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The Most Erogenous Zone; Part Four of Nine

Jon learns about Julia's dark secret.

The day she first seemed to sense that there was something different and strange about me was an unusually warm day for early spring, almost five months after my accident. We were on one of our excursions to the park, and even though it was the middle of the day on a weekday there were a fair number of people there taking advantage of the nice weather. We followed the path through the park, chatting and enjoying the day, people-watching, maybe being watched, the gimpy guy with the beautiful woman.

There were kids playing on the playground, young kids, as the older ones were still in school and a couple of young mothers sitting on a bench chatting while two youngsters, a boy and a girl maybe three years old, played with a small soccer ball in the grass.

Farther over, across the park, another young woman was walking a dog that looked like she could have saddled him up and ridden him, a huge gray and white creature that was calmly snuffling along the low bushes lining the path. A few moments later, as Julia and I were slowly strolling, involved in discussing something unimportant, we were startled by a scream, soon followed by a female voice yelling, “Cujo! Cujo, stay! Get back here! Cujo, no!”

Everything seemed to happen at once; the huge dog quickly outdistanced its owner, bounding headlong across the park toward us, its leash trailing. The two moms and their kids were between the dog and us, directly in the path of the onrushing monster. One mother, the one who had screamed to start everything, grasped the situation more quickly and shouted at her son, and they rushed toward each other until she could snatch him up.

The other mom reacted more slowly, and when her tiny daughter looked up and saw the giant dog charging toward her, jowls and ears flapping, its wide open mouth displaying a huge pink tongue and long, sharp teeth, she screamed and ran. Instinctively, she ran away from the terrifying monster and thus away from her mother, who’d reacted too slowly to get there in time anyway; she ran straight toward us. The dog, being a dog, chased the moving prey.

Julia, young, fit, and quick-minded, realized that I was no match for the huge animal in my current condition. “Jon, get the kid, I’ll try to stop the dog!”

I’d been forming a vague plan to use my crutches to fend off the dog, but when Julia leaped toward him I went for the terrified girl instead. I dropped one crutch and hopped toward her. “Baby, come to me! I’ve got you, kiddo!”

Seeing an adult as a safe haven from the monster, she made the right choice and darted directly into my arms. I dropped my other crutch and scooped her up using mostly my right arm, sliding my brace-encumbered left arm beneath her bottom to help support her minimal weight. My shoulder complained bitterly, but I clutched her to me and somehow recovered my balance just as the dog juked sharply and blew through Julia, spinning her halfway around – not surprising, since he was all muscle, probably outweighed her by thirty pounds, and possessed four-wheel drive.

The moment the toddler wrapped herself around my neck I was smashed with the sensation of her overwhelming, atavistic terror, the same type of abject, unreasoning horror and dread that our ancient, cave-dwelling progenitors might have felt when some giant, hungry predator fell upon them in the dark of night. It was a galvanizing shock screaming through my mind in a fraction of a second, and I damn near succumbed to it myself.

This was no saber-toothed cat or cave bear, however, nor even a dire wolf, although at the moment it seemed a reasonable facsimile; it was just an enormous, powerful, extraordinarily ugly dog, but the child’s terror, her fear of monsters, was complete and all-consuming. I gasped but automatically began to push comfort and calm, protectiveness and love into her little mind even as I turned my back and braced myself for the impact of the beast that was now upon us.

The impact never came, however; instead, the big ugly dog started to jump around me, tongue lolling, excited and happy to have gotten this close to the object of his desire. The big son-of-a-bitch wasn’t fierce, wasn’t a monster, definitely wasn’t the reincarnation of Cujo. He was a big, goofy, playful kid, a giant dog behaving like a puppy, who had seen two little kids to play with and, knowing they’d be as thrilled to see him as he was to see them, had broken free and raced over to play.

His big, ugly face wore a happy grin of excitement, but there didn’t appear to be an aggressive bone in his body. I breathed a sigh of relief (and pride that I hadn’t wet myself) and focused on the poor kid that still had her face buried in my neck, whimpering and sobbing. She was still terrified, although my arms around her and the protective thoughts I’d pushed into her mind seemed to have calmed her significantly.

I began to whisper to her; nothing momentous, just calm, gentle things as I continued to soothe her little mind, the emotions I was pushing mirroring my words. “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay. He’s not a mean dog, just a big goofy guy that wanted to play with you. He wants to be friends, he didn’t want to hurt you.”

I looked down at him, now sitting and looking up at us as his owner and the girl’s mother finally arrived. He had their undersized soccer ball completely in his wide mouth, his generous jowl flaps hanging over it as slobber ran freely and his tail beat a rapid, happy rhythm on the ground. I laughed. “Look, baby girl, he brought you your ball. I think he feels bad about scaring you and is trying to say he’s sorry.”

She slowly raised her head from my shoulder, where her face was buried against me, and turned, looking down tentatively at the monster that had so terrified her. It was a delicate moment, because the dog was ugly enough to be the stuff of nightmares, but he was also so homely that with the black and white ball filling his mouth, his big grin of joy, and that flapping tail, that he cut a comical figure.

She stared down at him for several long seconds and then, her face still streaked with tears, she showed some of that resiliency that children have and we adults wish we had; she giggled. Her mom had walked right up to us, but now, seeing her daughter look at the dog and laugh, resisted the urge to snatch her from my arms. Julia had returned too, rubbing an arm and shoulder that was probably going to be bruised from the impact of that huge bundle of muscle blowing by her.

The woman Cujo belonged to was apologizing and groveling appropriately for allowing her dog to so terrorize everyone, but I stopped her. “Hey, it’s okay. No harm was done, nobody got hurt; kids bounce back fast, as you can see.”

“Still… he’s so good on the leash that I guess I wasn’t holding it tight enough, and when he saw the kids he just took off. He loves kids, but he’d never hurt anyone, I swear.”

Julia looked at the dog closely for the first time. “I can see why they were scared though. What the hell is that thing?”

The woman smiled. “Yeah, he’s a little intimidating; he’s a Heinz 57, but part French Mastiff, part Great Dane, supposedly a touch of Saint Bernard, some Lab, but all in all a big goofy, ugly bundle of love.”

I snorted. “That you named Cujo, of all things.”

“That was supposed to be ironic because he’s such a marshmallow.”

The little girl – Hayley, according to her mom – was leaning out of my arms, stretching down and reaching toward the dog that had so frightened her. “Puppy, momma, puppy!”

He was the biggest, ugliest puppy I ever saw, but she’d definitely nailed his personality. She now radiated excitement and joy, her earlier terror utterly dissipated, so I eased off on trying to calm her and let her excited, childish glee run amok.

I looked at the mother, who looked at the dog’s owner. “Is it safe for Hayley to say hello to him?”

“He’d love it. He’s really very gentle, despite the enthusiastic introduction.”

Hayley’s mom nodded at me and I lowered her to the ground. It was much more difficult than picking her up had been, partly because she was leaning out, reaching for Cujo, but also because when I’d picked her up she had essentially launched herself into my arms. Putting her down hurt me, and Julia saw it and jumped in to help.

Hayley stepped right up to the dog, who towered over her and was probably at least quadruple her weight. He was still wagging and grinning, and when he dropped the ball and raised one giant front paw to shake hands, she instantly took it in both of her small hands. That earned her a face-washing with one long swipe of that massive tongue, which brought giggles and encouraged her to throw her arms around his neck.

He went limp and toppled over, allowing her to land on top of him. The other kid could resist no longer, so he climbed on too and pretty soon they were crawling all over him as he rolled gently around in the grass, allowing the two small children to maul him at will. He appeared to be in dog heaven as they both giggled and climbed on him, occasionally earning another swipe of that big, wet tongue.

I shook my head as Julia recovered my crutches for me. “What a good-natured dog, once you get to know him. Gotta tell you though, he’s a little intimidating when he’s bearing down on you like that; two more heads and he’d make a convincing Cerberus. What’s he weigh?”

His owner was smiling as she watched him play with the kids. “About one-forty, but he’s still filling out. He might put on another ten or fifteen pounds.”

The young boy’s mother grinned. “He’s so ugly he’s beautiful, and he sure loves kids!” She looked at me, taking in my crutches and my bandaged arm. “You didn’t hurt yourself rescuing Hayley, did you?”

“Nah, I’m good. I’m just glad we were here.”

Hayley’s mom smiled. “Me too – both of you, thanks for helping. Hayley isn’t always good with strangers, but she sure didn’t want to let go of you! Do you two have kids of your own?”

She’d made a faulty assumption, but I couldn’t resist playing along. “Not yet. We’re going to work on that when we get back to the house.”

Julia’s jaw dropped and she turned bright red as all three women laughed. A lone man, obviously injured, in the company of four women can get away with almost anything by way of crass humor, especially when he’s just played the dubious hero in a tense moment.

“Come on, honey, let’s go while we’re still in the mood. Nothing like an exciting walk in the park to get the juices flowing, huh?”

She smacked my ass as the other women laughed. “I’ll flow your juices, mister!”

“Oooh, promises, promises! I’m counting on that!”

Even Julia was laughing as we said goodbye to the new friends, who stood talking as they watched Cujo entertain the kids. Her laughter was coming more easily these days, but I could never seem to hear it often enough.

As we got a little further away, she said, “I can’t believe you said that, the crack about working on having kids.”

I laughed. “Hey, a man can dream, right? I was just playing off her assumption, having a little fun.”

I heard a little voice behind us and turned to find Hayley toddling up as fast as her little legs would carry her, her mother standing back where we’d been, watching. When she got close she held her arms up and I bent down as best I could, mostly from the waist. She wrapped her arms around my neck and gave me a sweet little kiss, then turned and headed back to mom.

I was deeply touched as I watched her run back and jump on Cujo again.

“That was really cute.” I could tell by her voice that Julia was as choked up as I was. “You really are good with kids. As terrified as she was, when you held her she calmed right down. It was almost magical, the way she went from being scared to death to wanting to play with that monster, and she obviously still feels some bond to you, for such a tiny kid to do what she just did.”

“Kids are resilient, and that little ‘thank you’ was probably mom’s idea.”

“Maybe, but that felt like something more. You two connected, and her instant trust and comfort level with you is something I’ve never seen from a child before. You just clicked, like something about you spoke to her. Have you always had that knack with children?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know; I don’t have any of my own, so I haven’t had a lot of experience with it. My niece seems to like me, but she’s required to.”

Julia chuckled and then, perhaps unconsciously, slid her hand into the crook of my arm above where I gripped the crutch, and we walked on with her hand resting there, lightly gripping my arm. Like a couple in a relationship might, although I tried not to think like that.

I was relieved that she’d let the subject of Hayley’s quick attachment to me drop, at least for now. That behind us, I could feel her emotions, a rare sense of peace and happiness, her usual caution and sadness diminished by the beautiful day, our successful rescue, and, perhaps, by her contact with me.

I could also feel, for the first time, a much stronger presence of her sexuality, of her urges and desires, like something slowly awakening from a long hibernation. I tried very hard to squelch my own automatic response, my tendency to somehow radiate my arousal back to her, hoping desperately to not damage this new and tenuous bond. It seemed to work, and she maintained the contact as we strolled along.

“You were going to throw yourself at that dog, weren’t you, even as banged up as you still are?”

“If I could have, yeah; that kid was so little and so scared. I figured I was closer to his weight class if there was going to be a fight – plus, I had my sticks. You beat me to it though, which was incredibly brave.”

She laughed. “For all the good it did! I don’t think I even deflected that monster; he just swatted me aside like a mosquito.”

“Hey, just the fact that you did it! That thing was terrifying coming at us like that, and it gave me time to grab Hayley before he could bowl her over. We worked well together, I’d say.”

“We did, didn’t we?” We strolled on for a few steps before she continued, “Good thing he was so mellow, or it might have gotten very ugly. God, he was powerful!”

“Did he hurt you?”

“No more than being tackled by a 250-pound linebacker. Did picking Hayley up hurt you?”

“No more than picking up a thirty-pound kid would hurt any other weak, gimpy, stove-in old goat.”

She laughed. “Oh come on; you’re not old!”

“Hmmm. I’d almost rather you’d taken exception to the weak and gimpy part.”

She laughed again; I loved that she was laughing so much more easily. “Anything you need rubbed when we get back to your place?”

“I might ask you the same thing.”

“Hey, I’m the therapist around here, remember? Besides, you only have one good hand.”

I smiled at her. “So it would take twice as long. I’m perfectly okay with that.” She smiled and looked down at the ground as we strolled slowly through the park, and I took a shot. “Have dinner with me.”

“Jon, I can’t get involved with a client, a patient. We’ve talked about this.”

“I’m almost done being your patient, aren’t I?”

She laughed. “Not hardly, unless you want to fire me! The real work starts when that thing comes off your leg in a couple weeks. That leg is seriously fucked up; it will take a lot of work if you ever want to walk freely again.”

“That sounds like a very professional yet foreboding diagnosis, doctor; fucked up, huh? We should probably discuss my prognosis over dinner, maybe a glass of wine…”

“I can’t go out with you; someone might see us.”

“Then stay in with me; I’m not a gourmet cook, but I’ve been told my spaghetti sauce is to die for, and I have a bottle of Chianti that’s been looking for two people to share it. If you can boil water, I’ll let you make the spaghetti.”

“Hey! I’ll have you know that I’m a pretty damn good cook!”

“Wow! Strong, gutsy, brave, talented, brilliant, gorgeous… and you can cook? Be still my heart!” Her hand was still on my arm, and although I was trying to joke around and keep things light I felt her mood darken and a spike of fear and dread run through her. I couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly frighten the woman that had just hurled herself in front of the Hound of the Baskervilles to protect her patient and a small child. I didn’t get a chance to explore it just then because she released my arm and stepped in front of me, where she could look into my eyes.

“Jon, I can’t be seen with you outside of our professional relationship, and me staying at your house beyond our allotted time is a very bad idea. It’s something I can’t do right now, for your sake and for mine.”

“Can you tell me why?”

“No.”

When I didn’t respond, she sensed my frustration, even though I was trying hard not to put pressure on her, to not do anything that might push her away and cause her to put her walls back up. She tried to soothe my hurt feelings by explaining why she couldn’t tell me more, which just felt ever more circuitous.

“Jon, it’s something I have to deal with myself. Anybody else that I let into my life is in danger, for now, and I have no right to do that, to risk anyone other than me.”

“Julia, I have no idea why you’re in danger or what you feel the risk is, but shouldn’t that be my decision? Shouldn’t I be the one deciding if it’s worth it to me to get to see you more, whatever the risk might be?”

“There’s no way for you to make that decision without knowing what you might be up against.”

“Exactly.”

She sighed. “Jon… look, I get lonely too, and I wish I could have someone in my life, a nice guy like you, but…” She trailed off and simply stared at me, her eyes filled with pain.

“But what? Okay, how about this; you have dinner with me, at my house, just this once. You tell me your secrets, and I promise to be honest with you about what I think. Maybe we owe it to ourselves to roll the dice and see what comes up.”

“I’m afraid I’ll scare you away just when I’m starting to feel things again.”

“We can’t go on like this, Julia. I feel things for you too, things beyond the gratitude for all of your care and the friendship we’ve developed.”

“Jon…”

“I think it was Confucious that said, ‘Behold the turtle, who moves forward only when he sticks his neck out.’ So, what do you say; should we be turtles?”

She laughed. “Did Confucious really say that?”

“Shit, I don’t know; it might have been The Farmer’s Almanac, or The Simpson’s, or some such other source of wisdom. Maybe we could discuss it over dinner.”

She sighed. “Okay, just this once, mostly because I’m tired of living on an island, bottling everything up.”

“It’s not a good way to live. I think you’ll find that I can be quite understanding, maybe empathize with whatever your problem is.” Boy, there was an understatement! I just hoped I was right about that. A sudden thought occurred to me, and I laughed. “Hell, I died, remember? How much worse can it be than that?”

She looked at me for a moment, not speaking, her eyes unreadable, then resumed her spot alongside me as we strolled on, again linking her arm through mine. This time she also rested her head on my shoulder, just for a brief moment, but it made my heart soar.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Back at my place, I had her uncork the wine, something I found very difficult with only one fully functional hand, and we each sipped a glass as we prepared dinner. I had all the things I needed for my spaghetti meat sauce, including ground beef. I debated the wisdom of making garlic bread, in case things turned romantic later, but Julia said she liked it too, and I figured as long as we both ate it we’d be okay.

I got the miniature loaf of frozen garlic bread ready to pop into the oven and the sauce cooking, and while it cooked down and thickened a little, we sat side by side on the sofa, sipping our wine and enjoying each other’s company. Still, the weight of her big reveal hung over us.

I reached out and took her hand in mine. “Tell me.”

I could feel her hesitancy, her mind rebelling at the thought of sharing something that she’d been keeping a closely guarded secret, but she sighed, took a deep breath, and began.

“I have an ex-husband who was abusive, and who would still be very jealous if he thought I was with another man. Corey is… he has anger issues, and I think he’s still very dangerous. To me, of course, but also to anyone I associate with.”

“Wow. That’s a tough thing to have hanging over you. I hate that you’re going through that, but it doesn’t make me want to turn my back on you.”

She shook her head. “No, I know; I didn’t really think you would, which is why I didn’t want to tell you. Instead, you’ll get all protective and into your alpha-male mode like you guys do, and that’s dangerous. Corey is a big, strong, and very irrational, hate-filled man, Jon; I don’t want him anywhere near you.”

“Is he around? Has he been harassing you?”

She shrugged. “I haven’t seen him since he got out of prison a few months ago. He hasn’t contacted me at all, but I think he’s around, yes. Watching me.”

“He was in prison?”

“Yes, for domestic violence; he beat me up very badly, Jon, one night when he was drunk and angry. He was always drunk and angry back then, and he was verbally abusive and had slapped me a couple of times, but that was the first time he ever totally lost it. The last time too; with me, at least.”

I could feel her anguish and her humiliation at revealing to me that she’d been abused. I ached for her, but I didn’t know what to say. I tried to push comfort, love, understanding, things I wanted to say but couldn’t, hoping I was sending the right things to her mind, but all I could say aloud was, “I’m so sorry, Julia; it wasn’t your fault, you know.”

She looked so terribly sad as she said, “I know. I just feel like I should have seen it coming, left sooner… I was stupid, I think. Naïve. He served the full two years, with no time reduced for good behavior. That should tell you something about who he is.”

“But you haven’t seen him at all since he got out? He could have learned his lesson and moved on, right, gone away?”

“He could have, but that’s not his way. You think I’m being paranoid.”

“It’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you; I think you’re being cautious and alert, which is very smart.”

“I have a restraining order against him.”

“That will come in very handy if he ever does come after you; maybe you’ll be able to give him a nasty paper cut or something.”

She smiled sadly. “I’ve thought the same thing.”

The idea that a piece of paper would stop someone intent on doing bodily harm to another was laughable to me, like pretending that a “No guns allowed” sign would give pause to a maniac intent on shooting people. The only safe solution is to leave someone like her ex-husband in prison and throw away the key, but our legal system doesn’t allow for that.

She went on, “I’ve also trained in self-defense, both hand-to-hand and with a handgun.”

“Well, that’s a good step, very wise if you really feel threatened by him. Do you carry?”

“Always, except at work at the hospital, where I can’t. Even there I have pepper spray in my bag, and I carry a Tiger Lady in each hand when I go to or from the parking lot.” I’d heard of the Tiger Lady self-defense weapon, a handheld device that extended small, sharp claws between the fingers when squeezed in your fist, like a miniature version of the Marvel comics ‘Wolverine’ character. It sounded pretty scary to me, but who knew how effective it would be against someone in a blind rage.

“You’re carrying now?” The concept didn’t bother me; I too carry a concealed handgun when I’m out and about and not at work, especially if I have any reason to think I might be in the less savory parts of town. I just hadn’t noticed any telltale bulges or printing that might indicate a weapon, and she was in yoga pants and a long, athletic shirt that hung to the lower curve of her bottom. Come to think of it, she often wore long, loose-fitting shirts, untucked; that might have been a tell if I hadn’t been so distracted by her other charms.

She pulled up the front of her shirt and showed me a compact handgun tucked into a belly holster, inside of her waistband just in front of her left hip, the butt of the grip forward for a right-handed draw.

I shook my head, surprised. “I had no clue that was there; your shirt hides it very well.” I extended my hand. “May I?”

“Are you okay with guns? You know what you’re doing?”

“I do, although I need to get back the range and train again, now that I’m pretty much able. I have a couple of pistols that I carry at times as well, but I’m sure I’m very rusty and I’m not at a hundred percent yet.” My left hand wasn’t quite ready for a solid two-hand grip, but I figured I needed to work with what I had and adapt to it.

She removed her gun from its belly holster and handed it to me. It was a Ruger LC9, a quality 9MM handgun that was very compact and easy to conceal. It’s one of several models that have become very popular among women for its compact size and light weight, and it’s a solid choice.

“Very nice, and a good self-defense caliber. My plinking gun is a Ruger also, an SR22. I love it, very accurate and I’ve put thousands of rounds through it with no malfunctions. I usually carry my 9MM Sig, though.”

She nodded as I handed her weapon back to her. “That’s what I carry in my bag, a P365. I just find the Ruger a little easier to conceal under certain clothes, although I like shooting the Sig better.”

“Makes sense. You any good?”

“My instructor says I’m very good, but I’ve never had to use the things I’ve learned under real duress. I pray I never do.”

“We all pray that. Most people never do, but it’s a good skill to have, especially in a case like yours.”

The timer on the stove sounded just then, preventing a long conversation on the esoteric minutiae of gun culture. I was relieved; to me, a handgun was a tool to be mastered and used when needed for its intended purpose, no different than a chainsaw or a hammer, not something to have endless discussions about. I suspected that Julia felt the same, but we avoided finding out just then.

I set the table as she put spaghetti pasta into boiling water. I lightly touched her shoulder as I walked up behind her, my fingers at the base of her neck so that I could read her. “This may sound like a weird question – maybe too personal, and say so if it is – but how did you come to marry someone like that?”

I felt a wave of profound sadness wash over her as she replied, “He wasn’t always like that. He was always intense, a Type A personality, but not cruel and never violent. We met in college. We were both athletes and our paths kept crossing at the gym, on the sports fields, that kind of thing. He asked me out, things progressed.”

She paused, a faraway look on her beautiful face, her hazel eyes clouded with memories that should have been happy, but that ship had sailed. “I was majoring in sports medicine, he was a business major. I got a job with the school as an assistant trainer for the football and basketball teams and worked in a couple of nursing homes in the summer. He apprenticed as an electrician, hoping to start his own business when he graduated. It was good back then. We loved each other.”

I put my good arm around her shoulders and hugged her. It was impulsive, more personal and intimate than we’d been outside of her working on me, but the waves of melancholy flowing from her mind to mine were overwhelming and made me want to offer some form of comfort back to her. I tried to push understanding, concern, comfort, solace, whatever positive things I could with my mind; physically, all I had was the hug, and when she put her hand on my arm and leaned her head into me, I knew it was accepted for what it was.

“Somewhere along the line, everything went south, huh?”

“Yes. Not right away, of course; we got married shortly after graduation. I had a good job doing what I do now, but at a different hospital, different city and I kept working in the nursing homes too, with older folks. Corey started his business, as an electrical contractor. We were doing pretty good, and he eventually had three or four guys working for him, growing his business; he was very driven.”

“That sounds like a win.” I nudged her with my hip, bumping her from in front of the oven. “Let me in to check that garlic bread.” The pasta wasn’t quite ready anyway, but I didn’t want the bread to burn.

It needed a few more minutes, during which she continued her story, resuming with a question. “You’ve heard of The Peter Principle?”

“Mmm, yeah, I guess; essentially, it states that everyone will rise to the level of their own incompetence?”

“Exactly. Running his business with one or two employees was Corey’s peak; beyond that point that the principle kicked in and things got rocky. He never had great people skills, and his organizational practices were… haphazard, at best. Mistakes, people not getting paid, or not showing up at the right job site; he had guys quit with no notice. It was a struggle.”

“And he wouldn’t scale back and run what he was capable of running, I’ll bet.” We were dishing things up now, putting the sauce in a bowl, spaghetti in another, garlic bread on a plate. As she carried the last couple of things to the table, I refilled our wine glasses. I was no longer touching her, but the frustration and wistfulness were easy to hear in her voice.

“No. His pride, his drive, his male ego wouldn’t let him. In fact, he decided that the general contractor made all the big bucks and that he should become a general contractor, be the big boss. I tried to be supportive, I really did, but I couldn’t see any way it would end well.”

I shook my head as we dug into our plates. “And I guess it didn’t.”

“No, it… wow! You weren’t kidding! This spaghetti sauce is fabulous, the best I’ve ever had.”

“Thanks. I told you I wouldn’t lie to you.”

“And you didn’t. Thanks for talking me into this, Jon.”

“My pleasure.” I held up my wine glass. “How about a toast?” Julia raised her glass, and I said, “To big dogs, small children, brave, beautiful women, and Italian food.”

She smiled, adding, “And to kind, handsome guys that can cook!”

We clinked glasses, laughing, as I said. “I’ll drink to that!”

We continued eating and she grew serious once again. “Corey worked his ass off at the business, he really did, but it was simply beyond his abilities. He was so disorganized! Like before, he missed payments to suppliers, to subcontractors, they missed deadlines and had guys not show up. It was pretty much a disaster.”

“And he still couldn’t see it, huh? He still wouldn’t backpedal before it was too late?”

“No. Pride, arrogance… he essentially bankrupted us, and soon he’d destroyed all of his professional relationships; nobody would work with him. He was poison in the local construction industry.”

“Fuck, that must have been very difficult. He started taking out his frustration on you?”

“No, not right away. The thing was, although he’d failed spectacularly at construction contracting, he turned out to be wildly successful at alcoholism. He started hiding in the bottle, drowning his sorrows, his fear, his failure; that’s when things started to turn truly ugly.”

“Jesus, Julia; I’m sorry.” It was an all-too-familiar story. I’d known guys that had fallen off the same cliff; some had found their way back while others had not, but even spending two years in prison, judging by Julia’s fear and dread, had not turned things around for her ex.

We’d about finished eating as we talked, but, wrapped up in the story, we remained seated at the table. I was struggling to keep my mouth shut and simply allow her to talk, which she seemed to want to do. I wanted to tell her that her ex- was an ass, an idiot, that he’d blown the best thing that would ever happen to him, but I didn’t. Besides, I think she already knew that.

“I became the focus of all of his anger, the reason for his failure; I was his scapegoat, and as much as he’d once loved me, I think that’s how much he hated me. I tried to get him turned around, go to AA, all the usual stuff, but it was hopeless. The rest you pretty much know, how it got physical, building up until the one awful night. He…”

She stopped suddenly, and I could see that she was struggling. I held my hand out across the table and she grasped it eagerly.

God! The pain, the anguish, the overwhelming agony of loss and confusion that flooded my mind was overwhelming, like being hit full-speed by the big monster dog that had never hit me, his fangs ripping at my soul.

Julia had certainly been right about one thing: I automatically went into what she’d called my Alpha-male protective mode. Even though she’d cautioned against it, it seemed to be instinct or an autonomic reflex, something I couldn’t stop by will alone. I wanted to hurt the bastard – or, at a minimum, prevent him from ever hurting Julia again. It was irrational, especially given that in my damaged condition she was probably better equipped to protect me than the reverse, but that was how I felt.

As for how she felt, I had no idea what to offer her. For perhaps the first time since I’d realized what I could do, I was at a loss for anything to even attempt. Anything that I tried to push to her, any comfort, reassurance, or positive emotions seemed to be getting swallowed in her anguish. I released her hand and she gasped audibly as if I’d suddenly set her adrift, but I quickly walked around the table and placed my hands on her shoulders.

“Come on, let’s go sit in the other room where it’s more comfortable.”

She leaned her cheek on my hand, seemingly relieved that we were once more in contact. “We should clean up the mess first.”

“There’s nothing here that can’t wait; I’ll get it later, or in the morning. Come on.” I could see that she wanted to push the point, rebelling at leaving me the mess, but she relented and came along. I sensed that she desperately wanted to maintain contact, that there was some comfort there.

We carried our wine glasses, and when I sat down on the sofa where I could prop my bum leg up on the coffee table, she sat beside me, leaning into my side. I put my arm around her shoulders, and before she could resume speaking, I said, “You don’t have to tell me anything more, Julia; I can see how hard this is for you.”

“Thank you, but oddly enough, I want to. It’s painful to think about, to remember, but it feels good to finally talk about it. I didn’t expect that.”

“Well… only what you want to, then. You can stop anytime you need to.”

“Thanks, Jon. That night… the night that he beat me up, he was drunk, of course. We’d been arguing, which was about all we ever did anymore, and for some perverse reason, he always thought sex would make it better. That was the last thing I wanted, of course, but when I caved in it was always over very quickly and he’d fall asleep right after, which was a blessing.”

“Small blessing; an iron skillet to the skull would have worked just as well.”

She laughed, then kissed my cheek. “Thank you again; I never imagined I’d be able to laugh in the middle of this story.”

“No, I know.”

She immediately sobered. “That night, when I finally gave in and we went to bed, he couldn’t get it up. I tried, I really did, but he was limper than one of those spaghetti noodles we just had; dead soldier, just no life at all. Somehow that was my fault too, not the fault of the half-bottle of Scotch that he drank, and he went into a blind rage. He was a failure; humiliated, broke, angry, drunk, impotent, and it all became a perfect storm.”

I suppose I should have felt some tiny bit of sympathy for him, having recently gone through that period of impotence myself and knowing how emasculating it is, but I felt nothing but anger. Mine had been the result of severe injuries and powerful medications, and I’d dealt with it; his was the result of the fact that he was an ignorant, drunken, violent piece of shit, nobody’s fault but his own, but he’d blamed Julia for that failure as well, just as he had his other failures.

She went on. “He went crazy. We were both naked when he started hitting me. I fought back at first – I got in at least one good, solid kick to his balls – but he was in such a rage it barely slowed him down. It probably just made him angrier. Like I told you, he’s a big guy; he’s six-foot-five, and at that point, he was getting a little flabby, so he probably weighed around two-fifty, but he was still very strong. He threw me around like a rag doll.”

Her pain and terror at remembering that night was palpable, the memories almost as powerful as if she was being physically assaulted all over again, essentially the same visceral, atavistic terror that little Hayley had endured when Cujo was charging toward her. It made sense, our horror of monsters and wild things and sudden, violent death is something hidden deep in each of our psyches. I pushed back with calm, with an aura of love and protectiveness and comfort, much as I had with Hayley, and I felt some of the tension leave her. Just a tiny bit, but an improvement.

She took a deep breath, blew it out, and continued. “I was able to grab a phone, dial 9-1-1. He ripped it out of my hand and hit me again, threw it at me, but the line was open and they could hear… they traced the number back to our house and sent police and fire. Good thing they did, or he might have killed me. They kicked in the door.”

“Jesus, Julia.” I felt so bad for her but had no other words.

“Jon, you don’t have to keep saying that. I can tell how you feel, you know, and that, plus being here with you is enough. Anyway, he hit a cop and they took him down hard, tased him. They took him to jail stark naked, but I guess they gave him a blanket before they took him out of the squad car; that picture made the papers. God, he looked like a crazy man, utterly insane.

“The EMTs took me to the hospital – the one where I worked, where everyone knew me. It was so awful, so humiliating. God! I mean, I knew they were all worried, that they cared about me, but I didn’t want to be seen like that, to have everyone know. The ugliness… I think maybe I’d have rather died.”

“No.”

She leaned forward and looked at me. “No? What do you mean, no?”

“Just no. If you had died, I never would have met you. Who would have healed me? Besides, you can get over humiliation – I know, I’m an old pro at it. But I’ve also died, and that was a lot tougher, I guarantee you; some people never get over it. Take it from an old tree-diver, dying is no walk in the park.”

She laughed. “You have a very odd way of looking at things; has anyone ever told you that?”

“Yeah, sometimes. I usually figure it’s just them, but if you say so, then I’m probably actually odd.”

She smiled and kissed my cheek again. When I turned my head toward her our eyes met. We looked into each other’s eyes for a moment before she impulsively leaned in and our lips met. It was a very chaste kiss, over quickly, but I cherished it. She sat back to finish her painful tale.

“I was in the hospital three days. Nothing broken, lots of cuts and bruises, contusions, split lip, black eye, some internal bleeding. I was still in sad shape when I got out, and I looked like I’d been in a war…”

“You had.”

“Mmm. Yeah. Anyway, he stayed in jail, no bail – mostly because he hit the cop, not because of what he did to me – and then went to prison after he took a plea bargain and only got two years. He could – should – have gotten seven to ten, which is why he took the plea. I moved away, came here, because I could never face my friends and coworkers again… and all of that is why you should stay far, far away from me. So now you know.”

We sat there for several minutes, not speaking. I could feel her breathing and the warmth of her small, firm body against my side. Her hair smelled of flowers and the warmth radiating from her carried the seductive scent of a healthy, desirable woman, pheromones or whatever it is that so muddles the male mind. Her emotions were a jumble of things, the fear and pain and horrid memories receding, now replaced by hope, by doubt, by longing and by a sense of relief, like something dark and heavy had been lifted from her shoulders.

I squeezed her shoulders. “Julia, I’d be perfectly fine if I never again had to be any farther away from you than I am right now.”

Again, we didn’t speak for a few minutes. I just held her, but when I finally leaned forward and looked at her, her cheeks were streaked with tears. “Hey. Hey, you okay?”

“More okay than I’ve been in a very, very long time, I think. Thank you for listening to me, for letting me do that.”

“Mm, yeah. I almost said ‘my pleasure’, but that would be so totally the wrong thing to say because there was no pleasure in it - other than being with you, of course. I’m glad to be here for you like you’ve been for me for the last several months. Thank you, Julia, for trusting me enough to tell me what you have. I appreciate your trust in me; I won’t ever betray it.”

“I know you won’t.”

She kissed me again, and this time there was more in it. I let her initiate it, and I’d have let her break it off whenever she needed to, but she didn’t. She didn’t seem to want to, and it stretched and deepened and bloomed within us. Her lips were soft and yielding, and her breath was sweet, if mildly garlic-scented like my own, and when her tongue came searching for mine, mine leaped to meet it and we wrestled. Passion seemed to bloom, and, God help me, as much as I wanted to hold back the things that flooded my mind, I proved incapable of doing so.

My rising lust, my suddenly raging libido, my arousal seemed to flood from my mind to hers, and she moaned as she writhed in my arms, almost climbing on top of me. She broke the kiss just long enough to say, “God, Jon!” and then was back on my lips again, her tongue searching my mouth. My cock sprang to life, straining against my pants; I know she felt my hard bulge as she pressed against me, and I could feel her hard nipples against my chest.

The next time she broke off our kiss she pulled back and looked at me, her eyes wild, her face flushed with arousal. “My god! That’s so… so, uh, weird. Unexpected! I feel things I thought I might never feel again.”

“That’s good, right?”

“Good, yes. Amazing, even. Shocking, terrifying…”

“Terrifying?”

“Yes, a little. I’m not ready for that, Jon. It scares me that I’m not, yet suddenly I’m feeling the things I feel, and so powerfully! It’s very… disorienting.”

With a supreme effort of will, I dragged my mind back, withdrawing the sexual link the best I could. The last thing I wanted was to terrify or disorient her, and I was ashamed of having let my libido get away from me like that. I could soon feel that the incredible intensity of her arousal was slowly easing, but I knew my erection would not be going anywhere anytime soon.

I tried to make light of it, change the subject. “See, in this position, I can tell you’re armed, even though I can’t see it.” I could feel the butt of her gun against my abdomen, pressing into me even though it was in the slight hollow at her left hip.

“Yes, well, I can tell you’re armed too, even though I’d swear you weren’t just a little while ago.” She pressed her lower tummy against the hard ridge of my erection.

“Yeah, my weapon is noticeably less concealable at the moment.”

She reached between us and ran her hand over the length of my hard cock. “Large caliber, and the long-barreled model, very nice. You’ll have to let me shoot it sometime.”

I groaned. “Careful, it’s got a hair-trigger.”

She laughed. “Good to know. I’m sorry for teasing you, Jon, but this is the first time I’ve felt anything sexual at all since that night; I know I’m not ready to explore my feelings just yet, but goddamn it feels good to discover I still have them!”

“I’m happy for you. You’re still young, and you’re gorgeous and sexy. You should have those feelings, not put your sexual self away in a closet somewhere to gather dust.”

“You’re not disappointed?”

“You’d know I was lying if I said no. But I’m also not in any hurry – just remember that I do so love exploring and would be happy to offer my services in that regard. Whenever you’re ready, of course.”

She smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of hiring another guide! Have you even been with a woman since your accident?”

I hesitated - and blushed, no doubt. “Well, sort of.”

“Sort of? That’s really a yes or no question, isn’t it?”

“Not really, it depends on the details. Angie kind of…”

She laughed. “Angie! I should have known. She talked about you all the time. She has a real soft spot for you – and you obviously had a very hard spot for her!”

I laughed. “Damn, girl. No secrets around here!”

“You get a blowjob?”

“Eventually, yeah; it was supposed to be just a handjob, according to her deal with her hubby, but it turned into a very amazing blowjob. The first time…”

“Her husband? The first time? Oh, I’m going to have to hear this whole tale, but I need to be getting home; I’ve already stayed too long. Her hubby though, how interesting…”

“Yeah, I guess. I have a standing invitation to have a threesome with them sometime.”

She squeezed my still-hard cock again. “Looks to me like you’re ready to go! You should call them, have some fun with this thing. And yes, I’ll want to hear that story too!”

“Jeez, Julia. Besides, they need some notice time so they can arrange for their kids to be gone.”

“Well, keep me informed.”

I got up – with her help since my leg was still locked straight and I was in an awkward position – but when I grabbed my crutches to walk her to her car, she stopped me.

“No, don’t come out with me. Kiss me goodbye in here, then I’ll go.”

“What? I can walk out fine, I…”

“Jon, if Corey is watching me and he sees us kiss it will get very dangerous for you – and probably for me. If I stay any later it will also look bad; I’ve already stayed too long, but it’s only a little after seven, so that’s not too bad.”

She was probably wise to be cautious, but I hated it. “I thought you said you moved away from where everything happened.”

“I did, but I’m not in the witness protection program, I didn’t change my name; I’m sure he knows exactly where I am and that he’s been stalking me, I just don’t have any proof.”

“Stay with me.”

“No.”

“Strength in numbers, you know.”

“Just no. I’m not ready for that commitment, and you deserve more than I can give right now. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, it was just a thought. The offer stands though if you’d feel safer.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.” She stretched up to kiss me, and when our lips met and I felt the heated wave of her sexuality engulf me I gently nudged a portion of my own arousal back to her. She moaned as she thrust her tongue into my mouth, deepening the kiss, then suddenly broke it and pulled away.

“My god! In case nobody has ever told you before, you can flat-out kiss, mister. I’ve never had the things happen to me that happen when we kiss, not from just a kiss. Phew!”

I smiled. “Things? Good things, I hope.”

“Oh yes, very good things. Very strange things, but wonderful.” She traced her fingers over the hard ridge of my cock, starting at the soft bulge of my balls and dragging them slowly upward. “I am every bit as aroused as you, Jon; it just doesn’t show so much.”

“Hmm, that seems very unfair. I suppose it would be unchivalrous of me to ask you to prove it…”

Julia stepped back and looked into my eyes for a moment, then stepped forward until we were almost touching. Reaching down, she grasped my good hand, my right, while pulling out the elastic waist of her yoga pants with her other hand. She brought my hand to the smooth, warm skin of her flat tummy, guiding it inside the stretched waistband.

I took over from there, eagerly accepting the invitation, and slid my hand downward. My fingers encountered a small, trimmed patch of stiff curls before my middle finger found the cleft of her sex. She was hot and soft and yielding, jungle-moist, and my mind thrilled as the new sensations of her incredible body twisted and intertwined through the fathomless liquid flow of her libido already engulfing me.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

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