“Seriously, Val, you need to get a hobby or something. It can’t be good for you spending so much time alone.”
Valerie looked sideways at her friend and smiled.
“I don’t mind spending time by myself, you know that.”
“I know you say you don’t mind, but I still think it can’t be good for you.”
Like a spy resisting interrogation, Lucinda would stubbornly repeat her point over and over until the opposing party cracked and subjected themselves to her will. Valerie had known her long enough to realise this and accepted that it was just part of Lucinda’s individual charm.
“Alright, if it means so very much to you, then I will start thinking about a hobby.”
Lucinda subsided happily and Valerie smiled gently in the knowledge that she had only promised to think about it and not to act upon it – not yet, at least.
Valerie knew Lucinda had been worrying about her for a while now, but she had had the sensitivity not to push for any confidences. A divorce was a hard thing to recover from, almost as hard as a bereavement in some ways. You were, after all, grieving the death of a precious living thing: the relationship you had shared, especially one of nearly twenty years. No wonder she was still a bit shaky over a year later.
Valerie sipped her tea and mused over the troubles of the past year as Lucinda chatted away happily about some charity event she was organising. Valerie had long ago learned how to detect the tone of Lucinda’s voice that meant she required some kind of response; the rest of the time Valerie tuned out a little bit, as a way of preserving her sanity in the face of so much relentless chatter.
“So you will come, won’t you? If you won’t commit to starting a hobby you must at least let me drag you out of the house sometimes!”
Valerie tuned back into the conversation in confusion and some consternation. She had been nodding away quietly while Lucie talked and now she had the distinct impression that she had unwittingly agreed to do something for her friend’s charity event.
Last time she had been volunteered by Lucinda she had ended up in charge of the crèche, every moment of which was a noisy, bad-smelling nightmare that had haunted her for weeks afterwards.
“Where will you be dragging me to?” She ran a hand wearily over the top of her head, smoothing the loose strands of hair back into place. Her faint accent became more noticeable when tired, or under pressure, and she sounded more French now than usual.
Lucinda quirked her eyebrow slightly at the re-emergence of Valerie’s Gallic heritage. The intimate knowledge of friendship went both ways and she knew her friend was feeling put upon.
“I just told you!” Her protest met with a blank look so she good-humouredly explained all over again. “We’ve organised a concert next Thursday. A young French pianist will be playing in the first half — romance pieces, obviously — then in the second half we’re going to be having a medley by St. Peter’s School Orchestra and choir.”
“And you just want me to go along?” Valerie’s tone of voice was tentative and wondering — it seemed as if she was to be let off lightly for the cause.
“Well, yes. But we also wondered if you wouldn’t mind liaising with the pianist. One of the board members knew him and sorted all that out, but they’re not going to be available on the day and we’re not sure whether the pianist speaks very good English…”
“…and you want me to translate if there is a problem?” Valerie interrupted with relief. A little translation would be easy after the emotional torments of the crèche.
“That’s it exactly! Then you can, of course, stay on for the concert afterwards. You’re fond of classical music, aren’t you? Monsieur Vincente is supposed to be wonderful — very emotive. Perfect for the occasion.”
“Alright alright! I will be there! Just let me get my diary and you can give me the details.”
Lucinda dictated exactly where Valerie had to be and at what time, lecturing her sternly about turning up on time and even spelling out what kind of clothes she was expected to wear.
“All the volunteers are wearing black, but with a pink or red top. You have a black suit don’t you? Well wear that with your pink silk blouse under it — that will be perfect!”
“Why do I have to wear pink?”
“Well, it’s partly because we’re trying to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness and partly…” she hesitated and looked calculatingly at Valerie as if assessing her state of mind before speaking. “Partly because it’s Valentine’s day.”
Valerie looked sternly at her friend, but restrained herself from saying anything. She couldn’t understand this strange obsession with dedicating one particular day to romance. Romance, if one were going to indulge at all, should surely be something one does every day.
She couldn’t think of Valentine’s Day without remembering the increasingly limp and pathetic garage flowers Martin had brought home each year. It made her shudder. Over a year on and she still felt embarrassed and ashamed that it had taken her so long to realise that he was making a fool of her.
Lucinda knew that she found the whole idea of Valentine’s Day distasteful, which was probably why she had tried to downplay its role in the proceedings. Oh well, Valerie thought, at least they were exploiting it in a good cause.
“Don’t worry Lucie,” she laid her cool hand over her friend’s warm one as it lay on the table, “I will be there. Wearing pink.” She rolled her eyes and smiled and the two women broke into laughter.
* * * * *
Valerie laid down her brush and took off her glasses to rub her eyes. That was one of the major downsides of getting older — needing glasses to do her painting. She’d started having trouble just before Martin left: shortly afterwards she’d succumbed and taken herself to the optrician.
Happy Birthday to me, she had thought bitterly, still in the ‘anger’ stage of grieving. Turning forty-one had seemed a far harder task than the commonly-accepted milestone of the big four-oh the previous year. Needing glasses had been the final straw.
The amount of concentration needed to do her fine watercolour paintings and drawings had weakened her eyes and rendered glasses necessary for all of her work. Every time she sat down to earn some money, so much more desperately needed now that Martin had left her, she suffered the reminder of her increasing age as she settled the glasses on her nose.
“I look like an old crone,” she had said to her reflection many a time, turning away in disgust and swearing in French. She had lived in England for more than half her lifetime, but it was still more satisfying to curse in her native language, using the words her mother had so disapproved of.
She looked down at her hands now. The fingers of her right hand were all stained pink and black with paint and ink, and opaque splashes of masking fluid were spattered obscenely over the back of her left hand. A tight, itchy feeling on her cheek suggested that the fluid may have hit her face too, and she knew from experience that her lips, and probably some other parts of her face, would be decorated with dark black ink and the paint-colour du jour.
Pink, she thought, at least I’ll fit the colour theme…
She smiled wryly, but whatever her personal desires — to stay here and finish the illustration she was working on so she could get ahead of the deadline set by the publishers — she knew the time of reckoning had come. She only had an hour before she had to leave and a shower was definitely called for.
“I must stop putting my pen in my mouth,” she told herself as she looked in the mirror twenty minutes later to discover a strange-looking wild woman with wet hair, white skin and pale grey lips.
She chewed frantically on her lips as she dried, dressed and styled her hair into a neat chignon. Non! Still grey, only now they were sore, too.
She turned in desperation to her makeup bag. She rarely wore makeup, considering it a waste of time when she usually ended up splattered with the tools of her trade. Riffling through it hurriedly, she found a deep crimson lipstick in a shiny gold tube: a long-forgotten gift from the dictatorial Lucinda.
She applied it carefully, a little nervous of the vivid shade. She blotted her lips together and looked at herself critically in the mirror. It had hidden the grey completely and even looked quite nice. The rest of her face looked a little pale in comparison, though.
“In for a pound, in for a penny,” she muttered, the aphorism coming out slightly twisted as they sometimes did, especially when she wasn’t concentrating particularly.
Discovering more discarded presents from her friends she rubbed blusher into her cheeks, covered the shadows under her eyes and even brushed some mascara onto her long lashes. She drew the line at eyeliner, however. Poking herself in the eye with a mascara wand was painful enough without adding a pencil to it.
When she had finished she barely recognised herself. She looked… glamorous.
“Comme ma mère,” she said, smiling sadly.
* * * * *
Officious women in a selection of garish pink and red tops rushed around the church hall frantically. Valerie stood quietly near the entrance, leaning against the wall, watching in amusement at all the worker-bees getting wound up over something that wasn’t very important.
The heavy oak doors swung open behind her, letting in a gust of chill, damp air. She shivered in her thin silk top and turned around to see who had come in. A young man with thick, dark hair flopping into his eyes stood there with a supercilious look on his face.
“Ah merde, pourquoi j’ai accepté ça? Toutes c’te gang de femmes-là – j’perds mon temps pourquoi? Gang d’amateurs!”
Heads had turned at the rapid torrent of French, but it was obvious none of them but Valerie had understood what he had said.
“You are doing this for charity and I wouldn’t call helping your local community a waste of time Monsieur Vincente.” her tone was calm and polite, but she had a faint smirk on her face that let him know exactly how much she had understood. “Do you often commence engagements by insulting the organisers?”
To his credit, he blushed furiously and had the grace to look shamefaced.
“People expect me to be very flamboyant and ultra-French, so I like to make an entrance. If I talk fast enough I usually get away with it.” He was muttering so as to avoid any of the other women hearing, though several were inching closer, drawn by the young man’s attractive face and exotic demeanour.
Valerie frowned at him slightly, “And how many of them know you’re not really French?”
The look of shock and embarrassment on his face proved her suspicions to be correct.
“How did you know?” he asked, his accent gradually vanishing as he led her towards the stage, away from all the eager helpers.
She waved her hands expansively, “Something in your phrasing — or your tone? Only a native speaker would have picked it up, I think.”
“You’re French?” His hint of an accent had vanished entirely now, to be replaced by the same middle-class tones sported by Lucinda and all her charity-cronies.
“Mais bien sur! Born and brought up there. I only moved here when I got married.”
“And you’re here to translate for me?”
“Yes. For some reason, they seemed to think you’d need a French-speaker to explain everything and placate the temperamental artiste.”
They laughed together and Valerie felt a warm, tingly feeling spread through her. I’m flirting! she realised excitedly — and with a man almost half her age. It was a strange sensation, after all this time, to feel attracted and attractive again. Like the first time she drank champagne, the excitement fizzed through her, making her reel with the heady deliciousness of it.
She was sure he was flirting back, too, however ridiculous it seemed that a boy with an unlined face and no glasses would have any interest in an old bat like her. At the very best, she could probably manage Miss Moneypenny, but there was no mistaking her for a Bond girl of any sort.
She saw him up to the stage, ran through all the items Lucinda had asked her to check — refreshments, start time, special requirements — and all of it in rapid French to con the nosy women who kept gravitating towards the charismatic young man.
A nod from Lucinda indicated that it was almost time to open the doors to the audience. Valerie reluctantly wished the young pianist luck and withdrew.
She smiled ruefully to herself as she found the seat on the sidelines that she had been allocated. Finally, she felt her heart beginning to heal and warm itself a little — and she was foolish enough to be drawn to a man young enough to be her son — a man who was probably even younger than Martin had been when they’d first met.
She blushed in the shadows and hoped that nobody had noticed her silliness. Bad enough to be a fool, without it being witnessed by all and sundry.
A familiar voice rang out from the crowd behind her who were shuffling into their seats: Martin.
“Well, no, this isn’t really my ‘thing,’ but Donna insisted we do something romantic, y’know? Couldn’t let her down, could I? We’re going to Boradello’s after, of course. Had to book our table weeks ago…”
His braying tones ran on some more, but Valerie tuned them out. She sat rigid in her seat, resisting the masochistic desire to turn around and see her ex and his little poufiasse. Funny how he couldn’t let Darling Donna down, but ditching his wife of eighteen years was absolutely tickety-boo. She smiled a little, realising that a true Englishman would be no more likely to say ‘tickety-boo’ than a Frenchman was to say ‘Oh-la-la!,’ but the phrase amused her and, frankly, she could use all the light relief she could get at the moment.
Silently, she cursed Lucinda for putting her in this position — and herself. One of them should have realised that the happy couple would be likely to turn up. She sighed as the lights dimmed, at least she would be less visible now. She hated the fact that she was left looking like a pathetic reject in the eyes of the gossipy community she lived in. Perhaps she could sneak out in the interval when everyone crowded towards the drinks table, longing to top up the alcohol content of their blood before St. Peter’s School Orchestra commenced their performance.
The hush that had fallen over the audience began to be replaced by a muted whispering, only to cease once more as a spotlight highlighted the sleek, black grand piano on stage. Footsteps were heard, and then ‘Monsieur’ Vincente appeared. His damp overcoat had been discarded, and he stood resplendent in white-tie and tails. Every woman in the audience drew a deep breath at the vision. His dark hair fell artistically across his broad forehead, and his eyes were mysterious, inky shadows in the bright lights.
Hidden from view, Valerie closed her eyes briefly against the visual impact, feeling the buzz of desire race through her long-numbed body. Squirming on her hard, wooden seat brought no relief, only a more insistent consciousness of her physical sensations. Even with Martin, she had never experienced such an extreme reaction to a man.
She looked up just as the pianist elegantly flipped out his coat-tails and sat down on the stool. He paused for a moment, then his fingers touched the keys. The first, haunting notes of the Moonlight Sonata drifted through the hall and Valerie felt herself softening as the music permeated through every part of her mind, filling it with an image of dark clouds racing across a silver moon. She swayed slightly as he continued playing; the notes running up and down, sometimes fusing together, sometimes creating clear and separate sounds.
It was a simple piece of music: in terms of difficulty only a few steps up from ‘chopsticks,’ yet the fluidity and emotion with which the pianist played gave the piece a sensuality and romance that reached every member of the audience.
In total he played about ten pieces. Mostly they were classical, but there were one or two jazz songs that seemed to be crying out for Ella or Billie to supply some heartbroken vocals to accompany the pianist in his renditions.
When the lights came up slowly, and Monsieur Vincente took his bow, Valerie floated down slowly from the higher plane she had occupied for the past hour. All resentment of Lucinda had passed, and she felt energised and refreshed by the music she had heard. It was like she had been scrubbed clean and all the nasty, dirty emotions had been washed away, leaving her unblemished and renewed.
Stifling the urge to cry a little, as a release for all the emotions that felt so perilously near the surface, she got up and pushed her way through the jostling crowd heading for the drinks table at the back. She wrapped her arms around herself to fend off the people encroaching on her personal space, trying to retain that heady feeling of possibility engendered by the music.
She reached the back with a sigh of relief. She was out of the crush of people and she hesitated, wanting one more glimpse of the handsome young man who had made her feel so alive again.
Turning to look back at the stage, she caught sight of Martin in her peripheral vision. Willing herself not to look, she nevertheless noticed a very protective aspect to his stance: his arm held around Donna’s shoulders, but not touching them, as if guarding her from the outside world.
Something in Valerie’s primeval subconscious translated the gesture before her brain did and cried out at her not to look down. Too late. As if in slow motion, her eyes drifted down and registered the noticeable swelling of Donna’s previously flat belly and the way her hands rested lightly on it.
The world slowed down and the focus of Valerie’s world became that one, horrifying sight. Barely registering Lucinda’s concerned look as she, too, saw Martin and Donna, Valerie blindly turned and stumbled for the door, tears already filling her eyes and wetting her cheeks.
She ran out into the cold, wet night. The tears on her cheeks soon mingled with the falling rain and her coat and umbrella, left in the cloakroom, were utterly forgotten in her abject misery.
Her rapid footsteps soon slowed as she got further away from the hall where her ex-husband stood with his new, pregnant wife. She was still sobbing piteously, but she had begun to be aware of her surroundings. Cold water ran down the back of her neck and her sodden shirt stuck to her, hampering the movement of her arms.
She had been walking for nearly ten minutes before she noticed the footsteps behind her. She had been semi-aware of them for a while now, but at their continued failure to overtake her, even as she walked at the slowest pace possible, her curiosity grew.
Eventually the curiosity overtook the apathy of grief and she turned to see who was following her.
“It’s you!” she exclaimed, with no thought other than surprise.
“Oui, Madame. It’s me. Are you alright?”
“I’m… Yes, I’m… No. Not really. Why are you following me?”
“I saw you run from the hall and you seemed very upset. I wanted to make sure you were OK.” He smiled at her kindly, squinting as water ran into his eyes from his sopping wet locks, plastered to his head like the dark plastic hair of a ‘Ken’ doll.
“I’m OK, honestly. I just — needed some air.”
“And the air out here is particularly refreshing,” he agreed, wiping some more icy water out of his eyes.
Valerie conjured up a watery smile, harder than one might think, considering the circumstances.
“Look, shall we go and sit down somewhere we can dry off?”
Valerie looked at him warily. “What did you have in mind?”
“Well, there’s a good pub about two streets away, if you don’t mind a bit more walking. They even have an open fire, if memory serves correctly.”
“OK, but — don’t you have to be anywhere?”
“No no, I’ve finished playing for the night and your friend — Lucinda? She said she’d take your things and I was to drop you off at her place when I’d tracked you down.”
They started walking down the street, their feet making sad, splashy thuds on the wet pavement.
“You spoke to Lucinda?”
“We both ran after you when you left. She agreed I could catch you, as long as I took you back to her.”
Valerie smiled. Typical Lucinda trying to matchmake even in a situation like this!
The young man smiled as if he, too, had suspicions about Lucinda’s motives.
“I’m sorry, Monsieur Vincente. Lucie can be… Well… She likes getting involved in other people’s lives.”
“That’s OK. Oh, and it’s Edouarde.”
“Edouarde…?” Valerie put a strong emphasis on the French pronunciation of the name and raised her eyebrows at him.
“Well… Alright — Edward.” They both smiled conspiratorially. “You have to admit, Edward Vincent doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?”
“It does to a Frenchwoman!”
“Well I suppose that makes sense. Look, don’t blame me. My agent thought it’d add a certain…” He waved his hands as he searched for the right phrase. “Well, je ne sais pas to me as a ‘product’.”
He giggled at the inescapability of the French phrase, and Valerie felt her spirits lift a little from the bitter and gloomy depths in which they had been sunk. His nose had crinkled up when he laughed, and she could see the little boy he had been. She warmed to him more, even as her awareness of the age-gap between them strengthened.
They chatted away as they walked to the pub, the subject matter limited strictly to inane topics that stayed near the shallow surfaces of polite small-talk.
The warmth, as they entered the pub, was palpable and immediately noticeable. The cigarette smoky smell of pubs was a thing of the past, but a big log fire blazed in an old-fashioned inglenook fireplace, giving off the most wonderful wood-smoke that filled Valerie’s nostrils and delighted her senses.
Thursday evening was obviously not a popular pub-going night. The plush banquettes and squashy armchairs were mostly empty, even the prime spots near the fire. Valerie settled herself in the comfortable chair nearest the fire, forced to let Edward buy the drinks due to her handbag now being in Lucinda’s possession.
She leaned back with a sigh, clutching her glass of red wine tightly and watching her ankles start to gently steam in the heat. Her silk shirt was still clinging to her uncomfortably, and she gradually became aware that her nipples had hardened and were now clearly visible through her almost transparent shirt. She plucked futilely at the wet silk that had taken on the adhesive qualities of superglue. If Edward hadn’t been staring at her chest before, he was now.
Valerie blushed in his direct stare. A glazed look had come across his face, which both amused and embarrassed her.
“Edward…?” He looked up; guilty that he had been caught leering at her.
She waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry. There’s not much left to the imagination, is there?” She smiled to reassure him, and then asked the question that had been bothering her all evening. “Where did you learn to speak French like that? Only a Frenchman could have noticed that you were not, I think.”
“My Step-dad is French, my mum married him when I was about twelve and we moved over there. I had to learn French to get along, even though I went to an English school. Then I decided to go to University over there, so I had to become even more fluent.”
“And that’s where you learned music?” And such rough, slangy French, she thought to herself.
“Yeah, pretty much. I’ve always played the piano, my dad was musical. Then, when I moved to Paris, there were so many jazz clubs and things going on — I started playing with some friends and then I got asked to come back for a regular gig and well, it kind of grew from there.”
“But you’re classically trained?”
“Actually…” He leant forward, confidingly, and lowered his voice. “I’m not. I just, kind of implied that I was when I got my first job in England, and they believed me because they thought I was French. From then on, all the jobs I’ve got have been word of mouth and the rumours just,” he shrugged guiltily, “grew.”
He smirked shamefacedly, and Valerie couldn’t help but laugh. It explained a lot though: his youth, for one, his remarkably intuitive renditions of the classical pieces, and his tendency to mix in fragments of jazz and swing music.
“I won’t tell anyone,” she promised. She wouldn’t, either. It amused her to think of those rich and pompous prats paying to see a ‘classically trained pianist’ who was really a big fat fraud.
They smiled at each other in complicity and sipped from their drinks.
“So why did you run out of the hall like that?”
Valerie said nothing, staring down into the ruby depths of her wine.
“You don’t have to tell me.” He said, misunderstanding her silence.
“No, no, it’s OK. It’s just… I saw my ex-husband there.”
“With his new wife.”
“And…” She sighed a heartfelt sigh and swallowed down a rising sob. “She was pregnant.”
“It’s not your fault.” She conjured up a strained smile and, looking into his kind eyes, decided to tell him the truth. She was getting into deep waters here, flirting with such a young man. Perhaps revealing the full extent of the baggage she was carrying around would force him to back off a little and save her from making a fool of herself.
“Martin and I were together for a long time. At first we waited to have children because we got married young and wanted to enjoy being together. Then we wanted to have a bit more in savings before we tried for a baby. Then Martin wanted to move to a bigger house, and then he wanted to wait until he got a promotion. By then I was in my late thirties, we’d been married for over fifteen years and we had stopped having sex. It wasn’t long after I’d given up any hope of having children and decided to devote myself to my husband that he came home with some divorce papers that he wanted me to sign. And there he is with his new wife, they’ve only been married a year and she’s pregnant already.”
She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice and deliberately didn’t express her emotions, but the situation was simple enough to understand and her pain was obvious in her clipped words and brusque tone. Edward leant forward and placed his hand over hers as it lay on the arm of her chair.
They sat still for a moment, then Valerie cleared her throat to speak and Edward took his hand back. For a moment, electricity had sparked between them and something had hung in the air like an unspoken question.
“Anyway, Lucinda reckons I need a hobby in order to get over him.” Technically it wasn’t a change of subject, but after the intimate moment they had just shared the interruption was jarring.
“Well, have you any ideas?”
“Not really. My main hobby was always drawing, but I’ve made a living out of that, and now my hobby is my work.” She shrugged and leant back in her chair. “Perhaps I should take up music. I so loved hearing you play tonight.”
“Well, I teach piano. Not ‘officially;’ not for people who want to do grades, but those who want to play for the enjoyment of it, like me.”
This was definitely an invitation. He’d heard the worst of her baggage, seen her at her worst with her hair wet and bedraggled and makeup smeared, but still he was proposing an arrangement that would enable them to spend time together. She felt astonished and a little bit blind-sided.
She was unbelievably attracted to this young man and, despite all of her efforts, he was seemingly oblivious to her resistance and kept on wooing her. She felt her resolve crumble as she gave in to the inevitable.
“That would be wonderful. Merci Edouarde.”
“Then I will drive you back to your friend’s house, and when you are reunited with your diary, we can make a date.”
He stood up, waited for her to stand too, and then ushered her to the door with a hand lightly pressed to her lower back. He opened the door, and Valerie stepped out into the drizzle, the small of her back burning where he had touched her.
* * * * *
Valerie got up and ran to the mirror once more. It had been such a long time since she had tried to be sexually alluring that she was terrified she would get it wrong. She was attempting a naturally sexy look, because it was far worse to think that she might look utterly desperate and over-made-up than to be slightly too casual.
Her hair was twisted back, and she had abandoned her usual black for a grass-green top that made her eyes seem slightly hazel. She had even put on a little makeup, although the bright red lipstick had seemed a bit too overt for the daytime. Lucinda was due any minute to take her to Edward’s house, and the week that had passed since she saw him last had wrought a strange change in her.
She had thought about him constantly, to the detriment of her work. All the pages of her sketchbooks had little doodles in the corners, Edward’s name, Edward’s face, little hearts and cupids. She was acting like a teenage girl. She had even, and she blushed to think of it, started touching herself again.
She had masturbated frantically during the last, sad years of her marriage; the release of orgasm her only outlet — emotional or physical. When she found herself suddenly single again, something in her had frozen and she didn’t want to think about sex or anything remotely sexual in nature. It was amazing how quickly that had grown into a habit, until anything connected with sex made her feel connected to Martin and his betrayal; dirtying her.
This changed when she thought about Edward. His charming smile, his tenderness, his humour and understanding, the way she felt when he touched her: everything about him made her tingle. She thought about him when she had got home after that night; the hot water running over her in the shower as she tried to warm up. An idle thought made her wonder what Edward was doing right now — was he, too, naked in the shower?
Shivering as she imagined him naked she turned the heat of the water up. She knew that he had broad shoulders, she could tell that from looking at him. She bet his stomach was flat, too, not all swollen and gross like Martin’s had become. Yes, she bet Edward’s stomach was flat and taut, the muscles down each side slanting diagonally in towards the centre, a sparse trail of dark hair leading the eye down from the navel.
Her hands, lathered in soap, had slipped over her breasts, brushing her stiff, swollen nipples and sending frissons through her tense body. Her eyes closed, she leaned against the chilly, tiled wall for balance as she pictured the last details of Edward’s naked body: his cock. She sighed as she thought it. What would it be like? Her right hand stroked down her belly as she thought about it.
It would have to be fairly long, she thought, sliding one cautious finger between the lips of her pussy to rub her clit. Yes, because he was tall. So it would be long and pale-skinned, like him. A second finger joined the first, prising herself apart so she could stroke, her fingers moving round and round in tiny little circles. Dark, thick curls would cluster round the base of the shaft, hiding his balls. She could almost feel the springy hair against her face as she imagined kissing up his thigh.
Flickering, buzzing feelings coursed through her body, setting her breasts and pussy aflame with desire. She longed to be touched, and ran her free hand roughly across her naked body to try to satisfy her urge. The hand between her legs moved faster now, her stomach muscles clenching, pulling in, trying to hasten that magical moment. She felt it growing now, swelling and blossoming: her whole body shuddering from the impact of the orgasm.
She opened her eyes slowly, disorientated. The hot water beat down on the back of her head and the tiles were cold against her flushed cheek. Her knees trembled as she stood up straight. She felt weak, yet cleansed. A new era of her life was imminent, and the thought both terrified and excited her. Her body thrilled with the joy of renewed sexual desire, and Edward was its only object.
That desire had stayed with her all week. Each night before sleep, and even at odd times during the day, she had touched herself as she thought of him. She had longed for today, when she would see him again; spend time with him. Now that the time for her lesson was here, however, she was as jumpy as a cat that’d seen the travelling basket that signalled a trip to the vet’s.
The doorbell rang downstairs and she actually did jump. Adrenaline surged through her body and she ran downstairs, her heart racing with fear, excitement and anticipation.
She could see Lucinda’s plump form through the rippled glass in the front door, and tried to act calm as she opened it.
“Are you ready?” Lucinda obviously wasn’t fooled by Valerie’s attempts at cool, calm and collected, but for once was tactful enough not to mention it.
Valerie grabbed up her bag, fumbling as she picked up her keys and struggled into her coat. “Yes. I’m ready.”
“Come on then.”
They walked down to Lucinda’s expensive silver car and got in, all in complete silence.
“You’re sure he’s OK to give you a lift back?”
“Yes yes. I made sure to let him know you didn’t mind picking me up.”
“You know, you really should look into getting a car, Val.”
“Well, I don’t need one very often. It seemed like a bit of a waste of money.”
“Hrmm.” Lucinda didn’t say anything, knowing not to push the point.
They held a companionable silence as they drove the ten minutes to Edward’s road. “Number 22, was it?”
“Yes. Just there on the right.”
“OK. Well. Take care. Enjoy yourself.”
“I will. Thank you, Lucie.”
Lucinda smiled tightly, worried that her friend was getting in too deep, too fast, but unable to say anything after her integral role in this ‘affaire.’ She drove off fast, leaving Valerie standing nervously just outside the door to Edward’s house.
She dithered on the doorstep: too eager to see him to run away, but too afraid of her own feelings to ring the doorbell. She drew a deep breath and pressed the buzzer, only to be faced with an open door.
“I saw you from the window.”
Valerie smiled as she saw him standing there. He was even more handsome than she remembered, and his warm smile and enthusiastic welcome reassured her that her attachment was probably not all one-sided.
“Please, come in.” He stood back to allow her past him, and she gulped as she caught the warm, tangy scent of him. She hoped that her own application of expensive French perfume made a similar impression, and blushed in the dim light of the hall at such an adolescent, insecure kind of thought. She honestly felt about fifteen again, unsure of herself and second-guessing everything he did and said, hoping that it would give her something to go on.
“Would you like something to drink first, or shall we start with the lesson?”
“What kind of drink?”
He smiled broadly. “Well, we’re in England, so I ought to offer you a cup of tea, but I also have a very good coffee machine and a bottle of Burgundy, so it’s your choice.”
Valerie giggled. “I think I would like some wine, but it is probably not a good idea that I drink before I try to play.”
“Well, that makes sense. Alright. We’ll have the lesson first. The piano is in here.”
He took her coat and scarf, and showed her a small front room which was almost entirely consumed by a baby-grand piano. Its sleek black belly curved inside the broad bay window that looked out onto the street, while the keyboard was at an angle to the door. A watery ray of sunlight fell across the mirror-polished top of the piano, and the whole room seemed to be designed specifically for the instrument.
Cautiously, Valerie sat down on the stool in front of it. The keyboard was a deep cream, with hairline cracks crazing the surface; the black keys interrupting the clean sweep of white keys at regular intervals.
She turned to look around at Edward, unsure whether she was doing right. He nodded, smiled and pulled over a stool so he could sit on her left.
“Do you know where Middle C is?”
She reached out a long index finger, stained grey with ink on the first joint, and pressed down on a key.
“OK. Very good.”
She smiled in relief, her sudden beam lighting up her otherwise tense and serious face.
“Can you play a scale from Middle C? Just the right hand?”
She played tentatively up the keys from ‘C’, pausing when she got to her fifth finger, and then playing back down again.
“Alright, so we need to work on scales then.” He smiled kindly. “How about tunes? Do you know anything?”
She thought for a moment, feeling like a small child trying to impress an adult. She admired his authority and responded almost unconsciously.
She reached out a hand and started playing a tune she could remember playing with her friend at school; a one-handed piece that was part of a duet. She was surprised and enchanted when Edward joined in, playing the second part of the duet. It was only a simple little thing, but it felt like such an achievement and she delighted in joining with Edward in a partnership of sorts.
They played through a couple of times, until Edward finished with a flourish, leaving Valerie flushed and laughing.
The lesson progressed joyously from that point. Edward showed off a little, playing her one of the pieces he had played at the concert. He then spent some time explaining the basic mechanics of music, such as semi-tones, octaves and the like. The hour passed rapidly, finishing with Edward showing Valerie the fingering required to play scales, an undertaking which required his holding her hand to move the fingers to the correct positions.
She closed her eyes when he touched her, momentarily dizzied by the contact. She opened them to find him gazing at her seriously, still holding her hand.
“Try that,” he urged gently, placing her hand back on the keyboard. Her heart racing, Valerie lightly ran her fingers up the keys, stumbling a little on the second octave.
“Good, you just need to tuck your thumb under more. If you arch these fingers,” he touched the fingers lightly with his own, “then it should be easier.”
Valerie drew in a huge gulp of air. It felt as though they were both hovering on the brink of a precipice, but one of them needed to push a little before they could fall.
“Which fingers, Edward?” She held her hand out to him, her eyes serious and her lips parted slightly.
“These ones.” He took her hand in his again, stroking along the length of her two, slender fingers with his thumb.
He sat, looking down at her hand, stroking it lightly. Valerie held herself rigidly still. She had made her move, slight as it was and now waited for him to respond. She hadn’t the nerve to throw herself at him any more forcefully than she already had, and needed his encouragement before she would do anything more.
Edward seemed to be thinking, weighing things up in his mind. Keeping his eyes on Valerie’s hand he raised it up to his face. Then, looking up at her hesitantly, he bent his head to kiss her fingers.
She gasped. The touch of his lips on her hand sent currents running down her spine that reverberated through her body setting every part of her — from her toes to the crown of her skull — tingling.
Edward kissed her hand again and again, then turned her hand over to lightly kiss the centre of her palm. His lips were full and soft, and they kissed her with a tenderness that she couldn’t remember ever having encountered before.
He ran the index finger of his other hand across her palm, circling the mound of Venus and tracing her life-line. The light, tickling caress electrified her and, when he pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist and ran the tip of his tongue along the deep-blue veins showing through her translucent skin, a sob escaped her, startling them both.
He looked up, obviously scared that he had pushed her too far when he saw tears welling in her eyes.
“Valerie, what…? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“No-one has ever… I’ve never…” She drew a deep shuddering breath and tried again. “I’m scared. I’ve never felt like this before.” The words left her in a rush, their expression one of the hardest things she had ever done. She finished with another sob, the depth of emotion forcing visceral, physical reactions from her unwillingly.
Edward lurched forward — clumsily — to envelop her in his arms. Her face was buried in the crook of his neck, and she could smell the rich smell of his aftershave mingled with something distinctively masculine in essence. She breathed in deeply, relishing the beat of his pulse against her lips and his stubble grazing her jaw.
“I’m scared too.” He whispered in her ear, his breath caressing her as his words soothed. “I am, but there must be a reason that we feel like this. Perhaps we’re more scared at what we could lose?”
He pulled back a little, so that he could see her face. The moment their eyes met, the truth of what he had just said struck both of them forcibly and they came together, longing for the comfort of contact. They kissed, open-mouthed, their passion and longing sated and exacerbated by this exploration of each other’s mouths.
Their tongues entwined and flickered, exploring and teasing. Edward’s hands fumbled to release the clip in her hair, stroking and entangling his fingers in the long, dark strands as it fell free.
Valerie gripped the back of Edward’s muscular neck in one hand, whilst she pressed the palm of her other hand to his cheek, feeling the bone and muscle through his skin and the rasp of his stubble.
He bore down on her hand with his cheek, rubbing against it like a cat being fondled, while she rubbed her cheek against his neck, kissing down the rope-like tendon that stood out against the column of his throat.
The skin at the base of his neck was smooth and soft as she kissed along his collar-bone. She wondered at — and gloried in — the youth and freshness of his body as each bit of it was revealed to her eager touch.
It was such an astounding contrast to her last sexual experience: a drunk and sweating Martin disregarding her pleasure for his own, whose flaccid and sour-smelling flesh engulfed her as he mounted her.
Edward was different in every aspect. His chest, as she inched his shirt off him, was firm and muscled, a smattering of dark hairs decorating its centre. His stomach displayed exactly that feature which she had visualised so vividly in her fantasies: the tempting trail of hair leading from his navel under his waistband.
“Hey hey, what’s the rush?” Edward put his fingers under Valerie’s chin and lifted her head from his belly, which she had been kissing feverishly.
He smiled and leant forward to kiss her neck. He nibbled lightly, the grazing of his teeth making the hairs on her arms stand up. She sighed with pleasure as his fingers and lips stroked and kissed the delicate, sensitive skin of her throat. He sucked her earlobe briefly, his hot breath a ghostly caress as it whispered down her ear.
She murmured his name as her hands fluttered uselessly against his naked back. Her instinct was to clutch her clothes to her as he slowly drew them off. Her thin, green sweater first, then her black chemise. He paused to gaze at her for a moment, taking in the small, pale globes of her breasts, encased in her most glamorous lacy bra.
He held her arms apart as she tried to cross them over her chest, conscious that her skin was not as fresh or firm as it had once been. Her head was turned away as she mentally compared herself to the young, nubile women of Edward’s age, legions of whom he had no doubt bedded and enjoyed.
“You’re so beautiful.”
She looked at him, surprised. She didn’t know how he could possibly find her so, but seeing herself through his eyes she felt more attractive than she had for years. She shook her head lightly, to make her hair fall over her shoulders, enjoying the silken shimmer down her bare back.
“Take your bra off.”
“I want you to take your bra off for me.” His voice was low and insistent. She felt herself responding to his command, reaching her arms behind her back.
She was shaking with trepidation. She had not been naked in front of a strange man since her late teens, and felt herself as nervous as a virgin now, but with the added insecurities of an older woman about to display her body to a man in his early twenties.
“Do it…” It was an order, but one so softly voiced that she could not object, nor could she resist it. She took hold of the catch and slid the hooks undone, but still held onto the fabric. Steeling herself, she let go and put her hands up to push the thin straps off her shoulders. The bra slid down her arms, revealing her breasts to Edward. She shook with the arousal of the moment, her nipples stiffening under his gaze.
He reached out to remove the bra from her arms, passing it briefly under his nose to smell her scent on it. His large hands covered her breasts entirely, the warm dry skin of his palms creating a tantalisingly subtle friction over her sensitised nipples.
Valerie arched her back, pushing her breasts more firmly into his hands. He stroked and pinched them, the pain of his pinches heightening the pleasure of his more gentle caresses. When he leaned down to suck her nipple into his mouth, flicking it with his tongue and biting lightly with his sharp front teeth, she moaned out loud — a vocal response she had no control over.
Edward slid down onto the floor from his stool, holding her nipple firmly between his teeth, forcing her to join him: forcing her to end up straddling him, leaning over with her breasts dangling in his face.
Feeling more wanton than she had for years, she ran her hands down his sides, sliding her fingers under his waistband at the sides to feel the jutting bones of his pelvis under his taut skin.
He wrapped his arms around her waist, his mouth still fastened firmly on her nipple, and rolled her forcibly over so that he was in the superior position. His head level with her chest already, he started kissing his way down her belly, running his tongue around her navel, a wet trail of tingles from there to the fastening of her jeans.
Still kissing her, he quickly undid the buttons, pulling the two sides apart so he could continue his exploration of her body. She raised her hips for him to pull the jeans off without any qualms whatsoever. The doubts she had had about exposing her body all vanished in the effusiveness of his admiration and the rising mists of her arousal.
Her hands lay on his head, her fingers twisting in the silky strands of his hair, enjoying the thick springiness of it and the slippery way it fell through her grasp.
She gasped as his fingers slid inside the lace edge of her knickers, the very shock of the contact causing more pleasure than she thought possible. He ran his finger lightly up and down just inside her knickers, doing very little more than stirring the damp curls, but causing tremors through her belly.
She clenched and clenched deep inside herself, pushing her hips up to try and get him to touch her more firmly.
“Please, Edward, please…” She wasn’t entirely sure what she was begging for, but she was so full of longing she had to express it somehow.
He lifted his head and smiled teasingly at her before hooking his fingers into her knickers and pulling them down, the crotch sticking slightly between her legs. The removal of them only served to awaken more urgent desire in Valerie. She spread her legs instantly, unashamed of her provocative behaviour, so consumed was she by her need.
Edward stopped smiling at her and looked down at her pussy, so invitingly displayed before him. She fidgeted as he looked, uncomfortable under his steady examination. Being watched had never appealed to her particularly, but under his eyes she burned, desperate for more.
He held her legs apart with strong hands and bent to kiss her in the little hollow above her pubis. Moving lower, he kissed her right in the centre, his warm breath a pre-emptive strike for her pleasure. She almost cried out when she felt his tongue flicker over the sensitive, hidden nub of her pussy. A few delicate licks, and then he was raising his head, moving back up her body again. She whimpered in frustration at the cessation of his ministrations.
“Shush, shush,” he murmured, moving in to stroke and kiss her face.
He had raised his body up and she seized the opportunity to unfasten his trousers. She did it hastily, eager for the sight of him.
Now it was his turn to moan as she pushed his trousers and underwear down simultaneously. She nudged him so that they were both lying on their sides, still facing each other. She used her feet to kick down his trousers, then turned her attention to him. Her hands smoothed their way over his torso, exploring the contours of his muscles and the coarse hairs that covered them.
She loved how he felt, the freshness of him, and could have spent hours just focusing on that. Her own arousal drove her onwards, though, and reached down to take his cock in her hand. It was almost as she had pictured, a little shorter, maybe and a little thicker. Its delicate, velvety skin moved freely over the hard shaft within, which seemed to have the same rigid qualities as steel. She marvelled at the feel and sight of it, sending him over the edge with her curious caresses.
“Valerie, I want to make love to you.”
She blinked, slightly disconcerted by this curious formality at such a moment.
“I want you to, as well.” She smiled, uncomprehending.
He smiled back, but frowningly, unsure how to say what he meant. “I want to, but I need to go and get something, from upstairs.”
Valerie frowned too, then realised what he was referring to. She had been married so long, that such things seemed alien to her. She smiled shyly at him. “OK. I’ll wait.”
He grinned in relief at not having to be more graphic. “I was hoping that you would. But I want you to do something for me while you wait, alright?”
“Start touching yourself. I want to watch you touch yourself and I want to know that, when I come back, you still want me.” He stilled her protests with a kiss. “Please, Valerie, I want you to play with yourself, but you’re not allowed to come.”
Valerie blushed furiously, both at what he was asking and at her own reaction to it, which was increased desire.
She looked at him and it was obvious that he was waiting for her to start. She lowered her hand to her pussy and started to move her fingers in the same tight circles she used in private. She had never done this in front of anybody before and she squirmed under Edward’s scrutiny.
“Put your finger inside yourself.”
She closed her eyes and slipped her finger down the crease of her pussy. It was slick and wet with the juices of her arousal. She was amazed, she had never been so wet before. The tight entrance of her cunt embraced her finger and she dipped it in again and again.
“Now the next one…”
Edward left the room and Valerie added a second finger to the first, sighing as they both entered her. The lubrication on her fingers changed the sensation as she went back to circle her clit again. She was lost in a private world of pleasure and fantasy, imagining and longing for the moment when Edward would return and enter her.
She opened her eyes to find him standing over her, his cock in his hand, his eyes narrowed and clouded with desire. She half sat up, her weight on her elbows, her eyes locked with Edward’s, her hand still lazily touching herself. He seemed to crumple, his legs giving way until he knelt in front of her, between her legs.
Valerie watched as he clumsily undid the little foil packet he held, reaching out to touch him as he rolled the flimsy sheath down his cock. It felt strange and rubbery and she smiled to feel it.
Biting her lower lip, she lay back down on the ground, the carpet rough and warm under her back. She wriggled a little — invitingly. She was hungry and empty and she wanted to be filled.
Edward paused a moment as his cock nudged at her, and then pushed in with one, long thrust. They both drew in a loud gasp of air, revelling in the long-awaited penetration. Valerie bent her legs and put her feet on the floor so she could thrust her hips towards him. They fucked fast and passionately, their longing for each other almost violent in its ferociousness.
The thick girth of his cock inside her was indescribable in its pleasure. Aching for him to penetrate her even more deeply, she wrapped her long legs about his waist and cried out as his cock reached the very centre of her.
He pushed up onto his arms so he could look at her.
She didn’t even demur this time. She was desperate for the release orgasm would give her, and Edward’s thrusting served only to increase her ardour. She reached down and touched herself with an urgency only Edward’s powerful thrusts could match.
Both were panting and calling out. Sweat ran between them, mingling as their bodies struggled together in the eternal quest for union between two people.
“Edward, I’m close…” He kissed her and redoubled his efforts. It seemed imperative that they reach the goal they strove for together. Her belly tightened in anticipation and her feet and back arched. The climax came in strong waves, timed with his fierce thrusts into her. She cried out, unintelligible cries in French and Edward’s name, over and over.
His body bucked and trembled on top of her as her orgasm ripped through her. At one point she opened her eyes and saw him looking at her. As their eyes met, something crackled between them, a stronger version of the same feeling she had had when he laid his hand on hers a week before. As if some force joined them together, from her soul to his.
They slowly shuddered to a stop, lying limp and spent on the floor under the piano.
He kissed her softly, all the fire of their passion transmuted into something quieter and more permanent.
Valerie held tightly around his neck, clinging to him as if to a lifebelt. The thought of a relationship with Edward seemed fraught with so many obstacles that she could not imagine how it would be managed. Even if it wasn’t meant to be, this time with him had been perfect, and she clung to it as tightly as she clung to him.
She whimpered as he tried to pull away. As soon as he let go, this moment would be over and she couldn’t be sure that she would ever experience something like it again. Edward tried to pull away again, more successfully this time.
“Please don’t go!” She was ashamed to hear herself beg like that. “Please…”
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m not, believe me. I was just going to get the wine. I thought, now that our lesson was over, we ought to have that drink.” He smiled, almost coyly. “Besides, we have to book you in for your next lesson.”
She looked at him, surprised, and then started to laugh joyously. What they had might not last, but it had meant something to him too, and that meant a lot to her.
The snippets of French dialogue were necessary for plot and flavour and I tried to use them on phrases where understanding wasn’t essential, but, just in case you desperately want to know what was being said, I have provided translations below. Thanks go to LadyCibelle, CeriseNoire, Christabelll and Elfin_Odalisque (in no particular order) for their help and enthusiasm with the translations! And an extra thanks to Darkniciad who ran a brutal eye over my commas…
Comme ma mere — Like my mother
Ah merde, pourquoi j’ai accepté ça? Toutes c’te gang de femmes-là – j’perds mon temps pourquoi? Gang d’amateurs! -“Ah shit, why did I agree to do this? All these bloody women — why am I wasting my time here? Bloody amateurs.”
Poufiasse — tart
Also, a kind American friend pointed out that ‘Diary’ might be confusing, as in the States they are commonly known as day-planners and ‘crèche’ was entirely unknown – it is, in fact, a nursery for babies and small children.
I considered changing these in the story, but I don’t want to change my ‘voice’ and style just to win votes, so I kept the original UK styling, but added this note to clear things up if there was any confusion.