(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-47 in earlier Blogs )
They went to Pasqual’s for dinner and sat at the smallest table in a corner of the terracotta room. A neon cactus flashed in the window. He got a kick out of seeing Maddie plunge into her favorite meal of blue-corn cheese enchiladas. She seemed to become delirious once she put the first bite into her mouth.
“Honey, don’t you want a little meat in there? Here, try some of my chicken,” he offered.
“No, thanks, John. This is perfect. Here! Have a bite!” She reached over and fed him like a child.
“Uh!” he exclaimed, as the sauce dribbled down his chin.
“Sorry,” she laughed and hastened to wipe it off with her finger.
Almost unconsciously, John grabbed the finger on his lip and licked it off.
Looking into her liquid eyes, he received an electric jolt. He was aware of her presence at all times, but on different levels. Sometimes, though, an intense desire would assail him like a kick in the stomach. And it came at unpredictable times, from the smallest action on her part. It seemed to him he was completely at her mercy.
Maddie was flustered and hot. And it didn’t have to do with the food, because she had ordered her sauce mild. It had to do with that wicked grin on John’s face, with the way he looked, with the shape of his hands. Whenever she looked at his hands her imagination wanted to take her places, and her stomach contracted.
They took their time over dinner and then went across the street for ice cream. There was a little park behind Michael’s Frozen Custard that led down to the lake. They took their cones and strolled down the path, past the playground and down to the willows fronting the lake. It was a still night and not too cold.
“Oh, look at the stars. They’re so far up there,” she whispered in awe.
They both finished their cones at the same time as they walked under the biggest willow tree. Maddie leaned back on its massive trunk to look out at the lake. John braced his shoulder against the trunk. When she looked up into his eyes he leaned over and kissed her.
Ever since the night of the declaration they had not kissed. By tacit agreement they had kept apart, perhaps afraid to unleash another torrent like that night. And although it was a strain most of the time, Maddie felt it was okay, given their goal not to consummate their relationship until marriage. But in this moment, as John leaned back on the trunk and pulled her close, the kiss deepened. Her hands found themselves entangled in his hair and his arms tightened around her. Suddenly, he switched their positions so that she was now up against the trunk and he was pressing her into it. It was like a headlong tumble down a hill and she had no will to stop falling…she wanted to be engulfed by it.
And then she felt him disengage her arms from around his neck and step back, breathing her name. “C’mon baby, we gotta go,” he said.
“Go? Where?” she asked, out of breath.
He seemed to search his brain for a place. “Uh. To the lab, remember?”
Maddie suddenly felt the enormity of her lapse. How could he have so much self-control when she had none? She pushed her hair behind her ears, feeling like she was burning up with fever.
When Cora Hawkins picked up the phone receiver, Maddie almost wailed. “Mom! I’m so glad you’re home!”
“Where else would I be, honey? It’s midnight! Maddie—are you alright?”
“Mom, this is so hard, how does anybody do it?” she cried.
“What are you talking about Maddie, calm down and tell me.”
“Chastity!” Maddie blurted out.
On the other end of the line Maddie’s mother seemed to take some time to consider. “Well, Maddie” she began slowly, “if you are really serious, then you learn to do the right things, not to put yourself in the wrong situations, where you’re tested beyond your limits.”
After another pause, she continued, “But Maddie, this is nothing new to you, your father and I have been talking to you kids about this since you were in junior high. Why do you think we always had you go out in groups instead of dating, tried to get you to think about what you wore and what you did before you put yourselves in a compromising situation?”
“Yes, mom. I remember all that good advice. But somehow, it was easier to follow back then. But here, it’s like, there are so many opportunities to be alone, there’s the lake…every time we drive by it—”
“Then don’t drive by the lake!”
“Listen, Maddie. Don’t go driving near the lake at night. And certainly don’t ever park near it! That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about!”
Maddie was silent, blushing at her own stupidity. It was clear to see now that what had happened tonight was simple cause and effect. There was no way she would admit to her mother she had already broken all the rules, though, so she kept her mouth shut and simply listened for any other scrap of advice that might make the wait more bearable.
“…And honey, you should realize that what’s hard for you, is probably twice as hard for John.”
“I don’t think men are that different from women.”
“Oh. Oh.” Her mother was now laughing.
“I’m sorry honey.” She still sounded amused. “Maddie, you’re speaking like someone who doesn’t know. Well, like a virgin. Honey, men are different from women. It’s not a joke. They’re like a match, do you understand what I’m saying?”
“A match. Anything can set it on fire. And then they have to try to deal with it. Control it. It’s very hard. And you have to respect that. Women, for the most part, are slower to get ignited. Many things have to be right. But guys are very sensitive.” There was a plea in her mother’s voice, for…compassion. “I swear, if these little girls nowadays, with their clothes getting skimpier and skimpier—if they only knew what a test they’re putting the boys through, what the fire is that they’re playing with.”
“Mom, I feel like such…an ignoramus. I mean, I thought I knew about this stuff. You never talked to me like this.”
“Well, Maddie, you never asked me.”
“It was all so academic before. Now it’s getting too real. I don’t know what’s holding John together, because I’m really falling apart here. Every time I look at that man, Mama…” She stopped, there were many things she could share with her mother, most things in fact, but a sexual fantasy was not one of them.
She heard her mother’s laugh on the other end of the line. “Well, I know, he’s not hard on the eyes.” Then she got more serious. “Maddie, you can call your brother. As I recall, he and Julie had to struggle with this one too. Maybe he’ll have some more useful advice for you. But the best I can say is keep the physical contact down to a minimum, because things just tend to escalate once you start that. All this kissing and hugging you see nowadays, it’s no wonder kids are jumping into bed together. How far do they think they can push themselves before they break down and go all the way?”
Maddie blushed to think of what would have happened tonight if John hadn’t walked away. She would have to apologize to him tomorrow.
“So…you want me to keep my hands off of you? Is that what you’re saying?” John asked.
Maddie looked at John, leaning loosely against the lab bench, his body a dear and beckoning thing, and asked herself if she wanted him to keep his hands off her. No, that was not what she wanted.
“And you want me to keep my lips” he leaned over and came very close, “away from your lips…is that what you want?” his lazy voice resonating with her senses.
She looked at his mouth and sucked in air, slowly, headiness making her sway in place. She frowned. No, that wasn’t what she wanted, but she said, “I…I think we have to…otherwise…otherwise we’re going to end up in bed together faster than you can say one, two, three.”
He stared at her, his eyes boring deep into her soul. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and said, “Okay.”
“What’s okay?” she asked.
“We’ll go platonic. I won’t touch you.”
She uttered something between a scoff and a snort. “C’mon John, we don’t have to go to extremes.”
“Oh yes I do. I do.”
She struggled to understand. “That would be easier for you?”
He nodded, and then leaned in and fingered a pendant hanging around her neck. Maddie held her breath as he said, “Yes, because you see, I can’t have my arms around you without wanting to pick you up and put you on that desk over there…”
She closed her eyes and shook her head from side to side, “Oh Gosh, John, don’t! You can’t talk to me–”
“I can’t talk?”
She opened her eyes. “Not like that. You can’t tell me things like that. For me, it’s worse than kissing.”
He seemed to ponder this, “Really?”
She nodded quickly.
“Well…we’re certainly learning some things about each other, aren’t we?” he said.
“We should have a very…interesting marriage, don’t you think?”
Maddie was sure she was blushing. She could barely meet his eyes.
Their strategy worked for a while. They were good. Disciplined, that is. Certainly, life took on a rhythm. With the last harvest to process and so much data to crunch in order to be ready to write up her thesis, Maddie had tons to focus on. John worked full steam on his project, and if he had any idle time to daydream it wasn’t much. But every moment deepened their commitment to spend the rest of their lives together. And then, bumping up to a new level became absolutely imperative.
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
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DISCUSSION QUESTION 48: Do you think Maddie and John’s “hands off” strategy will work?
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