(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-44 in earlier Blogs )
John pulled up in front of Maddie’s landlady’s house not knowing what to expect. The invitation had been the result of very quick thinking on his part and he had left immediately after, so that she wouldn’t have time to change her mind. But now what?
It was a warm night for September. When Maddie opened the door and walked out onto the little patio wearing a slim black dress, with very short little sleeves and a scooped neckline, his heart did a somersault. This was much more than he had expected. He was glad he had worn a jacket.
“Wow…you look…very…nice,” he said.
“Thanks. You’re wearing a tie.”
“Special occasion,” he murmured.
She looked surprised.
“You know, the celebration,” he clarified.
Easy John, don’t overplay your hand. He asked the next question in a casual way. “Pascal’s alright?” That dress rated something better than a tex-mex deli, but he didn’t want to push it.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe something with a little more atmosphere?” she said.
“Alright, let’s see…have you been to Chez Nicole?”
“No. I’ve heard it’s beautiful, complete with candles and gourmet cuisine. Okay, lead the way.”
As he closed her door and walked to the driver’s side he took a deep breath. “God, please,” he whispered.
The car glided slowly around Vilas Park Drive. The avenue was flanked on one side by the park grounds and the neat little zoo and on the other by Lake Wingra. The sky was an inkwell, endless, deep and sprinkled with stars. The moon hung like a Chinese lantern and its reflection danced on the surface of the lake. John slid the car into a parking spot on the lakeside. Although there were no people visible, the row of parked cars gave ample evidence that they were not the only ones to have flocked to this enchanted place. The balmy night was mild for late September. It was definitely Indian summer.
John was highly intoxicated, despite the fact that he had imbibed no alcohol at dinner. What was making him feel this way were the things said over dinner. Things that made him almost question his own sanity.
And yet with everything that had been said, or hinted at, there was much still left unsaid. Much that should not be left to the imagination, which needed to be clarified. They had gotten to know each other a little more; they had broached the subject of future dreams and desires. They had even canvassed the “M” word, skirted around it but then explored it sort of theoretically. And it was impossible to ignore the fact that a man and a woman didn’t discuss such subjects for no reason. They usually had a context. In fact, the context usually happened first, and then the discussion ensued much later. This had the feeling of being somewhat backwards, at least in the current American way of doing things. It had felt like they were exploring the details of a contract, before… Before what?
That was the difficulty, he told himself. With this woman he wasn’t sure which came first, the chicken or the egg. He didn’t know how to proceed. He only knew that his insides were churning and his arms were aching to hold something.
As he shut off the ignition he thought he had to get things clear no matter what the cost. He couldn’t dance around it any longer. He took a deep breath and turned slowly toward Maddie, sliding his arm around the back of the seat. And then he looked at her, and felt himself suspended in time.
“Maddie…” he began.
“Yes?” she said, turning to face him. Her eyes were warm, the moon was on her hair.
“Honey,…please.” His thoughts were incoherent.
But his arms had a mind of their own. They were slowly making a circle around her shoulders, drawing her nearer. She was not pulling away. She was simply staring at him with that look. That soulful, velvety look. Then, he forgot all that had to be said. He only knew what he wanted to do. Their eyes were locked together, their faces inches apart. And then his lips closed on hers with complete abandon. His arms tightened around her.
Maddie was experiencing waves of euphoria. She felt she had reached for a sip but was drinking a whole ocean. Her body was straining against this man, her toes were curling up. She felt her power as a woman. She had set out to force a declaration and she had achieved it. But now things were veering out of control, like when the ocean wave crashed and tumbled you under, flipped you upside down and dragged you, so that you lost your dignity and came up with a mouth full of salt water. Now she felt that she no longer cared about anything except being what John wanted her to be, doing what he wanted her to do. His mouth was telling her things about herself she had never known, plunging her into depths heretofore undisturbed.
The kiss, if that tornado could be called a kiss, ended almost abruptly. Either from lack of air, or because the explosive encounter was too intense. But it ended by mutual consent. They both sat back in their seats and stared straight ahead.
“Holy cow…” John murmured under his breath.
Maddie was trying to regain her breath without gasping too loudly.
John was thinking that he must get control over himself. He had betrayed all his eagerness in that one kiss. He had unthinkingly put himself in a bad position, one that he never wanted to be in again, unless he meant to rip the woman’s clothes off and have her. Because part of him just wanted to charge down that path in a mad rush. Another part, a higher self, was telling him that he had found something beautiful, to be treasured, and savored. He was almost sure, by her response, that Maddie felt the same way he did. But no, that was jumping the gun.
“Would you like to go for a walk?” he asked, running his hand through his hair. Anything was better than sitting in the car, next to her. It was too dangerous.
“Okay.” Maddie whispered. He was out of the car before her and he came around to her side and shut the door behind her. They crossed the street to the park and walked side by side, not touching.
They were crossing the wooden Japanese bridge when he said, “Maddie, I’m crazy about you, you know?” His fists were balled in his pockets.
“Are you?” she answered. She was looking straight ahead.
He smiled. “Yes I am. I have been crazy about you since the first day I laid eyes on you.”
She made a funny little scoffing noise. “Yeah, right!”
“It’s true, you cruel woman, why do you doubt it?”
“Because, since you met me you’ve made…yourself charming to every woman in the department!”
“Nah, you’re wrong. Totally wrong,” he protested vigorously, while scanning his memory for all his indiscretions. He would give anything to turn back the clock.
“Oh my God, you’re going to deny it!” She turned to look at him.
“No, it’s not like that, you see, I was just trying to get your attention…” He felt the lameness of the words.
“Well, it doesn’t matter any more” she said.
“What doesn’t?” he held his breath.
“All that old stuff, that old behavior. You’re not going to have time for any of that any more.”
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Because you’re going to be too busy with me. I’m going to keep your hands full.”
A second of disbelief, then he pulled her back into his arms. “Maddie!” He sucked in air and his chest hurt. “Honey, you mean that? Really?”
“John, let go of me,” she said. “A little physical contact with you goes a long way. I’m not… I’m not going to sleep with you, you know.” She stepped away quickly.
She had laid down the ground rules. He was fine with them. She took a few further steps on the bridge but he was right on her shoulder. “Honey, I know that. That’s not what I want from you. I mean, I do but—well never mind that. Maddie, I want you to be my wife…”
He stopped cold, because she had stopped. She was staring at him with a look of complete surprise.
His voice became low and husky. “That’s what I want honey, I just want to love you all the rest of my days…you know, play some house, raise some kids.” He resorted to humor because her silence was getting scary. His voice faltered when he saw tears come into her eyes. Her beautiful hands were covering her mouth. And then suddenly she reached up and cupped his face in her hands and she started laughing and planting kisses all over his face.
His hands reached up to cover hers and he felt a lump well up in his throat. “Blessed Virgin Mary, thank you,” he whispered.
He had not realized the full extent of his vulnerability, how he had lain helpless under the sword of Damocles.
He kissed the palms of her hands and let out a long slow breath, all relief, like a terminal case being granted a reprieve. Like a weary traveler reaching the journey’s end. They stood there, arms entwined, looking deep into each other’s soul, moonlight and all.
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
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DISCUSSION QUESTION 44: Is this the end or the beginning of John and Maddie’s surprises?
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