“What’s the matter, Lizzie?” Sarah squeezed my shoulders, her hair brushing my cheek as she leaned over to peek at the papers strewn over the desk.
“My hundredth hang-up tonight!” I rolled my eyes toward the phone. “They finish half the stupid survey, and then they decide it’s too long and hang up.”
“Don’t sweat it, hon.” She reached across me and gathered my completed surveys. “Don just went home and left me in charge. Let’s knock off ten minutes early.”
I plopped my pencils into a cup and stood, stretching, my shirt pulling up out of my jeans. Sarah poked the eraser end of a pencil at my navel as she passed by, and I laughed, following her toward the office.
“David... Tina... Chad... Stacy... Lynn!” Sarah trailed her hand across each cubicle as we walked by and heads popped up one by one. “Turn’em in folks! Time to go home.”
I followed her into the office, heading past her toward the small fridge.
“Throw me one.” She sat down, kicking off her heels and putting her bare feet up on Don’s desk.
When I touched a can of Mountain Dew to the sole of her foot, she squealed.
“Nice polish. Can I borrow it?” I tossed the can to her and she studied her toes.
“I’m outta here.” Stacy slapped her surveys on the desk. “Eight good ones.”
I stuck my tongue out at her overachieving back as she walked away and Sarah grinned. Chad and Lynn left together, arm in arm, without one survey between the two of them completed.
“What a waste.” Sarah sorted surveys on the desk. “Teenage hormones! What were they doing—calling each other?” Tina left her surveys and was gone without a word. David was still putting things together in his cubicle.
“He’s waiting to be alone with you.” I watched him through the two-way glass.
“Not gonna happen.” Sarah snorted. “Besides, work relationships are bad news. The male-female power struggle is tough enough without adding that to it, right?”
I shrugged. “He’s cute.”
Sarah laughed. “How easily you forget that you’re attached at the hip to a certain stud who picks you up here every night… or is there trouble in paradise?”
“No, but…” I grumbled. “He’s not picking me up tonight. He’s going out with ‘the guys.’”
“Aww—so you have to spend a night all alone?” She mock-pouted. “Welcome to my life.”
“Here ya go, Sarah.” David gave me a steady look as he came in the office. He was clearly wishing I wasn't around. She took the surveys and sorted them onto the desk, acknowledging him less than she had anyone else tonight. “So what are you girls up to on a Friday night?”
“Not much.” I might as well not have even opened my mouth. He was all about Sarah.
“How about you?” David nudged her. “I’m meeting some friends at Industry tonight—want to come?”
I watched her, half-smiling. Did he really believe the woman known around the office as The Ice Princess was going to agree to go to some dance club with him last minute?
I watched his jaw work as he waited. I felt bad for him, knowing Sarah wouldn’t say yes, even though I knew she wanted to—some part of her did, anyway. She wouldn’t admit it to me, of course. Not out loud.
I’d told her, one slow Saturday we spent hanging out in the office, how I’d go for David in a heartbeat if I weren’t seeing Tim. I’d never seen Sarah turn so cold—and that was saying something. I knew immediately, in spite of her objections, she had a thing for him. She told me right away to drop it—she insisted she didn’t want to talk about it.
So, of course, I teased her about it constantly. That was the way things were between me and Sarah. And, really, I wasn’t kidding about David. Yeah, he was older, practically old, but he was hot. If Sarah dated him, I cajoled, I could at least live vicariously. She tolerated my teasing, rebuffed me with sarcasm. That was Sarah.
She sat in silence for a moment, glancing at me and seeing the light in my eyes. “Actually, Lizzie and I are having a girls’ night.”
“That so?” David looked over at me. I neither confirmed nor denied—I just smiled and looked away. “Well, sounds like fun. See you two later.” He went out of the office to get his jacket.
“He’s not a bad guy.” I shut the door and lowered my voice. “Besides… have you seen his basket?”
“His what?” She wrinkled her nose.
“His basket. His… you know…” I cupped the crotch of my jeans as if there were a bulge there.
“Oh Jesus, Lizzie, is that all you think about?” Sarah laughed. “There’s more to life than sex. He’s a thirty-five-year-old telemarketer, sweetie…”
I raised my eyebrows. “So are you.”
“I’m a telemarketing supervisor.” She fished her purse out from under the desk and slipped her shoes on. “Besides, he’s not my type.”
“You keep saying that.” I rolled my eyes. “Methinks the lady doth protest a lot.”
“Too much.” Sarah smirked. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”
“Hey.” She stood, slinging her purse over her shoulder and looking at me, considering. “How would you like to actually do a girls’ night? I can cook. We can rent a chick flick. You can borrow that nail polish. What do you say?”
I hesitated and then shrugged. “Why not? I don’t have anything else to do.”
“Gee, I’m glad I’m a last resort.”
We both grinned.
It was pouring outside, and by the time we’d rented Unfaithful, it had developed into a full-fledged summer storm. We were both shivering and wet, and Sarah turned on the heater in her car. I pressed my hands against the vents in an attempt to warm them.
“Feels like summer is officially over.” Sarah’s teeth chattered as she pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex.
“Sarah, your lips are blue.”
“Yours are purple.” Her eyes lingered on my mouth for a moment and then she met my eyes and smiled. “Ready to run for it?” It was raining so hard the windshield was a waterfall.
We counted together, opening the doors and running toward her apartment. Sarah stopped to slip off her heels, hopping as she did it, and that put her ahead of me. She beat me to the door and we both stood there shivering as she fumbled with her keys. The warmth of the apartment felt good, and I set the movie on the table near the door.
“Come on.” Sarah unbuttoned her wet blouse, heading toward bathroom. “Let’s get out of these and put them in the dryer.” I followed, hesitating only a moment before pulling off my wet Coldplay t-shirt. She threw her blouse in the dryer, turning to grab my shirt.
“Jeans too.” She turned her back to me. “Will you unzip me?” I unzipped her skirt and she slid it off and threw it in. I unbuttoned my jeans, rocking them down my hips. They were wet and came off hard. I toed off my shoes and threw my socks and jeans in with the rest of the clothes. She turned it on and smiled brightly at me. There were curly, wet strands of blonde hair stuck to her cheeks. “They’ll be toasty warm by the time we’re done with dinner. How’s pasta sound?”
“Great.” I followed her out of the bathroom.
Sarah started a fire in the living room in the gas fireplace near the sofa, and she made me sit there with a glass of wine. I wasn’t much of a drinker—hadn’t even gone out to celebrate my drinking-age birthday the year before. Sarah, I figured, was thirty-something—I wasn’t completely sure of this, but it was my best guesstimate.
“This will warm you up in no time.” She headed back to the kitchen.
I watched her go and realized I was sitting there in a bra and panties. It was very warm in her apartment, and Sarah didn’t seem uncomfortable with our state of undress as she puttered around the kitchen, preparing dinner. I could watch if I turned sideways on the couch and put my legs up, so I did.
“Can I help?”
She shook her damp, blonde curls. “Nope. I’m fine.”
“So… what’s the deal with you and David?” I couldn’t fathom her rejection of him. “You can’t deny he’s a total hottie.”
“He is, isn’t he?” She smiled, stirring the pasta. “Well, for one, he’s divorced. Hard to trust a guy who made a go of it and failed, you know?”
Ouch. Harsh. But that was Sarah—no one else we worked with could stand her. I was the only one who could tolerate her caustic remarks, even when they were directed at me.
“And, well… he works for me.” Sarah shrugged, putting something together in another pot. “And you know how Don harps about work relationships.”
“What about Chad and Lynn?” I snorted, knowing Don, our “big boss,” looked the other way a lot. “They’re permanently lip-locked and they work together.”
“Oh, them!” She waved a dismissing hand over the pasta pot as she blew on it, keeping it from bubbling over. “They’re on the same level, you know? It’s just not comparable.”
I sipped at my wine, which was almost gone and Sarah came to refill it.
“Hey!” I laughed. The fire was warming me outside, and the wine was warming me inside. I felt flushed. “You trying to get me drunk?”
“Might do you some good.” She tipped the bottle a little further, filling my glass almost to the top. I just rolled my eyes, watching her refill her own glass and set the wine on the counter.
“I don’t need to get drunk,” I mumbled into my glass.
“No?” Sarah licked wine off her lips and turned to stir the pasta. The sauce pot next to it had come to a slow-motion boil, splattering red sauce on the white glass surface of the stove. “I think you need something like it.”
“Sure you don’t need my help?” I offered as she slid a lid onto the sauce pot and shimmied it around for a moment before setting it on a back burner, reaching into the cupboard above her head to bring down a colander without even looking. I thought she was brave to cook in so little clothing.
“I got it,” she insisted, dipping a fork into the noodles and picking one carefully off the tines. “And don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not.” So what if I was? Sarah tossed a noodle at her kitchen wall and it stuck there, making a strange pattern that reminded me briefly of the Arby’s logo before slowly peeling away. She caught the strand and tossed it into the sink. “Was the wall hungry?”
She smiled as she picked up the pot and moved toward the sink. “That’s how my father taught me. The spaghetti’s done if you throw it against the wall and it sticks.”
“I’d hate to be around when you cook a pot roast.”
I loved when I could surprise a laugh out of her that way, when it wasn’t just a polite thing, but a genuine response. There was something so bright about her in those moments it made my chest ache. I watched as she plated our food, putting down silverware on cloth napkins, which had been carefully folded in a basket on the counter, before calling me to the table.
“Come on, let’s eat.”
The meal was warm and filling, although I didn’t pay much attention to it. Sarah peppered me with questions.
“So what’s after college?”
I sighed, twirling spaghetti with my fork like it was all I could think about. “I don’t know.”
“Have you and Tim talked about it?”
“Me and Tim…” I gulped some more wine, my eyes watering. Everyone always assumed we were an item, like we were one thing, one mind, one entity. Not that we weren’t. We’d been together so long, sometimes even I believed it. And sometimes it drove me crazy. “Yeah, I guess. A little.”
“First comes college, then comes marriage, then comes Lizzie pushing a—” Sarah nudged me under the table with her bare knee and I jumped.
“Don’t say it!” I stuck out my tongue. “You sound like my mother.”
“Life reduced to a nursery rhyme…” She shook her head, still smiling.
I watched her sip her wine, tuck her hair behind her ear, cut her spaghetti into pieces as if she were preparing it for a child. I wanted to say something, to break things open between us somehow, but I didn’t know the words.
As if she understood, she tipped her head at me and asked, “Isn’t that the usual order of things?”
“Who says I want to be usual?” My eyes didn’t move from hers.
“Now we’re talking…” A smile crept over her face, a smile I’d never seen before, something devious, exciting, her eyes lighting up with it. “And here I thought you were just gonna be another good sorority girl turned real Orange County housewife....”
“Well…” I dropped my eyes to my plate, feeling something heavy in my chest. “I probably am…”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“Ha.” I snorted. “You don’t believe that for a minute.”
“Life changes you.” Sarah ate spaghetti with a spoon. I watched her taking delicate bites, amused. Here I was, slurping away at the noodles, and she was being as precise as a surgeon. “Sometimes you find the things that once did it for you just… don’t… anymore.”
I studied her face, contemplating her words. “I’m not too young to get it, Sarah.”
“No…” she agreed. “But sometimes you just can’t tell people things. Sometimes they just have to happen. Life will happen to you. Trust me, it will. No need to hurry it along.”
“What if I want to?”
“Everyone says that.” Sarah took another sip of wine, looking at me over the rim. “Until things start to happen.”
“Just life, sweetie.” She sighed, using her napkin and then putting it over her plate, half her food still left there. “You’ll get it… when you’re older.”
I rolled my eyes, mimicking her napkin-over-the-plate gesture. I’d lost my appetite. “Now you really sound like my mother.”
“What do you want me to say?” She stood, clearing our plates but leaving the wine glasses. “That I can give you a map?”
“I don’t want a map…” I stood, too, but didn’t follow her to the kitchen. Instead, I went the few steps into the living room, running my fingers over the edges of her furniture. “I just want to be…”
“Unusual?” she supplied, snagging both of our glasses like a professional waitress in one hand, the bottle of wine in the other.
“I don’t have the first clue how to be unusual.” I flopped down onto the couch in front of the fire.
“No?” Her voice was closer and softer now as she sat on the floor in front of me, her back resting against my crossed legs. “I think you know more than you let on.”
“I don’t.” Her hair was dry now, as was mine. It was silky against my bare legs, and I touched it. Her hair curled around my fingers and she sighed, leaning her head back, her eyes closed. I looked at her in the firelight. It cast shadows, making rippling patterns on her face, her arms, her breasts spilling slightly over her bra, turning her hair and skin a warm, tawny color.
“Sarah, you’re right. My life is as boring as they come. I was valedictorian of my high school class—I’m well on my way to graduating summa cum laude from college. Tim and I went to the junior prom together and have been dating ever since. I got into a good sorority—not, you know, the one with old money, but still… My mother always tells everyone, ‘She’s such a good girl.’ And you know what? She’s right. I am a good girl.”
“I bet you are.” She smiled, her eyes still closed.
“What do you mean?’
I saw a glint on her left hand in the fire light as she shifted. “Sarah, why do you wear a ring?”
“Why?” She opened her eyes to look up at me. They were clear, like blue glass. “Because… because I want men to think I’m taken.”
“But you’re not.”
She frowned, closing her eyes again. “That part of me is.”
I stroked her hair at her temple, feeling her relax again. “I wish you’d let someone in.”
She shook her head, but didn’t say anything. I was feeling warm, from the fire, the wine. She looked so fragile and vulnerable, and the words just came out, “You’re so beautiful.”
“Look who’s talking.” Her smile touched her eyes, even closed.
“No.” I ran a fingertip down her cheek, so soft. “I’m nothing compared to you. Have you seen the way David looks at you? If a guy looked at me that way…”
“Don’t say that.” She turned around suddenly, so she was kneeling in front of me, her hands on my thighs. “Elizabeth, you’re absolutely beautiful. You know that, don’t you?”
I shook my head. “I can’t do to men what you do. They want you. They all do.”
“They want what they think they can’t have.” She touched a finger to my cheek, trailing it up over my nose to my other cheek, and then down to my lips. I held my breath. She fingered my hair, rubbing it, taking a piece of it and touching it to my cheek, tickling, smiling. “What would you say...” she hesitated. I waited, barely breathing, unsure, uncomfortable and yet transfixed. “If I told you… I want you.”
I swallowed hard. “You?”
I found my voice. It was a little shaky. “I’d say... I’d say… wow... and… thank you…”
She waited and I didn’t say anything else. “But?”
“No buts,” I whispered. I touched her hair and she turned her face to rest her cheek on my hand. It was warm and flushed. She kneeled up fully and I uncrossed my legs. She was leaning against the couch between my open thighs, her face inches from mine, her eyes searching.
“Can I kiss you?” she barely whispered, her eyes moving to my lips. I nodded, and she touched her mouth to mine, her arms going around me.
I marveled at her softness, her warmth. I was feeling dizzy, and I didn’t know if it was from the wine, or from the kiss. My hands ran up her arms, her skin softer than anything I’d ever felt, across her shoulders, to her back, pulling her closer and feeling her breasts press into mine. She moaned against my lips and I opened my mouth wider, kissing her deeply, lost.
There were no more words then, just sensation, the texture of her tongue, her nails tracing lightly up my back. She let her mouth trail down my neck, nuzzling me gently, making me lean my head back. Nibbling, biting a little, her teeth sending shivers down my arms, she held my hips in her hands and pulled me forward on the couch, so far that I slid slowly off the edge and into her lap. I opened my eyes in wonder, feeling her thighs against mine, looking down at her face, and she was staring at my breasts.
“Beautiful.” She kissed the tops of my breasts over my bra, covering them with light, delicious little kisses. Her hands slid behind my back, and she undid the hooks, sliding the straps down my shoulders and off. She hesitated for a moment, looking, and I watched her, a thrill going through me when she moaned and pressed her cheek against my breast, taking my nipple in her mouth.
I whimpered then, arching my back, my hands buried in her mass of blonde hair, trembling as her mouth ran from one nipple to the other. They were pink and hard, and watching her tiny tongue sneak out to taste them made me gasp and writhe in her lap, wrapping my legs around her waist.
My hands explored her back, and I undid her bra almost without thinking, wanting to feel the smooth skin underneath. Her sharp intake of breath when I did made me shiver and I ground my hips slowly against hers, involuntarily, needing to move. I felt her breath coming faster, hot on my breasts, as she licked underneath each one.
She eased me back onto the floor. The rug was soft underneath me, and I laid there, my thighs open, my arms thrown above my head, watching her look down at me. It was an incredible feeling, seeing her explore my body with her eyes, the hunger there growing.
She placed her hands on my sides and leaned over me, kissing my stomach. She pressed her cheek against my navel, rubbing it there, turning her head to dip her tongue into it, flicking gently. I moaned and bit my lip, feeling her hard nipples brushing my thighs as she kissed lower. Her lips were so soft, her breath warm, and my panties were gone in a whisper.
I was suddenly afraid, seeing her there, so close to my sex. She was looking at it, greedy, her hands on my now trembling thighs.
I think she felt my tension because she whispered, “Lizzie, shhh it’s okay...” although I hadn’t said a word.
She used her tongue to gently part my lips, moving it from side to side, starting lower and moving deliciously upward. I moaned out loud when she reached my clit, throbbing against her skilled tongue, and she moved the flesh gently, easily, the friction building up.
It was too good. I was so excited, my breathing shallow and fast as I moved in rhythm with her mouth. She put her hands on my hips to hold me still, working faster with her tongue, making little noises to urge me on, and that... oh, that sent me over.
“Oh Sarah!” I reached for her as I came, and her hands clenched mine, so tight, her tongue kneading my clit as I shuddered against her. She stopped, pressing her tongue flat against it, a tender bit of flesh now, and I groaned, wiggling. She moved up my body, cupping my sex in her whole hand and pressing hard, making me gasp.
When she lay beside me, I could see my wetness on her mouth, her chin. I touched my finger to her lips, spreading my juices, and lifted it slowly, deliberately, to my mouth. She let out a sigh as she watched me, slowly sliding a finger inside me. I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling her move it gently in and out.
I opened my eyes when I felt her hand move away, and she lifted her finger to my mouth. I let her spread it on my lips, and then sucked her finger greedily into my mouth, making her moan. I leaned in and kissed her, rolling her to her back.
I stopped for a moment to look at her, really look at her, almost in awe. Her breasts were smaller than mine, perfectly rounded, her nipples pink like mine. I traced a finger down her chest, sliding it up across the mound of her breast, toward the peak of her nipple. I circled it slowly, watching the skin purse as she responded.
She moaned, squirming, and I looked at her, her eyes half closed, her breath coming faster, and that did it... I took her other nipple in my mouth. It was soft, like velvet against my tongue at first, and I licked it until it was like a pebble between my lips.
I moved slowly onto her, and she accepted my weight, pulling me close. Her hands moved in my hair, stroking my back. I slipped down her body, kissing her stomach, so flat and smooth, licking the indentation of her waist, her hipbone. She shuddered as I ran my tongue along her skin just above the elastic band of her panties. They were white, and I pulled back to look, seeing the wetness there. She hooked her thumbs in them, sliding them down, and I helped her, moaning when I saw the dark blonde triangle of hair between her legs.
I hesitated, unsure... I’d never done this before, and while I thought I knew what to do—at least, I knew what felt good for me—I wasn’t sure how to proceed. She looked down at me, licking her lower lip. I felt her heat radiating against my cheek, breathing in her musky odor.
She slid a hand down and opened her lips, touching her clit with her finger, showing me where she wanted my tongue. I reached out to nudge her finger aside and she gasped, her hips bucking up slightly as I moved my tongue slowly against the side of her clit. Her response emboldened me, and I dipped my tongue lower into the folds, sliding inside of her, really tasting her. She tasted slightly different, but light and fresh, and I swallowed. The taste lingered on my tongue and in my throat.
“Please,” she whispered, and the sound of her voice affected me.
I slipped my tongue back up to where I knew she wanted it, focusing on the tiny bud of her clitoris, feeling it harden. Her tiny cries spurred me on. She purred like a kitten at first, squirming against my mouth, catching my rhythm and responding. Her hands found my hair, her fingernails lightly grazing my scalp, sending shivers down my spine.
Licking her excited me. I felt the wetness on my thighs, my clit throbbing. I squeezed my legs together tight as her moans grew louder, her hips moving frantically. I moaned against her clit, making guttural noises deep in my throat. She gasped and came hard, shuddering, calling my name and pushing her hips up to meet my flickering tongue.
“Oh Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie,” she whispered over and over, reaching for me.
I slid up to her and she pulled my mouth to hers, tasting herself on my tongue, slowly licking her juices off my chin, my neck, rolling me onto my back. She let her hand wander over my body as I looked up at her, her fingertips barely touching me. She propped herself on her elbow and smiled.
“You’re beautiful,” she said softly.
I closed my eyes, feeling her fingertips moving over me, and I believed her.
Her voice was calling from far away, and I opened my eyes to her navel, the taste of her still thick and warm in my throat, sweet honey.
“Lizzie, it’s after midnight. Is someone going to be worried about you?” My eyes found hers in the firelight.
“Hmmm, parents. Whereza phone?” I asked, my voice thick. She reached behind her toward the end table, but couldn’t quite reach. I reluctantly shifted my weight to allow her to get it, instantly missing the feel of her body against mine. I sat up, blinking, clutching my knees, suddenly too aware of my skin.
“Guess we fell asleep,” she whispered, handing me the cordless phone. I was instantly flushed as I looked at the tips of her nipples, growing harder as I watched, probably just the transition from asleep to awake, from cuddled, fleshy warmth to out-of-bed shivers.
“Guess so,” I whispered back, our eyes meeting again. I dropped mine and cleared my throat, dialing in the dimness. Ringing. And ringing.
“Are you okay?” Sarah whispered, running a finger against the fine hairs along my forearm.
I nodded. “Yeah.” I wasn’t quite sure what I was. Then I looked at her again and smiled. “Why are we whispering?” I whispered.
She laughed, softly still, as if we might wake some invisible presence. “I don’t know!”
“Lizzie?” It was my mother, sleepy but sure.
“Yeah.” There was my voice! “Listen, I’m at Sarah’s house. Sarah from work. I’m going to stay over, okay?”
“Call me in the morning.” She was already falling back to sleep. “Love you, ’night.”
“Love you, too, ’night,” I replied, our standard goodbye. I was startled by Sarah’s expression as I handed her the phone. “What?”
She looked a little sad, a little surprised as she hung up the phone and turned back to me. She shifted herself so she was turned towards me, her posture mimicking mine, hugging her knees to her breasts. My eyes quickly dipped down those long, tawny-colored thighs and caught a glimpse of the soft, fuzzy patch at their union. I felt the world slip sideways when I saw how slightly open and still glistening she was, remembering the feel and taste of her in my mouth. I felt a familiar flicker in my lower belly.
“What?” I asked again, still seeing that expression, slightly taken aback, on her face.
“I just seduced a girl who still tells her mother ‘I love you’ before she goes to bed at night,” Sarah said with a small snort. “Wow. What was I thinking?” She shook her head at the fire.
And like that it was gone, the liminal space we’d been in since we both startled awake, that sleepy, not-quite-real place. I reached behind me onto her couch and pulled a blanket from the corner, slipping it over my shoulders.
“I should probably get my clothes and go home,” I said finally, not looking at her, drawing the blanket around me and pretending to shiver. The fire was too warm for me to really be cold.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it, and turned slightly to see her. Her chin rested on her knees and her eyes were warm and full of something I couldn’t quite grasp. Okay, fine, so she wasn’t going to say anything. I stood up, pulled the blanket around me, and went to step around her. She touched my thigh and I stopped, looking down the waterfall of blanket, seeing her arm disappearing at the wrist underneath it, feeling the warmth of her palm on my thigh, not grasping, not stroking, just a solid, gentle pressure telling me to stop. So I did.
“Elizabeth.” She breathed it, out and in—like she was inhaling me with the sound of my name. My knees actually felt weak when I felt her fingertips move and shift slightly against the soft, sensitive skin of my inner thigh. She didn’t say what I wanted to hear—she didn’t say I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, that I implied you might be too young for me, that I might be saying I regret doing this. She didn’t say that… but she did.
She said, “I want you to stay in my bed tonight. Will you?”
I swallowed. Her eyes and mouth were soft, her hair a golden halo in the firelight. I just nodded. And she took me to her bed.