The ottoman struggled across the wooden floor, moved unintentionally as she stretched her entire length, pushing out with her feet. “Ohhhhh” she moaned, feeling her muscles respond. He watched her from across the room, amused at how overwhelming the over stuffed chair looked around her.
The haze of morning light flooded the room through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the lanai; every speckled inch a slow motion, sparkling show. Worn flannel pants pulled away from the hem of her t-shirt, revealing the soft feminine swell just below her navel. His belly tightened and he closed his eyes. He thought about the faint scent of tropical flowers that filled the shower the last time he’d had her to himself, catching her accidentally. She’d smiled and handed him the bottle of fragrant oil, then simply turned around. The same scent filled the air, now.
Heavy waves of auburn hair slipped from the makeshift chignon she’d secured haphazardly with a pencil she’d probably found on the end table. He chuckled, watching her struggle to recover the pencil as it fell behind the cushion. She caught him still watching as she gathered up her hair again, this time a bit more carefully than the last.
“What?” She’d asked, coyly, as she rolled on her hip and propped her chin on her hand.
“You know ‘what.’”
“Sir, I have no idea what is bouncing around your brain.” She picked up her tea and took a sip, wincing.
“Do you want an ice cube?”
“No, thanks. It’ll cool off in a moment.”
Except for her smiling eyes, the cup obscured her face as she sipped the tea, again. “I am not who you think I am, you know?”
“You are precisely who I think you are.”
She lowered the cup to her lap and began slowly spinning it. Cocking her head, she asked, “Tell me, doc… do you like cheesecake?”
“Don’t call me that. And yes, who doesn’t?”
“Why shouldn’t I call you that?”
“Because it makes me feel ancient. Besides, I like hearing you say my name.”
“Fine. Back to the subject.”
“Okay, what of it?”
“Cheesecake is an experience. It’s sweet and textured. But it’s extraordinarily bad for you.”
“Yes, I’m aware of all of that.”
“I like cheesecake.”
He walked over to the ottoman and lifted her feet into his lap as he sat down in front of her. “One slice won’t kill me,” pressing his thumb into the arch of her foot. “I can handle one slice.”
He lifted her by her hips, pulling her avian frame into his lap. Wrapping her legs around him. Odette appeared for a moment, arms aloft, then lightly over and around his shoulders. She crumpled against his chest, graceful and sad.
“They’ll all be back any minute.” She said, nervously.
“No, they won’t.” His arms tightened around her waist, pulling her into him and sucking softly on her lips.
“You know this doesn’t change the fact that I am utterly unsuited for love.”
“No, you’re not. Love has many forms.”
“You know what I mean. The only thing keeping me in one place is my skin.”
“Yes, but it’s lovely skin.” He said, baring her shoulder and pressing his lips against her skin, breathing in deeply. “Mmmm, you taste like honey and peaches,” pressing her down onto his lap by her hips.
“Are you sure?” She asked, holding his face in her hands.
“Yes. I’m sure. It’s honey and peaches.”
Her hair lost its battle with the pencil, cascading down her back as she chuckled.
“Nothing changes,” she said, both imploring and demanding.
“Nothing changes.” He replied. “I promise.” Her hand covered his, as he gently stroked her breast. His thumb caught and pulled away the threadbare cotton of the old, men’s undershirt that draped loosely over her shoulders. Exposed and relieved, she had no fight left. All of the innuendo, the harmless flirting, culminated here on this ottoman.
“This is all I know how to do.”
“What?” He seemed shocked.
“I’m brilliant at this.” She wrapped her arms around his neck tightly, kissing him deeply. She raised her hips just enough for him to slide his hands around her thighs and pull her down further. “But I don’t bake cookies.”
“I don’t need you to bake cookies.”
“No, but they do.”
“You don’t have to love them the same way she did. They understand that she is gone.”
“She may be, but her indelible mark is not, and it shouldn’t be. Besides, you married her and built a happy life with her. I am not her.”
“Yes, but this…”
She covered his mouth with hers and shifted again in his lap. “This is just sex.”
“No, it’s not. You make me happy, too, in a different way.”
“Come on. I make your dick happy and I make you laugh. That serves only ten percent of your life.”
“You keep me sane.”
“Today, I keep you sane. Tomorrow, when I’m brooding and want to curl up in a corner, inaccessible and isolated, and do nothing but read and drink tea, I’ll be useless to you.”
“Maybe I don’t want any more than this. Maybe you’re exactly what I need.”
“You think that now, but you’ve only just scratched the surface. That sense of reaching out, touching, but never getting a grip, that will make you nuts.”
He squeezed her thighs and smiled. “I have a grip. And you’re wasting time. They’ll all be back in an two hours.”
“You won’t be able to get the snake back into its basket. You know that, right?”
He roared with laughter. “I don’t think I’ll want to.”
Waiting for him to finish laughing, she sighed, then smiled sweetly. “This will never be normal.”
“I don’t expect it will, no. Besides, I had the life I’d expected. I don’t need to reproduce it to be happy. And frankly, I can’t reproduce it. She’s gone. I can’t change that. I don’t want to replace her. I can’t replace her. I have had that kind of love. Now, I just want something that is simple and mine. I just want to be happy again.”
“And you think I can make you happy?”
“Because you don’t care.”
“That makes no sense. Of course I care.”
“I mean that you want only to be this: that you only want to be. You don’t have an agenda. You don’t need me. That’s refreshing.”
“She didn’t need you, either.”
“What I’m saying is that I don’t want to dishonor her memory by replacing her with someone else. I’ll never love anyone the way that I loved her. I can’t. You don’t need me to do that.”
She kissed him deeply again. “You’re right, I don’t.”
“But you have a gravitational pull. I’m okay, as long as I’m not near you. It’s magic, but it’s safe.”
“Magic…I like the sound of that.”
He pulled her hips closer to his and wrapped his arms around her back, drawing her into a powerful, consuming kiss.
“I do love you,” She whispered.
“I know that.” He rose off the ottoman, still holding her around the waist. “I need to feel you from the inside.” He said, setting her on her feet in front of him.
Covering her mouth with his, he gripped her arms, pulling her into him and crushing her to his chest. The constant self-control was gone. He would have to die where he stood to keep from taking her, now.
She’d been ready for him since before he’d come into the room. Not even the complete exhaustion she’d felt after last night’s performance had kept her from dreaming about what it would be like to feel him. Not the flesh of him, but the want. There was something richer about it because there was no need to be anyone she wasn’t. And then, she knew. It would be done. There would be no need for it to happen, again.
He’d wanted to have her, just the once: to rein in the constant electricity that seemed to emanate from her. Now, he was finally alone with her at a moment where she was allowing him past the veil.
He lifted the t-shirt over her head, wadding it with one hand and tossing it onto the big chair behind her. Bright hazel peeked through thick eyelashes as she raised her eyes to his.
He sat down again, fixed on her face, reading, studying as he tugged at the string that held her flannel pants on her small hips. He paused. She nodded.
He stood, and paused again, as she stepped out of the old cotton piled around her feet. She had stood naked before, in crowded art studios, back stage with the rest of the dancers scrambling to get into costume. But this naked was something entirely different. This was soul-naked.
“Dance for me.”
“You’ve seen me dance.”
“Yes, I have. But not just for me. I’ve shared you with hundreds. But this…this, I want just for me.” He kissed her again, crushing her breasts against his bare chest. A low rumble escaped his throat as he held her there for a moment.
She raised her arms above her head as he stepped back. Slowly, deliberately she turned, bringing Odette to life briefly while he watched. Just a few moments, a rhythmic shhhhh cut the air as she moved toward him: Siegfried awaiting her.
He had held on long enough. He caught her as she leapt and brought her in close to him. He carried her toward the room where she’d slept the night before, finally falling into the bed with her still clinging to his neck and kissing him with the permission she’d denied herself for more than a year. An ocean of sheets and blankets slipped off the bed as all of the doubt disintegrated and a certainty formed between them.
I do care, she admitted to herself. I do. And she knew that it wouldn’t be just this once.