TALKING HER DOWN

BY

Angelrad

 

What happens when a repressed writer innocently ventures out onto her balcony, only to find her suicidal neighbor poised to jump?

Warning-- Sexual content-- if the idea of hot and heavy grrl/grrl action leaves you squeamish, then don't read this. If you're underage-- shame on you. No peaking. Come back when you're 18. If you are reading this for the sexual content, I hope you'll be happily surprised to find I've included an actual plot, too.

***

It all started with a nice, healthy case of writer's block. I don't know what is so daunting about a blank white computer screen, but that morning, I would rather have looked into the mouth of hell than sit staring at that mocking emptiness another minute.

An so with irritation mounting to monstrous proportions, I pushed away from my desk, the rollers on my chair squeaking in the quiet of my tiny one bedroom apartment.

Just to be decisive, I stood. My growling stomach and aching shoulders instantly reminded me that it was 11am. I had been sitting there motionless and stymied for four hours and hadn't eaten since the night before.

Stomping into the kitchen, I kicked my way through the flotsam and jetsam of last night's dinner still scattered across the floor in front of the television. Similar debris had accumulated on every available flat surface. This is what happens when a person subsists solely on Szechuan and pizza delivery.

The refrigerator was completely empty, as were the kitchen cabinets. I don't know why I expected anything to be there. I don't generally go into the kitchen; and I never shop for groceries. In fact, the only thing I did find were some books I'd put into one of the cabinets because my bookshelves had started to overflow.

Wandering listlessly back into the living room, I cast anxious looks at the cascading messiness in hopes of finding something to distract me for a little while. The place was small and sparsely furnished, but you really couldn't tell. All of the furniture was buried under dirty and discarded clothing.

What to do?

I thought about calling somebody, but everyone I knew would either be at work or they wouldn't be awake yet. I thought about a shower. I was still wearing my pajamas, a t-shirt, and a pair of Mickey Mouse flannel pants, which technically, I'd been wearing for three days now. My hair was, no doubt, one big, greasy snarl. The signs of mental slowdown were surfacing, I noted, catching a glimpse of myself reflected from the darkened television screen. Not a pretty sight. But if I showered, it would give the day's activities the sort of forward momentum that I didn't want. Once clean and presentable, I would be ready to face the world, ready to face my publisher, ready to tell him that the manuscript wouldn't be ready on time. If I showered, I couldn't put off the inevitable anymore.

So I did what I usually do when I didn't want to admit that the words weren't coming and the tension was mounting.

I cleaned.

Believe it or not, I can be a neat freak. But my bouts with cleanliness are few and far between and usually associated with some kind of aggravation or another. I understand all the Freudian implications involved. I realize I was probably sublimating my frustration with a little bit of Windex and a broom. I didn't care. I let my concerns narrow from worry that I wouldn't get the manuscript done on time to worry that the water rings wouldn't come off of the coffee table or that Doritos crumbs were becoming permanently encrusted onto the sofa cushions.

I became a little cleaning whirlwind. At least my apartment's state of cleanliness was something I could control.

Flicking on the CD player, I let Garbage accompany my efforts, dancing around energetically as I picked up trash. I shook my ass as I dusted and scrubbed. I nudged the volume up another notch and sang loudly and off key as I tossed dirty clothes into a fast-growing pile in the corner. I didn't even think twice about the noise. One of the great things about working from home was that all of my neighbors were gone during the day. I could be as loud as I wanted and not worry about bothering anyone.

An hour and a half later, my apartment was debris free and the lyrics to "Stupid Girl" were stuck in my head.

Stupid Girl. All you had you wasted.

No need to point out how appropriate those words were.

Just one more task left to do. I picked up the rug in front of the sofa. It was worn and dirty and covered with lint and food crumbs. It needed a good shake. I threw a resentful "Fuck you" over my shoulder at the obstinately blank screen as I marched over to the balcony door.

Don't get the wrong idea when I say balcony. Most people think that because I live in New York and have a balcony, that I must be related to Trump or maybe that I won the Lottery. Unfortunately, I could claim neither. I was just lucky. I live on the top floor of a Brownstone walk up on the upper-east side. The four apartments on the top floor came with balconies, a fact that made my lower-storied neighbors grumble no end. I think the balcony barely compensated for the fact that I had to climb up a seven flights of twisty-turny stairs to get to my apartment. They always conveniently forget this when they complain to the Super.

Because the building was built somewhere around the turn of the century, before the sliding glass door was invented, I had to haul open a very heavy wooden door to gain access to the outside. I unlatched the numerous locks attached to the inside and pulled hard, feeling the cool spring air on my face and blinking like a mole at the sunshine.

The balcony was shaped like a horseshoe, about six feet wide, with rounded walls built of stained and cracked concrete and brick. Actual gargoyles were attached to the underside of it, which I thought was super cool and always pointed out to people with pride.

That's my gargoyle.

The space was almost as littered as inside. A battered charcoal grill sat neglected next to three or four large pots of crispy, brown, long-dead plants. Blackened bits of aluminum foil were wadded into balls, cluttering the ground underneath the grill. A wicker chair, faded by the sun and unraveling at the bottom, slumped forlornly on the other side of the small space. A few Fourth of July streamers from last year's party were still attached to the ledge, discolored and fluttering in the wind. It had probably been that long since I'd last come out here, I thought.

Suddenly out of steam, I knew I didn't have it in me to do any more. I made a mental note to head for the balcony the next time I started on a cleaning jag.

I went to the edge of the concrete railing and gave the rug a vigorous shake. Particles of dust and morsels of food were scattered on the wind.

And then a sudden sneeze that seemed to come from nowhere nearly made me drop the rug. My head swiveled around in puzzlement and I saw what should have been obvious from the moment I walked outside.

There was a woman on the balcony next door, my neighbor. I recognized her. She was seated precariously upon the ledge of the balcony wall, her body still as she stared down at the traffic below.

In horror, I realized she was getting ready to jump.

I froze.

I had no idea what to do. It struck me that this was the kind of fucked-up situation I would write about, but I didn't know how to react to it in real life.

I stared stupidly at her for a few moments, absorbing details. Tears flowed freely down her puffy cheeks and mascara ringed her glittering green eyes and streaked her face. Strong gusts of wind ruffled her short, blonde hair. Her attire struck me as incongruous to the situation, not at all what I would have a character wear who was preparing to jump to her death. And then I realized how heartless that thought was and felt ashamed. She was clad in a skirt, hiked up to a near immodest degree, topped with a white shirt and jacket that were both askew. The expensive looking black high heels she wore looked so fragile as she impatiently tapped her foot in mid-air. I had to look away from them. Just seeing them there, ready to step into nothing, gave me the shivers.

I remembered seeing her in the hallway before, appreciating how very professional and sexy she looked in those serious, dark suits. She was family, too. She had a girlfriend who also lived next door. A memory of the two of them flashed through my mind, both blonde and slim and cute, arms locked around one another as they climbed the stairs, the woman nibbling on her girlfriend's ear as she whispered something to her. They'd looked comfortable together and happy. I remember feeling a tiny twinge of envy as I'd passed them.

Neither of those memories corresponded to how she looked now.

Ghastly, miserable, desperate, crazy, I could use a whole host of adjectives to characterize her, but suicidal would be the best. Clearly, she meant to go through with it.

What the hell should I do? Go inside and call the police? She could be a stain on the sidewalk before I even got past 911's automated attendant. Desperately, I flashed back to every cheesy movie I had ever seen where the characters were out on a ledge. What did they say to talk someone down? Usually it was something existential about how much we all had to live for.

"Hello," was the best I could come up with and even then, the word came out funny because my mouth had suddenly dried up. I cleared my throat and this caught her attention.

She threw a glance my way, reddened eyes narrowing, her breath coming in short, shallow pants as the tears pooled on her upper lip. I watched a tiny drop glisten in the sun and then fall away, caught up by the wind. Her hands gripped the ledge reflexively, her eyes drawn back down to the traffic below. Seemingly hypnotized, her mouth opened in wonder. She swayed a little and then squeezed her eyes shut. Opening them, she looked back at me, eyes void of emotion and yet still streaming endless tears.

Slowly, I draped the rug over the grill and then held up my hands, palms out, to indicate I was no threat. Again, I thought of those cheesy movies. Didn't they do this part too? Smile. Confidently gain the trust of the crazy person on the ledge, then, just as they were about to jump, yank them back from imminent death. Cue music.

But it really wasn't like that. I was shaking all over and all I wanted to do was run back inside and pretend I hadn't seen her there.

That was out of the question, of course.

"Uh... Nice day, huh," I said, coaxing what I hoped was a sensitive and gentle smile on my face to cloak my nervousness.

"Yeah right." She sniffed and used a hand that had been clutching the ledge to wipe her eyes.

I think I nearly fainted.

"Please don't do that."

Confused, she looked at her hand and then put it back down.

I exhaled noisily and then gave myself a mental kick for being so obvious.

"Look, do you need something?" she said, her voice choked by tears and a stuffy head. "I'm a little busy."

Realizing I was still holding up my hands like an idiot, I dropped them and then clasped them behind my back. "No, uh... not at all. Just enjoying the day. Isn't it pretty? I didn't think that rainy weather would ever let up. And yet here we have all this sun again."

She just stared at me and I didn't blame her one bit. I gave up the sociable neighbor approach and tried another tack.

"Look, you might want to scoot back a bit. Any further and you might fall. We wouldn't want that to happen. Seven stories guarantees a not so cushy landing, do you know what I mean?"

Not seeming to hear my inane chatter, she swallowed hard and I saw her body lift up, the pads of her fingers pressing flat against the concrete as she prepared to push off.

"No! Please don't. Please!"

God knows why, but something in my desperate tone made her lean back again, the fabric of her skirt making an audible scrape as she sat down. It was not as far back as I would have liked, but it was a start.

Bottom lip trembling, she turned a shiny glare in my direction.

"Just go away. Leave me alone."

"I wish I could." And boy, did I mean that. An intense nausea was clouding my already somewhat dubious judgment. I felt like I was going to throw up right there.

And then, for some unknown reason, I started thinking about Titanic and Kate Winslet hanging off the back of the boat ready to jump into the North Atlantic.

"And here I am," I thought. "I'm the Leonardo talking Kate down. And in just a second, she'll be so charmed she'll climb back over the rail and everything will be all hot and steamy until the boat sinks."

I chuckled at the mental picture and the glare deepened into hot hatred.

"Are you laughing at me?"

"Oh... Oh,God no!" I sputtered. "I'm so sorry. No. Really. I am sorry. I was just thinking something really stupid and I cracked myself up. I do that sometimes. I'm a lunatic. I freely admit it."

A faint but fleeting smile lit up her face and I latched onto it.

"Yep, haven't you heard from the other neighbors? I'm the loony writer who never leaves her apartment. That's not true, by the way. I leave often. I have traveled as far as thirty-six blocks from here. I'm quite the adventurer."

Another half smile, like a ghost of that smiling lover I'd passed in the hall, surfaced as she sniffed again. And then suddenly a terrible phlegmy coughing fit seized her. Precarious as her position was, I thought the force of it might tip her over. Stepping closer as nonchalantly as I could, I reached the wall that separated our balconies, preparing for that last minute save that I was sure was coming.

The coughing passed and she looked up again, alarm registering at our close proximity. I gave her another reassuring stretch of the lips that I'm sure came nowhere near a real smile. I nodded and let my eyes sweep over her side of the balcony.

It was the Felix to my Oscar, neat and clean, complete with sweet little matching Adirondack chairs and flourishing potted plants.

"Nice place," I commented, reaching for small talk now. I inched a little closer.

But she wasn't buying my ridiculous subterfuge.

"Fuck off! Why can't you just go away?"

"I just can't, all right! No normal person is just going to walk away when you so obviously want to throw yourself off a building. Can't. Won't. Get used to the idea."

I puffed at my drooping bangs with an irritated hrumph and crossed my arms, preparing to be stubborn, even if it meant staying on this balcony all night.

Her mouth, shaped liked a little heart, pressed into a thin line. Green eyes considered me, weighing the seriousness of my words, and then looked skyward in frustration.

"Rrrrrrrr!"

I wasn't prepared for the leap.

I stumbled backward in surprise as she shrieked in exasperation. Toned and muscular legs swung around and jumped down from the ledge. She held out her arms and then, flicking her jacket back, put her hands on her trim hips.

"There. Happy now? Gotten your do-gooder jollies for the day? Can you leave me the fuck alone, please?"

"Fine!" Okay, I'll admit I was ticked off. I was just following my conscience. Did I deserve that kind of treatment? "Whatever," I muttered, shaking my head as I turned to go. But my conscience wasn't done with me just yet.

I reached for the doorknob and then stopped. What would she do once I was back inside?

Sure enough, as soon as I turned around, I spied her trying to hoist herself back up onto the wall.

"God," I groaned, turned back and marched over to her. She glanced up as I approached and then let out a gusty sigh.

"Fine," I said, crossing my arms again. "I don't care. Do what you want. Throw yourself off this building. I'll just watch okay? Hey, if you're lucky, maybe you'll get an audience and make the news tonight."

I hazarded a look over the rail. She peeked too.

"This is only seven stories, you know. I would take that into consideration if I were you. Actually, that's wrong. Technically, seven stories would be if you jumped off the roof. So really, this would only be six, well sort of. That's not very high."

Speechless, eyebrows lifting incredulously, she just shook her head. "You're... you're like... a pit bull. Why won't you just leave me alone? You don't understand... " She broke off, a tear-filled catch in her voice.

Now, feeling like an insensitive ass, I regretted my words. But she peeked over the rail again and shuddered. Maybe I was gaining some ground. I couldn't let up now.

"Imagine, going through all of this, feeling this bad, making the decision to jump, only to wake up in the hospital to find you are paralyzed for life and hideously deformed. That would be ironic, huh? Oh, and probably painful, too."

She stared at me again, gaping like a hooked fish and then shaking her head, backed away from the wall and collapsed into one of the Adirondack chairs. Slumping forward with her face buried in her hands, she started to cry until sobs wracked her entire body.

I couldn't move. I didn't know what to do. And then a memory, long-buried, reemerged, surprising me with how vivid and real it seemed in my mind.

"Come out, Andrea, honey, please. You haven't eaten in days. You can't starve yourself to death." An auburn-haired head peeks around the bedroom door with a face so similar to mom's, I wince and look away hastily, lest the sight provoke a fresh round of tears.

"I'm... fine... Aunt... Gin," I say, in shaky, staggered breaths. It's all I can manage and I know it's not going to be enough to deter Aunt Gin. She's got mom's persistence, too.

She comes into my room, pale gray eyes painfully tender. I watch her sit down on the edge of the bed then look away again as the tears well up in my eyes. We sit quietly like that for awhile and then I find I want to tell her. I have to explain to someone.

"Dad doesn't understand. He just yells. All he does is yell at me. Mom understood. Mom always did. Now nobody does..."

"Oh, my baby," she croons, reaching for me. Those three little words are my undoing. I dissolve into helplessness as she takes me into her arms, rocking me gently

Ten years ago, I had cried just as this woman was crying, the sorrow tearing through me in jagged waves, one after another, until I felt like I couldn't breathe, couldn't reason beyond the sorrow. The pain had dragged me under, smothering me with its intensity. So I knew what she was feeling, if not why. We shared this, though she didn't know it yet.

I climbed the wall separating us. She didn't look up, didn't see as I took the seat next to her. For the longest time, I just sat there, listening to her cry. When the crescendo came, she slipped off of the chair, taking her hands away from her face and wrapping them around herself as she convulsed with every sob.

That's when I knelt down, took her by the shoulders and pulled her close, letting her head rest on my chest as I rocked her gently.

"It's okay, " I crooned, remembering the soothing tones of Aunt Gin's voice. "It's going to be okay."

Maybe a half an hour passed, I couldn't be sure. She seemed oblivious to the fact that I was holding her, or even there at all.

After a little while, my mind wandered, as was its natural tendency, even with the distraction of a wailing blonde in my arms. And in those wanderings through the cosmic loopholes of the whys and the hows of the universe, I noticed a finely honed irony at work. Usually this amuses me. But now I was the subject of this karmic tease and it didn't strike me as funny at all. I, the girl who runs from drama of any kind, have to confront it in my own back yard, or back porch in this case.

Now, I have lots of views on the divine nature of things, and the way those principles work, all very educated, some of it scientific and analytical and based upon tons of personal research. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, for me, they all kind of meld into one big lump of Right with which to differentiate all the Wrong that's left over. I believed in some sort of higher power behind all the religious hoopla, a nameless, faceless source of creation. But at that moment, I changed my mind.

I was certain there was some giant, white-haired, white-robed dude upstairs with a tally list that had my name at the top.

Andrea Gardner.

(He licks the end of his pencil and begins to read)

Let's see what we have here... anti-social behavior... check... fear of commitment...check... also avoids any kind of emotional entanglement... check... favors fictional people over living breathing human beings... check. Interesting. Okay, let's see how she deals with a suicidal chick then... that'll show her.

This was way more than I could handle. The emotional trauma of losing a parent did not render me qualified to deal with other people's problems. Hell, I could barely deal with my own. It still hurt ten years later.

It was impulsive, climbing over that wall. It was stupid. The best I could offer was a shoulder. What would I do after the crying stopped? Spout hotline jargon at her? What good would that do? I reasoned that if I could just get her calmed down, then I would call someone and they could come handle it. Maybe she had friends or family. I would find out and then pass the buck as soon as possible.

That thought cheered me up a little. Dipping my chin, I glanced down at the top of her head, breathing into her baby fine golden hair. The short coughing sobs seemed to have been spent and her breathing had found a normal rhythm. She was in that shallow place you wade into after having a nice, long dip in the deep end. I'd spent a lot of time there. I knew it well.

Recognizing the opportunity to speak, I jumped on it.

"Hey. Hey there," I bobbed her up and down a little, like a mother bouncing a cranky baby on her knee. "You all right now? Hey! I know! Why don't we get you some water, okay?"

I felt her pulling in a long, deep breath and then she lifted her head and said, rather snippily for someone whose tears had soaked through my favorite Jets t-shirt, "You're still here?"

Swollen, green eyes regarded me and then dismissed me.

"Yep, that's what they all say--before the restraining order," I said, opting for humor rather than diffidence.

Patience. Just get her to chill.

Thin, blonde brows almost met in the middle of her forehead. "You really are a little odd, aren't you?"

Pushing herself up onto her knees, she withdrew from my arms and swiped her jacket sleeve across her eyes.

"I can handle odd, but eccentric is better, sounds more educated. Would you be willing to bargain down to unconventional? I don't mind that one."

"Uh-huh," she mumbled, scrambling to her feet to put some distance between us. Straightening her skirt gave her some poise it seemed, for when she looked at me, except for the raccoon eyes, she looked absolutely normal.

"Ahhh?" she said, raised eyebrows making her implied question clear.

"Andrea," I supplied, offering my hand.

She looked at it the way people look at strange canapés at cocktail parties, as if she wasn't quite sure what was being presented to her.

She doesn't mean it. She's embarrassed. Don't take offense. Don't say something bitchy.

"Andrea, right. Ummm... thank you, I guess."

"You're welcome," I said and, rolling along with my little plan, continued. "Now, I understand that none of this is my business, but do you want me to call somebody for you? I just don't think you should be alone right now."

Blinking at me in astonishment, her lower lip twitching, I saw that I couldn't have picked anything worse to say to her.

"There's no one, okay!" she wailed. The sound of a car alarm going off on the street below sounded just a shade less shrill than her voice. I cringed and took a step backward. But she was really annoyed now. She continued, poking a finger in the air to highlight every strident word. "There's not a damn soul in the entire world who gives a shit. If there was, do you think I'd be out here?"

Hysterical laughter followed, fading into hiccupping whimpers. I could tell the dam was about to break again and I had no idea how to stop the flood this time.

I needn't have worried. My mystification and inherent aversion to drama must have shown upon my face. A feverish blush blossomed on her pale cheeks. Anger seemed to be the emotion of choice for the moment and, unfortunately, I was its target.

"And what the fuck do you care anyway?" she continued, getting in my face. "What is it? Do you have some community service hours you need to work off? Or do you make it regular practice to casually interfere in other people's lives?"

"Hey, wait a minute! I wasn't interfering in your life, lady. I was stopping you from ending it. Look, I don't want to get into this with you. Let's just go inside, okay? There must be someone I can call for you. Or maybe we could call a doctor? You obviously have some issues you need to work out."

"Issues? You're calling my fucking problems issues? Who are you, Dr. Laura?"

"Hey! That's low! No need for insults! I'm just trying to help!"

And, as if someone let the air out of her balloon, she gave me a weary frown and sank to her knees.

"You want to help? You got a time machine? Cause that's the only thing that's going to do me any good."

And I thought I was mental...

She leaned to one side, her elbow propped on the seat of the Adirondack chair, knees bent, legs kicked out behind her. A hand threaded through her rumpled hair making the blond fluff stand almost on end.

"What was your name? Andrea? Here's the thing, Andrea, I can trace back all my problems to one bad decision, one little mistake that I can never undo. I've thought about it and thought about it. It's making me crazy. Do you know what I mean?"

I did, but didn't feel like sharing. I shrugged. She nodded knowingly. The look sat strangely on one so young. She couldn't have been more than twenty-five.

"You wouldn't happen to have a cigarette?"

Filthy habit. I shook my head.

She sighed. "Yeah, me neither. I gave them up. Karen asked me to. No. She gave me an ultimatum. And I caved. Simple as that. She said lose the cigarettes and I said sure." Snorting in disgust, she ran a hand through her hair again. It was really sticking out now, probably worse than mine. "Just add that to the list, will you? How much did I give up for her? Oh just everything, that's all. I shouldn't be miserable. I shouldn't complain that it wasn't enough and she dumped me, should I? "

Green eyes found mine again, demanding an explanation. Like a deer in the crosshairs, I froze and my mind suddenly emptied of every rational thought.

Oh shit! A relationship problem! I'm so in over my head!

Catching myself before I blurted out something stupid, I bit my tongue and thought for a second. I'm a writer, I reasoned. I should be able to figure out a comforting answer that avoided cliches.

Hello? You write those ridiculous swashbuckling bodice-rippers, remember? Right about now the characters would be locked in a passionate embrace, forgetting all their problems as they intimately explored each other's bodies. Get real!

So I fell back on honesty.

"Sounds like you got a raw deal. Were you together long?"

Tilting her head up, she considered me, taking in the long, dark tangle of awry hair, bedraggled pajamas, pale skin that hardly ever saw the light of day, and hopefully, the concern in my expression.

"Two years," she said, still eyeing me funny. But she was calmer. That's what was important.

Questions are good. Keep asking questions.

"What happened?"

With exaggerated --I thought-- annoyance, she cradled her forehead in the palm of her hand and shook it back and forth, saying "That's right. I haven't suffered enough yet. I should relive my pain by telling it all to you, a total stranger. That will make things so much better."

Drama queen.

I threw my hands up in defeat. "I give. You win, lady. I don't know you-and at the rate we're going, I'm starting to think that's a good thing. I'm sorry I got involved. I apologize. It was terribly rude of me to show concern for a fellow human being, especially within New York City limits. I beg your pardon. I'll leave you to your misery."

All puffed up by righteous indignation, I did an about face and prepared to march inside with heavy door slamming for full effect when a hiccupy sob made me halt.

Conscience again had me revising my plans.

I looked over my shoulder. Sure enough, the waterworks were back on. And just to put a cherry on top of the guilt parfait, clouds parted and bright sunshine cast a luminous halo around her patheticness. She looked lost, forlorn, and cuter than she had a right to be with all that mascara everywhere.

All right... but that white-bearded dude better give me some gold stars for this!

Silently, and with much deliberation, I took the seat next to her, ignoring the eyebrow arched in my direction. Taking a moment to make myself comfortable, I settled in, crossing my ankle over my knee and my arms across my chest. She had turned her head away as I sat, determined in her self-imposed isolation. I simply waited. Ten minutes of silence passed before she stole a glance at me.

"So you got dumped..." I shrugged and she tilted her head to one side, listening skeptically. "I'm sure you're aware this is not the first time in human history this has happened. People adjust. They move on. Why is this not an option for you?"

It's funny that look that people make when they're trying to think of something to say. The mouth expands and contracts around the words that never get said. Little outraged noises leaked out, but nothing intelligible. I only nodded at her as she did this.

"I'm right about this one," I said. "Trust me. I know. It sucks, but it's possible to live through."

She shook her head vehemently, tears sliding down her cheeks. "No. You don't understand. I gave up everything to be with her. Everything. I pissed off my family. I totally alienated my friends. I gave up my job and moved halfway across the country to a different city just to be with her. And then suddenly, yesterday, after two years, she decides that we're 'not working out,' that she needs to be alone for awhile. I... I mean... how can she just say something like that out of the blue? I thought we were okay..."

Gritting my teeth, I mentally screamed every obscenity I could think of at the white-haired dude.

What goes around comes around, eh, Whitey? I thought karma wasn't supposed to bite you in the ass until your next life.

So it seemed I was not the only one to practice the 'Leave Them Before They Leave You' tactic. Now, after years of careful emotional dodging, I was going to have to explain my behavior, but on someone else's behalf. If this got any more ironic, I'd turn into Woody Allen.

Time to stall.

"I.. uh... I don't even know your name yet and you want me to answer that?"

Flustered, she gifted me with a tiny smile and I could see a glimmer of what she must be like when she wasn't being mental. It was an intriguing glimpse.

"Dani, my name is Dani. I just... It just came out of the blue, you know? I don't know what happened. We went to a movie and then we came home. She put down her coat and turned to me and said 'I can't do this anymore.' Why would someone just drop a bomb like that?"

"I have no idea why people do the things they do, Dani. Which is pretty funny considering I'm a writer and I should have a handle on these things. And I don't know your girlfriend, so I couldn't say what made her change or why she broke up with you."

The more I spoke, the more crestfallen she appeared. I sighed. No way to get around being honest now.

"Maybe, she was feeling a little insecure," I admitted, feeling the tightness of fear in my chest, as if I were disclosing state secrets or something.

"But... but she never seemed insecure. I always admired that about her, how she always seemed so confident."

"Trust me. She probably was... Insecurity is ninety percent of the problem with relationships. People do weird things when they're insecure. I... uh, I know a girl just like that. Things get too rough and I... uh... she bails."

Glistening green eyes seemed to take in every word, every meaningless gesture I made. I sat on my hands self-consciously as she processed what I had said.

"We never fought, though. That's what's so mystifying." And then a thoughtful crease lined her forehead and the emerald depths appeared cloudy and faraway. Cupping her chin in the palm of her hand, she absently chewed on the nail of her forefinger. Thick lashes swept her cheeks as she looked down, hiding her face from me.

"Karen pointed you out to me once. She said you were one of 'us.'" Lashes fluttered upward and her eyes implored mine to understand. "So I know you'll understand when I ask you this. Is it always like this? Does it always end this way? Relationships, I mean? I... she... she was my first..."

A ragged breath and the pink tinge to her cheeks told me how much the admission had cost her.

Wonderful. I get to sponsor the newbie. She probably hasn't even gotten her toaster yet.

I leaned forward, steepling my fingers on my knee. It seemed like an important, all-knowing type gesture, but really, I was just stalling again.

"You never talked about this stuff with your girlfriend? Or what about other lesbian women? Do you know any? Do you have any friends?"

Again, she blushed, looked apologetic and shook her head. It disturbed me because I was beginning to think it was a very charming trait. I couldn't remember the last time I'd thought a woman was charming, or even had the slightest bit of interest in someone. Had it really been a year since my last disastrous date?

Yes, that's exactly what I need, an awkward rebound encounter with a suicidal innocent. Get a grip on yourself!

"I don 't have any friends of my own, just mainly people I work with," she confessed, staring at her hands which, of course, made me stare too. They were small and delicate, but her fingernails were bitten down to the nub. It was fascinating watching those nimble fingers twist around each other, giving form to her anxiety. I tore my gaze away, staring instead at the potted geraniums as I listened to her.

"I haven't told any of them about my private life, so it's hard to let them get close, ya know? My family has practically disowned me. My mother just cries when I call home and my father won't even talk to me. My friends are still in a state of shock. None of them ever suspected... They aren't talking to me either. But you don't mind, right? This is rock bottom, I know. I just don't know who else to ask about these things."

I glanced back at her. She gulped again and then calmed herself with a few deep breaths. The expectant, hopeful expression on her tear-streaked face was just too much to bear.

My importantly steepled fingers were trembling. I shook them out and abruptly stood up. Traffic noise drifted up to us on the sweet, warm breeze. Sounds of shouting carried as well. The distorted arguments were a grim reminder that we were not the only people in the city experiencing turmoil. I belatedly remembered that was why I didn't go out on the balcony more often. It was depressing.

"See, again you're asking me about things that I can't really tell you. I'm sorry. Sweeping generalizations won't help. I could tell you yes, many lesbian relationships are short term. Yes, your first experience is often devastating when it ends. No, it isn't easy to live this kind of life. But does my saying that change anything? Do you feel better?"

The effect of this rather callous statement was not immediately obvious. She didn't say anything. Did she even hear me, I wondered? She had turned her face away once more. I bent down giving her a feeble pat on the shoulder.

"It gets better eventually, trust me."

"Does it?" she snapped, angrily shaking off my hand. Pushing away from me, she scrambled to her feet then began to pace back and forth, lost for a moment in discontented reverie. A satirical grimace made her look older, more jaded but much less hysterical. I remained silent, hoping to avoid further drama.

"After all this," she continued in acid tones, "I'm beginning to suspect a few things. Do you want to know what I think?"

Not really.

Watching her pace, I realized I could have crept back over the wall and into my apartment and she wouldn't have noticed. Inner revelations had her morbidly enthralled and giving voice to them was only a formality. But I couldn't go. Her pain was like a crowbar, prying open all of the doubts and angst that I had shut away a long time ago.

"Well, I've always been shy, kinda quiet," she said, continuing the bitter monologue. "I could never talk to men, ever. Every time I tried, I'd get tongue-tied, and frightened. I just didn't know how to relate to them. And then Karen came along and talking to her was so easy. I thought, 'Wow, so this is what I've been missing.' We got along so well and something just struck a chord in me, ya know? It just felt right. It was so romantic. She really did, she swept me off my feet. So I went with it. I didn't think about the male/female thing. I was just in love.

"I remember thinking, 'How great is this? A woman should be able to understand me so much better than any man ever could. She is THE one. She must be.' God, I was so stupid. It isn't like that, is it? Nobody ever really understands anybody else. Male, female, it doesn't matter. Love is just a myth."

Guiltily, I recalled all the novels I had written. I couldn't think of a single one that I could really be proud of. There was no realism in any of them. They began the same, with very little variation. The intense heroine meets the innocent girl, sweeps her off her feet; but circumstance and indecision tear them apart, until the very last chapters where they realize they were meant for each other all along and true love prevails. Every single novel had perpetuated the misguided myth she spoke of, that love was inevitable, love was fated.

Writing about that kind of love was easy. But finding it in real life was next to impossible.

Yeah. Tell her that. I'm sure it'll be really comforting. I wonder if there's room on that ledge for me?

If I had ever had any control over this situation, it was fast slipping away. I yearned for my computer's blank, white screen and the claustrophobic comfort of my tiny apartment. It seemed almost welcoming as I thought of it, an electronic haven, a quiet, messy nest away from all this reality.

Well that's what you get for putting off stuff. You could be happily typing away at The Carribean Curse, but no, no, no, you just had to clean, didn't you?

I made a quick resolution to let myself slip back into safe, contented slovenliness as soon as I got the chance. But that didn't look to be soon. No. Because my goodie-goodie scruples had ridden roughshod over my own sense of self-preservation, I was going to have to spill my guts, rip open my psyche and let this girl have a good long look.

At that moment, though, she couldn't have seen how much her words had cut me. She was far too absorbed in her own apprehensions.

"Do you realize what this means?" she demanded, looking at, but not really seeing me. The pacing was getting frantic and her hand gestures wildly expansive. She was losing it again. "This means that I'll probably die alone anyway. So why even bother? What's the point?"

An angry glare shot over her shoulder nailed me to the spot as I tried to creep slowly toward the wall separating our balconies.

"And you... what is your angle here, huh? Why did you stop me? It's not like you're some good Samaritan or anything. I've seen you arguing with the super. You're not the nicest person in the world."

Before I had a chance to huff about my good qualities, she continued, marching over to stand right in front of me, poking a forefinger into my chest as she spoke.

"You probably think I'll be all grateful, don't you? Oh, how gallant you are. But it's all just a ploy, isn't it? You think because we're sharing all this emotional stuff I'll rebound right into your arms don't you? God, people suck. I'm just sick of the entire world."

Stammering defensively, nothing coherent came out of my mouth but that didn't seem to matter to her. In her eyes, I had become the amalgamation of everything that was evil, insensitive and just plain wrong with her world. Tilting my head down to look at her, she was a few inches shorter than I, the flashing green eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"I don't want anything from you."

She didn't believe me, just pursed her lips and smirked.

"I don't. Really. Believe it or not, I know what you're feeling. I've been on the giving and receiving end of this nightmare and it does suck, no doubt about it. I..."

Sighing heavily, I clasped my hands gently on her shoulders and pushed her far enough away that I could slip past her. Space, I needed space. I couldn't look her in the eye when I said what I needed to say.

Why am I doing this?

I liked having my uncertainties unknown, even to myself. Getting intimately reacquainted with them was not my idea of a good time.

An ache began to unfurl within me, awakened by the plaintive sound of her voice, the desperate look in her eyes. I knew it wouldn't go away, even if I buried myself in my meaningless work and my monotonous existence. It would stay with me until I acknowledged it aloud.

"You're awfully young to be talking about dying alone," I said, my voice sounding foreign and strangely flat. "Come to me ten years from now, after you've had your heart trampled eight or nine times; then you can moan about the unfairness of the world. And even then, you'll take the leap again. Someone will come along who intrigues you. A laugh will seduce you. Or the 'come hither' in some stranger's eyes will make you try one more time."

I paused, running a shaking hand through my hair, only to have it snag and tangle around my fingers. I sighed again, dropping my hand back down to my side.

"But after it has happened enough, you'll start to see it, the patterns of the inevitable. You'll dread those tiny, imperceptible signals that mean the end is near, even as you're deliriously happy. Shutting down will just happen, a little bit at a time. You'll just stop feeling. Your heart will close up like a rose caught by an early frost, until you hardly notice you have one anymore. That's when you start thinking dying alone may not be such a bad thing. That's when people like you get hurt."

I turned back, prepared now to read the effect of my words on her round, innocent face.

Look at me. This is your future, little girl. It's a vicious cycle and you're just at the beginning of it. Take a nice long look and beware.

And then the girl did something totally unexpected, something so astonishing, it was my turn to gape at her.

She laughed.

A deep, throaty chuckle soon escalated into high-pitched hilarity. Head thrown back, hands clutched around her waist, she laughed and laughed, tears streaming down her already wet cheeks.

I was stunned, flayed to the bone. I bare my soul and this is the response I get?

After a few moments, she gasped, chuckling and dabbing at her eyes with the hem of her shirt, baring a few inches of trim midriff as she did so.

Finally, I couldn't stand it any more. "What is so damn funny?"

A giggling exhalation and she looked up at me. The change in her was amazing. It's funny how a smile can transform a face.

She was fucking gorgeous.

And she was laughing at me.

Again I was gaping. With effort, I snapped my jaw shut.

"I don't see anything funny here."

Her smile went a bit crooked, widening and curling up at the edges until it was not quite a smile, and more of a mocking sneer. I started to get offended again, until I realized she wasn't directing this at me. It was all aimed at herself.

"Ohhhh my... I'm sorry. Don't be mad, please. I'm laughing because it's all just too ridiculous and I'm tired of crying. I'm tired of wondering what I did wrong. I'm tired of feeling like I'm not good enough. I'm tired of not being able to do anything but curl up in a fetal ball. If I don't laugh now, I really will jump. Do you know what I mean?"

Stretching like a cat that has just taken a long nap in the sun, she took a deep, shaky breath and blew it out slowly, then, in a long, lingering glance, took my measure out of the corner of her eye, the playful smirk returning.

"I am sorry. I don't mean to make light of what you just said. I really don't. What you said..." Pausing, she stole closer to where I stood near the wall. "I've thought about it. It just really... really... made me..." She crept closer still, until I could feel the warmth of her breath fanning my face and see the tiny sprinkling of faded freckles across the bridge of her nose, the flecks of gold and gray in her luminous eyes. My heart started hammering faster than that time in high school when I thought I'd try out for the track team and fainted during the 100 yd dash. In a word, really fast. Only now, I couldn't blame it on being out of condition.

I waited for her to finish, my mouth hanging open yet again. And then I nearly died of shock.

Instead of speaking, her hand snaked over my shoulder to cup the back of my neck. My knees turned to water and my nerve endings went into tingly overload as I felt a slight pressure there, pulling my head downward, lowering to meet her parted lips

Now, just to give clear scope upon the absurdities that make up my life, I must pause here to take note of something.

Ten to twelve hours of my day are spent weaving words together, making up stories that will somehow capture the imagination and stoke the libidos of thousands of women that I will never know. Which means, I can make a woman pant, beg for more, and then fall blissfully into the throes of fictionally orgasmic satisfaction. I can describe, in graphic detail, the sexy and sordid encounters of countesses, duchesses, and debutantes, no problem. If I were somehow kidnapped and held captive aboard a pirate ship in the Carribean, I'd know just what to do when the smoldering and love-scarred female captain came swaggering into my cabin. Unfortunately, I am hopelessly landlocked and know no pirates.

When it comes to one-on-one, face-to-face-with-a-live-person ability, I am a hopeless cause. I have never mastered basic small talk, which explains why my last date was over a year ago. The two of us had spent most of the night silently watching the fizz on our mochacinos dissipate. Naturally, there was no second date. She never called me back. Thus, you can see my profession gives me zero perspective on reality. What should have given a romantic edge in the dating forum only seemed to hinder me. How can real life ever measure up to the dizzying miracle of impossible to duplicate fictional lust and romance?

And so, what I imagine should have been a perfect union of two broken souls reaching out to each other for comfort, became its true counterpart in the real world.

Teeth clicked together.

Lips collided.

Noses bumped.

Heads turned this way and then that, searching for the proper angle. I remembered belatedly that I had yet to brush my teeth that morning. Briefly, I wondered if I should even return the kiss. Would that be wrong? What should I do with my hands? Do I dare touch her? But that thought fled along with every other rational response when, incredibly, the clumsiness passed.

Despite all this horrific awkwardness, the melting sensation, the one I have described a thousand and one times in my books, in a thousand and one different ways, suddenly flooded through me as her mouth finally found mine in perfect rhythm.

At first her lips were urgent, demanding, grinding into mine with a vengeful zeal. In the back of my mind I knew that this kiss was something that she was trying to prove to herself; a reaffirmation, I'm still beautiful; a woman will want me if I offer myself to her. But even on that level, it didn't matter. If she wanted to use me as a catalyst to vent her frustration, I was more than willing. The hot, honeyed sweetness of her mouth as it moved under mine, the frantic yearning I could almost hear screaming within her, it was all so intoxicating. It had been so very long since I had felt anything even remotely close to this.

Her arms wound around my neck, fingers clutching my hair as she tried to pull me even closer. Much to my surprise, I found myself matching her eagerness. Tiny shivers of pleasure darted through me. Her body arched into me, writhing under me, her thigh slipping between my legs as she pushed me hard up against the wall.

Crazy as it may seem, at that moment I wanted to slow down, to taste, to savor, to trace the outline of her lips with mine, to sample the warmth and softness of her mouth with my tongue. But her need had accelerated beyond control. With a funny little growl, she yanked on my bathrobe until it hung halfway down, pinning my arms helplessly to my sides. And then, like an innocent bystander, I heard myself utter a tortured moan as her feverish hands stole underneath my t-shirt and began to travel upward in maddeningly gentle circles, the tips of her fingers barely grazing my skin, the pads of her thumbs lightly brushing the curves of my breasts. I gasped. It burned, her touch. I had thought that sensation impossible, just more poetry that didn't translate into truth. But it was true. Her hands seared my flesh, eliciting noises from me that I didn't even know I could make.

Emboldened by my response, her hands slipped over my breasts, cupping them and then running her thumbs along each tight, hardened nipple. My breasts swelled in response, filling up her hands. A liquid surge of arousal pooled between my legs and I groaned again, in agony to return the caresses, to learn the secrets of her.

"So sweet," she murmured appreciatively, her voice a combination of soft wonder and guttural desire.

Dazed, my eyelids fluttered open as her mouth left mine and then squeezed shut again as I felt her tongue lightly trailing from pulse point to collar bone and then back again.

"You taste so good," she breathed. Her lips moving, ragged breath fanning across my skin, nearly sent me over the edge. My legs buckled only to tense again as she surged forward, pressing her thigh into my throbbing center and rocking against me.

I might have invoked the saints, or Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I don't know really. All I do know is that I cried out and suddenly her mouth covered mine again.

"Tell me how much you want me," she demanded, her hands sliding from my breasts, palms flat, encompassing the column of my waist. And then her teasing, soft fingers dipped under the waistband of my pajama pants. Panting and light-headed, I opened my eyes to meet hers and was scorched by blazing green fire. There was no end to the hunger, passion and pain that I saw in those depths. Heal me, her eyes begged, tears flowing freely again.

"Say it!" she said fiercely, giving me a hard shake before she growled impatiently and then again lowered her mouth to devour, teeth pulling at my lower lip and her hands dipped even lower.

I often wonder about the way time moves. Why does it speed up when you're dreading something? Why does it slow down when you're impatiently anticipating? I've heard it's all a matter of perception, measured in heartbeats.

If that is the case, then the seconds between heartbeats lengthened into eons when her hands began their studied exploration of my skin. Actually, I lost all sense of time. I couldn't even close my eyes as she kissed me, couldn't breathe as her hand slid further down, pushing at my flannel pajama pants until they fell around my ankles. A bracing wind gusted past and I shivered, feeling ill at ease and exposed, goosebumps forming on my skin. But even then, I didn't object to this hurried invasion; I couldn't get enough of it.

Her face went rigid with intensity, even as her tongue flitted between my lips and then darted back again, teasing mine to follow. Her warm hand delved into the valley between my legs, caressing the cold skin of my inner thigh until I groaned aloud.

She laughed quietly against my lips, a wry, hollow sound. Fingers danced across the waistband of my jockey's and then dipped inside, stroking the skin underneath. I swallowed hard as those fingers traveled lower.

"Say it," she whispered, drawing back to pierce me with that consuming gaze. She almost looked angry, hostile, though her face would soften in waves of pleasure as she touched me. The breath caught in my throat. She was so heartbreakingly lovely, so fragile and insecure even as her anger gave her the strength to demand and dominate. Being a catalyst for her frustration didn't seem to be nearly enough for me now.

"Say that I want you? That you're beautiful? You are beautiful and I do... I want you. God, I want you so much."

She blinked, surprised by the aching vehemence and quiet sympathy of my declaration. A small sob broke from her as if she were loath to let it go. But its escape signaled a quiet acquiescence. With a sigh, she abandoned her frenzied seduction, stilling her hands, laying them calm against my skin. Tilting her head, she waited, offering her passion-bruised lips to me with a timid and grateful smile. I accepted this tacit invitation, shaking off the confining sleeves of my robe, and then leaned forward to cup her face in my hands.

It was a kiss that even the heroines of my tawdry novels might envy. So slowly her lips brushed mine. It was like the delicate friction of a rose petal and just as sweet, a seductive chimera that inflamed me far more than the animal passion she had displayed before.

Chimera? Rose petal? That's crazy talk!

The ever-present cynic at the back of my mind would question this descent into the language of fictional romance. That kind of talk meant optimism and that just wasn't me. I never let the lines between work and real life blur like this. Even so, I couldn't have pulled away from her. My lips never leaving the pliant allure of her mouth, I slid my hands from her face, slowly down the curve of her neck to her shoulders, pushing back the lapels of her rumpled jacket and then easing it off of her. Underneath this, she wore a white linen shirt with little pearl buttons down the front.

Dammit! Why do they make buttons so little?

Her hands stopped my careless fumbling. "Let me."

I think my heart actually stopped beating as I watched those delicate hands slowly unclasp each tiny, white button. The white shirtfront fell open inch by inch to expose the treasure underneath.

If I had thought her beautiful before, now, with her golden skin bared to my appreciative gaze, she was absolutely breathtaking. A sheer white lace bra left very little to my overstimulated imagination. Small, pink nipples peeked through the lace and seeing them, I really did think I was going to faint again. My awe must have shown on my face because she smiled and then blushed, the rose color sweeping across her cheeks right down to the valley in between her full breasts. My heart started hammering even harder. She dropped the shirt to the ground and stepped closer; I caught the scent of her, musky and primal. At that point, I was on sensual overload. Every inch of her was firm and round and perfect. Her girlfriend must be absolutely out of her mind to let her go.

I think I tried to convey this amazement to her, to say something complimentary and suave. But the best I could manage was a comprehensive sigh that tapered off into a moan. Of their own volition, my hands reached out to touch that golden skin. God, I couldn't help myself, couldn't believe that this was even happening or that some higher power had judged me worthy of this.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Whitey! You're the best!

Velvet, satin, silk... tired old adjectives compared to the addictive feel of her skin under my fingers. Shutting her eyes, she inhaled sharply, swaying against me, into my touch, her lips seizing mine again.

She felt so good. Tiny little moans of pleasure spurred me on. My hands, palms tingling and shaking with random surges of adrenaline, began to memorize the smooth, flat expanse of stomach and midriff then followed the curve of her waist up. Noting the hitch in her breath, I stopped short of my goal, wanting to prolong this dizzying sense of power a little longer. Instead I moved two fingers down each toned arm and then up to the curve of her collar bone and shoulders.

Shivering she gasped against my lips as her hips began to grind against my leg again. I could feel the evidence of her need soaking through the flannel of my pajamas. Bracing myself against her, I pulled the backs of her thighs into me. She let out a deep groan, and then whispered something that sent every synapse in my body into high-gear.

"Please touch me, oh please."

God, I think I actually growled. Something primal inside me just took over. I'd always thought lust-crazed was just a stupid literary term, not so apparently.

I picked her up and spun her around so that she was facing the wall, sprawled against it. She sucked in a breath. I was working purely on instinct, and not any instinct that I'd ever experienced before. This was something new. Lust in its most powerful and unadulterated form coursed through me, giving me far more courage than I'd ever had before.

Wrapping my arm tight around her waist, my hand cupped tantalizing softness, her taut nipple tickling my palm. Pressing against her from behind I curved over and into her, pushing my knees between her legs and nudging them apart. My other hand found the hem of her skirt and began to slowly push it up, caressing the smooth, muscular thigh underneath. Nuzzling her hair, I breathed in her scent as I kissed the back of her neck, lips and tongue savoring the sweet, salty taste of her. She whimpered.

"Let me feel you against me," she begged in a reedy, plaintive voice.

No chance of recovering sanity after that. I grabbed the neckline of my t-shirt, wrenching it over my head and then tossed it aside. Her skin positively hummed under me, bare and hot against mine, my breasts crushing into the rippling muscles of her back. She breathed a musical sigh.

"Yes!"

The cry was torn from her throat as I pushed her skirt up around her waist. Firm round buttocks tensed under my fingers. She moaned and I felt it rumble through her as my hand went between her legs.

A fierce protectiveness flooded through me at that moment. She was so open, so vulnerable, in more ways than even I understood. I wanted to take her, to taste her, to somehow, with my passion, wipe her memory clean of all the pain she'd felt. Pain like that can scar you for life. I wanted to heal her while the pain was still fresh, before the scars formed, scars like mine.

Oh, so gently, my fingers pushed aside the drenched fabric covering her sex to touch the damp curls beneath. She was easily as wet as I, maybe more so. I groaned into her neck, my teeth nipping the throbbing pulse at the base of her throat.

"You're beautiful," I murmured into her ear. The raw sound of her breathing steadied a little, but her whole body trembled in my arms. "So beautiful."

I rested my cheek on her back, and then with feathery strokes, I brushed her slick, silken folds, feeling the throbbing beat of her heart there too. Her hips pushed back onto my hand, demanding more than this gentle teasing. Very gently my fingers circled her most sensitive spot, careful to give it only the lightest of caresses. She groaned, leaning further forward until she was completely bent over the wall.

"God, please!"

Quickly, without warning, two fingers darted inside her. Wet heat pulsed around me, and suddenly my strangled cry is doubled, echoed in her throat and then both are swallowed up by the wind. I can feel my own pleasure mounting as I rhythmically thrust inside her, her hips picking up the motion. I could feel her, tensing and contracting around my fingers as I plunge deeper and deeper, my thrusts quickening. I fine sheen of sweat drenched us both, the cool wind whisked over us as we moved together, making us both shiver with yet another sensation.

Soon.

And that's when fate shut the door on our interlude, literally. Like a sharp, crack of thunder, the muffled thud of a door slamming inside her apartment made us start apart. I stumbled backward as she whirled around, eyes huge. And then a female voice called out, "Dani? Dani, you home?"

Green eyes found mine and for the briefest of seconds; I could see desire for me written plainly in their depths. Her eyes still had that aroused, heavy-lidded look. Her skin was still flushed. She took a small step toward me, and then the voice called out again and she halted.

"Dani?"

Temptation battled with panic, anger, pain, and hope. One after another, these combative emotions played out upon her expressive face. I prayed that she would be weak. That's horrible, I know. This behavior was a warning sign. Danger! You're falling again, you fool!

I should have been grateful for the interruption. I should have been happy that this new entanglement should be so cleanly severed like this. Here was the perfect opportunity to crawl back into my solitary and uncomplicated life. But I was far from grateful or happy. I felt the absence of her keenly and I was frantic to think she might be separated from me for much longer.

"That's her, isn't it?"

She started straightening her skirt and running her fingers through her hair, her eyes drawn to the balcony door. "Yes."

 

"Come with me," I said, struggling to keep the note of pleading out of my voice, though I was desperate to touch her again. She looked back at me, her gaze sweeping hungrily over my half naked state . I could see that she wanted me still, that I was tempting her. "You don't have to face her. Climb over the wall with me. We can wait in my apartment until she leaves."

She nodded, looking very dazed.

Before she could change her mind, I pulled up my pants and then collected our shirts from where they had landed. Draping hers across her shoulders, I allowed my hands to brush her skin. She and I shivered in unison. But she reached up to still my hand, covering it with hers. Tilting her head to look at me, she gave me a small apologetic smile, but her thoughts were faraway. There was a stillness about her that frightened me. I could see she was deliberating, weighing her anger at her recent rejection, the passion she had felt for me, and the curiosity at her ex's unexpected return. I dipped down and claimed her lips in what I hoped was a persuasive kiss.

"C'mon," I said a little too eagerly. I yanked my t-shirt over my head and went to the wall. Halfway over, I stopped and looked over my shoulder. She was still standing there, staring at me forlornly. "What?"

With a sad little sigh, she crossed to me, stood on tiptoe and planted a chaste kiss on my lips.

"I can't." She sighed again, looking away from my evident disappointment to hastily button her shirt. "Please, please understand. I... I want to... I do. But I... I have to know why she's back. Karen and I...two years we were together... I need to know why."

Great! Now she decides to be rational.

How could I object? It wasn't my place. I was just her loony neighbor. I was just the rebound girl.

"Right," I said, trying unsuccessfully to sound casual. I swung my other leg over to my side of the wall then hopped down. When I turned around, she was still looking at me, an aggrieved expression on her sweet, girlish face. I tried to smile and sound cheerful, though it was difficult with the boulder-sized lump in my throat. "You're right. You should go. I'm sure you both have a lot to talk about. Go on. She's looking for you."

I motioned toward her apartment with a little wave. As if on cue, the door handle began to rattle and jiggle. Without another thought for me, she retrieved her suit jacket and attempted to wipe away the mascara streaking her face.

No way I was going to stay to witness the happy reunion. I rushed inside my apartment, slamming the door behind me.

Taking one look at the confines of my tidy little nest, I decided I needed to move... today.

Oh sure... go with that thought... because cheap apartments are so easy to find on the spur of the moment in New York.

I could still feel the imprint of her against me. It was maddening. Her scent was all over me. I couldn't get it out of my head. My heart was pounding. My hormones were raging. I found I was pacing without even realizing it, my ears straining to hear the slightest sounds from next-door.

How pathetic am I?

Well, I couldn't move out. So I settled for wrecking things a bit.

Down crashed the neat pile of CD's. With a loud cry of satisfaction that I hoped could penetrate thick walls, I kicked them around the floor for a few minutes. Books and magazines went sailing through the air thudding against the walls, as did all my dirty laundry. I didn't stop until all my hard work from that morning was undone. I stood in the middle of my apartment, surrounded by comforting mess once again, but I didn't feel any better. I was still charged up on a hormone high.

That's when I spied my dear old friend, waiting patiently for me...the blank, white computer screen.

If I can't get an orgasm, then I'll be damned if I'll write one for the pirate and the countess!

It seemed impossible to comprehend that all of my real life problems and obligations were just sitting there waiting for me to come back to them. Why can't the real world just disappear when you have an emotional crisis? I had a contract to fulfill. One last story and then I could be free. But how the hell was I ever going to crank out meaningless smut after everything that had happened. I still felt so exposed, so raw.

And then I saw a way to make it work for me... a perfect solution.

I wrote my story instead. And this, dear editor, is what you get. Not meaningless smut, but reality as I live it. Not a pirate in sight, but lots of sex and high drama. Exactly what your readers crave, isn't it?

But I realize this little tale is missing one key element. You wouldn't like it if I sent you reality as it really is. Too much of that could be bad for business. Luckily, I have a nice resolution for that problem as well.

 

I spent hours at the computer, frantically typing away, pounding the keyboard until my fingers ached, reliving the events of the morning with painful clarity. But oh, I was relishing it, the freedom to write what I really felt and not the shallow crap that I'd been contracted to produce. I fussed and fretted over the words, slaved and sweated over the phrasing until finally, I was satisfied. I reviewed it one last time, a proud parent staring at a newborn child and then pronounced it worthy.

Pushing away from my computer, I stretched, for once not minding the aching shoulders and neck. I took a deep breath, somehow feeling cleansed, if only on the inside. On the outside, however, one whiff told me I needed serious help, soap and water right away.

A long, hot shower washed away the rest of the afternoon's after-effects. I almost had myself convinced that the whole business had been some kind of temporary insanity. Emerging from the steamy bathroom, I felt clean, refreshed and hungry. Decisions, decisions. Would it be pizza or kung pao chicken?

Pizza. Ordering only took a few seconds. All I had to do was pick up the phone, speed dial 3, and say "It's me." I'm their most valued customer, I think.

Idling away the time until dinner arrived, I shredded all of my old manuscripts, feeling a sense of giddiness as I saw the buzz through the metal teeth and come out the other side in little bits.

Out with the bad and in with the good.

I vowed I wouldn't write about love again, not until I'd really experienced it. And even though I believed D-A-T-E was the worst of all the four letter words, I resolved to try it one more time, without cynicism if at all possible. It would be a herculean undertaking, but I would do it. Why? Because--if I'm going to be really honest about this--I could still taste her kisses on my mouth, feel the warmth of her, all the textures of her. But I wasn't ready to admit that to myself, or that this new vow was just the product of all that unreleased sexual tension seeking an outlet. I called it optimism and was satisfied.

About fifteen minutes later, a knock on the door announced dinner had arrived.

"Hang on a second!" I shouted, searching through the clutter for my wallet.

I pulled out a twenty and raced for the door.

"I hope you have change," I said, holding out the twenty as I opened the door. "This is all I have."

My neighbor stood there, looking at the twenty in bewilderment.

Clad in faded jeans and a white t-shirt, face and eyes free of mascara streaks, hair wet and combed back from her face, she looked even younger and far sexier than she had before. I had to lean on the door to keep standing.

"I don't have change. I have an apology. Will you take that instead?" Smiling sheepishly up at me, I could see her freckles were more pronounced, even in the darkness of the hallway.

Why did that innocent little fact make me want to shred that white t-shirt and lick everything underneath?

I stuffed the twenty into the pocket of my robe, uncomfortable aware that I was wearing nothing underneath.

"No apologies necessary, really," I said, trying not to stare, though I was all agog at her sudden appearance. I tightened the belt of my robe and then self-consciously stood aside.

"You can come in, if you'd like."

Tucking a wet tendril of hair behind her ear, she ducked underneath my extended welcoming arm. I shut the door behind us and turned to find her inspecting my apartment, eyebrows raised in chagrin.

"Sorry about the mess," I said lamely, rushing by her to clear a spot on the sofa so she could sit.

"Thanks."

She sat down, folded her hands in her lap and looked down at them. I perched on the arm of the chair opposite.

Do I make small talk now? Do I pretend that nothing happened? Do I act like I don't know what she looks like underneath that shirt? Or that I don't know how wet she gets when she's aroused?

Since, my inner dialogue was only getting me overheated and I had no idea how to approach small talk, I opted for bluntness.

"What are you doing here?"

She turned startled eyes on me and then bit her lip. That damned adorable blush flooded her cheeks again.

Yes, I'm definitely going to have to move.

"I'm here," she began, getting nervously to her feet. Still twisting her fingers nervously, she took a few steps toward me, her eyes on the floor. "Well, I wanted to see you because... Karen is gone. She was only coming to get her things, not to see me. She thought I'd be at work."

I wasn't sure I'd heard her right, all the blood was rushing from my head to my nether regions.

"She and you? Did you talk?"

She shook her head. "We talked for a little while. I... uh... I think we worked things out."

"Good," I said, though I felt my stomach lurch in disappointment.

I uneasily shifted positions on the edge of the chair, my robe falling open a little. Her eyes were drawn to my bare legs and she swallowed hard, tearing her gaze away, raising it up to meet my eyes.

"No. No. It wasn't like you think it was. After she left, I thought for the longest time... and I wasn't thinking about her. Do you know what I mean?"

I can't say what made me do it. Usually impulse is my main motivation . And so I'll say impulse propelled me towards her. Impulse made me grab her by the front of her t-shirt and pull her to me. Impulse made me kiss her hard on the mouth.

I can call it impulse, but most likely it was lust and a lot of things too complex to even think about. Even so, I knew that when I felt her mouth open to mine, yielding and warm, that before long I wouldn't have to worry about the vow I'd made myself. With her to inspire me, writing about love wouldn't be a problem anymore.

And that, I believe, fulfills my obligations to you, dear editor. Consider our contract concluded.

************

The End

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