garter belt

Ben Meir, a firefighter so very far from Kansas, tapped his fingers nervously along the padded handrail inside the elevator. Even the Muzak seeping out of the speakers didn’t settle his jitters. Attending a fire safety trade show, Ben wasn’t concerned about the conference; there was another show he was more interested in.



When the elevator’s doors opened, he walked down the casino’s aisle with its garish mauve carpet with gold and brown swirls, passed rows of slot machines toward the lounge and his good fortune waiting at the bar. She told him to meet her there. Slowing his approach as he entered, his eyes adjusted to the dim light, and he nervously scanned the bar until he found her. He wove his way through busy tables ’til he slid into a chair beside her.



Her black hair flowed over her left shoulder and fell seductively across her chest. A black gown strained to contain her ample breasts. The slit of her gown opened to display mile-long legs and tan skin peeked over the welt of her stocking. She sipped her drink and then smashed a Marlboro in the ashtray.



“Been waiting long?” Ben asked as he scooted closer.



“No, but I was wondering where you went. Your drink is getting warm.”



“Just checking on my daughter.”



“And the bitch?”



“Lucy, she’s the mother of my children. I don’t like it when you call her that.”



“Perhaps a wrong choice of words on my part. But I wonder, Ben, can she do this?”



Lucy gripped his neck and met his lips in a passionate kiss, twining her tongue around his. She tasted of vodka and stale cigarettes, but even that didn’t matter. He dropped his hand on her knee, and moved his fingertips along her stockinged thigh ’til they touched the soft bare skin with the alluring promises of more to come. Lucy was simply intoxicating.



This wasn’t a chance meeting or a lady of the evening. No, they knew each other firefighter and cop. Ben tried to consider the ethnics of what he was doing. But, Amanda didn’t want to be the wife he needed. It was reasonable. No one would get hurt; especially Amanda, and he’d have Lucy.



In a minute of self-consciousness, he drained his glass and fixed his gaze on her dark, sensual eyes. He loosened his tie and tapped his glass on the bar. Ben’s eyes followed the swell of her breasts as she leaned her head over to one side allowing her hair to fan seductively across her right shoulder.



Draining her drink, she placed her glass next to his with exaggerated care. Lucy slid her almost too-delicate fingers with their red nails across his tie; she pulled it and Ben to her lips. She gave him a kittenish smile the kind she knew would scatter his lingering doubts. She pulled him closer and scrunched her brow. “Come here,” Lucy murmured. “I know what you’d love to do that the bitc ” She clipped her word short.



“What?” Ben grew uncomfortable. He wasn’t used to being the prey.



“You’d like to fuck my ass. That’s what you’d like “cause you can’t get that at home.”



For a moment, he said nothing. “Um—well, yeah I thought “bout it.”



She allowed his tie to slowly slide through her fingers. “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” Lucy slipped off the stool.



He followed her out of the lounge like a small boy following a puppy. Her impossibly high heels caused her calves to tighten; the cheeks of her ass moved with her cadence. They walked to the rows of elevators, and she pushed the call button. Just as the doors closed, Lucy leaped into his arms, and wrapped her legs around his waist. By the time the doors reopened, Lucy’s gown was around her hips. Her breasts pushed over the top of her bra with Ben’s face buried between the swells of her tits. All the sensations felt right, and Ben carried her out of the elevator to their room. She held her shoes over her shoulder by their straps.



The card key swiped. Her Jimmy Choos clunked on the floor. A stocking tossed in the air. On her knees, she unzipped him and pulled out a nicely proportioned cock. She held Ben in her hand. He was scorching hot and urgent. She closed her eyes and sucked, rolling his balls. Ben grabbed her hair and jerked her head into his crotch. His hips thrust and she swiped the tip of her tongue across the head. His cock twitch and he thickened against her tongue. She gripped the base of his dick and twisted the short brown hairs. Ben rose up.



“Oh, don’t you cum yet,” Lucy cooed, prolonging his excitement. She placed his cock between her breasts and slipped its saliva-smeared head across her nipples. “You know what you want don’t you?”



Ben snatched Lucy up and tossed her over the arm of a chair. She was wet for him. Wanting him. Needing him. Her pussy throbbed as he lowered her.



His hands moved down the front of her panties and cupped her. She gave a low, lewd moan as Ben pushed the flimsy nylon into her wet pussy. His fingers dance on her clit, and she rolled her hips. His other hand pinched a nipple. Lucy’s pussy flooded.



Lucy watched his reflection and the fiery lust that filled his eyes on the dimmed-out TV screen. Her breasts swayed as he lifted her ass higher. On tiptoes now, the cheeks of her ass tightened. A large, hot hand slid along the underside of a stockinged thigh and up over the back of her butt.



Lucy’s voice, low and seductive, urged him on. “First times cowboy, are always the best.” His other hand stroked her long, black hair, and then jerked hard.



“You like it rough?” Lucy squirmed. His fingers probed her wetness. “Answer me!” Ben grew intense. She felt the end of his cock push up between her buttocks.



She grabbed his cock and squeezed hard ’til she could tell he was in pain. She released her grip. “I can take it as hard as you got!” Lucy pushed her ass against Ben’s cock.



Two fingers worked into Lucy’s cunt, drowning in her wetness. Ben smeared her juice over his red, swollen head. The intense heat of his cock’s head pressed against her puckered asshole. “Christ! Ben! Do me!” Lucy screeched.



Ben yanked her head back. Beads of sweat pooled on her back. The lingering soapy perfume of her shower filled his head. Ben caught his breath. “Tell me you want it!”



Lucy dug her fingernails into the arm of the chair. “Fuck my ass, cowboy! If you’re man “nuff.”



Lucy’s body lurched as Ben slammed home. “Jesus!” Lucy bucked. He waited a second or two as she got use to him inside her, then he pushed again, harder than before. The next stroke was even deeper. The hot, tingling sensation of an impending orgasm built inexorably in the center of Ben’s gut. His hips moved faster. His hands pulled at her nipples. Ben stopped moving and his hips jerked as his cum filled Lucy’s hot ass.



Lucy’s hair fell across her back. Her legs quivered, and she slid to the floor. He picked the stocking off the floor, wiped cum from his manhood, and then tossed the soiled stocking on her leg. He glared at Lucy and then at the stocking. “Put it on!” Ben commanded.



Lucy arched her foot and slipped the silky stocking over her toes and wiggled it passed her thigh. “There you go, cowboy,” Lucy purred while she ran her fingers over her thighs. “Turns you on, doesn’t it?”



“I’m no cowboy. I don’t ride horses; I put out fires.”



“Who said my fire’s out?” Lucy rolled over on her back and spread her legs.



Ben pushed her legs up and lowered his head between her legs. With one hand his fingers spread her pink lips open and his tongue flicked the top of her clit. Lucy’s legs clamped closed, her fingers dug deep into the plush carpet. Her legs wrapped around Ben’s body. Another lick and Lucy arched her back. His tongue darted in and out of her hot sex tasting her sweetness. She clawed at his back pressing his face deeper into her pussy. Lucy’s clit was no match for Ben’s tongue and she exploded. Lucy shuddered and her eyes rolled back. Ben rolled off and allowed her to come down.



After all the planning and lies, it boiled down to twenty minutes in a Las Vegas hotel room. Ben pulled his boxers on, scanned the mini-bar, and realized he needed another drink.



“Too late for second thoughts, lover,” Lucy said as she rummaged through a suitcase. She slipped on a fresh pair of panties. “It’ll be our last time, you know. I’ve got to catch the next flight back to Kansas.”



“I know. I’ll be leaving in the morning.”



Lucy walked toward Ben like a long sleek black cat. Her breasts, large and full, defied gravity. She palmed her tits, cupping them and sliding a fingertip across each nipple. Ben stood trance-like, as Lucy pushed her breasts against his bare, tanned chest. Without a word, Lucy’s hand darted inside Ben’s boxers to his limp cock. “I’ve always enjoyed watching a guy stroke himself off. I’m leaving in few hours.” Lucy could feel Ben’s cock stiffened.



Ben pulled her hand from his boxers. The idea was tempting. To be put on display, while a woman watched was exciting different something Amanda would never ask. Ben thought about it and he somehow managed to put his hand inside his boxers. He moved his hand around his member and gave it a few short strokes. Lucy watched as his hand moved up and down his hardened cock. “Ooh!” Fell from Lucy’s lips, and then a hot surge of wetness soaked her panties.



“I think,” Lucy said as she wiggled Ben’s boxers down his thighs. Lucy wrapped her hand around his fingers and buried her fingertips deep into the short brown hair. She gave him a few quick strokes before she withdrew her hand. “It would be a fine going home present.”



Ben’s hand made a few long half-hearted strokes then quickly removed his hand. “Not this time,” Ben said reluctantly while he tugged his boxers up.



“Too bad. That would have been so much fun,” Lucy said as she turned toward the bathroom. “There’s something “bout watching a guy get himself off.” Lucy licked her lips. “I love to watch.”



Within the hour, Lucy was on the airport shuttle to catch the redeye to Kansas. Ben’s flight wasn’t ’til morning, and somehow his hotel room turned into purgatory. He knew what he did with Lucy was wrong. But he kept telling himself that no one would get hurt. Lucy was a cop in another district. It was a one-time thing, that’s all. Christ, he rationalized; she’s getting married next week. Maybe he could drink himself into a stupor and wake up without a nagging feeling of broken trust. Ben laughed coldly. Mistrust, he scoffed. Amanda had issues, but she’d never break a promise a marriage vow. Another drink burned his throat as it went down.



********



About a week after he returned from Vegas, Amanda found a stocking clinging to the inside of his pants that he wore to Vegas. Ben confessed to an affair. Bristling with wounded pride and cheeks flushed with righteous indignation, Amanda threw him out of the house.



Now, Ben tapped his fingers against the armrest of the old wooden chair he sat on. As he looked around the office, he saw an industrial gray metal desk that served as the focal point in the Spartan, nondescript room. Someone left the door ajar and he heard the routine sounds of the clinic. There was the mechanical purr of a floor scrubber, the muted click-clank of a dozen keyboards and the shuffle of the cleaning staff as they pushed dustpan and broom. Down the hallway, muffled voices could be heard. The squeak of the door’s hinges caused Ben to glance over his shoulder. Gold rings adorned a black hand that clutched the door’s edge, and wiggled it while an unseen voice boomed out of sight.



Ben wiped his sweaty palms on the front of his best black dress pants. Whoever held that door scared Ben, and Ben wasn’t easily frightened. After all, he ran into burning buildings when normal people were running out. But that hand, that voice, rattled Ben.



The door opened, and a short, buxom African-American woman walked over to the desk; her floral print dress rustled with every step. At last—Ben thought.



“Good morning, Mr. Meir. I’m Mrs. Frederick.”



Ben stood and smiled. “Just call me Ben.”



Mrs. Frederick walked passed the gray desk over to the window without saying another word. Ben returned to his chair. He felt the coldness in her voice. He knew the door he walked through thirty minutes ago wasn’t leading him to a made-for-TV Walt Disney movie. He was down the rabbit hole way down the rabbit hole.



“How’s Amanda?”



Mrs. Frederick reached up and rattled the curtain rings on the rod spreading the curtains open, and the room flooded with the light of a fine new spring day. “Another day is beginning. Another beginning, Ben.” Mrs. Frederick wheeled out a red leather chair, gently pushed the back of her dress to her butt, and sat.



“Amanda is fine. But you’re here because you’re part of the reason that woman is in my clinic. That was a close one. Practice if you will. Most people who are suicidal are scared and confused. They want to know how it’s going to feel to die. I’m sure that Amanda had no plans to take her life that night. It was a cry for help, and it’s my job to help her. It’s your job, too.”



While Mrs. Frederick didn’t come out and say it, he knew what she meant. Amanda tried to take her life. Ben didn’t like that word suicide. To him, the word sounded filthy. It was a word from the vocabulary of the weak. Amanda had problems, but she wouldn’t take her life. Sure, things have been rough, but Amanda was strong enough, or so Ben thought.



He heard Mrs. Frederick as she shot out routine questions like a well-oiled machine gun. He didn’t remember answering. All he could remember was two nights ago. He was on duty, and around one in the morning, the call came in. Possible overdose. Nothing unusual about those calls; they came in all the time. But Ben’s life changed on that cold spring morning. When the squad arrived, Amanda was inside her car, slumped over the steering wheel, an empty prescription bottle lying on the passenger seat.



Amanda told Ben that it hurt too much to go on. He shook off the warnings. An affair doesn’t make people take their lives. Amanda was too smart for that too damn smart.



Ben squirmed in his chair.



Mrs. Frederick smirked as she selected a yellow folder from a stack on her desk. Ben watched her eyes as she read. She placed the folder down. “Nothing new here.” Mrs. Frederick pushed away from her desk, walked around to the front, and leaned her ample derriere onto it. “I hate being lied to. Amanda told me about the affair you had in Vegas. Ben, if you’re playing footsies with another woman, walk out that door “cause you’re wasting my time.” Mrs. Frederick’s eyes stabbed Ben. “I don’t like men who cheat on their wives.”



Ben sat in silence. “Very well. I have your attention now.” Mrs. Frederick slid into her desk chair, took out a pen and re-opened the folder. “Tell me, why is your wife in my clinic?”



“Things haven’t been right between us for a while. We’re both forty-five, and our first date was the high school prom. It was a disaster.”



“How so?” Mrs. Frederick’s brows lifted, creasing her forehead with small lines.



“It was a dare. A stupid football team dare.” Ben’s shoes scuffed the carpet. “I was the co-captain of the team.” Ben began, “Amanda was stringbean skinny, her hair tied into a knot behind her head or braided. She looked like a housekeeper from the 1800s. She had no boobs. She never, ever wore a dress or skirt, and none of us ever recalled her doing so. She was a tomboy. So much so, that there was talk that Amanda wasn’t a girl at all. We thought she was one of the transgender guys.”



“And your dare, Ben, let me guess, was to find out if in fact she was a girl.”



“Yeah, you’re right. I was to ask her to the senior prom and—” Ben stared out the window, his eyes moved restlessly while he contemplated his reply. He let out a long slow breath. “Before the prom was over I was—if Amanda really was a girl, I was to prove it by showing the guys the proof her panties. I didn’t want to do that, but I couldn’t let my teammates know I was a putz. I have an older sister, and she offered to supply me the necessary garment as proof.”



“So your first date was a lie you told Amanda?”



“No, it wasn’t a lie. Amanda wasn’t much to look at when she was in school. She wasn’t ugly. She wasn’t pretty. She was, well, just Amanda. She never went out of her way to look like a girl. She was transparent at school. Everyone knew of her, but no one knew her.



“For a young woman, the prom is a turning point in their lives,” Mrs. Frederick commented.



“At the prom,” Ben continued, “I think it was the first time she ever wore a dress and I know it was the first time she ever wore high heels. She had difficulty walking without stumbling. I couldn’t help but laugh. We sat alone in the shadows. Then one of the self-proclaimed beauty queens strolled over, and placed a paper sack on the table beside Amanda. Amanda asked her what it was for, and this snob told Amanda that if she wanted to dance with me, then the sack was for her.”



“Oh, Jesus.” Mrs. Frederick pushed back into her chair. “Why do people act like that?”



“I grabbed her wrist and told her that Amanda didn’t need a sack over her head, but she might consider strapping a 2X4 to her ass so her date won’t fall in when he fucked her later that night.” Ben’s face turned bright red. “Sorry for my French. It still makes me mad.”



Mrs. Frederick smiled. “I’ve heard worst. Lots worst. So what happened then?”



“I took Amanda’s hand and asked her for a dance. She begged and pleaded with me not to take her out on the dance floor, as she couldn’t dance. I told her to put her arm around me, and we’d sway to the music.”



“Did Amanda go with you?”



“If I recall, it took a few more tries but we made it out onto the floor. I remember her head leaning onto my shoulder and I could feel her heart. I thought it was going to explode.”



“I imagine that Amanda had a hard time wrapping her mind around what was happening,” Mrs. Frederick added.



“The lights were low and the music slow. I reached up and removed a single hairpin. She said no, and I asked permission to continue. She didn’t say yes, she didn’t say no. I pulled one, then another, and finally the last one free. I arranged her hair around her shoulders.”



“Didn’t Amanda get mad?”



“No. Well, I guess not. When the music was over and the lights came up, when she looked at me I saw tears in her eyes. I brushed a few away with my thumb. Then in front of that whole damn class I kissed her. And it wasn’t a peck on the lips. I kissed her. I cupped her face in my hands and I kissed her. I wasn’t about to ruin her time at the prom.



“Why, Ben, I didn’t see that coming. You have a warm, soft heart deep down.”



“In high school, I had more girls than I knew what to do with. I’d go out on a date and before we’d get two blocks from her house, my date would be naked and giving me oral sex. I liked the romance. I liked the idea that Amanda wasn’t going to end up in bed with me that night.”



Mrs. Frederick smiled and jotted something down. “It sounds like the prom went off without too much problem.”



“After the prom, I took her home; her parents wouldn’t allow her to go to the all-night party. We sat on the porch swing, and I confessed. She was horrified but thankful I didn’t snatch her panties. I may have kissed her again, and I left.”



“What happened then, Ben?”



“Ooh, good God. I went home and changed out of my tux. As I drove back to the high school, my buddies passed me. They where hanging out of the car’s windows yelling, “She’s a girl! We got proof!’ I knew what they did.”



Mrs. Frederick lowered her tablet onto her lap. “My God, what did they do?”



Ben picked up his story. “I turned around in the middle of the road, and when I got back to her house, she was lying on the grass, half in shock, half numb. She was displayed so anyone could see her. Her legs were apart, and her panties were gone. One of her shoes was stuck on the mailbox’s red flag. Her pantyhose dangled from a tree branch. I remember her bra. It was cut off, and someone tied what was left to her car antenna. On the grass lay a rumpled, torn paper sack. I gathered the remnants of her gown and covered her. About the time I got her to her feet, her parents arrived.”

What did they do to her? You mean it wasn’t just one ”



“No. I suspected some of the team. Someone held her from behind, and they placed a bag on her head so she couldn’t identify the participants. She told me she fought as hard as she could, but nine football players against one skinny girl; it was no contest, and she knew the outcome wasn’t good. They forced her onto the grass and they ripped and tore her clothing from her body. They yanked her panties off, and then tossed them around like a trophy. Amanda doesn’t know who actually raped her, that sack covered her eyes, but I know in my heart it was my co-captain, Hal. It was his style.”



Mrs. Frederick set her pen down. “She’s been carrying this around all these years. I’m beginning to understand now.”



“I can’t explain it,” Ben continued, “but I liked Amanda, plain-Jane looks and all. She’s smart as a whip, speaks several languages, and I fell in love with her. We dated after we graduated high school, and the strangest thing happened; we both fell in love. We got married early, we were twenty, and on our wedding night, she became pregnant. We had twins. We had an instant family; we named our daughter Sharon and our son Stephen.” Ben puffed out his chest. “Stephen’s a smokejumper fighting wildfires in California right now.”



Ben smiled and Mrs. Frederick noticed how it filled his face. “Would you like to share that thought?”



“I was just thinking. We went to our five-year high school reunion. My dad pulled some strings, and I got on the fire department. Dad’s a firefighter, too. I had a great job that I loved. The twins were three and cute as could be, but Amanda. Oh lord.”



“She blossomed, didn’t she?”



Ben cocked his head to one side. “That’s putting it mildly. She had breasts most women would kill for. A little on the small side for most men, but they’re round and soft. I think they’re just perfect. Those skinny legs now had curves, and they went all the way to her lips. Her hair, ooh—” Ben closed his eyes and a smile brightened his face.



“Men, we’re an odd lot,” Ben mused, “There’re guys that like legs, butts, and of course boobs. Amanda’s hair has a natural curl, and it flows over her shoulders in waves. I could drown in her hair.” Ben looked up at Mrs. Frederick. “I bet you think I’m screwy?”



“Not in the least.”



“When Amanda lets her hair down, it’s as golden as a Kansas wheat field that moves and shimmers in the summer sun when she walks. Her eyes—damn, they’re the bluest of blues. As blue as a Kansas summer sky.”



Ben quickly glanced away. “Something wrong, Ben?”



“Naw, I just haven’t told her that in years.”



Mrs. Frederick jotted something in her notes. “Go on, Ben.”



“Mrs. Frederick, how’s she doing?”



“She’s fine. Amanda will be staying with us for several days. What happened between you two?”



“I don’t know.” Ben hands tightened, and then he wrapped his fingers around his wrists. His eyes darted across the room in an effort to focus on something. Ben shrugged.



“I’m here to help, but I can’t if you don’t tell me what’s on your mind,” Mrs. Frederick coaxed.



“We had what I guess was a normal sex life. About two years ago it just stopped. She won’t talk about it, at least not to me. I don’t know. Now, sex with Amanda is in the dark, missionary style, you know, with her always on the bottom and me on top. The last time I had sex with my wife was at Christmas time. I practically had to beg. I don’t understand. We use to ”



“Fuck,” Mrs. Frederick interrupted. “I’ve been down the road a few times, Ben, there’s nothing you can say that I haven’t heard.”



Ben grinned. “I wasn’t sure how to talk about this shit to a woman.”



“Then don’t hold back.”



Ben’s eyes widened and his nostrils flared. He stood and poked his finger on his chest. “I put that stocking in my pants for Amanda to find. I wasn’t about to argue anymore. I simply won’t beg for Amanda’s attention.”



“You shouldn’t have to beg.”



“You’re damn fuckin’ right I shouldn’t!” Ben drilled his finger harder into his chest. “I knew she’d find the nylon. I planned on taking the hit. Being the assholeÐthe guy who cheated on his wife. Her friends would rally around Amanda, telling her to divorce me. I confessed to the affair. I want out, Mrs. Frederick. I didn’t figure Amanda would do what she did. As they say, the monkey is on my back now. It’s up to me to get the lawyer and terminate this marriage.” Ben sat back into his chair and stared at the floor.”



He twined his hands together and his breathing slowed. He looked back at Mrs. Frederick.



“Amanda won’t let me see her naked. She hides. All Amanda wears from morning-until-night are sweat pants. When Amanda gets all dressed up and walks into a room, she turns heads.” Ben’s face turned a bright fire-engine-red. “I like to show her off. But now I swear she goes out of her way to look drab. She won’t even shave her legs anymore. I hate those fuckin’ sweat pants. I get laid once a year. That’s all.



“There was an award banquet this January. It was important for me. Amanda was there, and I was on such a high. Mrs. Frederick, all I wanted was to go home and undress my beautiful sexy wife and make love to her.”



“Didn’t happened, did it?”



“No. We have instant printing, instant messages, and Amanda cornered the market with instant migraines. I have a headache. We got into a hell of a fight. I was so mad I left the house and stayed with a friend. I decided then that I wasn’t going to beg for sex anymore. I put a plan in motion to meet a woman in Las Vegas.”



“Sometimes, Ben, we really don’t feel like it.”



“Damn it, I know that! But that night was truly important to me. I don’t want you to think that I come home from my shift, and then chase Amanda through the house with a hard-on trying to stick it into every hole she has. I don’t and I don’t give a rat’s fuckin’ ass if you believe me.”



Mrs. Frederick leaned over her desk to glare at Ben. “You don’t throw a good marriage in the shitter because you’re not getting laid. What’s really going on, Ben?”



Ben palmed his eyes. His chest heaved as he drew in long deep breaths.



“It’s not just about sex. Sometimes, men really don’t want it all the time either. Sometimes I need something else.” Ben grew quiet. His reddened eyes stared sightlessly. “Mrs. Frederick, have you ever removed a dead baby from a mangled car?”



“No, Ben, I haven’t.”



“How many does it take? I’ve lost count. How many times have I carried the charred body of a child from a fire? I can’t eat hot dogs from a grill “cause they look exactly like the flesh from a burnt corpse. The skin is black and crispy from the fire, but it’s still pink underneath. How many does it take?”



“I don’t know.”



“I hear the radio’s speaker break squelch, and the klaxons blare. A pair of teenagers decided to settle their differences with a gun. How many times have I washed their blood from the asphalt?”



“I don’t know, Ben.”



“How many times does it take before I need a soft place to come home to? Another wreck, another dead baby. I come home, and I want I need a soft place to land. I want to look at my wife naked before me. I want her to lie down beside me. I want the scent of her shampoo that still lingers in her hair from her morning shower to fill my senses. I want to cradle her breasts in my hands so I can feel her softness. I want to move my fingers across her panties so I know I am loved in an intimate way. I need to hold her as tight as I can so everything will be all right, if only for a little while—”



“And she’s not there anymore, is she?”



Ben sat quietly. Mrs. Frederick noticed tears pooling in the corners of Ben’s eyes. They broke free.



“Not anymore,” Ben said. “I need her more for those times than I do for sex.” He looked deep into her eyes. “How many does it take? Mrs. Frederick, please tell me—how many?”



Mrs. Frederick stood and waddled to the front of her desk and she touched Ben’s shoulder. She picked up the phone. “Ben, I can get you some help. You say the word and I’ll call.”



“I’m fine. I just had— Huh, I’m fine.”



“Ben, no one is fireproof. Not even you.”



Ben lifted out of his chair and wiped his eyes dry. “I’ve been working with someone from the department.”



“Who?”



“Doug Parker.”



“He’s good. He’s very good,” Mrs. Frederick said.



Ben walked toward the door. “I’m scheduled to work this afternoon.”



“Not anymore. I’m quite aware of the public service work schedules in Overland Park, Kansas.” Mrs. Frederick stood with her arms akimbo, and looked at Ben. “Ben, as of this minute, you’re on two-weeks vacation.”



“I can’t take a vacation right now.”



“Either go on vacation or I’ll put you on sick leave. It’s up to you. Either way, I don’t care. But you’re going to take some time off. I personally know the fire commissioner, so don’t force my hand.”



Ben blew out a quick, short breath. “Vacation, I guess. What about Amanda?”



“Do you still love her?”



“Yeah. Love was never in short supply in our marriage.”



“Do me a favor then?”



Ben shrugged his shoulders then placed his hand on the doorknob. “What?”



“Don’t do anything with the lawyers yet. Let me work with Amanda. Will you do that for me?”



“Sure, I’ll see how things go. Since I’m on vacation, I might run down to Florida and see mom and dad.”



Both brows rose. “One more thing, Ben.”



“Yeah?”



“You’re still married to Amanda. Keep your dick in your pants until this mess is sorted out.” Mrs. Frederick leaned on her desk so hard her knuckles turned white. “I hate men that cheat on their wives, especially when they’re out of town.”



Mrs. Frederick walked over to the window and gazed at the bright sunny day. “Another day is beginning. Another beginning, Ben.”



********



The next day Mrs. Frederick sat behind her stone-gray desk as Amanda walked quietly into her office. She walked like she was stepping on broken glass. Her long ponytail didn’t even swing when she took those first steps from the doorway. Nicely pressed blue jeans and white sneakers gave Amanda an illusion of height.



“Good to see you, Amanda,” Mrs. Frederick said as she walked out from behind the desk.



“I’m scared. They took all my stuff.”



Mrs. Frederick sucked in a deep breath. “It’s a precaution, that’s all.” Mrs. Frederick smiled and pointed at a large upholstered chair. She knew there was something eating at Amanda, and it wasn’t Ben’s affair. Mrs. Frederick decided to lean on Amanda until the truth came spewing out, no matter how toxic.



“Have you talked to Ben?”



“A little on the phone. He says he misses me.”



“And what about you?”



The corner of Amanda’s eye crinkled and she smiled. “I love him. I miss him so much.”



Mrs. Frederick wasted no time. “Ben and I had a long talk yesterday.”



“What did he say about me?”



“That’s confidential. Just like I can’t tell him what you say.”



“Does he still love me?”



Mrs. Frederick nodded. “That he does. He also told me how much he enjoys brushing your hair.”



Amanda twisted the ends of her hair around her fingertips, and then shrugged slightly. “Did he say he always takes my top off?”



“He did.”



“Ooh— Ben has a thing for my hair. He likes to brush it. It feels so good when he does that sometimes I fall asleep. I just don’t know why he has to have me naked from the waist up. It makes me uncomfortable.”



“You’re with your husband.”



“I do know when he’d have a bad shift and especially when someone died in a fire or accident, he’d come home and ask me to let him brush my hair. One night there was a terrible fire. He came home, showered, and then sat me on the edge of the bed. He slipped my shirt and my bra off as he always did. I didn’t object that time because I could tell he was hurting something awful. He sat behind me. Then, Ben pulled a brush through my hair, his fingers guiding each strand. He never spoke—just brushed my hair using one long continuous stroke. I could see him in the reflection of the vanity mirror. Mrs. Frederick, I sat in silence as my husband wept, brushing my hair while tears rolled down his face.”



Mrs. Frederick took her glasses off and put an earpiece to her lips. She nibbled the end, and then allowed them to drop onto her chest by a silver chain.



“Ben needs you more than ever and if he wants to brush your hair while your breasts are bare, I don’t see the problem. It’s not like you have kids running around the house.” Mrs. Frederick moved a chair over beside Amanda, pushed the back of her dress against her rear, and sat beside her.



“Have you ever asked him why?”



“No—”



“Then, Amanda, you should.”



Mrs. Frederick scooted her chair so close to Amanda’s that their knees touched. Mrs. Frederick rested her elbows on her thighs and held Amanda’s fingers.



“Amanda, I’ve been around the block a few times. Perhaps more times than I’d like to admit.” Mrs. Frederick gently squeezed Amanda’s fingers. “I’ve talked to hundreds of rape victims. It’s something that you don’t just push under a throw rug. I can help you.”



Amanda’s eyes looked directly at Mrs. Frederick. “I’m sure Ben already told you about it.”



“Yes… But he doesn’t have a clue what’s inside your head. You were the one violated, not Ben. What happened that night?” Mrs. Frederick held Amanda’s fingers tight.



Amanda gathered her thoughts together and looked Mrs. Fredrick in the eyes. She began her story.



“Ben took me home from the prom and we sat on the porch swing and talked. Then, he reached up and spread my hair out across my shoulder. You should have seen his grin. Then, Mrs. Frederick, he kissed me. It was a slow sensual kiss like the one on the dance floor in front of the entire class. I know it’s corny, but that was the first “real’ kiss I ever had. It was better than what I ever dreamt about.”



“It sounds like Ben was quite a catch.”



“I almost died when he asked me to the prom. He was the co-captain of the football team. The girls were throwing themselves at him—” Amanda shrugged. “I wasn’t much to look at then. I didn’t like being a girl and wanted to roughhouse with the boys. Then to be asked to the prom by Ben, well he told me why that night. But I was all right with it. In fact, had he pressed I would have given him what he wanted.”



“What happened after he left?”



“They were hiding. I had my first kisses that night, and I sat on the swing and felt so pretty. Before he left, the back of Ben’s hand “accidently’ grazed my chest. I felt so warm and loving. Then, I heard something by my car and when I went to see what it was; they jumped me. They put a bag over my head and pulled me over to the grass. I kicked and I fought as hard as I could. You gotta believe me!”



“I know you did.”



“Two held my arms down and two held my legs. Someone started working on my shoes, and I heard my gown’s zipper rip. I felt the coldness of a steel blade as it sliced through my bra straps. I had no strength left and I quit fighting. The next thing I knew my pantyhose were being lowered and yanked from my feet. They howled and laughed when Hal removed my panties.”



“How do you know it was this Hal person?”



“The bag tore, and I could just make out who it was. He told “em to never pass on a piece of pussy especially when there’s a bag over her head. I heard a belt buckle rattle and the sound of a zipper being lowered. He spat into his hand and jammed his fingers inside me— I never told Ben who raped me.”



Amanda tightened her grip.



“He—” Tears flowed down her cheeks. “He shoved into me. It hurt. I tried to scream, but they covered my mouth. I’d never been with a boy before, and he took my virginity while all those guys watched. I felt his cum run out between my legs. He told his buddies to wash me off. I didn’t know what was going on until I felt the first warm stream hit me ”



“They urinated on you? All of them?”



Tears boiled from the corners of her eyes until they broke free and tumbled down her cheeks like twin rivers of sorrow. “Yeah, that’s what they did. When they were done, someone whispered not to move for fifteen minutes or they’d come back and everyone would have a piece of me. They spread my legs apart, and I heard them drive away. I was so scared I don’t know how I managed to breathe.”



Mrs. Frederick let Amanda’s fingers go. “Dear God! Why didn’t you tell the police?”



Amanda stomped her foot hard. “I did! They covered for each other. The police even tried to blame Ben. I couldn’t say for sure who was there, I didn’t recognize their voices and without a suspect, the police weren’t able to do anything.”



“When did Ben find you?”



“I don’t know. Time seemed to stand still. I heard footfalls in the grass then they quickened. I heard Ben’s voice call out. He scooped me up and carried me to the swing. He took his shirt off, and wrapped it around my waist. He found what was left of my prom dress and covered my nakedness. Just minutes later, mom and dad came home, and with Ben holding me, they took me to the hospital.”



“Did they do a rape kit?”



“Yeah, but with no suspects— The football coach backed up their stories. He told the cops they were with him. He lied.”



Amanda seemed jittery and upset. She squirmed, and twisted her ponytail around her fingers. Mrs. Frederick knew there was more.



“Sounds to me like Ben and you quickly became more than friends. Wouldn’t you say?”



“We dated after school was over. I helped him with his fire exams; he’s one hell of a firefighter, but he’s a little light upstairs when it comes to taking tests. We grew closer. It was almost a year after the prom and the rape before he took me to bed. My parents were gone for the weekend, and I gave myself to Ben in my bedroom.”



“And how did that make you feel?”



Amanda blushed. “Sad mostly. The most precious gift I could give was taken from me that night. I wanted to give it to Ben, but that was never to be.” Amanda’s face flushed a bright red. “I like sex with Ben.”



“Then why all of a sudden did you pull away from him?”



“A few years ago, on my way home from an appointment, I stopped at the grocery store for something for dinner. As Ben would say, I was all prettied up. This man comes up to me and says, “you’re Ontario, aren’t you?’ I said that was my maiden name. He grinned such an evil smile. Then it hit me. It was Hal. He looked at me like I was a piece of meat. I stood there in my skirt and frilly blouse. My heels were high but not trashy and I had suntan hose on. It was an important meeting after all. I froze. I couldn’t talk. He stalked closer and whispered that I looked good enuff to fuck without the bag. His eyes scanned the store, and then he lifted the back of my skirt up and squeezed my butt. In a flash, he had his hand on my left breast and he squeezed it so hard it hurt. Hal said he liked how I’d grown up, and he’d be back for seconds. He left me standing in tears.”



“Did you tell Ben?”



“No! No! Ben would have killed him. I didn’t want him to get into trouble.”



“So, you changed that day. Didn’t you?”



“Yeah, I did. I stopped wearing skirts and dresses. I didn’t want Hal to see me in one. I wore no makeup. I shaved my legs every other week, sometimes longer. I wore nothing but sweat pants. I went braless. I did everything I could so Hal wouldn’t get turned on and rape me again. I knew he was watching me.”



“Amanda, honey, Hal wasn’t watching you. And what about Ben? He suffered and he didn’t have a clue.”



“I couldn’t tell him why. I couldn’t get Hal out of my head. Every time the house creaked I thought it was him trying to break in.”



“And yet you didn’t tell Ben.”



“No— I know it doesn’t make sense now.”



“And you kept your husband in the dark.”



Amanda twisted her fingers together and stared out into the cold room. Mrs. Frederick noticed and pressed Amanda.

“What’s on your mind, Amanda?”



A corner of her mouth turned up, and a small smile appeared. “I think Ben has a thing for my legs. He’d buy me expensive hosiery and when we’d go out, he expected me to wear what he purchased. I hate to wear stockings and Ben knows that. He buys the best pantyhose in the store. I haven’t worn pantyhose in years. He quit buying me hosiery last spring.”



“And then the banquet came, and you had to step up to the plate.”



“Ben saved a couple of kids from a fire and the state of Kansas gave him an award. I had to go with him. He was so excited about the night. I knew what Ben would expect after the banquet. We hadn’t had sex for months.”



“Amanda, I want to share what Ben told me about that night. He said he didn’t mind you knowing.”



“What did he say?”



“All he wanted to do that night was undress his beautiful, sexy wife and make love to her.”



Amanda palmed her swollen red eyes. “I know; and I turned him down.”



Mrs. Frederick leaned back and looked at Amanda with disdain.



Amanda wrung her hands while tears rolled down her face. “I pushed my husband into the arms of another woman. My life went to hell. I was alone, and I wanted it to all go away. I grabbed the first full bottle of pills I could find, and drove to the park. I swallowed them all.



“I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the pain to go away. Hal’s going to rape me again. I know he is. I lost my husband. My marriage is gone. Mrs. Frederick, there’s nothing holding me together anymore—”



Amanda was bawling. The kind of deep-throated bawl that Mrs. Frederick hadn’t heard since those grade school fights she got into. Mrs. Frederick wrapped her arms around Amanda and tightened her hug. Through spit and hiccups Amanda blurted out, “I can’t get him out of my head!”



Mrs. Frederick held Amanda tight. “My god child, why didn’t you get help? Amanda, just because you married a firefighter doesn’t make you fireproof. You’re not alone. It wasn’t your fault. Hal isn’t watching you.”



Amanda’s tears fell onto Mrs. Frederick’s dress. Amanda dropped her arms and folded her hands.



“Taking your life isn’t the answer, Amanda.”



“Then what is the answer?



Mrs. Frederick stood. “Rachel.”



“Rachel?” Amanda asked.



Mrs. Frederick walked to her desk and pressed the intercom button. “Shelly, has Rachel come in yet?”



“She’s due any minute.” The speaker cracked out.



“When she comes in, have her go to Amanda Meir’s room.”



“Will do.”



“Who’s Rachel?” Amanda asked.



“Rachel is part of my staff. She’s a bit older than you, and like you she’s a rape survivor. She’s aggressive and to the point. She’ll yell at you and you’ll scream back. You’ll laugh together and you’ll cry together. But in the end, you’ll come away knowing how to deal with what happened to you.”



“Mrs. Frederick,” the intercom speaker called out. “Rachel just arrived and is heading to Amanda’s room.”



“Amanda, I don’t believe in using drugs. I think the best way to deal with a problem it to grab it and shake the shit out of it. Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. And if it does, then you beat it and shake it some more until you have that problem under control. Rachel will help you if you let her.”



“I will. I can’t wait until I see Ben and tell him.”



“That will have to wait.”



“What do you mean? I wanna see Ben.”



“Not for several more days.”



“What! You never told me that?”



“Rachel’s therapy is intensive. We can’t have you interacting with Ben until you can deal with your issues.”



“But ”



“That’s how it works.”



“Will you tell him I love him? Promise me you’ll tell him; soon?”



“I promise. I’ll call within the hour. Rachel is in your room by now, and you’d best not keep her waiting. We’ll talk and I’ll check in on you later today.”



Amanda opened the door and stepped out into her fate.



Mrs. Frederick returned to her desk and pushed the intercom button. “Shelly, please call Amanda’s daughter. When you get her, transfer the call here.”



Mrs. Frederick smoothed the back of her dress, and slipped into her red leather chair. She drummed her fingers on the desktop. “Whomever you are, Hal, I’m going to get you. You already ruined two lives. I wonder how many more—” The ring of the phone broke the silence. “Hello, Sharon Meir, I’m Mrs. Frederick and you don’t know me. I’ve been working with your Mom and Dad and I’d like you to do me a little favor—”



*****



The showerhead dripped while Amanda reached for a towel. She dried herself off, wrapped the towel around her body, and sat in front of the vanity mirror. She stared at her reflection. It’s been a month since she was admitted into the clinic and it’s been longer since she lay with Ben. Take it slow. That’s what Mrs. Frederick would say.



The sound of a blow dryer cut through the stillness of the room. Soon, her hair was dry and she pulled a small white hairbrush through it. She looked down and noticed how her hair flowed over her bare breasts. She smiled. “Just like Ben would do it.”



Amanda opened her jewelry case, and slipped her wedding rings on. She looked down into the rosewood box, and noticed Ben’s wedding ring. She recalled how he threw it at her the night she tossed him out.



Amanda left the bathroom and stood in front of the dresser. Sharon replaced all her clothing. She picked up a pair of panties and held them in front of her body. They were cut high and exposed more skin than she was used to. “Damn, not much there for a forty-five-year-old mom.” Amanda slipped them up her legs and adjusted them.



She dressed for Ben. After all, the ground was covered in snow and plastic reindeers adorned the neighbor’s lawns the last time she and Ben were together in an intimate way. Amanda longed for his touch.



She pulled open another drawer, and selected a new package of hose that lay in the bottom. With toes pointed, she inched the silky nylon over her delicate toes and up her legs. She let the waistband snap slightly. She stood and admired her figure in the mirror. She moved hands over her thighs. “It’s been a long time since I wore these.”



Amanda finished dressing, a pair of dark indigo blue jeans, a white shirt and she was ready. She moved down the staircase with its darkly stained mahogany trim with a pair of heels tucked under her arm. Her toes sank deep into the ivory-colored carpet as she walked to the living room. She sat and stared at the home she once shared with Ben. The curio cabinets that held pretty things that held no meaning. The chandelier she rarely noticed hung above the foyer. There was the piano that no one could play. She sat, all alone, looking at things.



A large cherry grandfather clock stood guard at the opposite end of the room. Its pendulum swung through its arc. Ticking off the seconds with its stubborn, relentless swings and filled the house with a sense of loneliness. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Amanda sat mesmerized as she watched the old grandfather clock count down the seconds of her life. She shook her head and looked around. Their home had become a collection of “things’ and somehow it became a house no longer a home. A depository of things she no longer wanted. She dug her toes into the carpet.



Amanda sat in the expansive living room, all alone. Her mind drifted back to the good times. She smiled as she recalled their first apartment. How Ben kept a beer cap under one leg of the kitchen table to keep it from wobbling. The two slice toaster that only toasted one slice at a time. The first meal she cooked was so bad, the neighbor’s dog got sick when he raided the garbage can. Between the layoffs and transfers they scrounged enough loose change to take the twins for an ice cream cone.



Amanda felt tears burning in her eyes. She recalled the time Ben was happy someone at the station gave him an old air conditioner for the bedroom. He worked so hard to get it to work. It got so blasted hot in the apartment; Ben moved the twins and their bed into the main bedroom. After his shift, and if there was a few dollars left over from his paycheck, he’d stop and bring home tacos from Taco Bell. A tear slid down Amanda’s cheek. She remembered lying on the bed wearing nothing but a pair of hose simply because Ben liked to see her like that after a twenty-four hour shift. Eating tacos with Ben while they watched the “Tonight show with Johnny Carson.’ Another tear rolled from her cheek.



“Hold it together.” She said. She picked up the phone and called a taxi. She slipped her heels on and walked to the door and the fate that lay beyond a fate that she controlled.



******



The eleven p.m. newscast just started. The sound of the microwave’s beep broke the silence and signaled dinner was ready. It was another frozen dinner on another lonely Friday night. The doorbell buzzed. “What the?”



Ben set his plastic fork down. “I’m coming,” he called out. Ben opened the door and there stood Amanda.



“Hi, Ben.”



“Amanda? This is a surprise. I wasn’t expecting you.”



“Are you going to ask me in or shall I stand out here on the porch step?”



He pushed the door open. “Oh, sorry, sure come in.”



It was the first time Amanda had been in his place, and she looked around as she took a few tentative steps into the tiny apartment.



“You weren’t kidding, this is small.”



“It’s like living in milk carton.”



Amanda took her jacket off and handed it to Ben. “I should have called in case you had ah, umm, a friend over.”



Ben pulled out a chair for Amanda, and he could see that she wore some makeup. He tried not to stare.



You’re looking good, Amanda. I’m glad to see the sweat pants are gone.”



A smile fought its way out and for a few seconds it brightened her face.



“Sharon and her friends absconded with all my clothing. Sharon said I needed to get with the times, so they went shopping.” Amanda placed her arms on her waist. “Skinny jeans and heels! I’m a real fashionista. Ta-da!”



Amanda sank into the chair; as quickly as it came, the smile evaporated and dark clouds surrounded her. She fussed with the fork. “I’m having a rough night. Sharon’s gone this weekend. I have that huge house to myself and I was wondering if perhaps. You know, maybe?”



Ben looked at Amanda’s hand. “You’re wearing your wedding ring again.”



Amanda’s mind fogged. She promised she’d make the first reconciliation effort and tonight seemed to be as good as any. Amanda lowered her eyes. “I’d like to stay here tonight. May I? I miss you. Please?”



Ben sat quietly, gathering his thoughts. His fingers reached across the tiny wooden table, it wobbled slightly, and brushed over the back of her hand. “You can stay if want to, but what if it leads to more? Could you handle that?”



Amanda shrugged her right shoulder. The corner of her mouth curled up. “I could.” Amanda said. “I left in a hurry and took a cab. I had to leave. I’m tired, Ben. I’m so tired.”



“Well then we should turn in.” Ben looked at the plastic tray containing his dinner. “I couldn’t choke another one of those down anyway.”



Amanda squeezed his fingers and then looked around. “Where’s the bedroom?”



“One bedroom coming up.” Ben tossed the sofa pillows onto the floor. He reached inside and pulled a handle. Out popped a bed complete with blankets and sheets. “Here we go, instant bedroom.”



Amanda giggled and Ben smiled. It’d been too long since he saw any happiness in her.



“You can use one of my shirts to sleep in. There’s some in the bathroom.” He pointed toward a microscopically short hallway. “You can change in there.”



She sat on the edge of the makeshift bed. “Lumpy, isn’t it?” Then she bounced a few times. “Squeaks, too.”



“Springs are shot as well. By morning you’ll roll into the middle,” Ben said.



Amanda opened her purse, and searched the interior. She pulled out a small white hairbrush and handed it to Ben. “I always brush my hair before bed. Would you like to do it tonight?”



“You’re serious?”



“You used to enjoy it; or don’t you anymore?



“I always have, you know that.” Ben slipped the brush into her locks when Amanda reached out and stopped him.



“What’s wrong?”



“That’s not the way you like it.” Amanda placed Ben’s fingers on her shirt. “If I remember, shirt and bra come off first.”



Ben reached over and placed a handful of her hair over her left shoulder. His fingers ran through the strands. “I’ve always liked it when you wore your hair down.”



“At one time, you told me that my hair was as golden—”



“As golden as a Kansas wheat field; your eyes as blue as a Kansas summer sky.”



“You remembered?”



“Amanda, I never forgot.”



Ben pulled the brush through her hair when Amanda again stopped him.



“What about my shirt? Bra?”



Amanda put Ben’s hand on the row of buttons. “It would be nice if you were to take “em off.”



Ben’s fingers worked on Amanda’s shirt, and he placed it on the side of the bed. His hands moved across her back, so warm and soft, and he released her bra. Ben slipped the straps from her shoulders and down her arms until it lay on her lap.



Amanda closed her eyes while Ben’s hands moved through her hair. He picked up a handful, fanned it across her bare breasts, and then he’d brush it back over her shoulder and down her back.



“You’re quiet tonight.”



“It was a rough forty-eight hour shift. There was a hell of a wreck on the interstate. Semi-truck versus minivan the minivan lost. It was bad—”



Amanda removed her shoes and unzipped her jeans without saying a word. She slipped them off. “Would you like me to keep my hose on? It’s been a awfully long time since I wore “



“Just take ‘em off.”



Disappointed, Amanda slipped her pantyhose off and draped them across the back of a kitchen chair. She walked over to Ben in just her panties and put her arms around his waist. “Get undressed and let’s go to bed. I think we’re both tired.”



Ben took his clothing off, and joined Amanda on the foldout bed. The springs squeaked when either one moved. “Reminds me of our first apartment,” Amanda said as she reached for the light on the end table.



Ben’s fingers moved through Amanda’s hair, and he relished the softness. Ben spooned her. “If you want me, I won’t push you away.”



Ben cupped a breast. “C. S. Lewis wrote, “You stand taller when you bow.’”



“When did you start reading Lewis?”



Ben’s hand slowly slipped from her breast and moved down her tummy. His palm rested on the front of her panties and gently brushed across them.



“This is nice,” Amanda said as she snuggled against his chest.



Ben never spoke and soon his fingertips wiggled inside a leg hole, and grazed her bush. His fingers moved through her short curly hairs feeling her heat.



“Feels good,” Amanda sighed. “If you want me, I won’t push you away.”



Ben’s finger dipped into her moist sex where he lingered for a few minutes. Ben slowly withdrew his hand and palmed her breast. His wet fingers moved across a rosy nipple.



“Sometimes, knowing you’re here with me is more important than making love with you.”



Amanda squeezed Ben’s hand that held her breast. “I’m here. Anyone hurt in the wreck?”



The bed squeaked. “Three kids and their mother. It was bad. Signal 30.”



Ben sucked in a deep breath. He placed a handful of Amanda’s hair over her breast. Married to a firefighter all these years, she knew what signal 30 meant; they were dead at the scene. Amanda sought out his hand and placed it on her chest. She felt his strong arms squeeze her tight. She looped a handful of hair over her ear and allowed it to fall onto Ben’s hand. “It’s okay. I’m here.” She felt Ben’s body tremble, and his grip tightened. “I’m here, Ben. I’m here—”



Ben’s hands held her tight such strong, powerful hands. The hands that saved so many people from the flames. Hands that carried a child from an inferno and had the strength to wrench mangled car doors open, yet so needy they longed for the softest of things.



Amanda’s feet slipped onto the floor, and she sat on the edge of the bed for several minutes. She recalled all the good times they had when they were young. Why, she thought, can’t we still have those times again?



Nightlights stabbed the darkness surrounding them. Amanda stood and the bluish-white light threw her sharp, distinct shadows onto the antique-white walls.



“Where you’re going?”



“Right here.” Amanda sat on a dining room chair and wriggled out of her panties, placing them over the chair back. In the silence of the shadowy room she slowly slipped on the hose. She returned to the bed, and nestled beside Ben and pressed her breasts into his chest.



Ben’s hand dropped to her thigh. “I said you didn’t need to wear these, especially to bed.”



Amanda draped her hair softly across Ben’s bare chest. “I want to,” Amanda said. She pulled him close, and pressed her lips to his. “I’m sorry, Ben. Can’t we start again? I don’t want that house filled with meaningless things. I want you and me. Please, can’t we start over again?”



Ben’s fingertip moved across her forehead then down her cheek looping some stray hairs behind her ear.



“I don’t know.”



Ben caressed her shoulder and arm. He held Amanda closer, tighter, and more secure. It felt so good to be close to him, his cologne filled her senses, and his arms held her so tight.



“You hungry?”



“You said you couldn’t handle another frozen dinner.”



“I can’t. I was thinking— Are you up for tacos?”



Amanda rested her head in her hand. “From Taco Bell?”



“Drive thru should be open. If we hurry, we can catch the last half of Leno.”



Before Ben could move, Amanda pulled on her jeans, slipped on her shoes, and was frantically buttoning her shirt.



Amanda waited by the door while Ben got dressed. Just as Ben turned the doorknob, he caressed Amanda’s back.



“When we get back,” Ben began, “we’ll talk. Okay?”



Amanda could hear the smile in his voice. She was dripping inside her jeans, the moisture pooled in the crotch. She cupped Ben’s face in her hands and the stubble tickled her fingers.



“I’d like that. Maybe we could do more than talk?”



******



Nick tapped on Ben’s office door. “Got a minute Captain?”



“Sure. What’s up?”



“Did you see the list of new rookies?” Nick handed Ben a printout. “Chad DuVal came in fourth in his class. Isn’t that your daughter’s boyfriend?”



“Yeah. Fourth, huh? That’s not so great. Thought he’d do better.”



“If I remember correctly, you graduated in the lower third of your class.”



Ben tossed the paper onto the desk. “The test was harder then. They eased up.” He smiled back at Nick.



Nick picked the sheet up and glanced over it. “Bullshit! He’s going to be fine firefighter, just like Sharon’s dad. Say, we’re having party at the Firehouse Grill this weekend. How about stopping in? Bring Amanda along, too. All the new guys will be celebrating there. It’ll be a dressy affair.”



“Naw.” Ben leaned back on this chair, and pushed away from his desk. He stared out the window.



Nick pulled out a chair. “How are you and Amanda getting along?”



“We’re doing better. A week ago, she spent the night at the apartment.” Ben smiled at Nick. “It was a good evening. I didn’t want sex that night. I didn’t feel either of us was ready. But damn, it sure was tempting. She looked good. She wants to give our marriage another try. We see each other, talk on the phone and stuff like that. I’ve noticed subtle changes. Sometimes I think about asking her to move in with me into that cracker-box apartment. If we don’t kill each other living in that sardine can, we can make it anywhere.”



“Why don’t you then?”



Ben shrugged. “How long will it last ’til things fall back into the same rut?”



“You told me about the woman she’s seeing.” Nick snapped his fingers. “Rachel, yeah, that’s her name. My god Ben, she’d been living in fear of being raped again, and instead of you standing by her side, you run out and fuck the first piece of ass you could round up?”

“How did I know? Oh no, I’m not owning that one. I’m not a mind reader.”



“It takes two to communicate. We won’t go out of business if you take a vacation when you’ve got plenty of comp time piled up. Ask her to the party.”



Ben stared out the window.



“What do you say? I think you and Amanda would enjoy a night out. For Christ sakes, take her out on a date.”



*******



Friday night, Ben drove into the cul-de-sac, and into the long driveway to the house they once called home. He could see the curtains were pulled back and when he got closer, they closed. He knew Amanda was ready, and had been ready for some time. His gut felt like there was a dozen rattlesnakes crawling around inside, and they were all poised to strike.



Amanda quickly opened the door, stepped out, and closed it with a solid thud. She watched the car’s door swing open. Out stepped Ben. The glow from the streetlights allowed Amanda to catch a glimpse of his muscular build where the neat pale-blue shirt tucked into his belted chinos. The normal tranquility of his blue eyes seemed to be replaced with something like broken glass that glinted on tacky asphalt. He was darker and perhaps a bit scruffier than what Amanda was use to. Amanda stood petrified against the cold hard door. God, he looked good.



A dark, navy-blue skirt stopped above her knees. Amanda wore black heels that seemed so fragile they’d break when she walked. Sheer, transparent blue hose clung to every curve of her legs. Her hair flowed down her shoulders and across her chest. The first few buttons of her sky-blue lace shirt were open, and a silver cross lay around her neck. She clutched a small white purse.



Ben walked with absolute confidence toward Amanda. The vaguely predatory look caused Amanda to step back until her body pressed against the closed door. Her shoes clunked when they hit the brass kick plate.



“Hi.” Amanda squeaked.



Ben smiled. His white teeth set against his tan face caused Amanda’s skin to turn to gooseflesh. He walked up to her, and without saying a word, twined his fingers through hers. Closer still. Amanda squeezed against the door. Ben moved her hand above her head, holding her captive.



A fingertip moved seductively across her forehead, pushing back a few errant strands of hair only to move between her eyes to the tip of her nose. He traced the outline of her lips, smearing her lipstick. His finger finally lifted her chin slightly.



“Hi.”



Ben’s fingertip continued down her chin then along the soft skin on her neck until it came to rest on the silver cross so delicately suspended between her breasts. Amanda closed her eyes for a second as she felt his warm breath on her chest. He widened the gap between buttons and placed a soft kiss on the cross.



Ben kissed her ear and sucked on her earlobe, and then he traced the outline of her ear with the tip of his tongue.



Amanda’s heart slammed against her ribs. Her body flushed with heat. She rose on tiptoes as Ben placed a slow wet kiss on her lips.



The sound of Amanda’s purse hitting the concrete porch went unnoticed.



“Ooh, damn—” Amanda moaned.



She felt his lips touch hers. Then she willingly opened her mouth slightly, and she felt his tongue enter her. Ben’s hand squeezed her breast as he moved his lips across her cheek.



They say that scent calls memories like no other sense. The way water smells as a cool slow creek bubbles along its bank, the smell of hot tar on a stretch of road, or the choking, earthy smell of a dusty day. The intoxicating aroma of her perfume filled his mind with memories of the past good memories.



Amanda shivered as though a feather stroked her bare skin. Hands filled hands, and Amanda looked into his eyes. Under the glare of a yellow security light, their bodies pressed against a door. She struggled for the right words to say. She wanted Ben to take her there on the front steps. There were several minutes of awkward silence when Amanda finally said, “We should go.” Hand-in-hand he led her to the car.



Slowly, he drove down the cul-de-sac, and to the main road. The streetlights flashed overhead one-by-one as they approached the intersection.



Sitting in the car, feeling the hot, dry Kansas air slice though her hair, she questioned herself like she did the night she sat in the park behind the steering wheel with a bottle of pills in her hand. She questioned whether Ben stilled loved her. Mrs. Frederick was right. Amanda knew the answer, too. Ben did love her. She could feel it.



“Pull the car over.”



Ben eased the car to the curb. A streetlight filled the interior with bright yellow shards of light. Amanda reached out and pulled Ben’s hands from the steering wheel, then placed them on her lap.



“What’s wrong?”



“What are your plans for tonight?”



Ben thought for a few seconds. “I guess dinner and a few drinks. Shake a lot of hands and slap some backs.”



“I mean after the party.”



Ben’s chest heaved against the pull of the seat belt. “Take you back to the house.”



“And that’s all?”



“Yeah, that’s all I have planned.”



“I thought you might have something special planned. With me perhaps?”



“I don’t have any expectations with you tonight. The last time I made plans was ten months ago. You had a headache.”



“Amanda squeezed his hands gently. “What about what happened a few minutes ago? That wasn’t planned?”



“No it wasn’t.”



“What if I told you that right now you could have anything you want, as much as you want, and as long as you want? Tonight.”



Ben looked at Amanda as he shut the car off. “Just like that?”



“Huh-huh. Just like that. Anything you want.” Amanda’s jaw twitched a few times. “I do have those feelings, Ben.”



Ben’s hand hovered over Amanda’s knee. “So if I were to ask you to take your skirt off in the car right now, that would be okay?”



Amanda’s fingers moved over the front of her skirt, and quickly slipped one button then the next as she worked her way up. Ben watched, nonplussed and astonished, as the last button relinquished its hold. She folded her skirt back, and Amanda lifted her butt and slipped her skirt out. Two careful folds later she place it on the center console.



Ben seemed to be paralyzed. “Is that what you had in mind?” Amanda asked. She gently placed Ben’s hand on her thigh. “Anything you want—”



Ben’s fingers moved over the silky softness of her hose and ran a fingertip around the elastic surrounding her panties. Ben looked out his window at the black street then back at Amanda.



“Why?”



“Because I’m sorry.” Amanda took Ben’s hand and slid it over her shirt. She pushed his fingertips between the gaps of buttons until they rested on her soft flesh. His thumb traced the top of her bra in long slow movements.



“Would you do me a favor?”



“It depends. What?”



“Let’s go to Walker’s Point. Right now. Just the two of us.”



“We haven’t been there since high school. Why do you want to go there?”



Amanda batted her eyes. “Would you take me? Please?”



“We’ll be late for the party.”



Amanda pushed his hand harder on her breast. “Please?”



The black Suburban rumbled to life and Ben pulled out. He knew Walker’s Point. Every kid that could drive knew about it. It was the place to go necking. Five miles out of town, it was out of the way, dark and generally safe. In their youth, Ben and Amanda spent many weekend nights exploring each other’s bodies at Walker’s Point.



Amanda didn’t put her skirt on and while they traveled down the highway, Ben kept his hand on Amanda’s thigh. It seemed only minutes later, Ben pulled onto the dirt lane. As he did when he was a kid, Ben flashed his lights twice, a warning that an incoming car was approaching, and then turned the headlights off. The lane was bumpy, and the SUV rolled over the ruts and through dry mud holes with ease. Ben pulled off the lane and onto a grassy section. He shut the engine off and it sputtered then died. The sounds of the night filled the evening. The moon hadn’t risen yet and the SUV filled with darkness.



“We’re here. Now, what’s this all about?”



“Remember when we’d come here?” Amanda began, “You had so many beautiful girls here before me, and I hadn’t been with anyone. We’d mess around. It was all so new and exciting. You’d have me down to my panties, and I’d get so wet we’d put a towel on the front seat to keep it from getting soaked. We were so much in love.”



Ben grinned. “Those were the days. Remember the night I talked you out of every stitch you had on and we were really into it. I don’t know how Dad got those guys up here in the squad but when they hit those sirens ”



“I damn near died. Your Dad laughed at us and each time he told the story, he’d laugh harder.” Amanda twisted her wedding band, and then pushed the door open. The yellow dome light punctured the darkness. She stepped out and leaned against the hood staring at the starry night. Ben’s door slammed closed and he walked over and stood beside her.



“Ben, please make love to me tonight. I’ll do whatever you wish. How many times must I say “I’m sorry’ before you’re convinced?”



Amanda’s fingers touched the short stubble on his cheek, and her heart hammered her chest. Her knees wobbled, and she wrapped her arms around Ben’s neck. Their foreheads touched, and Amanda placed one of Ben’s hands on her breast.



“Since my skirt is already off, I’d personally start at the top and work my way down,” Amanda whispered.



Ben couldn’t resist. His fingers made quick work of the shirt’s buttons. Soon her shirt was off and tossed on the hood. Seconds later Amanda’s bra was a crumbled wad of clothing. Ben’s hand slipped behind her head and his fingers caressed her warm bare back. His hands buried under a blanket of gold to follow the curve of her spine. They stood, their arms around each other, surrounded in a shroud of darkness.



“Oh, God, I’ve missed you so much,” Ben whispered. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, too. I should have listened. I should have pressed why things changed.”



Amanda’s arms tightened. “Kiss me. Kiss me, Ben.”



His hands cupped Amanda’s face and kissed her lips, then down across her cheeks. He kissed the tears from her eyes. His hands found her breasts and he held her, savoring the softness of her body.



Ben’s hands moved across the front of Amanda’s breasts. He stared at her hard nipples her little bullets. Amanda could feel her pussy hum with excitement. Wetness built ’til it oozed from the crotch of her panties. The cotton panel of her pantyhose was saturated with her moisture. Amanda felt a surge; a surge of light pushed the darkness surrounding her. This surge was so powerful, so intense, her knees buckled and Ben held her in his strong arms. Amanda’s breath rasped in and out of her tortured lungs. She wanted to scream for Ben to take her.



The dust hung in the dry air. Amanda closed her eyes and for a second she was back in 1986. She heard the crickets chirping in the high grass. She felt Ben’s thick, pulsing cock trapped between her thighs. God, she remembered the last time they were here. A screech of an owl yanked her back to the present.



She lifted Ben’s hands from her body and in one continuous motion she tugged her panties and hose to her ankles. “Please!” Amanda begged. “I want to cum. I want you to fuck me with your fingers. Fuck me with your cock, your tongue. For God sake Ben, do me!”



Ben swept her off her feet and carried her to the rear of the Suburban. He opened the hatch, and with one hand hurled bags of fire fighting equipment to one side. He lowered her onto the floor. With jittery fingers he battled the straps on her Ferragamos, only to give up in desperation and jerked them from her feet. He yanked her hose and panties off and jammed them in one of her shoes.



Ben’s fingers were on her pussy. His palm pressed down on her short curly hairs letting them slip though his fingers, and then Amanda’s fingers joined his; a willing collaborator. She dipped Ben’s fingertip across her quivering pussy lips. Amanda moaned Ben’s name. She spread her pink lips apart. “Kiss me!” she demanded. “Down here!”



Ben’s hands pushed against the soft flesh of her inner thighs. Her right knee hit the side of the SUV with a thud. Darkness surrounded them and the SUV filled with the aroma of loveÐthe hot, musky scent of a man, the sweetness of a woman, and the sage and lemongrass of her perfume. Ben’s fingertips grazed across her delicate saturated folds. The very tip of a finger flowed gently over the stiffness below the silky hood enfolding her clit.



“Spread your lips for me,” he whispered across her tummy. Amanda pulled aside the lips of her pussy with two fingers. The exposure and openness, and the hot Kansas air, made her clit hypersensitive. The tip of Ben’s tongue touched her stiffened clit, and she arched her back. She caught a scream and held it.



“Ohmygoddontstop!”



She grabbed her breasts, squeezing them in time with Ben’s licks. Amanda tightened her thighs against Ben’s head. She ran her hands through Ben’s hair, and she pushed her crotch into his face.



Up and down. Ben’s tongue licked over the very center where her folds were soaking wet. Up and down he went. Amanda’s body quivered.



A large, hot hand slid along the underside of her thigh ’til it cupped one cheek. Every nerve ending in Amanda’s body was screaming for release. She felt it coming. Deep down in her toes it was building.



“Ben!” Amanda wailed. “I’m. Going. To. Cum!” Amanda clenched her teeth while she fisted her hands. Her thighs crossed with Ben’s head still between her legs. Her whole body lurched, and she brought her arms over her chest holding herself together while her climax ebbed.



Her body was flushed. Her hair, in disarray, fell across her eyes. Amanda’s mascara smeared across her eyelids. Beads of sweat covered her body. She reached out for Ben’s arms but he wasn’t there. She heard the distinct sound of a zipper being lowered and within seconds the dim yellow glow from the dome light revealed Ben, naked from the waist down.



He grabbed her calves, and yanked her body down so her feet almost touched the ground. Ben spread her legs apart, and with a quick dip of his fingers between her thighs, he covered his cock with her moisture.



The head of his cock was shiny, red and almost purple in the darkness. God, she couldn’t remember the last time she saw Ben that hard, that huge. She rose up taking his cock in her hands. Hot, pulsing and ready. She longed to kiss its head, to taste the salty sweetness of her husband and to feel his heart thumping in her mouth. A few eager drops of cum oozed out and dropped onto the grass.



Ben slipped his cock from her fingers. “I want you. I want inside you,” Ben commanded.



Amanda lay down in the SUV and Ben stood over her while the upturned head of his cock found her channel. He slowly pushed it in to allow Amanda to feel every hot hard inch of him as he went deep. Amanda groaned. Her mouth made an O and she pushed back.



Easy! Easy. It’s been a while.”



Ben slowed briefly, allowing Amanda’s sex to adjust to his cock. Ben felt her pussy tugging at his cock, desperately trying to suck more of him in.



Ben’s hips started to move. Bare balls slammed into bare flesh. The sounds of wet sex filled the SUV. Amanda palmed her breasts, and then dug her nails into the carpeting. Amanda’s eyes flew to Ben’s. His cock swelled, pushing at her slick walls.



Ben leaned over as far as he could; his hot breath blew over her nipples, rosy pink and hard as rock candy. Between breaths, Ben’s voice cracked the silence of the night.



“Tell me you want fucked!”



Amanda rose up and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Fuck me. Fuck me! FUCK ME!”



Seconds later, Ben’s body jerked, and his hot seed filled Amanda. His hands squeezed her breasts, and he lowered his head onto her tummy. A moment later his spent cock slipped out of Amanda, leaving a long wet trail along the inside of her thigh. Ben’s breathing slowed, and he held onto the edge of the SUV’s hatch. He pushed Amanda’s legs over, and he sat beside her. A long filament of pearlescent cum dripped onto the grass.



“Damn,” Ben said, still panting. “It’s been a while.” His fingers moved along the soft white flesh of her inner thigh. Ben reached down and picked his pants and boxers from the grass.



Amanda squeezed Ben’s hand. “Not bad for an old woman?”



Ben leaned over and kissed her. “Not bad at all.” Ben picked up one of Amanda’s shoes, and for a few seconds he stared out at the glow of the city’s lights. He rubbed his face with his hands when he felt Amanda’s arm wrap around his shoulder.



“Why Amanda? Why now?”



Amanda shrugged, and then looked at the night sky. “Maybe I wanted it. Ben, would it make it better if I told you that how I acted these last several years was wrong?”



“Would it make any difference if I told you I’m sorry for what I did in Vegas?”



“We can’t undo the past, can we?”



“No— I’d better put you back together. We still have a party to go to.” He pulled her hose from a shoe and gave it a quick shake then placed it across his lap. “Guess these go on first.” Ben said as he held up her panties. “Tag to the rear?”



“Yeah.”



“Not much here for the price is there?” Ben asked as he snaked Amanda’s panties up her thighs to her hips. He let the elastic snap against her skin.



Amanda grabbed his arm. “It was you and Sharon, you stinkers! I wondered how she had the money to buy me all new things.”



Ben grinned. “I supplied the credit card. It was Sharon and her friends. But the idea came from Mrs. Frederick.” Ben rolled Amanda’s pantyhose over her delicate toes and up her calves to her knees, struggling and making little progress. “I didn’t know these were that hard to put on.”



“Let me,” Amanda said as she reached down.



“No!” Ben barked. “I like doing this.” Ben finished working Amanda’s hose up to her waist. Ben unbuckled her shoes and then slipped Amanda’s heels back on. Their legs dangled from the hatch of the SUV “It might be years before you allow me to put your hose on you again.”



They sat in silence in the back of the SUV while Amanda’s grip tightened on Ben’s hand.



“You can do it everyday if you want. Can’t we start over again? Ben, please, I don’t want to be alone. I love you.”



“Is that was this was all about? An half-hour worth of sex and then back to the same old ways.”



“No— A clean sheet of paper; a fresh start, that’s all I want. Please, Ben, let’s give our marriage another chance. Remember what Rachel said?”



Ben swung his legs as he stared into the darkness. The rhythmic tapping of the deathwatch beetles in a nearby tree filled the night. Crickets chirred in the high grass that lined the lane. An owl hooted in the distance. Ben’s hand moved along Amanda’s thigh then followed the elastic surrounding her panties. “I guess we should run back home and let you freshen up. You got that just fucked look on your face.”



Amanda squirmed and she felt more of Ben’s cum ooze out of her sex. “I don’t mind the look, but yeah, some dry panties and hose would be nice.”



“Would you— I mean would you mind when you get back home, if you’d wear some stockings and a garter belt under your skirt?”



Amanda gripped his hand. “I noticed some in the drawer.” She tightened her squeeze on Ben’s hands. “It would be—different.”



They stared out into the sky while a zillion stars poked holes in the blackness.



In the quiet, Amanda began to softly sing.



Don’t take your love away from me



Don’t you leave my heart in misery.



If you go then I’ll be blue



’cause breaking up is hard to do.







I beg of you don’t say goodbye.



Can’t we give our love another try.



Come on baby let’s start a new—



“Amanda, I’ve been a fool.”

“What would you like?” Amanda begged. Amanda lowered herself to her knees and laid her head on Ben’s lap. Ben buried his hands under a golden blanket of hair, and moved them over her warm bare back and across her shoulders.



“Damn it, Amanda, I want you again!



**********



The party was over, and Ben eased the black Suburban into its parking place. It was after two in the morning and the city was asleep. Amanda and Ben walked in silence to the front door of his apartment when Ben stopped.



“Are you going to ask me in?”



Amanda’s eyes shined like large sapphires that twinkled in the moonlight. Ben stared at her feminine features, and felt a hunger he never felt before. Amanda looked so right; so beautiful it hurt to look at her. But his gaze moved from the soft creamy globes of flesh he held in his hands hours ago to her shapely legs surrounded by sheer stockings that held him captive. His eyes darted to her breasts where Ben could see her rosy nipples already erect and waiting for his lips.



Ben attempted to insert his key into the lock but his fingers fumbled, and the keys jangled as they hit the concrete step. When he reached down to pick up his keys, his eyes followed the curve of Amanda’s calves. Ben was uncertain what to do, so he sat on the step. He reached up and caressed Amanda’s hand.



“Sit with me?”



Amanda smoothed the back of her skirt against her butt and snuggled beside Ben.



Ben shook his head. “You’re quite a looker.”



“My offer still stands.”



Ben cupped her face. “Offer, huh? What if I were to take your clothes off right here?”



“I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”



Ben dropped his hands. “I see.” His thumb traced the outline of her lips; Amanda’s lipstick was gone, kissed off on the way home.



Amanda’s eyes were downcast and submissive. She had the strangest feeling of safety and helplessness that comes from surrendering control.



Ben grabbed her ankles and swung her legs across his lap.



“What are you doing?” Amanda inquired while Ben worked on the buckles of her heels.



“You’ve been in these all evening.” Ben slipped her shoes off and pressed his thumb into the arch and massaged it. He kneaded and rubbed her feet. Amanda turned and leaned her back against the wrought iron rail.



“Oh, damn that feels good.”



Amanda fanned her toes under a curtain of nylon. Ben’s hand moved slowly up her legs and pushed the hem of her skirt pass the suspenders holding the welt of her stockings. Before Amanda realized what she was doing, she pushed the hem back. “I’m sorry,” she said when she realized what she did.



“I appreciate you wearing these tonight. I know you don’t care for them.”



“It’s not that.”



“What is it then?”



“My grandmother wore stockings, garter belts, and corsets. When I wear “em, I feel old.



Ben returned the hem back to where he had it. “You look sexy in “em.” His eyes followed the curve of her long legs. “Damn sexy.”



The city stirred. A siren blared in the distance. Amanda put her head against Ben’s chest and listened to his heartbeat. They sat on the warm concrete step, each one with their thoughts.



Ben broke the silence. “The other week, I was talking to Nick. I told him I didn’t own the problem; our problem “



Amanda sat upright and squeezed Ben’s arm. “I ” Ben placed two fingers across Amanda’s lips.



“I’m a firefighter. It’s in my blood. Everyone has a talent, and God’s gift to me was fighting fires. I’m good; I’m damn good at what I do. It’s in my blood.



“But I turned my back and walked away from the biggest fire in my life. My marriage was going up in flames, and I never raised one finger to try and put it out. I just let it burn; incinerating everything I’ve ever loved. I should have pushed. Goddamn, I should have pushed as hard as I could to get you to tell me what was wrong. But instead, I stood and watched our marriage go up in flames. I never even attempted to put it out.



“I was wrong. I do own this.”



“Is the fire out now?” Amanda asked.



“Yes.”



“Now what?”



Ben shrugged. “Most people, whatever burned to the ground, if it’s worth anything, they rebuild. Oftentimes what is rebuilt it better than the original.”



Amanda leaned into Ben and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Sometimes, some flames should be left to burn as hot as they can.” Amanda pulled her skirt up to her waist while an ear-to-ear grin filled her face.



Ben slipped his finger under the welt of her stocking and stroked her soft skin. “We’ll keep this one burning. It’ll keep us warm in the winter.”



Ben blew out a long breath. “I do own this. I love you, Amanda.”



They sat in silence listening to the city slowly wake.



“I couldn’t tell you about Hal at the grocery store.”



“Why not?”



“You would have killed him. My God, Ben, when Rachel told you what happened at the clinic you broke two chairs over a table and punched holes in the walls.”



“I wouldn’t have killed him. We shouldn’t have secrets between us.”



Amanda gave Ben a squeeze. “Liar—”



He smiled slightly. “I might have thumped him a bit.” Ben blew out long slow breath.



“Just a little bit, huh?” Amanda grinned, knowing Ben would have done more than thump him. “Tell me your secret. Was she pretty?”



Ben’s sucked in several deep breaths, and let them out slowly while his fingers slipped through her hair. “Who?”



“You know who.”



Ben moved his hand out of Amanda’s hair, folded his hands and placed them on his lap. He kicked at the loose gravel.



“Her name is Lucy Kincaid. She’s a cop. Lucy likes men in uniform. We met in Vegas for one evening. The sex was raw, rough and nasty. For twenty minutes, I was king of the world. When it was over I felt horrible. The guilt tore me apart. It was just sex. That’s all. She means nothing to me and I mean nothing to her.”



Amanda rose from Ben’s chest, and twirled the ends of her hair around a fingertip. “Did she have long hair?”



“Yes she did. Smoky black.”



“Did you brush it? Brush it like you do mine?”



Ben’s head moved. “No. There’s only one woman in the world I’d do that with.”



Amanda smiled and Ben traced her soft cheek. “You are without a doubt the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.”



Ben took Amanda’s hand. “All right. It’s my turn. What would Amanda like tonight? You want to get drunk? Just talk? Do you want more sex? What does Amanda want?”



She looked into Ben’s eyes. “Anything you want. Nothing is off the table,” Ben added.



Amanda dragged her fingers through her hair, and then leaned toward Ben. “I would like to see you—”



“What? See me how?”



A dozen heartbeats later Amanda blushed. She could feel her face turn red and heat from it seemed to burn her skin. “I’d like to see you stroke yourself off while I watch.” She turned her head. “Oh god, I can’t believe I asked that.”



Ben sat in stunned silence. His mind exploded with thoughts of Lucy and the hotel room. “Why?”



“‘Cause I’d like to watch you please yourself. I know you do it. You’ve done while you thought I was asleep. I would love to watch.”



“Right now?”



Amanda’s interest piqued. “Yes! Right now.” Amanda’s eyes flew to the door. “On the bed. I want to undress you down to your socks. I want to see your fingers around your cock. With the lights on and “



“And what?”



“Tell me to strip in front of you,” Amanda said sheepishly. “But first, put my heels back on.”



“Why?”



“‘Cause they make me feel sexy.”



Ben slipped her shoes back on but never fastened the buckles. He stood and turned the key. “I don’t know if I could do that while you watch.”



“I understand. Do you need encouragement from a magazine?”



“Why would I need that when you’re here?” Ben dropped his hand onto Amanda’s thigh and pushed her skirt open. “You’ll take off what I ask with the lights on?”



“Huh-huh. What did you say? Nothing’s off the table.”



Ben’s jaw clenched. He stood and pulled Amanda to her feet. “Okay, but this is between you and me. It doesn’t leave this apartment.”



“It never will.” Amanda averred.



Amanda followed Ben into the apartment. She quickly pulled out the sofa bed and stood before him. She slowly unfastened his belt and without a word pulled it from his chinos. They dropped to his knees but Ben made no attempt to hold them up. Amanda bent down and untied his shoes, and removed them. His chinos pooled around his ankles and in a flash Amanda had them off.



Amanda’s fingers struggled with Ben’s shirt buttons. Her fingers shook with unbridled lust and anticipation; it was a road neither had ever traveled. Soon, the remaining button released its hold and Amanda slipped Ben’s shirt from his back. Ben’s boxers were tented and Amanda gently pulled them down to his knees. His cock snapped out proudly. Amanda stepped back and admired her husband’s body.



Her eyes paid loving attention to every detail as Ben’s manhood stood hard and erect from his body. In the light, Amanda noticed the tan lines around his waist. The muscles on his legs twitched. The way his balls hugged his erection.



“Ooh, damn, honey,” Amanda, murmured.



Ben looked down at his cock, so hard and stiff, and then his eyes met hers. “And you wonder if you turn me on?”



“On the bed now.” Amanda pointed.



Ben crawled into the bed, the springs squeaked with every movement. Amanda placed a pillow behind his head. She snapped the bedside lamps on which illuminated the small room with a soft yellow glow. Ben lay on his back, his head against the worn cloth-covered back, his legs stretched out in front of him. Amanda nudged each one to the side so Ben’s legs were splayed.



“I feel like I’m on display,” Ben grumbled with embarrassment.



Amanda touched the red, swollen head with the tip of her index finger. “You are but only for me.”



Amanda dipped her head toward Ben’s ear, and he could feel her warm breath on his neck before she kissed him. Amanda could feel his pulse pounding in his throat. She placed a soft wet unhurried kiss on his lips while she wrapped his fingers around his shaft all the way down to the root.



Ben’s cock grew harder. Amanda took a step or two back. “Show me,” Amanda said softly. Ben’s left hand took on a life and followed the curve of Amanda’s leg to the wet spot between her thighs. He pressed his thumb over the saturated crotch of her nylon panties. He was smiling, telling her something with his eyes. Amanda felt a sudden surge and her panties flooded. A small trickle escaped and slowly worked its way down her inner thigh. She pressed her fingertips down onto his chest while Ben’s hand fondled her pussy pushing her panties to one side. She closed her eyes and involuntarily spread her legs.



“Ooh, damn—” Amanda groaned. Silence reigned for a minute or so before she found the strength to move his hand. “You first—” Amanda wrapped his fingers around his manhood and squeezed them together.



Ben’s hand quickly stroked his cock. A thick, pulsing cock trapped in his strong fingers. Amanda reached over and stopped his hand. “Slowly— Do it slowly.”



His hand rose up along the stiff shaft ’til his fingers slipped over the head then back down. Amanda’s eyes widened with every long, lingering stroke.



“Is this how you want it?” Ben’s words were hesitant but heavy with lust.



“Yes—” Amanda said so softly it was nearly impossible to hear. “Wait a second.” Amanda darted down the small hallway and returned within seconds. “Here, I want this, too.” She poured a small amount of baby oil into his palm.



“I’ve always wanted to watch you do this.” Amanda said and she placed his hand around his cock. She backed up until she was at the foot of the bed.



“Command me.” Amanda stood, her arms behind her back.



Ben’s hand made slick sounds as it moved over his oiled erection. “Your skirt. Take it off.” Ben watched in the yellow light that filled the tiny room as Amanda with deliberate slowness eased the last button on her skirt free, and when it slipped through its hole, Amanda caught her skirt with one hand. With exaggerated movements Amanda un-wrapped her skirt and then tossed the garment onto the bed.



Amanda turned around, and bent over, the suspenders of her garter belt clung tightly to the cheeks of her ass. She couldn’t hear Ben’s fingers slickly stroking and she turned around.



Ben stopped, his fingers cupping the engorged head. His thumb brushed over the oily slit.



“Amanda— I’m going to cum!



Amanda returned to the side of the bed and removed Ben’s hand from his cock. “Not yet, I still have most of my clothing on, and you need to tell me how you want it off.” Amanda bent over and blew a hot breath across his red and swollen head. Ben’s hand grabbed the sheets and fisted them with oily hands.



Amanda sashayed to the small kitchen table where she opened her purse and took out a small compact. She snapped it open and looked at her reflection in the tiny mirror. She reached inside and removed a small tube of lipstick. She painted her lips and snapped the compact closed. A hand moved down her left side, pass her hips, finally resting on her butt. She gave her bottom a tight squeeze.



“Do you think I have a nice butt?” She looked at Ben, still lying on the bed with his legs apart, his arms by his side. His cock, purple-hard, twitched. A few drops of cum slipped out of the small slit, glistened in the warm yellow light of the room for a few seconds, slid over the head, and meandered down the shaft. She moved both hands down the front of her thighs then leaned back onto the table. She twirled her foot around and pointed her heel out. “Do I have nice legs?”



“Yes and yes.” Ben managed to moan out.



“You bought me these. I’ve kept them all these years.” She pinched her stocking between thumb and forefinger. When she let go, it snapped back. “Were you thinking of me when you did? I wonder if that clerk at the cash register knew you’d go home and whack off fantasying about me wearing these.”



Amanda sauntered slowly back. His eyes watched every step she took. Amanda sat down beside Ben on the bed and crossed her legs. “And here you are, lying naked and stroking that big hard cock of yours while staring at my legs.” Amanda leaned down; a silky flood of gold fell across her shoulders and onto Ben’s bare chest. “You make me so fuckin’ horny. My panties are soaked.” Amanda leaned over and kissed Ben’s swollen cock, smearing red lipstick across the head.



“Jesus, Amanda! I’m about to explode!”



“Well, I guess we shouldn’t dawdle.”



Ben frantically grabbed the small bottle of baby oil with his left hand and squirted Amanda’s thigh.



“Oh you naughty boy,” Amanda said as she worked the oil into her stockings and thigh.



Amanda grinned and a devilish smile filled her face. On the bed Ben was completely helpless. Ben looked into her eyes for a second. “Your shirt and bra please.” Ben almost shouted.



Amanda turned her back to Ben, and quickly un-buttoned her shirt. Without turning around, she tossed it on the bed. She reached behind her back and opened the clasp of her bra, catching it as it fell free from her body. Amanda turned toward Ben, and slowly allowed one cup to slip pass a nipple then the other until Amanda stood; her breasts bare and exposed to Ben’s eyes. They were pink, and the rosy nipples were hard. Amanda leaned over, and her hair fell across her breasts. She cupped one and gently blew her hair away from a nipple allowing the pink nib to poke through.



Ben’s throat was dry and tried to lick his lips. The tempo of his strokes increased, his legs moved; his toes curled outward. He let out a jagged whisper of breath. “Is this what you want?” He asked almost in a croak while his hand moved up and down his long, hard, and slippery shaft.



Amanda always felt that her legs turned on Ben. All the expensive hosiery he bought for her was feeding a hidden lust Ben kept secret. Amanda’s suspicions were confirmed when she glanced down at herself standing in her stockings, panties, and heels, and she knew then what was driving Ben wild. Amanda placed one heel on the edge of bed and pulled her stocking tight against her leg. The loose strap on her heel bounced up and down with Ben’s stroking hand. The bed squeaked. Her hands moved slowly as they meandered up her calves, over her thighs, to stop at her hips.



Amanda glanced over at Ben, his hand moved even faster. “You’re so fucking hard.” Amanda pulled her nylons even tighter. “You love it don’t you? You can’t take your eyes off of my legs.”



Amanda slipped her thumbs into the waistband of her garter belt and pulled it from her body.



“Please! Don’t-don’t-don’t,” Ben stammered. Ben glanced down at this oily cock and masturbated with increased enthusiasm.



“Don’t what?” Amanda asked. She tugged her stockings so tight on her legs she thought the fabric would rip.



“Don’t take your stockings off,” Ben begged through gulping breaths. Ben’s tempo increased. Encircled thumb and fingers tightened and pulled the skin along the slick oily shaft.



“You’re so hard. So very fucking hard “cause you like looking at my legs.”



“Yes-yes-yes!” Ben practically shouted.



Ben was pumping furiously and small pearls of white oozed out of the tip and slowly dribbled down his hard shaft to be lost in a forest of short brown hair.



Suddenly a groan wormed its way out from Ben’s clenched lips and exploded into the hot air of the room.



“Amanda!”







Ben shouted as a stream of cum exploded. His body arched and his ass lifted off the bed. Ben stroked a few smaller streams out before his hand fell to this side. His face was red, and he was breathless. His short brown hairs were soaked with cum. His hardness soon left him while his eyes searched for Amanda. He caught his breath, and his heart slowed.



Amanda sat beside him and gently touched his balls, holding them possessively. “I guess you were holding out on me earlier tonight.” She rolled his cum-smeared balls back and forth. “Your secret is out. We both know what turns you on now, don’t we?” She grinned. “I won’t tell.” She slid her leg across his allowing the tight nylon to skim across the hair on his legs. “Don’t move; I’ll get something to clean you up.”



Ben listened to the tap-tap of Amanda’s heels as they faded away. He stared at the ceiling. Never in his wildest dreams could he imagine whacking off in front of his wife. A grin filled his face, and he felt it turn red from embarrassment. That was different, he murmured as he drooped against a pillow. Christ, does she own a pair of legs. He felt the sweet anticipation of watching Amanda walk back into the room rush through his blood.



The clicking of Amanda’s heels filled the silence. “Here, lay still and let me take care of my husband.” With a warm washcloth she washed his cock and gently cleaned his balls. When she was satisfied, she dropped the cloth onto the end table. Ben heard the twin clunks of Amanda’s heels hitting the floor, and she crawled over Ben. She wiggled her arms around his body and pulled him tight.



Ben moved his hand across the top of Amanda’s thigh. Ben pulled her and him over to one side of the bed. She ran her hand over her thigh. “I think I’ll sleep in my stockings tonight.”



“Just take “em off.”



“But?”



“Take “em off.”



Amanda rolled her stockings down and tossed them as far as should could. They landed short of a kitchen chair.



Amanda fished for Ben’s hands and she held them tight. “I’m not perfect. I made a mistake. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you in the bedroom. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to hold you when you had a rough time. I have desires and lust as well. Seeing you walk up the sidewalk tonight I got so horny I thought I peed myself. I fantasize about you all the time. Watching you please yourself was incredibly sexy and a turn on for me, too.”



“Come here you,” Ben said.



They lay together on the bed, touching and caressing. Ben rolled over on his side, and pressed Amanda’s bare breasts onto his chest.

“When we were outside on the porch, you said nothing was off the table. Did you mean it?”



“Anything you want, but I have to tell you, I’m drained.”



“Oh, no, not that. I want to ask you something.”



“Ask away. Whatever you want to know, if I can, I’ll tell you.”



Amanda moved her hand over Ben’s arm. So strong, so lean. The sun bleached the hairs on his arms silver-white, and she ran her fingertips through them. “I like it when you brush my hair. It feels good. But why do you need my top and bra off when you do?”



Ben lifted his right shoulder. “I don’t know how to put it into words. How do you describe a feeling?”



“As much as I love you, Ben, sometimes I’m not in the mood for sex. Sometimes I need a shower, my legs are furry or I could be tired.”



Ben shook his head. “It’s not sex. Did you think? Oh, god no. I didn’t do it to initiate sex with you. Is that what you thought?”



“Huh-huh. I mean bare breasts and sex go together.”



“Oh, no. No. That’s not what it was about.”



“What is it then?”



Amanda watched Ben as he tried to form the words he needed to say. The seconds ticked by. “I guess it was our third date. It was at Walker’s Point. It was late autumn, and the grass had a frozen-crystal layer of dew. It crunched when we’d walk on it.



“I took so many girls up there, from the head cheerleader to the band majorettes. We’d go to Walker’s Point, and we’d be at it like rabbits within seconds.



“But that night. You were so scared “



“I remember now,” Amanda replied.



“It was cold inside the Jeep, but I slipped off your jacket anyway. You had your hair up and I remember telling you how pretty you looked when you wore it down. I slipped a few pins out and allowed it to fall over your shoulder. Oh, god you looked so good.”



“You have quite a memory.”



“Some things you never forget.” Ben continued. “I asked you to take your shirt off. You never said a word; your fingers fumbled you never said a word with the buttons ’til it was open.” Ben pulled Amanda tight, and his hands moved over her thigh. “I slipped your shirt off. I palmed your breasts, hidden from view by a small blue bra. Then for the first time in your life, a boy reached behind your back and released your bra. It fell loose and I took it in my hands; it was so warm and curved to your body.”



“I cried when you took it off “cause I wished I had more to offer you. I was afraid you’d laugh.”



Ben’s breath warmed her ear. “You were perfect. You still are.” Ben watched a teardrop trickle down her cheek.



“You were the first, weren’t you?”



“Yes, those guys that raped you don’t count.”



“They don’t, do they?”



“Not in the least. I was the first and you looked at me with such innocent eyes.”



“You said I had the most beautiful blue eyes you ever saw.”



“You still do. I planned on having sex that night. But when I looked at you, your hair flowed down over your breasts. In the stillness of the night air, the silence surrounded us. I could hear my blood rushing through my brain. You pulled a small white hairbrush from your purse. You told me that since I liked your hair so much, I might like to brush it.”



Ben slipped his hand behind Amanda’s head and held her in his grip. Their lips were a whisper apart. “In the back seat of my old beat up Jeep I fell in love for the first time. I knew I was going to marry you.”



“Ah, Ben.”



“Amanda, nowadays, I reach out grasping at a reality that lies just beyond my reach. There are times I need to feel your hair flow through my fingers. The fragrance of sage and jasmine in your hair fills me instead of the acidic smell of burnt flesh. In place of mangled bodies and severed limbs, I look at your breasts and revel in their softness. I see you as I did on that chilly backseat so long ago: your innocent and youth, your smile, the warmth of your body. I want to catch that splinter of time and hold it, but I can’t, so I brush your hair across your shoulders and over your breasts, and my mind takes me back. You’re my soft spot and—”



“For twenty-five years I didn’t know,” Amanda whispered.



“I didn’t think you’d understand.”



Amanda clasped Ben’s hand and placed it between her breasts. “Anytime, and I mean anytime, you need me, I’ll be here.”



Ben nodded. “We had one hell of a night, didn’t we?” His voice was low and seductive. His thumb stroked her cheek, and then he looped Amanda’s hair around her ear and gently spread it across her bare shoulder.



“As golden as a Kansas wheat field; eyes as blue as a Kansas summer sky.”



********



The sun quickly burned away the morning haze when Ben stretched and stood.



“Time to get up,” Ben said as he shook Amanda’s shoulder.



“All ready?” Amanda moaned.



“I’ll cook breakfast. There’s a shirt in the hallway for you to wear.”



The tiny apartment quickly filled with the aroma of bacon and eggs while Amanda retreated to the bathroom. She emerged wearing one of Ben’s white shirts. She walked barefoot over to the small stove and draped her arms around Ben’s neck.



“I’m not wearing panties.” Amanda grinned.



Ben turned the frying bacon and cupped her butt. His fingers moved and with the back of his hand he passed it over her short curly hairs.



“What would you say if I wanted to shave you there?”



Amanda jumped. “Shave me?” Her fingers covered her pelt. “Down here?”



Ben grinned. “I was thinking about it, especially after what I did for you last night. I think that’s a fair exchange. I want you bare and smooth in the shower after breakfast. Every. Single. Hair.”



Amanda gulped loudly.



“I don’t know about that.” Amanda stammered. “I’ve never been shaved there before. I don’t know about that.”



“Well then, the alternative I had in mind would be simpler.”



Amanda grabbed his wrist. “What alternative?”



Ben turned the burner off. He picked up Amanda’s stockings, garter belt, and heels. “You put these on. You get on the bed and give me a show. Just like I did for you last night.



“You want me to do what?”



“Do I have to spell it out?” Ben handed Amanda a stocking. “All right then. You put on your stockings, wiggle the garter belt up you waist. You slip your heels on. You get on the bed and spread your legs. You work that tight pussy of yours into a climax while I watch. Or “



“Or what?” Amanda pulled the nylon through her fingers several times before she pushed it back down in one of her shoes that sat on the table’s edge.



Ben rushed to the bathroom and returned with a bag of disposable razors and shaving cream.



“Or, I take you into the shower and shave your pussy until its baby smooth.” Ben grinned. “You owe me for last night.”



Ben slid two plates onto the wooden table. “What will it be?” Ben took a bite of his food. He pointed his fork to the bag of razors. “Your choice.”



Amanda slipped into her chair. Taking small bites, she played with her food. She looked at Ben.



“You want me to masturbate while you watch “



“Like I did last night.”



“Or shave my bush.”



“That’s the idea.”



“And then?”



“I’ve made some plans for today.”



“I see. Do those plans involve me?”



“I’m going to take you back to the old house, and I’d like to see you wear a certain white sundress I know is hanging in the closet.”



“Anything else? Or am I suppose to bare under my dress?”



Ben slid Amanda’s high heels and stockings next to her.



“Umm, I see. Tell me, Captain Meir, what are you planning with your woman on a lovely Saturday morning that requires a white sundress, stockings, heels and a bare pussy?”



Ben put his fork down and folded his hands. “You and I are going to see a realtor that I know and we’re putting the house up for sale. I never did like that house.”



Amanda stood so quickly she almost toppled the table. “Are you saying?”



“I’m saying… You’re moving in with me. We’re going to rebuild our marriage. Some things are worth rebuilding after a fire. Amanda, I am deeply sorry for what I did in Vegas.” Ben knelt before her and held her hand. “I beg your forgiveness. “Cause I want another crack at making our marriage work, too. Amanda, please tell me that I’m forgiven.”



Amanda dropped to her knees and sobbed. “I do, Ben. With all my soul, I forgive you.”



They enfolded one another, and their kisses fought for dominance. Several minutes later, Amanda stood, un-buttoned her shirt and snatched the bag of razors in one hand and her shoes and stockings in the other. “There’s a third option.”



“And what would that be?”



“You get both!”



*******



It was Ben’s week for the afternoon shift. He stood in front of the fire trucks with his arms crossed. He heard the muffled sounds of his crew checking their gear.



“What’s up, Captain? You’ve been staring at the sky for hours,” one of the new firefighters queried.



“It’s dry. Way too dry. It won’t take much. Not on a night like this.”



The young rookie looked confused. But not Ben, for he knew a fire was brewing. The way it begins. He could smell it. It was something that Ben knew on an entirely different plane.



Fire Ben despised fire.



Like this father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Ben was a firefighter. It was in his DNA: a rare breed of men and women who carry with them an arcane knowledge of fire.



He witnessed first hand the destructive power fire had. The families it changed and the lives it destroyed. To some, fire was only a chemical reaction but to Ben it was far more. It consumes fuel, reproduces, and reacts to its environment. It was alive. And all the reason in the world couldn’t convince him otherwise.



“Double check the Scot packs,” Ben called out. “We’ll need “em tonight.” Ben caught himself as he looked over his shoulder. Just like any normal person would when they pass a junkyard dog. Ben didn’t trust the weather, or this night.



The remainder of the afternoon was routine. There were a few accidents, a trash fire, but nothing extraordinary. Evening fell and soon the firehouse settled down for sleep. Firefighters always sleep with one eye open, but tonight, Ben kept both eyes open.



The klaxon shattered the stillness of the firehouse. The radio blasted out tones: “Engine 51. Squad 51. Ladder 97. Squad 23. Apartment fire. 91 South Ave. Cross roads Duke and East Chester. Time out: 22 hours 18 minutes. KAD913.”



The firehouse exploded into action. The engines of the fire trucks belched diesel fumes as they rumbled to life. The automatic doors were almost open when the first truck roared out.



The young rookie buttoned his jacket. His fingers shook slightly and Ben noticed. “You’re not one of my regular guys, are you?” Ben asked as the truck rocked and swayed through the streets.



“No sir. I’m ah, from another squad. We rotate, ya know.”



“What’s your name, son?” Ben yelled over the wail of the sirens.



“Williams, sir.”



“Well, Williams, is this your first big fire?” Ben said as he smiled at the rookie.



The young man nodded. Ben smiled deep down. He remembered his first big one, too. It scared him to death.



As the fire trucks blasted through intersections, the yellow glow lit up the sky. Ben knew their destination. It was the Grant Apartments. A firetrap when they were built in the 70s, and now with the hot dry air, they were standing piles of kindling waiting for one overloaded electrical circuit.



Ben picked up the radio’s microphone as the fire truck slowed to a stop. “Lay down two and half to the forward hydrant. Drop two three-inchers to the north hydrant. Ladder 97: west side, out of the smoke. Dispatch, engine 51.”



“Go ahead 51.”



“Grant Apartments are fully engulfed. Call in second alarm.”



“Copy 51. Second alarm. Engine 51. 22 hours 23 minutes. KAD913.”



Ben jumped down and directed what seemed like chaos to the spectators gathered to watch the fire. The ladder truck radioed it was ready with outriggers poised and set. “Ventilate the west half of the roof,” Ben radioed back.



A cop ran over to Ben. “Ben, I’ve got a family over there that says they can’t find their daughter. They looked. They think “



“Ah, shit!” Ben said. “Engine 51, dispatch.”



“51 go.”



“Where the hell is my second engine company?”



“Engine 54. ETA ten. 22 hours 27 minutes.”



Ben spat on the ground. “Too long—damn it, that’s gonna be too fuckin’ long. What apartment?”



Ben pushed the microphone on his radio. “Nick, you’ve got it.”



“Roger, Ben,” Nick radioed back. “Incident command will setup north of Ladder 97.”



Ben took off his helmet, and slipped the oxygen mask around his neck. “Well, someone’s got to go in. You can’t live forever, can you?” Ben said to the cop. Ben placed the mask over his face and pushed the regulator button sending in a puff of air. Just then the rookie ran up. “Williams,” Ben called out. “What’re you doing?”



“Nick sent me back here for “



“Good. “Cause you and I are gonna find a lost little girl.”



“Inside?”



Ben slapped him on the back, “That’s where she is.” Ben poked the young man in the chest. “And you and I are going in and get her.”



They walked into the spray from the hoses. “It’s just like your training, son; only for real. You take the lead.”



“What if I burn?” The rookie stopped cold.



“Son, nobody is fireproof.” Ben stopped and thought about Amanda and their life together. He heard Mrs. Frederick’s voice in his head.



“You all right, Captain?”



“Yeah. I’m fine.” Ben slapped the rookie’s back again.



The young firefighter smiled and together they walked carefully into the building. The sounds of their air regulators made a swish-snap sound as they fed oxygen to the men. Ben signaled they needed to get low; so low they ended up crawling. The rooms were filled with smoke so thick you could walk on it. Pictures were ablaze. The television melted into a distorted Art Deco design. Ben stopped and opened a small yellow pelican case, and then pulled out an infrared scanner. “This thing better be worth what we paid for it.” On his knees Ben scanned the burning, smoked-filled rooms looking for the telltale image of a body. But Ben didn’t need a high-tech gizmo. Twenty-seven years of experience told him a small child would hide in a fire; and that child would always hide in the place they felt the safest their bedroom.



The scared rookie soon depleted his air tank. Suddenly, the sound of the low-air warning device pierced the room. Ben reacted. “You’re outta air. Get out.”



“But “



“This isn’t a debate,” Ben barked.



“We go in together, we leave together. That’s the rule.”



Ben shook his head. “I’ll be right behind you. GO!



But Ben wasn’t right behind. He checked his air tank. Ben knew how to breathe, how to get the most out of his Scot pack. He tapped the dial; ten more minutes of air. He crawled toward the last room to be checked. He moved the scanner side-to-side but it saw nothing but flames hidden in the smoke. Swish-snap. He saw on the scanner’s screen what looked like a small bedroom. The paint on the wall blistered and popped. The scanner showed temperatures over 500 degrees inside a closet. The smoke boiled in layers on the ceiling and looked like an angry cloud ready to explode. Ben knew the room was near flashover. One last sweep. There. He moved the scanner back. There it was; the unmistakable outline of a human foot. Ben searched for the girl’s foot. Swish-snap. The bed she hid under was burning. Ben swooped her up and wrapped her inside his thick coat for protection. He moved only a few feet, still almost on the floor; he pushed on the regulator and sucked in as many breaths as he could hold. He placed his mask over the girl’s face and held the button.



“Come on, breathe—”



He took a lung full of air then pinched her nose and blew the air into her mouth. Another breath; swish-snap. He heard the building moan; he knew that sound. It was the building’s death throe. He heard the child’s first cough.



The shriek of air horns attempted to cut through the pandemonium. Three long, sharp blasts. Ben knew that was the signal to evacuate. Again they sounded. His G3 screaming it was time to leave. The ceiling started to fall. “We gotta go!”



Ben wrapped her tightly in his coat and on his knees crawled toward the door. He put his arm up, shielding his face from the flames. Swish-snap. Three long blasts. The door. He could almost see it. Then the building in one loud, final shriek of death came tumbling down. “Oh, Jesus!” Ben leaped toward a doorway.



*****



Sharon pounded on the door of her dad’s apartment. “Mom!” she yelled as she continued to slam her fist on the door. “Mom!”



Just as Sharon was about to hammer once more, it opened. Amanda stood rubbing sleep from her eyes. “I was in bed, what’s wrong? Why all the shouting?”



Sharon exploded into the apartment and pushed her mother to the side. “Get some clothes on. Mom, hurry!”



“What’s this all about?” Amanda asked while she jerked on a pair of jeans. “What’s wrong, Sharon?”



Sharon wiped tears from her face. “It’s dad. There was a fire. They tried calling here. A really bad fire and dad “



Amanda suddenly felt Sharon’s apprehension. “Is dad all right?”



Sharon tilted her head and held her lips closed as she shook her head. Tears slid down her cheeks. “No Mom, he’s not all right.”



The two women exploded out of the house.



*****



Amanda burst into the corridor of the emergency department, her white shirttails billowing behind her. She saw Nick, Ben’s second in command, standing with his arms limp at his sides, his face dirty and smoky. She raced up to him, panting.



“Nick! Is Ben ”



He grabbed her shoulders. “He’s in surgery. We tried calling you. The department called his sister and parents.”



“Surgery? Family?”



“A building collapsed and— Ben— We pulled him out. We got to him as quickly as we could.”



“Is he going to be all right?”



Nick turned his face away. “Answer me, Nick!” Amanda grabbed his arm. “Is he going to be all right? She pounded her fists on his chest. “God damn you, Nick, answer me!







But Nick remained silent. Amanda took a few steps back. “Oh no! Don’t you dare do this to me. Don’t you—”



Nick pulled Amanda close and she rested her forehead on his chest. Tears soaked through his shirt as she wept for her husband.



“He saved a four-year-old tonight. She was snug inside his coat. She’s in surgery, too, with several broken bones and burns. She’s torn up, but nothing serious.”



It was going to be a long night the longest night of their lives.



****



Where does the love of God go when the minutes turn to hours? Amanda sat in the waiting room, Sharon next to her, as they watched the sun’s first rays slowly burn away the fading shadows.



It wasn’t quite eight in the morning when a doctor walked into the waiting room, and his eyes sought Amanda. The doctor led Amanda into the hallway.



“How’s Ben?”



“He just came out from step down. “His right leg is badly crushed and he might lose it. He’s banged up something awful inside, with lots of internal bleeding. I’m surprised he’s still with us. If we can control infection—and the bleeding. Well, a lot depends on him. Right now, he’s stable.”



“May I see him?”



“I don’t “



“Just for a few minutes— Please?”



The doctor’s eyes darted around and finally settled on Amanda. “All right. Two minutes just two. Follow me.”



Amanda followed the doctor with Sharon hot on her heels. The doctor wove in and out of a few corridors to Ben’s room. The doctor tapped his watch. “Two minutes—”



Amanda walked precariously in his room, her fingers slid along the smoothly painted doorjamb. It was worst than what Amanda’s mind could conjure. An oxygen mask covered his black and blue face. Plastic tubes were down his throat. Ben’s right hand was bandaged and several plastic bags hung from a post dripped into an IV tube. Aluminum pipes and braces held his right leg immobile. A monitor softly beeped with every heartbeat. Amanda turned away for a second, and then she walked over to his left side away from the IVs and monitor wires. She gently touched his hand.

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