FRIENDS OR LOVERS?
by Rumple Foreskin
Amy Marshall sat alone and miserable on the bank of the Mississippi River. A giant oil tanker heading upstream went unnoticed. She was too busy trying not to cry.
The tall redhead felt angry and weepy, and incredibly stupid for not knowing why. Leaning back against a big, driftwood log, she closed her eyes and tried to come up with an answer.What has gotten into you, girl? One minute you’re feeling great, joking with the other guests—though why anyone, even hippies, would want an outdoor wedding in August is beyond me. Then all of a sudden, it’s like someone turned on all the bad vibes in the world.
Mark Cahill, her oldest friend, was lugging wedding stuff back to the cars parked on the other side of the levee. She was waiting for Libby and Bob. They'd slipped off during the riverside ceremony and were still in hiding.
“Bullshit not thy own self,” she said, quoting one of Mark’s favorite sayings. The thing was, she had a hunch there was more to her bad mood than just that shit-eating grin on Melinda’s face when the Chief Boo-Hoo of the Neo-Anthro Church said she and Harvey were husband and wife.
The real downer was this spot. It was somewhere around here Mark that kissed her—okay, make that she kissed him. But he returned the kiss, thank God. Amy wasn’t sure her battered ego could have taken another rejection.
It happened three months ago, May 11, 1968, a Saturday evening. Not that the date was important--it just kind of stuck in her mind. She felt so crappy that week. When the guy you’ve dated for over a year, who you’re pinned to, who’s such a non-demanding gentleman and lover, when he dumps you for another guy, it’s way more than depressing.
“Face it Amy old girl,” she muttered, “for someone who’s supposed to be so damn good looking, you’ve got a lousy record with guys.” The brainy track star back in high school, the LSU quarterback her freshman year, followed by the South American diplomat’s son, and now the future architect. They were all fascinating, even exotic. With each one she thought it was real love. Maybe it had been.
She’d spent hours on the phone talking Mark’s ear off about her latest romantic disaster. He said something about a levee party, but she wasn’t paying attention. A few days later, three girl friends invaded her room. Saying she’d been in bed all day, which was true, they forced her to get up and come with them.
LSU students are always ready to party. It seemed like everyone she knew was there. At first she tried to be a good sport and get into the spirit. But the laughter and good times just annoyed her. A few beers, some cheap wine, even a little weed, did nothing but make her feel more miserable than ever. Rather than be a wet blanket, she grabbed a beer and wandered away.
As the light from the bonfire dimmed, she found a small, driftwood sanctuary near the riverbank. That’s where Mark found her a few minutes later, sitting behind a big log, trying not to cry.
He sat down beside her without saying a word. There was a light, cool breeze coming off the river. When she shivered, he put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. That did it. She let out a sob that was a mixture of despair and release, laid her head on his chest, and cried until she ran out of tears.
When her breath began to even out, she noticed the front of his old dress shirt was soaked. Fascinated, she gently ran a fingertip across the damp cloth. He’d come to be with her, to comfort her, and in return she’d drenched his shirt with tears and probably covered it with mascara.
She lifted her head and looked up at him. Even in the dim moonlight, she could make out his familiar, comforting smile and immediately felt better.
He’d always been there, close and caring, whenever she needed a friend, needed a shoulder to cry on, just like tonight. Because, because he loves me, not the homecoming queen or fraternity sweetheart or any of that crap, just me. A new emotion swept over her, a sensation that had nothing to do with friendship. She no longer just needed Mark—she wanted him.
She slipped both hands behind his neck, pulled his face to hers, and began kissing her best friend.
Later, much later, their lips parted and they looked at one another. There was an uncertain, questioning expression on Mark’s face. Amy found herself praying he wouldn’t be sensible or cautious or, even worse, make a joke. Damn it, Mark, just kiss me. Please. Then he leaned forward and began kissing his best friend.
At some point, it occurred to her that Mark was a very good kisser. She felt a strange sense of pride that her best friend was so gifted.
The next time their lips separated, Mark started to say something. It was going to be about how they should stop, she was sure of that, and sure he was right. They’d have to do that, soon, but not now, not just yet. Before he could say anything, she snuggled closer and pulled him back onto her waiting mouth.
The kisses became more intense and the touches more intimate. She felt Mark’s hand slip beneath her sweatshirt and shivered with pleasure when it made contact with bare skin. The smooth, sensuous pressure seemed to ease the anguish in her body. His fingers took possession of her breast. The feeling was incredible, and she heard herself moan while arching her back to meet his touch.
She felt loved and wanted and safe. This was Mark who cared for her, who was always there when she needed him, who she could count on to do what was best. In the back of her mind, she began to wonder if that would include their making love.
Releasing her throbbing nipple, he slid his fingers down her torso until they reached her jeans. When he started fumbling with the zipper, she was certain he’d decided they would make love. She felt it begin to yield. But then he stopped.
Their tongues continued to dance from mouth to mouth, but Mark’s fingers remained motionless. She felt his body sag and then his hand moving up from her waist. He paused to let his fingertips caress first one breast, then the other. It was a gentle, searching motion, as if trying to memorize their texture, shape, and warmth. After a last, soft, parting touch, he slid his hand around to the small of her back.
With an unsettling mixture of relief and regret, she understood he’d decided their making love wasn’t what was best. The kissing continued, but now it was with increasing affection and decreasing passion. He was, she realized, letting them both gradually come down from their physical and emotional high. This wasn’t rejection, it was--.
Who was shaking her shoulder? Confused, she opened her eyes and looked around. Instead of moonlight, the afternoon sun was shining off the river. And instead of Mark caressing her body, he was kneeling beside her, grinning. “You’ve got to tell me what you were dreaming about, lady.”
“None of your business, mister,” she said, yawning and stretching. To give her mind more time to reenter the here-and-now, she located her purse, pulled out a compact, and pretended to study her face in the small mirror. “Why do you think I was dreaming anyway? Maybe I was just deep in thought.”
“I doubt it. The thing is, before I started my beast of burden number, you were awake and looked like you did back when we were kids and old Jeff, your natural born tomcat, went one-on-one with that log truck and lost. When I came dragging my weary bones back, your mouth was wide open. That’s always a sure sign you’ve nodded off, and you had this dumb, happy look on your face. So what were you dreaming about?”
Amy looked at her best friend and gave him a big, I-know-a-secret-and-you-don’t, smile. “You’re right, I really was feeling rotten. But I had this dream that was all romantic and mushy with lots of steamy stuff, and now I feel a lot better.”
As Mark begged for details, she reached for his hand and let him help her up. Once on her feet, she mussed his dark, wavy hair. What she hadn’t mentioned was the dream doing a lot more than just getting her out of a bad mood. It had reminded her how that night forever changed the way she felt about him. All summer she’d tried to convince herself she hadn’t fallen in love with her life-long best friend. But that dream made it clear she’d failed.
Sure they hadn’t so much as held hands since that night, and now he was dating that slut, Bebe Boudreaux. Amy had tried to break them up all summer, but that was because she despised Bebe and knew the little tramp would be so bad for Mark. This was different. Now she wanted Mark for herself.
But getting him wasn’t going to be easy. Amy knew Mark so well, she could practically name the day Bebe first let him “seduce” her. And since she was the type who’d put out like a soft drink machine if it was in her interest, and since she was very interested in latching onto Mark, he was probably getting all the action he could handle. If Bebe hadn’t been out of town this weekend, he might not have even come to the wedding.
Amy had never been impressed with her own looks. She thought of herself as gangly with, at best, small town good looks. No one else shared that opinion. The irony was, whatever good looks she might have, they weren’t going to help her win Mark. Tall, skinny redheads weren’t his type. He went for sexy little brunettes, like Bebe.
Besides, Mark still seemed to think of her as the scrawny kid he walked with to junior high. Even going skinny-dipping with him earlier this summer hadn’t changed things.
So if she wanted him, and she did, the next time they kissed there’d be no stopping—she’d make sure of that. The problem was getting things started.
Amy looked up and down the shoreline. “Where do you think Libby and Bob are?”
“Out of sight.”
“Thanks for the help, Joe Friday,” she said, as they walked over and sat on the sun bleached driftwood log where he’d left their stuff.
Mark grinned, “I think of myself more as the suave, sophisticated private eye type.”
“Well, I think of yourself as nuts. And before you say it, I know, birds of a feather flock together.”
“Takes one to know one, I’ve always heard. Of course, I’ve also heard that opposites attract. So you pays your money, you take your pick.”
“Seriously, do you think they’re all right?”
Mark nodded, lit a cigarette, and handed it over. “They’re in love, remember? If one of ‘em had fallen in, the other would be raising all kinds of hell.”
“Oh, that’s a real comfort.”
After taking a puff, she studied the cigarette. “Weren’t we going to quit these things?”
“We did,” he replied, placing the pack back in his shirt pocket. “It was our end-of-semester resolution, but it only applies when we’re back home.”
Mark finished lighting his own cigarette and then pointed to a spot a couple hundred yards away near the river. “Now, as for our non-smoking lovebirds, odds are they’re hiding in that little thicket and doing God knows what sort of disgusting things. You wanna sneak up and take a peek?”
Amy shook her head and laughed, “Of course not.” Gesturing toward the same clump of trees, she asked, “Is that the place, you know, where we…. I mean, is that the place?”
When Mark glanced at her, Amy felt herself blushing. After what seemed like an eternity, he grinned and gestured toward the spot. “You’re asking if that’s the place where we made out like a couple of wild weasels?”
“Well, no. That happened back in the spring. The water was a lot higher back then. We would’ve needed scuba gear to do anything over where those two are no doubt carrying on.
“The hallowed ground in question, a sacred place forever etched in my memory, is upstream from here,” he said, twisting around and pointing north. “You’ve gotta look back from where dat ‘Old Man River’ is rolling along now. See that big pile of brush and logs at the foot of those two skinny willows? It was just above the shore back then and made a perfect hideout.”
Amy swiveled around on the log and studied the spot. When she spoke, it was in a low, hesitant voice. “Mark, this is a little embarrassing, but why didn’t you, well, why did you stop?”
After glancing at Amy, Mark swung around and gazed at the otherwise nondescript pile of driftwood. “Something just told me it wasn’t the right time, or place, or thing to do. God knows I didn’t want to stop. I mean, it damn near gave me the bends.” He gave her a rueful grin.
“But you mean a lot to me, lady, a whole lot, and I didn’t want to risk losing my best friend. It would be different if we were in love, you know, romantically. But we’re not. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to keep on being friends, like we’ve always been, if we, well, made love.”
“I knew that was what you’d say. And you’re right, I suppose. But I still feel guilty. After all, I’m the one who started it, so it’s kind of my fault you got the bends.”
“No complaints. You were ripped, bummed out, and very vulnerable. And don’t forget, the party was my dumb idea. I’m just glad I happened to notice you wandering away. Besides, if it hadn’t happened, I might never have known my best friend’s such a great kisser.”
“Your saying that is so far out because, while we were kissing, I was thinking the same thing about you.”
Before he could say anything, Amy continued, “Damn, but life would be so much simpler if we weren’t such good friends. I mean, the thing is, our being good friends has gotten us so screwed up we can’t…. Well, we can’t even screw—and it seems like everybody’s doing that nowadays."
Mark nodded and flipped away his cigarette. “Right as usual, superstar Amy. Not that a guy like me would ever have a chance with a drop-dead gorgeous female like you.”
He waved off her protests and continued, “The way I figure it, our problem is we’re the last of the unrepentant, unreconstructed, hopeless southern romantics. We belong in 1868, not 1968. Someone should have kept us from reading, "Ivanhoe," when we were kids and I know we’ve read, and seen, “Gone With the Wind,” way too many times.
“Instead of the great romance we both think we want, we got two old friends so smashed they started making out. And while it was a helluva lot of fun, at least for me, that probably doesn’t qualify as a great romance.”
“So what do we have?”
“We like each other. That’s what we have. At least, it’s what I have. Because, in my own weird way, I do love you, Amanda Nicole Marshall. You’re very special to me, maybe even more now that we’ve kissed. And that feeling, that, whatever, it’s something I don’t ever want to lose.”
They gazed at one another until Amy noticed he was biting his lower lip. Surprised, she looked out at the river and tried to think. Mark only did that when he was nervous and unsure what to do or say. Then it hit her. Mark loves me, like a man loves a woman, like I love him. It’s twenty years of friendship, not Bebe, that’s the real problem. So if I want him, and I do, I’ll have to make the first move and pray it works.
Taking a deep breath, she got up and moved in between Mark’s outstretched legs. Wrapping her fingers around the back of his neck, she leaned her face close to his and whispered, “You’re right, Mark Henry Cahill, we do like each other, a whole lot, and it does feel very, very good. But the truth is, since that night we kissed, I haven’t been able to think of you as just a friend. You mean a lot more to me now--a whole lot more. So what I want to know, what I need you to tell me, is whether I’ve become more to you than just a friend.”
A startled look flashed across Mark’s features. Then he slid his arms around her slender waist and pulled her close. “You always did have more guts than me. I’ve fought falling in love with you all summer. And believe me, the night we went skinny-dipping, I damn near lost. But now I surrender, unconditionally. Amy, I love you so much it hurts every time I think of you or even hear your name.”
“Oh Mark, I love you, too,” said Amy, as she wrapped her arms around him.
Their lips met in a long kiss that marked the change in the nature of their love. When it ended, Amy stared in Mark’s eyes while she unbuttoned her blouse. Taking his hands in hers, she pressed them against her breasts. “You know me, I never do anything half-way. So if you want me, I’m yours, now and forever. But I’m greedy, Mark. I want all of you, all the time, for all time.”
Mark nodded. The deal had been struck. He was hers, she was his, and Bebe was history. Nodding toward the spot where they first kissed, she said, “Let’s go over there and pick-up where we left off. Only this time, if you really love me, if you want me, don’t you dare stop.”
A smile spread across his face. “Best idea I’ve heard in this lifetime.” His fingers gently rolled her hard nipples and for a moment Amy forgot how to breathe. Mark’s voice seemed to come from a fog. “Just one thing. I do want you, now and forever. Maybe I always have. So before you come to your senses, will you marry me?”
“Oh, my God, yes!” she cried, throwing herself back into his arms. They hugged until she leaned back and laughed. “Where’d that stupid preacher, the Boo-Hoo, where’d he go?”
“We don’t need him or anyone else. In every way that counts, we’re already married. Now please hush so I can kiss my bride.” Cradling her head in his hands, he sealed their union with a long, gentle kiss. When their lips parted, he looked at her and smiled. “Now let’s go find that spot.”
They walked over arm-in-arm and then, by unspoken agreement, took turns undressing each other. Neither wanted anything between them for what both sensed was their destiny, and knew was their desire. Behind the pile of driftwood, Mark spread their clothes on the smooth, sandy soil, creating a makeshift pallet.
When he turned to face her, Amy stepped forward and pressed her nude body against his. The feel of his flesh against hers, knowing they were about to make love, that this man loved her and that she’d be in his arms for the rest of her life—it was all so overwhelming. Amy began to cry. Why hadn’t she realized how much she loved Mark? And how close had she come to losing him?
To Mark’s credit, he didn’t make a joke. Instead, he held her close and softly stroked her long, red hair until the emotional storm began to pass. Before she could say something about feeling dumb for crying, he placed a fingertip on her lips and gently eased her down.
Mark had her heart. Now he began to touch, to kiss, to take possession of her body. When his lips encircled a nipple and he began to suck, she felt her body rising to meet his mouth. Her legs opened to him the moment his fingers brushed over her silken pubic hairs.
A finger slipped inside her body and Amy gasped with pleasure. She felt his lips leave her breast and trace a path down her torso. When Mark’s tongue replaced his finger, a jolt of passion raced through her body. His tongue was soon doing fantastic things. She trembled and heard herself moaning his name. Moments later her hips jerked upward as a powerful orgasm exploded from deep inside her writhing figure.
It was incredible—like nothing she’d ever experienced. But it wasn’t enough. She wanted Mark inside her. And she wanted him there, now.
“Please, Mark,” was all she could say while reaching for him. He nodded and let her guide him into position between her long, outstretched legs.
“Lady, I do love the way you lend a helping hand. But you know, if we practice a whole lot, maybe someday I’ll be able to get there all by myself.”
Amy laughed, “You idiot. Damn, but I love you so much. Now please, let’s start practicing.”
For just a moment, they looked into each other’s eyes, sharing the moment, knowing the significance of what they were about to do. Then their hips moved toward one another and the bodies of the two old friends fused into one new being.
They worked together in a harmony of love and passion. Amy’s joy felt overwhelming. Her body thrilled to the feel of Mark's hardness. For her, there was no time other than this moment, no man other than this one, the man she’d known all her life, the man she loved so much, the man who was now taking her towards the brink of total ecstasy.
Desire, need, lust, longing, plus unrestrained total love pounded through every fiber of her being. The sound of Mark’s breathing, the smell of his after-shave, the way his hair was mussed, it all seemed so familiar. And yet, everything was different.
The body she’d known all her life, had wrestled with as a kid, had danced with in high school, was now naked and entwined with hers. But the real difference was Mark being inside her; uniting their bodies in a way she never imagined before that night they first kissed. She wanted nothing more than to keep making love with Mark Cahill for the rest of the day, and then for the rest of her life.
Another surge of passion began building within her, taking control of her body and mind until it broke in a long, exquisite orgasm that left her tingling and breathless. Although stunned by the erotic explosion, her mind and body were still in synch with the rhythm of Mark’s movements.
As she reeled from the force of her own climax, Mark began slamming into her with strong, possessive thrusts until, with a moan of, “Oh, Amy,” he buried himself deep inside her trembling body.
She luxuriated in the feel of his shaft throbbing in time with her own excited pulse. There had been other men, but this was different. This was her man. This was forever. When Mark’s body relaxed, Amy pulled him close and wrapped him in her arms.
They lay together, spent and happy, their moist bodies tangled in a lover's knot, savoring their first moment of shared, post-coital bliss. Amy would have been willing to lie there all day, just looking up into the clear, late afternoon sky while holding Mark in her arms. But the moment ended when someone yelled for them.
“Hey, where’d y’all go?”
The driftwood that protected their hiding place from prying eyes also blocked their view. However, Amy recognized the voice of her cousin Libby. Apparently, she and Bob had finished their own lovemaking.
“We’re over here,” shouted Amy.
“Where’s over here and just what are you two doing there?” Libby’s voice held a note of uncertainty.
Mark turned his head and yelled, “Tell us what y’all were doing, first.”
Amy could almost see Bob grinning as he said, “Oh, you know, this and that.”
“Well, this and that is what we’ve been doing,” said Mark.
“Are you serious?” The tone of Libby’s voice was a mixture of excitement and incredulity. She’d spent the summer trying to talk Amy into making a move on Mark. “I mean, the two of you, have you really been doing it?”
“We’re getting married.” Amy’s announcement brought a squeal of pleasure from Libby.
“She’s wrong,” said Mark. He turned and looked down at Amy, who grinned back. She knew exactly what he was about to say. “We’re already married. Husband and wife, it’s even been consummated, the whole nine yards. We just haven’t gotten around to a wedding ceremony.”
“That’s us,” said Amy. “We’ve gone from being old friends to being an old married couple.” She wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck and tried to pull his head down to hers.
Before she could get his mouth within reach, Mark said, “Hey Bob, you engaged young people make yourselves comfortable. Looks like us old married folks have some more consummating to take care of.”
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