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I made sure I was ten minutes early for my date with Suzie. I used the extra moments to buy a long-stemmed red rose from the flower stall in the station forecourt and to compose myself before meeting her. I was nervous. It was my first date since the first time I went out with Helen nearly 25 years ago. It had taken me five years to get to this moment, years of mourning, of agonising loneliness, of shattered self-belief slowly rebuilt with the constant love and patience of those who loved me the most. Until now I had been able to distract myself from my nerves with careful preparation; shower, shave, dressing in my favourite smart going out attire of black suit, dark blue shirt and contrasting tie with scarlet pattern, checking and rechecking the route to our rendezvous. But now there was no way and nowhere to hide from my anxiety. Whatever you do, don’t mess it up, I thought to myself as I checked my watch for the dozen’th time.
As the minutes crawled by I got tired of scanning every face for a hint of recognition. I took out my paperback and began to read, every now and again looking up to observe the dynamics of all the human movement and activity around me on the station concourse. Other couples met with extravagant flinging of arms and smiling shrieks, or a chaste kiss on a demurely proffered cheek, or a politely wary shaking of hands depending on the degree of prior familiarity.
As the minutes piled up into a quarter hour and then another quarter hour, I was able to observe how the stream of humanity ebbed and flowed as trains disgorged their passengers from one side of the barriers while others arrived to flow through the barriers in the opposite direction to take their places. In all this human flux there were two constants; me and, standing a few yards away, a smartly dressed young woman. Whereas I was standing still as I read, she was constantly moving; backwards and forwards, round in circles, shrugging her shoulders, folding and unfolding her arms, checking her watch again and again. Several times I smiled and shrugged my shoulders sympathetically and each time she smiled back and shook her head ruefully.
After almost three quarters of an hour of waiting, fairly confident that by this stage she wouldn’t feel threatened by my doing so, I walked over to her.
“Stood up?” I asked with a smile of sympathy.
“Tell me about it,” she grimaced with fellow-feeling, “You too?”
“It looks like it,” I smiled, “What did you have planned?”
“The new photography exhibition at the contemporary art gallery, then we were going clubbing,” she replied, then added, “Did you have something nice planned?”
“Dinner at a jazz club,” I said, “Nice evening for it too. Too bad.”
I was about to take my leave of her when I found myself saying, “It’s seems a pity to waste it, how about making an evening of it together? I don’t fancy the clubbing bit but the photography exhibition sounds good if you’d like a bit of jazz with dinner afterwards.”
“That sounds really cool,” she said, “You’re on.”
We got acquainted as we walked to the gallery. “I’m Tony Sutcliffe,” I said as I reached across myself with my right hand to shake her hand as she walked on my left, “pleased to meet you.”
“Hi, I’m Gemma Courteney, artist and illustrator extraordinaire,” she replied.
Her outfit accorded with her assertion. She wore a man’s double-breasted jacket in black pinstripe over a man’s white dress shirt with turned back collars and silver cufflinks, beautifully cut and styled black trousers that seemed to flow and shimmer around her legs as she walked and gave brief glimpses of her feet, on which she wore over black tights black velvet ballerina pumps that looked like they had been covered in glitter, a silk scarf that covered her skin behind the open neck of her shirt, a crimson cummerbund around her waist and black lace gloves that left her finger ends exposed. Her jewellery consisted of triangular silver drop earrings and several rings including a beautiful butterfly with spread wings shimmering with glitter which spanned the length of her left middle finger.
She was slightly less than average height with slim build and small bust and slender arms and legs. She had long straight auburn hair that flowed freely down her back to her waist and partly covered her ears, which stuck out slightly from the flowing stream of her tresses. She had a lively and pretty face with dark brown eyes and a mouth that seemed to be always smiling or just about to smile. It was also covered in light brown freckles that to me enhanced her exuberantly youthful quality that was already obvious in the first few minutes I was in her company.
By the time we reached the gallery, she holding the rose she had graciously accepted from me, she had told me something of her work as an artist and I had recounted some of my more way-out experiences as a secondary school teacher and latterly as a schools inspector. We spent an hour looking at the exhibition, of modern Eastern European urban photography.
“Do you canlı bahis şirketleri enjoy looking at art?” Gemma asked me at one point.
“I’ve always preferred music to visual art,” I replied, “I’ve never felt familiar with art in the way I am with music. But I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that I’m looking at a tiny moment of truth that would have been lost for all time if the artist hadn’t captured it in a picture or sculpture or whatever, and by the idea that if I or anyone else instead had somehow seen that exact grain of truth at that exact time and place, it would have been recorded completely differently.”
“I think that’s a tremendously positive approach to appreciating art,” she smiled, “It means you can still enjoy it even if you don’t know the background to it.” Our conversation continued in similarly positive fashion and I felt myself being drawn closer to her by her youthful enthusiasm, charm and spontaneous and wholehearted pleasure in all she saw.
We took a taxi to the jazz club. The band that evening played a mixture of traditional and Dixieland jazz, which made an enjoyably upbeat backdrop to our meal and conversation.
“I can’t believe that I was stood up after it took me three months to get up the courage to go out on a date after my last disaster, and then I meet you,” said Gemma as a swirl of bolognaise-coated spaghetti flopped off her fork just before it reached her mouth.
“What went wrong the last time?” I asked.
“It’s a long story,” she mumbled through her second, successful attempt and I could tell by the shake of her head that she wasn’t yet in the mood to elaborate further.
“Anyway,” I continued, “I wouldn’t have thought you’d have much trouble getting a date if you wanted one.”
“Believe me,” she answered, “there really aren’t that many great guys out there. But can I ask why you’re dating and wearing a wedding ring?”
I had thought to leave it at home but had forgotten to take it off. I didn’t really feel ready to talk about her this early but now I didn’t have much choice. I felt the usual tightening in my chest as I began.
“I was widowed five years ago and it’s taken me until now to get myself together enough to get back onto the scene again.”
“Oh Tony, I’m so sorry.” Her hand on mine was totally spontaneous and unselfconscious and she looked at me with complete sincerity of compassion. “If it helps you to talk I’ll gladly listen.”
My mouth tightened slightly as I began, “Helen died of a very rare and very destructive cancer. One moment she seemed in perfect health. Then the terrible pains in her back started and all of a sudden she was being given six months at the most and she was dead in less than four, which in a way was a blessing. She was in a hospice for her final weeks and they were wonderful to us. I was able to be in bed with her and hold her and stroke her hair as she was dying. That was one good thing about her having that kind of cancer; there was no point in giving her radiation therapy or chemotherapy, so she didn’t lose her hair. And she was able to whisper, “I love you,” to me as she died. And hundreds of people came to her funeral and there were so many people there for me whenever I felt I couldn’t go on anymore and our children gave me far more love and support and understanding than I was able to give to them even in my best moments. And even tonight when I get stood up on my first date for nearly twenty-five years, instead of it being a total disaster I’m sitting here talking with you. With so much that’s good in my life I can’t go on being sad for too long.”
“She must have been a very special person to have been married to you,” said Gemma as she squeezed my hand.
“She was,” I smiled, “and I know there’s someone out there who’ll realise just how special you are.”
She smiled and withdrew her hand and there was no embarrassment or uncertainty about what her gesture had meant.
As we were about to part company back at the station, I took my last chance to pluck up the courage to ask her what I had been increasingly desperate to ask but had been too afraid to until then.
“I probably shouldn’t ask you this, you being young enough to be my daughter and me being old enough to be… well… you know, but would you like to go out again…with me?”
She beamed at me.
“I’ve been hoping nearly all evening that you’d ask me that. Of course I’d love to go out with you.”
Then she took my hand and kissed my cheek.
We grew closer together easily and naturally over several more dates. By the end of our fourth date we were openly hugging and kissing each other with deep affection. I asked her if she would come to my house for dinner and was overjoyed when she accepted. I had become a good cook and host and spared no expense. When I opened the door to her I couldn’t contain my delight at the vision of beauty before me.
“Gemma, you look fabulous,” I gasped.
“I got a few funny looks on the way here but hey, an artist has canlı kaçak iddaa to suffer for her art sometimes.”
She wore a gorgeous shimmering dark blue taffeta ballerina-length ball gown with black tights patterned in shining silver swirls and the same sparkly black velvet ballerina pumps she had worn at our first meeting. She wore a black velvet choker around her neck, an elaborately patterned black lace shawl draped around her shoulders, black lace fingerless gloves that came up above her elbows and a deep crimson satin sash around her waste to give a dash of contrasting colour. Her hair was pinned up in a large bun, which gave beautiful balance to her attractive profile.
I thrilled to the feel of her bare shoulders as I ushered her inside with a protecting arm. As we kissed in affectionate greeting her lips felt especially warm and soft against mine and I was excited by the firm, vibrant feel of her body through her dress as I embraced her.
I wanted her to get to know me better so I happily let her look at and talked with her about the various family pictures and keepsakes displayed in the sitting room. She paid special attention to the framed order of service for Helen’s funeral, on the cover of which was a head and shoulders portrait of her smiling her beautiful smile, with ‘Helen Sutcliffe: 10th July 1961-3rd March 2001’ printed at the bottom.
“She’s lovely,” she said, her expression a mixture of admiration and sadness as she squeezed my hand.
I lifted her hand and kissed it, “She always was and always will be,” I smiled.
She also admired a large family photograph taken in a studio.
“Are these your children?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “This is Michaela. She’s the image of her Mum and she’s an artist like her as well. She’s in her final year at the College of Printing. Then there are the twins: Gareth is sports mad and he’s just started a degree in sports coaching and psychology, while Alexandra is the scientist and is doing physics with maths and computing. So hopefully they’re all hard at work while I enjoy having the house all to myself until the summer vac’.”
“You don’t fool me one bit,” she laughed and squeezed my waist, “You can’t wait for them to be back can you?”
“‘Course not”, I laughed.
We sat down to dinner and for a while our conversation sparkled. But as we progressed through the courses she became less talkative and more distracted until by the time we got to the coffee and after-dinner mints stage she was almost silent and looked very nervous. Finally I asked her what was wrong.
“You seem unhappy Gemma. Is there anything you want to tell me about?”
She looked relieved at having an opportunity to unburden herself.
“I’m sorry Tony. When I go to a guy’s place I always get nervous at the end of the meal because I start to worry that he’s got…expectations…of me.”
I knew exactly what she meant by ‘expectations’ but I wanted to give her the space to explain in her own words so I simply asked her, “What expectations of you do you think I might have?”
“That you want me to go to bed with you.”
I was grateful that she had found the courage to be so direct about it. I thought very carefully for a moment before I spoke again.
“Gemma, I’m honoured and thrilled that you chose and wanted to come to my house and have dinner with me. Anything else you could possibly want to give me is just icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned. The really important question is do you want to go to bed with me?”
She played nervously with her napkin.
“Yes I do Tony, I want to sleep with you very much,” she said with an earnest look in her eyes, “But I have a problem.”
“Do you want to tell me about it,” I said as gently as I could. I was preparing myself to tell her that her being HIV positive was no problem to me and I had a supply of condoms when I was caught totally off guard by what she told me next.
With her eyes cast down and staring at her hands fidgeting in her lap she said in a tiny voice, “I’m still a virgin.”
Again, I thought very carefully about my next words.
“Helen and I were virgins when we married and we weren’t that much younger than you are now.” She had already told me was 26. “I can speak from experience that it really is worth waiting for the right person. I really admire you for wanting to wait. But are you really sure I’m the right one for you?”
But the shrug of her shoulders told me immediately that my words had failed in their intent.
“You don’t understand Tony,” she said, her expression now of total anguish. “I’m not a virgin because I’m at all virtuous. For years all I’ve wanted is to have a fun night out with a great guy and go back to his place for a really good bonk.”
“What’s stopping you?” I asked, totally mystified, “You’re beautiful, intelligent, fun to be with and…”
“And I’m bloody deformed!” she shouted, startling me with the vehemence of her sudden outburst.
“What do you mean?” I asked, thoroughly confused canlı kaçak bahis and perplexed by now.
“Look at my face Tony. What’s it covered in?”
She didn’t let me continue.
“That’s right Tony, freckles. And it isn’t just my face that’s covered in them. My whole body is covered in the bloody things. Have you noticed or wondered why I keep my whole body covered up even when I’m wearing short and revealing clothes? All my life I’ve been pointed at and stared at and been told I’m a freak. Remember that guy I had the awful date with that I told you about? Do you know what he said to me when I’d screwed up the courage to take my clothes off for him? ‘No wonder you’re frigid you poxy bitch!'” She screamed his words at me and collapsed into a paroxysm of sobbing.
For ten minutes I held her silently as she sobbed as if her heart had broken beyond mending, but which I knew from long experience with my own daughters was just the necessary prelude of outpouring of dammed up emotions before calmer counsel could begin. Eventually she let me kiss her and dry her eyes and I looked into her eyes with all the tenderness I could summon as I spoke gently to her.
“Gemma, I can promise that I could never and will never despise you or reject you and I can absolutely guarantee that my word alone will be enough. But if you’ll let me, I can also show you why I can make that promise and why I can understand at least a little of your pain.”
“What is it you want to show me Tony?” she asked in a small voice.
Without another word and breathing deeply in my own anxiety over what I was about to do, I slowly undid my shirt and pulled it open. When she saw the livid red track of my operation scar running diagonally across my body from below my left armpit to my right thigh she put her hands to her face and cried out.
“Oh Tony, what happened to you?”
“I needed emergency open heart surgery two years ago,” I replied as I refastened my shirt, “It was touch and go for a while but I’m fine now. You’re the only other person who’s ever seen my scar apart from my family and the hospital staff.”
She hugged me tightly and covered my face with her tears as she kissed me in her deep gratitude.
“I want to make love with you Tony but I’m scared it’ll hurt and that I won’t do it properly. Please will you help me not to be frightened?”
“Don’t worry Darling”, I smiled, “We’re going to make your first time wonderful. Have you ever imagined on your first night undressing each other before dancing naked to romantic music, bathing together in a scented bubble bath, and massaging each other with hand warmed scented oil, and all by candlelight?”
“Oh wow, that would be fantastic”, she exclaimed, hugging herself as her face glowed and her eyes beamed with excitement.
We began by scampering all through the house scouring every room for every candle and night light we could find. We strew them around every horizontal surface we could find in the lounge, in the bathroom and in my bedroom. Then we lit all the candles in the lounge and sat down together on the sofa. I held her hands and explained what we could do to overcome her anxieties about uncovering her body.
“Helen and I thought of an undressing game to help us over our first night nerves. We told each other a funny story about each bit of our clothing before we took it off each other. You can tell me a story about each of your clothes before I take it off you and vice versa.”
As I gently and carefully removed her accessories one by one, she told me how she loved wearing retro styles and finding original and antique clothes in charity shops and flea markets all over Europe. Meanwhile, as I enjoyed the sight of her delicate hands with their long and slender fingers removing my various accoutrements, I told her about my clothes shopping on various business trips around the world (in my role as an advisor to the government on how other countries set and monitor standards in schools) and enthused about my particular love of Italian style.
When she was stripped of her peripheral items and was down to her dress, tights and shoes I remarked that she had a very attractive ballerina theme going on.
“I really wanted to do ballet when I was a girl,” she said sadly, “But I never did because I was afraid the other girls would make fun of me.”
I held her close to me and imagined how lovely she would have looked in a beautiful white tutu with tights and ballet shoes.
“Maybe we can make up for it somehow,” I said to her tenderly. Then I asked her, “Are you ready for me to take your dress off you now?”
Screwing her eyes tight shut, she told me how she had bought it in a charity shop in Cambridge for £5 and about how it always trumped everyone else’s charity shop stories. Then she lifted up her slender arms and as I lifted it off her I gasped with surprised delight at what I saw.
Instead of wearing a bra and tights as I had assumed, she wore a gorgeous black satin strapless push-up bra, matching satin pants and her silver patterned black stockings were fixed to a black satin and lace suspender belt. She opened her eyes tentatively and then beamed as she saw the look of sheer delight and pleasure on my face and deep desire in my eyes.
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