Grace reflected, took another slug of brandy and sank back into the sofa cushions.
“Well, to cut a long story short, Edward’s obsession with finding and keeping one beautiful girl grew. Many accepted his terms over the years and had a few good months, but none could stick to Edward’s rules. No touching. Performing only on stage, but not taking part in anything, not in the fucking, the talking. Nothing. That isolation took its toll. When Edward started giving them sexual relief, they stayed a little longer, but one by one, they failed, found ways to have sex, got hold of drugs even, so he dismissed them with a generous redundancy package. I helped a few of those girls. Edward was so jealous by this time, he couldn’t tolerate the other men touching his chosen one. He didn’t even allow his chosen one to touch herself, but I’m sure you know that.”
“Then you came along, and everything changed. You changed something in him. And you didn’t falter. You were his perfect mate. But at what cost? Who is the real Sonya? Do you even know? You see, he crushed both of us. He crushed me with cruelty, and he crushed you with kindness, but you’re as powerless and lost now as I was after the rape.”
For the first time ever, Sonya left the room first. She’d already picked up her notes and was by the door when she dismissed the class.
Peripherally, she was aware that Graham was outside, leaning against the wall. She rushed straight past him to her office, found she couldn’t breathe there and left for the park.
As she paced, she realised that she had no idea what a healthy sexual relationship was. She’d seen relationships and learned about affection, hugging, kissing in public. She’d learned about human love as an alien looking in rather than as a human child who was part of it. She couldn’t identify with the need for it or the joy of having it. Even thinking about public displays of affection made her uncomfortable.
(“Why? Seriously, why?”)
When the answer came to her, it was so elemental that she almost cried with relief and frustration. These tokens of caring and love eventually led to sex, to healthy intercourse and orgasms. She had no idea how that worked.
Grace’s friends didn’t show her that. Grace was no role model there. She was a madam without a man in her life. Her only ‘children’ were the women she looked after and eventually taught to become escorts (if that’s what they wanted. Not all did.) What would she know about normal sex? Who else was there?
(“I could find out in a book.”)
She laughed out loud at that. Was there such a manual?
(“Healthy Sex for Dummies.”)
Maybe she could do some research and write that as her thesis.
The woman was as large as Sonya was small, as flamboyant as Sonya was drab.
Where Sonya had slunk into the furthest corner of the café, this woman strutted to the central window seat and preened.
This was not to say that Sonya wasn’t beautiful, but she wore her exquisite looks like a sheath that she removed before going out, rendering her invisible. Her husband had married her for her beauty and he expected her to share it only with his permission.
But now Edward was dying.
When the bird of paradise in the window went out of focus, Sonya realised she was crying. She needed to compose herself. Edward would expect to see her soon and she still needed to get ready.
But the next day, she was back, secreted into the corner and observing life. She clutched her cup of tea like a lifeline, envious of the carefree customers laughing over drinks, talking, sharing, hugging.
(“I was once like that.”)
A fuzzy memory of herself as an 18-year-old, dancing on the table in a bar, or was it a club, increased her melancholy. She’d been loud and confident, surrounded by people who encouraged her. There’d been men…
The woman strode in again and Sonya stared. Deep, tanned wrinkles betrayed age, but this seemed irrelevant. The waves of self-assurance rolling off her made Sonya feel even more insignificant. Even ten years ago, when she’d been free, she never possessed that sort of presence.
“You’re quite incredible, and I…”
Graham looked at her with a warm semi-smile.
“You know, on the first day, I thought your example was a bit of fiction, unrealistic and off-the-wall, to get us thinking.”
“Is that why you were so obnoxious?”
“Sorry. Believe me, when I realised it was real… I really am sorry. When I discussed this with my shrink, he helped me see that I needed a different strategy if I wanted you to talk to me.”
“So is that what I am to you? A strategy?”
(“Communication. Say thank you but no thank you. Now!”)
“No, I didn’t mean that at all. I just learned that I had to behave differently than normal.”
(“Get up and go.”)
“So this isn’t the real you?”
“Of course it is. It’s just that…”
Sonya rose, finally, to walk out of the café and out of his life, head held high.
“Sonya, please. Give me a chance. I’m not good with words. Let me show you the real me. Please.”
She looked at Graham for so long, she almost felt dizzy again, not because she was panicking this time, but because he was so appealing, looking at her with expectant puppy eyes.
“Ok. Friday. Let me know where and when to meet you.”
“Mmh, come here, darling.”
The window seat was really a nest of cushions, and in a practiced move, Graham settled behind Sonya so she ended up sitting between his legs, leaning back against him.
Secure in his embrace, Sonya couldn’t imagine a life without him. She could hardly remember a time she hadn’t known him, for the life he’d given her by being there for the last few years, never giving up even when things seemed unbearable, when nightmares had her scream and pace for hours, when it looked like her dream was never going to become reality, when she’d pushed him away not believing she could ever be rid of her past, that life they’d built for the two of them, shone brighter than even her years of education, and it resigned her first 29 years to documented and filed away history that no longer held much power over her.
She sighed when his hands settled over her breasts and he nibbled her ear. She leaned back and turned her head for a kiss. Showing Graham affection was so easy for her now. She pulled back and looked into those eyes. She’d always loved his eyes, the windows to his soul. Even when she knew nothing, she could read them.
“I love you, too,” she smiled.
“What?” he winked. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Your eyes did.”
Sonya’s jaw dropped to the floor when she walked into the lecture theatre for her third seminar and saw Grace sitting in the back row, next to Graham.
This week had gone so well, so far. She’d avoided the canteen, dealt with three young students who’d signed up for a follow-up tutorial of the first two weeks’ materials, and reached almost 10,000 words of her thesis. Well, most of that was headings and background. The next 90,000 were the hard part.
She’d been rehearsing the tasks she’d devised round this week’s topic of physical abuse in her head when she noticed her ‘new’ student, who today wore plum and forest green. She was holding court to those that dared to ask what a septuagenarian would be doing in an abuse lecture.
Sonya didn’t want to know what stories Grace was spinning.
(“Rise to it or ignore?”)
What she did end up doing was to include her as if she really was a student. She knew that Grace was wise enough not to sabotage her. Her background and experiences might actually benefit the students.
When the longest 2 hours of her life were finally over, the students were buzzing with input, and Sonya was dying to pin Grace down on what the hell she was thinking, gate-crashing. Only she never got a chance as her friend walked out on Graham’s arm.
She dropped her paperwork off at the office and walked.
Graham leaned towards her and winked as he picked up the nightie from the end of the bed.
“Why don’t you use the bathroom first?”
When she came back, his only reaction was in his eyes, those eyes.
“Now, you make yourself comfortable while I use the bathroom.”
Quickly, she slipped under the duvet.
(Do I take the nightie off?)
Too late. Graham was back, undressed down to his boxer shorts. The thought of what they were hiding gave her a moment of apprehension. He stayed still, letting her look until she relaxed.
“Ready?” he asked. “Or do you want me to leave?”
She shook her head.
(I want you. But how.)
“Ok, lights off now or later.”
She was still staring at his bulging boxers.
“Before or after I get undressed?”
(Oh my, oh my.)
Sonya felt her body shake with something stupendous. It could be embarrassment, and fear. Yes, there definitely was fear, but she resisted asking him to turn the light off immediately.
(Did I really say that?)
When he reached for the waistband, she realised she had. So she watched. His erection was so powerful he had to free it before he was able to drop the boxers. Unashamedly, he stood in front of her.
She’d never realised that just the sight of an erection could have her quivering like jelly.
Then he moved to his trousers and drew out a foil packet which he placed on the bedside table.
(Wow, I’d completely forgotten about that.)
After he’d turned off the lights and slipped into bed beside her, Sonya suddenly wished she was anywhere but here.
(I can’t do this.)
But when he drew her to him and tucked her back against his front and sighed, her mind did a U-turn and she regretted not taking off the night gown.
“My sweet. You feel amazing. If this is all we do tonight, it’s already the best night of my life.”
“Don’t you want to have sex?”
The hurt she felt was as surprising as it was unexpected, robbing her of breath. She had to get away.
(Mistake. I knew it.)
“I don’t want to have sex,” Graham clarified, “because I want to make love to you.”
“Then why don’t you?”
There was a distinct wobble in her voice now.
“Because you aren’t ready. Now relax.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand, sweet?”
“You’ve had all those girls and I’m sure they all knew what they were doing. I don’t, so how can this be the best.”
“Because all the other girls were not you. They meant nothing. Rites of passage. You, you’re real.”
As if to underline that truth, his erection twitched, trapped against her back.
Instinctively, she arched her back and pushed against the tumescence, causing Graham to groan.
(I have powers.)
Which slipped her mind when Graham’s hand brushed across her stomach and settled on her breast. This time she didn’t quite freeze. Her breast swelled into his palm and she gave in. Graham held her, still but intimate, and gave her time.
Gradually, fear subsided and a sense of adventure surfaced. She arched again to test his reaction. His grip tightened for a moment before, through the material, he massaged her breasts and tugged at her nipples, changing sides, slowly, cautiously, until she felt she must surely combust.
Then her breasts went cold. His hand was gone. Moments later, new sensations had her reeling when his hand slid down her side and up her leg, under the hem of her gown until it came to rest directly on her tummy.
“Sweet, is this ok? Too fast? Do you want me to stop?”
“Don’t go away,” she whispered.
“Lie on your back.”
She did, wondering what he’d do next.
He pushed the nightie up further until he’d bared her breast. Then the garment was gone and both breasts had attention. Graham’s hand was on one, his mouth on the other. Gently, he tugged, sucking one into his mouth and pinching the other with his fingers.
As amazing as this felt, Sonya became aware that her core, swollen and trembling, was rocking with need.
“Please,” she murmured, not sure what she was asking for, but there must be something to alleviate this ache, this need.