The Graduate, Vamped and Revamped: 2 / 6

The Graduate, Vamped and Revamped: 2 / 6

An Altered Fates Story
A second look at the 1967 film, The Graduate
and the 1963 novella of the same name by Charles Webb.

By Iolanthe Portmanteaux

Ben intended to drink another martini — a whole one, this time. Aside from finishing Mrs Crusoe’s drink, he’d only had a single sip of the drink his father had given him, and that was several hours ago. Ben wasn’t drunk, but he was exhilarated: he was buoyed by Mrs Crusoe’s kisses. He could still feel her lips on his. He smiled and told himself, Another martini couldn’t hurt.

Before he reached the bar, Ben was waved down by his father, who wanted him to say goodbye to an older couple that was leaving. Ben was bouncy and light, and the couple left in good spirits. After they closed the door to the departing guests, Ben’s father turned and gestured with his chin at Crusoe and the Bagman, who were lying unconscious on the sofa. “I wish we could get rid of those two,” he commented. “Ben, why don’t we roll them down the garden stairs and let them sleep it off down there?” Justine was standing near Mr Crusoe, drinking what appeared to be a tumbler of water. She had her eyes on the two men, and had a look of what seemed professional disinterest. She regarded the two unconscious sots the way a dogwalker looks at their charges.

Ben followed his father to the kitchen. “It’s disgusting,” Ben’s father told his wife. “The pair of them should know better. Drunk, like a pair of bums in an alley. It’s only five o’clock, and look at them!” Mrs Haddock’s face showed her distress, but her motivation was quite different. “How could he bring that girl here, to our house? How could he do such a thing to Leslie?” She shook her head. “It makes us look bad. It makes us seem complicit. No wonder Leslie left so quickly. I don’t know when I’ve been so embarrassed and upset! What on earth will I say to Leslie, next time I see her?.” Mrs Haddock looked out the window, toward the Crusoe’s house, as though she could see her friend’s offended footsteps in the grass.

Surprising his parents as well as himself, Ben assured them, “I’ll see what I can do.” He suddenly felt capable of anything.

First, he took Justine’s example and drank a glass of water. It had an unexpected tonic effect. “You’re dehydrated, that’s why,” his father explained. Ben drank another. Then he walked across the room and stood face to face with Justine.

“Look at these two,” she said with a smirk. “They meant to carry me off—” she gestured out the back “—down there.”

Ben supplied the words: “To the lower garden.”

“Okay, the lower garden,” she acknowledged, and her smirk widened. “They thought they could have their way with me, but look at them! I think they’re done until morning, don’t you?”

“I guess so,” Ben said.

Justine lifted Mr Crusoe’s arm by his little finger, then let it drop. It hit the couch with a limp flop! She gave Ben a cute shrug.

He looked at her light blue eyes, her long straight sandy-blonde hair, her generous breasts and narrow waist. She was even more beautiful than she’d been in high school. “Do you need any help with these two?”

“Actually, yeah,” she said, glancing from one inert form to the other. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to bundle them into the car. Could you help me with that?”

Ben considered the size of each man and replied, “Sure. Let me get my dad.”

The three of them hauled the two drunken men, one at a time, off the living room couch, out the front door, and into the back seat of Crusoe’s car. There was no point in trying to “not make a spectacle” as Mrs Haddock put it: that ship had long since sailed. The two inebriates had lain, sprawling, in the center of the living room for a good twenty minutes. There was no way to hide what was happening.

While they labored with the two heavy, sleeping men, Ben observed his father making furtive glances at Justine’s breasts and derriere.

“Do you think you could drive?” Justine asked Ben. “I’m not drunk, but I’m sure I’m over the limit. I can pay for your Uber home.” Ben nodded.

“Are you okay to drive?” his father asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I didn’t even finish a whole drink.”

“How will you get home?”

“Uber,” Ben and Justine answered together.

Ben’s father nodded, and after closing Justine’s door, he told Ben in a low voice, “Don’t hurry back. Take your time,” and he stole a last glance at Justine. She smiled and waved, and mouthed the words Thank you.

“Oh, to be 35 again!” his father softly groaned. Then laughing, he playfully punched Ben in the arm.

Ben got behind the wheel, fastened his belt, started the car, and — involuntarily — glanced at Justine’s bare legs. They were white as cream, without flaw or blemish. Ben blushed and quickly looked away.

Justine gave some brief directions, then said, “It’s fine to look. Don’t worry about it. These two ogle me 24/7, so it’s nice to have somebody my own age look at me for a change.”

Ben cleared his throat and tried to say something, but found nothing to say. Justine turned her head as if to look out the window, so he seized the opportunity to attentively study her breasts. Like her legs, they were smooth, the color of cream, and appeared as soft as pillows. He was so absorbed that he very nearly plowed into a parked car. Justine made no comment, but she turned her gaze ahead, so she could help watch the road.

Justine’s house was a neat little brick cottage. It was the smallest house on the block, situated in a quiet neighborhood that was tucked away behind the municipal park. Ben pulled into her garage. Once the garage door was fully closed, he and Justine got out and surveyed their charges.

“We could just leave them there,” she suggested, “but I’m afraid they’d get sick or at catch a cold.” With some difficulty, they half carried, half dragged the drunken men, one at a time, from the garage, to the house, and dropped them in the living room on a pair of facing sofas.

“Let’s just get their shoes and pants off,” she told Ben. “Then I’ll cover them up and they can sleep it off.”

He followed her as she padded barefoot into the kitchen. “How about a beer?” she asked over her shoulder.

He hesitated a moment, then said, “Okay.”

She twisted the top off a bottle and handed it to him. “It’s not as though you’re driving, right?”

“I guess so,” he replied, then looked around him. “Is this your place?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “As long as Chad wants me, yeah, I get to live here. He lets me live here. He gives me money and presents. And yes, before you ask, I like living this way, and no, I don’t expect it to last forever. Neither does he. I do part-time accounting gigs online. I’ve been putting money away. For someone my age, I have a healthy 401k. I’m actually doing pretty well.”

“Do you think he’ll leave Mrs Crusoe for you?”

Mrs Crusoe — that’s cute. Her name is Leslie, Ben, and hell no — he’ll never leave her. He needs to believe that all this — the house, the sex, the money, me — is all temporary. The only way he can feel free to enjoy all this is if he stays married to her.”

"I don't understand," Ben replied.

"That's okay," she said, and took a sip of her beer. "It doesn't matter."

The Bagman began to snore. Justine said, “Help me?” Ben nodded, and the two shifted the bulky man onto his side. The snoring stopped.

“Do you do this a lot?” he asked her.

“What? Babysit two drunks? Yes, lately, a fair amount. That Bagman idiot — he’s angling for a three-way with me and Chad.”

“Have you ever?”

“No. I said he’s angling for it. He’s trying. It hasn’t happened yet.”

“Do you think it will?”

She sighed. “Eventually, yeah. It’s inevitable. The only way to keep Chad interested, is to be sexually inventive. Or least open.”

“It sounds like you don’t want to.”

“No, I don’t. I don’t want to at all. Not with them. Not with anybody.”

“But… I would think that you — that any woman — would be excited by it. I mean, all the attention. It’s so… sexy and… hot and… I don’t know.” Ben gestured vaguely as he ran out of words.

Justine gave him a flat look. “Do you know why you think it’s all sexy and hot and all that? Do you want to know why? It’s because you’re a man.”

“Wouldn’t it be even more so for a woman?”

“No. No, it wouldn’t be. Because men are after women all the time. They never let it rest. There is so much pressure and crap that women have to put up with and watch out for. For you, it’s all imagination: you picture something like a lion chasing a gazelle. The thrill of the chase. Except for one thing: that’s not how it really happens. It’s always a pack of lions chasing a gazelle. If you’re a lion, maybe it’s fun, or maybe it’s just lunch. If you’re a gazelle, you’re like oh fuck, will I get home alive? You live under a constant, unrelenting threat.” She took a sip of beer. “And if you’re a stupid nature guy with a camera, you’re all How exciting! The circle of life!

Once again, Ben had no idea how to respond, so he said nothing. Justine looked at him and smiled. “I remember you from high school. You were always such a cute little guy.”

“I didn’t think you knew who I was,” he told her.

“Oh sure, we used to talk about you. All the girls used to talk about you.”

“I had no idea.”

“Yeah, we used to talk about that, too. You probably could have had any girl you wanted, but you were so naive. So completely unaware.”

Ben shifted in his chair, and unconsciously rubbed his chest — the three points where Mr Crusoe had poked him. Justine asked what he was doing, so he explained about the plastics line.

“Oh, yeah,” Justine laughed. “The Graduate.”

“Does everyone know this movie except me?” Ben exclaimed.

“Maybe,” Justine replied. “And you know what? You are a little like the guy in the movie. No — you’re a LOT like the guy in the movie. His name was Ben, he just graduated, his parents had a party. Have people been mentioning it to you?”

“No, just the Crusoe’s,” he said, and followed up his answer with a deep red blush.

“Both of them?” Justine said, her eyes widening with amusement and interest. “Huh! Leslie — I mean Mrs Crusoe — too? Oh, Ben, you dawg! You filthy dawg, you!”

“No, it’s not like that,” he protested.

“Oh, no, of course not!” she laughed. “Look, she knows her husband is fucking me. Don’t you think she wants some hot revenge sex with a cute guy half her age?”

“Oh, come on,” he said, resisting. “She wouldn’t — I wouldn’t —”

“You wouldn’t? Are you sure? She’s pretty hot, Ben, even considering her age. I hope I look that good when I’m that old.”

Ben stood up stiffly, saying, “I think I’d better go now.” He turned and looked for the door.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay, Ben?” she asked in a low, teasing voice. “Look what you’re walking away from.”

He turned and saw that she’d slipped her dress off her shoulders, leaving her bare, from her neck to her waist. Her breasts looked larger and fuller, now that they weren't covered by clothes. As big as they were, they seemed to defy gravity, floating in front of her chest, dazzling him. She swayed her shoulders, just a little bit, to make her breasts sway gently, left and right.

“Stay, Ben,” she cooed, as she pushed her dress down from her waist. “You don’t want to be a virgin when you hook up with Mrs Leslie, do you?”

“I’m not a v—” he protested, but she gave a soft shhhh and closed his mouth with a kiss.



She woke him early by literally pushing him roughly out of bed with her feet. He fell heavily to the floor, and looked up at her in confusion. “You need to get dressed and go,” she whispered urgently. “Those old guys will wake up any minute. I’m surprised they haven’t gotten up to pee yet.” She hustled him out the back door with his clothes in his arms.

“Justine! Justine!” he hissed, “I desperately need to pee!”

“Then desperately pee behind the shed,” she told him, pointing. “And keep the noise down!” At that, she closed the sliding door and drew the curtain.

After a quick look around, he clutched his clothes to cover his hips, and trotted behind the garden shed. After resting his clothes on a bush, he let out a long, fragrant stream along the bare ground behind the bushes. He shook off the last few drops, then quickly dressed. As he was tying his shoes, he looked across the garden, where an older woman stood watching. She was dressed in old clothes and wearing heavy shoes. Her hair was tied up in a kerchief. and she held a gardening trowel in her gloved hands. As if reading the question from his mind, she told him with a smile, “I saw the whole show, starting with the naked girl kicking you out. You’re lucky you look so good with your clothes off, young man. Otherwise, I would have called the cops.”

The woman was Justine’s neighbor, and she was highly amused by Ben’s embarrassment. She invited him to cross her property in order to more effectively sneak away. She also invited him in for breakfast (“You don’t need to dress for meals at my house,” she quipped), and when Ben politely refused, she stood next to him while he waited for his Uber. She was bold enough to give his butt a long, slow, gentle squeeze, and left her hand to linger on his backside until he stepped into his ride. "Sometimes early-morning gardening pays off!" she cackled.

The Uber dropped Ben in front of his house. He quietly entered and made his way to his bedroom. He was tired and funky and needed a shower. Ben was surprised that he didn’t feel more different. He’d finally lost his virginity. It was nice. It was a new experience, despite all the porn he’d seen and read. New sensations. Still, it was a bit anticlimactic. Like his graduation. Like his life right now. He expected more. He'd expected fireworks, explosions in his brain. Instead it was a furtive huffing and puffing — so as not to wake the two older men. The entire time he anxiously stared into her eyes, wondering whether he was doing it right. She seemed pleased afterward, though she hadn’t said so.

Ben showered, brushed his teeth, and shaved. Then he padded barefoot downstairs to the kitchen. His mother was there, washing the large serving platters from yesterday’s party.

“Look at you,” Mrs Haddock said. “I didn’t think I’d see you up so early.” She didn’t look him in the eye. Did she know he’d been out all night? “Would you like some coffee? Or have you already had breakfast?” Yes, she knew.

“No, I haven’t had anything,” he said. “Coffee would be great.”

She set a mug on the table and filled it. “Would you like some eggs and sausage?”

“Yes, please.”

“Toast?” He nodded.

She prepared the food in silence, still not looking at him. At last, she could contain herself no longer. “That girl is a slut, you know.”

Ben was too surprised to respond.

“You realize that Mr Crusoe is cheating on poor Leslie with that — that whore.” She drew the word out and weighed it down with a heavy dose of judgement.

Ben had never heard his mother use such language. Never. But he could see that she was only warming up.

“And you slept with her. You slept with that hussy, didn’t you.” She didn’t phrase it like a question, so Ben kept quiet. “You slept with her, and you don’t know where she’s been. I hope you’ve had all your shots, Ben.” she quipped. “That’s all I have to say. You don’t know what you could catch from a tramp like that.” She looked Ben full in the face and told him, “That stupid, inconsiderate girl made our house dirty, do you understand? Dirty! And that awful Chad Crusoe — as if it wasn’t bad enough that he's betrayed my friend, our neighbor with that — with that floozy — as if THAT wasn’t bad enough, he has to bring the hussy here, and paw her in the middle of our living room!”

She scraped the eggs and sausage from the pan to a plate with evident fury and a great deal of noise, “I suppose we should all be thankful that they didn’t have sex in front of our guests!”

She dropped the plate with a clatter in front of Ben, followed by the rattle of a knife and fork. The toast popped up. She grabbed it, holding it in a napkin, and pointed at Ben with the corner of the bread. “Benjamin Haddock, I hope you have the sense to stay away from that girl — or any girl like that — ever — never again — ever again —-” she faltered, losing the thread, not finding the words. “Ben, never NEVER bring that girl to this house. Never. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mom,” he quietly agreed.

“If she comes to the door, I want you to slam it in her face. No — wait. If she ever dares to show her smirking, brazen face here, I want you to call me, so that *I* can slam the door in her face!” Jaw set, she scrubbed the pan angrily with the spatula.

At that point, Mr Haddock arrived and asked, “What’s all the hubbub?”

“That WHORE!” Mrs Haddock began.

“Ohh-kay,” Mr Haddock replied. “Here we go again.”

“No, no, I’m done,” Mrs Haddock replied, and she hurled the heavy pan into the sink, in an effort to calm herself. “I can see that you two think this is just HILARIOUS to see me so upset—”

It was an emotionally charged breakfast. Neither man dared to speak or to leave the room while Mrs Haddock was holding forth.

When at last the flames of her anger lowered to a simmer, she asked Ben in a normal tone, “Do you have any plans for today?”

“Um, no,” he replied. “Do you want me to help you with something?”

“Leslie Crusoe left her scarf here yesterday. Could you bring it over to her?”

“Sure, where is it?”

“In the bookcase, near the phone. She took it off because of the heat, and stuck it there.”

Weird, thought Ben. He crossed the living room and stood in front of the bookcase. “I don’t see it,” he called.

“Then look harder,” his mother replied, in a testy voice. “You can go there in your car if you want, but it will be easier and quicker if you just cross the little bridge over the stream.”

Ben reached behind the books at eye level, and immediately felt the soft silk of the scarf. He pulled it out slowly, remembering how Mrs Crusoe had drawn it off her neck in that smooth single motion, like liquid smoke sliding off her body. He held the airy cloth to his face and smelled her perfume. It was exotic, he thought. Not floral. Not musky. It was complex and memorable, and for the rest of his life it remained her scent to him.

“I found it!” he called, still holding the fragrant silk to his face.

“Can you bring it over now?” she asked. “I’ll call and tell her you’re coming.” She came to see what he was wearing. She straightened his collar and tugged on his shirt. “Tuck it in a little better,” she told him.

“And Ben,” she said, as he was about to step out the door, “Don’t just hand her the scarf and leave. Try to stay a little bit and keep her company. She must be lonely and alone, the poor woman, in that big empty house, while her no-good husband is out—” she stopped herself and made a show of biting the kitchen towel. “I won’t say any more,” she said. “Now go, go, go,” and she pushed him out the door.



As Ben descended the stone steps to the lower garden, a thought struck him: he’d never visited the Crusoe’s house before. This would be his first time. They lived so close, but until today he hadn’t any reason to go. The Crusoe’s were always adults, and he was only a child.

Today was different: now he was grown. He was twenty-one years old. He had a college degree. And he was no longer a virgin. Although, truth to tell, that last fact didn’t seem that remarkable. It seemed on par with getting a vaccination. Still, he’d crossed that marker. He was on the other side of the line.

As he trudged through the damp grass, he felt a wave of nervousness wash over him. The past twenty-four hours had been particularly charged, sexually. He’d seen a live naked woman for the first time in his life, and not just any naked woman, but Justine, the subject of many of his high-school fantasies. She was even more beautiful naked than he could have imagined, and he never expected her skin to feel so soft. And she’d kissed him; Justine had kissed him. So had Mrs Crusoe. Leslie. Did he dare to call her Leslie? Would he be able to?

He crossed the little wooden bridge, then the Crusoe’s lawn, which wasn’t as deep as his own. The back door of the house was ajar.

“Mrs Crusoe!” he called. “It’s Ben Haddock. I have your scarf.” At first there was no answer, so he pushed his head inside the house and called again. Still, no answer. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him, locking it. He knocked on the kitchen counter. “Mrs Crusoe? Leslie? It’s Ben.” He wandered from the kitchen to the dining room, to the living room, knocking and calling the whole time. He walked down a short hallway and found a bathroom, a sort of study, and a sunroom, all empty. Then he returned down the hallway and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. He stared upward in silence, asking himself whether he dared go up. What if he found her in bed? But of course he wouldn’t! She knew that he was coming. And yet…

Suddenly she was there, at his elbow, Mrs Crusoe. “Do you want to go up?” she asked. He jumped a foot in the air and shrieked like a little girl. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed, embarrassed as hell. “You startled me.”

She was dressed in soft blue jeans and a loose, fuzzy, beige sweater. Her eyes twinkled. “I was downstairs getting the laundry going,” she told him. “I didn’t realize you were here.”

“The back door was open,” Ben stammered, gesturing in that direction. “That’s not safe, you know. I could have been anybody, coming through that door!”

“You could have been anybody?” she repeated. “Then I’m going to have to give some thought to who I want you to be, next time you come over.”

“Uh, here’s your scarf,” he said, feeling immensely stupid at saying something so obvious. “It’s, uh, beautiful.”

“Oh, thank you!” she said, and draped it over a chair. “I really missed it on the way home. It was so cold.”

“It’s so light, though. It wouldn’t have kept you warm at all.”

“That’s the thing about silk,” she said. “It’s super light, but oh-so warm. I missed it right away, but I couldn’t go back in the house. I couldn’t bear seeing it.” Ben didn’t need to ask what it was: it was the spectacle of her husband, in the midst of all their friends, as he groped Justine.

“That girl, Justine —” Ben offered, awkwardly, “We didn’t invite her. No one wanted her there. My mother was so embarrassed. She was mortified.”

“It was low, even for Chad.” She shook her head. “He is not a nice man, Ben. He is not a good man.” She chewed on her thumbnail, and regarded him for a moment. “Can you keep a secret, Ben?”

“A secret? Yeah, sure.”

“I’m going to divorce his ass.”

“Mr Crusoe?”

Mr Crusoe” she repeated. “Yes, of course Mr Crusoe. Who else could I divorce? And then I might disappear.” She waited for him to say something, but he could find nothing to say. So she repeated, “He is not a good man. In fact, he is an awful, terrible husband, and he’s always been.”

“If you say so, Mrs Crusoe.”

She gave a cute frown. “Ben, please don’t call me ‘Mrs Crusoe’ any more. It makes me feel like I’m eighty years old. Please call me Leslie.” He nodded. To change the subject, she offered him some coffee. “It’ll just take a moment for me to make.” She put her hand lightly on his chest and pushed. Her touch was so ephemeral. It was the merest suggestion of a push, to guide him backward into the kitchen. While she filled the carafe with water, her phone rang. After a glance at the caller ID, she said, “Ben, I have to take this. I’ll be short. Please don’t go anywhere, promise?” She a finger to her lips, then touched his lips, and then she picked up the phone.

“Hello, Viv? How are you?”

The voice on the other end was so loud, Ben could easily make out both sides of the conversation. Ben recognized the voice — it was Vivian Errisson.

”Leslie, how are you? I saw what that horrible husband of yours did yesterday! He made such a spectacle of himself! How are you holding up?”

“Hi, Viv. I’m fine. I was angry last night, but now I’m fine.”

”You’ve got yet another reason to leave, Leslie.”

“I know.” Leslie shot a quick glance at Ben, then reached forward to gently take a handful of his shirt. She looked in his eyes and mouthed the words Don’t go yet.

”You know that, aside from the divorce, I can help you escape, if you’re willing to take that step.”

“The Zulu thing?” Leslie’s eyes twinkled.

”Zulo. It’s Zulo, not Zulu. Leslie, please, I know it sounds far out and crazy, but I’m telling you, it works, and it can help.”

Leslie sighed.

”Can you come over today? Say four? We can talk about it. I’ll give you a demonstration.”

Leslie glanced at Ben, and said, “Fine, Viv. I’ll see you at four. And you can tell me all about the voodoo.”

”Zulo,” Viv corrected.

Leslie said her goodbyes, and the two women hung up.

She looked up at Ben and said, “I’m definitely divorcing him, and I’m thinking hard about disappearing — leaving this goddamn town. But please: don’t tell anyone. Especially your parents. Especially your mother.”

Ben nodded. Leslie made him swear. Then she prepared the coffee.

“If he’s so awful,” Ben asked, “Why did you marry him?”

“He seemed different back then,” she replied. “I can’t say he was ever kind, but at least he was polite. But the thing was, I got pregnant.”

“But did you have to marry him?”

“I didn’t have to, but at the time it seemed like the best choice. It was the least embarrassing choice, for one thing, and stupid me, I wanted to get married. To someone. All of my friends were married. It seemed I was the only singleton left.”

“What happened to the baby?”

“I lost her. Stillborn.” She grimaced. “It still hurts.” She sipped her coffee. “After that, he changed. Or showed who he really was all along. He started doing things… making demands…”

“What kind of demands?”

“I’m sorry, Ben. I shouldn’t be unloading all of this on you.”

“No, it’s fine,” he said. “I’m curious. I don’t know anything about married life.”

“I’m not sure I do, either,” she replied. She hesitated, then asked, “Ben, if I tell you something embarrassing, will you keep it to yourself? I mean, really, only to yourself. Promise you won’t tell a soul.”

“Of course,” he said.

“Chad wants me to have sex with other men.”

“Like an open marriage?”

“No, like sex with other men while he watches. He wants to choose the men. Threesomes, foursomes, more-somes...”

“And did you?”

“No!” she exclaimed. “Of course not!”

Ben was puzzled. “Don’t you think that you might like it?”

“No!” she exclaimed again. “I’m sure that I wouldn’t like it!”

“How could you know, if you haven’t tried?”

Her eyes opened wide with disbelief. “Oh my God, Ben, you’re lucky you’re so cute. And so young. Otherwise…” she sighed and shook her head. “If you were in my place, would you like it? Being traded around like some kind of object, like a doll?”

Ben’s shoulders hunched a little, as he’d been caught watching porn. “Well… yes, I think I would like it,” he said.

“You don’t sound very sure,” she admonished.

“I don’t want to offend you,” he replied.

She scoffed. “Let me put it this way, Ben: sex is good when you have choice; when you have some degree of control.”

Ben wanted to argue the point, but he could see that she was getting irritated.

“There’s something else about Chad,” she told him. “It’s not all about sex. There’s another big issue. If he wasn’t supporting that goddamn girl — Justine — or her predecessors — then I’d have the money to go back to school.”

“To school?” he asked. “Why would you want to go back to school?”

“I’d like to be a lawyer,” she told him. “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer.”

“Huh,” he said.

“You don’t sound very impressed,” she said. “What do you want to do with your life, Ben?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t know.”

She stood up, considering, then, standing over him said, “Ben? One word: plastics,” and she poked him gently in the chest. They both laughed.

“Okay,” she said. “No more talking about all that shit. I forgot to bring your gift last night, and now I remember that it’s upstairs. Come with me now and you can open it. After that, I’m going to have to kick you out, so I can get back to my chores.” Smiling, she ruffled his hair and said, “Let’s go.”

He followed her upstairs, into the master bedroom. It was a large room, with heavy oak furniture. “Chad designed this room,” she commented. “That’s why it’s so heavy and dark.”

She sat on the bed, and patted the space next to her. He sat. She opened the drawer of the bedside table, then immediately said, “Oh, wrong side.” She turned and crawled on hands and knees to the other side, and fetched an envelope from the other bedside table. She sat in the middle of the bed, kitten-like, and handed him the envelope over his shoulder, saying, “Here. But — don’t open it now. I changed my mind. Open it later. Wait until you get home.”

“Okay,” he said. “Thanks,” and turned to smile at her. He wasn’t sure what to do or say next, so he shifted a little as if he was about to stand. She reacted quickly, kneeling up in the middle of the bed, so she could set her hands on his shoulders. “Wait,” she said. “Don’t go yet. Stay a little longer.”

“Okay,” he agreed, and she shifted a little closer to him. Then, her hands still resting on his shoulders, she pushed him gently down. He didn’t resist, and soon he was lying on the bed, Leslie sitting next to him, looking down into his face. For a few moments neither of them spoke. His mind returned to the things Justine had said last night about “hot revenge sex” and wondered whether it might happen… whether it could happen… whether it would happen.

At last, Leslie spoke, almost in a whisper. “Ben, do you remember how you said you liked my kiss?” Her face hung over his, forbidden fruit. Her hair was pulled back, leaving her beautiful, sculpted face on display. The air between them was alive with her scent.

Unable to speak, he nodded.

“Good,” she whispered, moving slightly closer. “Do you want to kiss some more?”

He wanted to say a strong, affirmative yes, but he only got as far as clearing his throat. She lowered her face to his, and they kissed for an entire half hour.

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