Tyne started the evening with a scented bath. Vanilla Bean by Yardley. She placed lit candles along the edge of the tub. Their flickering lights set a tranquil mood. Gerald Albright’s “I Need You” flowed from the CD player, the seductive strains of his smooth sax filling the small bathroom.

Soaking in the hot water, Tyne turned her mind to family matters, putting aside for the moment the need and fear of sleep. April’s wedding was coming up in less than a month, and she had to go to yet another fitting, which was always a pain. Being the maid of honor -- as well as the oldest -- hardly inured her to the tittering and mania of the younger bridesmaids, most of whom hadn’t even hit the quarter mark yet. All the primping, posturing and posing got on her nerves. She noticed their eyes reflected in the mirrors when they looked at themselves and knew with a time-earned intuition that they saw princess lace instead of the shimmering lime satin of the bridesmaid dresses they actually wore. In their minds, they walked down an imaginary aisle to meet a dark, handsome stranger named Rashad, Keith, or maybe Jamal waiting in dreadlocked splendor at the end.

Perhaps she’d had that look a long time ago, but not now. Maybe never again. It vanished along with her once indefatigable hope that she would be settled down by thirty, already into a routine of divvied house responsibilities, with him making romantic meals -- her own cooking was ptomaine lousy -- and her doing the laundry and cleaning of their large, airy loft. Maybe there would be one or two kids, maybe one of each, a girl and a boy.

That had been her whole-hearted plan by twenty-five, twenty-six. By twenty-nine, those plans had become half-hearted, and she decided to concentrate on pushing her career forward. But even that failed to go the way she planned. She had graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism with grandiose plans of working on a large Chicago paper, hopefully the Tribune. But several community papers later, she’d only managed to move down a notch. The market was tight right now, and though she might have gotten better opportunities in a smaller market in a smaller town, she didn’t want to leave Chicago, where her family lived -- her mother, her sisters April and Tanya, and brother, Tyrone. She just thanked providence for the paycheck -- however long that lasted. Next month might see her in the unemployment line.

Another thing to be glad for was April. The family had come close to losing her last spring. April, trying to get out of an abusive relationship, had barely survived the bullet her boyfriend Kendrick fired into her chest after taking her hostage in her downtown office. After shooting her, the fool turned his gun on himself, thankfully.

April had once been single-minded in her pursuit of low-lifes. When anyone asked, she used to say that she liked a little thug in her men, real or not. She’d been contemptuous and casual -- and maybe a little guilt-ridden -- about her middle-class upbringing, often acting out. It had taken a 38-magnum bullet blowing her chest open to finally blow some sense into her head. When she recovered -- after five hours of surgery and nearly a month in the hospital -- Donell was waiting for her as he had been waiting for nearly eight years. Donell and April had gone to high school together. Bespeckled and soft-spoken, Tyne knew he was hardly April’s initial idea of the man she wanted to wake up to every morning. Too sturdy, too dull, April use to say. Thank God, she’d changed her mind, realizing in time that love might hurt you on occasion, but it wasn’t supposed to kill you.

Tyne stood up in the tub, water dripping, suds clinging, and caught her image in the full-length mirror hanging on the door. She studied herself to see what a stranger would see. All the self-love books she had ever read stated that love begins with acceptance of all of one’s self, including the physical faults. So she guessed she should accept the slight saddlebags of her hips and the scar that ran along her arm -- a souvenir of a bad motorcycle fall; her mother had made sure her father locked up his Harley after that. She looked at her breasts, the way they curved upward, and appreciated that gravity hadn’t gotten to them yet. As for her behind, it was nicely rounded like some men seemed to appreciate. Her waist, although not small, was in proportion to her hips and chest. All in all, she had a more than passable body. But she was a sister who didn’t take booty calls, so her nights were solitary. There had been a few boyfriends in the past, but those relationships had been merely fillers; she had known at the onset she wouldn’t marry any of them. Put off by the strain of her last thing with Raymond, she’d been celibate for a couple of years and was used to waking up alone. That seemed to be her fate; so be it. She cared, but she wasn’t going to languish waiting for someone to come and fill her life, her bed. There were other ways to satisfy herself.

Still, the loneliness seemed to be manifesting itself in these strange dreams. Maybe Gail was right; she needed to get laid. Maybe the dreams would go away if she worked off some of her tension.

Tyne stepped out of the bath and toweled herself off, trying not to think of the many times she had orgasmed these last nights. It wasn’t normal, having dreams so vivid, so sensual, they made you come and come hard. Dreams so vivid, they frightened you. How could she desire something, or someone, that frightened her, that made her tremble with yearning and fear? More frightening was the knife that had begun appearing in the dreams lately. She put on her nightgown and walked to the bedroom. She opened the curtains to let in the illumination from the streetlights below and a bright quarter moon above. Total darkness was no longer a comfort. She popped opened the tranquility sound machine she’d purchased on the way home and flipped in the tape labeled “Rain Forest.” The soothing rhythm of a light rainfall filled the room. As her head settled into the pillow and her eyes closed, she envisioned herself standing alone under the dripping fronds of lush, tropical trees, felt the warm rain spray on her body, enter her pores, open her up. She was falling, falling...

The dinner table was gone. It was just him now. She felt herself opening up to him, her resistance giving way. First one, then two, three fingers eased inside her, then moved up her wet canal while a fourth lightly stroked her clitoris, sending spasms through her body. Her vibrating walls sucked the fingers further into her eager crotch, and she began bucking against them, working her body to their rhythm. Lips touched her nipple, then a tongue began tracing the sensitive orb, circling it, slowly, keeping time with the fingers moving in, out, in, out. A scent of male musk hovered in the air, mixed with the scent of her excitement...


He smelled her scent, bent down to taste her wetness, felt her hips rise, pushing her moist, sex-scented lips against his eager tongue, felt her moving in time with his rhythm.

His tongue moved inside her, teasing her walls, tasting her cream, his lips pumping against her vulva. He heard her moan and it filled him. But just beneath the current of her longing, he felt her resistance, her dishonor. She didn’t want to love him, yet she yielded to him with her softness, her wetness. When she moaned again, it signaled submission, not desire. But he refused to hear her tears...

David stirred awake at the sound, found his left hand stroking his balls. He felt embarrassed and disgusted. His writhing had caused the sheets to half fall off the bed.

He sat up dazed. Tried to remember. He had more than a slight impression of a woman beneath him, accepting him with desire – and shame. A scent lingered in the air, a mixture of perfume and sex. He remembered the fleeting image of shimmering green. He had heard a soft, throaty sound, but couldn’t remember if it had been hers or his own.

Somewhere in the distance, he had heard someone say, “We’re going to be together forever,” the voice strangled with desire and anger -- and realized that it was his own voice he heard.

He got up, left the room to go downstairs to the kitchen. Along the wall over the stairs hung photos of Ruth (the Big Bambino), Mantle, DiMaggio. These were relics from his father who’d walked out on him and his mother when David was just ten, almost a full year before the fire. They were saved because they had been in the garage instead of the attic.

This was the house he had built for his mother almost three years ago. But just before the move, she’d decided she wanted to stay in her old home instead. The same home they had moved into after the Victorian was destroyed. This one was a Queen Anne built on a lot he purchased in the historic Oak Park district. He had tried to re-create what he had taken from her those many years ago. Walnut woodwork in the front hall, parquet floors, stained glass windows. In the living room, a marble fireplace. Outside a wrap around porch and Palladian windows mimicked the destroyed home. He hadn’t even blinked at the expense of building in a historic district; it nearly broke him, but he had thought it worthwhile if it could recompense his past sins.

But his mother had looked at him and said, “This is your house. There’s something about you in this place. I can’t take it away from you.”

No amount of pleading would make her see reason. She was dead wrong. This wasn’t his place. He couldn’t care less about turn-of-the-century homes big enough for a whole family. He would’ve much preferred a large apartment on North Michigan, sparsely decorated, airy with good lighting. Here, the mixture of rustic and Victorian furniture he had chosen for her matched the architecture of the home.

Still, he couldn’t bring himself to put it on the market. Slowly, steadily it’d become the place he looked forward to coming home to every evening after a grueling day. He had even started a garden out back.

Rick had teased him about his “bachelor pad,” telling him it was a great setting for a coke party. Or a good fucking Roman orgy with babes straddled over the French-styled love seat. Told Dave that maybe he could grow some weed out back, sell it out of the garage. Dave usually laughed with him, sheepishly embarrassed that the house was actually domesticating him.

In the kitchen floor plan, he had deliberately left out a storeroom. Instead, a large pantry stood just off the hallway.

David walked to the faucet, ran the water cold, got a glass, downed it in a few gulps. He felt hot, sweaty as though he had just been through a strenuous workout -- or a prolonged lovemaking session.

He needed a woman. Karen had been gone only two months and already he was falling to pieces. Women might be able to go without for weeks on end, but men were different. He was, anyway.

He ran the water again, downed a second glass, but his thirst wouldn’t go away.

Water wasn’t what he needed.

What he needed was a good fuck. Then maybe things would get back to normal.

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