Sweet Neighbor Jane

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I dreamed that growling dogs came out of the woods. They stalked me from the tree line, through tall grass, their coats bristling, ears folded back. I found a mound to stand on and at first could see the top of the grass parting in lines that were converging toward me. Then the mound shrank and I lost sight of them and felt rubbery with fear.

Then I realized that the dogs had merged somewhere ahead of me, and that now there was only one dog, and she was sprinting dead on, big enough to thud the ground. The snarl came inexplicably from behind me, and from the corner of my eye I saw the leap. Within inches of my face were the dog’s vivid teeth.

I jumped awake.

The air was reverberating. The drone of 12-horsepower motors.

Mowers. A lawn crew. Louder than dogs.

A breeze lifted the gauze curtain.

I got out of bed to shut the window and looked down into the backyard of my neighbor, Jane, a woman whose face I had yet to see. We’d met for the first time last night, speaking briefly through the privacy fence that separated our properties. She had been friendly to me, although she had every reason to think I was an emotional nut-case.

A lean late-teen, dragging his mower backward, came into view. Shirtless. Naturally ripped. Maybe not too bright. Not an once of fat on him. An older man was mowing in front of Jane’s house.

I went downstairs to make coffee.

\ \ \

A good brew heals. I needed healing. Len and I had moved into this house only a week before, under strained circumstances, and he was already 2,400 miles away.

I sat in the nook with my cup and soaked in the warm sunlight. The dream of the dog lingered, the snarl, the spike of fear, the scramble for logic on wakening.

A pack of dogs became one dog. She came from an unexpected direction.

The outside drone of the mowers went on. I enjoyed my cup, and a new thought struck. I wasn’t harmed.

/ / /

The Service placed us here. Len had given more than twenty-five years to the Service, all at mid-level, until now. A scandal, some sordid inside ring, rocked his sector’s HQ. One agent was put on psychiatric leave, several filed for retirement. Len was to receive a transfer and, it seemed, a command, pending training. He’d given evidence to Internals.

\ \ \

We packed, we moved. Life became an avalanche. I hadn’t imagined, until we arrived, that the location — the Service base, the house, everything — was a downgrade. The swimming pool and privacy fence were the two features that could make the house bearable.

“Len, is the Service screwing us?”

“Have you lost your clearance?”

“No.”

“Then c’mon, Con.”

“If you’ve done the right thing, why are we here?”

“We’re discreetly out of sight.”

“You’ll be on the west coast, I’ll be discreetly out of sight. Are we being watched?”

“This is a lay over, Con, a few months. And no, no guardians.”

“I feel like I’m being parked.”

“We have five days, Con.”

He placed a hand on my shoulder. “You’re saying you feel parked because you’re mad, Con. But you’re one of the steadiest people I know. So, just sit tight. It won’t be all that long and things’ll get a lot better.” Both hands were on my shoulders and he wanted eye contact. “Say good?”

“Good.”

/ / /

He flew out late yesterday. Before driving to the airport, we opened a bottle of wine in the kitchen and drank a glass to the day of his return.

“To fortitude,” he said.

I told him how much I would miss him and asked for a quickie, a memory to take to bed with me while he was gone.

He checked his watch and said we were already late. He drove, and on the way I slid my hand over his thigh to play with him through his pant leg and maybe offer him something more.

“Since when are you so horny?” he said. His tone said to knock it off.

I said, “Our life has been yanked out from under us, Len, and I don’t have a real clue as to why. And you’re leaving me alone in this backwater house, and I need to feel grounded in some way. Your affection grounds me.”

At the departure curb he pecked me on the lips and said twice that he loved me and that he’d connect through a Service channel tomorrow.

He said, “Be strong, Con,” as though he’d left me a choice.

\ \ \

I returned from the airport, and took the unfinished bottle of wine out to the pool. I left the lights off, and the buzz of insects filled the night. A warm breeze even carried a trace of skunk.

The moon was shining through high clouds and the water reflected the sky in color, like a tinted photograph. I felt utterly miserable and began to cry, meaning to keep my tears to myself.

My neighbor’s voice came through the fence. “Are you all right?”

I went silent, frozen, until she asked ortaköy escort again, “Are you okay there?”

“I’m okay,” I said. “Yes. Sorry. You must think that a crazy just moved in.”

“Just someone who’s sad. I’m Jane. Do you want someone to talk to?”

“No, thank you, no, Jane,” I said. “I’m just about over it.”

“Sure?”

“Connie. I’m Connie. Len, my husband, just left for eight weeks. I’m feeling sorry for

myself, that’s all.”

“It’s funny to have this conversation without being able to see each other. Is there anything I can do?”

“No. Thanks. That’s kind of you, but — I’m … It’s fine.”

“We should meet soon and properly introduce ourselves.”

“I’d like that. Thank you, Jane. Sorry.”

We said goodnight. I went into the house to put myself to bed, but found I couldn’t sleep. I lit the portable screen and watched a bad movie known for its erotic undertones. In my sour mood, only the seediness came through. I fell asleep around 1, then, around 5, surfaced enough from sleep to wish that I wouldn’t wake again, not for a day, not for a month, not until a looming sense of loneliness, an approaching cyclone, was gone. The dogs came growling before 9.

Over the cold dregs of my second cup I told myself, Stay busy — work, unpack, organize. Hire a landscaper. Meet Jane.

/ / /

I ran some errands later that day, bought a few essentials and groceries, and found a note in the mail slot when I returned.

Connie, I am so sorry if the lawn guys woke

you up this morning. I should have warned

you last night, but, sorry, I forgot all about

it in feeling empathy. (Ironic, right?)

Let me make it up to you. I’ll be home

all afternoon today. Please come over when-

ever you want to (if you still want to!). Jane

After sorting things away, I crossed the yard to accept her invitation.

\ \ \

The fence had an artisanal cedar gate that had become a trellis for runaway vines. Surprisingly, a previous occupant of the house had added a metal latch to this side of the gate, and padlocked it, leaving the key in place to rust shut. I found some aerosol lubricant in a tool box in the garage and applied it with the straw, then worked the key and worked the key, minutely, until finally it turned. After a few strong tugs, the shank came free. Incredibly, as I lifted the lock, the original wood latch slid open, as if activated. Before I could make sense of it, the gate swung open.

There hadn’t been time to get up. Framed in the gate stood a tall, sun drenched angel with red hair.

“Connie?” she said, “Hi! I’m Jane.”

/ / /

Since I had makings for salad and sandwiches, she joined me for a late lunch. We ate by the pool, in the shade of the big umbrella. She was a mix of surprises, youthful, mature, uninhibited, sometimes direct, sometimes not. We split a cold drink. Conversation came easily.

“Where’d your husband go?” she said.

“He’s with the Service.”

“Oh. And he’s gone a while.”

“It’s been worse.”

“And you only just moved in. What’ll you do to cope?”

“I work. I keep busy.”

“You have a job?”

“I work at home. Transcription.”

“Oh, wow. Aren’t there apps for that?”

“Great ones, but I’m not obsolete yet.”

“Secret stuff?”

“Classifieds? No, nothing like that.”

“When your husband’s away — does absence make the heart grow fonder?”

“Too much can make it grow angry.”

“So what do you do?” Jane said.

“I love him. We manage all right.”

Jane sat back. “I love your pool,” she said.

“Use it anytime you like.”

She lit up. “Really?”

“Sure, really.”

“Like, should I just check in with you first?”

“Use your judgment, Jane.”

“Today?”

“Now, if you want.”

She laughed and asked if I wanted to share another drink. From the kitchen, I heard her

dive into the pool.

She was still in the water, watching me bring a towel, a light robe and the drink. She

grinned, hugging the side of the pool so that I could see only her head and arms. Clothes were strewn over her chair, panties on top. As I approached the edge, she pushed off the side and arched into a long backstroke, arms languidly wheeling and long legs pedaling without hurry. Not a stitch on her. Jane with skin glowing in the water, her lines so long and slim, her hands and ribs and endlessly long thighs and shins and feet. Pink puffy nipples, following the movement of her arms. Pubis shaved.

She swam the length, then back, then climbed out directly in front of me with a sheen of water sliding off of her. She laughed as she took the towel from me.

“You said now.”

She wrapped the towel around her hair without bothering to dry her body, and seemed to enjoy me watching her. She took the robe and put it on, then half-flashed her chest before closing it and tying the belt.

“Put your shades on and you’ll look like a movie star,” I said.

Jane took the drink from my hand and chugged half the bottle, handing pendik escort it back with a satisfied, “Ahhhhhhh.” She sat down and crossed her legs so that her robe fell open to the hip.

“Don’t you swim?” she said.

“Len’ll like to. It’ll be easy on his knees.”

“Do you always wear a suit?”

“I do, for sure. You can get away with it, you’re built like a thoroughbred.”

“Like a horse?”

I touched her wrist. “You’re toned, sleek.”

She touched mine. “You called me a horse.”

“Jane, you’re — look at you — you’re gorgeous — you’re …. Me, I’m a mess.”

She leaned close. “You are a beautiful woman, Connie. Don’t you say otherwise.”

She took my hands and squeezed, a tiny pact between us.

Then she said, “If you haven’t gotten naked in your pool yet, I think it’s about time.”

She stood up, unwrapped the towel from her hair, and dropped the robe.

“Wouldn’t your husband be excited to know that you skinny-dipped with your thoroughbred neighbor?” she said.

“He’d go awol to come back.”

“Ha. You could torture him when you connect.” She walked to the deep end of the pool and stepped onto the diving board. “Do you have tele sex with him?”

“You have to be joking.”

“Ever?”

“Not in this lifetime.”

With easy grace, she took a long stride, bounced from the end of the board and dove into the water. Her dive took her the length of the pool and she surfaced close to where I stood. Resting her chin on her hands, she said, “I like sex of any kind.”

\ \ \

Next Wednesday I was awake before mowers and dogs could invade my dreams. Mid-coffee, I heard the landscaper’s jangling trailer pull up on the street in front of Jane’s house. It seemed a good idea to catch them before they got started, so I crossed the gate into Jane’s yard, taking my cup with me. I balked for an instant at the sight of the same shirtless teen as the week before, not an ounce of fat on him, standing ready to yank the start cord of his mower. What I had not seen that first time was the obscenely short length of the cut-offs he wore, short enough to show the bottom of the linings of his pockets.

He raised his shades as though giving me some kind of street appraisal as I approached him. I wanted to see him up close, take a measure of him, indulge my curiosity.

“Morning,” I said. “Who’s in charge?”

“You kin talk to me,” he said.

“Is the business open to new clients, new customers?”

“Ah, yeah. Sure.”

“Can I schedule a regular time, like on a weekly basis?”

He pointed vaguely toward the gate.

“You live …?”

“On the other side of the fence.”

“Yeah. With the pool.”

“You know the place?”

“Just, you know …” He snapped out of it. “We offer different levels of landscaping

services.”

“Mowing, trimming, mulching when it needs it. The usual.”

“We can prob’ly do you right after we do this place.”

“Okay, so who do I see about a contract?”

“For that you got to talk to the man up front.”

I thanked him — why not, and walked away. It had been a struggle not to eye him up

and down while we were talking. The older gent in front gave me a card and told me to call the office and everything could be arranged. Though I hadn’t asked, he told me that the house was owned by an older couple, who were away on an extended leave, intimating that Jane was somehow a squatter in their home. It wasn’t any of his business, or mine, and I didn’t pursue it.

Mr. Cut-offs waved as I was leaving. The bottoms of his pocket linings shone like cat smiles against his lightly roasted thighs.

/ / /

By late afternoon the air was steaming. It had become a day of windless, humid heat. For the most part I worked inside with the air conditioning set at tolerable. Jane called at around 4 to say she had just gotten home and wanted to swim to cool off.

“Bring a ton of ice,” I said.

I wore my one-piece and waited for her under the shade umbrella with two cold ones.

She came through the gate in a tube top and cutoffs. Straightaway, she stripped them off next to me. No panties.

“You’re the best!” she said, grabbing her bottle and drinking. She was standing a little more than an arm-length away, head back and elbow up. Sunlight caught the fine hairs along the outline of her body. Breasts so perky, her nipples pointing up. Cleft nearly visible.

“You’re a box of surprises, Jane.”

“Ahhh …” Jane set her bottle on the table and said, “I’ve been waiting all day for this.”

She turned and dove into the water with her legs parted enough to show full cleft before disappearing under the splash.

I stood up to watch her. She surfaced at the far end and said, “You have to come in. It’s like body temperature.”

“I’ll jump in soon enough.”

A pursed look crossed her face. She swam back, climbed out of the pool and left a dripping trail as she circled behind me.

She hooked her fingers under the shoulder straps of my suit. “Off it comes,” she said and, before şerifali escort I could react, she peeled it to my waist.

“You’re stripping me?

As I covered up, she placed a warm palm on my back.

“You’re hot, Connie.”

“The suit’s not the problem,” I said.

She knelt and peeled the fabric over my hips and down to my ankles. The only thing to do was step out of it. With a pat to my bottom — encouragement to move — she said, “Go.”

Then, exhilaration — the plunge without clothes! The easy glide under tepid water. The rise to hot, dense air and the blurry sight of Jane, poolside, naked, laughing in the shade.

\ \ \

At about seven we each had a glass of wine and ate inside, mostly salad, never actually getting dressed after our swim but continuing to wear robes only. The air outside cooled after sundown and we walked back to the pool with our wine.

“You were crying out here when we first met.”

“And drinking.”

“Heartbroken.”

“Not the usual way people become friends.”

“I felt a real connection straight off.”

I put my hand on Jane’s shoulder and said, “Meeting you has been a god-send.”

We paused at that, sitting quietly until Jane said, “First marriage?”

“Second for both.”

“Did getting married change sex for you?” she said. “I mean, does it stay the same or does it get worse or does it get better?”

I told her that it expresses a deeper love.

“Does that, like, liberate you?”

“It does me. It’s bonding too. Satisfaction becomes more emotional. It’s not so much him and me, it’s us. “

“It doesn’t get boring?”

“Not if I can help it.”

“You can ask for what you want?”

“Well … we know each other.”

“When he’s away and you’re alone like this, do you, like, fantasize?”

“Sometimes, sure.”

“When you masturbate?”

“Jane …”

“Everybody masturbates. And so … when you do, you know, do it, what do you think about?”

“The usual?”

“There is no usual,” she said, leaning close enough that her breath brushed my ear. “Isn’t there some kind of sex that tickles you deep in the tummy? Something that you want, but are afraid to let happen because you’re afraid it would absolutely destroy you?”

“Wow. I’m not sure, Jane.”

“There is for me.”

“‘Destroy’ is a good thing?”

“The best. Do you like sucking or being sucked?”

“It depends . . . Both. I’m not about to ask you.”

“I’d rather be eaten any day. Or just out and out fucked!” She laughed, then looked me in the eye with a mock-serious expression. “Are you completely ‘nillo?”

“I’m not sure what ‘nillo is.”

“It’s bland.”

“Then I hope not. Not with my husband, no.”

“You hope not?”

“I’m no prude.”

“Then tell me something sexy that you like.” She laughed. “Make it dirty.”

“Jane, I don’t know where to start.”

“Oh, you’re a lying liar, Connie liar. Start with — okay, start with the alpha and omega of all things to guys.”

“The penis.”

“Their dicks, yeah.”

“Wow. Okay. Their dicks. The penis … I kind of like … No, I really do like the feel of it … of Len, you know … his penis in my hand,” I said. “Playing with it, you know, holding it …”

“Jerkin’ it.”

“Playing with it in lots of ways.”

“The way it grows, gets hard.”

“The way, you know, that tension builds.”

“Handjobs are fun,” Jane said.

“I feel like I can be more in control.”

“Like when it throbs, but doesn’t come.”

“The way his balls bounce. The way it smells.”

“Do you like to give head?” she asked.

“Not so much.”

“The taste?”

“I just get more pleasure using my hands. I feel more creative that way. Control, you know?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I like to watch what’s happening.”

“If you could give someone other than your husband a handjob, who would it be?”

“That’s an awful question, Jane. I can’t imagine doing it.”

“A celebrity maybe?”

“No celebrities.”

“An old boyfriend?”

“Nooo. Better a stranger.”

“A stranger … oh, like Bryce?”

“Bryce?”

“The lawn guy.”

I felt flush. In my head flashed the image of Mr. Cut-offs, now Bryce, and the grins on his thighs — the tip of his penis peeking through frayed denim.

“I bet he’s got a big one,” she said.

“Be quiet now, shush. That’s shameful.”

“Why?”

“My god, Jane. I’d never cheat, let alone do something like that.”

“You’re blushing like blazes. Tell me you’ve never thought about fucking or blowing a

stranger or giving an anonymous handjob.”

“Now you’re just being wicked,” I said.

“I’ll tell you what would be wicked.” She snuggled against me and whispered, “I’ll tell you what would be absolutely wicked.”

I asked, unable to help myself. “What?”

Jane grinned and made a loose, blurry fist.

“If we jacked him off together.”

She meant to be funny, but I felt alarm and an urge to run. The joke was a signal of willing recklessness, hers and mine. I stood up and gathered the bottles.

“You have an unorthodox imagination, Jane.”

“That’s a fact.”

“And you look like such an angel.”

“Don’t be fooled.”

“It must be midnight,” I said.

“The witching hour.”

“Thank you, Jane.”

“For what?”

“The visit, the evening, your company.”

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