tagRomanceLong Time Coming

Long Time Coming


It was our second actual date, or what felt like a date: that uncomfortable, self-conscious state where two people feel they have to behave not exactly like themselves and in a wholly unrealistic way. But it was the twentieth or thirtieth time we had been alone together since Dave, her husband and my best friend had died. And over the course of years, it was probably the five-hundredth time we had gotten together for dinner, drinks, a joint, and a night of the kind of intimate talk and giddy laughter that good friends share.

Dave had died in the late spring, just before his forty-first birthday. Pancreatic cancer was mercifully quick, merciful for him that is, but that's what really counts. The rest of us were dazed and in shock at the sudden and unexpected haste with which he had departed and from a relatively rare disease, especially in one so young.

Dave and Jill didn't have any kids as she couldn't get pregnant; they always joked that I was the child they never could have (evidence that such a union would come to naught anyway). This joke started after they married, after grad school, and I—seemingly committed to eternal singlehood—still got together with them and a group of friends we shared. All of us had met at the same college and loving where we lived, decided to settle down to jobs in the same town.

But then David passed, and the lodestar in our circle of friends was extinguished. We all were devastated, and we pulled together in our grief, but over the months the potlucks to help Jill weather the long, lonely nights in their house trailed off as everyone got on with their lives, and regular visits dwindled to regular phone calls. I was Dave's best man at their wedding and had been an institution at their house: a regular for the Friday night "feed Carson a decent meal that isn't junk food" get-together, and an instigator of Sunday touch-football games, hikes, camping trips and the like.

They never made me feel as if I was imposing, and I eventually stopped asking them if I was. Did Jill and I flirt through some of those visits, in our late twenties, skinny-dipping in mountain streams, or around the fire before I fell asleep to the muffled sounds of their lovemaking in the faux privacy of their tent?

Sure we did. Dave even joked about it at times. But it was respectful flirting that we all knew would never in a million years jeopardize our friendship. She was five years our junior, funny and drop-dead sexy, smarter than most, and after a few drinks used language that was scandalously trashy. People who didn't know her were amazed at the twisted and slutty images that poured from that little mouth in the most perfectly enunciated English.

And she dressed to highlight what she had: creamy, milk-white skin that tanned brown like a muffin, long sinuous legs, large, pear-sized, slightly teardrop breasts that were near to perfection, and a delightfully muscled, shapely little butt. She was one of the few women I have heard regularly wishing for a fatter ass. Dave would roll his eyes, shake his head with a twisted smile and tell her that she should forever thank him for marrying such an ugly duckling. She would turn away to hide the smile she grew when she was feigning embarrassment over the compliments, but she knew she turned heads, having had to slap a few of the more overzealous across the years.

So it had come down to this. The last Friday in October we had gone out, and we had drunk a few too many beers with the crowd. After the two of us returned to her house, laughing and sitting together on the couch, our knees crossed under us and touched as had happened over the years; an unwelcome moment of uncomfortable silence entered the room as we looked at each other, her hand comfortable and soft on my inner thigh just above the knee as she emphasized a point. Then we looked away from each other and as subtly as little kids holding their ears and making noises to block out an unwanted lecture, we foolishly moved our knees an inch or two apart, a distance that might as well have parted them a thousand miles.

On any other night I would have crashed unselfconsciously in the guest bed, usually rising early and quietly slipping away to my house, or hung around and made coffee. But it was as if we both simultaneously realized the same thing: Dave was gone, and in his place the long banked and controlled fire we shared suddenly had flared up.

I finished my beer, mumbled a 'goodnight' and glumly walked home—that's how closely we lived to each other. And once home it both comforted and confused me to know that my own stirrings were not unrequited. I fell asleep to the image of her nipples, bra-less and poking through her thin sweater, an image that reassured me that maybe we were in the same place in some small way.

The next week though, I called, as usual, and at about the same time, but couldn't manage to catch her at home. Early Friday evening came and went, and what I had done on most Friday nights for years, whether I was dating someone or not, apparently was not in the cards that night. I began to wonder if normalcy would ever return, or if I had finally and at the most illogical time worn out my welcome.

Ten-thirty came and went, and I was about to move to the study to read before bedtime. As I sat munching pretzels and washing them down with the last of a beer the phone rang. It was Jill. I could hear her crying over a frayed cell phone connection so poor that I could hardly make out her words, but I was pulling on my boots nonetheless as we spoke so upset was her voice.

"Where are you" I asked as I was donning my coat, assuming that I was going to have to drive and pick her up, somewhere, for some reason.

"In my car" I managed to make out, "sitting in front of my house."

"You're in front of your house" I repeated, my coat on by just a sleeve, because now I did not quite understand.

"Yes" she sobbed through the fading connection.

"Why don't you go inside, Jill" I said, still not understanding what was wrong.

"I can't. I can't ever. I don't know where to go; I didn't know who to call. I should go. I just don't know where" she started to say before I cut her off.

"Stay right where you are; I'm on my way."

I hung up and ran out the door, down the two blocks and up the third to her house. There she was, in her car, the cell phone still hanging limp in her hand that rested on the steering wheel. I walked up to the window and crouched down to tap on it.

She lowered it, and it was obvious that she not only had been crying, but her clothes were on the one hand a mess, and on the other hand she obviously was dressed to kill, like she had intended to go clubbing but had been caught in a tornado on the way. Her makeup was smeared and her eye shadow had followed the path of tears that had run down her cheeks.

"What happened" I asked, standing up and walking to the passenger door, opening it and getting in. She smelled of cigarette smoke and perfume and, if I wasn't mistaken, a man's aftershave.

Her eyes focused everywhere but on my face as she haltingly described a date that had turned into a wrestling match with an overzealous paramour. Near as I could figure, eventually she had flipped out and, apparently, the guy refusing to take no for an answer, she additionally had dragged her nails across some part of his body, kicked him in the groin (no mean feat in the guy's car with a console between them) and bolted from his car to hers. She was terrified that he still was following her, but quite obviously he wasn't. The street was quiet.

"I drove by your place and. . . I couldn't bring myself to. . . I feel like I" and again she broke into tears.

I let her cry for a while longer before I interjected, softly and perhaps a bit too strongly, "were you afraid to go into your house because of him, Jill, because if the bastard is after you he's a dead man, girlfriend." I slipped unconsciously into our old patter, and I heard her laugh through her tears.

"My knight in shining armor. Carson, I. . ." she began a sentence and choked it off before she had finished.

Finally after a few minutes of silence as we listened to each other breathing, I said, "look, I'm freezing my ass off. Can I drive to my place? You can get yourself together, get a cup of tea or a beer or whatever and settle down. Stay there, come back here; I'll take you wherever you want."

She thought about it for a minute, sniffed and silently nodded. I got out and circled to the driver's side door, opened it and said "slide over, let me drive."

She took a deep breath, unbuckled her seatbelt and negotiated her way over the stick to the passenger's seat, no mean feat dressed as she was.

I adjusted the seat and drove silently the few blocks to my place. I noticed more specifically how she was dressed as we walked to the door, her coat hanging open against the cold. She was wearing stiletto heels, patterned nylons with a line down the back of each leg, and a short, little black dress with a plunging neckline that dipped low and accented the bare tops of her breasts which were pushed up and held tightly together by her bra. Her hair was falling down, but it had been done up more formally than I had seen it since her wedding.

Inside I took her coat, shaking my head at her attire, and she asked to use the "restroom." "Jill, it's me. 'Can you use the restroom?' This isn't a restaurant. We have some shit to straighten out, that's for sure, if you're starting to ask me if you can use the 'restroom'."

Tears started to well again in her eyes but she blinked them back. She sniffed and said "sorry." As she was about to go down the hallway she asked if I "had anything she could wear to get out of these fuck-me clothes." That sounded like the old Jill, but why she was wearing 'fuck-me' clothes remained to be seen.

"Sure" I said, giving her one of my flannel shirts and a pair of her gray sweats she had forgotten there years before. She laughed when she saw them. When she was gone I stoked the fireplace so that it would be roaring and warm shortly.

It took her forever to return, but by then I had tea brewed and a bottle of cognac aside two glasses on the low coffee table in front of the fire. When she returned her feet were bare, and I could see her toes matched the red nail polish on her fingers. My shirt hung half-buttoned and un-tucked over the waist of the sweats. She had let down, and her face was washed clean of makeup.

"Pick what you want to drink" I said; "I have to get out of these 'pity me, I like to look homeless' clothes" I continued, and she laughed, again like the old Jill, as I went to use the bathroom myself.

In the bathroom her night-out clothes were balled and thrown haphazardly into a corner next to the shower—something very un-Jill like. A pair of gossamer-thin, lace panties and a matching bra was also not Jill-like, but they were part of the pile. It was a bra that only really covered the bottoms of a woman's boobs, so the tops could be pushed together and showed off. Hers showed really well too I had to admit.

Picking up the clothes to keep them from getting dirty I could smell her body and her perfume, so perfectly familiar even from a distance. I buried my face in them and inhaled a confusing head-full of Jill that conjured images of things that we had never done, like me relaxing, my head pillowed between her soft breasts or even more intimately between her velvety thighs. I shook my head to clear it and after getting myself together returned to the living room.

I was relieved to see her on the floor, curled into some oversized fluffy pillows she had pulled from the couch, a cognac in hand and one poured for me on the coffee table. I sat down opposite her, cross-legged and upright, trying to appear both friendly and platonically strong to purge the thoughts I was still fighting from just seconds before. In the warmth of the fire, the room had taken on her scent as if even the room conspired to defeat me.

"So" I said, looking at her.

"So" she repeated and sniffed into a tissue, almost resigned to what was coming next as she sipped her cognac and dabbed at her nose.

"Are you going to tell me about tonight or what?'

"I did tell you" she said evasively; "I fucked up; there's nothing to tell."

"Oh, so close to Mr. Right, but he turned out to be, what? Not a rapist exactly. I guess not; I hope not. How about a cad? Or is that too British? It's none of my business Jill, but I thought you had more people-sense." I knew I was going to piss her off beginning like this, but I thought she needed a push if she was going to explain what was going on.

"That's not fair; this hasn't been easy" she shot back, setting her glass down and glaring at the fire, then shaking her head and picking her glass back up for a drink. I couldn't tell if she was angry or hurt, but she unadvisedly gulped her cognac and choked on it.

"I'm sorry" I said, now pulling back to give her an easier opening to explain. "So you've found somebody you're really into, or you thought so."

She picked up the rest of her cognac and swirled it as she stared into it, shaking her head in the affirmative and finally looking up at me dryly, blinking back a tear "yes, I guess I have."

"And what attracted you to Mr. Cad?"

"Nothing" she said, staring at me, "not a damned thing."

"Interesting set of standards you have there: nothing" I repeated, and let the word hang in the air a while.

"Carson" she said, staring at me and again shaking her head, "are you really that fucking dense?"

"Uh" I thought, well this isn't working, "dense, well, maybe. Look, Jill, we've known each other for a long time. Could you just give me the benefit of the doubt and cut to the chase here?"

"Sure. I've got problems, head problems I guess. My husband died, and for some odd reason I can't seem to get over it five months later. And the one good thing" she paused to think, "anyway, I can't find a way around to the one good thing. I mean, everything is so fucking complicated."

She sat in silence for a while before she said, angrily, "buy a weekly fucking cucumber and read romance novels. Then I can enjoy myself and make a salad later. Different sizes, some sort of variety. I just want to. . . don't people deserve. . ." and then the tears started again though she was trying desperately to control herself.

"Here," I pushed the box of tissues toward her and waited a long time until she settled again. Two tissues later she floored me: "don't you ever just want to do someone Carson? I mean, make love. With someone?"

"Someone, with someone, yes. Uh, I suppose, well yes, obviously, you know me; I mean, you've known me for years" I sputtered.

"No, I haven't" she said in a soft, sort of quavering voice. And then it hit me. I paused for a minute or two to get rid of the lump now in my throat. Without saying a word, I set my drink on the table, knee-walked over to her, pulled her away from the pillows enough to find a space for me, put my arm around her, laid an extended leg between her two, and kissed her hair on the back of her head. I let my lips stay there, enjoying the pressure of contact and the smell of her hair as she virtually collapsed.

I don't think I've ever been with anyone who cried quite as much as Jill did that night; she literally sobbed as I eventually shifted to hold her body tightly against me, her tears wetting the sleeve of my shirt. If we hadn't the years of friendship behind us I don't know how I would have reacted to such upset.

But when she had finished, for a long time neither of us said a thing until she repeated in a soft voice: "you really can be dense."

"So, what's Mr. Cad have to do with this?"

Without a moment's hesitation she launched into a speech, almost like she had been memorizing parts of it for weeks and now, when it was time to give it, screwed it all up: "Dave died. People die. You'll die. I'll die. I can't take it anymore. And if last week, we had, I mean Dave's picture was everywhere. I don't know if I could have. Maybe a counselor. But tattoo boy and Ellen, and Mr. Cad, his name's Leo by the way, I should have fucking known. I don't know the guy who has the tattoos. You know Ellen, well probably not actually. And women aren't my thing anyway. But who in the fuck is named Leo? I thought if I just got over the urges, just got my ass pounded silly every now and then into the leather seats of someone's Mercedes, then we wouldn't have had to do anything. Because you're happy single. And I don't want to fuck things up. And you get some now and then. But I. . ."

And here she paused and swallowed, and it seemed like she was going to cry again. I had no earthly idea of what all she had just said, perhaps she was just venting I thought; maybe not. But before she could start hysterically babbling again I said "Jill, don't; no more; just spit it out, one sentence."

"Should I have to? I thought I did. I shouldn't. Dave wouldn't care. He even joked at the end that he knew we had a thing for each other, and that we had never had done anything about it, made him respect us both even more. I almost wanted to kill myself after he said it; it was like I felt too filthy to live. But I didn't. But if A and B made me feel weird, I thought C might not, because I kept going back and forth between a nun and a slut. But maybe I'm both."

"Well first of all" I said in my best sotto voice, finally realizing that we were in the same place, but had arrived there from very different directions, "I would never even consider you if you had done someone named Leo in a Mercedes. . . although I hear that hot buttered leather feels great on your cheeks."

"Jerk" she said and punched me hard in the leg.

"And secondly, what makes you think that you're the only one who would feel weird about it? Hmmm?"

She was thinking about that when I made a decision. You either act in this life, or life acts for you. "Come" I said, as I stood, pulled her to her feet in one sweeping motion, grabbed the bottle of cognac, my glass, her hand, and pulled her through the hallway toward my bedroom.

"Wait" she said, pulling in the other direction.

"What now" I said, fearing she might be unwilling, "if you're just over-thinking this. . ." but she stopped me before I could get the sentence out.

"Over-thinking my ass" she said, "I have to pee."

"Oh, sure" I said feeling sheepish as I let go of her and turned to go into my bedroom.

I didn't quite know what to do at first, certain that more talking was a very bad idea, so eventually I stood by the door and waited for her, which conveniently took forever it seemed. She took so long that I thought she had changed her mind.

When she finally made it to the room I had lit about ten candles collected from several rooms, turned down the bed and made the room a little less messy. She had somehow, and to this day I don't know how she did it, but she had pulled herself together so much that the lost look she had worn previously had receded. She looked positively beautiful in the flickering, orange-yellow glow of the candles, and dressed in a thin flannel shirt and sweats she was at that moment the sexiest woman on Earth.

She looked shyly at me, simultaneously mature and virginal, and then said, tongue-in-cheek, "you better not have been listening at the bathroom door."

"I was; I've always loved listening to you pee" I said in the sexiest French accent I could muster.

"Carson, you almost make it sound fun. Like you didn't listen on those camping trips anyway."

"You were supposed to go farther away from the tent, girlfriend. It only serves you right."

"Maybe I liked knowing that you could hear" she shot back with a sexy growl, now resembling more the old Jill. She looked around the room wide-eyed, as if she was seeing it for the first time.

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