Twenty-six and Thirty-five

Cullen Lackey (3rd place. Fiction. Fall 2011 Writing Contest)
 
I
 
It was a Friday morning and the sun had yet to rise. Martha lay next to Ryan in bed with a white blanket covering their bodies. Martha had showed up at Ryan’s apartment the night before with a bag of Whataburger. They ate and talked a good bit before it was time for Martha to go. Martha didn’t want to leave and convinced Ryan to let her stay. She used her kisses instead of words.
 
Martha woke first and scooted herself closer to Ryan. She pressed herself against his back and gently draped an arm over his midsection. She brushed her face against his and sighed at the feeling of his stubble tickling her cheek.
 
“Good morning,” she whispered in his ear. She ran her hand around his stomach, softly touching his skin with the tips of her fingernails. Ryan made no reaction, he was still asleep. Martha brushed his hair away from his ear, and began to kiss and tug on it with her teeth.
 
Pleasure from her caress and kisses finally awoke Ryan. He turned his head slightly to face her. “What are you doing?” he asked drowsily.
 
Martha said nothing as she engaged him in a kiss. Ryan rolled onto his back as their kiss became heavier. Martha broke the kiss momentarily to move atop of him. Her breasts pressed against his chest as she ran her hands through his thick head of hair. She cupped his cheeks as he slowly opened his eyes. Ryan closed them quickly as she kissed him again.
 
As he began to become more awake, the kiss became more passionate. She was about to take the physical interaction further, but Ryan’s box shaped iPod deck-alarm went off and scared her.
 
She rolled off him as loud hard rock music blared from the box. She huddled on her side of the bed, the covers wrapped around her, eyes wide in shock. Martha stared at Ryan who groggily began blinking his eyes.
 
He quickly sat up on the edge of the bed. He silenced the alarm and reached for a nearby lamp to turn on. His body was uncovered and his dark brown hair was askew. He yawned and turned to see Martha behind him.
 
Martha’s scared expression turned to annoyance. She crossed her arms and squinted at the light.
 
“Sorry,” Ryan said. “It’s time to get ready for work.” He dug in a lamp drawer for a clean pair of underwear.
 
“Couldn’t you put calmer music on your iPod?” she asked. “You know, something slow that won’t kill my mood.”
 
“No,” Ryan said with a yawn. “If I did that then I’d end up spending my morning rolling around in bed with you.”
 
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” she said.
 
“It isn’t,” he said, fidgeting with his iPod. “But I told you I have a teacher’s meeting this morning. I can’t afford to be late for that or anything else involving school. Punctuality is important, especially for the first semester. It’s not like I’m some hipster college professor.”
 
Martha yawned. “You could be if you go back to school.”
 
“Don’t want to,” Ryan said. “That’s too much money.”
 
“Slacker,” she said. “Hurry up and take your shower so I can sulk.”
 
Ryan leaned across his side of the bed and kissed her on the cheek. He then stood and went to his bathroom.
 
Martha uncrossed her arms, and reclined in bed. She smiled and let out a small laugh. She already knew she wasn’t going to get more than a kiss out of Ryan. He was a twelfth grade English teacher in his first year of instruction. He already explained the importance of his punctuality and wouldn’t have time for any morning love. Despite that she liked to fool with him. She thought his reactions were cute, plus there was always the chance she got something out of it.
 
Between the two Martha was the playful one while Ryan was more serious. It was ironic when taking their ages into consideration. Ryan was twenty-six while Martha was thirty-five.
 
Ryan came out of the bathroom after fifteen minutes in the shower. He had put on his underwear, and was drying his hair with a towel. He dug around his closet for clothes, but couldn’t settle on a shirt. “Hey, Martha,” he called from the closet. “What shirt do you think I should wear?”
 
“Whatever looks good with your navy slacks,” she said from bed.
 
“I was planning on wearing khaki today.”
 
“No, no,” Martha sat up in bed. “Navy is better. You look rather… sexy in it.”
 
“Don’t start,” he said looking through his closet. “I can’t be late for a morning meeting.”
 
“You’ve already told me,” she lay back down. “I’m not trying to do anything. I wouldn’t want you to be late.” She yawned. “I don’t have to be at the pharmacy for another three hours, so I’m going to lounge around for a while. I’d go back to sleep, but your loud taste in music has shaken the tire out of me.”
 
“I take it you’re not going back to your apartment?” he said as he slid on an undershirt.
 
“Not until after work,” she said. “I lock up today.”
 
“You’re not even going back to change your clothes?” he asked sitting on the bed to put on his socks.
 
“Not even,” she rubbed her eye. “I wore fresh clothes when I came to visit last night. Didn’t keep them on very long so I’ll just go in with them.”
 
“Classy,” Ryan said sarcastically, “Always planning ahead.” He slipped on his navy slacks, and a dark green polo. “At least iron them before you go. They’re probably piled up on the kitchen floor.”
 
“That’s where you tossed them,” she said, amused. “It’d be easier if you’d just move in with me.” She sat back up as Ryan walked to the bed. “That way we won’t have to go back and forth.” She looked up at him as he stood next to her.
 
“If we moved in together I wouldn’t get any work done,” he said as he stroked her hair. “As it is, I don’t have time to make breakfast.” He stepped back. “What do you think of the shirt?”
 
Martha looked Ryan over. “It works well, but I don’t particularly like that color.”
 
He thought for a moment. “How about gray then?”
 
“Perfect,” she said enthusiastically. “What makes you think you won’t get any work done if you move in with me?”
 
Ryan slipped off the green polo and switched it for the gray. “Because I won’t be able to concentrate while you’re around,” he said as went back to her.
 
“That’s not true,” she said. “I know when to give you privacy. It’s possible with two people in the room. We’ve done it plenty of times before.”
 
“I was joking, Martha,” he said, leaving it at that. He extended his arms and showed off the gray polo. “Better?”
 
Martha examined him and her mind filled with angst. She quickly glanced at his wretched box clock. She had enough time to tease him a bit more. “God, you’re such a handsome man!” she clasped her arms around him. “Let me have some sort gratification, will you? Come back to bed.” She started to un-tuck his shirt.
 
“Stop it!” he said as he unclasped her hold. “You really need to stop teasing me.” He didn’t bother to restrain his laugh as he tucked in his shirt.
 
“Are you still going to meet up with your friend for lunch?” he said walking to his dresser drawer.
 
“Yes, I am,” she said, leaning against the headboard. “I’m going out with Bianca. I haven’t seen her in a while.”
 
“That’s nice,” he said as he grabbed a bottle of cologne. “You haven’t mentioned her lately.”
 
“That’s because I haven’t talked to her in three months,” Martha adjusted the blanket over her breasts. “She upset me the last time I talked to her.”
 
“You two argue a lot,” he said, spraying himself with cologne. “Mind me asking why?”
 
Martha sighed. “Bianca doesn’t like me dating you,” she said. “Says you’re too young for me.”
 
Ryan dug in his closet for a sweater. “Well, she’s two years too late to be making complaints about that, isn’t she?” He turned to ask her opinion on a sweater and cut himself off when he saw her.
 
Martha continued to rest against the headboard, arms crossed underneath her breasts and legs bent at the knee. Her tanned olive skin was accentuated by the contrasting off-white cover. Her hair hung about her shoulders, long, brown, wild. Her eyes, though in the midst of contemplation, were deep and pretty. Her face was defined and soft while her lips looked even softer. It was difficult for Ryan to say no to her, but he did. Martha was gorgeous, even with the messy bed hair.
 
“Bianca is definitely two years too late, right?” he asked again.
 
She looked at him and met his gaze. “Most definitely,” she said smiling.
 
He turned away quickly, threw on a sweater, and grabbed his bag before he changed his mind. “Time to go,” he said as he bent down to give her a kiss.
 
Martha wrapped her arms around his neck. “You smell good,” she said, whispering in his ear.
 
“I know,” Ryan said. “It’s lavender, the one you picked for me.”
 
“You blame me for being the tease,” she kissed his cheek. “I know you want to stay.”
 
“I do, but I have my responsibilities,” he kissed her again and removed himself from her hug. “I made extra biscuits yesterday. Feel free to have one if you’re hungry.”
 
She grabbed his free hand. “You always make them for me, don’t you?”
 
“Pretty much,” Ryan said with a smile. “I foresee your visits.”
 
Martha smiled. “I’ll see you tonight, right?”

Katarzyna Suchodolska


“Yes, you will,” he squeezed her hand and gently rubbed it with his thumb. “I’ll be there around eight, after I grade a few papers and hit the gym.”
 
“Good,” she said. “I’ll make you dinner, something Italian.”
 
“I’m looking forward to it,” he kissed her hand. “Don’t forget to lock up when you leave, okay?” He picked up his bag. “Remember, I’ll be at your place around eight. I’ll see you then.” Ryan left his apartment.
 
“I’ll see you then,” Martha said as she hugged a pillow and fell to her side on the bed. “That wasn’t an ‘I love you.’” It disappointed her that he didn’t say it to her. She had scolded him about it before, but he never seemed to remember.
 
Martha sighed and got out of bed. She left the covers and walked to the kitchen bare. She collected her clothes from the floor and placed them on the ironing board. She then went to the bathroom and took a shower. Afterward she ate a biscuit, ironed, and dressed for work. She wore a white blouse with black slacks and a pair of flats. No need to be extravagant.
 
As she locked Ryan’s apartment her cell phone buzzed in her purse. She riffled through her things and pulled out the cell phone. It was a text message from Ryan: Love you.
 
 
II
 
Martha left work for her lunch break around two to meet her friend Bianca. They took advantage of the nice weather and ate on the patio of a downtown café. Martha didn’t order much, just a small Caesar salad with an iced tea to drink. Bianca, on the other hand, ordered a BLT with fries and a Coke.
 
They chatted about their respective jobs. Bianca was a computer programmer, and felt the need to detail her labors. Martha wasn’t really interested in specifics, and zoned out as Bianca went on.
 
Martha daydreamed about her upcoming evening. She was going to cook dinner, but wasn’t sure what to make. It had to be Italian, she had already declared that. However, she didn’t have the ingredients for anything other than spaghetti. Spaghetti, though delicious, wasn’t what she had in mind. Lasagna seemed like a good dish to prepare, but the time it took to make was an issue.
 
Bianca began laughing and it forced Martha back to reality. She sat puzzled as she chewed on some lettuce. Bianca was talking about a television show they both liked. “Did you watch it?” Bianca asked. “It was really good!”
 
“No, I missed it,” Martha said swallowing her lettuce. “I wasn’t anywhere near a television last night.”
 
“Oh, where were you?”
 
“Ryan’s,” she said as she sipped tea. “I felt like seeing him so I picked up a bag of Whataburger and spent the night at his place. He thinks owning a television is a waste of money and electricity. If Ryan watches a show he usually watches it on his laptop.”
 
A blasé look formed on Bianca’s face. “He still hasn’t moved in with you yet?”
 
“No,” Martha said. “He hasn’t.” She shot a weak smile. “He says he wants to live on his own for a few months.”
 
“I’m surprised you’re still with him,” Bianca said suddenly after a sigh. “I thought him not moving in with you would be the end of it.” She took a bite of her BLT.
 
Martha gave Bianca a look of confusion. “Why would that end our relationship?” She laughed lightly. “I want him to move in, but I understand why he hasn’t. Ryan just wants to prove he can survive on his own for a while. He’s twenty-six and has lived most of his life with his parents. It’s only normal that he wants to prove he can take care of himself. He’s actually doing pretty well.” She sipped her tea. “Besides Ryan gave me free rule to show up whenever I want. He even gave me the spare key.”
 
“Still,” Bianca said, “I don’t understand why you went out with him in the first place. Sure he’s somewhat better off now, but when you met him he was a clerk at a corner store.” Bianca took a sip of Coke. “Not only that but he was out of shape and living with his parents. No car, no nothing. Yet you turned a great catch of a man down for Ryan.”
 
“Catch of a man?” Martha said with a gross look on her face. “I know you’re not talking about Ric Bruno.” Bianca had tried pairing Martha with Bruno years ago, but Martha didn’t like him. “You know I didn’t care much for Bruno. He wasn’t interesting, and I only went out with him a few times on your insistence.”
 
“You just didn’t give Bruno a chance,” Bianca said. “Beyond the rough exterior he’s really a nice guy.”
 
“I gave him a few chances,” Martha said. “He didn’t impress me. All he did was talk about his restaurant and try to get me into bed.”
 
“I ran into him the other day,” Bianca said ignoring Martha’s disinterest. “He opened another restaurant in the Northside.” She sipped her Coke. “I took a coworker out to lunch there while Bruno was making his rounds. He recognized me right away and asked for you. Said he tried calling you a few times, but didn’t get an answer.”
 
“I didn’t give him my number when it changed,” Martha said. “I don’t like him, not in the least bit. Obviously nobody else does if he’s still lingering over a few dates we had two years ago,” she scoffed. “I have nothing in common with that man besides an Italian heritage. Is that why you tried hooking me up with him?”
 
“Well, it’s usually easier that way,” Bianca said. “If I knew you were into young Welsh men I would’ve dug through my list of contacts.”
 
Martha sipped her tea. “Ryan is not Welsh. He’s German-Irish on his father’s side, and some odd Hispanic amalgamation on his mother’s, hence the dark brown hair and slight tan.”
 
“Not to mention the two inches of height he lacks in comparison to you,” Bianca said sarcastically. “I still don’t get what it is you see in Ryan.” She made a hand gesture. “He doesn’t seem all that great.”
 
Martha rolled her eyes.
 
“On paper,” Bianca continued, “A guy like Bruno is the perfect fit for you. He’s a self-made man, good looking, and has a similar heritage. Not to mention he’s 6’3, a good seven inches taller than you. He’s also around your age, and takes care of himself.”
 
“That’s exactly it!” Martha exclaimed. “On paper a guy like Bruno is perfect for me, but at the end of the day, the paper is just paper. You hold a match to it and it burns! Bruno may be a good looking guy who runs his own restaurant, but that doesn’t make him a great catch. Not in my opinion.” She leaned forward. “Paper never mentioned how much of a sleaze Bruno was. It definitely didn’t mention how he reeked of cigarettes and cheap cologne.”
 
“Martha…”
 
“No,” Martha said as she raised her index finger, “I’m tired of you trying to push men on me when you know I’m in a relationship.”
 
“All I’m saying is that you should consider giving Bruno another chance,” Bianca said trying to defend her stance.
 
“In order for me to give Bruno another chance I have to be both interested and single. I’m neither of the two.” Martha pointed her index finger at Bianca. “I don’t want to hear you tell me about Bruno or any other man with a so-called interest in me outside of Ryan.” She paused and stared at Bianca. “I didn’t like Bruno. End of story. All he did was sweet talk me, and try to get me in the sack. I’ve learned in my life not get involved with people like that, because all they want is another notch on their belt.”
 
Bianca sat erect on her chair, her eyes going between a cantankerous Martha and her unfinished BLT.
 
“On paper,” Martha continued, “Ryan doesn’t fit me. He’s younger, two inches shorter, and comes from a slightly different background. However, I find the man to be interesting. He’s honest, loyal, and doesn’t sweet talk me with a contagious tongue. Not like your fool, Bruno.” Martha met Bianca’s eyes as she looked up. “Quite obviously, Bianca, the relationship is working if we’ve stayed together for this long.”
 
Other patrons at the café had started to pick up on Martha’s tirade and stared in her direction.
 
Martha went back to eating her salad as Bianca nibbled on a French fry. For a moment there was silence between the two. Then Bianca mustered up the nerve to speak.
 
“How do you know you’re not going to be a notch on Ryan’s belt?” Bianca asked.
 
Martha’s faced became flushed with shock at Bianca’s gall to ask that question.
 
“Not saying that it would happen,” Bianca immediately said after noticing Martha’s stern look. “But let’s face it; Ryan isn’t the clerk you picked up two years ago. He’s an independent fellow who lives on his own. Free of any real constraints and can do as he pleases. What if a woman more his age were to approach him? What do you think Ryan might do?”
 
“What are you insinuating?” Martha said with a scowl.
 
“I’m asking you whether or not you think Ryan will be able to turn down the temptations of another woman.” Bianca shot a faint smile. “Until now you’re the only one who’s shown a remote interest in him. Since he’s better off and better looking others might find him more acceptable. They might try to pry him away from you.” Bianca took a quick drink of Coke. “It’s not like there is a ring on your finger and he does live alone. Men do tend to be more promiscuous when given the chance.”
 
Martha mulled over Bianca’s statements. She could feel her head pound as she thought. Martha didn’t know why she even tried keeping Bianca around. All Bianca ever did was nag and make Martha feel inferior.
 
Martha collected herself and spoke. “He’ll do one of two things,” she said raising two right fingers. “He’ll either politely tell the woman he’s with somebody else, or bluntly tell her he isn’t interested and list the reasons why.”
 
“Do you really believe that?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Why?”
 
“Because I love the man,” Martha said with no hesitation. “I know him and have faith that he’ll stay loyal. Ryan may be dense and inexperienced, but I know he only has eyes only for me.” She paused. “Despite what you think or say, I plan on keeping it that way.”
 
Bianca raised an eyebrow.
 
“Bianca,” Martha said looking at her salad, “Never come to me again questioning my relationship with Ryan.” She looked up at her, “That’s my business, and unless you have any proof to back your ideas, keep them to yourself. All you do is fuel unwanted insecurities that I’ve already gotten over.” She paused. “You may not like Ryan, but I do. Ryan isn’t like the men I’ve dated seriously in the past. If he was similar to any of those men I wouldn’t touch him.” Martha’s eyes narrowed and looked over Bianca’s face. “You have your preferences and I have mine. Not to mention you’ve had terrible relationships, including a failed marriage that I could have questioned you about. I didn’t. Do you know why?”
 
“Why?” Bianca asked.
 
“Because I respect your personal decisions,” Martha leaned back. “I expect you to do the same. Granted, if Ryan was into something nefarious I’d understand the concern, but he isn’t. Our relationship is just fine. You telling me about how you can’t believe I’m with Ryan, and asking me questions about his fidelity is just plain mean.” She paused. “Yet, people wonder why I don’t call you.”
 
Bianca’s eyes slipped to the table as Martha’s bore a hole through her. Both quickly went back to their meals, and the waiter soon presented them their check. They paid for their respective parts of the tab.
 
“I’ll tell Bruno you’re not interested,” Bianca said.
 
“Thank you,” Martha said calmly.
 
Bianca stood from the table and picked up her purse. “I’ll call you later,” she said. “I’ll fill you in on the show.”
 
“Don’t bother,” Martha said standing. “I’m making dinner for two tonight. I won’t have time to pick up the phone. That sort of thing is rude, you know?” She forced a smile. “I’ll just DVR it and watch later.”
 
They parted with a hug. Bianca asked for Martha’s forgiveness and she got it. However, that didn’t mean that Martha would be talking to Bianca, not for a while anyway.
 
 
III
 
It was 4:30 in the afternoon, and Ryan sat at his classroom desk grading tests. Students had already left, and in about thirty minutes Ryan would do the same. He was going to work out at the gym and then head home to prepare for his dinner date with Martha.
 
Ryan thought about Martha as he graded. He knew she was teasing him in the morning, but a giant part of him wanted to stay. He could’ve played hooky and spent the day being lazy with her. Alas, he had chosen to be a high school teacher and had to be at work on time. It didn’t leave much room to play hooky, but then again no job really did.
 
Ryan wandered what Martha would make that evening. She didn’t tell him what she was making, but he knew it would be good. Lately she has been making Italian dishes, old recipes her mother had taught her. Last time she had made chicken parmigiana and the time before that it had been pasta primavera with shrimp. They tasted great, and went amazingly well with the red wine Martha picked out. Thinking about it made Ryan’s mouth water. He couldn’t wait to see Martha, not only because of the food, but to spend time with her.
 
Ryan might be twenty-six years old, but Martha was his first and only serious lover. He had hardly dated, mostly because nobody was interested in him. Yet he had evolved into a catch as he got older. Granted, he had grown on his own, but he had used Martha as an inspiration. Having a woman he strongly liked as a romantic partner drove Ryan to work harder. It wasn’t all for Martha, but Ryan definitely had her in mind.
 
As Ryan continued grading tests, a sudden knock came from his classroom door. “Come in,” he said as he marked up a test.
 
“Afternoon, Mr. Adkisson,” said a petite woman as she walked in. Ryan recognized her as one of the teachers. “Grading papers, I see.”
 
“Yes,” Ryan said with a quick smile. “I gave the kids a test on Othello today.” Ryan flipped a test over. “How are you doing, Ms. Gonzales?”
 
“I’m doing fine,” she said, “But please call me Leslie.”
 
“That’s not very professional,” Ryan said.
 
Leslie started playing with a pen Ryan had on his desk. “I insist,” she said. “Won’t do us any harm to call each other by our first names. Students aren’t around and we are the same age.”
 
“You still have three years of seniority over me, don’t you?”
 
“That doesn’t matter, Ryan,” Leslie said with a smile. She put the pen back in the cup, and placed her hands on Ryan’s desk.
 
Ryan leaned back in his chair and looked at Leslie. She was a pretty Hispanic woman, around 5’3 with tanned skin. She was about twenty-six, but in all honesty she looked younger. She was dressed in a black skirt with a sweater worn over a green blouse, her hair, black and shiny, shaped nicely in a cute pixie cut.
 
Leslie had been rather nice to Ryan. She was one of the teachers Ryan had befriended when he first started teaching months ago. Leslie would often give Ryan pointers on how to handle and teach his students. Often Ryan had found Leslie’s advice beneficial.
 
“How may I help you,” Ryan leaned forward, “Leslie?”
 
“Well,” Leslie started, “I was wandering what you’d be doing when you left school.”
 
Ryan relaxed in his chair and held back a laugh. “I’m going to the gym,” he said. “I like to work out. Didn’t always have a nice body, and I’d like to keep it nice for a while.” He smiled. “Then I’m going home to wash up and try to finish grading these tests.” Before Ryan could tell Leslie about his dinner date with Martha, she spoke.
 
“You keep yourself busy,” she said. “That’s good.” She smiled. “A few of us teachers are having a tiny get together at a restaurant not too far from the school. It’s something we do annually every fall.”
 
“Oh, that sounds nice,” Ryan said. “I hope y’all have fun.”
 
“Well, I wanted to know if you’d join me,” Leslie said, “as a date.”
 
A confused look formed on Ryan’s face. “Your date,” he said. “Is this a teachers-only dinner?”
 
“No, we’re allowed to bring our partners and close family if we’d like.”
 
“Then why not take your beau along?” Ryan said. “I’m sure he’d like to get to know the people you work with.”
 
Leslie sighed. “We called the relationship off.”
 
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ryan said. “It must have been difficult.”
 
“No,” Leslie smiled. “It was a mutual thing. We just wanted to explore other options.” She paused to think. “So, do you think you might be able to come? If you want you can come with me afterwards when I run my errands. Other teachers are going bowling, but I was thinking about picking up dessert.” She stared at Ryan. “Spending time alone in bed eating sweets is very depressing.”
 
Ryan raised his eyebrow and stared aimlessly at a smiling Leslie. “And you want me to have dessert with you?”
 
“You can say that,” Leslie said widening her smile. “What we do afterwards can be kept between us.”
 
Ryan felt uncomfortable. “Sorry,” he said, “the offer is nice, but I have to decline it. I already promised the woman I’m seeing that I’d eat dinner with her.”
 
“You can’t cancel?” Leslie said running a finger across Ryan’s desk. “You could always make it up to her.”
 
Ryan didn’t like what Leslie was trying to do. He had just declined her offer, and she continued to flirt. It’d be flattering if Ryan didn’t find it annoying.
 
“No,” Ryan said. “I can’t cancel.”
 
Leslie bit her bottom lip and wrinkled her brow. “Is this the older woman you were telling me about the other day?”
 
“Yes, it is,” Ryan said. “She cooks a good meal and I’m looking forward to it.”
 
“Her age doesn’t bother you?” Leslie inquired.
 
Ryan started clicking his red checking pen. “No, it doesn’t,” he said. “If it did I wouldn’t be with her. It’s not like she’s twenty years older than me, only nine. Age doesn’t bother her either. If it did, she would’ve never asked me out.”
 
“It really shouldn’t,” Leslie said. “If it were me I’d enjoy a younger lover. Older woman tend to be more straightforward about what they want,” she said sarcastically, “don’t they?”
 
“Our relationship has nothing to do with age,” Ryan said. “I made a good impression on her, so much so she was willing to gamble on me.”
 
Leslie crossed her arms. “Love at first sight?”
 
“No,” Ryan said. “It was love at first literary discussion. My outer shell needed a lot of work.”
 
It wasn’t any of Leslie’s business on how Ryan met Martha, but Ryan decided to humor her. He was hoping it would drive Leslie away. “I was reading an Alfred Hayes novel called The Girl on the Via de Flaminia at a convenience store I used to work at,” he said. “She came in one night looking for a bag of ice and saw I had the book. We struck up a lengthy conversation, and she started coming by more frequently. I’ve been with her since the day she asked me to dinner.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “I wouldn’t dare cheat on that woman. She’s the only one who gave me a chance when I wasn’t much.”
 
“I’m giving you a chance now,” Leslie said.
 
“Yes, you are, but you probably wouldn’t have given it to me then.” Ryan reclined in his chair. “Don’t you see? That’s my point. She took a risk on me when nobody else would. I’ve built a good relationship with her and I’m not going to ruin it because another woman wants me to scratch her itch.” Ryan bit his tongue to stop himself from going on a rant. It wouldn’t look good if he berated one his colleagues.
 
“I’m thinking about moving in with her,” he continued. “Maybe even buy her a ring when I pay off my college loans.” He smirked. “My mother would probably be more at peace with the relationship if I did.” Ryan was being sarcastic about his mother, but he was serious about buying Martha a ring.
 
Leslie gritted her teeth and forced a smile. “You must really love her,” she said.
 
“I love her very much,” Ryan said with a hint of annoyance.
 
An awkward silence filled the classroom. Ryan had made his point; he wasn’t interested in Leslie.
 
He looked down at the paper he was grading prior to Leslie’s intrusion. He resumed grading it as Leslie stared at him.
 
She uncrossed her arms and let out a frustrated sigh. “Well, I hope you have fun with your… older woman,” she said. “You have a nice evening, Mr. Adkisson.”
 
“You too, Ms. Gonzalez,” he said, keeping his eye on the test. “Enjoy your dinner. If anybody asks, tell them I’m busy.”
 
Leslie scoffed as she walked out of the classroom.
 
Ryan rubbed his forehead and checked his cell phone for the time. It was five. He collected all of the tests and tidied up his desk. He placed the tests in his messenger bag, slung it across his shoulder, and left school for the gym.
 
 
IV
 
Martha stood over her apartment’s stove cooking spaghetti and meatballs. It wasn’t exactly the dish she wanted to cook, but she had failed to conjure up the necessary ingredients for an alternative. She had left work in a rush and hadn’t bothered scrounging around the market for ingredients. Spaghetti and meatballs wasn’t a bad dish, just not as tasty or special.
 
It was 7:30 and Martha had half an hour to clean up and get ready for Ryan. She put the spaghetti and meatballs in a glass dish and set it on the cherry hardwood dining table. A bowl of cut Italian bread was already on the table along with a small container of butter. Martha set out the silverware and dimly lit the dining room before going into her bedroom to freshen up.
 
After a quick shower, she dressed. She opted for an ivory tiered maxi skirt and a fitted light brown shirt. Martha was especially fond of the skirt. It suited her slender figure and reminded her of a gypsy skirt.
 
She looked into a small mirror on her dresser and put on a little make up. When she smiled she noticed a pair of smile lines around her mouth. They’d been there for a while, but Martha had never really paid attention to them. She knew the lines were a sign of age and inevitable. Still, the sight of the lines bugged her. She squished her mouth tighter and rubbed the lines on her face with her fingers. She was hoping the lines would magically disappear, but they didn’t.
 
She fell backwards on her bed, keeping her feet planted on the carpeted floor. She stretched a little and sighed as she pondered Ryan. Would he spend the night or go back to his own apartment? It was more than likely that he would. Ryan usually stayed over the weekend, but Martha couldn’t tell now that he lived on his own. Though she understood why, it still bothered Martha. She understood Ryan moving out of his parents’ house, but on his own? He still had his loans to pay off, and it made a lot more sense to her if he just moved in with her. Her apartment had more than enough room for the two of them, but it wasn’t enough to sway Ryan.
 
A sudden vibration came from her bed. She turned her head to see the text message from Ryan: Outside. I knocked twice.
 
Martha tossed the phone back on the bed. She quickly brushed her hair and walked to her front door. As she got closer she could hear the faint sound of music.
 
Ryan was listening to his iPod with the volume turned to its max. He was tapping his foot and slightly nodding his head as he mouthed the lyrics to his favorite Motörhead song.
 
Martha opened the door and Ryan quickly pulled out his earphones. They exchanged smiles and hellos, giving each other a quick peck on the lips as he entered the apartment. Martha looked him over as he placed his jacket on the coat rack. He wore the same gray polo but had traded his navy slacks for a pair of blue jeans. Martha preferred him in slacks, but she wasn’t complaining.
 
“You look nice,” Ryan said as he turned to her. “What did you make for dinner? It smells good.”
 
“Spaghetti with meatballs,” she said as she started for the dining table. “I wanted to make something different but I didn’t have any ingredients.”

Katarzyna Suchodolska


“That’s fine,” he said as he followed her. “You should’ve told me to pick something up. I wouldn’t have minded having dinner later.”
 
“I thought about it, but I knew you had other things to do.” She smiled. “Sooner you get those done the sooner I have you to myself.”
 
Ryan took a seat at the small dining table as Martha served him. He offered to help her, but she politely told him no.
 
“I don’t have any wine,” she said as she opened the refrigerator. “Is sweet tea okay?”
 
“I prefer it,” he said, playing with his spaghetti. He didn’t want to eat until she sat down.
 
She took down two glasses and put three cubes of ice in each. She gave one to him and poured him tea. Then she finally sat down at the opposite end of the table and served herself.
 
“How was school?” she asked. “Did the meeting go well?”
 
Ryan looked up from his plate as he bit into a forkful of spaghetti. “It was fine,” he said, “though I prefer faculty meetings in the afternoon.”
 
“Why’s that?”
 
“I don’t have to get up as early.”
 
They shared a smile and delved into the spaghetti. Ryan moved the conversation to giving the kids a test on Shakespeare. He mentioned how he had noticed sudden decline in one particular student’s writing. Ryan went into a long talk about how the student probably had written it half-heartedly. Noticing how long he had been speaking about the student and Othello, he asked Martha about Bianca.
 
“How was your lunch with Bianca?” he asked, brushing tomato sauce off his chin. “Did she give you any trouble?”
 
“Yes,” Martha said biding her time to speak. “I’d rather not talk about her. Thinking about it puts a bad taste in my mouth, and I want to enjoy my dinner.”
 
Ryan raised his hands in agreement and continued eating.
 
They ate the remainder of the dinner in silence. When they finished Martha collected the dishes and washed them while Ryan put up the remaining spaghetti and tea.
 
As Martha scrubbed a plate, he quietly approached her from behind. He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her neck. She wasn’t expecting it and let out a loud yelp. She quickly covered her mouth while he laughed in her ear.
 
Martha leaned back, turned her head, and bit Ryan’s cheek.
 
“Ouch!” he said, rubbing his face with one hand. “Damn it, that hurt.”
 
“Then you shouldn’t have scared me,” she said sternly. “I like these plates and you almost made me drop one.”
 
“I’m sorry,” he said as he moved next to her, resting his arms on the kitchen counter. “Want any help?”
 
“No,” she said. “I’m almost finished. You can go to the den if you want. I’ll be there in just a second.”
 
Ryan obliged and went to her den as she continued doing the dishes. He took a seat on the sofa and waited patiently for her to finish. He turned on the television and placed the remote on the transparent coffee table in front of the sofa.
 
When Martha finished the dishes she came and sat next to Ryan on the sofa and wrapped his arm around her. She flipped through the television stations and left it on a rerun of Masterpiece Theater. It quickly became boring for Martha while Ryan found the particular episode to be interesting.
 
She sniffed his neck and nudged him. “You’re not wearing it,” she said to him with dissatisfaction. “You didn’t put on cologne.”
 
“Didn’t think it was necessary,” he said.
 
“It isn’t, but I like the smell of it.”
 
“You didn’t put on your make up.”
 
“I did too,” she said. “You can’t tell? In all honesty, I should start putting on more.”
 
“You don’t need it,” he said. “You look better without it.”
 
“Like hell I don’t,” she said. She sat up and looked at him. “I’m starting to get lines on my face.” She outlined the lines next to her mouth. “See, lines.”
 
Ryan kept himself from rolling his eyes. “There are women your age who look worse,” he said. “It’s not going to stop. Be happy you haven’t gotten gray yet or formed droopy eyes.”
 
“My, how blunt you are,” she said as she leaned into him. “I suppose these things don’t bother you?”
 
“What things?”
 
“My lines,” she began, “my impending grayness and aging.”
 
“They don’t bother me at all,” he said. “No worries.” He looked down at her and smiled.
 
She scoffed as Ryan turned his attention back to the television. She began to yawn and soon tiredness began to set in. Martha repositioned herself, turning to her right side and bending her right knee. She brought her face to Ryan’s ear and whispered as he stroked her hair.
 
“Lie down,” she said in a lazy tone, “I’m tired.”
 
“If you’re tired I could just carry you to bed,” he said. “I can do that now, you know?”
 
“We can’t do that.”
 
“Why not?”
 
“Because if we do I’m going to tear you apart,” she said. “Though that would be nice, sometimes it’s more romantic to just lie down and breathe.” She began kissing him behind his ear.
 
Ryan gave in to Martha and lay back on the couch. She landed on top of him and kissed his neck. Her kisses were tender and affectionate. They dwindled as the tiredness took over her.
 
Ryan reached for the remote on the coffee table and turned off the television. Martha had stopped her kissing and had repositioned herself so that her head lay on Ryan’s chest.
 
“Ryan,” she said drowsily. “When are you going to move in with me?”
 
“In February,” he said as he caressed her. “That’s when my lease ends.”
 
Martha yawned. “I don’t think I can wait that long.”
 
“It’s only four months away,” he said. “You’re the older one, have some patience.”
 
“You’re not funny,” she said as she yawned again.
 
They lay there in silence for twenty minutes; the only sounds audible were their breathing and slight rustles.
 
Before fading completely into slumber Martha spoke. “I love you, Ryan,” she said softly with a yawn. “I really, really do.”
 
“I love you, too,” Ryan said as his eyes became heavy.
 
They fell asleep together on the sofa and stayed in each other’s arms until the morning sun rose.
 
 
 
 
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