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"I'm not sure when it was I became lost. How I lost you is still a mystery to me. All I know, is that I miss you terribly, and hope to have you back again one day. I just hope and pray that it's not too late." - Aiden Eason in a letter to his wife
SATURDAY, LATE AFTERNOON
She purchased a new dress for the ball, a flirty piece that he wouldn't recognize. It was black and form fitting, accentuating the beauty of her curves. She liked the amount of cleavage it showed off. A long slit up the side allowed her leg to show flirtatiously. She was eager to find what this night had in store. No matter what, it was going to be fun, and then some. She even had her nails done up for the night. She liked what she saw in the mirror with her makeup complete. Too bad she had to cover such a good job with the silly masquerade mask.
As Chloe stepped to her car, the sky was still lit in pale blue with flashes of yellow from the setting sun, the air was warm. It was the kind of night one appreciated after leaving an over-air conditioned restaurant. Simply put, it was the perfect evening, 'non-British' as they would say. She left a light trail of perfume as she clicked towards her silver Volvo SUV. She was supposed to meet him there, and she couldn't wait. She drove with the windows down, the evening air washed her face with warmth. She could still vividly recall the chill of sleet and sting of chapped lips, there wasn't a warm evening for the three years they lived in England. Now she drove the typical American winding two lane. These things they yearned for and waited on for so many years. She turned the radio on, this is relaxing ... so relaxing, she sank into the leather seat, another perfect moment.
That's how it happens, when your guard is down, when you least expect it, when nothing could possibly go wrong at this perfect moment. SMACK, a noise from beneath, and the car began sliding and swerving. She tried to get control of the vehicle, the back end was overtaking the front of the SUV, she was pressed against the side door, trying to steer. The world was in slow motion around her, her mind racing five times faster than the scene unfolding outside her car. The screech of tires morphed into her own scream. Lucid clarity revealed the intricate details of leaves on trees lining the road. Her lungs froze in place trapping the air of what might be her last breath. The car lurched to a stop in a sideways skid, tipping and then slamming back down on all four tires. The hood of the car was just inches from the guard rail, which protected cars from falling into a small creek.
Thick black skid marks trailed a weaving pattern up to her car. Her breathing was still panicked and sharp. She put the car in reverse and slowly cut the wheel and backed away, and then pulled forward. Slowly rolling to the gravel shoulder of the road, the flat tire thumped as she rolled off the main traffic lane. She still had a white knuckle grip on the leather steering wheel, her chest was heaving as she tried to catch her breath.
In her rear view mirror a pick-up truck pulled to a stop behind her, the gravel under its tires popped as it rolled to a stop. The door opened, he stepped out of the pick-up and walked towards her SUV. Her eyes fixed on him in her rear view mirror as her heart still pounded. He was shaking his head back and forth, as if to say 'Holy crap! You scared the shit out of me!' He wore faded blue jeans, a baseball hat, cowboy boots, and a white T-shirt with no logo, nothing on it, just the shadows from his muscles. Her eyes captured his in the rear view mirror. He slapped twice on the back side of the SUV. "Pop the trunk so I can get the jack out," he called from outside. She reached over and hit the release button. He lifted the gate, and got the jack. Her gaze shifted from the rear view mirror to the side mirror as he went to work on the flat rear tire - the cause of her out of control skid.
As he worked the lug nuts of the flat tire, she stared. Her mind was still reeling from what had happened, and her breathing was deep and labored. Why am I still sitting in the car? Why can't I muster myself to move out of my seat? Why am I just staring at him? As he worked the jack in the summer heat, his muscular arms glistened, the veins on his arms spoke of strength, his skin was a deep bronze. His white T-shirt shielded little from her prying eyes. She realized how long she had been taking the sight of him in, but didn't look away. He stopped. Why is he stopping? Then he looked up, his eyes trapping hers in the mirror. She quickly averted her eyes away.
"You gave me quite a scare, I'm glad I was here to help though." His tone was comforting, he smiled at her reflection in the mirror. A wave of embarrassment flooded over her. When she looked back he was finishing his work, his hands were covered in grease from the tire. The sweat on his face flashed with reflections of the setting sun. The white T-shirt now took on the quality of a second skin, plastered to him and revealing all. Her mind now paused on lustful intentions. A flash of his hands on her thighs, he tightly grips her, she presses his chest with her hands.
She rebounded back to reality with deliberate self-denial. What should I say? I wonder if he wants me to push this forward? 'Thank you so much', 'Can I do anything to repay you?' ... 'I'd do anything to repay you'- she kept her laughter inside. How should she thank this good Samaritan. Another image flashed in her mind. She's looking into his eyes, his shirt is pulled up exposing his tan abs, her face so close she can feel the heat. Her hands move to his waist, her mouth partially opening, wanting for a first kiss.
Slam! The hatch closed. "Drive safe now! Hopefully we'll run in to each other again." He woke her from her day dream with laughter in his voice. I guess it just wasn't our time yet, she smiled.
"Hopefully so." She quipped. He was looking over his shoulder smiling, and then walking back to his truck. His faded jeans were thickly creased behind his knees, his narrow waist accentuated his shoulders, she was smitten.
Earlier that night, she stepped out of the shower and toweled off. Her skin was tan, she squirted thick oil on her chest and legs and rubbed it in. It left her with a wet bronze quality, and a smell of coconut. Her hair was blond, a new cut she just got earlier that day, it was different than the longer style she'd worn for years now, but she knew he would like it a lot. It was short in the back and curved around the sides of her face. She styled it with gel leaving her hair with a straight and wet look. Red nails, and red lipstick. Her eye shadow accentuated her green eyes - readying them to captivate those who would glimpse them. Her eyes truly were amazing deep green pools of desire, or lust, or love, or whatever you wished to see in them. Brilliant green, it was not uncommon to hear, 'My god look at those eyes.' Thick lashes on this night would elicit and yield double takes from those unfortunate married men who would be caught and smacked by their less fortunate wives. Few women could hold a candle to her in any room she would step into. She fastened on large hoop platinum earrings - It takes guts to wear these things she thought. A simple one piece hammered platinum necklace, and strappy heels accented her outfit.
Now she was driving down the road, her mind still revolving around the cowboy in the baseball hat, what a gentleman. He didn't even look in the cab to see me, Jerk. She imagined her sideways glance at him as he looked into the car, and him, catching sight of her blond hair, the nape of her neck, her chest.
She drove the long and winding tree-lined road up to the Worthington estate, a converted plantation mansion. She parked around the side of the house, dozens of cars were already there. She reached for her mask, an eye cover. It was black with an ornate silver design on one side, a silver symbol resembling a musical note accented the glossy black. She tied the mask on with its black ribbon, eyeing herself in the car mirror. Catching her reflection in the window as she exited the car, she stopped. I don't think he'll even recognize me tonight: a new dress he hasn't seen, a new hair-do, the half mask. I think my skin is even a shade darker. She smiled to herself and turned away from her reflection.
As she made her way across the parking lot, she heard a loud engine closing in from the driveway. It was a mammoth old Bronco on oversized tires, sporting a poorly done camo paint job. Shiny mockups of air-to-air missiles were attached to either side of the truck. Colorful fighter squadron emblems were fixed to the front doors. The truck lurched to a stop with the front tires resting on a manicured flowerbed. After a few moments, four finely dressed officers exited the vehicle. They each wore eye covers; however, theirs were more reminiscent of bandit masks, rather than those to be worn at a masquerade ball.
'Standard' Chloe thought and continued inside. The entrance hall of the mansion was immense. She entered the ball room, contemporary music was playing. There were several bars, and a dance area, islands of people were engaged in conversation. A maitre de with a tray of wine in crystal offered her 'choices from our cellar.' She picked a blush and then walked along towards a wall with large framed paintings. Marble pillars supported the high ceiling. She gazed around looking at all the people, suits and tuxedoes, everyone with their masquerade ball attire - masks included. It would still be a while until he arrived, she'd have to wait.
Someone grabbed her elbow "Chloe!.. Oh, My, God! I almost didn't even recognize you." It was Chloe's good friend, Cathy, "You look amazing!"
"Cathy! This is pretty hoity isn't it?" Chloe was happy to see Cathy's familiar face, and then she recognized the couple standing alongside Cathy. "Whitney! Kid! How are you guys?"
"Great, my goodness Chloe, it's been years since we've seen you." Whitney wore a classy white dress and a thick Oklahoma accent, she had her hand draped in the crook of Kid's arm. Kid didn't choose to wear the formal tux worn by the other gents. In contrast to Whitney's white ball room gown, Kid was wearing a leisure suit made of velour fabric. It was electric green in color, and at least a size and a half too small. He wore a matching green bandito mask.
"Love the white shoes Kid." Chloe ribbed him.
Cathy started at her usual pace "My shoes are killing me, Bill went to get me a drink and never came back. I saw him going outside with his buds and some cigars, and I still need a drink!"
Cathy grabbed Chloe by the hand and dragged her towards the bar, talking a mile a minute. "Did you know there are art galleries in this place? There's like, fifty rooms, they have all sorts of art and stuff. The hors d'oeuvres rock too ... So ... I know you're not here alone?" "Um, no, I don't think he's here yet." Chloe was still scanning the crowd, hoping to spot him.
"Two Bull Breezes pleases!" The bar tender looked puzzled. "It's Vodka, Red Bull, and Cranberry" Cathy smiled at the man. In spite of the commotion and the din of conversations and music, Chloe kept picturing who she referred to in her own mind as 'her cowboy.' Each time she let her mind go, she would see him. A wave of heat would flush her cheeks, retrieving her image, he strains against the wrench, next, her hands are on his stomach flat palmed, they lean into each other ... This is ridiculous, she reluctantly denied herself again the pleasure of the day dream.
Cathy's husband Bill swaggered up to Cathy and Chloe "Hello ladies!" He kissed Cathy on the cheek, and handed her the drink she had requested only thirty minutes earlier. He trained his eyes at Chloe. If he was wearing a mining hat, Chloe's chest would have been brightly illuminated, the beams from his helmet flashlight bouncing off her in delight. My god, Chloe thought, just because you have a mask on, doesn't mean I can't draw the dotted lines from your eyes to my cleavage. Cathy's open palmed whack on Bill's forehead snapped him back to reality in an instant, and then he exclaimed, "Chloe, Holy Crap! You look ... different." He hugged her as she transformed from the object of ogling, to that of a close friend.
"Hi Buzz." Chloe smiled at him widely.
Bill 'Buzz' Buchanan was very fit for his age. His black hair was thinner now and sparked with gray, baldness was slowly creeping up his temples. He was 'distinguished' with deep wrinkles extending from the corners of his eyes, his smile lines. These lines were the direct result of his bright smile, which was the direct result of his eternal exuberance. These lines etched in self-perpetuity complemented the wondrous smile itself. It seemed he was always wired and happy, Cathy's soul mate. "Well ladies if you'll excuse me, I'll be outside with the guys solving the problems of the world."
"That means he wants another smoke break" Cathy said. "How are you guys settling in? Because if you need any help, Bill and I are so there."
Chloe's voice filled with enthusiasm, "Actually, I'm on cloud nine here, it's just so good to be back in the States. House hunting took us forever. I was about sick of billeting life."
"Tell me about it. That mini-stove, forget it. We were so sick of fast food by the time our month was up."
Chloe laughed out loud "Actually the fast food was kind of a perk. I just hated living for a month in that small musty room. We finally found a house and we just moved in last week."
"Congrats on the house!"
"Thanks, it's amazing, I'm so excited about it. We've got a hot tub and a pool! You've got to come over. Hey, bring the kids too! How are Zack and Chelsea?"
"You would not believe how big they're getting, it's ridiculous ... All right chica, finish that off, I want to dance." Cathy moved her hips to the music.
Chloe was more than happy to have found a friend at the party. It seemed that being left alone with her own thoughts was counter-productive at this point. With someone to talk to, at least her mind wouldn't reach back and grasp her 'cowboy' ... but it just felt so good to think about him. She had never been a 'visual' person, but that image, those jeans.
The beat of the music thumped, the floor was getting crowded. They started to dance. A new song started playing and more people floated on to the dance floor. Chloe and Cathy were dancing when a young guy came up to join them. Smiles were exchanged ... and then he started dancing. He was dancing like something she'd never seen before, ever. The song he was dancing to, was not the song playing on the speakers. His arms and legs flailed and jutted in all directions. Just, then Chloe felt a hand on her waist. She turned, a tux, I think I met him? She questioned herself. Black tux, no tails, scotch print bow tie, sandy colored hair, she recognized him as one of the clowns who arrived in the ridiculous camo truck. He placed his hands on her waist. "May I have this dance?"
"Sure" she smiled. She motioned to Cathy and her new dance partner, who presently was doing a dance that could only be named Kung-Foo Jello. "He's something else huh?"
"Yeah that's my bud, Kevin Kelly we're both new to the squadron." He smiled and then offered his hand, "I'm Casey, Casey Johnson."
This was no cowboy, but he'd do as a dance partner for now.
"Hi Casey, nice to meet you, I'm Chloe." She subconsciously allowed herself to slip back into the temptation of the thought as she danced. In her mind, her finger tips slide just under his belt line on those jeans, he pulls her closer, her chest brushes his pecs. He can see the sheen on her chest. The sheer satin fabric of her dress is smooth on his hands. He didn't dare move closer, their bodies touching would be too much. The beat is pulsing, their bodies move to it. She's bumping to the beat, an accidental brush. She's beautiful. Her chest is perfectly lifted and pressed by that dress, it's mouthwatering. His mouth yearns for her neck.
His pulse quickens.
He can smell her perfume, "You smell like ... coconut."
"Oh, yeah" she laughed. "I put some oil on, it always seems to be a hit."
He quipped "I can't imagine why?" He then continued, all too eager to provide an answer to his own rhetorical question. "It's Pavlovian, men smell that scent, and our minds can only go to one of two places." He raised his pointer finger. "One; tanning oil, bikinis on the beach, and two ..." he stopped himself. "It just brings an image, you know what I mean."
Excerpted from SHARING ORION by DAVID GOLDSTEIN Copyright © 2010 by David Goldstein. Excerpted by permission.
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