The Limits of the Horizon
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.
The wideness of the horizon has to be inside us, cannot be anywhere but inside us, otherwise what we speak about is geographic distances. ~ Ella Maillart
The night and the road is dark and Larita can only imagine it heading into the horizon, but the image of it in her mind is enough to make her feel happier than she has been since coming to the Whittaker estate.
After all, the horizon has no limit. Not really. Every mile closer to it simply brings another mile of it and she need never hold back. Will never hold back, not again.
Free, she decides, feeling the wind in her hair. Free of restraint, free of not fitting in, free of the Whittalker family – except she's not, not quite. Jim is sitting in the car with her, giving her a slightly mischievous smile as she glances in his direction.
“You are a dark horse,” she remarks.
“Will give them something to talk about,” he says, and she can't detect any hint of regret in his voice. If he's masking it well or just not feeling it, she does not know, but it makes her smile still.
“Veronica will probably refuse to talk about it at all,” she remarks, wishing she could see Veronica's expression when Furber gave the news. “Maybe she's chasing after us on a horse right now.”
“No,” Jim simply says.
“You don't think she will come for you again,” Larita says. A statement, not a question.
“I doubt it.”
“If she does?”
“I no longer cared then. I do now.”
The implication of that is not lost on her, but then, neither was him coming with her in the first place or the tango they shared when John wouldn't.
John. The thought gives her a sharp pang, and she grips the steering wheel a little more firmly. It is better this way, she tells herself firmly. It may give him more immediate grief (and her), but he will he saved the long years of coming to hate her, and she him.
“What do you think will hurt him most? That I ran off with you, or you ran off with me?” she asks, and of course Jim understands who she is referring to.
“The loss of a father or a wife? Wife, absolutely.”
“You sell yourself short.”
“On the contrary. I never sold myself at all.”
She considers that, and what she knows about him, for a while, letting the car drive more and more distance between her and what will never be a home. Only John would think so, but he thinks the world of the world, never seeing it. She does.
She can also see the clouds and the rain they are promising. And they do deliver, soaking her and Jim both by the time they roll into a hotel. She has to laugh at the sight of both of them arriving in such lack of style (and such a late hour), and Jim laughs easily with her. He offers her his arm with flourish and she takes it with mock seriousness, and like that they walk in.
The concierge raises an eyebrow in that admirable English way of not doing it, but she merely smiles and asks for one room. She can almost feel Jim's gaze on her as she does, but he says nothing.
One room for a Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker sounds proper enough, but that of course fails to take into account that they're both (for now) married to other people. Still, the appearance of decency seems to be enough for the English and no one asks any questions.
Only she does, when the door is closed. “No illusions?”
Jim leans against it, looking at her. “The war killed them all.”
“About me, I mean.”
“I know exactly who you are,” he says, his words caressing her right along with his gaze. She believes him, she realises. “I'm just sorry my son didn't.”
Venus Detriot, she remembers John calling her. A piece of art. A sculpture. An image. Not someone real at all. Maybe he never quite saw the woman in her and maybe all she saw was the adoration in his eyes without questioning the cause of it. Her fault as much as John's.
“He will get a divorce,” she says firmly. “They'll practically hand it to him. A wife of such easy virtue, running off with another man and sleeping with him...”
“Sleeping with him?” Jim repeats, voice hoarse.
“Sleeping with him,” she confirms, stepping close. She runs a hand across his cheek, feeling the faint stubble. “You clean up nicely.”
“You clean up spectacularly,” he retorts as she unzips her jacket and tosses it aside along with the gloves and the scarf. “Larita, I am no.... You don't have to...”
She puts a finger to his lips, enjoying the feel of his lips while at it. “I know that. No illusions. Allow me the same courtesy of you.”
She's never been one to love blindly, after all. Love a little too easily sometimes, maybe. But not blindly. She knows Jim Whittaker has seen a war ravage a country, just as she's seen cancer ravage a body and neither of them will be the same after. She also knows he was there for her when John wasn't, and that he's here now, leaving everything behind. That he's akin to her and not ashamed of it, or of her.
He'll be very easy to love even with eyes wide open.
He kisses the tip of her finger, lowering his head and pressing his forehead against hers. It reminds her of the intimacy of their tango and she wonders if his skill at dancing is matched by his skill in other areas. She slides her hands to his shoulder, enjoying how they're set before sliding off his coat and jacket. His hands are warm against her back, going as low as they can before her dress covers her skin. A little pressure there, and he's leading her in small circles across the room, almost like a dance.
Like a dance, she eases a leg between his, feel her thigh press against his. Too many clothes on, of course, but anticipation is also a sort of foreplay. He seems to know it too, not even having kissed her yet.
They both pause as she bumps into the bed with the back of her knees. The curls of his hair tickle her forehead before he takes a step back, and the loss of contact makes her reach for him instinctively before she checks herself.
Instead, she lifts her hands to the straps of her dress. He watches her intently as she pushes the dress downwards, doing a sharp intake of breath as he realises she is not wearing anything underneath.
“Quite scandalous attire,” she says with mock seriousness.
“Quite convenient,” he counters. “I'm afraid I am wearing something less convenient.”
“Let me be the judge of that,” she says, stepping up to remove his bow-tie with some skill. His vest follows suit, and only when she comes to the buttons of his shirt does she pause slightly, mainly because he has taken the opportunity to bend his head and kiss her neck. She can feel featherlight touches of his tongue against skin, but doesn't let it deter her too much. Soon his shirt falls to the floor as well, and she can see some dark curls of hair on his chest as well.
Not the smooth chest of a boy, but drawing her palms across it is still a pleasure. Even more so is his mouth now that he has moved to a breast, tilting her backwards in the process.
She fumbles to loosen his trousers before she sits down on the bed, managing just. He plants a hand on either side of her, supporting himself as he moves his attention to her other breast. She arches into it, the angle making it hard to get at his underwear, so she laces her fingers into the back of his hair instead.
When he lifts his head again, his lips are slightly parted and his eyes are dark as he watches her. She wonders if it had been him she had spotted across a crowd she would have ended up a different Mrs. Whittaker, or if his gaze on her now seems so dear to her because of their time together.
He stands up for a moment, efficiently stepping out of his underwear and shoes while she takes the opportunity to take her own high heels off. She doesn't get time to lower her legs again, as his hands settle beneath her knee, parting her legs as he lowers his head to between them.
She digs her fingers into the bedsheets, the sensation of his mouth on her flesh making her inhale sharply. France, she remembers. He went to France. She can't imagine Veronica in this position, after all. She can however imagine Veronica's expression at the scandalous nature of it and the thought makes her giggle.
She is still giggling when he lifts his head up and perches himself above her.
“I just thought of your wife,” she says as ways of explaining. A flash of emotion crosses his face, but she can't quite make it out before it is gone.
“I dare say she will endeavor not to think of you,” he says after a moment, closing his eyes when her hands travel down to stroke the length of him. Once, twice, thrice, watching his reaction through lowered eyelids.
“I dare say she will fail to forget the siren luring men to their deaths,” she says, remembering Veronica's parting words.
“To life,” Jim says, his breath slightly ragged as he lifts her up slightly (tracing the curve of her buttocks while at it, she notices), and then he slides into her in one thrust. She lifts herself up to kiss him, sloppily, tongues dancing against each other as their bodies do the oldest dance of all.
His pace is much too careful at first, and she bites down on his lower lip to tell him that. He grins mischievously at that, and then his pace is frantic and she is moaning and digging her fingers into his shoulders with equal fervor.
She's never known how to hold back, after all. Not for long. Not without boring herself to death. Life seems much too precious for anything else.
He makes a slightly strangled noise as he comes. It might be an attempt at her name. She knows she is certainly trying for his when he slips his hand between their bodies and coaxes her over the edge.
A man has certain advantages over a boy, she thinks when her senses return. She rolls over to the side and perches her head up by one hand, Jim mimicking the move so they are facing each other. A man might have skin that has more traces of his age, yes, but his fingers have more skill from experience.
“Do you mean that? To life?” she asks softly as he links one hand with hers. She can feel the thin sheen of sweat starting to cool her skin and know they will soon have to slip under the covers to not be cold. Not yet, though. Still a little time to have nothing between them.
“Yes,” he says simply.
“What sort of life?” she asks, she can't quite help it. “I race cars, you help me keep them in working order? We kidnap Furber and Beatrice so we need do nothing but fuck, dance and drive cars?”
“Such coarse language from a lady,” he says with all the mock seriousness she loves in him, leaning forward and kissing her. Softly this time, changing the angle every time she tries to deepen it – until she puts both her hands on his face and kisses him fiercely, flipping him on his back so she can straddle him while at it.
“Yes,” he says against her lips when she finally relents her kissing a little. His thumb is brushing a nipple lightly and she grinds a little against him in response.
“Yes to the fucking and the dancing and the driving,” Jim goes on, and she can't detect any sense of displeasure at that future at all in his voice. “If any of my daughters grow any sense, they might visit from time to time. And I do insist that we get at least one more nude painting of you. Preferably perched on a car.”
“Only if we also get one of you,” she counters and he smiles, such a sardonic, defiant smile it makes it impossible not to smile back. He would do it too, she is pretty sure. The glimmer of life she saw in him seems so bright now, lighting up his eyes.
“Agreed,” he says. It sounds almost like a vow and for a breath she feels almost afraid. She's given and received vows twice now. First to break her heart, second to just be broken. Tom. John. No. No giving in to fear. The only way to cross the finish line is to never hold back.
Maybe third time is the charm. Or maybe driving recklessly into the horizon imagining no limits is the only way she can live.
“Agreed,” she says, leaning forward a little blindly until his forehead is against hers, steadying her. Maybe there is much more they should talk about, much more she should tell him, but somehow, it can wait. With him, it can wait.
In the morning, they eat breakfast among the sheets, spilling quite a lot of it when she impulsively kisses him and he not as impulsively has more appetite for her than toast.
It will cause quite a few exchanged glances among the hotel staff, she is sure, and the thought is rather an inspiration to further misbehaviour. Not that Jim objects. More like encourages it, in fact.
And so, the sun is well up in the sky by the time they check out, and the horizon is all laid out waiting for them. She takes it in for a moment, a perfect sunny cold day of England. John will enjoy it. Probably even go for a ride with Sarah in it. She hopes so, at least. He'll be content there, a limited horizon, a house he knows, a woman he understands. Yes. All for the best.
“Where to today, my dear?” Jim asks, appearing by her side.
“As far as we get,” she says, offering him her arm with flourish. He takes it with mock seriousness that doesn't hold very long before he has to smile.
“As far as we get,” he agrees easily.
And so they do. The horizon need never have a limit unless you set one, after all.