Six or seven years ago, Doris might not have taken Karen seriously with what Karen just said: "I've had enough of this singles scene. There's nobody out there, nobody I would take for a husband and have a family with. I've decided I don't need a man or a husband to have a family. I'm going to do it on my own."

They met at a Summer Swing Fest in Glen Echo, Maryland ten years ago, and had become good friends since then. They were both fresh out of a long-term relationship: Doris from a seven-year marriage that was dead six months into it, Karen from a three-year steady that never got beyond recreational sex, weekend movies and Orioles ballgames in Baltimore.

Doris was now forty-five, six years older than Karen. After a near-fatal miscarriage in that marriage, the doctors' advise was not to get pregnant again. She had a tough time facing it in the beginning but there is no turning away life's realities and she had since adjusted to the necessity of relinquishing the idea of natural motherhood in her life.

At thirty-nine, Karen had good reason to be alarmed by maternal instincts, Doris only knew so well. She was thirty-three, right in the age-span according to medical findings it starts getting risky becoming a first-time mother, when she had to make that adjustment in her life. So she believed Karen with what Karen just said and how serious she was about it.

Only question was, how does she plan to become a mother without a man? She probably meant she is going to adopt.

As soon as she brought the cup of coffee in front of Karen on the breakfast table and returned to her seat at the other end, the answers to her questions started coming.

"I'm going to have the baby myself. I'm going to be the biological mother," Karen said with resolve. "I want to be the natural mother. I should be, or it doesn't make much sense 'having a baby', quote-unquote." She raised both index fingers and wiggled them at Doris.

"Yes, I understand. But how?"

"I'll get myself pregnant."

"I understand. But how? Who?"

"I'm working on it. I'll choose a man to father my baby."

"Any one in particular?" Doris tried to sound as nonchalant as possible without making it seem like she didn't believe her or that she was taking the whole thing as a joke.

"Yes," replied Karen, blowing softly on her cup of coffee and watching the tiny ripples skirting to the edge. "I have a couple of good possibilities I'm considering."

Doris didn't have to guess who one of those possibilities was. They met Jack during a Christmas season food campaign at the Queen of Apostles four years ago. They worked as volunteers receiving canned goods from donors and stockpiling them in the church for distribution through the holiday season.

Jack was somewhere between their ages. Forty-three, forty-four. Married six years. Divorced the last six. No offspring. Had a live-in relationship once or twice at different times, he confessed to both of them, after which he decided to go easy on hot-and-heavy involvements and just go out and date. This was when they met him, two years after his divorce.

He took out Karen first a few times, and left her alone for a month. Sort of let it hang there with her for a while. Then he went out with Doris for a few weeks after which he let it go with her too. Hang back for a while and check the scoreboard.

He liked them both, was equally attracted to each, brain-and-body wise. But his honest feeling was: Doris would make a long-lasting platonic friend while Karen might be a short-term lover depending on how she viewed a non-platonic friendship.

He'd have to think hard about it before he considered any serious relationship with either one. For a start, they're great as friends and fun to be with. And they're both good dancers, liked to joke and laugh too. They'd even insult each other, and him too once they got to know him well, to get some laugh out of it, all in good taste.

He'd seen them bitch at each other some, but for no more than the ordinary female bitching he'd seen before between women friends or foes.

He never followed through with either one of them and a year went by, and another, and another. And so it remained to this day what he was to the two when he last took them out. A friend to both like they were to each other, although for a long time now he'd had this tiny suspicion that Karen might be aware of his continuing subsurface interest in getting her to bed when the right time came.

Well, he suspected right. In fact, it wasn't only Karen who knew and believed it but Doris too after Karen told her about that one after-dinner-date night in her apartment with Jack when he seduced her on the couch and succeeded as far as getting her to lay on top of him confidently and securely with half of the bottle of wine he brought working in her. They got as far as taking their upper-body clothes off and him suckling one of her breasts, when she pulled back and cooled herself down in the bathroom.

Doris didn't begrudge it that Jack never tried anything like that with her but she got curious what else took place between them. Once, she managed to think that the two might actually make a workable pair. They seemed attracted enough to each other. And from what she heard from Karen, it's up to Jack.

That was over a year ago. And throughout all that time, she and Karen continued to be each other's company most weekends, same as before Jack showed up in their lives. Apparently, Jack was sticking to his post-marriage resolve not to get into any deep relationship with anybody. Still, Doris didn't stop toying with the idea of maybe Jack coming out of hibernation one of these days, going back to seducing Karen and perhaps going all the way with her. Sexually, emotionally. Either way or both ways. It didn't matter.

And what better time for it to happen than now she thought after learning what Karen had decided to do to deal with her biological clock.


Jack hated shopping. His older sister who babysat him, he remembered well, used to drag him along when mom was away. He would much rather had stayed in the car and read a comic book but she wouldn't risk leaving him alone for hours. He didn't mind food shopping much though when he was married, and especially now when he's single again. But once in a while, it would get to him too, the pleasure he found in choosing the kind of food he ate without regard to somebody else's preference would succumb to the monotony of going through the motions week after week as it did only fifteen minutes ago while hauling in a couple of grocery bags into the car at the foodstore parking lot.

"The same fuckin' thing over and over again," he thought, almost saying it to himself actually. "It's all part of living, John boy. Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm tired of it."

Damn, he now thought while unloading the bags into the fridge in his two-bedroom apartment in Rosslyn, I must be depressed. Talking about being tired of living, putting down one of the few simple things in life I should find pleasure in doing.

He was tired, he realized, physically and mentally after a long hard day at work trying to meet a deadline on one of his assignments: the foundation-work estimate for a bid submission for a two-hundred-thousand square-foot office-commercial project in Sterling, Virginia. He did finish it and his boss was happy with his figures. So now he just needed to relax and enjoy the rest of the week, starting this evening, with a thick juicy steak for dinner perhaps. He wouldn't mind company too, preferably female, but he couldn't think of any among a number he had gone out with occasionally in the past couple of years.

But a few minutes before he was to turn the steak in the oven broiler, he felt glad when the phone rang and heard Karen's voice.

"Hey," she opened up with their usual straight-cut rapport. "What are you doing Saturday or Sunday during the day?"

"Why? What do you have in mind? A sex orgy?" Jack replied, innocently.

"Help me paint a couple of rooms in my house?"

"Sure, be glad to. Twenty bucks an hour alright with you?"

"C'mon, Jack. I just got too many other things to do in the house. I have to move some furniture before I could do the paint jobs so I need some muscles too," she added, ignoring his joking. Doris would have understood much more, indeed, than Jack did Karen's need for some muscles.

"I'll spring for lunch, and beer," Karen offered.

"And movie later?" Jack asked.


Less than an hour later while he was washing down the last bite of the steak with a caffeine-free soda, the phone rang again. He had the tube on and was watching one of those inane talk shows which had at the moment a line of fat women, at least a dozen of them, being made to talk about their personal experiences at work, socially and in any way they cared to talk about, for being fat persons. Just before he took the remote to lower the sound and pick up the cordless phone he had left on the dining table in front of him, one of the fat women was saying:

"There ought to be a law for the protection of people like us. I mean, we have them for the homosexuals, the disabled, the minorities of all kinds and other interest groups. Why not for us overweight people?"


"What's for dinner?" Doris said on the phone as soon as he said hello.

"T-bone steak, green veggie and baked potato. What's up woman?"

"I found a copy of the pieces you asked me about," she announced to him gladly, referring to the sheet music of Franz Liszt's Liebestraum and La Campanella which he had asked her to help him find a copy of a couple of weeks ago.

One interest they found they had in common during the few times he took her out was playing the piano. She with her antique baby grand her mother in York, Pennsylvania inherited from an aunt which she passed on to Doris when she finally bought her own place, a townhouse in Laurel, Maryland after landing a permanent grade-school teaching position with the county school system there. He with his - not really a piano, but an electronic keyboard, a Yamaha model which sounded like a piano when you push the 'piano' button, or an organ when you push the 'organ' button, a harpsichord when you push the 'harpsichord' button, and two or three other instrument buttons.

For a while, they got into it at high gear but, apparently, this one common interest wasn't enough to sustain a long-lasting relationship beyond friendship. Not on his part anyway.

"Great!" he cheered. "Can you fax them to me at work?"

"No, but I can give them to you in person tomorrow night. I have a 7:30 dance lesson at the Studio. Meet me at the reception afterwards at 8:30 and I'll let you buy me coffee."

The Studio was Studio 10, the ballroom studio in Arlington where they'd been going for years on occasions to take lessons or attend a weekend dance party.

When he walked in to the studio reception from the parking lot the following night and saw her coming out of one of the dance rooms with her class dressed real nice, looking sexy, he wondered why he couldn't get himself to pay attention to her more, get to like her more, and maybe even marry her one of these days. She's well educated, attractive, dependable, straight and stable all around. They don't come any much better, he thought. Not in the entire Capital Area and within a two-hundred mile radius of it, no less. And he didn't really think he could do any much better either.

It didn't quite feel right yet, for him. He was still rearranging his ruffled plummage from a broken marriage. That's right, he thought, as he broke a big smile at friend Doris coming toward him. He needed a little more time to get comfortable with the idea of getting into another committed relationship.

"You look good, Doris," he complimented as she placed herself in front of him, real cheerful, delighted to see him. In fact, a little too delighted he felt something peculiar about it.

"That makes two of us," she responded, eyeing him up and down quickly, sizing him up secretly, wondering, rather mischievously, what it would be like for Karen, for a woman, even herself, if it were possible, to bear and be the mother of this man's child.

It had been a number of weeks since they last saw each other, here in this same place when they came for a Saturday night dance that featured some exhibition numbers by a dance pair who had recently brought home second prize from a ballroom contest in Phoenix, Arizona. For the first time, thanks to Karen's biological clock, she regarded him in a different light. First, as a progenitor candidate, next as a lover, next as a biological father which brought about the matter of what sort of genes did this man carry? Would the kid have the color-blue eyes he has? Would the child be as tall as he is?

"Say, how tall are you, exactly, Jack?" she asked suddenly, surprising even herself. She'd have to be careful not to cause anybody to suspect there was anything going on, especially this coming Saturday when Jack goes to help Karen do some things in her house, paint, move some furniture, among other things.

"Five eleven, exactly," he said. "Why?"

"Nothing. Just curious. Here," she said, taking out from her handbag a manila envelope containing the sheet music of the Franz Liszt compositions and handing it to him. He thanked her for them profusely and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.

"So how's the dance lesson? And your dancing?" he asked, helping her into her evening coat after they cleared the line to the coat room for other people.

"The lesson is fine. My dancing? It's something else. Lousy. I make so many dumb mistakes. I get into the swing of it and get carried away, especially in the latin dances, before I get all the basics to sink in. So then later on, I forget. Know what I'm talking about?"

"Yes, I do that too. Class dancing is not party dancing. You're taking a lesson and you should pay attention, and remember what you learn. Party later."

"Exactly," she agreed. "That's the purpose of going to class. You haven't been showing up here lately. C'mon out sometimes, join the crowd. Be a sport. I want to dance with you. Practice what I learn in these lessons."

"I'd been putting in some extra hours at work," he explained. "But it's tapering off. Yes, maybe I should. I need to take some lessons too. I haven't taken any since last year. Let's go have some coffee at Ruby Tuesday's. I could use it."

"Me too."

They both had decafs and with it decided to share a snack of buffalo wings, a bowl of it, spicy. Over that, they commenced small talks: job, family and, of course, dancing and their piano playing.

"After I add these two Franz Liszts to my repertoire, I'm moving on to Beethoven," he said to her after putting away his third chicken wing. She wasn't sure how serious he was with his musical pursuit the way he spoke of it but everyone in the world knew he was looking at his second or third lifespan before he could even think of a solo piano concerto with the NSO at the Kennedy. In fact, even the word repertoire coming from him sounded funny, so she laughed because then she realized he was being facetious.

"Thanks for having such great faith in my musical... inclination. I feel insulted."

"But I think it's quite admirable that you take time to learn to play the masters, or even just to learn to play - on your own," she said with laughter still trailing back of her voice.

"I like doing it," he said, smiling at her proudly. "Ever since my first six months lesson in note-reading and playing the clarinet at twelve years old, I've always wanted to make music, especially with the piano. It's a hobby I'm glad I stuck with."

"I think it's wonderful. So tell me, been seeing anybody lately?" she asked, changing the topic as casually as stirring sugar into her coffee after their waiter came with the refill.

"Not really. I haven't had a date in months. I go out once in a while with some people just to get out of the house. Nothing serious. And you?"

"Ditto. I go dancing pretty regularly nowadays," she replied, nothing artificial in the cheerfulness he heard in her voice. "I keep pretty busy with the kids at school too. I like my kids. They're my kids. All of them."

He liked hearing that especially from her. When he first learned of her not being able to bear a child without endangering her life, he imagined how it must have crushed her in the beginning. But she'd gotten over that, now he can see, and he felt glad for those kids she taught in her school. They couldn't be in better hands.

"You like kids?" she asked over the rim of her coffee cup as she took a sip, and she didn't take her eyes off him for a long time.

"Between the ages two through five, or six," he replied, bobbing his head in a calculating way. "After that, you can take 'em away."

"I think you do, like kids," she poked at him, fishing for an admission. "I can tell. You look like you'd be a good father."

"Me? Nu-uh. I'd be a terrible father. I couldn't even take care of myself. What makes you think I'd be a good father?"

"Some people are better at taking care of somebody else, especially those they care about. My kids at school, they're such a joy. They're wonderful. You ought to think about it, Jack. Really."

"Now, really?" They locked eyes there for a few moments with him bemused by her teasing while she went back to sizing him up, this time even imagining him the actual biological father of Karen's baby. Then, he said: "I'd like to know what they put in these buffalo wings when they cook 'em. Maybe we shoulda had some nachos instead."


Saturday mornings Karen usually slept a couple of extra hours more than she did during the weekdays when she went to work in her Bureau of Land Management office in the Interior Department headquarters in Washington at 20th and Constitution. But this morning, she was up early at seven-thirty to finally take a minute after wanting to do it all week long, sit down and plan her activities this weekend. Make a do-list which would be comprised mostly of work in the house.

Jack had said he'd be over nlt 9:30 AM and that's what she put down first on the 4 by 6 notepad she kept in the kitchen, followed by the rest of the activities for the day:

9:30 - Jack, coffee

9:45-10:30 - buy paint and extra rollers, one big, one small

10:30-1:00 - Dining room: move furniture, spread old newspapers on the floor;

base coat first on paneled wall (Jack);

prime coat on drywalls (me and Jack)

1:00-2:00 - Lunch

2:15-??? - Upstairs bedrooms: take down curtains, put down newspapers;

prime coat throughout

She knew from past experience in her old apartment before she bought this three bedroom townhouse here in Annandale as a result of a grade promotion in her government job that she was being a little optimistic about getting most of that done in one day. She had no idea how good a help she'd have in Jack. She didn't ask him for Sunday. She was hoping he'd volunteer without her asking, especially if he saw that she had a bit more work to do in the house by the end of the day.

There were other things she needed to accomplish during the day, and this evening, but she didn't write them down. She just kept them in mind and hoped she won't forget as the day wore on.

Between the time she got up and Jack arrived, promptly, she had breakfast, emptied two large bookcases that would be moved in the dining room, finished a full load of laundry through the washer and dryer and made a fresh brew of coffee which she offered Jack when he came in.

She was ready when he rang the bell, in her short-short cutoffs blue jeans which showed a lot of thighs, a purple halter top she tied on the back of her neck and around her waist and bared her entire back and half her sides up to where her breast started to rise beneath her armpit. It was going to be a warm June day, she heard on the radio earlier, and so it was when she opened the door to let him in and felt the air outside.

"I'm your slave today," Jack said as they sat in the kitchen for fifteen minutes having coffee to get their minds set on the tasks ahead of them. "So, what's on the agenda?"

"We can start with either one of two things," she started out. "Move the furniture in the dining room - I've already emptied out the bookcases, so we can do that easy. Or go out to the store first and get the paint and extra rollers."

"You mean you haven't already done that?"

"Jack, I haven't had time during the week."

"You know what color and type paint you want?"

"Yes. All I've got to do is find it and buy it."

"The stores must be open now," he said, glancing at his digital wristwatch, one of those runners use - timer, alarm, calendar and all. Ten of ten AM, it showed. "Let's go do that first."

She drove them to the neighborhood shopping mart less than a mile away. There were a number of customers early like them in the store. When they entered, Jack noticed quickly how Karen, dressed as she was for the summer weather, turned heads, got a second take, an up-and-down, from just about every man to whom she came to view.

When he himself finally took a moment to take notice of his friend, he understood the focus of public attention upon her, her slenderness, legginess, the short-shorts ala Dallas-Cowboys cheerleaders which took the eyes from the full length of the thighs to the curve of the hips, the flat stomach and the fullness of the bosoms under the halter. From there on, he began acting proprietary about her in a way that didn't escape public notice, including hers.

He stayed close by her, moving quickly to help her check the label on several cans of paint, even leading her by the hand or elbow as they moved on down the aisle shopping in the store. Had he been a mind-reader, he would have read only one thought in her head at the moment: 'It's working.'

They got back with three cans of Duron brand house paint, the rollers and a mixing pan, cleared the dining room walls of a tall china cabinet, the dining set, a small desk and the two bookcases and worked with the paint on the newspaper over the floor. At a little over ten-thirty as she had, close enough, on her do-list, they were rolling paint on the walls.

He finished the base coat on the panelled wall before she was halfway with one of the other walls so he went over and helped her with it. She insisted on doing the upper half of the wall inspite of the fact that he could reach up easier, being taller, while she had to stand up on a high chair to do so. She wanted to do the cornering herself up at the ceiling with the small brush, she explained.

Okay, fine with me honey, he thought, if you think you can do a better job on that. No argument from him there. On the contrary, he found as they worked, he rather preferred it that way - looking up, bringing the pan to her for reloading her roller or brush, offering his shoulder for her to hang on to or even wrapping his arm around her legs to steady her when she teetered on the high chair.

Their conversation was miniscule, not wanting to distract themselves too much from the continuity of what they were doing. She broke in one with a sufficient enough tone of interest, saying "What's your vacation plan this summer?"

"Don't have any," he mumbled, trying carefully to work the roller down evenly. "Haven't even thought about it. Been busy making a living, that's all. You?"

"Bonnie, that's my stepmother's younger sister, she's about ten years older than me, we've been talking about going on one of those ranch vacations out west," she said, "you know where you live a ranch life with a group of people like real cowpokes, eating out of a warped iron plate, taking care of your own horse, herding cattle just like in that Billy Crystal movie?"

"Yeah, I know. You think you're up to that?"

"I'd like to experience it. Bonnie had done it once and she said she learned a lot about life, including herself, and she'd do it again. She's now looking for a package between mid-July and end of August. Sounds like a fun way to get away from Washington for a week."

"Well, give it a try then. Let me know how it is and maybe I'll go next time. Right now I'm learning Liszt."


"Franz Liszt. The Hungarian pianist composer."

"Oh," she uttered reflectively, remembering his piano playing hobby. "How are you doing with that?"

"Coming along," he said and told her about seeing Doris the other night at Studio 10 for the sheet music he had asked her to get him. "We went for a snack at Ruby Tuesday after her dance class."

Karen stalled with everything for just a moment there as a stream of some troubling thoughts went through her mind, wondering what might have transpired between them. No, she wouldn't, she thought. She's more discreet than that.

"So, what did you two yak about?" she asked, turning back to the wall with her little finishing brush, showing absolutely no sign of alarm.

"Oh, nothing. Just her dancing. And my repertoire which she ridiculed mercilessly."

Karen laughed and, for some reason she wasn't sure was either out of being nervous or amused at how Doris might have ribbed him on his piano playing, she lost her balance on the chair. Jack saw what was happening as she started falling sideways, arms flailing while she tried to regain her equilibrium to no avail, but he wasn't close enough to reach her before her body was halfway down and the most he could do to protect her from a hard fall was to plunge himself between her and the floor, sort of catch her with his body.

She landed face first on top of him, the mass of her long dark red hair nearly stifling him for a moment, paint all over the two of them from the brushes, the rollers and the mixing pan which flew up when he spiked it with an elbow and came back down on Karen's back.

Other than a couple of sore ribs in Jack, neither one suffered any injury although Karen was a little slow moving to dislodge herself from the position she ended up on top of him. When she raised her head from his chest, he did his too from the floor and they ended up looking at each other's face a half inch away, breathing the same air, their lips nearly touching.

"Sweetheart," he started out with a Cary Grant imitation, "we have to stop meeting this way. There must be a better way." And he put his arms around her and kissed her passionately. She resisted at first, genuinely, and then for just a few lingering moments let the kiss last. Finally, she pulled her face away, got up on her hands and knees and pretended to strangle him.

"Let's not waste any time fooling around," she grumbled at him, and then getting up on her feet, pleaded: "Please, Jack. I got a lot of things to do in this house."

"Alright, alright. I know. Let's get back to work," he said, sitting up on the floor. "We'll do the fooling around later."

She pretended to ignore that, now convinced that Doris hadn't said anything to anybody that she, Karen, might have to worry about. She told him to use the ground floor bathroom to clean up while she went upstairs. It took them almost a half hour to clean up themselves and the mess they made on the dining room floor before they got back on track.

There wasn't anymore accident, but throughout the day, before and after lunch, Jack flirted openly though not to the point of being pesky, unaware that he didn't really have to worry about that. Karen, on the other hand, didn't want to appear totally unmindful of it or even enjoying it, which she did, and so she rolled her eyes occasionally when he tried to be cute by doing some male act like a James Dean eyebrow leer or taking off his shirt and flexing his muscles while working the roller on the wall.

She took a long deep breath and shook her head at him sideways slowly in mock exasperation, saying things like:

'Jack, stuff it, huh?',

'Hey, I'm not getting enough work out of you enough for you to be doing that to me.',

'Hey, that's sexual harassment!', or

'Are you feeling alright, Jack? Want some aspirin?'

Her schedule held up to within minutes when they broke for lunch at around one o'clock. They were ready to move up to the bedrooms upstairs with only a few minor touch-ups left to do downstairs but decided not to push it.

Karen said it was Jack's call where and what he wanted to eat. Jack named four fast-food places and they both picked Taco Bell in the same shopping plaza where the paint store was.

They were both hungry and attacked their tacos and burritos as soon as they were seated at a table without uttering a word more to each other than a 'yum-yum'. Then something happened that probably prevented Karen from having a bad indigestion later for eating so fast.

In her second taco supreme, she decided she wanted to up the sizzle in her mouth by switching from mild picante sauce to hot and got up to go to the condiments stand. On her way back to her seat, a three-year old toddler came bouncing toward her in a venturesome getaway from the mother several tables away. As soon as the girl-child heard the mother's call behind her to come back, she picked up speed and ran right into Karen who didn't have a choice but to pick the child up in her arms.

"Hello, angel baby," she greeted the toddler who put one hand behind her neck to hang on and extended another to touch her face playfully while letting out a baby giggle that sent thrill-chills throughout Karen.

God, oh God, oh God, she thought. Please don't do this to me.

She was only a couple of steps away from her table so she turned around and said to Jack delightfully: "Look who I found!"

Jack, who was watching all along, lowered his burrito and said jokingly: "Karen, why didn't you tell me? I would have paid for everything. The doctor, the hospital, the day care."

Some people nearby including the mother who took an embarrassed pause by Karen heard and let out a small laugh.

"I'm sorry, ms," said the mother, taking her baby from Karen. "Somehow, she's just so full of energy today. I don't know where she gets it."

"My pleasure, ma'am," said Karen, waving at the little girl as they moved away. "Bye little baby."

Inside, she was tearing apart, her heart which ached for the baby wouldn't let her take in all the air she wanted to breathe, just little whiffs of it with just enough oxygen to feed her brain and live. Outside, she had to smile at dumb Jack across the table as she sat down and squeezed out the hot picante into her taco supreme, pretend nothing tumultuous was happening within her physical being.

"You know, if I didn't know you," Jack said, pushing the burrito down his food pipe with the soda. "You could've fooled me. You looked real natural with that cute little baby."

That was it! Whatever was left of her indecision and irresoluteness about how to deal with her biological clock, Jack just creamed it with his dumb remark. The thing to do now was keep the flirtation going not by open encouragement but by allowing every opportunity for it to be taken, responding with a constant level of resistance along with a faint signal of submission, yielding, which he wouldn't pass up in the hope of turning it into a complete surrender. Submission, by the end of the day, or when they come home from the movie, should they decide to go, probably the 9:30 or 10:00 PM show.

"Yeah, well I didn't - fool you," she replied, gathering her litter on the table. "That baby is that woman's baby, and that's that. You all done?"

"Yup. Let's go paint your house some more, and maybe see a movie later?"

"Yes, I'm up to it."

They talked about what movie they wanted to see on the way back to the house and decided on the new Sylvester Stallone release. After they finished what they had left to do in the dining room, they went upstairs and spent the rest of the afternoon working in the bedrooms. They worked quickly and efficiently, now with a skill apparently honed by the experience learned downstairs.

Jack continued his flirting with every opportunity he got which Karen surreptitiously allowed to happen - carefully, without making it look contrived. During a fifteen-minute beer break, they went out the front steps downstairs for some fresh air. He sat close next to her on the step, rubbing his thigh against hers. She pretended to ignore this, or make him think she's letting him get away with it, which was what she actually meant to do.

At this point, she wondered how far along he was in as far as thinking how lucky he'd get when they come home from the movie tonight. She had every reason to think he was feeling very optimistic. The fact that they'd never gone all the way in all the years they'd known each other, she believed, should make it even more of an exciting challenge to him.

Moving right along.

Shortly after six, they were halfway through the second bedroom but Karen decided to call it a day, saying that the 7:30 movie was shut and that if they were to make the 9:30 showing, they better start getting themselves ready to go out. She offered to fix dinner but he thanked her, saying he wanted to go home, do his own things there, clean up, eat, and come back to her fresh.

Seeing him out the door, she pulled him around by an elbow for a moment to say: "Hey, thanks for pitching in, Jack."

"Por nada," he said, smiling fondly at her.

She leaned up to him and gave him a peck on the cheek.

"I'll be back at 9:00, n-l-t," he said.


The movie was fun and they enjoyed it. Lots of action and some dumb but funny things that made such star-driven movies even more entertaining and popular. Jack suggested a short stop at the Black Orchid, a comfortable restaurant-lounge on their way home to Karen's place but she said she felt a little tired and just wanted to go home. She offered to make them a snack and coffee. He said he understands because he feels the same way.

Sitting back comfortably on the living room couch, Jack flipped on the tube with the remote and in the three, four minutes it took Karen to make coffee in the kitchen, he caught the tail end of a cable news broadcast about the problem of illegal aliens along the border with Mexico. Estimated two million undocumented illegal immigrants mostly in the southwest, the station announced. Then, just as Karen was setting the coffee down on the coffee table, it broke for commercial with a current-statistics trivia that said:

'U.S. teens give birth every 67 seconds'.

"Could you imagine that?" Jack said incredulously. "Kids having kids every minute in this country. And you know who's paying for that."

"You and I," Karen answered naturally, sitting next to Jack and blowing on her freshly nuked mug of coffee. "The Japanese and some European countries pay for it too."

"How does that happen?"

"The United States is so deep in foreign debt each of us living in it owe at least seventeen thousand dollars."

"It's not fair," Jack complained, picking up his coffee mug to take a sip. "People are having fun and somebody's selling the clothes off my back to pay for it."

He picked up the universal remote, turned the tube off and turned on the stereo, tuning in on the town's favorite easy listening station. Karen drank half of her coffee and then sat back in the couch half an arm's length from Jack, relaxing to the soft music. She had it all thought out if and when he made the move to close that gap between them on the couch. They'd been in this position a few times before, right in this same couch and the one in his apartment in Rosslyn but never got beyond hugging and kissing and rubbing their skins together. She had always made a point of it to him that she's not one to lose her head in the heat of passion on a one night fling.

Well, this time, she's going to prove she's no less vulnerable than perhaps one of those girls somewhere in America who right now, right this very minute, was having a baby. She would of course give him a slight elbow and inch away at first when he made his move. Perhaps she would lean farther back, and down, to the end of the couch, looking a bit tired and in need of some comforting. Then, when he leaned on her to give her that comforting, she would resist with a one-hand push that would get weaker and weaker as he put his arms around her.

At this point, they would be about ninety-eight percent horizontal on the couch, their legs still hanging down the floor but most of him on top of her already. And once he started nibbling on her face and neck, she would keep her eyes closed, but for a moment she would open them halfway to say: "What is this? Pay up time?"

And she imagined him saying some icky male thing like: "All for an honest day's work."

She would continue to resist but at the same time respond gradually, give some sign of submission. And when his hands started exploring her body under her clothes, she would just give a sigh and let him. She would do the same on him, maybe even feel his hard-on. This would most likely lead him to start taking off his pants, and hers too. And to let him know that it's okay, she would even help him, get things moving right along, fast.

At about half past midnight, that scenario was taking place up to where they were horizontal and he was nibbling on her neck. The difference was, nobody said a word. Somehow, she must have given off a signal she wasn't aware she was emitting to him, some female scent or automated movement of her body parts that called for him to respond quicker than she had expected him to make his move.

She did put on some resistance but for no more than a precautionary measure. After she got past this, things happened quickly. They were like two hungry high school kids who had the house for the night while their folks were away somewhere. Their lower body clothes went flying in different directions on the floor. And once they adjusted to a comfortable position on the couch after she had him between her legs, he finally entered her, so eagerly but gently and carefully in recognition of the significance of this event which was at last happening after years of his coming close to it.

There are many ways men make love to women and throughout his adult life, both married and single, he learned a couple here and there. One was taking a woman like a neanderthal and simply obeying his natural drive to transfer his semen to her body. Another was making a game of it first to satisfy his ego and at the same time enjoy the pleasure of sex, then observing the effect of his manhood upon her through the way she responds to him, physically and in every other way. Another one was the hedonistic way where he makes love to her for his pleasure, and equally for her pleasure. This was the way he believed and would like her to think he was making love to her, nothing more, and nothing less.

But while he held her in his arms, kissed her passionately, smelled the fragrance on her skin and hair, he knew he wasn't just having sex with her. He couldn't deny a certain amount of attachment, a strong attraction toward her that went beyond physical, something he felt but was adamant to put into a word, a word like affection.

This, he realized, was one other way he knew how to make love to a woman, remembering the early times when he first got involved with his ex. He made passionate love to her with all his being, with affection, with his mind and heart. And he married her.

Thinking of this a few wholesome minutes after his wonderful orgasm which happened almost simultaneously with hers, he floored the brake pedal on his libido, the joy in his triumph and all the sense of fulfillment that came with a satisfying love making. He slowed down on the nuzzling and cuddling and gradually got off her and lay still close beside her, thinking: so what now?

What's going on here? I'm not ready for anything heavy. Or... am I? And something else, suddenly, dawned on him. Protection! They did it bare. Unless she's on the pill, or had something in her, but he doubted it for he didn't feel anything. It was just her and him in there, everything that was natural with them, and it was wonderful!

He turned his head partly toward her just enough to see her face while he lay on his back with his left arm and leg still bent over her. She didn't stir while her breathing was just now slowing down from the overwhelming ecstacy of her climax.

While in such state of immobility, Jack couldn't have imagined the mental activity that was taking place in her head. Things like the number of days to the end of her cycle from today, tonight, which for an ideal chance of fertilization she hoped to place at between 14, give or take a day.

But first, she recalled the end of her last cycle. From that time, she was positive that the four days starting yesterday through the next two days was her ovulation timespan when that little itty-bitty egg cell, or ovum they call it, will be floating around from her fallopian tube to her uterus looking to meet some nice-looking fellow, a good swimmer hopefully, and right now millions and millions of them, sperm cells from the vasa deferentia of her good friend Jack, were doing breast strokes and freestyles coming upstream.

There were other thoughts running in her head, though, like what if good friend Jack here, pardon the expression, shoots blanks? She hadn't known him to have gotten any girl in trouble, much less fathered a baby. It's also a possibility that he may have a low sperm count.

Or, what if she's the one who's got a problem of some kind? All those years she'd been taking the pill, could that have impaired her natural ability to conceive? One of the books she checked said give it a couple months (from the time you quit taking the pill) before you intend to get pregnant. It had been many more times than that since she quit the pill.

Back to the matter of Jack's... virility, she started thinking just before she opened her eyes at him, it would be a good idea, in case he does have a low count, to have another go at it. At this point, it's a foregone conclusion that he's spending the night and the way he made love to her just now, she didn't doubt that he was up for an encore, or two.

But first, she wanted to make sure he was in good shape tonight, had enough energy left and feeling good about himself.

"You hungry?" she asked, looking up at him while he ran a hand up one of her breasts under her clothes, giving it a gentle squeeze. She would have no objection at all if he went all the way again now.

"I was just wondering what happened to that snack that was supposed to go with the coffee," he said smartly.

"I got occupied," she replied, "sidetracked, got busy doing something else."

They both laughed, tickled.

She said she had ice cream, custard pie, English muffins and leftover baked chicken from the night before. He opted for the custard pie and more coffee. She then asked him to please refill their mugs with fresh water in the kitchen to nuke for two minutes and help himself to making the coffee, telling him how she wanted hers, while she went in to her first-floor bedroom to change.

She came out a few minutes later in a cotton houserobe with nothing underneath, cut the pies and served them in the living room where Jack already had the coffee waiting.

They watched a little TV while they ate, fixing on an American Movie Classic late show, a film made in the fiftys with the Sandra Dee-Troy Donahue teamup. They made small talks and no reference to what happened during their first mug of coffee or what after this second, and the rest of the night. But each of them knew that they were going to share a bed tonight, and it was just a matter of how soon they got there, or how soon one or the other decided to hit the sack, so to speak.

Not long after he said that Sandra Dee was now an old woman and broke and Troy Donahue was long gone and forgotten, and that one shouldn't take the successes and failures in life too seriously 'cause they don't last long, you can't take it to your grave, nobody gets out of life alive so enjoy every single day of your life while you're in it no matter how rotten your day might be, she got up and told him she's checking in, heading straight into the bedroom.

"There are brand-new toothbrushes in the medicine cabinet, shaving stuff, blow drier, towels in the linen closet if you need them," she added as she faded into the bedroom, "help yourself."

It was half past one in the morning when he joined her in bed coming from the bathroom with a fresh minty breath, washed up, and totally naked. First, he held her gently in his arms, kissed her warmly, caressed her soothingly. He could tell how she needed that the way she melted against him. Then, before they both got too aroused to speak, he asked:

"Are we okay without protection?"

"A little late to ask that, isn't it?" she replied.

"It escaped me completely earlier. I have some in the car."

She chuckled. "You don't have to. I'm a big girl. I know what I'm doing."

He made love to her two more times through the night, supplying her with another half a billion swimmers with the possible one and only one to join up with that single primadonna egg cell she hoped she had in her and would answer her natural yearning to have a baby, to be a mother.


(The preceding text constitutes half of the novella)

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