Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice:
This was supposed to be the best time of my life. I was in the prime of my life, not quite thirty yet. Intelligent, beautiful and already published once. Granted, it was a biography and had a very small print run, but dammit, I was an author.
My hopes had been so high when I pulled up to the bed and breakfast that we were usurping for the week. The owners would be around to put a breakfast on the table each morning, and the fridge was stocked for us to make other meals, but we were expected to do even the cooking together, immersing ourselves in our characters, their environment, the ideas swirling around as many heads as fit in the seven bedroom house.
The house had so much character, I was tempted to make it the main theme in my story, reliving the lives spent within it, the children who grew and moved away, the old couple that died in their bed and left it to a lost grandchild. I had it all in my head the moment I parked on the street and pulled out my bags.
No one came to help me with my bags, and I hadn’t expected anyone would. Once I opened the door, however, a gentleman with grey in his red-brown hair, picked up one. “You must be Grace. Let’s get you moved into the room upstairs.”
I tried to remember the names of the authors I was to share this experience with, but I came up blank on a male name. I was sure we were all girls.
He seemed to know this and take pity on me. “I’m Robin,” he said, turning the brass handle and opening the door. “I’m in the next room over. You’re the second last to get here.”
I nodded, knowing I hadn’t been early. The trip had taken longer than I expected and I wanted nothing more than a shower.
“I’ll let you settle in. We’re starting dinner as soon as Melissa gets in.”
“Thank you, Robin,” I said, taking my bag and opening it on the bed.
He had seemed so gentile, so well-mannered, that I didn’t expect to see him in the hall when I walked back to my room after a shower. His eyes raking over me didn’t make angry, they made my stomach flip. He was a very attractive man, after all. The fact that he was twenty years my senior made him more alluring rather than less.
“Pardon me,” he said at last, opening the door to his room and stepping inside.
I finished dressing in my own room, but I couldn’t mistake the sounds coming through the wall. The old house wasn’t very insulated and Robin’s voice as he warred with himself was muffled, but clear enough.
“She took advantage of the opportunity, stealing his heart before he was ready. Like a child sticking her finger in the pudding, she wasn’t content to wait.”
A little disturbed, I hurried down the stairs and enjoyed a lovely supper with the ladies that would be working with me including the NY Times bestseller that was leading us. She was very approachable and down to earth and kept us all talking through the meal.
That night, he continued, undressing and dressing down the woman I presumed was myself. At ten, I became infuriated as my own writing suffered. I couldn’t focus with him nattering on in the next room.
Knocking loudly, I even went so far as to open the door. He sat at the desk in only his shorts and I immediately regretted my brashness. “I’m sorry! I only wanted to ask if you could be quieter.”
I’d forgotten I was in my nightdress until, for the second time in one day, his eyes drank me in. “Would you like to come in?”
“No.” It was a lie, one my nipples poking through the satin made plain. “No, I’d like to get this outline finished, but I’m having trouble concentrating.”
“Of course. Do you have some sort of music that might drown me out?”
“I might.” She’d listened to music to get her in the mood of a scene or situation before. She supposed she could do that again.
“Are you distracted for another reason?” He rose and strode toward me. The nearer he came, the more clearly I could make out the erection in his shorts. My eyes seemed glued to it. He took hold of the edge of the door, his hand over my shoulder. So close, I closed my eyes and waited for the anticipation, the fear, the awkwardness to pass.
I heard the door close behind me and opened my eyes, seeing only his. They were green, deep and dark like a coniferous forest. I could see a gold circling the irises, lining them.
“Grace?” he asked, his hand finding my shoulder and sliding down it to my hand. “I think we want the same thing.”
“I’m not a child.” I complained.
His eyes widened. “I never thought you were. I wouldn’t think of...if you were...” His words faded as his eyes narrowed and closed, his lips coming to touch mine.
At first, I held perfectly still, almost afraid of what might happen, but then a rush of heat burst from my chest through my face and belly and I thought I wanted nothing more than to be on that bed.
I woke in the morning to the sound of his voice. He seemed to be describing the night before.
“Robin! What are you doing?”
He turned to me from the desk where he sat, naked.
“You’re awake,” he said with a smile, drifting to my side and pressing kisses to my neck. “Sleep well?”
I had to fight to keep my head clear. “What were you doing? Are you making notes on me?”
I pushed away a little and he let me go, rising from the bed and finding his shorts. At least he could take a hint.
“Breakfast should be ready soon,” he said, turning back to me on the bed. He pulled a sweater on and moved for the door. “I’ll see you down there.”
I went to the desk, but found nothing. No pens, no pencils, no notepad. Nothing. Confused, I continued to the shower to wash the stickiness from between my legs. By the time I joined the group downstairs, they were already discussing the progress each had made in the night.
“How about you, Grace? What are you working on?”
I set my coffee cup down more forcefully than I intended. “I didn’t get much of anything done last night.”
Robin didn’t meet her gaze, instead nibbling on a danish.
“Well, I’m sure you can start fresh today,” Jody said, taking my hand and squeezing it. “What’s the story?”
I sighed and relaxed a little, telling them my idea about the house.
“Ah, and keep them guessing so they don’t know if they’re following a ghost or not.”
I nodded, glad my idea worked for them. In fact, after discussing it with two other ladies, I was in a hurry to get back to my room and my laptop.
Before opening my file, I started a music player in the background and turned it up, hoping not to hear Robin. It seemed to work. I could still hear his voice, but not the words. I’d drawn up the outline and started working on the opening scenes when my stomach grumbled and I moved downstairs for lunch.
As soon as I closed my laptop, the music cut out.
“The pink in her cheeks, the unmistakable mark of youth. She was free. Free of him and all his attempts to tie her down. He might chain her in his basement, but her soul would never be contained.”
I shivered and listened a little longer, disappearing into what Robin was describing. He didn’t get more than a few sentences before he stopped and I heard his door open.
“Grace? Can I come in?” he asked through my door.
“Um, yes, sure.” I kicked my dirty panties under the bed and pulled my hair behind my ears. “Anything I can do?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“No. I just noticed you’d stopped typing and was wondering if you wanted to dig up lunch together.”
His smile was a soft and welcoming as it had been when he collected her bags. If he looked on me with longing again, it was directed at my back as he followed me down the stairs.
We were alone in the kitchen, though there was evidence that someone had been by to make a sandwich. We were to meet again at two for a lecture and another discussion before writing until dinner at six. Rather than go back upstairs, Robin suggested we wait in the lounge with our lunch for the rest to join us. Sitting beside Robin on the couch, I felt the same tingling and fluttering I had the last time I had been so close to him. He didn’t press me, didn’t lean into me. Instead he sat back, his arm across the back of the sofa, and stroked my hair while eating with his free hand.
“Did the music help?” he asked, and I nearly jumped when he spoke.
“Yes. I got my outline finished and I’m ready to dive into the first chapter.”
He smiled. “I’m glad to hear that.” He touched her head again, stroking. “Who lives in the house first?”
“A young couple, full of fresh hopes, newlywed, soon expecting. I wanted to start on a high and drop the reader from there.”
Robin nodded. “Are you afraid it will seem like your story doesn’t start until the second owners?”
I shook my head. “I have a preface, with the builder’s daughter, so it seems like she’s the soul stuck in the building. Then later, I reveal that it is actually the soul of the house itself.”
Robin closed his eyes for a moment. “Just imagining what it would be like to be the soul of the house, to see everything that goes on inside you, to hear every word, every breath.”
Not for the first time, I felt a little anxious about the way he was stroking me. His voice, especially with the words and phrases I’d been hearing recently, turned me on more than I expected. Panty-dropping. I leaned a little closer and sprang back as another author came in.
“Hello. Don’t you two look cozy. Have more luck this morning?” Jody asked me. I smiled and nodded.
“Yes. I think I’ll make good progress from now on.”
Two nights later, I hit a wall. Part of me thought I should use the cliche and make it a wall of the house, but instead, I turned down my music and listened to Robin.
“You are nothing to me. Just a bit of flesh to tease and play with. If it weren’t for how pleasing your flesh is, I would discard you.”
As it had before, it seemed Robin was talking to me, demeaning me. Closing my laptop, I lay back on my bed listening to the man of the play further strip away any protections from the woman until she bare to him, not merely naked, but completely exposed mentally as well.
I held my breath as my fingers traced my skin, waiting for the physical interaction that was bound to come next.
“Touch your breast. Squeeze the right nipple.”
I did as he said even though he wasn’t instructing me, but the character in his story. He directed my hand down between my thighs, encouraging me to pleasure myself, to bring myself closer and closer to climax.
I was heaving when the door opened abruptly. I rolled right off my bed, startled by Robin’s entrance.
He lifted me into his arms and lay me back on the bed. “I had to see it. I knew you were doing it, but...I had to see.” His breath was coming in great heaves just like mine. He was still dressed, but his erection wasn’t hidden by his pants. I reached out for it, but he took my hand and placed it on my pelvis. “Please, let me see.”
“Tell me what to do,” I murmured, still mesmerized by his voice.
“Open yourself, spread the lips open and show me how pink you are, how wet you glisten. Oh, Grace,” he groaned, and I felt his hair brush my belly below my shirt and above the open crotch of my pants. He leaned more heavily into me and I moved my fingers faster, teasing myself.
He shifted down and his tongue took the place of my finger. I gripped his hair in two hands and rocked my hips, unable to restrain them.
We spent that night in my bed, and although his voice woke me, for once it wasn’t the voice of his characters or narrator.
“Grace, my muse, you have no idea what you’ve done to me, for me. I will never be able to thank you enough, even though I know this will all end when we leave.”
“Hmmm?” I asked blearily. His voice was hypnotic, and I almost went to sleep again.
“Nothing, love. Rest, we will have to rise soon enough. Sleep a little more.”
I gladly took him up on that. When we descended together, we were given much more appraising looks. I felt my cheeks heat, knowing what they were all thinking. I made sure I didn’t sit beside Robin.
The next time I sat down to write, Robin was dictating again. I’d decided to write the next section in a notepad and had just started a new page. However, the erotic scene he was describing managed to make its way through the wall, and I gritted my teeth, rubbing my thighs together. My pencil bowed the the pressure I’d put on it, and it snapped in the middle and I dropped it on the paper to surprise him the same way.
“You are what I make you. You feel what I let you feel- Grace?!” For the first time I saw that he held his phone in his hand. That was what he’d been recording into. I’d never figured it out. I grabbed it from him and checked it was still recording.
“You will make me feel it all, and then you will hear it when you transcribe this,” I said, setting the phone on the desk and stretching out on the bed.
He reached over and stopped the recording before sitting on the edge of the bed. “Grace. I give that to a typist.”
I covered my face as the flush of embarrassment overcame me.
He chuckled. “Not that she wouldn’t get as much pleasure from listening to you as to me, but I think we won’t push Mrs. Carruthers that far, okay?”
“Yes. You drive me to distraction. You know that?”
He leaned over me, using his nose to tease my cheek my ear. “I had noticed. I’m glad you appreciate my work.”
“God, yes, I want you to do everything to me that he does.”
He backed up very slightly, looking into my eyes in confusion. A grin split his lips. “There is no he in my story. They are both women.”
I’d thought it strange in all the segments that he’d never actually fucked her, but now that made sense. He, well she, didn’t have that ability. Rather than turn me off or make me feel stupid, it turned me on. I started imagining the two women, the one controlling the other, their relationship.
“Robin,” I said, arching my back.
I didn’t have to say much more, showing him what I wanted.
We each spent the night in our own beds, avoiding the scandalous stares the next morning. Several of the women still eyed me oddly, but no one said anything.
“Grace, would you read for us?” We were each reading a segment of what we had written and I was the second last to present. Robin still hadn’t read either. I couldn’t wait for him to do so. Then all the women would understand why I was obsessed with the man.
I got feedback on my piece. It was too slow in places and I needed to give each character a little more individuality. I looked to Robin, but the session was ended.
“But, Robin didn’t read.”
“He has nothing to read from,” I was reminded.
“He could play back something.”
“I’d rather not,” Robin argued. “I have no way of making corrections before it is typed out.”
“This isn’t his first retreat, Grace. He participates in everything else, though.”
I slumped a little. So much for vindicating myself.
After that, I listened more carefully, sacrificing my own work to indulge in his. If he hadn’t already published erotica he really was missing out. He was so good at it. It was our last night when I knocked on his door.
“Come in, Grace.”
I stood in my nightgown at the door, feeling so much younger and more foolish than him.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“You’ve nearly finished and I’ve barely started.”
He walked toward me, tucking my hair behind an ear. “We each write in our own way. I thought you passage was good. Your idea is marvelous. I’m sure, with a little time and revision, you will have no trouble finding a publisher.”
He put a finger to my lips. “You can’t compare. My method is different. After I see this in print, I’ll change it in a hundred ways. Just because you’re moved by my words, doesn’t mean they’re the right words or that I can’t make things clearer.”
“I’ll never be as good as you.”
“Now you sound like the child you claimed I called you. You will succeed only where you strive. Don’t let me ruin this for you.”
I held his hand moving it to the hem of my nightgown. He pulled it back, straightening my skirt. “Not tonight, Grace. We have to say goodbye tomorrow and that would only make it harder.”
“Then let me meet you again.”
He shook his head. “I have a husband waiting for me.”
I started to slide to the floor, but he caught me. “You’re...gay?”
“Bisexual. He knows I often hook up with the women here. He isn’t jealous of women. He knows they aren’t enough for me.”
“Often?” It seemed more was shattering around me, proving my naivety to everyone, especially myself.
“This isn’t my first retreat,” he said, echoing our hostess. “You aren’t my first muse. I think you might be the best so far, though. I have never written so much so quickly. Thank you, Grace.”
He kissed me then, and it felt different from all the others, shorter and chaster. It was encouragement, hope, like the kiss of an older brother, a father. It didn’t stop tears leaking from my eyes. I was so silly, so foolish.
“Don’t be sad, Grace. Don’t feel ashamed either. This is what we needed when we needed it. It will stay here. One more thing this house has seen.”
My eyes widened and I knew I needed to add something to one of my storylines.
“Excuse me.” I bolted out his door and through mine, picking up my broken pencil because I couldn’t wait on my laptop.
When I took a deep breath and set the pencil down, some ten pages later, I leaned back and felt arms behind me.
“That’s beautiful, Grace,” Robin said, reading over my shoulder.
The closure only half prepared me for leaving the next day. It wasn’t fair that I should feel so tied to a man I wasn’t likely to see again. I was on the road, still fending off the odd tear when my phone beeped with a new message. I wasn’t totally surprised to hear Robin’s voice.
“Grace, you are an amazing woman and your skill and craft will only improve with time. Please enjoy my early work as I have enjoyed yours.”
There were several new items in my mailbox, sound files. Smiling, I queued up the first one.
Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege and the upcoming Thickness of Blood. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including Kimmydonn.com