attraction

Comments, critiques and tips are welcome.

Damon Reid vs Tristan Thomas




***



Tristan entered his father’s office after a quick dash to the bathroom, and sat down in the couch facing his father and Damon. He couldn’t help but notice the way Damon’s mouth was set in a grim line, jaw tense. Was he angry? Was he as confused as he was? One thing was clear though, Damon wanted to pretend nothing had happened between them. Fine…two people could play that game. But Tristan could fool any other person but himself…he was still shaken by the encounter.



Caleb cleared his throat and quickly went over the Albatros project, outlining exactly what was to be expected of Tristan. He felt so numb that he couldn’t bring himself to decline as he had intended to in the first place.



He simply sat and listened to everything his father had to say and gave a simple answer…



“Okay.”



“Okay? Yo…you’re going to do it?” Caleb spattered, turning to give Damon a surprised look.



“Isn’t that why you called me here? I will handle it.” Tristan said quietly.



“Good.” Caleb exclaimed. Then looking closely at his son’s blank face, asked, “Son are you alright.”



“Sure. Peachy. Can I go now? I’ll go through these documents and get back to you if I have any questions.”



“That will be great.” Caleb answered beaming like he had won the lottery.



“See you at home.” Tristan said to his dad and without a glance in Damon’s direction, left the office.



Damon had followed the exchange between father and son and was just as surprised as Caleb. He kept picturing Tristan trembling against him and cursed himself for his lack of control even as he felt his cock harden in his pants. What the fuck had he gotten himself into? Thank God he hadn’t gone any further than he had wanted to. Tristan was one fucked up kid. And he wanted nothing to do with him unless it concerned Albatros.



“Good job Damon. I don’t know how you did it but thanks.” Caleb Thomas beamed.



‘Yeah tell me about it’ Damon thought. That sure wasn’t what he had expected.



***



Tristan woke up suddenly, panting and out of breathe. He turned to look at the clock on his bedside table. It was 2:46 A.M. He could still see the rich visions and could feel the tremors that shook him. He felt the wetness at crotch of his pajama bottom and groaned aloud.



“Not again.” He muttered drawing his fingers through his bangs. He had been having these erotic dreams about none other than Damon for the past two weeks since the encounter in the elevator. And they all ended with him ejaculating in his dreams. He was not a kid to be having wet dreams dammit! And about Damon of all people too.



This time, it felt even more real. It was a naked Damon. Looking glorious and sexy, his body pressed hard against his. He didn’t think he had ever known heat as intense as he had when Damon had brought his hand down and wrapped it around his rigid flesh, his body covering his, pressing him into the mattress, heavy and demanding as he placed himself between his… Tristan groaned again, still aching.



He couldn’t go on like this. He had fucked every girl he could within these past two weeks but could still not get the edge off…still needed. Needed what, he wasn’t sure. Damon? Hell no. Tristan knew one thing though, he had never been a coward. The best way to handle this, he concluded, was to confront the problem head on. In this case, the problem was Fucking Damon. He planned on having a talk with him today.



***



Damon stepped into the reception area of his office, and came to a complete abrupt stop. What the fuck was he doing here? He hadn’t even planned on coming to the office today because he wanted to work from home. But he just had to come and get some important documents.



“What do you want Tristan.” He asked the young man chatting with his executive assistant.



“Oh Damon,” Lisa quipped, “Tristan said he wanted to discuss an important business with you so I told him you were on your way here so he could wait.”



“Tristan can speak for himself Lisa. Are the documents ready?” he admonished lightly and asked.



“They’re on your desk Damon.” Lisa replied laughing lightly. She knew Damon was not angry at her. He was the sweetest person ever.



“Okay thanks.” Then turning towards his office, he gestured to Tristan, “Shall we?”



This had better be important he thought. The little he saw of Tristan, the better. He didn’t want to complicate the relationship between their two families. But damn was he tempted.



God, he looked good. Tristan thought, looking at Damon. Tall and broad, his muscular body rippling beneath the black t-shirt he wore. Jeans hugged his lean hips, denim cupping the full bulge between his thighs. He wanted to cup it, he realized insanely, feel his thick cock, not just against his abdomen, but burrowing deep and hard inside…



‘Stop it!’ He screamed at himself silently. He entered Damon’s plush office and chose to stand.



Clearing his throat, he blurted out…



“Damon, about what happene…”



“I don’t want to talk about it.” Damon said in a hard voice cutting him off.



“Dude, I’m…”



“Are you deaf or something?” Damon bellowed. “I said I didn’t want to talk about it. It was a mistake. Forget it ever happened.”



Tristan felt his chest tighten. He felt a physical pain inside his chest. What the fuck was happening to him? He took a deep breath. Then abruptly turned on his heels and walked out of Damon’s office. He wasn’t about to stand there for a second more and disgrace himself. Because for the life of him, he didn’t know why he felt like crying.



Watching Tristan go, Damon slumped into his chair, feeling like an ass.



***



“You dick-head.” Chris muttered to Damon. “How the fuck could you even suggest to Michael not to confess to Mary?”



“Hey, why bother her? Ignorance they say is bliss.” Damon retorted.



“So you would rather he lives with the lie for the rest of his bloody…pun intended…life?” Dean chipped in making all the six guys at the table howl with laughter. Michael, their pal who was the center of discussion was actually a doctor so Dean couldn’t help but make that crack about his ‘bloody’ life.



“Kayla. Now that’s a girl after my own heart. What a left hook!” Tyron said shaking his head.



“‘Oh my balls…my balls…someone please find my balls.’ Said the squealing doctor.” Dean mockingly imitated Michael, making the laughter become uproarious at their table and causing people in the pub to turn and look at them.



It was Saturday night. And Damon and his guys, excluding Cole who was still having make-up sex with Briana, and Michael who was probably groveling at his wife’s feet. That left the six of them and they were having the time of their lives.



Across the room, another group, made up of younger boys and some girls, turned to look at the happy group. Their laughter was actually infectious though no one knew what the racket was all about. Tristan, who was part of the second group turned to look too and froze when he saw Damon with is head thrown back in mirth.



It had been about three day since he’d rushed out of Damon’s office. It hadn’t been easy to convince his family and friends that he was ok. His mother was worried about him. He seemed as though he had lost a little life. She had confronted his father, thinking he was giving her poor baby a tough time but he had promised her he had done nothing of that sort.



His sister, Adriana, had come close. He wasn’t surprised. After all, they had always been very close and she knew him very well.



“Is someone in love?” She had asked, entering his room and flopping down on his bed.



“And why would you think that?” He had retorted.



“I don’t know. There’s something about you. I can’t seem to put my finger on it but…tell me, are you getting more serious about that Amber girl?”



“No.” He had denied vehemently.



“Good.” She stated and turned to go. Not answering his question of ‘why good?’



His friends didn’t understand the sudden change. They said he looked quiet and reserved which was so unlike him. Though he hadn’t wanted to, they had forced him into coming to the pub with them to have a good time and forget about whatever problems he wasn’t ready to talk about. Now here he was. With his problem right across the room. Fuck!



***



“Hey Damon, do you know that guy over there?” Matt asked Damon. “He’s been staring at you all evening.”



Damon turned to look and froze when he saw Tristan. Shit!



“Yeah, his father is my business partner.” He told his pals.



Later that evening, Damon was standing with the guys at the side of the pub, getting ready to hop into his car when Dean drew his attention to the fact that his business partner’s son was headed their way. Damon turned to see Tristan striding towards him with an angry expression on his face. God he was sexy. The hot surge of arousal and need that swept over Damon’s body in that moment was so intense, so demanding, it had him automatically crossing his legs to still the growth of his cock.



“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Tristan attacked without preamble.



All the guys, including Damon were taken aback by the attack.



“Dude…” Matt started but got cut off by Tristan who concentrated fully on Damon.



“Do you think you’re a better human being than other people? Where do you get off treating people with so much disrespect? What the fuck have I ever done to you?”



At this point, all the guys were quiet. Looking at the drama unfolding before them, it was obvious to everyone present that Tristan was not only angry but he was also highly emotional. They were beginning to wonder exactly what Damon had done to hurt the young man so much.



“I am a human being too Damon.” At this point his voice cracked and he continued in a soft broken voice. “I only wanted to ta…” but before he could finish his sentence, Damon was drawing him into his arms and covering his lips with his own, slanting against them as he claimed Tristan with a kiss that rocked him to his toes. It couldn’t be called a kiss. It was a devouring, a feast of the senses, and Tristan was helpless against it. Damon lifted him to his toes, pressing his thick, jeans-covered erection against his as he gave him a taste of the hunger to come with his kiss.



Tristan couldn’t breathe. He didn’t want to breathe.



For that fraction of time, it was just the two of them, and Tristan gave himself completely to Damon. His kiss was like rough velvet and summer lightning. His taste was dark, heady. Tristan moaned into the kiss, his tongue twining with Damon’s, helpless against the sweeping sensations working through his body.



A piercing whistle penetrated Damon’s consciousness causing him to break the kiss.



“I’m sorry Tris. Forgive me please.” Damon muttered as his lips slid from Tristan’s. He leaned his forehead against Tristan’s, his hand framing his cheek, his thumb running over the slightly swollen curve of his lips. They were reddened, fuller now from his caress. His eyelids looked heavy, his cheeks flushed…he was so fucking sexy.



Someone cleared his throat beside them making Damon look up. The guys were still standing around looking at them.



“Wow! That was…interesting.” drawled Dean.



“Shut up Dean. I err…will see you guys tomorrow. Now get out of here y’all.” He growled the last bit when they just stood there looking at him. They all knew he was bi so had no problem with what they had just witnessed. They were simply trying to make him uncomfortable as they always did whenever one of them was caught making out.



“Guys!” Damon groaned making them laugh and start getting into their cars.



“Don’t forget to use birth control.” Dean couldn’t resist a parting shot, making everyone, including a blushing Tristan roar with laughter.



“Did you bring a car?” Damon asked Tristan, his hand lightly caressing his hips.



“No I came with my friends. I didn’t want to drink and drive.” Tristan said softly.



“But you didn’t drink. I would have tasted it on you.” Damon observed.



“Well…I didn’t.” He muttered looking down.



“Oh Tris. Spent the time staring daggers at me huh? Come on let me take you home.”



“I don’t wanna go home.” Tristan muttered.



“Where do you want to go?”



“I don’t know.”



“Yes you do. Come on, out with it. Where should I take you?”



“How about yours?” Tristan asked quietly. “I really need to talk to you Damon.”



After a little hesitation, Damon opened his door.



“You know this is a bad idea right? I won’t be able to keep my hands off you when we’re alone and you know it.”



“Just when we’re alone? Hell you had your tongue down my throat about five minutes ago. And if I recall correctly, it was in the full glare of people.” Tristan countered.



“And do you blame me? With you standing there looking mouth-wateringly hot, what was I supposed to do? Get in smart-arse.” Damon put the car into gear and sped off towards his home.



And throughout the drive, his cock was fiery, rock-hard and throbbed heavily at the thought of having Tristan all to himself. Never had anybody made him this damned hungry. So hungry he wanted nothing more than to throw Tristan to his knees and mount him like an animal. He wanted to fuck him so hard and deep he wouldn’t be able to still his cries of ecstasy.



There was one thing Damon was pretty sure of: If he didn’t take Tristan soon, he was going to go mad.

(Many thanks to Dawnj, whose editing made this story into a real one! All typos etc. are mine. If you only want the bedroom bits, please turn to page 5.)



*



August may be a wicked month, but there’s no month as unpredictable as November, nor as unpleasant at times; and that day the weather had steadily deteriorated. When she tried to open the back door she had to put all her weight against it; and even then it was quite a job. She was met by a blast of rain that came straight from the northeast. It was cold and wet with a hint of sleet, and it howled through the branches of the old trees that surrounded the house. Damn. She had left the car halfway the drive – she was going to get wet. But it couldn’t wipe out her rosy feeling of well-being; she was still basking in the glow of their being together. She looked back into the house over her shoulder.



“Rotten weather!” she shouted. “See you!”



“Take care!” he shouted back.



She stepped outside. The door was almost blown out of her hands but she managed to close it with as little of a bang as the wind allowed. Shielding her head from the icy rain with one arm, and carrying her bag on the other, she hurried to the car. She got in, started the engine and switched on the windscreen wipers; it was getting dark and the wind blew a flurry of overdue leaves off the trees.



She switched on the lights. She could see clearly for just about thirty yards; after that everything got blurred. Lovely, she thought. Just what I need.



She slowly put the car into first gear and moved forward when a sudden squall made her adjust the speed of the windscreen wipers to its maximum. She crept down the narrow drive slowly and then the old chestnut, which had been ailing for years, was blown over. It crashed down on top of her car and she lost consciousness.



An hour later he left the house to walk the dog, and high time, too, when in the light of his torch he saw the car, or what was left of it, still sitting in the drive. With his hair on end he ran over to investigate. The windscreen had gone, and he saw Jolene’s bright red coat in the beam of his torch. He shouted at her but she didn’t react, and forgetting about the dog he ran back into the house and called 112.



The ambulance was rather long. The police were the first to arrive, and they immediately called the fire brigade, who had a hell of a job getting the tree out of the way and extracting her from the wreck.



An officer and one of the paramedics came over to where he stood; he gave them all the information he had to give them.



He stood looking on at the ghastly scene in the driving rain, lit by the powerful headlights of the other cars, without realising he was drenched, and when Jolene was finally freed from her confinement he got a brief glimpse of her face, and his stomach turned over. He retched and looked away.



The paramedics shook their heads. One of them walked over and asked him to come along. He declined.



“I’ll be over as soon as possible,” he said. “Have to put on dry clothes and lock up first… and have you seen my dog?”



She was rushed to hospital. She was still breathing when she arrived but she did not come to any more; when he arrived by taxi at the hospital, thirty minutes later, she had already died.



Dwayne Rushing had had a long and boring day. He had gone to a conference that he couldn’t see his way out of, but he had not expected it to be worth his while, and it wasn’t. It had been long and far too detailed and he really couldn’t care less, and he had left at the earliest possible opportunity. He didn’t feel like having dinner with that lot, so he had made an excuse – he had a long way to go and all that – and he was looking forward to having a nice bite at home; he’d pop something into the microwave alright.



It really was a long way to go. The nearer his home he came, the worse the weather got, and he had to hold the steering wheel hard not to be blown out of his own lane involuntarily. With a sigh of relief he left the motorway behind; he felt even better when he drove on to his own drive. He looked at the digital clock on the dashboard. Ten thirty. Oh my.



Strange. Janet’s car wasn’t there. She was never out late at night. There wouldn’t be something wrong with Rosie? He jumped out of his car and ran into the house.



Rosie was sitting on the couch in the living room. She clutched her felt rabbit and looked at him with a tearstained face. He picked her up and held her close.



“What is it, darling? Where’s mummy?”



“I don’t know,” Rosie blubbered. “She wasn’t there when I got home.”



“How did you get in?”



“Mummy always leaves the key on a hook in the shed.”



Dwayne looked at his daughter, flabbergasted. Rosie, at five years old, was much too young to have to let herself in.



“Always? Isn’t she there more often?”



She nodded. “I’m hungry,” she said.



Dwayne pulled himself together. “Come,” he said. “Let’s go to the kitchen.”



He found some food in the freezer and stuck it in the microwave, and he found Rosie some biscuits and made her a glass of orange squash. Then he took his cell phone and called his wife’s number.



“Hello,” a male voice said. “Valley Hospital.”



Dwayne’s heart skipped a beat. He had to clear his throat twice before he could croak, “Is Janet there?”



“Who is this speaking?”



“Dwayne Rushing. My wife is missing, er -”



“Mr Rushing, do you think you could come over?”



“Yes, of course. What’s wrong with her?”



“You’d better come over first. Please.”



Dwayne said he would be there and rang off. “Rosie,” he said, “mummy’s in hospital. I have to go there.”



“Is she ill, then?” Rosie said.



Dwayne shook his head. “I don’t know. But I’m afraid things are not alright.” He stroked her head, and shook his head again.



Then he called the neighbours. He told them he had to go to hospital and asked them to take care of Rosie. Dick and Peggy, who were in their sixties and who he could always rely on, were there within minutes.



“Oh, you poor things,” she said. “It’s usually bad when they won’t tell you over the phone. Come on then, off you go. Do you want Dick to come along?”



Dwayne gave her a bewildered look. “I er -” he said and then he looked at Dick. “You do not mind?” he said.



They went to his car and Dick drove them to the hospital. He was received by an elderly doctor, who made him sit down before he told him the bad news. “You’d better not look at her,” he said. “It’s not a pretty sight. But perhaps you can identify her jewellery; the fact it’s her cell phone isn’t identification enough.”



He laid out a few items of jewellery. Dwayne could definitely identify her wedding ring; there were a bracelet and a necklace he had never seen before. There was also her red jacket – but she only wore that at festive occasions?



“I do recognise her ring and her jacket,” he said. “It can’t miss. What happened?”



The doctor raised his eyebrows. Then he told Dwayne her car had been struck by a falling tree, over on the drive of a Mr Tillotson. It had taken them a long time to find out who she was, as the information Mr Tillotson had given was patently wrong; he had said Janet’s name was Jolene Molloy. He said that Janet could not have suffered at all; she must have lost consciousness straight away.



Then he told Dwayne that Janet would have to stay there, and he took down his address so the police could contact him.



Dwayne was given Janet’s bag and her jewellery. Her jacket was bloodstained and he didn’t want it.



The doctor’s tale didn’t make sense, he thought. Mr Tillotson? Jolene Molloy? And then her red jacket and the key in the shed? Shaking his head he left the room, escorted out by the doctor who went in again when he saw there was someone there to take over.



Dick, who had been waiting for him outside, looked at him questioningly.



“She’s dead,” Dwayne said. “She was squashed by a falling tree.”



His face was white and the skin of his cheeks felt as if it had been stretched too taut across his face. He held Janet’s possessions in one hand and he clenched his fists, without realising, and stared into nothing.



Oh Janet… He saw her smiling face before his eyes, and he wanted her so badly it hurt. He felt a wave of nausea come over him, and he stood shaking. The hospital corridor got blurred as his eyes filled with tears.



Dick put a hand on his arm. “Come on. Let’s go home.”



Peggy had sat in the kitchen with Rosie until she had eaten some food; anxiety had ruined her appetite, and she kept asking Peggy what had happened. But Peggy didn’t know. She took the little girl on her knee and cuddled her, and eventually Rosie fell asleep. She sat waiting with the sleeping child still in her arms when she heard the car return.



“Wake up, Rosie,” she said. “Let’s hear what your dad has to tell us.”



Dwayne and Dick hurried in from the rain, and Dick dumped Janet’s bag on the floor. Rosie got off Peggy’s lap and ran to Dwayne. He stooped, and picked her up. “Oh, Rosie,” he said. “Rosie…” He shook his head and rubbed his hands over his eyes. His voice didn’t seem to work.



“Rosie,” he said. “You must be a big girl now. Mummy got hurt. She’s not coming home. She’ll never come home any more…”



He realised with a start she was all he had now, and he hugged his daughter closely.



“She’s dead?” Peggy asked.



“Yes,” Dwayne said. He nodded and the tears ran down his face.



Rosie started to cry, and Peggy came over to him. She stroked the girl’s head and took her in her arms again. “What happened?” she asked.



Dwayne explained, more or less. He was rather inaudible, and Peggy had to ask him to repeat things a few times. Dick made a pot of tea, and when Dwayne had finished they all sat at the kitchen table, having their tea in silence.



Rosie was trembling with fatigue. Peggy lifted her up and left the kitchen to put her to bed. When she returned Dwayne had changed from tea to whisky; he looked a sight, she thought.



“What was she doing at Joe Tillotson’s place?” she asked.



“I don’t know. I’ve never even heard of him. Janet said she’d be home all day; it seems she was away more often. Rosie -” He didn’t know if he should tell them, but then he did; he was afraid he would burst if he didn’t. “Rosie said she left the key for her on a nail in the shed when she was not in before Rosie came home. Who is Tillotson?”



“He’s a photographer,” Dick said. “One of these fancy photographers that ask a fortune to do your portrait. They say he’s quite good.”



“He said that Janet was called Jolene Molloy. And Janet wore her red jacket and there was jewellery I have never seen before…”



Peggy and Dick looked at each other. Peggy shook her head.



“It sounds a bit fishy,” Dick said.



Dwayne nodded. He looked bewildered. Then he put his head in his hands and cried. Peggy put an arm round his shoulder. She just let him cry. There was nothing she could find to say.



Eventually he dried his eyes and poured himself another drink. He looked at Dick and Peggy.



“No, thank you,” Dick said. Peggy shook her head.



“Should I contact the undertaker’s now?” he said.



Dick shook his head. “Better leave that until daylight,” he said. “It’s well past twelve now. You’d better finish that drink and go to sleep. We’ll come round in the morning to sort the two of you out, if that’s ok with you.”



Dwayne nodded. “That would be great. I er, I don’t know if I can handle this on my own. What can she have been doing there?”



They finished their drinks and Dick and Peggy went home. Dwayne went to bed. He set his alarm for seven and switched off the lights.



Sleep didn’t come. The wind kept howling round the house, and the open questions raised by Janet’s death kept churning in his mind, with all sorts of possible and less possible explanations. He wished she were there, and he wished he could hold her tight and kiss her, and when he’d lain staring at the ceiling for well over an hour he got up, put on his robe and went downstairs.



He took Janet’s bag and emptied the contents on to the kitchen table. There were her keys, her purse, a leather wallet for cards and stuff, an A5 envelope, a plastic bag and a cardboard box.



He felt rather uncomfortable about it all; he’d never in all their marriage looked into her things, on a mutual understanding that one needed one’s privacy. He’d implicitly trusted her. He took the plastic bag and emptied that one, too. It made him gasp for breath. The bag contained a set of black underwear and stockings, of a kind he would never even have dared to buy for her. The bra had hardly any cups and the panties no crotch. She never wore other than cotton underwear of a highly utilitarian kind, as far as he knew.



The box was even worse. There were a couple of small sex toys in it, and two silver objects he didn’t recognise for what they were, a kind of silver stars the size of a man’s large watch with a hole in the middle. He put his hands over his eyes in the hope it would dispel the image, but it didn’t work. Then he opened the envelope and took out a series of photographs. They came out upside down, and on the back it said, “for Jolene with love.” There was Joe Tillotson’s trade stamp as well.



He turned them over. The top photograph showed his wife dressed in the underwear he’d just found. The objects from the box were around her nipples that stood quite stiff in their silver jewellery, and he could clearly see her mons pubis – completely hairless, too. The next one showed her face; she had a penis in her mouth and smiled around it into the lens. He let the pictures fall on to the table. He didn’t want to see the rest; it hurt like hell, and the worst thing was that she’d never wanted to have oral sex with him.



The last eighteen months or so their sex life had been less than satisfactory anyway. She’d usually pretended to have a headache, or to be tired, and she’d often been rather distant, almost as if he wasn’t really there…



It made him feel the more how much he’d always wanted and needed her. He’d always thought it was mutual… She could put her arms around his neck and smile at him in a way that made him go completely soft inside, and when she did his whole being would sing. He had never ever expected -



When they’d just met she’d been all over him; nothing fancy but very passionate, and very often. To his regret it had all become rather pedestrian over the years, and lately…



He picked up the photographs again. The rest of the series showed his wife making love with some man he’d never seen in a lot of poses and positions. The photos were well-made alright – he found them extremely hard to look at. When he’d seen them all he put them back into their envelope. He stuffed the underwear and the box into the bag as well, took them upstairs and put them into the wardrobe.



Then he returned to bed. The image of Janet as he’d known and loved her became confused with the Janet he’d seen in the pictures. His love for her and his deep disappointment merged into one; they were painful in the extreme. He wasn’t sure if it all hurt or rather rankled but the net result was the same, anyway.



Janet’s nightgown lay on the other pillow, and her smell was in it. Oh Janet, he thought, please, please – why did you – how could you –



He sat up in the bed and searched his mind to find if there was something, anything, he might have done wrong, anything that could have driven her away from him, anything that could have driven her into someone else’s arms? They had never quarrelled, and he had always tried to make life as good for her as he could. Had he been dull or inconsiderate? He sat shaking his head for a long time, and he suddenly felt terribly cold. He lay down again, put his face into the pillow and cried himself to sleep.



He woke up at seven and got himself ready for the day. First he cancelled his appointments and then he took Rosie to school. He gave the necessary information to the head and Rosie’s teacher, and returned home. Dick and Peggy came over when he’d just called the undertaker’s, and together they went through their various address books. When they’d made a list of everyone that had to be informed, Dwayne first called Myra, his mother-in-law. Then he called his own father, and a few of their close friends. The others would get a written notification.



Peggy made coffee and saw to the catering. They received the undertaker and made the necessary arrangements; then the police came by. The wreck of Janet’s car had been towed away and the insurance company ought to be informed.



It was early afternoon before they were on their own again. Peggy looked at Dwayne.



“Did you get any wiser yet as to this Tillotson business?”



“Yes. She had an affair. I er – there’s photographs to show. I don’t know for certain but I think it must have been going on for well over a year. That’s how long we hardly ever touched…”



Peggy was very quiet for a long three minutes. Then she sighed and said, “I feared as much; she often went out of an afternoon, and she obviously didn’t go shopping. We discussed things, of course; but it wouldn’t have made life any better for either of you if we’d meddled, we thought.”



Dwayne made a face. “You’re probably right. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I had been in your shoes. The knowledge is galling. It taints my thoughts about her, and it’s worse because we can’t talk about it any more. I can’t think of a reason why. I must have done something wrong. I don’t know… I don’t know…”



He had to stop talking because the tears were too close. When he’d pulled himself together he continued, “I will have to say something at her burial… Maybe I can write it down and show it to you to put it right. Rosie mustn’t find out – she dotes on Janet.”



He coughed and quickly turned around to hide the fact he was crying again.



Peggy noticed, but she decided to give him the little privacy he wanted. She waited for some time, and then she said, “What do you intend to do about Rosie? I can take care of her when you’re not at home. You wouldn’t want her to be a latch-key child.”



“Are you sure? It’ll be such a lot of trouble…”



“Don’t you worry about that; I’m very fond of her, and she’s absolutely no trouble at all.”



Dwayne looked at his neighbour and nodded. “It’s the best thing I could think of for her now.”



He gave her a wan smile; he appreciated her help very much.



“Alright then. You go ahead and see to your speech.”



With no worries about Rosie’s spare time it was a little easier for Dwayne to write it, but all the ambivalent feelings and the sense of betrayal didn’t facilitate his writing anything good. For Rosie’s sake he couldn’t vent any of his feelings. His hurt but painfully strong love for his late wife made for a hysterical piece of writing and he tore it up; the text he eventually came up with was very neutral, without touching upon any feelings whatsoever. It was nothing but a story of Janet’s life that nobody could find fault with, but that wouldn’t move anybody either.



Peggy duly read it through. “It is alright,” she said, “but only just. Oh well, it will be attributed to shock. You can go ahead with it.”



To everybody’s surprise there was a caller after lunch. Peggy opened the door onto a younger man who introduced himself as Joe Tillotson.



“Are you sure this is a good idea?” she asked.



“I would like to apologise for my being part in this,” he said. “I honestly didn’t know that Jolene -” he checked himself – “that Janet was married. I didn’t even know she was Janet. I’ve always known her as Jolene Molloy.”



“Do come in, then,” Peggy said. “You’ll get wet through. But I’d better ask Dwayne first. Could you just wait here for a moment?”



She went into the living-room and explained.



Dwayne gave her a dazed look. “Do you believe him?” he said.

“I rather do. I don’t think he’d have the nerve to come round and look at you to laugh behind your back. He must feel absolutely horrible, too.”



Dwayne nodded. Peggy went back to hall and showed Joe into the room.



The two men looked at each other. They were not dissimilar, Peggy thought, their ages being the main clear difference. Then Dwayne got up and they introduced themselves.



Joe apologised profusely, to be cut short after a little while by Dwayne, who told him that he understood he was not to blame. He showed him the bracelet and the necklace and Joe said that yes, he’d bought those for her. He’d hoped she would come and live with him; she was a good deal older but he hadn’t minded; she’d been attractive, vivacious, sweet – then he again apologised when he realised this must be quite painful to hear for Dwayne.



“But she always told me she wasn’t up to that yet,” he concluded. “I wish I had known; I would have kept far from her.”



Dwayne nodded. “I hope you’ll take these thing with you,” he said. “Er, I have found your photographs -” here Joe blushed fearfully – “and her underwear. I will not return those; I will destroy them, I think. Thank you for coming; it does answer another question. Er – she will be buried next Friday. You can come if you like; I have your address, so we will let you know.”



Joe inclined his head. He shook hands again and took his leave.



Dwayne sat down at the table with his chin in his hands. He stared into the middle distance and tried to get some grip on his thoughts and emotions.



“I wish I knew if this was something I did or didn’t do,” he said. “I did try to make our marriage work out for the two of us. I thought it did and I – do you think Janet felt neglected?”



“She never talked about it – she never even hinted at that to me,” Peggy said, “and I don’t think she would have to Dick. Did she?”



Dick shook his head. “You’d better not try and blame yourself. From what I’ve seen you’ve been attentive enough.”



Dick and Peggy had always thought Dwayne and Janet were a model couple, and they thought highly of Dwayne. But appearances had proved very deceitful.



Myra and Dwayne’s father came over the next morning. They arrived almost at the same time, and the three of them sat talking together for a long time, discussing the arrangements Dwayne had made. Then Janet’s mother left again.



“So what’s troubling you?” his father asked as soon as they were alone. He knew his son too well not to notice, and he though it was rather strange that Dwayne was so tense and quiet.



Dwayne smiled mirthlessly. He gave the main details and sighed. “You will keep this to yourself, won’t you?” he said.



“You do know me by now, don’t you?” His father considered the situation. “Rosie mustn’t hear of this, nor must Myra. This is some predicament, son.”



Dwayne nodded. “Peggy, my neighbour, has offered to take care of Rosie between school hours and my return in the evening. Rosie likes her a lot.”



“That’s one thing, at least.” He rubbed his temples. “I would never have expected it of her. You never really know anyone at all, do you?”



When his father had left, Dwayne pulled himself together and went through his late wife’s possessions. He found some more sexy underwear, some leather stuff and a spiked dog collar with a metal eye plus a latex dildo hidden at the back of a shelf of sweaters, together with a small bunch of letters Joe Tillotson had written to her, addressed to a mailbox. He read a couple of them and it became very clear from them that Joe had really had no idea of the role Janet had played. The sexual detail was very unpalatable to him, and after the third one he burnt the lot in the stove.



Well, he thought, so that is that. He put her clothes into a couple of bin liners, with the exception of the sexy things. He put the articles she’d worn into the washing machine and when they were clean and dry he stuffed the lot into a fresh bag and put them into the wardrobe. He took her other clothes to the local charity, and then he drove back home, sat down and took stock of his situation.



There was Rosie, to begin with. It was very important that she should get through this disaster unscathed, with as little trouble as possible, and that meant that he would have to put himself onto an even tighter schedule than before; he would have to make a lot of time to do things together, and be both father and mother for her… So much for his social life. Oh well, first things first.



The burial was a very subdued affair, even more so than usual. Most people attributed his speech to shock, just as Peggy had thought; there were only one or two who had their doubts. All Janet’s friends were there, as were his, and Joe was there, too. He tactfully stayed in the background but he had a difficult job keeping his tears in check. He had really loved Janet very much, notwithstanding their age difference, and her death had hit him very hard.



After the burial Dwayne went out for dinner with Rosie, his father and his mother-in-law. They mainly talked about the burial and Janet. Myra looked at Dwayne a couple of times, but refrained from asking him what was on her mind; she, for one, had found his speech completely out of character, and she didn’t understand his reticence over dinner either.



A couple of weeks after the burial she came round of an evening, and confronted him with it. He didn’t want to put her wise, but she was no fool.



“Look here,” she said. “I’m not too easily shocked, and I think you ought to tell me. I called your father and he wouldn’t speak; I suppose you asked him not to. I am too old to have to be protected from unpleasantness, and I certainly don’t believe her death was your fault, but there was clearly something wrong. You didn’t say anything really nice about her at all; it was just facts.”



Rather reluctantly Dwayne let himself be drawn. “I’m very sorry,” he said, “but I really couldn’t have said anything else. Janet had a lover for well over a year, and she died in his drive. I had no idea until I called her cell phone and got the hospital on the line.”



“So that’s what was wrong. Alright, at least now I understand. Are you still angry?”



Dwayne considered her question. “No,” he said. “But my good memories are tainted by this. I do try to be honest to her. I really do.”



He was silent for some time. Then he said, “We had decided Rosie and you should not be told.”



“Rosie certainly shouldn’t,” Myra said. “But I think in my case you erred on the side of prudence. I don’t think Janet would ever have been happy with one man; she always struck me as somewhat flighty, and I think she managed to keep herself out of trouble for longer than I’d have given her credit for.”



Dwayne said he couldn’t say.



“I could. Well, I’ll be off. Do you mind if I do come round again some day?”



“Mind? Of course not,” Dwayne said. “I’ll be happy if you do. Rosie loves you, and she’s only got two grandparents left, and I love to have you around, too. Losing Janet is bad enough.”



“Alright, then,” Myra said. “Keep going; you’ll get over it.” She kissed Dwayne on the cheek and left.



Dwayne found it hard to fall into his new routine. He did adhere to it with an effort, and he felt very lonely at times. He missed Janet. The longer ago the disaster was, the more he missed her. The sense of betrayal was still there, but it was a little below the surface of the old love he felt for her.



He spent his evenings reading, and his weekends were for Rosie. He took her walking in the vicinity, and went camping; they visited adventure parks and they sometimes went to the seaside as Rosie loved pottering about with buckets and spades. She often talked about Janet; she remembered all the good things clearly.



He’d wondered if he could ask her about the times Janet would come home late but decided against it. Rosie didn’t know there had anything been amiss, and he was determined she’d never find out.



Every now and then Rosie went to stay with her grandmother for the weekend. Dwayne would take her to Myra on Friday afternoon and collect her on Sunday night, and it gave him some time to do those thing he’d not got round to over the months.



He loved Rosie, and she clung to him, but he missed a grown-up to talk to, apart from the neighbours who came round every now and then.



They left the subject alone for almost a year unless Dwayne felt like talking about it; he could always find a listening ear with them. But he was rather reticent and his responsibilities came first.



One evening Peggy did touch on the subject. Dwayne gave an evasive answer, but Peggy wasn’t having any and berated him about his behaviour.



“Why don’t you find yourself something nice to do?” she said. “Join a choir, go and play bingo -” Dwayne made a face – “join a reading club or buy a set of golf clubs. But do stop being a recluse. There’s lots of nice people to talk to and there’s lots of nice women out there who’d love to have you. You’re not bad-looking and you are well-spoken. Do something!”



Dwayne gave a noncommittal answer. He realised that she was right; but he didn’t quite feel up to the challenge, and he didn’t know if he could ever trust a woman again. Perhaps he should try and play golf? But he felt that that was a sport for the elderly, rather than a forty-year-old, and he couldn’t sing. He smiled when he imagined himself in a choir. They’d probably try and find out where the noise came from…



“Anyway,” Peggy interrupted his thoughts, “we’re having a party next Saturday. You will come, won’t you? Rosie will be alright as we’re only next door.”



Dwayne accepted. Even though he didn’t like that sort of event too much he felt he really owed it to them, and it would mean a change from staying at home all the time.



The party was a very busy kind of affair, with hordes of people he didn’t know. Peggy introduced him to a lot of people, most of them women, and he chatted quite pleasantly with some of them.



One in particular struck him. Madge was in her early thirties, she had a good figure and was fun to talk to. She had big, sleepy eyes, and gave him a come-hither look that he found very sexy. He drifted from one person to the other, but found himself returning to Madge, and eventually he almost exclusively talked to her. To his own surprise he agreed to go and have dinner at her place the following Friday.



He told Peggy, and asked her if she could keep an eye on Rosie that evening.



“And in the morning, too,” she said with a grin.



“The evening will be enough,” Dwayne said, turning red.



Peggy nodded. “Only joking,” she said. “I will take care; have fun.”



Madge had cooked a brilliant dinner; she was a good and enthusiastic cook.



They had a nice meal, and Madge told him a lot of things about herself. Then she asked him his story.



Dwayne told her a little. He was disinclined to tell her too much about his marriage, but to his discomfort she started prying. He kept giving noncommittal answers; but it didn’t feel good.



Eventually Madge gave up. When the conversation got back to neutral ground he recognised the young woman of the party again.



Dwayne left at eleven. Madge was rather disappointed as she’d hoped to make him stay the night, but they did arrange for her to come and visit him the following week.



He gave Madge a lot of thought that week. She had seemed very nice and desirable at the party, but he wasn’t so sure now. If she really was as nice as he’d thought it would probably show, and if she wasn’t…



They had arranged for her to come at five, but she was there at four thirty while Dwayne was still cleaning the vegetables. She looked at him work.



“That’s the wrong way to do it,” she said. “Let me have that knife.”



A little taken aback, Dwayne handed her the knife.



“Look,” she said. “This is the right way.”



He hardly noticed the difference and stood looking on with his hands in his trouser pockets. Janet had never found fault with him or told him he did things wrong. He expected she would hand back the knife to him but she didn’t.



Then Rosie came home, and Dwayne introduced Madge to his daughter. Rosie looked at her, but she didn’t say anything.



Madge didn’t have a way with children. She thought they were something of a nuisance, and she’d not reckoned with Rosie’s presence. But she didn’t give it too much thought; instead she took over Dwayne’s cooking entirely.



It made Dwayne feel immensely uncomfortable. He tried to ignore the feeling by doing different things like laying the table and getting Rosie to participate. Madge didn’t notice the hints he dropped for that participation so he had her help him instead.



Dinner was a little strained. The meal Dwayne had intended to cook wasn’t his any more, and Madge had used rather too many spices to Rosie’s liking.



Dwayne tried to make conversation with the three of them. Rosie sat looking at Madge, and she hardly said anything, and Madge talked almost exclusively to Dwayne. Now and again she stopped halfway her sentence whenever her ring-tone indicated that there was another text message, and she took her time to answer all of them.



After dinner had been cleared away they went to the living room.



“Isn’t it time Rosie went to bed?” Madge said.



Rosie looked at her with wide eyes. They always watched TV together, either a movie or some DVD, and she didn’t want to go to bed yet. To her relief Dwayne explained their routine to the woman. She hoped he wouldn’t ask her over too often; she didn’t really like her.



Madge felt very irritated by the procedure. She’d not come to watch some children’s programme, and Dwayne seemed rather too much involved in the brat. She sighed and decided that she’d call it a day after that evening.



Rosie went to bed at nine, and Madge left at ten.



“We’re not going to work out together, I think,” she said.



Dwayne nodded. “I’m afraid you’re right,” he said. “I hope you’re not angry about it; but I’m really tied to Rosie, and Janet’s death is still too much on my mind, I suppose. Thank you for trying, though. I really appreciated being with you.”



She smiled a little sadly. “Yes,” she said. “Well, goodbye then. See you!”



Dwayne felt rather unhappy about it. At the party he’d hoped this might be the beginning of something good. He felt lonely and he needed an arm around his shoulder, and more; but he was not going to plunge headlong into something wrong just because his hormones played havoc.



He went upstairs and looked at his sleeping daughter for some minutes. She, he realised, was the real touchstone for him; if a possible new partner didn’t like Rosie, or if Rosie didn’t like her, it was bound to fail.



When Rosie came downstairs the next morning she asked Dwayne if he liked Madge.



“Yes, I do,” Dwayne said, “but she isn’t my type, I’m afraid. I don’t think she really knows how to deal with children. So don’t worry, I won’t be seeing her again.”



“I didn’t like her too much,” Rosie said.



Dwayne smiled at his daughter. “What shall we do today?” he said.



Some days later, when he collected his daughter at the neighbours, Peggy asked him about the progress he’d made with Madge.



He shook his head. “It’s off,” he said. He explained briefly what had happened.



“She’s not a bad girl,” Peggy said. “But I think the age difference is far too big. Would you like a new girlfriend?”



Dwayne made a face. “What do you think?” he said. He shook his head. “But Rosie comes first. I think it’ll be hard to find someone who likes both me and her. And I don’t want anyone who starts finding fault with me from scratch.”



Peggy looked at him and shook her head. She was rather worried about him. If only she could get him to divert his attention a little. Rosie should come first, of course, but not to the exclusion of all and everything. Dwayne was progressively looking more strained, and she was afraid he might have a massive breakdown if he didn’t find another interest besides his daughter.



“Remember what I said about some outside contacts?”



“There’s always people at work.”



“Yes, but that’s not what I mean. That’s just work, and you’ve got quite enough of that as it is. Far too much, I’d say. Frank, a friend of Dick’s, told us about a reading circle he’s in. It sounded interesting, I thought. Why don’t you go and join them?”



Dwayne considered her idea; he knew he was too narrowly focussed on Rosie and work alone. “I might give it a try, perhaps,” he said. “I think I do read enough as it is, but perhaps I’ll discover some new writers that way.”



He took Rosie home and thought about Peggy’s proposition. Eventually he decided it really might be a good idea to try and see if he liked that sort of thing.



When he had put Rosie to bed he went over to the neighbours and asked Peggy how he could contact Frank. She gave him his phone number, and asked him to stay a moment for a cup of coffee. Dick came down from his study and they chatted amicably for some time.



When he was home again he dialled the number.



“Hello?”



“This is Dwayne Rushing. I’m trying to find Frank Colby.”



“Speaking. Peggy told me about you; would you like to come to an evening of our circle?”



“Er, yes please. I’m not quite sure if it is what I’m trying to find…”



“Well, there’s no harm in trying, is there?”



Frank told him they met every other Wednesday from eight thirty to ten in a pub some ten miles away, roughly in the centre of the various members’ homes.



“You’ll be the one who lives farthest away,” Frank said.



“Is there anything I ought to prepare?”



“We’re discussing ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ next week; you might read that if you can squeeze it in.”



“I’ve read it. I’ll gladly do so again, though; it’s very good.”



“Alright then. We’ll be happy to have another male on the team. See you on Wednesday.”



Dwayne found his copy of Guterson’s novel and sat down to reread the story of Hatsue and Ishmael. He found the book as wonderful as the first time, but now he could allow himself to read it more slowly and to pay more attention to the quality of the writing.



When he looked at his watch he found it was eleven thirty; well past his bedtime. He grinned.



The next evening he told Peggy he’d taken her advice.



“Good for you, my boy,” she said. “I hope you’ll like it.”



“I’m reading ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ again. That, at least, is a good idea.”



“Ok. Well, keep me informed.”



“I will,” Dwayne said. “You’re a real friend.”



That Wednesday he drove off at eight. Rosie was asleep, and she knew he would be out. Peggy had promised to look in on Rosie one or twice, and Rosie had Peggy’s number just in case; but she was a fast sleeper and she never used it.



At the pub he was received by Frank. He realised he had met him at his neighbours’ once or twice. They shook hands and Frank took him to the room they met in. The circle consisted of nine people in all, six women and three men; Dwayne would be number ten. He shook hands all round, and when asked he told them briefly who and what he was. Then they embarked on a discussion of the book.



Dwayne kept a little in the background at first. He looked at the faces round the table, and decided they seemed alright. He liked Frank and Bob, and two of the women looked really nice as well. He listened to the discussion and noticed that three of the participants didn’t have much reading experience; the others’ opinions seemed generally well-founded, even though he didn’t agree with all he heard. He was asked his opinion one or twice and diffidently put forth his own ideas. He felt the others’ eyes on him; they were obviously interested in what he had to say, and he slowly thawed a little.



It was nice. Yes, it was really a good idea, and he enjoyed sitting there talking and listening; it was quite a diversion and he forgot his daily chores and worries for the duration of the evening.

If he would like to come again next time? Yes, he did indeed. Good; they would turn their attention to Jacobson’s ‘Kalooki Nights.’ Did he know it?



He didn’t, but he had heard about it, and what he had heard about it had been very positive. They all got up to leave.



“I’ll have to run,” Carol, one of the women he’d noticed before, said. “Or I’ll miss my bus.”



“She lives in your direction,” Frank said. “Can’t you drop her off?”



“Where do you live?”



She explained; it was all but on his way.



“I’ll be happy to take you there,” Dwayne said. “No need to rush.”



They left together and he drove her home. On the way she talked about reading and books, and he rather liked the things she said. He asked her about the circle and she told him they’d started three years ago. It had been Frank’s initiative, and there had been twelve of them to start with. Four had given up because they found reading a novel every fortnight was too much pressure, and they’d found one new member; and now he might be another one.



“Do you read a lot?” she asked.



Dwayne told her he had most evenings to himself. He said he had almost forgotten to go to bed when he sat rereading Guterson.



She smiled at him. “It is a gripping story, isn’t it?” she said. “I sometimes felt envious of Hatsue, even though she lives through such a lot of misery.”



Dwayne scowled. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said. “It’s a painfully beautiful read at times.”



Carol lived just off the main road; he dropped her off at her gate and promised to pick her up for the next session.



At home he first tiptoed to Rosie’s room; she was fast asleep, as usual. He went to the kitchen for some cheese and crackers. He took them into the living room and poured himself a stiff drink.



Then he sat down and revolved the evening in his thoughts. It had been really nice, and he was looking forward to going again. It gave him something else to think of, and he liked the atmosphere in the group. He started his laptop and ordered ‘Kalooki Nights’ on line.



Peggy had been quite right. He had been on his way to becoming a recluse, he thought. The next evening he called an old friend and arranged to meet him that weekend; Geoff was married, and they had a daughter who was a couple of weeks older than Rosie. Before Janet died they had played together now and then, and it seemed a good idea to pick up part of his old life again.



Rosie loved going there. “Yes,” she shouted, “oh, dad, can’t we do that more often?”



He grinned at her. “One step at the time, please, young lady.” But he knew she was right, and he found over the weeks that it did him a lot of good.



The reading club was another stepping-stone back to a normal life. The people were nice indeed, and he enjoyed his talks with Carol, however short. He always picked her up and dropped her off, and they could talk about almost anything.



She’d always gone by bus because of her husband’s job. He needed the car and he worked rather late most of the time. At first she’d thought he was secretly seeing a lover but he’d shown her his schedules in his boss’s emails, and it was all over and above board. She felt a bit sorry for him, and for herself, too, as he was usually too tired to be of much use. But he was happy in his job and she was happy for him.



Dwayne thought she would be about thirty-five, but when he asked her she told him she was forty-four, almost four years older than he.



“I’d never have guessed by your looks,” he said.



She smiled a little, and thanked him.



Spring was warm and humid, and Dwayne did a lot of gardening. He felt somewhat pressed for time now and then, but Rosie happily played on the swing or with the other neighbours’ girls. They had two daughters and Rosie was about as old as the elder one, so he didn’t have to worry she’d feel left out.



Joe Tillotson came by sometimes. Rather to his surprise Dwayne really liked the fellow, and they shared an interest in various things; Joe had just chanced upon jazz, and Dwayne played a lot of his favourites for him while they sat looking outside and enjoying the spring air through the open French windows. By tacit agreement Janet was not spoken about; they both felt it might impede their friendship and they shied away from the subject.



Dwayne once returned the visit. He rather liked Joe’s place, but he found the realisation that it was there Janet had gone when he was away fairly hard to stomach; and he didn’t relish realising that it was that stretch of drive where she’d been lethally wounded.



When he was there Joe introduced him to his sister, Meg. Dwayne immediately felt attracted to her; she was funny and somewhat unconventional, and he tentatively asked her out. She gave him a sphinx-like smile and accepted.



They went out an a Friday night. Meg was wildly funny, and she turned out to be quite interested in a lot of things he liked. The evening was over before Dwayne realised, and it really felt like more. To his great regret, however, she turned down his invitation for another date. She said she was sorry but she hadn’t got the time, and besides, she would soon be travelling for over a year. She hoped he didn’t mind, but alas, she had too many goals to pursue.



He did mind, but he didn’t say so. Instead he thanked her for a nice evening and drove home contemplating the fact that life was complicated in the extreme.



Oh well, there was always Rosie, and she at least was a constant factor – the constant factor – in his life. So back to normal again, old boy.



One Wednesday in May, when Dwayne reversed on Carol’s drive, she didn’t come outside as usual. He waited for a moment, and then killed the engine. He got out and rang the bell. It took quite some time before he heard Carol shuffle down the hall to the front door. She opened and looked at Dwayne with a face that was tearstained and blotched with crying.



“Carol!” Dwayne said. “What’s the matter?”



He went in and closed the door, and took Carol’s hand.



“What happened? Is there anything I can do?”



She shook her head. “It’s Bill. He’s left me. When I came home from work yesterday there was a note on the table. He’s gone to live with James, his boss…” She sucked both lips into her mouth and bit them hard to prevent herself from crying. “I had thought -” A few tears ran down her cheeks, and she brushed them away with her hand. “I had hoped we would grow old together…”



She crumpled up and Dwayne had to grab her and hold her or she would have fallen over. He patted her back and stroked her hair and wondered what on earth he could do to help. His own disappointment came briefly back to his mind, but he drove it out with an effort.



When Carol had calmed down a little, Dwayne said, “Look, shall I call the club and tell them we’re not coming? Or do you want me to go?”



Carol looked at him and shook her head. “I’d better come along,” she sniffed. “But I don’t want to tell them now. Just let me wash my face.”



Dwayne didn’t think it was a good idea but he nodded and she went upstairs. After a little time she came back, dressed in a fresh blouse and with a scrubbed face, red and clean.



“You do look a lot better,” Dwayne said. “But I think they can still see you’re none too happy.”



“Oh, fuck you,” she said. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. But if I don’t go everyone will go and think things, and I don’t want that to happen.”



Dwayne nodded. “I know about that,” he said.



They went to Dwayne’s car and drove to the pub. Carol talked about everyday things and carefully avoided her troubles, and when they were there she had more or less regained her composure.



Her fellow members did notice something was amiss but they were too polite to ask, and as the evening progressed Carol seemed more and more her old self.



On the way back she immediately started to unburden herself. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “but I think I can trust you and I have to talk about it or I’ll burst.”



“That’s alright,” Dwayne said. “I don’t talk.”



They arrived at Carol’s place.



“I’ll come with you,” he said. “You’d better get all of it off your chest.”



They went in and Carol showed him into the living room. “I’ll make us some coffee,” she said.



Dwayne got out his cell phone to call Peggy and tell her he’d be a little later, but to his annoyance he had no signal. He went across the hall into the kitchen and said, “Can I use you phone for a moment? I have no signal and I want to call Peggy.”



“Peggy? I thought your wife was called Rosie?”



“Rosie’s six. She’s my daughter. My wife was called Janet, and she’s been dead for over a year now. Peggy’s my neighbour and she keeps an eye on Rosie.”



“Oh. Ok. Yes, of course you can.”



Dwayne called Peggy and explained. Then Carol came in with the coffee, and she sat down and talked, and talked, and talked.



Dwayne was a good listener. He just let Carol talk, with the occasional question on his side, and it did her a lot of good. When she had finished she asked him what he thought she should do.



He considered the question. “As far as practicalities are concerned, I would try and get rid of his things, and then you might rearrange your house to suit your own taste completely so you won’t get confronted with Bill in everything you do. If it’s too painful, I can come and sort thing out with you this Saturday. But emotionally? I don’t know. I really don’t know. It took me a very long time to resign myself to Janet having been unfaithful – she died in her lover’s drive. I only found out afterwards.”



He looked at Carol and she nodded.



“I never told anyone but my father, my mother-in-law and the neighbours. I don’t want Rosie to know, so I’ve kept things to myself. Perhaps it’s best just to tell the people you really care about, and let the others simply know Bill’s gone without the details.”



He thought about it some more and said, “Perhaps you should have yourself tested for STDs, too. Some homosexuals are rather promiscuous.”



“Yes,” she said. “I will. Er, I’d appreciate your help, so if you can come and sort things out with me… You can bring Rosie, I’ve got enough things to keep her busy. My sister’s got a girl about her age and she sometimes comes to stay for the weekend.”



Dwayne nodded. “We’ll be there,” he said.



Carol accompanied him to the front door. “Thank you for being there,” she said and she kissed him on the cheek.



Dwayne drove home deep in thought. People did make a mess of things. He expected Bill had married Carol in the same expectation of growing old together, before he found out his inclinations lay entirely different. He couldn’t even blame him, but it was damned hard on Carol. He really liked Carol. He thought of her face, of how she’d looked when he’d rung her bell, and how she looked when she was at ease – she was one of the nicest women he knew.



She had dark blonde hair with a natural wave, and green eyes, and a kind, lovely face. He shook his head. It was damned hard on her, it really was.



He realised she was the first woman he’d held in his arms for well over a year. It had felt good, notwithstanding the unpleasant circumstances. Madge briefly came to his mind, but all the shine she’d held initially was truly lost. He couldn’t really envisage her face too well any more. Carol’s, now…



When he came home Peggy came out of her house and asked him over for a drink.



“You will have to tell us what’s going on,” she said.



“I’ll just look in on Rosie and then I’ll come over,” he said.



Rosie was asleep, as usual, and he went over to Dick and Peggy. He was always happy to go there for a drink and a talk, and when they had poured him a G&T he told them briefly what had happened. Dick and Peggy never talked about others; they were simply involved with his welfare.



Peggy listened carefully to what he had to say and how he phrased things; when Dwayne had finished his drink and left she said to Dick, “He obviously likes this Carol woman, don’t you think?”



Dick looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Is this your female intuition or do you just hope he’ll run into someone nice?”



“Oh, I don’t know if it’ll ever come to anything; he may not even realise he likes her. But he does, for all that.”



That Saturday Dwayne was up early. He breakfasted with Rosie and they drove to Carol’s place. He parked his car in the drive and they got out. He looked at the house and the garden. He hadn’t really given himself much time to do so before; but there was no hurry now. She lived in a well-kept cottage; it must be about two hundred years old, he thought. It was what they called desirable property. It seemed just the right size and it sat in a garden that was beautifully laid out. Yes, he thought, I can imagine she’d hoped to get old with Bill in here. He sighed.



Then he took Rosie’s hand in his and they went up to the front door.



Carol looked a lot better than she had that Wednesday. She smiled at Dwayne and shook hands with Rosie. “Hello,” she said. “I’m Carol. Come in.”



Rosie looked at Carol. “I’m Rosie,” she said. Then she walked with her to the living room.



Carol had a pot of coffee ready, and a jar of lemonade for Rosie; on the rug there was a big box with dolls and clothes, and Rosie gave Carol a questioning look.



“You can play with them if you like,” Carol said.



Rosie nodded. “Yes, please,” she said. She sat down on the rug and went through the contents of the box first. Then she took one of the dolls, undressed it and selected a new outfit. Carol and Dwayne looked at each other and grinned.



Rosie happily played on the rug. She looked at Carol now and again, and Carol nodded at her when their eyes met, to be rewarded with a timid smile.



“Alright then,” Dwayne said. “What can I do for you?”



They went upstairs. Rosie stayed in the living room; she came upstairs now and then to show them a particularly beautiful outfit on one of the dolls, and to tell them why she’d dressed the doll that way. Carol loved it. She discussed Rosie’s work with her and asked a few questions or gave some advice once or twice.



They took all of Bill’s clothes from the wardrobe and put them into bags; at the back of one of the shelves they found a set of homoerotic DVDs. Then they went to the bathroom and removed his toiletries.



“My,” Dwayne said, “he really has a big collection of creams and gels – didn’t that strike you as odd?”



“I never gave it a thought. Maybe, in retrospect…”



“That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it?”



“Yes,” she said with a sigh. “It is.”



They got Bill’s tools from the shed, and then Carol went through the CD collection to get out all the music Bill had bought that she didn’t like.



“Some of these are boring,” she said, “and there are a good many I really can’t stand. Please be a dear and put them in that box.”



Dwayne did. There was a lot of house music and disco, the sort of music he’d turn off on the few occasions he listened to the radio, and there was some death metal, much too aggressive to his taste.



“I’ll keep the rest,” she said. “We either bought them together or they were mine anyway.”



After they had gone through the books in a similar fashion Carol said, “So much for now. What do I do with it?”



“You’d better call Bill and tell him he can come and collect his stuff,” Dwayne said. “He may have to make the trip twice; but still.”



Carol did, and half an hour later Bill arrived together with his boyfriend in a small van. They carried the bags of clothes to the car, and then the discs, books and tools.



“Do you mind if I take the clock and the armchair?” Bill said. “They were my grandfather’s.”



“No,” Carol said, “please do.”



The two men carried the clock and the chair into the van, too.



Then they went into the living room together.



Bill looked at Carol, and Dwayne saw he felt very uncomfortable.



“Carol,” he said, “I do apologise – er, I can’t help it. I really was not happy with myself any more, and I did try to get over it, but it was too hard. Are you very, very angry?”



“No,” she said. “I’m not angry – but you might have told me before.”



Bill nodded. “Yes,” he said. “But I didn’t dare.”



Then he shook hands with her and wished her luck. She made a face and looked at him grimly, but she did thank him, and went with him to the door.



“Here are my keys,” he said. “I’ll keep the car; I do need it. You can keep the house.”



He handed her an envelope. “These are the deeds; I arranged it at the lawyer’s some weeks ago.”



He turned around and hurried to the car with tears in his eyes.



James shook hands with Carol, too. Then they left.



“Good heavens,” Dwayne said. “He seems to be as shaken as you are.”



Carol nodded. “We both lose out on this, I suppose. Oh well. My, look at the time. I’m famished.”



She went into the kitchen to prepare tea. Rosie, who had seen and heard the conversation, came along. “I can help,” she said.



They had tea together in the garden, and after they’d washed up the Rushings went back home.



Rosie sat in the rear seat, looking at the trees whizzing past. “Dad,” she said, “Carol is nice. Can we go there again?”



Dwayne briefly looked over his shoulder and smiled at her. “I don’t know,” he said. “You did enjoy yourself, didn’t you?”



Rosie nodded. “She is not like Madge,” she said.



“Goodness no. Fortunately not.”



“Madge doesn’t like little girls, does she?”



“No, I don’t think so. She’s too involved in herself.”



Rosie was silent again. They were almost home when she said, “Do you like Carol?”



“Yes, she’s nice.”



“But do you really like her?”



Dwayne considered the question. “I think so,” he said. “Why?”



“Just because,” his daughter said.



Dwayne left it at that.



Eleven days later Carol looked a good deal better again. As she got into the car she said, “I think I’d better tell everybody; I think I’m up to it now. And I will just tell the truth; it’s not my fault anyway.”



“Good for you,” Dwayne said with a smile. “Clearing the air.”



Carol nodded. “Oh, and my tests were all negative, thank God. I’m so glad you were there to help me. It really made the difference.”



“I enjoyed it, actually. You did make a hit with Rosie. She’s been a little quiet since Janet died, but she learnt to judge people somehow. There was a woman I dated a couple of times; Rosie saw exactly what was wrong.”



“What was wrong?”



“Oh, she was too young for one thing, and she was much too busy with her cell phone. But what really clinched it was that she didn’t like children at all. She just couldn’t accept Rosie being there.”



They drove onto the car park, and went in. Carol told the others about her situation, and she was listened to respectfully. Dwayne looked her with admiration; he knew how much it upset her, and wow, she brought it off fantastically. The other members nodded, and one of them voiced everyone’s feelings when he told her they felt for her. Then they started on their next book, Richard Wright’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Children.’



By the middle of July they had their final meeting before the summer holidays. It was decided they’d start again on the first Wednesday in September, and as there was a long break in between they’d read ‘The Pillars of the Earth.’



Dwayne thanked the circle for having admitted him into their midst. His fellow members smiled at him; the enthusiasm was mutual.



When he drove Carol home she invited him for dinner at their local pub that weekend, with Rosie – “Yes, they will have children -” as a thank-you gesture for all the times he’d taken her along.



“I’ll be very happy to come,” Dwayne said, “and I’m sure Rosie will be very glad, too. But it was no trouble at all, and I always look forward to our talks on the way.”



She smiled at him warmly; she had come to prize those short drives as a short relief of the week’s loneliness. “So do I,” she said. “One reason the more.”

They arranged Dwayne and Rosie would come to her place first, and have a drink in the garden if the weather allowed, before going to the pub.



“We’ll come by bus,” he said. “I’d love to have a glass of wine with you. If there’s no bus back we can take a taxi.”



The next morning he told Rosie. “Cool!” she said. “I hope I can play with the dolls again!”



She was very excited about it. She was up far too early and she couldn’t wait until the right time arrived. In the end Dwayne called Carol. He apologised and asked if they could come earlier.



Carol understood; she’d be happy to have them around straight away.



The bus dropped them off close to her home and they were at Carol’s at about three. Dwayne grinned at her, a little uncertain of the situation, but he was given a brilliant smile in return.



“Hello Rosie,” she said. “Welcome back!”



“Hello Carol,” Rosie said. She smiled at her and gave her a timid hand.



The weather was good enough to sit in the garden. There was the odd cloud, and there was a light breeze, but the air was warm and Carol had put chairs on the terrace, together with the box of dolls.



The grown-ups sat chatting happily while Rosie saw to the dolls’ apparel. They were all dressed in festive clothes, echoing the mood of the afternoon.



Carol told Dwayne she was making headway in ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ already. “It sometimes makes me feel a little sad,” she said, “especially when reading about the love between Tom and Ellen.”



Dwayne nodded. “Yes,” he said. “It does make you feel sad – and a little envious, too.” He smiled and sighed. “Life’s not always fair,” he added.



Then they changed the subject. Carol told him she’d woken up to find a roe deer grazing in her garden.



“That really makes me feel jealous,” Dwayne said.



It appeared that there were a lot of wild animals in Carol’s neighbourhood. She saw badgers, sometimes, and foxes, squirrels, deer plus the occasional birds of prey.



Rosie looked at her wide-eyed. She had only seen a fox once, and she remembered it vividly.



“I wish I could see them, too,” she said.



Carol smiled at her. “Maybe your dad will allow you to stay with me for the weekend, some time,” she said. “We’re certain to see some of them then.”



Rosie gave Dwayne an imploring look.



“Is that really alright with you?” he asked.



“I’d love to have her,” Carol said. “Really.”



Dwayne nodded. “Alright, then,” he said. “Rosie misses female company, I think; it seems a very good idea.”



They decided Rosie would come over in the first weekend in August. Then they went to the pub. It was a nice country pub and the food was excellent.



But, Dwayne thought, the company was even better. He looked at Carol and Rosie, who sat talking excitedly about their weekend together. Images of Janet and Madge crossed his mind, and he compared them to Carol. Madge was an acknowledged beauty; and yet she seemed dull and insipid, and she couldn’t create any spark of enthusiasm in him any more, and Janet – oh well, Janet… he sometimes wondered what would have happened to their relationship if that tree had not come crashing down on top of her. Carol’s face easily eradicated the other images. If only – He looked at her and smiled.



“A penny for you thoughts! I’ve asked you twice what you’d like to have for sweets!”



Dwayne pulled himself together with a start. “I’m sorry,” he said, blushing. “Er, I’ll have some treacle tart, if I may.”



Carol smiled at him. “You were far away with your thoughts, weren’t you?”



He shook his head. “Not really,” he said. “I was just looking at the two of you and thinking how different people are.”



“Rosie and I?”



“No, you and Madge.” And Janet, he thought, but he kept that part to himself.



“Oh well,” Carol said, “I’m a good deal older.”



“And nicer,” Rosie said, unexpectedly.



To his embarrassment Dwayne felt himself blush again, but as Carol sat looking at Rosie it passed unnoticed. After dinner they leisurely walked to the bus stop; there would be a bus back in twenty minutes and they were there almost ten minutes early.



When they saw the bus turn the corner Carol cuddled Rosie. “See you in August, then,” she said.



Then she turned to Dwayne. “Thanks once again,” she said.



“Thank you,” he said, and taking her hands he kissed her on the cheek. “I loved this. See you soon!”



They boarded the bus and Carol stood on the verge, waving, watching the bus disappear. She still felt his lips on her cheek, and the country lane seemed very empty all of a sudden.



Rosie could hardly wait for her weekend to roll around. She’d immediately told Peggy, and when Peggy and Dick came over for a drink later that week his neighbour broached the subject to Dwayne. When he blushed, she smiled at him. “I’d thought as much,” she said.



Carol made a few preparations for Rosie’s visit and she’d called Dwayne to get some information about the food Rosie liked and what she liked to watch. It had turned into a rather long call, to the delight of the two of them.



She was looking forward to having Rosie as much as Rosie was; and she was looking forward to seeing Dwayne even more, however briefly. She had enjoyed their afternoon and evening together immensely, and she thought Dwayne had as well; she hoped so very much.



Then, at last, the weekend arrived. Together Dwayne and Rosie had packed Rosie’s suitcase, and they had gone to the shops to buy Carol a present. Rosie had decided on a vase, and Dwayne had bought a bunch of roses to complete it.



They arrived at Carol’s cottage at ten. Carol heard them coming and she came out of the front door before they could get out of the car and ring the bell. She flashed a smile at the two of them that went straight to Dwayne’s heart, and he thought she looked extremely desirable. Fortunately Carol’s attention went to Rosie first. She lifted her off the ground and gave her a big hug.



“Welcome,” she said. “We’ll have a lot of fun together!”



Rosie smiled at her. “Yes!” she said enthusiastically. “We’ve brought a present for you!”



She opened the passenger door and took out a plastic bag, and she first gave Carol the vase.



“Oh, how nice! Thank you very much,” Carol said. “Come, let’s go inside. Can I help you carry your suitcase?”



“No,” Rosie said. “That’s what dad is here for!”



She poked out her tongue at Dwayne, who took her luggage from the car and carried it inside. Carol had some coffee ready, but first she offered Rosie a choice of soft drinks. Then they sat down to coffee, and Dwayne, who knew how much Rosie had been looking forward to being Carol’s only guest, reluctantly took his leave after twenty minutes. He wished his daughter a lovely time. Carol went to the door with him.



“You’re doing her a great pleasure,” he said. “I hope you’ll like it, too.”



She nodded. “You bet,” she said, and then she stroked Wayne’s arm. “You’re a great dad,” she added.



Dwayne pulled a face. “I hope so,” he said; then he smiled at her. She was fantastic, he thought. “Carol,” he said, “I er – ” but he got cold feet and continued, “I wish you a lovely time together.”



Then he went to his car and waved at Carol. To his surprise he had tears in his eyes. He wasn’t sure why; perhaps because of Carol’s compliment? Or was it because he was actually jealous of Rosie? He realised with a pang that he was. Carol… he loved the way she looked at him now and again and he realised that the best part of the entire reading club was the contact with Carol. He’d give anything to trade places with Rosie and be staying with Carol that night. Hmph, as if she’d be happy to have him. He smiled at himself – silly old fool, he thought.



Rosie had a wonderful time, and Dwayne put in a lot of work over the weekend. He managed to mow the grass and to cut back some branches that had grown to close to the house, and he spent the evening playing old records and CDs over a couple of whiskies.



Rosie wished time would slow down, but it didn’t and her days with Carol were over far too soon to her liking. But when Dwayne came round to pick her up that Sunday at eight she had resigned herself to it, and Carol had promised her she could come again. Besides, they would go on holiday soon, and she was looking forward to going away for ten days. She cheerfully went upstairs to get her suitcase and ran down the stairs again.



“We’ve seen three foxes and six deer!” she said. “And Carol took pictures of the deer, and she will give me a print, and we heard an owl, and we had toad in the hole, and pizza, and I could stay up late! And I may come again, and the roses have come out, and we had lots of lemonade. And Carol is nice and she can sing and we played with the dolls…”



She rattled on for quite some time while the grown-ups looked at her and smiled. Eventually she ran out of steam, and then Dwayne told her to say thank you to Carol. Rosie stood on tiptoe and stretched out her arms, and Carol lifted her up, cuddled her and kissed her.



“See you again, darling,” she said.



Then Rosie skipped down the path to the car and Carol and Dwayne followed.



“Thank you so much for the fantastic weekend you gave her,” he said.



“I had a very good time myself, too,” she said, and she put her hand on his arm again. “Rosie told me a lot about you. You must be even nicer than I thought.” She winked at him, but she meant what she said, and she devoutly hoped he’d not take her words amiss.



“I’m a monster,” he said, “but a friendly one, I hope.”



He took her hands and kissed her cheek. They walked to the car, and Dwayne opened the doors by remote. Rosie got in.



Carol went over to her. She bent over the opening of the rear door and stroked Rosie’s hair. “Goodnight,” she said. Then she walked round the car to wish Dwayne a nice holiday.



“Thank you very much,” he said. “I hope Rosie will like it. I’ll take a lot of books; the evenings will be very long. Oh well; it’ll be September soon.”



Then he drove off and Carol went back into the house. It felt very empty again, far more so than the road had seemed after their meal at the pub together. She went to her bedroom and undressed in front of the mirror. She was four years older than Dwayne. What if he thought she was too old, or if she was too fat, or if her breasts were too small?



She looked at herself critically, but she thought she was not at all bad looking for someone her age. But then, that Madge he’d talked about was at least ten years younger, and she must have been attracted to Dwayne. He was good-looking and he could easily get himself a much younger woman… Oh well, she would see. She took off her jewellery and lay down on her bed, and while the image of Dwayne hovered before her eyes her fingers sought her pussy. She found her g-spot and she rubbed her clitoris with her other hand, and while she worked herself to a climax she felt overcome with a mixture of hope, loneliness, and doubt.



Rosie was very tired with all the excitement. She fell asleep like a log, and Dwayne, who waited until she was asleep, went next door to Dick and Peggy. They put him in an easy chair and he told them all about the weekend.



“When I left Rosie with her she said I was a good dad,” he said. “I really hope so. If it weren’t for you, Peggy, I really couldn’t cope.”



“Oh yes you could,” Peggy said. “I think she’s right. Would she be a good mum?”



Dwayne blushed. “I think she would,” he said. “But I’m not sure she will.” He was silent for some time. “She’s wonderful. She’s got lovely eyes. Rosie had a fantastic weekend; I was actually jealous of her. It will be four weeks before I see her again…”



He fell silent. Peggy shook her head and smiled a little at her neighbour.



They went camping in the south-east. The weather was good, almost the entire ten days, and they found a couple of campsites that offered Rosie enough fun. On one of them there were two families with little girls, and Rosie happily played with them all day long. Half-way their holiday they took the Kent & East Sussex Railway from Tenterden to Bodiam Castle, and they had fish and chips in the pub, and they had a great time together.



The only thing missing, Dwayne thought, was Carol’s company. They bought a couple of postcards, one for his father, and one for Myra, and when Dwayne suggested they send one to Carol, Rosie nodded enthusiastically. Dwayne addressed the lot, and wrote something on each, and Rosie laboriously printed her name on all three of them.



Carol found the card on her doormat, a few days later. It showed the train, and on the back it said, “Lovely holiday. Wish you were here. Dwayne.” Then there was Rosie’s name in an unformed handwriting. She smiled. So do I, she thought. So do I.



Rosie suddenly talked a lot about Janet. She wanted to hear again what had happened, and she wanted to know if Janet could see them and what she would think if she did.



Dwayne said he didn’t think so, but that, if she did, she’d hope things would be alright with her, and that she’d be very proud of how well she could write her own name. He was a little anxious about her sudden interest — what if she’d become so engrossed in Janet that she’d not want any other woman around?



When the ten days were over Dwayne went back to work; his holidays did not run parallel to the school holidays. Rosie spent most of the time with Dick and Peggy; now and then she went to play with children in the neighbourhood.



One weekend Myra came to stay with them. Rosie loved it, and they played together all afternoon. When Rosie’d gone to bed Dwayne and Myra sat talking in the garden for a long time. He told her about Carol and his hopes and fears, and she listened attentively.



“I wish you all the happiness in the world with her,” she said. “I don’t know about Rosie and Janet; I could talk to her about it, perhaps. Oh, by the way, if it’s ok with you I’d like to have her stay with me for a couple of days to celebrate the end of her holidays.”



Dwayne nodded. “Of course,” he said. “When did you have in mind?”



The arranged for Rosie to go there on the second Thursday in September and stay until Sunday. When they told Rosie the next morning she skipped through the room. “I’ll be staying with granny, I’ll be staying with granny,” she chanted.



The grown-ups grinned at each other. “I’m so happy you didn’t give up on us,” Dwayne said. He really appreciated her very much, and she knew.



Dwayne was looking forward to the reading club’s next meeting. He finished Ken Follett, and he reread a couple of the love-scenes, aching for Carol. He missed her a lot. He thought she felt something for him too, but he still wasn’t sure, and he’d always been a little inclined to stay on the safe side.



When he came along to pick her up, she beamed at him. He got out of the car and took her hand.



“Hi Dwayne,” she said. “Felt like a long time.”



“Yes, it did. I’m happy to see you again.” He looked at her as she stood on the gravel, with the breeze in her hair and a quiet smile, and he thought she looked exceedingly beautiful. He kissed her on the cheek and blushed.



“Let’s go,” he said as he opened the passenger door for her.



On the way to the pub she thanked him for the postcard, and she asked him all about their holiday. “I’d have loved to come along,” she said. “But it must be very important for Rosie to have some quality time with you.”



Dwayne nodded. “Yes. I must say, though, that the evenings alone in a little tent were very long.” He smiled at her, and she felt her face go hot. She hoped she understood his words right. To cover her feeling of embarrassment she told him a little about the things she’d done during the group’s break.



At the end of the evening, when Dwayne delivered her on her doorstep again, he said, “Er, you know, Rosie will be visiting her grandmother next weekend, and if you haven’t got anything better to do, I would be very happy if you came round for a meal.”



Carol looked at him. “I’d love to,” she said. “Saturday?”



Dwayne nodded.



“Ok,” she said. “I’ll be round by four.”



She touched his arm briefly and got out of the car. She waved at him as he drove away.



Dwayne went to the neighbours and told them he’d invited Carol. “She will come over for dinner next Saturday,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”



Dwayne took Rosie to Myra on Thursday afternoon. They greeted each other fondly and Dwayne came in for some talk and a cup of tea. Then he drove home and surveyed his habitation. Would it pass muster in Carol’s eyes? He decided to go and do some tidying up. He did the hoovering and he docketed a bunch of papers; he put the few loose articles where they belonged and he went into the garden for some flowers. It hadn’t been too untidy, he thought, but it would surely be alright like this.



He had a look in the bedroom, too – he had no illusions they’d end up there, but if she’d ask him to show her his place it had to be alright – and there he came across the envelope of Joe’s pictures of Janet. He took them downstairs and placed them in a folder in the study. Then he went back upstairs and took the bag of underwear that had sat on the bottom of the wardrobe ever since the catastrophe, and he had a look at the contents again. He wondered briefly what Carol would look like in such things. It made him feel a little guilty and he put everything back into the bag and placed it on the wardrobe bottom again.



That night he sat down with his earphones on and listened to Country Joe’s ‘Tonight I’m Singing Just for You.’ He hoped he would dare to play it for Carol if the opportunity arose. He played the album twice. Then he turned in early with Carol’s face on his mind.



On Saturday morning he went to the market for some fresh vegetables, and he bought a few bottles of wine and a jar of olives at Tesco’s. Then he went home and made all necessary preparations for the meal he intended to cook. It was a long time till four o’clock.



Carol had spent most of the week in pleasurable anticipation; she’d driven her doubts from her mind. She hoped Dwayne would be just as nice in his own surroundings. She dressed especially for the occasion. She put on a light summer dress. It had a wide neck that only just showed an indication of cleavage, puffed sleeves and a bodice that made her look slim, and she felt very feminine wearing it. She used a little lipstick, cherry red, and no other make-up, and she really looked her best.



When she walked up to Dwayne’s door he came outside the way she had when they delivered Rosie to her, and he looked at her in admiration.



“What a wonderful dress,” he said. “You look marvellous!”



Carol beamed. She loved his admiring eyes on her, and she took Dwayne’s hand and kissed him softly on his lips. He blushed but he didn’t pull away from her. Instead he looked into her eyes. “Shall we go in?” he said.



He showed her into the living room. She looked around and saw that it was a room that showed his character as well as the lack of a woman in lots of things. It was clearly well-kept, but just a little shabby; the curtains could do with a wash, and she thought she would do some things rather differently. There were a lot of signs of Rosie’s activities. There was a small notice board with drawings stuck on with pins, and there was a chair with a felt rabbit and a couple of dolls. The bookcase and the music looked well-organised, and the room was clearly lived in and liked. She saw Follett lying on a low table next to his chair.



“So this is where you live,” she said. “It is a friendly room.”



“Thank you,” he said. “It’s a pity it’s too wet to sit outside. Can I pour you a drink?”



“Yes, please,” she said. “Have you got any white wine?”



She sat down in one of the chairs and he poured two glasses of Chardonnay.



“Cheers,” she said. “Did you hear anything from Rosie?”

“No,” Dwayne said, “but she always enjoys herself at her granny’s. Myra is a good girl. I like going there myself, too, and I’m really glad she didn’t break things off after her daughter’s death.”



“Hmm. That’s something I’d wanted to ask you for a long time. Do you remember when Bill had just left and you were at my place? You told me Janet had betrayed you with a younger man. That must have been devastating.”



Dwayne nodded. “It was,” he said. “I thought for a long time I couldn’t trust anybody ever again, and I kept asking myself if I had done something to make it happen. You know all about that. I felt sad and angry and guilty… It took Myra to tell me about Janet to stop those feelings a little. Oh, I’ve got a bowl of olives in the kitchen. Would you like some?”



When Carol nodded he went to the kitchen and returned with the olives.



“Still, there are things you can’t tell your mother-in-law, nor anybody else, for that matter, and I’ve bottled up a lot of frustrations…”



“Like what? I mean, you can tell me if you want; I think I’ll understand. I’ll try to anyway.”



“Oh, like all frustrations you’ll probably think they’re quite silly. I’m afraid they may not show me in my best light…” He sighed. “I tried to tidy up the place a little on Thursday – oh well, I may just as well tell you.”



Without looking at her, he told Carol of the alias Janet had used and the shock he’d got when he saw the contents of her bag, and later the things hidden in the wardrobe – “Rather like Bill’s DVDs,” Carol said – and Joe Tillotson’s pictures, and the letters, and the jealousy that had overcome him when he realised she’d done lots of things with her lover she would never do with him.



He looked up and met her eyes. He pulled down the corners of his mouth and raised his eyebrows.



“That’s why lots of books are somewhat painful at times; ‘Snow Falling’ and ‘The Pillars’ in particular. And there was the fiasco with Madge, and that didn’t do any good either. Fortunately I had Rosie to keep me going. Then Peggy told me to stop moping and to make something of my life, and that was when I joined the reading club and when I met you.”



He smiled a little nervously. He expected Carol to make some judicious remark or other but to his relief she just looked at him the way he’d seen her look at Rosie instead. It made his heart beat faster.



She shook her head. “I don’t think you’ve got anything to feel guilty about,” she said, “and I can see just why you didn’t tell anyone. But it’s good you did, now. What did you do with those secretive things?”



“I burnt the letters. The photographs are in the study. I’d love to burn them but I need some spur to really do so.”



“Do you ever look at them?”



“No. I looked at them once and that hurt enough. The other things are on the bottom shelf of the wardrobe. There’s no reason to keep them, either.” He shook his head. ” Maybe it’s a kind of masochism not to throw them.”



Carol looked at him pensively. “Would you have enjoyed it if Janet had worn those things for you?”



“I don’t know. The leather stuff looks very aggressive, not what I think nice at all. I once bought her a set of underwear I liked, thin and pink and lacy, but she didn’t even want to try it on. Oh well, life is hard sometimes.” He made a grimace. “I’d better go and see to our food.”



Carol came along and watched him potter about. She sipped her wine and enjoyed sitting on a wooden chair, looking round the kitchen and sniffing the smell of the cookery.



“If there’s anything I can do, please say so,” she said.



“No,” he said, smiling at her. “I’m just happy you’re here.”



They had dinner in the kitchen. Dwayne and Rosie always had their meals there, and it was practical and quite cosy at the same time. They talked about Rosie, and how Carol had spent her weekend with her.



“Bill never wanted children,” she said regretfully. “I never understood why, at the time; I think I do so, now. Oh well, I’m too old now to have any. I’m happy I can sometimes have my niece come to visit me, and I immensely enjoyed my weekend with Rosie. I can have her around again, can I?”



“As often as you want,” Dwayne said. “She’s very happy to be with you.”



They finished their meal and Dwayne made some coffee, and they went back to the living room.



Carol looked at his books, and found there was a lot she knew or liked to read, and then she went over to the music.



“Phew,” she said. “You’ve really got a lot of music, haven’t you?”



He nodded. “It is one of the few things I can treat myself to. It feels festive, somehow, to buy a new CD.” He switched on the CD player and started Country Joe.



“Like I will buy shoes or clothes,” she said. “I’m afraid I do not really need the things I buy, most of the time. Who buys Rosie’s clothes?”



“We usually buy them together. Sometimes I ask Peggy to come; she has a woman’s eyes.”



Carol smiled. “I wish -”



She swallowed; then she picked up her coffee cup. She came over to him and sat on the armrest of his chair.



They sat together silently for a little time, drinking their coffee and looking at each other, listening to Country Joe sing ‘Ring of Fire.’ Carol thought she saw the longing in his eyes. She tried to get some grip on her emotions, and then she found they were too strong to control.



“Dwayne,” she said, “I’ve – I’ve been waiting to hold you for so long now… Won’t you take me to bed?”



Dwayne could only nod. He didn’t trust himself to speak, so he got up and held out his hands, and she took them, and he bent down to kiss her.



They stood in the living room holding hands and kissing for quite some time. Then Dwayne released Carol’s hands and took her head between his palms.



“Are you sure?” he said.



She nodded. “Please,” she said. “Please!”



He smiled at her, and looked at her face, at the eyes, the wrinkles at their corners, her mouth, her cheekbones… “Come!” he said.



When they were in Dwayne’s bedroom Carol turned around for him to unzip her dress. She turned round again and took it off. Then she looked at Dwayne. “I’m not too old or ugly?” she said. “I’m not like Madge -”



“You’re beautiful,” he said. “And you’re not too old, and I’m always glad to see you, and I feel that you’re glad to see me. I told myself I didn’t want anyone unless it would be alright with and for Rosie. We both need you.”



He drank in her image as she stood in his bedroom, dressed in her underwear. He thought she was perfect – just the right size, not too thin, and most importantly, there was her face, a face he could look at all day. He took her in his arms and stroked her back, and she kissed him long and hard while she undid the buttons of his shirt and the fastening of his trousers.



Dwayne unhooked her bra. They broke their embrace, and she let it slide on the floor; then she took of all his clothes and her own panties, and she took him in her arms again.



She looked at him and smiled, and nodded, and she motioned with her head towards the bed.



They walked the few steps and Carol let herself fall backwards onto the cover, pulling Dwayne with her. He had no choice but to land on top of her, and she immediately slid an arm in between them to find his cock, and she wrapped the other arm around his back. She was well beyond the need for any foreplay, and she judged quite rightly that too much foreplay would be more than Dwayne could take just now. She unceremoniously pulled him into her while she put her legs round the small of his back to spur him on with her heels.



He slipped inside easily. Her pussy was dripping and velvety and slick, and his cock entered the hot safety of her cunt in one smooth motion.



Dwayne was delighted. He’d never expected Carol would be such a tigress in bed. She clawed at his back and ate his mouth, and she bucked her hips to meet his thrusts, and she looked at him all smiles.



Her pussy felt like heaven. It was years since he’d last made love, and the feeling was even better than he remembered. What was more, he couldn’t remember he’d ever felt so blissfully happy. His hands found Carol’s breasts and he stroked them softly to end squeezing her nipples. He exerted some firm pressure, and it seemed to drive Carol even wilder.



“Ooh,” she moaned, “ooh, yes -” She squeezed his buttocks hard, and then she put a hand in his neck to press his mouth into hers.



He moved one hand down to her clitoris and rubbed the swollen nub in slow, insistent circles, and Carol bucked against his hand even more fiercely than before. She revelled in the feeling of his hands all over her, and she was happy to find that he didn’t treat her as if she were a porcelain doll. She loved some action in bed, and she had been dying to get it.



When he pulled almost out again she gripped his cock and rubbed the tip firmly over her clit. Then she let go again and he squeezed his buttocks together and drove into her, deep and hotly, until the tip of his cock touched her cervix. He felt his balls against her bottom, and she wiggled her bum to feel him better.



She’d wanted him for such a long time and she loved to feel him inside. She clenched and relaxed the walls of her pussy, and when she felt her orgasm build, like a train in the distance, she let go of his tongue and panted, “Yes… oh please yes… Dwayne… yes… oh please yes…” on and on. She held his head in her hands and smiled into his eyes, and he saw that her eyes filled with tears, and he kissed her eyes – and then she came. She came very audibly; the bedroom window was wide open, and any passer-by must surely have heard.



Her cries aroused Dwayne no end. He slammed into her as fiercely as he could, and after some ten strokes Carol felt his cum hit her cervix, hot and hard. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed him close and she held on to him for dear life until her orgasm had completely subsided and her breathing returned to normal.



Dwayne kissed her face. He touched her eyes, her nose and her cheeks, and then he stuck his tongue in her ear. It made her shiver and she giggled.



“Phew,” she said. ” That was good.”



“You were fantastic,” Dwayne said. “You are fantastic, and I love you. You’re not going home tonight, are you?”



“You couldn’t make me,” she said, and she pulled his head her way for another lengthy kiss.



Eventually they sat up.



“Let’s have a shower and go downstairs,” Dwayne said. “I feel like a drink.”



Carol nodded. “And we’d better get dressed,” she said. “It’s only half past eight.”



They spent a considerable time in the shower, washing and exploring each other’s bodies. Then they returned to the bedroom to get dressed.



“I wish I’d brought a change of underwear,” Carol said. “My panties are all sticky, and you’ve taken all Janet’s things to the Heart Foundation.”



“Yes,” he said, “apart from the secret stuff. You could wear one of mine?”



“Hmm,” Carol said. “Let’s have a look at that bag.”



Dwayne got it out of the wardrobe. Carol shook the contents out on the bed.



“I see what you mean about those leather things,” she said. “They’re not at all nice. Let’s throw them straight away, won’t we? Now let’s see.” She selected one of the panties and looked at it critically.



“I’ve washed it,” Dwayne said.



“Oh, it’s clean alright,” she said. “One size fits all. Was Janet a lot smaller than I am?”



“I don’t think so. She was 5’5″.”



“Almost the same, then. I can wear this.”



“But it’s quite transparent.”



“Oh, never mind, I’m not going out in my undies. What’s in that box?”



Dwayne showed her.



She eyed the silver jewellery with interest. “These clips go round your nipples, I think,” she said. She took a breast in one hand and tried. “Look,” she said. “That’s how it works. If feels funny. Ow, and it feels sexy, too. I’ll try the other one as well.”



She put on the other clip, and pushed her breasts Dwayne’s way. “Do you like them?” she said.



Dwayne did. He felt his cock grow hard again as he saw Carol play with the nipple toys.



“They make my nipples grow all hard,” she said. “And they make me feel very aware of them. I’ll just wear them for tonight.”



Then she looked down at her crotch. “Hmm,” she said. “These panties don’t go with my bra. I’ll see if there’s a matching one here.”



There was. It was just as transparent as the panties, and it had only rather low cups. Carol looked at herself in the mirror and grinned broadly.



“You better have a good look,” she said, “for I won’t normally look like this.”



She put on her dress. Dwayne could see her nipples through the dress.



“You look very sexy,” he said.



“I feel very sexy. You won’t get off lightly tonight.”



“Is that a threat or a promise?” He kissed her and took the leather things and they went downstairs.



Dwayne threw the lot in the dustbin, and Carol hand washed her panties. Then they sat down in the living room. Carol looked at Dwayne and said, “You promised me a drink.”



“Yes,” he said. “What will you have?”



“Have you got any whisky?” she said.



He nodded and went to get it.



He gave her a glass and raised his own. “To us,” he said.



Carol nodded. “To the three of us,” she said.



Then she came over to his chair and sat on the armrest with her arm round his shoulder.



“I feel like I’ve come out into the spring after a long, long winter,” she said. “And you are my sun, I really needed that warmth.”



“I feel like that, too. And you’re sweet.” He put his arm round her waist and stroked her back. “You’re beautiful and you’re desirable and I love you so much it hurts.”



“And I love you, and you’re not going to get rid of me again. And that is both a threat and a promise.” She smiled and for a brief moment she looked back to those horrible days in May, but the present took over immediately again.



“It rather feels more like a promise,” Dwayne said. “Can I take you over to Peggy and Dick and introduce you to them?”



“With these?” She touched her breasts and felt her nipples graze the material. “Oh wait. I’ve brought a cardigan in my bag.”



She put it on and smiled at Dwayne. “Let’s go then,” she said. “I’d love to see the people that steered you through.”



They walked into the neighbours’ garden. The rain had cleared and Dick and Peggy were sitting on the terrace with a drink, and they immediately found two extra chairs. Dwayne introduced Carol to them, and Peggy said that she’d heard she didn’t know how many stories about her from Rosie.



“You don’t know how happy she will be,” she said. “She hoped this would happen for a long time. You’ll get a lovely daughter into the bargain, Carol.”



Carol nodded and bit her lip. “Yes,” she said. “I will. If Rosie will have me. Dwayne told me how much she’s been worrying about Janet.”



Peggy nodded slowly. “I see,” she said. “Yes, that might be a problem. Oh dear.”



They had another whisky and then they took their leave.



“It is a little early,” Carol said when they were home, “and I’m not at all sleepy. But shall we go upstairs again? These nipple things are driving me wild, and this evening tasted like more!”



Dwayne grinned. “I’ll lock up, and we can bring the bottle along. Ok?”



“Please!”



They climbed the stairs together.



“Next weekend I’ll have you over at my place, ok?”



He nodded. “I’m looking forward to seeing all the animals around it. And I expect Rosie will love to go again, even when she has to share you with me.”



In the bedroom Dwayne poured them another drink. He put the glasses on the bedside table, and then he put out his arms. Carol stepped into them and he lifted her skirt and felt for her buttocks. The panties she wore were frilly and they sat loosely around her buns, and he slipped a hand inside and fondled her there. Then they undressed each other.



“I’d love to have a slow, good look at you now,” he said.



She smiled. “I was afraid you might not like me naked,” she said. “I’m glad you do. How do you want me?”



“If you could just lie back?”



She stretched herself out on the bed, and then she opened her legs and rested on her elbows so that she could look at her lover as he took in the view, standing at the foot of the bed. She saw that he was quite aroused; and he gave her a look that combined love and desire and admiration that made her melt for him even more. He climbed onto the bed with her and knelt between her legs, and he bent over her and kissed her. He stroked her hair for a moment before he kissed her chin and her neck, and her shoulders.



“Could you take off these clips now? I’d like to have you completely naked.”



She took them off for him and he looked at her bare breasts. He touched them and softly squeezed the resilient flesh of their undersides. Then he took a nipple between his lips and licked the tip with his tongue.



“You feel nice, too,” he said and then he bit her, not so hard it hurt but hard enough to send a shiver through her body. From there he kissed his way down to her feet. He nibbled at her toes.



“You’re tickling me! Ohh, that’s nice -” she said as he put his tongue between her big toe and the next one.



He worked his way up again at the other leg and eventually ended up looking at her pussy. It was darkish, a little purple, with lovely inner labia sticking well out from the protective outer ones. He parted them with his index fingers and saw the shiny red entrance of her vagina. Her sweet essence went straight to his head, and he looked up at her. “How could you be afraid I wouldn’t like you?” he said. “You’re so beautiful…”



He bent down and lapped up her pussy juices. He flattened his tongue against her pussy lips and moved it slowly up to her clit. She shivered again and stroked his hair.



Then she said, “We’d better close the window in case I get too vocal again.”



Dwayne reluctantly got up and closed it. He went back to his pleasurable activity at once. He licked her slit a few more times, and then he pointed his tongue and put it between her pussy lips. She tasted as good as she smelled, a little salty – it reminded him vaguely of sundried tomatoes somehow – and he loved the sticky feeling to his tongue and the texture of her pussy walls. She squeezed the tip of his tongue lightly, and he moved slowly up to her clitoris. He took it between his lips and tried to suck it into his mouth.



Carol squirmed. She’d put her legs around his shoulders and her hands were in his hair, and she moaned and whispered sweet words. He flicked her clit with the tip of his tongue and then he moved it over her nub from left to right and back again, very fast and with gradually more and more pressure. He alternated the suction and the tongue lashing and when he heard Carol’s breathing go ragged he softly bit her clit. It sent her straight over the edge, and Dwayne felt glad he’d closed the window after all. She pulled his head closely into her pussy, and her legs clamped down on him, and his face got bathed in her juices.



“Oh Dwayne,” she panted, and then she lay back and let her emotions sweep over her while her hands let go of his hair and her legs slowly relaxed. He lay his head in her groin and looked up at her, and smiled, happy to have given her such pleasure.



After a little time she found his head again with her hand, and she stroked his hair, tenderly this time. She lifted her head and looked at him, and she smiled. “Did you like this, too?” she asked.



He nodded. “Yes. I loved it”



She bit her lip and smiled. “So you won’t mind doing it again some time?”



“Any time you like,” he said, and planted a kiss on her vulva.



They lay just thinking for a while, and then Carol sat up. “Come,” she said. “Let’s have a sip of that whisky, and then I’ll do you.”



It sent a shiver down Dwayne’s spine. Would she…? She gave him his glass and she took her own and leant against him. She took a swig of her drink, and then she sought his lips and slipped the whisky into his mouth. They had another sip and then she took his glass from him and pushed him onto his back.

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