She looked out on the grey world outside her kitchen window, a wry smile on her lips as she considered that view a metaphor for her life.
It was not that her life was bad; it was actually quite good. She had married well. John was a good husband who had a great career. He had given her three children, but they were the only color in her world. When they were at school, she was home and her world felt empty. And all too soon the youngest would be off to college.
She knew John loved her, but he no longer showed it. They had been so playful in the bedroom the first few years that she could hardly wait for him to come home each day. Over time they settled into life and intimacy became less frequent, more routine. Empty.
Joan sighed, then realized she had sighed out loud. Another grim smile.
For some reason she thought of Paul, an old boyfriend. She had fallen deeply in love with him. In fact, she thought they would marry. But then John came along and swept her off her feet, as the saying goes. She wondered idly what had become of Paul. It had been over twenty years.
Bored with the kitchen, Joan went upstairs to their bedroom. She stood in the doorway, taking in the view the way a stranger might. Tastefully decorated. All very proper, but no substance. No passion. It could easily have been part of a hotel suite. Des Moines or Toronto or Singapore. They all look the same.
Not finding anything in the bedroom, she walked into her office. She called it an office, although it was just a bedroom where she had a desk, her computer, a TV and her books. A large easy chair with a floor lamp for reading. The window looked out on the same grey.
Paul. Paul Saltzinger. He probably wouldn’t be hard to find. She looked at her computer, hesitating. She was only curious about him, after all, so she sat and started to search. She googled his name, but was surprised to see how many Paul Saltzingers there were. And no way to know one from the other.
“How would my kids search?”
Of course! She opened her rarely-used Facebook account. She hardly knew how to use it, but poked around until she found how to search. Again, quite a few Paul Saltzingers, but this time she could click on them and see personal details and possibly photos.
The eighth Paul she clicked on. There he was! Her heart actually felt a little flutter at seeing Paul’s face again. Older. Very distinguished. Single? Hadn’t he married? She was sure he had. His page said he lived just a half hour away.
She closed Facebook and stood, looking out the window again. Grey. But for a moment her life had not felt grey, had it? Shaking her head, Joan laughed at herself. Here she was, forty years old, responsible, respectable, wife and mother of three, and entertaining thoughts of contacting an old love. Without even thinking about it, she realized that was exactly what she had been considering. The thought shocked her.
She went back to the kitchen and made a sandwich. Sitting at the island, facing the window, the greyness confronted her again. Even the sandwich tasted plain. Two slices of nondescript white bread spread with boring and topped with grey. She dropped the sandwich on the plate. Tears formed in her eyes.
She stood and ran up the stairs. Without a pause, without even another thought about what she was doing or the dangers that could follow, she found Paul’s page again and figured out how to send a message.
The open message window mocked her. “What do I say? For that matter, what do I want?”
She leaned back in her chair, thinking about her time with Paul. He loved to stand behind her, his arms around her. He would kiss her on the neck. So softly. It always sent shivers through her and made her tummy quiver. Joan smiled at the thought, then realized she had felt those very feelings just now. Memory is powerful. She began typing:
Hi Paul, this is Joan Petersen. Well you knew me as Joan Olson. I came across your facebook page and noticed you lived close by.
Now what? “Came across” was a stretch, but she could just as easily have found him as a friend of a friend. But what did she want?
I was wondering how you are.
Stalling. “Might as well talk about the weather”, she said, “Get to the point, Joan!”
Paul, I was wondering whether you would like to have lunch sometime. Let me know. Love, Joan.
“Is that what I am after?”
Joan re-read the message. She hesitated. Then she looked out the window again and felt the grey sink back into her. She clicked on Send.
Back to the kitchen. There was the sandwich. One bite out of it. She stared at it, then threw it away. She gazed down at the sandwich in the trash, wondering whether it was a metaphor for all she wanted to throw out of her life. But what exactly did she want to throw out? Not her family. Not John even. No, it was not throwing something out that she needed. It was adding something. She wanted what she had, but she wanted more. Something special. Perhaps something exciting. Something secret.
She realized every day of her life was spent in providing for others, making them happy, but no one worked hard to make her happy. Oh, her husband made a lot of money and they had things. But things one can live without. Things without soul. Colorless.
Desire. Joan wanted to feel desired. She smiled at the thought. Just the very thought of a man desiring her, holding her, kissing her, seemed to color her soul.
Although it had only been fifteen minutes, she ran upstairs to see whether Paul had answered.
There was a message!
Joan! Just discovering I had a message from you made my whole day! It is so good to hear from you after all these years. I would love to have lunch with you. I want to hear about your life and your family. How about tomorrow? I can come to you. Love, Paul.
“Love”! Joan wondered whether Paul agonized over using that word the way she had.
Dear Paul: Thanks for answering so quickly! I am so happy to have found you again. People who mean a lot to us are never forgotten. I suppose we each occupy a place in the other’s heart. Don’t you think? Tomorrow would be wonderful, but let me come to you. Tell me when and where and I will count the minutes. Love, Joan.
She hoped she was not being too forward, too bold, but she knew her inner thoughts and feelings, not even expressed to herself, were finding expression in her message to Paul. She felt warm and happy and looked out the window without even noticing it was still grey.
She left early the next day—a half hour earlier than necessary. She was singing as she drove. When she pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, she saw him immediately. He was early as well. Her heart felt high in her throat.
Paul saw her at the same moment and was standing next to her car when she opened her door. She stood, looking into his eyes, then threw her arms around him, and cried.
“What’s wrong? Why are you crying”
“I don’t know....I just...that is...Oh it’s so good to see you!”
A few minutes later, seated in a booth and having ordered, they had a chance to talk. Yes, Paul had been married, but she had left him once their two children were in college. He was alone in the house, not sure he wanted to remarry, but lonely.
They had once been open books to each other and slipped easily back into that relationship.
“Joan, something is wrong, isn’t it? Why did you look me up after all these years?”
Joan paused, not sure she was yet willing to be that open.
His eyes. It was his eyes that made her talk. She sensed his eyes could penetrate her thoughts and her heart anyway.
“I don’t know, Paul. My world feels grey. I don’t know how else to explain it. I love John and our kids, but everything is for them and I no longer feel moments of joy. The day I contacted you I had thought about you and realized the thought made me smile. I remember our happy times together. Is that stupid of me?”
Paul smiled back, but did not speak immediately. Joan thought perhaps his eyes appeared watery. She began to be worried. She had just bared her soul, and Paul would not say anything.
Finally, after what seemed a long time, but was probably only fifteen seconds, Paul began speaking. “After my wife left I was bitter. I hate being alone. I miss having someone to love, to care for, think about, day dream about. Then I thought of you. It was about four months ago when I realized the woman who occupied my thoughts was you. The only other woman I have loved. I didn’t dare reach out to you. I thought I would just make a fool of myself, so when your message appeared it was like a lifeline to a happier time.”
Paul lowered his head, eyes looking at the table. Joan reached across and took his hand. Their eyes met, all four full of tears.
The food arrived. It seemed such an interruption, so unwanted now. But they ate, and while they ate they chatted freely, talking of likes, dislikes, great experiences, sorrows, children. And lost loves. They laughed the laughs of old friends, sharing old memories, making new ones.
Neither wanted it to end, but Joan knew eventually she would need to go back to her world. Paul, knew that as well, but in his case did not relish the idea of going back to his. He felt life, his own life, returning. A desire for living, for happiness, for caring for someone.
They walked to her car. As she reached the door, Joan turned to say goodbye, but hugged him instead. They just stood there. No words were needed. It was not fully possible to express in words what each felt anyway, so why bother. It felt so good to hold each other again, to feel a heart full of love.
To an observer it would have been difficult to say which of the two decided to kiss the other. It was probably a tie, both needing to express their feelings that way. Both needing to feel what only a kiss can express. Suddenly they returned to what they had once enjoyed. Passion seemed to explode around them as their lips and tongues explored, touched and excited. There was a certain aspect to their kisses, almost frantic, as if each needed it and knew it could end abruptly.
The kiss ended. Their foreheads touching, they stood and looked at each other.
Paul spoke first. “Joan, maybe I shouldn’t say this. Maybe you will be mad and slap me. Come to my home tomorrow. Same time. No food, except each other. I want to hold you and kiss you. I want to undress you and make love to you."
Joan did not answer immediately. Looking into his eyes, searching. She knew she wanted him, but could she do this?
“Paul, you have no idea how much I want you, how much I long to feel your touch, your kisses. How much I crave feeling you inside me even. Let me think about it on the drive home. I will let you know by tonight.”
In her car, on the freeway, the world seemed full of color. She smiled, thinking of his kiss, his arms around her, holding her so close. He was so sweet, so familiar. He desired her! What a great feeling!
As she parked in the garage and entered the kitchen, she happened to look out the window. Blue sky, green leaves and grass. So many shades of green! Life was wonderful again.
She ran upstairs, logged onto Facebook, typed her message and clicked on Send. Almost in one unbroken motion.
A few milliseconds later, Paul opened the message.
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<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/a-world-of-color-1.aspx">A World of Color</a>