Word count, start of day -- 37,800
"Hey," I said into the phone. "It's Brian," I felt that I had to add.
"I know it's you," she said, as if it was an insult that I thought she would not know. I hope I had not offended her.
"I've missed you." We had only talked a few times since the bookstore. We had fallen into a rhythm, of speaking late in the day on Fridays. It was safe for both of us, because our offices cleared out early in anticipation of the approaching weekend. I checked the clock. Five minutes till five. There was barely a soul in the place. This time of year Phares and Barnes was packed on Saturday and even pretty full on Sunday, but Friday night was still a time to beat feet out of the office.
"I've missed you."
"I'll be there on Monday," I assured her. She said she was looking forward to it.
"Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday. They snagged her into the tax factory, they were a few bodies short."
"Lunch Monday?" This sounded like a good idea.
"Sure. It's a, umm, it's an appointment," I said. It was one of our little inside references. We weren't dating, we had appointments.
"Great," she said. We made our plans where and when to meet. "Are you planning on working late any time next week?" she asked.
"I suppose I could," I said airily. "Did you have something in mind?"
"I thought we could talk, you know. Like we talked on New Years' Eve."
It had been maybe five weeks since then, and neither of us had really mentioned the kiss. This was about as clear as either of us had been about it. I paused. I was paralyzed. Fortunately, she filled the void.
"Have you flipped through the book?" she asked. Now I absolutely froze. This was not light and flirty any more. She had asked me a frank question about sex. I did not answer. "Well, take a look. I would really like to talk to you about it."
"Okay." I had never talked much to Gwen about sex, and even less now that were having it so infrequently. She was not much older than me, but Gwen seemed like the kind of girl who never questioned anything her mom had ever told her about how a "good girl" acts. She had never heard the expression that a man wants a maid in the living room, a chef in the kitchen, and a whore in the bedroom. I had never gotten her to move past the "blushing bride" phase of her sex life. And now here was this young chick, a knockout of a young chick, who in reality I hardly knew, and she was pulling me into sex talk. It was wild. For all I knew, she was wild, too. Or maybe all of this talk was a front she was trying to put out, in which case she was doing a great job of it. I was sure convinced.
"You might want to check out number fourteen," she said coquettishly, "and number thirty-seven."
I actually wrote these down. "I will." I will.
"And let me know what you think. I think it says a lot about a person, actually. More than your silly twenty questions thing did," she said, chuckling.
"Hey," I said, faking a deep emotional hurt. "I thought it was a good way to get to know you."
"It was very cute," she admitted.
"Yes, I am, thank you," I answered.
She laughed hard. It was a great sound. Annie did not laugh often. You got the feeling you had to accomplish something to get her to laugh. She did not give them away lightly.
We met for lunch the next Monday, this time at a fast-food Mexican place. It did not take long for her to bring up "the book" again. "Did you check out fourteen and thirty-seven?" she asked.
I nodded. I had. "You know," I said as a way of trying to keep her from being too disappointed, "I've only been with a few women, so my experiences in this area may not be as, I don't know," I trailed off, tongue-tied.
"I am not some big super experienced woman, either. I was married pretty young, too, so almost all of my experience has been with one man."
"I know. It's just that I like sex, I love sex really, but I have not necessarily-"
"Me, either," she interrupted. But I like to think about what I'd like to do if I could. Fantasies, mostly."
I sat back and considered. Maybe Dennis had the same attitude as Gwen. That would be a little strange for a guy, but maybe not a guy his age. Maybe he was old-fashioned, too. "Gwen is not really adventurous, or aggressive," I stated plainly, then lowered my eyes. It was a bit embarrassing to admit that I did not get Gwen turned on enough to go wild. "I mean, I think I'm a good lover, I'm patient, I-" I didn't know where to go with this sentence.
"Dennis would like to have sex twice a day, if he could," Annie said a little wistfully. "But it would be almost the same every time. "I tried a few things on him, let him try some things on me, but-" She shook her head, "but he did not seem to like a lot of variety. I don't know that he appreciated," she shook her head again. She was having the same problems I was expressing these same problems. "She looked very downhearted at these admissions. "I don't think he appreciated what he had.
I look at her, dumbfounded. What man could look at Annie Bainbridge and not her to do a fourteen on you, or maybe even try a thirty-seven with you? I could not believe what I was hearing.
"I looked through the book," I said, not quite believing that I talking about sex with a legitimately hot chick, a real babe of a woman. It just blew me away, completely blew me away.
"Any ideas?" she said, her sexy eyes boring through me.
"I made a list of things out of the book."
"You and your lists," she said, shaking her head.
"Accountant," I said apologizing. What can I say?"
"Okay," she relented, "What's this list of yours?"
I withdrew a piece of paper from my shirt pocket. "I made a list of things I've done, things I've thought, things I wouldn't mind trying, you know, that sort that of thing."
She snatched it out of my hands, nearly ripping it in two. "I look forward to checking these things out in the book. Give me any hints?"
"No, no, no. You have to investigate it yourself.
"Something for me to read when I take my next bath."
I looked at her. She knew exactly the right thing to say.
We got back to the Center, and I walked nonchalantly back to the conference room. I spent the day half doing my work and half thinking about my, my, my what? What was Annie? She wasn't my lover, despite all of the talk we've been doing. I settled in my mind on girlfriend.
So I spent the day thinking about my girlfriend, until it was time to go home. Time to go home to my wife and daughter.
It was hard to concentrate. I could not stop thinking about Brian. He had sent Kathy down to the office to find vouchers while he spent his time either with Carrie talking about future corporate plans or over in the conference room working away. Probably a good idea. There was no good reason to create any suspicion towards us at this point. I understood this had to be that way, but it didn't mean I liked it.
Brian wandered into my office close to five.
"Kathy's called it a day," he said.
"I'll come over when it's a little quieter here?" I offered.
It was about forty-five minutes later when I joined him. He looked up from his work and pushed himself up to approach me. I moved my face up to . . . he hugged me. Not what I was hoping for, but it felt so good. He wrapped me up tight and I felt myself fall into him. "I've missed you," I whispered. I felt him kiss me again on the top of my forehead. It was an unusual gesture, but it comforted me. With all that was swirling on inside me and around me at home, it felt good to be at peace. At peace in loving arms.
"I've missed you, too," he said, standing back. Brian's hands caressed my face and he swept the hair back from my ears. He leaned in and . . . hugged me again. I chuckled. There were icebergs in Antarctica that moved faster than this guy.
We sat at the table and turned our chairs to face each other. He started to say something but I put up my hands and cut him off. "Me first." Brian nodded, and I looked him straight in the eyes. "I've found an apartment. I'm moving out." He looked sad, hurt. Sad for me, hurt for me.
"I'm sorry," he offered. I searched his face and was convinced that he really meant it.
I nodded. "I've seen a lawyer," I said, then broke into sobs. Brian pulled me in to those comforting arms and held me close again. I felt his heart beating against me. Its rhythm calmed me. "I can't file any divorce papers until we've been separated for a year. It broke my heart. "I have to move out, then wait another year," I said between sobs. I gulped down some air, then collected myself. I felt my makeup start to run. Damn, I probably looked like an abstract clown in some modern art exhibit.
"You're ready to move that fast," he said plainly. I nodded. "It takes a year, even if the two of you have been living in different rooms, and," he tailed off.
"Not having sex? It's been months and months. But according to the lawyer, that's not the test. I actually have to move out to start the calendar."
"Too bad you couldn't keep the house," he said.
I agreed completely. Dennis pulled a real dumb move there, but I had to give him some credit for realizing it and trying to do right by me. "At least he didn't move out of town. He put Erin first. We have always put Erin first."
"When will this all happen?"
"I promised Dennis I would stay with him a year after I first told him I wanted a divorce. That was March. My lease starts the fifteenth."
"How did he take it?"
"We had a good conversation last night, actually. Mostly I talked and he listened. I had given this a lot of thought and told him what I had been thinking."
"What are your plans with Erin?"
"Well," I said, "we are going to talk to her the day before the movers come. Then, she and I will go out that Saturday and have some fun and eventually end up at my new place. Dennis will have her the next day and night, and we will go from there."
"Seems like you've taken him into consideration quite a bit."
"Of course," I agreed, "this is not about Dennis as a father or anything. I can't deprive him of time with his little girl. Or deprive her of Dennis. They loved each other. He made the choice to stay in town and I have to honor that."
"Good. Fathers are important."
"I intend to be far more generous than the courts require. No need for this to get ugly." He agreed with that. "And if I'm more generous, I have some room to negotiate, some area we can bargain over if things change in the future."
"As long as he takes care of the two of you, especially Erin, he should be involved."
He was absolutely right, and we moved into a conversation about single parents' finances and the tax issues of it. Then he asked about my new place, and I told a few details, including its location and phone number.
I decided it was time to see if I could throw him. "I looked at your lists." Brian started to blush. It was so cute that I could make this man blush. "We've had some different experiences."
"Really?" He clearly did not know where I was going with this. I barely knew myself.
"But we like some of the same thing."
"Oh?" This perked him up. I moved my hand over and intertwined my fingers in his.
"What's your favorite position?" I asked straight out. He grimaced a bit. Brian seemed to really be thinking about this. "Was it that hard a question?" I joked.
"I like a variety, I suppose."
I agreed. "You did check off a lot in that section of the book." He laughed. I continued, "But I don't think it's important to try all of these weird positions just to say you have you have. Or I wouldn't want to stop in the middle just to move into some other gymnastics contortion."
Brian shook his head. "It isn't like that. We never had a book and a checklist and a plan to do all sorts of things. It's more like being in the moment, moving around and finding something comfortable."
How unlike Dennis this man was. Dennis and I hardly talked about sex, either. "It's nice to be able to talk to someone about sex."
Brian agreed wholeheartedly. "It's an important part of a relationship, an important part of who I am." He looked at me and smiled. "There are so many things that you are the only person I've ever told."
That statement touched me so deeply I could not respond. I could not respond in words. Instead, I pushed my chair back and stood. I took one step forward and then stepped over Brian. I lowered myself onto him, straddling him. I held his face in my hands and kissed him. It was slow but strong. I rocked very slowly on him. We were at the office, the cleaning crew was nearby, and who knew who else was around? I had to break before we were caught. I did so and leaned into Brian's chest. He put his arms around me again and gently patted my back.
"I love it when you hold me," I said before moving back into my chair.
"Thanks for staying late tonight, Annie," he said with that sly smile of his. "I really appreciate it."
I laughed. He always had the correct, light thing to say to break whatever tension that existed at a moment. "It's probably time for us to go." I stood.
Brian nodded, but said, "I really can't stand right now." He looked down at his crotch.
I laughed and kissed him again, hard. I considering brushing my hand against his package, but changed my mind. No, not yet. Maybe someday later. I broke off the kiss, told Brian I'd see him in the morning, and left. I was a little excited myself, I could tell.
Definitely, someday later. Or maybe someday soon.