This story can only be found bundled with the Erotic Novella “A Real Doll”
It started with a phone call. Sarah had been expecting the call, but it was still a shock. She had learned over the last few years, as friends succumbed to old age, and to one or another disease, that there were limits to how well you could prepare for death. It was usually cancer, of one type or another. Cancer had gotten Daniel, too. It was hard when it was someone you’d loved.
“I’m so sorry, Ruth.”
“Can I come out? Tonight?”
“The next flight down arrives at 8:30.”
“I’ll meet you at the airport.”
Sarah put down the phone, meeting Saul’s calm eyes as he walked out of the studio, wiping paint-stained hands on his pants. She bit back brief irritation at his calm. He and Daniel had never quite gotten along, though they had tried, for the sake of the women. Saul had been quietly pleased when Daniel’s career had taken him to Seattle, though not so pleased when Ruth joined him there, a few months later. Saul had locked himself up in his studio and painted huge dark canvases, ugly compositions in a dark palette: black, indigo, midnight blue. But Ruth had been happier with Daniel than she had ever been with them, happier married and with children on the way. Eventually Saul had bowed to that truth.
Sarah said, “I’ll pick her up. You go ahead and finish.”
Saul nodded, stepping forward and leaning down to kiss her forehead gently. “You OK?”
Sarah managed a smile. “I’ll be all right. Ruth didn’t sound good, though.”
“No.” He opened his arms then, and she stepped into them, heedless of drying paint. She rested her cheek against his chest, wrapped her arms around him, desperately glad that he was healthy. Some arthritis, a tendency to catch nasty colds; nothing that couldn’t be fixed by keeping him out of the studio for a few days. After this many years, she could manage that, at least, even if she had to scold like a shrew to do it. She rested in his arms a moment, breathing in his scent, cinnamon sugar under sharp layers of paint and turpentine. He kissed the top of her head, and then let her go.
“I’ll make up the bed in the guest room,” she said.
Saul nodded, turned, and walked back into the studio, quietly closing the door behind him.
Sarah waited at the Alaska Airlines gate window, her face an inch or two from the cold glass. It was raining outside, a cold hard rain, typical for Oakland in January. The baggage handlers drove their little carts back and forth, luggage covered by dark tarps. The plane had been delayed, leaving her with nothing to do but wait and remember.
The last time she had made love to Daniel, they had been alone. He was leaving in the morning; Ruth had already said what they all suspected would only be a temporary goodbye. Sarah knew her own would be a final one, and so she had taken this last night alone with him. She had planned for it to be tender, sweet and slow. That had seemed appropriate for a goodbye. But instead, Sarah had found herself biting his neck, raking his back, riding him until they were both exhausted, until she was trembling with tiredness. Daniel hadn’t been gentle with her either, had dug his fingers into her ass, had bitten her breasts. They had left marks on each other’s bodies, dark and brutal and bruised. They had kissed until their lips were puffed and sore. And it was only in the morning, with the long night giving way to a grey sunrise, that their pace had slowed, that they had settled into a hollow of the bed, his hand stroking her dark hair, her fist nested in the curls on his chest. He had asked her then to come with him to Seattle. She had let silence say no for her, and he hadn’t asked again. Sarah had gone to Saul the next night with Daniel’s marks on her body. He had been gentle with her that night, and for some time afterwards.
The passengers were walking off the plane, some into the arms of family or eager lovers. Ruth walked down, wearing a dark dress, her eyes puffy and red. She had been crying on the plane. Ruth had never cared what people thought about little things. She cried freely in public. She had occasionally tried to provoke screaming fights in parking lots and malls. She had been willing to have sex in the woods, in open fields, had teased and persuaded them all until they joined her. It was only in the big things that she was at all conventional.
They had once traveled east together, two couples in a car, perfectly unremarkable to all outward eyes. They had stopped in Wisconsin, had decided to camp that night instead of staying in a motel. Two separate tents, and the night sky overhead. While Daniel and Saul finished washing the dinner dishes in a nearby creek, Ruth had taken Sarah by the hand and led her into the woods, searching for fallen branches to build a fire. Sarah had dutifully collected wood until Ruth came up behind her, lifting her skirt, kneeling down on dirt and twigs and grass. Sarah wore no underwear in those days, at Ruth’s request. So when Ruth’s mouth reached for hers, Sarah had only to shift her legs further apart, to try to balance herself, a load of wood resting in her arms, eyes closed. Ruth’s tongue licked under her ass, tracing the delicate line at the tops of her thighs. Ruth’s tongue slid up over her clit, then back again, sliding deep inside her. Ruth’s hands held onto Sarah’s hips, her fingers gently caressing the sharp protrusions of hip-bones, the skin that lay over them. Sarah was usually quiet, but in the middle of the empty woods, she let herself moan. Ruth’s tongue flickered over and around, licking eagerly until Sarah’s thighs were trembling. Her heart was pounding, and just as she began to come, waves of pleasure rippling through her, as the wood fell from her arms, Saul was there with her, in front of her, holding her up – his mouth moving on hers, his chest pressed against her breasts, and his hands behind her, buried in Ruth’s hair. Then they were all falling to the ground, Saul and Ruth and Sarah and Daniel too, a tangle of bodies, clothes discarded, forgotten, naked skin against dirt and moss and scratching twigs. Leaves and starlight overhead, and Ruth laughing in the night, laughing with loud and shameless delight. It had always been that way with her.