Dinner was catch-up time for all the kids and adults. House rules were that no television or cellphones were allowed. It was time to talk about what had happened during the day. While Billy and Ham tried to make the best of the day’s news and developments, the conversation always brightened up when hearing about the kids and their activities. For Billy the highlight was just sitting back and listening to Shen and the Hamilton boys describe their adventures. It was becoming obvious that the trio was smitten with her.
Hudson made it plain and simple: “Uncle Billy, Shen isn’t like most girls. She’s special.” Bill complimented the youngster, saying, “Hud, my boy, you have good taste and a smart eye.”
One evening before dinner was served, Shen finished early helping Bertie. In a white tank top and a turquoise peasant skirt, she walked into the living room and invited Harper to dance with her. He looked down at the ground and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Hayden gave a similar response. Finally, she asked Hudson, who ‘fessed up that none of them knew how to dance.
Pulling out her iPhone, Shen played Tony Bennett singing “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plans,” took Hudson’s hand, taught him the box step and handed him over to Hannah. Then Shen took on Hayden before letting Bertie take over. Finally, she and Harper finished the lesson.
As the three pair were box-stepping, a voice was heard, “Say, are you guys trying to hustle my action?” It was Billy, with Ham.
Caught in the act, the three boys turned red. As they headed to their places at the table, they heard Shen call out, “Redheads rule!”
After dinner, everybody took their plates to the kitchen and helped Bertie clean up. Then it was off to bed.
As Shen dried the last plate and put it away, Billy took her hand and led her to the terrace. “Since you’re in a dancing mood, what do you say we take a spin? It’s been a while. As you will remember, I’m pretty graceful on the dance floor. But this time I’m gonna pick the music.”
He went to a panel, punched in a code and over the sound system came Willie Nelson singing, “You Were Always On My Mind.”
“Interesting pick. You’re such an obvious flirt,” Shen said as he walked back to her and held her closely as the music played.
While the room’s acoustics outshone that of the iPhone in the cabin, the twosome still felt that same original undercurrent of attraction. But this time there was a new ingredient — intimacy. Instead of hand holding, their arms were wrapped around each other.
When the song ended, he led her to the big brown leather couch in front of the fireplace. As they settled in with his arm around her shoulder, she recalled that he had attended a nearby college. Was it the local community college or Tyler Junior College? He sheepishly told her how he had gone to Tulane. “It’s just down the road a bit.”
That’s where he had studied chemical engineering and had met Ham, who was studying to be a doctor. Billy then got his master’s degree in petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas in Austin, where he met Jeff, who was earning his law degree. He had gone to high school with keyboardist Joey and the Boys’ bass guitarist, Riley Harrison, before Riley became a Navy pilot.
Then, he said, “Enough about my wayward ways and the rascals I picked up. Now that everyone’s gone, what do you say we make out like a couple of hot teenagers?”
Shen was puzzled. She had wondered if the chemistry had worn off on his part during the past couple of weeks, since he hadn’t made any overt passes except for a hug or kiss. And there had been plenty of opportunities. But now this direct approach had caught her off guard. If he was going to be smart-alecky, so could she. “Are you suggesting that we go down to the garage and get in the back seat of one of the cars?”
With that he flipped her on her side and lay next to her. This action was much more intense than the cavalier, momentary sweep-you-off-your-feet kisses of the past. Lying together, she suddenly felt so small and helpless compared to this man who appeared to be having his way with her. She looked at him quizzically. What exactly did he have in mind? How far did he think making out went?
While she considered how to regain some kind of control, he silently looked at her, studying every detail of her face. She felt self-conscious. Was there something wrong?
Breaking the silence, Shen reached up and touched her nose, “Did my nose fall off?”
“No, it’s beautiful just like your eyes, your ears, your skin and your mouth. I just wanted to memorize them all together.”
What an odd thing to say. It sounded fatalistic. Maybe this was a literal farewell to arms. He was going to “have his way with her” and then ship her back to Dallas.
“I can always send you a picture, so you won’t have to rely on your memory. Would you like to check my teeth while you’re at it?” she smiled.
Holding her back with both hands, Billy wasn’t in the mood for a battle of wits tonight. He narrowed his eyes, saying, “Can’t you ever be serious? Whenever you think you’re losing control, you say something smart like that. You’re scared of getting close and you’re gonna have to get over it. And did you ever think that you’re not the only one who is scared? Do you know how hard it’s been to keep my hands off you? I don’t want to blow it, but I want you ….”
Before he could finish Shen touched his mouth with her fingers and said, “I do, too.”
Without another word, he closed the space between them, holding her tightly. For the first time, she had let her defenses down. Her trust in him and desire for him had not only erased her earlier fears, they had also made him feel even more responsible for her. His apprehensions disappeared as every action was met with encouragement by Shen. The past playful sparring had been replaced. Together they were discovering each other in totally new ways — when to be gentle, how to take the upper hand without threatening, when to laugh at those awkward moments, when to just hold still and let the silence fill the room.
As he kissed her neck easing to that sweet spot, he felt her body starting to stiffen and tremble, aroused by his tenderness and passion. At that point he knew he could have her, but he wasn’t going to cheapen his feelings for her or betray her trust in him with a one-night stand on a couch. When the time and setting were right, he would know it.
Turning her around and wrapping his arms around her, he held her protectively, easing her back into a relaxed state. Her left arm lay to her side with her fingers slightly closed. His right hand’s fingertips ever so gently and slowly glided the inside of her arm from her elbow to her wrist. He was hit with the sensation of how soft her skin was. As he reached her palm, her fingers opened. When he slid his fingers into hers, the two hands closed together, becoming one.
He would carry the memory of the evening with him in the days ahead.
The next morning when she woke on the couch, just like at the cabin, there was no Billy… just a blanket covering her. Hannah said he’d left before dawn with Riley in the Lear to personally handle some issues in the field. When they would return, she didn’t know.
… to be continued Wednesday, July 1