The Huff Post has revolutionized journalism in the last few years by taking over the news and news feature delivery business. Now I'm using the blog to venture into the realm of story publishing. Starting this week, my novel Seeing Red became serialized on the Huffington Post. Here is the conclusion of CHAPTER ONE, "SEX AND CINNAMON":
There hadn't really been anyone before Ben. Only a boy. A rangy high school beau named Robbie who she'd known since seventh grade. The two of them had shared popcorn at Saturday night movies. They had gone to football and basketball games, parties, the prom. But they'd always had a curfew. They had always lived under the ironclad scrutiny of Ronda's mother. Mama Marie, as Robbie had always called her.
And then Ronda went to college. All of her dorm mates had lost their virginity by Thanksgiving. She had hung on, though, writing long letters to Robbie at Cornell. Looking forward to some vague future she wasn't sure was ever going to happen.
Her second semester, though, she had met the infamous and handsome Professor Ben. Philosophy 114, Morals and Society. And when he actually noticed her, when he had complimented her writing, when he scrawled on the bottom of her first essay, "Please come see me, as you seem exceptionally talented," she raced to his office. At which point, he spoke to her not about Nietzsche or Kant or Hegel, but about ballet, asking how many hours a day she worked her pliés and arabesques and battements. About how sore her legs were at the end of an afternoon on toe.
By the end of the spring term, Ronda had earned an A plus. And as soon as the final grades were in, the very next night, Ben invited Ronda over for warm Japanese Saki and to share his passion for astronomy. They spent the evening on the roof of his apartment house, studying the moon through the telescope he had made himself. Staring into the black velvet sky, he explained that four billion years before, the earth and the moon were one.
By 8:30, they were indoors, lying on the sofa together. She read to him: "Ode to the West Wind," by Shelley. The following night, Ben fixed her dinner: homemade pasta, garlic bread, porcini mushrooms, fresh tomato sauce with basil. And when she'd eaten only a bite or two, and claimed she was full, because she had to watch her weight, because she was a dance major and being a dancer, she had to stay slim, then, he fixed her a gigantic Caesar salad.
As he tossed the dressing into the crisp green lettuce, Ronda watched him; she noticed how wide his shoulders were, how the sides of his eyes crinkled when he laughed. That's when she blushed warm, and a new thought rushed into her mind, "I could fall in love with this man."
Two weeks later, they had dated 18 times: seven lunch dates, four more times on the roof tracking stars, three movies, including one antiquated drive-in, two times bowling, once roller skating, and once a canoe ride that ended with her diving over the side and swimming to shore. One warm clear night, they swam at Craft Pond, and afterward, they stayed up on the roof talking the whole night, lying beneath the white light bulb of a full moon.
By May 17th, Ben had already asked her three times to go up to Greylock with the soft blue blanket. She kept saying no, because she knew about that blanket. Because he had used it with innumerable other girls. So widespread were the rumors about Dr. Fallon's famous Greylock breakfast picnics that a couple students one year had pitched in and bought him a basket with a checkered cloth lining in the same sky blue color as the blanket.
She held out until May 28th. The following week, she was supposed to move back home for the summer. To live with Mama Marie. To be a lifeguard at the local pool. And maybe because of that, maybe because she couldn't face life without Ben, couldn't face life erased of all emotion, all warmth, all light, all male touch, she agreed that "maybe" she'd go up to Greylock. She would think about it overnight, she said, and let him know the following morning.
"Call me early," she said on Wednesday night when he had walked her from the ballet studio back to her dorm. "And then, I'll be all ready, or I won't, and then we'll go. Or we won't."
"Fine," he said, folding his arms and squinting into the sunset at her, and then, when she just stood there, looking at her Dr. Scholl sandals, her bare toes, he reached over, grabbed her.
"Come over here," he whispered, pulling her into the arms he had built up so systematically, with push-ups, and late night workouts in the college weight room. "Your body is gorgeous," he said as he kissed her face and raced his hands up and down her torso, which was tightly encased in a black leotard.
"This isn't the best place," she said, chuckling, struggling out of his grasp. "I mean we're right out in the open, Professor Fallon."
"Exactly," he said. "Which is why I'd like you to come up to Greylock with me. In the wee hours of the morning it'll just be me and you and maybe a few bears."
He had packed carefully. The freshly squeezed orange juice he poured into stemmed glasses. A thermos of coffee and for it, real cream and mugs. Whole strawberries laid out on a flowered china plate. Grapes that he squeezed, jokingly, from his lips and teeth into hers. Small triangles of Swiss cheese and squares of cold buttered toast. And the cinnamon rolls.
He bought two, on the way, at 6 a.m. when the Cinnaman Bakery first opened its doors in town. She ate a bite of one. He ate his and had begun to work on the rest of hers. It was then that she poured herself more coffee, lay back on the blue blanket. Played with the rays of sunlight. Then closed her eyes. Figured he was eating, so she would just rest. Let the sun pour down on her face. That's when he cupped his hand gently over her breast.
She lay there, trying to decide what to do. Before she could reach a decision, he had lifted her T-shirt, and slipped his other hand inside her bra. All the while he kept his eyes fixed on hers. Saw that she saw. Saw that she saw that he couldn't wait.
"Ben?" she whispered. "Is this...is this..." what she was going to say was, "is this a good idea, I mean, right this minute?"
What he said instead was: "Don't worry, Ms. Cari, this is not a test. Or a quiz. Or an essay. Or a philosophical debate. This is just when I make love to you in the sun. Because I've been waiting for you. All semester. Every fucking day since I first saw you waltz into my classroom in a goddamn leotard. For chrissake do you realize what you do to men wearing those goddamn dancer's clothes? I want you to know it was torture sometimes trying to keep my mind on the books. Surely you realize now how I feel."
"But isn't it always this way for you," she said in a low voice. "I mean, right? Every semester it's a new girl."
"No. I know what you've heard," he whispered, his face buried in her chest. "But I promise you, I've never felt like this."
And so in a great fever and no time at all he removed her T-shirt and soon enough her bra, and she discovered how much she liked him licking her torso and nipples. And before she knew it, he took the white paper bag, the one that said CINNAMAN BAKERY in red letters on the side and he tipped the bag upside down and he shook it so that cinnamon sugar sprinkled onto her shoulders, her flat belly, her breasts. Throwing the bag aside, he proceeded to suck the sweet brown powder off her skin.
She was in ecstasy. She was in doubt. She wanted to get up, run out of the forest. She wanted to stay all day, lying there curled up with him. She moaned out loud.
That's when he rolled on top of her. That's when he began undressing the bottom half of her, saying, "I really think I'm in love with you Ronda. I love you. Can you hear me Ronda Cari, I'm saying I love you."
"You do?" she whispered, in a tone that meant, "You really mean this? You don't say these very same words to every girl you bring up here?"
"I do. I want you. I want you more than I've ever wanted anybody before."
It was at that moment she murmured to him. "Ben, I am not ready. I really don't think I want to do this yet I am just not there yet I..." By then though he was inside her body and then he exhaled the word Amen. Then all she could do was listen, and watch. He was powerful. The pain was sharp and tight and ripping but she focused instead on the vireo, its sweet warble, and what came to mind was how she first saw Ben, facing the blackboard, strong. A big reddish blonde head and a blocky, square body. There in front of the classroom, a coffee mug in his right hand and scrawling with his left, something from Plato's Republic.
Why when Ben was first inside her was she thinking about the curious way he had of erasing the blackboard, from the bottom up, the short up and down strokes. Why was she thinking about chalk dust at a time like this?
Later, as he was lying beside her, as she looked at the clear glisten on her belly, as she felt tears gather in her eyes, she decided to listen to the vireo only.
Ben Fallon was trying to kiss another purple grape the same color as the stain on her lips, into her mouth, but she wasn't sure she wanted him to. Her eyes blurred, and she sprang off the soft blue blanket. Stepped lightly over Ben, and fled through the forest. There, she crouched low, hovering over a mossy spot. Eyes closed, clouded, she breathed steadily, gathering herself into a still moment.
And then, not knowing why she had to dance, she did. She rose in the sunlight, a flower unfolding, and bent at the waist, twisted, circled once quickly, arms clasped over her head. Again and again and again, she rose, threw herself into a wild series of relevés, each time she came down feeling the thick wet moss between her toes. Each time she rose, feeling her abdomen go up, up, up, and down and up, up, up. Up and out of itself, again and again and up some more.
Finally, when the dead feeling down between her hips had melted, when the stiffness had poured out of her lips, when her eyes had dried, when she was winded and no longer scared and she could feel her lower half alive again, at that moment, she stopped. Still on toe, her breath going quickly in and out of her mouth, and so much sweat on her brow that it began forming small beads, at that moment, she twirled again, bending alternately forward and backward at the waist. As if she were a leaf.
As if the tree overhead had hold of her hands. As if she was attached by a stem, and she was caught in a wind and blowing in every direction. Like all the leaves, all of them whispering and waving overhead.
A steady clapping began. She looked up, and there stood Ben, in his blue jeans only. His zipper undone, his belt dangling on his hips. Embarrassed, she dropped onto her knees and leaned over so her forehead touched the ground.
"That was incredible," he said, lightly touching her hair. "Really." He spoke in the most polite voice she'd ever heard from him. "I don't know much about dance, but I think you are terrific. I mean, if you want to, Ronda, I bet you could be a really really great dancer."
"You think so?" she asked, looking up at him. She recalled then what her father had said when she was eleven, just a few months after she had started on toe. "Gironda," he said, "You are so beautiful dancing. You are a real ballerina."
"Yes," Ben replied, taking hold of her hand, and pulling her to her feet. A smile played at his lips. "You would be especially popular if you always danced like this. Buck naked."
Her gaze fell. Ben kissed her mouth and then both breasts. He turned and led her back through the forest to the blanket.
Together, they sank. She was hot and flushed. Without knowing why, and with something new and totally unfamiliar rushing through her, she pushed herself on top of him. Taking hold of his hands, she stretched their arms out together. Wide.
"I feel right now like I could fly," she whispered, her legs stretched out behind her. Warm light bathed her back. Energy pulsed from her pelvis straight down through her thighs into her toes.
"I feel like I could screw you again," he whispered.
She went up onto her elbows. Stared into his gray blue eyes. The salmon-colored curls ringing his sweaty forehead. She saw the earnest look in his face.
"So I think I would like the same thing," she said, not knowing her own voice. "Screwing, I mean." She leaned her lips right into his ear and breathed out, hard. "Only this time, Professor Fallon, please. Make sure that I'm along for the ride?"
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