A DANGEROUS GAME
By Boyd Lemon
After two Bombay Sapphire Martinis, I called my ex-wife, Stephanie, “…just to chat,” I told her.
“I’m glad to hear from you,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about you and wondering what you’re up to.” Age had added just enough huskiness to her voice to make it even sexier.
“Same ol’, same ol’,” I said. “How about you? How’s your job?”
“Great! I love my job,” she said. “It’s challenging, and my boss is really nice. Last year I was promoted to senior paralegal.”
“That’s great,” I said. I remembered how she used to look naked.
“It’s really nice to talk to you after all this time,” she said. “We’ve always been able to talk.” Yeah right, I thought. Well, here goes. What the hell.
“It might be fun to go out to dinner next Saturday,” I blurted, noticing my shaky voice.
“I’d love to,” she replied.
Saturday afternoon I drove north on the 101. I wondered if Stephanie would sleep with me. Or would she reject me? During our marriage she used sex for control. I wouldn’t let that happen again—no way. Maybe it was trouble, but I needed to see her. Did I need to forgive her to fuck her? I wondered.
I stood at her door for a moment, hesitating. My chest was tight, my underarms moist. I knocked. Two seconds later she opened the door. She wore a long multicolored dress with a scooping neckline that showed a lot of cleavage. Her hair was the same dark brown with streaks of blond, wavy and just above her shoulders. Undoubtedly, it was now gray underneath. She was as thin as ever. Though her forehead was wrinkled, crow’s feet spread from her eyes, and her jowls sagged slightly, I wanted her.
“Hi, Doug,” she said with a coquettish smile. “Come in. Welcome.” We kissed and hugged perfunctorily, as if this were a casual meeting of friends. She bent over, and picked up her sweater from the couch. Her boobs, braless, nearly fell from her dress. I stared. She smiled again.
As we waited in the reception area of Harbor Restaurant, she pressed her hand to my arm. I peered down her dress at her erect nipples until the hostess asked us to follow. We sat at a window table overlooking the Pacific, and I picked up the wine list. “Would you like a glass of wine? I asked.
“Oh, no thanks,” she said. “I quit drinking years ago.”
After we ordered, we shared remembrances of the past--good times only. I told her I was sorry to hear that her marriage broke up.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have married him,” she said. “I was lonely, I guess. It’s so nice to have someone.”
Not always, I thought.
After I asked for the check, she thanked me for dinner. “It’s been good to see you again, Doug. You’re welcome to stay at my place tonight if you don’t mind sleeping on the couch. It’s fairly comfortable. I know it’s a long drive home for you.”
“Thanks. I’ll take you up on that,” I said. My groin stirred.
I signed my credit card slip. “Let’s go out to the pier and enjoy the view,” I suggested. She offered her arm. We strolled to the railing and gazed at the ocean. The breeze smelled of salt. A harvest moon hung low on the horizon. “Look,” I said, pointing.
“Beautiful,” she murmured. When her hand brushed mine, I held it. Sea gulls squawked overhead. Dark waves rolled to shore, their foam flashing phosphorescent lime green. I let go her hand and put my arm around her, pressing my hip against hers. I stroked her back just below her neck. She leaned her head against my shoulder and sighed, then turned and looked up at me, reflected light shimmering in her eyes. When we kissed, it felt like it always had--natural. I’ve felt awkward kissing some women, as if our mouths didn’t quite fit together, but with Stephanie it was different. I caressed her, pulling her against my hardness. I knew she felt it, and she didn’t pull away.
“Let’s go home,” she whispered.
“Let’s,” I said.
As soon as we stumbled through the doorway, we kissed. I unzipped her dress and pulled it off. She helped me undress, and we fell onto the couch, our bodies pressed together, undulating. I was electrified, almost crazed. I entered her. As the tension mounted, our movements became fluid and synchronized, as natural as if we’d never been apart. We moaned together with each thrust. I kept moving inside her even after I came, until she screamed and went limp.
Afterwards, she got up to go to the bathroom. Her breasts sagged a little, not as firm as they were, but her posture remained that of the dancer she’d been in her youth.
I was asleep within minutes and awoke in the morning with her wet, soft tongue on my erection.
After showering together, we dressed. “Let’s have breakfast. There’s a cafe down the street that has your favorite Italian sausage,” she said.
I wanted to stay, but I didn’t want her to know.
“I can’t,” I replied. “I have a brief due tomorrow and I need to work on it.”
“So you’re here for 14 hours, get laid and leave.”
“Well,” I said, “I’ll come again.”
I won’t give her a date, I thought. I’ll leave her wondering.
I drove up on a Friday afternoon three weeks later. She opened the door before I knocked. Her nipples showed through her flimsy white blouse. With the door still open, we kissed, slowly at first, then with darting tongues. I was so hard I ached. She moaned and slid her hand down to my erection. She kicked the door shut, knelt and pulled down my shorts. She took me in her mouth, kneeling, just like she had kneeled the time I caught her giving my friend a blow job in the bathroom.
That evening we walked down to the beach and sat on a large, smooth rock. The long summer day had left it warm. At low tide, sea foam laced the black water that ebbed and flowed beyond us. I stood up. “Come here,” I said. She took my hand and I pulled her to her feet. I slipped her shirt over her arms. She did the same to me. I pulled down her shorts, then mine. We clasped each other, kissing and caressing, then lay down on the rock, side-by-side. The cool, damp breeze raised goose bumps on her skin, but they vanished as I pressed every inch of her against me, my hands all down her back. I entered her like that. We moved slowly at first, then with our bellies slapping together, faster and faster. She moaned with each breath until her body shuddered against me. She relaxed, and I exploded inside her. My belly sunk into hers, my arms around her. I stayed inside her until she shivered. As I held her, I remembered how she used to turn away from me in bed.
We slept late on Saturday, took a long walk on the beach and ate dinner in. That night, after we made love, Stephanie, looked at me, her eyes wet. “I love you, Doug. I was a fool to leave you.”
“Well, we can’t go back to the way we were, 20 years ago. I don’t want to,” I said. “I’m not interested in marriage any more, and I’m enjoying my freedom.” She looked away. “I understand,” she said. A tear moistened the corner of her eye. She turned toward the wall.
Sunday morning, as I packed my bag, she asked, “When can you come up again?”
“In about a month,” I said.
“That’s too long,” she said. “What are you doing next weekend?”
I bent over and picked up my belt from the floor. “I’ll be in San Francisco at a conference,” I said.
“What about the weekend after that?” She asked.
I told her I wanted to do some things by myself.
“What are you going to do that you couldn’t do with me?”
I went to the bathroom, to retrieve my dental floss from the counter. She followed. “Oh, I don’t know—go for a hike in the hills, read, nothing special,” I said.
“Are you seeing someone else? You must be. Otherwise you’d want to spend time with me. I need to know.”
“I just want to be alone,” I said. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“Well, I guess not,” she said, frowning.
During the next couple of weeks I fantasized about her constantly, and she phoned me nearly every night. Two weeks later, as I hiked in the San Gabriel Mountains, I pictured her naked, sucking me in a men’s room stall. I stopped on the trail. Pre-cum soaked my shorts, and I went behind a tree and jerked off.
A month later we drove down to San Diego to visit our adult children, Sara and Austin. It was an Indian summer day. We took Sara’s German shepherd for a walk in the park. I pointed out the picnic tables and grills and suggested we barbeque hot dogs for an early dinner. “There’s a deli over there,” I said, pointing to the left.
“Good idea,” said Stephanie. “Austin and I’ll go buy the stuff.”
When Stephanie and Austin returned, she took out of the bags two packages of wieners, eight in each package, two dozen buns, a quart each of potato salad, macaroni salad and pasta salad, two large bags of potato chips, an entire cheese cake, an entire chocolate cake, a half gallon of ice cream, three bottles of wine— Austin doesn’t drink wine—a bag of charcoal, a bag of hickory chips, lighter fluid, matches, a silver wine bottle opener, four real wine glasses, a large jar of pickles, a jar of Kalamata olives, four different cheeses and three different kinds of crackers. She handed me the receipt and the credit card I had given her—almost 180 dollars.
“180 dollars for hot dogs in the park?” was all I said, but I must have looked furious. During our marriage Stephanie charged so much that I took her credit cards away and gave her a budgeted amount of cash monthly. She always ran out of cash before the month was up, and I always gave her more. She accused me of treating her like a child. I told her I wouldn’t have to, if she didn’t act like one.
Back at Sara’s, Stephanie poured a glass of wine from one of the bottles. A few minutes later it was gone, and she poured another. I wondered why she was drinking again.
“I’m not feeling well,” she said when she finished the second glass. “I’m going to bed. Come with me Doug.”
“I’m gonna stay up and talk with the kids awhile,” I said.
She went to the bedroom. A few minutes later she called down the hall, “Doug would you come here a minute?”
The door was open. She sat on the bed, her eyes full of tears. “I just don’t think you care about me, Doug. We haven’t been together in over a month, but you don’t want to go to bed with me. You’d rather sit around and chat with the kids. How do you think that makes me feel?”
“I do care about you, Stephanie, but I also care about our kids. And why are you drinking again? You know you have a problem with alcohol.” She turned her head and sobbed. I left.
Sara was alone in the living room. “I overheard part of that,” she said. “Mom’s drinking again. I don’t know what’s going on, maybe it’s none of my business, but you two are no good together. There’s a reason you got divorced.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
The next afternoon, before we left, I noticed the wine bottles, empty in the kitchen trash. Was it me? Something I was doing? Maybe she couldn’t handle me having the upper hand. Maybe that’s why she was drinking again. I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to give up control. I didn’t enjoy her company, except for the sex. About 24 hours, and I was sick of her. I knew I probably should stop seeing her.
I stopped calling her. She phoned and invited me to come see her. I made up excuses not to, but still, I longed to fuck her. She said she missed me. She emailed me a description of all the things she wanted to do to my body, and I almost drove up to let her.
A month later she called from a hospital. She’d been admitted with stomach pain. “Doug, please come up here. I need you. I’m scared.”
“I can’t. I have to be in court tomorrow,” I lied.
She called the next day. “They discharged me,” she said. “They couldn’t find anything wrong. The doctor prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication.”
Three Sundays later she phoned. Through her sobs, I discerned she’d been fired. “Santa Barbara’s a small legal community. Everybody here probably knows what happened,” she said. “I’m sure I can get a job in L.A. Can I stay with you until I save enough to get my own place?”
“Yeah. I guess so,” I said.
“Thank you. I really appreciate your help.”
“Okay,” I said, “but understand we can’t live together indefinitely. This is just temporary.”
“I understand,” she said. “It’ll only be a couple weeks. I promise.”
I could finally fuck her again, whenever I wanted. It would be fine, I reasoned, as long as I kept the upper hand.
The next Friday she arrived. I went down to her car and helped carry up her belongings. We made two trips, carrying her skirts, blouses and shoes for work; one pair of genes; a pair of shorts; two casual shirts; three panties and bras; a pair of sneakers; a stained nightgown; and a box of old photos of the kids. One of those large bottles of Smirnoff Vodka peeked out of a shopping bag.
“I left everything else,” she said. It was just crap.”
After peeing, she came back in the living room in only her bra and panties. Her ribs and hips looked sharp under her skin. She’d lost weight, but her belly sagged. I went over to her and pulled down my pants. “Suck me,” I said. She did, until I came.
She got a job right away. That first week together we had sex every day. She never refused. Friday night she joined me on the terrace as I sipped a glass of wine. Walls shielded us on both sides. She removed my sandals, stroked my feet and legs and sucked my toes. She kissed my mouth, lovely wet, delicious kisses. Soon we were lying naked, devouring each other. The tension mounted. She screamed louder with each thrust. As we climaxed, she let out one last scream. “Are you all right over there?” somebody yelled.
“I sure am,” she shouted and we laughed.
I dressed while Stephanie peed. From the corner of my eye I saw her walk to the kitchen, still naked, carrying bottles of pills. I watched her pour vodka and wash down the pills. I wondered then, why am I into such a sick woman? I’m addicted to her. Neither of us had mentioned when she would move out.
One night I met her as she pulled into her parking space. I told her to get in the back seat with me. I pulled down my pants, and she went down on me. “I’ll do anything you want, Doug. Just tell me.” She licked me everywhere I told her to. It seemed humiliating for her, but I liked it. She’d humiliated me when we were married. She once told our friends about her sexual escapades with other men. She deserved this.
Two weeks into her job, she came home early, and said she’d been fired. “Personality clash,” she said. “But I’ve already called the employment agency, and I have two interviews Monday. It’ll be all right.” She pulled a bottle of vodka from her purse and poured a full glass.
“Let’s go out for sushi,” I suggested.
“I’m not hungry,” Stephanie replied. “I’ll make you some pasta. Please stay home with me. I need you, Doug.”
She changed into her nightgown while the water heated. The bedroom door was open. She was drinking more vodka and taking pills. When she came back to the kitchen, I reached up her nightgown and fingered her. I made her lie down on the table, and I fucked her while the pasta cooked. She didn’t come.
She got another job immediately and moved to Beverly Hills near her job. I worried that she was moving on, but she called or emailed nearly every day. She even sent me a key to her apartment, “…so you can hang out anytime you want,” she said. I won’t hang out there, I thought, but I can go fuck her.
I had a deposition 10 minutes from Stephanie’s, so afterward I called and told her I’d be right over. I let myself in. She stood in the kitchen wearing panties and her blouse from work. She clutched a glass, her Smirnoff bottle on the counter. “I was fired again,” she slurred. “It’s my birthday tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I barely listened as she told her story. She stopped mid-sentence.
“Well, let’s go do what you came for,” she said, and then stumbled toward the bedroom. She pulled off her clothes and collapsed on the bed spread-eagled. I piled mine on the floor and climbed on top of her. She smelled sour and faintly of shit, like she hadn’t wiped herself, but I managed to get enough of an erection to fuck her. When I pulled out, she turned toward the wall. “I’m going to sleep,” she said. She fell asleep right away and I left.
I pulled out of the apartment garage and drove to the Cheesecake Factory. I sat at the bar and ordered a Scotch. This thing with Stephanie was so wrong. I didn’t want to be around her, but I was obsessed with her. The sex wasn’t even good anymore, but I still wanted to fuck her. I wanted to be able to fuck her. And she was sick, getting worse. Maybe I should organize an intervention, try to get her into Rehab. She’d probably resist, but I thought I should do something.
I took her out the next evening for her birthday. She didn’t eat much, or talk. I asked, “Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing,” she answered. “I’m just tired.” I suggested we go to the Polo Lounge for a special birthday dessert. “I don’t really feel like dessert,” she said. “I’d rather just go home.”
In her apartment I pulled her to me and kissed her. Her mouth opened, but her tongue was flaccid. She pressed her hands against my shoulders and stepped back. “I’m really tired. I just want to go to sleep, if you don’t mind,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. She had never refused me before, except when we were married. I followed her to the bedroom. She opened her dresser drawer and took out a black, see-through negligee. I gave her a peck on the cheek.
“Good night,” she said flatly.
My stomach was queasy as I locked the front door behind me.
I found a bar and ordered a drink. I wondered what was going on with Stephanie. Why was she rejecting me? She hadn’t until now. She didn’t drink as much as usual tonight. That was good, but something felt wrong.
I drove home. On the elevator up to my condo I checked my pockets. My cell phone was missing. Damn. I’d set it down on Stephanie’s night stand before I’d kissed her goodnight. I needed my phone. It wasn’t that late. I could just go pick it up, I figured. I probably wouldn’t wake her.
I unlocked her front door and slipped in, stepping quietly through the hall to her room. The moonlight poured through the window over Stephanie’s face on her pillow. She lay on her side, her black negligee bunched up around her chest. The covers had slipped down to her belly; they gathered behind her in a dark mass. It took a moment to sink in--a man was lying next to her. I stepped back. Stephanie’s eyes sprung open, gaping wide. “Shit,” she said, closing her eyes again, then turning away.
“You fucking whore,” I bellowed. I wanted to hit her. My hand was already clenched. I leaned back on my heels, holding my breath. Can this really be happening? I thought. I got the hell out of there, slamming the door behind me.
I don’t remember driving home. Saturday I stayed in bed until night-time when, still in Friday’s clothes, I walked out of my condo. I stopped at the first restaurant I saw, sat down at the bar and ordered a double Scotch. I spoke to no one, except to order more Scotch.
Sunday morning an eerie calm hovered over my hangover. I fixed eggs and toast, my first food since Friday night. Meanwhile, the calm had evaporated—my chest was tight. I drank a Scotch but it didn’t help. I kept turning it over in my mind. How could she do that to me? I wondered if she’d been fucking other men all along. Goddamn! Wasn’t it good enough with me? Maybe she didn’t like it. Maybe she faked all those orgasms. But she always seemed to want it. Why wasn’t she faithful? Not in our marriage, not now. I was always faithful to her, but she betrayed me. How could I let her do this to me again? I must be the stupidest man on earth.
My stomach was churning. Saliva sprang to my mouth. I ran to the toilet, banging my shoulder on the door jam. Fuck. I lost the eggs and toast, mostly on the floor. Reaching into the linen closet, I grabbed a towel and dry heaved while wiping up the mess. I went back to bed and buried my face in the pillow, letting the tears flow. Sunday passed in a haze. I don’t remember what I did.
Monday, I awoke tense, like I’d had bad dreams, but I didn’t remember any. The morning was still dark. I called my office and left a voice message, saying I was ill. I opened the cupboard and grabbed the coffee. I pulled the filter out of the box and stuck it in the coffee maker. I poured coffee into the filter without measuring. It came out in a big clump and spilled on the counter. “Fuck,” I swore. I didn’t bother to clean it up. I just shook in more. I filled the pot with water, poured it in and pushed the on button. Then I paced. The coffee was taking forever. I pulled the pot out before it was done. As I poured a cup, my knuckles scraped the pot. It burned like hell. “Shit!” I yelled. I banged down the pot and ran cold water over my hand, then picked up my mug and swallowed. The black coffee burned my throat. I left it, went into the living room and grabbed the remote. I flipped through 200 channels-- nothing on but ads and cartoons. I can’t stay here any longer, I thought. I’d better run. I tied my running shoes, then jogged down to the beach. Along the Venice Boardwalk I picked up speed, heaving with each stride. Past Muscle Beach, closed restaurants and street-vendors setting up their wares, I ran like a mad man. I turned toward the water, then the bike path, past Santa Monica Pier toward Malibu. I ran and ran, seeing nothing. My lungs burned. My legs ached and eventually buckled. Gasping, I fell to the sand. I lay there long after my breath returned. Finally, I got up. I felt cleansed. Walking home, I was too tired and I ached too much to be angry.
At home, I poured another cup of coffee and heated it in the microwave. I added cream and a spoonful of sugar, sipping slowly while I got the Quaker oatmeal down from the cupboard. I poured in the liquid, half milk and half water and set it on the stove. I got down the raisins and brown sugar and sliced a banana. I heated the milk in the microwave, 15 seconds to take off the chill. Stirring the oatmeal, I watched the grayish grain swirl until it was thick and soft enough to eat. After scraping it into my porcelain bowl, I scooped in the brown sugar, sprinkled on some raisins and laid in the banana, one slice at a time. At the kitchen table, I slowly spooned the warm cereal into my mouth, rolling it on my tongue. When I finished, I rinsed the bowl and mug and put them in the dishwasher. I still felt hungry, so I made some toast, spread on butter and jam and munched on it back at the kitchen table.
Afterwards, I walked to my bedroom and gazed out my window at the marina below. A young woman stepped from a blue and white sailboat onto the dock. Her burgundy dress fluttered around her legs. She probably spent the night with her boyfriend, I thought. A man on the next dock hosed down his boat. Mallards floated by. I looked at the spines of the books on the shelf by the window. It was like riding my bike down a hill without pedaling. I was at ease.
I ambled over to my recliner and sank down. My thoughts returned to Stephanie. Why did she cheat on me? Was she just a whore? No, I didn’t really think so. She slept with that guy to get back at me--for revenge. She’d done it deliberately. She said she loved me, and I humiliated her. And why? To hurt her. I’d loved her once, and she had hurt me. I’d been mad ever since. I’d wanted revenge. So had she. I thought I had control, but she paid me back in kind. It was the same power struggle we’d enacted in our marriage.
I extended the footrest, leaned back and fell asleep.
Several days later Austin called. “Mom’s in intensive care at Cedars. Sara and I are going up to see her,” he said.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I don’t know the details. Apparently she overdosed on something, and washed it down with a lot of alcohol. They think she attempted suicide.”
“Oh, my God,” I said. “Will she be all right?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll let you know.”
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“Dad, you’ve done enough. I think you should leave her alone.”
“Thank you Austin. Take care,” I said.
“Bye dad,” he said. I hung up and sat down. I was part of this. I’d helped this happen. I tried to hurt her, and I might have killed her. I played a dangerous game.
I got up and stared out at the water.
Austin called later that evening. He said she had a 50-50 chance of survival. I thanked him for telling me and asked him to keep me informed. After I hung up the phone, I covered my face with my hands and sobbed.
Two days later Sara phoned. “Austin and I just left Mom’s room. She’s better, and the doctor says she’ll be okay.”
“Thank God,” I said.
“Dad,” said Sara, “Mom asked me to tell you not to contact her.”
“Okay,” I said. “I understand. I should have let her go a long time ago.”