And then I felt my arms around her close a bit tighter, felt her hands run up my spine. My left cheek slid down her right, my lips down to the nape of her neck as she buried her face into shoulder.
It was the sheer black sundress that did me in, that allowed old passions to flare back up, cinders for the forest fire. I'd seen her in skater garb, in stereotypical punker gear, even completely nude on top of me. But I'd never seen her in a dress.
Ravishing. Simply ravishing.
She mumbled into my shirt collar, mumbled in that innocent, almost childlike voice so many women are able to harness during times of heightened emotion.
"I hope you don't hate me. I didn't know if I could do this. I know you don't drink wine, but I wanted a place we could, like, just talk in private."
"Chica, I didn't know if you'd show up. I lied to my dad, told him I was going to Pismo Beach."
She'd lied to her parents, too. Her father's still planning on putting me six feet in the ground, still blames me for ruining his daughter and granddaughter's financial security. Never mind that his daughter wasn't happy with her ex-husband, or that the ex-husband was really in love with someone else...
* * * *
By the time she looked up, my hand was on the back of her neck, fingers electric and fluid along the back of her skull.
"It's been hella evil, dude. Everybody knows. I so fucking sorry."
"S'okay, hon. It took two to tango, and we tangoed ourselves into a fucking mess."
Though "Tonya" and her ex-husband are on decent terms following their divorce, the upheaval - the failure of a supposedly perfect marriage - has led certain gossipy elements to conclude that, well, Tonya really is the trailer trash her ex mother-in-law always said she was, behind her back, and that I really was the cold, manipulating, womanizing bastard many of my former radio listeners thought I was.
Fucking each other's brains out back in December, back when she was still married, probably didn't help much. Cost me quite a few California friends, including almost all of the college friends I'd made while a student at Cal Poly back in the late 1990s. Cost her a whole hell of a lot more.
The last thing in the world either of us needed - she needed - was a very public kiss on a very public street, in broad daylight.
A peck on the cheek would have to do.
No need to give anybody anything else to gossip about.
* * * *
There would be no trip to a cheap motel this time. No six male orgasms, 12 female orgasms, no torn clothes, no dislocated shoulders or wedding bands on the nightstand.
The kid stuff was over. Fun, but reckless. Things could've gone much worse. Reality, sadly, creates its own rules, dictating things like maturity and decency like overpaid company presidents dictate cold memos to underpaid secretaries.
Six months removed from our fling, the time had come for the two of us to behave, at least for an afternoon, like stereotypical Central Coast 20-somethings - to take in a late lunch at a trendy bistro and split bottles of good Edna Valley chardonnay, cell phones laid out on the white tablecloth like gunslingers at a card game.
We racked up a $136 tab in just under two hours. I winced as I signed the credit card receipt, winced as I realized that I'm no longer in a position, as a librarian, to blow such fundage on a simple lunch. "Tonya" offered to go dutch, but I wouldn't go for it.
She'd bought the sheer, overpriced sundress - the second one she's ever owned, the other being her wedding dress - simply to hang out before she flew back to her home in the American Southwest. It was also an excuse to spend a bit of money, to go all girlie-girl and relieve stress through shopping.
When she again protested, I reminded her that, no, this wasn't a date, and, well, she'd invited me out for lunch - the guest always gets to choose who pays. Besides...
She just looked so, well, damned perfect in that damned Vera Wang getup (correction: I guess it's called a Mini Tank Dress, not a true sundress), and I looked so schmuckish in the first wrinkled polo I could dig out of my travel bag...
* * * *
"Goddamn it, dude. I'm walking in the water. Quit being such a fucking pussy. Cops don't care."
You know, women wearing $500 dresses tend to go diva after stereotypical Central Coast lunches, especially after sucking down $60 worth of chardonnay.
"Tonya" slipped off her heels and, as nimbly as a former skateboarding goddess can be, slid her feet beneath the bronze, grizzly-shaped fountain.
She once told me she used to rack up citations for riding her board through the park, that one of her old boyfriends had been nailed for meth back in 2002, right beside the fountain. For me, Mission Plaza brings back nothing but drunken undergrad memories - of puking on Higuera Street and pissing in the long-gone parking lot across from Woodstock's Pizza, of sleeping off Irish Car Bombs and Kamikazes and Gin and Tonics.
For both of us, the plaza represents a lot of juvenile things, California war stories. A beautiful city park, beneath a gorgeous Spanish Mission, in a quiet little town full of hypocrites and secrets.
"Ya know, I thought you were gonna kiss me back there."
"Back where, chica?"
"Before we ate, outside of ______. You had that look. That squinty thing."
"Like, you squint your left eye when you're, like, thinking of trying to get away with something."
"So... could I have gotten away with it?"
"I dunno. Christ. But _____'s mom has a lot of pull in SLO, a lot of nosey fucking friends, shrivelled old cuntbags."
"Do you care? I mean, you're not married anymore."
"____ is my ex-husband. His mom knows about the motel room, everything. And we just finalized custody. I have to care. I don't want to give the bitch any more ammo. Ya know?"
"Tonya" stared at her ankles, tip-toeing across the tiled bottom of the fountain.
"Yeah, I know."
Being an adult fucking sucks.
* * * *
Walking "Tonya" back to her rental car, we chatted away about all sorts of completely batshit random things - her unhealthy crush on Nomar Garciaparra, my weird food allergies, her famous customers, and my sorta famous adult performer exes.
She still had four hours until her flight back home, back to her world full of purchase orders and sales reports and payroll issues. We sat in the parking garage for at least an hour talking, perched up on the hood of the compact rental, like we had all the time in the world.
At one point, she had her head in my lap, feet propped up on the windshield, twisted in ways that would make a yoga instructor envious. I put one hand on her shoulder and one on her hip, just in case she started to fall.
I guess she thought my hand placement meant something more.
"You can get away with whatever."
You know, I'm dense. Really dense.
"Yeah, but we're just friends. Friendly."
"If that. You're a dangerous fucking guy, dude."
"Tell me about it. Ya ever have mono?"
"Tonya" laughed and sat up, sharp elbows digging into my thigh, eye sockets pierced by that flirty stare thing she does.
* * * *
One hand slid from shoulder to breast, the other from hip to stomach.
Things went downhill from there.
I felt every corner of her tongue as we kissed, felt that tongue barbell of hers clicking against my teeth, felt every goosebump on the back of her neck.
It's amazing how easy it is to get lost in a moment, for me at least, to forget that one is actually in a crowded parking garage, that a true stereotypical San Luis Obispan rarely runs his hand up a $500 dress in public or slides her hand down the front of jeans...
As we slid into the back seat, adulthood - that stupid, goddamn reason-outweighs-lust part of it - kicked back into gear.
Something, well, just didn't seem right.
My brakes ground to a halt first; I was working my way south, down past her navel, my tongue an inch above her tan line. The c-section scar, barely noticeable, jumped out at me.
Hadn't noticed it back in December, and it didn't really turn me off. It did, however, remind me that if any one of her ex's family members walked by...
I looked back up at "Tonya." She was still into everything, physically (some poor shmoe at the rental place had one hell of a stain on his hands), but she seemed distant, her eyes filled not with any sort of pleasure but with what looked like... guilt.
"Hey, um, maybe we should..."
I couldn't get the STOP word out. Just wasn't happening.
"No, dude, it's cool. I want to..."
"Want? No. But maybe we need to..."
Again, unable to simply say STOP. Feeling just a tad uncomfortable, I came up for air, slid right beside her, between her back and the fabric.
"Tonya," I guess, figured I was just positioning myself; she reached back and guided me inside, pushing hard, to the point of causing her to wince.
Now I was more than just a little freaked out. "Tonya" was thrusting back, hard and deep, almost as if she was intentionally trying to cause herself pain, to use my flesh as a torture device.
I pulled out.
"Nah. I think this violates the whole 'Let's just be friends' thing, chica."
She couldn't make eye-contact.
I heard that childish voice again, too. She said that she, yep, needed to stop, that she wanted to just fuck away an afternoon in a car, but fear paralyzed her, fear that I wanted something more, fear that she wanted more...
And then she started to tear up, her face flushed, almost angry.
She said she wanted to throw up, felt as if she was on the verge of ruining my life, of dragging me back down into the pit with her... Even just being friends wasn't going to work, it was hurting both of us... we were being immature and only one of us could afford it...
A complete, screeching halt.
I just held her for about an hour, until her cell phone started to ring, until her mother called to ask why, exactly, her daughter used the word fuck so often.
* * * *
No long, dramatic goodbyes. The whole thing ended as it began back when she was just a high school kid with a skateboard, and I was a 21-year-old reporter: awkward silences and strange glances, a quick catch ya later, as if being 2,000 miles apart was somehow the same as living a few cities away from one another.
C'est la vie.
* * * *
I kept looking into the rear view mirror as my borrowed convertible crawled up the Cuesta Grade.
I'm not sure what I was looking for, exactly, but I saw something I hadn't seen before, something buried in the ever growing lines in my face, beneath the increasing numbers of gray hairs.
I saw an old man, a terrified old bastard, staring back at me.
Where the fuck did he come from?
- END -