Well...remember when I said I would try to get everything put together and published before I left for vacation? Clearly, I failed. I even thought I could get it done before the Fourth of July and...well, failure on that one, too.
But, here I am putting the last installment in place. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the story. I'm sure it could have been improved here or there along the way. However, the person for whom I was writing this has been pretty happy with the tale. I hope the last part is as well-received and the previous ten pieces.
Speaking of the previous ten pieces...in case you missed them, here are the links to the rest of the story: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine Part Ten
Grab yourself a cup of coffee and a bagel and enjoy. Thanks again for reading!!!
A steady orange light pressed in around the edges of the curtains hanging heavy and black against the windows; from under the door, a yellow, illuminated bar glowed against the dark slab of the door. As people would pass up and down the hall, the light would flicker and change. A strange, otherworldly luminescence glowed from the face of the clock that was pointed toward the bed. Everything else was dark.
Enough light filtered into the room that I could see the sweeping, smooth arc of Tori's hip, her thigh thrown over mine, her body pressed next to mine almost exactly as it had so often so many years ago. I watched as her side rose and fell in an even, orderly pattern. Her presence was reassuring, and for the first time in recent memory, I felt content.
Even though I knew it was wrong, I knew it was a selfish act, I had made love to Tori. Years of heartache and longing and emotion poured out through my actions, and when we were finished the first time I collapsed next to her, swimming in a sea of memories. After a brief rest, we were in each other's arms again, our bodies still aching for one another. Spent, we collapsed to the bed, but soon she was pressed against my side, her arm draped across my chest, her legs wrapped around mine. She dozed. I savored the time spent with the woman I loved.
Though I knew that a series of stupid actions had led me here, I did not regret it. Not now, not that I had Tori in my arms, in my bed, simply with me again. I knew that it was all an illusion, that she would wake and I would have to return her to Drew. I'm sure I would get pummeled again. Truthfully, I did not blame him. I would do the same thing in his situation. I might not regret what I did, but I knew that I should have handled myself differently. I would have to pay the price later.
Sliding my hand down Tori's back, I felt her muscles spasm involuntarily beneath my fingertips. I cupped her ass, giving it a soft squeeze before leaning over and kissing her forehead. The movement was enough to rouse her. She lifted her head from my shoulder and blinked, the light pressing in around the vinyl curtains over the window reflected in her eyes.
"I need to get you back," I said softly.
"What time is it?" she asked, sitting up and stretching. I stared longingly at her breasts as she shifted and moved and they with her. I desperately wanted to reach out and take her once more, but instead I rolled over to the side of the bed and sat up.
"It's about two thirty," I said over my shoulder before rising and turning on a light. Our clothes were thrown randomly around the room, but I soon had enough of them together that I could dress. Tori was still sitting on the bed adjusting her clothing as I finally buckled my belt and looked at her.
"You always were faster than me," she said, teasing me with a smile as she did so.
"Not tonight," I shot back, grinning.
"No, well, it's...been a while," she said, looking away. I knew her well enough to know that I should not pursue the subject. I silently turned and began putting my wallet and keys back in my pocket. I found my phone and sat on the other side of the bed, looking to see if anyone had called.
"Sometimes," Tori said, softly, her voice so light I almost did not hear her. "There were nights when I would close my eyes and pretend it was you still." I did not say anything, but let I let her talk. "Only when it was dark, because I didn't want Drew to know I was doing it. One night I think I might have sighed your name during sex." Again, she was quiet for a few moments. "We haven't been intimate much since then. It's probably why he flew into a rage when he found me looking you up on the internet."
"I'm...I'm sorry, Tori," I said, turning to look over my shoulder at her. I had no idea what else I could say.
"I'm not." She smiled wickedly. "You were good those nights."
I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks, and I looked away. When she laughed, I felt myself smile. "You always could make me blush," I said, laughing as I looked back at her.
"You always could make me cum," she smiled, her eyes inviting me to throw her onto the mattress once more. I felt the blush grow more serious; my cheeks must have been scarlet by now. Looking at the clock, I decided against her invitation, no matter how much I would regret it later. I knew she had to get home.
"I wish I could stay here with you all night," I admitted. For a moment, I could not find any words that could relate to the emotions swirling within my head. Tori looked at me expectantly, almost eagerly. Her eyes sparkled. After staring into them, losing myself in them, I looked away.
"I'm sorry, Tori," I murmured, "I should not have brought you here."
I did not see her rise from the bed or hear her, but suddenly she was in front of me, half-dressed. She took both of my hands in hers. "Don't be," she said softly. "It was consensual...about as consensual as it can get." She looked up at me, the emerald glint of her eyes augmented with tears that stood unshed. "It's been a while since anyone has made me feel like that." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me, softly, lovingly, familiarly. It was an action that she had done hundreds of times a decade and a half earlier. Worries about getting her home or about the future melted away; the sense of contentment returned.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
She squeezed my fingers in hers. "Wanted," she said softly, looking at my neck, my shoulders, my chest--anywhere but my eyes. "Loved."
"I do l--"
"I know." She said. With another squeeze, she was off, gathering the remainder of her clothes and pulling them on. A few moments later, she was stepping into her shoes. With nothing more than a silent cue, we left. As we walked down the hallway, her fingers intertwined with mine and she leaned against my arm as we walked. By the time we were in the parking lot and walking toward my car, we were separated, once again two friends who had spent the evening catching up and not secret lovers rekindling a forbidden flame between the sheets of a nearby hotel.
Silence reigned in the car as we drove back. Halfway to her house, she reached forward and pulled the photograph from the dashboard where I slid it when we drove to the diner. For a few moments, she stared at it, a smile gradually spreading across her face.
"God, we were so young then," she said, the edge of a laugh shading her words.
"Our lives and the world lay at our feet," I said.
"It seems a lifetime ago."
She placed the photograph back on the dashboard as I pulled onto her long, silent street. The light of her porch still glowed, though where it had once been a welcoming beacon it now seemed like a glowing, angry eye watching the street and waiting.
I pulled up in front of her house; most of the lights inside were still lit. The shadowy silhouette of her husband stood near the front windows and then stalked away. For a second or two, I watched him pacing inside the house.
"Oh, Robbie," Tori sighed, dragging me back to the present. As I looked over at her, features cast in a mixture of bronze and shadow, I tried to replay every moment of the past few hours over in my mind. I never wanted to forget this night; it might be the last time I ever saw her.
My lips moved, half spasmodically as I searched for words to share with her. Finding none, I looked down at the steering wheel and sighed. I tried to hide the gesture with a laugh, though it was not very convincing.
"What are you going to do next?" she asked, reaching over and gripping the back of my hand where it rested on the gear shift.
"Well, the clinical trial doesn't start until August, so I have some time," I said, staring through the windshield but seeing nothing. "I was thinking about heading out west. I've never seen the Pacific. I've seen the first sunrise. I was thinking about seeing the last sunset." I turned to look at her. Tears ran down her face, their trails shimmering in the dim light.
"Oh, Robbie," she said again, and leaned over and hugged me.
Whatever reserves I had finally crumbled. Tears flowed unabated down my face. I sobbed into the top of her head, holding onto her. At that moment, she was my strength, my everything. I wanted desperately to ask her--to beg her--to come with me. It was selfish, I knew, but I wanted nothing more than to spend whatever time I had left with her. Instead, I held my tongue and simply cried while I held onto her. For a few moments, we simply sat together, crying. Finally, I loosened my grip on her and she sat back in the passenger seat.
"Whatever you do," she said, "please don't forget about me. Call me. Write me. Email. Text. I don't care." Another big, fat tear rolled down her cheek; instinctively I reached over and wiped it away. Despite everything that had happened, everything we had done, the touch of my thumb against the apple of her cheek was still electric. My insides lurched as we connected once more, one final time.
"I won't ever forget you, Tori," I said, mustering a smile.
"I know. Just...let me know how you are."
For another few seconds we sat together. There was nothing to say. There was everything to say.
"I had better go." Her voice was soft, barely a whisper.
"I know." I sighed again. "Thank you, Tori."
"For what?" Her eyebrows arched together, questioning me as much as her words.
"Thank you. For everything."
She opened the door and turned to get out of the car. She hesitated before standing, then turned to look at me over her shoulder.
"I love you, Robbie."
"I love you, too. I always have. I always will."
Another tear ran down her face. This time she wiped it away herself. "That means everything to me." Standing, she got out of the car and closed the door. The finality of the act crushed me. I wanted to run after her, to gather her up in my arms for one more embrace, to steal one more kiss from her. I wanted to beg her to come with me, even for a few weeks, a few days. Even a few more hours.
I watched until she got to the porch. Drew was standing at the door when she opened it and I watched her walk out of my life once more as the door was shut. The light winked out a moment later.
"Good-bye, Tori," I said softly and started the car. I checked, knowing that there would be no one on the street as I pulled into it. The length of the avenue was dark as I slowly picked my way down toward the end where a pair of glowing red orbs awaited me. Driving as slowly as I could, I tried to linger as near her as I possibly could. Finally, I came to the intersection and stared at the red lights above me.
There was a flicker in my rearview mirror and a pair of car lights slowly came down the street. It was the first time I had seen any other cars on this road. I watched as they slowly approached my car, daring to dream for only a second that I knew who was driving the car.
The light switched to green and I turned left, following a sign pointing me toward the interstate. The reflection of the photograph on the windshield came with me, dancing once again beneath the orange glow of the sodium lamps lining the street.
Behind me, a pair of white, glowing lights followed...