Faces, by Tommye-K. Mayer. © 2003
In the light of the street lamp across the street, he selected a key, careful that the others not jangle together. Her bedroom was just upstairs, over the portico, the window would be open just a crack, even this early in Spring. He didn't want to wake her up.
Not yet anyway.
He pushed the key into the lock, firmly. It wouldn't click so loud that way and twisted. The bolt lock slid open, letting him into the townhouse. He swung the door closed behind him, flicking the lock shut.
Upstairs he could hear the radio still. Good, she hadn't been up there long yet, just long enough.
He rested his briefcase on the floor, leaning against the wall and slipped off his coat hooking it on the coat tree behind the door. He scanned the living room in the light of that same street lamp, now shining through the front window, his eye caught by a shaft of light, not even a ray, reflecting in the rim of a single wine glass left out on the coffee table, beside it a candle half burned, and her briefcase yawning open. papers strewn over the couch.
Oh. The word like a silent gasp echoed inside as his eye traveled across the room, into the kitchen. There it was, the other one, with still a sip left, and the nearly empty bottle, by the sink. He wiped his hands up his face, his fingertips leading, toward his forehead and sliding under his glasses, pressing over his eyelids.
They were supposed to have been through with those negotiations on that damn building, hours ago, with plenty of time for the six o'clock shuttle, the bottle of wine, and for dinner. But they'd gone on and on. It was getting on to nine already when they'd broke and he could get in a call, maybe he could catch the ten o'clock, or some other airline...
She was always okay about these things, but then, she'd been late getting back herself sometimes, too. He could tick off plenty of times...
"Come on by my place when you get into town," she'd said. "Stay over here tonight. I had a rough one today myself. Getting back to work for the first time since the accident." She'd laughed. "I might crawl into bed if you're too late getting here, but wake me up anyway, we both need hugs."
Slipping off his shoes, he set them in the little jog between the bottom stair and the living room entrance. Standing up, his foot on the first step, one hand on the rail, the other loosening the Windsor knot at his neck, he tested the stair with his weight. Silence. Then he crept up the stairs making almost no noise, his stocking feet on the thick lush carpet.
"I want to be able to walk around barefoot in my own home; silently," she'd said, about the carpet she'd found for the townhouse, describing it to him. "Everything's going to be the way I want it. It's my place, and it doesn't have to please anyone else, except me," she'd laughed, "not even you."
Standing outside her bedroom door, he almost felt like a cat burglar. Almost, except they'd been through this before, missing the evening together until it was only the sleeping night left before tomorrow.
Firmly grasping and twisting the knob he pressed against the bedroom door, swinging it open, still no sound. He stood a moment, watching. She lay curled up on her side, facing him, eyes closed.
It was always like this for him, when he got back into town after being, away a while. Always like this, but never the same. Like it was in the book he'd read, back before high school, the great white wonder of a woman. She'd laughed, roaring almost, when he told her, about it, tears streaming from her eyes, finishing the quote for him, as, "the great white wonder of a whale"!
The novel, what ever it was called, had been sort of a "The Graduate" story. That and the one line were all he remembered about the book, a young man coming of age. A tender and delicious story that went up against the bawdy locker room talk every afternoon after practice, none of the other boys knowing what they might know someday, what they'd only read about then, and what he was knowing some thirty, forty years later.
Shit, he almost said, hissing the exhaled word through his teeth. There it was, standing out swollen and discolored even in the half-light, the purple and blue-red mess that she'd called "just a bit of a bruise."
Picking at the buttons running down the front of his shirt, hurriedly slipping each through its buttonhole, he stared at her blackened eye, his shirt sliding back on his shoulders, then down his arms until it fluttered to the floor.
"Nothing to worry about, Honey," she'd told him, "just a bruise. It'll heal." Except that it was still too painful to rest the right side of her face on the pillow the way she normally slept.
He was about to leave DC as soon as he'd heard.
"Don't be ridiculous," she'd said. "I'll see you Friday after you've got it all wrapped up. Besides," she'd said, "the worst is over." She'd connected with him at the hotel, from the hospital, picking up the number from the message he'd left on her machine a few days earlier. "Besides I feel fine, now that I'm conscious, except for this appalling bruise and a dreadful headache." He could hear her smile right through the phone line. "Besides, I look awful, Evan. Trust me, you don't want to see this."
That had been a few days ago, he thought. And it still looked awful. He held the belt buckle silent as he stepped out of each pant leg, glad that he always kept his change separately in that leather change purse at the bottom of his briefcase.
He bent over her, brushing his lips across her right temple. "I just got in, Justie," he breathed, hardly whispering. "Kissing it would make it better, do you want to wake up?" He lightly brushed his lips over the bruise, hardly touching.
Her eyes sprung open, too fast. "Oh, ouch." She reached her arm out from under the blankets and around his neck, drawing him closer, pressing his lips to hers. "Of course I want to wake up, Ev," she said, wide awake where she'd been sound asleep only a moment ago.
He cupped her head in his hands, careful to avoid the discolored parts, her right temple.
"It still hurts that much? He asked, whispering now.
"...but only if you promise you won't go messing with my war wound again." She smiled, fighting back a yawn "And yes, I guess it does still hurt that much."
Just as she was wiggling over, making room for him in the bed, he scooped his hands beneath her shoulders and knees. Cradling her in his arms he moved her there.
With one arm still draped over her shoulder, he sat for a moment. Pulling off his socks he dropped them on the floor with the rest of his clothing.
She turned, facing him and slid her hands up his back, under his tee-shirt, her fingers caressing, until she peeled it off him, over his head. She buried her nose into his chest, gingerly mussing the hair, careful not to bump the bruise. "I missed you Evan." She pulled away looking up at him, and smirked, "but not as much as I could have, there're a few days I don't know anything about. Or..."
She was walking her fingers casually through the hair, teasing, slowly working her way down the length of his body.
It was the ritual, he thought, an extended foreplay. This undressing each other, it was like uncovering treasure over and over, but different every time. The anticipation? He gathered the filmy nightgown in his hands, slipping it over her head, carefully staying away from the bruise. Tossing the gown to the side, he pressed against her shoulders, lowering them both from sitting, down to the mattress.
She reached across him, sliding her hands under the elastic waistband of his boxer shorts. As she pulled them away, she stretched the waistband even more, setting free his already erect penis, and drawing the shorts down along the length of his thighs. "...maybe though, this time I actually missed you more..."
Now exposed to her, she stroked the length of his penis, between her index and middle fingers and thumb. This wondrous, peculiar-looking appendage, she thought. Silently, as she slid the shorts, he bent each knee, allowing her to finish undressing him and slip them over his feet.
"I missed you too, Justie."
She lifted her eyes, responding to his voice, studying his face in the half-light and leaving her fingers to find their way unseeing. As she looked up toward him, a shard of terror, like a splinter of glass tearing through her insides, dropped down on her, gripping her stomach and into her groin going all the way through, and up now, up her spine, to raise the hair follicles on the nape of her neck like hackles.
She forced her eyes to look.
"If you don't feel up to it," he said, "just getting out of the hospital and all, we don't have to make love, tonight, Justie."
It was him, it was Evan, half lying on his side, stretched out beside her, caressing her naked body. It was him. She knew it was him. It had to be him. It was his voice. Who else would call her "Justie," as in Justin Morgan Had a Horse. She wanted to smile, hearing him call her that, but she couldn't. She was thinking; was that really what he'd always looked like?
Did he know? She studied his face while he talked.
"Tell me about the accident," he said, asking. He propped up his head, resting the back of it in his palm.
She watched him speaking, watching the way his lips moved, they way they revealed and concealed his teeth and tongue, with a style all their own, as if it was a style she'd never seen before, but somehow, deep inside of her, somehow she knew anyway.
Or was that just the way people talked, she wondered without asking. She couldn't recall ever noticing these things before. Without moving it, she shook her head internally. He mustn't know about this. The corners of her lips tightened, vaguely smiling, trying to soften her words.
"It wasn't much of anything," she said. "Just that I'd slowed down for the yellow light, stopping as it turned red. Only the guy behind me didn't." She pressed her lips together, pulling up the corners of her lips. "I guess I whacked the hell out of my head on the steering wheel, but I don't remember any of it." She watched him listening. When did he develop those little crinkles? And were his eyes always that translucent gray? It was interesting looking at the way his lips ended in almost a line, and the face skin just began. Interesting too the way those lips puffed out, away from his face, like the throw pillows on the sofa downstairs freshly plumped for company.
"And then what happened?" He rolled over, onto her, crouching over her, his chest pressing against her breasts and one leg thrown across hers.
"I'm not exactly sure, but they tell me I got to the hospital in an ambulance, went through all sorts of tests and then just woke up of my own accord a couple of days later."
Yes. It was him. It was Evan. She knew his body, she knew his voice, she knew him. But was that really what he'd always looked like, his face?
"That's all?" Reaching around her shoulders, he gathered her to him, pressing her closer.
"Well, except that my doctor, Dr. Tony, kept me at the hospital a whole twenty-four hours after I woke up, and wouldn't let me go back to work until today..."
"Dr. Tony, hmm?"
"Oh," she laughed. "He has a real name, Wells, but I call him Dr. Tony because I think he needs to lighten up. The man is just too intense.
Evan laughed. It was so Morgan. She was okay, she'd be fine, as soon as that bruise cleared up. Ooch, it sure was mean, just looking at it hurt... "So, what about this dude, Dr. Tony?"
"Oh, my God, what a BBC. By the Book Charley. He'd have me in there still, except that when I reminded him that in these days of healthcare cost consciousness, patient self-responsibility, and managed care, we were being encouraged to take recuperate at home. "Oh," she paused, sliding her finger across his lips. "And then I promised to take it easy."
"You!" Evan laughed, jiggling her shoulders, "Take it easy? Since when?"
"Hey, Ev, ease up, so I was very convincing... She shrugged, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. "I told him that I'm a responsible human being and that surely I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize my health..."
"Evan snorted. "I'm sure that like came with one of those devastatingly demure, wide-eyed looks up through your lashes."
"Umm yeah, I think so..." she leaned against him, pecking his lips with a playful little kiss. "You're getting to know me too well, Ev, all my tricks. Susan vouched for me. Somehow she even to keep her mouth shut, and didn't blow my cover."
"Susan? Where did she come in?"
"She was my escort, responsible for getting me safely home and settled comfortably in my own bed. It almost got to be absurd, I half-expected Dr. Tony was going to insist that eighty-year-old Mum and Da take me home to their place!"
He combed his fingers through her hair careful not to brush against that temple. "Maybe you should have listened to Dr. Wells and stayed in there a few more days," he said.
"Oh God, not you too. I'm fine, really. Except for this mess on my face that I just cover up with my hair." She combed her fingers through the hair on that side, dragging it over to conceal much of the bruise.
"But Ev," she pressed against him with her whole body, her hands on his shoulders, and rolled him onto his back. "I don't think I want to be talking much longer, not when I have a very naked, very attractive man in my bed." She dropped down over him, reaching across to pull on the drawer of the nightstand. She reached in and selected out one of the small square foil packages. " I think I'd rather be making love with you, holding you and then quietly curling up in your arms and dropping off to sleep again."
"I like that." Evan drew the bedcovers up over her shoulders as she tore open the package, picking out the condom. Prolonging it just a moment longer, he interrupted her by cupping her chin his hands and kissing her.
She kissed him back firmly and then pulled away to unroll the condom over his penis. "Evan, we might be able to have some of my tomorrow morning, too. But I'm going to have to spend some time catching up with the world."
"Hmm, sounds interesting, but right now, I've got something else very much on my mind."
They shifted together, almost a choreographed dance, his penis pressing against the lips of her vagina and then pushing inside.
Yes, yes. It was all right, she thought, over the tremors flushing throughout her. It was the same,. He hadn't noticed anything else wrong with her. But it was. What was it though? Gripping his shoulders, he stretched her lips toward his, kissing him deeply and exploring the inside of his mouth with her tongue. Still the thought nagged her. What was it, what was different? She opened her eyes looking at him, seeing him still watching her though his eyes were barely slits and his lashes fluttered. His eyebrows crunched together into deep furrows above his nose. She pressed into him, meeting each deep thrust of his pelvis. When had his eyebrows picked up flecks of gray? The lashes were still black, the way they should be.
The smooth, pale, unlined skin under his eyes was still young-looking, over the rough bristle of his whiskers, now only hours before his regular morning shave. Some times he would before going to bed with her, but not this time. He nuzzled against her cheek, blindly searching for her lips with his. She held him even closer, her legs wrapped around his hips, kissing him. Her body shuddered against his and she moaned, deep inside her throat.
"Oh, honey, it's been a long time," she whispered, "hasn't it?"
"Too long," He rolled onto his side, resting her head onto his shoulder, and drawing her face into the cove under his chin, "at least a decade."
She draped one leg over his waist, her heel against the small of his back. "'night, Ev," she tipped her head back, lightly kissing his lips. He squeezed his arms around her in reply. Yes, it was he. This was Evan, the man she loved too much to ever marry. She should have been able just to close her eyes and drop off to sleep. But not tonight. She felt tense. Something wasn't right. She listened to Evan's breathing, long, deep, and even and his heart, strong, regular beats.
Closing her eyes, she tried to focus on his breathing, on his heartbeat, on his relaxation, on his comfortable stability. Relax, relax, she told herself. Everything's fine. Starting with her toes, and she tried working her mind up the length of her body, and relax every muscle inside her, forcing herself to stay still and not to toss around, wakening Ev.
She couldn't picture him, his face, in her mind's eye! His shape
yes, but not his face. What was wrong with her? What was going
on? She couldn't think about it any more. Tomorrow she had that
lunch with Jack Muir, and if Marty was back in town, a maybe meeting
with him to catch up with the new account that signed on right
before the accident. And... she stifled a yawn as she burrowed
deeper into Evan's arms.
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