His mind raced, heartbeat revving while he struggled to think of a response to the inevitable. Then it registered that Rita had said something else, added something he hadn't caught.
"I asked if you're all right, Tom. You seem distracted ... Distant, as if something's on your mind."
Tom shook his head to support the evasion, his eyes sliding from Rita's face.
"Uh ... No. I'm okay." He sipped at his beer and avoided her intense scrutiny. "I'm okay, Rita. Honest." Damn, now he was lying to her.
The hubbub of a summer night, a Friday night at that, swelled around the couple as Rita leaned forward and reached out a hand.
Time slowed for him and Tom noticed the thin gold strap of |Rita's watch, a delicate adornment on her wrist when her fingers brushed the back of his hand.
"Are you sure, Tom?" she persisted, her voice low. "Is it ... is it something to do with what you saw ... you know ... something that happened ... down there, in the Falklands?"
Rita hesitated, a fingernail tracing a light pattern over Tom's wrist.
"Or is it me?" she added on a whisper.
The finger ceased its meandering and Rita eased back away from him.
"Do I make you feel uncomfortable, Tom?"
He felt the heat rise and cursed inwardly as the blush rose in his face, a hot tide of embarrassment that had him reaching for his pint to hide his discomfit. Three quick swallows and half the beer disappeared.
"Whatever it is, you can tell me, darling."
Would she never shut up? How could he stop this?
He sat there in silence while pub noises continued to rise and fall around him. The curious detachment came over him again, the same feeling as when he'd been in the middle of all that joyous activity after stepping off the bus and sidling away to the front of the Quartermaster's store. He was part of the scene yet oddly uninvolved. The happy crowd surrounding him had no bearing, no influence on how he felt inside. They were extras in a film about him, although now the difference was another actor had joined the cast.
He wanted to tell her but was held back by guilt, fettered by the thought of his mother's reaction if she was there with them. It was the same old story of tongue-tied inaction. The words were there but refused to come.
Yes, Rita, it's you. I can't tell you how much I want to lean in and kiss you right now. You're sitting there, so fucking lovely, so gorgeous, but I just can't bring myself to tell you. I can see you looking at me now and I wonder what it would be like kissing you. My cock's hard from me just thinking about you taking off that dress. I want to see you naked, Rita. I want to watch you sucking my dick. Fuck ... can't you just understand that I want you to wank my cock and let me fuck you? It isn't anything to do with the army, Rita. It's nothing to do with any of that. It's all to do with you and how much I want you.
In the end he mumbled, "I ... I'm okay, Rita."
Their glasses were empty again, and once more, for the fourth time, Rita suggested a refill. When Tom had gone, swallowed up by the crowd she analysed her position.
The vodka buzzed in her head, she was in that place, bubbling with confidence, the benign evening slowly turning inky-dark as Rita decided enough was enough and the time had come.
No more messing about.
And when she saw him returning, his trim, athletic figure moving over the patio towards her, Rita's resolve stiffened.
She lit a cigarette and watched him as he placed the glasses on the table and sat down.
"Can I be frank with you, Tom?"
His eyes slowly lifted, drawn upwards by the silence that followed between them. And when Tom's eyes eventually met her appraisal she felt a hollowness balloon in her stomach, an aching void, the yearning for fulfilment.
The urge to lift up a hand and caress the side of his face was almost overwhelming, breath hitched in her chest and it was suddenly difficult to breathe. Her heart felt as though it was being squeezed, her mouth opened but nothing emerged.
She saw his eyes snatched away and wondered at his inability to look at her.
It was the weight of his sigh that provoked her, that desolate sound and the three large vodkas inside her as well as him breathing, "Oh, Rita," that was the catalyst.
"Tom," she began, hesitating still. Rita sucked at the cigarette and blew smoke skywards. "I have to tell you something. It ... It's difficult for me and I'm worried that I'm going to make a fool of myself. But, the thing is, well, I seem to have a bit of a crush on you, Tom."
The cigarette waved in airy circles and Rita giggled.
"I know you probably think I'm a silly old woman..." She sighed and shook her head. "...And you're probably right. But the thing is ... I can't help it. It's been on my mind for a few days."
Another pause while she considered her words.
"Well, actually it's been longer than that, it all really started when I came to your passing-out parade, Tom. I realised then that you've blossomed into quite a handsome man."
Oh God, I'm blushing.
"And I was so worried about you ... When you were away. And now you're back and here and--
"Oh, Tom. I'm sorry. I don't mean to make things awkward. But you said things to me that made me think ... I just wondered. I mean, do you like me, too?"
Tom boggled, not quite believing what his ears heard, what Rita had said.
And still she kept on, babbling in her rush to get it all out before he had a chance to react.
"Oh, I know your mum and me were friends forever, I've known you since you were born ... But you're a man now, Tom. A brave, good-looking man, and I find you very, very attractive.
"Anyway, that's about it, Tom. I had to say something because I think that perhaps, just maybe, that you might like me a little bit, too. I hope you do, Tom. At least a little. I hope you find me a bit attractive but I'm not sure. I'm as old as your mother and you probably think I'm a fat old dollop." Rita's gaze slid away for a moment but then returned. "But you said I looked gorgeous ... Did you mean it, Tom? Do you really think that, or was it just something kind to say?"
The candid outpouring staggered him.
"Rita," he croaked. "I ... uh ... I."
To Tom's horror he saw Rita's eyes widen, her expression aghast.
"Oh God," she gasped. "I've made a fool of myself, haven't I?"
The sense of dismay deepened when Tom realised Rita had mistaken his stuttering for revulsion. He watched her reaching for her for her bag, her head shaking from side-to-side.
"I'm sorry, Tom," Rita mumbled as she rose to her feet. Her face tilted skyward as she stood there, fist clenched at her side. "Why did I say it? You stupid woman. You stupid, foolish woman. What were you thinking?"
He had to make her stop, had to put an end to Rita's self-castigation and make her understand how he felt.
"I meant it," Tom blurted.
The thought that Rita was about to leave forced the words out of him, that her obvious pain and humiliation were unnecessary, a mistake.
"Rita, I meant what I said. Honest, I meant it. I really do think you're lovely. I just didn't know how to tell you. I daren't say anything. I mean ... shit ... come on ... look at you..." Tom's cheeks ballooned as the air blew out of him.
Understanding and relief softened Rita's with delighted surprise.
"Oh my God. Tom ... Really?"
He nodded. "Really."
"Do you like me enough to kiss me?"
It would stay with them both for years. Their return to the house, walking hand-in-hand past the gates, the light fading quickly by that time, would linger in memory. There was no hurry, no rush; it was as though now their feelings had been revealed they had time to dawdle, sharing kisses as they paused frequently, murmuring endearments, both slightly dazed.
For Tom his lack of experience held him back, prevented him from rushing Rita along. Part of him was eager to get her home, keen to strip her bare and to lunge at her with his hard-on ready for action. But his naivety prevented any impetuosity, and Tom wondered if he would be able to satisfy a sophisticated, worldly woman like Rita. He was loathe to charge ahead as subtle as a bayonet charge in case he got it wrong.
So they walked, strolled with no apparent urgency.
"Tom," she murmured. "I ... I'm so nervous. I can't believe you really want to do it. With me, I mean."
Rita's face was pale under the yellow sodium lights as Tom leaned in for another kiss. She tasted of tobacco and lime juice when her mouth opened and her tongue pushed between his lips. His cock pulsed, already stiff while his hands came up to Rita's waist. The kiss lengthened, became something more than their earlier kisses.
Rita's sighs mingled with a long, low, feral groan from Tom, lust flaring between Rita's legs, a molten flow of desire while exhilaration burst in Tom's chest.
"You do want to do it with me as much as I want to with you," Rita growled after breaking contact. She leaned back, inclining at the waist to better see Tom's face. "Kiss me again, Tom, and then take me home. I'm so ready for you."
They ignored Megan when they all but fell through the front door. Their mouths were locked together, tongues twirling in serpentine dance of unbridled lust when the door banged open. Tom held Rita upright, his hands at her waist as he bundled her inside and kicked the front door shut, his cock bulging with desire while Rita gasped and moaned.
Rita's fingers scrabbled at his belt with urgent desperation. She wanted to see what he had to offer, longed to feel the pulse of his yearning in her fist.
"Oh God," Rita mumbled when she pulled away from the kiss. "I haven't been this ready for a very long time, Tom. You want to fuck me, don't you?"
There was wonder in his expression, a look that stirred her on a primal level.
"Let me see it," she muttered, unzipping him. "Take off that shirt," she added, voice cracking with her need. "Oh God, just take off your clothes ... Hurry ... Take off your boots ... Get naked for me, darling."
He thought it was going to happen there on the stairs. Tom imagined an unbridled frenzy of sliding flesh, hot kisses and grappling as he fell against the wall, struggling to comply with Rita's garbled and breathless instructions. He unlaced a boot and kicked the thing down the hall before hopping on one leg to remove the other. He sat on the stairs and yanked off his socks while Megan yapped and scampered around, excited by the frenzy of activity she had no part in.
A gasp and a low-voiced mutter came from Rita. "Look at you," she murmured, eyes fixed on the jut of his tumescence. "Good God, Tom. Look at that lovely cock."
Rita's forefinger pointed towards the ceiling.
"Upstairs, darling. Go upstairs while I'll shut Megan in the kitchen. Go to my bedroom." She paused, ignoring the yip-yip-yap from the terrier, eyes shining. Rita advanced upon him while he stood there, naked. "When I get up there we can make love."
Tom gasped when elegant fingers curled around his erection, his jeans at his knees.
"All night, we can fuck the night away, you lovely man."
Emboldened with desire, flushed with yearning, her sex molten, Rita sucked Tom's tongue, caressing the length of him while he moaned into her mouth.
She broke away with a gasp, sighing out as she pushed past him. "I want you to do it to me so I'm sore from you in the morning."
Tom stared after Rita as she led the dog away.
"Bloody hell," he mumbled. "I don't fucking believe it. This is it. This. Is. It."
He held the waist of his jeans in one hand, belt flapping and jangling as he rushed up the stairs.
Naked and nervous Tom lay on Rita's bed. He was there by invitation, she wanted him there. This time he wasn't sneaking around.
Suddenly she was there with him, standing next to the bed, him wondering what to do with his hands as she stood there, her stare mapping the contours of his body.
"Oh. My. God. Look at you, my lovely Adonis."
He'd hoped Rita would strip out of her dress He yearned to see her naked, to finally appreciate Rita in undraped glory.
Uncertain and very self-conscious, Tom's hands hovered over his penis.
She chuckled and said, "Don't hide away, darling."
A brisk walk to the window and the world was behind drawn curtains. He watched her silhouette move around the bed before low light cast a glow around the room.
After flicking on the bedside lamp, Rita sat on the edge of the bed, the mattress dipping.
Tom waited, unsure, and in a way this rite of passage was every bit as frightening as when he'd been stomach-down in the icy peat waiting for battle. On this occasion, as before, his overriding concern was how he would perform. Would he make the grade or would he fail?
Of course the situation at that moment, with Rita sitting beside him, Tom's life wasn't in danger. There was no physical threat yet the same apprehension gnawed at his vitals as, poised on the cusp of carnal knowledge, just as in the hours and minutes and finally the seconds before the machine guns opened up to signal the beginning of the attack up that hill, Tom was paradoxically impatient to get on with it and terrified for it to begin.
He gasped, belly concave when Rita's fingers splayed over the taut muscles of his stomach. Tom groaned, expecting her to grab at his root and to stroke his cock, but instead Rita slid her palm up towards his chest.
"So fit," she murmured, her heavy-lidded gaze roaming over his torso. "Lovely muscles, firm and sexy."
Unable to resist the need Tom clasped his hard-on in one fist, tugging at himself while he reached for Rita with the other hand.
He cupped one breast, feeling her body through layers of clothing, moaning at her to take it all off.
Fumbling at the top button of her dress with useless fingers, he mumbled, "For fuck's sake, Rita, please, please take the dress off."
Her voice came to him, soothing and composed.
"Calm down, Tom." She laid a restraining hand over his wrist. "Don't wank it and come too soon." Her hand eased his from his erection. "Don't waste it."
Tom swallowed and blinked, his mouth gaping. He looked at her.
"I can't help it," he whined, almost childlike in his petulance. "Look at me. Look at what you do to me."
"You wanted me undressed. Just let me take this off and then we can kiss and cuddle and ... and we can make love."
"Fuck ... Rita ... Please..." His hand strayed towards his cock in response when Rita stood.
"Leave it," she snapped. "Don't touch yourself. Just wait."
Tom obeyed as though responding to a shouted order on the battlefield or parade ground, his hand jerking away from his cock. He lay there in a parody of the position of attention: legs together, arms by his side as he boggled up to where Rita's fingers flicked open the buttons of her dress. He mumbled an oath when Rita's bra was exposed, sucking in a deep breath when, finally, the dress gaped open, unbuttoned along its entire length.
"Are you sure you want me to take the dress off, Tom?" asked Rita, her fingers grasping the drapes of the dress like a flasher in readiness. "I'm not a girl any more. You might be used to tight-bodied young things, and an old lady like me might put you off."
"You're just so lovely, Rita," Tom murmured. His cock throbbed, pulsed with desire for her.
And still, to Tom's frustration, with tantalising glimpses of bare thighs above the surprise of stockings, with flashes of smooth flesh also swelling from her bra, Rita refused to pull off that fucking dress.
How many times did he have to tell her he found her so desirable, so beautiful? What would it take to get her undressed and into bed?
She hesitated, insecurity showing in her expression. "If the women in your past have all been your age ... Well, you know, I just hope I'm not a disappointment."
"You couldn't be a disappointment, Rita. I told you, I think you're absolutely gorgeous. You're so sexy. I can't tell you how I feel when I look at you. I want to kiss you and touch you, and ... and..." Oh, the things he wanted to do to her, with her...
"I don't care how old you are. You're just so beautiful and fucking sexy. I want you to take off your dress and come here so we can do it. I'm so fucking randy ... I want to fuck you, Rita."
And then the confession blurted out of him, the words spilling from Tom before he had time to realise just what he was saying. "There haven't been any women. No girls my own age. I've never done it before. You're my first."
Rita's hands fell to her sides, her body slumping with surprise while her mouth gaped. "A virgin? You? Oh God, I don't believe it."
She listened with growing incredulity while he told her.
Rita sat on the bed while he explained about how joining the army had been about proving himself to his father, about how joining the paras had been about proving something to himself. He knew his father had doubted he would survive the rigours of basic training, and so Tom had persevered. The jumps course, parachute training, had been easy in comparison, and six months after he'd stepped off the train at Aldershot, his hair curling at his collar, Tom wore the maroon beret and cap badge of his regiment with pride. He was also proud of the wings on his right shoulder, a symbol of what he had done.
Being sent to the South Atlantic so soon after joining the battalion had been fate. That jaunt had been an accident, a fluke of timing, pure and simple. But the result was he'd been propelled towards the teeth of a machine that could easily have ground him up with virginity still intact.
Tom told her that being shunted around different schools -- the result of his father's military career -- had left him shy and introverted, awkward around girls. He always seemed to say the wrong thing, had no natural rapport with the opposite sex, and that their off-hand rejection had left him painfully shy, his mother's death only exacerbating the problem.
In the end he merely shrugged and said, "I dunno, Rita, I'm just not that great around girls."
Another lengthy pause while Rita boggled, her mouth working with no words forthcoming.
"Oh, Tom," she sighed, eventually. Her eyes glistened. "Oh, darling Tom; I'm going to be your first?"
Tom sucked in a breath when the dress fell from Rita's shoulders. "Bloody hell," he muttered while, a Mona Lisa smile on her face, Rita posed for a moment.
"There," she smirked a second before she pulled the bra away from her breasts. "Is this what you wanted to see?"
Tom swallowed and nodded, his tongue sliding over dry lips.
"What about...?" Rita grinned, thumbs hooked into the waistband of her underwear.
She revelled at the deep longing in Tom's long, drawn-out groan. A flick of her foot sent her knickers across the room.
"I shave it," she said by way of explanation while Tom gaped at her smooth pudendum. "My former husband preferred me this way." Rita's grin broadened and she winked. "I've grown to like it as well. And I must admit I've had some comments from the few men who came after my divorce. The reaction has been a bit like yours now, Tom. Surprised and speechless." Rita chuckled. "You didn't expect that from old Rita, eh?"
Rita settled onto the bed, on her knees next to him. She leaned in to kiss his mouth.
"A virgin," she murmured. "I'll make it special for you, my lovely man."
They kissed again, and Tom gasped when her fingers curled around his girth.
The idea came to her fully formed; she knew what she could do for him. But there was the potential problem of Tom peaking too soon.
Still, that was easily remedied.
Rita laid the length of her body alongside his and rested on one elbow, the other hand manipulating Tom's hard-on with slow strokes. Her expression turned dreamy, wistful while she thought through her idea.