Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Way Forward: Chapter 19

This is a chapter from my book, The Way Forward. Buy the whole novel now from or

A breeze played with the drapes, allowing flashes of bright morning sunshine to dance on our naked skin. Claire lay on top of me, resting her head on my chest. I kissed the top of her head and played with the curls of her hair. We had just had incredibly good sex.
There are certain happy moments in life when your brain decides it wants to absorb everything. I closed my eyes and took in the world through my other senses.

I heard a car move through the side street below, the wind pushing open the drapes, Claire's breathing, the faraway chimes of the Guildhall clock marking the quarter hour, my Winnie the Pooh watch ticking on my nightstand and the quiet roar of a city morning.
I felt the comfort of Claire's weight -- the two of us melting into each other -- and her heartbeat against my stomach, the light touch of her eyelashes against my chest, the texture of the bed sheets, the softness of her skin, the cool of the morning setting lightly on my body and the kisses of wind that pushed through my tiny room's window.
The taste of her cinnamon mouthwash and perfume lingered on my breath.
The fresh, clean smell of the late-May air mixed with cinnamon and the sweetness of Claire's perfume. I took in a long, deep breath through my nose and it sent electricity through the early-morning/post-sex haze in my brain. I drew in breath until my lungs were stretched. It felt as if they were filled with pure oxygen.

I moved my hands to the small of Claire's back, then moved my right hand along the rise of her rear. It's a very laddish thing to say she had a nice ass, but she did. You know those movies where a woman walks by and all the men fall out of their chairs? Claire had an ass like that. It was perfectly rounded and a pleasure to behold. If she wore the right pair of jeans, I would find excuses to stay a step or two behind her when we walked around town. Lying in bed with her now, I felt the smoothness of her skin and the curve of her body as it sloped from her perfect ass to the small of her back. I ran my fingers feather-like up her spine and she moaned in approval.
I felt her head lift from my chest. I opened my eyes to look at her. Her face had that sort of quality that made me want to reach out and steal things to give to her. She was ridiculously beautiful, the kind of woman for whom you would gladly make a fool of yourself. She rested her chin on her hands and looked at me with pale-blue eyes and smiled. She had a coy smile that came from the right side of her mouth. She had soft lips and freckles across the bridge of her nose, which you could only see up close. Her blonde curls fell in strands across her face.
"That was alright," she said.
"Go on, then."
"Say what you always say."

I played dumb.

"'What are you thinking?' You always ask that after we shag. And the one time I actually have an answer, you're not going to ask?"

I did always ask that. I had been about to ask her again, she had simply beaten me to it. It was nervous habit. Claire laughed and smiled and talked and talked and talked, but she still seemed mysterious to me. I would ask her what she was thinking in an attempt to quiet my fears, but usually she would respond with, "I don't know," or "Why do you ask?"

I once read that if you work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, they teach you how to hold a conversation without ever really giving away any information. Perhaps Claire was a member of a British intelligence organization. Claire Alton; super spy. It would explain why I felt I was missing out on something. That feeling always seemed strongest after we had sex. Perhaps that's just when I was the least self-confident -- lower levels of testosterone and all that.

"So, what are you thinking?"
"Hmm, hmm -- I'm not sure I want to tell you now."
"Oh, but you've built it up."
"Come on."
"I'm having your child."
My eyes went wide. I stopped breathing. She let me suffer for about five seconds then burst into laughter. She put her hands to my cheeks and kissed me.

"Darling, you're so cute when you're terrified."

She kissed me again. It was a deep, breath-stuttering kiss. She let out a light sigh. Her hair fell into my face, blocking out the rest of the world. I took in the cinnamon and perfume and the warmth of her breath. I was lost in her. The universe existed only between the two of us. I felt like a child who had made a fort out of couch cushions and pillows, sitting inside with my heart skipping in the excitement of my safe little place. Yes, I've just compared a naked woman to a pillow fort. I'm sure it speaks of deep psychological trauma, but it made me happy. I think it made Claire happy, too. She finished her kiss and stayed in our self-created cocoon.

"Do you know any other languages?"

Her lips were touching mine as she spoke.

"That's what I was thinking. Not very exciting, really. I was just wondering whether you know any other languages. I should think it would be rather sexy for you to speak to me in another language."
"Oh. No. I mean, I know a little bit of Spanish, but mostly I would be able to ask you what you had eaten for lunch and whether you enjoyed it. And I can book a hotel room. Nothing very sexy, though," I said. "I can fake a London accent."
"How would that be sexy, darling? Don't you know any French?"
"All that time you spent in France, and you didn't pick up any French?"
"Not really. The French I know can pretty much be used in a single sentence: 'Bonjour, monsieur. Je voudrais aller à la gare, si vous plais. Merci beaucoup.' It means: 'Hello, mister. I would like to go to the train station, please. Thanks.' And, while we were on our way to the station, I could ask him if I could speak to you: 'Je parler à Claire? Non? Merci.' If it turns you on for me to ask you to take me to the train station, I can do that. Take me to the train station, Claire. Take me to the train station all night long."
"Hmm, hmm. That's all you know?"
"Oui. Well, all that and 'oui.'"
"I took French for A levels. I'll teach you some more: Je t'aime. Do you know that one?"
"Nope. What's it mean?"
"It means I like you, Benjamin Stout."

She kissed me.

"Quite a lot."

She kissed me again.

"I like you, too," I said.


I knew what it meant.

Everybody knows what it means.

I had decided to play dumb. When in doubt, play dumb -- it worked for Colombo. His playing dumb was always seen a stroke of genius. Why not do the same when a woman says "Je t'aime" to you?

She also knew exactly what it meant. She had to. I doubt you would get very far as a British secret agent without knowing what "Je t'aime" means. And while I am not a product of the British school system, I am sure they, too, spent most of their teenage years parsing the difference between liking someone, like-liking someone, and loving them. Claire had told me she loved me, and I wasn't really sure how to respond to that.

Standing in the shower, letting the water tap against the top of my head and run down my face, I tried to assess this new fact about my world. It fit with Claire's secret-agent persona that she had chosen to tell me she loved me in a different language. With the exception of sex, she was rarely direct. She operated on a need-to-know basis. Definition leads to clarification. Claire had defined our relationship slowly and then clarified it with subtlety over the weeks and months. It was a little thing when she started waiting for me to open doors for her. It was a little thing when she started wearing one perfume over another because she knew it drove me crazy. It was a little thing when she started calling me "my Ben." But each thing revealed a whole new understanding of our relationship. I was hers. It wasn't odd; it just offered a new clarity to my universe with her. It was like finally seeing the grass beneath my feet -- I had suspected it was there, I had felt it, but I hadn't chosen to press the issue. I had suspected there was love. I had felt it. Now it had been (partially) revealed.

I tried to think seriously about love, which is a very stupid thing to do. Love just is. You can't analyze it into being. You can't sit and logically ponder love, because love is beyond the capacity of logical human ponderance. You can think about the times and dates and places and people and things that stand on the periphery of love, and whether you want to accept or deny it, but trying to think about love itself is waste of time. It is or it isn't. To that end, I had accomplished absolutely nothing by the time I stepped out of the shower.

Claire, meanwhile, had put on a CD. She was wearing the bed sheet and dancing in happy flowing sex angel circles to "Place Your Hands" by Reef. She had pushed back the drapes; the room was filled with the smell and warmth of morning sun. She looked at me, smiled, and moved her erotic dancing toward me with open arms, her athletic, naked body highlighted by the white bed sheet. She let the sheet fall to the floor, then, pulling away my towel, she pressed her nakedness to mine, and kissed my collar bone, then my chest and then my stomach as she danced.

Of course, like any right-thinking male, I had had this sort of fantasy thousands of times. Beer commercials and music videos and male magazines are built on what was now taking place in my bedroom. But I had never actually expected to be living it, so I had never developed a legitimate plan of action. In a porn film, some of her friends would have shown up and we would have had ridiculous and awkward sex in all sorts of acrobatic and unsatisfying positions. In a cartoon, I would have hit myself in the head with a hammer and steam would have come out of my ears. In real life, of course I was aroused, but I was paralyzed. Despite having dreamed about this sort of thing since I was 13 years old, I had completely failed to come up with a plan for dealing with such a contingency. Instead, I carried on with what I had been thinking about in the shower.

"Perhaps I'll skip the trip to Wales this weekend," I said.

Claire was straddling my leg as if it were a stripper pole. She clawed at my stomach and kissed my hip.

"With your canoe club? Oh, but darling, you should definitely go," she said.
"I don't know. I mean, this is one of the few weekends you'll be staying in Pompey and I'm heading out of town. It's just…"

Why was I carrying on with this conversation? What fool discusses weekend plans when there is A NAKED WOMAN ON HIS LEG?! She started grinding her way back up, kissing my stomach and nibbling just below my rib cage. In my head I was hearing the same sort of buzzing noise an amp makes before you plug in a guitar. I was being tortured by my inaction.

"I'm staying here for revising," she said. "My term ends early and I have a large paper due. You would only distract me."

"Are you sure? It's just that things are… just… going so well. I thought maybe -- I don't know -- I thought maybe I should stay."

She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me, pushing her tongue into my mouth and running her fingers in my hair. She started pulling me toward the bed.

"I'll be here when you get back, darling," she said. "Right now, fancy a shag?"


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1 comment:

cheap bedding said...

What a well-written action between the two characters. It makes you imagine the scenery.