Copyright © 1994, 1996
THIS DOCUMENT IS A SEXUALLY GRAPHIC STORY ABOUT AN INTENSE SEXUAL, EMOTIONAL AND INTELLECTUAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A TEENAGE GIRL AND A YOUNG BOY AND THE COURSE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP OVER A PERIOD OF 10 YEARS. IT IS A DRAMATIZATION ABOUT REAL PEOPLE AND THEIR CON- FLICT WITH SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS. IF THIS SUBJECTS OFFENDS YOU OR IF SEXUAL LANGUAGE UPSETS YOU, OR IF YOU DON'T WANT THIS MATERIAL SEEN BY UNDER-18 OR OTHERWISE UNQUALIFIED PERSONS, DELETE THIS DOCUMENT.
THIS DOCUMENT IS COPYRIGHTED © 1994, 1996 BY SJR. SO--HEY, YOU CAN COPY IT BUT YOU CAN'T CHANGE IT OR SELL IT UNLESS I SAY SO.
On Thursday morning I awoke to find Martha bleary-eyed and rushing to get ready for work. I dressed quickly and hurried into the kitchen to make a breakfast of toast and juice. When she finished dressing she woofed down the toast and quickly packed her briefcase and reminded me that I had Fiore at ten and then I would meet her uptown near Columbia for lunch. She hastily scribbled the address and handed it to me.
"The subway goes there, right?" I asked.
She drank her juice in one gulp and grabbed her briefcase. "Do NOT take the subway by yourself, not to this neighborhood. Take a taxi, hon. Please. Make the driver leave you right in front of the building."
Clattering in her high heels, she headed for the front door. "I gotta go."
I rushed to close the door behind her and she gave me a quick peck on her way out. I closed the door. There had been no mention of Ronnie or of the night before. I didn't have much time to think about it. I showered and dressed. I cleaned up from the night before and straightened the pillows on the little sofa. On my way downstairs I paused at Ronnie's door but heard nothing from inside.
On the way to Fiore's I stopped at a bank to cash more traveler's cheques. I had money to spare, but the bank calendar reminded me that time was short. I had the rest of the day, and then two and a half days remaining in New York. I broke into a run toward the health club.
Fiore gave me hell again for an hour. But I was set on attaining the level of others who worked out in his club. "No, no, concentrate!" he grumbled at me as I lifted dumbbells over my head. "Watch your form! Take more time if you need it! Concentrate! Mind and body together, my friend! Together!"
I worked arduously. I kept thinking that I had less than four more days in New York, less than four days to be more than I was when I left Memphis. I knew I had lost some baby fat and that the pimples I brought to New York had all but faded and I could run in place almost twice as long as I could a few days before. But I felt compelled to do more. I worked at the exercise bike until I couldn't breathe. While I rested, slumping on the handlbars and huffing and sweating, Fiore strode to me, his hands on his hips. He wore his perpetual, taunting grin.
"At first you couldn't do enough," he said. "Now you try to do too much! You can't make up for missing yesterday by overworking today! You can't go back, my friend. Only ahead. Never try to go back. Now, rest. And begin again!"
I rested. But then I worked myself to exhaustion again, feeling time rush at me. Finally, near the end of the session, Fiore walked to me and laid a hand on my arm. "Stop," he said quietly, unusually subdued. "Stop, my friend. You are working too hard. I want you to stop for today." He held up a warning finger. "And tomorrow, light work. Light. Understand?"
I nodded, breathing heavily.
"Understand?" he repeated. His eyes scolded me. "Light tomorrow."
"Okay," I said. I got off the bike and went to the showers. On my way out I glanced again at the dancers and others in the room. I envied their physical perfection and their grace and ease. I felt like a laggard. Outside on Lexington Avenue, I responded to my urge to work harder by jogging, determined to make my way on foot all the way uptown to meet Martha. But at 59th Street I was running out of steam. Angry with myself, I caught a taxi to Martha's and changed into nicer clothes for lunch. Fiore was right, I thought as I knotted my necktie in the mirror: I still had a lot to learn and a long way to go. But I saw my skin was clear. At least I was getting somewhere, if not far enough. In the kitchen I gulped down the vitamins and the yeast, taking an extra full serving of yeast. I told myself that at lunch I'd be meeting adults, experts. I had to look sharp.
The taxi let me out in front of a block long, delapidated office building in the West 130's. As soon as I was on the sidewalk again I knew I was in a slum. It was unlike the shanty towns and working-class neighborhoods I'd seen in Memphis. The street stank strongly of garbage and grease. Trash was everywhere. I found myself surrounded by tough looking, disheveled Hispanics and blacks on the busy sidewalk, inter- spersed with a few Orientals, Eurasians, and some students carrying books. A bearded man sat on a pile of paper wrappings in a doorway, mosquitoes swarming around him. I looked up and down the busy street; Broadway stretched for miles in both directions, downtown toward Man- hattan where the scenery looked a little cleaner and brighter, and then uptown toward Riverside, the George Washington Bridge looming in the distance. I knew that the entire neighborhood wasn't as squalid as the block where I stood, for I'd seen cleaner areas in the taxi on my way there. Quickly I made my way through the creaking entrance of the building and found myself in a clean but aging, yellow-walled lobby where I followed a swept but dank hallway around several corners to a small office with "109" on the front door. I knocked.
"Come in," I heard Martha say from inside. Before I could open the door, Martha opened it and stood in her suit in a room with several massive, metal desks and filing cabinets.
She smiled. "Welcome to the Northern District Special Education Worksite," she said, her greeting colored with a little irony. "I'll be right with you. Like it? I share this place with six other people. They're in a meeting now, but it's almost over. Two of them are waiting across the street. Come on, I'll introduce you."
She was businesslike and matter-of-fact. It was a serious, professional Martha I saw now. She gathered her briefcase and a printed list and led me down the hallway toward the lobby, explaining tersely the various offices and cubicles we passed, and then led me across the street toward a small diner.
"This is a New York you haven't seen yet," she said somberly. "It's the working part. The tough part." She paused and added, "The heart- breaking part."
I asked as we crossed the hot, teeming street, "The people at Columbia sent you here?"
"No. Worse than that. I volunteered. Come on, they're waiting in this little diner. Watch out for the coffee, it'll keep you awake for a week."
In the diner Martha smiled tiredly and greeted two men who sat at a four-seat table near the foggy front window. One of them was a tall, virile looking man in his thirties. The other was a slight, younger man in black-rimmed glasses and a wrinkled gray suit. The taller man spoke readily and directly and reminded me of the laconic, rangy cowboys I'd seen in many westerns. The younger one was more reticent and seemed bored and annoyed as he examined a spiral bound, one-inch thick report. The taller one greeted me with, "Hello, nice to meet you, Steven," and a hefty handshake. The other one smiled weakly and reached into his coat pocket for a cigarette. Martha, too, lit a cigarette and we ordered coffee and sandwiches.
"Welcome to New York," said the tall one, whose name was Mark. Martha told them I was an old friend from Memphis and that she brought me along to prove she wasn't kidding when she told people back home that she really had a paying job.
I found, again, that I was no expert at initiating conversation. I felt tense and self-conscious, even when Mark said jokingly, "People from down South always seem so laid back and casual. But I know better. Martha, here, came to us with her sweet Southern smile and her sweet Southern manner. Then she turns out to be a taskmaster." The younger guy smiled sardonically and added, "That's post-graduate slang for ball- buster," and punctuated the remark with an amiable, "Speaking figuratively, of course." They asked what I'd been doing in New York and when they discovered I attended a school taught by the Christian Brothers they wanted to know all about the teachers of whom they'd heard a great deal and what kinds of teaching methods they used. "The Brothers have schools up here, too," Mark said, "but not in neighborhoods like this. It's enough to make me consider joining their order, but I'd like to stay married." When I told them that the Christian Brothers was one of the few religious orders that allowed marriage, Mark said, "Hey, doesn't sound bad." He grinned and asked, "Have their address on you?"
Martha asked the younger man about the list he paged through. "Are those the assignments?" she asked, and the young man said dryly, "Yes, wanna see?" Martha held out her hand and said, "Let's see what they're doing to us," and the young man handed the papers to her with a dry, "You won't like it, Martha." Martha looked over the first page for a second and muttered "You're right, I don't," and the young man shrugged and said resignedly, "What can I say? We don't make the decisions, we just tote the barge."
Within a few minutes the diner was more crowded for the lunch hour. Another man and a woman entered wearing business clothes and headed for our table. Martha noticed them and asked me, "Hon, would you mind terribly if you sat at another table for a minute while we talk something over with those people? They're from the meeting and we just have to review something. It'll only take a minute. Really. Do you mind? There's not enough room here for all of us."
I said, "Of course not!", feeling I was being very adult about it, and found a seat a few yards away at the lunch counter where I finished my sandwich while the others talked. The two newcomers pulled an extra chair to the table. Everyone fell into an earnest discussion over the assignment list Martha was reading. I watched Martha and the group through the mirror in front of me. I envied them. They seemed to fit together intimately, readily voicing their opinions about the teaching assignments that had apparently been decided upon at the meeting. Martha openly objected to many decisions and gave what sounded like very competent, well-considered reasons for her opinions. This was not the indulgent, forgiving friend I'd seen so far; she was insistent, often adamant, and sometimes passionately vocal. At one point she glared hotly at Mark, saying "Oh, you're kidding! Honestly! What do they think they're doing?" Mark began grudgingly, "Now, Martha, you know how the system works--" and Martha grumbled, "The system hardly works, Mark, come on!" And Mark said, "Well, it's allocated by ability," and Martha flicked her cigarette and said angrily, "It's allocated by race, and we know it!" And the newer guy shrugged and said, "Well, that's the way it is." Martha sighed and then simmered quietly for a moment, flicking her cigarette on the ash tray, and then she sighed again and said "Oh, all right, there's nothing I can do about it." The young woman smirked and said, "Martha, I know it's unfair but at least we'll be able to--" and Martha interrupted, "I don't care if it's unfair to us. It's unfair to the kids, that's the point," and the other woman waved her hand and said, "Okay, okay, we know that," and Martha asked vehemently "Well, if we know it, why do we let them do this again and again?"
The debate went on for several minutes. Soon Martha reluctantly agreed to whatever had been arranged at the meeting and the others seemed relieved. Martha asked the guy with the list to make a copy for her. She rose and walked to me.
"Come on, hon, let's go," she said cheerlessly. I waved goodbye to the others and they smiled and waved back, and Martha led me across the street to the building where we met.
"Come with me to the third floor. I want to show you something."
We stepped into an elevator that lurched violently when it started up.
"My god!" I breathed, looking around in alarm.
"It's just another New York elevator," Martha griped, looking at the list she'd written. "They'll fix it immediately, as soon as a pile of people get killed in it. Management by disaster, it's called."
The third floor lobby was crowded with people sitting in several rows of gray, aluminum folding chairs. Kids squawled and whined. Martha led me into a small office a few doors down a nearby corridor, telling me that she had to meet with one of her students for about an hour. "I don't know what you'll think of this, but I wanted you to see what goes on here." She pulled a file folder from her briefcase and placed it on the single desk in the little room. "This is a social services department. Most of the people out there are waiting for a welfare counselor, or a case worker, or a therapist. I was lucky enough to get this tiny room for some of my students. In fact, Marilyn often meets me here. I'm meeting one of the others now. One of the less fortunate ones."
She walked around the desk and stood in front of me. "Do you want to wait for me? You can wait outside in the lobby. Or if you want, you can wait in that diner across the street. But I want you to see another part of the world." She paused and said, "Hon, not everything is the way it's been all week. Not everything is like last night. I hope that...you'll feel differently about yourself if you see the mess others get themselves into. Are you up to it?"
I eyed her directly and nodded.
"Okay. Forget all that romantic 'West Side Story' fluff you saw the other night. The real West Side is in that waiting room. Come on."
She led me back to the waiting area and straight to a chair near the rear of the room where a Hispanic woman sat with a young boy who appeared to be eleven or twelve years old. He was a handsome youth, but I thought he might have been more handsome had it not been for the vacant, unfocussed look in his big, dark eyes. His mother sat listlessly beside him, looking bored and uninterested.
Martha smiled and greeted them in Spanish, and introduced me. The mother acknowledged me with a drowsy glance and a slight movement of the hand at her cheek. The child simply stared at me. I saw the remnants of a bruise on his nose. Martha said something in broken Spanish to the woman, and the woman indifferently and tiredly replied "Si" a few times. Martha extended her hand to the boy and smiled sweetly and said "Carlos? Come with me?". The child stared at her for a few seconds and, unsmiling, stood and took her hand. Martha whispered "Good," and gently led the child by the hand. On her way past me, Martha glanced at me and whispered, "Welcome to New York, hon." She led the boy to the corridor, speaking to him maternally, and the child nodded but never smiled. They disappeared into the small office.
The door closed. Around me, children screamed and yelped. I looked down at the boy's mother and smiled politely. She responded only with a slow blink and looked down at the magazine in her lap, absently rubbing an earlobe.
For most of the hour I sat watching the people in the room. Some of them stared at me emptily for several minutes. The room was redolent with the odor of their ill-fitting, often filthy clothing. One older man had shoes whose soles were peeling off. Infants whined and bawled. Some mothers whined back helplessly, others scolded and warned, and still others sat unresponsively. One boy kept up a continuous, rambling conversation with his mother, who completely ignored him. Some men and women sat staring at the floor, some dozed; one man read a newspaper, pointing slowly at each word and pronouncing them quietly and carefully to himself. Now and then a man or woman in a suit would greet one of the people and lead them into an office.
After a while I wandered through the corridor and noticed how ill-kept the building was, although it looked recently swept and mopped. The faded walls were peeling in many places, some windows were cracked and a few were boarded up, and every surface of every wall and doorway seemed chipped, scarred, or damaged in some way.
At the end of the hour I returned to the waiting room. Martha emerged from the office, smiling to the boy and talking to him as she led him to his mother. She spoke with them briefly, the mother appearing interested only in gathering her things and leaving. They said goodbye and Martha watched them walk to the elevator.
When they had gone, Martha said limply, "I'll get my things. Let's go somewhere."
On the street as we walked to the subway I had nothing to say. Or, rather, I could think of nothing to say, which had me feeling crushingly incompetent and stupid. The image that stuck in my mind was the one of the mother in the waiting room who sat chewing gum and filing her nails, completely and, it seemed, purposely oblivious to her talking, questioning son. I glanced at Martha as we walked. Unsmiling, she winced in the hot sun and pushed a lock of hair from her forehead. I asked myself if I would ever be able to sit at a table with a group of peers and handle myself with Martha's apparent effectiveness. I asked myself why I had not spoken to her as completely and as intimately as I wanted. I asked myself if sex were the only intimate contact I would allow. I asked myself if hiding out from my family had rendered me hopelessly unable to communicate with others, except on the most superficial level.
"That boy," Martha said after a while, her voice edgy, "is very talented. His mother wants him to learn English and math as quickly as he can so he can be a bookkeeper and support her and the babies she keeps having. I find it hard to believe that I keep praying for the day when a counselor will take him away from his mother. Every time he slows down or makes a mistake, she beats the hell out of him."
That was all she said. She looked straight ahead, her eyes dark and brooding.
She led me to my first subway ride. The rush hour had not started yet, but the train was crowded and there were no seats. We stood togeth- er in the aisle and held onto a center post while the train sped and swerved underground along Broadway. Martha remained moody and silent. I looked at her. Her auburn hair was combed and pinned back, smooth and almost glossy at her temples, with blonde highlights and a bob in back. Her elegant, pretty, pugnosed face had a sad frown, nearly a girlish pout, that made me want to kiss and cuddle her. I wondered why I didn't.
She saw me watching her. "Well," she said, "did you learn anything?"
I kept my eyes on her. "You're back in the Lauderdale Courts," I said drearily.
She smirked, and leaned on the post. "Yes. Right back where I came from. Worse than ever." She looked at me again. "Anything else?"
I sighed and said, "Will I ever get to be really good at anything?"
"You will if you work at it. You will if your family will let you be."
"Not much I can do about that right now."
"I know, Steven. But someday..." She kept looking at me and I kept looking at her and we swayed as the train swung into a fast turn, but her eyes didn't move from mine. I wondered what she saw when she looked at me so inexplicably with no clue whatever on her face to tell me what she was thinking. I wanted to tell her I loved her. Did she know what I was thinking as she studied my eyes? Would she feel intimidated or feel I were being possessive if I told her? Was I really in love, or was it a childish infatuation, a crush, a movie-like fantasy inspired by just being in freewheeling New York? It was not the affectionate but somewhat raw lust that Ronnie generated in me. Was it her pretty face, her incandescent hazel eyes, her musical voice? Was it her talent, her brains, her outspokeness...?
"What else?" she asked, still watching me.
I blinked awake. "I learned how good you are at what you do."
"Oh, I'm not good," she said scornfully, breaking her gaze and looking away. "I'm totally unqualified for this. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a therapist. I'm not even a case worker. I'm a teacher. And a beginner, at that. A mere, everyday, generic beginner. I want to do some great work, some great endeavor. I want to stop the wars and stop the abuse and stop the beating. But it doesn't stop. It never stops. I'm helpless. There's nothing I can do." She frowned, and winced, and sighed tearfully as she leaned into the post, her voice straining. "There's not a damn thing I can do."
One eye teared and she wiped it with a finger. She sighed heavily and sniffled and then quickly straightened up and tightened her jaws. "Crap," she said angrily.
I offered, "Well, you did a great job on me."
She looked at me. I gave her my handkerchief and she honked her nose into it quickly and looked at me again. "If only I could convince you to be yourself and believe in it. You feel inferior because you're trying to be like someone else, not you, and...Well, your pimples are gone, anyway...and you're wearing your glasses for a change. The frames are very nice, just right for you. And you look gorgeous."
"Well, that's something. Isn't it? A dozen tubes of Clearasil is no match for a couple of days with you, lady."
She continued watching me and lurched as the train entered a station. She frowned, mildly, impatiently, "Why are you so nice to me all the time? You're always so nice to me, you've never said anything critical to me as long as you've known me. Never. Why?"
"Because you're beautiful and smart and perfect," I said as the train slowed.
"How hopelessly romantic," she huffed, returning my handkerchief. "How silly and juvenile. How ingratiating, Steven." She touched my face gently. "And how sweet," she said.
The trained banged and screeched and jerked to a stop.
We dropped by Martha's place, changed clothes and then spent the rest of the afternoon on the Staten Island Ferry. Martha showed me what she called the "expected tourist attractions" -- the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, City Hall. As dusk approached we walked uptown toward Greenwich Village, where she took me to a hairdresser for a very expensive hair- cut. Gradually, Martha cheered up. Gradually, I became more sullen. We strolled through New York University and stopped in a couple of book emporiums on Broadway.
"Wanna get anything?" Martha asked as I fingered a volume in a pile of books on a table at the Strand Bookstore.
I gave a rueful little laugh and pointed at one of the books. "An out of print copy of 'Gregory the Great'," I said. "Brother Martin back home would give his eye teeth for this."
"Why don't you buy it and take it back home for him?"
"I'd want it for myself. Brother Martin loaned me that book from the school library as a special project. He said he didn't want to waste my time in basic English, so he gave me extra credit for writing a report on this book. It's great. Whoever thought a biography of the first great Pope of the Church could be so good? Wouldn't it be great if I could--?" I stopped and sighed.
"If you could what, hon?"
"If...if I could absorb all this. Just stay here and go through every one of these things. There are books and ideas here that go back hundreds of years." I shook my head. "I'd never be able to do it all."
"Nobody can do it all, Steven."
"But I want to."
"Nobody can, hon."
"The problem is, I wouldn't even be able to get started. Why start with one, when there are thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of books in here? I wouldn't finish Chapter One before I'd have to get on a plane back to Memphis."
She smirked. "So that's what you've been thinking about. I thought so."
I sighed again, and shoved my hands into my pockets. "Yeah."
"Come on," she said, "Let's go find dinner."
We had dinner at a small place in Greenwich Village and then took the bus home. I lounged on the sofa. Martha plopped into the fluffy old easy chair beside her small fireplace.
"What'll we do tonight? It's not even eight o'clock and I didn't make plans for tonight because I wanted you to have one night to call the shots. You know your way around the city a little now, so I thought you'd like to set it up yourself for a change."
"You plan real good, Miss Martha."
"That's not an answer. Just tell me what you want to do."
I yawned. "Oh, I dunno."
"Steven...I've been leading you around town for a week now. In fact, I've been leading you around all your life. I didn't bring you to New York to lead you on a leash. I brought you here to open you up. I brought you here to show you that the whole world isn't Memphis and you don't always get punished for saying and doing what you want."
I smiled gratefully, and shrugged.
"Oh, c'mon. Talk to me."
"What do you want me to say?"
She sighed impatiently. "It's not what I want you to say, it's what YOU want to say. It's what you want to do."
"I don't know what I want to do."
"You wanna just sit here and mope about going back to Memphis? You're not in Memphis yet, Steven. You're still in Manhattan. With me. You're here. Now. Stop going over the past and stop worrying about the future. You see what that sort of thing did to me this afternoon at work. I said what I had to say about it, and then I moved on."
"Okay, well...First of all, I'm a little tired."
"Right, I'll buy that. Sounds reasonable. I am too, actually."
I paused. She waited.
"Steven" she said quietly. "Talk to me. Wanna just talk? A nice, restful Thursday evening, talking my head off would be very nice. I've got you to do a lot of things, but I still can't get you to talk. I haven't forgotten who you are, Steven. I know you're still young and unsure. I know that New York is intimidating, and it was for me when I came here. But you still have feelings and ideas. I wish I could figure them all out on my own, but I can't."
I thought for a moment.
"Well?" she said.
I sat up straight. "Come one, let's take a shower."
She laughed. "That's what you want to do, take a shower?"
I walked to her and took her hand and gave a little tug. "Come on," I said.
We showered together. "How exciting," Martha said sarcastically as she soaped her hands.
"This is a prelude to what's next," I said mysteriously, swabbing my shoulders and arms.
"Hon, everything's a prelude to what's next, and this gives me a pretty good idea what it will probably be. But do you have to shower to talk?"
"You'll see," I said.
At the end of our shower I asked her to re-soap her hands and make the suds thick and slippery. "Now," I said, holding my cock, "Get me hard. Come on. Get me really hard."
She smiled at me quizzically as she worked on my cock. "Steven... what are you up to? This is a heck of way to start a conversation."
"You'll see. Come on, do it."
When I was fully erect I asked Martha, "Are you wet?"
She said, "Of course I am, what do you think?"
"Okay," I said, and I rinsed the soap away quickly and then in one smooth motion I picked her up and carried her into the bedroom.
"Steven," she complained, "We're still wet from the shower."
"I don't care," I said, and tumbled her onto the bed.
She looked at me wonderingly as I turned out the bedroom light and then stretched her out on her back and opened her legs and lay on her and looked down to aim my cock and then slowly and deeply and yearningly entered her, sighing as I enjoyed the sweet long slide inward. Her eyes widened and she whispered, "Oh, my. Steven. I have to thank Fiore for more than just my nineteen inch waist. Mmm."
I slid in and out a few times. I muttered a little breathlessly, watching her hips adjust to my length, "I love your nineteen inch waist. I love getting big and hard and going into you." When I felt thoroughly lubricated and comfortable I slid all the way in and held myself there and embraced her closely, one arm around her waist and the other around her neck, and hugged her and nestled my face against her neck. I lay motionless, my cock deep and snug and hard and wet inside her.
"Now," I said, "we can talk."
She laughed quietly, snaking her arms around me. "And I thought you said you weren't a good conversationalist." She kissed my cheek. "This is a very sexy way to have a talk."
I kissed her neck. "Listen. I don't know how to tell you what I'm thinking because I'm not thinking right now. I'm feeling. I'm feeling how good it is to have you holding me and to just be inside you. I'm feeling how good it is to walk in Central Park with you and go to a deli and eat matso ball soup. I'm feeling how good it is to feel good with you. I don't like to spend a lot of time talking about how I feel. I have to do something about it. I have to put my feelings to work. I don't want to spend a lot of time analyzing them and talking about them, I want to do something about them. I don't want to just look at books and look at movies and read plays. I want to do them. I want to make them real, I want to make them into something I can touch and see and hear and taste. I don't want to just look at you or think about you, I want to hold you and lick you and fuck you. You are my feelings. When I put my fingers around your waist I'm feeling I'm your waist, and when I touch your skin it's because your skin is my feelings. And when I fuck, what you feel when I'm inside you is what I'm feeling. I was a little scared with Ronnie last night, and with you, because what you and Ronnie were feeling was what I was feeling. When Ronnie was sad, I was sad. When Ronnie was afraid that I wouldn't let her have her full pleasure, I felt it too. I didn't want to just be friends with her, I wanted to give her pleasure, I wanted to feel with her when she felt that release, that comfort, that closeness. And when I saw you wanting the same pleasure I wanted the same pleasure for you and I wanted to feel it with you. I wanted it to be so good I'd never forget it, and I wanted to make it so good for you, you'd never forget it, either. I wanted it because I felt you wanting it. I want it because that's the way you make me feel. When you were upset this afternoon I didn't just see it, I felt it. When you're happy I don't just see it, I feel it. When you're almost cumming and not there yet, I feel it, too."
I hugged her. "I don't want to just think about going back home, I want to go back home and do something. I don't want to look at New York and think about New York, I want to do New York. I don't want to think about being here, I want to be here. I don't want it later, I want it now. It won't do me any good later. I need it now. I needed everything yesterday and I want to do everything now. I don't want to think. I don't like thinking. I want to feel it and do it." I licked her ear. "I love your ear. I love your neck." I kissed her neck. "I love your nipples and your navel and your legs and your feet and your cunt. When I go inside you I don't put a dick in you, I put all of me in you. I put my body and my thoughts and my feelings, my past and my present and my future in you. When I cum the only thing I think and the only thing I feel and the only thing in the whole world for me is cumming, and there isn't anything else. And I don't want there to be anything else."
I stopped to pull my arm from under her neck and stroke her hair.
"Baby," she whispered. Inside her, she hugged me.
We talked for an hour. I did most of the talking, hugging her and stroking her hair and kissing her neck, and she did most of the listening. Now and then when I softened inside her she would lift my face and watch me talking to her and squeeze me inside until I was hard again. After a while I stopped talking and we fucked for a few minutes, slowly and lovingly, and it was one of the few times that I fucked Martha while not watching her; I fucked gently and deeply, nestling into her neck and listening to her breathe. When the pleasure mounted beyond anything more than an affectionate, friendly probing, I would stop. She would ask a question or make a comment and I would start talking again. Mostly, she listened and watched me and let me know with small contractions inside her what she was feeling. I talked about the things I yearned to do, the person I yearned to be. She asked me to describe that person, and I expended so much time and so many words trying to explain it that she asked me to give her a name, someone I knew who mirrored what I thought I wanted to be. I mentioned Gregory Peck. She laughed out loud and said, "But, hon, don't you see? You're describing someone else, not yourself."
She wanted me to tell her what my plans were, precisely, when I returned home. I told her I'd keep working. She asked why I was so willing to sacrifice the things I really wanted by wearing myself out with a paper route. I told her I wanted a car, I wanted freedom to move around, I wanted the clothes, friends, and independence others had. She said having what others have wasn't as important as being myself; I should be in the theatre, and I had better opportunities for a future in college if I spent more time in activities at Christian Brothers. I told her I didn't want to be in high school, I wanted to be in any other place. She was amused and somewhat awed by my willingness to risk everything I had for everything I didn't have. She said I should work with what was available. She told me I was trying too hard to be everyone but myself.
"I'd like to be," I said earnestly, "like you." And she laughed and said, "Like me?" and then she frowned and stroked my hair and said, "Steven, I don't want you to be like me. I want you to be you. And I don't want you to work yourself to death the way I did. Oh, sure, you have to work hard, but I gave up everything to get through Memphis State in three years instead of four, and kept weekend jobs on top of it. And you know what it got me? It got me worn out. Not quite twenty-four years old yet, and I'm all worn out and frustrated with work. It got me used to not taking my time and made me want everything and want it to be perfect. Take my word for it, you have to stop and look around and realize that the whole world isn't going to pay attention to you just because you're working yourself to death."
"But you got out of Mmephis," I said.
"Yes, and you'll get out, too. But it was part luck and part hard work and part nerve. I could just as well have been picked by another school, but it happened the way it did. The same way we just happened. And some things, Steven, don't happen. You can't make things happen, you can only make yourself available. Don't count on things happening that you can't control. Don't you remember what you said to Ronnie, you can't make someone be good to you if they don't want to? Oh, you seem so passive and easygoing on the outside -- but you're very aggressive, aren't you?"
We got out of bed for a few minutes and had a snack. Then we embraced in bed again and Martha sucked me to an erection and I went into her and we hugged and lay still for a while. She asked me about Karen. I told her as much as I could remember about the incident, though I hesitated to go into it with any great detail. Martha said that disappoint- ment was the norm when it came to intimacy. "Not everyone's a perfect partner," she said, "and some are lousy. It all depends on who you're with. Remember what I said about being able to fly on your own, Steven. You don't always have someone around to show you the way or to validate yourself. That's why you have to be you and have what you have, not be someone else and have what someone else has. God, I wish you'd believe in yourself. I wish your folks would give you just a little break, a little recognition. But they won't, Steven, not any more than Mr. Buchanan or Evelyn would give it to me."
The pleasure of being inside her soon asserted itself. I began talking less and moving more frequently in her for a few minutes before we started talking again. Soon I lifted on my arms and fucked steadily.
She whispered, "Don't keep stopping, Steven, it's feeling good."
"Did I talk your head off?"
"You sure did. Now I want you to fuck my brains out."
I watched her as I moved and she put her arms around my neck and looked down at me pumping in her.
"Hon, it's nice." She looked up at me and saw the pleasure in my face. SHe smiled softly and churned her hips under me, and I felt her inner muscles writhing and sucking. When I moaned she smiled happily and whispered, "Know what I want you to be? I want you to be you. I want you to be fifteen and strong and full of cum. I loved watching you with Ronnie, watching both of you discover each other and please each other. I don't want you to get old and mean and moody, Steven, I want you to always be new and pure. And you're so very sensual, and so intense, and you really know how to give pleasure. I want you to be yourself and enjoy me, and not worry about what was, or what might be. Stay young for me. I feel so young when you fuck me like this. It was so good, the very first time."
"Martha, you're...gonna make me cum."
"But I want you to. I want you to cum when you feel like it. Come on, just cum. Don't cum because I do, cum just because you want to."
She began tightening on me, smiling into my eyes, and I stopped and fought for breath and she asked, "What's the matter?", and I moaned, "It feels so good!"
She grinned. "It's supposed to, Steven!" She began moving her hips gently under me, up and down, sliding her cunt on my shaft. The suction she created was overpowering.
"Come on," she taunted. "Come on, I want you to be selfish for a change. There's nothing wrong with it."
My head snapped back and I groaned again.
She kept up the rhythm and began seriously milking me as she moved. "Come on," she whispered. "Come on."
"I'm not your mother, hon. You won't lose me if you don't always please me first, don't you know that? Right now, I want you to please yourself first. Let me just give to you, and I won't ask for anything, and you don't have to give anything back. You're allowed to do that, you know. I'll let you because I know you'd do the same for me."
I gasped and closed my eyes and raised high on my arms and began pumping into her. She ceased her undulations and held her pelvis against me and closed tightly on my cock.
"Yes," she whispered, "Oh, yes, hon. Take it. Take what you want."
I began to stroke deeply and strongly in her, my pelvis seeking her deeply on the instroke, relishing the tickle of her cervix as it nipped and grabbed my tip.
"I'm other girls," she whispered hotly. "I'm everyone you ever wanted. I'm all those others and now I'm saying yes. I'm Josephine Louise. I'm Karen. I'm Ronnie. I'm not saying no. And I like it, Steven. I like it and I want it."
I burrowed more deeply into her than I had ever gone before. And I was bigger and harder and more seeking than ever. I fucked deliberately and deeply, and soon the grip of her inner warmth changed and became less rhythmic and less purposeful and became more erratic. She became slicker and hotter, and I saw her eyes close, and her smile vanished and she squinted and frowned in surprise and concentration.
"God," she breathed suddenly, "you're so big."
And I whispered "Fuck" and shifted on my arms and raised on my toes and my toes dug into the bed and then I had the balance and the leverage that I wanted and I started stroking, smoothly and strongly, as deep as I could go and as far back as I could go. I became a fucking machine and all I wanted to do was fuck. I was near cumming, but I wouldn't let it happen yet. I clung to the hot, primal itch that I felt on the edge of letting go and I wanted to stay there. I forgot about how close Martha might or might not be to cumming; I just wanted to fuck and keep on fucking as long as I could. Her sighs and whispers were indeed those of Josephine Louise and Ronnie and everyone else I'd lusted after; her seductive crooning had implanted them clearly in my mind. I forgot about Martha's body as my universe focused exclusively onto her cunt, on her pelvic muscles straining and quivering against mine, her clinging inner woman, and she wasn't Martha, she was the primeval cunt my leering, slurping beast wanted to fuck, and my beast demanded the delicious, licking pleasure, and vaguely I heard her amazed gasp, "God, you're hard! You're so hard!" and then I heard her hoarse moan, and I felt her cumming and her hot, slithery, woman-cunt spasmed with it and my cock felt it and rejoiced and grew and plunged and I wanted to keep fucking, keep fucking like this forever. I felt her relax a little and I fucked and pushed and my bursting shaft sought more, more pleasure, more lusciousness, and soon she stiffened again and I heard her gasp "Steven!" and I wanted more and got bigger and harder and she jerked and relaxed and then came again, and then I grunted and felt my face smiling as my cock leapt upward against the roof of Martha's curling, writhing nether-mouth, and my tip pulsed and the slit grinned against her womb and the cum poured out and then gushed out and then exploded out and somewhere in my gut my happy beast grinned and said Yeah, yeah, and my tip twitched and the hot cum gushed and then I heard Martha scream a high, muffled scream, and my victorious cock slowed so that I could ruthlessly prolong and enjoy and own and remember the long moment and she screamed again and the satisfaction and the sweet release washed around my dick and through me, and then the blinding, tickling peak hit me and I ceased to exist for a long, liquid instant, and my cock throbbed, pleased, bloated with pleasure, purged, slick with her juiciness and my cum, and Martha lurched under me and ended her cum with a whimper and my whole body sighed and slowed and relaxed, my balls aching with a pleasant emptiness, and I opened my eyes and saw her face flushed, her eyes squinting, shut, and her mouth gasping for air, and then I realized that her nails had dug into my neck and it felt good, it felt exhilarating to see her completely worn out, trembling, limp, clutching me as if afraid, and I gave a long sigh of pleasure and embraced her again, and cuddled her and gave her mouth a long, firm kiss, and when it was over she gasped loudly and her head fell against me, and I pulled my cock out of her and watched it glisten and drip with us and I pushed in again and enjoyed entering her once more, and did it again and marvelled at how good it was. And then she curled into a tight ball and she was whimpering, mewing, crying like a little girl, her knees pulled up against me, and she nestled into me and broke into a long fit of quiet but wrenching cries. I stroked her back softly and held her, one hand cradling the back of her neck and pressing her tear-wet face into me, and she cried for a little while and then she began to relax, sniffling noisily at first. And then she seemed to rest but was still curled up and holding onto me and the odor of semen and warm milk was strong in the room. The curtain rustled against the window frame.
She whimpered, "That was so good!"
I nodded against her head.
And she breathed nervously, "Steven, that was so good it scared me." And in her voice I did indeed hear the childish relief one feels when a terror has passed, and she softend against me and seemed tiny. Soon she fell asleep. I lay awake for a long time, listening to the breeze from the window. I remembered dimly hearing Martha scream. I drifted toward sleep, feeling somehow changed. I didn't know why I felt that way.
By five A.M. I was awake. My first thought was that Sunday was two days away. I gave sleeping Martha a kiss, got out of bed, and took my vitamins. I needed to move. To run. I dressed in my gym clothes and went downstairs and jogged toward Central Park. The early sun was already hot and beaming. Halfway to Central Park I stopped, waiting at Park Avenue for the traffic light. Cars swished by and I found myself watching everything, taking it in, wondering what it would be like to do this every morning in Manhattan. I wanted to memorize it; there was nothing in Memphis to remind me of this street, this town, this feeling, these sights. I wanted New York burned into my mind, wanted to hold onto it and take back as much as I could.
The light changed. I broke into a run to the park. I was burned out by the time I got there. I limped into a sloping field and rested on a park bench. As far as I could see, only one or two distant people were there. I rubbed my aching ankles and burning shins. I was short of breath. Fiore was right, I thought: work within your limits.
All right, I conceded, within my limits. I accepted it, but ached knowing it was not good enough. My limit at that point was my body. My limit was two days. My limit was time. My limit was Martha. I could do nothing about any of it. My body told me what would happen if I pushed too far, too hard. Something in my heart and head told me what might happen if I pushed too hard with Martha. I walked around and stretched my legs, trying to coax more work from them. But they, too, had reached their limit. Around me lay the serene park, disturbed only by skittering squirrels and robins, chirping sparrows, and cooing pigeons. Not even a breeze came through to wake the trees. Inside, I simmered.
Tired, I walked back to Martha's. I looked at everything twice, memorizing.
She was showering. I undressed and joined her.
"Well," she asked, "were you out conquering the world?"
"Sure," I said.
"I said it once, honey, and I'll say it again. Welcome to New York."
She went over the schedule. Fiore at ten. Marilyn at one. Then Marilyn and the American Museum of Modern Art or whatever Marilyn wanted. Then meet Martha at a deli we'd seen before, and then to Little Italy. She invited Ronnie to dinner with us, but Ronnie said she had an afterwork date.
At my workout, Fiore watched me for a while and seemed satisfied that I wasn't going to try to accomplish in one hour what had taken his students months or years to do. Inside, I was fighting the limits; I just didn't know how to do it, so I went through the movements and stretches Fiore prescribed. I still felt it wasn't enough.
I changed into a sport coat and tie at Martha's and she and I walked to a spacious, busy restaurant on Madison Avenue near the American Museum. We ordered tea to occupy us while we awaited Marilyn.
I tugged at my tie and tried to keep it from eating into my neck. "I feel like I'm a fifteen year old being taken by his parents to the prom."
Martha said, "Steven, you are fifteen."
"I know, I just...don't enjoy feeling like it."
"Enjoy it while you can, it only happens once."
"Thank god. Why am I doing this?"
"Because Marilyn wants to meet you. Let's not go through all that again. It's too late to back out. Anyway, here she comes."
Marilyn was slightly taller than I. She wore black, thick-framed glasses and had long brown hair past her shoulders and she was, as Martha said, cute. She looked younger than sixteen. She was high-waisted, a little thick in the legs, and was freckled and had a sweet, wide smile at all times. Her voice was rather husky, but soft, and she talked easily and slowly. Above all, she was almost irritatingly polite. At first it seemed like a pose, but as the lunch wore on I saw that she was so steadily proper and soft-spoken that it had to be genuine.
We had no problem making conversation. Marilyn wanted to know all about the South. When she heard that Christian Brothers High School had just built a new, multi-million-dollar theater and concert hall, the talk swerved into theater and the arts and stayed there for most of the day. Pleased that we weren't at each other's throats, Martha left after an hour and walked with us to the museum, where she left me with Marilyn for the rest of the afternoon.
"Meet me at the restaurant at seven," Martha told me. She gave Marilyn a little kiss and told her, "Don't let Steven get lost, now."
It was an eerie exercise in relating to someone who was pretty, friendly, bright, incurably sweet, and someone for whom I had no strong feelings at all. The interval between two-thirty and six-fifteen was the longest I'd spent in the company of a young woman whose presence left me vaguely lonely and horny for something else. But I learned; I learned to keep talking, and I learned how uneasy I felt with someone who endlessly asked about me. I found it difficult to get her to talk more about Marilyn. I wondered if it were my fault or hers.
Marilyn had no qualms about touching me, placing her hand on my arm to point something out to me, or grabbing my hand and leading me down a corridor to another exhibit, and at one point simply holding my hand casually and unselfconsciously for a few minutes as we sat together during a brief rest. And then, when we decided to take a walk in surrounding Central Park and sat on a bench talking, she touched my knee, apparently without noticing. If she was turned on by any of this, she revealed nothing. I tried touching her myself, on the hand or on the arm, with no reaction from her. I kept wanting something else, someone else. Being with her did little to make me stop thinking that Sunday was near.
She said she would take the subway home, and when I made remarks about it she said, "No, no, that's the way it's done here, unless you're going steady or something. But, oh, I do like that Southern politeness. It's refreshing, really. Listen, would you like to keep in touch? I think you're very interesting, and we have drama conventions up here, so if you ever attend one I could help show you around."
We exchanged addresses as I walked her to the subway at 86th and Lexington. She gave my hand a squeeze, blew me a little goodbye kiss and left with a sweet, polite little smile.
I decided to walk downtown to meet Martha at 57th Street. I thought: Not bad, really. Not bad at all. I knew of no one my age in Memphis who would have been as pleasant. And then I thought: I knew of no one in Memphis, period.
It was a few minutes after seven when I entered the restaurant on 57th Street. As my gaze swept the room I caught sight of two pairs of arms waving at me over the heads of the customers. Now, I wondered, who owned the other pair of hands? As I neared the corner, Martha and Ronnie stood at their table and grinned and yelled "Yaaay!" and applauded and waved.
"Good show," Martha said.
Ronnie yelled "Bravo! Bravo, Senior Stephano! Bravissimo!"
Amazingly, few people turned to look. I strode to the table calmly, holding up a cautioning hand and nodding casual thank-you's, and when they continued cheering I gave them the palms-down, finger-up footbal signal for time-out, saying, "Okay, okay, have a seat. I survived."
"Didja get laid?" Ronnie joked.
"Bravio, Senior Stephano."
"So," Martha asked, "How was it?"
I told her it was pleasant, very pleasant, and that we exchanged addresses and that Marilyn had me very confused with her touching.
"Yes," Martha said, "she does that. She's always touching your hand or arm. And she's sweet. Isn't she just nice to know, hon?"
"You're right. As usual."
Ronnie said, "Isn't it sickening? She's always right. Even when she's wrong."
Martha announced, "Ronnie was stood up."
I said, "What? Ronnie! I don't believe it! Who would stand you up?"
"Eh!" Ronnie said. "Ain't the first time."
"I don't believe it! Why would anyone stand *you* up? I mean, they just left you standing in the street or something?"
"No, I was waiting in my building." She fiddled with the straw in her iced tea and shrugged. "I pick 'em, don't I? Just as well, I wasn't so hot about it to begin with. I probably tried to fake enthusiasm and I tried too hard and they caught on, and...what the heck."
Martha said, "Ronnie, I told you, it's just a New York thing. It happens all the time, it just seems to happen more in this town."
I asked, appalled, "But why would they do something like that?"
Ronnie said flippantly, "They change their minds."
"They don't call you or anything?"
Ronnie shrugged. "Hey, if they change their minds and don't show up, they figure you know."
For a long moment I sat looking at Ronnie while she and Martha talked and made jokes about the situation. Finally I cleared my throat and asked as casually as I could, "Come out with me and Martha."
Ronnie waved me away. "Ah, c'mon, you two have plans."
"No," I said. "Come on. I'm buying anyway. Let me take you to dinner."
Martha's eyes widened in surprise, and she looked at Ronnie and then at me. "Steven!" she breathed in mock dismay. "Are you asking Ronnie for a date? Oh, Ronnie, this is a first!"
Ronnie batted her eyelashes at me. "Li'l ol' me, y'aaaall? Did I do that right?"
I said, "No, but you can come along anyway."
Martha watched, smirking while I talked Ronnie into it. As we rose to leave for Little Italy, Martha whispered to me, "Good going, cowboy. The afternoon with Marilyn must have taught you something. I'm glad."
"At last she's pleased," I mumbled, raising my eyes to heaven, and Martha elbowed my ribs.
We visited three restaurants in Little Italy. Again, it was another amazing New York adventure for me. In my excitement I ordered everything in sight, until Martha and Ronnie warned me that the prices were moderate, but not cheap, and the servings were large. Laughing and joking, we sampled each other's plates and sang an Italian song when a violinist came to our table in the Grotto Azura.
"Honey," Ronnie said on the street later, "I love you for this. My date would never have been this nice to me. C'mon, Martha, I'll take him to Ferrara's and really fatten him up."
Martha said, "Careful, Ron, Steven's a sucker for the goodies in Ferrara's."
"Lead the way," I told Ronnie.
In Ferrara's Bakery, Ronnie bought me a canole and a baba-a-rum that had my mouth watering and my tummy bloated. The only thing preventing me from ordering second rounds was the utter impossibility of shoving more food into my stomach.
"Take you a week to work this off," Ronnie said, grinning at me with her cigarette held in the air.
"Oh, Ronnie," I breathed, wiping my mouth and downing the last of the canole, "this is just...I never tasted anything like this. Thank you for corrupting me and bringing me to this place."
"I don't get it," Ronnie said, "don't Italians in Memphis eat this stuff?"
Martha said, "Most of them never heard of it. Strictly barbeque and canned beans down there, Ronnie."
Ronnie winked at me. "It's good stuff, huh?"
"Decadent," I groaned, sighing with an overfull stomach.
Ronnie smiled as she crushed out her cigarette. "Yeah. It's a good feeling, isn't it? It's the only thing keeping me in New York. It's my dark side. My yin, or yang, or whatever. Now I'm gonna order one for myself."
Martha warned, "The waistline, Ronnie. Remember?"
"To hell with it," Ronnie said, waving for a waiter. "I want."
Afterwards, we walked uptown through Greenwich Village, up Fifth Avenue to Union Square, then up Broadway to Times Square, then up Sixth Avenue into Rockefeller Center, then up 6th Avenue further into Central Park. By that time we were worn out. We sat on a bench near the lake at 59th Street, resting and calculating how many blocks there were between the park and their building.
"Should we take a taxi?" Martha asked.
"Nah," I growled, "let's walk."
Martha said, "You walk, hon. It's about twenty more blocks." She looked at Ronnie, who sat gazing into the moonlit pond before us and seemed sad and lost in thought. "What's on your twisted little mind, Ron?"
She sighed and looked into the lake. "Oh, I just...I don't know, Martha."
"Are you still worried about what happened tonight?" Martha asked. "C'mon, Ronnie, it's happned to all of us. Steven, too. And he took it pretty hard."
"No," Ronnie said, still gazing. "No, it's not that. It's just...I had a nice time, really. But you always keep thinking, y'know, why people do that. And how they manage to find me."
"Ronnie," Martha commanded gently, "Forget about it. Come on."
"Well, I was just wondering," Ronnie said. She leaned back and then looked down for a moment and said to the ground, "Steven, did you just do all this because you felt sorry for me?"
Martha said, "Ronnie, we had a nice time, didn't we?"
"That's not what I asked," Ronnie said. "It was very nice, Steven. Really. Even if you were just being nice and felt sorry for me. You did, didn't you?"
I said, "I did a little, sure. Because it was you. The main thing was, I just wanted you with us. You're nice. I wish I knew people in Memphis who are as nice as you." I did not find this easy to say, and I spoke nervously.
Ronnie looked at Martha skeptically. "Hey, Martha, is Steven the sweetest guy in the world, or is he the best bullshit artist in Memphis?"
Martha smiled. "Choice A, Ron. But don't tell him to his face, or he'll blush and disappear."
Ronnie laughed quietly, and smiled, and blushed. She picked a twig up off the ground near her shoes and picked at it and looked into the lake with a thoughtful smile. "Hey, uh...look, folks...You two wanna come over to my place?" She raised her eyebrows at me suggestively. "I'll show you my etchings."
We took a taxi to Ronnie's. On the way, my young mind was inundated with images of another night of unabashed eroticism. In Ronnie's apartment, Martha made tea while Ronnie showed me her design worktable and an airbrush setup in the corner of her living room. Ronnie told us to sit in a circle on the living room floor. For over an hour she laid before us one after another of her artwork and drawings. Though her place was neat, frames and tablets of pictures seemed to come from nowhere; she pulled them from under the sofa, from the closets, from behind bookshelves. Soon the floor was covered with her work.
"This isn't what I do at the office," she explained diffidently. "This is on my own. I've been doing these for years. Martha's the only person who's seen most of it. George destroyed a lot of them, but I did lot of them over again." Her art was either very darkly or very brightly colored, all of it meticulously detailed. "The darker ones are my dark side," she told me, showing several oil paintings of a fetus surrounded by black and crimson smoke which she had populated with the faces of strange and frightening animals. She had a large canvas that pictured what seemed to be thousands of palm-sized, bright, multi-colored flowers, each petal carefully rendered and detailed. The title of the picture was "Lust." She said, "This one's the most difficult for me to explain. I was just thinking that word, and spent weeks drawing the flowers."
She had a large tablet of pencil drawings that showed nude couples in various sexual positions. "I spent very little time on their bodies, but their faces are complete. You see, the man never quite enters the woman. They never quite kiss, either. It's always the moment before, because I didn't really know how the next moment felt. And only their faces have detail, because I wanted to picture them as people, not as bodies. The faces say that this is a woman, a person, and another person is about to enter her. Not a penis, a person."
Then she showed a series of small paintings of a young, dark-eyed, long-haired young girl in pastel dresses. The girl sat on a swing in a garden, cuddled a cat, stared sweetly at the viewer, or sewed a dolls' dress. In all the paintings the girl seemed serene, often happy, sometimes pensive, sometimes playful. "That's not me," she said. "That was a girl I used to know in Michigan. I always wanted to be her. I don't know if she was really as happy as I show her...but she seemed to be, when I knew her."
For a long time after showing the girl to us, Ronnie stared at the pictures silently. During this long moment, Martha looked at me cau- tiously and then said to Ronnie, "C'mon, Ronnie put those away. Let's see something else."
"No" Ronnie said absently. "Let me look at her. I haven't seen these in a while. I usually hide them from myself." She bent down to one of the pictures and ran her finger along the girl's face. "Isn't she pretty? I always wonder what it was like for her. I wonder what it would be like to feel like her, to have someone make me feel like her, make me smile peacefully the way she always did...Maybe someone would give me a phone call sometime. Or bring me a flower. Or just kiss me, without trying to invade me. Y'know, just a little kiss that says, 'Hi, Veronica. How are you, Veronica, I'm glad to just be here with you.'"
"Ronnie,' Martha began more strongly.
Martha said quietly, "All right. I'll put them away." She closed the drawing tablet, and Martha talked about something else for a moment while Ronnie put the tablet away, and then Ronnie sat with us on the floor and gazed at her hands in her lap. "It wasn't supposed to be much. I imagined a quiet night, you know? A little restaurant that's good but cheap, where you don't have to worry about what you look like or what everyone else is doing. And the guy would talk to me and he wouldn't use words he didn't mean, and I'd believe him..." Her voice fell to a whisper. "Oh, look at me. Look at big ol' Ronnie. Oh, I'm sorry, Steven, I--" She hung her head and cried silently. She put one hand over her eyes and sobbed, "It's just a date. Right? It's just a date. I don't even know the son of a bitch that well."
She rose quickly and ran into her bedroom.
"Damn," Martha said, rising to her feet, "I'm sorry, Steven, she's so unpredictable."
As Martha started for the bedroom I rose and held her by the arm. "Look, you go in there, you know her better than I do. I'll go out for a minute so you two can be alone."
Martha apologized again, but I said it was okay. I left, leaving the door unlocked so I could get back in. I walked to an all-night deli that I remembered seeing a few blocks away on East 86th. In small wooden baskets along the front of the store were some flowers. I stood looking at them for a moment, thinking: Too presumptuous? Too sappy? I decided to buy a single yellow rose, which the cashier wrapped in thin floral paper, and I walked back to Ronnie's place.