Cal saw her first as a silhouette, there on the bridge, spotted under a streetlamp.
He paused at the sight, his heart thumping. His response was two-fold and embarrassing, as it always was when he saw something female and beautiful. A mix of painful, hormonal yearning, and terror. Shyness was his bane. It vied with every desire in his heart and groin, and had kept him bound and gagged most of his life.
He was a lean twenty-two year old with tawny hair and eyes blue as the morning sky. His features were neither strikingly handsome, nor unappealing. They were often, however, mistakenly described as cold and distant. His shy nature kept him apart from people, and he rarely met their gaze when he was forced to speak with them.
As Cal made his own silent way across the bridge a cool wind whispered by and he was glad for the corduroy jacket he wore. The night was crisp, the stars sharp as shattered glass. Above the bridge, the faux nouveau streetlights were large and yellow as small moons. Below rushed the flood-swollen river. It was fast and dangerous this time of year, enough so that town residents were warned not to let their children play near its shores. The wind carried up a bit of spray tasting of algae and wet stone.
Behind, Cal could hear the cheers and noise from the park, where an illuminated diamond hosted an impromptu baseball game. Ahead was the music and traffic of the town. Lives, it seemed, were being lived in either direction. The bridge, itself, however, was deserted and quiet, isolated but for Cal and the girl, as if they’d been separated out from the world.
The girl had her back to him. She was wearing a twilight purple sweater shawl and brown suede skirts, neither of which gave much clue to her figure. Matching boots outlined slender calves. Most striking of all was her black hair, which fell, curling and tumbling, almost to her waist. It shone like dark waters.
She stood there, at the opposite rail, gazing out. What was she seeing? Cal wondered. The river was rushing towards her. Was she thinking of where those floodwaters had come from, the snowmelt off mountains? The country rills and brooks?
Perhaps she was dreaming of a lover who lived up river. For a moment, Cal selfishly imagined that he was that lover, sending his thoughts down river to her.
He’d always wanted that in his life, the silly mush of couples who thought obsessively about each other. He’d always wanted know what it was like to smile across a dinner table at someone because of a secret joke. Or to engage in some frivolous activity like roller-skating. To play sex games, to make another sing out in pleasure. To hold hands.
He’d always wanted that connection. More than anything. But he’d never had it and he figured he never would. Not like this girl and her lover, whoever he was.
The girl moved closer to the railing. Cal hastily stepped back into the shadows between streetlamps, suddenly afraid that she’d notice him ogling her and take offence. He started to drop his eyes, to turn away. To think up excuses should she see and question him.
And then he saw the girl set her knee on the top of the granite balustrade and haul herself up onto the railing.
Cal felt himself turn to stone. He would later wonder why he didn’t dash over and grab hold of her. Jerk her by the sweater shawl onto the cobbled walkway. It would have been the wrong move, perhaps, but it didn’t even enter into his mind.
Only one thing popped into his head at that moment. The strangest thing that had ever popped into his shy, tormented brain.
“Want to go out on a date?”
Cal was not one of those inhibited sorts who mumbled or stuttered. He was the sort who said little or nothing. When he did speak, however, he was always clear, if not loud.
These words were both precise and ringing. They carried across the bridge, over the rush of the water, over the sounds of distant traffic, the shouts from the baseball diamond.
The girl froze.
“Just one date.”
He couldn’t believe he’d said it the first time, let alone a second time, but that was his voice. At least, he thought it was his voice. It had never sounded that strong, that sure before.
The girl did not shift from her position half up on the rail. Cal sensed that she was waiting to hear him step near so she could throw herself over. He stayed where he was.
“How long have you been there?” Her voice was a little husky, like the rustle of fabric in a dark room. Not angry. Curious.
“Maybe five minutes. So. Do you want to go out?”
Cal didn’t know if he was more disconcerted by the question, which he couldn’t seem to stop asking, or his bold tone. It was as if the girl’s intent to suicide had transformed him from a pathetic squire into a knight in shining armor. He’d never felt more confident in his life.
She moved at last, bringing her leg down from the rail and returning to the walkway. He’d captured her attention, that at least. She turned. A coral turtleneck was under the sweater shawl, outlining a long waist and a nice pair of breasts. Above was a heart-shaped face, the cheeks rosy in the cold. He wasn’t close enough to tell the color of her eyes, but she had a straight nose and wide, full lips.
For a moment, she just scrutinized him. Cal stood with hands in the pockets of his gold jacket, letting her get a good look at how very harmless he was in his tennis shoes and tatty corduroy slacks. His white shirt was half out of his pants and peering out from under his blue sweater. He was usually a little more meticulous, but he’d been in a black funk and hadn’t taken much care with what he’d thrown on.
Normally, he would have been mortified to appear so slovenly before a girl, but, once again, he felt oddly bulletproof. His looks didn’t matter in this instance, just what he’d said. He knew that.
“You can’t stop me,” she asserted, her tone testing. Probing.
He almost smiled with wonder. He’d confounded her. That was a first.
“No,” he agreed. “A person determined to take their own life will find a way. You can interrupt them, watch them for seventy-two hours. But the second you turn your back, they will manage to kill themselves. People have hung themselves from doorknobs. Opened their veins with ballpoint pens.”
“You seem well informed on the subject,” she observed.
Cal shrugged. “I just want you to know that I’m not trying to enlighten or transform you. I just want to go out on a date.”
She blinked. “With a suicidal girl?” She had very expressive eyebrows. “Though I suppose it does get you off the hook if you don’t want to call her the next day or go on a second date.”
He laughed, he couldn’t help it. He slapped a hand over his mouth, horrified. Amazed. This girl was prepared to throw herself over the railing into icy, rushing waters. He expected sluggish depression or defensive anger, not this dark humor.
“Why do you want to go on a date with me?” she demanded.
For the first time, Cal dropped his eyes, ducked his head. It was yet another revelation to him to realize that he’d been meeting her gaze this whole time, speaking to her as easily as he might a friend, not a stranger and a girl.
A very nice looking girl.
“Well…prisoners condemned to die get last meals, and terminal patients get last wishes.” He flicked his eyes up. She was listening.
“A suicide,” he went on, “ought to have a good memory to take with them into oblivion.”
“You’ve got the wrong idea about suicides. Or at least about me,” she countered. “If anything in life were tempting me to stay, that last meal or last wish, I wouldn’t be planning to throw myself off a bridge.”
So. She’d caught him out in a lie already. Or, at least, a half-lie.
“Let me take you to dinner and give you one last wish,” he bargained. “And I’ll tell you my real reason for asking you out. Or you can say no and I’ll turn around and let you jump.”
Cal said this with conviction, with no urge to beg or sway her. He would not draw out the argument. Even so, now that he’d spoken with her, he felt his throat tighten at the thought of letting her go. There was something about her that was so alluring. Like a dragonfly hovering above a pond.
Her arms folded across her chest and she eyed him suspiciously.
“Dinner and a last wish could take a long time,” she observed. “You could really drag it out….”
“Till dawn,” he said. “Most dates, if they go well, really well, last till dawn.”
“Till dawn,” she echoed, contemplating that. Then, “Where for dinner?”
Cal caught his breath. His pulse raced and his nerve finally wavered. She’d said yes. God help him.
He brought his hands out of his pockets and spread them. “Lady’s choice.”
“Suicide’s choice you mean.” She waved a hand. “I told you. Nothing appeals to me.”
“Well,” Cal thought desperately, “How about that little Italian restaurant a block or so from here? That way, if you change your mind during the meal, you can come right back.”
A faint twitch touched her lips. Was that respect he saw in her expression?
“I know the place. All right.”
“I’ll stay on this side,” Cal suggested. “We can meet when we get to the end.” He wanted to assure her that he wasn’t trying to get near enough to grab her and drag her away from the rail.
They stepped in tandem down the cobbled walkway, her heeled boots tapping softly, his rubber soles squeaking now and then. He kept to his side when they stepped off the bridge, staying away from her until they’d both crossed the street. Then he finally dared to approach her.
She quivered a little as he neared and he was sure she’d make a panicked dash.
She didn’t. Cal’s heart pounded very hard and his breathing grew shallow he stepped up. It always did this close to girls. In her heeled boots she was about the same height as he was, able to look at him directly. Her eyes were sea green.
He offered her his arm. She hesitated, and then slipped a hand around it. Leading the way, he escorted her to dinner.
Angela’s Café smelled of garlic and fresh baked Italian bread. The floors were terra cotta, the walls and ceiling stucco. Square tables, draped with yellow and blue cloths, crowded the little restaurant. Given that it was a weekday and sometime past the usual dinner hour there weren’t that many patrons and the murmur of voices was mild, which suited Cal just fine.
A quaint and charming place to take a suicidal girl on a date, Cal nervously mused as a waitress offered them a discreet corner. He still couldn’t believe what he’d done or where he’d ended up.
And he was in a near panic trying to figure out what he ought to do next.
He helped the girl out of her sweater shawl and drew her chair back for her. It was among the few things he enjoyed doing on a date, acting the part of gallant gentleman. He always got angry with men who took women for granted. Let any of them spend just one day in his shoes, they’d learn quick enough how lucky they were.
His date lifted up the menu, her long lashes dropping to peruse it. Now that they were close, Cal found that everything about her seemed to affect him. Her smell, the way she toyed with one of those satiny black curls. The flash of amethyst earrings on her powdery soft earlobes.
“You don’t get to ask,” she said suddenly.
“If you ask me why I was about to do what I was about to do, I’ll leave.”
“I won’t ask then,” Cal promised, but inside he quavered. The dates he’d gone on had sunk because he was never able to maintain his end of the conversation. This one was going to go right to the bottom if all they had to discuss was him. He never knew what to say about himself.
She scanned the menu again and sighed.
“Nothing looks good to you?” he asked anxiously.
“Well….” He thought about it. “What would you never order on a date? Go for that.”
The waitress came back. Cal requested a Caesar salad for them to split and a carafe of the house wine.
“I’ll have the spaghetti with olive oil and garlic,” the girl ordered, which surprised Cal as he’d assumed she’d go for something self-indulgent. Veal in cream sauce or stuffed lobster.
“Lasagna,” Cal decided for himself. After the waitress left he asked, “Why the garlic pasta?”
“I’d never have that on a date,” she explained, pushing up the sleeves of her turtleneck. “You don’t want to reek of garlic when you French kiss later on.”
We’re going to French kiss? Cal almost blurted, then blushed. Stupid question. Of course they weren’t.
“No halitosis,” he heard himself saying, “is so bad that I’d object to a kiss of any kind from a date.”
The girl cocked her head. “Really.”
Cal winced and almost sunk his face into his hands. Had he really just said that? “I’m sorry, that sounded—”
“Desperate? You don’t have to pretend with me.”
Right. He’d asked a suicide out on a date. She could hardly have missed the fact that he was desperate. He might as well have signaled it with semaphores.
Cal felt himself hit muddy bottom. And the date had only just started.
“Do you have a name?” the girl asked as the mortified silence lengthened.
“Oh.” Suave lover boy, very suave. “I’m Cal. Short for Calvin. Um. Is there something I can call you? Or shall I just keep to Miss?”
She smirked. “Why don’t we call me: Dawn?”
“Dawn,” he agreed.
The waitress brought the wine and pushed forward a cart with salad ingredients. She made up their Caesar there at the table in a wooden bowl.
After the dressed romaine had been divvied onto two chilled plates, and they’d been wished Bon Appetite, Dawn leaned in. “You said you’d tell me the real reason you wanted to go on a date.”
“It’s going to sound awful,” Cal confessed.
She shrugged. “My opinion of you, good or bad, is not long for this world.”
He flinched at that. He couldn’t help it. She might as well have slapped his face.
Dawn blinked. “I’m sorry, that was harsh. I promise, I won’t think badly of you. It’s not like I’m in a position to judge anyone.”
And just what did that mean?
Cal downed a gulp of wine. “The reason I asked you out is because I knew I could handle the rejection if you said no.”
Brows shot up and she took a sip of her own wine.
“Well, that is unexpected,” she conceded. “I guess, if a girl half over the side of a bridge tells you she has better things to do that night, you’re likely to believe her.”
He snorted and started to laugh, but quickly brought up his hand to stop it.
“You don’t have to stifle yourself,” she urged. “That was funny.”
“It seems wrong. I mean, given how you must be feeling—”
“No talking about me,” she reminded him flatly.
Silence again. Dawn started in on her salad,
“Have you suffered that many lame excuses,” she finally ventured, “when you asked girls out on dates? I mean, that you’d need such guarantees?”
“No.” He was watching the way she deftly manipulated knife and fork to bring small bites to her lips. On her forearms was a light down of dark hair that almost sparkled in the romantic lighting, like mica. He found himself swallowing, wishing he could stroke it.
He cleared his throat. “Truth is,” he went on, “the only rejections I’ve ever suffered were all in my own mind. You’re the first woman I’ve ever asked out on a date.”
“You’re shitting me.”
The foul language startled him. Which was ridiculous. What kind of screwed up soul was he that he was more disturbed by her using vulgar words than trying to commit suicide?
“I wish I was,” he muttered.
“So I’m the first date you’ve ever been on?”
“No. Just the first I’ve ever gotten all on my own. I’ve been on a few dates set up by friends…well, not really friends…more like peers who took pity on me.” He sighed. “None of them worked out.”
“No kiss at the door?” Dawn queried. “No second date?”
He flushed. The shyness within him wanted to shut down, to go silent as usual. He forced himself to verbalize. “Some experimental kisses in the car, some fumbling on my part to feel them up. Rejection at the door. No second date. And no, I’ve never had a real girlfriend.”
Dawn looked thoughtful, and then she reached under the table and he saw her shifting awkwardly.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Just need to get a boot off,” she explained. “Ah. There. So.” She went on, “What you’re saying is that no girl on a date with you has ever done anything like this…?”
Toes suddenly pressed down on his shoe. Cal jumped, as if jolted and swallowed. “Uh, no.”
“Really.” A small smile came to her lips. He felt the toes, there in their nylon stockings, poking up past the ankle, into the pants to tickle bare skin. The hair all over his body rose and he shivered.
He was breathing very softly now. His heart had kicked up and he felt something very akin to fear. And yet his skin was suddenly alive with pleasure and desire.
Dawn’s toes slipped out to climb up Cal’s leg. He had picked up his wine glass and been holding it frozen. Now his hand started to tremble, he carefully set the goblet down. The table was small and Dawn had long legs. She barely had to sink down in her seat as the toes, clever and agile as fingers, crept past his knee and moved inward.
Cal gulped and shut his eyes. Inside his head a warning system flashed red, screaming at him to panic, to shove himself away from the table because she was just doing this to amuse herself, to laugh at him.
Cal fought it, keeping to his seat. To hell with it. Let her laugh.
The toes found the bulge in his pants. For a moment those torturous little digits pressed gently, and Cal broke into a fine sweat. His penis, engorged with blood, felt painfully trapped in his briefs and trousers. It wanted to greet those toes, wanted to rub up against them.
The toes somehow found the head of his cock and stroked, as if favoring a pet. Cal gasped.
Dawn lowered herself further down in the chair and Cal found himself losing his posture to accommodate her.
What are you doing? The warning systems screamed in his head, though it was far back now. Buried almost. She’s toying with you!
His penis was throbbing, his balls high and tight. His pulse was pounding in his ears and his crotch was tingling.
So, she was amusing herself. So she was going to hurt him. She was right in that he’d never experienced anything like this. It didn’t matter if, in the next moment, she pulled away laughing at his desire, or kicked him with her heel and left him screaming on the restaurant floor. He wanted this memory, this experience. He wanted it desperately.
She withdrew. He blinked open his eyes, panting softly and realized that the waitress was back with their dinners. Dawn didn’t laugh, though she did look a little smug as she surreptitiously got her boot back on. Then she calmly tucked into her pasta. Cal stared down at his cheesy lasagna, wondering if he could manage to keep his hands steady enough to eat.
“You weren’t shitting me,” Dawn finally said.
Cal swallowed a mouthful of food down past a lump. “No,” he said, “I wouldn’t lie to you. It’s part of the deal.”
Now it was her turn to look uncomfortable.
“How is it?” he asked about the garlic pasta.
Cal poured them more wine. “Is different good?”
“It lets me feel something, so I suppose it’s good.”
They ate in companionable silence until they both were full. Neither of them was able to finish the generous portions.
The restaurant gave them complimentary desserts of Neapolitan ice cream and coffee. Cal paid the bill. It was not expensive. Had it been three times the price, however, he’d have thought the dinner a bargain.
“Where to now?” Dawn asked as Cal helped her on with her sweater shawl.
“We’re on a date. We have dinner, and then we go out and do something. What would you like to do?”
“Hm,” she said as Cal opened the door for her and they stepped out into the crisp night air. “Well,” she said, “First things first.”
The kiss was wholly unexpected, so much so that Cal nearly stumbled back in shock. He did lean back a bit, but Dawn just leaned in, and before he knew it, Cal was pressing forward to meet her.
Girls had kissed him now and again. Quick, experimental kisses, but Cal cherished every one. He had a mental scrapbook of each tender touch, soft lips, a brush of eyelashes, a silky cheek, even a quick tongue. None of those kisses, however, had been anything like this. He’d never imagined, in fact, that a kiss could be like this.
Dawn’s mouth opened, the kiss deepened, and he tasted the cool of her tongue, still sweet and bitter from the ice cream and coffee. She caressed his lips and the roof of his mouth. By the time she parted from him, he was breathing hard and his cock was back to making an embarrassing bulge in his pants.
“Did you taste the garlic?” she asked, a question so far from what was on his mind that he blinked at her for several seconds before remembering what she’d said at dinner.
Pasta with garlic. Right.
“Dawn,” he said roughly, “you could eat Limburger cheese and I’d brave it for another kiss like that.”
She smiled and took his arm. They started down the sidewalk, passing under trees and streetlamps. The night was filled with sounds: Car doors slamming, groups and couples chattering as they waited for lights to change. Behind windows folk in coffeehouses and bars laughed and conversed.
All alive and living, Cal thought.
“What’s wrong?” Dawn asked, and he felt her hand on his arm, pressing through his jacket. “You were looking happy. Now you look sick.”
“Oh. I just…. Whenever I’m among people like this, I always feel separate. I wonder how it must feel to be in rather than out. With them rather than apart.”
“I can understand that.” Dawn nodded. “It’s like stepping out of a house. You can gaze in through all the open doors and windows, watch the folk inside sleeping, eating, bickering, having sex. But you can’t feel any of it.”
Cal shook his head. “No. That’s not how it is for me. I’m inside the house, but I’m bound and gagged. I want to participate, I know what I’d say and do if I could. I can even imagine how it would feel. But I can’t do it. I’m restrained. Vicarious living is all I’m allowed.”
“That sounds worse,” Dawn reflected.
“No, it’s not.” He ventured a touch on her hand. Her skin was cold and he rubbed it, trying to warm it. “At least I know what I want.”
Abruptly, she stopped. “Look,” she said and pointed. Cal blinked up. Across the street was a bowling alley.
“Take me bowling,” Dawn said. “I think I’d like that for my last night on earth.”
Her words were like a stab through the throat. Cal had forgotten that this was all going to end. Permanently. It was an odd thought for him as he often brooded on the girls he’d dated, and how they’d moved on. They’d brushed Cal from their minds like erased e-mail, and were now living with real boyfriends or starting families or making inroads on their chosen careers.
Dawn wasn’t going to be doing any of that. However good or ill this date went, tomorrow she would be gone from the world.
Somehow that disturbed him more than if she were to forget him and live on.
“Bowling,” he echoed. “All right.”
It was Cal’s third gutter ball.
“I suck at this,” he said, watching the ball roll pathetically to vanish behind the mocking pins.
Dawn laughed. “Let me show you,” she said, hefting and handing him a new ball.
She slipped around behind him. Out of her heeled boots, and wearing the rented shoes she was a few inches shorter than him. Her breasts pressed up below his shoulder blades, and he felt her breath at the nape of his neck. The hairs there lifted, his cock stirred.
Her hand took him by the wrist. “Keep your arm curved,” she instructed, drawing it back. Leaning them forward. They bent like dancers and her subtle body almost spooned him.
“Now step forward and release—” she instructed.
Were they still talking bowling? Cal wondered, even as he did as she said. The ball left his hand, spinning and spinning down the lane to strike the pins. It didn’t hit dead on, but it got about a third of them.
Dawn applauded. Cal straightened up, and grinned.
“You’re fun to teach,” Dawn observed, brushing dark curls behind her ears. The amethysts earrings sparkled. “Is this your first time bowling?”
Cal flushed. “It might as well be. I remember coming here as a kid. But I don’t remember anyone helping me to keep the ball from falling into the gutter. That’s a first for me.”
They went a few more rounds. Dawn was far superior at the game. When she sent the ball flying, it usually smashed most if not all the pins. She didn’t, however, seem to care. Her expression remained bland and disinterested except when it was Cal’s turn. Then she grew moderately involved, squeezing his shoulder when he succeeded, urging him to try again when he fouled.
Afterward, they went to the bar next-door for a drink.
“Why bowling?” Cal asked her.
“It was something I remembered enjoying that I haven’t done in a while. I thought I might be able to recapture the thrill.”
“You sure recalled the moves,” he sipped at his Sunburst. “Did it excite you?”
She drank her Midnight Martini. “It excited me to watch you. Seeing you, I remembered what it was like when it was still an effort and every strike mattered. You helped me to re-experience the exhilaration.”
“How old are you?” she asked him. “And do you live here? And what do you do?”
“I’m twenty-two,” he said, “Almost twenty-three. I was born and raised here, and I’m in grad school. I’ve been studying environmental law.”
“Is that your passion?”
“I guess.” He shrugged. “I like it because it reminds me that we can have an effect on the world. Environmental laws are written up because even small changes in an eco-system can alter it profoundly. One section of the food chain goes missing and it all falls apart. Everything has some significance, some connection. Which means we can make a difference, we matter.”
“It’s good to have a passion,” Dawn said, and there it was again, that look of respect. For him.
“I’m twenty-four,” she went on, “And I was…well, I’ve been all sorts of things. Sales clerk, barrista, dog walker. I’ve dressed runway models in Europe, dealt cards in Vegas casinos. I did staging for a heavy metal band in Denmark, and worked on a movie set in Tokyo.”
Cal was frankly intimidated. All that at the tender age of twenty-four? Talk about living life to the fullest.
“Sounds like you’ve done a lot.”
The green eyes dropped. “A lot, yeah. Been from Alaska to Australia. Tried just about everything and anything I wanted to try.”
“I wish to God I’d had the courage to try just one thing I’ve wanted to try,” Cal said bitterly.
“Don’t envy me,” she said ironically, and took another gulp of her drink. “Given how you found me, I’m the last person you should want to be.”
He blushed. “I’m sorry. I’m not envious exactly. It’s just that what you said makes me…see now how little I have to offer you. I’m pretty embarrassed by what I said about granting a last wish. What could I possibly give you that you haven’t already had?”
Dawn eyed him thoughtfully. “That’s the question, isn’t it? Come on,” she said abruptly.
He followed her out, taking her arm as they headed down the street. For a moment he feared that she’d taken what he’d just said to heart and was going back to the bridge. Then she turned them and brought them into an old, Victorian hotel.
Cal checked his step as Dawn led them through the chandelier-lit lobby.
“Wait here,” she said, bringing out a small wallet from a hidden pocket in her skirt.
“Dawn—” he hesitated, licking his lips. “You’re not thinking—”
“You’re granting my last wish, Cal,” she reminded him. “Stay here.”
He tried to protest, but she went up to the font desk, leaving him there, twisting his hands.
Twenty minutes later she dragged him into the elevator and up to the fourth floor. With a swipe of a keycard, she opened up a room for them. It was small with an antique desk, floral print walls, and a king-sized brass bed. Cal’s stomach went sick as he shut the door behind them.
The alarm bells were screaming in his head again.
After a quick inspection of the room, Dawn came to stand before him, hands on her hips. She looked very smug. “A proper date should lead up to this, don’t you think?”
Cal swallowed hard and tried to keep his gaze steady. If ever there was a time to look someone in the eye it was now.
“Dawn…I’ve never done this.”
“I figured,” she said, slipping off her sweater shawl. “Lucky for you, I have. I’ve been meaning to ask,” she added, sitting down on the layers of comforters that softened the bed, and casually removing her boots. “What was wrong with all those girls? The ones you dated? You’re a nice looking guy. You’ve got a killer smile and the manners of a prince. You’re not obnoxious or stupid. So why no second dates?”
He flushed to the roots of his hair and found his eyes dropping. Fair question. Answering, however, was about as easy as lancing a boil.
“There was nothing wrong with them,” he blurted before his inhibitions could stop him. “It’s me. I suffer from chronic shyness. I know that sounds stupid, like something a little kid would have. But it’s a real and it’s debilitating. There are clinics for it, and biological causes and even medications. Most people think it’s nothing and you should just get over it. Yeah, right. Years of damage to your ego and self-esteem isn’t something you just get over.”
He heard the roughness of his voice, the hurt. Was that really him saying all that aloud?
“There were no second dates,” he finished up, “because I couldn’t open myself up to those girls. And what little I was able to give them…bored them. A person as shy as me…is pretty dull.”
Tentatively, he glanced up at Dawn. She’d removed her stockings and was now lying, barelegged on the bed. Her hair fell about her shoulders, framing her heart-shaped face. She wasn’t smiling, nor was she eyeing him with pity, which would have been worse.
“The reason you’re able to say such things to me,” she said gently, “and do things you’ve never been able to do with other girls is because I’m already dead to you. That’s really why you asked me out, isn’t it? We give pieces of ourselves to others and hope they care enough to treasure them. If they don’t, it’s painful. As if they’d left that piece in the attic to rot.”
She smiled at him affectionately. “With me, you don’t have to worry about that. I won’t be wandering around carrying a piece of you with me. I’ll be gone, and that piece will be back in your possession.”
Cal felt the blood drain right out of his face. He had to remind himself that Dawn didn’t know everything. There was another side to that bridge. But she did have one thing uncannily right. Usually, opening himself up on a date had been about as easy as taking a scalpel and slicing into his own belly. Not so with Dawn. He felt he could rip into his guts and hand her his beating heart like an Aztec sacrifice.
And the reason he could do that, as she’d said, was because she was as good as dead to him. That made him want to hand pieces of himself to her, not because he thought he’d get them back, but because he wanted to bring her back to life.
“Dawn,” he said now, “I’ll do whatever you want to do. I said as much when we started. And anything you want to know about me, I’ll tell you. What I like, what scares me, what I know and don’t know, every embarrassing secret I’ve got, if you’re at all interested. Every last piece of me is yours. I don’t even care why you might want it, or if I’m going to get anything in return. But if I could be granted any wish tonight…well, I’d like, I’d really like to do more than just…amuse you.”
She pushed up and off the bed. She looked troubled by what he’d said, shaken. “This isn’t about amusing me, Cal. That never entered my mind.” She stepped up to him, brushing at the lapels of his jacket. “Take off your clothes and let me show you what it’s all about.”
He did as she asked, removing jacket, shoes and socks, sweater and shirt, and finally his trousers. Standing before her in his briefs, however, he hesitated.
Did she like the way he looked? That bit of flat, tawny hair forming little wings across his white chest and trailing down to his navel, did that please her? His muscles weren’t well developed, but they were defined. Was that good enough for her? And what would she think, this worldly woman, of what he had below?
She didn’t ask him to expose that last part of himself. Instead she said, “Why don’t you undress me?”
His pulse picked up and he felt faint.
She turned, letting him see the zipper on her skirt. He pulled it open, feeling wonderfully intimate. This was the sort of thing men did for their girlfriends.
The suede skirt parted and slipped off those hips. A pair of lacy boyshorts came into view. Cal had half expected a thong, but these were better. Navy blue and patterned with wavelike swirls. He stared in awe at the curve of Dawn’s ass under that pretty lace.
She turned, giving him a tantalizing look at the front of the boyshorts, at the slight V of them pointing down at that barely hidden crotch. His gaze trailed down the slender legs and back up again. It was absurd, he thought. His stiff cock was already dotting his shorts with precum. She wasn’t even naked and he was ready to ejaculate.
He wondered if she’d leave in disgust if he fell at her feet and started weeping in gratitude.
God, Cal, try to be half a man for just once in your life! he thought fiercely.
“The turtleneck?” Dawn softly directed him.
He licked dry lips and took the bold move of brushing his hands down over the cashmere material, over shoulders, breasts. He felt nipples poke up through the fabric, there under his palms. His penis quivered.
Forcing his hands to continue he gathered the coral turtleneck from around her waist and drew it up. Her skin was silky smooth. Up past the ribs. A bra appeared, a match for the underwear. Underarms with their own warm aroma. They’d been shaved but a bit of hair was growing there now. He liked that.
Cal found himself leaning in. Before he even knew what he was doing his lips were kissing flesh. He finessed the turtleneck over her head, off her arms and out of her hair. Tossed it. His hands found her shoulders and he got his lips to her neck. He breathed her in, kissed and licked and nipped. Took little bites of those alluring earlobes, loving how their powdery softness contrasted with the hard, amethyst earrings.
He tangled his hands in her beautiful hair and stroked down her back. The straps of the bra slipped off her shoulders and he reached around to unhook it. He fumbled only a little.
Another breath of wonder. He’d gotten as many peeks as other guys at naked girls: a friend’s sister seen through a crack in a bedroom door, a neighbor woman nude sunbathing in her backyard. Porn on the internet, of course, as well as movies. But it wasn’t the same as having a woman’s breasts in his hands.
They had weight and seashell pink areolas. The nipples were hard and excited. He’d always read about pinching a woman’s nipples, but he found that what intoxicated him was pressing his palms against them, feeling them harden against the center of his hand.
Dawn’s fingers were in his hair, encouraging him. Cal flicked his tongue over a nipple and she drew in a breath. That hint of excitement made his balls tighten up. He put his mouth to her tit. She arched in his hands as he swirled his tongue over one nipple, then the other before trailing under the breasts. He tasted salt and Dawn, a beautiful, clean flavor like river water.
Up he came to set his teeth gently about a nipple. His tongue flicked at the center of that nub as he lightly scraped his teeth over it. He got a moan, so he did the same to the other nipple.
A moan and a shiver this time, which forced him to come up for air.
He was doing it. Doing it well, too. She wasn’t laughing.
Was she wet?
Before he could kneel to find out, Dawn sunk down before him to tug at his briefs. Cal had enough presence of mind to thank every divine power that he’d taken a shower and put on clean underwear before he’d left home this evening. Still the briefs clung to him and he smelled his own musk. He felt like a pig compared to Dawn’s sweetness.
She got the back part down first. The feel of her hands on his ass, stroking and squeezing, made him choke. Then she pulled at the front of the elastic band. His cock sprang right out and up. It slapped up against his belly. The head was red and flared.
“I think you need some relief,” she observed, pulling off his shorts. Her eyes were level with his glistening helmet.
“Go slow—” he tried to advise. Too late. He’d been trying to catch and steady his breath. He lost it as Dawn’s lips went over his cock.
Her head dipped and those beautiful hands of hers gripped his shaft. They stroked and twisted over his stem even as her tongue swirled agonizingly over his slit.
His knees almost gave way. “Jesus, oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus—” he moaned.
The hands went to his sack to roll his balls, and that hot, little tongue lapped down one side and other of his shaft. He had to grab hold of her head just too keep his balance.
His hips gyrated as she tickled his sensitive seam, sending up little flickers to his already purple head. His balls felt like rocks and his cock had turned to burning stone. He was going to shoot off like a rocket.
“Dawn, Dawn…gonnacum,” he had no idea if he was coherent, or if she heard him. He did his best, because it seemed ungentlemanly, it seemed rude to cum without warning. “Gonnagonnagonaa—”
She took his glans back into her hot mouth and then deeper into her throat, and Cal lost all sense; his hips jerked wildly and suddenly he was shooting off his load. Waves crashed within his groin, swirling up through his chest, drowning him deep beneath dark, welcoming waters as they rose above his head.
When next he surfaced he was gasping for air. Sweat bathed his body.
“Damn!” Dawn remarked. She was still on the floor before him, wiping at her mouth. “I know I’m pretty good but I’ve never gotten that kind of reaction.”
Cal blinked back tears. He swallowed, and tried to stop shaking. His cock was softening at last, but it still seemed to be vibrating.
Reaching down he offered Dawn a hand up. It was that or collapse like a kid into her arms.
She accepted his help, rising to smile at him. He brought her hand to his lips and planted kisses on up her arm, over that fine, glimmering down.
“I want to—” he tried to say, still breathing hard, “I want—”
“We’re not done,” she assured him, and drew him to the bed. She lay down on it. “Now, what is it you want to do?”
Sitting down beside her, he stoked a trembling hand over her body. After a while he felt calm again, brave enough to kiss her breasts and lick on down to her navel. He gave that part of her lingering attention, exploring her hips and pelvis. She smelled warm and fragrant, utterly desirable.
Finally he touched the inner thighs, felt a dampness there that made his flaccid cock want to come back to life.
Though it seemed dirty, he couldn’t help but bring his fingers to his nose. The wet perfume brought saliva to his mouth.
Swallowing hard, he reverently tugged at the boyshorts. They were like gossamer, rolling down to almost nothing he got them off her legs.
It was no wonder that women could scare the shit out of men like him, Cal thought. They were a terrifying mix of otherworldly power and delicacy. Dawn held his body helplessly in lust, so much so that she could fairly enslave him. At the same time, her garments, her intoxicating perfume, her slender shape, made him feel heavy and gross, as if he was going to break or sully her.
Don’t you run from this, he warned himself.
Her naked pussy was partially shaved, a thin strip of black, curling hair modesty hiding that special spot. He stoked the bare skin, then the curling hair, which glistened with dampness. He felt the cleft.
“Go ahead, Cal,” Dawn urged.
“I don’t want to disappoint you,” he hesitated. He wanted to go down on her right at that moment, but he knew it was going to be like a beggar trying to entertain a queen. A virgin like himself couldn’t possibly give her the royal treatment she expected and deserved.
“Especially if,” he added, “—if this is going to be…”
“My final time?” Dawn filled in. Her voice had that huskiness again. “I want you to do what you want to do. And that’s the first thing in a very long time that I’ve honestly, passionately wanted. Now give me my last wish.”
Cal went for the thighs. He rubbed his face against the impossible silkiness there, then worshiped them with kisses before daring to give them tentative licks. The dampness was salty-sweet, its smell and taste luring him deeper. He nipped and licked his way closer to where he wanted to go.
Dawn hummed with what sounded like pleasure and her legs spread wider, inviting him in.
And there it was. That oyster of pink folds with a pearl at its crown. It gleamed and glowed, as if coming up from underwater into moonlight.
It seemed so right to polish, to worship that glorious jewel. His hands slipped under her ass, loving the firm feel of it, and he raised her to his mouth. He licked and the folds parted. Nectar flowed.
Cal had read about what to do, but had worried that he wouldn’t remember if the time ever came. Now it seemed natural, instinctual almost to gather that liquid onto his tongue and use it and his saliva to glorify her clitoris. She gasped and moaned, and her ass began to move in his hands, to rock.
His cock responded, growing as If summoned by a siren.
The nub he was adoring swelled and hardened. Cal sucked at it, then gathered more of the flowing liquid so he could bathe every warm petal. He lapped and teased and made love to that treasure. The moans turned into stimulating cries, and Dawn’s hips thrust so strongly he had to tighten his grip. She keened and sung.
The sensitive tip of his tongue felt her clit flutter, like heart. Dawn’s heart.
His erect cock throbbed back, matching the beat.
And that’s when she came, climaxing so strongly she took him by surprise. She jerked and shuddered under his hands.
“Fuck me! Fuck me!” she cried.
Pulling himself up, he got his cock angled. It slipped in before he even realized that he’d thrust forward, like going down a water slide.
“Oh God!” he cried. It felt so good! Like being enclosed in velvet. Her arms and legs encircled him, and then he felt another of Dawn’s orgasms pulsing all around him. Holding, gripping him, squeezing him with a gentle firmness so heavenly he couldn’t help but hammer into her.
For a moment it felt as they were both trying to merge, to become one. The suck and pull of that velvet grip sent waves of pleasure into Cal’s groin. His balls lifted and tightened. Another wave, and another, with the two of them rocking together like a boat upon turbulent waters. Finally, Cal crested, ejaculating for a second time.
And yet, again, Dawn orgasmed for him, sucking him dry. Holding to him till every drop of semen had left him. The feel of her was so exquisite it was painful.
He pulled out a last, and collapsed over her leg. Sweat dripped off him mingling with her perspiration and juices.
The smell of sex hung in the air, warm as steam.
“Was…was that all right?” he managed, lungs heaving.
Dawn was quiet for so long that he was afraid he’d done something terribly wrong and hurt her. Then she started to laugh. It wasn’t a mocking laugh. It was a delighted laugh, like splashing water.
“Thank God you weren’t experienced,” she laughed again, caught her breath, and laughed some more. “I don’t think we would have survived.”
Cal had been told that men didn’t like to cuddle after sex. He couldn’t understand that. He’d never in his life felt so close to anyone as he did now to Dawn and the last thing he wanted to do, lying there in the darkened room, was to leave her. Nor could he imagine letting her go. All he wanted, now and forever, was to cradle and protect her.
“My real name is Ann,” she murmured, which startled him as he’d thought she’d drifted off. Her head was resting on his chest, her mane of black curls blanketing his shoulder.
“Shall I call you that?” he asked.
“No. I’ve always liked the name Dawn. If I wasn’t going to kill myself tomorrow, I’d probably keep it.”
A chill went through Cal. “So, you’re still going to do it?”
She sighed. “I guess you’ve earned the right to know. The reason I was on that bridge…. You have to understand I used to feel everything…strongly. And I used to love trying all kinds of new things. Meeting new people, seeing new places. Then, about a year ago, I suddenly went dry. Exotic cuisines, extreme sports, it didn’t matter. Nothing stimulated me. And I couldn’t seem to give a shit about anyone either. No one I met was interesting. And every place I visited seemed the same. I tried to care, I really did. But I couldn’t. It’s been a year and I’m still the walking dead. I don’t want anything. I don’t like anything. There’s no pain. No pleasure either. I just can’t…feel.”
Silence. Cal was troubled now. “I’d hoped…you didn’t enjoy yourself tonight?” His heart hurt at the thought.
“Oh. Oh no, Cal, honey.” Her hand stroked his jaw. “God, no. That’s just it. For you it’s all fresh and new. Other men have liked how I looked, but none of them have ever looked at me like you did tonight, as if I were the most amazing creature on Earth. It made me feel unique, like I never have before.”
That eased his mind.
“It was why everything we did tonight was special,” she went on. “The fun under the table, the kissing, the lovemaking. You were receiving and giving that kind of pleasure, hearing it, smelling it, tasting it all for the first time. That’s why I came so hard. Because I could feel it all again through you.”
“I don’t think,” she added thoughtfully, “that you will ever end up like me. You’re one of those rare types who knows how to treasure every sensation, every experience. Nothing will ever grow dull to you, or old or tired.”
Her face was a white shadow in the dark room, her breath warm as she drew near. She found his lips and kissed him. “There was nothing I wanted, Cal. So you couldn’t give me that last meal, that last wish. But you let me re-live life for a night, and you gave me a last chance to feel something. And you did that simply by being you.”
A last chance. Cal echoed in his mind, holding to her. Tears pricked in his eyes. So. He was glad for what he’d done.
He was sorry, however, that he hadn’t changed her mind.
Morning light was cresting over the city as they made their way back to the bridge. The streetlamps along the way dimmed, like moons sinking into waves of sunrise color.
Cal hadn’t been able to think of anything to say to Dawn on the return journey. All he could do was hold her hand. It wasn’t until they reached the bridge that he finally managed to say, “Are you sure?”
“As sure as anyone can be,” she said. “If I thought that things were likely to change, if there was something in life I was passionate about, or looking forward to, that’d be different. But it’s all just the same for me. I don’t even get angry or afraid. I eat and sleep and time passes. I feel like life is wasted on me and it’d really be better if I just gave up my space to someone else. I wish I wasn’t this way, Cal, and I’m sorry. But I don’t see any reason to stick around.”
He escorted her up to the exact spot she’s been the night before. The early morning wind was moist and less chill than the evening’s had been. The sky was lightening from a deep indigo to a rich blue.
“I had,” Cal said with a lump in his throat, “a very nice evening.”
“So did I.”
They gazed into each other’s eyes, and the kiss they exchanged was tender.
Feeling the warmth of those lips, for a final time, Cal turned Dawn to face the river, exactly as he’d originally seen her.
He crossed over to the other side, hoping he wouldn’t hear a splash. He wanted to be gone before she did it.
Reaching the opposite rail, he put up his knee up and pulled himself onto to the stone balustrade. The flooded river rushed dangerously swift below, glowing with the fiery light of dawn. It was beautiful. Welcoming.
There would be one shock of cold, he figured, and then it would sweep him away, along with consciousness. He hoped it would be fast.
The roar of those waters filled his ears as he leaned forward to give himself over to gravity.
She grabbed him by the jacket, jerking him so fast, so hard that he tumbled back and hit his head on the cobbles. Stars flashed behind his eyes.
“Ouch! Shit!” he hissed.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” Dawn screamed. She was standing over him and for the first time, there was life in her. Angry, blazing life. Her color was high, her hair fluttering in the wind.
So that’s what she looked like when she was really feeling something. God. She was stunning.
Cal pressed a hand to the back of his head. A bump was already beginning to form. He felt more embarrassed than anything. Dawn had had the presence of mind to race across and grab him, as he had not been able to do for her last night.
He really envied her decisiveness.
“What was that?” She was furious, absolutely livid. “You think you can’t live without me or something? Is that what you were about?”
“No,” he said wearily and shifted himself first up onto his knees, then around so that he could sit with his back up against the rail. “Damn.” He touched tenderly at his head. At least it wasn’t bleeding. “That really hurt.”
“No,” he repeated. “I mean, no offence, Dawn, but it had nothing to do with you.”
“I was going to do that last night. Until I saw you and got distracted.”
She gawked. Her breathing had been coming heavy, now it went shallow. She sunk down to sit beside him on the icy cold cobbles. Sideways, like a mermaid. He liked that. It was very feminine.
“You came here last night to kill yourself?” she demanded, disbelieving.
“To throw myself off the bridge,” he affirmed.
“No lie. I told you I’d be honest with you. Honestly. I planned to kill myself.” He smiled bitterly. “Funny, huh?”
“Hilarious.” Her expression softened. “But why?”
He ducked his head. “I can’t go on like this. I’m alone and isolated all the time. I spent my childhood a lonely kid. I spent my teen years a lonely adolescent. Twenty-two years bound and gagged. I look ahead, and I see myself twenty-two years from now, middle aged and eating microwaved meals alone. That’s not a life.”
Tears were trickling down his cheeks. He wiped at them angrily. He didn’t want her last image of him to be of some weepy guy. “So now, thanks to you, I know what living feels like, a small touch of it. I know what’s it like to have an honest-to-God date, to open up and talk with someone, to make love. That’s a good memory to have when I go. A last meal, and a last wish.”
“My God.” She looked like she couldn’t decide whether to be outraged or astonished. “You weren’t talking about me last night. You were talking about you.”
“I was talking about both of us,” he said, squeezing her hand. “But that’s the real reason why I asked you out on a date. Because I wanted to leave this world with something other than loneliness and isolation in me. And I hoped I might give you the same. You were right about us giving each other pieces of ourselves. That’s what life’s all about, I think. Handing another human being some warm part of yourself that they can hold onto for however long they live.”
She was quiet for a moment. Tears glimmered in her eyes, and he wanted desperately to kiss and hold her, to make it better.
“You did make me feel that,” she confessed. “Experiences aren’t just new and fresh for you, they’re precious. You know their value. I wasn’t numb with you. Others wouldn’t be either. Doesn’t that make your life’s worth living?”
“If I had the courage to go out and find those others, maybe,” he sighed. “But I wouldn’t have been able to speak to you if you hadn’t been about to throw yourself off the bridge. You were right, Dawn. I don’t know how to approach the living.”
“Cal—” she said, tears spilling down her cheeks.
He brushed back her hair from her wet face. “I got lucky last night. Luckier than I’ve ever been in my benighted life. I’m not going to beg the universe for more.”
His head was hurting less. The day was getting brighter and if he was going to go through with this he had to do it fast. The rest of the world would be intruding on them very soon. Joggers, folk walking their dogs, or riding their bikes to work. Those that were alive and had no idea how fortunate they were.
He pushed himself up. He felt strangely wistful, as if he were finally, regretfully, giving up on a long held dream. A dream that things might change, that he might have what everyone else seemed to have.
He set a knee back up on the rail.
“Want to go out on a date?” Dawn suddenly said from where she still sat, there on the cobbles.
He went still, then blinked down at her. She held out a demanding hand. He brought down his knee and helped her to her feet.
“What?” he said.
“A date,” she wiped tears from her eyes and shook back her hair. “We’ll have breakfast, take a walk in the park.”
He stared at her. Licked his lips. “You’re serious?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you either,” she said firmly.
“You’d…do that for me? Stay alive? Keep living?”
“For another day,” she agreed. “Till dusk, say? Then we could come back here.” Her long lashes dropped over those vibrant green eyes. “And you can jump off the bridge…or ask me out on another date.”
Cal swallowed down a lump. “A second date? That would be a first for me.”
“Everything’s a first for you,” she said, “It’s what I love about you.”
He thought about that. “Will I have to worry about rejection?”
“Well, given what you’ll do if I say no, I’d say you don’t need to worry too much. Is it a date?”
In her heeled boots they were the same height and could meet eye to eye. Looking into her face, straight on and with no inclination to glance away, Cal felt her there with him, stirring to life. He felt, as well, a piece of her deep inside of him, warming his heart and soul, giving him a taste of all the world had to offer.
He suspected she felt the same.
“It’s a date.”