By rights, Laura could easily have chosen to be angry and resentful over the u-turn her life has taken. But the very strength and depth of character that were born of despair and injustice are exactly what draws the attention of one who deserves her. Let Debbie Dodge take you on a walk through one woman’s journey on the road to love on A Day In St. John’s.
Welcome. And, enjoy!
A Day In St. John’s
by Debbie Dodge
How long had it been since Laura had taken the opportunity to walk across St. John’s Bridge? She gazed up at the gothic arches painted a soft, mossy green, and was amazed yet again by the grace of their sweep and how well the bridge complemented the dark greens of the park beyond. Laura had lived in Portland, Oregon, all her life, but the beauty of it was never lost on her. Stopping at midspan, Laura leaned against the railing and peered at the Willamette River below, so wide, deep, and fast moving, tugboats adeptly escorting larger, bulky vessels across its surface.
It was summer now, a time when Portland was the best place to live on Earth, in Laura’s opinion. The skies were turquoise blue with puffy white marshmallow clouds, and the air was warm and breezy. Perfect weather, really, for a walk. So why had it been so many years? Laura sighed and pushed away from the railing, continuing her way across the span.
Today, she just had to get out of the house. It was small and old and somewhat oppressive, not charming like usual. Laura knew it was just her disgust with having to share her two little sunshines with their daddy and his new wife, now affectionately called, “Mommy Sarah.” Laura groaned aloud and shoved her hands in her pockets. It had been three years, so of course the kids were calling that woman Mom. They didn’t know she was a home wrecker who had stolen her husband of two decades, nor did they care.
Ben, her ex, was now a surgeon. Laura had met him in college while studying chemistry, and it had been love at first sight, or at least lust at first sight. They had been serendipitously placed at the same lab bench, and had fallen madly in love as only 20 year olds can do. They had spent every moment together those last two years of college, and had married immediately upon graduation. Medical school was both expensive and time consuming, so Laura had been the one to get a job working as a pharmacy technician while Ben continued his years of medical school, specialization, and then residency. Once he finally graduated, however, their roles had reversed, and Laura had stayed home full time and they had created a family, a son Zach, now 13, and a daughter Emma, now 10.
Perhaps Laura should have seen it coming. Ben had been little more than a source of income for years. He worked long hours, including weekends, and Laura had contented herself with raising the children alone. She had a beautiful home in Forest Heights, housekeeping service, landscaping service, private school for Zach and Emma, and a gym membership she availed herself of three times a week. She kept a nice home and tried to stay fit and trim to garner some interest from Ben, but when he finally did get home, he was always exhausted, often collapsing in the guest bedroom rather than waking her at midnight.
But the shock of his confessing to an affair still lingered. Like a horrible cliché, Sarah was the front desk receptionist at his office, cute and twenty something. She worshiped Ben and hung on his every word, staying late to massage his neck after a hard day. Laura rolled her eyes at that and kept walking, turning at the end of the bridge to enter the park below, aptly named Cathedral Park for the buttresses that mimicked the gothic arches above.
Without so much as an, “I’m sorry,” Ben had walked out of her life and into the waiting arms of Sarah. The divorce had been brutal, leaving Laura destitute and with joint custody of the children. At least Ben and Sarah had seen fit to keep Zach and Emma in their private school. They even kept the house in Forest Heights, to “minimize the disruption” in the kids’ lives, but Laura knew Sarah loved being able to rub that in her face. Laura had had to find a job, working at a local clinical lab, and she had purchased a small 1930s home with a great view of the river and St. John’s Bridge. It was small, but Laura found she liked the coziness of it, at least most of the time, if not today.
This week, the kids were off with Ben and Sarah on a trip to Disneyworld, staying in a luxury Disney resort in Florida. Ben had never had time for vacations when Laura was married to him, so as much as she begrudged Sarah access to her kids, at least Sarah forced Ben to spend time with them. That was a blessing. Laura decided to stop thinking about her solitude and how much she missed her children and just enjoy the day. The sunlight shafted beneath the bridge, highlighting a small maple framed by the stone arch of the buttress. The grass was green and the trees all about inviting, but it was the middle of the day on a Sunday, so few people were out. An elderly couple walked their small white dog, Laura smiled with a bit of envy as they clasped hands. And a couple of college age girls were sunbathing in skimpy bikinis while reading.
Laura angled towards the river. She had a favorite place along the pier where she liked to sit and watch the boat traffic go by. Today, however, the pier was occupied by a man standing in what appeared to be deep thought, gazing out across the water. Laura started to veer away towards the abandoned train tracks instead, but then stopped. She knew this man. How could she mistake that height and those broad shoulders? She had stared at that frame nonstop for the past six months since he had joined the lab, and she had to admit, he looked damn good in his low slung jeans that gently curved his butt and lightly outlined his muscled thighs. He was wearing a sweater, pushed up at the elbows and had his hands tucked in both pockets. She glanced up at his wavy dark hair and knew if he turned she would see cobalt blue eyes framed my dark lashes and full lips that made her a little crazy. Yes, Mark was a fine specimen of the male species, and Laura had spent more than one day fantasizing about his lips, hands, and well, other parts. Laura blushed, and turned to walk away. He obviously wanted some quiet time alone, and so did she, didn’t she?
“Laura?” Marks voice came from behind her. She turned to see him walking briskly towards her. When he reached her, he grabbed her hand, “What a pleasant coincidence!” he smiled, making her feel weak in the knees.
“Yes, well um, hi Mark,” Laura managed, distracted by the warm strength of his hand. He hadn’t let go and was now walking beside her as if they had arranged this rendezvous. “I live just across the river and today looked like a lovely day for a walk,” Laura nodded inwardly. That was a more coherent response.
“It is a beautiful day, that’s for sure,” Mark agreed. He had a soft, deep voice with just a hint of Southern in it. Laura had been curious about his roots from day one. “I’m renting an apartment just over there,” he nodded in the general direction, “and I come out here as often as I can to watch the boats travel by.”
Laura gazed at him amazed, forgetting to be stunned that he still held her hand as they navigated the railroad tracks and continued along the shoreline. To think she could have run into him months ago if she had only been walking instead of sulking whenever the kids were with their father. “You know, I’ve lived here my whole life, and this is my favorite place. I like to sit out on the pier where you were standing and pretty much do the same thing, watch the boats. It’s therapeutic somehow.”
Mark stopped walking and turned to look at Laura. God, his eyes were stunning, the most fantastic shade of blue with gold and amber flecks. It was like looking into the clear blue ocean and seeing the bottom. Right now, those eyes were scanning her face, evaluating something. Then, he brought his hand up under her shoulder length wheat-colored hair and hugged the back of her neck. With just the slightest hesitation, he leaned in and kissed her. At first it was light, testing, but when Laura responded and put her hands to his shoulders to steady herself, he plunged, deepening the kiss and pulling Laura’s body against his with his other arm, tipping her backward and forcing her to cling to him for balance.
The world began to tilt, and Laura was consumed by it. Never in her life had she been kissed like that. Perhaps she had never really been kissed at all until that moment. It was exotic and erotic and had her moaning with pleasure. She wrapped her arms about his neck and just sank in deeper, needing this feeling to last forever. Slowly, Mark released her, holding her by the hips to steady her as she came up out of the haze. Her lips felt soft and swollen and her breathing was ragged.
“What was that for?” she asked as she regained her balance and was able to open her eyes.
A slow smile spread across his luscious lips, creating tiny dimples in each cheek. “Well, ma’am, I’ve been wanting to know what you tasted like from the moment I first saw you, and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity a moment longer.” With that he reached for her hand again, kissed it, and began walking again. Laura hid a smile and followed.
“Wow! That was some kiss, if you don’t mind my saying so!” Laura blushed a little, which seemed silly at her age, but how else did someone respond to such a thing?
“Now, a country boy doesn’t kiss and tell, but I’ve had some practice,” Mark laughed softly. “I just figured you’d prefer a kiss outside of the lab, although I was getting a bit desperate to find you alone and plant one on you.” Laura smiled at how his Southern drawl had become more pronounced. He was obviously just as flustered by the kiss as she had been.
Laura had been fantasizing over that and more where Mark was concerned. They had been having an all lab meeting, and Laura was late, trying to finish pipetting some samples into vials. She had walked in harried and preoccupied, scanning the room to see if she had missed anything important by the faces of those around her. And her gaze had fallen upon Mark. He had risen from his chair and stared straight into her eyes, shaking her hand and introducing himself as the new director of regulatory affairs. He may have said more, but Laura had been worrying about drool falling from her chin. The man looked great in a suit and tie, but she had to admit he was even better looking today. Those jeans certainly hadn’t cloaked his obvious attraction to her.
“Where are we going?” she asked, realizing they had covered quite a bit of ground while she thought about him.
“Do you have plans?” he replied, seeming to know she had none. Nor did he seem to be willing to disclose anything to her.
“Um, no, but…” she tried.
“Good, because I do!” Again he smiled that slow grin of his, and Laura knew she would follow him anywhere, perhaps foolish, but true.
Laura laughed and stepped in beside him to wherever they were headed. It had been forever since she had done anything spontaneous, not had every moment scheduled from dawn until dark. This felt like an adventure, and she needed that more than she had realized. Their conversation became light and easy as they emerged onto a side street and up in amongst the small commerce area of the St John’s neighborhood. Not much had changed since Laura had lived here as a child.
Mark suddenly came to a halt in front of a little store, “La Panaderia”, with windows painted with a menu of Mexican food offerings, “TACOS”, “BURRITOS”, “TAMALES”. Laura glanced at Mark and he was smiling at her again, “Hungry? Or should I say, ‘Tienes hambre?’” Laura’s stomach growled in spite of herself, making Mark grin broadly as he tugged her into the shop. The front of the store was groceries, but the back had what looked like a deli counter, except the food offerings were all hot and smelling mouth-watering good. Mark motioned to the tiny woman behind the counter, who began chatting with him in rapid Spanish and inclining her head in Laura’s direction. Mark slung his arm about Laura’s shoulders and he and the tiny woman shared a laugh. Somewhere in there, Laura heard something about tamales, which were promptly produced in a little bag, paid for, and they were off again, continuing down the streets of town.
“I take it you go there often?” Laura inquired, wondering how long she’d have to wait before diving into the delectable smells emanating from the bag. Mark nodded noncommittally, his mind focused on their unknown destination, or so Laura assumed. They meandered along the river bluff of town to a small courtyard that had pretty wrought iron benches painted white with a view overlooking the river. Laura sighed, and took a seat. The walk up had been a bit strenuous, and memories of a simpler childhood were making her nostalgic. She had probably run past this spot a hundred times and never noticed this little courtyard, and here a newcomer had found it and used it regularly.
“This is the second best view around. I like it when the river is busy with fisherman and pleasure boats,” Mark began, digging in the bag and producing two tamales, proffering one to Laura. They ate in silence for a minute, enjoying the view, both of them quickly devouring the tasty morsels of cornbread and pork. “I think if I move, it will be up here.”
“Oh? Are you planning to move?”
“Not really. I like being next to the water. I spent my entire childhood in Texas, where it was hot, dry, and dusty. So then I moved to Chicago for school and got my fill of cold, wet, and flat. Now, I couldn’t be happier just being here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I envy you for having lived here always.” He turned and looked at Laura again, his eyes lingering on her mouth and making her throat go dry. “I’d like to kiss you again,” he almost whispered.
Laura couldn’t reply, so she just placed her hands on the bench and leaned towards him, wishing the tamale bag wasn’t between them. Mark must have felt the same, because he deftly whisked the bag behind him and slid across the open space in one fluid movement, his thigh coming to rest against hers with warm heat.
If the last kiss had been unbelievable, this one was mind blowing. Mark took his time, cupping his hands to either side of her face, kissing her lips slowly, then more insistently, his tongue gently pushing against her teeth until her mouth opened and their tongues could taste each other. This time, he let out a groan, and pulled Laura into his lap, one arm sliding beneath her shirt up her back, gently scratching her skin as his fingers worked the clasp of her bra.
Laura let out a breathless gasp as her breasts sprang free and his other hand came under her shirt to cradle one of them, as if weighing its fullness. His thumb brushed across the nipple while his tongue continued to probe in and out of her mouth, making Laura go limp with achy need and pleasure. To be ravished in broad daylight was just more than her senses could take, and she felt herself grow warm and wet as he switched to her other breast.
“Mark! Oh God, Mark!” Laura heard herself cry out, as she trembled on the precipice of release. Mark gently eased back, straightening her shirt and smiling into her eyes with that easy grin of his.
“Sorry, I just got a bit carried away again. You do that to me,” he said by way of explanation.”
“I barely know you,” Laura breathed, feeling jittery and out of control. She had wanted him to stop, right? What kind of woman made out in public with a virtual stranger, even if that stranger had been a source of fantasy for six months?
“Have another tamale, and I’ll tell you about myself,” Mark offered with not a shred of remorse. He seemed enormously pleased with the turn of events. Laura climbed out of his lap, reached underneath to reclasp her bra, then decided she might as well take a tamale. It wasn’t like she could play coy now. But she couldn’t exactly form a coherent thought while sitting in his lap with her breasts heaving.
Mark began, “So I grew up in Waco, Texas, the youngest of four and the only boy.” He paused to pop an entire tamale like a small snack and licked his lips and the tips of his fingers, making Laura squirm with desire. “My sister’s friends thought I was cute, and they took turns educating me on how to kiss and the like,” he smiled, “and I found I rather enjoyed it. But one by one they graduated from high school and went off to college or got married, and I began to look around my little town and feel as if I was meant for bigger and better things. So, I headed up to Chicago and got a degree in biomedical engineering,” he smiled again at her raised, surprised eyebrows. “So what am I doing in regulatory affairs? Well, it turns out I’m way better at keeping things safe, sterile, and properly paperworked than I am at designing them, so I switched.”
“How did you end up in Portland?” Laura wondered aloud. She couldn’t imagine a good looking man in his early forties could have stayed single for so long.
As if reading her mind, Mark answered, “I was married for a long time. My wife started getting antsy when I wanted to start a family, and the more I pushed, the more she backed away. After awhile, she starting having affairs and one night stands even, trying to get me to leave her. When she left the last time with one of my best buddies, I told her to stay gone. We’ve been divorced for over five years now, and I’ve been living life as a monk, thus the reason I probably attacked you like I did, not that I regret it.” His grin turned devilish now, as if considering doing it again, but Laura placed a hand on his chest.
“Continue,” she said with a laugh.
“If you insist!” Mark retorted, wiggling his eyebrows and making Laura wish she didn’t insist. “So, I buried myself in my work for years and then woke up one day and realized I had turned forty. I had no one and nothing to show for it, and I decided to make some changes. I got out an atlas and decided I wanted to live near the coast, in a place with mild temperatures, lots of green, and jobs for a guy with my skills. And I landed in Portland. It took me a few months to find a job here, but from the first day I started, I knew it was destiny. I met you.”
Laura blushed, dumbfounded by the compliment. “Believe me, I’m not all that interesting. I’m a divorced mother of two with a penchant for sulking, so don’t think more of me than I am.”
“You are a beautiful, vibrant woman with two gorgeous children, Zach and Emma, whom you adore and who adore you. I envy your bond with them every time they come to the lab, dropped off by who should be their older sister but is probably the mistress. I see your strength of character, always being polite and civil to her for the sake of your kids, and I knew I wanted to be a part of your life.”
“But you’ve always been so professional and respectfully distant, until today of course,” Laura blushed, “why didn’t you ever ask me out?”
“Why do you think I was standing down by the river yet again? I’ve been trying for months to find a way to get you to myself so I could ask you out. I was considering kidnapping you this time, and then there you were, my deepest desire materialized before my eyes.”
“You were thinking about me? Do you have any idea how I’ve fantasized about you?”
“No, but I’d sure like to find out. How about we act out some of these fantasies of yours?” Mark’s grin was positively wicked now.
“Whoa, there! Contrary to evidence to the contrary, I don’t usually make out with guys on the first date. In fact, I don’t date! Or at least I haven’t since my divorce, or before my marriage, really. I married young, you see,” Laura rambled on, not knowing how to control her wild imaginations.
Mark just smiled and took her hand, pulling her up from the bench. Giving her hand a quick peck, he gathered the trash with his other hand and tossed it into the drum as he walked Laura out of the park. “I don’t think anything at all, Laura. I just want to get to know you better.” With that, he began chatting casually, swinging their joined hands as he walked back towards town, then beyond the bridge to some new townhouses that had sprung up along the waterfront in recent years.
Soon, they were standing in front of a brick and yellow colored townhouse. Mark turned and took both of Laura’s hands in his, walking backwards up the steps, releasing her hand only long enough to unlock the front door before gently coaxing her inside. Laura’s heart beat wildly, knowing she had only to hesitate or voice an objection, and Mark would let her leave. But his eyes looked into hers with such longing and fierce desire, Laura felt transported. She was young, free, desirable, and uninhibited in those eyes, and she wanted to see herself as he did.
The apartment was clean and modernly furnished in rectangular black leathers, satin nickel finishes, and glass. There were no curtains on the windows, and the view of the river was breathtaking. Laura’s gaze swept the room, coming to rest upon a piece of framed artwork hung above the fireplace. Laura crossed to it, not believing what she was seeing.
It was a colored pencil drawing of a woman with two children, obviously drawn by Emma with its signature oversized daisies with smiling faces in each flower center. The woman was holding the children’s hands, smiling, as were the two children, a boy and a girl. At the bottom, in neat, but childish print, it said, “My Family.” Laura’s eyes teared up and her voice caught in her throat. Immediately, Mark’s hands were upon her shoulders, caressing, as he kissed her on top of her head. “Where did you get this?” Laura asked, leaning back into his warm frame.
“Emma made it for me as a gift a few months back,” Mark whispered into her hair, “and I loved it so much, I had it framed. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind? How could I mind?” Laura swiveled in his arms and put her arms around his neck. “That has to be the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me, and I didn’t even know.”
This time, Laura kissed Mark, opening his mouth and nibbling on his tongue, letting her hands glide across his chest and down his torso, grabbing at the waistband of his jeans to pull him closer to her. Mark groaned and swept Laura into his arms, carrying her up the stairs two steps at a time. His eagerness made Laura laugh aloud, screeching as he unceremoniously dropped her on the bed, quickly crawling over her, caging her with his knees and arms. Laura reached up and dug her fingers into his wavy dark hair, watching his eyes darken with passion as she pulled his mouth to hers. He kissed her deeply, drunkenly, then pulled back, dragging his sweater off his head in a single motion.
His body was like granite, chiseled in all the right places from what must be a daily workout regimen. Laura’s fingers spread over his muscled chest, feeling his nipples harden beneath her touch. He then reached down and began to slowly, tortuously unbutton her blouse from the bottom, kissing each piece of flesh as it became exposed. Reaching the bra, he paused to place his mouth over the nipple, sucking the silky fabric until moist, repeating with the other nipple, Laura’s hands holding his head in place as her body began to writhe in ecstasy. Mark eased the blouse from her shoulders, pinning her arms behind her as he continued to kiss her chest and shoulders, using her other hand to slip beneath the lacy edges of her bra to knead her now hardened nipples. Feeling she could take no more, Laura cried out his name, and he obliged by kissing her deeply, freeing her hands by removing her blouse, then pulling her up to him so he could unfasten her bra.
Laura had always felt uncomfortable with her ample chest, which seemed out of proportion with her small frame, but Mark smiled in obvious approval, circling each one with a finger, stroking them gently with his thumbs and he held their weight in his hands. “God, you’re incredible,” he breathed hoarsely before kissing her again.
Impatient for more, Laura tugged at his jeans, and this time he let her. She pulled the top button loose and slid down the zipper, revealing silky red boxers. A crook of her eyebrow, and he shrugged, standing to remove his jeans and shoes. “I like silk,” he said without apology. He grabbed Laura by the thighs of her pants and yanked her towards him across the bed, her legs encircling him. Using his hands, he searched around and found the slim zipper in the side of her slacks and slid them down and off, removing her flats as he did so. This time, it was his turn to crook an eyebrow, as he grabbed both bare cheeks in his hands and began to stroke the exposed flesh.
“I don’t like panty lines,” she offered in explanation.
“Praise the Lord for making thong underwear,” he said, whistling in appreciation.
Mark helped Laura stand, stroking his hands down her bare thighs, and she pulled his boxers down, admiring the sight of him. Reaching out she touched him lightly, hesitantly, not knowing if it was okay, and he groaned again, devouring her mouth in a crushing kiss. Not able to hold back any longer, he picked Laura up off the floor, swinging her around against the wall, allowing her to wrap her legs about him. With one hand, he swept the small bit of lace out of the way and with the other guided himself into her in one long stroke. There against the wall, Laura experienced a fulfillment she hadn’t known was possible. It made her want to laugh and cry all at the same time, and she didn’t want it to end.
As his knees began to buckle with his release, he pulled Laura against him and crawled onto the bed, holding her tight to his chest. She thought he’d pull away then, but he didn’t. Instead, he just released her enough to roll her over, then tucked her back against his body, pulling a blanket throw over both of them.
Laura must have fallen asleep, for when she woke, the long shafts of evening sun were slanting through the window. She was still snuggled up against the warm length of Mark, and she smiled into his arm.
“Hey,” he said into her thoroughly mussed hair.
“Hey yourself,” Laura answered, rolling over to look into his stunning eyes. He looked content and happy, much like Laura felt.
“You are simply the most amazing woman I have ever met,” he said, leaning in to kiss the tip of her nose. “Where have you been all my life?”
“I don’t know,” Laura replied. “I guess I just needed to take a walk to St. John’s.” And with that, she snuggled into Mark’s warmth, and they both fell back asleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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