She leaves her house every morning and takes a cursory glance across the yard to the house next door. It’s not close, mind you, but close enough to see him. He always sits on the porch sipping his coffee, watching the birds fly. He’s a thinker, she can already tell. Thinking to herself, she’d love to know what goes on in that head of his, she bends to grab the paper from the bushes. The paperboy always seems to miss the doorstep but at least this time it was IN the bush and ten feet in front of it in the lawn.
He waves at her as she looks up, of course in his direction, and she raises her hand to acknowledge it. She’d love to sit and talk to him but how do you make something like that happen? Part of living out here where there is just… nothing but nature is that there is solitude. She thought that was what she wanted. Needed. However, the more she wondered about him the less she wanted solitude. Truth be told, she had almost marched right over and disrupted his coffee time a couple times but couldn’t find the nerve to be so brazen. She was positive she wasn’t his type. She had too much weight hanging around and having twins had done unmentionable things to her abdomen. Instinctively she threw an arm over her belly as the thought entered her mind. He was filled out in all the right places and seemed so comfortable in his own skin. She could see it in the way he moved around the yard in the evenings some times. No. She’d just keep daydreaming about a tall, broad stranger. Wondering what could be and hoping maybe he was curious too.
Moving back into the house, she pushed the door shut behind her. The click of the lock dropped a sense of loneliness onto her shoulders. There was something about this house that needed a crowd. She couldn’t put her finger on it but there was a pervasive sense of emptiness either emanating from her soul or from this house. Something told her it was her.
Shaking herself lose from her sullen thoughts, she set to work on her morning routine. She was supposed to be writing a novel and the publisher had gracefully pushed back the deadline but that wasn’t likely to happen again so she had try to get control of her mind. She stripped down out of her pajamas, an old t-shirt and some knit shorts. She bent to retrieve her clothes from the floor and upon standing noticed her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes showed the abject weariness of a woman long alone and insecure. Her body long since lost it’s shape to the pressures of carrying twins. The reminder bringing a rush of emptiness. She was sure she’d never recover from the loss of the babies. First one, then the other. Her marriage had ended not long after, neither of them able to cope with the pain. Sliding her fingers over the scar running down her abdomen she almost let the memories creep back in but quickly slammed the door. Not today. She couldn’t feel this today.
Tossing her dirty clothes in the hamper she headed for the shower. The faucet squeaked as she turned on the hot water. Making a mental note to fix that she turned on the cold and adjusted for the perfect temperature. She needed the consistent pounding of the water against her skin. Something to wash away the tension she could feel creeping into her neck.
Scrubbing vigorously over her whole body like she was washing away the memories, the tension began to subside. The ritual was one she was familiar with. It didn’t really work perfectly but the repetitive nature of it helped her calm down. Scalp, neck, shoulders, arms, chest, back, tummy, bottom, thighs, calves, shins, feet. The same every time. Turning the squeaky faucets once more the water stopped and her wet feet made contact with the soft bath rug. She wiggled her toes a bit, contemplative, trying to decide where to start with her story. She just couldn’t get her head around writing but the publisher wouldn’t be put off any longer, she had to get started. She towel dried her hair, letting the curls spring to life and went to work on her teeth while her body air dried. With all the scrubbing in the shower, she didn’t want to further irritate her skin with a rough towel. Slathering a cool lotion over her parched skin felt heavenly and warmed her mood.
She stepped into her soft panties and very worn denim capris. Not sure how they were even still holding together. A delicate bra and thin white v-neck tshirt completed the ensemble. She was simple. Never too much fuss, what was the point? Out here, she expected no company. There never was any to speak of, at least not impromptu company. The only company she ever had were long planned visits from family and college friends.
Pouring herself a glass of tea in the kitchen she heard footsteps outside. Who on earth… Her hand flew to her wet hair as a knock sounded on the door. “Oh God…” she choked. Slowly she made her way to the door. Her heart pounding out an urgent rhythm as if it was spurring her on. When she reached the door she peaked out the peephole and gasped. Holy hell, it was him. She shook out her hair as best she could and took a deep breath. This was it. Pulling open the door he turned to face her and a smile broke out across his face. She couldn’t stop the smile stretching across her face in echo.
“Hi there, I’m ah..Paul. I live next door?” He seemed nervous. Maybe he’s just shy.
“I’m Annie, it’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve almost come by a few times and just haven’t.” She couldn’t’ think of another word to say. She was so floored by his presence.
“I wish you had, it would have saved me this awkward meet and greet.” He laughed, an easy laugh. One she wanted to hear again, and again.
“Don’t be silly, I’d much rather you suffer.” Giggling she waved him in. “Can I bring you some tea?”
“Sure, sounds great. Thanks.” He glanced around nervously and she was a bit embarrassed by her lack of decorator skills.
“Sorry the house is so bare. I’m still figuring out where to put things. Decorating really isn’t my forte, I’m much more comfortable outside.’”
“Mine either. My ex-wife used to do all that and honestly, I don’t know where to begin.” Her eyebrows raised with the mention of the ex-wife. She wondered what had prompted a sane woman to leave such a decidedly handsome man but you never know how people truly are until you get to know them. Still….she must be nuts.
“Yeah, my ex-husband used to complain about how I did everything so I suppose I’m a little gun shy." She winced, “Sorry, that was probably a bit more than you needed to know.” She wasn’t used to talking about her divorce and wasn’t sure what exactly prompted something so personal. The utterance caused her to blush.
“Not at all, as a matter of fact I’m glad to know there’s an ex and not a current.” He smiled a half smile that made her gut twist. Sweet Jesus, she needed to get a grip.
“Right, so, your tea! I’ll be right back.” She practically ran from the room, desperate to get away. His presence was so all consuming and it made her nervous. She needed to chill, and fast.
He watched her leave the room, practically at full speed and wondered if he’d crossed a line. Trying and failing to keep his eyes above her waist, he groaned inwardly. She was curvy, and adorable. Her hips swung mercilessly even at that nervous speed. The curl to her hair, the blush to her cheek, those wide eyes blue and stormy. He was smitten. The question was how to gain her trust because he could already tell it was going to be difficult. She was wound tighter than a turkey the day before Thanksgiving, as his grandfather used to say. He had an idea, playing it out was going to take time and he had nothing but time.
She emerged from the kitchen carrying a pitcher and two glasses on a tray. Smiling at him, she tried to look calm but the humor in his expression was evidence enough that he was on to her.
“Shall we take these out back? I usually spend the morning on the deck. Sometimes you can catch the deer roaming by.” There, that seemed a casual enough way to say “Please don’t leave.”
“I’d love to. Catching the deer out for their morning graze is one of my favorite things.” Why did she feel like he was toying with her.
“Oh really? And what other things do you enjoy in the morning?” Where the hell did that come from! She raised an eyebrow at him and he chuckled.
“You really want to know?” He was baiting her and she knew it.
“Absolutely.” Who is this flirt and where was her sanity?
“I have this neighbor lady, she comes out every morning in her pajamas to get the paper. The rub is seeing how much I have to pay the paper boy to throw the paper short of the porch so I can watch her pick it up from the yard. Most of the time he’s successful but this morning he threw too hard and it landed in the bushes.” He grinned a huge grin at the look on her face. The shock dropping her jaw as a bright red blush spread across her cheeks.
“You’re joking!” She was completely flustered and quickly losing her head. He was watching her. On purpose. Surely there was a punch line. Oh please God, don’t let him be laughing at her expense.
“I’m not. It’s a horrible thing and I probably should be ashamed of myself but it’s a bright spot in my morning and I’d hate to give it up.” He looked a bit sorry and she couldn’t quite stifle a giggle.
“That might be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. That or you’re crazy.” Although she was leaning toward sweet.
“Let’s go with sweet, I like that. Just not my tea. I didn’t even think to ask, is this sweetened?” Good grief, she’d been that close to sweetening the whole pitcher. Wordlessly thanking heaven for not doing it she shook her head.
“No, I don’t drink mine sweet but I almost sweetened it because generally people around here drink their tea like syrup.” They laughed together, a warm encompassing laughter that she hadn’t experienced in too long.
“No, I like my women sweet and my tea bitter.” He chuckled and she smiled as she tried desperately to swallow her tea.
She feigned irritation, “This tea is NOT bitter! Of all the rude, ungrateful…”
He laughed from deep in his chest. “I didn’t say I liked it, either.”
Now it was her turn to laugh. He’s quick. “Ok, good point, well made.”
“Listen, I was wondering if you might like to take a walk. I know you like to watch the deer and they seem to frequent a creek on the far side of my acreage this time of day. I know it’s a bit hopeful for me to presume you’d spend the remainder of your morning with me but I’d really enjoy your company.” He fiddled with his glass nervously and she couldn’t help but smile at him. Her eyes flashing a bright blue in the sudden sunlight that poured across the deck as the clouds broke.
“I’d love to.” I was all she could squeak out. As hard as she tried to think of something amazingly witty to say in this moment her mind went blank at the boyish grin that spread across his unshaven face. Man, did she love scruff.
“Perfect. Shall we?” He stood and held out his hand expectantly. She took it relishing the warmth of his fingers on her palm. She was sorry when he let go. It had been a while since she’d experienced such gallantry.
They walked easily together, their gait perfectly matched and a rhythm established quickly. He talked warmly about his garden and how he’d landscaped. The outbuildings he’d built shortly after he’d moved here, with the intention of spending more time with his children. As it was he had them every other weekend, sadly a standard time allotment for divorced fathers and the pain that etched across his face at the mention of it pinched her heart a little. Poor man. He obviously missed them very much.
She found herself sharing personal things with him that she hadn’t spoken of to anyone. The stillbirth of her babies. How responsible she felt. The wretched pain of her divorce when neither of them could deal with the grief. He squeezed her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm. It was a simple gesture that spoke volumes to her lonely heart. The pessimist in her assumed he must have an agenda but her heart ached for this person to be real. She couldn’t take another disappointment.
They had been walking in silence, each perfectly comfortable with the other’s company, for the past several minutes when he paused. She stopped up short and looked at him and then followed his line of vision. A doe and her fawn were just ahead munching the sweet grass in a stand of large maple trees. It was a sight and as long as the wind continued to blow into their faces they would be able to observe this pair, each lost in their own thoughts. Sliding his fingers over hers against his upper arm, he snuck a peek at her and found her looking at him. Their silent gaze spoke more than either intended but couldn’t be silenced.
He slid her hand off of his arm and into his right hand, lacing their fingers together as he stepped behind her and took her left hand into his. His chest against her back he wrapped his arms around her. A bit forward for just meeting someone, yes, but something in her eyes told him it would be welcomed. He tucked his nose into her hair as her heart hammered in her chest. Her hands were shaking as she tried to relax into him. Her body trembled, defying her.
Pressing his lips close to her ear, he whispered, “Don’t think too much, just relax and let it happen. I feel it. I think you feel it too. I want to hold you, smell you, enjoy you. Please let me.”
Her body stilled and slumped against his chest. An instant sense of sweet calm rushed over her body. The back of her head nestled into his neck as she listened to his heart pound in her ear. He smelled of soap and she inhaled deeply to gather his scent into her memory. She never wanted to forget this moment. The deer, the sound of the creek, the softness of the grass under her feet, and this man holding her. She felt safe. She hadn’t felt safe in years.
The doe lifted her head and spotted them. The wind had changed direction and given them away. She walked off to the east unhurriedly and the fawn followed. They were both sorry the moment was over. Taking her left hand in his right he spun her gently around to face him. They stood that way for what felt like an eternity. Eyes locked, neither able to look away. His hands gliding up and down her arms slowly as if he was at war from within. Finally his hands slid over her shoulders and up her neck, thumbs stroking her cheeks as his fingers slid into her hair. She was breathless, expectant, terrified. His eyes roved over her face, drinking her in, relishing this moment with only the chirp of the birds to interrupt it. He leaned in as her eyes began to close and brushed his nose against hers, a tender sentiment that worked it’s way right into the depths of her heart. Softly their lips touched, sweetly, gently. Her hands slid up his back as his lips pulled at first her bottom lip, and then her top. His arm slid around her shoulders as his other hand slid completely into the curls at the back of her head. She barely stifled a whimper against his strong lips. A sound that wordlessly begged him to continue. His tongue slid between her soft lips as they parted in invitation. Her head guided by his practiced hand to the side as their tongues danced together. Such sumptuous, rich, feeling was welcomed by both of them as their bodies seemed to meld perfectly together. He was so tempted to lay her in this grass and show her all the pleasures a woman’s body could experience. The earnest nature of it shocked him and enthralled his senses. He slowly withdrew his tongue and reverently brushed his lips back and forth against hers as his raging hormones calmed.
She was trembling in his hands, a sincerity that endeared her to him. He didn’t want to rush this. He wanted to treasure this moment and make it the first of many. He could satiate himself with her sweet and gentle disposition until the time was right. He kissed her nose and leaned his forehead against hers.
“Annie, I don’t want to rush this. Don’t think I don’t want to make incredible sweet love to you right here in this field because I really do. I just want to do this right. We could have something beautiful together and I don’t want to mess it up. Am I making sense?” He gazed into her eyes, hopeful that she’d not run.
“Yes.” It was breathless. All the response she could muster.
“Good. Thank you. Thank you for being exactly what I’d hoped all those mornings. Thank you for being open to coming here with me. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect beginning.”
“Me either”, She smiled up at him as his lips pressed against hers for a second taste of her.