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The Outsiders

2022-10-06 00:11:06

The Outsiders

Jackie Thomas was an outsider just about from the day that she was born in Washington. Almost as soon as the little black girl could stand up and walk, she stuck out from the other children, and not only because she was taller than many of them.

She was the youngest of four children. By the time she came along, her mother Muriel already had her hands full with the first three children. Her father tried to do what he could to help, but that wasn't really very much. James Thomas worked on the night shift to make a little extra money for the family, and that meant that he had to sleep during the day.

When Jackie was three years old, she began to notice the school-books that her brothers and her sister brought home. All that Jackie could do then was to look at the pictures, and she was frustrated at not being able to get at the words that she was told said such interesting things.

Her mother decided to try teaching Jackie to read a little. If Jackie watched television, the little girl would often turn the sound up too much and that would keep her father awake. Books didn't make noise.

Things didn't exactly work the way that Muriel Thomas had planned, though. That little bit of reading turned into a lot of it.

Jackie tried to work her way through all the school-books now, though many of them were still way beyond her. There were not many other books in that house, let alone books for little children. There was a Bible, which was much harder for Jackie to understand than the school-books were. But for a while Jackie was read to from the Bible.

And that created problems of its own. Jackie started asking the minister questions after church on Sunday that he had trouble believing a little black girl would think of by herself.

Jackie's mother started taking her on a walk once a week, all of three blocks to the local library. The one book a week they started with at that time had turned into two books by the time Jackie was old enough for kindergarten.

Kindergarten brought on other problems. The teachers did not like the idea of a child already knowing how to read, and doing it about as well as a third-grader. This upset their plans; they declared that she would certainly have gotten it wrong and would probably have a lot of trouble in school because of it. One of them just stopped short of saying that a child who learned things outside of school would never be normal.

But she was normal. Jackie was just as interested in her dolls and in playing games as any other little girl. She was a little taller and a little stronger for her age than most, but not so much that you would think to comment on it.

Since she was already walking to school with other children, it wasn't long before she was allowed to walk to the library with one child or another and back again. And soon she was allowed to make the trip by herself if she had to. The librarian in branch #19 got to know Jackie's happy face as well as she did her own, because the little girl was always looking for corners in the library that she hadn't found before.

One corner that Jackie found along the way was science. As she slowly turned into a big girl, she learned a lot of it. She began with little books on astronomy, then she worked through physics and chemistry, and finally she spent a long time on computer science. All this reading made it easier to stay up with the studies in these subjects, indeed left her knowing more at the beginning than some did at the end. She got some comments from others about "acting white", but by the time she finished high school she had been getting those comments for years and treating them just the way they deserved.

By the time she finished high school she was five foot eleven, slim, and beautiful. A couple of boys had tried to give her practice in biology by then. The ones who couldn't be talked or slapped out of it found out that she had picked up a good knowledge of anatomy and even some judo. Some of the other girls in her neighborhood had already learned harder lessons; her own sister had miscarried once, though they were both careful to not let their mother find out about it.

Jackie had high grades and even higher recommendations from her teachers. She was clearly going to be the first person from her family to go on to college. Then her father had a heart attack.

All the plans for college went out the window then, at least for a while. The burial expenses took a while to pay off. Muriel Thomas grieved herself into becoming ill and couldn't work, not that she had done work outside the home for the last twenty-five years. Her brother Donald was in the army and couldn't send home much money. The younger brother, Bob, did not work steadily. Her sister Lucille only made a little at her job as a store clerk. Because of the paperwork, the survivors' benefits did not start for most of a year, and the insurance took nearly as long to come through.

All of which meant that Jackie took a fast three-month course in electronics and started looking for a job. Then she found out that there were dozens of companies after her and she could hold out for a fairly high starting salary. Since she was black, female, and good at what she did, she was in an automatic three-way minority. She could fill a couple of EEOC slots at once for the government contractors. To be honest, it seemed strange to her that she would be wanted just because she was an outsider, and it was not entirely comfortable.

She wondered at times if she wasn't being an outsider in the modern world just by being a virgin then, and for years afterward. But Jackie had made up her mind that she wasn't going to be sidetracked by any man unless he was clearly about as smart as she was.

She started working at Sanders Associates in Rockville. That company tried to keep one foot in each of two streams by leasing desktop computers to the smaller government agencies, and maintaining them, and writing and consulting on software for mainframes for the middle-sized ones. (The big agencies do those things themselves.)

Jackie started in their computer repair division. On her first day on the job, she got buried in her work and barely looked up in time to see everyone else vanish out the door at lunch-time. She packed away her tools and she was gazing out the front door of the building and trying to decide where to eat when a voice behind her said: "None of them are really great, but the sandwich shop across the street is all right. Martucci's has good shrimp on Thursdays."

When she turned around a short red-haired and very Irish woman gave her a wide freckled grin. "You are Jackie Thomas, right? My name's Maggie Flynn."

They went out to lunch together that day, and every one after that for the next three weeks. They talked about the news or clothes or what they were doing at work. After some of that last, Maggie came to a conclusion one day and she decided to take a chance on looking foolish. She went into her supervisor's office the first thing in the afternoon.

An hour later there was a message that the personnel department wanted to talk to Jackie. She sat there on the edge of the red leather seat frightened and chewing her lip. She knew that she had been making mistakes on her job, but she hoped that they were not going to fire her this quickly. She really had been trying...

They sat her down and had her take an odd sort of test in logic. When she finished it a half-hour later, there was a wait for a few minutes and then she was called into a private office.

A beefy middle-aged man in a brown suit looked at her and said: "Would you be interested in moving into another job?"

"I -- I don't know," she said nervously. "If you don't think I'm any good where I am --"

"Don't know anything about that, haven't heard a word," was the gruff reply. "We want to send you for training and put you into the programming department. This test says you would be good at it. You're worth more than we thought. Your file says you haven't taken any computer languages, that right?"

"No, but I've read some --"

"So much the better. You want the job? Can you start classes a week from Monday?"

Jackie nodded in disbelief.

Those six weeks in the classroom and the computer lab were among the hardest but most enjoyable that she had ever spent. And when it was over, she was put into a cubicle of her own with her own name-plate, a lot more money, and a greeting from Maggie.

"Hello, stranger, " she said with a freckled grin. "I expect I'll be seeing more of you now, since you are going to be ten feet away. Want to try the new Indian place at lunch-time?"

It worked out. Both the job and the Indian place.

In a little over a year, her family's financial problems were over. The money that was due had come in, her mother was working and making enough to get by on, and her younger brother Bob had settled down and was talking about marrying his girlfriend.

Jackie took a plunge then and moved out into her own apartment. She didn't feel quite comfortable enough to quit her job and go to college full time, but she started in on night courses.

Jackie was glad to be out in the business world, where (most of the time) being black didn't matter one way or the other, and green was mostly the color that counted. Also, being female (most of the time) didn't matter unless it was from a personal and individual interest, and that she didn't mind handling.

Reading, of course, wasn't unusual in those circles, and probably being a virgin wasn't either. Technical people aren't all that social when they are young.

There were not many young and unmarried black men she met whom she would consider dating, and that bothered her. And it bothered her that it bothered her, because she didn't like to think she was racially prejudiced.

There were good black men in Washington, Jackie knew, but too
many of them were from the old families, that have had money and position since the year one, or anyway Civil War days. And that sort didn't want to spend time with somebody who had just come up from the ghetto. Even if they did, she didn't feel right dating men who were involved in politics or law, since she didn't really trust them the rest of the time.

Eventually Jackie decided that a good man was a good man, and racial solidarity could go hang. She was moved out from her mother's place and into her own apartment before she acted on that decision, though. Her family would have raised Cain if they thought that she might be dating a white man. And if she decided to marry one... Well, she would fight that battle then.

As it was, her younger brother complained to her when he came by one night and he found her talking and laughing with Maggie Flynn. Bob asked why she didn't hang around with her own kind and make friends with them. It was just as well that he didn't know they had been exchanging notes on men they had both dated.

Jackie had been best friends with Maggie for three years then, and they had been through a lot together both at work and outside of it.

In July Maggie gave a party, and a man named Jim Miller was at it. Jackie couldn't remember afterward who had introduced the two of them, but it was probably Maggie. She did half-remember hearing some comment about putting together the most lost and most together people there. It wasn't clear to Jackie if she was really the second, but Jim was certainly the first.

Jim was thin and soft-spoken and very shy. He had been in from Texas then for about two weeks and he knew only two or three people at the party, those being the ones he worked with. It took a while to draw him into a conversation, but it proved to be well worth the effort.

He was interested in a lot of things, and he could talk about any of them with a little coaxing. The deep blue eyes behind those glasses had seen and read a lot, and the head under the fine blond hair worked awfully well. Once the party really got going, he was in the middle of a circle of listeners and he stayed there for hours, with people handing him drinks. People drifted in and out of the circle, but it didn't occur to Jackie until later that she had been there listening the whole time.

Jim noticed it, though. And maybe two weeks later, the telephone rang, and a soft pleasant voice was asking her out to dinner and a movie. She accepted.

That evening was a very nice one and she was happy to say yes to his request to meet him again on the next Saturday also. Her light brown hand fit very well into his tanned one.

They saw each other about once a week for that August and September, and Jackie found herself looking forward to the next date and wishing that each one lasted longer. When they found excuses to call each other in the middle of the week, to make sure of arrangements that were already clear to both of them, the conversations lasted a while.

Soon one or the other of them suggested meeting early on a Saturday to go somewhere, and then they started spending twelve or fourteen hours together at a time. Then it became both Saturday and Sunday and phone-calls twice a week. They both realized at about the same time what was happening, and they were very glad of it.

Maggie Flynn saw it coming sooner than they did, and she bubbled with delight.

Jackie's twenty-second birthday came in October, and Jim gave her a long and beautiful pale-green dress. When she opened the box, Jackie kissed him hard and she impulsively vanished into her bedroom to try it on and to model it for him.

She wore the dress that night as they went to a dinner- theater, and when he left her in her apartment and she took it off she half-wished that Jim had stayed and was in her bedroom now taking it off of her.

She imagined his hands on her bare back, which he had bared. His palms would spread against her skin and draw her toward him so that she could feel his muscles ripple with every movement that he made. She would arch against him and he would press her even closer there. His hands would slide down her spine and mold her hips to his and she would feel the hardening pressure of his arousal against her stomach.

His tongue would invade her mouth, hot and wet and possessive, and a little moan would escape her. His tongue would wind about hers, sucking it into her mouth, and her legs would sag beneath her as he took her breath away and lifted her up...

Jackie broke off the reverie, because her legs were sagging. Things were bad enough without dwelling on what she didn't have: Jim with her in her bed, or, quite, the courage and decision to invite him there.

It got tougher and tougher for them to say goodnight to each other, and the kissing often turned into something else, which went further and further. But it never went nearly as far as Jackie would have liked it to, nowhere as far as she dreamed about when Jim wasn't there. And when he was there, she could plainly see by looking down that he also wanted to go further. That made it worse.

His long body fitted very well against hers when the two of them stood together, and she spent a lot of time thinking about the other ways that their bodies could fit.

Jim went back to Texas for the week between Christmas and New Year's. Both of those were on weekends, so they didn't see each other for three weeks. But he called her on the night before he left, and again on the night that he came back, and on the Wednesday in between he talked to her from his family's home near Austin. He told her that he had been telling his family a lot about her.

After they hung up, she put on the silver necklace and earrings which he had sent her as a Christmas present before he left. She wore them for the rest of the evening, and she did not want to even take them off when she went to bed. Her dreams were very sweet.

"Jackie," he said to her on Friday night, January 5th, six months after they met. "I thought about you a lot when I was gone. I'm kind of nervous about saying this to you. I want to ask you something, and, well, if you are not sure, I want you to say that rather than no... Will you marry me?"

Jackie's eyes lit up, but Jim raised his hand to silence her before she could speak.

"I'm not really sure if I have the right to ask you, since I don't make enough to support the two of us properly, though I expect that in a year or two I will. The racial, uh, difference won't bother my family. I've got a Choctaw aunt whose grandfather was a freed slave, and if anybody tried to make a fuss, she'd tie them to an anthill."

She thought that her family might be less happy about it, but she felt right then that she would divorce them in a minute to marry this man. Jackie thought this in about two seconds, before she grabbed him.

When she eased up and let him breathe again, he looked across at her and said, "Should I take that as a yes?"

She pulled on him again and squeezed him and let out a long "Y-e-s-s-s-s-s!" then said it three more times fast for good measure.

The dinner that night was the most fabulous one that Jackie had ever had, though she couldn't recall afterward what it was they ate. Half of her thoughts were of how beautiful the little silver ring that he had given her looked on her finger. As for the rest of what she thought about, well, she was glad that her blushes didn't show much. As they finished, she told him she wanted to go back to her apartment for a minute, but to stop at the Thomas Circle drugstore on the way back.

He did, and he waited out in the car. Jackie was glad of this; if Jim had been there she might have been too embarrassed to buy what she did. She was still unsure if she dared to use it.

She asked him to park and come back up with her. When they were through the door and it was closed behind them, Jackie put her arms around him and said, "Jim, I want you to make love to me. I want you to go all the way this time."

"Jackie," he said. "I want to more than anything in the world. But I feel I have to warn you that after a certain point all that I know about it is learned from books."

"That's all right," she whispered. "We can learn together. We have both read the same kind of books, and I've never done it either."

He kissed her quickly, to cover his nervousness. They drifted slowly and deliberately into her bedroom. She put her handbag on a chair and she took out the paper bag from the drugstore to toss it on the dresser by the bed.

Jim glanced at it, realized what it must be, and licked his lips as she returned to him. His arms around her reached up to the zipper on the top of the fancy dress that she wore. The cool air on her back as he drew it down was balanced by the warmth of the feeling she had in his arms as he held her.

When his hand had gone as far down as it could, she stepped back and out of the dress to put it on a chair-back. She stood in bra and culottes to remove his tie and then his shirt. She put her cheek down to rub it against his wonderfully masculine chest hair and she hugged him again.

Soon Jim raised her chin and kissed her hard. As soon as his lips touched hers Jackie's mouth opened and his tongue slid almost involuntarily between her teeth. And at once the kiss softened and deepened so that she gave a little moan before responding completely.

Her hand glided over the warm flesh of his back and then moved up to clutch the sides of his neck and hold him to her mouth. Her body arched toward him, and his hands slid down her arms to her wrists before he took them and held them behind her back and used them to urge her hips against his. His thumbs caressed her palms and she felt the heat of her lower spine against her knuckles as he increased the pressure of his hard tube against her belly.

Their remaining clothing was
a tormenting barrier to the freedom she desired, the freedom for passionate and violent and exquisite action. Moisture pooled between her breasts and trickled down her back.

He released her hands to slide his fingers over her hips to her waist, and from there across the curve of her ribcage. "Jackie, you are so beautiful tonight," he said.

His hands sought the hooks on her bra, then he eased the straps from her shoulders and he brought it forward to expose her nipples to his gaze for the first time, though he had touched them before. The sensation seemed to her much more intense and inspiring than it had any right to be.

She loosened his belt and opened the hook on his trousers. But once they dropped to the floor he cupped her buttocks and he lifted her so that her legs went automatically around him.

It brought that sexually aroused part of him hard -- HARD -- against her own throbbing core, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and brought his mouth back to hers. This time it was her tongue that was the invader, her hips that writhed against his, and with a moan of anguish he released her.

He placed his trousers over her dress on the chair. When he bent to remove his shoes and socks, he felt awkward, and Jackie certainly didn't help by running her hands over his back when he bent over and by kissing him in several places. She removed his shorts herself, putting her hand around what came to it. His desire for her increased when she did, even more. She felt it increase in her hand.

They stood for another moment and kissed, he naked but for glasses and she with only culottes. He picked her up and he carried her to the bed. When he set her down, he leaned forward and brought his mouth to hers again. The hungry pressure of it was too demanding, the hot invasion of his tongue too mind-bending to allow any kind of coherent thought to dominate. She was on fire for him, kissing him back with a raw abandon that had nothing to do with intelligent reasoning. But she did not need to think now, only to feel.

Her whole body was suffused with the pleasure that her mouth was drinking in. The life of the mind, which had been her center, and where they had met and fallen in love, was totally left behind now. Little rivulets of flame sped along her veins, melting her bones and thickening her blood. His tongue seduced hers, assaulted hers, sucked hers into his mouth with a greedy possession, and her arms crept around him now without her really being aware of it.

Her breasts were taut and swollen, aching with desire as was all the rest of her. When Jim's mouth left hers to seek that delicate skin, she sighed with satisfaction. She trembled when his mouth took possession of one engorged peak and suckled eagerly. She had never experienced the surge of emotion that the sight of his head against her dusky breast inspired in her. Her hand cradled his head and her fingers slipped into his fine light hair. His lips eased one ache but they did nothing for the greater one. But that would come...

Jim lay beside her and he caressed her, and she put out one hand to stroke the hard length that would soon possess her, and she it. When he took down the culottes, Jackie motioned to the drugstore bag on the dresser. He left her to fetch it and read the directions on the package inside, then he joined her on the bed again with the contents in one hand.

Her limbs, freed now from any restraint, wound themselves about him, and his groan signaled how close he came to proceeding without the contraceptive, to ravishing her at that instant and letting his unrestrained seed flood out and find her fertile egg as it might.

But he resisted. He took the package from the place on the bed where he had dropped it and his hands moved lower, sliding between her legs to find the slick curls that hid the eager core of her womanhood. The muscles there jerked and constricted under his probing caress, and Jackie moaned, deep in her throat, as he stroked the palpitating source.

When the opening was very ready, he knelt to insert the tube and inject the spermicidal jelly. The jelly felt cool as it entered her and it tingled slightly. The parallels between what they had just done in preparation and what they would do next were clear in the minds of both of them.

He put the syringe and his glasses on the dresser and he lay beside her again. She timidly opened herself to him, and Jim moved over her. As he did, Jackie glanced to the mirror on her bedroom wall and looked at the contrast of the light and dark flesh and she saw a bit of his shaft as it touched her.

She never knew if it was that sight or his touch, but she shivered with desire. His gentle probing began then and intensified until he encountered the inner door. It took all of her will power not to force her hips upward at that moment.

"Please -- now..." Jackie whimpered, placing her hands on his withdrawing hips. He returned, gathering force until she felt a stinging, and then he advanced unhindered.

"OH," she cried, taking short gulping breaths as he began to move inside her. The swelling waves of delight, that previously she had only touched upon, were already overtaking and overwhelming her, and, although she was sure a woman was not supposed to be aroused so quickly, she couldn't help herself. He filled her, and he filled her with more joy than she had ever felt in her life. Then the pleasure grew minute by minute until she felt another liquid injection, this time a hot one, and she melted, calling his name.

That was on Friday night. On Saturday morning they learned how much more pleasant a shower could be with someone there to help you -- though it took longer.

The movie that they had planned to see on Friday night became a Saturday matinee instead. And that night they went on another voyage of discovery, putting more theory into practice. That led to Jackie arching her back with the pulsations of pleasure she felt as he worshipped her core with his lips and tongue. They spent that weekend lost in love and each other.

On Sunday afternoon Jim emerged partly from the pleasant haze to sit at her kitchen table in a rumpled shirt and offer some ideas about their wedding. Jackie just wanted at first to distract him from anything but the present by stroking his hair, or his face, or whatever she could reach -- so he held both her hands in one of his until she capitulated.

They did both want a church wedding. She admitted that the Baptist church she had gone to since she was a child (though not for the last year or so) might not be best. His family and his friends in Texas could probably fly here easier than the people here could go there. Jim would talk to the minister of the Methodist church he was nominally attached to in D.C., though they didn't see each other all that often.

Making wedding plans caused Jackie to bring up half-formed daydreams which she hadn't thought about in years, which both made her want to hold Jim tighter and think about fantasies of less formal but more repeatable events, and that led to postponing the plan-making for a while.

The plan-making about the wedding. As they lay there afterward, the two of them did talk about children, however.

They were together until Monday morning, when Jim left to change before going to work. And he left from her apartment on the next four mornings also...

On the next Saturday, he told her that he needed to do laundry, and told her that she was quite welcome to join him at his place while the machine worked. Jackie decided against it. She had been putting off telling her family about Jim and about planning to marry him, and perhaps while he was gone she could think of what to say and make the call.

It was harder than she thought, and she still had not spoken to her mother when she glanced out the window and saw his car drive up and saw him get out of it. She also saw the car that sped down and hit Jim and threw him up and into the windshield of a car going the other way. The car that hit him kept going.

She ran screaming down the stairs, but he was already dead. The body went back to Texas for the funeral. He had mentioned her to his family for the last six months, had told them that he was thinking of marrying her, and he called home to tell them about her acceptance the Monday after he proposed. His family offered to pay her way to Texas, but at the last minute she could not face the trip. She probably could not have faced the funeral if she had gone.

Jackie stayed in her apartment and wept for the next week. She turned off the telephone. The people at Sanders Associates thought that she had gone to Texas. On the next Saturday afternoon, Maggie Flynn knocked on her door. They sat and talked all day, and she got Jackie ready to accept the world again. That little woman had muscles in her soul.

One can't say whether she recovered even then. But she got on with her life.

For the next six months Jackie went to parties, but she could not bring herself to accept a date. The idea of being alone with a man still bothered her too much.

At the end of the six months, she got a job offer with Williamson Tech in Indianapolis. She was afraid to think of being in a city, a whole part of the country, where she did not know anyone. But on the other hand, Washington had a lot of painful memories for her and moving away from her family might make some of her troubles with them easier to handle. She did worry some about whether there were any blacks in Indiana.

She shouldn't have. There were quite a number. There are about 250,000 of them in Indianapolis, and a lot more in the rest of the state. To her surprise, many of them were farmers. Even more to her surprise was that the born-and-bred city girl got to love the countryside. She spent a lot of summer afternoons on the weekends driving through it, and then walking through the state parks and even climbing rocks.

Jackie also trusted herself with men again. She dated perhaps a dozen of them over the next two years, both black and white.
She liked all of them -- well, almost all -- but she did not get serious with anyone. That spark that had burned so brightly in Jim Miller did not seem to have even a pale reflection in any man she met now. She began to despair that she would ever find another like him.

In the second spring that she spent in the midwest, Jackie flew back to Washington when Muriel Thomas died suddenly in the street of a heart attack. Her sister Lucille came in from Philadelphia with her husband and her baby. Donald came from Los Angeles, where he had settled after he left the army. Bob's two children cried and fussed a lot, but that was almost welcome as a distraction from the grief.

After the funeral, Jackie visited with Maggie Flynn, now Maggie Mason. They sat and drank wine, and the wine hit her harder than she expected. She spent the night on their couch instead of the bed that had been prepared for her. Maggie and her husband got her to the airport in the morning without much time to spare.

Only a few months later, Jackie found herself travelling back to Washington one more time, but now for a longer stay. She had gotten a job with an insurance company as a senior programmer, at 20% more money than the job in Indiana paid. This was in the September before her twenty-fifth birthday.

Almost on the day that she moved into her job with Carrolton Life and her new apartment, she met a black man named Neville Wilson. Here she thought she might have found at last someone who could satisfy both her family and her desire for the sort of man she wanted to spend her life with. Ironically, this was when the last of her family became almost irrelevant, as Bob and his wife sold the old house and moved to Richmond.

It was a year later that the letter fell from his coat that Jackie found on the floor in the morning. When she opened it, she found that it was from a woman and talked about the night that woman had spent with Neville two weeks before, the night Neville had called Jackie to tell her he had felt ill. That made Jackie want to slam the door in his face the next time he came to it and never see him again.

But the letter also talked about that woman taking heroin with Neville and sharing a needle with him. That made Jackie want to kill Neville, slowly and painfully.

As it happened, the next time she opened the door to him there was nothing available to use on him but her hands, and he moved fast, so she didn't. The HIV-test had already come back negative.

The breakup of the relationship made her more depressed than Jim's death, because of the self-loathing that it brought out of her. But it did not effect her work; she simply turned herself off.

She was glad to be paired on a complex computer project with David Whitley at Carrolton Life just about then. She knew that he was a quiet man, but that was almost all that she did know about him despite being in the office with him for a year. She didn't really know how he would be to work with. He might be a total male chauvinist pig, but the only way she would ever find out was to spend the next four months working with him to put together the new system.

Four months was what it said on the calendar, though it seemed longer. In a way it was, because they put in a lot of overtime together. Neither of them took any time off during that period, and at least once a week they had dinner together in the office, to keep going on the project. It was maybe as well as far as Jackie was concerned, because she wanted to throw herself into something and forget about Neville and what he had done to her. And work was much less permanent than the river.

Jackie wanted to swear off of men for a while, forever by the way she felt. Jim Miller seemed all the better now, with a longer retrospect, and she felt even less that she would ever find his equal. But David Whitley was interesting to talk to once he started, and they had a lot of time to talk while they were waiting for the computer to print out, and at dinner in the office on some nights. She started thinking about him, whether she wanted to or not.

She kept thinking that he looked like Jim, then catching herself and knowing that he did not. His hair was darker, his eyes were brown, his face a different shape. And he was a few years older. Although Jim, she realized suddenly, would have been that age now. His mind, his personality, were similar. But that was perhaps an inevitable consequence of the jobs they did -- it would attract certain types of people more than others. But he still seemed to her to be closer than most.

Jackie found out over that four months that David was single, and not dating anyone right now. (She saw more of him than any girlfriend would, anyway!) It took a while before Jackie could relax enough to let him know that she was also unattached.

David was as reticent about his life in that direction as he had seemed to be about nearly everything before they spent those nights in the office. But Jackie eventually pieced out that he had parted on good terms with his last girlfriend and that he felt it wouldn't be fair to take up with someone else until this project was finished and his life had settled down again.

That the love lives of both were zero around then made it both easier and more difficult to put in those hours together. Each found the other very attractive, and both found themselves thinking about that a lot whenever they let their attention wander, on those late nights they spent alone in the office. But neither would ever have admitted it to the other.

Neither wanted to make any moves. They worked well together, and both were afraid of making things go blooie while trying to make them go better. This was a big chance for promotion for both of them. An emotional distraction might blow it, and a strong refusal might ruin their working chemistry. Therefore, both of them danced around and never gave the other any indication of interest.

So they kept it all strictly business, and they never really saw each other outside business hours while the project went on. Except for pick-up and delivery of each other sometimes, evenings and Saturdays; they knew where each other's apartments were. He knew bits and pieces about Jackie, from comments she made, and she knew as much about him.

Once they were finished and the program was up and running, well ahead of schedule, they were called into the president's office, fifteen minutes apart. David was given a position in another department on another floor, with not much more money, but with a clear shot at a really good job when another two years had gone by.

Jackie was offered a better position up at the Philadelphia branch. David told her that he had been given his choice of the two. She wondered if that might have been favoritism, or even racism, but she soon decided that it was more likely seniority. The out-of-town job paid better, and she did have a married sister near Philadelphia, her closest relative left.

In that same conversation, while they were sitting in the cafeteria right after the interviews, David asked her about going out for a night on the town with him to celebrate the end of the project and their promotions. He thought to himself that if nothing came of it, well, he already knew that Jackie was pleasant to be around. But now they were both free to see if their acquaintance had the chance to be anything more, if only for an evening.

She said: "No."

Before his face could fall completely, she continued.

"I've never really liked liquor, and from what you have said about yourself, you don't need it either to have a good time. Night clubs have always been too noisy and raucous for my taste, and I suspect that the reason you suggested it is that it's the conventional thing to do."

David nodded silently, a bit sheepishly.

"I don't see any reason that either of us should be conventional, or anything other than just ourselves. What I would really like to do is to get to know what you are like away from work. There are a lot of things we could do, but I think what I would like best is to spend some Saturday with you, talking to you and walking through a big park, maybe a state park, and end with a movie in the evening.

"I like you, and I'd like the chance to get to know you better in a place where I can hear you talk."

He admitted that this was a better idea than he had come up with, actually, and the two of them decided on a Saturday a couple of weeks in the future, the day after their old jobs ended.

David was not completely happy with this, since it meant that any relationship between them would have very little time to develop before their paths diverged, perhaps forever. Jackie felt the same way, but felt it to be necessary for her, when she thought of it over the next few weeks -- when she had time to think.

Jackie spent just about every moment of the next few weeks on packing, or planning, or finding an apartment in Philadelphia. She had both good luck and bad in that direction. The good was that the place she found was large and in a good neighborhood and cheap for what she was getting. The bad was that it would not be ready for her until the Saturday after she had to move.

But her sister Lucille was able to put her up for that week, and Jackie decided that the five of them (two children, now) could stand to be together for five days.

The office gave them a going-away party the day before that Saturday, for all that David was only going to another floor. A creep who had been making moves on Jackie since the day she started working there got drunk and said in a loud voice that the black bitch must have almost caught pneumonia, making love to David every night on the computer room floor while he did all the work. Though making love is not how he put it.

The way that quiet, polite woman tore into him must have made him
feel like his desk had gotten up to bite off his leg. She screamed that David was a decent and honorable man, a gentleman at all times, and that he had never put a hand on her or done anything improper. It was true that David's actions were innocent, but neither could have said the same about what they had sometimes thought.

Jackie had spent a year saying no to this cretin, with a growing impatience, and now she gave him every kind of insult she could think of that used clean language.

Nathanson, the creep, went and hid at his desk after that. David seemed a little embarrassed by what she had said about him, though she certainly wasn't about to apologize for it.

Jackie found herself with little left to do toward moving on that Friday night, and perhaps partly for that reason she spent a lot of time thinking about her life and the way that it had been lately. At nine o'clock, she called Maggie. Not so much to ask for advice as just wanting someone sensible to bounce her thoughts off of. They were on the phone until eleven, but even Maggie's strong opinion on the subject did not settle the question that was bothering her.

When she got up the next morning, she put on hiking boots, a thick shirt, and jeans, and then tied up her hair in a scarf. Everything light had already been packed and moved, so the apartment looked half-empty. Jackie was waiting on the street for David when he came to get her at eight. She looked very different and quite pretty to David, and her eyes lit up when she saw him.

The state park they went to was one that Jackie had never heard of, or she would have become very familiar with it. It was lusher and greener than she expected any place on the east coast to be, more like what she saw back in Indiana.

They climbed all over it for four hours. They held hands walking down to the river and they tried to coming back. Jackie was very glad to sit down and eat lunch when they did, but she was also very glad to have been through what had made her tired.

They had been talking a lot, and they did more of it at lunch. Jackie leaned the side of her head against a tree, looked down at a bit of clover, and while her fingers played with it, she said: "You know, there are people who would be scandalized to see the two of us together."

"The race thing, you mean. That might be a problem for them, but, well, that's their problem. I wouldn't mind being seen with a woman like you -- or anything else, I guess. Er, I'm not putting that well, am I?"

Jackie smiled and took his hand for a moment and said: "I know what you mean."

"I can't honestly say I even thought about it much until recently, but I have a high enough opinion of my own opinions that I wouldn't care what people might say about something like that. I've always been sort of an outsider, I guess."

"Exactly the word I use for myself," Jackie said. "It's something that I have thought about a very great deal over the years. I've told you that I've dated white men. I haven't told you that there was one three years ago whom I was engaged to be married to."

"What happened... I mean, if you want to talk about it. I certainly hope that he didn't just drop you."

"No," she said with a hint of tears. "He left me, but only by dying. Almost in my arms."

David grew silent at this, then he suddenly turned to her and said:

"The sad thing is, you are a nicer person than I thought, and I thought you were pretty nice to start with. I wish I had gotten to know you earlier and a lot better, Jackie."

"I feel the same way, David. I wish I'd gotten to know you in a couple of ways, and sometimes the hardest part of these last few months was thinking it might interfere with the work if I did."

He looked over at her and a bunch of things fell into place for both of them. They felt very good there. He leaned over toward her, folded her in his arms, took a long look into her eyes, and then he kissed her.

He was still kind of hesitant in his kissing, but that went away very quickly with some feedback. He had her leaned back against a tree while she luxuriated in the way his tongue was exploring the inside of her mouth. When his hand began to rub the bottom of one breast, Jackie straightened up with a great effort.

"This would be better than a drafty computer room floor, but not enough. There's a lot of the day left. We should get going." And she got up to let herself cool down. There were some boy scouts in the distance who didn't need the temptation to watch.

The rest of that day seemed more beautiful than ever, but she couldn't pin down what the difference was. It may not have been in nature. They moved slower now, and at least on her part it was because she was thinking about how far and how fast she wanted to go with this man in a way other than walking. They stopped more often, and it kept getting more difficult to start moving again, and not just from weariness. They were both acting like teenagers, some people would say, but Jackie didn't remember being this happy as a teenager.

Jackie was not without experience with men by this time, but David was still something new to her in a lot of ways. She had never had one sneak up and hit her so hard before (and so gently). While they had spent a lot of time together, this was still sort of a first date, and now they were going to be leaving each other.

They ate dinner in a steak house on the way back into town, and they both had good appetites from all the hiking. When they got back into the car, Jackie felt drowsy. She wanted to go on to the movie even if she did fall asleep there. She didn't want to say goodbye now, and she didn't want to decide quite yet on the other thing she was thinking of doing.

Jackie didn't make it through. Between the steak and the hiking and the darkened theatre, she was out of it quickly. As she dozed off, it occurred to her that it was a good omen that David was so comfortable to fall sleep beside.

He wasn't sure that he stayed awake all the way either, or perhaps the spy-movie didn't completely make sense. That plane- crash at the end seemed to him to come out of nowhere, and perhaps it woke him up. When he in turn woke her with a kiss as the lights came on, she knew what she was going to do.

Jackie felt much better for her nap and when he drove her back to her apartment to let her off, she invited him in.

When he closed the door behind them, she reached for the scarf she had put on that morning and she shook her hair loose. He reached to kiss her and stroke her hair, and this time she held nothing at all back in her response. But she didn't have to hold back now; there were no campers, no boy scouts, and nowhere she wanted to go that wasn't in her apartment. There was no one to see them, and her decision had been made and was as firm as what she felt pressing against her fairly soon.

She said to him, "I've been thinking about this for months, first as daydreams, but lately, especially today... David, I want you very much. Stay with me."

"I want to. Very much," he said to her.

David lowered his hands and inserted them into the pockets on the back of her jeans, then used his thumbs to knead the small of her back. She reacted by raising herself on her toes to rub against the rigid cylinder that was tantalizingly almost between her legs. He started to pull the shirt up from her jeans and touch the skin of her back there directly, and she said to him, smiling softly:

"David, after this long day, I really need a shower. But... I have plenty of towels."

He said yes, but his kiss spoke louder to her than his voice and more firmly.

They took each other's clothes off and put them directly into her washer, to be clean and ready in the morning. Prosaic, maybe, but having David here with her was all the romance she really needed, and she needed her clothes for tomorrow. Everything she would use next week was at her sister's place near Philadelphia.

Jackie found that there was more to admire about David than she had thought. She had already known that his face was handsome in its way, and now she could see that a lot of him was.

For his part, David found that somehow being naked with Jackie, and even making her so, was easier to endure than just being with her had been earlier in the day. The pressure was off, and they could relax and enjoy each other.

Which they did. A slower stronger passion grew up now. Some women may dress to hide their defects, but Jackie had never been one of them; she accepted her body as it was, without undue vanity, and David certainly seemed to appreciate it that way. She gathered her hair again into a plastic cap and they went under the running water together. He put his arms around her brown body and held her close as he soaped her back, and by the time he got around to her front, the aureoles on her breasts were hard and responded to his touch. Her hand went down between his legs and gently circled his erection, then she lathered it with soap. They were on a voyage of mutual discovery, with delight on (and beneath) every hand.

Then Jackie began to discourage his touches and to quickly wash herself. She changed her attitude and left him alone in the shower with a fast passionate kiss because an idea had come to her.

That idea had been to dry off as fast as possible and to put on a peach-colored silk nightie, then wait by the bathroom door for him, with her hair down her back again. When he opened it she raised her arms toward him, and when he saw her more than his arms rose toward her in return.

David carried her into the bedroom, then he lay beside her and began to caress her. He whispered: "You look beautiful in the panties and nightgown, but there seems to have been little point in putting them on, except for decoration, and a body like yours needs no decoration."

She replied, "I realized that there was a great deal of point to it. I want to have you take them off of me, to have you undress me again, but this time in my bed."

The sheer eroticism of this simple statement overwhelmed him, and he kissed Jackie again, pressing his hips against her as they lay. When they broke from that, they stared into each other's eyes for long minutes,
with their hands making little journeys and caresses.

Her reactions were very strong, but she was nervous about being touched in the regions that brought the strong reactions. So he became slower and gentler to calm her, and she gradually relaxed.

He said to her: "I certainly don't want to pry, but you seem out of practice at this sort of thing. You must not have had much luck with men in the year since you moved in from Indiana."

"I would say that there my luck has all been bad, in different ways," she said in a small voice. "But I felt that you are a very sweet and kind man, and someone whom I could trust. I want to be with you more than any other man I have ever known, almost -- maybe entirely, I don't know, I feel mixed up.

"I could force myself to be calm while we undressed and while we showered, but now... Please, David, keep being gentle. I am nervous, but I want you, I want you to have me."

He kissed her and he began again to fondle her. He raised the nightgown to kiss her soft breasts and her hard nipples. His fingers and his lips manipulated her there until she gave soft cries of passion and he moved to her soft flat stomach.

Soon he took the waistband of her silk panties and he tugged them down to expose the soft curls of hair under them. Jackie trembled in his arms with passion. He touched her there; she was ready for him.

"I've been dreaming about this for months," Jackie whispered to him. "I can't believe how wonderful it is to lie here with you. I want you."

He was a very tender and gentle lover as he bared her body to his hands again. But he proved a very vigorous one after he had entered her. He lifted his body over hers, and Jackie opened herself to him. When his erection touched her labia and parted them for a fraction of an inch, her knees lifted and parted, perhaps in reflex. As she raised her knees, he entered her. She gave a shudder of satisfied desire as he sank into her liquid depths and tested her capacity. He moved slowly at first, but he built in force and speed. They followed their impulses until those impulses reached their height, a long and wonderful one. Her legs wrapped around him and her hips crashed into his with great force and her hands pulled on his buttocks until they met in orgasm. When that happened, her eyes opened wide and looked into his.

He thought that the sight of Jackie's face, drawn in passion and surrounded by that cloud of hair, was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. He rejoiced that the expression was caused by him. He said to her afterward, "Now I know that there is more than one thing that you are very good at."

"I thought that we had worked well together before," Jackie replied, "but that could never have prepared me for this."

Jackie was very happy as she fell asleep beside David for the second time that night.

David stayed with her for most of Sunday and he helped her with last-minute things before saying goodbye. And that was not goodbye.

Jackie spent the next week with her sister and brother-in- law's apartment with their two babies, in very close quarters. When her own apartment was ready, David was there to help her move in.

Her sister's husband Ronald brought his younger brother, but it had seemed better to have Lucille stay home with the children. Ronald watched the way David moved and the way Jackie acted around him and he talked to him some. As he was leaving he turned to Jackie and said: "Maybe it's better for another reason that Lucille didn't come today. She might have been upset. But I wish you all the luck I can with what you are doing. Like they say, a good man is hard to find. You take good care of your friend there."

Jackie made dinner for the two of them, but afterward when they lay on her bed together they fell asleep before they could do anything that would even be noticed in the middle of the street. Some hours later Jackie woke and took a long hot shower and returned to find David still asleep. She lay beside him naked and curled around his body. She drank in the odor of his body, of his maleness, as she dozed again.

He woke not long after to find a warm, clean, naked and desirable woman beside him. When he rose to stumble into the bathroom himself, she woke. When he started the shower, she got out sheets for the bed and put them on, then put blankets at the foot and lay back down to wait for him.

When he came back, David saw by the changes that Jackie had been awake, though she was not quite so now. He decided to awaken her with a kiss. But not on her mouth.

He wanted to give her another sort of kiss, and this was as good an opportunity as he would ever have to do it and awaken her in two ways at once.

She was dreaming about David -- which was nothing new -- but this time it was much more powerful than usual. As the pleasure grew enough to bring her to consciousness, she reached down to touch herself where she did when these dreams came and she found David. Her hands held on to his head as he applied it to take her higher and higher until she begged him to stop and move his body up so that she could feel him fill her.

This time their lovemaking was slow and deliberate, David using his skill to bring Jackie to the brink of fulfillment time and time again. He aroused her to a complete awareness of her own sexual potential, and when her thrusting hips tumbled her into the heady chasm he had created for her she was mindless, exhausted and totally content.

They slept again.

Really, two hundred miles was only a few hours on a train, and that's not much on a weekend. Having him in Washington and her in Philadelphia even had advantages, in a way. Nobody could make comments about their scheduling three-day weekends that coincided, because nobody knew. This might seem wearing, going always between his apartment and hers, but it was the periods when they were apart that were difficult. And this life was a vast improvement over what either of them had before.

Not that they wanted it to last much longer that way. Sometime in the next three weekends, without either of them being quite aware of it at the time, they found that they were planning on marrying. From there they backed up and started to discuss the wedding. From there they went forward to talk about both of them leaving Carrolton Life to open a computer consulting firm, working out of their married home, and after that Jackie wanted to go to work with David on other projects. At least a boy and a girl.