“Can you keep a secret?” He whispers, leaning across the slick disk of black marble.

I detect more than one sidelong glance at the two of us in the busy hotel cafe at mid-afternoon. An unlikely pair, with the apparent difference in our ages. I imagine he looks like he could be my father to the casual observer. But that suits me fine. All very normal.

“It depends…”

I try to look casual, but a fluttery sensation rises in my stomach as I say this. I try not to sound too eager.

“I didn’t tell your father I was meeting you today.  I just didn’t think it was any of his damned business!” He laughs, but looks hopeful for a response in kind.

“I didn’t mention it either. I’m a big girl, now.” I look up from the menu smiling broadly, brushing the hair from my eyes and showing my straight white teeth. Free of the cumbersome orthodontia that had stunted my feminine charm for the better part of two years.

“How long are you in town this time?” I ask, my voice lilting ever so slightly with the question mark.

“I have a lecture scheduled Monday, so just a quick trip. I am glad you were able to get away on short notice like this.” He opens his menu and smiles approvingly.

“We must try the mussels.” He shoots me a playfully raised eyebrow.

Having opted for gin and tonic over my standard glass of chardonnay, I feel relaxed and agreeable to most anything he suggests. Relieved at his confidence. So different than the men my age, who seem always so tiresomely deferential, or maybe just chronically apathetic.

He orders another bourbon and gestures to my empty glass. The server nods and leaves without taking our lunch order, but I don’t really feel hungry at all. He shifts closer to me in the semi-circle booth so we are side by side now with our thighs touching.

“I have missed you, Penelope. Do you know that?”

He turns to face me. I don’t think we’ve ever been this close, face to face. I feel his warm, sweet, boozy breath and the flesh rises on my arms beneath my sheer blouse.

There was a time when I had such a crush on Professor Waldman that I thought the weight of my desire would crush meNobody knew except my best friend Wendy, and she didn’t understand it. She said I had ‘daddy issues’, whatever that means.

I never mentioned him again, hoping the vow we made in sixth grade to keep each other’s secrets held strong between us and she wouldn’t expose me for the pervert I imagined I was.

Meanwhile, it was his handsome face, in five o’clock shadow, floating before my closed eyelids in bed late at night. When I couldn’t sleep from a coiled sense of wanting, for what I didn’t know. It was his voice I imagined in my ear, his hands taking the place of mine, pushing the thin pink nylon nightie with the tiny satin ribbon at the bodice higher up my legs. Slowly reaching the crease of my thigh. Exploring together the undiscovered landscapes beyond.

By the light of day, I tried subtly and not so subtly to make him notice me.  Proud of the womanly curves developing as I pushed toward high school age, I couldn’t wait to show him that I would soon catch up. I would soon be someone he might consider a lady. He already had a wife, but I didn’t think Becca could love him the way I did. All I needed to do was show him.

To be continued…