Better Judgment
by Gwen Masters

I drove slowly. Carefully. The rain whipped down in a torrent and the windshield wipers fought a bravely lost battle. I couldn't see my own headlights. Somewhere beside me the road dropped off into the River, a swirling beauty turned into a deadly monster by the hand of Mother Nature. I slowly came to a stop, pulling as far off the road as I dared, and turned on my hazard flashers. I sat back in the old leather seat and focused on the downpour that slammed down inches from my face, watched as the drops didn't take the time to explore, simply made room for another and another, and another.

He was waiting in Memphis.

The leather was warm under my legs. The key chain made a ticking sound as it swung back and forth, still believing in the momentum of a car long stopped. Thought was almost impossible in the sound of the deluge. I rolled the window down just a little, just enough to magnify the rush of sound, just enough to let the faint scent of his cologne dissipate. Could I really smell him or was it imagination? I thought about my memories of him evaporating with the ease of that woodsy aroma and I found myself rolling the window back up, making sure it was tight against the outside world. As if that would shut out the passage of time or the need for choices. I leaned over the wheel.

For whom did he care more: the woman he sought to protect by keeping a secret? Or the woman he shared all his secrets with?

I thought about his hands. The hand that often wore a wedding band, the hand that worked with precision over his guitar, and the hand that cradled his children; the same hand that shook as he undressed me for the first time. The same hand that held my head hard against his shoulder as we moved together, both of us knowing it was wrong, but feeling the rightness of it all the same. I touched the steering wheel of the old Mustang. I could almost feel the warmth of him there.

She was the better woman; of that I had no doubt.

I closed my eyes to the downpour. Gusts of wind rocked the car and I swayed with them. I was waiting patiently for the winds of change to stop trying to push or pull me, for the rain to stop, for the sun to peek over the horizon, for all to be right with the world. I thought about his long dark hair gliding through my fingers.

It had started without warning. (Hadn't it?) It was easy to say that, but I knew there had been intent on both our parts. A spoken word, a glance across a table, and the end result was a whispered truth spoken in darkness and his heartless lie uttered in daylight. It had only happened once. There was time left to redeem something of myself: if I wanted to, if I was strong enough. I contemplated the heightened passion a shared secret could bring, the furtive need. There is that desire the forbidden always provides.

Was it better for her that she not know of my existence? Or did she already know, the way a woman knows? There is a certain way a woman looks at her man in a certain light and suddenly she sees the guilt in every fiber of his being, the honesty that he can only hide when the walls are up and intact. Had she seen it yet? Had she felt the slight change in his touch and seen the just barely concealed arrogance and anticipation that now filled the man she thought she knew?

It was better for me, because I was allowed to see what she did not. I would believe that.

I sat in the car for an eternity. The rain stopped just as slowly as it had begun. I was surprised to see the Mississippi still just a river. I had expected more.

The tires were worn just enough. They hummed with a satisfying tune as I followed the River Road, not really with conscious thought but with something like a homing beacon, leading me to Memphis. I turned away from town and on into the wilderness that was the Delta, meandering down little backroads and dodging the ruts that threatened my destination. The way was easy enough.

Smoke, fragrant and calm, rose from the old stone chimney. Bluebirds cocked their heads and watched me through dripping leaves. Acorns crunched under my feet. He was waiting on the porch with his old Gibson on his lap, not for playing, but for comfort.

"I was worried," he said, and I could see that it was true.

"I knew you would be," I replied.

The fireplace shed just enough light. He rested beside me on the bed, the old buttons of his shirt opening easily to my cool hands. He took my fingers in his and breathed deeply into our shared touch, warming me. Cotton and denim and silk and satin fell to the floor in discarded disarray.

"God, you are beautiful," I whispered against his skin. He twined his fingers into my hair and I let him, wanting him to. His skin tasted like the smoke from the fire, like clean cotton, like warmth and safety. I opened my mouth over the softness of his belly and he shuddered. He fought for breath as I explored. I ran my nails down his chest and marveled at the way his body arched into my caress. I kissed his belly button and he sucked in a breath, as if trying to escape from me. I smiled against his thigh. I watched as his hands found the headboard and he clenched the old wood. I touched his arms, felt the pull and release of his muscles as I slid down his body.

At the first touch of my tongue he groaned aloud. At the second touch he lost his voice. I hadn't done this to him before. My mouth enveloped him with the softest of touches and soon he cried out, the sound mingling with that of the crackling fire. His hands clenched hard on the headboard. When it wasn't enough his fingers curled into the sheets. And when that didn't suffice, his hands found my hair. I moved in counterpoint to his heartbeat. The steady thumping began to trip over itself. He told me not to stop.

"Please," he whimpered once, and then his body surged against me.

I moved slowly then, listening to his breath that came harsh into the comfort of our seclusion. My body burned for what I should not have. I moved above him, opening my mouth to his, allowing him a hint of dark sweetness. He wrapped himself around me and held me there, seeking out more. His greed was sudden and greater than the rest. He gently pushed me back to the bed.

His hands were strong on my thighs as I closed my eyes and let him take what he wanted, what I needed to give. His tongue slid up my thigh. I trembled with something akin to fear. His voice was soft as the rain that was again falling. "Shhh…."

His eyes wandered my body. I let him. "I am afraid," I admitted, not knowing exactly what I was afraid of, knowing that he would somehow understand.

His voice came on the heels of silence. "You won't be," he promised.

The sound that ripped from me was filled with fascination. He touched me deep and shallow, hard and soft. I opened to him and silently asked for more. I fell into a comfortable submission that left no room for fear. His breath hovering over me took away my own. I moved under him, my body welcoming the newness, the lust that is unchained only in the presence of complete trust. I sighed deeply, giving in to his touch with a low moan.

"Just like that," he praised, his voice filled with what could only be awe.

The sensation made me shiver. My body shook and my hands tangled into his hair. I watched him as he watched me. His dark eyes were intent on keeping the memory. All my shyness fled as his tongue and lips and mouth danced over me. Soft, wondering delight made my body tingle. My limbs relaxed with a gentle slowness.

My hands were tangled in his hair. I guided him gently to my side and let myself slide over him and down, taking a moment to protect us both from complications that would make our secretive union even more complicated. I straddled him. He moaned aloud at the first touch of my heat against him. I suddenly had to be filled with him, had to have all he was. I sank down. Our cries mingled just as our bodies did.

"Like this?" I asked once.

"Yes. Oh, yes. Yes."

I moved above him and with him. I watched him watch me, then his eyes closed. I took his hands in mine and pressed them above his head, held them against the pillows. I moved faster and he thrust up hard to give me more of himself. "Don't move." I whispered into his ear in a voice I did not recognize.

I drove him to the edge of passion and beyond it, watching all the while. A thin sheen of sweat covered us both. The firelight danced across his skin and turned him golden, picked out the tiny silver strands in his dark hair and made him look somehow vulnerable. His heartbeat was given away in the pulsing just under his skin, in the harshness of his breath. His body was hard and yearning inside me. The deep rasp of his voice told me he was close, just as close as I was.

I moved forward and back. I closed my eyes and held his hands tighter. He watched me as I threw my head back, as I fell victim to our passion. My body throbbed around him and he called my name. I rose and fell with clear intent, fighting the need to collapse into his arms. He bucked hard. I used my weight to hold him down.

"She never made me feel this way," he choked out.

My breath caught as he opened his eyes to look directly into me. I watched them change in hue, from dark to darker. I was stunned by the sheen of tears. With a low moan his desire let go. My body answered with another release, this one sweeter than the last because it was shared. I lowered myself onto him and let his hands go. He wrapped his arms around me and accepted my trembling into himself. The thrill of our bodies slowly fell away to be replaced by a need that was less urgent but still just as strong. He rolled with me until we lay side-by-side, equals again, our hands reverent and gentle on one another.

We spoke, things that were said and then just as quickly forgotten. The second time was gentle and careful. There came a time during the night when we both awoke knowing what we wanted, and only the fire was witness to the savagery of our joining. For four days we never spoke of the world outside our clearing. Thoughts of right and wrong were banished from our haven.

With just us two and a guitar for company. We were content.

Tonight, I will be on the road again, the lights of Memphis beckoning me. Called from a distance by something that shouldn't be strong, but that is. I long ago stopped pretending that wanting him wasn't wrong. I have reached the point where I can look at myself in the mirror and name what I am.

Mistress. The word doesn't frighten me. The ease with which I can accept it does.

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