He had argued both sides of the case for a while now and he knew all of the highlights. He had started doing it almost as if she were there to play Devil's advocate. He could see her arms crossed over her chest and he occasionally caught her scowling at him like she would do only once in a very great while. Family holidays were supposed to be in the pro category, shitty weather half the year was in the against. John felt that particular item held far more weight than family time but Marianne wouldn't have agreed. Quite often during the imaginary back and forth, John pictured her unable to resist a giggle. She had always been the cheery half, the better half in countless ways. More often than not she interrupted his soapbox with that little, pink bow of a mouth, puckered into a smile. Then she'd break out into a laugh.
Then he'd laugh.
The house was too quiet and that would have been at the top of the list for "Reasons to Sell". That along with the yard work that he'd grumbled about for going on forty years. The list went on to include this damn climate and the fact that his tricky shoulder was more like an unoiled hinge and the Chicago winter damp would settle into his bones, all the way to his toes and hang on until the middle of May.
When the doorbell rang, John made a face as he peered once more through the curtains. He kept his head down low. There was no need to answer and who the hell would be coming here in the middle of such a deluge? Who indeed, his eyes lingered over the intruder who appeared to be a young woman. Look at her, dressed like that and nothing more than a girl really. She must be a silly girl to be wearing such impossibly tight jeans. The ridiculous girl held a jacket over her head but it was too late, the water dripped from her waist length hair as if she'd just walked out of the shower. She was soaked all the way through. She beat on the door this time, really pounded on the screen door with her fist. "Come on, come on, please," she pleaded and jumped in place.
Dammit, it was nap time, he sighed his annoyance once more. On the other hand, how harmless could one girl be? He knew this would exhaust him as John eased out of the recliner and already wished he had gone to sleep in the bedroom rather than the living room. He pushed his feet into the worn, plaid slippers. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," he barked at the next volley of knocks. He shuffled across the wood floor and stopped at the transition to the entryway linoleum. Marianne would have had a rug here, something to soak up water and muddy tracks. Dammit, no one ever prepared him for all the ways that he'd miss her. "What?" he asked in his best gruff, old codger voice after yanking the door open.
The girl was sopping wet. She was wet all the way through her tee shirt and the outline of the see-through fabric stuck to her skin was a shock to the system. John sucked in his breath for a moment as his body jolted at the sight. Her breasts were perfectly rounded on top, bell shaped and heavy on the bottom. They would spill out of his large hands should he cup them and for a split second, he could almost feel the warm flesh between his fingers. The bra that they were strapped into was ruined and sheer from the water as well and John found it impossible to speak as his eyes outlined her form. "Mr. Gregory?" she shrieked and the salutation shook him from his trance. "Mr. Gregory, it's me Ashley. From next door. Can I come in?"
"Sure," he mumbled, although what he actually said was just garbled and really he'd just taken a breath, almost a wheeze. He took a step back and studied his memory. He was fairly certain that he would remember a goddess like this but nothing struck a chord. For years he had avoided the neighbors at all costs though so it made sense that there was no picture of a dark-haired beauty with gorgeous breasts there. Wait, maybe it was Ashley, the little terror with the curly, black hair that was always halfway down the block, just out of reach of one or more parent. Surely it couldn't be that Ashley. Since when had she gotten so much older and what did that say about him? Dammit, he couldn't be expected to keep up with birthdays and all of that crap, could he?
"Come in," he didn't sound welcoming but he waved her into the house anyway. He was half hypnotized by what he'd seen through the window, half annoyed that she was making a mess with those dripping, white tennis shoes. "Take your shoes off," John grumbled and put his hand out. It meant stop right there but it also meant don't take another step because I still haven't finished picturing the swell of your breasts. "Let me get the rug," he muttered as he tried to keep his eyes above her collarbones. Ashley, you don't say? She must have grown up quickly. This was a woman and a voluptuous one at that. She still had a tumble of inky, black curls down her back but that was the only resemblance. "Here, put your shoes on that," John had pushed the rug that Marianne kept in front of the couch toward the girl with the milky, white limbs.
"Thanks Mr. Gregory," Ashley said as she slid out of the dripping tennis shoes. "Holy crap, it's coming down hard," she added as she took the blue jacket off. She held it as it ran droplets of water steadily to the rug as she waited for further instructions.
John jammed his hands into his pants and his fists filled the pockets and made his change jingle. She was the first woman he'd seen in too long to remember. Sure, he saw women every day, at the grocery store, in the park, at the rec center where John still walked every morning. He made himself go, even though people still asked how Marianne was doing if they hadn't heard and it broke his heart just a little each time he had to repeat it. Women were still around, flitting on the edges but hardly noticeable at all.
It wasn't like this, like seeing Ashley.
This was a visual that he felt way down in the center of his body, in a place that had been asleep for far too long and now it was suddenly alive. It hummed with electricity like a piece of equipment that sparked and smoked and backfired occasionally. Noticing her was bringing back the feeling in places that were half dead and John wasn't sure if he shouldn't put her back out on the stoop. "Leave it on the floor," he nodded to her to come closer but stepped back just in case she got too close. "What are you doing out there?"
Ashley wrapped her arms around herself and all that did was press her magnificent, perfectly round breasts together so that John could watch the rain water trickle from her chin and collar bones down her cleavage. "Mom forgot to give me a house key so I'm locked out," she said in a sullen tone that suggested all the things she thought about her mother right now.
John had never been a fan of her mother either but he'd never shared that with anyone but Marianne and he wasn't about to change that. Not now, not with a girl who was a complete stranger. Even if she was stunning like that, covered in goosebumps and rivulets of water that touched her like intrusive fingers. Her nipples were clearly pointed and resembled flower buds about to burst into bloom through the completely see-through tee shirt and brassiere. He was frozen, unable to move from the spot. He could hear the drip as the little streams of her water splashed on the floor and yet he was unable to do one useful thing. "Why aren't you in school?" he mumbled like an idiot.
"I am," she nodded, "I just don't live on campus anymore," Ashley said as she twisted her mouth up. Her chin trembled and even in his state of hazy longing, John knew that those were tears that she was holding back.
He wanted nothing to do with that. Teenage girls, who knew what could set them off? He had always left that kind of stuff up to Marianne, even with their daughters. She'd been so good at it, like she'd been at everything.
Except for this; today, this girl and her budding nipples so front and center and the chill down in his bones had begun to warm to her breath and her white skin and the roundness of her hips. He was fairly certain that even Marianne wouldn't have a clever solution for this one. "You must be cold," he said in a voice from far away. It was somewhere far away where the first body that had cut through the blur of loneliness was something so palpable. It was something to touch, to trace his fingertips softly along the swell of her breasts. She might be cold but the feel of her would be sweltering.
Ashley just shivered and shook her head.
"Sorry, what am I thinking?" John asked himself more than her. She was his granddaughter's age for god's sake; a lovely girl but a girl nonetheless and she'd come here for help. "Come on in the kitchen," he beckoned to her, walking ahead. She'd have to follow because he knew better than to walk behind and watch the sway of her bottom in the skin-tight jeans, "I'll make you some tea."
She followed, her wet feet squeaked with every step. Ashley paused by the refrigerator as John turned on the light over the stove. "How about hot chocolate?" she wondered hopefully. "Mrs. Gregory used to make me hot chocolate with marshmallows when she watched me."
John scratched his head, unsure if he could fulfill her request. Of course she would remember what Marianne used to do. Everyone did and everyone reminded him of it too, how wonderful she was at managing everything. Now he had to remember how to make hot chocolate and at the same time not stare at the shirt that was a translucent second skin. It hugged her little waist, sucked to her hips, clung to her bosom and John just knew that it longed to be peeled up and off and tossed to the floor like the rag that it was. "Let me see," he said as he put his readers on and shuffled to the pantry. He pushed aside some cans to reach the back. The pantry had never had so much canned food before. It was depressing really, the sound of the plop of something congealed and sticky into the saucepan on the stove. It was just one, scraping the same saucepan, the clink of the one bowl, the washing of the one cup. That was why eating straight from the can was better. Then he could pretend that he was a bachelor once more and couldn't be bothered with such trivial things as silverware and dishes instead of in mourning. He liked the game he played with himself but it was never completely convincing. John had been domesticated long ago and there was no going back.
Here was something, a blue box with a cup on the front. "Here, hot chocolate," John declared, as he shook the little packet at the dripping girl, delighted, almost as if he'd found money or something.
Ashley shrugged, "that's cool, I guess. Mrs. Gregory used to make it from scratch." John felt that he must be glaring at her over his glasses because she quickly changed her tune, "but that'll be great Mr. Gregory. Thanks."
John nodded and began the process of measuring out the milk and pouring it into his chili saucepan. After he turned on the burner, he asked her, "why don't you live at school anymore? It can't be that great to move back home."
Ashley shook her head, "no, it really sucks living with old people." She had momentarily forgotten altogether that he was even older than the people who sucked in her household and quickly covered her mouth as if she were trying to push that back in. "I mean, sorry Mr. Gregory, but you know what I mean."
He couldn't help but smile but was fairly certain it would look more like a grimace. John began to stir the milk in a slow, clockwise movement. He did know what she meant, although he'd left home when he was 18 and never came back after four years in the Army. What did these damn kids know about that? His own were all well into their twenties before they flew the coop and one had come back after an unsuccessful takeoff.
What he also knew was that she was standing way too close to him to forget about the translucent, white fabric that was the same color as her skin. Ashley smelled like bubble gum and soap and he bet that the rain hadn't washed that off and if he lifted the tee shirt and peeled it from her ripe body, he'd smell her nakedness and her youth. It would come over him in waves. The clang of the spoon in his pot brought him back to reality. He stammered once more. He could hardly put the words together, "you're really wet." John forgot how stupid the old impulses made him. He wondered if he weren't blushing since his face and neck were both far too warm for such a chilly day.
"We should put your clothes in the dryer," he offered and laid the spoon on the metal rim around the kitchen sink. John had recently learned how to work the dryer and was now proficient enough with it that even with her rosebud nipples staring at him, burning two little aching places into his chest, he was still sure he could dry her clothes.
He reached overhead for a china cup, one of the cups for company. He definitely wasn't serving her hot chocolate in his chipped, blue cup that was permanently stained on the bottom. Marianne had reminded him to throw it out a hundred times, maybe a thousand and he wasn't going to take a chance and share it now. Once he had the white and pink polka dotted cup in his right hand, he almost dropped it immediately. It was only a split second reaction with the left hand that saved it from shattering. "That would be great," Ashley said brightly and with one small hand, reached for the hem of her see through tee shirt and pulled it up slowly. The fabric clung to her skin and made a thirsty sound as she lifted the shirt from her body, something like the noise his lips would make as they latched on to a puckered nipple. She raised her arms overhead and up came the fabric. She revealed her taut, little waist and the ample weight of her breasts which were still squeezed into the white nylon bra. With another shake, she took the tee shirt off and held it between two, dainty fingers. "Watch out," Ashley cautioned with a nod of her head.
Because he might die right there, in the kitchen, the strain finally too much on his heart, which galloped at a dangerous clip. "What?" John whispered and wondered if her curves would catch his fall and if he died with his face pressed between her full, milk white breasts if it wouldn't be worth it.
"The milk," Ashley said with a grin and John wondered if, even at her young age, if she weren't well accustomed to men acting foolishly around her.
"Oh, oh right," he turned quickly and set down the cup and took the saucepan off the burner just before the milk began to completely boil. He wasn't sure if his hand was steady enough to pour it into the cup and instead, shook the little packet of mix and readied himself to tear the paper. "The milk," he repeated, breathless for no apparent reason.
"This is so nice of you," the girl with the inky, black hair told him with one hand on the button of her wet blue jeans. Jesus, she was going to strip right here in the kitchen. She'd leave two damp footprints on the brown tile and a pile of wet clothes and then he felt it, in his balls. Something stirred there, a heat and a longing that echoed his heartbeat. It was desperate, almost frantic; desire. The zipper made a gritty sound of metallic teeth and every hair on John's neck stood at attention as he realized that it had been years and years since he'd seen a woman in just a bra and panties.
"Wait," he wheezed as he placed a hand on her forearm, he didn't even trust himself there. He removed his fingers as if she were on fire. "Let me get you my bathrobe."
He took one long look. He watched where Ashley's little fingers were, stopped right there, on her crotch. There was the glimpse of underwear through the opening and John forced himself with a "humph" to turn around. All the way to his bedroom, he held one hand over his mouth to keep the perverted noises inside and wondered if she'd still smell like bubblegum and soap as he peeled her panties down over her heart shaped bottom and round hips and the flare of her thick thighs. Shit, he thought to himself as he reached for the old, green plaid bathrobe on the hook behind the door. This was more trouble than he needed. Marianne had always been the Good Samaritan, not him and for good reason.
He reached the kitchen just in time to discover that Ashley's panties were white also. White and full and shiny, the nylon was snug and hugged her bottom. It caressed both cheeks and showed the shadow of her ass crack. It was a line that even without his readers, John could discern quite clearly and he realized as his eyes traveled up the line that he was parched and maybe had been for years now. "Here," he said with a cough as he shuffled toward the girl in underwear, "p-p-put something on," John stuttered like it was the first time he'd seen an almost naked woman.
Ashley took his robe with a dimpled smile and slid one arm into the sleeve like a dance move. With one turn around, coming up on her tiptoes for a second, she was completely covered. "This is nice," Ashley murmured as she tied the robe around her waist in a bow.
John nodded, "don't forget your milk," he reminded her before he bent to pick up her wet things. He wasn't shaking, he was vibrating. He had a tremor but it was everywhere, his whole body. Was he having a stroke? It was as if his battery had been fully charged and something in his gut lurched and revved and threatened to charge. He couldn't possibly be expected to pour milk into a little cup when it was all he could do not to shred the bathrobe he'd just given her and fondle her.
John pictured her bent over the kitchen counter on his way to the dryer. She was lucky that he was a nice man and not a crazy rapist. What was wrong with girls, he wondered with a shake of his head as he came to the bottom of the basement steps and reached for the chain. Why in gods name would she expect to be fine after showing him that much skin?
He answered his own question as he squinted at the dryer. He was an old man, harmless, John was sure that was how she'd describe him. Harmless meant that she could dangle all that beautiful flesh in front of him casually with no worry of a consequence. He wouldn't do anything untoward, he wouldn't hold her down and force her fleshy thighs apart to ravage her up against the stove. Actually, John admitted as he closed the dryer lid, couldn't was more accurate. As alarming as the sight of her curves had been, as quickly as his pulse trembled and as deeply as the waves of need called in his spine, it still hadn't produced an erection.
As he slowly climbed the stairs, John remembered the last time he'd been hard and regretted using it so carelessly. If he'd known, surely he would have done something more spectacular rather than just quickly jerk himself to a nonchalant ending. Then the need just hid itself away, tucked back in his mind, the way he used to hide girly magazines when he was younger. His cock just never made an appearance since.
He rarely even thought of it; until this afternoon anyway.
Ashley was at the kitchen table and blew on her hot chocolate. "Your clothes will be dry in about an hour," John announced as he eased into the chair across from her. It wasn't until she looked up and smiled that he realized that he'd never, ever since she stepped inside, really looked at her face. What an idiot he'd been, John chided himself as he studied her thick, black fringe of lashes. Her lips were full and a delicate shade of pink. She was free of makeup, whatever she'd been wearing had washed off by now. Ashley was more than just a body. Her eyes were crazy, they were dark blue and they sparkled even in the dimly lit kitchen and John could just imagine how they'd twinkle if something actually caught her gaze. What was the reason for the almost tears earlier? "So why don't you live on campus anymore?" he asked.