I had just gotten out of a relationship with my last girlfriend, Corenne—we’d been together for a few years, and neither of us wanted to see an end to what we had, but you know how it is when you discover that you’re both great people, just not great for each other, right? So anyway, I was suddenly single again, and that’s when the trouble started.
I was hanging out with a friend of mine, Steve, I guy I had met in college, and we had a lot of the same interests, you know, sports, video games, pretty girls….
Wait, let me go back a little for a moment. Let’s talk about Corenne, my ex, for a second. She was a gorgeous woman, with clear green eyes, a dark complexion, and a trim, supple athletic body. She was also an absolute blast to be around and she had a number of girl friends that she would ask over from time to time. So there we would be, hosting a movie night at our place, maybe a half dozen of us there altogether, and I’d be the only guy. I used to wonder sometimes what Corenne told her friends about me, because she was the first woman I’d ever been with whose friends all seemed to really like me—and I mean, really like me. They were all flirty, though Corenne never seemed to mind. But then, she knew I was faithful, and maybe she got a little enjoyment out of seeing her friends fawn over me. In any case, it was only flirting, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Enter my friend Steve.
Like I said before, he was an old college buddy of mine, and he had just moved into the area after having spent a couple of years in Los Angeles. It was, at that time, his turn to have been recently separated, and he was sorta down on himself, so, when I suggested that we invite him over for the next movie night, Corenne quickly agreed.
And so it was, and that was how Steve met Corenne’s friend, Emma. Emma was a lot like Corenne, both beautiful, both smart, both funny, but the difference was that where Corenne was dark, Emma was light. And Steve fell in love with her the second he met her.
Luckily for Steve, when he wants to, he’s got the charm of three guys, and he turned it all on. Emma didn’t have a chance, the way I saw it, and it was only a matter of time before they were a couple. We didn’t see them very often for while, which I thought was quite normal, but eventually we began to catch up with them more and more. Their engagement was no surprise, not really, and everyone was more than happy for them.
It was during that engagement, though, that things got a little… unusual. Shortly after Steve and Emma’s engagement, Corenne and I decided to split. Like I said, it was amicable if still painful, and I decided to spend some time being single again. Corenne was special, and I wasn’t going to settle for someone less than her just to avoid sleeping alone. Such was my mindset.
Anyway, thanks for putting up with this backstory, so now we can move forward.
I was visiting Steve and Emma, which meant a bit of a flight for me. It was a holiday weekend, and Steve and I always kept warm places in our hearts for St. Patrick’s Day. So, the weekend began when Emma picked me up at the airport. My plane was a little late, but no worries, I was too relaxed to get worked up over something like that; I was working as an engineering consultant in Denver, and business was good which made me all smiles. When we were cleared to debark, I grabbed my one carry-on and hot-footed down the exit chute.
Stepping into the passenger lounge I spotted Emma right away, and was I ever glad that I saw her first. If not, she might’ve seen how I looked at her. She had on a pair of dark slacks made of this thin material I have no idea the name of—I heard them called “sassy pants” once, and I’ve never heard a more appropriate nickname. She also wore a sexy white blouse, a pair of heeled, black boots, and her light hair was wrapped up behind her head and held in place with a clip. I couldn’t help but remember the times, before she met Steve, when she would flirt with me on movie night. Images of her in the light green pajamas she would change into came quickly and they were hard to push away.
She was still scanning the other passengers for me when I put my thoughts back in check and tried to get her attention.
“Emma!” I called to her, raising my hand and beginning to walk toward her.
She spun in my direction and flashed a smile so brilliant I was afraid I was still going to get caught with the wrong sort of look on my face.
“Jack!” she replied. Suddenly she took the few steps left between us and threw her arms around me. I held on to my bag because I didn’t want to put both arms around her—I could smell her perfume, and the shampoo in her hair, and the thought of putting both arms around her right at that moment seemed like a bad idea. How would I explain it if I suddenly produced a pup tent while she was pressed against me?
So I looped my right arm around her, and she started laughing as she brought her head back to look at me.
“I didn’t know if I had the right plane,” she said, glancing at the terminal readouts. “When I didn’t see you,” she giggled now, “I started to doubt myself.”
“Well, you were right,” I said. “’Cause here I am.”
She stopped giggling and gave me a smile.
“Do you have to go to baggage claim?”
“Nope, I travel light,” I said, indicating my one carry on.
“So I’ve been told.”
Again, the smile.
“C’mon,” she said, separating from me but grabbing my hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
I followed her, trying to be casual about the quick glances I took at her sassy pants—sunglasses would have saved me the trouble, but how do you explain wearing them indoors? Luckily, whenever she looked back I was always ready with a smile for her.
It only took a couple minutes before we got to her vehicle, a new model Escalade, the truck version, white with giant 20” rims—maybe 22. Apparently Steve was doing well.
“When did you guys get this?” I asked. Steve had begun working in politics, though I was still a little shaky on just what it was he did.
“Last month,” she replied, as we both slid into the cab. I had never liked the Escalade before, but my goodness, it was an impressive truck up close. Maybe I needed to change my mind about them.
She started the engine and slowly got us out of the parking garage. In moments we were zooming down the freeway.
“Hey, do you have your cell phone handy?” she asked me, kind of out of the blue.
“Yeah,” I replied, pulling it from its pocket in my bag.
“I want you to put my cell number in your address book.”
“Okay,” I said, thumbing the buttons as she recited the number.
“Now, call it to be sure.”
I complied, and suddenly I heard a buzzing in the cab. It only took a second to realize the phone was in her lap. Actually, it was stuck between her thighs. I raised an eyebrow as I watched the little PCS vibrate.
“How long you gonna keep buzzing my crotch there, Tiger?” she asked, a wry tone in her voice.
Oh man, was I caught for sure that time. Immediately, I killed the call, and then I laughed casually—or so I hoped—while looking out my window. I would have given money, good money, to know whether I had turned red. Flirting with Emma had been so much easier when I was the one in a relationship, and as unfair as that sounds, I think it’s because I couldn’t imagine Steve being as comfortable with it as Corenne had been.
A moment later she brought my attention back from the bridges and fields that I had pointedly kept it on, and asked, “Do you remember Melinda?”
“Sure,” I replied, grateful that those had been the words she’d chosen to speak. Melinda had been a member of our movie group. She was the smallest of the girls, perfectly proportioned (well, as best I knew, anyway) but petite. Melinda was the only one who could keep up with me when I started spouting movie quotes—of course I remembered her. “How is she?”
“You can ask her yourself tonight,” Emma said, slyly. “I’ve invited her over. She couldn’t have been more excited. It’s been a long time since she’s seen you, y’know?”
“Yeah, it has been a long time since I’ve seen anyone.”
Emma nodded, and then asked if I had any ‘nice’ clothes with me.
“In this?” I asked, pulling my bag a few inches off the foot well floor. “No way. Why? I thought Steve said all I would need are jeans?”
“Hold on, Turbo!” Emma said, taking a hand off the wheel to hold it up at me. “I just asked because I was thinking the four of us might like to go somewhere nice for dinner tomorrow night.”
I didn’t really need time to think about it, it was a no-brainer.
“No problem, we’ll just need to stop somewhere so I can get something.”
Emma smiled wide.
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
The rest of the drive was filled with small talk about our respective jobs and current events, and it wasn’t long before we pulled into the driveway of the two-story home she shared with Steve. It sat on a couple of dozen acres or so, and it was beautiful countryside. I said so.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it, Jack?” she said as we got out of the truck. “The land is one of the big reasons we bought this place.”
I took a quick look around. I didn’t see any houses.
“We don’t have a lot of neighbors, as you can see, and we like it that way. Must seem strange to you, all this space.”
I grew up in a city, and I still lived in one.
“No, not really,” I said, shaking my head a little bit. “I like it. It feels good.”
“There’s no Starbucks within walking distance, though….” She teased.
I laughed. Either she remembered how much I liked coffee, or Starbucks had become synonymous with urban life. Either way, it was funny to me. I hefted my bag over my shoulder and Emma took that as a cue or something.
We walked up the porch steps and she unlocked the front door, looking over her shoulder to make sure I was behind her.
“Would you like to see your room first, so you can put your things down, and then I’ll give you a tour of the whole house?”
I nodded. “Fine by me.”
“All the bedrooms are upstairs,” she said, leading me up a slightly curving staircase. We came to a landing of sorts, with a bedroom off to the left, a bathroom straight ahead, and a short hall leading to the right. I took the first bedroom I saw, the one to the left of the staircase. It was nice, not appointed too feminine.
I put my bag down and turned to her. She was a lot closer than I expected, and I brushed her breasts with my elbow as I turned.
“Whoops, sorry,” I apologized, though I couldn’t help the start of a small chuckle.
But she turned as if I’d never spoken.
“Let me show you the rest of the house now.”
She grabbed my hand and half dragged me across the landing. Down the hall was the master bedroom, and off to the side were two other bedrooms. Soon she was showing me the master bath, and the large tub she seemed very pleased with, when suddenly she asked, “Do you still see Corenne?”
I was a bit surprised, really, but Corenne was a friend of hers after all.
“No,” I replied, shrugging. “She has her life now, and I have mine.”
“Do you know if she’s doing okay?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. That, I did know. “She’s doing really well.”
“I miss her, sometimes.”
“Well, you don’t live so close together anymore, but—“
“Do you miss her?”
I raised an eyebrow at that. Emma had… I don’t know how else to express this, but in my experience, every girl has a certain look, a particular facial expression that somehow brings something to the surface that normally never gets there—you have to know her well to recognize it, and I was seeing it in Emma.
“Yes,” I replied. Simple. And truthful.
She watched me a second longer, shifting her gaze over my shoulder, her eyes losing focus. She was thinking of something, or remembering.
Seemingly unaware, she took a half step closer to me. She was still looking at something I couldn’t see.
“She really loved you.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I stayed quiet.
“I could see that in the way she looked at you,” she continued, still not looking at me, and taking another half step. “The way she laughed when she made you smile.”
By now she was very close to me, so close she put her hand on my chest and it almost bridged the distance between us.
“What happened?” she asked, finally looking up at me. “Where did that go?”
“I don’t know, Emmie, sometimes people just… grow apart.”
It was strange, but as I spoke it was as if her face grew more troubled.
“What is this about, anyway?” I asked, putting a hand on her elbow.
She took a breath, her eyes searching my face for something. A very long moment passed.
Then the front door unexpectedly slammed downstairs, and we both nearly jumped out of our skin. She suddenly pushed away from me.
“I’m sorry,” she said, needlessly smoothing her pants. She flashed a smile, genuine, but not as self assured as usual. “I didn’t mean to pry. I’ll bet you’re dying to see Steve?”
As if on cue, my old friend s voice called from downstairs.
“Emm? You upstairs? Did you pick up Jack at the airport? Hey, you guys better be decent!” he laughed after that last remark.
“We just beat you here, sweetheart,” Emma called down the stairs as we came down. Steve wasn’t at the bottom, but at the closet by the front door, hanging his coat.
“Jack!” he said, grinning widely. “How the Hell are you?”
He walked over and grabbed my hand in a firm shake. I couldn’t help grinning back.
“I’m great, man,” I said, glad to see him. “It’s been a while. We need to catch up.”
“Well, why don’t we do that right now? I have just the thing,” he turned back into the closet and grabbed a cigar box from the shelf. “Honey, we’re going out on to the deck. Join us?”
“Maybe in a little bit,” Emma replied, smiling at us both. “But I’ll want to be sure dinner is ready when Melinda gets here.”
“Ahh, Melinda,” Steve said, pulling two cigars from the box and looking at me pointedly while he handed me one. “She’s sizzling.”
Emma turned away and headed off to what I later learned was the living room, as if she hadn’t heard. She was good at that.
“Is she now?” I asked Steve.
“Oh yes,” he nodded, directing me to the kitchen. “You don’t remember her?”
“Sure I do,” I replied as he opened the screen door that led to the deck that overlooked their property. “It’s just been a while.”
“Right,” he nodded, walking out. I followed him and got a look at the view.
It was magnificent. Mountains off to the East, rolling prairies and bits of forest from here to there. The sun was getting low, and the sky was painted orange.
“My God, Steve,” I said, surely sounding awed. “No wonder you bought this place.”
“I know,” he replied, smiling.
It didn’t take long to light up and get relaxed.
Emma was nice enough to check on us, notice that we had forgotten something to drink and brought out a couple of ice cold bottles of hefeweizen. While she was out with us, Steve asked her to check on the hot tub to see if it was ready to use later. That brought a grin to my face, and Steve laughed when he noticed.
He tugged on his beer, and then with a sly smile added, “You don’t think I’d miss a chance to get Melinda and my wife in a hot tub together do you?”
I shook my head, grabbing my own bottle.
The tub was off to my right and down a few wooden steps. It had it’s own little landing and everything. I watched Emma check it.
“So what exactly is it you do, now, Steve?” I asked, changing topics.
After about twenty minutes I had him pinned down to political consultant, though, I wouldn’t have put money on it. Apparently we were both finding success in the consulting business.
A little while later, as the sun set, we just sat there quietly. Emma hadn’t been seen since she checked the tub.
“How long’s it been, now, Jack?” Steve asked me, as we both stared off into the dark orange clouds in the mountainous skyline.
“Since we’ve done this?” I asked, though I knew that’s what he’d meant. “It’s been a long time. Almost a year, I guess. It was only a month or so after you two got engaged.”
“Yeah, that sounds right.”
“Now that I think about it, you two have been engaged for quite a while.”
Steve just nodded.
“We both wanted a long engagement,” he said, settling into his chair a little deeper. “To find out if we were really compatible.”
“You must be. You bought a house together,” I said, tilting my beer towards him a little.
“Yeah,” Steve answered, almost absently.
I sat there, quietly for a moment. I was doing a lot of that.
Breaking the silence, Emma slid open the glass door and walked out. Melinda was with her, and I immediately stood up. Mel was wearing some faded blue jeans, immaculate top-siders, and a hot little yellow, cotton, form-fitting, sleeveless shirt. Her hair hung to just below her shoulders, and it was straight and dark with just a tiny curl up at the ends. Steve was right, Melinda looked great. Really great.
“Jack!” Flashing a brilliant smile, Melinda took the few quick steps around the little table Steve and I were sitting at and slipped her arms around me. “How have you been, Stranger?”
She only hugged me for a moment, and then she pushed herself away, giving me a haughty look that at first I took for real. Damn if I forgot how her eyes could flash!
“I’m good—“ I started.
“Are you?” she asked, putting her hands on her hips. “I wouldn’t know. You know why?”
“Because you don’t write. You don’t call… you don’t anything! You’re a regular hermit.”
I laughed at that.
“I’m sorry, Mel, I’ve been very busy.”
“Have you now?” she replied, coming back to me. She waited a long moment as she seemed to be weighing me or what I said. Then, finally, “Well, why don’t we go inside and you can tell me all about it, then?”
“Good idea,” Steve agreed. “I’m starved.”
We went inside, Steve and I leaving our cigars out in the ash tray of course, and settled down for dinner. The sun was below the horizon when we started, but the sky was dark long before we finished. We all had a lot of catching up to do. I was still trying to learn what Steve did for a living, if nothing else.
Emma had arranged a wonderful spread, and Steve uncorked an excellent bottle of Merlot.
I soon learned that Melinda had become an athletic trainer at a nearby university, and that, surprisingly, she was considering an offer of employment that would bring her out near me. That could prove interesting. Melinda had an off-again, on-again romance with a guy, I can never remember his name, but it was clear they were currently off.
I watched Steve and Emma a little as we all took turns directing the conversation. At the moment they seemed very happy, and they often exchanged glances, occasionally reaching out and touching one another’s hands. Earlier, they had both seemed a bit odd, but that was gone now.
Soon we were carrying plates and dishes into the kitchen. The sink was enormous, with an extra large wash basin and in no time we had the dishwasher filled to the brim. Once done with that chore, Steve left to get another bottle of wine, so Melinda, Emma and I sat around the little kitchen table that sat off to the side in a nook.
As Mel and Emma continued a conversation they’d started during dinner, I found myself getting up and walking over to the big bay kitchen window. I was trying to get a look out it, but it was so completely dark outside, and the lights inside were so bright it was barely easier than looking through a mirror. As I leaned over the sink, the lights in the kitchen went out, and a moment later I realized Mel and Emma weren’t talking.
I could finally see, it was truly a beautiful view, and it didn’t take long to notice that I was sharing the view with my two friends. Both of them had quietly walked up to either side of me, Emma on my right and Mel on my left, and we all stood over the sink looking out at the dark landscape.