The Art of Love

1.

“That’s not how you hold it,” Joseph said. The paintbrush wobbled in her hand. He put his thumb and forefinger over hers and gently squeezed. The brush immediately stopped shaking. “Feel the pressure?” he asked. She nodded. “You can add more,” he said, and then squeezed a little harder. “Feel that?”

“Yes,” she said, “Do you?” Her question puzzled him, until he looked down, and saw her hand on his zipper.

”Damn,” he said. No one had touched him there in a long time. She started to lift her hand away.

“I’m sorry,” she said, apologetically.

“It’s okay.” He thought her name was Naomi. She was in her sixties, and new to his Adult Art Class. He tried to figure out what she was up to, and whether he should let her continue. She decided for him.

She unzipped his pants, touched his penis through his boxer shorts, and then stroked her fingers gently up and down. He realized that it was not a painting problem she needed his help with. He also realized he had a problem.

“I’m not handsome, or sexy, or even young,” he protested, but not too forcefully.

“None of that matters to me,” she said, as she pressed a little harder. He sighed.

“Touch me,” she said. He hesitated. “Anywhere you want to,” she added, urging him on.

He glided his fingertips from her wrist to her shoulders, but barely touched her skin. She trembled when he reached her neck. “Do that again,” she whispered. Her voice had changed from shy to sultry.

Instead of repeating the move, he carefully reached his hand under the hem of her skirt, and slid it up her calf to her knees. “Keep going,” she whispered, delighted by his impulsiveness. He moved his fingers along the inside of her thigh, and reached toward her crotch. “You’re very gentle,” she said, appreciatively.

“I’m also very married,” he confessed, as he reluctantly pulled his hand away. He hoped there would be more.

“So am I, baby,” she replied in a sultry voice. No one had called him baby for a long time. He had assumed she was just a lonely, horny widow. He was right about lonely, and horny, but wrong about widow. She leaned over and kissed him, and then gazed into his eyes. “Should we keep going?” she whispered.

“You mean…?” he mumbled, astonished. She smiled and nodded. “Right here?” he asked. He was already hard, and did not wait for her reply.

He could have stopped this a few moments ago, but now he wanted to go all the way. He took down his pants and shorts. She stood up, turned around, and slowly pulled her skirt to her waist. It reminded him of a curtain going up in a theater; the show was about to begin.

She lowered her panties, bent down over the table, and waited for him. He stood up and moved behind her. His penis touched her ass, and she held her breath. Then he moved it slowly until it touched the most private place on her body. She swayed from side to side. “Please?” she said, encouragingly.

He did not hesitate. He pushed himself inside a strange woman who was not his wife. It was easier than he would have imagined. It had been a long time for him. He did not know why, but he felt he was where he belonged.

“Do whatever you want,” she murmured. “You can move, or stay still. I just need to feel you.”

He moved slowly in and out. After a long, long drought, he was fucking again. It was exquisite.

“Oh. My. God! That’s perfect!” she said, in a passionate whisper. She was giving him pleasure he had not enjoyed for years.

They were making love in a classroom, with the lights on; students and teachers were passing in the hall. At any moment, someone could walk in and catch them. He sped up. She moaned. That was all he needed to finish.

They put their clothes back on, gathered their art supplies, and headed for the door. “Wait,” he said. “Can we meet again?” She nodded, but he was almost certain he would never see her again.

2.

She showed up for the next class. He smiled when she came in, but he still had his doubts. He worried she had come to her senses, and would turn him down. She just sat and prepared her art supplies.

After class, he asked her, “Do you still want to meet?” She smiled. His friend was away on business for a few months and he was looking after his condo. He handed her the address. “Monday afternoon?” She nodded. “Around two?”

“I’ll be there,” she said, and hurried out.

As he drove home, he thought about what they had already done, and were going to do. His doubts returned. Was this a good idea? Were they crazy? Had it already gone too far? He did not want to admit that all the answers were yes. He wanted to see what would happen next.

3.

Naomi was waiting when he arrived. She calmly removed her clothes as soon as he closed the door. “This is who I am,” she said. “This is all of me, there’s nothing else. If you like what you see, I’m yours.” She paused, allowing him time to respond. “Otherwise, I’ll put my clothes on, and leave.” He did not speak, and finished undressing.

“I’m merely Joseph. What you see is what you get.”

“I like what I see, Joseph.” Her reply startled him. He did not think he was much to look at.

“Shall we make ourselves at home?” They both knew he was not inviting her to the kitchen so they could have a sandwich and a beer. He was inviting her to bed. He took her hand, and let her to the bedroom. She went to the right side of the bed, and he walked to the left.

“Now, what?” she said. He had assumed they both knew what was coming next, and then realized she was teasing him.

“No idea,” he said, jokingly.

“It’s chilly. I’m getting under the covers.” She slid under the blanket, and pulled it up to her chin.

“Mind if I join you?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she teased. He got in and lay close to her. He realized he knew almost nothing about her. Maybe it was better to keep this anonymous.

“So what do you do, Joseph?” she asked.

“I’m retired. You?”

“Same.” Long pause. “I don’t have any other questions, for now,” she said. She sounded like a lawyer. “But if you want to know more about me…” He did, but the questions could wait.

He wanted to make love again. He wanted to see if it would be as exciting as the first time. Neither of them made the first move. There was another long pause.

“We gotta talk about it, don’t we?” she asked. He knew what she meant.

“I think so,” he answered, reluctantly. He did not want to, not yet.

“What the hell did we think we were doing?” she said.

“I wasn’t thinking,” he replied. “I was just doing.”

“You mean fucking?” she said, and then giggled. “Yeah; me, too.”

“So maybe we should do it again?” he suggested.

“A reenactment?” she said, playfully. He kissed her and then began stroking her body.

“No, let’s make it an encore,” he said, and hoped it would be the first of many.

4.

“You know, I’m not falling in love with you,” Naomi said. She was on her back, looking up. He was on his side looking at her. After several afternoon trysts, he had come to know all of her body. He liked knowing all of it.

“I didn’t think you wanted to,” he said.

“I expected that would happen. I thought the love that was missing from my life was related to you.”

“It wasn’t?” he asked, surprised.

“No. It was related to me. The love I was missing was love for my own life.” Her statement puzzled him. “I didn’t realize that I had given up. I was just waiting for old age, sickness, and death.” She paused, lost in thought, as if she was trying to find the words she needed. “I wasn’t even suffering. I wasn’t feeling anything at all. I was numb. You’ve made me feel, again.”

“All I did was touch your fingers,” he smiled. He had not seen her is such a reflective mood before. She went on.

“Love is for the kids. You know what I mean; all that sweaty passion and fervent desire; the forever-after stuff. I do not want that. I want this.” She reached out and touched his thigh.

“A little to the left,” he directed her toward his penis. She giggled.

“No, not just that; you,” she whispered. “That’s all.” He was astonished. He never expected her to want him. Want to be with him, but not want him.

She started to cry. He hugged her. He did not understand why she cried. Was it because this was the first time she realized she wanted him? She seemed to struggle with her feelings.

“This is new. I’ve never felt this way before,” she said.

“What way?”

“Content. It’s perfection. I love it.”

“You’ve never felt contentment?”

“No. There always seemed to be something missing.”

“Me?”

“No. I didn’t know you were missing because I didn’t know you existed. Now I am so glad I found you, and you can be naked in this bed listening to me.” There was a long silence.

“When we were young we wanted it to be like this forever,” he said, philosophically. “Now that we’re old, we know there is no forever. There’s just right now.”

“Yes!” She exclaimed and rolled over on her side and kissed him. “Yes, yes, yes, YES! Oh, thank-you.” Her energy surprised him.

“For what?”

“For understanding me. For knowing there is no…”

“Happily ever after?” She looked intensely into his eyes. He had the strangest feeling she was trying to find her happily ever after somewhere inside of him. “What are you looking for?” he gently asked.

“Oh, I’m not looking. I’m seeing. I’m seeing you.” She penetrated deeper, right into his soul. He liked having her inside him. It felt like a new way of making love.

“You’re inside me right now,” he whispered, surprised he could feel her there.

“I know.”

“I think you’ve found a place I never knew existed,” he said. She seemed surprised. There was a long silence. ”Maybe it’s been there waiting for you to find it.”

“No.” she abruptly said. “No. It’s been there, but it wasn’t waiting for me. That would mean it somehow knew about me. But we didn’t know about each other until we met. Whatever that place is, it’s all yours. But I like being there.” He looked at her, unsure of how to respond. “Maybe it’s your soul.” She was serious.

He smiled back at her. “I don’t know; maybe it is,” he said, unsure. He did not care what name it had, so long as she was in it.

“You know, I’m glad I didn’t meet you when we were younger, when all that dating and mating was happening.”

“Oh?” he asked, puzzled.

“We would probably have been certain we were soul mates.”

“Would that have been that so bad?” he asked.

“No, but I think the intensity would have burned me out.”

“You’re not going to burn out on me now, are you?” he teased.

“No way. I know how to keep the fire burning without it burning me; I didn’t know how, back when I was young.” She looked at him.

“You’re right. Neither did I.” There was a gentle, sweet silence. It felt as if they had finished the conversation. Maybe they had said all they needed to say to each other. Maybe they had reached as deep inside each other as they were going, for now.

“There’s something I gotta ask,” he said. She opened her eyes and looked at him.

“Go ahead,” she said.

“Did we just fall in love?”

She smiled. “No. We didn’t.”

“Whew. That was close!” She laughed, and he rolled over on top of her. She sighed and opened her legs for him. He gently entered her and they both said ‘oh’ at the same time. They went back to being Joseph and Naomi. They did not need anything else. He fucked her slowly and whispered her name several times. She did not reply. She just smiled each time.

All that other stuff that was so important when they were young was unimportant now. Back then there was a future. Now there was only the present. They were here, in it, making love. That was all they needed to do. That was all they wanted to do.

5.

“That night after art class, when I touched your zipper; you didn’t push my hand away,” Naomi said, “Why?” They were in bed, tired, and did not feel like making love again. He had the feeling Naomi had asked a question that had been on her mind for a while.

“It just felt nice,” he replied. She nodded.

“Then you let me go further.”

“I wanted you to. As soon as you increased the pressure of your hand on my zipper, I wanted just to let you go as far as you wanted.”

“You thought I was seducing you?”

“No, I felt that if I surrendered, you would have stopped. I sensed you wanted me to feel you, to feel what you were doing, like you were sending me a message.”

“Did you think about the consequences of what we were doing?” she asked.

“Consequences?”

“Your wife. My husband. Adultery. Betrayal. That stuff?”

“No. Did you consider all that before you touched me?”

“Actually, no,” she said. He felt confused. “I had figured out what was missing from my life; what I wanted; what I needed. I just didn’t think it would ever happen. I thought it was an old woman’s fantasy and regret. And then you touched me and, suddenly, something was happening; and I wanted everything that could possibly happen to happen right then and there. I wanted to go all the way. I thought it was my only opportunity. I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel something.”

“So that’s why you didn’t hesitate to say yes when I asked you if we could meet again. I expected you to say no,” he confessed. She looked at him with a guilty expression on her face. “Why did you say yes so fast?” he asked.

“I knew I would say yes when you were still inside of me.”

“Really?”

“I wanted to pull you in as deep as I could. I felt every movement you made. That’s when I knew that if you offered more, I would not hesitate to accept. When you came inside me, I almost burst out crying.”

“My God! Did I hurt you?”

“No. I know it’s a cliché, but they were tears of happiness. I realized that I had experienced perfection. That thing I was certain could never happen, had just happened, and I felt loved. Not by you, but by the Universe.”

“Sounds like you had an epiphany.”

“Don’t tease me!” she protested, but she smiled, too. “There we were pretending to be artists, striving for perfection; and then, when we weren’t actually doing art, we achieved perfection.” Her profound insight awed him.

“Yes. I felt it too, but I didn’t understand it until now.”

“This doesn’t sound all mushy does it?” she asked, and then suddenly switched to a new topic. “Neither of us wants to break up our marriages.”

“Just because we don’t want to be mushy, doesn’t mean we can’t say what we feel,” he said. His marriage was no longer a concern.

“But our marriages?” she pressed.

“Well, I love you, but I don’t want you.”

“I feel the same about you.” They were in harmony. That was all that was important.

They did not have a routine. They had not created anything like a relationship or affair. They planned one date ahead. Any date could be their last, if either of them chose not to agree to the next. There was no name for what they were doing.

“So, will there be a next time?” he asked.

“Let me think about it.”

“I’m waiting…”

“I’m thinking. Okay, yes. I think I can work you in.”

“Well, if you’re too busy?” he teased.

“I know this will sound mushy again, but I never want to be too busy to be with you.”

“Thanks. I was hoping you’d say that. I really don’t know what I would do if we stopped,” he said.

“Maybe we should talk about that sometime. Maybe we could talk about what if we had never started? What would our lives be like right now? What would you be doing if you weren’t here with me? And what would our lives be like if we had to stop seeing each other?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Me, neither. How about I get on top for a while? Do you like it that way?”

“I haven’t really done that,” he replied.

“Oh. Well, I’ll show you what to do, and I’ll take it real slow. I promise not to hurt you,” she teased.

“Oh, I feel better already!” he said, as she straddled him.

6.

He did not want to say the words, but he had to tell her. “This is the last time we can be here. David’s coming home soon.”

“Oh, no.” She immediately looked devastated.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what we can do. I can’t afford a motel, or hotel.”

She tried to lighten the gloom. “Well, maybe we could rob a bank. Then we’d have all the money we need.”

“It’s been so long since I did any bank robbing that I’d probably mess it up and we’d get caught. Then we’d never see each other again,” he said, and smiled. He knew it sounded lame, but hoped she would not feel so glum.

“Life of crime, huh?”

“Long story.” They were grateful for the humorous interlude.

“Well, maybe we could use the art room?” she suggested.

He shook his head. “We might get time to make love, but not get naked and talk like we do now. Sooner or later somebody would catch us.”

“Couldn’t we just tell them we were posing for each other?” She tried more humor.

“Yeah, and the fact that we were panting, and our skin was flushed was just a coincidence!”

“Couldn’t you just ask David to let us use his guest room?”

“No. He’s not my friend so much as my wife’s. I’m sure he would feel he should tell her. You don’t have any friends with condos?” She shook her head. “I have one other possibility. My grandson Gary has a place of his own. He’s struggling to pay for rent, a car, and a girlfriend. Maybe I could offer to help him with the rent.”

She liked the idea, but saw the risk. “That would mean telling someone else about us. Are we ready for that?” she asked.

“I felt ready a while ago.”

7.

“I was wondering if I could use your apartment while you’re at work.” He paused to see Gary’s reaction. “I’m working on a new project and I need some solitude. I wouldn’t be here a lot, and I would coordinate with you. I could give you something towards your rent.”

Gary suspected why Joseph had asked. “Gramps, is this project a woman?”

“Yes,” Joseph answered, sheepishly. “How did you know?”

“Just a hunch. Been seeing her long?”

“Several months. I wouldn’t expect you to lie for me; just don’t tell anyone else.”

“Oh, I don’t mind lying for you. I think it’s awesome.” Gary surprised him. He had assumed his grandson would be agreeable, but not approving.

“You do?”

“I don’t see you as often as I did when I was a kid, but I’ve noticed you’re different than you were back then.”

“Different, how?”

“You don’t talk much. Not to me, anyway. You used to tell me stuff about life, about what I could be, or do, when I grew up. Now that we’re both adults, you don’t have anything to say to me. Just a bland, ‘hello, how you doing, what’s new?’ Stuff like that. I thought maybe it had something to do with me. Maybe you just don’t like me anymore. Or maybe you just got old.”

“I still love you,” Joseph said. “But, yes. I just got old.”

“So I’m happy that you’re seeing someone, because it shows you haven’t given up on life.”

“You’re pretty smart for a young guy. How did you get all this wisdom?”

“From you. I was listening.”

“I see. Thanks.”

“I’ll get you a key. We’ll have to coordinate when you’re gonna be here. I work a lot. You could stay here for as long as you want.”

“Few hours. Just enough to be together.”

“So who is she? Can I meet her?”

“Her name is Naomi. I’ll ask her if she wants to meet you. I think she’ll say yes.”

“Are you planning to divorce Grandma? That could be messy. It would cause major problems in the family.”

“No. Let me give you a check. I hope it helps.”

“Oh, it will, believe me. Thanks for coming to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there were lots of times when I needed something; and, whatever it was, you were always eager to help me out.”

“That’s just stuff grandfathers do; it was nothing special.”

“But it was, to me. You made me feel special. I always wanted to find a way to repay you. And now I can. You can bring Naomi over here as often as you want, and stay for as long as you want. If she makes you happy, that’s all I care about.”

8.

Gary opened the door and the unreality of what he saw struck him. As far back as he could remember the only woman he had ever seen with his grandfather was his grandmother, Lois. Now Joseph stood there with his arm around a woman who was not his grandma. Naomi smiled as she came in the door. She did not resemble his grandma at all.

His grandmother was taller than Joseph. She had an elongated face, a prominent, almost patrician nose, tired eyes, and blonde hair. Her voice was soft, now that she was old; but it had been loud when Gary was a kid. She had slowly gained weight over the years, was widest at her waist, and tapered to her head and feet. There was an air of solemnity about her. She never seemed to smile.

Naomi was slightly shorter than Joseph. She had thick, flowing steel-gray tresses which draped to her shoulders. Her face was round, her nose small, and her mouth seemed large. Her eyes were a bright sky-blue. Her voice was lower than Lois’s, and seemed slightly rough. She wore loose-fitting clothing. Her top had large sleeves, and fell freely to her waist. Her trousers were baggy; the cuffs rolled up as if they were her garden pants. Gary noticed the fabric had richness to it.

Joseph introduced Naomi, “This is my grandson, Gary.”

She immediately smiled and hugged Gary. “So you’re our savior! Thank-you!” Her abundant warmth charmed him.

“This is something I never thought could happen,” Gary said.

“What do you mean?”

“If I imagined all the stuff my Grandfather could do, I would never in a million years imagine he would ever introduce me to his girlfriend.” He smiled at Naomi.

“Neither would I; but wonderful things happen when you least expect them,” Joseph said.

“You wanna tell me about it?”

“It?” Joseph asked.

“This wonderful thing that happened,” Gary said. They told him their story.

“I have to go. You guys enjoy my place. Consider it your place, from now on.” He hugged Naomi, and then left them alone.

As Gary drove to work, he thought about how strange it was to see his grandfather and Naomi together. It was obvious Joseph was happy; but it was more than that. Gary assumed they were in love. Imagine my grandfather falling in love, at his age! I guess the old guy’s still got it. I hope I still got it when I’m that old, he thought.

Nevertheless, he worried about what would happen if the family found out. He assumed it would devastate his grandmother. She would see it as rejection, negation, and failure. His Mom, Patricia, would also freak out. They would not care that Joseph was no longer morose, defeated, and pessimistic.

Gary was happy that Joseph was happy. Why couldn’t people grow up? Gary thought. Why couldn’t they be happy when people they cared about were happy? He did not think there was anything his grandmother could do to give his grandfather what Naomi gave him. It was that simple. He also worried about his grandfather. What would happen to him when all this ended?

9.

“Oh, sorry Gramps. I didn’t mean to barge in on you,” Gary said when he and his girlfriend Clarissa walked in.

“It’s okay. I was just finishing up for the day. Who’s this?” Joseph asked, smiling.

“Granddad, meet Clarissa.”

“It’s a pleasure!” She threw her arms around Joseph, hugged him tightly, and then he said good-bye.

“So why is your grandfather using your apartment?” she asked, after Joseph was gone. “Did your granny throw him out?”

“He’s working on a project, and needs isolation. Plus, he’s helping me with the rent,” Gary explained.

“So, this project, what’s her name?” Clarissa asked, smiling conspiratorially.

“What do you mean?”

“He wasn’t working. Where was his laptop? He didn’t have a briefcase. He wasn’t even carrying a pencil or paper. What was he really doing here?”

“Naomi. I met her. She’s nice.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“Yes. How did he look to you, just now?” Gary asked. She thought for a moment.

“Happy, I guess.”

“That’s right. For years he’s been grim, emotionless, and numb. I had forgotten how warm and loving he used to be. He’s like that again.”

“Are they in love?”

“I think so, although they have this arrangement that they won’t fall in love.”

“But they did?” she asked, pleased.

“Looks like it. I think it’s great.”

“And what about your grandmother? How would she feel if she knew?” Clarissa asked, concerned.

“I really don’t know; and, anyway, she’s never gonna find out.”

“Oh, you agreed to keep it a secret between you two?”

“Yeah. Just between us.”

“And now me.”

“Please, don’t tell anyone. I think it’s beautiful, and I don’t want it to end; and I don’t want anyone to get hurt. As long as no one knows, everything’s okay.” His seriousness struck Clarissa. He must really love his grandfather, she thought.

“I didn’t know you were such a romantic. It’s a real turn-on. You ever walk in on them?”

“No!”

“Wouldn’t you like to catch them doing it?” Gary pretended her question appalled him; but he was delighted she was thinking about sex.

“Of course not! Why would I want to do that?”

“To make them feel like a couple of horny teenagers who got caught doing the nasty.” She paused. “You think she’s pretty?”

“Who?”

Naomi. You think she’s attractive?”

“You can tell by just looking at her that she was a really pretty girl, when she was around your age.”

“You can tell, huh? You’re into old ladies, now?” she teased.

“She’s the same age as my grandma!” Gary protested.

“And your grandma’s not so old, is she? Does he think she’s hot?”

“I don’t know whether that matters to either of them, being hot or not.”

“You sure they’re not just a couple of horny seniors?”

“I think there’s something else going on. He’s not happy just because he’s having sex. It’s more than that.”

“So what is it? You gonna tell me they have a spiritual connection?”

“They have some kind of connection. I don’t know what it is. You can almost feel it when they’re together. It’s like they have their own little universe. They’re the only two people in it. It obeys different natural laws than our universe does. It’s fueled by love.”

“So you’re sure they’re in love?”

“They say they’re not. Either they won’t admit it or it’s just not important to them.”

“How could love not be important to them?”

“Anyway, granny got it going on,” Gary said, smiling.

“I’d like to meet her. Why don’t you invite them for dinner? I’ll cook.”

“I don’t know if they’ll come.”

“Make him feel he owes you for letting them use your place.”

“Speaking of subtle, your hand has been there for fifteen minutes, and I haven’t felt a thing. You gonna get busy or what?”

They got busy.

10.

Patricia found her mother sobbing. “Mom! What’s wrong? Did something happen to Dad?”

“He doesn’t love me anymore!” Lois blurted out.

“Who? Dad?” she asked, in disbelief. “Why do you say that?” Lois looked at her daughter.

“Your father has a girlfriend,” she said, bluntly. Just the thought made her cry even more. Lois’s statement stunned Patricia.

“A girlfriend!? Really? How can you be sure?”

“He’s been different lately. He’s been pleasant, easy-going, and happy.” Patricia thought her Mom was jumping to conclusions.

“Maybe he’s just feeling good.”

“That’s what he said, that he’s finally started enjoying his retirement.”

“But you don’t believe him?”

“Well, no. He’s enjoying it with somebody else, not me.”

“Mom, I hope you’re wrong.” Patricia said.

“I’m not,” Lois said as she started to cry again. “My feelings are never wrong.” Patricia hugged her, but refused to believe her Dad was having an affair.

“Dad wouldn’t do that!” It felt unreal to talk about her father’s adultery with her Mom.

“He is doing it. I know he is. One of his volunteer jobs isn’t really a volunteer job. It’s when he sees her.”

“Have you talked to him?”

“Of course not.”

“You have to confront him! Give him a chance to deny it. He won’t lie to you.”

“No. He won’t lie. He’ll just walk out on me.” Lois had resigned herself to the worst.

“Do you want me to spy on him?” Patricia asked, trying to be helpful. Lois shook her head. “Then what else can I do?”

“Nothing. Nobody can do anything.”

“How about if I just talk to him? Make him come to his senses? Tell him how much this is hurting you?”

“It won’t do any good, but you can try.”

11.

When Clarissa met Naomi and Joseph, she immediately sensed they were a warm, comfortable, and easy-going couple.

Naomi seemed shy at first. Then Clarissa took her aside and told her that just the thought of what they did when they were at Gary’s apartment excited her. Naomi sensed Clarissa was a passionate young woman.

“If you wanna take Gary into the bedroom for a while, I’ll finish cooking dinner,” she offered, smiling. Clarissa shook her head.

“I can wait. Just make it better.”

“Don’t wait too long or you’ll get old like me and start to worry that you don’t have much more time.”

“For sex?” Clarissa asked, curious. Naomi shook her head. “For love?”

“For life.”

“That’s what this is about?”

Naomi told Clarissa about her thoughts in the months before she met Joseph.

“So you think it was fate?”

“No. It was just an accident. He touched me and bells went off inside my head.”

“I envy you those bells.”

“You haven’t heard them yet?” Naomi asked. Clarissa shook her head. “You might never hear them, but that doesn’t mean anything is wrong,” she added.

“I guess you’re right. Gary and I have these little moments when we connect, and everything just stops. We look at each other but don’t say anything. Then the connection fades.”

“If you’re lucky enough to have those little connections, they can develop into a big connection that will be the best thing that ever happened to you. I think you’re on your way.”

“Thanks. Wanna eat?”

After they sat down, Clarissa smiled, and said, “Well, I’ve just cooked you this lovely dinner.  While you’re eating you’re gonna tell us all about how you got together. Please?”

“Well, it’s really not all that interesting,” Joseph started to say. Naomi smiled.

“Every detail!” Clarissa insisted.

“I was teaching a painting course at the Community College. Mostly of my students are older adults. Naomi was in the class.”

Clarissa pretended Joseph had shocked her. “You seduced your student?” she said, accusingly. “Couldn’t you get in trouble for that?”

“I could if that’s what happened. But I wasn’t the one who did the seducing.”

Naomi continued the story. “It was the second or third class, and the first time we were gonna paint anything. He had set up a simple still life; just some objects of different sizes and shapes; each a different color. We were working on getting the shapes and sizes right so objects would stay in proportion. Except I couldn’t make the brush do what I wanted. At the end of the class I asked him to tell me what I was doing wrong.”

“So I sat down on her left and told her to pick up the brush and pretend to paint something on the canvas. Right away I noticed the brush was wobbling.” He described what happened next. Gary and Clarissa’s eyes widened in surprise.

“No way! You did it right there in the classroom?” Naomi and Joseph smiled bashfully, and nodded.

Clarissa teased Joseph, “Did you care?”

“No. By that point I didn’t care about anything but the astonishing woman who I was making love to.”

“So, Naomi, had you been planning this? Were you hot for teacher?” Clarissa asked, playfully.

“I wasn’t hot for anything; hadn’t been for a long time,” Naomi replied, forlornly.

Clarissa was having fun teasing the old people about screwing. “So you were just horny?”

“No, I wasn’t horny; but I was on fire,” Naomi answered, enigmatically.

“By the next class I had found a place where we could be alone for as long as we wanted,” Joseph continued the story. “We made a date. I honestly didn’t think she would come. I showed up early and she was already there.”

“We started to undress as soon as we were inside. She whispered in my ear, ‘I don’t care whether we make love; I just want to be naked with you.’ It was the best idea I’d heard in a very long time.”

“So…what, then?”

“I think we’ve told you enough.”

“That was beautiful, I think. I really don’t understand it, though,” Clarissa said.

“Neither do we.”

12.

“Just because Clarissa’s moving in doesn’t mean you can’t still use the place,” Gary said.

“No way, Gary. You guys are entitled to your privacy,” Naomi said, and Joseph nodded. “You wouldn’t want to have to straighten up every time we came over, would you?” Naomi asked. She knew how important intimacy was to a marriage. She was insistent that Gary and Clarissa deserved absolute privacy. Gary shrugged. “No, you wouldn’t,” she said. That was the end of the conversation.

Joseph and Naomi discussed what they should do. “Well, this is the moment of truth, I guess.” She paused and he was silent, so she continued. “Should we look for our own place?” She looked expectantly at him, but he remained silent. She started to become uneasy. Had she said too much? Was this as far as their relationship could go?

Finally he said, in a quiet voice, “Lois will want David to be her lawyer.” She was startled. They had suddenly crossed the line. They were going to transform their lives.

“David? The guy with the condo?”

“Yeah. He’s not just one of Lois’s old friends; he is our lawyer, too. I’ll consult him. He’ll recommend somebody to be my lawyer. I trust him to give me good advice.”

“Even about this?” Naomi was worried about confidentiality.

“He will have to keep it to himself for a couple days until the papers are drawn up.”

By ending their marriages they were going to hurt people they once loved more than anyone else in the world. People they had built lives with. Now they wanted to take those lives apart because they had become silent, empty, and cold.

As they got to know each other they had slowly discovered they could have new, different, happy, and loving lives. A completely new world had opened before them. They explored that world and decided they wanted to settle down and live the rest of their lives together in it.

Later, in a dream within a dream, he met and fell in love with a beautiful woman. In the dream-time they lived a rich, loving, happy, and magical life together. Then, still inside the dream, he awoke and discovered she had only been an illusion. He was overwhelmed by grief and sorrow.

He still felt lingering sadness when he really woke up. He laid there afraid he would discover that Naomi had only been a dream. Then he felt her presence as she slept peacefully beside him. She had not vanished like the woman in the dream. She was real, and she was his.

13.

“This doesn’t feel right, somehow,” Naomi said, as she looked around at their sparsely furnished apartment. Right now, it was the place where they could be alone. Soon it would be their new home. The few objects they owned had already taken on a special glow, as if suffused with the warmth of their love for each other.

“What do you mean?”

“It feels like a magical beginning, but it can’t be. We can’t start our lives over again.”

“I guess what’s beginning is a new happiness. That’s all. Not a brand-new future together, like the first time.”

“Yes, a new happiness. Not like the first time; but just life, period. Is that enough?” He felt certain that it was.

“Whether it’s for one day, or one year, or one decade doesn’t matter – so long as I’m with you,” she said, and looked at him. The enormity of what they had done finally struck them. They had taken the first step toward starting a new life together. It seemed like it should have been impossible or forbidden; but they had done it.

“If we want to be honest, likely it’s the beginning of the end,” he said, softly, suddenly aware of how fragile their new life was. A day, a week, a month, a year, a decade; did time matter anymore?

She did not think he was being morbid. They accepted the fragility of life and could share philosophical observations with each other. They were awed by unlikelihood of them ever having found each other. They knew their happiness was not ever after. It was right here, right now; and that was all that mattered. They were not denying the future. It was no longer important. The only important thing was that was that they could be together, for as long as they had left. That was blissful happiness, to them.

It was the end. Well, it was the beginning of the end, anyway.

14.

Joseph waited until Lois left to go shopping, and then placed the divorce papers on the kitchen counter. He wished there might be another, kinder way to go, but could not think of one. Then he locked the door to his past, and let it go.

Naomi handed the divorce papers to George. He stared at them as if he did not know what they could possibly be. He looked up at her with a shocked, hurt look on his face. She felt she needed to explain, make it clear what was happening. “I’ve met someone else and we want to be together.”

George immediately asked, “Can’t we talk about this?” She shook her head. “Please? You owe me that much.”

“I’m sorry. Talk won’t change anything. I guess our lawyers will be in touch with each other.” She wanted to add a perfunctory, “Have a nice day,” to lighten the moment but decided it was not the kind of moment that could be lightened. So she walked out.

Leaving was the hardest part. The rest was all paperwork and lawyers. George called and asked, again, to meet her, but she turned him down. It would just have made it worse for him. She did not want to hurt him any more.

Lois did not call Joseph. He wondered whether he hurt her so deeply that she was shocked and immobilized, and he felt guilty.

Instead, Gary’s mother, Patricia, called Joseph and asked, tersely, “What the hell is going on?”

“Your Mom and I are getting a divorce,” he said, casually, as if he was just mentioning they were going out to dinner, fixing up the house, or buying a new car.

Patricia was already fuming. “No, Dad. You’re getting a divorce. Mind telling me why?” she demanded.

“I met someone else and we want to spend the rest of our lives together.”

“So Mom was right. She told me months ago you were seeing someone. I didn’t believe her.”

“She knew?”

“She suspected. You know how good her intuition is.” Joseph did not reply. “She doesn’t want the divorce,” Patricia said.

“It’s a done deal.”

“Done deal? This isn’t like buying a car. What about your past? Was your entire marriage just a deal?”

“I know you’re shocked, but this really doesn’t involve you.”

“Yes it does! It involves all of us; your whole family. You can’t do this!”

“Why can’t I do it?” Her father seemed unreasonable and stubborn, which enraged her even more.

“You fucking married her. You made babies, struggled with bills, lost and found jobs. Remember all that? You did those things together, always a team. Until now.” Joseph did not reply. There was a long silence. “Dad? Don’t you have anything to say?” He wanted to tell her she was right, but that it was all in the distant past. He remained quiet.

Then she started to cry. “I’m sorry, Pat, I really am,” he said, contritely. “Sorry if this hurts you. I love someone else, now. There was no other way.”

“No other way? Remember ‘till death do us part?’ Does that sound familiar?” He had no more answers to give. There were none. He was finished with that life. He hoped she would just let it go for now.

“I don’t think this conversation is going anywhere right now,” he said. “Maybe we can talk about this some other time?” She did not reply, and just hung up.

“I love you, too,” he said, into a dead phone. He already knew her likely retort, ‘Yeah, right.’

He understood why Patricia felt so hurt. She was their oldest child. She her Mom had a special bond. He hoped his other family members would not react as she had. Gary was already on his side. He would have to wait and see how the others felt. It was not going to be easy. For the first time he worried that not only would they stop loving him, they might hate him, or their feelings about him might divide the family.

But it was too late to turn back. Even if he agreed to stay with Lois, everybody would know he did not love her. He did not hate her, either. He just loved someone else.

He wished they would just accept his feelings. He was not disowning or abandoning them. He realized he was going to have to deal with their true feelings as well, and that might turn out to be more difficult than he first thought.

15.

“The night before our wedding, Gary and I went to dinner with Naomi and Joseph,” Clarissa said. She stood at the small podium, looking out at a full room. Joseph had many friends from his job, volunteer work, and the senior community where he and Naomi lived. They had all come to pay their respects.

“He wanted to give us some unsolicited advice, and insisted we listen carefully.” She paused, and noticed Lois, Patricia, and Joseph’s other children had arrived late and sat in the back.

“He admitted that he and Naomi should never have married.” She paused and looked at Naomi, who smiled as she recalled the conversation. “Needless to say, we were shocked. Joseph and Naomi were one of the most loving couples we had ever met. He said it should have been impossible for them to ever be attracted to each other. He blamed himself that it happened.

“He told us that Naomi woke up something inside him when they met. He felt as if he had suddenly come back to life. He had been numb; there were no feelings of any kind in his life. Over the years, his love for his first wife became weaker and weaker, and finally their marriage just died.

“He thought maybe he could revive it, but it was too late. He could not go backward to revive his old love, so he went forward into new love. But he was sorry. Not that he and Naomi found each other, but that he and his first wife lost each other.

“Then he told us we should work very hard every day to make sure what happened to him didn’t happen to us. Our marriage should be the center of our lives. He made us promise to cultivate and nurture it. Every morning we should thank God that we had each other. We must never let it weaken and die because once it does, it can’t be revived.

“That was his advice; don’t let your marriage die. Gary and I live by his advice. I hope you will, too. Thank-you for coming.” She nodded to the funeral director. He stepped up to the podium and invited everyone to a luncheon to celebrate Joseph’s life. He told them to go out the door and down the steps to the dining room.

Then Naomi took Clarissa’s hand and they both walked to the doorway. They stood where they could thank everyone as they filed out. People hugged them and thanked them for a beautiful service.

Suddenly Lois stood, crying, in front of Clarissa. She hugged Clarissa and said, “Thank-you for explaining it.” Then she looked at Naomi and said, “May I stand next to you?” Naomi extended her hand. They held on to each other for a long time.

16.

“Before you leave, can you help me find my canvas and paints?” Naomi asked.

“Sure,” said Clarissa. Her children watched as their Mom disappeared into the closet, rummaged around, and then emerged with Naomi’s art supplies. She handed them to Naomi.

Clarissa, Gary and their kids occasionally visited Naomi, and she sometimes stayed with them. Clarissa had begged her to live with them after Joseph died, but she told them they needed their privacy, and Naomi needed solitude, so she refused.. Clarissa eventually stopped asking.

She would like the kids to visit more often. So would they. They loved Grand mom Naomi. She was different than Grandma Lois, who seemed a lot older. She made them cookies, and gave them gifts, but seemed to be doing it only because she thought that what grandmas did, and not because she especially wanted to.

Grand mom Naomi hardly ever gave them any gifts. She sat close to them and told stories. She weaved a magic spell that enchanted them and made it seem they were in a world all their own. Gary and Clarissa looked on, and knew the little enchanted world did not include them. They often left Naomi and the kids alone and went into another room to work or watch TV. The kids never knew they were gone.

Joseph and Naomi had lived in the senior community for six years before he died, and had made many friends. You do not move into a senior community to die, but you know the only way you will leave is when you die. Joseph’s death was not a shock, and their friends remained friends with Naomi.

When Clarissa, Gary and the kids were gone, Naomi set the small canvas on her easel, and then opened her paints and prepared her brushes. She usually tried to paint something that expressed or reflected her feelings at that moment. Her friends told her paintings were awesome. She knew they were awful.

But this time she did not want to create art. She wanted to remember Joseph. As she held the paintbrush, she again felt his fingers touch hers. Then she watched her memories projected onto the blank canvas. She re-lived their life together from that first moment they touched until the day Joseph died. She was happy in some places, and sad in others. Mostly she was grateful for Joseph and his love, and their happiness, which she could not believe was gone.

Naomi put down the brush, stared at the empty canvas, and then started to cry. The show was over.