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Mad About the Boy

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Larita half knew and half didn't know that Mr. Whittaker was going to jump in the car with her. And she only half knew how she felt about the subject. The two of them were kindred spirits, and she hated the thought of him continuing to waste away in that horrid house with those awful women; but she also didn't know that she wanted a companion for this particular part of her journey. She'd been married twice, and a woman trying to make her own way in the world has a much harder time of it when there's a man hanging about. On the other hand, Jim was good company, and good company was a hard thing to come by. So she drove off down the road, determined to do the best she could, just as she had told Jim she would.

They drove to London, and as she saw the skyline rising in the horizon, Larita relaxed, mile by mile, until they were once again safe in a city. All that open air in the English countryside had made her feel ironically claustrophobic, and now that she was surrounded by buildings she felt free again. Jim, likewise, visibly relaxed as they entered London.

In London, they stayed in a hotel. Two rooms, very proper, down the hall from each other. They each slept alone the first night. The second night, Larita knocked on Jim's door, just to talk, to enjoy his company, and hopefully to plan for the future, whatever it might bring. But then he'd looked at her with eyes that were full of both longing and mischief and in that moment she wanted more than just his friendship.

She kissed him, slow and sweet and deep, a way he hadn't been kissed since before the Great War. He responded enthusiastically, a man who'd been thirsty for so long he'd forgotten what water tasted like. They fell into bed together, as easy and natural as they had fallen into the tango, only this time she took the lead, guiding him where she wanted him, encouraging him with her body. He had clearly learned some tricks in his travels before Mrs. Whittaker had come and dragged him home. They fell asleep together in an exhausted and satisfied tangle on the bed. Before she fell asleep, Larita made up her mind about Jim: he could stay with her as long as he liked, and if he wandered off, she'd let him and move on with her life.

The next morning, Larita asked "So, what shall we do?"

"Whatever we like."

From London, they made their way to Paris. They spoke French almost exclusively, even with each other, smoking cigarettes and exploring the streets of Paris. Something about changing languages made Jim open up, and he told Larita about his past. About the War, about the men he'd lost. He told her about his "personal reconnaissance mission" in Europe after the War, about how he hadn't been able to bring himself to go home after all that he had seen, about the great architecture and the seedy opium dens. It became clear to Larita that he really had loved Mrs. Whittaker once, before the War, when they were young and the world was full of possibility, and that the War had stolen that from both of them.

Larita told Jim about her past. About her first marriage, and the trial. About racing cars and meeting John. They had no secrets. Both of them had had enough of trying to be who other people expected them to be, so they were simply themselves.

They made love in their hotel room, learning each other's bodies. Sometimes it was sweet and gentle, other times frantic and hurried, still others rough and wild. Neither of them held anything back from each other. They took what they wanted and gave what the other asked for. She tied him to the bed and took her time exploring the flat planes of his body, teasing him until he begged her. He held her wrists down at her sides while he brought her to la petite mort with his tongue. They did things with each other that would have caused Veronica to faint at the mere suggestion.

Eventually they moved out of the hotel and into an apartment, and had Furber forward the Picasso (which they hung over the mantle) and their other belongings.

Both Jim and Larita's divorces came through, and then word came that John had married Sarah. No word came on Veronica or the girls, which was just as well.

Now and then Larita spared a thought for John and Sarah, and hoped they were happy. She had loved John, in her way, but it had become obvious that John had belonged in that world, and Larita hadn't. Neither had Jim. The longer they were away, the more relaxed he became, the more open, the more happy. He was still sly and sardonic and witty, still had a knack for cutting remarks, but it no longer seemed that he was dug into a trench with only his words to protect himself. Her first marriage had taken Larita's youth, the War had taken Jim's, and together they were both young again, even if nothing could restore their lost innocence.

Occasionally they grew restless and would travel, exploring the south of France, Monaco, Italy. They would stroll through ruins and museums, drink too much wine, drive too fast. Larita drove in races, got her picture taken by the papers. Jim watched and wondered how his son had ever thought he could tame her enough to make her settle down in the English countryside.

When the situation in Germany began to look troublesome, they headed back to America. After a week in New York City, Larita took Jim home to Detroit. They opened an automobile and motorcycle repair shop, where they both worked on the engines, getting their hands dirty and making broken things whole again, just as they had done with their own lives.