Ru tried to remain present in its unfolding, this coming together with a man as a thirtysomething woman making her own decisions, satisfying her current needs and desires. But ultimately it was seventeen-year-old Ruthann Porter who would not be denied this definitive moment with Tate Pearson. The second Tate’s lips touched hers and his hand went searching under her skirt, his warm palm cupping her bare thigh, Ru was transported instantly to that virginal summer she vowed would be the last of its kind, that July he had draped his arm across her shoulders at Duffer’s in Wildwood, announcing to the waitress and the entire table that Ru was what he wanted for dessert. It was the same summer in which he’d told her to let go, and like a fool she had. He’d been referring to his beach towel, not himself, she realized too late. For that was also the summer he met Elaine Fenton, his future wife, mother of his children. He’d have other interests and bed partners between that meeting and the declaration of his marriage vows, but Ru had seen them together that night. She knew when a destiny wasn’t hers to claim. Ru was a good girl who always did the right thing, and so she left Tate and Elaine to their destiny. Over the years the many words she would use to describe her good girl self, hopelessly in love with a guy she knew could never love her back, morphed into one tidy little definition: coward.
. It had taken her twenty years to shake that stigma, and there was no way she was leaving that room, leaving Tate, without righting the wrong. Tonight she would go back to a time before Elaine Fenton, where there was no death, no children, no guilt or sorrow, just two young lovers who couldn’t get enough of each other.
. Once in the bed, stripped of clothing as well as inhibitions, she gloried in the heat radiating from his skin, the wet softness of his lips contrasting with the scratch of his beard as he ran his mouth along the contours of her body, kissing her most sensitive areas. When he joined with her, he clasped his hands with hers, holding them above her head, and she moved in perfect harmony with his body, two entities undulating in the fluidity of their lovemaking. Her hips pressed against the mattress with his withdrawal and rose to meet his thrusts until there was no pulling away. She wrapped her legs around him, her hands on his buttocks, guiding him deeper until she was thoroughly filled, their climaxes coming moments apart, complete and shattering.
. He stayed with her when it was over. He left the bed only briefly, taking his cell phone into the bathroom. Ru heard him talking low and knew it must be his mother-in-law on the other end. No matter what he told her, even if he came up with the best of lies, Siobhan knew her late daughter’s husband was spending the night with another woman. When he returned he curled his body around hers and she asked if he was all right.
. “No,” he answered. “But for a moment there I forgot I wasn’t.”
* * * * * * * * *
Ru woke up a good thirty minutes before Tate Tuesday morning. Considering he hadn’t had much restorative sleep over the past two weeks, she left the television off, opting instead to read the latest open novel on the Nook app on her iPhone. She didn’t even get up to pee, having already done that the first time she woke up at five a.m. When he finally cracked an eye it was close to eleven. He rolled on his side and kissed her arm.
. “Hey,” she said, reaching over to rub his form affectionately atop the covers. She put the phone down, hoping they’d have sex again before officially starting the day, but he climbed out and disappeared into the bathroom. When she heard the shower running she realized the fantasy was over. Her spirit deflated and sagged like overly-stretched breast tissue after silicone implants are removed.
. He exited the bathroom dressed in last night’s clothes, his hair wet and hand-combed.
. “I’m going downstairs for a toothbrush,” he said. “Can I bring you up some coffee?”
. “Sure. Thanks,” she said, taking her turn in the bathroom. When she came back out, clean and wet and wrapped in a skimpy towel he still hadn’t returned. There was a coffee on the nightstand by her cell phone, along with a penned note from Tate notifying her he was in the lobby reading the paper. Breakfast at Canter’s he’d written at the end, and her hypothetical de-ballooned titties rose to a respectable c-cup. Maybe last night hadn’t been an isolated occurrence.
. He was quiet on the way to Canter’s. She made small talk about how beautiful the weather was, observations about the city and the people in it, the Hollywood lifestyle and how different it was from its east coast entertainment mecca counterpart Manhattan.
. “I’m not sure I could live in either place,” she said. “It’s all so fast-paced and congested. Was it easy for you, making the transition?”
. He was slow to answer. “I don’t know. No. It’s not something I ever thought about. Or think about. I live where I live. It’s not the place, it’s me.”
. “I don’t know. I think people are either east coast people, or west coast people.”
. “Tell that to Texans.”
. “You know what I mean.”
. “I think you know what you mean. But I disprove that. I am neither east nor west coast.”
. “You’re west coast,” she said. “If you were east coast, you would have come back.”
. “My family’s here.”
. “And you made that family on the west coast.”
. “Ru.” He let out a long stream of air. “You make my head hurt.”
. They took a booth at Canter’s, ordered omelets, potato latkes with sour cream and a plate of pickles. When the plate of pickles arrived, Ru dived right into both the food and the conversation.
. “So, what does your day look like?”
. “Beyond eating lunch—” He shrugged, selecting a pickle. “I suppose I’ll drive you back to your hotel, then go back home to face my mother-in-law, hear about what a shit heel I am for staying out all night. Then I’ll spend some time with my daughters, watch Tilly watch TV and Brynn play on her cell phone until she realizes there are other people around and go lock herself up in her room.”
. “Maybe we could do something together tonight. All of us. Me, you and the girls. The movies. Or the mall. We don’t even have to wait until tonight. We could go after lunch. Disneyland. Universal. The Grammy Museum. It’s Hollywood. How many things are there to do here?”
. “Christ,” he harrumphed. “As the father of two future teenaged daughters, way too much. Maybe I will move them back to the east coast.”
. “Right. Because nothing bad happens there.”
. He smiled sheepishly. “You would know.”
. Ru came up in her seat. “What?”
. “You who makes her living devastating lives one drop of piss at a time.”
. “Now wait a minute; I do not ruin lives.”
. “I know, I know,” he cut in, overriding her words, circling the air with the pickle. “It’s all their faults. If they weren’t doing drugs, they wouldn’t lose their jobs. I hear you, I get it.”
. “Do you? I mean, seriously, do you understand the magnitude of it, the trickle down affect? How many lives can be ruined by one person’s choice to abuse drugs?”
. Ru was in her element now. She felt passionate about her job. Protecting families, law abiding citizens, corporations. It was the closest she’d ever get to being a public servant, a superhero. She could argue the virtues of her career all day long.
. “I’m always amazed by the importance placed on it by the user. Like, a person can lose his whole livelihood over this shit.”
. “For some people, taking drugs is their livelihood.”
. “Pathetic ones.”
. “Oh, come on, you can’t believe it’s that simple.”
. “Not all cases,” she conceded. “But the people I deal with, the ones who are recreational users or just on the cusp of full-blown addiction, in that intermittent state where they could stop before it all goes wrong: weak.”
. He tilted his head, eyeing her with amusement. He was about to say something that would incense her, she could tell.
. “Tread lightly,” she warned, and he broke out into a devilish grin, the dirty glint in his eye reminding her of a certain way he’d looked at her last night, just before he’d done that thing that had made her eyes roll back in her head.
. “So you’ve never been weak?” he asked.
. She felt her face growing warm.
. “That’s different,” she said.
. “Is it? That kind of weakness has ruined about as many lives as drugs. Maybe more.”
. “You can’t equate drugs with love.”
. Oh Jesus Christ, did she really just say that.
. “What I mean is,” she continued, not looking at him, hoping if she spoke her next words quickly, and if there were a lot of them, they would eat the ones she’d uttered seconds ago. “I love spaghetti, and as much as I love spaghetti—all Italian food—if someone told me I would lose my job and quite possibly be arrested or even die if I ate it, then I would not touch spaghetti. Or gnocchi or penne ala vodka or anything else prohibited. I would miss it, I would crave it, but I would not eat it.”
. His grin had settled into self-satisfied gloating. “Maybe if you’re equating spaghetti to meth, or heroin. But what if spaghetti was like pot? People have been fired over pot, right?”
. “Probably. I don’t get involved in the disciplinary phase; I simply test and issue the results.”
. “Yeah, okay. Well let’s say spaghetti is pot. You probably won’t be arrested or die from occasionally using it. It’s even getting legalized all over the place, just a matter of time before all fifty jump on board. But let’s just say spaghetti is illegal in Maryland. Tell me you wouldn’t go to a friend’s house now and again for dinner and just chow down on a big bowl of spaghetti. I mean, who would know?”
. “Really, who would know?”
. “I would know.”
. “And you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself? Is that what you’re saying?”
. “What I’m saying is that if there’s only so many times you can swing far on the moral compass before the needle breaks, that’s not the choice that’s going to send me to hell.”
. “Oh? What would be that choice?”
. He’d done it again, brought her back to this place. Was she a recreational user of Tate? Or hopelessly addicted? Would she lose her job for Tate? Her life? Not literally, but would she leave Maryland, her job, and move to California just to be near him? She had used the word love, hadn’t she?
. Or, was he asking her something completely different? Was he asking not what would push her over the edge, but just where her edge was located? Was it pursuing him as a married man? A widower? Was it turning him from a married man into a widower? Is that what he was thinking of her right now?
. She regarded him warily. “I think I answered that question about a month ago. And reaffirmed it last night. And made it blaringly obvious today,” she added softly.
. He straightened up, his expression turning sober as the server brought their platters.
. “Well,” he said, looking at his food, busying himself with shaking pepper onto his omelet, spooning a plap of sour cream onto his plate. “I’m in no better position to offer you anything than I was a month ago.”
. She studied him, waiting for him to look at her, but he didn’t. He took a bite of his food, and looked toward the doorway.
. “Oh, sure you are,” she said, eyeing him intently. “I got some dick, didn’t I? You weren’t offering that a month ago.”
. His gaze snapped back to her and she took a fry from his plate, biting it with a smirk.
. “Now whose piss is contaminated?”