She must be the prettiest girl on the planet, thought Benny. Her smile was more radiant than the sun-dappled setting in which she modeled the teeniest of bikinis. Benny smiled back and stroked his thumb over her picture. What must it feel like to touch her skin? It hurt to fantasize about girls in lingerie catalogs, but it hurt good. Only in his most outrageous imaginings could Benny see himself with a girl like that. He barely dared imagine himself with any girl at all. But it was better to yearn in vain, he thought, than to allow his hopelessness to numb his desires.
The knock on his office door startled him, then Mark strode in without waiting for an acknowledgement. Benny fumbled with the catalog as he tried to stuff it into his desk drawer.
“Hey, Ben, whatcha got there?” He didn’t wait for Ben to answer, but snapped up the catalog before Ben could close the drawer.
“Victoria’s Secret, huh? You picking out a present for someone?”
“C’mon, Mark, I’m just looking.” He reached for the catalog, but Mark held it just out of his reach.
“Can’t blame you, I’m always sneaking a peek at Ellie’s. Oh, yeah. Allesandra, what a hottie, did all those genes come together perfectly, or what?”
Benny snagged the catalog back and put it in his drawer. “So, what’s up?”
“Just wanted to make sure you knew about Jim Driscoll’s party this Friday. Ever been to his house?”
“Ah, no. But I thought I’d drop by for a little while.”
“Good, maybe you’ll get lucky. Every girl in the building will be there. Hey, what do you think of Denise?”
“Denise? She works at Wilkins-Renfield.”
“Right, on the fourth floor. You must have seen her; she’s always bringing us files from them.”
“Yeah, she looks like a nice girl.”
“Yeah, that’s what Ellie was saying the other day.”
“Matchmaking again, huh?”
“Aw, c’mon, Ben. Don’t get your socks in a knot.”
Benny smiled. He didn’t want his friend to think he was actually annoyed, though he was. “Okay, thank Ellie for her consideration. You’re a lucky man to have her. Don’t screw it up.”
“Well, well, Don Juan Benjamin giving advice, huh?”
“Get out of here, will you? I’m up to my eyeballs in work. Hey, I appreciate it, Mark, I really do. But I’ll find my own way, okay? When I fall head over heels for a girl, you’ll be the second one to know.”
“Yeah, right.” Mark smacked him on the shoulder.
Ben watched the door close after Mark. A forlorn smile creased his face. I’m always falling head over heels for some girl; they just don’t tumble for me.
Ben reminded himself that he was mostly content with his life. He worked with good people in a good place. He’d known Mark since they were in grade school. Mark was always poised and handsome, even as a kid. Ben was his nerdy sidekick, but there was no mistaking the depth of their friendship. But sometimes Ben just wished Mark would let him live his life without worrying if he was lonely. Of course he was lonely, but it was worse feeling like the proverbial stone around Mark’s neck, ever since high school, when Mark nearly screwed up his own prom date by insisting his then-girlfriend find a date for Benny. A lot more arranged dates later, and Ben had had enough.
He wasn’t attractive. He’d come to terms with that. He’d given himself a good long look in the mirror. He was never athletic and it showed. He didn’t wear clothes well. He wasn’t overweight; nevertheless, a fold of skin drooped beneath his jaw giving the appearance of an incipient double chin. He was at least as tall as the other men in the office, but his body shape made him seem shorter. Prominent widow’s peaks were starting to recede farther along his scalp.
But the one thing he had going for him was his personality. He thought if a woman could just get past his appearance, he could win her over, because if nothing else could be said for Ben Paccoli, he adored women.
He was well-liked among the women who worked at Farben Square, an office condo building that housed a dozen firms that dealt in various aspects of real estate. The building included a big common cafeteria where employees of all the firms mingled and exchanged ideas, just as Mark and his chief partner, Jim Driscoll, had intended. A side benefit was that everyone who worked there became friends with everyone else, so Farben Square had also become party central.
Mark had founded his own company, a research firm, and brought Ben in to work for him from the start. Ben had an uncanny ability to find out the minutest details about a property, a service valued by developers anxious to avoid unseen hassles from historic commissions and regulatory boards.
Ben had even identified two properties as haunted, a fact that made one property’s value soar, and the other’s plummet.
He had his own office set off from the common work space. He needed the isolation, or he would never get a minute of work done. He liked to talk with the girls in the office, and he had a crush on every one, even Ellie, Mark’s fiancée. Women did genuinely enjoy Ben’s company. He was attentive, and genuine, and he remembered each of their birthdays and anniversaries. He had made tentative requests for dates, but he was always turned down gently, so he gave up. But, perhaps guilt, or worse, pity, among the women at Farben Square fueled a mission among them to find someone for Benny. It was embarrassing, and he tried to put an end to it, gently suggesting he didn’t need their incessant matchmaking, but it was too late.
Benny completed one job and decided he’d have lunch before he tackled the next. He had avoided the cafeteria the past couple of weeks because of an up-tick in offers for blind dates. He’d had his fill of those, especially the look of disappointment in the woman’s eyes when they were introduced. So, he carried his bag lunch to an ancient and forgotten graveyard a block away and just out of sight of the street traffic.
He stepped out of his office and faced a dozen desks helmed by his fellow employees. They paid him no notice, since most were concentrating on their monitors, but three, Jane, Tanya and Ellie were chatting with Denise who had brought some files down from W-R. Benny stepped to the water cooler and took a sip. As he straightened, his practiced eyes assessed Denise.
She wore a long skirt, black. And since she wasn’t at all tall it looked sacky. A white, cotton sweater seemed too bulky for the warm weather they’d been having and her pale neck and face were flushed and moist. Short dark hair and severe, black-rimmed glasses completed her look.
Inwardly Benny smiled. He thought her a kindred spirit, not especially endowed in attractive features. She wore her clothes to disguise her shortcomings, rather than the way the other women in the building dressed to enhance their assets. But then, as he did with all women, his eyes began to discern qualities hidden or un-noticed by others. Her skin was milky white, clear porcelain, enhanced by her chestnut hair. He imagined her body was creamy pale all over. He wondered at the shape of her legs. The skirt suggested she wasn’t happy with them. Perhaps her thighs were heavy. He was captivated by women’s thighs. As far as he was concerned, there was no such thing as an unattractive thigh. How many times had he imagined his face nestled in their fleshy vise?
“You’re coming to Jim’s party, aren’t you, Denise?” Ellie had asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not much for parties.”
Her voice was clear and melodic. Listening to her was like listening to a hymn. It took Benny by surprise.
“C’mon, everyone will be there. It’ll be fun,” Ellie pressed.
“Okay, I’ll drop by for a while.”
She turned and left the office. Ellie and her companions huddled conspiratorially, but Benny could make out Ellie’s voice clearly. “Wouldn’t she be perfect for Benny?”
“Yeah, they’d be really cute together,” Tanya agreed.
Benny rolled his eyes and thought: Jeesh, don’t get started on that poor girl now. Leave it be.
He hurried out the door before they noticed him.
* * *
Benny returned after his break and waited by the elevator. Behind him he heard Mike Cahill discussing a development scheme with someone else. It was a job with a lot of iffy data attached to it that Benny wanted to iron out. Benny spun and tried to spot Mike. He saw him disappear into the cafeteria and hurried to follow him. But when he entered the cavernous glass space, adorned with vegetation like the inside of a greenhouse, he lost sight of him.
“Benny! Ben, over here.” It was Ellie and four other women. One of them was Denise. Ben reluctantly stepped over to their table.
“Ben, have you met Denise yet? She just started this month with Wilkins-Renfield.”
He nodded toward Denise who kept her eyes down and looked increasingly uncomfortable. He immediately felt sorry for her.
She doesn’t want to meet me, he thought. No more than I want to meet Rasputin’s second cousin, twice removed.
“Hi,” he offered. “I’ve seen you around the building. How do you like it at the Square?”
“I like it’so far,” she said and sipped her diet Coke.
Yeah, I’ll bet, Benny mused. “Well, it’s a great place to work. Nice people.”
“Well, nice meeting you. I gotta get back.”
“Oh, Benny, take a break, join us,” Ellie coaxed.
“Just took my break. I’ll catch up to you all later.”
He hurried back into the foyer and caught the next elevator.
* * *
Jim Driscoll owned a company that specialized in high-end developments. Married young, he had experienced a contentious divorce and had vowed to the world never again. And though he had a reputation as a playboy he insisted on a respectful environment in his offices. Louts didn’t last long at Driscoll Enterprises. The other side of the token was that he made it clear that the boss was also off-limits to in-house romance, much to the chagrin of his female employees who entertained thoughts of landing a rich real estate magnate.
Like Mark, he believed a happy corps of workers was the most productive and creative. Farben Square was a concept put together by him and Mark long before either of their companies was soundly established. Later, Mark and Benny had saved him from joining a partnership that was little better than a scam, and Driscoll never forgot. He rewarded Mark by partnering with him on Farben Square.
He lived in a sprawling home that was about 50 percent glass and housed large amounts of flora. It was like living in a greenhouse and he had repeated the concept when he conceived the cafeteria at Farben Square. When Benny arrived he half expected to see macaws and monkeys frolicking in the rafters.
The party was spread out among dozens of rooms as well as a common area sunken like a conversation pit with a fish pond in the center. The rainforest-like setting had an erotic effect on many of the partygoers, who ducked into vine sheltered recesses to neck. Benny inadvertently stumbled onto a spirited handjob, but neither of the participants was in any frame of mind to pay him note.
He found one of several bars set up and ordered a gin and tonic. He was taking his first sip when Mark tapped his shoulder.
“Hey, glad you made it. I can’t believe you’ve never been to Jim’s place before. Whadaya think?”
“Lions and tigers and bears — oh, my!”
“Jesus, wouldn’t be surprised if he did have a few prowling around. You should check out the turtles he has swimming in that pond.”
Benny nodded just as three bikini-clad girls from the Square trotted past on their way to the pool, which looked more like a grotto out of a Tarzan epic.
Mark laughed. “The way things are going, I’ll bet those bikinis come off before the night’s over. People are really having a good time.”
Benny nodded again. He had never encountered so much bare female flesh all in one place. Women he saw every day were transformed by revealing dresses, tight jeans with sleeveless tees or tops with plunging necklines.
“C’mon, I left Ellie with some of the gang in the game room,” Mark said. “Hope the hell I can find it again.”
Benny followed as they maneuvered between groups of chatting revelers. Finally they reached a room appointed with rich, polished wood and three billiards tables. Benny noticed Ellie’s backside before anything else, as she leaned over a table to take her shot. Her jeans, faded strategically, drew his eyes to her shapely derriere. A halter top tied at the neck beneath her red-blond hair left her back bare and gave the impression from behind that she was topless. Benny was enthralled and took in a deep breath of appreciation. Ellie was beautiful. She and Mark deserved each other, he thought. Beautiful people, but nice people too.
Ben chuckled to himself. If Mark only knew how much he lusted after his fiancée.
Ellie missed her shot. “Damn, how’d I miss that?”
She stepped aside. Denise had been sitting in a corner; she stood and eyed the table. She wore some cream-colored outfit with a long skirt and a vest over a plain blouse with long sleeves. Still keeping herself covered, Ben thought.
Denise set up her shot and without a second of hesitation sent one ball into a corner pocket. She chalked her cue, and then leaned across the other end of the table. She sent the white ball between two others separated by barely an inch. They split and each dropped into corner pockets. A round of applause broke out among the audience of about ten along with some ooos and ahhs.
“Gosh, she’s killing me,” Ellie pouted. “What a hustler. I’m glad we’re only playing for quarters.”
“Or strip pool,” Mark chuckled.
“You kidding? I’d have been bare-assed by now.”
“Hmmm,” Mark moaned as he closed his arms around her from behind and she leaned into him.
Meanwhile, Denise took her last shot. There was no doubt where the ball was headed.
“Game!” someone shouted.
“That’s it, I’m done,” Ellie said as she shrugged out of Mark’s embrace. “Where’d you learn to play pool like that?”
“My dad. We used to play a lot.”
Ellie noticed Ben standing near the door. “Hey, Ben, c’mere. You want to take on a hustler?”
Ben noticed Denise retreat from the table as if she wanted to put as much space between them as possible.
“No thanks. I’m still reeling from the game of penny poker I played with you and Jane a couple of weeks ago.”
Ellie called to Denise. “Hey, look, Benny’s here. Another victim. Whadaya say, Denise?”
Denise looked at Benny but didn’t move.
For crying out loud, Benny thought, don’t embarrass the girl-don’t embarrass both of us.
“Um,” Benny scanned the room. “I gotta refresh my drink. Anyone want anything?”
Shrugs and headshakes were his reply. It was all he needed to retreat from the room. He made his way to another portable bar and ordered a refill. Another tap on his shoulder.
“Hey, where you running to?” Mark said.
“Um, the bar?”
“Look, Mark, I know what you and Ellie and everyone else at Farben Square is up to. C’mon, give me a break, and give that girl a break. She isn’t interested. And why do you all think we’re such a perfect match, ’cause we’re a pair of schnooks?”
“Jesus, it’s not like that.”
“Look, c’mon back. Ellie wants to play a game with you.”
“Yeah, she’ll be safe with me.”
Benny laughed. “Haven’t you noticed? That girl of yours looks hot tonight; I’d be worried if I were you.”
Mark clapped him on the back. “C’mon, you shitbum.”
They walked back toward the game room and were just outside the door when they heard Ellie speak up.
“C’mon, Denise, don’t be like that.”
“Look, Ellie … all of you. I-I don’t need people trying to fix me up, okay.”
“Benny’s a nice guy, we didn’t mean anything,” Tanya said.
“Look, I get it. Fix up the loser girl with the biggest loser guy, because who else would have them, right? Don’t you understand how insulting that is?”
Benny stopped at the door. In one sense he was rooting for her, but the loser remark let the air out of him. He bit is lip, and then turned to Mark. “Hey, she’s right, you know.”
He turned and headed for the front door.
* * *
Monday morning found Farben Square abuzz with chatter about the party. Skinny dipping in the pool had become the order of the evening and a full-blown orgy would have developed if only Jim Driscoll decided he didn’t want to be indirectly responsible for a rash of unplanned pregnancies. The drain on the company health insurance would have been enormous. He had ordered up a fleet of cabs and limos to take his guests home.
As Benny entered the office the chatter became muted. He shuddered under the weight of all those eyes surreptitiously following him to his sanctuary.
He tossed his brown bag lunch into his lower drawer and sat. “The loser has landed,” he said out loud, and laughed mirthlessly.
Around 10 a.m. Ellie peeked in. “Hi, Ben, you’ve been locked in here all morning. Wanna come with me for a coffee?”
“No thanks, I got a bunch of stuff I have to catch up on.”
“Ben, are you okay?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t I be?” Damn, shouldn’t have left her that opening.
“Well, at the party …”
He tried to sidetrack her. “Yeah, what a time, when did you and Mark get out of there?”
“I dunno, around three I guess.”
“Wow. Well, I’m really behind it here; I’ll chat you later, okay?”
She closed the door behind her and Benny breathed a sigh of relief. Just let it alone, he pleaded in his mind.
He buried himself in his work, knocking off a week’s worth in a couple of hours. He had just glanced at the clock’ 11:55′ when he heard a soft knock.
The door opened slightly and Denise looked in. “Hi.”
Benny straightened up. “Oh, hi. Um, can I do something for you?”
Denise slipped around the door. She was wearing her standard uniform.
“Ben? I-I just wanted to apologize.”
“I said some things at the party the other night. I guess you heard …”
“Um, it’s no big deal, really …”
“Yeah, it’s a big deal. I didn’t mean to call you a loser. From what I’ve heard, you’re a really nice guy. I was just upset, because … well, because they were trying to fix us up and … I really hate that, you know?”
Ben relaxed. “You were absolutely right, Denise.”
“I mean about how insulting it is. They’re-they are all great people here, and they mean well, but they just don’t realize … you don’t like to be reminded you’re a schnook by having them treat you like a charity case.”
“Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say you’re a schnook, Denise.”
She grinned. It lit up her face. “We’re a couple of schnooks, I guess.”
Benny laughed. “Okay, the Farben Square schnooks.”
“Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, it wasn’t you I was talking about. See you later.”
She turned, and Benny called after her, “Hey, Denise, you wanna have lunch with me?”
“What? In the cafeteria?”
“No, not there. But if you meet me outside, you can pick up a sandwich down the street and I know a little spot we can eat outside — if you want to.”
Denise smiled. “Okay, but let’s be careful no one sees us.”
“Right, no need to set tongues to wagging.”
* * *
Benny arranged to meet Denise two blocks from Farben Square. She dashed in to a little sandwich shop, and then Benny led her to the old cemetery.
“I hope it doesn’t creep you out,” he said as he led her among the worn and broken stones. “Old cemeteries are kind of a hobby of mine.”
“No, I love old cemeteries. But a hobby?”
“Yeah, I love to research them, and especially rediscover them. I’m sure the city isn’t even aware that this one exists. On the zoning map it’s shown as part of a warehouse.
They sat on a knoll that covered an ancient tomb and munched their sandwiches.
“It’s so sad,” Denise mused.
“The people who lie here; they’re all forgotten. Even their names are worn away from their stones. It makes you wonder about them. What were they like? Did anyone love them?”
“That’s why I like to research them. It’s one thing to locate an old graveyard, but to find out about the lives that led to this spot; I dunno, it’s like reaching your hand back into the past and shaking the hand of someone who lived then.”
“It’s a pretty view from here,” Denise said, looking past the trees and down into the city to the seaside.
“Yeah, you don’t realize the elevation we’re at because it’s such a gradual grade. But this is prime land for development because of those distant views. That’s why I’m glad I found this place, if anyone tries to put anything here I can get it registered with some historical commission. But for now I think I’ll just keep it my secret — it’s yours too, now.”
Denise smiled. “Why, thank you.”
“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you where you learned your pool game.”
“Oh, my Dad was kind of a hustler in the Navy. He taught me.”
“He was a great teacher.”
“He had plenty of time. My Dad and I hung out a lot together, especially after my mom died. I didn’t get many dates when I was a teenager. I guess Dad tried to make up for it by doing lots of stuff with me.”
“Sounds like a great guy. I was the baby in my family, a change-of-life baby. My siblings are way older than me, so I was kinda like an only child, except without any of the benefits. My parents were tired all the time and my older siblings didn’t want to spend much time with me. And I didn’t get many — make that any — dates in high school that weren’t set up.”
“And they’re still trying to set us up.” Denise frowned, and hissed a sigh through her lips.
“They mean well. That’s what makes me crazy. I should tell them off, but they’re my friends and I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings.”
Denise lowered her eyes. “Ben, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings the other night.”
“Aw, it takes a lot to hurt my feelings. Too much scar tissue.”
Denise laughed. “That’s terrible, but it’s funny.”
“Hey, c’mere, I want to show you something.”
She started up but her shoe slipped beneath her. Benny grabbed her hand and lifted her to her feet. For a second he just held it, her skin was soft and cool.
“Uh,” he let it go. “It’s right over here.”
Denise followed, noting his ears had reddened. He stepped around broken slate stones until he reached an isolated corner of the graveyard. A tall slate stone stood alone. The etching was still readable.
“I wanted you to see this. These were real people, and they were special people. Go ahead, read.”
Sacred to the memory of
Phoebe Parker Hastings
beloved wife of Capn Aaron Hastings
who flew from this world
August 18th, 1778
Ae 27 years, two months, five days
Sweet lady, light of my world, may that our parting
Be but as brief as night, that I may awake to your
Radiant smile, to never part again — forever
“Oh, my God. That’s so sweet, I could almost cry.”
“I looked up Capt. Hastings. He was a veteran of the Revolution. His wife died soon after delivering twin daughters while he was away at war. He never married again, which in those days was unheard of. If there was an unattached woman available the community expected you to take her as a wife. But he refused. It was a minor scandal. But he couldn’t love another or even take another woman to his bed. He enlisted again during the War of 1812. He was in his late fifties then, about the average lifespan in those days. You know, I think he wanted to die in combat, so he could be with his beloved Phoebe.”
He pointed to the base of a broken limestone grave marker. “I think that’s his stone. I hope so. I like to think they’re together again.”
“Do you think that’s true?”
“Sounds like they were soulmates. I wonder if that’s so, that there could be someone special for everyone. Couldn’t be; there are so many lonely people in the world.”
Benny shrugged. “Maybe not everyone; maybe some people just get lucky. Like Aaron and Phoebe.”
“We better get back.”
“No hurry. Your boss encourages long lunch breaks.”
“Maybe, but I’m still the new girl.”
He started to lead her back through the wooded lot to the street.
“I realize it’s a weeknight and all, but would you like to see a movie tonight?”
“Yeah, an old classic. A theater in my neighborhood just started up and it’s their specialty.”
“Errol Flynn, ‘The Sea Hawk’.”
“I adore old movies, and Errol Flynn gets me wet — Oh, my God! I can’t believe I said that.”
Benny laughed out loud. “Well, it’s a date then?”
“Okay, it’s a — date. But, you won’t tell anyone at work?”
“Why should I? It’s none of their business.”
They re-entered the building separately and went back to work.
* * *
Early in the evening Benny met Denise at her apartment and they took a taxi back to his neighborhood. She wore jeans and a black half-sleeve tee, somewhat rumpled by the industrial strength bra beneath it. The jeans clung tightly to her thighs.
They are big, Benny thought, and tried to imagine those thighs unfettered by clothing. And for an instant, he also imagined his face between them. He had to shake himself.
“Are you okay? Is there something wrong?” she asked.
“Huh? Oh, no, it’s just, you look so different from the way you dress at work.”
“You look — really nice,” he said.
“Yeah — really nice.”
“Oh … thanks.” It was just a slight, shy smile, but it made Benny’s heart skip a beat.
The theater was gloriously restored. “This must have been what it was like to see a movie back in the forties,” Benny said. He bought them popcorn and they entered the auditorium.
A little less than two hours later they emerged with an enthusiastic crowd.
“Wow,” Benny said, “I must have seen that flick a hundred times on TV, but never on the big screen. What a difference. What a score.”
“It was fun,” Denise agreed. “Especially when the audience got into it. I haven’t seen that happen since I was a kid and my Dad took me to see ‘Star Wars.’ That girl up front really got everyone into it.”
“Must be an Errol Flynn fan. He’s still charming the ladies.”
“He was so handsome.”
“How about a coffee? There’s a place just down the street that has great pastry.”
“Pastry? Gee, I don’t need it, but I’m having too much fun tonight.”
Benny ordered two lattes and a sampler of flaky fruit-filled croissants. They were delivered to their table by a boisterous woman with a dazzling grin and a complexion the shade of deep roast coffee.
“Don’t you dare leave a crumb, children, or Big Hank will take it personal.”
“Big Hank?” Denise inquired.
“That’s me, sugar. Henrietta just never rang my chimes, uh-uh.”
Denise bit into one of the croissants and her eyes rolled. “Oh … this is heavenly. Thank goodness I don’t live nearby.”
“You ain’t no stranger now, child. Drop by again, you could use some fattening up.”
Hank chuckled and strode back to her counter.
“That’s the first time anyone’s ever told me I need fattening.” Denise laughed and sprayed flaky crumbs over the table. “Jeesh, nobody will wanna take me anywhere, what a slob.”
“I’m glad I took you here,” Benny said. The words had welled up from his heart.
Denise put her croissant down and took off her glasses. She looked into his eyes. “Ben, I haven’t had so much fun … not in a long time.”
Benny’s chest swelled. He was out with a girl — and she was having a good time. Thanks, God, he prayed. Better late than never, but then I guess you’re pretty busy. Now, please don’t let me do anything stupid.
Later they walked to Benny’s street. He looked at his car, then at his front door. Nah, don’t be a jerk by pushing too fast, he advised himself.
He unlocked the passenger door and held it for Denise. She slid in, but did he detect a slight frown?
Denise was quiet during the ride to her flat, but every so often she would look over and smile at him. He wanted to touch her, maybe hold her hand, but decided not to attempt it. Don’t screw up; don’t screw up, echoed like a mantra in his head.
She showed him a place to park in the alley beside her building, a restored brownstone. He hurried to hold the door open for her and held her hand as she stepped out. He continued to hold her hand as he walked her to her door. And she didn’t draw it away, as she said, “I really, really had fun tonight.”
“We can do it again.”
“I’d like that.”
He gazed at her eyes sparkling behind her glasses. “Yeah, me too … I’d like …”
“I’d like …”
“I’d like … to kiss you. Can I?”
She managed to say “Uh,” but he sealed his lips to hers before she could add “huh.”
Her tongue touched his then danced along his lips. Benny floated somewhere in a special zone where all his senses were focused on Denise: The soft pillowy touch of her lips, the smell of her hair, and moist perfumed aroma of her skin.
She broke their kiss and took a deep breath. “Come up?” she asked in a throaty sigh.
God! Did she just say what I thought she said? Somewhere in his brain endorphins gushed like a fountain into his bloodstream.
“Yes — yes!”
She took his hand and led him up the stairs and through the front door. Her apartment was one flight up and they practically galloped up the stairs. She fumbled her keys, but finally her door opened and they stumbled inside in each other’s arms.
As the door closed behind them they fell into another deep kiss. Denise stood on her tiptoes and wondered why she hadn’t realized, he’s so tall.
Benny gave his hands the green light to roam at will. They slid along her ribs to her hips and around and just above her tailbone. His fingertips slid beneath her tee and scouted along the denim ridge of her waistband. Dare he?
He slid more of his hand beneath her tee and encountered the creamy smooth skin of her lower back. Denise’s breaths were soft pants as his hands flattened against her back for maximum contact. His fingertips reached the ridge of her bra strap that seemed to him like a string of barbed wire barring his access to her shoulders. Then Denise stepped back and gently pushed him away. For an instant he wondered if he had transgressed some boundary.
She crossed her arms and lifted her tee off in one fluid motion. Then she reached behind and unfastened the bra. It nearly popped off her breasts from the sudden release of tension, but then clung on, the straps hanging limply over her upper arms. In tantalizing slow motion it finally fell to their feet.
Benny’s eyes widened at the creamy vanilla scoops tipped with burgundy rose nipples that stood at attention. Denise almost brought her arms up to cover them but crossed her wrists over her navel. Benny reached out reverently with both hands and hefted each breast, leaning to kiss the soft, pliant flesh, and then suckle gently on each nipple.
“Benny — Benny — Oh, Benny!” Denise pulled him into an embrace. “Kiss me, don’t stop kissing me.”
Benny couldn’t stop if he tried. He bathed her in kisses, over her shoulders, up her neck and along her collarbone, then paying particular homage to what he knew were the most perfect boobs in creation. Then Denise began to steer him backward as if they were performing an odd dance. His heels clicked against a threshold. It was her bedroom.
Denise began to unbutton his shirt, her fingers fumbling, impatient. She spread his shirt open and kissed the smooth skin over his ribs, inhaling his scent, then let her tongue blaze a wet trail along the pencil thin line of hair that continued over his stomach and submerged beneath his waistband. Benny shivered, but it was Denise who broke out in gooseflesh.
He sat on her bed and she pushed him down. A bulge in his crotch twitched catching her eye and her hand went of its own accord to the site. Ben couldn’t have stopped the moan that rose from his chest, and it was all the encouragement that Denise needed. She unbuckled his belt and drew his zipper down slowly, excruciatingly.
God — a girl is taking my clothes off! Benny felt like he was floating above himself, watching Denise tug his pants off his hips and then his boxers. His cock stood right up, curved like a scimitar. God, please don’t let it turn her off.
But cool, soft fingers closed around it. He dared open one eye and watched Denise as she gazed at it like something wondrous.
It was smooth, firm and pliant all at once, and she could feel the blood course through it and felt it throb as she ran her hands along its length. “I want to kiss it — ‘kay?”
Benny couldn’t talk. He just nodded his head furiously.
“It’s beautiful,” Denise whispered before she pressed her lips to his shaft, trailing feathery kisses along its length to the tip.
Benny clasped his arms over his eyes. He couldn’t look. He was afraid he would come and embarrass himself.
But now Denise tested the texture of the tip with her thumb and Benny felt his fluids roiling at the base of his cock.
Denise breathed in his scent again then licked the underside. A fountain of cream jetted out of the tip as Benny groaned.
Oh, no! He snuck another peek at Denise who grinned down at him.
“Benny — I made you … I really made you …”
“Yes — God, I didn’t mean to …”
“It’s okay. Can I make it hard again?”
“Oh, Denise, just keep doing what you’re doing.”
She stroked him as she fondled his balls. He had become only semi-limp and quickly refortified.
Benny sat up. “Let me take your jeans off?”
Her eyes turned to him, pleading. “Okay, but turn the light off first.”
“I just … please?”
“Okay.” He reached for the small lamp on the nightstand and switched it off. Then he stood and kicked his pants off his ankle and let his shirt slip off his back. He laid Denise on her back and his fingers found the zipper of her jeans. He tugged it down and her waistband curled and separated. He tugged at the jeans. They took a pair of nylon briefs with them, over her knees and off her ankles. Now they were both naked, but more importantly, there were Denise’s thighs. Even in the dark they shone like pale pillars of luscious flesh.
He gently separated them and kneeled between her legs.
“Denise, your thighs …”
“Oh, God, I know,” she whimpered. “They’re too …”
Benny didn’t elaborate. He kissed their smooth flesh from her knees to her groin and back again, adding some nibbles and nips along the way. Benny decided he could die right then and there and his life would be complete.
Denise was panting, sighing, whimpering. During his next pass up her left thigh, she whispered, “higher.”
Benny’s nose was at the gate of her pussy. Her slick fluids caught what light there was, and her musky aroma filled his nostrils.
“Kiss me there, Benny. Please?”
“I never … I don’t know what to do.”
“I’ll tell you.”
“He nuzzled her lips apart with his nose and Denise’s tummy fluttered. Then his tongue tip lolled the length of her slit as she moaned. Encouraged he began to explore.
“No,” Denise said. “Not like that. Just all around that spot.” She lay back as he complied. “Oh, yes, that’s it, that’s so nice.”
He continued to lick and suckle her without regard to time. Then, something akin to a shriek and a sigh escaped Denise and a tremor shook her.
She sat up. “I — I just came. Oh, God.”
I made her come — God, I made her come.
“You wanna have sex?”
“I — well …”
“What’s the matter?”
“I just … Denise, I’ve never …”
“Benny, are you a virgin?”
His face felt like it was on fire. All he could do was nod.
“Oh, sweetheart, so am I’mostly.”
“Benny I want you inside me. Please come inside me, please Benny.” She lay back down.
Benny kneeled between her miraculous thighs. His cockhead pointed at her pussy. He wasn’t sure exactly how he should make entry, but then Denise took his cock by the tips of her fingers and guided him. He slid into her fleshy wetness, and suddenly it occurred to him that maybe it was a good thing he’d already come once.
He began to pump her, his hips thrusting, then swiveling. Then she began to meet his thrusts, arching her back, making him drive deeper inside her. He was on automatic pilot, and now he just enjoyed the sensations, awestruck at having a woman writhe beneath him as he penetrated her holy of holies. He used to laugh at how easily people shouted out the name of the Almighty during sex, but right then he understood. He’d never been this close to heaven. He looked down at Denise, her glasses askew, licking her lips, her tits jiggling with each of his thrusts.
Must be jelly, ‘cuz jam don’t shake like that.
It was all magic; it was all right and perfect. Time passed unmeasured during their lovemaking.
Denise began to cry out. “Oh-Benny-oh-Benny-oh-Benny.”
He cried into her ear, “Oh, baby!”
Denise slipped over the edge, wailing like a gull streaking across the sky.
Benny let himself relax, then his fluids filled her as his cock pumped down and went limp.
He rolled off her and lay next to her.
“Shhhh.” She curled into his arms and they napped.
It was past midnight when they stirred. Denise rolled onto her stomach and Benny let his hands roam over her ass and her back. She mewed like a kitten under the gentle massage.
“You are so beautiful.”
“Oh, Benny. Really?” Was it true? It must be because she felt beautiful.
Ben kissed her shoulders.
“Denise? I — I didn’t use any, you know, protection.”
“I never dreamed we’d end up making love.”
“Yeah, me neither, but what if …”
“Hmm, you’re right.” Denise grinned mischievously.
“My sister, I love her, but she’s such a stuck-up bitch. Anyway, she’s a nurse at the all-night clinic at the medical center.”
Denise sat up and grabbed the phone. “I’ve been waiting to make this call since we were teenagers.”
She dialed and waited. “Hello, Margie. It’s Denise. Oh, I’m fine, fine, nothing’s the matter, but I need a favor, could you help me? Well, I need to take one of those morning-after pills.”
Benny could hear the “WHAT?!” from the other end of the phone.
“Yeah, how soon do I need to take it? Okay, I’ll be right over. No, my friend will drive. Yes, Margie, that friend.”
She put the phone down and giggled like a teenager.
* * *
The next morning Ben entered the office and shared a wide smile with everyone. “Good morning all, what a great day to be alive!”
He breezed into his office.
Ellie signaled Mark. “Did you see that?”
“Yeah. Gee, he acts like he got laid or something.”
Mark shrugged. “I dunno, he probably found another haunted warehouse or something.”
Denise arrived at her office wearing a modest black denim skirt with a hem just above the knee and dark stockings; a red blouse set off her dark hair. Four of the men did double-takes as she strode in.
Alicia, who shared her workstation, gave her an emphatic once-over. “That’s a different look for you.”
Denise pushed her glasses down her nose and looked at her over the rims. “I thought I’d try something — different.”
Ben came out of his office to chat more than usual. Ellie thought he paid an inordinate amount of attention to the office entrance, as if he were waiting for someone. Finally he retreated to his own office but before he closed the door behind him, Denise appeared carrying files from W-R. Benny almost waved, but slipped inside his office and sat at his desk.
His eyes never left the door. Is she coming in? Is she coming in?
Time went by, then there was a knock. He grinned. “Yes?”
It was Mark. Ben’s grin faded.
“You got the Sentry Park files?”
“Uh, yeah, they’re all set.”
Mark reached for the files. “You okay, man? You seem a little — distracted.”
“Huh? No, I’m okay. I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Hmm, you look pretty lively for a guy who didn’t get much sleep. What’s up?”
“Nothing, I’m fine — never better.”
Mark left and Ben tried to concentrate on work, but all he could do was visualize Denise in various states of nakedness.
The lunch hour approached. He checked the inter office phone directory for W-R’s numbers. Dare he dial Denise? He shrugged. “Why not?”
He punched in four numbers. Then he heard her clear, melodic voice answer.
“Uh, hi, it’s me.”
“Oh. Uh, yes, I have that file.”
“Can’t talk, huh?”
“No, that’s right.”
“Okay, well, do you want to meet for lunch? Same place?”
“Yeah, okay, let’s do that.”
“Great, I’ll see you there.” The phone clicked on the other end before he’d finished his sentence. A vague sense of unease gripped him, but he dismissed it.
Benny sat on the knoll in the old graveyard waiting for Denise. He was getting wrist strain checking his watch. He’d finished his sandwich and waited a bit more. An hour had passed. He finally gave up and went back to the office. He saw Denise with four other women emerge from the cafeteria and hung back in the lobby. The others walked back to one of the first floor offices. Denise stood alone at the elevator. When it opened she stepped inside. Benny hurried in after her just as the doors closed.
“Hey, what happened?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Some of the girls waylaid me. I couldn’t think up an excuse.”
“You could have just said you had other plans.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t want to get them thinking …”
“It’s just … It’s none of their business.”
Benny shrugged. “What does it matter now?”
The doors opened on his floor. Ellie and Tanya could see right into the elevator from their vantage point. Denise said under her breath, “Come by later.”
Benny frowned and stepped off. The doors closed.
After work Denise walked right past him in the parking lot.
* * *
Over the next weeks Ben endured the surreptitiousness of his new relationship. Denise’s snubs and continued avoidance of him at work were more than compensated by their time together, and the sex surpassed all the years of his imaginings.
Denise liked to experiment and had even purchased a small library of sex guides. She liked to try different positions, but finally settled on doggie-style and girl-on-top as her favorites.
As far as Ben was concerned, just being inside Denise was worth whatever contortion she asked him to perform. But then there were times when he just liked to run his hands over her body.
Denise had become comfortable being naked in front of Ben, even in the all-revealing light of day. He liked to massage her back, which encompassed everything from her ankles to the nape of her neck, and most especially her behind and her voluptuous thighs. And Denise would lie still, listening to his murmurings about how beautiful she was, how sexy her various parts were, receiving the homage of his kisses, nibbles and caresses. Ben made her believe she was beautiful and she couldn’t wait to offer herself to him.
When he would arrive at her apartment, or when she visited his, once past their first kiss and embrace she would plead, “Take my clothes off?”
He would undress her slowly, pausing to sample each part of her as it was revealed, always as if he’d seen her for the first time, and she’d giggle when he called her “angel” and “goddess,” but she fed on his endearments like a woman who had just shed the curse of invisibility.
But for Ben her nakedness was a gift, revealed to him alone, although his mind teased him with daydreams and fantasies in which he would display her like a treasure to everyone— Isn’t she beautiful? She’s mine.
He wanted to shout it to the world.
* * *
Another day at Farben Square, and people were beginning to chatter about the icy distance Denise always kept between Benny and her, even as she had become outwardly stylish in her dress and warmed to all the other denizens of the Square. This particular day she made a point of turning her back and walking away when he had come around a corner.
That evening he called Denise at home.
“Hey, didn’t you see me?”
“Of course I saw you. I just didn’t want anyone to notice, that’s all.”
“Can I come by tonight?”
“Yeah, sure, I’d like you to come by.”
His spirits brightened, but a nagging dark cloud that had been following him since he left work had not entirely dissipated.
He drove over to Denise’s flat and invited her for a ride. He took her to the park that ran along the river. It was dusk and the sky was a deep pink with orange streaks. Stars were just making their appearance.
He strolled with her over a wooden walk that cantilevered over a bend in the river. They leaned against the rail with his arm over her shoulder. Then he lifted her chin in his hand and kissed her.
“Oh, Ben, you’re such a good kisser.”
“I’m inspired. In fact, I want to shout to the heavens how you inspire me. I’ve never been happier in my life.”
“I am too, Ben. I can’t believe it, but I am too.”
“Denise, I don’t care who knows, not anymore. We — we came together all by ourselves. Why hide it?”
“Oh, Benny. It’s just; you know what they’re going to think.”
He shrugged. “Who cares what they think?”
“I do, because people have been giving me short shrift all my life. Like if a girl isn’t tall and skinny she’s invisible; like she has no right to expect anyone will ever want her. And if she makes friends at all they all start to feel sorry for her.”
“They see us together they’re all going to say, ‘well it looks like they settled for each other.’ Like either of us couldn’t do any better.”
Benny bit his lip and looked out over the darkening water. “But, Denise … I don’t think I could do better than you. You’re the first woman I made love to and now you’re all I want. Do you really feel like you … just settled for me?”
“Oh, no … no, of course not, you’re the most wonderful man … no one has ever made me feel like you do.”
“Then what’s the big deal? Who cares if someone thinks otherwise? It has nothing to do with how we feel.”
She shrugged. “It’s just … I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of thinking they were right about me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Okay, then I’m just stubborn.”
Benny took her hand. “C’mon, I better get you home.”
Back at her flat he walked her to her door.
“Coming in?” she asked.
“Better not. Tomorrow around noon I have to drive up to Maine to check out a property for Driscoll. I won’t be back until Sunday and it’ll be a long drive — practically to Canada.”
“I won’t see you until Sunday?”
“Yeah, if I don’t get back too late.”
He kissed her forehead.
“That’s my kiss?”
He hugged her in a deep embrace before he kissed her full on the mouth. “I’m so glad I found you, Denise,” he said. But she thought his voice was sad.
* * *
The next morning, Benny saw Denise in the corridors of Farben Square three separate times, but each time she walked past him without even a glance.
Mark and Ellie checked with him before he left on his mission to Maine.
“You got your directions?” Ellie asked.
“Jeesh, yes. What the hell is Driscoll up to now?”
“Who knows? Maybe he’s trying to start up a Downeast version of Club Med,” Mark said.
“Cripes, I might as well be headed for Labrador. Well, I’ll catch up to you Monday.”
“Hey, Benny,” Ellie said, and took his hand. “I’m sorry I caused that problem with you and Denise. If I knew she’d react like she has …”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. She’s a nice girl. You guys just have to learn, some people don’t like being the object of all the matchmaking that goes on here.”
“Yeah, we know. Well, see ya. Drive careful.”
Benny had stepped out of the elevator and began to cross the foyer when he spotted Denise leaving Cale Associates. It looked like she was going to walk by him again.
“Aw, the hell with it,” he muttered. He walked toward her and blocked her path.
Denise looked around for an escape. People had stopped what they were doing and were watching the pair.
“I’m getting ready to leave now. I wanted to say bye.”
“I — I — Jesus, Benny, everyone’s looking at us.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care if they know that I think you’re beautiful, and funny, and sexy, and that I want you more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life. In real estate they tell you not to buy the first house you look at; well, you’re the first woman I ever made love to. But that night and all the others have been the most wonderful of my life. Well — that’s all. Goodbye, Denise. I’m going to Maine now — freakin’ Maine, Jesus.”
He turned and headed toward the door.
Denise stood frozen in place and watched him go. The wisp of scattered whispers echoed along the hallways.
“Oh, damn!” She ran out the door. Benny was already halfway across the parking lot. She took a deep breath.
Benny spun around.
“I want you to screw me silly every day and every night of my life and I don’t care if the whole world knows — I love you, Benny!”
* * *
In that moment, Denise knew no man could equal the one who adored her.
In that moment, Benny knew he had won the most beautiful girl on the planet.
In that moment, the windows of Farben Square rattled as if shaken by an earth tremor. Because, even though none of them had had anything to do with Denise and Benny falling in love — in that moment — 202 pairs of hands slapped each other a high five.
© 2005 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.