"I can be there by ten," Darian said on the other end of the line.
“Don't make me wait too much longer," I warned playfully. I ended the call and smiled. I was generally a happy person, but even I was doing a lot more of that--smiling--than I had in years. Though in quiet moments I'd ask myself what exactly I was doing with a boy nearly half my age, I couldn't help but notice that Darian had changed more about me than I was comfortable admitting.
Not only did I smile more, I'd become even more optimistic about my future and the future of my business. He'd even made me consider, if only for a fleeting moment, the viability of a relationship longer than two months---the usual extent of my relationships with most men.
It wasn't that I was afraid of being in a relationship, I just had yet to meet any man worthy of giving more of my valuable time. Deep down I'd always felt that if I'd spent too much time cultivating and nurturing a relationship I wouldn't have made it as far as I had. Oddly enough, that fear never surfaced when I was with him. Of course, it was still too early to tell, since it had only been a week since the night we'd shared at the hotel. But we'd yet to miss sharing a night together for that entire week.
But tonight would be different. The excitement of being intimate with him had been enough to carry us at the onset, but now, his inexperience was starting to show. I'd never tell him though that his age was getting in the way of him meeting his potential as a lover. He'd already clearly expressed just how much he hated me bringing up his age.
So I'd have to find a tactful way to do this, I thought, as I smiled at my image in the mirror. I examined the glossy pink of my lips and the lace and satin red chemise that dipped down between the curve of my breasts.
As I sat on the edge of the bathtub, smoothing the creamy lotion with a scent that he'd told me was his favorite fragrance on me, I heard the doorbell ring.
“Just in time," I said, taking his hand as I let him in, closing the door behind us. ”I almost thought that I'd have to start without you. ”
I felt his large hands grasp my waist, and him push against my backside as he walked with me to the back hallway which led to my bedroom. "No, we can't have that. I'd be very upset if you did that," he said as he planted a kiss on the back of my neck. I drew in a slow, ragged breath; every part of my body that could be turned on, was humming with desire
His arms slid under my legs as he swooped me up into the air to cradle me in his arms, and turned his attention to my lips. His kisses ignited a flame within me, lighting my entire body afire. I'd craved him all day. While looking over my schedule, all I could imagine was his chest pressed against mine. As he called venues to arrange potential upcoming lectures, the deep, husky timbre of his voice in the next room as he spoke with ease, excited every nerve ending within my body. And when he entered my office to give me the venue list, shivers ran up and down my spine when his fingers grazed my hand and he winked with that cocky half -grin on his face.
Darian lowered me onto the bed and lay beside me. When he moved to cover my body with his own, I placed a hand on his chest, stopping him. “Slowly," I told him, gently pushing him until he lay flat on his back. I removed his glasses from his face and placed them on the nightstand. I returned, admiring how much more handsome he was now that I could see his entire face without the barrier of his glasses. “I think it's time I impart some of my knowledge, don't you think? What good is having an older woman if you don't appreciate a little wisdom now and then?”
He furrowed his brow in confusion. “Okay. What knowledge?"
I reached out to finger his full lips before leaning down to enclose his bottom lip with mine. He was clearly aroused as evidenced by the jump of his manhood jump against my thigh. “Everything. Everything I know. You may be a great student, but I need you to show me just how quickly you learn."
His eyes brightened. He was all too eager to begin his lessons. "Teach me."
“Your first lesson," I said, as I lay back, grabbing his shoulders to pull him down over me. "If you really want to please a woman, you should take your time. You want to create a slow, steady buildup of desire; so much that she's begging you for mercy."
I bit my lip in order to force back the chuckle that threatened to pass my lips in response to his wide-eyed excited expression.
"You want to take your time to explore a woman's body until you find the spot that has her twisting in agony. Someday you'll find out that every woman is different."
I stopped when I saw the frown on his face. It was safe to assume that he didn't appreciate the insinuation that there would be other women in his life. Surely he didn't think there would be more to whatever it was that we were doing. But that was a matter for another time. For now, I'd avoid discussing his potential future lovers.
I placed a hand behind his neck and pulled him down so that his face was inches from mine. "Now, I need you to apply what you've learned."
Darian’s half-grin was back . He eased down to run a slow tongue from the curve of the top of my ear to the sensitive spot behind my earlobe. My shiver was the clue he needed. He licked and nibbled away at the tender area until he had the nectar between my thighs flowing freely.
Darian abandoned the spot he'd just discovered to continue dragging his tongue down my neck, and sucking on the flesh there. When I jumped at the sensation of his mouth on my neck, he stopped briefly to smile up at me. “I think you have more than one spot, Ms Jackson." I smiled, amused at the formal use of my last name, further playing on our teacher - student roles.
"You're right, " I answered, tapping his forehead playfully. “And that just earned you a hell of a lot of extra credit."
He wiggled his eyebrows. "Hmm, what do I get in exchange for that? "
"You'll see soon enough. But for now, let's resume your lesson, youn..." I stopped myself. I'd nearly said the words he despised most. Young man.
He grinned and nodded his head. “ It's okay to say it. But only during our lessons."
I leaned up to kiss his lips, "Agreed."
When he reached under my body to pull off my chemise, I sat up to aid his efforts. When he'd revealed my breasts, he cupped them in his big hands, kneading one nipple with a careful thumb and treating the other nipple to languid, circling licks.
A moan rose from deep in my throat, filling the room. I panted out, "Y...you’re a quick learner."
He lifted from the rounded brown mound he held in his hand. "I am. But you should know that by now. " When I felt his hand finish its journey down the rest of my body toward my sex, I let my head drop back onto the pillow in surrender.
His fingers played and dallied over the already wet folds, but each time he just barely missed the prized treasure from which the promise of supreme pleasure flowed. I reached down to find his hand and held it still.
“Wait," I said, looking into his questioning eyes. “This is one of the most important lessons you'll receive. You must take your time to find what I like to call, the pleasure button. If you do this right, well let's just say, you'll reap the benefits of being so attentive. ”
I spread my legs a little farther and guided his hand down the center slit. I pushed his fingers inside me until they were slick. “Lubrication first," I said, and guided his hand up in a straight line until it stopped at the hardened knob. I let out an involuntary gasp when his finger made contact with my clitoris, before I continued my instruction. “If you trace a path straight up to the hooded area here, you will usually find the..."
"I know...the clitoris." He began to apply lazy strokes to the newly located treasure. He really was a quick study, I thought, as I sank back deeper into the pillow, reveling in the circles and up and down strokes he administered so masterfully.
“Damn," I breathed out, grasping his arm and squeezing him in rhythm with the electric pulses that raced through me. “A...little...faster...” I panted out. Just as a good student would, Darian obliged. And when my body began to ascend that familiar mountain toward climax, I felt the feather strokes of his tongue on my nipples, and I could no longer exert control over my own reactions. My back arched, my body jerked, and my arms flailed about helplessly. Darian returned to kiss my cheek and then my lips when my body’s jerking had ceased. We drank of one another, as if our very sustenance flowed from the other.
"What’s my grade so far, Ms. Jackson?" he asked in a whisper, his lips grazing my ear.
An aftershock vibrated through my body in response to his wet lips against my earlobe. And I wasn't sure if it was because I was such a great teacher or because he was such a determined student. Regardless, I was enjoying it immensely.
“I'd say, a B plus, so far."
His forehead crinkled as he drew his eyebrows together into a displeased, playful scowl. “Unacceptable. I never settle for anything less than a perfect score. "
"Well, we can move on to your next lesson, then..." But my words were interrupted by his slow descent back down my body as he left another trail of licks indicating the path he'd taken. I watched as he ran a finger over the passion swollen nub between my legs, and let out a short pant when he snaked an arm under my leg and lifted my thigh until my foot rested on the bed. He repeated the same movement with my other leg and I had to stop myself from nearly whimpering when I felt the warm, humid breath from his mouth blow out against my already aching sex.
"Wh...what are you doing?"
He lifted his head and winked. “ Getting an A." Darian lowered his head and buried his face between my legs. He was slow at first, exactly the way I'd taught him. But when his pace quickened, I reached down to grip his head, steadying myself, unsuccessfully, against the new, mounting wave of sensation. When his lips encircled my clit and suckled mercilessly, I soon realized that I'd lost once again to Darian's burgeoning talents. I felt his arms holding my thighs as I erupted into another fit of sweet release.
The mattress dipped underneath me when he climbed back up to lay next to me. He brushed a perspiration-soaked lock of hair from my forehead as I laid with my eyes closed, waiting for my body’s vibrations to cease and struggled to resume normal breathing.
I finally opened my eyes and turned to see his bright eyes on me.“So where do I stand, now?” He leaned over to kiss my forehead.
I let out a long sigh, and smiled back at him. “You've definitely earned your A, young man."
Darian gave a triumphant laugh and leaned down to kiss my sweaty cheek. I sat up and moved to straddle him. “But now it's time for you to cash in that extra credit. "
It was my turn to be bold and brazen, and show him the ways of pleasure that he'd likely never experienced before. The noises he made excited me, as my trail of kisses turned to nips of the flesh of his chest, and lingered over his navel to finally stop at his thigh,where a playful bite nearly made him leap from the bed. A smug smile covered my face as I positioned myself on my knees between his legs. “Let’s see just how much your extra credit has earned you, young man.” I glanced up to see his saucer-round eyes before lowering my lips to place the first tantalizing kiss on his erect, blood-engorged shaft.
I lay in Sylvia’s bed, exhausted---no, that didn't quite describe what I was feeling---more like depleted, after hours of sexual fun. She rested on my chest and I affectionately stroked the top of her head, wishing I could prolong the night with her, or at least stop time. But it was getting late, I'd noticed, when I'd glanced over at her bedside alarm clock. It was what sucked about having to spend the summer at my parents’ home. I was lucky they hadn’t made much of a fuss so far about my late nights out and my weekends away at my new job. I’d told them that I had to stay late for the catering gig on weekdays and that my new job required out of state weekend stays. And though they’d started to eye me suspiciously lately, I was grateful that they gave me space and never tried to stop me.
But I knew that they were getting close to their threshold, and it wouldn’t be long before my parents’ patience would wear thin. Nevertheless, that spot right next to Sylvia was far too comfortable for me to give up so easily, and I convinced myself that another thirty minutes couldn’t hurt.
“So you never told me, what’s with the double major?” I heard Sylvia ask, her voice breaking the silence.
I shrugged my free shoulder and chuckled, “I’m just an overachiever, I guess. Or maybe just indecisive.”
She looked up into my eyes. “Seriously. What are you planning to do next year? Medical school or politics?”
“Med school is the plan. But I’ve always been interested in politics too.”
“Hmph.” She lowered her head back onto my chest, her fingers sliding along my bare chest.
“Or maybe I’ll just hang it all up and become your full time assistant. I’ll travel with you, and help you grow your business.” I wasn’t serious. At least, not completely. But the look that she shot up at me told me that she didn’t find it even slightly amusing.
“Or maybe you’ll just keep doing what you’re doing and treat it like the summer job that it is.”
“Is it?” I smiled. I was enjoying toying with her.
But my laughter stopped when she pushed back to lay on the far end of the bed, her skin no longer touching mine. Her face was serious when she looked at me. “It is.”
The mood had transformed; the contented feeling of sated lust had quickly dissipated.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Darian.” Her tone filled me with dread. “You do know that after this summer, and after your job is done, we’ll have to end this, right?”
I remained quiet. Of course I knew it. But whether I wanted that, was another matter. She scooted back to rest against the headboard, pulling the sheets up to cover her chest as she continued.
“If you don’t think you can do this, we should stop…”
“Why do we have to end it?” I finally mustered the nerve to ask what I’d been thinking.
“Why wouldn’t we?”
“Because what we have, it’s going well. Why interfere with it? Just let it happen, let it play out.”
She laughed. And the almost mocking sound of it infuriated me. “This isn’t something we just let play out, Darian.” She reached out to touch my cheek. She stroked my face, but I couldn’t help feeling as if it was just her sympathetic touch that she’d reserved for naive children. “You’re an amazing...man, you are. But you still have so much left to do. And you don’t need a relationship with me to get in the way of that. One day you’ll want to be married. And you’ll want children. I don’t, and never will.”
I was fuming. “How do you figure that? I ‘ve never said anything about marriage or kids. You know why? Because that’s not what I want.”
She sighed. “Let’s not do this. Not tonight, okay?” She glanced over at the clock next to her bed.
I nodded, reading her mind. “It’s late, I know. Don’t worry, I’m leaving.” I snatched up my glasses from the nightstand, and then my boxer briefs, jeans, and shorts from the floor. I threw on each article of clothing while walking toward her front door. She appeared behind me, donning the chemise she’d worn when I’d arrived that had only hours ago stoked the flames of desire within me.
“Goodnight, Darian,” she said in her naturally sultry voice, as she watched me walk out and down her sidewalk toward my car. But for the first time, her charm wasn’t working. I was seeing everything for what it really was.
The next evening, I waved and watched the door close behind Pamela as she left for the day.
It was mere seconds before I heard Sylvia’s voice. "Darian?"
I drew in a deep breath. Here we go. She was staring into the hallway, waiting for me to appear at her open doorway, her brows crinkled with concern. She motioned toward the chair on the other side of her desk.
So we're back here again, are we? Employer-employee relationship, huh? Okay, Sylvia, I'll play along.
“Has Pamela gone home for the day?”
“I can see that you’re upset about what happened last night,” she said, her eyes intently focused on mine.
No shit. How’d she guess? She’d called me into her office for enough manufactured reasons that day, all the while staring me down, trying to study the hell out of me. But I kept my best poker face intact as I answered her questions and carried out her tasks.
“I didn’t intend to offend you, or make you feel like this is just a… a fling, but…”
I waved my hand. “No, I get it. You don’t have to explain.”
“You’re just a very intelligent man, with so much more to do with your life. And you’re way too young to lock yourself into anything right now. It’s pretty clear that before you met me, you already had your life planned out. So, I hope that you were just joking last night about changing any of that.”
I didn’t answer, only raised an eyebrow in response. I could see her usually calm, cool, and collected demeanor eroding before my eyes. She was nervous, probably because she couldn’t quite read me. I couldn’t deny it; there was definitely a hint of smug satisfaction I gained from knowing that.
She fidgeted with the papers on her desk, placing them into a neat pile. “Well, you were...weren’t you?”
“I was, what?”
“Just kidding about, you know...being my permanent assistant.” She gave a nervous laugh and looked back at me, but her face fell when she noticed that I hadn’t cracked a smile.
“And what if I wasn’t joking?”
I saw her swallow, and then lean back into her chair, steepling her fingers as she rested her elbows on the armrests. She was trying her best to look unfazed, but like her, I was good at people reading too. And it wasn’t working on me. “Well, then I’d have to say that we need to end this. Right now.”
Her eyes followed me as I rose from the chair to join her on the other side of her desk. She continued rambling, “Because...if you can’t handle this, then, we need to…” She stopped when I took her hand and caressed the smooth skin with my thumb.
“I know what this is, Sylvia.Trust me, you don’t have to lecture me. But you’d be a fool not to let this happen. If you ask me, I think this is the way it’s meant to be anyway. Maybe there’s a reason a woman hits her sexual prime in her thirties and forties, and men are in their prime right around my age.” I let my finger slide across her cheek. It hadn’t taken me long to learn that this gesture was her weakness. I grinned when her eyes slid closed. “This is how it’s supposed to be.” I leaned forward to kiss her mouth. Her lips parted as she willingly let me taste her.
But the knock at the office door jarred us both back into the present reality. Pamela always locked the front door after five, and Sylvia never received visitors after that time. Sylvia leapt from the chair and needlessly straightened her blouse. I followed behind her to see her open the door to greet a man who looked like a slightly taller male version of Sylvia. His sandy hair was short and neat, and his chestnut eyes darted from Sylvia to me and then back to Sylvia.
She reached out ot hug him and stepped back, motioning for him to come inside. “Barry,” she said, the slight waver in her voice distinct---to my ears, at least. “I have someone I want you to meet. This is Darian. My new assistant. Darian, this is my brother, Barry.”
His eyebrows raised as he quickly assessed me and stepped forward to shake my hand. “Assistant, huh?” He gave a slight grin. “Well, it’s about time,” he said, looking at Sylvia.
“Yeah,” she answered, quick to change the subject. “Come on back to my office.”
Following behind her, Barry glanced back at me and waved. “It was good to meet you.”
I nodded, “You too,” and watched them turn to enter Sylvia’s office, not missing the last glance he shot my way before disappearing from sight.
“So, what brings you all the way down here this late?”
“Look, we both know this is the only way to get to you. I knew you’d still be here. You always are. And it was a waste of time to even try to pick up the phone to call you. We know you let that go straight to voicemail too.”
“What?” I said, feigning innocence. But it was a lost cause because we both knew that he was right.
“Hey, who are you kidding? No, but really, I’m here because Justine is having a recital next week, and she told me that she didn’t want to bother you, but she misses her aunt. That girl looks up to you, and she was hoping you’d be there.”
Justine, Barry’s daughter, was my first-born niece and the one who’d been the source of most of my spoiling from the day of her birth, fifteen years ago. She was the closest thing I had, or would ever have, to a child of my own.
My heart dropped with his revelation about how one of my most beloved family members felt about my absence as of late due to my busy life. “She’s playing the violin, right?”
“No, the viola. But hell,” he shrugged, “they look about the same to me too.”
I didn’t even need to look at my schedule. Whenever it was, whatever time it was, I’d be there. “Well, you tell her that Aunt Sylvia can’t wait to see her.”
Barry’s face lit up. “Good. She’ll like that.” He glanced over his shoulder, and then back to me. “So, what’s really going on with you and that boy out there?”
“What?” I said, trying harder this time to make my attempt at feigning innocence more believable.
“You know exactly what." He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees as he stared at me."I come here, and the door's locked..."
"I always lock up around this time."
"And you always have young, attractive men in your office with you after hours?"
"Well, no...I mean, yeah, he's my assistant, Barry. I told you that, already."
"Now I don't know who you think you're fooling, but it's sure not me. I know the face you make when you're lying and have something to hide. You forget that I grew up in the same house as you."
He pointed an accusatory finger my way. "See, right there. You always used to pull out the longest words in your vocabulary when you were lying. And add that to the deer caught in the headlights look you had on your face when I got here, and now I'm sure you're doing something with him."
I was quiet. I didn't want to say anything else that could incriminate me. He was already on to me, as it was.
Barry tilted his head to the side. "So are you done denying it, then?"
I kept my emotionless gaze on him. I wouldn't give him the chance to tease me further as I continued to stumble over my words, in an attempt to lie my way out of his suspicions.
“Okay, so now for the next obvious question. Why the hell would you even get caught up with a kid that young in the first place?"
I looked over at the open door, and rose from my seat. Since he wasn't going to let it go, I didn't want to run the risk of Darian overhearing this conversation.
I closed the door and returned to my seat, sighing before I said, "I know it's not original to say this, but...it just happened."
Barry shook his head. “Naw. Not with you. With you, nothing just happens. If you hooked up with old dude, it’s because you wanted to.”
Well, once again, I couldn’t quite deny the truth that was coming out of my big brother’s mouth, so I opted for deflection, instead.
“Barry, please. Don’t act all high and mighty with me. It’s not like you’ve never done anything you regret or that wasn’t exactly the smartest decision in the world.”
“Maybe I have, but I know I haven’t slept around with barely legal women half my age.”
“He’s not barely legal.”
“Oh? What is he? Nineteen? Twenty?”
I swallowed. “Twenty-one.”
Barry let out a booming laugh. I shook my head. He was getting the biggest kick out of this, at my expense.
“You do realize that’s practically Justine’s age, right? I know this cougar shit is popular now, but I never would’ve figured you’d jump on board with that. At least not with someone damn near two decades younger than you are.”
I rolled my eyes. I was done with the teasing. “Oh, come on, Barry. Look, you did what you came here to do. I’ll be at Justine’s recital. When is it?”
“It’s next Friday night at seven.”
I rose from my chair and moved toward the door. “Alright. I’ll be there.”
Barry stood and followed me. “Hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you though. You just better be careful. I hope you know what you’re doing. ”
I patted his back and gently pushed him along and out of my office. I looked down the hall to see Darian sitting in one of the waiting room chairs, poring over an open textbook in his lap. I turned back to my brother. “Okay, Barry. I’ll keep what you said in mind.”
Darian glanced up to see us heading his way and then returned his attention back to his book. Barry stopped at the chair, just before he reached the door. He seemed to move in slow motion as he turned toward Darian. Please don’t say anything stupid, was the only thought that ran through my head as I watched Barry extend his hand out for Darian.
“It was good meeting you again. Darian, right?”
“Yes. Nice to meet you too.”
“Alright,” Barry said with a wave, as he opened the front door. “Y’all don’t work too hard, now. No need to pull an all-nighter.” He winked at me and closed the door behind him. But I could hear his fading laughter through the door, as he moved down the hallway. Damn it, Barry.
“What was that about?” Darian asked.
“He just wanted to tell me about my niece’s recital.”
Darian nodded and set his textbook aside onto the seat of the chair as he stood to his full height. “Well, I’ve been here waiting to finish what I was saying before he dropped by.”
But he spoke no words as he moved toward me, his intense gaze setting the first sparks off within me. And despite all of my apprehension and Barry’s warning ringing in my ears, when he scooped me into his arms and leaned down to pull my lips into his mouth, nibbling and sucking possesively, there was nothing in that moment that could convince me that what we shared was wrong.
It was early morning the next Saturday, as I sat on the park bench enjoying the summer air before the Texas heat had a chance to become unbearable, as it would by mid-day. And I relished in every second of my few stolen moments of peace.
The park was empty save for the birds in the trees overhead who’d long ago greeted the morning with their songs of merriment. I stared ahead at the expanse of grass ahead, a soccer field which would be filled with pre-adolescent little leaguers just a few hours later.
The night before had been a much needed break from my everyday reality. As I sat in the audience next to Barry, his wife Yolanda, and their two other younger sons, I experienced, just for a moment, life from their perspective. Their life was not full of countless hotel stays away from home, constant traveling and long nights at the office. I glanced over at Barry when it was time for Justine’s solo. His face was aglow and he beamed with pride as his daughter skillfully ran her bow over the strings of her instrument. The ethereal sounds she produced were simultaneously poignant and haunting. I smiled at how much the niece I remembered as barely hobbling across the floor of my home with her first steps only a few years ago, had grown so quickly into a fine young lady.
And then, Darian’s face flashed in my mind, effectively invading each and every one of my thoughts. Now all I could think about was Barry’s observation. He’s not much older than Justine replayed in my head, nonstop. I shifted in my chair as discomfort took over with the realization that only a few years before I watched Justine waddle across the floor with her first steps, Darian was doing the same.
Shit, Barry. My brother was so enthralled with his daughter’s performance that he didn’t see the scowl I’d directed his way. Why the hell did he have to come in, as usual, and insert his opinion? And as I sat there, silently fuming and pissed at my oblivious brother, the vibrate of my phone against my hip caused me to jump slightly in my chair. Yolanda glanced over, “You okay?” she whispered.
I waved a hand and lifted my phone. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a call.” I didn’t answer it, however. Especially not when I saw Darian flashing across the display. I continued to watch, smiling as Justine played the last, extended notes of her piece. When she’d finished, we all hooted and hollered. Justine’s face lit up as she turned to see us waving and applauding insanely in the row in front of her. I was so overwhelmed with shared joy for my niece that it made it less difficult to ignore the insistent buzzes of missed text and missed call notifications at my side.
My chest heaved as I released a deep sigh. It was only hours ago, the night before, that Darian had left my home. I was starting to feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite. Who was I to speak to other people about discipline, will power, and following through on goals, when I couldn’t even make my goal of ending this thing with Darian happen?. Discipline was non-existent, and willpower was a joke when it came to him.
As I sat in the quiet outdoor air, the sounds of giggles directed my attention to the jogging trail to my right. A young couple stood only a few feet away in front of a navy colored jogging stroller. The man and woman leaned over the front of the stroller, their laughs mingling together with what sounded like the light ring of an infant’s giggles. The woman, the mother I’d assumed, lifted the onesie-clad baby from the stroller and raised him above her head, eliciting another round of giggles from the small child. The father placed a hand on the woman’s back and the other on the baby as they stood close. They were the picture of a perfect, happy stock photo-ready family.
I pulled my eyes away from the personal, intimate scene. I couldn’t keep this up. Regardless of how Darian thought he felt about me, and how I felt about him, I wondered if I was being completely naive. Even if we did find a way to make it work and be together, who was to say that ten or twenty years later he wouldn’t resent me? What if he really did want what that family next to me had, or if he wanted to experience the emotions and pride Barry had when he’d watched Justine’s recital? Maybe he did want that, and just didn’t know it yet. And who was I to rob him of that? He was barely starting out on his own, discovering the world as an adult. He had no idea what he truly wanted. And I couldn’t allow this temporary thing between us to cloud his judgment. In ten years, he’d be a different person, with new desires and goals.
I smiled at the baby, now back in the stroller, as his mother pushed him and jogged alongside the baby’s father. I could see Darian in the man’s place, ten years from that very moment. He’d don his trademark wired-rimmed glasses, the scruff of hair on his chin giving him a more mature, worldly appearance. His wife would be at his side, stealing grateful, admiring glances his way as they continued on the trail. I sighed. This was going to be one of the toughest things I’d had to do so far. Shit.
What’s taking her so damn long? I was standing on Sylvia’s porch, listening for the sound of rustling and movement within the house. Finally after at least the fifth ring of her doorbell and third time knocking on her door, I saw the glow of the foyer light flicker on through the window above her door.
Sylvia opened the door just enough to peek out at me, her body hidden behind the wooden barrier. “Darian. I texted you back and asked you not to come tonight.”
“I know. But I was off early, and I wanted to see you.”
She didn’t budge. “Not tonight, Darian. Go home.”
I reached out to touch her hand, but she recoiled, moving it away and farther down the door. Dread washed over me. “What’s wrong?”
“This. All of it. This is what’s wrong.”
“Wait, what?” I had no idea where this had come from. I was sure we were past her issues with our situation. But apparently I was wrong as I looked at her stony face. Never before had she looked as resolute as she did in that moment, the door serving as her emotional and physical separation from me.
“No more, Darian. Not tonight. Not any other night. We can talk more about this at the office, Monday morning. Come early, please. By seven, if possible.”
“Goodnight, Darian,” she said, not waiting for me to finish my sentence before closing the door in my face.
I’d never imagined I’d be the type to hang around where I wasn’t wanted. But I surprised even myself as I stayed around for at least another ten minutes, knocking on her door and ringing her doorbell like a madman. I’d hoped that if I was ever put in a situation like that my ego and pride would kick in and I’d just walk off and shut any woman who would do that out of my life. But it didn’t quite go that way as I stood at her doorstep, a pitiful cast-off lover, holding on to a shred of hope that she’d change her mind, open the door, and welcome me into her arms, as she had every other time before.
“This will have to be your last week working here, Darian.” Sylvia didn’t waste any time getting straight to the point, and blurted it out before I was even fully seated in the chair across from her.
I blinked, hoping that would help me to orient me. I was beyond confused, with no idea how or why everything had suddenly gone south. I knew she was upset. But this upset?
“I will take full responsibility for this entire situation. I’m older and should have been more aware of the consequences that could arise from such a...relationship. But this is a completely inappropriate working environment.”
She paused, but I didn’t speak. It was clear she had more to say. And judging by her unrelenting demeanor, no amount of debate or argument was going to change her mind.
“Though I’ll have to let you go early, I will compensate you for the remainder of the initially contracted term of your employment.”
Her formality was grating on every last nerve in my body. But there would be no more begging from me. I was done being her immature, whiny, childish little boy toy. If she’d ever felt anything for me before, it wasn’t apparent as she sat there behind her big desk staring at me. The affection for me that I was sure I’d seen at one time in her eyes, was now gone.
“Do you have any questions?”
“No,” I answered quickly. I didn’t divert my eyes away from her stony gaze. I was determined to meet it head on.
She drew in a breath. “Okay. Thank you, Darian. That was all I needed to discuss with you.”
I rose and left her office, without a glance back at her. You might as well get used to it, I told myself. Because my days of looking on Sylvia’s face were quickly coming to an end.
That week passed faster than any week, at any job I’d ever had in my life. Before I knew it, Friday had arrived. After receiving a parting hug and greeting card from Pamela, I was left alone with Sylvia for the last time.
Her heels tapped on the wood floor when she approached me as I stood next to the front door, preparing to leave. She carried an elongated white business envelope in her hand. She gave a polite smile. The kind of friendly smile she’d thrown my way nearly two months before at the Renaissance hotel. Long gone was the erotic smile of pleasure that I’d seen paint her face after I’d hit just the right spot to send her body into convulsive spasms. The Sylvia in front of me now was the motivational speaker, the professional. She was no longer Sylvia, the lover. I let out a small, imperceptible sigh when she handed me the envelope.
“Thank you so much, Darian, for everything you’ve done. You’ve actually taught me alot, and shown me alot. And you’ve played a huge role in helping my business to stretch and grow even farther. I’ll always be grateful to you for that.” Her brown eyes lit up as her smile widened. She pointed to the envelope in my hand. “That’s the remaining compensation that we’d discussed earlier this week.”
A quiet, “Thank you,” was all I could manage to get out. I didn’t know how to do this with any sort of grace or finesse, and an awkward silence filled the air around us.
She finally stepped forward to wrap her arms around me in a light hug. I returned the cold, superficial embrace before she stepped back quickly, restoring the distance between us.
“Goodbye and good luck, with everything, Darian.”
I nodded. “Bye. And you too.” I pulled the door open, this time turning to steal one parting glance at her. Ms. Jackson. Sylvia Jackson. I hoped I would be able to sear her face into a permanent corner of my brain. I wanted to remember her. Because I knew that there was already a part of my heart to which only she could ever lay claim.
I closed the door behind me. It was final. I was closing Sylvia out of my life. I looked down at the envelope, admiring my name written in her fancy script. I opened the envelope and pulled out the enclosed check. I could hardly breathe as I scanned the check amount over and over again. It was more than the amount she’d promised for the remainder of the summer. It was enough to cover my tuition for the entire year, with plenty left over to spare.
I didn't know how to feel about it. Sure I was thrilled to know that I was covered financially, but this wasn’t the way I wanted to do it. It almost felt cheap, and as I looked back at the closed office door with Sylvia Jackson in bold black letters on the name plate, I wondered if I had just been a boy toy after all.
Maybe I had initiated our first intimate interactions, but I couldn’t help wondering if it was me in control of the situation, or if she had actually been at the helm all along. But that didn’t matter anymore. It was over, and if she wanted to move on, I’d give her exactly what she wanted.
Ten years later
The crowd erupted into raucous applause as I returned to my seat on the stage behind the podium. The attendees were still standing as I smiled back at them, my eyes scanning the crowd. I recognized a few familiar faces---die-hard personal development fans who soaked up these conferences like sponges, and attended nearly every one. But there were several more new faces among the crowd. Finally the cheers died down, as the attendees returned to their seats.
Jason Baker, a long-time peer and good friend, stood to take his turn at the podium. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he had the crowd nearly rolling out of their seats. He was one of the funniest and most inspiring people I knew.
But as I watched Jason work the crowd, I couldn’t shake the odd feeling that nagged at me. The hairs on the left side of my neck seemed to stand on end, and I turned in that direction, seeking the source of the strange sensation.
When my gaze locked onto those deep, dark brown eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, my breath caught in my chest. Darian sat in the front row, and his lips curved up into a slight grin. He gave a tiny nod. I don’t know how long we stared at each other; I’m sure it was much longer than it seemed because I was certain that time had stopped just for us, so that we could savor that moment in its entirety.
But when I saw the tall, slender woman with the chin-length jet-black bob next to him lean over to whisper in his ear, I forced my eyes away from him. I’d wanted to keep my eyes on Jason and pretend my old lover from years past was not sitting in the front row of the room. But I failed.
It had been so long, and I was just curious about how he’d turned out, I’d told myself in an attempt to rationalize the glances that I shot in his direction. He too seemed to be conflicted, for every time I looked over at him, he was watching Jason, but not watching him. His demeanor seemed stiff and forced. And each and every time, his eyes would drift my way when I glanced over at him.
I was grateful that Jason was the last speaker of the day. I couldn’t take sitting in the hot seat on that stage much longer, under Darian’s gaze.
I interspersed speaking with attendees and signing autographs,with quick glances around the room in search of Darian. And then I wondered if he had just been a a figment of my imagination. Maybe a ghost from my past there to haunt me, or a hallucination. Perhaps I’d imagined Darian’s face on the face of another man. And if that were the case, why? It had been so long since I’d been assaulted with thoughts about him. Years, actually.
As I gathered up my purse and laptop bag and said goodbye to the other speakers, I heard the familiar voice call my name. “Sylvia.” It was heavier, with years of experience and growth to weigh it down, maybe, but it was definitely, and unmistakably Darian’s voice.
I turned around to face him, and was instantly transported back to the emotions I’d felt for him so long ago. I put what I was sure looked like the fakest smile in my arsenal on my face, and reached out to give him a quick hug. His arms, though around me for the briefest of moments, felt stronger, and his chest harder and sturdier than I’d remembered. It was amazing looking at him, as a fully grown man. No longer the young man I’d known. I diverted my eyes to look up at the woman at his side. And I could clearly see as she stood before me that she wasn’t quite as slender as I’d assumed when she was seated next to him. The bulge that protruded from what was most likely once a flat abdomen, was apparent and undeniable.
“Sylvia, it’s good to see you,” Darian said, beaming. “This is my wife, Tracy.”
Tracy stepped forward and shook my hand eagerly. “It’s so good to meet you. Oh my God, I’d planned to come to this event, and when Darian told me that he actually knew you, and worked for you before, I was so shocked!”
I chuckled, amused at her gushing, but still affected by the energy that Darian seemed to emit. I had to work hard to keep my eyes off of him and focused on Tracy as I spoke to her. “Yes, we did work together. For just a short summer, years ago.” I glanced over at him. He didn’t smile; instead he kept his intense gaze fixed on me.
Suddenly uncomfortable and fully aware of Tracy's increasingly confused expression I hurried to fill in the tense silence surrounding us. "So, I see you're expecting," I said, as I gave my most dazzling smile.
Tracy nodded enthusiastically and circled an arm around Darian's waist, snuggling close. But when I glanced over at Darian, I instantly wished I could retract what I'd said. His face was a messy blend of sadness, hurt, guilt and anger all jumbled together. From my vantage point, he didn't seem to share Tracy's excitement. I didn't need a verbal rundown of what he was feeling, because I could see it all. I was pretty certain that he was remembering the declaration he'd made years ago to me. He didn't want to marry, and he didn't want children. And I was sure that was the reason for his guilt - ridden expression as he stood before me. And also the reason for the blame that he seemed to project my way. I could've bet my entire business and whole life's savings that he felt that if I hadn't pushed him away that day, he wouldn't be married to Tracy and she wouldn't be carrying his child.
Or, maybe that was what I wanted to see. Who knows? What I did know was that it was long past time to wrap up that little reunion. I held out a hand again to Tracy. “Well, I really have to run. I have a flight to catch early tomorrow morning. It was great meeting you. You've got a great husband here."
Tracy shook my hand and beamed. "I know. It was great meeting you, as well."
I held out a hand for Darian. One hug was more than enough, I thought. I didn't want to push it, and definitely not in front of his wife.
Darian looked down at my hand and back up into my eyes with an Are you kidding? expression. And a flicker of the passion I remembered from a decade before resurfaced in his dark eyes. I swallowed as he reached forward, ignoring my hand, and hugged me tightly. I gave him a friendly pat on the back before pulling away. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to go all misty - eyed in front of them both.
"Well, you two take care. And congratulations on the baby."
I turned and high-tailed it out of there and down the hallway toward the front door.
“Sylvia," I heard him call again. When I turned around this time, he was alone, as he jogged my way.
I looked over his shoulder when he stopped in front of me. "Where's Tracy?"
"I asked her to wait for me in the hall for a minute. "
I frowned. " Do you think it was smart to leave her alone to come and talk to me?"
He waved a hand. "It's fine. "
"Darian..." I started, shaking my head.
“Please. It's okay. I just...I just needed a minute to talk to you. Alone."
"I don't have long."
"I know." Darian looked me over slowly, from my feet up, until he stopped at my face, his eyes seeming to roam over every feature. “You practically look the same, " he said, finally.
I chuckled. "Yeah right. You're still into flattering older wonen, huh?"
"No. Only you. And only when I mean it."
I gulped. “So what are you doing with yourself? Did you ever decide what you wanted to do? Are you a physician now or did you go the politician route?"
He laughed. " Oh, you remember."
"Of course I remember." How could I forget anything about you, Darian? But those thoughts would never pass my lips. “What did you end up choosing?”
“Anesthesiology won out, at least for now. I work for a practice in Fort Worth.”
I gave him a sincere smile. I was genuinely happy for him. He was successful and had grown so much since I’d last seen him. But a small part of me regretted that I hadn’t been there to watch it happen. “It looks like you’ve got the perfect life now.” I looked over his shoulder to see Tracy standing in the distance, watching us curiously. “Your wife is gorgeous and I know you’ll both be happy when you add a new one to your family.”
He sighed, and I recognized the longing look on his face. It was time to get out of there before he said something he’d regret. I patted his arm. “You enjoy that family of yours. And it was so great seeing you again.” I turned to leave so that we could put an end to this tense tap dance around our true, buried feelings.
“Goodbye, Ms. Jackson.” I stopped in my tracks, my back still to him. Passionate, hot memories flooded my brain at once. My mouth curved up in a half grin, and I didn’t need to turn around to know that his smile mirrored my own.
As I walked off without daring to look back at him, I shot back my reply over my shoulder. “Goodbye, young man.”
I welcomed the soothing feel of the water as it flowed from the shower head and beat against my back. It slowly took the edge off of the bundle of nerves that had seemed to collect there. The funny thing was that most of my tension hadn’t come from a full day of speeches and interacting with attendees. No, the start of that anxiety could be pinpointed to when Darian had leaned forward to hug me only minutes before.
Had he sensed the thoughts that had been going through my head about him the entire day? Had he seen me direct one too many glances his way while on stage? I’d hoped that I’d been discrete about it. The last thing I wanted was for him to get any ideas. But as I stepped out of the shower and began to towel off, I wondered if my body had gone against my wishes and let him know all of my secrets. Had it taken it upon itself to let him know that the attraction I sensed from him, was mutual.
I hadn’t missed Darian’s lingering stares, nor the way he’d found any reason to hang around just a little longer than necessary every evening in my office. But there was a line there that I’d never dream of crossing. In my entire professional life, affairs with co-workers had been completely off-limits. It wasn’t as if I’d never had the opportunity. There were plenty of men who’d flirted and plenty more who’d approached me with unwanted advances. But that was one rule of mine that had always been non-negotiable. And any attempts at breaking those rules were promptly shut down. But for some reason Darian had even a hard, serious woman like me willing to reconsider her own rule and move that line back, if only just a bit.
This is the last hotel trip we make together, I thought, as I slid into my favorite soft textured, coral colored nightslip. With that thought, I forced out the last of my anxiety, now satisfied with my decision. That was how it would have to be. We couldn’t do anymore trips like these. At least not alone together. I wished that I’d listened to my initial reservations about bringing him along on that trip to record the speech, but I guess optimism combined with naivete had taken over and won that battle. But I was no longer naive about it; the situation was just not conducive to a healthy working relationship with Darian.
The loud rap on the door startled me just as I pulled back the sheets to climb into the hotel bed. Speak of the devil, I thought when I’d reached the door to peek through the peephole. I drew in a deep breath to collect myself and pulled the door open to come face to face with a clearly contrite Darian.
I’d perfected my entire spiel; I’d rehearsed it on the walk over to Sylvia’s hotel door. And I’d stood outside a few minutes more until I’d formulated the words well enough in my head so that I knew there was no way I would come off as an imbecile. I couldn’t afford to further damage the already precarious situation.
But when she opened the door in her nightgown, a simple soft-toned ensemble that complemented the hue of her glowing skin, I was lucky that I could even manage to remember how to breathe properly. The sight of her bare arms and legs alone were enough to make simple life-sustaining autonomic activities difficult.
“You’re back,” she said, her arms folded over her chest again.
“I...uh…” I cleared my throat, hoping that could jog my memory and help me to recite the speech I’d polished only moments before. But the hint of her curves under the light fabric was distracting. Just look her in the eye, I told myself. No. The way she looked back at me with her round bright eyes proved just as distracting. The floor, the floor’s always safe, I thought, looking down at my feet as I shuffled them uncomfortably .
“You’re really pushing it, Darian. Why would you come back?”
“I just wanted to let you know again, how sorry I am.”
My grasp of simple communication was slowly coming back to me, but the whole thing still wasn’t going nearly as well as I’d seen it in my head before she’d opened that door. “I know that what I did was reprehensible. And I’m sorry for even putting you in a situation like that.” Stop looking at the floor. How can she believe you when you’re studying the leather on your freaking shoes?
I forced myself to look back up into her chestnut colored eyes. She looked so pissed; but I knew I had to at least get through this. I could run back to my room and lick my wounds later, but for now, I needed to get this out.
The sound of a door opening stopped us both, though, and I looked over to see someone stepping out of a room a few doors down. Sylvia stepped forward to peek at the source of the noise. And the smell of sweetly-scented soap on her skin wafted forward, assaulting my senses. Damn, that smell was going to make doing this even harder than it already was. The gray-haired woman, easily in her seventies, looked directly at us with a deep scowl marring her face. It was clear that she didn’t appreciate us chatting in the hallway. Sylvia looked back at me and grabbed my arm to pull me inside.
She closed the door and walked to the other side of the room; almost as if getting as far away as she possibly could in the small space. She stopped just before the window. “You’re right, Darian. What you did was unacceptable. And I do appreciate your apology. But I think this whole thing is getting a little too awkward for me, and for us.”
This wasn’t how it had played out in my head. In my mind, she was supposed to realize just how sincere I was, smile, and tell me that it was fine now, and she’d see me tomorrow. But there she was, saying exactly what I’d hoped to avoid in the first place.
“So, you...are you going to have to let me go? Are you firing me?”
Sylvia moved to sit in the wide beige chair in the corner of the room. She sighed. “No, I’m not firing you. And that’s precisely why we can’t be in settings like this.” She used a hand to gesture around at the hotel room. “And it’s why it’d be best if we aren’t alone together. Something...very inappropriate...”
I shook my head adamantly, moving toward her. “No, I promise. It won’t. I just jumped the gun earlier and…I promise that won’t happen again.” As I spoke those words it took everything in me to keep my eyes glued on hers and not the satiny-smooth leg that she’d crossed over the other.
She was quiet; too quiet, and for an agonizingly long period of time, as she sat with her hands folded in her lap and staring at the cream colored walls ahead. Her voice was softer than I’d ever heard before as she said, “We’ll try again, Darian. But,” she looked up into my eyes, “this is it. No more chances. ”
It never felt so good to be off of the hook than it did in that moment. “Thank you. You won’t be sorry.” Just as I placed one foot forward to move in her direction, I stopped myself. That’s what got your ass in trouble the last time, I chastised myself mentally, as I moved backward in the other direction, toward the door. “I can’t thank you enough. And I’m sorry. Again.”
I was out of her room before she even had a chance to get out of the chair to see me out. Somehow she’d found it in her heart to have mercy on me. And no way was I going to mess it up again.
“You need anything else before I head home?” I glanced over my computer monitor to see Pamela in my office doorway.
“No, I’m fine,” I answered. “Is Darian still out there?” It had been just over a week since the hotel incident and we’d both successfully avoided mentioning it since then.
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“ ‘Night,” she said, disappearing from view. I heard her say goodbye to Darian and then the open and close of the office door. We were left there alone, for the first time since we’d been back.
I looked over at the hallway just outside my office door when I heard Darian’s footsteps approaching. “Sylvia?”
“Do you mind if I head out now, too?”
“Sure. Were you able to finish uploading the video to all of the social media sites?”
“Okay, I’ll take a look at them later. Have a good night.”
“You too. See you tomorrow.”
When I heard the door close behind him, I could feel the tightness in my shoulders relax. I was grateful that the entire week he’d been committed to leaving before Pamela went home for the evening, ensuring that we weren’t left alone in the office. I had to hand it to him, he was definitely sticking to his side of the deal and keeping his distance. And that’s why I couldn’t understand why I was still so damned unnerved around him. Especially considering that being unnerved just wasn’t an emotion that I was in the habit of feeling.
I practically peeled out of the parking lot of Sylvia’s office. I still had to rush home to change into my tuxedo uniform and then try to make it back to the suburban Dallas hotel in less than an hour. I couldn’t afford to be late; especially since I’d practically crawled back to my boss, Greg, to beg for my position back. He hadn’t seemed too excited about the idea at first, but I already knew that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I knew for a fact that he was short at least one server, since I’d called Robert as soon as I came back from the trip with Sylvia and found out that he’d recently quit without two weeks notice. Lucky for me, Robert was fed up with the job, effectively forcing Greg’s hand. Greg hired me reluctantly, and told me to be ready for the next event a day later.
I hadn’t told Sylvia yet about returning to my second job, and I hoped that I wouldn’t have to. If I could get out of there before five every day, I was usually left with just enough time to make it to most of the weeknight events. I didn’t intend to tell her anything for as long as possible.
After the incident the week before, I’d never quite felt as certain about my position with her anymore. She could have, justifiably so, let me go at any moment, and I’d be left without a way to pay for my last year of undergrad. But I wouldn’t let that happen; the fighter in me couldn’t let that happen. And the other advantage was that as long as I worked the catering job and she let me stay on with her, I was inching closer to the amount I knew I’d need for tuition for the entire year.
Despite my fear that I could be terminated without warning, I wondered if this had actually worked in my favor after all. Working two jobs would ensure that next year, my tuition would be one less thing to worry about, and I’d be that much closer to medical school.
Darian sat in the chair across from me, and I tried to remain as stone-faced as I could when I said, “There’s another conference coming up in a week, in New Mexico.”
He was silent; the only acknowledgment of what I’d said was the slight nodding motion of his head as his eyes stayed on mine.
“I ..um…” I cleared my throat, frustrated that my mouth had become inexplicably dry. “I was unable to find another professional videographer in time, and I’ll need you there to record just this talk, if you can.”
The pause that followed filled the room with nervous energy, mostly mine. He was hesitant, and averted his eyes. “I may have another event to attend that evening,” he finally said.
“An event. With Crowley Catering.”
“You’re working for them again?”
“Why?” I asked.
“I just needed to save more money for school, and I figured working two jobs would be the best way to do that.”
I could see the lie in his eyes. I placed my elbows atop the desk and steepled my fingers, my eyes on him as I tried to read his face to determine what was really going on with him.
“You do know, that when I said what I said on our last...trip...that I only meant that allowing ourselves to be in questionable settings could lead to something that we’d both regret.” The slight raise of one of his eyebrows was not lost on me. What did that mean? I wondered, but continued, nevertheless. “And considering the fact that I am your employer, there is already an unfair power imbalance there...”
He didn’t waste time, and jumped in before I could finish my statement, “So you’re saying that if I didn’t work for you, you would have let me kiss you that night?”
I blinked rapidly as my breath caught in my chest. “No…” I breathed out, shaking my head adamantly, “I didn’t mean that at all.” He had me flustered, a feat which no man had achieved in years. I took a moment to compose myself, and leaned against my chair back before continuing. “What I mean is that I never have any type of relationship beyond a professional one with coworkers. And I’d especially never consider one with an employee, especially one of your…”
“My what? My age?”
The tension in the room was palpable. My efforts to explain my thinking and smooth over the situation had gone terribly awry. “Well yes, but, I still don’t think you’re quite hearing what I’m saying …”
My eyes widened and once again, my breathing slowed as I watched him move in closer until he was standing at my side. He leaned back, resting slightly against my desk, his leg grazing mine. I shifted, moving my chair back until it hit the wall behind me; anything to avoid the physical contact.
“So, consider this my verbal resignation," he said. His eyes were dead serious and intently focused on me. He may have been young, but he seemed to have a way of making even a mature, seasoned woman feel like a nervous schoolgirl. What the hell…
I stood, closing some of the distance between us. Because the way he hovered over my petite, seated frame only seemed to give him more of an advantage. I shook my head. “Maybe you're not understanding what I’m saying. I was not implying that you should resign, just that we should try to make the best of a pretty awkward situation.” I watched as his eyes directed down, away from my eyes and were now clearly examining my lips. I paused a moment, swallowing away my unease, and pressing my lips together in a self-conscious gesture.
He placed a hand on the desk and leaned toward me, until his face was inches from mine. “But I have to. I have to resign. If that’s the only way that you’ll let me do this,” he said, just before stroking my cheek. My eyes slid closed of their own volition as I felt his hand move down to my chin, cupping it tenderly. “Or this,” I heard him say as he bent down to kiss my parted lips.
I knew that what I should have done was push him away, slap him, and tell him to leave my office and never come back. But that was easier said than done. Convincing my body to do the wise thing was virtually impossible as I allowed myself to sink into his long arms when I felt them wrap around my back and pull me into him.
For whatever reason, Darian had crossed my path weeks before; and whatever had bound us when our eyes locked in the banquet hall that night, was stronger to fight than anything I’d experienced. But why, oh why, did I have to experience it with him?
My heart beat a manic drum-like rhythm with each step closer that I came to Sylvia’s hotel room. She walked beside me as I carried the supplies and equipment from the evening conference.
"It's this one, " Sylvia said, stopping before the room numbered 732. The pounding of my heart was now ringing in my ears with the rush of blood through my body as I watched her slide in her card key, unlocking the door.
She pushed open the door and held it as I walked in past her. I placed the items down onto the desk in the room. But the soft click of the door as it closed behind me made me whip my head back to look at her.
Since our kiss in the office days ago, Sylvia had again managed to pretend it had never happened. There was no mention of our shared intimacy, or even of my proposed resignation. I'd accepted the fact that she just didn't take me seriously after all, at least not in the way I wanted. And I'd decided just before boarding the plane to New Mexico that if her wish was to keep me at arm's length, then I'd respect that.
But as she moved toward me, I noticed the strange look in her eyes; a concentrated, simmering hot type of stare.
She grabbed my hand and looked up into my face, a grin curving her lips upward. “You're staying here tonight, right?"
When I was able to recover from the shock and realization that she was serious, I nodded my head fervently as an incoherent stream of words spilled from my mouth. “Y...yea..I...can..sure..I'll stay."
Her hand crept up my arm and she pulled me toward her. She reached up to run her fingers along my jawline, her eyes never leaving mine. She tugged at my shirt, pulling me closer.
I bent over, lessening our marked height difference and allowed her to hold my face between both hands as she brought my mouth toward hers for a kiss. I breathed in every ounce of her, relishing in the taste of her again. The feel of those lips against mine was an obsessive thought that had played on repeat in my head since the night I'd first sampled them in her office. A surge of sensation rushed through my body, settling in my groin with the rapid flow of blood that settled there. My need for her was evident; and as I enclosed her waist with my arms pulling her flush against me, her moan was proof that she'd felt it as well.
Now that she'd opened herself to me, neither of us were forced to pretend what we felt didn't exist, nor did we have to fight what we really wanted. I let my hands trail down her back, to cup her round buttocks. In one swift movement I easily lifted her petite frame and she instinctively wrapped her legs around my waist, her thighs squeezing my waist possessively. I brought her to the bed and after laying her down, enjoyed a languid realization of the fantasy that had replayed in my head since I'd first laid eyes on Ms. Jackson.
I stared at the computer monitor in front of me, the blinking cursor nagging me to complete the next sentence of my speech for an upcoming local women's luncheon. But Darian, seated on the other side of my desk, with my laptop before him as he clicked and tapped away, his thick brow furrowed in concentration, had proved to be more than enough of a distraction to keep me from being productive. And what I found most disturbing was not knowing why this young man, little more than half of my thirty-nine years of age was a distraction for me in the first place.
It wasn't as if I went around in search of cradles to rob. Only two months before my encounter with Darian, I'd frowned at the spirited attempt at flirting I'd received from a man just three years my junior. I just liked my men older, wiser, and more mature.
But considering the fact that dating was the least of my concerns anyway, with the life I preferred to live, Darian's age didn't matter one way or the other. I liked to be free enough for my life and career to take me down whichever path the next stop of my journey led; and there'd yet to be any man worth more than, at most, a few days of my time.
So a kid barely out of puberty wasn’t someone who I’d usually even give a second look. At least, not the kind of looks that I found myself giving Darian.
Darian’s tall, slender frame had caught my eye as soon as I'd entered the Renaissance Hotel banquet hall over a week before. It was quite apparent that he was young, but the way be carried himself was effectively deceptive. His demeanor made him seem significantly older than he was, and the tuxedo uniform he donned only added to his charm. He wore maturity like a cloak; that I could see even from a distance. And those sexy eyes, and temptingly luscious lips...
But that was beside the point, I told myself, mentally slapping my hand and forcing myself to turn back to the task at hand.
And as soon as I'd begun typing away, finally back in the zone as the words flowed freely, I heard the chair creak when Darian rose from the chair. I looked up to see the boyish, triumphant grin on his face as he moved my way, stopping to stand directly next to me as he placed the laptop on the desk's surface.
"So, take a look at this and tell me what you think." He clicked on a desktop icon he'd created entitled, S. Jackson website.
A banner with a logo featuring my name appeared on the header of the page. I marveled at how much he'd changed and updated the site in just a matter of minutes. The website pages were much more visually appealing and much better organized. I was impressed.
“Not bad. Not bad at all. Where were you last year when I shelled out way too much money to have someone set up that mediocre site for me?"
He cocked his head to the side playfully, as if remembering. He rubbed his chin and said, “Hmm...last year? I was kinda tied up at a pre-med summer program at Meharry."
The light-heartedness of before seemed to slowly seep out of the room the minute he mentioned that. Great way to remind me just how young you are, I thought. But it was a much needed reality check. I cleared my throat and straightened my face, hoping to return to the professional atmosphere I tried to maintain. I nodded my head in approval.
“Great work, here," I said, as I clicked through and studied the pages of the newly updated website." I looked over to notice his eyes directed on my notepad next to the keyboard.
“You keep your task list on a pad like that all of the time?"
I pushed the notebook away, unsure of why I was now embarrassed about my archaic method of task planning. I nodded and continued clicking through the website. "Um-hmm."
I glanced over to see one of his long fingers pointing at my notepad. And when I directed my eyes up to his face, I was met with his raised eyebrow and eager expression. “Do you mind if I try something for you?” he asked.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the flashing of the graphics he’d just added to my website; and I felt silly for having reservations about trusting him when he’d already proven he was trustworthy.
I handed the notebook to him. “And your phone, please.”
Now it was my turn to raise a doubtful eyebrow at him. My trust could only go so far.
“I won’t mess anything up. I just want to add something that will help you out.”
I let out a nervous breath as I reached over to pick up my phone from the desk and hand it over to him. He returned to his seat across from me, and began tapping and swiping at the phone’s display screen.
As I watched him fiddle around, I second guessed my decision to let him play with my phone. And I kept one eye on him as I shifted slightly in my seat to continue typing my speech.
“Done,” he exclaimed minutes later as he leapt from the chair and returned to stand next to me on the other side of the desk. I retrieved the phone he held out for me. “Right here,” he said as he pointed to a new application icon on the phone, “is where I added a new task manager app for you to add your daily to-do list.”
He was standing close enough that the hairs of his arm tickled my forearm. The electricity that pulsed through me surprised me; but more than anything, it annoyed me. I didn’t exactly appreciate my body’s decision to go rogue and react to him of its own accord.
I leaned back against my desk chair and studied the application. He’d already added that day’s list and the tasks that I’d marked as completed, were grayed out . Once again, he’d impressed me . I smiled up at his grinning face. He was clearly pleased with himself.
“You know, I could have done this before. I just like doing it the old-fashioned way. There’s nothing like putting pen to paper when I plan out my days.”
His grin slowly fell as his face grew serious.
“But,” I assured him, “your resourcefulness keeps surprising me. And I definitely appreciate that.” I watched as his lip curved up again into a slight smile. “Thank you, Darian. You’ve helped me much more than I’d anticipated, young man.”
And just like that, his face became stony again. He glanced up at the analog clock on the opposite wall. “Well, I have to get going. I have a job tonight at the Omni.”
“You’re still working with the catering company?” He’d been at my office for at least half of the day, and had spent several hours every other day of that week volunteering and assisting me with small tasks. This was the first I’d heard about him still working his other job.
“Yes,” he answered. “Almost every evening.”
I nodded my understanding. “Tuition, right?”
“Right,” he said. “I can’t exactly quit, just in case this doesn’t work out.” He gave a nervous smile, and lifted his laptop messenger bag, sliding it onto his shoulder. “Well, goodnight, Sylvia.”
He turned to head toward the door, but I called out to him just as his hand reached for the doorknob. When he turned to look at me, I drummed my fingers on the desk, just before glancing at the new and improved website on my computer monitor. “If you’d like to make this your only job...you may do that,” I said, my eyes serious as I looked into his, noting how they’d brightened with my words. “I like you. And I like your work. And I’d like to have you work for me full time. I have several upcoming conferences that I will need help with this summer, and it would help to have a full time, readily available assistant. It hasn’t been two weeks yet, but I don’t think we need two weeks. So...if you’d like to resign from your other position…”
“Thank you,” he said, rushing back to my desk to shake my hand vigorously. “I really appreciate this.”
I smiled at his excitement and nodded. “No need to thank me. You’ve proven yourself and your ability. You have a good night.”
“Thank you again. Goodnight.”
I stood at the back of the conference room, filming Sylvia with the digital camcorder placed atop the tripod. I was really starting to love this job. It gave me an excuse to keep my eyes glued on her for hours on end without seeming creepy or risking her recoiling in response to my ogling.
I'd suggested that she film her speeches and events in order to place them on her website, and to also have them professionally edited and packaged for mass distribution. And considering how sharp of a woman she was, it was actually amazing to me that she hadn't already done so. Luckily, she’d eagerly accepted my suggestion and told me that we'd start at her next event.
But I don't think I was the best person to take on the role of videographer. I'm sure I'd spent more time watching her then verifying that the speech was being recorded properly.
When I recognized that she was nearing the close of her speech, I began packing up. As she accepted the crowd's applause and spoke with audience members, I prepared a table with her business cards and brochures, along with her upcoming event schedule.
Sylvia eventualy made her way to where I stood, flashing me one of her brilliant smiles. When she’d taken her place behind the table, I helped her pass out paraphernalia, still impressed with how well she worked the crowd and charmed everyone she met. And when she’d look over at me, her eyes gleaming, I knew I was just another one of the masses under her spell.
“You can leave everything on the bed, there,” Sylvia said, as she held the door to her hotel room open. I walked past her, dropping the bags which held her supplies and paraphernalia from the evening.
I heard the door close behind me and turned to see her removing her earrings before she disappeared behind the partition which separated the area in which I stood from the vanity area.
“The turnout was great this evening,” I heard her voice echo from behind the wall.
“It was,” I said, growing nervous with the realization that I was in her hotel room with her, alone. “And you were great tonight. It’s like, I don’t know, you transform when you’re on the stage.”
I looked up to see her move toward me, her reddish-brown hair now loose and tumbling down past her shoulders in loose waves. I gulped. It was the first time I’d seen her without one of her rigid, harsh updos. And seeeing her that way only made my attraction to her that much harder to hide. I shuffled my feet, turning the front of my body out of her view, so that she couldn’t see just how hard it had become to hide.
“Thank you,” she said. And I could hear the smile in her voice, as I kept my eyes averted on the red and black patterned hotel room carpet. “So let’s see it.”
I whipped my head up at her. “See what?”
“Let’s see what you’ve got.” I’m sure my eyes were as wide as saucers until she pointed to the camera bag on the bed. “Let’s see that footage.”
“Oh,” I said, relief washing over my face. I stepped forward and unzipped the camera bag, pulling out the digital camera.
I could smell her natural scent mingled with the faint, fading odor of her perfume when she reached out to take the camera from me. She kept her eyes on the video as she slowly walked over to the other unoccupied bed. She sat down, and continued to watch the video, as if studying and critiquing every movement made and every word spoken.
I was getting bolder by the minute as I watched her, and before my brain could tell my feet otherwise, they moved of their own free will, until I was sitting next to her on the bed.
A questioning look crossed her face before she smiled at me. “This looks good, Darian. Thank you.”
“No. It wasn’t me. I had a great subject to capture.”
I was almost sure I saw a hint of red on her cheeks before she said, “You and your flattery, young man.”
There it was again. Young man. Damn, how many times was she going to call me that? I was getting tired of hearing it, because the words seemed to carry a sharper sting when it came out of her mouth. It made me more conscious of the fact that she most likely saw me the way my parents did. As a young, naive kid . And I knew I was far from that.
She must have read the upset on my face, because seconds later I heard her say, “Something wrong?”
I was quiet for a moment as I debated. Should I tell her or just let it go. Was it even worth mentioning? It was, I finally decided. "I just don't like it when you say,'young man'. It sounds as bad as kid, or child, or son."
We locked eyes as she seemed to weigh out the best thing to say. "Maybe you're right. I won't call you that if it makes you uncomfortable."
The tension from my tight jaw released and I was grateful that she was taking me seriously. She powered off the camera and closed the viewer, placing it beside her on the bed, before reaching out to pat my leg. “You’re very mature for your age. I have to give you that. And you’ve contributed quite a bit in the short time you’ve been working with me.”
She rose from the bed and extended her arms in a demonstrative, overexaggerated stretch. Just enough for me to get the hint. I stood with her. “It’s been such a long day,” she said, “I’m going to need a shower and a good night’s rest.”
“I guess that’s my cue,” I smiled at her.
She smiled back, nodding. I headed toward the door, but the same boldness that had taken control moments before, now urged me to turn around and stop dead in my tracks. Sylvia peered up at me, confusion returning to her face. I leaned down to hug her, and she brought her arms around to lightly return the embrace. When I pulled back, though, I’m not even sure if I had enough time to process what happened next, or even how it happened. All I knew was that my lips had met hers, and the tense stiffness I felt in her mouth lessened as I felt her lips part. It was slight, but there was no denying it. But before she could fully return the kis, she pulled back and pushed me away forcefully.
Her face was a mixture of stunned shock, anger and disappointment.
The apologies tumbled out of my mouth. I had to say something, and wanted to get it out before the tongue lashing and cursing out that I knew was sure to follow, came.
“I...I’m sorry..I didn’t mean to…” I ran a hand over my head, barely able to make eye contact with the stewing woman who stood across from me, her arms folded across her chest indignantly. “I..please don’t...I mean...I’m sorry. I’ll go.”
I heard her voice behind my back as I rushed to quickly close the distance between me and her hotel door. “Darian.”
I took in a deep breath before turning to face her, the crimson color of her honey cheeks clearly illustrating her disgust, or maybe it was embarrasment. I waited for her to continue. “That was very inappropriate. And I’d advise you not to try anything like that again,” Her arms remained stiff across her chest, as if shielding her body from another unwanted advance. I felt the air rush out of my lungs; my disappointment in myself surpassing her disgust. “Now, goodnight.”
I turned on my heels fast enough to make my head spin, and was out of her room and down the hall within seconds. When I pushed through the door and into the hotel room , I let myself fell back onto the bed. If it were physically possible, I could have kicked my own ass around that room. There I was, with one of the best damn gigs in my life thus far, with one of the most amazing women I’d ever met, and I’d flushed it all down the toilet. There was no way I couldn’t be fired after that stunt. But losing the money from the job didn’t matter anymore. What upset me the most was the fact that I’d never see her again.
I stared at the swirl-textured ceiling, weighing out my options. I could stay there and wait for the other shoe to drop, and let the tension build between us, awaiting my inevitable termination. Or I could get up and try to see what I could salvage of the situation. I’d never been a person to run from anything, not once, in my twenty-one short years. I jumped up and moved back to the hotel door. There was only one acceptable way to handle it.