Manuscript: Lost, Found, Tested

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Annie was hurrying down the jetway with her flight-attendant’s wheelie in tow. Her inbound flight had been delayed, so now they were holding an entire 747-400 for her. All 400 tons of it.

As she passed the jetway jockey, he stopped her, held out a manila envelope. “A passenger found this in here – thinks another passenger might have dropped it.”

She nodded, snagged it, and hurried aboard. The door swung shut behind her.

At the rear of the airplane she stowed her bag, dropped her book and the envelope into the seat she was reserving for herself – it was the daily midnight near-deadhead flight back to Paris, perhaps fifty or seventy five passengers in the cavernous, echoing 400 seat cabin. A relief after her inbound cattle-car.

An unusual thing, these back-to-back flights, just on the ragged edge of union and FAA rules. She was looking forward to the quiet flight and especially to the ensuing three day layover in France. She’d been a stew back when she was quite young, met her husband that way, quit to raise a small family. Then, decades later when she’d decided to try it again, her fluent French and Italian, plus her experience, had brought her back into the trans-Atlantic routes quickly.

An hour later, with the takeoff hoorah and initial drink service done, the cabin lighting semi-dimmed and most passengers already nodding off, she dropped into her seat. Idly, she examined the tan manila envelope – it was crinkled – well used, but with no ink of any kind on the outside, the gummed flap unsealed and just held by the little metal winglets. She shrugged, opened it, hoping for something to identify the owner.

A printed manuscript was all it held – fifteen or twenty pages held together with a paperclip. On the first page, just a title – no author’s name. Unimaginative title, too, she thought; “Mary’s Story”. Annie had been an English major at college, and always critiqued whatever she was reading. Too bad there was no author given – it would have made it easy to see if it belonged to a passenger or could just be discarded out of hand.

Idly, she began reading. By the end of a couple of paragraphs, she had a judgment forming. The obvious main characters were already introduced – Mary and John, how plebian! – and reasonably if simply developed. By the middle of the second page, it was obvious that this was a sophisticated piece of erotica. Vivid, carefully constructed descriptions of things both physical and emotional – thoroughly explicit, minutely yet subtly detailed, all carefully couched in simply beautiful language, a pleasure to listen to in one’s head and capable of instantly evoking powerful imagery. None of the usual sophomoric prose and construction associated with mere cheap “poke, poke, squirt” porn.

She found herself fascinated on two levels – first, she was actually getting damp between the legs. How long, Oh Lord, since THAT had happened to her? Months – perhaps accumulating to years? And secondly, the author simply had to be male, given the attention to physicality – but the story was being developed from Mary’s point of view, and the development was good enough so that the author clearly must have some real empathy for and deep understanding of a woman’s feelings and responses and fears and needs.

She read another two or three pages of “John-and-Mary” activities, became increasingly damp and restive, found herself rubbing her thighs together unconsciously. Abruptly she made a decision, stood, looked about the cabin. No passengers’ problems were obvious, and there were ten other attendants available.

Almost embarrassed for herself, she stepped into a lavatory with the manuscript. She sat with her skirt rucked up and continued to read, slowly, savoring. Good words, underlain by great authorial imagination. Shortly her hand dipped down between her thighs. How long, how forever long had it been? Her fingers fluttered, stroked, pinched, and inside her deepest belly a huge, unbelievably sudden fountain of need erupted. Knowing herself, she stripped two paper towels from the dispenser, rolled them quickly and clamped them in her teeth just as she came. From behind her gag there escaped barely audible gasps and grunts, noises that were she alone in the desert would have been long-drawn soprano howls.

The spasms subsided.

She spat out the towels, stood, tried to steady herself against the shaking of her knees and the internal lava bubbling in her groin. How many climaxes was that, and how fast? One biggie with five subsidiaries, two minutes?

She stared at herself in the scratched steel mirror. Sixty-three and counting. Blond tinting (expensive!) atop her natural mostly-gray, but her Nordic complexion made the color fit. Taller than average, skinnier than most – the blue eyes were brilliant, they and her teeth had always been, still were, her best features, given that she felt her head was too small, her neck too long and her figure somehow suboptimal.

She did a wide rictus of a grin, hated the way her parchment skin keçiören escort wrinkled, and not just at the mouth’s corners either, but all over. Damn! Why couldn’t they transplant the perfectly fine skin of, say, her back and chest up here, where it could do some good?

And what the hell was going on, anyhow, between her legs? It had been what, eight years since her husband died, six since her last recovery/rebound lover. No sex at all since then. No interest, either. Wasn’t she supposed to be over that need at this age? She’d been back at work now for five years, a lonesome, silent bystander amidst the sexual uproar that engulfed many of her crewmates, unobtrusively aloof and gently amused, politely and firmly deflecting all of the occasional incipient passes tossed her way.

Right. No interest! So pray tell why was her pubis now pressed against the sink rim? The big airplane’s overall thrumming vibrations were shivering their way into her belly – interesting! She bit her lip gently, giggled at herself in the mirror, shrugged lewdly, and sat down again, legs spraddled wide on the toilet seat, to treat herself to a replay.

Having finally caught her breath, and with her face returned to normal from its excited pink, she stood, rearranged her uniform, straightened her “Annie” pin on the blouse, and stepped from the lavatory.

Nobody noticed: she heaved a silent sigh of relief and resumed her seat. There, she pondered – what to do about the manuscript? She hadn’t come close yet to finishing it – and that would be an interesting thing to do. But she should really find the owner if he were aboard – bound to be embarrassing, because it would mean she had at least read a little of it. Since it was a lost item, she could, she thought, just keep it. Finders, keepers? But she felt obliged to return it if possible. Besides, the airline’s rules said all found items were to be turned in. Phooey.

Finally, she put the manuscript back into the envelope, refastened the winglets, and went to the intercom. She had an idea how to do this with minimal upset and discomfort.

“Ladies and gentlemen, would the passenger who is traveling with John and Mary please turn on your attendant call button?” That ought to get the author’s attention, if he were aboard – and she almost hoped, for her own sake, that he wasn’t! She watched from her vantage point. For the longest time, nothing happened. Then, just as she was about to repeat the call, an arm rose from a vast desert of otherwise empty seats, deep in the center-four-wide area. The hand reached up, flipped on the call.

Not sure whether to be happy or disappointed, she stepped to the arm’s row, turned off the call-light. He sat there, looking up at her in the dimness, illuminated from above by the reading lamp – nicely good-looking, definitely younger than she, perhaps by as much as fifteen or twenty years, wearing a tee-shirt and shorts. Full beard, curly hair, runner’s legs, a serious twinkle in his eye.

She stood there holding the envelope. He ignored it, and instead made and held eye contact.

“Are you the author?”

“Yes, certainly. So… thank you…” He read her nametag: “… Annie. How far have you read?”

She blushed, wondered if he could tell, decided probably not. She was wrong, but he didn’t let on.

“A few pages. Not nearly all of it.” She held out the envelope, but he continued to ignore it.

“And…?” he questioned, then waited silently.

Her English-major training took over, rescued her for the moment. “Well… Er, um, the two characters are interesting, well developed. The story has logic and good flow. You certainly use language nicely… and you are writing from a most interesting point of view.” She slowed to a stop.

He grinned at her: “Annie, if I wanted a literary critic’s analysis, I would have asked you to channel Sam Coleridge. What do you THINK? Did it make you FEEL anything?”

She cocked her head – he somehow seemed to both demand frankness, and exude trustworthiness. She replied after a moment “Oh. Too many literary criticism courses, I guess. I was an English lit major in another time and universe, far, far away and long go. Sorry. Yes, of course. It did generate responses, quite pronounced.”

She paused, and he seemed to be expecting more, so she went on: “Both physical and emotional. Quite strong ones, actually. Most unusual for me to react as I did.” She reddened again, wondered why she felt obliged to give such details.

He grinned up at her: “Good ones? Pleasant ones, I hope?”

She nodded, proffered the envelope again, but he still ignored it. The silence thickened, until she felt the need to break it: “I wonder – is this in any way autobiographical, or is it purely fiction? Are you John?”

He smiled, laughed gently. “Oh, there are elements of autobiography in it, for sure. But it’s mostly fiction. I do have a very good imagination, and some experience, both of which help. And yes, for what it’s worth, my name keçiören escort bayan is John. I’m glad it was you that found it, rather than someone less…” He paused. “…Less able and willing to read non-judgementally, for merit. Tell me, flight attendant English major Annie, just exactly what about my point of view interests you?”

How to tell him, when she hadn’t fully analyzed it for herself? With a mental shrug, she launched. “Well, for starters it wasn’t completely clear whether you were male or female – I mean, YOU the anonymous author/protagonist.” He laughed delightedly.

“You’re deeply concerned with the physical side of sexuality, which usually means male authorship, but you also have some serious understanding of what and how women think about some things, what matters to them, what their worries are. And, well, frankly, you have taken a most unexpected point of view for a male writer, getting inside a woman’s head. You do it pretty well – surprisingly so, actually. That’s rather unusual.”

“Thank you, Annie – that’s quite a compliment. And after only a few pages, too. The fact is, I very much like women. Greatly prefer them to men, actually. Different species, more rational in many ways, less testosterone poisoning, better balance. Much more interesting. I have studied them, and I do care. It’s nice that it shows in my prose. But your presumption that only the male can be preoccupied with the details of things physical is unwarranted – lots of women are just as caught up in the physicality as men. Lots.”

She gave up holding the envelope out for him, sat on the aisle armrest, envelope in her lap. Her heart was pounding un-naturally hard in her chest, and her palms were sweaty. She looked at him for a long time: he was patient.

“My middle name is Mary” she said almost in a whisper. “An odd coincidence, no?”

His eyes engaged hers as solidly as ever had any man she’d known. It was most disconcerting – in large measure because it was not the least bit uncomfortable. “I prefer not to blame things on coincidence” he said just as softly.

She made as if to offer the envelope once again, but he stopped her, saying “Nope. Keep it. I can print another for myself any time. Perhaps, if you’re interested, you might have time to read the rest of it during the flight tonight – it looks to be pretty quiet. I’d very much appreciate your comments, your analysis, of the entire thing. It is a finished story, but not polished. Perhaps there might be time to chat about it before we land – if you’re interested?”

She thought about it, shook her head gently and said “Probably not possible… but you never know. However, I really would like very much to see how it ends. So, even if I can’t get to it tonight, may I keep it?” Then, suddenly, impish, she wrinkled her nose at him and said quietly “Perhaps you’ll be famous someday and this will be worth a lot. Would you autograph it for me?”

He nodded, smiled, and said “Of course. But not until you’ve read and commented on it. End to end, that is.” He reached for his wallet, extracted a business card, held it out to her face down. She didn’t look at it, locked her gaze with his instead. He held it, unwavering. “Take the card. All it does is unlock possibilities. You can throw it away if you wish. But keys are good things to retain, usually. Perhaps if you read the story in its entirety, you’d like to discuss it. I would genuinely value your input. And then I’ll happily sign it for you.”

Two, then three breaths passed. Suddenly, she reached for the card, palmed it, making a tiny point of not turning it over for a quick scan. “I’ll see what I can do about reading it. We get in at 1030, so there’s quite a bit of time. Would be a lot better than dozing, if there’s enough free time.” Then, unexpectedly even for herself, she asked “So is Paris your endpoint or are you just changing for elsewhere?”

He shrugged, pointed at the briefcase in the seat beside him and said “Scientific conference in Paris, I have to speak and chair a session. But whenever I travel, I always give myself two or three days of spare time when I arrive, to unwind, and fix the jet-lag, and to have some fun. Lovely town, Paris. How about yourself?”

“Oh…” Annie said, wondering for a moment just how candid to be and consciously deciding that she trusted this man, although for no articulatable reason. “I get a good layover after this flight – I had an earlier flight back to back, so I get three days this time. One of the good little perks of the job.”

Before either could extend the conversation, a passenger call-button went off with its distinctive ‘ping’ several rows forward, and Annie excused herself. “Duty calls! More later?” It was a question, and she was quite happy when John nodded and grinned, said “Anytime, as much as you can spare. I’m not going anywhere soon.”

Shortly, back in the attendant area, she pondered things for several minutes, then shook herself hard, mentally. She reached escort keçiören into her purse, extracted a generic “fill in your name” employee business card for the airline’s employees to use. She stared at it for a long minute, then flipped it over and wrote on the back the name of her hotel. And bit her lip again. Was she really going to do this?

One more mental self-shaking, and she stepped up to John’s row. He looked up at her from his papers, smiling. The smile decided her. She held out the card, face down, in his style. He took it as she had taken his, without looking at it, never losing eye to eye, just raised one eyebrow quizzically. And he waited.

She settled on one hip on the armrest and leaned towards him. With her face flaming she whispered hurriedly, almost stumbling over the words, “That’s my hotel, on the back. It’s not where the crew stays, I prefer to spend some of my own money and get a nicer place. It takes us cabin-crew about two hours to clear customs and get to the hotel. It’ll take you another hour – passenger lines are much slower.”

She paused, and his hand reached out and gently caged hers – he had big hands, strong, gentle. She shivered so violently that he could feel it. “So… perhaps, if you are interested and have no other plans, you could ask at the desk at about fifteen hundred for an envelope addressed to John and Mary?”

John looked up at her, smiled a particularly enticing smile, squeezed her hand again, and tucked the card carefully into his briefcase, still without looking at it. “Believe me, I’m interested. Very. Fifteen hundred on the dot. And Annie – or perhaps it’s Mary? …” She looked at him again, waiting. “If the envelope contains a note saying “Please cancel and forget it”, I will totally understand. Agreed?”

She nodded silently, stood, and fled back to her duties.

The next several hours were simply agony – but despite time passing within their aircraft as if swimming in molasses, they did arrive on time at Orly. Her estimates for ground-travel time were exactly right.

Fourteen forty, and John exited the metro two blocks from Annie’s hotel. In the first block, a large new department store beckoned: in ten minutes he’d located all the necessities: a chilled bottle of good champagne, an ounce of fine Russian caviar, silver caviar spoon, box of Table Water crackers, four exquisite dark-chocolate Belgian truffles, and a single red rose. It all fit nicely into the little wicker basket which hung on his arm.

The desk provided the envelope – inside was slip of paper with the room number on it, and the directive “knock three times twice”. He took the creaky wire-gated old elevator to the sixth floor, found the room, knocked gently at exactly fifteen hundred.

Inside, Annie bit her lip gently once more, wondering at her own unheard-of audacity. She’d spent the last hour in the shower, then with razor and hair-drier adjusting, inspecting, worrying. Ultimately she decided on simplicity and directness: she opened the door clad only in the room’s complimentary heavy white terry-cloth robe, stepped back to let John enter, her eyes taking in the basket, her expression showing her delight, but she said nothing.

The heavy door swung shut behind him with a soft, authoritative thunk. She studied his expression, the tiny details of eyes and mouth and carriage – and relaxed slightly when all the signs were as positive as humanly possible. They stood there face to face for a second, then his eyes scanned the room over her shoulder.

The big bed was dressed in dark blue sheets, covers all gone – folded and piled on a nearby chair. In the middle of the sheet lay the manuscript, a brilliant white rectangle. She followed his gaze, waited.

He smiled at her, then asked “So – did you find time to finish it?”

She shook her head no, then took a step forward, putting them both deep inside one another’s personal space. She looked up at him from almost too close to focus properly and whispered “No – I wanted to, but thought of a better plan. How about you read it to me instead – nice and slowly? We can use it as a game plan, a road map. It might be fun, don’t you think, to see if we can make reality live up to your fantasies? If that would be okay with you, that is…”

He slid the basket off his arm, set it on the dresser, cupped her face in his hands and nodded – “A perfectly wonderful idea – enthusiastically accepted! But am I to call you Mary or Annie?”

“Mary!” she replied firmly. Then she did one of those female wriggle-shimmy things that men can never understand much less imitate, and the robe slid from her shoulders to pool at her feet.

John stepped back a half-step, scanned her from head to toe, whistled softly and murmured “God, you are simply beautiful. Very Botticelli, Mary… absolutely gorgeous.” He stepped forward, returning to unfocusable nearness.

She reached up, took his hands from her face, slid them slowly down her shoulders, ribcage, until they cupped her almost non-existent breasts, nipples poking firm and upright into his palms. As he leaned slowly forward, bringing his lips towards hers, she slid her hands down his belly, began blindly unfastening his buckle. Just before their lips connected, she muttered “Time to get started – after all, we only have three days!”

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