Chapter 9 – Firsts and Lasts

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Esther smiled as she ran her soapy hands over his broad shoulders. Maybe showering together was too tame a fantasy, but it was one he had planted himself that night when he whispered about ‘washing his back.’ After days spent in the semi-dark, under the covers for warmth or honestly trying to hide her mature, scarred, and way less than perfect body, this was a momentous step for her. Of course, her courage had almost fled her once they were inside the tiny room.

Mike, though, seemed to sense that and had smiled that way too sexy, little boy grin as he challenged her to undress him. It was precisely what she had wanted and needed. Pulling that t-shirt over his head had been easy enough. But the button and zipper of his jeans proved a bit more of a challenge. They were not as quickly pushed aside as the thick elastic of his sweat pants.

She had cursed a quiet and almost lady-like, “Damn,” when she realized that the jeans were going nowhere until his boots came off. She was not to be deterred then as she pushed him back to sit on the edge of the tub. She giggled as she pictured how much like a scene from a bad movie it must have been, her astraddle his leg facing away as she tugged first one and then the other off. She had fumbled so severely that his socks half came off with them.

When she turned back to face him, that smile was decidedly more devious as he placed her hands over his open jeans in a definite challenge. She was not to be bested as she swallowed back her apprehension and dove into this fantasy, like jumping from a rope swing into the icy cold of the lake on a scorching hot summer’s day. The task might be a bit daunting, but you knew it was just what you wanted, refreshing and invigorating.

And this man was most definitely what she wanted, what she had wanted for a very long time. Perhaps even what she needed. She was not to be deterred as she placed her hands inside the too tight material, pushing and tugging until they were bunched around his knees. Her efforts had taken his boxers along with the jeans as he kicked them aside and whispered, “My turn now.”

Esther had wanted to desert the game then, even looking towards the door to escape. Whether he noticed that glance or merely sensed her unease, Mike had turned them so that it was she with her back to the tub, and his body blocked her only escape route. She trembled as he reached for the bottom of her over-sized sweatshirt that proudly boasted the name and emblem of the school where she had taught for so long, the team that her son had led to the state championship.

She was not going to think about that tonight. It was one of those things she would deal with tomorrow. After this man…

She was not going to deal with that now either. She was going to live in the moment, and right now, a whole night of love stretched out before her.

He had tugged the shirt over her head and made equally quick work of her jeans. Usually, she followed the unspoken dress code of this place, which insisted the female teachers wear dresses, but since it had been Friday and the big game, she had decided to flaunt tradition and show her support of the team and her students. If not, this damned town.

She had fought the urge to cover herself with her arms.  Instead, she had closed her eyes, the lights in the bathroom might not be bright, but they were a far sight more so than the moonlight or the small lamp next to her bed that she read by. This was the first real look Mike would have at her more than a size six figure. Well, more than twice that size, in fact. What had she been thinking when she suggested this?

But she need not have worried as she heard him turning on the water, adjusting the temperature, and getting everything ready. He helped her beneath the shower before joining her and pulling the plastic curtain closed so that it formed a cocoon of sorts about the lovers.

“I have wanted to do this forever,” he whispered against her ear as he pressed his large and very hard body against hers. She was not sure what he meant until he picked up the bottle of shampoo and poured some into the palm of his hand.

He was gentle but firm as he massaged the liquid into her scalp and hair until it lathered nicely. The scent of almond oil overpowered the small space as his fingers tugged through her thick and tight curls. “I don’t want to hurt you.” His whisper caressed her mind as his fingers did her head.

‘Then don’t leave me,’ her mind screamed in protest, but somehow, she managed to swallow back the words before they could escape. Fear of rejection? Pride? She was not certain, but she was glad that the cascade of water and the sting of the shampoo provided her with the perfect excuse for the tears that marred her vision.

He had nothing to worry about, though. He was perfect. His fingers on her scalp massaged until she was moaning and rubbing against him. Washing her hair had never been as much fun. As a little girl, she always felt that her mother never knew quite what to do with her mixed-race daughter’s locks of unruly curls. Her father had not been much help either since he always kept his hair shorn impossibly close to his scalp.

Even finding a beauty shop had proven challenging. There was only one real beauty shop in Sebida. Esther had made the mistake of going there just once. The older woman, who owned the shop, had not dared to directly say ‘we don’t service colored here,’ but she had made enough thinly veiled remarks about the unusual texture of Esther’s hair. Of course, the fact that she had used the gloves that she usually reserved for perms and coloring just to wash and cut Esther’s hair had said it all.

Esther had cried once she got home from the humiliating experience. Word must have gotten around the town, too, because the next time she was in the general store, the preacher’s wife from the AME church had come up to her and casually mentioned the name of one of their members, who did hair in her home. The woman had been cutting and styling Esther’s hair ever since. Though that woman, too, had more than once commented on how unique her hair was. That was the story of her life…never genuinely belonging anywhere, it seemed.

But as his fingers ran through her hair once more, rinsing the suds from it, Esther would have sworn she knew where she belonged…in this man’s arms.

She reached for the bottle of conditioner and was about to do that herself when he shook his head, “Hell, no, you think I’m going to miss another chance to touch this.” He rubbed a strand of her hair between his fingers like it was spun gold or something. She was privileged and tortured with several more minutes of his playing in her curls.

Of course, she did not have nearly as much fun returning the favor. His hair was still too short to need much attention. But she was determined to make up for it on his back. Her fingers massaged and kneaded the firm muscles until he was moaning as she had.

“Enough, woman,” he growled as he turned around. The water cascaded down his back, taking the bubbles with it. He drew her into his arms and kissed her. Their tongues danced against one another as his throbbing flesh pressed against her thigh.

She was not sure where she found the boldness, but she pried herself from his arms and pushed him back against the cold tiles beneath the showerhead. “I’m not done yet, Master Sergeant,” as she reached for the bottle of shower gel. Thankfully, she had never been one of those girly girls, so he had been able to share her musky scented one.

At that moment, as she looked into the depths of his blue-gray eyes, she had forgotten even to be self-conscious as she began rubbing her hands across his shoulders once more. This time it was his magnificent chest with its light covering of dark hairs that warmed her cheeks, even as they tickled her nose each night. She allowed herself the pleasure of leisurely rubbing her palms and fingers across his pecs and down his strong arms.

She had laced her fingers through his and caressed his callused hands, palm to palm, before she retraced her steps up the inside of his arms this time. She had joined him in giggles as she discovered just how ticklish her big hero could be under his arms. She would have to file that information away for future reference. Then she remembered she had no future with this man. Just this moment.

Rather than dampen her spirit, that only renewed it. She picked up the bottle of soap and poured more into the palm of her hands as she returned to her job, this time focusing upon his stomach. Of course, she had seen more than her fair share of oiled, muscled, young men on the covers of her e-books. The truth was they did very little for her. But she very much enjoyed the feel of hard muscles just beneath the thin layer of middle-age spread that was beginning around this man’s middle. She smiled as she remembered the phrase…cushion for the pushin’, and this was that to perfection.

As much as she was having fun running her fingers across the six-pack that could still be felt beneath the cushion, she had other plans. Then a rather devious thought occurred to her, and she just had to test her theory, only to discover that yes, his belly button was just as ticklish as his underarms had been. She had him almost doubled over in laughter when her hand dared lower.

His laughter froze in his throat, and those eyes went very wide as he stared into her face with her hand wrapped firmly about his hard length. She smiled as he sucked in a deep breath and threw his head back as she stroked up and down him. It was that half moan and half growl from the back of his throat that had her slipping to her knees in front of him.

Oh, she had done this more than once these past few days. Hell, she liked to think she was even getting pretty good at it…if those moans and groans were any indications. But this time, she had something different in mind. Something that Mike had consistently denied her. But he was not going to tonight.

She ran her tongue around the swollen tip of him until he opened those eyes. They were incredibly sexy, glazed over with passion, and still half hooded. She wrapped her mouth around him and swallowed a couple of inches until he hit the back of her throat. She slowly pulled back until the head popped from her mouth, but she allowed it to rest on her full lower lip as she held his gaze. “I want to taste you…all of you.”

She loved how wide his eyes got as the meaning of her words dawned on him. He started to shake his head, but she was having none of that. Her lips wrapped firmly around his throbbing, hot flesh once more as her hand complimented it with slow but steady stroking and sucking action that had him biting his lower lip.

She kept that up for several long moments, knowing that she was playing with him like an old barn cat with a mouse. She had never felt more alive, more powerful, just…more. Though she knew this man was leaving in the morning. Though something told her she could never feel this way with anyone else. Though her life here and all she had known for so long was disintegrating around her. None of that mattered.

There was only this moment. And that was all she would ever need. She would fall asleep remembering those eyes as they were at this moment, the sound of his ragged breathing, the feel of him in her hands, and the taste of him in her mouth. She would do that a thousand times, ten thousand perhaps. It would have to be enough.

But it still was not quite enough. She released his flesh from her mouth and smiled up at him. If that smile was not enough, her words were, “Go ahead. Try and stop me, Master Sergeant. I might be the one on my knees, but you’re the one surrendering this time.”

His forehead creased in a frown, and he opened his mouth as if to argue with her, but his words were lost as she leaned forward and swallowed him deeper than she ever had. He closed his mouth and bit down on his bottom lip until it turned white, but still, she did not let up as she redoubled her efforts. This time it was not a slow and steady pace of that cat and mouse. No, this time, it was the cowgirl putting her horse through the paces around the barrels at the Livestock Show and Rodeo. And she rode him hard and fast to the finish line.

Once more, his fingers laced through her thick locks. At first, she could tell he was tugging. Trying to pull her away, but she was having none of it. She shook her head, and his flesh bobbed inside her mouth, eliciting another very deep groan from the poor man.

In the end, though, Mike had surrendered… entirely to her ministrations as his fingers curled deeper in her tresses, and this time tugged her forward, burying more of his length in her throat as she felt him tremble beneath her hands. Swelling in her mouth, those moans turned to bellows that echoed off the humid, damp walls that safely ensconced them. He was still trembling just a bit as he drew her slowly up off the porcelain tub. His smile was all kinds of sexy satisfaction as he kissed her slowly.

There was a bright twinkle of promise in his eyes as he drew back and turned off the water that had definitely grown cold during her efforts. “You will pay for that, woman,” he promised as he reached for the towels, wrapping one about her body and another about her hair before securing another around his waist. He stepped from the tub, and like that knight of old, he held out his hand and helped her from the tub.

Mike sat on the edge of her bed with her kneeling on the floor between his spread thighs as he gently squeezed and patted her thick mane of curls dry. He did not want to hurt her, but how the fuck did he manage to comb tangles from all that hair without doing so. For a man who had watched his own disappear into a kaleidoscope on a barber’s floor over twenty years before, hair care was not something he remembered much about.

He smiled as he noted the silver strands that were liberally interspersed with the luxurious brown-black curls. He was glad that this woman was not the type to hide her age, strength, and experience as society so often expected. Then again, he would not have expected anything less from a woman like Esther.

She shifted uncomfortably on the floor and half turned towards him, clutching the towel between those generous breasts. “I can do it myself. Really, it is fine.”

He shook his head, “No, I want to.” How did he explain that sharing this intimacy with her went so much deeper than want? It was almost a need. To care for her like this, well, it would never equal the type of caring for her that he wished with all his heart he could give her, but it was another memory to store up for those long nights on the road. To remember her hair’s smell and feel like this was something he truly did crave.

“I just don’t know much about hair,” he tried to keep it light by chuckling as he ran his hands over his that was longer than it had been since he was a kid of eighteen but still did not even require a comb to manage.

She reached over to the bedside table next to him for a bottle of something. She took his hand in hers and turned it palm up, pouring a small bit of some sort of sweet-smelling oil that he instantly recognized as her. “Rub your hands together, then do like you did in the shower when you washed it. Just run your fingers through it.”

He smiled and kissed her nose, “Yes, Ma’am, running my fingers through your hair is a task I could spend a…” Mike caught himself before the words ‘a lifetime’ slipped out. “Hours doing,” he quickly recovered as he sat to work.

She chuckled, “It was a good thing Tommy was not a girl. He never had much patience for having his hair combed. I swear sometimes I think he choose the Marines just so he never had to do it again.”

“High and tight is a great equalizer like that.”

By the time he had gently tugged the last tangle from her luxurious mane of glory, Mike was half hard again beneath the towel, but he was not finished with the self-appointed torture he had set for himself this night. He reached across her shoulder and took her hand, lifting her to her feet to stand before him. He reached for the towel, but she shook her head and hung tighter to the edge tucked between her tits.

“Take off the damned thing and lie on the bed. I want to rub lotion all over you as well.” Mike stared directly into her eyes, daring her to disobey this time. But for a moment, he thought she just might.

She sighed heavily and dropped her eyes from his gaze as she climbed onto the bed next to him. It was only when she was about to lay face down that she finally slipped the towel loose and tossed it onto the floor. She always did that – her absolute best to avoid being completely naked with him.

Even in the shower, she had closed her eyes as he undressed her as if to avoid reality somehow. Not this time, not this night. He was determined that he would worship every square inch of her body until those insecurities were wiped from her mind like she erased a blackboard.

He began by slowly squeeze some of the cocoa butter into the palm of his hand as he brushed her hair aside. He massaged her neck and shoulders, slowly and sensuously, until she began those tiny precursor moans he loved so fucking much. He leaned down and trailed kisses across her shoulders as his hands continued their work on her lower back. “Ohhh,” she sighed as his hands made small circles just above the dimples of her ass.

He smiled as he picked up the bottle of lotion, pouring more into his hands as he moved across the firm muscles of her ass. They had managed doggy only once during the past few days, simply because he loved watching her face and eyes as she came apart just for him. Still, an ass like that begged a repeat…hundreds and thousands of them. His throat tightened, but he had only this one last night to give her.

He continued the trail lower along her muscular thighs, making sure that his fingers just grazed the outer lips of her labia until she moaned a bit more. Her calves were magnificent too. He was not sure exactly what this woman had to be insecure about. Her body was stunning, even on a woman half her age.

He poured a tiny bit more of the lotion in his hands and lifted one of her feet, focusing upon the arch. His fingers pressed firmly into it, but this time it was a groan that escaped her throat, “Yes.” He was more used to hearing that word when other parts of him were pressing deep inside different parts of her, but he would take care of that too shortly.

He had never considered himself kinky or thought he had any fetishes, but he could not resist the temptation to bring her foot to his mouth and slowly suck on her big toe almost precisely as she had sucked on him in the shower. Her eyes came open then, and she turned around to look at him in shocked surprise. He smiled as she lay back down on the bed, closing her eyes as he repeated the process on her other leg and foot.

When he was done once more, right down to another ‘toe job’ he supposed you would call it, he playfully slapped her backside. Not enough to hurt or leave a handprint, just enough to get her attention, wake her up if she had dared fall asleep while he endured the fiery tortures of hell and heaven rolled into loving her. “Roll over.” He saw it then, the utter panic as she shook her head and clutched the quilt to her chest.

“No, it’s not necessary. I’m certain you got everything,” she stammered without meeting his gaze.

Mike placed his fingers beneath her chin and turned her gaze to meet his. “It is necessary. To me. Please,” the words stuck in his throat, the admission harder than almost anything he had done.

“Please, this last night, don’t hide anything from me.” He bent and kissed her slowly and thoroughly as if coaxing a frightened and starving kitten out from behind an old dumpster. Until he felt her hold on the quilt begin to slacken, then he drew it away and gently rolled her onto her back.

This time though, it was not cocoa butter that he used on her soft skin but his lips and tongue as he trailed kisses down her neck and across her neck and shoulders. His hands cupped her full tits and weighed how they fit perfectly in his palms. His thumbs brushed across the hard peaks until she not only moaned louder but rubbed against him just like that kitten would at its first morsel of food.

He broke away from the kiss reluctantly, but he did not go far, staring down into her face as if to memorize every line and crease. This woman was so much more than that faded and bloodstained photograph ever could be. He wanted so fucking badly to capture her ethereal beauty at this moment.

But not only had he left his phone in the pocket of his jeans in the bathroom, but it also seemed sacrilegious somehow to even suggest it. Besides, he knew there was no way he could possibly capture her at this moment, any more than you could the wind or light.

Instead, he focused upon imprinting it on his brain. Even though he knew that memories faded over time, he prayed that this one would last – as long as it needed to anyway. His thumb brushed along her bottom lip that was just slightly swollen from his kisses. He inhaled and was surrounded by her scent…that oil, whatever it was, cocoa butter and woman. All woman. His woman…well, as close as his sorry ass, would ever come to having one anyway.

He bent his head and captured one of her nipples in his mouth then, suckling it deeply, as much to hide the tears that for once he was not going to bother to deny himself. Any more than he was going to deny himself the pleasure of tasting her, really tasting her as he worked his way over to the other nipple allowing his fingers to replace his mouth on this wet one.

He played and toyed with her until those moans increased in volume as well as frequency. Only then did he began to kiss his way lower across her soft tummy. The cries stopped suddenly, and Esther froze beneath him. Her hands clutched the quilt as she tried once to cover herself. She half sat up in the bed as she reached for him. “Please, Mike, just make love to me,” she implored.

Did she realize what she had said? Did she truly understand? He was not going to give in, not as she wanted. He was not going to be denied, but the uncertainty and fear in those eyes deserved a bit of soothing. So he rose up just enough to meet her halfway. He kissed her lips lightly as her hands dropped the quilt and clutched his shoulders instead, trying to urge him over her.

He shook his head and drew back from the kiss, “That’s what I am trying to do here, woman.” He winked at her as he added, “I warned you in the shower that I would pay you back, remember?”

Her eyes went huge then, and she drew in a quick breath as she started to shake her head and even scoot back on the bed. “No, I’ve…” she stammered.

Mike’s smile broadened when he realized what she was not saying, “Then it’s about damned time you did, woman.”

While he had wanted to enjoy the journey fully with this one, like a meandering Sunday ride on the motorcycle up the Pacific Coast Highway, sometimes you just had to take the freeways. And right now, he needed to overcome her fears before they only grew larger. Later, he promised himself, even as he knew there would be no later for them.

He firmly pushed her back on the pillows as he lifted first one leg and then the other over his shoulder and bent forward, getting comfortable for the long haul.

Esther wanted to argue more, struggle, and fight if she needed to. This was just too intimate. Oh sure, she had read about it, but it was not something that had ever made her fantasy list. It probably went back to all her old demons and the fact that she had never felt completely clean or whole since that night. Maybe she should have seen a counselor long ago, but there was no time for that as he bent his head…there…between her legs.

Her hands tried to push him away one last time, “Mike, please.”

He only smiled as he looked up at her. “Turnabout is fair play,” before once more, lowering his head.

Esther bit her lip. Her choices here were limited. She could keep pushing this point, fighting him and spoil this night. She could give in to the panic that she felt welling up inside of her, the fear that she always had with lovers. Well, except with him…until now anyway. Or she could just give in. It was not like it would do anything for her. Undoubtedly, the man would grow tired after a couple of minutes, then she could once more take him inside her body…love him as she longed to.

The choice was clear. What was it the Victorians said: lie back and think of Queen and country. Except that particular Queen had been more than a bit randy herself, one of the greatest love stories of all time, actually. And country…well damned that made Esther only remember those email attachments of this man in uniform – and half out of it.

But when his tongue met the hard flesh between her legs, she quickly reassessed just how little interest she would have in this particular sex act. It should not feel that fucking good, that amazing. She moved a bit, but this time it was not to get away from him but rather to bring his tongue closer to THAT spot.

Holy hell, Mary, mother of god! Fuck, that felt better than even her fingers ever had. Her breath caught in her lungs as those fingers clutched the quilt. This time she did not attempt to cover herself with it. Instead, she gripped it tightly as she dug her heels into the mattress and lifted her hips to meet his bold caress. Something that she was sure would be disgusting and uncomfortable suddenly felt better than she had imagined anything could.

“Fuck,” she cursed as she felt those tiny wires inside her begin to spark and fire. She was no longer able to catch her breath as the electricity raced faster and more erratically through her. She whimpered, still it was not quite enough. She was on fire, her whole fucking body, but it was not enough. Not when you wanted and needed to explode.

She moved her hips in small circles against his face. She loved the way his five o’clock shadow abraded the sensitive skin of her inner thighs. And she more than enjoyed the way that tongue was licking not only her button but lower still, then back again like moving the pieces on a chessboard in some random but well thought out strategy. It seemed his approach was to kill her, but what a way to go.

“Please, Mike,” she begged though this time she knew that he understood she was not pleading with him to stop. The opposite in fact. Finish this damned game, her mind screamed.

One of his hands left her hips to trail slowly up her stomach, but this time she was too far gone in pleasure to give a damn what he thought about the too soft and saggy flesh there or the silvery stretch marks that after a quarter of a century still refused to fade. That was not what she was thinking about as his hand cupped and squeezed her breast.

His thumb grazed her nipple, and those fires licked higher. When he pinched and rolled it between his thumb and finger, her whole body stiffened. As if that was not enough, his teeth captured that tiny bundle of pure nerve endings and nibbled at them as his tongue somehow managed to flick across them.

Her hips shot off the bed, not in some polite and artistic dance of love, but to grind against the man’s face like some sleazy lap dance she saw on television once. She cried out as the stars, earth, and moon exploded inside her head. Her hands moved to his head, tore at his shoulders, definitely not to push the man away but to draw him deeper. Though she knew that was physically impossible, or she would have sworn it was until she felt his tongue inside her. That pushed her higher still as she careened towards the sun itself and welcomed the inferno.

She was not sure how long she burned, but it was certain she would never figure out how she managed not to be fully consumed in those flames as she clutched his shoulders. They were her only point of reference in a world that was fractured and stood on its ends. Then she felt that shifting too. She clutched tighter and whimpered though she knew she was beyond making any intelligent noise.

He was over her then, inside her, moving in that slow, familiar dance that they shared. The one that was incredibly new yet somehow seemed as ancient as time. Universal, yet theirs alone to share. Her body moved up to welcome and greet its mate. Her vision clouded over as she clutched those broad shoulders so tightly, she knew there would be red welts in the morning. Even though her body had just taken its release, she felt it building again, knew this one would be even more, because he would be with her this time.

She felt her throat tighten as she tried to focus on her lover’s face, tried to memorize it. But her vision was too cloudy; she could not manage to make her eyes focus on him. She could not figure out why until she felt his tongue, the same one that had… This time though, it was licking her tears away as he moved deeper and faster inside her.

Still, it was not enough. It would not be, could not be, because what she wanted most was for him to be so deeply in her that some part of him would never leave. Wanted so desperately to hold onto the only man she had ever loved. And over the past few days, she had come to realize that was what this was. Not some schoolgirl crush, not some infatuation, not even her fantasies born of too many ancient Greek tragedies, Shakespearian love sonnets, or even trashy romance novels. This was love.

She loved this man, and it was all she could do not to say those words now. She tasted blood from biting her cheek to hold them back. One hand snaked up about his neck and drew his face closer. She could see through the tears then, and for a single heartbeat, she would have sworn she saw it all reflected back to her. But she knew that it could not be, so instead, she captured his lips with her own. She tasted her tears, and she tasted herself on them, but beneath all that, she tasted him as if it were the most delectable recipe ever. And she savored it all as he took them both over that precipice once more time.

Esther came slowly back to earth though she did not want to. Only the feel of him in her arms made it palatable at all. This night was it. All that she had left, and she did not want to miss a single moment of it, so she fought back the fuzzy edges of sleep that she knew waited to consume her hormone-induced bliss.

She took the opportunity to study him instead. The fine lines and wrinkles about his eyes and mouth added to his rugged good looks. And she loved the sprinkling of salt among the pepper that was beginning to curl even more. Would he let it grow until those soft curls were fully-formed? Or would he seek the comfort of old familiar things and find a barber who knew ‘high and tight’?

She would not be around to find out. And that hurt more than she wanted to admit.

She could certainly empathize with his need for the old and familiar. Wasn’t that what this house, her job, even this damned hell hole of a town had been? It was not until most of that was stripped away from her today that she had even realized it, though.

So, she came back to it all. What now? Without a mortgage or car payment, she could survive for some time on her paltry savings without even touching the insurance money that sat in that bank account…until she figured out what to do with it.

Her throat tightened at the thought of her son. What would he think if he knew how his Mama had been behaving these past few days? Especially with his best friend, a man he admired and looked up to. She brushed her fingers across the line around Mike’s mouth as he frowned. Was he asleep or only floating half in this world and half somewhere else as she was? She was not going to break the spell.

No, something told her that Tommy would be far less surprised or upset than either of them wanted to believe. She smiled, and her brow furrowed as she remembered their final farewell.

“So next time, Mama, if it’s okay with you, I thought I might bring someone home with me.” Of course, she had nodded as Tommy hugged her tighter and whispered, “I love you, Mama.”

They had called for final boarding of his flight then, but both had been more reluctant than usual to say their farewells. Had they known somehow that this indeed was the final one?

Esther felt the tears running down her cheek once more at the memory of how tightly her son had held her, “I just worry about you sometimes, Mama. You’re such an amazing woman. You always have had so much love to give. I wish you would find someone to give some back to you.”

She had opened her mouth then to tell me that she had…him, but he was off, rushing for the gate as they began to close it. Of course, there had been video calls after that. Dozens of them, but that had been the last time she held him. Alive anyway. She was not going to spoil what few hours remained with this man by thinking about that, though.

She brushed the tears away and watched him as hundreds of thoughts raced like squealing swine in the greased pig contest at the county fair as dozens of the children chased after them. It was easier to catch one of those pigs than one of her stray thoughts.

He grimaced in his sleep and called out. “No, Tommy,” and her heart stopped. Those tears fought their way back, but she refused to give in to them now. There was nothing she could do for her baby boy anymore. There had not been in months, maybe in a long time. But this man…she heard his pain in that cry. She felt it in her soul.

She gently touched his arm, and he jerked it back as if her hands were aflame. So, she tried something else. The same low almost whispers that she had used to calm Tommy when he was an infant, “Mike, it’s okay. Everything is fine. I have you now.”

She said the words low and slow over and over until he began to quiet. Those compelling blue-gray eyes opened and stared up at her. “What happened?”

She forced a smile, and this time, when she brushed her fingers over his shoulders, he did not pull away. “Nothing, it was just a bad dream.” She bent and kissed his lips until those fires re-ignited. She took them both up in flames again then. Flames that she wanted to believe could erase it all – her pain…and this man’s.

And for a time, it did. For a few moments, there was nothing but the moment. The feel of him inside her, the taste of his kisses, his touch on her body, the sweet sounds of his low moans and deep grumbles as she pleasured them both. She was never sure how it was possible, but as always, this time was not only as good as the last but better.

This time it was harder to fight sleep, though. Especially when he gathered her in his arms and kissed her forehead, whispering, “Sleep now, my…”

In her mind, she knew how she wanted to finish that sentence. It was simpler than any fill-in-the-blank vocabulary question she had ever given her student. ‘My love.’ As she drifted off towards the land of nod as she had called it when Tommy was little, she would have even sworn she heard him say them. As sleep began to conquer her, she caught one of those greased pigs. One thought coalesced in her mind. She could let this man, the best thing that had happened to her in a very long time, ride away tomorrow morning, or she could fight to keep at least a part of it. She smiled as she wrapped her arms tighter about his waist. That multiple-choice question was the easiest yet.

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