Richard frowned. “Let me bring the car around,” he suggested. “I don’t want you to get wet.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” Sharon laughed, grabbing his hand and giving it a playful squeeze. “I won’t melt!”
His frown deepened as his eyes slid down the length of her. “But your dress…”
She gave him a coy look. So he had noticed her filmy, flimsy cotton sundress. She wasn’t sure how he could’ve missed it, considering it was bright yellow, with a strawberry pink sash and a suggestively cut neckline, but it was the first mention he’d made of it all evening.
She’d caught him looking, though – just like he used to, when they were teenagers. He’d gaze at her when he thought she wasn’t looking, from the corners of his eyes, under his lashes, a telltale flush rising up the sides of his neck. She’d loved it then, and she loved it now.
It made her feel young and desirable and attractive again.
“I wish I’d thought to bring an umbrella, at least,” he sighed, bringing her back to the present.
She looped his arm through her own, lacing her fingers with his. “Oh, Richard, live a little,” she chided gently. “Why don’t we just make a run for it?”
It wasn’t like his car was parked on the other end of town; the parking lot in front of Renwick’s couldn’t have been ten spaces deep. Still, he looked dubious, unwilling to take the lead – so she took it instead, pulling him out from under the protection of the awning into the gentle, rainy onslaught. His glasses fogged up instantly; she giggled as he stumbled along beside her until they made it to the relative safety of his car. He pushed the glasses up into his hair in annoyance as he took out his keys, bringing them mere inches from his face to discern which one would unlock the car door.
“Do you want me to drive?” she asked, taking the keys from him as he fumbled. She selected the right key and pushed it into the lock on the driver’s side.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” he grumbled, wiping the rain from his face as he opened the door and pressed the button inside to unlock the others.
Sharon nodded, rounding the car to slide into the passenger’s side. He was embarrassed, even though he had no reason to be – but then, he’d always been that way. He’d never liked to appear disheveled, not even as a kid. His shirts were always tucked in, his hair always combed and neat, his shoes polished until they shined. His family had been poor back then, so he’d had to do more with less than his classmates. His clothes had been perpetually out of style, his shoes worn and resoled, his eyeglasses thick and square, in terribly unhip tortoise-shell frames.
He’d held his head high, though. He’d been teased mercilessly for being shy and nerdy, but he’d graduated as valedictorian of their class and had sailed straight into Harvard Law School after college. He was a corporate attorney in Stamford now; he made good money, owned his house and his car outright, and lived in a quiet, respectable Stoneybrook neighborhood. He’d come a long way from his father’s travails as a mailman, when his family rented a small, crumbling house on the poor side of town and relied on public buses to get around.
She blinked rapidly, pulling herself out of her memories when she felt the tentative touch of his hand on her knee. “Yes, Richie?” she breathed, turning to face him.
He smiled at her. “Is there anywhere else you wanted to go this evening?”
She shook her head, leaning back into the plush car seat. “Take me home,” she murmured.
“All right,” he replied, his hand lingering on her leg in a light caress. Her heart began to beat heavily in her chest as they gazed at one another. He’d lowered his glasses back into place, the wire frames glinting in the defused lights from the parking lot. His brown eyes were dark, his face partially hidden in shadow, but she could see a hint of hunger lurking in his gaze, no doubt reflecting her own.
He turned, concentrating on the road as he pulled out of the parking lot and started towards her home. They rode together in companionable silence, Sharon still watching him, searching his features for any sign of hope that he might be ready to escalate their relationship.
He’d always been difficult to read. Even as a teenager, he’d held his cards close to his vest. It had taken him an entire year to work up the courage to ask her out, even after she’d dropped enormous hints about her interest. He might’ve been tall and shy and gangly, but he was also adorable and charming and sweet. They’d been inseparable during their senior year of high school, and had shared a magical summer together…until her parents had shipped her across the country for college, determined to separate them. She was a Porter, after all – a society debutante who could do much better than the mailman’s son.
She’d done that, all right, and now here she, was fifteen years later, back in Stoneybrook, her family ripped in half now that her son was back in California with his father. It was just her and her daughter in their big, rambling farmhouse, and even though her parents lived nearby, she’d felt incredibly lonely in the wake of her return.
And then Richard had stepped back into her life. Widowed, with a daughter of his own (whom he doted on), and with a successful career, of which her parents couldn’t possibly disapprove. Even though they were both adults now, and parents, and working professionals, being with him felt like slipping back into the past, to a simpler, gentler, freer time. She’d loved him passionately as a teenager, and those same feelings were bubbling up inside her again.
Only this time, she had the chance to act on them – but only if he’d let her.
They’d been dating exclusively for six months now. He’d been to her home exactly one time, and she to his twice, not counting all of the times they’d shuttled Mary Anne and Dawn back and forth. She was beyond ready to spend the night with him; their last few dates had ended on a frustrated note, for her at least, as he’d quietly rebuffed her advances, leaving her longing for more.
She’d given the situation a lot of thought. She thought about it at home, at work, over dinner, in bed. She felt so safe and happy when she was with him. He was warm and kind and genuine; he treated her like his equal, emotionally, intellectually. They still had that enduring bond from high school, and it had only grown stronger over the last couple of months.
It had become crystal clear, for her at least: what she was yearning for was more than just sex. She wanted him, and the life they could build together.
She wanted to marry him.
It was a feeling she never dreamed she’d entertain again, after her heartbreaking divorce from Jack.
She knew that Richard felt the same bond that she did; he had slipped back into some of his old habits – like sending her flowers out of the blue, and calling her up at night, just to chat. Their dates lingered long into the evening, and he always seemed reluctant to end them, but beyond that, it was a mystery. She knew that his wife had died tragically young, and that obviously had affected him. She’d tortured herself with the possibilities: did he feel like he was being unfaithful to her by having a relationship with someone else? Was that he reason why he was so reticent about sex? Would he even want to remarry, having lost his wife as he had?
She knew from their daughters that he still revered his late wife, and mourned her. Sharon didn’t want to replace Alma in his life, but she didn’t want her to become a wedge between them, either. After all, she knew what it was like to love and lose, too, even if her broken marriage hadn’t ended in death.
Richard never really spoke of her in Sharon’s presence, so she didn’t really have a handle on his feelings on the matter. She knew that there was an enormous chance that she was kidding herself here, that their relationship would never progress further than it already had, that she would never be able to marry him, or even just have him, all to herself. There was every chance that their new relationship would run its course, the way their teenage relationship had never been allowed to, and that they would eventually part ways once more.
She knew that she risked acting the fool, and breaking her own heart. It was a risk she had to take, however, because she was determined to discover if his feelings for her ran as deep as hers still did for him.
The sundress had been part of her strategy. So had the dinner at Renwick’s (the rain had just been plain good luck). They’d spent hours together at the diner’s counter during that magical summer, sipping root beer floats and holding hands and making ostentatious plans for the future.
Those memories brought a half-smile to her face now. They were going to run away together and live off of her trust fund, while he went to law school and she, into the theater. (She’d wanted to be an actress back then, and had certainly granted her parents a couple of Oscar-worthy performances.) They were going to get married, and have lots of babies, and grow old together, retiring to a remote cabin on an island off the coast of Maine.
Richard turned down Burnt Hill Road, carefully steering the car down the darkened roadway. Sharon’s farmhouse loomed large near the end of the street; in the dark, it appeared to be surrounded by a veritable forest of trees, though in reality her acre of land had been cleared off nearly a century ago. Only the barn still survived from the days of the working farm that had once inhabited the land.
He brought the car to a stop in the driveway, turning off the ignition and switching off the lights.
They sat in silence for a long moment.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked, watching him carefully for a response.
He swallowed hard, his eyes falling closed. “I shouldn’t,” he murmured, clutching the steering wheel with both hands.
She nodded. “Will you at least walk me to my door?” she asked, knowing full well he wouldn’t pass up the chivalrous gesture.
“Of course,” he acquiesced, moving as if on automatic pilot as he unstrapped his seat belt and emerged from the vehicle. He walked around to the passenger’s side and opened the door for her, proffering his hand as she got out. She took it, and together they walked up the steps to her front door.
She took both of his hands and turned to face him as they stood there, still shrouded in darkness. His hands felt warm and strong in hers, his grip firm and true. She looked up at him, finding his eyes and latching onto his gaze. They stood silently, completely locked on one another, and her heart gained traction in her chest, her breath growing shallow in her lungs. She loved this – the longer they lingered there without speaking, the longer they resisted their most basic urges, the better the chance that they’d end up in a wanton embrace.
He’d always had exquisite control, and she’d always longed to break it.
She was the first to give in this time, however, pressing herself close and wrapping her arms around his shoulders, bringing his head down, his mouth crashing into hers. She kissed him hungrily, molding her body to his, aching to feel his arms around her. She felt his resistance slip way, and she purred in response, twining her fingers through his hair as he finally embraced her in kind, opening his mouth to her tongue.
In spite of the rain that still clung to her clothing, in spite of the humidity hanging heavily in the air, she felt a delicious heat stirring in the core of her being, warmth radiating up through her chest and her arms, all the way to the crown of her head. She trailed kisses along the line of his jaw, distracting him as she reached down to unbutton his coat, her hands sliding inside, skimming her nails over the fine linen of his shirt. He had definitely filled out in all the right places, no longer the skinny and lanky teen she’d once known. His torso was firm and solid now, the planes of his back smooth and toned, his shoulders muscular and well-defined.
Her mouth found his in the darkness, and she kissed him again, long and deep. She relished the feeling of his hands sliding over her waist, her hips, tangling in the bow of the sash at the back of her dress.
“We shouldn’t,” he whispered, nipping at her lips, and she felt the press of his hips into hers, his hands caressing her backside, his fingers catching in the folds of her skirt.
“Come in,” she urged by way of reply, reaching down to yank the tails of his shirt from his trousers.
“I can’t,” he said softly, his tone apologetic, his cheeks flushing with heat. “The girls – ”
“ – are upstairs,” she reminded him, pulling him close for a kiss. “Watching scary movies.”
Richard frowned, momentarily breaking away, though his arms remained looped around her waist. “Scary movies? I don’t know about that,” he hedged.
Sharon laughed. “They’re teenagers, Richie,” she assured him. “They can handle it.” She brushed her fingers through his hair, drawing it away from his brow. “Do you remember what it was like when we were teenagers?”
He shuddered as she rested her elbows on his shoulders. “Yes,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers.
“Remember when we used to sneak down into your parents’ basement,” she continued, “to watch movies in the rec room?”
“Mm-hmm,” he murmured, tilting her head so that he could capture her lips in a sweet, searing kiss. “I seem to recall doing a lot of this, too,” he teased, sliding his tongue over her lower lip.
Her heart rippled, the heat in her belly rising as she brought his body completely flush to hers again. “So come inside,” she whispered, reaching behind herself to open the door. “It’ll be just like old times.”
Mercifully, the door swung open without a sound, and she took a step inside, drawing him in with her. He followed, albeit hesitantly, and they continued to kiss, fumbling in the dark until they found themselves in the living room.
“What if they catch us?” he murmured between kisses.
She shrugged. The living room was open; there was nothing to separate them from any potentially prying eyes. “What if your parents had caught us?” she countered.
He chuckled. “They never did,” he replied with a knowing smile.
She nodded. “Because we were quiet,” she reminded him, pulling him down onto the sofa. She pushed his coat from his shoulders, and reached for the buttons of his shirt. “Are you quiet now?”
He swallowed hard, batting her hands away. “Are you?”
Suddenly, a collective shriek tore through the upstairs, followed by a spurt of relieved laughter.
Sharon met Richard’s gaze. It was one thing to dodge a single set of parents – seven teenage girls would be another matter entirely.
Such risk had always emboldened her, however. They were forever stealing away together, hiding from his family as well as her own. It had driven their passionate encounters as teenagers, even if they’d never gone as far as she’d wanted.
“Are you sure about this?” Richard asked softly.
She slid her hand over the front of his trousers in response, stroking his half-formed erection.
He groaned, deep in his throat. “Bedroom?” he managed through tightly-clenched teeth.
She shook her head. “My room’s upstairs,” she informed him, “right next to Dawn’s.”
“Oh,” he breathed, sounding dejected. “Then – maybe we shouldn’t – ”
“Richie,” she broke in, sounding far more patient than she felt, “do you want me?”
He inhaled sharply, hesitating, knowing very well that he couldn’t deny it when she held, in her hand, the evidence of his desire. “Yes,” he finally admitted.
She smiled. “Then take me,” she told him, simply, plainly.
“Here?” he mused dubiously. “Like this?”
She straightened, letting him go, closing her hands around the buttons of his shirt again. “Do you remember,” she started softly, “that day on my grandmother’s estate?”
He trembled under her light caress, each button sliding open, revealing the smooth expanse of his chest. “Yes,” he breathed, his eyes falling closed. “You were there with your family, and I’d followed you. You snuck me into the English garden, in the middle of that ridiculously pretentious maze, away from the others.” He inhaled deeply as she pressed the sides of his shirt open, her hands sliding over his bare skin, her fingers finding and caressing the delicate curve of his spine.
“Mm, the tea roses,” she recalled, pressing kisses along the lines of his shoulders, down into his chest. “I’ll never forget that scent.”
“Me, neither,” he agreed, pulling her close, cupping her breasts through her dress.
She leaned into him, her mouth finding his as she climbed into his lap, splaying her knees around his hips. They’d stolen away into the gardens that afternoon, and had ended up behind banks of fragrant rose bushes, kissing as if there was no tomorrow. They’d been situated then much as they were now, with him on the ground and her straddling him, their movements quick and fragile, the fear of being found rushing their forbidden explorations.
She’d wanted him so badly that day. They’d spent the summer groping and fondling and undressing each other, but he’d been hesitant about penetration of any sort; getting him to French kiss with any kind of regularity had been a personal triumph. Yet the more they did together, the more she wanted more. She wanted him to be her first lover, and she’d realized that the visit to her grandmother’s, mere days before she was to leave for California, was their last real chance to cross that final line.
They’d made it to this point. Their time was running out. They hadn’t bothered to take the time to undress back then, instead pressing themselves together, stroking each other through their clothing. She remembered the sensation of grinding her hips against his, of feeling the distinction of his erection between her thighs, the coarseness of his jeans, rubbing against her ever-dampening panties – and of being denied the chance for that ultimate connection.
A gardener had caught them, and it had taken every penny of her allowance to keep him from going straight to her grandmother with the salacious details.
She’d cried tears of frustration that afternoon as she helped him escape, unseen, before they could be found out.
She was determined not to have that same outcome here and now, fifteen years later.
She rose up, capturing his lips with her own, swallowing his moan of desire as she pressed her hips into his. The friction of their clothing against her skin ignited the heat in her core, fire blazing through every nerve ending in her body. She reached for him under her skirt, unzipping his trousers, and she felt him bring her body down to meet his, crushing her breasts against his chest, his mouth claiming hers in an urgent, decadent, almost possessive kiss. He grabbed a fistful of her hair as their bodies slotted together, and she dragged her nails down the flanks of his sides, reaching for the waistband of his briefs, determined not to be denied this time.
He had the same idea, at the same time, lifting her hips away from his and peeling her panties away, the cotton fabric shimmying down her thighs and over her knees. She kicked them the rest of the way off before settling over him again, his hands squeezing her bare hips, as she took his arousal in hand, giving him an experimental stroke before guiding him home.
“Oh, Richie, I love you so much,” she breathed, sliding down the length of his erection, until she’d sheathed him to the hilt. She clutched at him, one hand in his hair and the other latched onto his arm, and fought to catch her breath, panting against his chest. “I’ve wanted this for so long.”
He brought her close by way of response, his hands smoothing up her back and across her shoulders as he kissed her, long and slow and deep. They began to move together, tentatively, learning each other, and she opened her eyes, her vision quickly adjusting in the dark. She looked at him, and saw the mixture of pleasure and pain in his expression, the tears forming in the corners of his still-closed eyes.
“Richie…” she whispered, becoming all too aware of his silence. “Please…”
Her thoughts faded away when she felt his thumb on her clit, massaging the throbbing little nub to the point of pure ecstasy. She moaned, burying her head in his shoulder as she came, holding his hand in place between her thighs as she rode the waves of her orgasm.
Slowly, she spiraled back down and became aware of the fact that he was still inside her, still rock hard and pulsating and so tense, to the point of probable pain. She looked into his face and saw that the tears hadn’t abated, his features twisting with deeper conflict, as if he was at war with himself.
“It’s okay, darling,” she murmured softly, rocking her hips into his. “Let go… let yourself want this.”
He nodded, swallowing thickly as he took hold of her hips again, directing the pace and rhythm of her movements, her inner muscles tightening around him, encouraging the release she could feel building up inside him.
“Relax, Richie,” she coaxed, pressing feather-light kisses over his flushed face. “Remember the rose garden? The scent of the flowers, the birds singing in the trees, how desperately we wanted each other…”
She could feel him edging closer, but also his continued reluctance.
All at once, it became clear: her instincts had been right. She knew now, without a shadow of a doubt, that there’d been no one else since his wife died. She could feel the way his body ached for release; she could see in his face the way his heart was denying him.
She rested her forehead on his. “You aren’t being unfaithful, Richie,” she promised him. “She’d want you to be happy, to live your life to the fullest. I want this, and you do, too – I can feel it. Don’t deny yourself any longer.”
She exhaled sharply, suddenly finding herself flat on her back, his hands grasping the backs of her thighs as he loomed over her. He parted her legs, widening her stance, his movements sharp and purposeful now, stroking harder and deeper. She clung to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and her ankles around his waist, her hips lifting up to meet his, her heart racing against her ribs. He arched his back, driving home one final, deep thrust, and erupted inside her. He fell forward, into her arms, holding her close as his lips met hers in a languid kiss.
Quiet descended over them; upstairs, the final vestiges of the movie marathon floated down, trademark creepy music lingering in their ears.
She smiled, brushing her fingers through Richard’s hair.
“Did we really just do that?” he murmured, the sound of his voice reverberating through her.
“I feel like a teenager again,” she joked.
He smiled, but his expression was somber as he sat up, pulling the open halves of his shirt together. “I wish it had been better,” he said quietly, apologetically.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” she chided, rising alongside him and smoothing her skirt over her legs. “The first time, after… well, it’s never perfect.”
He snorted. “This was about as far from perfect as you can get,” he muttered. “In the dark, on your sofa, awkwardly fumbling around, still fully clothed, hiding from our daughters…” He trailed off, shaking his head incredulously as he began re-buttoning his shirt.
She giggled, clasping her arms around his shoulders. “It’s exactly as if we were teenagers, only we would’ve been hiding from our parents back then, instead of our kids,” she teased softly. “Face it, Richie, we were not meant to have a perfectly planned, perfectly executed, intimate lovemaking session on our first try.”
He flushed, averting his eyes, still working on the buttons of his shirt.
She curled into his side, brushing a reassuring kiss to his cheek before resting her temple on his.
“I love you, you know,” she said quietly.
She felt his hand on her face, his fingers sliding through her hair. “I know,” he returned solemnly.
She curved her hand over his neck, running her thumb along the line of his jaw. “I want to be with you.”
He swallowed hard, inhaling sharply, but didn’t immediately respond.
Knowing what she knew now, she could understand his reluctance to bask in their afterglow. She could sympathize with his plight. The first man she’d slept with after Jack had left her feeling horribly conflicted: guilty and selfish and confused.
“I’m not telling you this to push you, Richie,” she assured him, nipping at his earlobe. “I just want you to know where I stand.”
He folded his arms around her, sliding his head onto her shoulder, and he held her close, his heart hammering in his chest. “Thank you,” he whispered. “For understanding, for…everything.”
She smiled, smoothing her fingers through his hair. “Do you want to come upstairs?” she asked, even though she had an inkling of how he would respond to her invitation.
He shook his head as he let her go. “No,” he replied, his tone raw and gravelly. “I’m not ready for that.”
She nodded. “I understand.”
He stood, continuing to dress, and she searched for her underwear, so carelessly flung away in the heat of the moment. She’d only just picked them up from behind a nearby chair when she heard him quietly clear his throat.
“I’ll come back in the morning, to pick up Mary Anne,” he said, straightening the sleeves of his coat.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she responded. She sent him a sidelong glance. “Maybe you’ll stay and have a cup of coffee?”
He smiled. “I’d like that,” he agreed.
He walked over to where she stood, taking one of her hands into his, and gave it a loving squeeze. “Goodnight, Sharon,” he murmured, brushing his lips over hers in a soft, sweet kiss.
“Goodnight, Richie,” she breathed, her fingertips tingling as she let him go.
He turned, slipping away into the shadows of the night, and she clutched her sodden panties to her chest. “Until we meet again.”