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As always, thanks to chargergirl for her support and for her expert eye. I hope you enjoy this, the final chapter of “Blessings.” Don’t forget to vote and/or comment at the end of the story. I’d love to know what you think.
It was only fitting that the temperatures valleyed the week following Thanksgiving. No matter how far the mercury dropped or how much she remained indoors, Amanda couldn’t have felt any colder or any more isolated than she already did. She allowed herself only brief respites from the gloom and doom of a broken heart. When Mom and Dad were away she would pad downstairs to look at the tree and the lights. She hadn’t done any of the decorating. She had left it up to her parents this year. For the first time in her life, the Christmas spirit had completely eluded her.
What was Christmas, anyway? It was a time for children. She wasn’t a child, and she had no children of her own. Christmas was pointless, and she hated it. She hated the tree and the lights. She regarded the four red felt stockings nailed to the mantel: Dad, Mom, Kevin, and Amanda. Would Mom hang a new stocking for Cassie next year? The idea nauseated Amanda, almost as much as the idea of the tiny stockings that would eventually follow.
The following weekend Mom cornered her into helping wrap gifts. She couldn’t say no, no matter how badly she wanted to sulk all weekend. They sat at the dining room table. There was plenty of room for two. It was nice to take her mind off of Kevin and his lame girlfriend for a while. Mom had a million friends, and so they had plenty of work to keep them occupied. They were down to the family’s gifts when Amanda unfurled a roll of red glittery paper. Mom handed her a department store box. Amanda peeked inside to see a pair of expensive jeans. She smiled appreciatively. New jeans were at the top of her list. She neatly wrapped the package. Mom handed her the gift tag. It was made out to Cassie. Amanda’s already meager Christmas spirit shrunk to Tiny Tim-like proportions.
“How could you be so dumb,” she asked her mother.
Mom’s glasses slipped from her nose. She caught them before they smashed against the table. She eyed her daughter curiously.
“He doesn’t like me that way. He never did.” She thought of the way Kevin used to look at her and frowned. He was just a guy. Guys looked at girls’ butts when they bent over, and they looked at girls’ boobs when they wore tight sweaters, whether they were sisters or not. That was just the way guys were programmed. She rested her head on her arms and sighed. She had kissed him in the back of that dark theater. She had practically humped his lap and told him that she loved him.
“People are wrong sometimes,” Mom said. She tore a small, perfect square of Scotch tape and secured the end flap of a present.
“I think about him all the time, now.” She admitted. “I think about how he treats me better than any guy ever has. I think about the stupid faces he makes and the stupid things he says just to make me laugh. And I think about how pretty his eyes look when he wears that old blue sweater and the way he smiles without showing all of his teeth.”
“Yeah, Kevin’s a good looking guy.” She started to wrap another package. Her nonchalance was driving Amanda mad.
“Can’t you say anything constructive? Everything was fine before you opened your fucking mouth!” She never cussed in front of her mother; it just wasn’t done. “I didn’t love him before— I did but not like this. I don’t know what to do.” Amanda felt moisture around her eyes. “He loves Cassie, and he’ll never love me. I feel so lost.”
Mom looked up from the wrappings. She exhaled slowly. “I’m your mom, I should have volumes of romantic advice, but I don’t. You and your brother are just…” She waved her hands, grasping for the right thing to say. “Doctor Spock never covered this type of thing in his books. Your dad and I just kind of winged it. We were wrong, so I’m sorry.”
Amanda wiped her nose with her forearm. “When you thought we were together, did it make you happy?”
“Cassie makes him happy, so that makes me happy.”
She couldn’t listen to it anymore. She couldn’t. She hated Cassie; it was so wrong the way she hated her. Amanda retreated to her room and locked the door. She felt cold and reached into the closet for a spare blanket. The presents were still in there, a pile of bags regurgitating their contents onto the closet floor. She had left the theater in a huff, forgetting the enormous bags that were the fruits of her Christmas shopping. Kevin had been nice enough to bring them by the next day after his classes. She kicked at the bags, spraying the towels and washrags she had bought her mother. She picked at the mess, re-gathering the linens. Her hand touched a piece of lacy blackness. It was the nightgown she had bought, the slinky, sexy, uncharacteristically feminine black lace nightgown she had hoped to wear for Kevin. She caught a tear with her casino şirketleri wrist. She folded the nightgown in half and shoved it far back into the closet. She shredded the receipt with her trembling fingers. She didn’t have the gumption to return it. She would keep it buried in her closet, like a secret. It would remind her of how pathetic she had become.
Kevin wrapped himself tightly in a blanket cocoon. He stretched his feet and thrust them beneath one of the oversized throw pillows, leaning on the arm of the sofa. The gas in his apartment complex had been off for more than a day. Despite wearing his heavy coat and wool socks, and staying beneath three layers of blankets, he had almost frozen solid the night before. He couldn’t go through that again, not on Christmas Eve. The complex maintenance man had said that there was a gas leak. The gas company was working hard to find the leak, but it might take a day or two to fix it. So that was how Kevin ended up on his parent’s sofa.
The central heating felt good enough, but Dad had lit a fire in the fireplace to make him even more comfortable. The foot traffic going through the living room interrupted his naps, but he didn’t mind so much. He had never realized how much he missed living at home. Oh, he liked the independence and privacy that came with his own place, but sometimes that tiny apartment could feel awfully big. He missed noises that didn’t come through strangers’ walls. He missed the smell of Mom’s cooking drifting up to his room, a tempting mélange of sweet and savory things. He missed Mandy most of all. He missed drinking from the milk carton just to get a rise from her; he missed sitting across the breakfast table from her, watching her crinkle her nose as she browsed the morning paper. More than anything, he missed the late nights spent on her bed, watching old movies and talking about any number of things.
That’s why he liked having Cassie around so much. When he drifted to sleep, his nose pressed against her untamable mane of blonde curls, he didn’t feel so alone. He wondered how long it had been since he told Cassie he loved her and he needed her. Had he ever done it? He would the next day. He had planned everything out. They would spend Christmas at the Zenk household. She would once more “show him off” in front of her sisters and brothers and cousins. Cassie often felt embarrassed around her family. She was the youngest and the only one not married. That would change. He would give Cassie her gift that evening in front of everyone. He would propose to her in front of the entire clan as they sat down for the turkey dinner. No, he might wait until after dinner. That would make dessert even sweeter.
It was with visions of his sweet Cassie putting his ring on her finger and her tongue in his mouth in front of her entire family that Kevin dozed off on the couch. He heard footsteps over the crackle of the fireplace and snorted awake.
“God, I don’t remember you being such a light sleeper,” Amanda said, hopping the final step down. “I didn’t want to bug you.”
Kevin sat up and cleared the blankets, making a space for her on the sofa. She ignored the gesture and went to the kitchen. She had avoided him ever since he showed up on the doorstep that morning. They hadn’t talked since the movie, unfortunate, because they really needed to talk.
Kevin padded to the kitchen. He slipped past the glowing Christmas tree, tracking a few fallen pine needles with his socks. “Hey,” he said, causing her to jump. She offered a tentative hello and opened up the refrigerator. She grabbed a carton of eggnog and poured some into a small juice glass. “Can I have some?” he asked. She poured a second glass. He raised his little plastic glass in a mock toast and drank the entire glass in one gulp.
Amanda delicately sipped at hers. “I don’t want to talk,” she said. She reached for the cookie tin Mom had hidden on top of the refrigerator. Even on tippy-toes she was too short. Kevin reached over the top of her and grabbed the tin. He set it on the counter. “Thanks,” she said, removing the lid.
Mom made the best Christmas cookies. Especially tasty were the pink and white sugar cookies that she twisted like candy canes. They never made it to Christmas. That’s why Mom always kept them up high. Poor Mom, Kevin thought, no matter how old I get, to her I’ll always be the little boy who’s afraid to climb a chair.
Amanda handed him a cookie without him asking. She practically dropped it in his outstretched hand, as if she was afraid to make contact.
He had to say something, had to tell her that what they had done was wrong. But he didn’t. He remembered dinner in the food court and how lovely she had looked. He remembered touching her legs and her incredible butt and wondering why he had waited so long. Most of all he remembered the kiss. He remembered her warm, cinnamon lips and the taste of her mouth. He remembered giving in, if only for a casino firmaları moment, to the primal urges he had resisted for so many years. Even now, as he watched her nibble the cookie and watched her brush a pink crumb from her succulent lips, he felt the urge to take her in his arms. Why not? He asked himself. Amanda’s a woman, a beautiful, warm, passionate woman. She had laughed at him once, laughed at the thought of them together. But he realized now that she was not making fun of him. She was confused by the idea, maybe intrigued, but she was not making fun of him. She was trying to make sense of her own feelings. People laugh at strange times. He remembered when Carl got hurt at work. He had stepped off of the forklift truck just the right way and tore his knee to pieces. As the ambulance came to whisk him away a few of the guys laughed. Some laughed because they were scared; some laughed because they were glad it wasn’t them. Yet others laughed because it was so wrong and inappropriate that they couldn’t stop themselves. People laugh; they just do.
He wanted to grab her, to kiss her. He wanted to make her laugh at him, laugh with him. It was so ridiculous that something so right and so perfect was ignored for years. Why not?
He knew, of course, that he couldn’t. Cassie was his “why not.” He wondered if he’d made a mistake. It was Christmas Eve, and he wanted to be with Cassie. Even if it meant he had to survive a full twenty-four hours of Zenk family festivities, he wanted to be anywhere but standing in that kitchen, watching Amanda opening the tin for a second cookie.
They would have so many Christmases together, he and Cassie. Maybe they would get married next Christmas. He pictured the snow falling outside of the chapel they’d rent. He pictured Cassie’s lean, long body draped in a virginal-white gown. He pictured pine trees and holly wreaths, long arms wrapped around his body by the fire. He thought of blanketed hills, glistening white, and the tall, skinny children he would pull in a toboggan. He thought of all that and sighed and wondered if it was what he really wanted. He would have been sure that it was had he been standing anywhere else and watching anyone else eat cookies.
She ran her hands under the faucet and then wiped them on her jeans, leaving wet blue streaks. He took the tin and put it back on the refrigerator. It was lighter without the candy cane cookies. As he tucked the tin behind the banana tree, he had a strange realization: if he had a tall wife and tall children, he would never have to reach the cookies for them.
Amanda made to leave, but he caught her arm. “We need to talk,” he said. She didn’t answer. She just looked at his fingers wrapped around the sleeve of her yellow sweater. He guided her to the sofa, pulling the blankets to the floor. They just sat next to one another for a while. Kevin felt like such an idiot. They needed to talk, but he had no idea what to say.
“I didn’t have any right.” She spoke first, calmly and without tears. She had rehearsed the things she wanted to say to him. “You’re so sweet and good. And you would never hurt Cassie. So I shouldn’t have come on to you. I’m sorry for being such a slut.”
Kevin stared at the tree for a moment, transfixed by the twinkling lights.
“I better go,” she said, rising from the sofa. He caught her arm again. She slowly sat back down.
“I got you something.” He knelt in front of the tree and dug through the packages. He extracted a flat shirt box wrapped in metallic red paper and placed it on her lap.
“No, I can’t,” she said, turning the box over, moving it around to hear the contents shift inside. “It’s not Christmas.”
“It’s close enough,” he said. “Besides, I kind of wanted to give this to you in private.” The parents had gone to Dad’s office party. They wouldn’t be back until evening. They would never again have so much privacy. “Open it.”
She worked at the wrappings, daintily peeling each individual square of tape. It was an annoying habit of hers. “Rip that sucker open,” he teased. She grabbed a loose flap of paper and smiled wickedly. The paper tore with a satisfying whisk. She opened the white department store box and studied the contents. He had taken a chance. She had so many sweaters, but this one was different. He had been shopping for Cassie when he saw it. The lilac cashmere was so soft and delicate. It felt good and smelled good, and it reminded him so much of Amanda. He wanted to see her in it. He wanted to feel the contours of her back and shoulders through the powdery soft material. He wanted her to slip it over her shoulders on chilly mornings and think of him.
“Oh Kevin,” she pulled it out of the box and draped it over her chest, checking the length, “it’s perfect.” She unzipped the yellow cardigan and hung it over the back of the sofa. She slipped her arms through the new sweater and buttoned it up. “How does it look?”
“Perfect,” he echoed her güvenilir casino earlier sentiment. The soft cashmere hugged her perfect breasts, flowed smoothly along the perfect contours of her perfect waist, and ended at the tops of her perfect hips.
Her pretty smile turned into a jarring frown. She was upset by something. “Kevin, I didn’t…” The words petered out on her pretty lips. She didn’t have a gift for him. Why should she? He had forced her away at the movie theater and ignored her all the weeks since.
He touched her shoulder and ran his fingers along the sleekness of her arms. “You’re so beautiful. Just promise you’ll wear it for me tomorrow,” he said. He wanted to touch her again, to move beyond the softness of her arm. He settled for a brotherly pat on her knee.
“Kevin?” Her eyes closed for a long moment, as if in contemplation. “I do have something for you.” She opened her eyes at last and shyly regarded him. “It’s in my room, but I need a couple of minutes to get it ready.”
“Oh,” Kevin said, “some assembly required, huh?”
“Something like that,” she said.
He perked up on the sofa. “Do you want me to come with you, or should I wait here?”
She squirmed a moment, trying to decide. “Wait here,” she said at last.
Kevin waited as ten minutes stretched to twenty. He stretched his legs on the couch, feeling the cushions and imagining they were still warm from her body. The fire was struggling, so he threw a fresh log on the embers. He stoked the fire anew by prodding with a big iron poker. He heard a little voice call his name from the stairs. When he saw her he dropped the poker, leaving a big, black spot of soot on the beige carpet.
She was an angel, even in black. Kevin forced himself to breathe. He had never seen so much of her body. Even when they went swimming in the lake, she wore old t-shirts and shorts to cover up. The neckline of the nightgown plunged, showing off the cleavage of her perfect breasts. Lace hugged her bosom; it trimmed the skirt that reached just below her hips.
The way she moved was just as lovely. Her hips swayed in a way that Cassie’s never would. Her walk was at once erotically confident and painfully shy. It was as if she knew she was desirable, but did not know if he desired her. How could he not? How could any man have been in her presence and not desired her?
He wanted to fall to his knees before her. He wanted to press his cheek to the warmth of her crotch and beg her to forgive him. He was such a worm, such an insignificant worm. She was offering him the thing any man would die for, offering him love, the pure, sweet, primitive love of a woman for her man. He could only tremble in front of the fire he’d stoked, trying desperately to think of the ways to tell her they couldn’t.
His mind wouldn’t work right. He was in a fog from which he might never escape. She stood before him in front of the fire. He could feel the cool breath from her nose. If she touched him he was lost forever. Curiously, it was he who touched her. He ran his fingers along her arm, now bare but for the spaghetti strap that had slipped from her shoulder. She released a sound from the back of her throat, something akin to a kitten’s purr, or a little girl’s whine. But she was no girl. Little Mandy was a woman, no denying that. An hourglass is the old metaphor for a voluptuous woman, but hourglasses didn’t radiate warmth. Hourglasses didn’t have tiny brown hairs that stood stiff on their arms when you touched them.
His left arm sneaked around her back and pulled her close. She felt the hard lump behind the zipper in his jeans press against her stomach. She giggled and guessed that he liked his present. She had no idea how much. With his right hand he raised her chin. He kissed her harder, and with more passion than he would ever kiss Cassie.
He backed her to the couch. She oofed as her knees buckled, and she landed bottom first on the cushions. No longer plagued by the soreness from his gym injury, he dropped to his knees. The nightgown was short, even on her petite body. She lifted her butt as he worked the hem over her hips. A wet spot had formed on her gray cotton panties, proof that she liked the interest he’d taken in his present. His nose was drawn to that little spot of moisture. The closer he got the better it smelled. He pressed his face to the warm cotton and inhaled the pungently erotic odor. His tongue reached out for its first explosive taste. He licked the spot and watched it grow as he added his moisture to hers.
The taste was like the taste of her cheek after a brotherly kiss, and the odor was like the smell of her hair as they snuggled at the movies, only a thousand times magnified. It was her essence, and he wanted to devour as much of it as he could before he came to his senses and realized they shouldn’t be doing this.
He touched the wet spot with his tongue again. Through her panties, he felt the softness of her pubic hair, the puffiness of her mons. He slid the slip of gray cotton over her butt, dragging the panties slowly down her thighs. He let them rest around her knees for a moment. He was too transfixed by the visual treat of actually seeing her for the first time.
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