- Gabrielle Burns
“There are times in one’s life when one feels blessed to be less than perfect,” Marielle typed to the man whom she thought of as The Editor. “This is one such time; since, if my writing had been flawless it would not have moved you to contact me with recommendations for the revision of my manuscripts.”
She paused and considered what she had typed. No, it did not sound too pompous to her, and the thought that he’d think her so, embarrassed her. The words did not give away too much either. The man would see her sincerity and gratitude; and that was all that she wanted to portray for the moment. Her shamefully needy hunger for him was not evident here. Extricating herself from his clutches would come later in her missive, but she wanted to appear dignified until she chose to type the fateful words.
A fledgling contributor to the internationally known The Erogenous Zone website, Marielle reflected, not for the first time, that it was a shame that she could not satisfy her wish to be associated with her work, since there were pieces among the offerings in her portfolio of which she was genuinely proud. He had been right about that, she’d admitted to herself. The problem was that the site was a vehicle for the publication of material that ranged from very erudite “psycho-sociological essays” about the cultural role that erotica played in contemporary society to “rank pornography” of the type that shocked, disgusted and challenged her sensibilities as a professional and feminist. Marielle’s submissions fell in the broad category of “all things in between” these two extremes.
She had never examined, seriously, her motives for contributing, but she felt that they might run to something along the lines of her expectations of the site being so low that she managed to pluck up the courage to try her hand at a long-held romantic fantasy to be a ‘writer’. The lurking idea that she was looking for genuine love on a porn site populated, in the main, by married men was not allowed to coalesce.
She frowned as the thoughts about the true state of her abilities flitted across her mind. She paused, her eyes, staring at the screen, her mind far away, wrestling with memories that made her squirm, even now, in her chair.
“Your arrogance is contagious, Mr Chase,” she muttered to herself finally, when her thoughts gelled around an image of him, smirking at her; and she stopped fidgeting as if she knew that he was actually watching her. She looked around, self-consciously to see if Phillip was there. He wasn’t, of course. He had left before she had even awakened. He had left without leaving even a card to wish her a happy anniversary.
She pulled her gown together, covering her breasts, and tried to focus again on composing her e-mail. That those sentiments were untruths, reverberated through her head, and made her ashamed of herself. Contrary to what this man, Christopher Chase was suggesting now, she had never considered herself abilities to be superior to other contributors. Indeed, she had been intimidated by them, and had read the offerings from many of the writers on the site for over a year before she joined up as a member. It took another year after that, before she managed to submit a solitary story. This was not as enthusiastically received as she had hoped, but she had committed to produce more work, and being the sort who saw to the bitter end whatever she began, she continued with her new project and hoped for the best.
“There comes a point though at which to be painted into a corner changes someone for the better since it offers a challenge that cannot be refused, and this was true of me,” she continued typing, bravely.
Her vanity assaulted, she had been ripe for the plunder when she received his note in her inbox. Her heart beat faster at the memory of her first reading of his words. She squeezed her legs tight together to relish the tingling that thoughts of him could still elicit.
“You have genuine talent,” the email had said. “Let me teach you how to be a great writer. To do this I must first make you over into a real woman; for it is clear to me that you are far too repressed. I believe that you have passion, boiling just below the surface. Let me unleash it for you. You must surrender your will to me, and obey me without question, to do this. Are you prepared for what it will take? If you are, you must do two things for me; your first two tasks.
First, you must leave this place, and not write for The EZ anymore, you are wasting your time here since your stories are more plot than smut-driven and you will never be as appreciated as you deserve; and second you must go to the store and buy only two items: a large cucumber and a box of condoms. Check these out and then describe for me, in detailed writing, how the people in the store who saw you do this, reacted to you. If you can do these things then you will have signalled to me that you are ready to do the necessary work. I do not waste my time with just anyone, Marielle “Romantic_Dreamer” Mahon, so be sure not to fail me.”
She cringed with shame again at the memory of his response to her initial sally. First there was that stupid business of calling herself “Romantic_Dreamer” in the email! Jeeze! What must he be thinking? She could almost hear him laughing! But beyond that there was the throbbing between her legs that his words still caused. It was obvious that she was giving away far too much in her stories; for how else could he have guessed that she would turn to jelly before a man who held the seductive power of a Dom.
“…buy only a large cucumber and a box of condoms… check them out… tell me how the people around you react to you…”
Those were not the words that she expected to receive from this man. They weren’t even close to what she had imagined! He was famous. Well, his reputation as a writer of romance was good, although he seemed to be as reclusive as they came. She had checked his website! His own writing was incredibly good, and suggested someone who was a professional in the business of producing literature: a writer or editor, perhaps though it also suggested that he did not do personal appearances! That caused her to wonder about him: who he was, really; why it was that he had to hide? He had to have been someone really big for his publishers to allow a thing like that.
The site said that now he was inviting amateurs, like her, to join him in the exploration of their sensual side online. She had thought that he was going to edit her work and show her how to get published; not proposition her! His words excited and shamed her. He was supposed to be a professional; but this exhortation was anything but!
‘Buy only a large cucumber and a box of condoms… Surely there is some mistake… Buy a cucumber and a box of condoms,’ the words echoed through her mind. ‘A cucumber, a box of condoms. Everybody is going to think that you…’ she cut the thought off, ruthlessly.
Marielle thought about the man whose picture she had seen on the website. Was it really his picture? Surely not. Why would he publish his photograph and then not make personal appearances? Could anyone who was not actually a movie star or model look that good? He was older, and had an arrogant confidence about him that was quite sexy. Was that a pose though? Was he secretly lonely, and looking for his soul-mate? Did he need a romantic woman, a dreamer, to save him from a life of solitary genius? Hell! Could she be that lucky? Was that why he had laughed at her? Was he afraid of his feelings for her? She was suddenly shy about having contact with the man. She had fallen for the solitary genius thing once before, with Phillip and look how that had turned out. This man was clearly even bigger than Phillip, so clearly, she was going to make an even bigger fool of herself with him.
“Dear Sir,” she typed, hesitantly. “I’m not sure that I understand you…”
‘God, grow up, Marielle! He will think you’re pathetic,’ she chided herself, savagely as she deleted the sentence. ‘Of course you understood him. This is a test! It must be! Smooth, Marielle,’ she chuckled ruefully to herself. ‘You almost threw yourself at this man! A perfect stranger! What would he have thought of you then?’
“Dear Sir,” she began to type again, resolutely. “As you may know, Jamaica is a very small country and so, although we’re not quite so bad as everyone actually knowing each other, I have to be careful in what I do. I will risk my reputation for you, if you feel it necessary to test my commitment to the process, but I need to know that I would not be doing that in vain. So, tell me plainly, if I do this for you, will you help me polish and sell my stories in return? Respectfully yours, Marielle Mahon”
“That’s better. At least he won’t think me desperate. I sound professional; more than can be said of him right now,” she thought smugly, as she clicked “send”.
“Okay, how will I do this?” she mused when the tantalizing “undo” option finally disappeared and she got up to get ready for work. “I could just buy the stuff with my regular grocery and tell him that I’ve done it the way he wanted…” She smiled, grimly, at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. ‘Then that would be an opportunity wasted to learn something, M,’ she chastised herself, ‘and chances are he’s sophisticated enough to know if you did that. Your imagination isn’t that good, to make something up if he asks you what it was like…and you know he will; he already said that you had to write to him about it.’
‘Okay, I could go to one of those little shops down the street from the office where nobody knows me, and buy them there,’ she reflected after dithering for a few minutes. ‘…and when he asks me, have him think that Jamaica is a backwater place because we don’t have large supermarkets here!’ she sighed. ‘Well, I just won’t mention the size of the supermarket then!’
She stepped into the shower and turned on the water, allowing it to warm a little before turning the spray of the hand-held shower-head on her skin. She soaped up. Then the thoughts of his exhortation came back to haunt her.
Buy only a large cucumber and a box of condoms; nothing else.
She found herself slicking the slippery soap around the curve of her breast. Buy a large cucumber and a box of condoms. Her index and middle fingers scissored around a puckered nipple. Buy a large cucumber and a box of condoms. Her hand wandered down her slick side and curved around her hip, her fingers splayed and caressing her rump… a large cucumber and a box of condoms. She groaned. Her hand slipped, unbidden, between her thighs and one finger entered her slick cunt. Big, hard, thick cucumber….Let people see you…in nothing else… She frigged her clit and pumped two fingers in and out of her body, pleasuring herself.
Tears formed when she finally acknowledged that she was going to humiliate herself at the behest of a stranger. She could not deny the ache between her legs that the memories of his request brought, or the delightfully shameful feeling that knowing what people would think when they saw her complying with his demands.
And so, crying, she brought herself to a reluctant completion.
Grace Lucas dressed herself with the conscious deliberation of one about to meet her destiny. Her tears and the unexpected orgasm in the shower had washed away her trepidation. She had settled into an alternative reality, looking more assured than she felt. She knew that she could do this, she knew that she would meet Chase’s dare. She almost felt proud of herself, seeing a woman who actually did the things that shocked and excited more ordinary people.
Grace was tall, at 5’ 8”, but in the heels that she put on to strut into the supermarket down the road on her way from work that evening, she topped 6 feet. She saw herself as a long-legged beauty, a woman of mystery and passion, someone whom the men in the plaza, and those at her office during the day would not fail to notice and appreciate. The people in the supermarket would speculate about her, the girls at her office would wonder if her husband had suddenly turned into a stud, and the men there would see who she really was: the exotic writer, Marielle Mahon. She would hold her head and back straight, and ignore their stares. She would smile enigmatically, and raise an eyebrow should anyone, by an askance glance, dare to question her purchases.
“Wow! Mrs. Lucas! You look great!” a voice broke into her reverie. “Going out today?”
“Thank you, Fitz,” she smiled at the young man, acknowledging his compliment. “Yes I am. Today is my anniversary, and I’m meeting my husband for lunch…and before you ask, I haven’t forgotten to ask him to autograph those books for you. It’s just that he’s been away for a couple of weeks. He just got back last night; and went out early this morning, so I haven’t had the chance, but I’ll get them for you; don’t worry about it.”
“Wow! Thank you, Mrs. Lucas!”
“No Fitz; thank you for being a fan,” Grace said, before she could stop herself.
Grace felt good. It was strange how different she felt when she thought of herself as Marielle Mahon: how much braver, how much sexier, how much more sociable. She recognised these things as confidence. Fitz hadn’t been the only person to comment upon her appearance, and she hoped that her husband would notice that she’d made an effort today.
Despite her good face on it, theirs wasn’t a marriage that was made in Heaven. Worse, it wasn’t even interesting enough to have gone to Hell. It had just stagnated into a lifeless shell. They looked good together socially, but that was all. He was a successful crime fiction writer, Jamaica’s answer to Iain Parke and Stieg Larsson; she was the Vice President of Marketing in her father’s company. Someday, with her help, Phillip would be a truly global brand, and she’d be her company’s President and CEO. It didn’t matter, all this promise; she hated her life as Grace Lucas.
“Should I close the door, Mrs. Lucas?” Fitz asked, bringing her back to the present for the second time in ten minutes.
“Thank you,” Grace answered, reaching for the phone on her desk. She tapped out the number, absentmindedly.
“Honey? Happy anniversary. You left before I could say anything this morning. I want to take you to lunch. You up for it?”
Grace couldn’t resist checking her Marielle Mahon e-mail account before she settled down to her day’s work. It was as if the naughty e-mail that she had received from Christopher Chase hypnotised her, calling to her like a piper playing a charmed tune. She never failed to be aroused when she read the command to humiliate herself publicly by buying a large cucumber and a packet of condoms and so signal to the world that she was kinkier than she appeared.
Her eyes widened in aroused anticipation at the sight of a new message from him. She felt her heart skip a beat, and she had to suppress a glad cry. She glanced up, unconsciously, to check that she was not being observed by anyone, and clicked on the message.
‘Are you the sort of woman who plays games, Marielle?’ she read in the brief message. ‘I would have expected to hear from you before now. You disappoint me, and that is not a good thing. Write to me with your account of how you fulfilled my task within the next hour, or do not bother to write back at all. I know Jamaica well. It is a very conservative, dare I say parochial place. However, do not blame Jamaica for YOUR lack of courage.’
Scared excitement! He was challenging her! He was pressuring her! He was bullying her! Grace registered all of these sensations as she scanned the words on the screen of her laptop. She wished that she could just tell him to go to hell, but knew instinctively that she wouldn’t. He was right about the lack of courage thing. He was more astute than she was giving him credit for being. In an instant, Grace knew that she wanted this man, and wanted him to want her in return, but she couldn’t take the pressure of his insistence. The cucumber would only be the first of her tasks, she was sure. Where would it end? How rapidly would his demands escalate?
She clicked reply and began to type a brief response that she hoped would satisfy the mysterious Mr Chase:
I am in the office now, but I plan to comply with your demands on my way home from work this evening. I have a meeting at lunchtime today, so I do not think that I will be able to speak with you before tonight… late… after my flatmate retires to bed.
I will do as you ask, so please be patient with me. I have wanted to meet someone like you for a long time, but even so, you have surprised me with your appearance.
She sat looking at the screen for a long time after the messaging service confirmed that her message had been sent. She wasn’t really seeing anything. She was thinking about Christopher Chase, and the ride on which she had embarked with him. She thought of her husband whom she was going to meet for lunch to celebrate their twelfth anniversary. He was a good man; brilliant in many ways, but he just didn’t stir her imagination in the way that he seemed to do with his multitude of fans. She was just not into crime fiction.
She thought about Fitz and smiled. He was so typical of her husband’s fans, all agog about having a Phillip Lucas novel in their hands, and trying, more often than not in vain, to solve the mystery along with his little band of very clever fictional detectives. She thought about the time when she had asked Phillip why it was that he hadn’t given his protagonist, DI Umberto Calderon, a love interest, in any of the stories. Her husband had smiled at her indulgently and made a joke about Calderon being too old for that sort of thing, but he had written a few scenes into his next novel that had excited her. It disgusted and scandalised the critics and his mainly young, male fans though who liked the slightly misogynistic Umberto Calderon just as he was. Phillip didn’t make that mistake again; not with his stories and not with her. In his next novel, he revealed that Umberto Calderon was just using his love interest to solve a bigger case on which he was working, and that was that.
Phillip didn’t listen to Grace about anything after that time, and he retreated even more into his shell, and no amount of subtle hinting by his now reflective wife would tempt that hidden aspect of his personality out again. She reflected briefly that if he were really the type of man who would behave as Umberto Calderon had done when he had first met Isobel Immanuel then their real life marriage would not be in the place where it was at the moment. She smiled, grimly, as the thought flitted across her mind that she might have been on their third child by now, and Phillip might not have the time to get any writing done at all, if he were that Umberto Calderon.
It was with considerable difficulty that Grace pulled herself away from her reverie and tried to concentrate on the proposal on which she had been working for the past week. She thought about the wisdom of checking in with Christopher Chase’s messages again before she went for lunch as an insurance that she would show a repressed sexual excitement when she met Phillip. He had been publicly embarrassed the last time he showed his sensual side to the world, but she needed him to do it more often for her. Their marriage demanded it of him if it hoped to survive for another year.
It was just after 1:30 when Grace got to the already crowded restaurant. Anybody who was anybody had to be seen eating there, so she recognised several of the patrons. She waved to a few acquaintances and friends of hers and Phillip’s as she navigated her way through the large room. She was stopped by three or four gentleman who simply had to say something to her. She had fortified herself by a last look at Christopher Chase’s e-mails and so she walked into the building with a little extra swagger in her step. By all appearances her strategy was paying off.
Phillip was already there, seated at a discrete table off to the side and shielded partially by some decorative, large-leafed green plants. He was chatting, animatedly, with a family friend. As she walked toward his table, she noticed the look of mild surprise on their faces. The men got up to greet her, and Soren-Ishmael Caine, a neighbour, kissed her lightly, on the cheek. Phillip did so as well, more like a social acquaintance than like a husband of twelve years greeting his wife on their twelfth anniversary. There was appreciation there, but no real affection. Nevertheless she noticed that he looked at her curiously, his eyes raking her body from the high heeled pumps on her feet to her neatly sister-locked hair. She was thrilled by the way he looked at her; at least there was still one very tiny ember of passion.
“You look very nice today, Grace,” he said, carefully, after Soren had excused himself.
“Thank you,” she said, quietly. “It’s not every day that one celebrates one’s twelfth anniversary. I just wanted to put in a bit of effort today, that’s all.”
“Well, you’ve succeeded, my dear. I saw that several of the gentlemen here noticed you as you walked in. I almost didn’t recognise you myself,” he laughed.
Grace dipped her head, and laughed with him. She wondered if she should tell Christopher Chase about this little triumph when she reported to him later that evening. She would have to weigh the pros and cons of doing that before she got home. She noticed when Phillip paused what he was saying, and when he just sat there gazing at her again. She tried to focus on him instead of slipping away into the private world that she was creating for herself with the mysterious online editor.
“I’m sorry that I left this morning before seeing you,” Phillip said, quietly. ”I’d like to make it up to you though. Would you care to join me for dinner tonight? Dinner and dancing! We’ll continue our anniversary celebration. We can make a night of it; just the two of us.”
So, he was offering her one night of his undivided attention. That was becoming a rare event in itself. Had he suggested dinner and dancing for any other night, Grace might have been tempted, but the thought of Christopher Chase becoming angry with her; and, perhaps, withdrawing his offer of….
What was Christopher Chase offering her?
Their lunch was a success. Phillip had been entertaining and attentive, though at times she could detect that he retreated into a private inner world as well. He tried to remain in the moment with her, but she could see that it was a struggle for him at times to do so. It was nice of him to make an effort to celebrate with her, but since she had no faith left in the ultimate longevity of their union she had deflected the invitation to go to dinner and dancing with him tonight. She did not want Christopher Chase to think that she was a time-waster. As bad as things were, Phillip would still be there on Saturday.
She made one decision though, she decided that she wouldn’t discuss Phillip with Christopher Chase. She owed her husband that much since he wasn’t a bad person; he just didn’t excite her anymore. In any event, if, as she suspected, Christopher Chase was a genuine person in the publishing industry, he might know Phillip, or at least know of him, since Phillip’s reputation was gaining ground. There was no need to hold Phillip up to ridicule before his peers; and so any discussion of him would be off limits… or at least she would fictionalise it. In fact, it might be best to deny that she was married; that way, there would be fewer questions about her husband, and so fewer explanations needed from her.
She thought about the conversations that she had exchanged with Christopher Chase and decided that she had not revealed too much about her life. She realised that she had typed the word “husband” earlier, but had decided, belatedly, and instinctively, to admit to having a “flatmate” instead since, not only would that have disguised the fact that she was the sort of woman who would conceivably step out on her husband, it also served to disguise her age since she hadn’t had a flatmate in fifteen years, and thought this something worthy of a younger person; someone who was just beginning her life. She had become someone who would spark the interest of a letch like Christopher Chase.
She smiled to herself and allowed the realisation that she really could be a sneaking bitch to wash over her. She had never seen herself as being someone who could tell lies, and spin a part so easily, but once she thought about it, she realised that it would be necessary if she intended to keep this online liaison from Phillip; at least to keep her secret until she was ready for her next move. It was the first time that she realised that she was genuinely open to a relationship with another man.
‘You are good, Mr Chase,’ she reflected. ‘I’ve already learned three things about myself today, because of you.’
Grace stood quietly in the line with her purchase, waiting for her turn to check out. She had the cucumber. Selecting it wasn’t as easy as she’d thought it would be since for the first time, she’d taken the care to notice the size and shape of the fruit that she was selecting. Before, she’d only been concerned about the freshness, ensuring no sign of withering or unsightly spotting that may have indicated that the fruit had been mishandled. It occurred to her then that she was being silly about the spotting thing, but there it was; it had been unconsciously done and therefore, of no use to her as a writer.
Grace smiled to herself, ‘lesson number four learned today, Mr Chase. Be present in the moment. Experience it, and live it to the fullest, so that you have something to say when you write.’
She couldn’t wait to share this epiphany with Christopher Chase when she got home. She rehearsed the thought to ensure that it stuck. Today was turning out to be a good one. She had already learned so much about herself. She took this to mean that she was doing something new, and crawling out of her rut. She could not remember having a day like today in a very long time.
Phillip was not at home when Grace arrived. She wasn’t sure where he was since she had turned down his invitation to dinner and dancing, but she knew that he wouldn’t be home for at least another two hours anyway. It would be time that she’d spend with Christopher Chase.
She decided to gather her thoughts over a glass of wine and a warm bubble bath. Yes, today was a good day, she felt sexy and alive, and even making Christopher Chase wait to hear from her while she pleasured herself with the cucumber, made her feel powerful.
I am here, she typed and pressed send when she finally emerged from her bath, the coolness of the water no longer disguising the fact that, whatever it was at the start of the evening, it was now a delaying tactic; holding off writing to Christopher Chase. I am now writing your report. She pressed “send” again, buying herself some time while she gathered her thoughts and redefined “delaying” as “savouring the moment” in her mind.
‘You have taught me several things about myself today, Mr Chase,’ she began, ‘not the least of which is that I am not above cheap sexual thrills. I will tell you plainly that your command for me to humiliate myself by buying those ridiculous purchases was a dare that I could not resist. I am braver than either of us gave me credit for being, Mr Chase. You tried to pressure me today with your task and your follow-up e-mail. I imagine that you thought that I’d cave in; but I haven’t. I confess that I surprised myself in that regard.
I will tell you what happened today: I walked into that store and selected a single, large cucumber that was about eight inches long and with a diameter of about three and a half inches. I don’t know how big you are, Mr Chase, but my last partner has those dimensions so I used them to make my selection; I hope you don’t mind. Phillip was nothing, if not well-endowed. I then walked to the cashier, and asked if she had condoms for sale. She glanced at me, I can’t say if she was startled, but she pointed to a little glass case off to the side and told me to ask the attendant there. That girl allowed me to take the condoms back to my space at the cashier; and so, in front of the cashier, the young man who simply put my two purchases into two separate bags and handed them to me, and the two ladies in the line behind me who seemed to be snickering and whispering; though I don’t have any proof that either I, or my purchases, was their topic of conversation, I paid for my things and left.
So, all in all, it was a non-event. Though I have to say that my thoughts about doing this were far more salacious and exciting, and using the cucumber while in my bubble bath just now (yes, I sheathed it in one of the condoms in my pack) was the icing on the cake.
I must hasten to say that I don’t want you to be disappointed, Mr Chase. Indeed, I thank you for issuing your challenge, for you have given me a very enjoyable day, contemplating it. My reflections have also given me some new insight into myself and my life, and for that I am grateful to you. I know now that I am willing to take direction from you, because I believe it will be good for me to do so, for now. I want to see if you really can excite me, or if what you did for me today was a fluke, or a trick of my own mind. I will confess that I dithered a bit at the start, but now, I am happy that I’ve met you.
I await your next challenge,
Grace Lucas sat breathing deeply after she sent off the message that her Marielle alter ego had typed. She calmed herself by finishing her glass of wine, and by sitting quietly and staring into the middle distance at nothing at all. The general celebration of their two dogs at seeing him, and the slam of Phillip’s car door brought her back to reality; and so she got up, shrugged off her silk robe, and deliberately clothing herself again in her Marielle persona, she went to his bedroom to await her husband’s arrival. She was naked, present in the moment, and ready for him.
Phillip had left their bed over six months ago and moved into one of the spare bedrooms down the hall from her. At the time, Grace had been more relieved than upset by that fact. It was inevitable; and less awkward for them both. Their pleas of mutually heavy work schedules: hers of travel commitments on business, his for promoting his latest novel, and the numerous manuscripts to grade for his part-time, but increasingly demanding, job at the university, could no longer mask their general disinterest in each other. Grace knew that it would be only a matter of time before he had an affair, most likely with one of his students, and then he’d ask her for a divorce. What bothered her was how little she cared. Yet, their anniversary, a day when she remembered some of the good times in her marriage; the realisation that she could still feel so sexually excited if stimulated in the right way; the spark of appreciation that she saw in Phillip’s eyes over lunch, the fact that he’d wanted to see her for dinner and dancing like old times; and most of all, the regard that she acknowledged that she still felt for him when she decided that he was not to be hurt by this man, Chase, all contrived to drive her into his space.
Phillip’s bedroom was masculine, but cosy. He had decorated the walls with his collection of Aubrey Fosse nautical themed paintings and, she was surprised to see, a photograph of herself playing with the dogs on his dresser next to a cut-crystal bowl containing loose change. She grinned to herself. So, that’s where the bowl, a wedding gift, had gone! She had always wondered if he’d broken it, and just thrown it away. She had been too annoyed by the thought to just ask him if that was what had happened to it.
Grace felt a fissure of shame at her unworthiness; and a wave of pity for Phillip at having to put up with her moods. She resolved to try to be kinder to him in the future. Christopher Chase didn’t sound as if he were particularly kind. It was clear that he could be a bully. Phillip had never bullied her, and that may have been part of the problem. She wanted a little bite with his tail-wagging and puppy dog eyes routines sometimes. Perhaps if she introduced the idea to him as a sexual role play he might respond to her as she wished. It was a thought.
The paintings reminded her that they had not gone fishing together in over two years. Perhaps they should do that again sometime soon, and now that she thought about it, it was fun to bathe the dogs. She remembered that Sunday afternoon well. Both Phillip and the dogs had been delighted to see her come into the backyard to be with them. Yes, there was probably room for her to meet him in the middle after all. The thought startled her, and so she was standing frozen, looking at the photograph, when he entered the room, instead of being draped decoratively across his bed, as she had intended to be.
Phillip’s startled gasp was music to her ears. The look of wide-eyed surprise segued, quickly, into first ravenous hunger, and then sadly, into repressed longing. She could see when he stamped down on it ruthlessly, and just stared at her, suspiciously. He couldn’t hide the beginnings of his erection though.
“Jeez, Grace!” he exclaimed, after a while. “I thought you said you had something else to do tonight! Was this it?”
He shook his head incredulously, and put his knapsack down on the floor next to his dresser. She knew that it would contain a manuscript or two that he was marking for his students. Her eyes followed his hands, and she shivered a little thinking about how they would feel on her skin. She noticed how curiously still they were, as if he had frozen, and when she glanced up at his face again, she saw that he was just staring back at her, watching her, a new kind of predatory gleam in his eyes, a strange smirk teasing his lips. Her body tingled all over, and she had to fight the impulse to squirm and cover herself with her hands.
‘This wasn’t a good idea, Grace!’ she thought, panicking. ‘What is he thinking?’
“My god, you’re beautiful, Grace,” Phillip said, as if in response. “Come over here,” he said, gesturing toward the middle of the large room. “I want to have a good look at you.”
Her heart thundered painfully in her chest as the man walked around her, slowly; taking in every inch of her body. She had started going to the gym a year ago when she needed something to occupy her evenings, but even so, she suddenly felt frumpy and imagined cellulite everywhere. Her every nerve tingling, Grace began to squirm as the moisture between her legs thickened and her clit ached, uncomfortably. Her Marielle persona fled her, and all that was left was ugly, dirty Grace Lucas. She wanted to cry as the memories of her exchanges with Christopher Chase came flooding back to her mind. This entire situation was ridiculous! She was ridiculous! What the hell was she thinking? Phillip had even smirked at her when he entered the room! He’d seemed to want her a little, and then changed his mind! She’d seen it in his eyes!
“You’re lovely,” Phillip murmured.
“Oh shut up! I know you don’t really mean that! Why don’t we just cut the crap and stop pretending that we have something worth saving!” she shouted as she fled, tearfully, from his bedroom.
Despite the promise of the day, last night had been a disaster! Grace fidgeted at her desk. It was she who left the house early this morning. She wanted to call Phillip to apologise, but she was too ashamed to do so. What the hell happened? She wasn’t sure herself. One minute Phillip was paying her a compliment, the next she was shouting at him, and finding herself in her own bedroom, crying her eyes out! It was only later that she remembered his burgeoning erection under his trousers. Could he have faked that?
She had called the number in his study at the back of their home twice. It was the place where he created DI Umberto Calderon’s world. She had hung up before he could answer on either occasion. She acknowledged that she was a coward. She recognised the emotion of the night before. It was fear. Her reflections and half adventures of the day had left her raw, unsure of who she really was, and of what she was capable. That was why she had fled from Phillip. How could she explain that to him? It was not that she didn’t want him. It was that she wanted him too much. The way that he had walked around her and inspected her body had seemed like something that she would expect Christopher Chase to do; and thinking of him had made her feel suddenly guilty to be standing before her husband. That thought interested her, because for the first time, she wasn’t sure if she was cheating on Phillip, or on Christopher Chase.
She still liked being married to Phillip, he was witty and talented and creative and kind and sweet and generous and, when he was with the dogs, she could see that he was affectionate too. She wanted affection… sometimes. She needed passion now though. Phillip did not seem to be capable of passion. He would not be the man to ravish her; to strip and hold down and take her, and she needed that. Well, she wanted that; and from what she had been reading in her magazines she deserved whatever she wanted!
She stifled a sudden giggle. Good grief! She was sounding like one of those damsels in one of those Christopher Chase romance novels that she’d taken to reading at night! Jeez! What would Phillip think of her if he knew that she read those kinds of things? He’d probably divorce her in an instant… from embarrassment for her, if for nothing else. She was the one dreaming of romance. Perhaps she’d give Mr Chase a walk, and begin again with someone else who was more the knight than the dragon. She would have to see. What she knew though was that she would not make that mistake again. She had projected Christopher Chase onto poor Phillip. She’d almost given the game away.
Phillip’s commencement speech.
Grace walked into the room, nervously. She stopped like a deer in the headlights as she saw about one hundred and twenty other people sitting there waiting for the class to begin. She selected a seat near the back of the room, one of the few still available, patted her wig for reassurance, and surveyed her new classmates, and her empty notebook.
Several of the other students had tablets and laptops, and Grace smiled wryly at her paper and pen. She chuckled to herself, though, at the number of people who had Phillip’s books tucked away in plastic bags at their feet or on their desks. The bookshops in Kingston had done a roaring trade that day.
Phillip stalked into the room, panther-like, promptly at 6 o’clock, and put his bag and papers on the table, calmly though he seemed as surprised as Grace had been by the number of students gathered there. He surveyed the room briefly before he began speaking. Grace felt her heart skip a beat as he looked directly at her, but he showed no sign of recognition, and she couldn’t decide if she felt hurt or relief.
He looked sensational in a black turtle neck sweater and black jeans, his Doc Martens, bottle of water, and ever-present knapsack, adding the roguish boyish charm that contrasted so well with the sophisticated metrosexual that the rest of his ensemble would have suggested.
“I prayed to God for strength to do my task; and He replied to me, ‘You will find strength in the doing, Phillip,’” he intoned; and the class fell deathly still, immediately. “‘You will find resilience in the mastery of the skills, and in the joy of discovery as you learn new things, and then, as you ultimately succeed.’”
“Several of you in this room have embarked upon the twin careers of studying for your degree while working full-time. That is a very courageous thing! I am impressed by the number of you who have accepted the challenge to do this, so I won’t lie to you; you will get tired from time to time. You will have to juggle your real-life responsibilities and still find the time to create new people and places. You will live in at least two worlds at any given time. And I say, at least because in your excitement you may begin several stories at once and try to juggle these with your work and family lives. Try to resist this. By all means, jot down your ideas to preserve them, but give the bulk of your energy to only one story at a time.
“For my very much younger colleagues here,” he paused, and grinned at the group, disarmingly. “You will feel lonely when the people you know are out doing things that do not include you. You will miss doing the things that you truly enjoyed before, and spend less time with the people whom you love, a boyfriend or girlfriend, that co-worker on whom you’ve been crushing, that sexy tv star…. You see where I’m going with this? …. Good!” he laughed openly when he got a murmur of assent.
“I tell you this though, you will not succeed here unless you are willing to form new loves, enjoy new pursuits, enjoy spending time in solitude as you sift through your thoughts and decide which aspects of your personality you will reveal in your characters and the worlds that you create for them.”
Phillip paused, and Grace saw a brief spasm of pain cross his face before he opened his bottle and sipped his water. He began speaking again.
“But do not give away too much as you do this. It would not be worth it to you if you had no marriage after you graduated, or if you’d lost track of your children. You won’t benefit from having no friends when this class, or this degree for that matter, is all over. You must find a way to share your new passion with the people who mean the most to you, and upon whose emotional support you rely. You are doing this, not only for yourself, but for your family and friends and for your readers. You have to continue being a real person, especially after your success comes to you.”
He paused again, and laughed, self-consciously, “So, that’s the end of my little rant. Let’s look at our course outline. I have a few here if any of you didn’t manage to download it…” he said holding up the papers that Grace had noticed earlier.
Someone from across the room from Grace applauded, cutting across Phillip’s next words. It was taken up by someone else, and then by another person, until the room rang out with a thunderous ovation from the class.
“This guy is great! He’s so down to earth! He’s not at all what you’d expect from a superstar! I expected him to start out by telling us how most of us will fail! I’m glad I’m here,” the man next to Grace shouted to her through the din.
Grace felt the same way. She knew that that speech was really a public soliloquy, a clarification of his innermost thoughts, despite his audience, and that at times, he had forgotten where he was. Then her ears lurched, and she felt a spasm of pure jealousy when she overheard a female voice behind her squealing, “He’s sexy! I wonder if he’s married.”
“Well, he’s wearing a ring,” another woman replied, indicating that she had been examining Phillip on a more personal level also.
“Some professors do that to keep their students at bay. I’m going to scope him out during his office hours,” she heard the first woman say.”
“Maybe we should check out his website first.”
“We? No sister! I don’t share my men. And besides, I did check out his website; it doesn’t speak about his personal life. I wonder if he’s gay. The best ones usually are….”
“No, he doesn’t look gay. He’s just a gorgeous cutie!” the first woman defended Phillip.
“…and his D.I. Calderon doesn’t seem to like women…Do you remember how he…”
“That’s just his books! HE is obviously different. He’s a complex man, he’s not going to be interested in you!”
Grace turned to look at them, coldly. She didn’t care if they thought her a prudish, mature student in the class, or if they pegged her as another woman who simply wanted Phillip Lucas for herself. She didn’t care what they thought of her at all. The personal life that was missing from his website involved her; he belonged with her, and she was not going to give him up without a fight. These two sounded as if they were ready to begin a catfight over Phillip, but they had not counted on her being there to pound the victor!
Suddenly, it occurred to her that not only had she never even visited his website, she didn’t know if Phillip had ever had an affair with one of his students, or if he wanted to do so now that their marriage had deteriorated so badly. She felt fear at the enormity of the task of trying to rescue her relationship with her husband, at the fact that, suddenly, she didn’t want anything as much as she wanted him. Christopher Chase could go to hell. Getting him out of her system would be difficult, but she didn’t feel as fulfilled in their affair as she did, even in her flawed marriage.
‘You will find strength in the doing,’ his words came back to her. ‘You will find resilience in the mastery of your new skills and joy in your ultimately success.’ Yes, Grace decided. She would take his words to heart and try to seduce her husband again.
Phillip bowed, grinned broadly, and winked at his charges as the applause got even more enthusiastic for the man who was now revealed as being playful as well as brilliant. Grace realised, not for the first time, that there were several versions of her husband, and that she was not the only person in their family who knew how to become one of their characters.
The class went spectacularly, and ended all too soon some three hours later. Grace saw a side of her husband that she had forgotten. He really was a passionate, sexy man. She lingered only long enough to see several of the students flock to Phillip’s side, many with their newly purchased copies of his books open, ready for his autograph! It would be interesting to see how many of them returned the following week.
Phillip’s BMW was already in the driveway when she got home. She was shocked, and reflected that it must have taken some reckless driving to achieve that, since she had left him surrounded by his now adoring students. She had stopped to put petrol in her car on the way, but even so she had never seen him come in so early from a class. She felt a fissure of fear again. Obviously, he knew.
“So, it really was you!” Phillip declared, accusingly, when she stepped through the door to find him waiting for her. “I thought I’d recognised you even though you’ve changed your hair! What are you doing now, Grace; spying on me?”
Grace paused and then, looking him straight in the eye, she pulled off the wig.
“We need to talk,” she said, defiantly, moving to push passed him into the house.
Phillip froze, and, after a startled flinch, he broke down into helpless, belly-clutching laughter.
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