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Vignette 1

The kiss had been lingering and sweet.  The tears began to roll down his face, and he pulled back, embarrassed.  She ran her fingers through the blonde hair, not yet turning gray, and smiled sympathetically.  He reacted badly to the sympathy, because she did not understand why he was crying.  

"It's too soon," she said.  "We can slow down.  I'm in no hurry."  

"It is NOT too soon," he replied angrily.  "You have no idea what is going through my head."  

He turned and began to walk down the gravel path back to the safe haven of his car.  He knew he had hurt her, but he was too confused to turn back and try to sort it out.  

He turned back for a moment, and watched her standing in the halo of light spilling from the open, inviting door.  He wanted to accept that invitation and enter the warmth.  He wanted a chance at living again.  Instead, he waved feebly.  "I'll call you tomorrow."

He got in the car and watched as she walked back into the house and revoked the invitation.  He wondered if he had ruined it.  The tears began as he took the car out of park and began the long drive home.  They lasted throughout the drive, and the music on the radio was a further reminder of what he was really upset about.

Alice had assumed that she was crying because of his dead wife.  She thought that he was still mourning, still not ready to get involved with another woman.  He drove on, and tried to figure out exactly what he had gotten so upset about.

The date had gone so well.  The restaurant was perfect, comfortable and not so dim that they couldn't see each other's eyes as they slowly ate and talked and ate some more.  He had ordered the house specialty, and they finished the meal with the chocolate soufflee and tiny cups of hot, bitter espresso.  They had talked about many things, but not about the most important things.  This had been fine with him.  There was time for that.  

He had driven her home, feeling the warmth of her body so close to his, radiating her vibrancy and her willingness.  He was looking forward to spending some time with her, renewing his aqcuaintance with desire.  It had been so long since he had even been tempted.  

All through his wife's long illness he had kept it at bay.  On the rare occasions when she had been feeling well enough, he had often thought it more important to spend that precious time doing other things.  They talked.  They played cards.  They made plans for a future that both of them understood would never happen.  They sometimes sat silently and regretted things together, but more often tried to celebrate what they had achieved together.  At night, when she wasn't hurting too much, he would curl up behind her in the too-narrow hospital bed they had installed in the den.  He would stroke the nape of her neck gently and tell her fairy tales of the things they would do when she got well.  She would smile and let the pain killers do their work, both the literal one that came in the morphine pump and the figurative ones that came with his words and gentle touch.  She would drift off, and he would unentangle himself and sit in the dark next to the bed and wonder how he was going to survive without her.  They had been high school sweethearts.  It had been an incredible twenty-five years.

He pulled into the driveway and hit the remote for the garage.  He almost couldn't bear going into the house tonight, and thought, for the thousandth time, about selling it.  For the thousandth time, he realized that he could not.  Wiping the remnant of the tears from his face, he parked the car and got out.  Slowly, he walked into the house.  He wandered into the den, restored to its rightful role, and poured a glass of single malt scotch and sat down in the leather recliner.  How could he explain to Alice what had actually happened?  

He hadn't betrayed his wife with the kiss.  The betrayal was deeper than that.

At the moment when his lips met Alice's, the moment when he should have been thinking of Alice alone, although perhaps he could have been thinking of his wife and it would have been understandable, he had been thinking of neither of them.  As Alice's tongue had gently traced the outline of his lips, he had, instead, gone back even further in time.  He had gone back to a junior high party and a game of spin-the-bottle.  He had gone back to the girl who had french-kissed him for the first time ever.  He could't remember her name.  He remembered that she hadn't been particularly pretty, and that she hadn't been nervous when the bottle spun and landed on her.  She had just watched him as he crossed the circle to kiss her.  He was terrified.  He didn't want to be giving his first real kiss away in front of an audience, most especially not this one.  He knew he was going to take ribbing later on for having had to kiss HER, of all people.  He awkwardly put his hand on her neck and pulled her toward him, none too gently.  She put her hand over his, and pulled back a little bit and looked at him mischievously.  Then she leaned in and kissed HIM.  For an instant, he was confused.  Her lips were against his, gently, yet insistently.  He yielded.  He felt her tongue gently probing his mouth, and he parried back.  Then she pulled away, smiled, and grabbed the bottle to take her turn.  He was blushing furiously, and hoping that people would focus on the blush on his face rather than other obvious signs of his arousal.

He dreamed about that kiss for months.  Then he met Karen sophomore year, and while he occasionally saw the girl in the hallways of the school, the memory faded.

The tears began again, as he wondered how he could have remembered a relative stranger and NOT his wife when he had given someone the first kiss he had given since he had kissed his Karen's cold lips one final time.

He turned the television on.  He sipped the scotch and let his mind wander through the alleys of memory.  Suddenly, the television screen flashed a bulletin.  He figured that a car chase couldn't hurt in his current frame of mind, but this was no car crash.  He sat and watched as a SWAT team deployed at a school across the country.  Violence had erupted after a basketball game, and there were still hostages in the gym.  He stared at the screen in disbelief as the name he had been unable to remember scrolled past in the list of known hostages.


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