This story first appeared in the Lit Select anthology Love Slave: Sizzle Vol.5 March 2016

Ralph walked across the lobby to the phone, then hesitated, turned to walk away but stopped again after a few steps. Ralph was nervous. He and Clarice hadn’t spoken for years. Once they had been more than close but they had lost track of each other, moved on to other relationships, different lives. He wasn’t sure she would even want to hear from him now. What if her husband answered the phone?

But the memory of her laugh wouldn’t let go of him. In his mind’s eye he saw her lopsided grin and the sparkle in her eyes, the color of which he could never quite be sure of. Were they green with flecks of hazel or blue with hints of green? He did recall with certainty her wavy, blond hair and the way his hand fit perfectly in the small of her back when they embraced. He wanted to see her again, or at least hear her voice.

Ralph turned back to the phone. He would call her. What would be the harm? They could go out for dinner, have a few laughs. He leafed through the phone book and found her number. He realized he had been fidgeting with the quarters in his hand the entire time he had been agonizing over the decision to call Clarice. They were slick with sweat and he fumbled with the change as he fed it into the coin slot.

The phone rang six times. Ralph almost hung up but Clarice answered on the last ring.

“Hello?”

“Clarice? This is Ralph…Ralph Anderson.”

“Ralph? Ralph! Oh my God, Ralph! How are you?”

Even after all these years, the sound of her voice made his pulse quicken. “Clarice, it’s so good to hear your voice again. I know it is last minute, but are you free this evening? Would you like to go out for a bite, and catch up?”

Clarice didn’t hesitate. “I could do that. Bill’s playing cards tonight. I’d have to get a sitter,” she replied. “Where? What time?”

“How about Kel’s? Around seven?”

“Perfect,” Clarice exclaimed. “I can’t wait to see you!”

Ralph held the phone with the dial tone buzzing in his ear for a moment before hanging up. He smiled and went up to his room to change.

Ralph arrived at the restaurant before Clarice. A booth towards the back of the room became available and he sat there, nervously sipping water, waiting, unsure of what was to come, not sure of what he wanted to happen. He kept glancing towards the front of the restaurant, looking for Clarice. Had she changed? Would he even recognize her? Would she recognize him?

When she walked through the door it was as if they had never parted. She looked around the room, searching for him. Their eyes met and she lit up with happy recognition, striding briskly towards him. Ralph rose to meet her. They stood face to face for a brief, awkward moment which popped like a bubble when Clarice laughed and threw her arms around Ralph’s neck, drawing him towards her for a kiss.

Clarice sat across from Ralph and the waitress took their orders: onion soup, and steak, done rare for Ralph and a salad followed by roast lamb for Clarice. They asked for a carafe of house red with the meal, deferring drinks until then.

While waiting for their food they chatted, a little self-consciously, about their lives since they’d last seen each other. Clarice had switched majors from psychology to education and gone into teaching after she graduated. Her husband, Bill, was an electrical engineer. They lived on the west side of town with their children, two daughters and a son, seven, nine and twelve years old.

Ralph found himself getting lost staring into Clarice’s eyes (tonight they seem green. Definitely green, Ralph thought). “I’d forgotten how pretty you are. You wear your hair shorter now, I like it.”

Clarice ran a hand through her hair and laughed. “You’re too far away. Do you mind if I get closer?” she said, coming around the table and sliding in next to Ralph even as she asked. “That’s better.” Clarice leaned against Ralph’s shoulder. His hand found her thigh. He felt the smooth texture of her stocking and the soft ridges of the corduroy skirt she was wearing. They kissed again, longer and more intimately than that first kiss when greeting.

“You’re bolder than I remember,” she remarked.

Embarrassed, he snatched his hand back and mumbled an apology.

“I didn’t say you should stop.” Clarice looked impishly into Ralph’s eyes, holding his gaze as she gently replaced his hand between her legs. He stroked her skin. It felt warm and inviting.

The waitress brought the salad and Ralph’s soup, providing a timely interruption.  Reflexively they drew apart and focused on other appetites. Ralph dipped a spoon in the soup and brought it to his nose, inhaling the aroma of onions and rich broth for a moment before tasting. He felt his hunger awaken and savored each spoonful, pausing to enjoy the textures of the cheese and the still crunchy toast, just softening around the edges where the soup had soaked in. Clarice ate her salad with small, polite bites. She smiled with pleasure when a cherry tomato burst in her mouth, the tart, fresh pulp a perfect contrast to the crisp iceberg lettuce

When their entrees arrived they eagerly turned their attention to the main course. The steak was tender and bloody, nicely seared. It seemed to melt in Ralph’s mouth.

“Mmmm. This lamb is excellent! Here! Try a bite,” Clarice exclaimed.

She impaled some meat on her fork and leaned towards Ralph, placing it in his mouth. He closed his lips around the morsel and slid it from the tines, taking his time to appreciate the savory, salty flesh. Hints of rosemary and some other herb he couldn’t quite place left a vague, pleasant aftertaste on his tongue. Clarice leaned in and licked the sheen of lamb fat from his lips.

Ralph reciprocated, sharing his steak and mashed potatoes. The conversation tapered off as they both fell to eating. In between bites they sipped wine and soon settled into a warm, comfortable sense of relaxation, sated with food and alcohol.

When the waitress came round again she found Ralph and Clarice leaning together, staring wordlessly at their empty plates.

“Shall I bring the desert menu?” she inquired as she gathered up the dishes.

“Yes, please,” Ralph and Clarice replied in unison. Startled, they looked at each other and laughed. When the waitress returned they decided after a brief deliberation to share a chocolate torte. Clarice surprised Ralph by ordering a scotch, neat. He seemed to remember she didn’t used to drink much and had an aversion to whisky. Some sort of bad associations with her father’s drinking, as he recalled.

Clarice excused herself to use the restroom. Ralph watched her walk from the table, tall and slender, with fine hips. A dancer’s form. Her skirt bounced with each step. When she returned she noticed him still watching and smiled, her expression a little bit of vanity mixed with “I caught you, didn’t I?” She added a subtle hint of provocation to her stride and glanced at him to make certain Ralph noticed. He did.

The waitress came with their desert, two forks and Clarice’s drink. The torte was a thick wedge of dense chocolate, dark brown, almost black against the white china plate. Ralph forced the edge of his fork down through the confection to cut free a bite, which he speared and tenderly offered to Clarice. She looked into his eyes, holding his gaze as she took it in her mouth. As the chocolate dissolved, she closed her eyes, tipped her head back, and purred.

Clarice placed a bite of the torte in Ralph’s mouth. He let it melt on his tongue. It was silky and full of flavors, some sweet, some bitter, all with that almost dusty taste of really fine chocolate. He let the flavors wrestle in his mouth for a long moment before swallowing. He too, closed his eyes, almost involuntarily, as the chocolate met his palate.

When he opened his eyes, Clarice was lifting her scotch.

“May I have a taste of that?” he asked.

Instead of offering the drink to Ralph, Clarice drew his face to hers and kissed him. The kiss was a long one, their lips meeting, then opening. She let the scotch flow from her mouth into his. Ralph tasted Clarice. He tasted the smoky peat of aged single malt. He tasted dense, bittersweet chocolate. He tasted desire. The flavors melded together in an intricate dance that moved from her tongue to his, swirled around his mouth and rushed through him in a burst of sensation and feelings. The kiss became an embrace. They separated, falling back against their seats to recover their equilibrium. After a brief pause they finished the torte, deliberately, bite by bite, and drank the whisky, sharing kisses with each sip. They took their time. They did not leave a crumb of chocolate nor even a scent of scotch behind when they left the restaurant, walking arm in arm into the cool, dark night.

Unwilling to part, they strolled past their cars and up the dark city street. They came to a park, and followed a path that wound through tall, ancient trees. Near the center of the park, they left the trail and stepped into the dark shadows. Clarice put her back against a towering elm. Ralph leaned against her, one hand against the massive trunk to support his weight, his other hand encircling Clarice, pulling her close. He liked the feel of the coarse bark beneath his left hand. Ralph’s right hand found the warmth of her back where Clarice’s blouse had come untucked and ridden up, exposing bare skin. He drew her close. They pressed against each other, legs entwined. He could feel the length of her body against his, warm and firm, yet yielding. Liberated by the privacy the darkness afforded, they kissed with passion and abandon. Clarice slipped her arms inside Ralph’s shirt, caressing him. She pressed her ear against his chest.

“I can hear you heart beating,” she murmured.

“I can hear it too,” he replied, kissing the top of her head. Her hair tickled his face.

Ralph begged her to come back with him to his hotel, but Clarice refused.

“It’s late. I told the sitter I’d be back before ten-thirty and Bill will be home soon! I have to go.”

He let his hand slide down her back and slip inside her skirt. He squeezed gently, then pulled her tight against him. He felt her yield and fold herself so close it seemed as if they were one. They kissed again. Clarice placed her hand against his chest and pushed him firmly away.

“No. Please, Ralph, I really must go home.”

Reluctantly, he walked her back to her car. Under the blue glow of the street light, they kissed one last time. Clarice got in her car and drove away. Ralph savored the lingering taste of scotch and chocolate as he watched the tail lights recede and disappear around the corner.

Ralph woke with a snort. His lap robe had slipped down between his left leg and the side of his chair. It took him a moment to realize Clarice was not there. He had been dozing in front of the big cafeteria window. The sun was warm and comfortable. How long had it been since he’d last seen Clarice? It had been years since he had been with a woman. He hadn’t had a scotch since he’d come to Edgewood Manor, what? Five? No, six years ago. Ralph sighed. He probably wouldn’t get to enjoy either again in this life.

The sun made red patterns through his eyelids as Ralph nodded and drifted off again. His sense of time and place was growing more and more tenuous. Memories were slipping and blurring. The present was becoming as indistinct as the past. Hell, he thought, I don’t have a clue what day it is. I’m not sure what the year is. It felt as if his world was fading away; if it kept up nothing much more than the dingy white walls of his room at the nursing home would remain. And yet, and yet… the memory of that long-legged girl, those wet, hot kisses that tasted of dark chocolate and twice savored scotch, thankfully, that memory remained strong and clear. Ralph clung to the memory, letting the tastes and smells from so long ago rush through him once more. If he thought hard enough, if he could only concentrate, he could be with Clarice again.

“Wake up, Mr. Anderson,” the orderly said gently. “It’s time for your bath.”

This story first appeared in the Lit Select anthology Love Slave: Sizzle Vol.5 March 2016

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