They’d been dancing around their mutual attraction for months but Jen couldn’t bring herself to approach Mr. Vickery, or even call him by his name the way her classmates did. She needed the distance, that bit of formality in place to help her do the right thing. He was, as her mother would say, “a family man” and she wouldn’t let herself hurt his family. On top of that, she didn’t want to be known as one who fucked for grades. Her reputation was too important to her.
Still, she couldn’t stop thinking of him. Or daydreaming about him in class. Little bits of indiscrete fantasizing that Jen immediately stopped whenever his eyes met hers. Today, she hadn’t noticed him looking at her. She was caught mid-fantasy, imagining herself brushing her mouth against his full lips while gazing into his gorgeous dark eyes. He’d close them just before kissing her deeper…
The sound of Mr. Vickery’s voice faltering brought her to attention. He slightly narrowed his eyes at her before clearing his throat and continuing on for the last fifteen minutes of his welding lecture. During that time Jen took notes, tapping furiously into her laptop though her mind kept going back to the moment she came to from her mental fugue to see him at his podium, stuck for what to say next because he had caught her making eyes at him.
The rest of the lecture was a game of hide and seek. Mr. Vickery would turn in her direction and she’d cast her eyes down, to the side, up; anywhere but on him. Then, because she couldn’t help it, Jen stole glances at him whenever she thought he wasn’t looking. She struggled not to focus on the straight lines of his back or the way his shirtsleeves brushed the tops of his tight upper arms. And his hands, god, they drove her crazy. They were strong and fine; delicate looking with a light fans of black hair on the backs of his palms and on his fingers.
More than once she wondered what it would feel like to have his fingers caressing the cleft between her collar bones or his firm grip gliding down the swell of her hips. And what would it be like, she ached to know, if he used his middle finger to stroke her, sliding it in and out of her until she came?
The room suddenly seemed unbearably small and stuffy. Finally, it was time to go down to the shop and weld where she gratefully anticipated the privacy of shutting the heavy plastic curtain to her welding booth. Inside the small, dark space she could take a few minutes to collect herself, put thoughts of him out of her mind.
She had to. He was a married man and she saw by the photos on his desk that he had at least one child. A smiling, keen looking little girl holding a huge plastic Tonka truck. The picture struck her because it wasn’t everyday that one got to see a little girl playing with cars or tools and Jen liked what it said about the girl’s parents.
There was a shuffling and en masse the guys filed out the door. She gathered her things, slipping her laptop into its case and it into her oversize bag, next to her new welding hood. Jen took her time, hoping that the guys would already be setting up or working by the time she went downstairs to the shop. Then she could slip quietly into her booth and avoid their usual banter.
Typically they’d cut steel on the Edwards sheer while talking about the play-offs or the latest horror flick, the guys treating her like one of their own because she worked and played as hard as they did. Jen loved being a real part of those conversations, but today, she just needed to sort herself out.
The laptop secure, she pulled the bag straps over her shoulder like a purse and stood. When she looked up, he was there, holding the door for her. He stared at her so intently that she panicked and rushed through the doorway without looking up or offering her thanks.
He was a step behind her when they reached the wide stairwell and it seemed to her that she was suddenly hyperaware of his body in relation to hers. Her scalp and shoulders prickled as if he were about to touch her. God, she wished he would.
Instead, he went around her and from four or five steps down, looked back up into her face. “Good Morning,” he said. He held his head slightly tilted to the side and stared deep into her eyes. Her breath hitched. All she could manage was a shy smile before he turned and rushed down the rest of the steps to the workshop.
Seconds later Jen put her bag down on the shelf beside her booth and fished out her gear. Then she set up her machine and closed her curtain with a sigh of relief. This couldn’t continue; sooner or later, she’d give in to temptation. She wanted him to the point of distraction. And he knew it.
He seemed to be able to take one look at her and know what she wasn’t saying. At least he was always gentle with her feelings. Like when she couldn’t cut the quarter inch steel bar and was too embarrassed to ask for help, he found her in her booth, working on something else. He searched her face and said, “I need to change the blades on the Edwards Sheer. They’re dull. I’ll bring you some pieces for your next project when I’m done. I have to test the new blades anyway.”
If she could somehow avoid looking into his eyes, she could resist him. The question was: Did she want to? No, not really, but Jen decided that she had to.
A light tapping on the wall of her booth caused her to look up. Then a pair of light brown boots poked under the curtain.
It was him.
“Need help?” Before she could answer, he stepped into her booth and slid the curtain back into place. “I didn’t see any arc, so I thought you might be stuck,” he said.
Don’t look at him. “No, I’m okay. Just setting up.” Jen kept her eyes cast to the floor. She kept sliding her gloves on and off.
“You don’t have any electrodes.” His brow arched. “What are you are working on right now? The final project?”
Jen kept fidgeting with her glove. Still looking down, she said, “Yeah. I was about to get them. I need the 6013s, right?”
Why wouldn’t he leave?
He stopped her hand. “Something wrong?”
Even through the glove, his touch was electric; she had to remind herself to take her hand away. Embarrassed by the flush of heat that ran straight to her center, she shrank into herself. Her shoulders hunched and her arms pinned to her body. She looked up at him from beneath her heavy bangs. Too late she remembered she wasn’t supposed to catch his eye.
His eyes looked like pools of dark chocolate that were both indecipherable and plainly telegraphing his desire for her. He spread out, one arm pressed against the back wall of the booth, his legs in an exaggerated cowboy stance. The movement placed his chest inches away from her face. She stood.
They were face to face, so close she could smell hints of his aftershave. Did he smell the citrus of her shampoo? The cucumber and melon scent of her lotion? Did he like it, she wondered.
It occurred to her that all she had to do was lift her chin a tiny bit to touch her lips to his. He must have had a similar thought because he cupped her chin lightly and lifted.
As his face drew nearer, she put a hand on his chest to stop him. “We can’t,” she breathed.
He pulled back a little, placed his other hand on top of hers and pressed it tighter against his chest. Even through his shirt and welding jacket she could feel the rapid drumming of his heart.
“I know,” he whispered into her ear. His mouth brushed against her throat, testing her resolve. “But, we’re going to regret not doing this.” He kissed and lightly bit her neck. Jen jammed her fingers under his cap, into his hair. She pulled his mouth closer into her.
Someone tapped the curtain. “Mr. Vickery?”
“Uh, yeah, one second.” He pulled away from her and adjusted his jacket to cover his groin.
He looked at her and she understood. They had unfinished business.
They always would.
Elsa earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Though she’s very shy, she’ll come out of hiding for books, good food, and great conversation.