What happens when you look into the mirror but someone else stares back? Gretchen Schwartz stared at her reflection. There was an unnatural loveliness about her. Her skin was so fresh it was almost glowing. Artless blonde curls fell around her shoulders, her clothes and jewelry had been chosen with this night in mind. Tonight. It was here. It was real. It was going to happen. She wasn't going to let herself think otherwise because tonight wasn’t about love or want or desire. Tonight was about need. It was time to go next door.
She unzipped her boots. The lights were off but she didn't bother turning them on as she walked through the kitchen. She knew this place as well as she knew her own. Downstairs the music was deafening. There were three balls left on the pool table. A single glass of red wine sat near the edge. A quick glance around over her shoulder told her that no one was watching. The wine smelled better than it tasted. Brad Summerville stared at the black hooded sweater that clung to her curves. Her jeans were nice just as nice as the sweater. “I’d be more than happy to get you a glass of your own, not that I have any objections to sharing with a beautiful woman. What are you up to tonight?”
Gretchen turned the music down and flashed a winsome smile at him. “I can think of three things that don’t go together. Pool, red wine and Jennifer Lopez. I came to rescue you.” She looked around the basement again. “Where are Mary Beth and the girls?”
He picked his glass back up. “At her parent’s place. They're spending the night over there and this is strictly a you and me conversation until I tell you otherwise. Okay?"
"What's going on?"
"She's filing for divorce. Her parents are going to loan her the money, my dad said he would pay for it but she already feels guilty about staying here and having Rita watch the girls while she's in school."
"I hate to say it but I'm glad. I know it sucks for the girls but Mary Beth really needs to get out of that situation and away from that relationship. Vince is just a fucker."
"Yeah. We went out last night, Mary Beth and I."
"How's she doing?"
"Not too bad. She's a trooper but it's a bitch knowing you have to put your children through something like that."
"That was nice of you. Taking her out like that."
"She's cool. We had a good talk but we didn't get home until after two. I'm too old for this shit."
"Oh I know, you've got a foot in the grave and your health is rapidly deteriorating."
"I am getting old."
"You are not. Give me a break."
"You give me one." His eyes went to her strategically placed necklace. “You look nice. What’s the occasion?”
She looked down at his stocking feet and shrugged. How could someone’s stocking feet be sexy for crying out loud? She pushed the sleeves of her sweater up. “I had this lying around and I realized I haven’t worn it in a while. Some totally hot guy picked it out for me. He had his mom buy it for me but I think of him every time I wear it.”
He set his glass back down and picked his cue stick up. Damn her anyways.
Gretchen realized she had made a mistake in saying that. Hopefully she hadn't ruined everything. “I was just teasing you honey. Really, I wanted to ask if I could spend the night but since you’ll probably say no anyways, I have a new friend….” Her eyes traveled over his black Harley Davidson t-shirt. “Would you ever go out with someone who was half black and half Mexican if she was super cute and super nice and super sweet?”
The zipper on her sweater had a silver pull-tab. Her necklace was silver. If it had been an inch and a half lower, someone could very easily go down..., his eyes went back to hers. “Maybe. You can tell her I’m pure nerd with a splash of geekery to spice things up.”
“I told her you were a good kisser. She wants to meet you.”
“I don’t know why you’d lie to someone you just met.”
“It wasn’t a lie, you’ve kissed me before.”
“Correction. You kissed me. You’re the one who knows how to kiss.”
“No you’re the one who knows how. Isn’t that what they teach people in dental school?”
“I know the mechanics of kissing. It’s pretty sad when I have to go to school for years just to learn something every two year old knows.”
“You’re not bad but you could be so much better. All you need is some self-confidence. And the right woman. The right teacher could really help you.”
“Great. Sign me up.”
“Are you going to do what I tell you to?”
“This is a real question so don’t make fun of me. Do you know how to give someone a breast exam?”
“I’ve read the..., I know how to do it but I’ve never actually done it in real life. Why?”
“My friend and I were talking about it. Her name is Leticia. She’s very cute.”
“Why were you talking about breast exams?”
“Honey, we’re girls, we have boobs. They need to be examined too. You could do mine if you wanted to. I could show you what I know.”
“From what I know and what I’ve read, you would have a much better idea of what things should feel like. Breast tissue is just like the woman it’s attached to. It's, unique.”
“Everyone is special darling. Everyone.”
“As special as I am?”
“Sweetheart, no one is that special. What’s going on?”
“You haven’t kissed me and that makes me sad.” He leaned down and kissed the side of her cheek. But that was all he did. “There, now you can smile again. You have a nice smile, people should see it.”
“After a kiss like that? You’ve got to be kidding me. I want a real kiss.”
“What are you trying to do, seduce me?” The word seduce, his eyes, his mouth, his hands, his voice...
“What I really want you to do is, you could help me out with my monthly breast exam. You might get married some day and your wife would want to know that you know what you’re doing when the time comes.”
“I’m just trying to help you with your intimacy issues.” She leaned back against the pool table. Was the room really spinning or was it just her? “You never let anyone else really get close to you.” He knew he was drunk when he flicked the dangling silver tab of her zipper. “I’ve been close to people Gretchen. They always leave me.”
“When have I ever left you?”
“When have you ever been really close to me?”
“I’ve been close to you a lot of times.” She could hardly breathe he was standing so close to her. “I try and get close but you push me away.”
“All I want is sex Gretchen.”
“You are such a liar. You could have had me hundreds of times. You could have had me when I gave you those State Fair tickets. I could take my shirt off right here and right now and you’d probably go fill your damn glass back up.”
He blamed his next move on the Chianti. That was the only reason he pulled her zipper down. Dear God, her bra wasn’t black. It was pink. Her eyes were big and blue, her lips were pretty and pink. She melted into his kiss but she was so close to tears it was hard to kiss him back. He had to be drunk. No way would he be doing this otherwise. Tears slipped down her face. His right hand slid into her hair and he kissed the side of her face. He started singing along with Jennifer Lopez but that just made her cry harder. “I think of the days when the sun used to set, on my empty heart, alone in my bed, tossing and turning, emotions were strong, I knew I had to hold on. To you. Please, don’t cry. I don’t love to see you cry.”
She took a shaky breath. He smelled just the same as he always did. Fresh and clean but not like any fragrance she could put a name to. It was just him. She looked down at his hands. Hers were icy as she picked his left hand up. She kissed it and pressed his fingers into the lump on top of her breast. Sheer nauseating terror ran through him as he felt the sickening tumor. He palpated the lump, exploring the contours with his fingertips. It was approximately two fingers wide. He estimated that it was about the size of, not a walnut, not a hazelnut either. It was larger than that. He couldn’t think of a single object that was the same size as the lump. “How long have you had this?”
Her head fell forward and he pulled her into his arms. “Never mind. I’m drunk. I had way too much to dr…”
“I’ve had it for months. I didn’t know what to do and, I was so scared, what should I do?”
“You need to go to the doctor. You’ll need a mammogram and possibly a biopsy. We’ll call Tom Potter. You want me to call him for you?”
“Not right now. I’ve lived with it for this long. I didn’t know what to do, you’re not mad at me are you?”
His initial anger had been replaced by fear. He didn’t think the lump was cancerous but he had no real way of knowing. The thing to do was act naturally. An action plan, that’s what she needed. Plans and reassurance. He kissed her forehead and hugged her. “Of course I’m not mad sweetie pie. Christ, you know how many things I’ve never told people? We’ll get you in for an appointment…, I have class all day on Monday, do you have to work?”
“Not until Tuesday. Can I spend the night?”
Could she spend the night? Seconds earlier he had pictured her in his bed but now, now everything had changed. He wracked his brain for an alternative solution. Obviously he couldn't leave her alone at a time like this. “I have a better idea. I’ll spend the night at your place. You’ll be more comfortable at home and…”
“I don’t want to be at home. I’m scared.”
“I’m kind of scared too, as a matter of fact I’m scared stiff. I wish I wouldn’t have already drank so much because I could really use a glass or two of something right about now.”
“Can’t we sleep down here? We can stay in Mary Beth’s room if she’s not here. I can go get some movies and we can...”
“Sweetheart. I’m drunk and you’re terrified. It’s not a good idea.”
“I won’t do anything to you, I promise.”
How did he get into situations like this? He was never drinking that much wine again. “You can spend the night but we can’t sleep in the same bed. I’ll lie down with you but that’s as far as it goes, promise?”
“I promise. Thanks.”
“It’s not a problem. Why don’t you, we’ll go back to your place and you can pack a bag and, we’ll go rent some stupid movies and hang out until we feel like crashing for the night. How does that sound?”
“I was so stupid. I should have told you about the lump a long time ago.”
“The past is the past and it doesn’t matter now.” He turned the music off and dumped the rest of the Chianti down the drain. It would be a long time before he drank Chianti again. “Can I be your drunken knight in shining armor?”
“Thanks for letting me spend the night. I really appreciate it.” He nodded and bent down to pick her up. “I’ve always wanted to sweep you off your feet. Now here’s my chance.”
She smiled against his chest. He was so cute. He would be with her and he would take care of her even if he would never go out with her. He had to be one of the best friends she had. It was a thought she carried with her as she tucked his black t-shirt into her drawer.