At long last, Carol feels the man in Seat 17C could be the man she has been awaiting; a snowstorm interrupts and soon the man is missing; her love endures in the mystery of his disappearance, always ready to be rekindled. But the man has a secret.
It seemed that nothing cheered Carol up more than a new bra. She loved the feel of the satiny, fresh cloth against her skin. Carol felt good about her breasts; they were not big, but they were well formed and firm, and she loved her men friends to massage and play with them, before they plunged in for their final act. Sadly, most men seemed to all want quick action.
Carol was fastening the straps of her new bra; it was a plain bra, with just a hint of embroidery along the top, when she wondered what happened to Mark. He always helped her fasten her straps, but not before gently massaging her breasts and kissing her nipples quietly and sometimes remarking about their beauty.
Perhaps that was why, of all her past friends, she missed Mark the most.
In an instant, she was doing an inventory of all her onetime boy friends. Carol had been doing that all too often recently, probably because she hadn’t had a boy friend, much less a date, in nearly a year.
As she adjusted her new bra, admiring her still firm breasts, Carol looked in the mirror, as if to judge herself. She liked what she saw, she admitted to herself. Was she being vain? Was she really attractive? If so, why were there no men in her life?
Well, there was one, her boss, Chuck, but that wasn’t what Carol had wanted.
“You’re a beautiful woman,” Chuck had told her just yesterday as she walked into his office.
Chuck was a sincere, hard-working boss, whom she respected for his efforts at the company. He was married, with three children and had built one of those half-million dollar monstrosities in the suburbs; yet, Carol felt, there was no question that he wanted to carry on an affair. They had a few lunches together, and he hinted at more to come, but Carol had discouraged any further liaisons.
“You’re a beautiful woman,” Chuck had said. Yes, she told herself as she looked in the mirror. Just a year short of the milestone 40th Birthday, Carol agreed she still had the body of a younger woman. Her bare shoulders were firm and there was only a hint of cellulite on her thighs. They were healthy thighs that she kept hard by constant working out at the fitness shop.
Carol wondered if she would ever again have a real male friend, someone to hold and hug her and, more importantly, someone to whom she could share her daily thoughts, her frustrations and her joys.
For a brief two month period, Mark had fulfilled those needs, but he was gone now for 18 months; actually it was almost 19 months, and Carol could remember the day clearly. It was Nov. 20th, the Thursday before Thanksgiving; the city had been hit by an early season snowstorm, which was accompanied by high winds and had snarled traffic badly. Carol was supposed to pick up Mark at the Bankers Building downtown at 4:45 that afternoon, but got caught in icy traffic on the Tri-State Freeway and was 45 minutes late.
As she struggled through the traffic, hands tense on the wheel, but still confident in her driving, Carol hoped Mark wouldn’t be standing in the cold.
Carol drove a small Pontiac, sporty but practical and it tracked well on the slick roads. Mark had told her: “You’re a great driver,” and added that she disproved all the comments about “women drivers.”
Mark was an unusual man. He rarely was impatient with her, and he would wait without complaint regardless how late she might be. “He never complains about anything,” she told her mother.
“Well, why doesn’t he ask to marry you,” was her usual retort whenever she said something nice about Mark.
“Oh mom, we get along great now. Why push it?” Carol would say.
“You’re not getting any younger, and pretty soon it’ll be too late for grandchildren.”
“Oh mother. All in good time.”
And the matter would be dropped, and would be picked up again at a later date. Yet, her mother’s question was a good one.
Mark had been an unusual companion, compared to the other men Carol had experienced. She loved his gentleness, the slow way in which he began caressing her and kissing and hugging. She longed to again feel his soft hands, and they were unusually soft for a man; yet they were firm and solid. His long fingers would wrap around her hands, and hold them in his lap for an instant as they sat together, either on a sofa, on a park bench during a walk or in the front seat of a car.
Usually, they would say nothing for long periods, content with being together. Carol felt that at those moments the two one entity, full of love and affection.
“There are marvelous moments. I so cherish them,” Mark said many times.
“I do too, dearest,” Carol replied.
Most often, Carol wondered if he would ever begin more active love-making, and she would lean over and snuggle her head into his neck area, and smell his maleness, accentuated by a faint smell of what she took to be Old Spice cologne. She would lean her face up toward his, and he would look down at her. His pale blue eyes so excited her, as she invited his kiss.
Finally, he would lean down, and Carol, without shame and with burning desire, would come up for the kiss, and their two mouths would meet. Almost immediately, Carol would press her tongue into his mouth, tasting him and inviting him to respond.
Mark would respond with his tongue, and the two would have prolonged kissing. Oh, he was so satisfying, so tasty, Carol thought.
One cool fall evening, as they were sitting on the sofa in Carol’s apartment, Carol grew agitated and eager for Mark to move forward with their love-making. As they watch a movie, “African Queen,” they kissed and fondled each other. They had seen the move many times; it was one of Carol’s favorites, since she often imagined herself as another Katharine Hepburn, tall and stately and dignified.
“You’re so marvelous,” Carol told him. “You’re not like any other man I’ve known. You’re so gentle and content with being slow.”
“I’m sorry,” he responded once. “I’m sorry I’m not doing more . . . being more like other men.”
“Oh no, no, don’t say that.” And she placed her fingers over his mouth in a gesture to talk no more. “I love you the way you are.”
Mark blushed, and said nothing for a while.
“I’m sorry I’m not a good lover for you,” he said again.
“Oh, Mark, you are. You are. You’re so gentle and warm.”
“I suppose you have had lots more experience than I have had,” he said.
This took her aback for a moment. Was he calling her a tramp? No, she realized, he’s insecure himself in making love. She couldn’t figure out why he would be so insecure; he was a trim, handsome man in his early 40s, slender and firm in his body and truly a gentleman in attitude.
“O gosh no,” Carol replied after a pause. “What do you take me for? A hooker?”
And she laughed, since with her modest type of dress she would never make any money at the trade.
“No, but you’re so pretty, you must have had lots of men.”
“Not really, Mark, and it’s harder to find nice men like you who are either not married or not gay.”
The conversation cooled Carol’s desires, and the two returned to watching the movie, and watching how an outwardly rigid Hepburn stirred the emotions of Humphrey Bogart.
Carol looked again in the mirror, and remembered back to the first time they met nearly three years ago. There was nothing unique about how they met, following the time-honored tradition of meeting while traveling. They sat next to each other on a flight through Memphis from their home city … a two-hour flight and Carol had the dishonor of being assigned a middle seat on a completely filled plane.
She was mad at herself for making her plane reservation so late and getting stuck in the middle. Certainly she’ll find herself, she thought, squeezed between two overweight wrestlers, barely able to breathe or eat her airline supplied peanuts in comfort with her Coke.
Her seatmate at the window was indeed a big person, a large woman, who seemed to puff uneasily as she sat in the seat. She ignored Carol, which was fine with her.
Finally, Carol felt herself being nudged a bit on her leg as a voice said, “Excuse me.” She looked up to see a tall, handsome man stepping into the aisle seat, straining to find a spot in the overhead rack to place his carry-on. Accidentally, his leg had brushed hers, and he was momentarily taken aback.
“It’s OK,” Carol responded.
To herself, she said, what a beautiful man. He seemed to be in his late 30s, and moderately tall (maybe six feet) and dressed casually, but most neatly, his khaki jeans well-pressed and his blue, button-down shirt open at the neck. His blonde hair was thinning a bit.
Carol returned to her suspense novel, a Mary Higgins Clark story, typical of the books she read when she traveled. Even though she fashioned herself as somewhat of an intellectual, she had to admit to enjoying reading mysteries, suspense stories and even romance novels for recreation.
Even the suspense always present in a Clark novel failed to fully engage her attention. Her mind kept wandering, and she wondered about her new seatmate, the man in 17-C. There was no ring on his left hand, she noticed, although she knew that rarely meant anything any more. Her girl friend, a longtime flight attendant, had told her that married men often take off their wedding bands while single men put them on.
Carol remembered chastising herself: “You’re like a high school girl, mooning over the boy in the third seat of the next row of geometry class.” Here she was a professional woman in her mid-30s and she was becoming infatuated with a man about whom she knew nothing.
It was when the airline passed out its drinks that communication finally began between Carol and the man in 17-C. Carol’s hand brushed his right hand as she reached for her diet drink.
“Sorry,” she said.
She wasn’t sorry, of course, for the mere brushing of the two hands, brief as it was, set off a tingling. How foolish, she thought.
“Well, off to Memphis, as usual,” the man said in a clear, moderately deep voice. “Seems like anytime we need to go anywhere we gotta go through Memphis.”
“Yes,” Carol replied. “It’s the ‘hub system,’ I guess.”
“You from Milwaukee, too,” he asked.
“Yes,” she volunteered. The conversation languished at that point, neither one choosing to pursue it further.
Yet, Carol felt electricity growing between them. Several times, their arms brushed together along the seat rest, and the soft faint touch of skin excited Carol. Both persons immediately removed their arms, but Carol began to fantasize about the man in 17-C.
Carol finally, as the flight began its 25-minute descent, decided she couldn’t read anymore. The man had aroused her curiosity.
“You live in Milwaukee?” she asked, quickly and with an impulse not typical of her cautious manner, adding: “I live on the East Side.”
He turned to look at her, with a faint smile said: “Live downtown.”
“Oh, in one of loft apartments?” Carol queried.
“In Juneau village,” she said.
“Well then we’re almost neighbors. I’m up on Prospect Avenue.”
“Well, I’m Mark,” he said, offering his hand.
She took his hand, a smooth, firm hand with long fingers. She held on to his hand perhaps longer than she should have for a stranger. And, to her embarrassment, gave his hand a short squeeze.
“Nice to meet you Carol.”
He didn’t seem to notice the little bit of extra hand-holding.
Why was she acting like this? She was almost giddy with excitement over meeting this man. His voice sounded kind and gentle and, most importantly, intelligent.
As they walked off the plane, Carol did something she’d never done before, she turned to Mark and said, “Am I too bold to suggest that we could meet again sometime?”
She almost swallowed the last words of the sentence, as if to draw back the words she had already stated out loud. How impulsive she was! She’d never, ever been the aggressor in relationships, and now, here she was actually inviting a stranger to seduce her.
Well, that’s what it was, wasn’t it? A seduction: Come, call me up, fill me with drinks, take me up to your bedroom — or to a hotel room, if Mark was married — and lay me down on the bed and take advantage of me. She knew nothing about Mark. For all she knew, he was a serial killer, or worse, a married man with children.
But Mark was cool! He smiled, almost shyly, and said: “Well, that might be fun!”
Fun? It would be ecstasy!
Then she did another thing she’d never done before: she gave Mark her phone number and the two parted cheerfully at Baggage Claim.
Carol tried to watch where he went, whether a wife driving a Ford Explorer with three tow-headed youngsters might be arriving to pick him up. But, no wife, as far as she could see as, Mark hopped onto a shuttle bus taking him to an outlying lot.
How stupid, she told herself that night. He’ll never call; all he’ll think is that she was a sex-hungry, hard-up old maid who’ll jump at any man that looks the least bit alive. And to give him her phone number!
To her surprise, the next day, after she got home, there was a message on her machine from Mark, suggesting she return his call. Carol was tempted to call him before she even removed her coat, but said to herself, “No. I must be calm about this.”
She then resolutely removed her coat, changed into her softer sweatpants and shirts, and made herself a quick drink. She got the mail but barely looked at it, took a sip of her drink, and then went quickly to the phone, punching in his number, half hoping he wouldn’t be there, because she was nervous and jumpy. What would she say? “Mark, I’ve never seen a more sexy man. Come jump into bed with me.” No, of course not. She didn’t even know him, and here she was acting like she was in her junior high school English class and mooning over Jimmy McFetdridge.
“Mark,” she said tentatively, when he answered the phone on the third ring.
“Carol, so nice to hear your voice,” he said smoothly and easily. Was this man always in control of himself?
They settled on meeting for dinner the following Saturday, and when she hung up, Carol’s heart was pounding, she was sweating and she felt light-headed. “Whew,” she let out a sigh, and sat down at the kitchen table — her favorite spot in the whole house — and finished her drink in one long, easy swallow.
What to wear? What perfume? How to do her hair? Carol was totally preoccupied the next three days with these thoughts; it interfered with her work at the public relations firm. As her employer, Chuck, was outlining the needs for a new client, a power equipment manufacturer, she was brought up short in the midst of deciding in her mind whether to wear a bare-shouldered black cocktail dress, or a more modest turquoise separate outfit.
“Carol,” he said firmly, “I’m not sure you heard a word I said.”
“What,” was her only startled reply, and she had to admit to day-dreaming.
Carol recovered quickly, and soon was consumed with the project at hand. She truly enjoyed working with hard goods products, normally a male’s role, she thought. Yet, she was always good with mechanics and had enjoyed working with her dad, who ran an auto repair shop, when she was in high school and when she was home from college during the summer.
After the meeting, Chuck asked her to stay a moment.
“What’s going on with you? You Okay?”
“You’ve seemed distracted the last few days.”
“Sorry, Chuck, just got day-dreaming, I guess.”
He hesitated a minute, and touched her arm gently, holding his hand on the sleeve of her suit a bit longer than necessary, Carol thought. Then, in a halting voice, said:
“Carol, you know how I admire you . . . ah . . . if there is anything . . . ah . . . can I help?”
“No Chuck,” she said directly, pulling her arm from his soft, tentative grip.
Carol could almost feel the sexual tension going through the man; she knew he was hopelessly infatuated with her, married or not. And, she knew, that all she had to do now would be to act the least bit vulnerable and her would be on her doorstep, like a dog after a bitch in heat.
Carol didn’t always handle personal relationships with the greatest wisdom, and perhaps that’s why she was approaching an age where she would soon be considered the “old maid” of the office, and of her family, to the consternation of her mother. Yet, she knew, she was handling the relations with Chuck properly: she was determined to have no office entanglement or relations with a married man. Truth be told, however, she had no strong sexual desires for Chuck, while fully respecting his talents and his basic decency.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Well Carol, you know how valuable you are to the firm.”
“Thanks, Chuck, and I value working with this firm,” she said with a finality. “I’ll promise to pay better attention in the future.”
For her Saturday night date, Carol settled on the more modest, casual turquoise dress, which had an open neck, was sleeveless and ended at mid-thigh. She wore a tan pantyhose, and low-heeled pumps. With a pair of pearl earrings and matching necklace, she felt she was the picture of freshness and brightness.
However, as she looked in the mirror, she wondered: Am I too casual for Mark? He was such a dignified looking man. At the last minute, she almost changed to the more formal — and more suggestive — cocktail dress. But, then, decided against the change and stayed dressed in the casual outfit. Damn, she chastised herself, why am I acting like a giddy schoolgirl going out on her first date. Well, the fact was, it was the first “date” she had had for months.
Carol, always concerned about getting too involved too quickly with a man, suggested they meet at the restaurant. She wanted to take her own car, in order to have the freedom to leave him if things got nasty. Again, she was being the cautious Carol. (Her mother had recently been telling her to loosen up. “Carol Ann, it’s time you let your hair down. Don’t be such a prude. You’ll never get married.”)
Mark had chosen a small, neat restaurant near the Lake Michigan shore, tucked in the narrow streets of the old Italian section which was becoming gentrified. It had become the “in” place in Milwaukee recently, and Mark was able to get a usually difficult-to-get 8 p.m. reservation.
The evening began with difficulty. Carol had trouble finding a place to park, and she was mad at herself for not heeding Mark’s entreaties to pick her up, because, he had said, “parking is difficult there.” When she finally found a place, four blocks away, she was already late, and she worried: “Will he think I stood him up? Will he be mad because I didn’t let him pick me up? My God, horrors, will he be gone, having grown impatient with me?”
Luckily for her she was in good physical shape, and she was able to cover the distance to the restaurant quickly. The walk in the cool autumn night was refreshing, and she almost skipped along as she did at 10 years old when she was off happily to school.
“Oh Mark, you’re still here! I’m so sorry,” the words rushed out of her mouth as she entered the restaurant. He was sitting at the small bar nursing a pink-colored drink, and smiled sweetly when he looked up.
“So glad to see you, Carol.”
There was no impatience, no reprimand, no complaints about being kept waiting. Just a warm welcome. What a marvelous man!
He took her hand in his, and bent over giving her a quick kiss on her mouth. “They’ve holding our table for us,” he announced. “I think you’ll like this place. It’s classy, but not pretentious.”
“You know me pretty well, considering we just met,” she said.
“I don’t know about that, but I could see during our chat on the plane that you’re a no-nonsense type of woman … one who is pretty direct and honest.”
“Not sure I like that … makes me sound kind of cold.”
“Oh no!” He said, taking her arm and leading her between the tables, all covered with white tablecloths, sparkling silver and crystal and a single rose in a stem pot. “Not at all.”
“And,” he continued, “ I could tell from the way you dressed that you had class … but that you weren’t a snob.”
As they sat, Mark asked whether it would be all right if he ordered the wine. He also suggested an appetizer, which sounded perfect. Since Carol was no expert on wine, she was only too happy to let him order.
He was easy to talk to, he conducted himself as a friendly gentleman and he treated the waitress with courteous attention. Mark asked lots of questions about her life, but Carol for some reason did not find them intrusive or offensive.
And Carol chatted amiably about her life, about being raised by a single mother who was a nurse who always fitted her work schedule so as to least interfere with Carol’s own needs. “My mother always was there for me, and I’m afraid I was not always a very grateful daughter,” she admitted.
“Oh that’s normal,” Mark said, “Particularly in the teen years.”
“And she sacrificed so much so I could get a good education, even though I worked six years cashiering at Piggly Wiggly to help with the money.”
The conversation went on and on, with a string quartet music playing over the restaurant’s sound system as a backdrop. The courses of food came and went; the food was a light fare, interspersed with a white wine, so exquisite that Carol was concerned with the cost; her tastes were never sophisticated, or costly.
“You get along fine with your mother now?” Mark asked later.
“Yes, except she still nags me about not giving her grandchildren," Carol said, immediately wishing she could bring back the words, fearing that Mark would feel she was hinting at getting married and having a family.
Her face grew red, and Mark saw her consternation immediately. “Oh dear. No worry. I understand your mom’s wishes, but that’s not what counts. It’s what you want.”
“Yes, I guess so,” she said, the conversation interrupted by the waitress who appeared with the check. Carol had insisted that the dinner be “Dutch,” and that they each pay their own way, and Mark had initially accepted the idea as “a good way to get to know each other.”
“Sure I can’t treat you, Carol,” Mark asked as he picked up the check. “I’ve so enjoyed this and you’re really a special person.”
“No, Mark, a deal is a deal. We need to share this, and don’t think I haven’t enjoyed this. You, too, are most special. You are the most perfect dinner partner. You really know how to treat a girl and be so warm and fun to be with.””
“Well, at least let me pay for the wine.”
Carol found that a good idea, especially that deep down Carol was always a thrifty person, not given to excess, and the wine did seem to be a luxury. And, it also served to satisfy Mark’s need to be a “man,” she mused.
Mark drove her to her own car, and they were able to park behind it. Carol started to say good night, when he placed his hand on hers, gently and easily. His long fingers and soft palms covered her slender hand and held hers firm. Mark squeezed just a bit, and Carol found herself get a quick thrill.
Mark took her hand in his and turned so that their palms met securely. His hand was soft and smooth, almost like a woman’s hand, but his grip was firm. Carol breathing quickened just a bit as he used his first finger to gently trace imaginary circles in her hand.
“Just wanted you to know you’re special,” Mark said quietly, looking her in the eyes. In the reflection from the streetlights, she saw his hazel eyes were glistening and bright. He looked squarely at her, and she turned her head to face him directly, lifting her lips toward him, expectantly.
“Oh, Mark, not so special,” she demurred.
He moved his hand up her inner arm, his fingers almost dancing on her flesh. They were touching her ever so lightly, and the effect was electrifying.
Carol suddenly melted and turned herself submissively toward Mark, awaiting his advance. “Oh, now yet,” she said to herself. “He’s so marvelous and I don’t want to ruin this first date. Is he like all the others? Just a quick dinner and then to bed?”
But Mark, didn’t advance, didn’t move his face closer, but remained almost like a statue, looking at Carol directly, hopefully and expectantly.
“No, Carol, you are a special person . . . and quite a woman.”
“Oh Mark, you too …you’re really cool,” she replied, using a teenager's favorite word, moving her lips closer to his.
He returned his hand to hers, covering it with his other hand, and held her hand firmly, but gently, and saying nothing. She could tell his heart was quickening and he was growing more intense, and she still awaited his kiss, and what would most likely come next.
She hadn’t been so aroused in years, it seems, and just from holding hands, and she placed her free hand over his and they sat there, not speaking.
“I feel so magical all over,” Carol finally said quietly.
“This is so nice,” he agreed.
He leaned closer and the two kissed lightly, but he withdrew his lips almost immediately, and said: “Well, must go. Let me walk you to your car.”
Carol almost lost her balance, nearly falling into Mark’s lap as he withdrew himself from her arms. He moved to leave the car and Carol caught herself, surprised at his sudden withdrawal from their warm, pleasant embrace. She caught herself, and was in a haze as to what was happening. She was getting so affectionate, so warm, and suddenly, he said, no.
“I have to get up early tomorrow,” he explained simply as they walked to her car.
Still stunned by his abrupt behavior, after being so warm and affectionate, she was slow to recover and know what to say. She mumbled something, and grabbed his soft, long fingered hands in hers, still charged with expectation and excitement from the feel of his hands.
As Carol drove home, she wondered: who is Mark? How could he be so warm and welcoming to her, and then suddenly so abrupt? But, mostly she thought of his hands, those firm, but soft and smooth hands on her hands, the light way in which he touched her. She just imagined how marvelous it would feel to be nestled up against his slender body, their warm skins fastened tightly to each other.
In her bed that night, she fantasized, as she hadn’t since a teenager over her high school crush, Jimmy McFetdridge. She lay on her back, nude under the covers, wishing he was there fondling her breasts — her modest but lovely breasts — as she herself ran her own hands across their flattened form. Oh, how she wanted to feel his warm moist lips on her smooth skin and her hardening nipples.
Carol soon forget his abrupt departure, and remembered only the warmth of his hug as she drifted off to sleep.
Thus ended her first date, and the scenario was to continue for the next two months. Mark was always the perfect date, and he was an affectionate man in kissing and hugging. Yet, he never suggested going to bed with Carol. Several times she did invite him to continue their loving-making in her bed, but he always backed off, always using the same reason: “Not until we know each other better. I respect you too much, Carol.”
It was typified by the incident after they had had a particularly romantic dinner at the new restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan. He had booked a quiet table and they had held hands. The food was great and Mark played with her hands and arms affectionately.
Yet, when they arrived at her apartment, she said to Mark, kissing him warmly and moving her hands under his shirt and onto his smooth hairless body: “Oh Mark, come on up.” Then, emboldened by the wine she had drunk, she added:
“Ooh dear, please. I want you so badly.”
She kissed him impatiently, her passion overcoming her common sense. Yet, Mark sat stolidly in the car, hardly responding to her advances.
“You’ve had too much to drink, honey.”
It was like he had slapped her in the face. The rebuff was so immediate; she began to cry uncontrollably. He hugged her perfunctorily, but without passion.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said.
Was her mother right? Why didn’t Mark pursue a sexual liaison? After all they were both adults, at an age where sexual liaisons were perfectly normal.
She was so mad at Mark that she refused to answer his calls for a week. She would listen as the answering machine recorded his pleas: “Carol, dear, please return my call. We need to talk.” Once, he called her at work, but when she answered, she didn’t reply right away, finally saying: “I can’t talk. Don’t call me here,” and hung up.
“Have you been sleeping with him, Carol?” her mother had asked. As she did with her friends, she begged the question, usually saying something like: “Oh mother, that’s no business of yours” or “you can answer your own question.”
Finally, as Thanksgiving approached, Carol picked up the phone when he called, and after a halting conversation, where both went seeming minutes without responding to the other, she agreed to meet him for supper. “I have something to tell you,” Mark had said.
“About?” she let the question hover.
And she waited on the phone for what seemed an eternity, not wishing to pursue it further.
“It’ll explain a lot, I think.”
“Really, Carol, I love and respect you so much.”
“I owe you an explanation. Let me tell you over a dinner.”
Carol hesitated. If he’s found another woman, why not tell me now and get it over with. Why the suspense? Maybe, he’s married. She had long realized that their times together had recently been strained; he’d been less affectionate and that they’ve been seeing each other only once a week (that’s the pattern of a man with another family).
Finally, she agreed, to pick him up at 4:45 the next afternoon and go for an early supper. At 4:45 p.m., that following day, she was stuck in a traffic jam during an ice storm. And, she never saw Mark again.
When they missed each other, she tried calling his apartment, and heard the cold automated voice say: “This number has been disconnected.”
In the 18 months that followed, she never forgot that horrid day. Mark, the only man she had really found affection for, an affection that could have lasted a lifetime, was gone. And she puzzled over it: he was too honest, too straight-forward to have been cheating on her or to have been cheating on a wife and five kids in the suburbs.
No, she reasoned, he wasn’t a cheat. It was something else. And her thoughts would go to all of the marvelous times they had had together, his generous manner and tolerance of her quirks, such as insisting that he hang his coat in her closet, rather than draping it over the chair and of getting mad when he didn’t refill the ice tray with water. IN those incidents, he would simply smile and comply. He was so gentle and understanding. And, she recalled how he passionately would caress her breasts, his soft hands and long fingers gently walking over her firm flesh, her nipples hardening.
Mark had told her he was a freelance consultant on computer programming, and worked mainly out of his home. He traveled often, visiting clients and working in their office, which explained why he was often gone for four or five days at a time.
In retrospect, Mark had told her little about his own life, only that he was never married, was born in Washington State as an only child of an older couple, both of whom were now deceased. He came to Milwaukee several years before to serve as a full-time consultant for one of the city’s major manufacturers, and stayed when that commission ended. “I’ve grown to like the city,” he told her. “Lots to do and still easy enough to get around.”
And now, 18 months later, as she looked at her pretty white breasts in the mirror and admired how firm they remained, she was full of the wonderful memories of Mark. It was late afternoon, in one of those late March days, gray, cool and cloudy, and she was dressing to go out with Marie Morrison, an older women and widow she knew from work, for a quiet dinner and the theater.
The ringing of the phone broke into her reverie about Mark.
A strange voice, apparently that of a woman, said: “Carol?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Oh dear Carol,” the voice seemed controlled, a deep voice, but with feminine inflections.
“Yes, who are you?”
“Oh dear Carol, I’ve been so cruel to you.”
The voice paused.
“Mark?” she asked. “Is that you?”
“Oh yes, and I’ve got so much to tell you.”
“You sound so different.”
“Yes, I know . . . I . . . I . . . um . . . am no longer Mark.”
“No longer Mark?”
“Yes, I’m now Marcia . . .”
“You’re who? What is this?
“Yes . . . I’m nearly completed my sex change. I’m now almost a complete woman.”
Carol was speechless.
“I’m so sorry, I was going to tell you that afternoon when you missed me. Then, I became a coward and thought I’d just get out of your life completely. You’re so marvelous that I’ve never been able to get you out of my mind.”
“You’re a woman?” was all Carol could say.
“Yes, complete with a vagina and breasts, though not as pretty breasts as yours.”
“Oh, my God,” Carol sighed. “That explains everything.”
“Can we meet sometime soon, Carol?” Mark —now Marcia — pleaded.
Carol didn’t answer immediately.
“How about it? Just for coffee or a drink? Just as girl friends?”
Carol didn’t answer right away, finally saying: “Let me think about this. I’m not sure.”
As she hung up the phone, urging Marcia to call her in a day or two, Carol knew she would agree to meet her. After all, male or female, she had never had a closer and more affectionate lover than Mark, even though their love was never consummated.
She wondered how he -- oh no! she, it's she -- would look and act. He seemed so masculine, but already she could tell his voice was different, a bit softer and full of feminine intonations.
A woman, she mused, smiling to herself. He was so handsome as a man. How could he possibly now be a woman, with breasts and a vagina, too? It's true his arms and legs were not overly muscular; he was always slender, but firm of body, and, she thought, maybe he would be a most attractive woman.
Oh, Mark, dear Mark, she repeated softly to herself. Now, it's Marcia.
Carol cried now, sobbing into her pillow. Her man was gone, permanently missing now. She had never forgotten him, dreaming about him almost nightly since they missed each other in the snowstorm. The existence of Mark in her dreams enlivened Carol day in and day out in the continuing hope that he would return.
Now, Marcia returned in his place. Marcia, a woman. But Carol still loved Mark. Could she love Marcia, too? Oh my no, she couldn't. She was no lesbian; even the thought momentarily seemed disgusting and repulsive.
Yet, she reasoned, Marcia's voice was now a feminine voice, but she detected the same sweetness and gentleness that so attracted her when the man called Mark first sat down in Seat 17C.
Carol loved a person now called Marcia. She smiled to herself and looked forward to being in a sweet embrace with Marcia, their lips meeting and their loved renewed. She would call Marcia the next day.
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