Authors: Mercy Walker
The shower turned off down the hall. Tom was naked and clean, and was no doubt toweling himself off with one of my thick, pure cotton towels—I hung those towels out to dry in the hot Arizona sun, no fabric softener needed.
I felt a pang of longing, of frustration and shame just picturing my husband naked and clean. It was my greatest wish in this life to clean everything that was dirty…the whole world over.
I also wanted my husband to touch me; I wanted that more than I ever could have imagined.
We hadn’t made love in over six months. Before that, it had been every couple of months, and that had been enough to sustain me. But then six months ago he’d started to say he was too tired…
But he stayed up late every night going over the city budget, over voter poles, and his re-election champagne.
Which was a no brainer—he was the Mayor of our fair city, and running a city the size of Tempe was more than just a part-time job. And that was on top of his legal practice.
But none of that mattered. What mattered was that my husband didn’t want me. I was certain he’d wanted me madly when we’d met in college—I was taking a double major in economics and literature, he pre-law. We could hardly keep our hands off each other. And then came marriage, and we were so very, very happy.
We’d gotten everything out of life we could have ever wanted, including a beautiful little girl…
But leukemia stole her away from us. Ripped her life from our grasps in one short year, and left a gaping hole ever after. Tom had poured himself into his work…I cleaned, and cleaned, and cooked and volunteered at the homeless shelter, the public library…and I cleaned some more.
That was something I could control, so I did it as much as humanly possible.
Now I was thirty-nine years old, Tom forty, and I couldn’t be sure my husband loved me anymore. He liked me; that was still true. But I didn’t know if he was still in love with me. And that hurt.
Mostly because I was still madly, passionately in love with him. I just couldn’t push myself on him to show him. It would be too humiliating. It would be a blow to my shaky self-esteem that I didn’t think I’d rebound from.
Especially if he rejected me…
I shook all these thoughts out of my head. I needed to get cracking on my list of chores: laundry, cookies for the church bake sale tomorrow, cleaning the oven and the refrigerator. And after I did those I had a shift at the homeless shelter to take care of. That I did to help—to help the poor lost souls that clung perilously to life there, and to help Tom look good. The time I spent at the library, those volunteer hours were all for me. They were what meant more to me than anything anymore. I would die happily surrounded by old, musty books one day…since fat grandchildren weren’t in the cards anymore.
I grabbed the laundry basket I’d set by the door before I changed the sheets on the bed…and that’s when the central air conditioning kicked on…and then just screeched and kicked off. I stood very still, listening to be sure. I set down the laundry basket and went to the thermostat at the end of the upstairs hallway. It read seventy-two degrees. That was the temperature Tom preferred. I hit the down button until the temp was at sixty-eight degrees. And then I waited. Nothing happened. And just then I felt sweat break out on my lower lip and forehead. Tom sauntered out of the bathroom, dressed in muted gray suit pants, with a silver silk shirt unbuttoned and exposing his chest.
I gasped at how in shape Tom was now. He’d always taken good care of himself—much better care than I’d given myself over the years—but now he had cut muscles on every angle of his powerfully build torso. And his smooth, tanned chest made my tongue hungry to lick his flesh—just as it had back in those first years in college.
Tom looked at me and flapped the open silk shirt in front of him. “Did you turn the air conditioning off?”
I shook my head, tried to speak and had to cough to get my throat to work again. “I think the central air just died.”
“Shit!” he groused. “We’ve got the Tomolsins and Jenkins coming over for dinner day after tomorrow.”
I wanted to reach out and touch the beautiful flesh of his chest so badly. It glistened from the moisture of the shower…or was it a thin sheen of sweat. But I just couldn’t. No matter how much I wanted him, or how much I hungered and ached for him, I would not beg my husband to touch me.
I wouldn’t live through the humiliation.
“I’ll take care of it,” I said, dragging my gaze from his glorious chest, until I was looking into his gun metal gray eyes. When he was angry, light seemed to flash behind those eyes like lightning through thunder clouds. “I’ll make it my number one priority.”
Tom swiped the sweat from his brow, and then rubbed the back of his neck. He smiled at me. It was the first smile he’d given me in…longer than it had been since we’d last had sex. He looked so…grateful. He looked like the young man I’d fallen in love with the first time we’d met.
I suddenly wanted to slap him…but I couldn’t begin to fathom why. He was my husband, my first true love…the true love I still loved. Why would I suddenly have the urge to hurt him?
He came closer and leaned in and kissed me on the cheek, his strong, warm hands grasped my upper arms. He smelled so deliriously good. But the kiss was chaste, and all too short. And just like that Tom turned and walked away, back into the bathroom. I watched him button his shirt, tuck it into his slacks, and then expertly knot his tie. It was silver and gray, with tiny blue dots.
I noticed for the very first time that Tom had dramatic swipes of gray hair at his temples.
I turned and walked away. I grabbed my cell phone on my way to the laundry room.
With my first load of laundry in the washer, and a batch of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie dough chilling in the fridge, I sat down with the Yellow Pages and started calling Heating and Cooling repair men. Half an hour later I’d run through the listed repair men, and found there to be a glut of air conditioning malfunctions in the Tempe area, and that even with the clout of dropping the mayor’s name, they wouldn’t be able to come and take a look until that next Tuesday. They blamed this shortage of qualified help on the fact that there was a heat wave going on, and it had been in full swing all week.
Once the list was exhausted, I started calling my female friends, companions, and fellow members of multiple associations. Asking if any of them knew any available heating and cooling professionals she could call upon.
Over and over I heard the same names I’d already run through.
That was until I called Justine Leclaire. She didn’t know of anyone that specialized in that area, but she did know a “jack of all trades, handy man” that worked for a select few women in the area. And above anything else, he seemed able to fix anything.
Justine gave me this handyman’s phone number and I called right away. The voice on the other end of the line was coarse and rough, and it sent a shiver down my back.
“Is this Jake Thorogood? I’m in need of some heating and cooling help.”
“Then I’m your man.”
I felt a tension lift from my shoulders. I was suddenly and inexplicably grateful to him, but I still needed to know he could do the job, and not just waste my time. The two couples that the dinner was planned for in a couple days were big supporter of Tom, socially and financially. She had to have the house cool and spotless in two days. There just wasn’t any room for error.
“What are your qualifications, if I may ask?”
I heard the man take a deep, husky breath—was her taking a drag from a cigarette? And then he said, soto voice, “I’m good with my hands.”
“Excuse me?” I sounded a little breathless as I leaned forward, trying to hear what he said next.
“I’ve been working with my hands, on everything from cars to boat engines, to plumbing, dry wall, and yes, even central air conditioning units. I learned a lot from my father, the rest I’ve picked up from working with every construction crew that would have me.
He sounded confident and competent. And Justine had recommended him highly, so I gave into my desperation and asked when he could come over and give it a look?
“Can’t do it today…I’m all the way out in the east end of Phoenix. But I can be there bright and early tomorrow morning. Nine a.m. good for you?”
I smiled. “Yes, nine is perfect.” I would have my first load of laundry in the wash, and the bed stripped and made. Not that he’d have to see the bed room to fix the air conditioning problem. No, the central air unit was housed in a concealed cubby on the back of the kitchen, right next to the garage.
“I’ll see you then.” and he hung up.
I wiped my hand over my brow and it came back sticky and wet. Tonight would be disgustingly hot in the house. I knew I could weather it. I’d grown up poor and hadn’t had even a window mounted air conditioning unit until after I’d graduated college. It had been my first great expense.
But Tom had come from an upper middle class back ground. I don’t think he’d ever spent a night of his life out of climate controlled conditions.
And this gave me a sudden inspired idea. I’d go to Lowe’s and buy a window mounted air conditioning unit and install it in the bedroom. If he wanted to stay cool, he’d have to stay with me tonight…all night…maybe I’d be able to break our bad streak. Maybe having the central air die on me would be the best thing to happen to me all year.
I watched as my best friend and fellow cheerleader, Lana, leaned in and kissed her Über hot captain-of-the-football-team boyfriend—Darby Rhodes. He was hands down the finest looking boy in Hill Crest High School…probably the entire state. But when you paired him with the blond haired, blue eyed Lana Wright, their natural superior looks and preternaturally sexy auras made them both smoking hot babes in any language or zip code.
And unfortunately for me, I found Lana just as delectable as her hunky boyfriend.
To say I was in a confused state of mind would be the understatement of the century. I’d known Lana my entire life…we’d grown up on the same block, and had been BFF’s since our first Barbie Dream House tea and bikini party.
And then a couple years ago I started having these urges…I wanted to lick Trey Kensington’s neck one day while waiting in line for lunch. And later that week I turned red faced embarrassed when I caught myself checking out Mrs. Dowling’s long, svelte legs in English class. She’d had the nicest calves, made even better by the four inch stiletto heels she was wearing…and the creamiest thighs…
It should have been illegal to wear a skirt that provocatively slit up the side to class, even if she was the teacher.
But to my credit, I’ve remained a virgin.
No, I’m not some pathetic, pimply faced home-schooled born again religious type—no purity rings here! And definitely no field hockey knees or craving short hair and power tools.
I just want for my first time to be special. And if I was absolutely honest with myself, I wanted it to be with Lana and Darby.
I felt my face flush, the blood boiling and hot under my skin. I just couldn’t believe, even after a year and a half of wanting it, of fantasizing about it, that I wanted to go all bi-sexual three way my first time out.
Maybe I should just bite the bullet, become the school ho, and do the entire football team, and all the cheerleaders. The guys in the locker room, the girls at a sleep over at my house.
I’m so going to hell!
Nervously I yanked my gaze from the co-objects of my desire, and pulled my champagne blond hair out of the confines of the hair tie I’d lashed it into a ponytail with. I combed my fingers through it and re-did the ponytail…and then I looked over to where Lana and Darby where nearly fornicating…and saw Lana staring back at me.
I tried to look away, but I was caught, and by the slow, sensual way Lana was smiling at me, I was pretty sure she knew exactly what I’d been thinking.
Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck, fuck!
I wanted to die.
Panic stricken, I raked my mind for a way out off this. There was no way Lana could actually know what I was thinking. If anything, she might think I was scoping out her boyfriend. Which was technically true, and would be grounds for her to bitch slap me and publish the news that I was a big slut throughout the school.
Then again, Lana was well known for being able to guess people’s deepest and darkest secrets. She just had a gift…a gift straight from the devil.
I shook this off and scratched at the insides of my skull like a demented jungle cat, desperate to escape the prison of my mind. Maybe I could fake the flue, getting my period…anything to be able to go home.
When I looked up again, Lana was walking towards me, swinging her luscious hips as if she had her own soundtrack.
I tried to speak but nothing came out. I cleared my throat and suddenly my voice came out all too loudly.