Em Wycedee is a writer, journalist and English teacher who has had her work published in major newspapers and magazines like The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post, literary journals like Ethos, and zines like The Backroom Press and Event Horizon. She lives with her husband, children and cats near Washington, DC. Her work is archived at http://www.littlereview.com.
I'm certain I've never seen either of them before, although many people come to our house for the parties. The woman is younger than my stepmother, but still much older than me. Probably in her early forties even if she looks younger, with the elegant hands and walk of an aristocrat-- but softer-- in a pale skirt and blouse, her ice-blonde hair radiating like the rising moon. She looks like a marble statue warmed to life.
The man I can't place, but he's obviously as enthralled by the woman as I am. He's too young to be one of my stepmother's friends, too old to have been brought along by a parent. By my standards he's too old for me -- at least, he's over twenty, though probably not by much, while I have just turned seventeen and am becoming aware of how much I have managed not to learn in high school. I am sure that when this man was my age, he already knew about things I can scarcely fantasize. I concoct fifteen stories about how he got to my stepmother's party, how he connects with this crowd of artists, designers and business executives, and where he might have seen the woman in the past, for a moment, from a distance.
Of course, I could just ask my stepmother who they are. But that would ruin my entertainment for this evening when I am expected to play junior hostess. I would rather not know how the exquisite woman and the sentimental young man connect with my stepmother and her world. It gives me more pleasure to watch him watching her, and to speculate. He seems to be more social than she, but I can see him following her movements no matter what animated conversation holds his attention. She keeps to herself, though perhaps only because she knows fewer people. Women greet her politely and compliment her appearance, but most of the men seem a little afraid to approach her. Perhaps she is too tall.
This is the third party my stepmother's had this year. I wish she would notice that they're getting too large for the house. Last time a few partygoers went upstairs, even into my bedroom, prompting her to declare the top floor off-limits to the guests as they arrived. But the downstairs is packed when people come in from the patio and garden, as they inevitably do when it gets late. We have only one bathroom and a small living room downstairs, so if we don't serve dinner immediately after the hors d'oeuvres, people don't know where to put themselves.
For this party I am expected to bring drinks from the kitchen. I cross each room several times and make frequent eye contact with the beautiful visitor, who smiles but does not speak to me. The man waves in my direction and greets me enthusiastically when I offer glasses to anyone near him, but I cannot catch his name. I try to overhear bits of their conversations, and I wonder whether the woman realizes the young man is studying her as I am, but it's difficult with all this running around. Though she never asks me for anything, the woman appears to have a glass in her hand from the moment she arrives, which I refill twice with water while passing her to serve other guests.
While it's still light out, people gather on the patio and walk around the garden, stomping underfoot some of the smaller flowers by the trellis. Fortunately they know enough to leave the roses alone. My stepmother tends the garden herself, and has promised to let me use the mower on the enormous lawn when I am old enough to drive, but I wish she would consider building onto the house instead of spending so much money on parties. We need more room inside, away from each other. Tonight it seems like there's always a crowd in the hallway by the bathroom, so I have to squeeze by each time I need to reach the kitchen. I notice the tall woman waiting with several others, smiling every time I cross her path, so I don't mind so much.
After my ninth or tenth trip past, there are still three people waiting for the bathroom, and the dark-haired man is still watching the woman from his position by the corner table. I can't tell if she notices him watching her, but he notices my notice, because he gives me a sheepish grin and a little wink.
She must be twenty years older than he is, completely out of his league. Then again, maybe she wouldn't think of it that way -- maybe she would be flattered to have the attention of someone as young and good-looking as he is. I smile back at him, and glance toward the beautiful woman who seems preoccupied with looking unperturbed as she waits. I think it's the effort she puts into smiling blandly at each passerby that reveals her urgency.
When another ten minutes have gone by and the door still hasn't opened, her eyes have gotten a little shifty. She gives a longing look in the direction of the stairs and I think perhaps she'll just stride up there, despite my stepmother's dictum. I would cover for her, and think perhaps I will tell her so, though I blush to think of invading her privacy by admitting I know her dilemma. Then I see her glance out the sliding doors leading to the garden, which has grown dark with the evening. Almost all the guests have come inside because of the hour, although the full moon casts a bright bluish light across the backyard.
One of the other bystanders bangs on the bathroom door. "Could you hurry? There's a lot of us waiting!" The woman narrows her eyes. A muffled, angry just-a-minute from within seems to decide her. She gives another gracious smile to her companions in line, walks right past the young man staring by the table, and steps through the parted doors to the back of the house. He follows casually, glancing around as if inspecting the decor, dropping back with haste, when the woman stops to collect a napkin from what's left of the hors d'oeuvres on the porch buffet.
I know I can't just follow him, so I race through the kitchen and exit via the side door. That puts me on a trajectory to go around the garden in back of the bushes, which I circle and duck behind as soon as I see the woman coming toward me. I half-lie in the grass like I'm trying to take a nap there, away from the noise of the party. The young man moves quietly around the patio as though he wants to help clean up, but doesn't know where anything goes. Then he crosses perpendicular to the woman, lurking behind the giant old oak at the far edge of the garden.
He and I are facing each other, though I don't think he can see me, with her in the middle, poking casually around the trellis like she's interested in how we stake the roses. His breathing sounds loud and shallow to me, almost like panting, but a quick glance behind seems to confirm for her that she is alone. As if she were checking for bug bites, she slides her panties halfway down her legs, glances up, then tugs them off, carefully pulling the elastic around her dark leather shoes, which she does not remove. When she holds the scrap of lace and silk free in her hand, she stops to glance around again. I cower in the shrubs and hope that in her haste she chooses not to look too closely. The trellis hides her from the doors of the house. She takes a step closer to the climbing plants, then another, her legs spreading a little. Carefully she hikes her skirt above her knees as if she needs to free her legs so she can stand on tiptoe to smell the roses.
At that moment the man slinks around the tree, sliding in back of her with the speed of a panther. "Watering the plants?" he asks in a conversational tone, as if he's just stumbled across her there in the garden.
I don't know whether his words trigger the suggestion, or if the surprise of his voice distracts her control. Or maybe she's already yielding when he speaks. We hear the sudden gush at the same time, hissing on the ground like an automatic sprinkler. I can't see her face, because she lowers her head so that the moonlight gleaming off her hair eclipses it, but I can see his exultant expression as he moves behind her.
"Shit," she whispers, the most eloquent word I've heard her say all night.
"Sounds like piss to me." His hands tug her skirt, pulling the hem past her pelvis so it can't get sprayed. Once I recover from my shock at the sight, I'm surprised to see that she's almost as blonde down there as she is on her head. Could be the moon makes it look that way. She has her hips cocked upward, probably to avoid wetting her legs, or maybe she's trying to get away from his cock which I bet he's trying to rest against her behind. The angle of her body makes the stream shoot forward instead of straight down where it would be in shadow. From this distance, in the moonlight, the liquid looks silver. In her white dress with her alabaster skin, the woman could be a garden fountain.
Not for him, though. He has the sculpture in his arms, as if he's melting cold stone, hands brushing the undersides of her breasts where he holds up her skirt. "Beautiful." His low voice carries across the still yard. "Go on, water the roses." She whimpers but shows no sign of stopping. The tapered legs bend slightly at the knees, and I know she is leaning against his torso as he cranes his neck forward to look at her. Her hand reaches back to shield his eyes, but she's still clutching her panties, so he rubs his nose on them before kissing her wrist. At this she lifts her head. A scarlet blush stains her cheeks and her eyes clench shut like she's afraid she might cry, but her mouth has gone soft. He must be able to feel the change in her body, the loosening of tension.
We both watch raptly while she showers the soil till the flow turns to drips, as if someone has turned off a tap. He reaches for a flower on a nearby plant, a budding rose which would probably open in the morning light if his fingers didn't break it from the stem with one smooth snap of the wrist. I think he's going to hand it to her, and she opens her eyes to see. But he drops his arm and strokes the bud between her legs, wiping her dry, while his other hand cups her skirt against her breast, thumb over the nipple. Her cry carries across the yard like a night bird singing to its mate. Turning the rose, he continues to stroke her, standing so close that she is pressed between his pelvis and his hand. She moans again, putting one of her hands over his on her breast and the other on the wrist that controls his stroking, but it doesn't look like she's trying very hard to stop him. Maybe she's afraid of letting her panties fall from her clutch to the wet ground.
"Who are you?" she asks in a voice that cracks. Her face turns towards his chin, which is practically on her shoulder, and I see his eyes close, his mouth straining towards her as if he'll kiss her before he decides he had better answer her question.
"I'm Joe," he replies in a tone of voice that implies his answer should settle everything, while he caresses her by twirling the flower between his thumb and forefinger. "You know. I've been watching you all night." Joe kisses her neck very softly below her ear, then begins to tongue her earlobe. Her hands tighten on top of his like she's going to pull them away, but instead she rocks with him, gasping. His fingers let the flower fall as they curl around her pubic bone. I can't see exactly what he's doing, but he's obviously pleasuring her, even if her wide eyes look frightened. In a whisper, he adds, "It's all right, you don't have to tell me your name."
I've never seen anyone make love up close, except in movies. This looks more natural, yet more intimate, at the same time. Even if he's many years younger than she is, Joe moves with expert assurance, while she seems vulnerable and shocked at herself. I don't get the feeling she's ever done this before with a stranger in a garden. I'm not so sure about Joe, though even if he has, he definitely isn't taking her for granted. His half-closed eyes look dreamy, and her shivery response seems to gratify him.
Maybe because there are too many layers of material between his fingers and her nipple, he lets the hem of her skirt fall so that it billows around the hand reaching between her legs. While he massages one breast, she slides her own hand over to rub the other one. It's an image I've seen in dirty magazines, but in the glow of the moonlight it has artistic symmetry, as if they're a mythological two-headed creature with a single will. I keep expecting him to unzip his pants and ruin everything, but he just keeps stroking her, kissing her neck and the side of her face, until she rises up on her toes and chokes out a strangled cry, then another. Her whole body convulses back and forth, and her head falls forward with a shuddering sigh.
So that's what a real orgasm looks like, I think, wishing I could see under her dress since I'm sure that, too, is much more beautiful than I've been led to expect. I've seen pictures of swollen red cocks and the twisted, red faces of people as they got off, but never anything like this radiant woman under the moon.
Joe holds her while she recovers, grinning like he found the pearl in the oyster. Now I think he's going to make her pay him back, but when she pushes his hand down and turns, he lowers his eyes deferentially. "Joe," she says a little breathlessly. If she said my name like that, I would melt into a puddle. He only glances up, meeting her gaze, and I swear there's actual heat between them, it's not only an illusion from the moon. She looks away and tries to twist a rose from the trellis to give to him, but her fingers aren't as strong as his, the stalk refuses to tear. He helps her, so that together they're holding the flower when it comes away. She pushes it into his hand.
"I need to get back," she apologizes, looking toward the house where dinner has probably already started. He rubs the rose against her lips, then against his own. It seems like the most overtly erotic gesture he's made, and I wonder whether she'll be offended, but she smiles with a little nod of her head. Then she starts to walk out of the garden. Two steps, she seems to realize her panties are still clutched in her palm. Joe makes a show of turning politely away, staring straight out at the bushes where I'm hiding. As she wipes off with the napkin she had hidden in her sleeve, then struggles into her underwear behind his back, I watch him jolt. He has spotted me. But he says nothing, turning only when he hears the woman call his name again.
"I'll see you inside," she says. She walks towards the house, dropping the napkin in the trash can on the patio. I know Joe wants to hurry after her, but he waits, turning back to me when she reaches the sliding doors. I have no choice: I sit up, facing him. It occurs to me that the man might be dangerous. The bulge in his pants tells me that he is still aroused, probably frustrated, even though she let him touch her. And possibly angry -- I am the only one here who has engaged in a non-consensual act, watching them. But under the stern grownup expression he looks like amused boy.
"You liked that?" I nod nervously, and he grins, apparently pleased to have had an audience, as if that confirms the reality of the event. "She's unbelievably beautiful, isn't she?" This time there is no hesitation in my agreement. "You're Celia's daughter," he realizes, and for a minute I think I'm ruined. But what can he do -- announce that he caught me peeping, after he followed a guest to the garden where he made love to her with one of our roses? He's not that much older than I am. Stepdaughter, I want to correct him, but I can't find my voice, so I wait until he speaks. "We should go in for dinner, huh?"
I rise, lowering my head, and flee as fast as I can around the bushes to the side door. From the corner of my eye I can see him follow the woman's path to the patio.
Inside, my stepmother is talking to the moon goddess, who looks calm and elegant as if nothing has happened. They both give me a quizzical look when I burst through the kitchen door, but nobody asks where I have been. Joe steps inside a minute later, greeting a man who arrived while we were outside. His father, I overhear. So Joe is here as a surrogate, not an invited guest. My mother makes her way over to ask him to stay, not noticing that the beautiful woman stays behind, watching from a polite distance. The woman and Joe catch, but do not quite hold, one another's eyes.
All through dinner I wonder whether they will leave the party together. I want them to leave together. I want to be able to imagine them going to a hotel by the ocean, with large, open windows and drapes blowing around a huge canopy bed, where he can lie down and she can rise like the moon over him until they both shimmer. But she seems subdued, and Joe sits at the other end of the table with his father, laughing about sports and politics. It sounds as though Joe might be an artist. I never do learn the woman's name, nor what she does for a living, though I get the feeling he has known all along.
Between dinner and dessert, while his father is distracted, I see Joe approach her, though I am helping my stepmother and cannot get close enough to hear their conversation. From a distance they look cordial -- like two people who have never met. Despite the difference in their ages and personal styles, they make an attractive couple. I can see other men watching Joe with envy, though they disguise it as scorn at such a young man daring to approach the lady. Joe hands her a card, which seems to satisfy them all that it's just business being transacted. The woman smiles and nods politely, biting her lip when he squeezes her hand. But I watch her watching him walk away, and know that she will call.
Before he leaves, Joe goes out of his way to find me, asking my stepmother where I am. Since I am close enough to overhear him, I am too close to hide, but he gives away nothing in front of the others. He shakes my hand, thanks me for my help, then winks and apologizes for trampling our garden. I blush like a child at his smile. I expect him to kiss me on the cheek, condescendingly, like most of my stepmother's friends. Instead he takes from his pocket the flower the woman gave him by the trellis, and rubs it over my lips.
In the morning I go out to the yard to survey the damage. People are always throwing cigarettes in the grass and dropping leftovers. In the garden, fluttering on the ground among the butterflies, I find the rose Joe snapped from its stem to stroke her. The bloom has burst open, damp petals glistening in the light.
© 2002 Em Wycedee. All rights reserved. Do not copy or post.
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