Day One: The Wedding
On the day of his wedding, Jonathan Rupert Stanford was up before the sun. It was a murky December morning; the fog had rolled in overnight, lit from within by streetlights and headlights and brake lights, so that the world was suffused with a dim, diffuse glow. Jon thought it beautiful, and appropriate for fifteen days before Christmas.
When he arrived at the office, only Dr. Polkiss was there, strapping on latex gloves in preparation for the day's horde of dental-hygenically-challenged patients. "Hello, Jeannette. How fares your morning?"
"Just fine, Dr. Polkiss, thanks for asking," said Jon. He was the secretary-slash-receptionist for Polkiss-Leyton Dentistry. When he'd been hired, Dr. Leyton had laughed and said that a man was no match for a woman's job, and Dr. Polkiss had complained about the lack of feminine nubility behind the front desk, but no one was saying anything anymore. Jon did his job well. He had a good head for numbers and administration, a knack for smiles and easy humor, and a calm but firm patience with the trouble customers. His only concession to his lack of estrogen was Dr. Polkiss's constant suggestion that his name ought to be Jeannette. "It's a bit early, though."
"Too early for him to be impugning your masculinity," said Peggy Swinton, the head nurse, as she arrived. "Not to mention the Christmas carols. They're everywhere. I swear, I had to flip through five or six stations before I could find anything else."
"It's that most wonderful time of year," Jon said.
"It's make-fun-of-Jon time of the year too, apparently. Don't you have any dignity?"
Jon shrugged. "Not especially, no. What good is dignity?"
"None, if you're a dentist," said Dr. Leyton, coming in the doorway. "You spend your days with your hands in someone's mouth, inhaling someone's halitosis. Tell me where's the dignity in that. Hello, Homes."
"Hello, Stephanie," said Dr. Polkiss.
"What's the client list for today?" asked Dr. Leyton, who insisted that people use her first name to keep her from feeling old. She had met Dr. Polkiss at dental college, where he was one of her professors. They'd hit it off well enough to start a practice together, but they could not be any different if they'd tried. Homer Polkiss was a greying, rattish man with kids in high school. Stephanie Leyton was a blonde bombshell with what seemed like a new boyfriend every week. How they got along was a mystery to Jon, but they managed, so what business was it of his?
"The usual," said Dr. Polkiss, paging through the clipboard printout Jon had provided last night. "Greta Steinem at seven, Marian Wahlburn at 7:30... Ooh, you'll like this, Otis Ostermeyer is in today."
"Oh, Lord, not that old grouch," said Peggy Swinton. "Seems to think we dip all our instruments in salmonella before we work on him."
"How is Caitlyn, Jon," Dr. Leyton asked.
"Oh, uh," said Jon. "She's fine. I think." Caitlyn Delaney was his girlfriend. The dentists had first met her three months ago, when they'd discovered just what a state their books were in. "I'm not a certified accountant," Cait had warned them, "I just majored in it in college," but they had insisted that they had every faith in her, and then gone on to (rather quietly) pay her half again the going rate. Since then Caitlyn had been their steadfast friend—not to mention faithful customer.
"You think?" said Dr. Leyton.
"Didn't I hear something about an anniversary yesterday?" said Dr. Polkiss.
"Something didn't happen, did it?" said Dr. Leyton.
"No, no, nothing like that," said Jon, "it's just... She got in trouble. Again. And her mom wouldn't let us celebrate." Seventeen months was a pretty significant milestone, though not as big as the celebration next month; regardless, that hadn't stopped Mrs. Delaney from declaring a firm No to their faces.
"She's, what. Twenty-one, right?"
"Yeah," said Jon. "In—" He calculated automatically. "—thirty-five days."
"And her parents still don't let her make decisions about who she spends her time with?" said Dr. Leyton.
Three weeks ago, Jon had asked Caitlyn to marry him. It had taken a couple weeks of planning and a fair chunk of money for the ring, but he had done it—and she had said yes. But she didn't wear the ring around the house. If her mother saw it, they knew, Caitlyn would be dead—possibly literally.
"Man," Dr. Leyton was saying. "I just don't get some parents. You guys have been together for—what did you say, eighteen months?—eighteen months, but her mother still won't..."
"You can ask her on Friday when she comes in for her check-up," said Jon. Mrs. Delaney had not approved of her daughter making friends with dentists when she heard the story. That didn't stop her from taking advantage of the discount Dr. Polkiss had offered to the Delaney family.
"Yeah right," said Dr. Leyton. "That lady has problems listening to people. Whenever you disagree with her, you're wrong. You can have the best arguments in the world, but she doesn't hear anything except the No."
In truth, they hadn't yet told anyone about the engagement, with two exceptions: Nathan, Cait's geographically-removed brother, and Jon's best friend Bethany, who had been instrumental in planning, staging and making sure the whole thing went off smoothly. Jon's parents, whom he lived with, knew he'd been planning it, but not that it had happened, and Caitlyn's parents were clueless.
"What she needs is to get out of that house," Dr. Leyton said.
"Yeah, no kidding," said Jon. "That's what her brother and I have been telling her for ages."
In some ways it was a whole new world, being engaged to Caitlyn Delaney. In others, nothing had changed. They had been laying plans for over a year—not only for the engagement and the wedding, but for how, exactly, to break it to Mrs. Delaney in a way that would not result in Caitlyn being locked in her room for the rest of her life. Jon judged their existing plan as having perhaps a 40% likelihood of success.
"Why doesn't she?" Dr. Leyton asked. "Jon, you're making money. You two could move in together."
Could, but, wouldn't. Caitlyn was a practicing Christian, and believed in the dicta against premarital cohabitation. Jon didn't pay it much mind; as far as he was concerned, they would be married sooner or later, and once that happened, all those not-before-marriage things would cease to be relevant. And he liked the strength of her faith. But he didn't talk much about her religious views, knowing the sort of nervous carefulness that religious people faced in this day and age. And laws of Jesus aside, it was clearly a bad idea for her to stay in that house any longer than necessary.
"We could, but, Caitlyn doesn't have the money. Her parents are paying for her education—they say it's her job. As long as she lives at home until she completes her Master's degree, they pay her room, board and tuition. Once she leaves, that's out."
"How expensive is Shellview State," Dr. Leyton asked.
"About $7500 a semester," said Dr. Polkiss, whose children were getting to be that age.
"Didn't you say she makes a lot of money playing harp?" Dr. Leyton asked. "What, like, $250 a gig? That's not bad for two hours' work."
That was the advantage of being one of the very few harpists available to this entire corner of the state. "Yeah, but, it's more like four or five hours, counting the practicing," said Jon.
"So?" said Dr. Leyton. "That's $50 an hour. Jon, you're making $18 an hour here (overtime factored in), and while you deserve every bit of it, that's damned competitive pay considering what you do."
"He's making what?" said Peggy Swinton. She turned to Dr. Polkiss. "I demand a raise."
"Sure, I'll take it out of Stephanie's salary," said Dr. Polkiss.
"$50 an hour, sure, but that's still not enough," said Jon. They'd been over this before. "Look. Let's just say, for the sake of the argument, that Cait's living expenses—food, gas, rent, everything but school—are $1,500 a month. She'd have to play six weddings a month to do that. Then school: $15,000 a year. That's, uh..."
"Sixty," said Peggy Swinton, who was good at math.
"Thanks. Sixty weddings a year, or five a month, for a grand total of eleven a month—fifty-five hours—just to break even. That's a part-time job, in addition to full-time schoolwork and her part-time job practicing harp and oboe. Where would she sleep in all this?"
"At your apartment," said Dr. Leyton. "Jon, $18 an hour is $36,000 a year—before tax, sure, but that's still a considerable sum. If you two pool your resources, I'm sure you can make things work."
And that got right around back to the original problem. "I guess."
"We've been over this," said Dr. Leyton. "Show her the numbers. She's an accountant. She'll respect numbers."
For all the interviews and careful screening he had gone through, Jon's job didn't amount to much. It was a long shift (7 to 4:30) involving a certain amount of bookkeeping, both financial and calendar, and every now and then he had to go head-to-head with insurance companies over coverage, but most of the time his job was to smile, ask the client's name, and tell them that one of the two doctors would be right with them. When nothing else was happening, which was most of the time, he was left to his own devices. He had long gotten over the incongruity of using an office computer for personal projects. Today he was tinkering with a singing arrangement of the jazz standard Take Five, for use in a small eight-person a cappella ensemble he was part of. It made a good conversation piece when clients asked after the beeps and honks coming out of the computer.
Caitlyn's Away Message was a single troubling sentence: I can't take this anymore. He'd seen her on Sunday, but they'd been tied up with music matters and hadn't had much chance to talk. After a quick lunch, he'd dropped her back at the church so she help her harp teacher, Mrs. Sellitz, play at (what else) a wedding; then had come the request for a dinner together, and the frustration and disappointment on Caitlyn's face when her mother said No. After that, they'd had about five minutes to chat over the Internet before Cait was dragged off for a "family discussion." The long and the short of it was, he didn't know how she was doing, or why she felt the way she did, or what she couldn't take anymore. And on Mondays, she wasn't back from school until 3:30 or so.
So he was surprised when his cellphone lit up just after noon, in the distinctive ring tone (Flower Duet) he had assigned for the love of his life. There were people in the waiting room, but no one begging his attention, and Drs. Polkiss and Leyton were fairly lax about things. He picked up.
"Nothing. I just... Wanted to hear your voice."
"Is everything okay?"
"Umm, it's... It's mostly..."
"What did your parents say last night?"
"Oh, just... A lot of stuff that... Look, let's talk about something else, okay?"
"All right... How was the wedding yesterday?"
"It was good. I messed up on the Pachelbel, though."
"Wow, that's not good."
"I mean, it's not like you haven't played it four billion times."
"You should've seen the bride's dress, though. It was so cool! It had, like, bands of lilac cloth sewn all around it, and the bride had these blue flowers... It didn't quite match the color of the sanctuary, though."
"Yeah, with all those dark reds and browns in there. Sounds like they should've done it in the chapel."
"I think they were planning to, but then they invited too many people."
"Every now and then I notice that there's something on my ring finger that I'm not used to. Then I remember." He could hear the smile in her voice.
"That's what it's there for," he said. She had loved the engagement ring, a smoke-grey diamond flanked by two tiny sapphires. He was glad, because the damn thing had cost several paychecks. He also had a hunch that she would've loved it even if it was an onion ring.
"It's weird, because— Well, you know how many rings I normally wear."
Rings were the only jewelry she was permitted. To hear her mother talk of it, piercings were a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. "Class ring, claddagh ring, and then the one your grandma gave you."
"Yeah. Why should one more make a difference?"
"Well, it's not just any ring."
"I don't mean to—"
"But you're at work, yeah, I know." Suddenly she sounded unhappy again.
"Baby, are you gonna be all right?"
The longest silence yet.
"...I think so. If I can just get through this day..."
"I'm rootin' for ya."
"I love you."
That surprised him: normally he said it first. "I love you too, baby."
While it was good to hear her voice, ultimately it only made him more worried. She didn't sound very happy. And this was Caitlyn, who had stiff-upper-lip down to a science. If she was audibly upset...
Of course, Jon was the only person with whom she could drop the stiff-upper-lip science. Maybe it meant nothing.
He had met her at college, in their undergraduate programs. Neither of them had degrees in music, but both of them were around the department enough to run into each other on a regular basis. At first he hadn't given her much thought; she was the harp player, short and slender, dark hair and eyes over pale flawless skin. She was pretty, yes, but by no means a stand-out beauty, and there were other girls, other women Jon was concerned with at the time. He was a senior before they finally connected, over a shared passion for epic fantasy, but even then there wasn't really a friendship to speak of, just common interest.
Caitlyn was not a forthcoming person. She had learned the language of betrayal early—if you give people an opening, they will use it to hurt you. Eight years of home-schooling, combined with entry into college two years early, placed her in an environment where she felt young, incapable, and vulnerable. So she insulated herself, becoming untouchable. Jon was one of the first friends, of any sort, she had ever had, and when life became too much of a burden to bear alone, she took a calculated risk and began to tell him about it.
It was a risk neither of them had had any cause to regret.
Parental rebellion was the foundation of their friendship. Jon recognized instantly the portrait she painted: an over-controlling mother, a silent father who kept his own counsel, a brother who had gotten out, a sister who hadn't. Jon, like Caitlyn's brother Nathan, had managed to keep some marginal control over his life, drawing lines around the parts of himself that his parents were simply not allowed to influence. Caitlyn had not been so lucky. Things were exacerbated when Nathan left home in spectacular fashion, organizing a move to Idaho (where his girlfriend was) without parental supervision or even knowledge, and then forcing his parents to essentially disown him. He was now that wretched symbol of all that could possibly go wrong in a child, and it was Mrs. Delaney's sternest edict that Caitlyn become nothing like him. Nobody had yet told her how it was already too late.
They weren't sure what drove Mrs. Delaney; they had been working on a theory almost two years now. There clearly was some internal logic to her actions, but they weren't sure what it was. The first pattern was so obvious that even Dr. Leyton, a dentist by trade, had noticed it: Mrs. Delaney could not stand to be contradicted. Should anyone have an opposing opinion—about anything—they were immediately wrong, regardless of what that opinion actually was. But that didn't explain her insatiable need for control, her use of brute force, her need to be the center of everyone's life. Her philosophy seemed to be, If at first you don't succeed, get a bigger hammer. Which was all well and good, Jon supposed, but, did she really want to use a hammer on her daughter?
All that Jon really knew was what Nathan and Dr. Leyton and Jon himself had said over and over: Caitlyn needed to get out of there. Barring that, Mrs. Delaney needed a stern talking-to. This, of course, was far easier said than done; Mrs. Delaney was perfectly capable of ignoring all the advice in the world and pursuing her own course. So Jon and Caitlyn had spent the better part of a year marshaling their forces, gathering enough people that Mrs. Delaney would have to ignore all the advice in the world. So far they had enlisted Jon's parents, Mrs. Delaney's parents, the pastor from their church, Nathan, Caitlyn's harp and oboe teachers... All people Mrs. Delaney respected, in one way or another. Even Dr. Polkiss and Dr. Leyton had volunteered to step in.
The engagement was the next step in the plan. The final step would be to announce their impending nuptials, issuing it as an ultimatum. "Your son is gone," they would say. "Now you have a choice of whether to lose or keep your daughter. If you keep trying to hammer her into the niche you think she belongs in, the way you did your son, she'll leave forever, the way your son did. If you let her go voluntarily, on the other hand, maybe she'll come back voluntarily." Then their allies would have their say, underscoring the message. With luck, they would manage to beat through the layer of stubbornness and make some sort of impact. With luck. Jon had a hunch that Mrs. Delaney didn't even realize what she was doing.
"I can't believe we're talking about this," Caitlyn had said. "It's like... We're declaring war on my mother."
In Jon's opinion, her mother had declared war on her a very long time ago. But all he said was, "It is bad. But, baby, if I had to choose between her happiness and yours, I know what I'd pick." As far as he was concerned, the only thing Caitlyn was doing was starting to defend herself.
But there was nothing he could do about that now. He was at work, and Caitlyn was at school, and he needed to concentrate on the things he could affect now—like his job.
It wasn't until 3:26 that the hammer fell, but what a hammer it was. Jon's pocket buzzed again, and he frowned at the number. It wasn't saved, along with its owner's name, into his phonebook, which meant this was someone who had no business calling him. He didn't even recognize the area code. "Hello?"
"Hey, is this Jonathan?"
"This is Nathan Delaney? Caitlyn's brother."
"Oh!" said Jon. Nathan had graduated two years before him, and they'd been casual friends before he moved to Idaho; things had picked up again (over the Internet) once Caitlyn had come into his life. But Jon always felt a little bit self-conscious in conversing with him, whether over phone or Internet; it was hard to bond with a guy when you were dating his sister. "Hi, Nathan. What can I do for you?"
"We've got a situation. Mom saw."
Shit, though Jon. Shit shit shit. "And there wasn't any way for Caitlyn to squirm out of it."
"Not with Mom breathing down her neck. She phoned me up immediately to see if I knew. Once I told her, she went off. Just raving for ages. I, ah—" A sliver of a laugh. "—I put down the phone to go get a Coke. When I came back, she was still going."
"That's funny," said Jon, not laughing.
"Yeah," said Nathan, not laughing either.
"So... I guess we're screwed, then."
"No, man, that's why I called. You need to go, right now."
"Go where? Why?"
"You need to get Caitlyn out of there."
Jon said nothing.
"Think about it. This is the perfect opportunity. Mom's off-kilter, she doesn't know what to think or react or anything. I mean, yeah, she's pissed off, she doesn't think her baby girl should be dating anyone, much less you, much less engaged to anyone, much less engaged to you. But you know women: talk about love and they get stars in their eyes. There's a part of her that's really pleased. She's trying to ignore it, but I bet she can't. And what's she gonna do to Caity once she makes up her mind? Do you wanna leave your fiancée to experience that?"
Of course Jon didn't. He said nothing.
"She's in disarray. You'll never have a better chance. Go, now, while you still have time."
Jon crossed a hand over his face. "This is gonna be ugly."
"Yeah, I know. You've got my number, call me if you need help. Like, if you need to sneak in or something."
For a moment Jon imagined himself all in black, sliding in through back doors. It really is a war, isn't it. "All right."
"And I'm gonna call Dad, see what I can do from that angle. He might be able to hold Mom back a bit. ...Or maybe he'll just bend over and take it up the ass the way he always does. But it's worth a try."
"Good luck, man."
Jon hung up, thinking, I'm gonna need it.
He went down the hall in a daze, trying to find Dr. Polkiss. He took a wrong turn and ended up in the bathroom. Jeez, I haven't done that since my second day here. What's wrong with me? Besides my fiancée being in the belly of the beast, that is.
"Dr. Polkiss, I may need to request the rest of the day off."
Dr. Polkiss, whose hands were halfway into Glenda Dickson's mouth, said, "Why, what's happened?"
"Uh. Something's come up with Caitlyn, sir."
"With Caitlyn?" said Dr. Polkiss.
"Caitlyn?" said Dr. Leyton from the next room over. Like Dr. Polkiss, she was clad in surgical scrubs and had a cloth mask across his mouth, which muffled her words. "What about Caitlyn?"
"Well, umm." Jon scrubbed through his hair with a hand. "Her mother found something out about us."
Dr. Leyton stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind her. "What, is she pregnant?"
Jon blinked. "She's not pregnant."
"Well, she might be, if you're having sex."
"We're not having sex," Jon protested.
"No. Who told you that?"
"Well, no one, I just, I just assumed that, since you've been going for a year and a half—"
"Stephanie, what you do with your boyfriends isn't necessarily what Caitlyn does with hers," said Dr. Polkiss calmly. "What did Linda Delaney find out, Jon?"
Jon reddened. "That, um. That we're engaged."
Dr. Polkiss looked at him. Dr. Leyton stared at him.
"And you didn't tell us!" she burst out.
"We haven't told anybody," Jon protested. "We were trying to control how the information got out. Instead of Mrs. Delaney finding out and blowing her stack."
"And what did Linda do," asked Dr. Polkiss.
"Blew her stack," said Jon.
"And you need to go over there for a little damage control," said Dr. Polkiss.
Either that, or create an insuperable rift between mother and daughter, Jon thought. He said, "Basically, yes."
"Clock out," said Dr. Leyton immediately. "No, don't clock out, it takes too much time. We'll handle it for you. Peggy can cover the receptionist spot. We're only open for an hour anyway."
"It sounds like your fiancée needs you more than we do," said Dr. Polkiss.
Jon nodded and began to run.
"Oh, and, Jon?" Dr. Polkiss called.
Dr. Polkiss grinned. "Congratulations."
He felt blood pounding in his ears as he drove, as fast as he dared considering the speed limit. It was war, really. Mrs. Delaney had proved that time and again. Whenever Caitlyn offered anything that could be construed as an infraction, her mother would respond with crushing force. The best example Jon could think of was when Caitlyn was grounded for putting the bathroom counter into some semblance of order. In the aftermath, Mrs. Delaney had been unable to find something she needed, and then there was miscommunication as to the coordinates of drawers and their contents. Caitlyn was promptly busted for not only cleaning up the counter and thus confounding her mother's ability to locate needed cosmetics, but for not rushing down to help once the item was missed.
Dr. Polkiss's only comment had been, "If my kids cleaned up the bathroom, I'd pay them."
The Delaney house was quiet in the chill December afternoon, belying the raging conflict that must be going on inside. Or maybe this was merely the calm before the storm. Jon's breath frosted on the thin air.
He hadn't been sure how he was going to approach, but the front door opened before he was even halfway up the drive. "Well," said Mrs. Delaney. "The man of the hour."
"Why, thank you," said Jon, "I didn't know you liked me so well."
"I suppose you expect to be congratulated," said Mrs. Delaney. Her hair had gone white long before he had met her, but she was still young and vigorous, and from teaching second-graders could shout anybody down. "Well, I can tell you right now, young man, I will not stand by and let anyone harm my daughter."
"Good, then we're on the same side," said Jon. "I want what's best for Caitlyn, ma'am, same as you."
"What kind words," said Mrs. Delaney with withering sarcasm. "But your actions give them the lie. How did you convince her?"
"How did I convince what, ma'am?"
"Ummm... I asked her," said Jon.
"Mr. Stanford, we are not having this conversation if you will not be truthful to me. We have physical evidence that you have blackmailed her into accepting your proposal of marriage. It's right there on her finger. So, tell me the truth or I will call the police and have you brought up on charges. What did you threaten her with? What have you forced her to do?"
"What has who forced me to do," came Caitlyn's voice from behind her.
Mrs. Delaney turned. "You are supposed to be in your room."
"Clearly, I'm not," said Caitlyn. "So, what's this thing he supposedly got me to do?"
"Agree to marry him," said Mrs. Delaney in thunderous tones.
Caitlyn shrugged. "He asked me. And I said yes."
"You know what happens when you lie to me, young lady."
"I do it all the time, to shut you up." She took two long steps and was out the door, joining Jon on the front porch. His hand sought hers almost by instinct.
"Caitlyn Claire Delaney, you get back inside this instant!" said Mrs. Delaney.
"No," said Caitlyn. Her face was haggard, but evidently weariness was giving her strength, because she was saying things she had never dared say before. "I like it out here. Jon's out here."
"You are in such trouble, young lady," said Mrs. Delaney. "Wait until your father comes home."
"No," said Caitlyn, "I don't think I will." She turned to him. "Jon, can we leave?"
Flustered, Jon said, "Uhh— If my lady so desires."
Linda Delaney's face was thunderous. "If you leave this house, young lady, don't ever expect to get back in."
Jon was thinking about Nathan's offer to help them sneak in, and how ineffective that statement might be as a threat. But Caitlyn turned back with real venom in her voice and said, "What makes you think I'd ever want to come back, Mother?"
Mrs. Delaney went very white.
"Do you remember when you asked me about my last argument with Jon, and I wouldn't answer you? Well, it was three weeks ago, when he was helping me get books at the library for my research paper. He refused to let me carry any, because he's a man. I refused to let him carry any, because it's my research project. So the librarian told us to shut up and each take half. That was our last argument. She also told us that if that was the worst thing we could think of to argue about, we would probably have many happy years together.
"So, we're going to go now, to have many happy years together. Good-bye."
They got in the car in silence, with Mrs. Delaney standing in the doorway seemingly stuck between a glower and a shocked stare. Halfway through, though, her face abruptly firmed and she slammed the door. Jon didn't know if she actually intended to follow through on her police threat, so he hightailed it out of there as fast as he deemed safe. The last thing they needed was the police chasing his license plate numbers.
They made good time towards the freeway, but when Caitlyn said, "Jon," he turned at the choking sound of her voice and saw the tears on her face. Then it was a gas station and flaring neon lights, and the roar of cars and gas fumes combined with coalescent breath, and he held her and stroked her hair as she cried on his shoulder.
She had always been just short enough for her head to fit under his chin. Her fine dark hair tickled his skin. Her body was light in his arms, so soft, almost insubstantial, so fragile—but reassuringly solid, and always warm, even in the coldest weather. Caitlyn. His woman. His to protect.
"It's okay," he murmured. "Cait, it's okay. You're free. You're free. You don't ever have to go back there if you don't want to. You're free."
"No I'm not," she said. "All my clothes are there, and my harp. I don't have anything. We have to go back to get those, at least."
"Maybe, but not for a couple days, at least. And you have your keys, you can do it when your mom's not home."
"I don't have my keys. I don't have anything. I just walked out that door with the shoes on my feet and the clothes on my back. I don't have anything."
"That's okay, you can borrow some of mine."
"What, am I staying with you?"
"Where else would you stay?"
"Jon, you know how I feel about that."
"Yes, I do. And I wouldn't if the situation wasn't dire. But it is, sweetie. And it's not like I have any other places I can magically store you."
"Besides, even Jesus might make an exception for this situation. Sure, you're not supposed to live with a man before you marry him, but not doing so would be stupid. Besides, you're supposed to obey your parents, and in this case that would really be stupid."
"So, what. Jesus would break his own rules?"
"If obeying them would get you into trouble, yes. Loving people isn't the same as letting them hurt you. In fact, if anything, you'd keep them from hurting you, and tainting their soul with sin, if you loved them."
"When did you get to be such a theologian?"
"Ever since you made me start reading the Bible." He hadn't been keen on that, but she'd offered to come and help walk him through it, and who was going to say no to a chance to spend more time with his girlfriend?
"Oh, so it's my fault."
"Of course it is. Everything good in my life is your fault."
"I don't think we did anything good back there."
He sighed. "No. We broke you out of there, yeah, but in the exact way we promised we'd never try, unless worst came to worst. But, sweetie... I don't think it's really about what's good anymore. It's just about what's best."
She said nothing.
"So, come on. Let's get some gas, and then we'll head" (home) "to my house to figure out what we're gonna do."
She looked up, surprised. "We're getting gas?"
"We've been here for ten minutes, we'd better get gas."
"And then what?"
"Then? Then I am going to hold you for about a week."
So they did. He had to re-orient the car (he'd parked with the pump on the passenger side, for privacy, but the fuel port was on the driver's side), and as they drove home, Caitlyn explained the "family discussion" and her Away message. "It was just a lot of rhetoric. Mom listing all your bad points, trying to make you look bad. Threatening me with the consequences of being too rebellious. It was just a lot of crap, but... It was hard to deal with, after being forbidden to see you. And then this morning I got in trouble again, for the stupidest reason—I told Rex to go say hello to Mom instead of jumping on my bed, and then while he was in there, he sneezed all over the floor. Which was obviously my fault. So she was already threatening not to let me see you on Friday, and I'd only been awake for five minutes. You can see why I wasn't happy."
"How did she find out? —Well, I mean, obviously you were wearing it."
"Yeah. I wanted to see if she wouldn't notice it among all the other rings."
"Guess that worked out."
"Yeah. I didn't think she paid that much attention." She sighed. "I guess I was wrong."
Jon's mother was surprised to see Jon home early, and even more surprised to see Caitlyn with him—but she played the gracious hostess nonetheless. "I don't know how much in the way of lodging we can offer. I will need to consult with Mr. Stanford, and see what he thinks. But Caitlyn, you are always welcome to visit here. Make yourselves at home."
And after they had thanked her and trooped upstairs, Jon made good on his promise to hold her for a week. Caitlyn was listless, clearly still worried about their answerless dilemma, but she accepted his touch readily enough, and it made him feel good. When he held her, he felt... Whole. There was no other word for it. I don't know about this whole thing in Scripture about how a woman leaves her family and becomes one flesh with her husband, but it seems to me that Caitlyn and I have been one flesh for a very long time.
By the time Jon's parents had invited them down to dinner, they had their verdict. "Jon, as you know, we have tried to raise you in Christian values. I don't know how many of them have taken hold, but this one we feel is necessary to enforce. Caitlyn, in light of your situation, we are willing to let you stay the night, but we do not feel that we can host you for any significant length of time."
"As Jon's girlfriend," his mother interjected, "you're very nearly one of the family, but not quite."
"We also wanted you to know," Mr. Stanford continued, "that if there is anything we can do to help you, within the outlines we have just described, you need only say the word. As an architect, I know my way around housing in the Shellview area, and Marjorie has a lot of experience fighting bureaucrats. You are very nearly family—if not to us, then certainly to Jon—and your fights are our fights."
Jon grinned: those were exactly the words he used when trying to convince Cait of that very same fact.
Caitlyn beamed too. "So that's where he gets it."
Jon's mother smirked. "Oh, has he finally gotten it, then?"
After they had eaten, they repaired up to Jon's computer to get in touch with Nathan. dad went straight home and tried to calm things down, he wrote, but i dont know if he succeeded. u should prolly lay low for a little while, until it dies down.
"Ask him if he has any housing ideas," Jon said.LightningSpeed: the problem is, i loost trak of all my school friends when i moved. or else id hook u up with them
MerannaFallon: Jon says I should just stay with him for a while, but I don't think that's a good idea.
LightningSpeed: ya, scripture n all that
MerannaFallon: Well, look who's talking, Mr. Living In Sin With An Unmarried Woman. =P
"What?!" said Caitlyn.
"What?!" said Jon.MerannaFallon: What?!
LightningSpeed: dint i tell u?
MerannaFallon: You did NOT, as you darn well know!
LightningSpeed: since june
"Sheesh, it seems like everyone we know," Jon said. "Zach and Christa over the summer, Brandon and Meredith the summer before that... Hell, Laurelyn must be almost two now."
"No, she's almost one," said Caitlyn. "She was born three months after the Chamberses married, remember?"
"And the scary thing is, they're younger than us," said Jon. "Well. Brandon isn't younger than you, but Meredith is."
"Yeah. That's kind of a weird thought, too, because it's not like we're that old," said Caitlyn.
They exchanged long looks.
"It's a crazy idea," Caitlyn said immediately.
"Yeah, but the writing's on the wall," Jon said. "Just look at what we've been hearing."
"There's writing on the wall, all right, but what language is it in?" Caitlyn said.
"It'd solve all our problems."
"But is that why we want to get married? Just to solve problems?"
"Baby, we've been planning to get married since our second month together. All we've been waiting for is the right time."
"I still don't think it's a good idea."
"I don't think it's a good idea either. It's not a good idea. But it's the best idea."
She was silent.
"Caitlyn," he said. "What do you want? If you put all your doubts aside and just listen to your heart. Doubts are the work of the mind. The mind's job is to second-guess itself. The heart's job is to know what it wants. What do you want?"
She gave a long, styptic blink.
"Let's do it," she said.
Jon's sister Melinda drove them to the mall on a breakneck mission to obtain wedding bands and a gown for Caitlyn. The prospective bride and groom could not drive themselves, because they were on their cellphones, calling up all and sundry and announcing the shortest engagement on record. Some of the people they would have liked to invite were out of town (Nathan was out of state!), and others were busy, but a pretty good number said they would be able to attend. Gifts were not necessary, Jon and Caitlyn assured them, nor was special dress; a more formal and elaborate ceremony was in the works, tentatively set for early March. All that was required was the company. Jon tried to pun that they wanted presence, not presents, but there was a phone in the way and no one got it.
The wedding bands—simple and elegant silver—were fairly easy to obtain, but at the bridal shop Melinda shooed him away. "The groom isn't supposed to see the bride in her dress before the ceremony. Jeez. I'm bi and even I know that."
"You're a girl. Of course you know that."
"I am indeed. Now go away and let us girls attend to our girlish things."
Jon shuffled his feet, feeling very exposed standing outside the bridal store. He didn't understand why that should be so; it wasn't like he was buying condoms or something. ...Or was he? A man didn't stand outside a bridal store unless someone he knew was inside it. That was pretty incriminating, on the whole. But the only nearby store with any interest to him was a toy store.
As usual, some of the kids gave him weird looks when he came in—he was, after all, nearly six feet and fairly broad of shoulder. Normally it didn't bother him. But today, the kids caught his attention. It was late on a Monday morning, but still, here they were, harried parents in tow. He remembered what his mother had said about parents who were too busy to raise their kids, who tried to buy love with toys instead of actions.
Is this my future, he wondered. Who will I be the next time I stand in a toy store? Will Caitlyn be with me? Or will she be shuffling her feet outside, yelling at me to hurry up? Or maybe it won't be her at all holding my hand, but someone else, someone new—some little creation made out of our love and out of our bodies. What does my future hold, now that I'm standing here, staring at the action figures holding a bag containing two little rings in their boxes?
He shook himself out, like a dog shedding water. Cut it out. It's just G.I. Joe. He doesn't have the secrets of the universe. And if he does, I'm worried.
Melinda dropped Caitlyn off at the church and then trundled Jon back to their parents' house, where he had cleverly forgotten his tuxedo at. Caitlyn chattered the whole way about her dress: "It's so cool, it's got these blue beads and this shawl, and the train detaches and turns into a skirt, so you can turn it around from formal into something more casual, and I can wear it at the reception!" Jon had no sense of fashion whatsoever, but Caitlyn did, and he trusted her vision.
When he returned for the final time, as dressed and pressed as he could make himself in half an hour, most everyone was already there: his parents, and Beth and Rod and Samantha from the singing group, and Rev. Larry Pendleton and his wife Amber, and Mrs. Sellitz the harp teacher and Mrs. Klein the oboe teacher, and Dr. Polkiss and Dr. Leyton and Nurse Swinton, and Jon's oldest friend Adam and Adam's mom Mrs. Raines and Adam's new boyfriend Thomas; and Mrs. Delaney's parents Mr. and Mrs. Cassidy, and her uncle Max and his sons Lawrence and Heath, and some of Caitlyn's home-schooling friends that he had only met once or twice. But the Delaneys were not there. Jon and Caitlyn had debated for a long time as to whether to extend an invitation to them; ultimately Cait had called her father, but he had never answered. Jon wasn't sure whether that should please him or not.
They had music; Amber Pendleton could play the organ, moving deftly for so large a person. She played the processional as the small and rather mismatched wedding party moved up the aisle. First was Adam Raines, the best man in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, followed by Bethany Rademacher as the only other groomsperson, and then by Jon's parents. Caitlyn had asked Mrs. Sellitz, in stout lilac (possibly the same dress she had worn yesterday) to be the maid of honor; she was preceded by Kara Salzman, one of Caitlyn's home-school friends that Jon did not known. Finally came Jon, his heart pounding in his throat, and then Caitlyn herself, resplendent in contoured silk, being escorted by—of all people—her own father. Mr. Delaney was in the same suit and tie he wore every Sunday, but he wore it well, then as now.
Mr. Delaney gave him an unreadable glance as he left his daughter behind. And then it was just Caitlyn, wearing a pale sheath with, yes, a periwinkle-blue shawl and faint blue beading around the bodice. She was not wearing a veil, so he had a clear look at her face: radiant, beaming, happier than he had seen her in a long time. He could only suppose at the shell-shocked expression that must be on his face.
I can't believe we're doing this. This is crazy. We had the idea two hours ago, and now here we are, at an altar, with Reverend Pendleton standing over us. I can't believe we're doing this just for convenience. Are we making a mistake? We've been planning and hoping and praying for this moment for almost as long as we've been dating, and now we're about to throw everything out the window and take the plunge, just so we can... Live together? Is this a bad idea? Are we about to make the biggest mistake of our lives?
Answer your own question, Jon. The mind doubts; the heart knows. What does your heart tell you? What does it say? Does it say something about how you wanted to marry her by your second month of courtship? About how you never feel whole but that she's there with you? Any of that?
And isn't that your answer?
Lawrence Pendleton said, "We are gathered here together..."
Afterwards it seemed an interminable period of time. ("I, Jonathan...") He thought the service would never end, but at the blink of an eye, it was gone. But it was a short ceremony, to be certain. ("...Take thee, Caitlyn Claire Delaney...") He knew that most weddings involved a deal more pomp and circumstance, often with speeches by friends or musical accompaniment that he had often felt was extraneous. ("...To be my lawfully wedded wife...") Theirs, of course, lacked any such diversions, having been slapped together in two hours. They hadn't even had time to write their own vows. ("...For better or for worse...") Caitlyn had been pushing to keep the old vows, though, and now, as he said the words, he thought he understood why. ("...Richer or poorer...") There was something terribly binding about them, but in a way he thought was actually appropriate. ("In sickness and in health...") After all, wasn't this the woman he wanted to be bound to, for the rest of his life?
"...As long as we both shall live."
"I now pronounce you husband and wife."
Then there was cheering and clapping and some catcalls and the official smooch, and Mrs. Raines poured the champagne, and the guests threw rice from a box of Rice-A-Roni that Melinda had brought from home. There wasn't much in the way of celebration, but evidently Rod and Beth had also been slapping things together in two hours, and Octapella sang for them, though momentarily short one member. Jon's parents presented him with the keys to the old Toyota Celica he had been driving for years, and Polkiss-Leyton Dentistry slipped him a check, which was simultaneously crass and very thoughtful. This check turned out to be for five thousand dollars, which Jon would spend much of a fruitless month attempting to decline.
Mr. Delaney drew him aside for a moment. Jon was expecting the worst, but the whole conversation was fairly anti-climactic. All he said was, "I don't approve, but Caitlyn is old enough to make her own decisions."
"Yes sir," said Jon. There didn't seem to be any other response.
"My wife told me what you said on the front doorstep," said Mr. Delaney. He was a rather large man, several inches taller than Jon himself, and had gone mostly to seed as the years passed, but he knew how to hold his silence. "About how we are all on the same side, because we want what's best for Caitlyn. I hope you live up to those words."
"So do I," said Jon. It was the only honest response he could make.
Mr. Delaney offered his hands. "Congratulations, Jonathan."
After that, there was paperwork—mostly the marriage certificate, but some other tax forms that the rather tired-looking court worker suggested they fill out. Jon hadn't realized that there was so much legal gobbledygook involved in taking a woman to wife, but then recalled his father's opinion of governmental bureaucracy and decided that maybe he shouldn't be. It was near ten o'clock at night before they managed to stumble home. The incongruity of returning to his parents' house on his wedding night would not strike him until several days later; what had crossed his mind now was that they'd been so busy that day that they hadn't had time to even kiss until 8:43 PM, when they were standing at the altar.
By now it was past Jon's bedtime, but he needed to strip himself out of his tuxedo, and Caitlyn out of her gown, and then they both wanted showers. Then Jon had to run around to find some clothes for her—Mr. Delaney had brought over a package of clothes and other sundries, but it was woefully inadequate. He wondered who had packed it. Jon was too tall for her, but his sister too heavy and her wardrobe comprised entirely of jeans and black tank tops, so she ended up in his old sweatpants and a T-shirt. Then Jon thought he had better call in that he'd probably be late to work tomorrow, and Caitlyn wanted to check her e-mail. Jon had been awake for over eighteen hours.
By the time Jon was out of the bathroom, freshly washed and hair all dried, Caitlyn had fallen asleep. Clearly she wasn't used to the idea of sharing a bed, because she had simply nodded off in his computer chair. Jon shook his head. It might take him some getting used to as well, come to think of it. They had only slept in each other's company a handful of times—a ski trip last March, a short jaunt to Disneyland on their one-year anniversary—and it had taken some convincing to get her to share his bed, even though he promised (and kept his promise) that nothing would happen besides sleeping. He knew her not-before-marriage opinions on that.
And not tonight either, for that matter.
It took some doing, but he got her out of the chair and into the bed. When he slid in beside her, she smiled sleepily and put an arm around him, but just like that, she was gone again. It wasn't long before he was too.
Waking up that morning was a traumatic experience. Jon had forgotten to turn off his alarm clock, which jolted them both out of sleep at 6 AM. Caitlyn yelped and jumped, smashing into his face with the back of her head, and Jon yowled and held his nose while he scrambled for the alarm. He was a heavy sleeper but a quick waker. Caitlyn, on the other hand, was the exact opposite, and she was still panicked and confused, totally disoriented by the surroundings, when he shut off that thunderous cacophony. It took quite a bit of effort to get her to calm down.
Then Jon needed some tissues for his bleeding nose.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," said Caitlyn, as Jon lay back to try and encourage rapid clotting. "It's just that, I was confused and had no idea where I was, and then the loud noise, and—"
"Id's ogay," said Jon. "I'd be gonfused doo if I woge ub id a strange place."
"Oh, no, there's blood all over," said Caitlyn. There was—some on the pillowcases, some on Caitlyn's shirt, a lot on Jon's shirt. Jon got up, sighing, and pulled two new ones out of his closet. Caitlyn stripped the pillowcases and traded them for her new shirt, and then reapplied the new pillowcases while Jon tossed the old ones in the hamper, and then used the bathroom while he was at it. He was very much awake by now, and there would be no point in going back to sleep.
"What was that all about," Caitlyn asked him from the bed.
"My alarm," he said. "This is when I wake up for work."
"Are you going," she asked.
Jon emerged to see her sitting up, facing away, her pale white back disappearing under the new t-shirt. He suddenly remembered something interesting about marriage.
"I should," he said.
"Why?" she said. "The doctors were there last night. You just got married, I'm sure you have better things to do than go to work."
" 'I just got married'?" said Jon.
He had meant to ask why she hadn't said 'we,' but Caitlyn turned reflective. "I know, it's weird, isn't it? I mean... Married. We're not engaged anymore. We're not single anymore. I'm not a Delaney anymore."
"Caitlyn Claire Stanford. Mrs. Caitlyn Claire Stanford."
"I sound so old," she said. Then she smiled. "And now that you're newly married, you're thinking of going to work? Don't you have better things to do?"
"No," he said, "not really. Because, now that I'm married, I have to go to work, so that I can make money, and support my wife."
"Don't you get a honeymoon or something?"
"Not after weddings that were planned in two hours." But his own body had given the lie away; he was sliding back into bed next to her. "Maybe after the big formal reception."
"Yeah, we still have to pull that off," she said. "And I guess I had better start thinking about a job. And... Gosh, I don't even know what else we have to do."
"All that can wait," he said. "Right now, I want to say good-morning to my wife."
They kissed, gently, but with increasing passion. His hand stroked through her hair, caressed her face, stroked her neck. His tongue tickled across her lips. He felt her arm curl around his neck, and he drew her down to the bed, side by side with her, kissing in the early morning light.
He had worried about this challenge for months. He was the first boyfriend she had ever had; his was the first kiss she ever had; soon he would be the first lover she had ever had. But she was his first, too, sexually at least. Like any man with hormones in this information age, he had found much to learn from on the Internet, but all his knowledge was theoretical, and not even necessarily of trustworthy quality. When push came to shove, he wasn't sure he could give her an enjoyable first time. A non-painful one, yes, hopefully, but an enjoyable one was probably out of his ability. (Then again, he also doubted if it was within anyone's ability.)
He had been relieved the first time he was able to fire her up. He had kissed her ears before that night, but never her neck, and when he did it was like a switch had turned on. She had never masturbated, never played with her breasts, never even found any reason to try, and he had been worried that the switch might be rusted shut. The day they made out for the first time, that fear had been laid to rest.
It was her neck he started with now, and her face and ears. Once that switch was flipped, her ears had become a surprisingly erogenous area, but it was the back of her neck, the part normally shrouded by hair, that was the most sensitive. He loved to see her face when he kissed her—her eyes closed and eyebrows up, her mouth open in an unconscious O. There was longing on that face, and beauty, and he had always regretted never being able to take her higher. Now that regret too could be put aside.
He kissed down her chin and then down her throat to the pale hollow there at the bottom, and then around the sides, up and down, taking time to kiss her ears, which he knew she loved. Then, gathering her hair out of the way with practiced ease, he laid a first kiss on the back of her neck, followed by a second and a third, while his other hand guided her over on her side until he lay behind her, kissing her, drawing her breath ever faster, while his hand crept down from her shoulder until it rested, gently cupping her breast.
She turned to face him, reaching up to pull his hand away. "Jon." And then, comprehension dawning: "...Oh."
"Yeah," he said, almost apologetically.
"I guess it is okay for us to..."
"Do you want to?" he asked. "If you're not—" He wanted to, of course, but he had waited this long; another hour, or day, or week, wouldn't hurt. And her interest was of far greater importance than his. "If you don't feel ready, or, you don't want to, or—"
Her hand moved his, replacing it on her breast. "Who said anything about not wanting to?"
He leaned down to kiss her, feeling her response as her mouth opened and her tongue reached out to meet his, twining gently around him. With his spare hand he stroked her face and hair again, and then once again embarked down her neck and around, finding those secret spots he loved, feeling her shudder and her breath catch as his lips worked their magic on her skin. And all the while his hand clasped her breast, cupping gently, letting her grow accustomed to his presence there.
When he drew her over to kiss her mouth again, his hand relinquished its hold on her breast, but with purpose this time: it slipped under her shirt, stroking up and down her back. The feeling of her skin sent electric excitement through him. Before now they had only gotten up to some very occasional petting with clothes on; mostly they kissed. He had never touched her bare flesh on anything but extremities before. This was new. This was real. This was wonderful.
Once again he left her mouth and began to kiss his way around her neck, but once again he had gained ground—his hand began the migration as well, this time beneath her shirt, passing over ribs and flanks and back and navel, until his fingertips felt soft warm flesh and there was white cotton under his palm. And all the while his lips did their work on her neck, moving between her ear and the fuzzy underside of her hair, and she shivered and gasped and her heart grew strong under his hand, and as he kissed her he began the careful adventure of liberating her breast from its cotton prison.
In a breathy whisper Caitlyn said, "Do you want me to take it off?"
Jon had, quite honestly, never expected she would suggest such a thing. "Umm. It would definitely make things easier for me."
"Okay." She sat up, separating from his grasp, and her hands went behind her back and under her shirt. Then she stopped. "Umm. Turn around."
Even in the dim light he could see her blush. "I have to take my shirt off."
"So?" he said. "That would make things easier too."
She said nothing, looking both embarrassed and defiant.
"Look," he said. "I'll take mine off if you take yours."
"Okay," she said happily, "you go first."
Suddenly he felt self-conscious. Though tall and fairly broad-shouldered, he got most of his exercise from martial arts classes; he hadn't been to a gym in years. He was fit, but not athletic—which was another way of saying 'scrawny.' And once the shirt was gone he would be clad only in his boxers, through which his erection would doubtlessly be visible. This must be some of what Caitlyn is feeling. Nonetheless, he had said he would—and what was the point of keeping secrets from his wife, anyway?
So he took his shirt off.
Her eyes didn't betray any disappointment, but her arms were slow as they guided themselves through the sleeves, and when she sat naked before him, flawless pale skin and large pink nipples on her bare breasts, she looked more miserable than embarrassed.
So he leaned in and kissed her.
He had read a saying somewhere: If you find yourself in bed with an ugly woman, the only thing to do is close your eyes and get on with it. That was not how he felt at all; she was lovely in his eyes, beautiful beyond measure. But he knew he must not show any hesitation at all, or her insecurities would destroy her. He must give her no reason to ever doubt the truth: that he loved her and everything about her.
So he kissed her, and drew her close with his arms, and delighted at the feeling of her bare skin on his, the softness of her breasts pressed against him, her mouth opening willingly under his, her arms around his waist, the bed cradling them as he drew them down, wrapped in each other's arms.
He had accepted long ago that this would be a slow process; it would take many small steps to awaken her responses and draw her to the point where she was ready, both physically and emotionally, for full-out intercourse. He had looked forward to it for a long time, too; he enjoyed giving her pleasure, watching her respond. He was surprised at how quickly things were happening now; he had expected to have to spend twice as much time and effort to get her where they were now.
His lips found her ear and his hand her breast almost simultaneously, and he was gratified to feel the nipple stiffening, hardening in his palm. This time, though, he left her neck early, kissing across her shoulder blades and then down the line of her spine (she shivered), until he reached the small of her back. He trailed kisses over her hips and flanks (she shivered) and round her belly button, and then finally up to her breast.
The sound she made when his mouth found her nipple, half gasp and half moan, was the happiest noise he had heard in a long time.
He knew he probably should have worked up to it with fingers, but he was too excited to care now. She was responding, responding beyond all expectation. His tongue worked at the little nub, stroking it up and down, while his hand found her other breast and caressed it, stroked it—not just the nipple, but the underside and the seam where it blended back into the body, which were supposedly extra-sensitive. Her arm curled around his head, holding him to her, while her breathy moans began a steady crescendo.
He loved her breasts, he decided. He had known them for only a few minutes, but he already loved them. Her nipples were the palest pink, fairly large (something he had not expected) and capped by puffy areolas. Her skin was a perfect white, lit from within by faint, translucent veins. Each breast was just the right size to fit into his hand, smooth and soft, and within them he could feel the beating of her heart. That was something he liked a great deal.
He transferred from one breast to the other, turning his mouth and attention to that yet-untouched territory, while his hand left her chest and began its travels again, scouting out the lay of the land. He caressed her sides and flanks, wishing she were not laying on her back, and then began a steady advance down her hip and thigh, sliding his hand back and forth from breast to knee.
He wasn't sure how he was going to negotiate the removal of her sweatpants—she was, after all, lying down—but when his hand slipped inside the waistband, she surprised him once again. Her hands pre-empted his, and she lifted her hips and suddenly the pants were sliding away down her legs, and now she was naked except for her panties. One hand reached below to help her get free, finally emerging from beneath the bedspread to toss them overside, while the other immediately began an exploration of her leg, feeling the smooth fine skin there, the faint traces of shaved hair... The distinct softness of her inner thigh. He felt heat there, and possibly a hint of damp, though he couldn't be sure.
They remained thus for a long time, his hands at rest and his lips on her breast, her arm curled around him as she arched up, presenting her breast to his ministrations. Then he moved his hand, taking one of those final steps, bringing it to rest on the mound beneath her navel. He felt crinkling hair shift under her cotton panties, and a deep abiding warmth, and she breathed an "Oh" through parted lips and he knew she would be ready. With that knowledge came a upstanding anticipation... But a low, insistent doubt as well.
He pressed his hand gently against her mound, feeling the new pulses in her body as her hips rose in anticipation. When he could wait no longer, he let the pressure up. She whimpered in disappointment, but then tensed—maybe in anticipation, maybe in dread, who could say—when she felt his hand make that final transition and slip inside the elastic band of her panties. His fingers brushed over curly pubic hair, now slightly damp, and then over skin softer than any he had felt before, skin that was soft and warm and now slick with moisture.
Once again she took the dilemma out of his hands. She let go of him again to reach between them, and with a final wriggle she lay totally naked beside him. Her breath came in heady pants now, and her hand clutched him to her breast, while the other raked over his back. Her legs were parted to allow access to his stroking hand, her nipple proud and erect within his mouth. She was ready—as ready as he could make her.
Ideally, he would like to bring her to orgasm, but (enhanced responses notwithstanding) that would have been a project for an evening. He had no real idea how much effort it would take, other than a whole lot, and this wasn't the time. Besides—might as well admit it—he was selfish. He wanted to taste her depths for the first time, and see what it was he had waited for. He wanted to know what this was all about.
His fingers were already wet from her juices, so it was easy to slip one inside her. She did not have an intact maidenhead, which didn't surprise him; she had wanted to be a Dance major, after all. But it did surprise her. "What... What is that?"
"It's just my finger, it—"
"No. —No. Don't."
"Okay, I don't have to—"
"Only—" She was still gulping for air, and her voice was a breathy moan. "Only one thing goes inside me, Jon."
His heart leapt—almost the same way his cock did. "Are you sure?"
"Ye— Yes. Jon, why would— Why would I lie about this?" He felt her hand on his rear. "And why are you still dressed?"
His haste to disrobe would have been unseemly in any other circumstances, but when his cock sprang free, as hard as it had ever been, her eyes widened. "That looks big."
That was a nice thing to hear, even though Jon doubted his cock was truly any larger than average. "Well, that's why I started with a finger."
"Are you sure it'll fit?"
"It was made to."
"I can try the finger again, if you want—"
"No." Her arms closed around him possessively. "No. No, I want you to— To put it in me."
He kissed her. "I will, my love."
He positioned himself between her legs, suspended on elbows and knees so that he could lean down to kiss her. Her breasts made shallow pools under him. "Umm," he said. "If you could, just. Reach down there and, um. Put things where they need to go."
"Oh," she said. "Okay, um."
The touch of her hand on his cock was unlike anything he had ever felt before. It was just a hand—how could it be so? His own hand wasn't like the touch of lightning on his skin.
It was almost more than he could bear, but he gritted his teeth and said, "You should probably rub it up and down a bit, get it wet. That'll make it easier to get in."
She looked at him quizzically, but did as he bade. Then her eyes were lost. It felt good to him too.
"It does— Seem really big," she gulped. "But, it's ni— Oooh..." For right then one of her strokes had taken him a little too far in the wrong direction, and he felt the clasp of her pussy lips as the tip slid inside her. The head of his cock was now surrounded by snug, wet warmth, better than anything he had known.
"Sh-should I?" His arms were trembling from the strain of holding himself up.
"Could... Could you go slow?"
He didn't see how he had a choice. If he went fast, he would probably blow right then and there—and what kind of a stupid first time would that be? So, slowly, carefully, he let his hips shift forward, slowly, carefully filling her up inside.
Her pussy was joy and molten fire, as smooth as velvet and warm, so warm on the skin of his cock. Her wetness made her slippery soft. Her depths opened before him as he slid ever deeper inside her, feeling her petals creep up his shaft until finally (sadly) there was no more to give, and he felt her pubic hair tickling his skin and her pussy lips at the root of his cock, and he opened eyes he didn't remember closing and saw her face before him.
She looked up at him.
"Okay," he asked.
"How does it feel?"
"It feels... Different. I dunno."
How would she? They had traded sexual histories (or lack thereof) more than a year ago, and he knew she had never used tampons, had never played with herself, had never even explored up inside herself more than once or twice. What would she compare it to?
"You were right, though. You did fit."
She gave him a small, shy smile.
"I need to let myself down a little," he said. His arms were aching from the strain of holding himself above her.
"But tell me if I'm too heavy."
He let his elbows move out, settling down on her, keeping himself suspended, but only somewhat, letting more of his weight rest on her. He felt her breasts cushioning him, her breath brushing by his shoulder. She reached up to accept him, her arms circling around his back—and then her legs, bending at the knees, her thighs brushing against his waist. It was almost more than he could bear.
"How do you like it," she asked.
"It's... It feels great," he said honestly. It was heaven, as far as he was concerned.
"Better than... Than playing with yourself?"
"Way better." How could it compare? Five fingers and vaseline were nothing on her warm, tight, smooth pussy.
"Are you... Are you near to..." She colored. "Shooting?"
He felt his own face flush. "It could happen pretty soon, if I let it."
Her eyes were hooded for a moment, looking past him. Then she met his eyes, her gaze clear. "I want you to," she said. "I want you to... Ejaculate in me. I want you to shoot inside me. I want you to make me your woman."
He kissed her forehead, the place currently most accessible. "Are you sure?"
"Don't you want to?"
"Of course," he said honestly.
Her arms left his back and she placed her hands on his shoulders, stilting him up. "Then do it, baby."
How could he refuse?
He began to move, slowly sliding out of her. Her eyes flickered, and he knew it must be uncomfortable for her, but she hadn't asked him to stop yet, so he figured he was okay. Her passage closed up around him, as if trying to prevent him from leaving, but the slickness of her walls made adhesion difficult. When only the tip of his cock remained inside her, he reversed motion, renewing his penetration, and she gave another murmured "Oh..." as he began to fill her again.
On his second stroke he began to speed up—not much, just a little—but even that was too much. It wasn't three or four strokes before he felt the rumbling begin inside him, beginning to burst forth, and he pushed himself in, as deep in as he could go, as quickly as he dared. She must have sensed it, because she said, "Jon?" But the next moment his orgasm hit, and then he was beyond speech.
It was almost too strong. He felt the first rush of semen down his shaft, and a single moment of unshakable clarity: the rich warm caress of her pussy all down his length, and her whispered exultation and her arms around him and her legs flanking his hips and the pounding of her heart under his chest; then liquid ecstasy burst forth from inside him, and he groaned out his pleasure as his body jerked and clenched and shuddered and fell with an intensity that almost overwhelmed him.
In the aftermath, she murmured his name.
When sensation returned, he found himself collapsed atop her, her head at his shoulder, his heart thundering. Around his softening cock was liquid light: the warmth of his own spend mixed with her juices, and around that the duller, softer heat of her pussy. Her arms and legs still cradled him. He felt the press of her skin against his chest and torso and groin, the tickling pubic hair. He smelled sweat and hair and underneath it all that red scent that was so distinctly hers. He felt her smile at his shoulder. He felt... Everything.
"I love you," he murmured weakly.
Her arms tightened around him. "I know."
There was silence for a time.
"I'd better move."
"I'll get heavy."
"I don't mind."
"Oof." He disengaged from her, his cock slipping from her grasp one final time (he felt a wave of sadness), and then drew her up beside him. Her arms fit under his and wrapped around his back, his fit around her shoulders. Her head on the pillow met his shoulder, and he rested his on hers. They pressed together, head to toe. They had spent many hours like this in their lives—though, previously, clothed.
"How are you," she asked.
"Good," he said. "Sleepy."
"Yeah. It's what guys do. They cum and then they doze off."
"Really? I never knew that."
"It's one of those... One of those things you don't find out unless you're a guy. And you're so..." A yawn. "You're so comfy..."
Her hand ruffled his hair. "Then sleep, my love. I'll still be here. Sleep..."
Leave me some feedback!