The elevator went black and shuddered to a halt just as Karen thought she’d make it home in time to throw together some dinner for her husband Daniel, and he’d never have to know that she’d taken the afternoon to visit their old high school friend in a nearly-abandoned apartment building, where she knew she shouldn’t have been, even if nothing did happen. So she was ready for this elevator ride to be short so she and Ralph could get back to their respective lives.
But the elevator was definitely dead, and after a minute she heard Ralph’s shaken voice in the darkness: “Oh, fu– damn.” He sounded worried; he was in the same fix as Karen; he probably didn’t want to tell his wife he’d been stuck in the elevator at the Pembroke Towers all afternoon. (“Why were you at the Pembroke, sweetie? I thought that place closed down years ago.”)
“Give it a minute,” Karen said. “There’s got to be an alarm going off somewhere across town, and then they’ll call the security guy to get us out.”
“I’m not 100% sure there is a security guy,” Ralph said.
“Well Maintenance, or somebody.”
“They’re running a skeleton crew,” Ralph said soberly. “I don’t know if there’s anyone at all except the sales rep. And he’s not coming around unless he has to show an apartment.”
“Well let’s hope you’re wrong about that,” she said.
Karen leaned back and took a deep breath; the elevator was small and she thought she could feel the Ralph’s warmth a couple of feet away, or inches away, or maybe she was imagining that. She tried not to let the frustration overtake her, but she couldn’t help thinking that this was one of those situations that could have been avoided so easily — was there any good reason for her to even be there?
The Facebook request had come out of nowhere. The little red outlined head and shoulders with a white “1″ caught her eye, as it was supposed to, telling her she’d had a “friend request”. Another? She’d only opened a Facebook account that week because everyone at school teased her about living in another century — no cell phone, no Facebook, no Skype. But someone pointed out that you could keep up with family on Facebook, and her sisters were scattered all over the country, so she opened an account, putting up a recent snapshot and a few lines about living life to its fullest (something she knew she did NOT do). She let the program seek out “friends” for her, and within a week she’d been contacted by over a dozen people; in addition to her sisters, she heard from faintly-remembered acquaintances going back to high school and college.
After a week, she found herself checking Facebook several times a day, and was shocked to realize what she was looking for: old boyfriends. Secretly, she wanted some of those boys from the past to contact her, to dredge up the teenaged passion that she hadn’t felt in years, old boyfriends to remind her that once, boys had spent money on dinners and even gotten into fistfights for the privilege of having time alone with her, to kiss, to press their luck, to dream that she’d allow greater transgressions. And then, when some boy had been the lucky one to touch her so gently inside her pink-and-white bikini that her 15-year-old desire overwhelmed her fear of displeasing her mother, and she had invited the boy to take her, there in the coolness under the dock with tourists’ sandals scraping sand down on them through the cracks in the planking. She touched his hard member before he slid it inside her, but did not see it, and she was surprised at how little pain there was. And surprised at how little of the pleasure, too, was actually delivered that first time, although it did hint strongly of other times to come, when she began to understand what all the fuss was about.
That was what she missed, in her long marriage that had started out enflamed with passion before the flame dwindled so gradually that Daniel probably wasn’t even aware that it had been almost a year since they’d been together that way.
She didn’t think she was looking for a man to replace what had died between them. She believed she was just trying to “catch up.” So it surprised her when her heart thrilled just a little when she clicked on the red outline and saw that the friend requestor was Ralph, from high school. Thrilled not over Ralph, she knew, but at the memory of Ralph’s friend Jimmy. Jimmy had been the one who taught her how to do certain things, and taught her to love doing them.
But this wasn’t Jimmy, it was Ralph that was “friending” her; she clicked “Accept”, and typed a short note to him: Long time, Ralphy. Remember the “tuna” at Lake Hudson? LOL.
Ralph generated no romantic or sexual images whatever to Karen, but she realized they were flirting pretty shamelessly in the IMs, although they tried to disguise it with nostalgic teenaged jargon:
I see you’ve got the same bangin bod you had when you were 16.
LOL. You’re going blind in your old age.
Say, I’m wondering, did we ever do the horizontal bop at the Quality Inn, or was that just a dream?
ROFL. Whose dream yours or mine? Tee Hee.
The truth is that he had no reason to dream anything like that; she’d been Jimmy’s girl, or Daniel’s girl the whole time she knew Ralph, and nothing had happened to risk any of that.
Besides the age, the expression on his Facebook picture hinted that he’d grown sadder and wiser, and there were pictures of Ralph with a woman Karen’s age, who she thought was named Debbie. Karen was almost sure this was the girl Ralph had started dating right after graduation. There were several of Ralph with his daughter, who looked about ten, Karen thought.
Karen had no children as yet and she knew chance of having any grew smaller every month, but she’d become resigned to that, since she and Daniel had always agreed that there wasn’t room for children in their lives. To Ralph, she messaged:
Pretty little girl, just adorable.
Thank you, she’s the light of my life you know.
So how’s Debbie?
It was almost a minute before the answer: She’s awesome.
And it was another long pause before: Hey, want to meet up for drinks?
She did, somewhat to her own surprise.
It was a bit of a red flag when he suggested they meet at a condo he’d just bought, not a restaurant, but he messaged:
I’m a total gentleman, I swear. I’d rather just relax and talk and not have a waiter buzzing around. Besides, the view is spectacular. You’ve got to see this place. Bring Danny.
So she agreed to come, but didn’t bring Daniel, and didn’t mention the trip to him, since it was happening in the middle of the afternoon, when he’d be at the store anyway.
Ralph hadn’t lied about the view. From the balcony, Karen saw the length of the city, split by the river lined with high-rises as far as she could see. She wondered aloud how he could afford the place on a gym teacher’s salary.
“I got the place for next to nothing,” Ralph explained, “because the building owners are trying to sell, and they want it to look occupied. There are probably only 10 or 15 tenants in the whole building right now. After the place gets sold and rehabbed, I’ll make a killing.”
And after that, they’d gone inside, drank most of a bottle of wine, and talked about times past, and somehow nothing improper happened. Still, Karen caught herself looking too long at Ralph’s hands and wrists and muscled forearms, and the rounded thighs through the material of his trousers. Ralph obviously took fitness to heart, Karen thought, and besides that, his eyes shone when he laughed, either from the wine or the pleasure of her company. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been alone and half-drunk with a man besides Daniel, and that thought alone caused her to press her thighs together and rub them slowly against each other as they talked.
Still, nothing improper happened.
Waiting in the blackness of the elevator made Karen even more light-headed than the wine alone. She listened for some sound of the elevator’s machinery; there was none, and she realized they’d grown silent in the dark, and it no longer felt like Ralph was inches away. In the darkness it was like they were in different rooms. She let her hand brush down her belly softly, stopping when the fingers touched the oversized buckle at the waist of the low-cut jeans she had bought just for this visit.
She knew she wasn’t thinking clearly when she headed to the Mall and shopped like she was dressing for a date. She’d tried on pants, then a skirt and sweater, and then decided on the low-rider jeans, like the ones she wore when she was 15, and the thick braided belt with the heavy round buckle that she remembered from those days, the way a buckle like that could always be counted on to draw a man’s eyes. In Macy’s, she’d examined herself in the jeans, front and behind, and thought that, yes, her 37-year-old body could still carry it off.
“Well, the phone’s out, too,” Ralph said. “You’d think the phone would have an emergency battery.”
“You would,” she agreed.
“Just for events like this.” He was obviously trying to keep his nerves under control. “Who knows how long before someone figures out…”
“We’ll have to wait I guess.” Her finger circled the buckle mindlessly and ran along the top of her jeans for a few soft inches. She tried to imagine how that would feel to a man’s fingers. Would a man — would Ralph – still enjoy touching her as much as Daniel seemed to in high school? She realized her fingers were lingering over the fabric around her navel, testing the slight dip there — a bit rounder than high school, but soft and pleasant to touch. Why wouldn’t a man enjoy that?
It was shameful, touching herself as they talked. But she realized she was smiling. Who could know? Her fingers went down the fly of her jeans and touched as if it were a man’s fingers making the tentative first pass at the soft place between her thighs.
“You know I was so surprised when you friended me yesterday,” she said without ceasing to explore the denim, hoping her voice was steady. “It’s been what, fifteen, eighteen years?”
“Something like that,” he said. “We were babies, weren’t we?”
They talked about people they’d known in high school, while she let her fingers run along the edge of her bra, remembering that she’d picked out the purple lace panties and bra to fit under the new jeans when she was going to meet Ralph; it was silly and adolescent of her in a way that almost embarrassed her, but for some reason she’d wanted to feel sexy, and she enjoyed the thought that under her clothes no one would be able to tell how naughty and pleasant she was feeling.
There in the elevator, she found herself picturing Ralph’s lips, and wondering why they’d never once kissed or even touched each other beyond a friendly hug, all those years ago. Of course he was shy, then, and overweight, and he had a trace of acne, but that described half the boys she’d been around in high school. Why hadn’t they tried to connect?
Feeling the lace under the silky shirt, her finger found the nubbin pressing against her blouse, and she pinched her own nipple hard enough to hurt. Jimmy had done that to her once, and she’d slapped his hand away angrily, but she never forgot it.
Ralph’s buddy Jimmy wasn’t Karen’s first boy, but he was the first to make her come more than once, and the first who seemed to even try to make that happen. Jimmy was dirty in the good way, and that was probably his one good quality. In a theater once while they watched Hollywood stars skiing down a mountain, shooting crossbows and dodging trees, he’d started with his hand resting on her thigh, then by steps moved closer and finished by massaging her twat slowly through her shorts until she felt herself coming, had to squeeze his arm and bite her lip to keep from crying out. No one had ever made her come in the dark like that, without a word, a kiss, even eye contact. They could have been strangers. At the time she’d been embarrassed for letting it happen; why did it seem such a sweet memory now?
But Jimmy couldn’t keep his eyes or hands off of other girls, even Karen’s friends, so that ended after half a year of the best sex Karen ever hoped to see in this life. Soon after, Ralph introduced her to Daniel, who was nicer, more respectful of Karen than Jimmy had ever been, and after Karen got him started and gave him an idea of what was possible, Daniel evolved into a stallion, making love to Karen for hours every time they were together, raising storms of passion that brought her to tears and left her shaking and. satisfied
That passion lasted for close to a year, even took them past the wedding and honeymoon, but soon enough Daniel learned to channel most of his energy into selling furniture, and that meant staying until the store closed at 9:00. Karen spent the evenings planning activities for her third-grade class at the same time as she was scheming to advance her career beyond teaching. They were both exhausted at bedtime, and they even began going to bed separately. Where had the stallion gone?
In the elevator, she pulled her hand back as soon as she realized she had begun gently to rub her own pussy under the hard fabric of her jeans.
“We should get all the guys together,” Ralph was saying. “Have a reunion.”
“Let’s do it,” she said. Her heart was racing; her pussy was electric. She imagined moving in on Ralph, pressing herself against him in the dark, touching him. She knew men well enough to bet that would be a wet-dream come true for him.
What was happening to her? This wasn’t the way she acted; she was the steady, dignified assistant principal who had a wide smile for everybody and thought about nothing but the kids, test scores, budgets, and signing off on cakes for retirement parties. She didn’t touch herself in dark elevators, she didn’t enjoy the tender fullness of her breasts cupped in her own hands. She didn’t –
The lights flickered on and back off, and the elevator began to hum. She’d been leaning back with her shoulders against the elevator wall and her pelvis thrust forward, and she had time to stand straight and move her hand up to grasp the strap of her handbag before the lights came on and stayed.
“Well, there we are,” Ralph said in a cheery voice, and they both squinted against the light, sharing a momentary relieved smile for a second before looking away as the elevator came to a rest and the doors opened. They stepped into the deserted lobby and in the second before they made their goodbyes, she had the crazy thought that anything, absolutely any crazy thing at all could happen in the next moment.
She held her breath as their eyes tried to meet a couple of times, but slid away instead.
No crazy thing happened. They mumbled a few words, call me, message me, we have to do something together, and then they were off to their cars. Separately.
She waited for Ralph to back out of his space; she leaned to look into her eyes in the rearview before she backed out. Her eyes were the color of cherrywood, with lashes as thick as a child’s, and filled with lust.
“Oh my god,” she said, and then: “Oh my fucking god.”
She didn’t usually swear like that.