(This story was originally published in 2012 in three parts. I’m re-publishing it here, with its audio version, as a complete text, as I update the fiction on this site.)
Tanya was a pretty, yet plain woman. The only thing that set her apart from the crowd was her hair — a fiery orange-red and naturally curly. She kept it long only because she had no other choice. If she cut it, she’d be sporting an afro, which she felt would look odd atop her 5’7″, 140 pound, translucently pale and abundantly freckled frame. She wore simple, dark clothing and avoided patterns, figuring her hair was resplendent enough. Even her eyes seem to know better and kept themselves to a light gray most days.
She worked downtown as a legal secretary (not the kind you have an affair with, mind you). Her organizational skills and attention to detail were unmatched, and while others seem to come and go like the daily news, Tanya had held her position for nearly 15 years.
She was single, by choice, having not yet met a man equal to her expectations. Besides, she was shy and bookish and didn’t get out much.
As she boarded the early bus, she glanced quickly to the back hoping to find her usual seat empty. A creature of habit, she became nervous and agitated when things took a turn toward the unknown. Luckily, her place was available, and she skittered down the aisle. Few people took the bus this early. She intentionally chose this time and route precisely because of that.
Settling into the red vinyl-covered seat, she pulled out her book — a real-deal, hard-bound monster of a thing — and began to read.
She was so engrossed in her novel that the bus’s frequent stops and changing passengers remained a distant, ignorable non-event.
Tanya usually kept time by the sun. A certain slant of light across the page let her know her stop was near. Closing her book, and setting it in her lap, she noticed, for the first time, that a male passenger had taken the seat beside her. Tanya found this odd, since the majority of the seats around her were empty. The only other people on the bus were near the doors, prepared for a convenient and quick exit.
The man, in a grey suit and lavender striped tie, was thin and young. His face was distinguished and clean-shaven. Not a hair was out of place. His manicured hands set lightly on his thighs, and his posture was perfect – erect.
Tanya tried to size the man up with a sideways glance, attempting to avoid eye contact and the possible conversation it could cause. It wasn’t that she was anti-social, but she disliked strangers and hated introductions.
The bus squealed to a stop and let out it’s characteristic “shhhhh” as the doors opened to release her. She stood, dropping her book on the floor. The man bent so expeditiously that Tanya flinched upright to avoid the inevitable collision of heads or hands or some other part of her she was sure she didn’t want touched. He handed the book up to her with a simple, wordless smile.
“Thank you.” It came out as nearly a whisper, her voice still hoarse as she had not yet used it this morning. She cleared her throat and repeated the obligatory response to his civil action, “Thank you.” Her eyes squinted and her lips pursed into the semblance of a smile.
Heaving her brown leather bag onto her shoulder, she weaved her way toward the door. When she got there, she looked back to man. With two fingers to his forehead, he offered her a friendly salute. She nodded in acceptance and exited the bus, slightly annoyed that she’d bothered to glance back at all.
As she walked briskly along the heavily peopled city sidewalk, she looked down only long enough to slip her book back into her bag. She noticed, however, a slip of paper edging out from the top of the book, like a bookmark — something she never used because she always remembered exactly where she left off. Slowing her pace and moving to the edge of the sidewalk nearest the buildings to avoid the mad dash of bodies, she opened the book. It was a black and white, quite obviously professional, photo depicting a nude man reclined on a chaise lounge. Taken aback by the discovery, Tanya nearly dropped her book…and the picture. Instead, she slammed the book closed, the photo still inside, buried the book in her bag, flipped her hair out of her face, and continued on her way. Quite humanly, and involuntarily, however, Tanya felt a nearly-forgotten tingle in her thighs which made her cheeks color. It was a lovely pink blush that washed across her round, pale cheeks, and a very real sensation she hadn’t felt since Jared had gone.
She had a quite solid suspicion that the man in the photo was the man on the bus. She hadn’t looked long enough or closely enough to tell, and the man in the photo had his head turned into the shadows, making it difficult to be sure.
How very odd, she thought to herself, her brow furrowing and her face scrunching up in confusion.
When Tanya finally removed her coat and settled in to her deliciously comfortable and ridiculously expensive leather office chair, she slipped her hand into her bag, retrieving the photograph. Nervously, with the erratic movement of a bird, Tanya opened her top drawer and placed the photo inside, facing up. This gave her the ability to look at the photo and remove it from sight at the slightest noise without appearing too guilty about her actions.
The man was thin, but muscular, holding himself up on his left elbow and looking upward. The light, which appeared to be a ray of sunshine, spotlighted his body, leaving his face shielded by the dark. His body was turned toward the camera, his left leg flush with the chair and extended…his right leg bent, knee pointing up, his left forearm resting on top of it. Between his legs, impossible to ignore, was his erect penis, his testicles seated on his left thigh.
The photo was crisp, the blacks and whites and grays clearly delineated. It wasn’t taken by an amateur. And it didn’t look like the first time this man had posed.
Is it him? She wondered. And if it is, why? Why do I have it? Did he put it in my book? Why on earth would he do that? Even more strangely, If he didn’t put it there, who did? How did it get there?
The time at work couldn’t pass fast enough, and as she half walked, half ran to meet her bus, she nervously considered taking a different route, to avoid any possibility of bumping into the stranger. It was a strange feeling – wanting to confront him and wanting to avoid him at the same time.
When the bus rolled to a stop, the doors opened and passengers poured onto the sidewalk around her. She waited until the entrance was clear and then ascended the three stairs, glancing skittishly to the back of the bus. Her stomach tightened and released, expanding with a small pang of disappointment. With the apprehension gone, she made her way more slowly than usual to the back of the bus, dropping into her seat to resume her novel, exactly where she left off. She leaned to the side, reached into her bag, pulled out her book, opened it, and buried her nose in the pages. But her focus was lacking. It had been all day. She leaned to the side, dropped her book into her bag, and leaned her head back against her seat, eyes closed, and sighed. When she opened her eyes, still directed upward, she saw a black and white photograph taped to the ceiling of the bus, directly above her seat. Her breath caught abruptly, and she nearly pulled a muscle as she whipped her head forward. Looking around, eyes wide, like a cornered cat, she bit upper lip and nearly stopped breathing altogether.
What the fuck? She thought.
Since she arrived at work early, she left early, which meant her ride home was much like her ride there – quiet and generally lacking in human presence. This afternoon was no exception. Grateful for the absence of an audience, she stood up, put one foot on the seat of the chair, steadying herself by grabbing onto the stanchion next to her seat. She snatched the photo from the ceiling and dropped hurriedly back to a seated position, pulling her book back out in order to camouflage the photo within it. Similar to the previous photo, it was of a naked man. This time, full-light, face-showing, blatant and unabashed. Somehow, the man in the photo was both vulnerable and confident, lips parted as if he were about to speak. His eyes exuded heat and nearly burned a hole right through the paper and into Tanya’s flesh. She felt the blush rising from her chest, up her neck, exploding into full bloom on her cheeks.
Good fucking Christ!
She glanced up, like a scared rabbit or a deer in headlights – some sort of easy but quick prey. Her eyes darted forward and side-to-side, making sure no one was watching.
It was, indeed, the man from this morning, as she had suspected. But what on earth was he doing? What kind of game was he playing?
She turned the photo over, an empty hope that the answer to her question would be emblazoned on the back. But, nothing was there. Just a blank and open space, sort of like her face at that instant.
When she made it home, she pulled out both photos and placed them next to each other on her kitchen counter. She poured herself a glass of wine, a deep, dark, hot red she’d saved for years, hoping for just the right occasion. This seemed like the moment…mired in utter confusion and uncontainable curiosity. She felt just a little violated, but not enough to make her afraid. Just enough to taunt a nervous hum under her skin, a vibrant energy, a growing hint of….Dare I admit it?…desire.
Elbows resting on the counter, she leaned forward, one hand around the stem of her glass. She bent her thumb nail between her teeth and continued to gaze at the two photos. They stirred something inside of her. More than anything, it was the mystery that grabbed her. Always a lover of the unknown, her incessant need to “find out” to “solve” made her a slave to the pictures in front of her. They pulled her in, guiding her thoughts and her emotions, and eventually…her hand. She let go of her glass, placed her palm on the edge of the counter as support, and with the other hand, lifted her skirt above her bare thigh. She hated nylons, never wore them, and was thankful now for the easy access to her own flesh that their absence allowed. Her eyes intently glued to the eyes of the man in the newest photo, she slipped her hand inside the crotch of her panties. She was wet, and she wasted no time fooling around. Never one for foreplay, she inserted one finger into her cunt. Then two. Working her fingers inside, the heel of her palm pressed hard against her clit, she tightened every muscle, from her ass to her toes, and came quickly.
It had been a long time since she’d pleased herself. She’d forgotten how good it felt.
The next morning, Tanya made it to the bus stop even earlier than normal, having walked there quickly and with an uncharacteristic determination in her step. It wasn’t quite the expectation that she’d see him, or another photograph; she found herself feeling something she hadn’t felt since she was a girl. Hope. Sheer, blind, disconnected hope. Hope for something unknown. That innocent desire that brings a flutter to the chest and a heaviness to the belly. An anxious, slippery hope…which the bearer knows could just as easily turn to disappointment. So tenuous. So fragile. So delicious.
Her gaze quickly flitted to the back of the bus when she boarded, and when she saw someone sitting in her normal seat, a man, with his head bent forward over a book, her breath faltered. Could it be?
She made her way to the back slowly, both wanting and not wanting to find out.
The man didn’t look up. And since he was in “her” seat, on the aisle, she sat across from him, to his right, one row back. She didn’t want to appear too obvious, especially if it wasn’t him.
She settled in and pulled out her book, not really intending to read. She glanced frequently up at the man out of the corner of her eye. His dark hair curled slightly around his ears and the back of his neck, appearing almost wet, as if he’d just taken a shower. But it was combed cleanly, and his face was bare, perfectly smooth. He looked young, mid to late twenties. Crisp, white cuffs peeked out from beneath his navy blue suit coat. Small, round, silver-rimmed cuff links and a silver, blue-faced watch. Clean manicured nails. Athletic hands. She laughed at herself; what on earth were athletic hands? Where had she come up with that? Maybe she simply assumed that his slender fingers and build were those of a swimmer or a runner. He was not a large man, but he surely had a presence.
The bus lurched to a stop. Tanya instinctively and reflexively put a hand on the seat in front of her to keep herself steady. The man collected his things and stood to exit the bus. He looked at her briefly and smiled.
“Good day, madam.” His eyes sparkled, almost mischievously. Or so it looked it to Tanya.
So formal and polite. His posture rod-straight, his jaw sharp, his teeth white.
She felt herself become wet. So wet, in fact, that she was a little afraid to stand up, for fear that she’d made a spot on the backside of her tan skirt.
“Good day,” she replied to his back – her response almost too late.
He glanced back at her and winked.
Oh, shit, she thought, what am I going to do with this? He’s fucking beautiful.
She could not focus at work that day. All she could think about was the picture she planned to take that night. The photograph she planned to leave for him to find.