Holidays and Mirages
Laura immersed herself in work right up until the offices at Mirage closed for the holidays. She gathered any work she could bring home and tucked her briefcase into the shotgun seat of her modest car.
She breathed in the crisp air already able to see her breath. She was born and bred in New England and some things never eluded her intuition. She could smell snow in the air. “Weatherman be damned. I’m never wrong about snow,” she thought.
Her heart sank as she settled in for the long drive home. She loved the winter season and hated it. “All the beautiful wonders and no one to share them with… again,” she thought.
‘Photographer’ was her dream job and her goal at the magazine. “Okay, apprentice photographer, for now,” she amended, but she was well aware that Tony could leave Mirage anytime he wished.
Being the department head, Tony was charged with grooming her for the position. He had already delayed retirement for six months and she suspected he would leave in another six. She swallowed an impulsive and disconcerting lump in her throat.
Lost in her thoughts, she recited the same words she could say in her sleep by now, “I have to be ready. I have to be the best. Stop mewling and just do it! Do it for you. Do it for Tony.”
Laura parked, wrapped her winter coat tighter, and hefted her briefcase from the seat. The trudge three flights up made her wonder why she ever wanted an apartment on the top floor, but the greeting of forced heat and the smell of beef stew in the crock-pot made her smile.
Laura dropped her briefcase and removed her coat letting them fall in a heap. She lay across the comfy, overstuffed couch feeling the hectic day’s tension and its icy chill seep away from her.
She closed her eyes with a nostalgic sigh imagining the beautiful night-shots she would try to take after dark. Laura commuted some distance to be surrounded by the scenery she loved so; snow covered hills, ice-coated pine trees illuminated in moonlight, long, winding roads that disappear into rustic winter wonderlands.
“It will be perfect,” she mused sleepily, “Tony will be so proud of me.” A tiny smile touched her lips as she fell asleep, completely unaware that her thoughts always returned to Tony and her dreams continued to places she never dared to think of in the light of day.
She imagined Tony with her, driving through one of those winter wonderlands. Her heart fluttered as he released her hand to pull her closer.
There had always been an electric attraction crackling between them, but Tony never acknowledged it and she was much too shy to broach the subject. Their days at Mirage were destined to continue in aloof denial, with each of them stealing secret glances and exchanging veiled admiration.
Startled from her dreams by the ringing phone, she grumbled, “Here we go with the holiday calls. Better slap on a smile and pretend to be happy.”
Instead of the friends and family she expected, Laura heard a deep, timorous, male voice that she did not recognize right away. She rifled through her repertoire of people who would call to extend their merry wishes, “and check up on me,” she whispered gritting her teeth. Not one of them fit the voice and awkward silence ensued. She let it continue, thinking, “Okay, we’ve said hello. Now what?”
“This is Tony,” he said.
“Oh,” she uttered, alarmed. She assumed she must have forgotten something at Mirage, or he was calling her to come back to work right up to the last minute on the holiday issue.
“I know this is awfully last minute,” he imparted, “but I was wondering if you already have plans for tonight.” Again, awkward silence transpired.
Laura thought of her neighbor’s party invitation, which she had cancelled, and felt relieved that her excuse of being ‘too swamped with work,’ was about to come true.
“Ahhh… nothing much at the moment. Just a late party I’m dreading,” she lied.
“Oh, well never mind,” his voice was filled with disappointment.”
“It’s nothing really,” Laura replied, hoping to recover whatever he was going to ask.
“I was going to ask if you felt like a Christmas drink or going for a drive in the snow, but don’t trouble yourself. Perhaps, another time.”
“Actually,” she began, “I need to take some photos tonight and I’d feel more comfortable with some company,” Laura couldn’t resist adding, “I knew it would snow!”
“Perfect,” she could hear him smiling, “I’ll drive. Pick you up at nine tonight?”
“Sounds perfect. There’s a full moon tonight and I don’t want to miss the opportunity.”
“It does sound perfect,” Tony laughed softly, “A lot more perfect than sitting in a noisy bar.”
“Agreed! I’ll see you at nine, Tony. Should I bring anything?”
“Just bring yourself and leave the rest up to me.”
“You’ve got a deal,” she said, “See ya soon.”
“See you soon, Laura.”
She waited for him to hang up and then bolted for the shower. She cleaned up in record time, dried her hair, pulled on a lacy thong, two pairs of socks, her jeans and a formless shirt. As she tugged the zipper up, a moment of doubt gripped her, “He’s only seen me in work clothes. He’ll take one look and run screaming.”
Laura scoured her closet, discarding one outfit after another. Deciding to risk his disapproval, as opposed to frostbite, she tucked in her cowl-neck sweater-shirt and buttoned her jeans. She ran for the makeup drawer and extracted lipstick, mascara, and blush, and then paused to look out the window.
Moonlight glistening off the new-fallen snow made her think twice. She put the lipstick down feeling that makeup would be gaudy in the face of so much natural beauty. She glanced down at the haul next to the bathroom sink and swiped all of it back into the drawer.
Instead, she busied herself with gathering her camera, with the wide angle lens, a box with rolls of film and her tripod. Tony knocked just as she finished.
“He’s punctual,” she whispered, “I like that.”
Laura answered the door to be greeted by enough flowers to fill the doorway. She laughed offering to help him with a half dozen, so he could enter unscathed by their thorns.
He kissed her lightly on the cheek saying “Hello,” and asking, “Are you ready to go,” in the same breath.
“I guess so,” she smiled, “Are you sure you don’t want hot coffee or cocoa first?”
“No thanks,” he smiled back at her, “I have that covered and I know a spot that’s perfect. You’re going to love it.”
“Oh really,” Laura grinned, donning her coat and mittens adding, “I’m in your capable hands.”
In minutes, the equipment was loaded and Laura tried to think of things to say, even as she braced for long moments of uncomfortable silence. They headed out of her apartment complex and into the night. To her delight, Tony came to her rescue.
He asked about her; where her family is and how frequently she sees them, and moved on to photography relinquishing the fact that he felt she would soon be ready to take the position, and complimented her work.
Tony made it easy for her to talk to him. He was honestly interested, and his interest made it easy to reveal more of her own than she was usually comfortable with.
She thought of his nearness, his hand holding her mitten- sheathed hand, how his eyes lit up or his expression deepened in thought with her own questions. Laura realized that they had both been dodging and ducking a lot more than just electric chemistry, “Even if it is volcanic-hot,” she mused.
As he slowed the car Laura looked up, taking her eyes off Tony for the first time. The car was rumbling up an old, dirt road. She knew this road. It led to one of her favorite thinking spots; a barely-traveled, covered bridge that crossed a river. Tony held her closer as he steered the car just beyond the bridge to park behind an overgrown thicket.
Armed with her camera equipment, they walked several yards before finding a place to set up the tripod and mount the camera with a high-powered, zoom lens.
Inhaling the pine scented air, she took several photos of ice-laden tree limbs lit by the car headlights, and as he stood lost in thought, she snapped several of Tony as well. The full moon was rising, changing the shadows and light. Laura didn’t want to miss a second of it.
Moonlight glinted off icicles dangling from the roof and she included the partially frozen, slow moving river highlighted by its glow. She was sure that two of her shots were what Tony called, “Can’t miss winners.” She adjusted the camera to shoot every fifteen seconds and took his hand. They walked quietly, not wanting to disturb the magical peace, as they returned to the car for warmth.
They pulled off gloves, mittens, scarves and hats, while huddling in front of the dashboard heater, talking and laughing together like kids in a hideout. Tony extracted a thermos from a backpack and poured hot coffee into plastic cups.
Laura laughed, “I knew you were Mr. Prepared. My knight in frozen armor,” and she sipped the wonderful, steaming liquid greedily.
Tony looked up from his cup locking eyes with her, “Am I,” he asked without a trace of humor.
Laura was speechless. She sat back slightly, her mind awash with memories of lost loves, broken hearts, and excruciating days and nights that followed.
She had known from the start that there was an intense pull between them, but she had always dismissed it as too much time in close proximity. Tony had never acknowledged or acted upon it. That made him safe; an elusive dream man. She never considered the reality.
Laura parted her lips to respond but had no words. Again Tony came to her rescue, gently taking her cup and placing it on the dash, he cupped his hands at each side of her face. Smiling into her eyes, he admitted, “You have been the princess in my thoughts for some time now.”
He leaned in and kissed her hard. Laura couldn’t fight it. She let go of thoughts, memories and excuses, and gave in to his advances.
They made love like the world was about to end. Theirs was a love so deep, all they could do was confess it over and over again. Their first time was madly wild, passionate, frenzied, and explosive. It was everything they held in their hearts since the day they met.
With a more powerful orgasm than she had ever experienced, Laura screamed, “Yes! You are!”
With his steely member throbbing inside her, he whispered, “Your knight in frozen armor?”
Still catching her breath, she laughed, “Yes, but I think we thawed the frozen!”
At last, Tony said the words she had longed for since their first hello, “Stay with me. Let’s make this real. Stay with me tonight, for all nights. I mean, for always; forever. Stay.”
Laura clung to him, ecstatic, sated, and complete. He gripped her tightly and pulled her with him into the back seat, and the fire that began in her heart so long ago consumed her body as they made savage love again.
Tony plunged into her deeply and said in a ragged voice, “Stay. Say yes. Stay.”
She met his powerful thrusts, feeling their volcanic explosion building, answering, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Consuming every inch of the car’s confining space, they blasted in each others arms again and Tony collapsed with his head on her heaving chest. They lay together for a long while near sleep, when Tony jumped up, peering frantically over the seat.
“What,” Laura cried, sure that the spell which had claimed them was broken.
“Thank God,” he sighed, “We have just enough gas to get home.” He leaned forward to turn the car off.
Together, they scrambled to dress and bundle up before the chill set in. He helped her with her mittens. Still holding her hand in his, she turned startled eyes to him saying, “The camera! I completely forgot!”
Tony grinned wickedly, “You will probably need a hand in the darkroom, developing all that film.”
“Oh god,” Laura cried, “It’s pointed right at us snapping pictures every fifteen seconds!”
Tony leaned back laughing heartily, “That would definitely breathe new life into the magazine!”
Then his face became serious and he looked slightly uneasy and she wondered what was suddenly troubling him. Tony wanted her serious answer, not something said because this place and time had swept them into its own mirage. He wouldn’t trust anything said in the heat of passion right now.
Tony knew they had spent too long a time wanting each other. “That much stored up longing can make people say things they don’t really mean,” he thought, kicking himself for delaying a date with her this long.
“By the way,” he jumped in headlong, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, “We’ll have to talk about where to call home.” He crossed his fingers, fisted her lapels, and pulled her in for a fiery kiss.
“My home is with my knight, wherever that is, for all the rest of my life,” she breathed in his ear. Laura hugged him tightly to her. They both needed assurance of the other.
As the car began to cool, Laura grinned and taunted, “Now let’s go get our excuse for staying up all night.” She braced for the cold and opened the car door, already thinking of the warmth she would have in his arms tonight and every night.