac colored string bikini.
"You got one hell of a sun burn that day," Joey smiled, carefully tracing the clear cellophane page that protected the pictures with his thumb. "I remember rubbing aloe gel all over your back. Your skin was so hot but still so soft..."
Perhaps it was the wine, but his body felt warmer than it had before dinner. Burning all those calories running up and down the stairs, hauling bags, and moving boxes must have taken their toll, because he felt very drowsy and content despite the flood of memories revealed in the pictures.
On still another page, Beth lay dozing in the tub. She had worked a ridiculous amount of hours that day on top of classes, and though Joey had jokingly warned her about taking a bath when she was so exhausted for fear she'd drown, she just laughed him off. In the picture, one leg was propped up on the edge of the tub while she rested against the back, her arms folded behind her head as if she were posing. Her small breasts jutted upward as if in intentional defiance of gravity, strawberry pink nipples erect from the chill or her dreams.
Joey looked up from the album, rubbing his eyes. Fuck, I'm tired and it's only ten o'clock, he thought to himself, carefully laying the album on the near by table and pouring the last bit of wine into his glass. As he sipped, he got lost in his own mental slideshow of photographs, surprised at his ability to see the joy and beauty in them rather than focusing on the horrible ending that came just months later.
Somewhere down the hall, someone's speakers began to crank out a dance beat at an obscene volume. Joey closed his eyes, always unable to resist trying to identify the track. As he strained to listen, he relaxed, leaning back to put up the footrest of the chair, his arms resting at his sides.