Again, this will make no sense without parts I, IIa, and IIb. Please read them first.
Charlie and Carol spoke the next day, as promised; and four more times that week. They were, both of them, so filled with joy and love, so warmed by deep friendship and mutual trust, they could scarcely find the words to speak of them when they talked. But they talked anyway. About nothing; it didn't matter. They were talking to each other, and that did.
It was three weeks before they met again, and then only for a couple of hours. Charlie took a room, and they just cuddled, fully dressed. They kissed and spoke of dreams of passion yet to be, and gazed at one another and whispered about "next time."
A few weeks more, and "next time" came. He slowly stripped her, kissing her mouth, her secret spot, her perfect breasts and belly, caressing her and stroking her pale, smooth body as he bared it; and by the time she lifted her hips so he could take her panties, she was pink-cheeked and breathing rapidly.
He was still fully dressed. She liked that, sometimes. It made her feel more vulnerable, more at his mercy, more given to his pleasure.
He kissed her deep, and she kissed back as he explored her pussy with his hands; and when he slid down to kiss her there, she spread herself for him with eagerness.
He kissed and teased her pussy for long minutes, touching her lightly with his tongue, opening her small, sweet lips with gentle fingers and blowing on her there. She was whimpering and begging for it by the time he licked her sweet and liquid opening and made her shiver.
He took his time. He sucked and kissed and licked her tiny lips, he drilled her tender hole deep with his tongue, he felt her deep with gently probing fingers, and he pulled her open wider and traced her every fold and crevice with his tongue and lips and hands, exploring and exposing her most intimate secrets--and still, he had barely touched her pinkly swollen clit, and she was gasping for it.
He made her wait while he undressed, and he took his time. She was aching for it when he finally resumed--but he only teased her for another moment before he licked her clit with one long, full-contact stroke. Her hips rose off the bed and she moaned, a deep, gutteral sound from deep in her belly.
"UNNnngh.... Oh, Chahlie... I need that, give me more...."
He licked her long and deep, his tongue delving deep into her hole and sliding upward, all the way, up the swollen shaft hidden beneath her tender pussy-flesh, up and across the bare and sensitive head, and up into the inner edges of her pussy hair. Over and over, in long, slow strokes that had her shuddering and humping at his mouth.
He took his time. He dug his tongue into her clit and rubbed it in small circles with the tip; he whipped her there with rapid flicks and flutters till she was gasping in amazement at the intensity of feeling. And he sucked it like a nipple, working his lips around it and squeezing it with his tongue, sucking out not milk but Carol's grunting, grinding orgasm, drawing it to the surface and out into his mouth.
She came, and told him, as he'd taught her; but he did not stop. He kept on sucking her, whipping and squeezing and rubbing her swollen clit with his tongue and lips--right after she came, when she was supersensitive and trembling from her climax of one second before.
"Noooo," she whined, "Nooo, stop," but he sucked another orgasm from her gushing, tender hole--and then another, and another, as she pounded weakly on his shoulders with her fists and sobbed in ecstasy.
And then he slid two fingers in and sucked and licked her more, driving her to near-madness. She pulled her knees back to her chest and gave herself up to it, and he pushed her to a cyclonic climax so intense she saw white dots behind her eyelids and shook in animal convulsion, broken down to nothing but her drooling, spasming hole and her bursting, white-hot clit. Her mind was gone, she was a cunt, a cunt in boiling climax, and nothing more--and then she was nothing at all.
He held her as she came to, shivering and shaking in his arms. She gasped for breath and finally found it, her pounding pulse slowed down, and slowly, very slowly, she came back to herself, and him.
She could not speak for long minutes, but clung to him and kissed his chest and shook with aftershocks. She trembled in his arms and tried to speak, but still could not.
"Chahlie," she finally gasped. "Oh, Chahlie..."
"Are you all right?" he asked softly. Perhaps he had pushed her too hard, too far.
She nodded, her cheek pressed to his chest. He felt no tears. He stroked her gently, soothing her, calming her, bringing her back from wherever she had been scattered. He pulled a blanket up to cover her, and in a minute, maybe less, she was asleep.
He held her for an hour before she stirred. She moved, and jerked, and stretched her arms and legs, then looked up at him blearily, sleepily--but smiling. "Oh, Chahlie," she breathed. "Oh, Chahlie--that was--" She could not find a word and dropped her head back on his chest. "I never came like that in all my life. I never knew I could."
"Did you like it?"
He felt her cheek against him as she smiled. "I couldn't take that every day," she breathed, too weak to giggle. "Or even every month. But it was wonderful." She rested against him without moving, every muscle slack and limp. He stroked her as she rested. "Thank you, lo--Chahlie. Don't do that to me again--please don't--till I can take it--but thank you."
"You didn't cry," he said.
She nuzzled him. "Nothing left to cry with. You took all I had."
"It's almost time to go," he said.
"Is it?" She rolled over, weakly, and took her watch from the bedside table. "How long did I sleep?"
He watched her sitting naked on the edge of the bed, her back to him, her upper body twisted round to speak. "About an hour."
She smiled at him, apologetically. "There's no time left for you," she said.
He stroked her lovely back, brushed the side of her swelling breast with the back of his fingers. "Next time," he said.
She lay back down. "Hold me," she said.
They kissed and stroked each other as she regained her strength. She looked at him. "You have more to show me, don't you?" she whispered.
"Oh, yes," he said. "You know how I love to read."
She laughed, weakly. "Where did you read that?"
He grinned. "That one, I came up with on my own."
They showered together; they always would, after. They both knew why, but spoke of it only once or twice.
She did not dare go home with his scent on her. He never wore cologne or after-shave; he hadn't from the start. She had no need to tell him.
The next time, a month later, they played naked for hours. They snuggled and kissed and touched, planning or hoping for nothing more, till they found themselves craving what they could not have. He felt her up until she came in his arms, and she stroked him sweetly--then kissed him and brushed his face with her softly swinging breasts while he finished, stroking himself as she caressed him with her nipples and whispered sweet obscenities and promises, just to encourage him.
The time after that, they had dinner and went to a movie, and snuggled in his car after.
"I have a surprise," he said.
She was lying in his arms in their old, familiar way. "What?" she asked.
"Next week I'm moving here."
She sat up and looked at him, her face alight. "You are? Where?"
He named a nearby town. "I applied to teach there last time I came up here. I got the job, and I've picked out an apartment, and I'm packing."
She hugged him, then looked doubtful. "You know we can't meet more often," she said.
"I know. But I won't have to drive so far, and when we talk it'll be a local call."
She kissed him, eyes sparkling. "This is wonderful! We won't have to get a room, either. I can just come to your place."
They kissed a while, and snuggled. "It's wonderful," she said again.
"It's the best that it could be, Carol," said Charlie. "All the thrill and passion of a new love, and all the trust and closeness of an old one. We have both."
She nodded against his shoulder. "I love you, Chahlie," she whispered.
He smiled, as always. "I love you, too." he closed his eyes. Thank you, God, he thought.
"I have another gift," he said after a while. "But this one is for me." He took an envelope from the dashboard. "Here."
"A gift certificate for Glamour Pics. That place at the mall, where they make portraits? I want you to go there and have some made, and give them to me. I want some pictures of you for my apartment."
She smiled at him. "Okay. Next time I see you."
He touched her face. "You are so beautiful, love of my life. I want those sparkling eyes and that sweet smile where I can see them every day."
"You'll have them."
They kissed some more, then it was time to go.
They continued to talk on the phone several times each week. Carol had changed her "alone time," when she met Charlie, to weekends in preparation for his move and the upcoming school year.
At the appointed time, he moved, and in short order had set up his apartment. He bought new sheets and towels; his old ones were threadbare. He bought a VCR so they could watch movies; he bought wine and Pepsi and a box of her favorite cookies.
And one day she came to his door.
She greeted him with a hug and sparkling eyes, and then gave him a gold-toned gift bag.
"My pictures, silly! See if you like them."
He unwrapped them eagerly, and gasped. "Oh, Carol! They're perfect!"
One was an 8x10 in a gold-colored frame; Carol smiled out at him from it, with her special smile and a twinkle in her sea-green eyes that he knew was just for him. One lovely hand was placed beside her face, a natural pose, and the dress she wore was low-cut enough to display a hint of cleavage.
Charlie was entranced. He placed it on a table near the sofa, so he could see it from anywhere in the room or his small kitchen. "Would you like me to sign it?" she asked.
"No, no! You'd have to sign across your skin. I want to keep it unmarked. Here, sign this one."
The other picture was smaller, perhaps a 6x8. It had Carol in a demure blouse, her head thrown back and smiling with sleepy eyes. She was dressed more modestly, but it was somehow a more sensual photo.
She took out a pen and thought. Then her eyes lit up. "I know," she said, and quickly wrote something, a secretive smirk on her pretty face. She gave it to him with a tiny smile.
He looked. "To the biggest, best dick in the world. Hope it won't be TOO long-- Love, Carol."
He laughed and hugged her as she giggled. That one, he placed beside his bed.
He had prepared lunch. Chicken pie with mushrooms with a nice German Gewurtztraminer wine, and hard meringues with vanilla ice cream and strawberries for dessert. They ate it sitting on the floor beside the coffee table; he had not yet bought a table and chairs for his dining nook.
"That was fantastic, Charlie," she said as he took their plates away. "Where did it come from?"
He smiled and nodded toward his kitchen. "You made it all yourself?" she asked, surprised.
"From scratch," he said. "Even the crust."
"The meringues, too?"
"Sure. Egg whites and powdered sugar, dry 'em overnight at 200 degrees on baking parchment. Those are easy."
She looked at him with a bemused expression. "I learn more about you all the time. Now I know you're also a very good cook."
"Thank you. ...What do you mean, 'also'?"
She smiled knowingly, eyes twinkling. "I think you know," she said.
He smiled. "How do you like my place?"
"It's lovely," she said. "Just right. May I use your bathroom?"
"Certainly not." They laughed. She disappeared into it, with her purse.
Charlie rinsed the dishes and out them in the dishwasher, then covered the leftovers and put them in the fridge. Carol was still in the bathroom when he was finished. "Are you okay in there?" he called.
"Just one more minute," she said from behind the door.
A moment later, the door opened. "You can look now, Chahlie,'" came a familiar whisper, a voice from long ago. Charlie looked up, and his jaw dropped.
Carol was standing in the doorway, posing prettily. She wore a pair of beige bikini panties and a matching half-cup bra.
Charlie frankly stared. The upper curves of her breasts were bare almost to her nipples, and quivered liquidly when she moved. Her soft, bare belly beckoned him, and her lovely legs and pretty feet were bare. Her creamy, perfect skin was two shades lighter than the pale panties and bra.
"Do you remember, Chahlie?"
He nodded only. He could not speak.
She smiled, invitingly. "Why don't you show me your bedroom now?"
It was two steps away.
"God, I love you, Carol. I love you so much..."
The panties and bra lay on the floor, and he lay in her arms, between her legs.
Her smooth legs were wide open for him, and his dick was pressed downward between them; it was nestled in her warm crotch, his leaking dickhead almost at her asshole, the top of his dick lying pressed against the length of her oozing, all-but-hairless slit.
She rolled her hips upward--
"Carol, are you sure?" he whispered.
"Yes," she whispered back. One word only.
She opened herself wider--
And his cock slowly levered upward, entering her by itself as if it knew the way.
This, too, was the same. Exactly the same.
"Oh, Chahlie..." she breathed. "Oh, Chahlie, it's just like before... You're going inside me..."
She was so smooth, so slick, so warm and wet as her tender membranes parted for his smoothly sliding dickhead...
She hissed and rolled her hips even higher as he slid deeper inside her. "Chahlie, isn't this what you wanted?" Her voice cracked then, at the edge of tears. "Please tell me this is what you wanted..."
"Oh, yes, Carol," he whispered quickly. "I've wanted this so much, I've wanted you... I have for so long, so long..."
She whimpered and embraced him, arms and legs, clinging to him as be began to fuck her, slowly, tenderly, hardly believing it was real. "Oh, Carol... It's really you..."
They fucked like the old lovers that they were, kissing deep and knowingly, holding each other close and moving in unison, as if no time had passed at all.
"Oh, God, Carol... You are my heart..."
"I'm the only one you want," she breathed, rising toward the fulfillment of her aching need. "I'm the only one you want..."
"Oh, yes... I love you, I've loved you all my life, my only love... I've loved you for a thousand years..."
They worked for it together, hips pumping, slowly, but so urgently, their souls as open to each other as their mouths, his cock plunging smoothly in and out of her heart, her pussy encasing and caressing and slickly slurping at his own.
They fucked with the passion of two lifetimes, with the hunger of a broken, healing heart, with the deep love that found them far apart and brought them back to come together, to come hard together, to come and cry together in the refuge of each other's arms and hearts.
They lay entwined for long minutes afterward, breathing hard, their eyes not locked so much as merged into one gaze, filled with each other. His cock, half-hard, was still deep in her pussy.
They kissed, gently, sweetly. Their hands touched each other's faces, stroked each other's skin. They did not speak for more than an hour--only kiss, and touch, and begin to move together languidly, again, as Charlie's dick grew hard once more inside her.
They fucked again, so tenderly, so filled with love, so warmed by each other's fire that they had no need to speak, but only move.
They talked or left each other messages several times each week. They met, and sometimes went to movies; they had dinner out or in Charlie's apartment, talking like the old friends and lovers that they were.
It went on for years, and it was perfect.
Charlie liked her naked, and would often slowly strip her bare as soon as she arrived. He would kneel at her feet and remove her shoes and knee-high hose, caress her pretty feet, and then remove her earrings and her necklace. The rest would follow, with more touches and caresses as he slowly bared her beauty.
Still fully dressed himself, he'd hang up all her clothes in his front closet, place her shoes and underthings on its shelf, and close the door. She'd have no clothes, no covering at all, where they could even see them. He liked to keep her naked, with nothing on at all or even near her. If she wore a barrette or hairpin in her hair, he took that too.
She'd sit there on his couch completely bare, feeling very vulnerable and a little self-conscious at having not a thread or stitch to cover her. She was at his mercy, and she liked that. So did he.
The only thing he left her was her wedding ring. It would not come off anyway--her hands, too, were just a little plumper than when she'd out it on--and he never asked her to remove it. They never spoke of it at all.
Sometimes they would begin there, on the couch, and she would come into his arms to be held and kissed and touched for long before he undressed himself and they went into the bedroom.
Or she'd unzip his pants and find his hard and leaking dick, and kiss and suck it lovingly--till he was moaning and his hips moved slowly in the rhythm that they loved.
Or he would kneel and part her thighs as she whimpered in anticipation, and kiss her secret second mouth and lick her till her voice was like a child's. He loved to hear her tell him how she loved him in that tiny, breathless voice.
Then, often, he would tell her to go alone into his bedroom and prepare for him. He loved to watch her walk naked across his living room, submissively doing as he said, leaving all her clothes and prim and proper modesty behind. For those times, on those days, she was completely his.
He'd go in a moment later--sometimes to find her lying on her back, holding her knees high and wide apart, with her face turned shyly to her shoulder as she offered him everything she had to give.
Or she would be kneeling at the edge of the bed, her cheek against the bedspread and her knees placed wide apart--her plump bare ass, so pale and big and perfect, split open wide and cocked back to expose her pink and open pussy, gleaming with her eagerness.
One afternoon when he found her that way--naked and wordlessly ready, trembling with her hot anticipation--he tried out something he had read about.
He placed the head of his hard cock just at her opening, between her swollen, liquid lips, and slid it up inside her--
But only just. He gave her just an inch, and then withdrew.
She moaned, a tiny sound of protest. He had just eaten her for half and hour, bringing her almost--not quite--to orgasm, and she was hungry.
He did it again, and then again, slowly, very slowly, a full second between his shortened strokes. Eight times, exactly. She was whimpering with need, humping her drooling pussy back at him and moaning for it, but he would not give her more.
Seven more tiny strokes--and then he slid it in, all the way, balls-deep, his belly against her sweet bare cheeks. She spasmed and cried out, "Oh, yes! Give it all to me!"
--and then he pulled it out again, went back to tiny one-inch pumps that had her whining piteously. Six more of those, then all the way in again, twice this time, all the way in and all the way out. She moaned in ecstasy--
And then five more little ones, barely penetrating her twitching, dripping pussy lips. He fucked her very, very slowly, taking his time.
Slow cycles of eight strokes, and one more deep one every time. By the time he got to three shallow and five deep, she was gripping the bedspread in her fists, shivering and groaning, not in her child's voice, but in deep and gutteral grunts of animal need.
When he got to six, he gave her one more tiny one, and then began to fuck her long and deep and slow with every stroke.
He was not done. Seven deep and slow--then one fast and hard, slamming his belly into her ass, his balls against her clit, then quickly out again--
And back to long, slow strokes, in and out, all the way to the end of her grasping pussy tube and back out again, with agonizing slowness.
Six slow, two fast and hard, banging against her quivering ass as if be wanted to hurt her--five long and slow and torturous, three pounding into her like he was driving a spike. Four long and slow--
She was pulling at the bedspread, beyond words now. She was biting her pillow, eyes clenched shut, saliva drooling from between her teeth as she chewed it in her desperation. She had given up trying to push back, and simply knelt there shivering and tried to keep her cunt cocked up at him, as far back as she could, wide open and exposed completely for his thrusts.
Three long and slow and deep, and her pretty hands came back to pull her asscheeks apart as hard as she could do it for his five deep-punching hammer blows into her pussy. Her tiny, pink, and shamelessly exposed bare asshole winked at him as her cuntmuscles clenched and squeezed around his sliding, slamming dick.
And finally, he was fucking her deep and hard, as fast as he could fuck, pounding her upturned, quaking ass with his pelvis like he was trying to break her in half.
He did. She was shuddering in waves, in rushing tides, of overwhelming orgasm, one after another--not electrically intense like when he sucked her clit for half an hour, but ocean-deep and wide.
Her mouth was open now on the wet and well-chewed pillow, and she made no sound but gasps and puffs and panting. Her face was relaxed and slack as her body shook and shuddered; she was broken open and shattered, riding the tidal surges and cyclonic winds of a class-5 hurricane. Her face, her soul, were its calm eye; the rest of her, her body and her world, was buffeted and battered by the storm.
He fucked her in that state for twenty minutes, and he felt like a god, the God of Fuck. She would not have disagreed.
He saw her pretty toes clenched as in tiny fists, and for some reason, that sent him over the edge. He grabbed her hips and drove in deep and shot her full, his jets and bursts of sperm seeming to start at his heart and pick up speed and pressure till they blasted from his dickhead like creamy, white-hot bullets.
Carol moved then at last and cried out, "Oh, yes, shoot it in me, shoot my pussy full, give me your cum," and worked her ass back at him, her still-orgasming pussy fluttering and vibrating around his erupting geyser. Each spurt felt like a gallon, long and hard, and there were many of them, more than he could remember afterward. It took him long to stop, and Carol was begging for more of his sperm until the end.
He finally pulled out of her and collapsed onto the bed, exhausted. Carol kissed him, deeply, trembling, then bent to lick and suck the thick coating of his sperm and her own many climaxes from his softening cock, slurping it up from his pubic hair and licking it from his drained and aching balls.
They did this more than once. The technique, from Tantric Yoga, gave them the best sex either had ever had.
Her ass was turned toward him, and he looked in wonder at her bare and swollen, just-fucked pussy. It was hanging open redly, sloppy with their juices, with sticky strings of semen dangling from her distended lips and clit.
An hour earlier, her darling hole was tiny, pink and trembling in fear and eagerness; now it was slack and open and drooling with his cum. He gazed at it and marveled as her rosebud mouth slurped up the funky mess between his legs.
His prim and proper, then cold and distant, Carol--the one love of his life--was his shameless, naked fucking slut. And she loved it, and him. And he loved her.
Again; if he had dared to dream at all, he could never have dreamed of this.
The next two times, they went to movies. It was as if they knew the hurricane was there, waiting, and they waited long to savor its anticipation and plunge into its storms and tides again. They cuddled and were close and kissed and held each other, and loved and felt loved, and that was enough.
Another time, after he stripped her bare and put her clothes away and out of reach, he wrapped her in a cotton quilt fresh from the dryer, warm and snug. She lay naked and cocooned in comfort with her head in his lap while they watched a movie on his VCR.
It was "The Bridges of Madison County." it resonated with them both. He often wondered, later, what she thought and felt when it came on TV, and if she ever watched it again.
He stroked and fondled her throughout the movie, his hand beneath the quilt. He felt her heavy breasts and stroked her pussy, and fingered her gently to a sweet climax, or two, or three or four. She giggled once and whispered, "I can't think when I've enjoyed a movie more...."
It was Heaven, and remained so for some years; the most wondrous and enchanting of his life. They did not meet often, but even when alone he felt surrounded by her love and warmed by it.
A shadow fell from time to time. She changed jobs, and they could not talk as often or as openly; she was in a cubicle now, and could be overheard. Larry's condition had improved, and he was more alert; their meetings grew less frequent so as not to raise suspicion.
Once she came to his door and told him, apologetically, that she was not "available"; he understood what that meant. She was on her period. They cuddled and kissed only, as they had so many times before, but he wondered at her timing.
He finally dismissed it; she got away when she could.
But the next time was the same. He grew troubled, but did not ask.
He didn't dare.
But the time after that was all right, and they made love. For the first time, though, he had trouble keeping an erection.
Later, he realized: His body knew. His mind refused to go there, but his heart had felt the first cold hint of winter.
There were still good times and ecstasy to spare. Once, he had bought her a fishnet body stocking, and she wore it for him; the effect was devastating, and they both savored his reaction. Her pale white skin, so veiled and yet revealed, the subtle emphasis it gave to all her curves, the way her perfect legs and ass and breasts looked sheathed in it, the shocking cutout that exposed her perfect pussy--it was a marvel. He fucked her wearing it, then pulled it off and fucked her naked.
She only wore it once.
She came to him less often. It would be two months, or three, between her visits. They planned them more than that, but sometimes she would call and cancel. Something came up, she'd say, and her excuse was always plausible.
Sometimes she didn't call until the day after, and he would wait and watch for her on his balcony and pound the rail and cry all afternoon the day she was to be there.
She came one day, and she was hours late; they only had an hour to be together. She said, "I'm sorry, Charlie, but I was reading a really good book..."
He did not know what to say.
There were good times, even after that, and he could still cling to the hope that she still loved him. It seemed so, when they kissed and held each other and made love.
He remembered fucking her, holding her ankles wide as she pumped her hips back at him, and she whispered, "You like me open, don't you?"
"Open and naked," he gasped, and she reached down and stretched her lips apart for him as he fucked her. "All I'm wearing is your dick," she whispered, and it was true. But he could not come.
She tried to end it gently. She did. One day he met her at the Botanical Gardens, where it had begun and where they had gone again from time to time, and as they sat together in a small gazebo overlooking a peaceful stream, she hesitantly began: "Charlie--Larry's getting so much better, I don't think I can do this any more."
His mind was frozen. He was filled instantly with fear, fear of the darkness and the cold, of nonexistence, of living once again without her love. It was the unmoving center of his turning years and days, the center of his life, the reason and the hope of his whole being.
He looked at her, and his face was bleak. "You're going to break my heart again, aren't you?"
She looked stricken. "Oh, no!" she quickly said. She took him in her arms and said, "No, never! I love you, Charlie! Please don't be afraid!"
He could not remember what she said after that. They saw a movie, and he could not remember much of that, either.
She reassured him as they parted, but he went home shaken and quivering with dread. The darkness was about to fall, again, and he could not face it.
She tried hard. She came to him as often as she could, and they even made love; but he sensed a kind of sorrow in her that he had not felt before. He tried to forget what she had said, but could not.
They spoke rarely on the phone by this time; only to set up meetings, and when she called to cancel. They emailed more than they called, and that was just for news, to keep in touch.
Sometimes he cancelled too. He grew to dread their meetings as much as crave them, fearful of what she might say, of what new coldness he would sense around her.
They could not talk as they once had. That secret, silent channel they had shared, where words were a distraction from the love and trust they shared, was off the air. Silence was only silence now, and there was too much of it when they were together.
The next to last time they met, it was sad but good; he stripped her slowly, removing her shoes, her hose, her necklace and earrings, and then the rest--he liked her naked--but they hardly spoke, and looked each other in the eyes as he undressed her--not at all.
It had been six months or more since last he saw her, and she had let her hair grow. She tinted it now, he saw. She tried to please him--she had him lie on his back while she brushed and swept her long hair on his body, and kissed him deeply, and fed him her taut nipples.
They tried to fuck, and did, but he could not stay hard. He jacked off to her at last as she posed for him, so sweetly, and he finally coaxed a few weak spurts from his half-hard cock.
He had obtained, and taken, some Viagra. He was fifty, after all. It didn't help. The ache, the crippling, was in his heart, not in his dick.
They talked a little, naked. The doors were closed, and they both knew it, but they tried to open them a little. It was too hard.
They hugged and parted, and from his balcony he watched her walk to her car and leave. She did not look up. He wondered if he'd ever see her again.
After he watched her car vanish out of sight, he stood there and wept, for hours. He could hardly bear to go back inside and see the bed where she had lain with him.
It was eight months before he saw her again.
They had talked a few times; once, he had called her at work, and someone else called her to the phone. He thought he heard the word "husband" from the one who answered, and Carol answered in that low and intimate tone he knew and loved so well: "Hellooo...."
And she said, "Oh, it's you." Her voice was flat and cold. They talked a few moments, and she sounded only annoyed.
Other times were better. She tried to sound warm and caring, and their emails we're still friendly, at least.
She canceled more than once, and so did he; but finally, she came to him again. She looked sad and serious--and Charlie was saddened, too; she had finally begun, all at once it seemed, to show her age.
She had put on more weight, and her face had begun to succumb to gravity. There were lines around her eyes and mouth he had not seen before, her chin and jaw carried extra flesh, and there were wrinkles.
Charlie didn't care. Her skin was just as clear and luminescent as it had ever been, and those were still her her eyes, her lips, her sweet pale throat, even if there were lines that had not been there before. She was still Carol, and he still loved her.
He knelt to take her shoes off, and she let him; but when he reached higher to take her hose, she stopped him.
"Charlie--I'm sorry. But I can't do this any more."
"Just to cuddle? Just your top?" he asked hopefully.
"No. I'm sorry, Charlie. I just can't."
He wept a little, and she held him. "I knew this would be hard," she said. "But this part has to be over. Just hold me, Charlie. That's what I came here for."
His eyes were wet, and he tried to hold it in. But then, he burst out, "It's been eight months, and you don't want me!" He wept then, like a child.
"It isn't that," she said. "You know it isn't that. This is just the way it has to be."
He pulled himself together. "I know," he said. "I understand."
"You always did," she said, smiling at him. He dried his eyes and smiled back then.
"Besides," she said. "Look at me, Charlie. I'm old."
He touched her cheek. "You're still the most beautiful woman God ever made." She smiled and shook her head.
"Just hold me," she said.
He held her for a while, and he talked of how he had said, when they began again, that it was enough for him that they were friends. She smiled and snuggled close. "And we are," she whispered. "Always. I do still love you, Charlie."
When she left, she promised: "It won't be eight months till next time, Charlie. I'll see you soon."
But as he stood on his balcony and watched her go--this time, she looked up and waved--he knew that he would never see her again.
He tried to let it be enough.
They talked occasionally, but planned no meetings. They emailed, once or twice a week, and stayed in touch; he tried to keep it warm and friendly, but sometimes the ache was just too deep, he missed her love and passion for him just too much, and he spun out of control and called her, weeping.
"I was just so happy, Carol! I was happier than I've ever been! I just need you so much!"
She tried to comfort him and be his friend. "I know, Charlie. It was good, wasn't it? I don't regret it."
But it's over, she didn't say. He heard it anyway, and the greatest pain was knowing she was right.
She'd speak to him gently and ask if he was still taking his medicine; he was on antidepressants again, but they didn't help so much this time. Or perhaps they did; who knows how crazy he might have been without them.
They spoke less and less. When he was dealing with it well, he didn't want to talk to her so much; and when he wasn't, it hurt her. He tried to call when he felt upbeat and good, and that was best. Still, now and then, he'd lose it.
A friend set him up on a blind date, and he went. The woman was not as pretty as Carol--no one ever could be, for him--but she was sweet and funny, and they had a lot in common. He decided to try and fall in love again.
He almost did. He shared more values and beliefs with JoAnn than he ever had with Carol, and they could talk about anything. From the first, they clicked. He made her laugh, and she liked that. She made him feel smart, and funny, and attractive again. He put away the pictures of Carol, with all the other things he'd kept, and hid the box on a high shelf in his closet.
He had kissed JoAnn, and deeply, on their first date; and in two weeks, or less, they were sleeping together. She was as passionate as he could hope for--but he was entirely impotent now. She had known that from the first--he believed in full disclosure--but she said it didn't matter. He hoped that she was right.
Charlie even went so far as to call Carol and tell her about JoAnn. "I think I'm over you," he even said--but not quite; "Don't crook your finger at me, Carol,"--it was an old joke between them, that he would come to her at the least hint of her beckoning--"This is a lady I don't want to hurt."
"I'm happy for you, Charlie," she said. "I can hardly believe it, but that's wonderful. I hope it works out for you."
It didn't, of course. They had much in common, and he could satisfy her easily with his hands and with his mouth--but JoAnn found it hard to accept that she could do nothing for him.
He cared for her deeply, and did grow to love her in a way; but there was no passion there, however hard he tried to make it so.
She wasn't Carol. Her ghost was with him still.
JoAnn and Charlie parted, and there was no more romance; but they liked each other so much, and respected each other so deeply, that they soon settled into a warm friendship that remained a haven and a comfort to them both, forever after.
Charlie and Carol stayed in touch, and she was disappointed that he was still alone; but still, she tried to stay his friend.
He made that difficult sometimes. He would descend into depression, and look to her for comfort she could not give. He would speak of his love and need for her--and what could she say, that would not hurt him more or make it worse?
She began to shut him out again. There was no helping him, and she never knew what idle word or small remark would set him off. He was volatile and angry and frantic and depressed by turns, and she did not know how to be his friend any more.
She gradually shut down all communication. He would email her often, sometimes every day, and she would reply only rarely. She tried to be more than polite, to stay warm and friendly while trying to be careful in what she said, but it didn't matter. He would still descend into madness and go off on her, either weeping at his love and need for her and his hopelessness and despair at her absence--or railing at her for being so cold and distant, and not caring.
And finally, the festering illness that their friendship had become, because of him, came to a head and broke. It happened late in May, which would be important.
He had emailed her often, and she had not replied a word for weeks. Finally, he sent:
"Are you OK? I haven't heard from you in a long time. I hope you're all right. Just drop me a line and let me know. Please, Carol. I miss hearing from you."
He had been remarkably sane for quite some time, not dwelling on her constantly, and he really wondered if something had happened.
It took a week for her reply, and it shattered him.
"I guess I'm OK. I work, I sleep, sometimes I read a little."
That was all there was. No greeting, no closing, no hint of warmth, nothing personal at all. He felt like an annoying stranger, or a pest dismissed.
He felt wounded and abandoned. He wrote back, in a tone of deep hurt and black depression:
"It's been six weeks since I've heard from you, and now you hand me this?!? I check my inbox twenty times a day, hoping for a kind word or a bit of contact, and for weeks on end you send me nothing. And now, this? This two-line note that you wouldn't send a stranger?
"You know how I feel about you. You are the center of my life and the only person on God's Earth I love or ever will. All I ask is maybe five minutes a week, Carol. Five damn minutes that you could take to send me a fucking email that has a little warmth to it and might bring a little light into my life. You know how dark and cold it is without you. You say you are my friend and care about me, but you can't even give me five minutes of your time?
"You've given me a lot of long, dark nights that I've spent crying over you. This will give me another, maybe the longest and darkest of them all."
Her reply came back within minutes. It was longer:
"How dare you! You tell me how much you love me, and then you threaten to kill yourself? You have no idea of what I'm dealing with and the pressure I'm under. I don't need any more pressure from you. If that's what you think you need to do, then you just go ahead and do it.
"I'm tired of hearing how much you love me and how bad you hurt. I've got problems too. I've tried to be your friend, but you won't let me. You want more from me than I can give. Live with that or don't, but don't ever threaten me with that again. If you can't be cheerful and positive when you write me, I don't want to hear from you at all."
He was horrified and fell into a blind panic. He sent her five or six more emails that afternoon, apologizing, begging her forgiveness, apologizing again. To prove he could be positive, he sent her a lame joke he had heard the day before; he couldn't even think of a good one.
He hadn't meant to say he meant to kill himself. He only meant he was in for a long night of tears and aching, but looking back at what he wrote, he could see how she could have taken it that way. He didn't trouble to deny it.
She didn't answer. He tried to call her office and got her machine, and left another message, his voice shaking with panic, begging her forgiveness once again. He left two more over the next few days.
She didn't answer, no matter what he wrote.
A week went by, then two. He had resigned himself to the fact that he had finally broken something that could not be fixed, whether he meant to or not.
He sent her one last email, apologizing again, and more:
"I know I've been a fool and a pest and a blight on your life for years. I'm truly sorry. I can only plead that I love you, I always have, I always will, and losing you has made me a little crazy.
"You have shut me out again, and I understand; but silence from you has always hurt me most of all, and that's when I really lose it. No, I didn't know about the pressures you are under. How could I? You no longer tell me anything at all about your life.
"I'm deeply sorry for what I said and for being what I least wanted to be, an annoyance and a problem. I wanted to be your friend too, but I just love you too much, I guess.
"Above all, I mourn the loss of our friendship. I hope your pressures, whatever they are, are soon gone, and I hope you have a long and happy life. I will always love you. If you ever need a friend--if you need anything at all--I will always be here.
It was the end of the school year, and he had to turn in his laptop. He had no other computer. It didn't matter, anyway; he knew there would be no answer.
He felt wrung out, empty. Maybe it's better that we're not in contact, he thought. There was only pain there for me and annoyance for her. Let it go.
He tried. There was nothing else he could do, anyway. He tried to call her office, but was told she didn't work there any more. He knew her home number--he had had it memorized for thirty years--but even when he was at his worst, he would not call her there.
A few weeks after school was out he bought a used computer, and there, in his inbox, was a message from Carol.
"I'm sorry too. You can reach me at this address till May 31."
It was almost the end of June.
He emailed anyway; undeliverable.
He knew she was active in community affairs where she lived, and he found a website for a committee she served on that gave her work and home numbers--and an email address for her new job.
He sent her an email immediately, telling her he'd gotten her last message late and hoping they could talk again. There was no answer.
He called her office number.
"....Yes?" Cool and noncommittal. Not hostile, but as distant as the Moon.
"I, uh, I just thought I'd call and see, you know, how you're doing."
"Well..." She seemed about to say something, but changed her mind. "Everything's all right," she said. "I'm doing fine."
"I thought, maybe, we could just visit for a minute."
"I can't really talk right now."
"Can I call back again, some other time?"
"It would be better if you didn't."
He hesitated. "I understand. Okay, then."
A tiny hint of warmth. "Thank you, Charlie."
He hung up. She was thanking him for leaving her alone.
Well, he thought, if that's all that I can give her, then that's what I'll do.
He tried. He sent her an email now and then, with a joke he knew she's like or just to say hello, but she never answered. He also left her messages on her office phone at night--on her birthday, Mother's Day, the anniversary of the day they met--but he never expected an answer, told her so, and got none.
He could still lose it and be overwhelmed with grief and loss and loneliness. One night, he left a message on her office answering machine that reminded her that he could have wrecked her marriage if he had wanted to hurt her--that he still had a picture she had signed, "to the biggest, best, and so on," he said.
It was a veiled threat. That was on a Friday; she would not get that message till the Monday.
He felt bad about it, and then worse, as the weekend passed. He had never intentionally hurt her, and he knew he never would.
This has to stop, he thought.
He took out the box that held her pictures--the large one and the smaller, with its inion--and he looked at them.
From the larger one, she still smiled out at him with that special twinkle in her eyes. He smiled. That picture had once been the most precious thing he owned. Now it was only a reminder of what he had lost. He took it from its frame, closed his eyes, and after many seconds, he took a breath and tore it in half. And then again, and then again.
He tore the smaller picture up without looking at it.
He looked through all the other things that the box held: the calendar where he had marked their first meetings with little hearts; a journal he had written for her, but which she had never read; a sheaf of love poems he had written, which she had. Her fishnet body stocking. A card she gave him, ticket stubs from every movie they had seen together, even a paperclipped bundle of "Love Is..." cartoons that he had cut out from the paper for her.
And at the bottom, her letter. The one that she had written back to him, so long before, the letter that had changed his life and made him whole again.
He put it all back in the box and wiped his eyes.
It was time to let it go.
While he was strong and resolute, he took the box and carried it downstairs. He took it to the dumpster behind his apartment and threw it in before he could stop and think, then turned and went upstairs again without looking back.
He called her office then and left another message, apologizing for his last, and told her that she had nothing to fear. He had torn that picture up and thrown it away--along with her other picture, and everything else that he had kept. And he promised, once again, to leave her alone.
And then he did. Almost.
A year passed, then two, then three. There was no more pain. He had finally put it behind him, and was content to leave it where it was.
He lived alone, still, and didn't date. He was approaching 60, anyway; he preferred to be alone, and though he still found pictures of naked women on the Net that looked like Carol, he rarely thought of her consciously. He was, at last, at peace.
He still sent her an email now and then; on her birthday, sometimes just on impulse. You can't call it harassment if it's only once or twice a year, he thought.
He understood. She wanted to forget him, as if he never was. She had cheated on her husband with him, and regretted it, and wanted to forget that that had ever happened. He understood.
He didn't want her back--or that's what he told himself, and it worked. He looked back on it now--the friendship, the passion, the sex, everything--with pleasure and a quiet gratitude. There was no more ache, no darkness.
He was lucky to have had her while he did. They could never have been married. That marriage could not have lasted a year. They were made to be lovers, and they were--at her first blossoming, and her last.
He wondered what she looked like now. Sometimes he looked her up on the Net, just from curiosity, and one day he found a recent picture. She had gained a lot of weight, and looked the almost-60 matron and grandmother that she was.
She smiled out from the picture, plump and happy. The sparkle in her sea-green eyes was still there.
Would he go to her again, if she called him?
In a New York minute, he thought.
He hoped she was as happy as she looked. He didn't download the picture.
Peace to her, he thought. And that means leave her alone.
One day--another year had passed, or two--he found she had changed jobs again. Curious, he looked up her new company.
A chill ran down his spine. Her office was less than two short blocks from where he lived and worked.
He felt dizzy. Two minutes' walk and he could see her, face to face.
Out of the question, of course. He would not be welcome. Still, though--things happen for a reason, don't they?
He would let her know, and see what happened then.
He knew she probably deleted his emails unread. He decided to send her a card, at her office that was so near. He found one, a silly gag card, and prepared to write a note in it.
He wanted a response, and then remembered; she had lent him some money once. He would enclose a $100 bill and pay her back. He grinned. That should get her attention, he thought.
"You lent me this a long time ago, and I just remembered it. I feel bad that I never paid you back, so here it is.
"I just discovered that your office is only a few blocks from where I live and work. If you'd ever like to have a cup of coffee with an old friend sometime, just let me know."
He wrote down his email and signed it simply, "Charlie."
He was surprised to see a reply in his inbox the very next day. The mail didn't take long to deliver a block and a half away, he thought.
He clicked on it, hopeful.
The entire message consisted of eight words:
"Do not contact me again under any circumstances."
There was no signature.
He was saddened, but not shocked.
He nodded. "I always told you I'd do anything you asked me, Carol," he said aloud, to no one. "And you never asked me this before, not straight out like that."
He smiled sadly. "If that's what you want from me, love of my life, then it is yours. No question.
"Goodbye, Carol. Be well."
And he deleted her message.
And so this story ends.
He thinks of her from time to time, and always fondly, but he has not emailed her since nor tried to get in touch in any other way. When it occurs to him, he smiles and thinks, Peace to her. Let her forget.
And now, perhaps, neither will you.
So was this a happy ending?
I can't say. It ended as it ended. It is not, at least, a tragedy, I think, at least for me. I have known love unimaginable, and pain unbearable--twice, each--and now I have my own, peculiar, peace. I am content.
I will admit that there has been more agony than joy woven into this fabric of my life. But that joy was--
Well. You have read of it.
I will tell you this: Even today, this minute, even knowing all I know, and having been through all I have--