Never Look Back

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Chapter 48

“Will you do something for me?” Odera returned a moment later with scented oil. “Give me a massage?” She laid down on the bed, a pillow pulled under her head. “Start with my back. Take it slow. I’ll warn you if you step over the line, and when I want you to. Sit on my legs and don’t worry about the bedspread.”

“The last thing on my mind right now is linen,” I told her squirting a stream of rose-scented oil onto her back and massaged her neck with gentle pressure.

Several minutes passed until she said, “Now I know how Cleopatra felt. A little firmer, I won’t break.”

Our desultory conversation made me grin at the unctuous moans elicited beneath my hands. I slid my index finger upward, bent in half so the knuckle separated muscle and then reversed its course. After thoroughly rubbing her back and arms, kneading and working each arm from shoulder cap to finger, I began at her feet. Lifting the left foot first, I worked the tendons of each toe, then footpad and finally the ankle before moving onward and upward.

When I arrived at her thighs, I paused. At my hesitation, Odera opened her legs wider. Beginning with the hamstrings, I pushed my thumbs into the long muscles, which evoked little grunts, mixtures of pain and pleasure. Encouraged, I ran my hands along the inside of her thighs, stopping short of her delta, but not too short. Silence fell between us, thick and heavy. My hands returned to her back, folding the skin on the way up and stretching it on the way back. Odera relaxed into the mattress with a soft sigh. More than ten minutes passed.

“All Done. Don’t forget to tip the front desk.”

“What about the front? Didn’t your mother teach you never to leave a job half-done?”

“Mothers share sage wisdom.”

“Straddle my hips. I want to watch your eyes.”

“We’re using humour again.”

“I know. What are you thinking?”

“Several things, which includes a desire to arouse you, while remaining vigilant that I don’t, even though it’s the direction we’re heading.”

When I loitered at her shoulders, Odera moved my hands lower, and said, “The same feelings spin in my head. I want to make love, but I’m terrified, which makes you more desirable because you are out of reach, but I keep thinking about it. I also want to please you and therefore myself, which brings me right back to the beginning. I’m so ripe I’m about to fall off the branch.” Confusion swept across her features, furrowing her brows, and crinkling the corners of her eyes. “Mmm. I like that. A little softer,” she said, raising her head.

Her kiss came tender and probing as if she tested the strength of thin ice.

When it ended, I said, “Tell me what you’re feeling.”

“Pleasure and warmth. All I see is you. And you?” She arched her back slightly as I drew lazy, ever-widening rings about her aureoles, before indolently working my fingertips inward.

“As though I’m skirting the edge of a hurricane,” I described, sliding my hands up to her shoulders.

“No, don’t stop. I was enjoying that. Does it bother you knowing intimacy holds such power over us?”

A long interlude passed until I found a way to translate the garble running through my head.

“It makes me hesitant as if I’m about to trigger racks of circling thunderclouds.”

“Lie down beside me,” she said tugging my arm. “I love how you play with words.”

I propped myself up on an elbow.

“Speaking descriptively makes it easier to share.”

“Don’t let your eyes leave mine, and you will not trigger anything that I don’t want you to,” she promised.

Odera took my hand and moved it down past her stomach.

“Let it rest there a while,” she murmured in a far-away voice. After a pause, and while gloom masked her face, she whispered, “I just want to be normal, not a frightened mouse that fears the dark, sudden noises and strangers. I miss seeing me in the mirror.”

Delving into her soft-sad eyes, I sorted my thoughts. Odera sighed. Two or three minutes later I put something together.

“My perception of you is different. I see faith assuaging a trembling heart that fearfully beautifully yearns more.”

A quiet interlude followed. The silence built and built, escalating to a coliseum of shouts, a symphony strong enough to crumble walls.

“A trembling heart fearfully beautifully yearning more. You cannot see so much and not feel it in return. Talk to me.”

Emboldened, she pressed my hand tighter to her.

“I don’t know what to say. What would you have me say?”

“Doesn’t matter. I just need your voice. You look distant.”

“Where do you find your strength?”

“How can you not know? You’re my courage when I cannot find my own. I never understood how much, until this very moment.”

“Funny, but watching your battles helped me to face my demons. Who would have thought Lady Fate might bring us here?”

“Then you agree with me?”

Odera pressed my hand closer.

“I don’t know anything, anymore. I try not to look too far into the past or into the future, but to take each day at face value. Tomorrow is borrowed time. Yesterday is pain. All we have is now. A lifetime can be lived within a moment if it’s the right one.”

Odera’s knees shook, firming when she repositioned her feet.

“Do you still deny the connection we made ― mmm ― that first day? We made it again at the lake and often since, but it’s the first day I’ll always remember above the others.”

Mild currents of unease flowed through me, strengthening. Why did we have to talk and talk? Waiting for the unease to fade, I witnessed Odera’s desire and felt her trust. In experimental increments, she moved cautiously. Her breath went shallower and halting.

“That connection binds us,” I shared. “Days such as today sustain me. That first day I thought it was lust. I left before you noticed.”

“That’s why you hurried off. Would you kiss my breasts? I felt ― when I looked in your eyes that day, and many since, that I looked at myself, but when you ignored me ― I doubted us. A little slower, please. But not any longer.”

“You’re difficult to ignore, Odera.” Scanning her eyes for alarm, I took joy from its absence. “The lake threw me. And then anxiety struck me dumb.”

“Can you tell me why?” she asked, plying me with her expression. “Can you reach deeper?”

Soft moans urged a response as she moved my hand more determinedly.

Coaxing. Daring. Proclaiming.

“You’re making it hard to concentrate.” When her eyes narrowed, I said, “When I accepted what we shared, fear spawned a need for seclusion. Prison decimated so much, I couldn’t speak of what I felt, couldn’t even identify it. I’ve been in survival mode for so long, I’m not sure how to get out of it.”

“It’s not exclusive to prison. Most men find emotional disclosure difficult.” Under my vigilant gaze, she exhaled a whispering gasp and moved determinedly. “Keep going in circles. There, ever-so-slowly.”

Uncertainty and fear stampeded into view.

“You’re okay?”

“Um, hmm, it hurts, when I think about it. I’m trying not to, but ― dammit.”

Tears filled the corners of her eyes. I froze while she knuckled her eyes with the hand she took from my wrist.

“Should we stop? Rest awhile?”

“No. I’m okay. I don’t see him. I want you to feel that I enjoy your touch. Do not stop. You’re evoking some breathless sensations.”

“You don’t have to prove it to me.”

“I need to prove it to myself. It’s so stupid. I know that you are here, but suddenly I feel him. Isn’t that dumb?”

“Not dumb. Just irrational.”

“Keep going. Help me to exorcise my ghosts.”

Odera’s eyes locked onto mine, refusing to quit as she pushed herself to bear the unbearable. Fearful apprehension faded, giving way to joy. Swivelling and rotating hips tilted for more. Soft and sensual utterances filled the air.

“Let it build. Kiss me.”

Odera’s lips enveloped mine. Seconds later, she took her mouth away.

“I can’t. Oh God, no. Not again.”

Unpalatable horror rose. Nails pierced my flesh where they held my wrist and blood flowed. The terror that came between my touch barged between us.

“Stop! Stop. Vicious bastard. I hate you! I fucking hate you!”

Face scrunched up, eyes jungle wild with fear and pain and anger, confusion contorted her expression as it ran the gambit of emotions. I collapsed off my elbow, neither touching her nor speaking. I waited. Odera looked to me wearing emotions ranging from fury to sorrow to adoration.

“Oh God, I’m so sorry. It was the knife. I just couldn’t ― I tried, but it hurt so much. Hold me. I’m sorry.”

“It was him. He’s gone now.”

“He’s not fucking gone. He’s in my stupid head. Almost six years later and I still see and feel him hurting me. Will I never be free of that night? Will his knife forever sever hopes and dreams?”

“Let him leave. Give it time. We have endless days to try again. We’ll create dreams beyond his reach.”

Gone was my anger at Odera’s attacker. Only the scars mattered now. Odera accepted a tissue and blew her nose, always touching me with at least one hand, as if deriving strength from our embrace. After a long, silent period, she snuggled closer, so we shared the same space, the same air.

“You’re the tenderest cold person I know. Sometimes you need to open your eyes.”

“What about?”

“About not being able to express what’s inside. You were making love to me and have been doing so for months. I adore your eyes, gentle, yet strong. Sometimes closed and hard, yet soft and inviting. Everything about you is a conflict ― in polar opposition,” she chortled, finding mirth. “My bi-polar man.”

“Oh, is that right?” I said tickling her. “Look in the mirror, Sybil.”

Odera wriggled closer and shoved her leg between mine until I had trouble deciding whose limb belonged to whom. A deep and hungry kiss stopped our play. It was as though she sucked the wind from me and blew life back. For a breathless eternity, an unspoken rite of passage carried us beyond anything I had ever known. At the end of the kiss, her laser eyes announced we had crossed another hurdle.

“I feel loved and safe. I did not think I’d ever feel that again. Is there anything I can do to bring you the same?”

“You already did. You were amazing to have braved so much.”

“Tit for tat.” She extricated herself from my arms and reached for the oil. I smiled and rolled onto my stomach. “Uh uhh, flip over.” Odera sat on my thighs and poured oil onto her palm. “Tell me how you want to be touched.” She looked down as I stirred, fascinated as blood surged and transformed. “Look me in the eye and tell me your thoughts,” she said, learning about my body.

“If you’re going to supply all of the muscle, it hardly seems fair that I neglect the twins out of hand.”

“Out of hand indeed. Sounds as though you want to barter.” Odera shook her shoulders, making her breasts jiggle. “Now that we’ve arrived at a commodity, it’s only a matter of numbers. I have two to table. What do you offer?”

“Do ye be thinking thair quivering mounds be made of gold? Och, you wee poor lass, you no be affording the rightful due of what you hold in thy fist.”

“Is it two for the price of one, then?” she laughed.

“Aye. You have the right of it,” I declared, smiling at her euphonious spirit.

“Dinner. Tomorrow night. Your place. You shop. I’ll cook. Oh, and I want to invite your sister and her husband into the city for a meet and greet.”

“Do you have any other tricks?”

“First, you have to live through today. Now, am I doing this right? Talk to me. Tell me how to deliver maximum pleasure.”

“I don’t know if I’m going to survive you,” I decided, only half-joking.

“Don’t worry old man. I’ll resuscitate your old bones if you pass out. It’s the least I can do for a man of your advanced years.”

“Promises, promises.”

“Scoundrel! Knave! I think that I’ve spoiled you, so I shan’t go farther, but leave you forever yearning more.”

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