When we last left Ronny, she was sitting in her car having a hot flash – between her legs. Check out CHAPTER ONE here.
An hour later, I sat at a library table and tried to focus on reading the newspaper. Rising gas prices…blah blah blah…..increase in foreclosures….blah blah…..more marriages ending in divorce…..I skipped that article.
I sensed Rafe walking toward me before I actually saw him. I think I’m part-witch that way. I always know when somebody’s pregnant, too. Weird.
I flushed when I looked up and saw him reaching to pull out a chair at my table.
“So you’re a writer,” he said.
I looked at him. “I asked around,” he said. “It’s just what someone told me.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “I guess. I mean, mostly, I’m a mom. But I like to write. I haven’t written, like, a book. Well, I have written a book. But nothing’s been published.”
“I haven’t been much of a reader,” Rafe said. “But I’d like to start. Do you have any suggestions?”
“What do you like?”
“I’m not sure. Why don’t you help me…pick something out?”
What in the world was going on here? Cautiously. I tried to read his face, but he was just looking at me, like he waiting for me to talk. “Okay,” I said, thinking I had let my imagination roll me right into a gutter. Maybe I had made this whole thing up, and the guy just wanted a book.
We walked to the section marked Adult Fiction. We stood there side by side, staring at the books. “I really like Cormac McCarthy,” I said. “He wrote a lot of cool stuff about Appalachia, and some that take place in Texas. And I love Barb-Oh, excuse me!” Rafe’s arm gently guided me into the bookcase as someone passed through the aisle. “Barbara Kingsolver,” I finished.
“Maybe I’d enjoy some……uh……classics,” Rafe said. “That’s them, over there in the corner. Right?”
He put his fingertips in the small of my back, and lightly pushed me in that direction. I believe I started swooning.
When we reached the corner, he guided me in between two bookcases. The aisle was empty. He turned my shoulders so that I faced the shelf, and I found myself staring at the spine of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
I could feel Rafe’s breath in my hair, and his fingertips moved to the sides of my waist.
“Do you see,” he whispered, “something I might like?”
His fingers found the hem of my t-shirt, and then my bare skin. God, I wanted to turn around, but I was frozen, or more accurately, melting, and thought that if I moved I would land in a puddle at his feet, or perhaps wake up from the best fucking dream I’d had in a long time.
He pushed himself against my back, just so I could feel his chest against my shoulder blades, then maneuvered himself so that he stood between me and Dickens. Before I could ask him to stop – would I have asked him to stop? – his tongue was in my mouth and he tasted like butterscotch candy. His fingers wandered over my back and sides, wandering upwards toward my breasts but stopping short of them. I thought that I had never loved butterscotch so much in my life.
I seriously thought I might faint. I thought I suddenly knew what heroin was like. If Rafe had ripped my clothes off and screwed the Dickens right out of me, I’m not sure I would have objected. But he didn’t. He finished the kiss, bit my neck hard enough that I flinched, moaned slightly and whispered, “That was fun.” Then he left.
I almost fell to the floor. But I managed to lower myself to the ground and I sat. I grabbed a book and put it in my lap in case someone passed. What. The. Fuck, I thought. What the fuck was that. What the fuck am I doing. And when the fuck can I do it again.
My husband worked late that night. Lucky for me. I took a Benadryl so I could fall asleep early and not have to see him. I thought maybe a night’s sleep would ease the guilt. If it didn’t, I could go to confession. I wasn’t actually a practicing Catholic anymore, but I wouldn’t mind re-dedicating myself for a week or two if it would gain me absolution.
Mark and I had been married a decade. On a scale of one to 10, I’d call our marriage an eight. He was my best friend, my rock, the father of my kids. And he was a decent-looking guy, like a heavyset David Letterman. Well, maybe he was more unique-looking than handsome. But I liked it! What did it matter that he had a little paunch? And a little bulbous growth on his face that needed to be removed? And hair growing out of his ears? I didn’t care about those things. Okay, I cared a little bit. Why was it so difficult for him to try to make himself reasonably presentable? How hard could it be to stay properly groomed?
Also, Mark worked as the director of the state’s Department of Sanitation, and I could always smell when he’d been working in the field. He’d shower when he got home, but not until after having a drink, a snack, checking sports scores – not until after he’d spread the odor all over the damn house. Then he left his clothes in a pile on the bathroom floor.
Mark was a very good provider. God, that sounds so suburban, like, Oh, and we have Family Game Nights, and love to grill out with friends! But that was us, really, all practical clothes and organic milk and watching The Daily Show every night. Not in the beginning, though. Mark and I had met at a friend’s wedding. He had been banging one of the bridesmaids, but she got so drunk that she spent most of the reception puking in the bathroom. I wasn’t that drunk, but I was drunk enough to make out with Mark when we danced to the band’s half-ass version of Careless Whisper.
Mark was a bartender back then, and I was a docent at a historic Haunted House that supposedly hosted the ghost of a paralyzed widow who had been murdered by the milk man. My tours didn’t start until 11 pm, and Mark worked at the bar where I liked to get a buzz before scaring the crap out of tourists with well-placed sound machines (Can you hear her wheelchair squeaking?) and flashes of light from my cell phone (There’s an app for that!)
Most of our early years were fueled by alcohol-infused lust, and the fact that Mark rode a Harley. But our togetherness turned into habit, and when Mark proposed to me one night while we waited in line to use the Port-O-Lets at a spring music festival, it seemed like a logical step.
When I got pregnant, he took a job working for the government, and eventually moved into management. He supported me when I decided to stay home with the kids, and when started writing again. “Who knows? Maybe you’re the next Danielle Steele,” he said. Which almost made me puke.
Somewhere along the way, he had morphed from cool dude Mark, who loved his motorcycle and having drunken midnight sex in the Baptist church parking lot, into beleaguered, predictable Mark who left his dental floss on the kitchen counter and couldn’t live without Q-tips.
But I had changed, too. My privileged existence gave me the flexibility to go the gym, but sometimes I went days without showering. What was the point? In the winter, I didn’t shave very often. I no longer served grilled mahi with fresh peach salsa for dinner. Rotisserie chicken, boiled broccoli and noodles had become a family classic.
I used to write long esoteric stories; now I wrote checks. My biggest challenges were teaching Satchel how to blow his nose and helping Summer decide what kind of birthday party she wanted. BWAH!
By the time Rafe had mysteriously snaked his way into my life, he seemed like an expensive champagne sitting chilled and uncorked in front of me. I really, really wanted to take a little sip, because the Yellow Tail sitting in the fridge was starting to seem a little rank.
The day after The Kiss, I was scheduled to go to the dentist in the morning while the kids were at school, and I took the kids to Target that afternoon, and got my Starbucks fix there. I spent $200 at Target on clothes and household supplies I didn’t really need — $200 to avoid stopping at Rafe’s Starbucks. I was in bittersweet agony – I had no idea what I wanted to do, or even what I should do.
But by the next morning, I couldn’t bear it. Rafe caught my eye the moment I walked through the door, and I felt my face heat up. He smiled, and smirked at my discomfort, although I might have imagined that.
I ordered from the cashier, but I could tell Rafe was already making my drink. I saw him writing on the cup. When I took it from him, I was careful not to look at him; I politely thanked him. But my voice caught, and it sounded sort of like, “Thwack-UH-phew.” I blinked and closed my eyes, mortified AGAIN as I headed toward the exit. I should not have closed my eyes.
At the sound of my name, I jumped slightly and squeezed my hot drink. The top popped off and the steaming latte dribbled all over my hand.
“OH MY GOD!” screamed my ancient neighbor Phyllis, who had startled me to begin with. “ARE YOU OKAY? SOMEONE GET SOME ICE!”
“Phyllis, please, I’m fine,” I said, shaking the liquid off of my hand. “I just need a napkin or something, I think I-”
“Here you go,” said Rafe, appearing out of nowhere and presenting me with a cold white cloth and a cup of ice. “Do you need a new coffee?”
“Of course she does!” Phyllis said. “Obviously that top wasn’t on right! Are you sure you’re okay, honey?”
“I’m fine!” I snapped. I saw Rafe smirk again and turn away. I focused on Phyllis, who looked like I had just thrown the rest of the latte on her feet. “I’m sorry, Phyllis. It’s just a little spill. No need for more coffee. Sorry, sorry, I just am in a hurry. Call me! I’ve got to go.”
“Oh, sure!” Phyllis said, a little chastened. “You take care of yourself.” I could hear her complaining about the situation as I rushed out the door.
I waited until I was settled in my car, air conditioning blasting, to look at the cup.
Rafe had scrawled Iris Johanson noon.
Iris Johansen? The mystery writer? With her name spelled wrong? Well, my life as of late was certainly a mystery. But this seemed weird from a guy who told me he didn’t read that much. Why would he choose her? I grabbed my phone and Googled her name, and up popped her latest novel.
It was entitled Eve.
I immediately looked at my watch.