"My arithmetic still needs improvement," I said, sliding my report card across the table to her, "but I'd like to think my printing is still worthy of your 'Excellent.' "
Julia picked up the card, and as I studied her smile in the candlelight, it occurred to me that I was still her student even 25 years later, still eager to please. And that she was still absolutely beautiful.
"My goodness... you kept this?" she said. "After all these years?"
"It was my last good report card, Julia," I joked. "Why wouldn't I keep it?"
The name "Julia" sounded strange on my lips. She was, and in many ways would forever be, Miss Russell. She had been my teacher in the second grade, and she was the first woman upon whom I had a hopeless, heart aching crush.
As I watched her study my report card, I thought about many things.
I was still in her classroom, sitting at a tiny desk with an inkwell, and I could still see her precise schoolteacher's hand on the blackboard, above which was every letter of the alphabet in careful script. Each letter was a model of textbook penmanship.
I could still hear the squeak of the chalk, and smell the paste we made from flour and water, the chunky slop that made even a small exercise book six inches thick. I could still see the mountains of paper on her desk, and I could still smell her perfume, the delicate scent I could swear she wore even today.
I could remember first walking into Miss Russell's class that September morning, and then feeling dry in the throat for a full school year. Of course, this wasn't like the crush I would have on Mrs. Crawford in the eighth grade, when an adolescent boy was trying to sort out all kinds of confusing messages being cross wired by his body and his brain. But this was every bit as magical, and even more so.
As a left-hander, I struggled with my printing, forever dragging my wrist through the ink of my cartridge pen, making an unholy mess of every sentence I tried. But Miss Russell was also left-handed, and she taught me a trick or two, taking my hand in hers, showing me how to angle the pen away from the wet ink.
I did all the silly things a smitten schoolboy does, volunteering to clean the blackboard erasers, tidy up the classroom. More than one day, I was still in the recess yard when she left for the day, not by accident, and I would make it a point to wave goodbye. To her, I was, and I remain, Andrew. Never the abbreviated Andy, never Drew, which I heard from my friends. Strangely, I felt like a grownup around her.
"Now that I think about it, Andrew, I remember you had trouble concentrating in arithmetic class."
Julia's voice brought me back from my daydreams, and I smiled at her recollection.
"Thank heaven for calculators, Julia," I replied. "I manage my taxes fine, but just don't ask me to decipher the Pythagorean theorem."
We laughed together, and I poured another glass of Beaujolais for us both.
I passed the second grade that year and moved on to the third, transferred to a new school closer to my home. I saw Julia seldom in the years that followed. With the attention span of a typical youngster, there were other things in my life. She was soon just a signature on a report card.
But through the years, I've often thought about her, lately more than ever. I still drive past that grade school a couple of times a week, and I have a few black and white photographs of her at her desk. I've even been back in the school's corridors when the building has been used as a polling station for municipal elections. Twice, I have gone back into room 3D; twice, I could still see Julia at her desk, at her blackboard. The desks with inkwells are gone, replaced by computer stations.
I went on to a good career in writing, living within the shadow of that school, and once in a blue moon I'd find that second-grade report card in my files. I'd laugh about my strong marks in penmanship (but only in the final term), and my weakness in arithmetic. Even then, Julia saw me headed for the creative arts, not the sciences.
And now, here we were, in the elegant dining room of a downtown hotel, 25 years after I left her class. I am looking at her, and surely she sees it in my eyes: I still have a crush on this lovely woman. A damp-palmed, short-of-breath, butterflies-in-the-stomach crush.
It's almost incredible how we have reconnected.
Much of my published work is online in various forms, feature stories and profiles written for magazines, newspapers and books in a half-dozen countries. I received an e-mail a year ago from a kind woman in New Zealand, named Julia according to her return address, telling me she had been touched by one of my stories. She closed with, "It's funny to think that I taught a boy in school many years ago who had the same name as you."
It took just one exchange of e-mails, and digging into my files to find my second-grade report card, to realize that this Julia was in fact MY Julia. Small world, indeed, and soon we were writing each other twice or three times a month, marking birthdays, sharing stories of the past and present.
She had taken early retirement and moved to Auckland, where she had married and divorced. But with friends and family still in Canada and no children to keep in school, she told me she came home every few years for an extended visit. Since our mutual rediscovery, we had arranged to meet on her next visit, and I made dinner reservations at the Ritz, a marvellous dining room in the city's best hotel.
No longer was I eight years old. I was 33. She was 54.
I met Julia in the lobby, and my heart nearly stopped when I saw her drift toward me, the cotton dress of muted pastels billowing gently around her summer-bare legs. She was every bit as graceful as I remembered her from the second grade.
I kissed her on both cheeks and hugged her tight. Gone were her horn-rimmed glasses in my pictures. She was fuller than the teacher I recalled and I loved how she looked and felt, pleasantly soft to my touch, womanly at the hips. Her hair was shoulder-length, a tousled, honey blonde. Once more, my mouth was dry.
So many years, so much water under the bridge. We were tucked away in a cozy corner of the restaurant as I had requested, in flickering candlelight, and we sipped our wine and ate our meals almost in slow motion. It was over coffee and dessert that I showed Julia my report card.
She was touched that it has meant so much to me over the years, and when she slid it back across to me, our fingers met, and she placed hers over mine, patting them.
"How wonderful to find you again after all these years," she said, not removing her hand, and the fire I felt was my blushing or the wine or a returning crush that was was nearly overcoming me.
All through dinner, I kept trying to push the impure thoughts out of my mind. This was a quiet, casual meeting, and it was a beautiful coincidence that we had found each other after three decades. She had been my teacher, and I had been just one of her hundreds of former students. I was 21 years her junior, even if she looked 10 years younger than she was. She had a full, rewarding life half a world away, so who was I to read more into this than what she must be feeling?
Now we were in the hotel bar, sipping our second cognac, sitting on a small sofa, and none of that mattered.
I had been trying to find the words to tell her what this evening meant to me. But when the words wouldn't come, I reached out and took her hand in both of mine. Julia looked at me and said nothing. But she smiled, and she returned my squeeze.
"What time are you expected home?" I asked, feeling protective and foolish at the same time.
"I'm a big girl, Andrew. My father won't be waiting up."
I cleared my throat, swirled my snifter in my hand, took another sip and shifted to face her, every ounce of courage in my body needed for what I'd say next.
"Julia ... what if you don't go home?"
She blinked wordlessly, and the few seconds of silence between us felt like a lifetime. Then:
"Andrew," she said steadily, still holding my hand, "I would be delighted not to go home."
I leaned in to her and kissed her gently on her cheek, savoring the softness of her skin on my lips.
"Come," I said, getting to my feet.
We were the last ones in the bar on this weeknight at 1 a.m., and I suppose the bartender was happy to see us take our leave. I paid the check, tipping him generously for his discretion, and took Julia by the hand out into the quiet lobby. There was one female clerk behind the check-in counter, the only noise being a janitor buffing the marble floor. I checked us in to a room on the 22nd floor.
This was better than going back to my home, no matter that it was only a half-hour's drive away. This hotel was charming, old world, utterly romantic, and it added to the magic that here was where Julia and I would get to know each more intimately than a student knows his teacher.
I took her in my arms in the elevator and hugged her, then reached up and held her face in my hands. Finally, in this light, I saw her as I so badly needed to, rubbing her cheeks with my thumbs as I absorbed her completely. Julia's wide, expressive eyes saw right through me, as they had 30 years ago when I wasn't paying attention in class. There was something quite wonderful and womanly about the fine lines at their corners, a softness and a kindness in the smile that she had worn all her life.
We said little now; how to relate the swirl of emotions we both were feeling?
I was still carressing Julia's face when the elevator stopped on the 22nd floor and the brass doors opened to a silent, carpeted hallway. Within a moment we were inside our room, a large, antique-furnished suite with a king-size bed, enormous bathroom with a huge tub, a thick sofa, two wingbacks and a magnificent view of the city below. Together we looked at the skyline through the sheer curtains, and then I turned to face Julia.
"We're out late on a school night, Miss Russell," I said, and her face lit up.
"Well," she replied, "if you don't tell my parents, I won't tell yours."
I laughed, and then I kissed her, softly and tenderly, tasting her warm lips on mine for the first time. It was almost surreal, and yet it was the most real sensation I might have ever felt. We kissed for a long minute, and I didn't ever want to let her go.
"Excuse me a minute?" Julia said, then slipped around me and disappeared into the bathroom.
I'd been looking into the city lights for a few minutes, my head swimming. And now, having dimmed the room but for one small corner lamp, I heard the click of the bathroom door. I turned slowly and when I saw her, I thought my knees were going to buckle.
Julia was wearing a burgundy silk, spaghetti-strap slip, scooped low enough to reveal her lovely cleavage and the hint of a bra, and a matching pair of silk shorts, almost like boxers. She was barefoot.
In this light, the burgundy contrasted to her pale skin from the New Zealand winter and her honey-blonde hair that hung layered at her shoulders. I was thunderstruck.
"Oh, my," I managed weakly, taking two steps toward her. She looked to the floor, her timid side showing for the first time on this evening, until I took her chin in my hand and lifted it up, again kissing her.
"You're a vision, Julia. I can't put you into words."
"That's quite a predicament for someone who writes for a living," she said lightly, breaking a tension we both felt.
I had already shrugged out of my suit jacket and slipped out of my shoes and socks, and now we moved toward the bed which I had turned down while she was freshening up. Now I was certain: Julia's perfume, which I now had on my hands, was the same fragrance she wore 25 years ago. I settled her onto the edge of the bed and lifted her legs off the floor, sliding her up until her head was on a thick pillow and she was comfortably reclined.
I was in no hurry, nor was Julia. I wanted to savor every moment with her, and I looked at her as I removed my French cuffs, silk tie and wool trousers, then slipped up onto the bed and moved atop her, easing myself down so she would feel just a little of my weight, supported by my arms. I was wearing only hunter green silk boxers.
"Andrew, I don't know what to say to you," Julia began, almost in a whisper. "You know I'm old enough..."
"Shhh," I said, pressing a finger to her lips. "Not one word."
I lowered myself a little more and kissed her again, this time our mouths parting slightly, our tongues slipping through each other's lips. I'm sure she felt my passion in more than one way; part of it was making itself known in a swelling below my waist, now pressing into the heat of her loins.
I reached to Julia's shoulders and carefully slid the spaghetti straps down and off her delicate arms, her slip now gathered in a wrap around the softness of her stomach. With that I looked down, and I inhaled sharply at the view she presented.
She was wearing an exquisite demi-bra, a lacy silk that was cut low across her breasts and came within a fraction of an inch of revealing her nipples, clear to me as they pushed up into the fabric. I lowered my head slowly and burrowed my face in her warm cleavage, feeling her bosom rise and fall quickly, then turned my head to her left breast and cupped it in my hand. She was trembling.
I had never felt a greater caring of a woman in my life. I wanted to treat her like a queen, make her blissfully happy. Her pleasure now was the absolute center of my universe.
"Julia, you are beautiful, so very, very beautiful," I kept murmuring, still feebly looking for words.
With that I dipped my fingers beneath the fringe of her bra and pulled it down with great care, baring her left breast almost fully. Her areola was a dusty rose, generous of size, swollen and contracted even in the heat of this room. I leaned down and traced my tongue around it in two long, slow, lazy circles, then moved across its puckered plain to lick the nipple and suck it tenderly into my mouth. Julia's soft moans encouraged me and aroused me further.
With a twist of my thumb and forefinger, I opened her front-clasped bra and peeled it away, exposing her bosom completely, and I suckled her from left to right and back, feathering kisses to her collarbone and her neck, up to her lips and back down, brushing back the hair which fell around her.
I reached behind Julia and lifted her slip over her head, dropping it with her bra on the far side of the bed. I could feel the astonishing heat radiating from her midriff as I kissed the soft skin on the bottom curve of her breasts, then down her ribs, across her stomach and to her navel, her internal organs each raging like small furnaces.
We lay very still for a moment, and I listened to her pounding heart. Mine surely was keeping time with hers, and I swallowed hard before I spoke again.
"I want these, Julia," I whispered to her, and she felt my hands at the waistband of her silky shorts. She lifted her hips very slightly off the bed and I gently eased them down, over her hips and down her thighs to her ankles, slipping them off altogether.
I had been with women almost one-third of Julia's age, and not one could compare to the natural beauty that was laying before me now. I kissed her right knee and moved up her thigh, nibbling and licking as I moved inside to her softest skin, her legs parting slowly at my gentle insistence. By now I was laying directly between Julia's legs, and with each breath I was intoxicated by her faint womanly fragrance.
Her pussy was moist and shimmering, even in this light, her sparse blonde hair neatly trimmed and shaved around the tender folds that were prominently exposed with a dewy wetness. I wanted to taste her more than anything I've ever wanted in my life, and I eased my tongue gingerly the length of a velvet-soft crease which curled at and hugged my touch.
Julia was liquid honey, and I had the urge to devour her whole. She was giving herself to me completely, an ultimate trust, laying back, her eyes closed, her body mine to enjoy as I wished.
My only wish was to please her, and I kissed and licked and nipped at her in a way that was selfish, too. She was responsive to my touch, and to her own; she was kneading her breasts as I tended to her elsewhere, pinching her nipples which were magnificently erect.
Julia was nearing her most intimate pleasure, reaching down and taking my head in her hands, guiding me, coaching me, taking me where she needed me. Her clitoris was like a tiny, hard penis, exposing itself to me, begging to be suckled. It was between my lips, at the tip of my tongue, when she shuddered and cried out softly, her thighs closing tight on my head. I persisted, and she lifted a little off the bed and dropped back down, her body trembling.
I held and stroked and soothed her as her orgasm crested and yielded to the aftershocks that were rolling through her, then crawled back up and lay atop her, kissing her eyelashes. She was stroking my lightly whiskered jaw, whimpering, then softly sobbing.
I hugged her tight to me, wanting to comfort her, to hold her and fuss over her and pay loving attention to her. This was the most natural thing in the world, holding this woman close, kissing her forehead, her cheekbones.
Again, her bosom was a magnet for me, and I nuzzled into her, licking at her nipples. She rolled onto her stomach, stretching like a cat, and showed me her lovely creamy-white behind. I lay atop her like this for an hour, my cock laying full in the valley between her cheeks.
"Andrew," she finally said to me, stirring to life, her spirits brightening, tumbling me off as she turned onto a side. "You are overdressed."
I laughed at the thought. I had been in no hurry to leave her side for an instant, even to slip out of my boxers. I slid off the bed and made a motion to remove my shorts, but Julia stopped me.
"C'mere," she said playfully.
She was feeling bolder, more confident about herself, and as I stepped to the side of the bed, she reached forward and undid the two buttons, reaching inside.
"So this is what you've been hiding from your teacher," she scolded me playfully. "You'll be staying after class today, young man."
Julia withdrew her hand from the open fly of my boxers, and in it she held my cock, which was engorged and full and harder than I think I'd been since I was a teenager. She pulled me nearer, slipped my shorts down my legs and coaxed me back onto the bed, rubbing her hand up my shaft and back down.
In a short moment I was between her legs again, my hand joining hers to guide my hardness. Romantic, even old-fashioned lovemaking. So perfect.
I felt the heat of Julia's sex even before my cock touched it, then nuzzled the head to her lips. Her legs were wrapped around my lower back, her heels drumming softly on the base of my spine, as I pushed gently, my shaft parting her lips and sliding into her moist body. The penetration was complete, and it was heavenly.
We were still, and then we began to move together, slowly. This is the way two bodies are meant to couple, I thought: our rhythm and fit and sense of pace and need was exquisitely in tune. Julia lifted her hips to meet my thrusts, the quiet of the room punctuated by her moans, by mine, and by the fluid sounds of our bodies joining in the most delicious way. Her nails were lightly raking my back when I felt the familiar, undeniable pressure start to build deep inside me, and my more forceful thrusts signalled to her that my end was near.
Julia's hands dug into my behind and pulled me in harder, closer. I looked down to her and saw her head back, eyes closed, a look of deep pleasure on her face, and that was what sent me over the edge. I came in an unfathomable fury, throbbing deep into the woman who had stolen my heart on this night, and many years earlier.