18.Nick Tarkas

Nick Tarkas's Achilles heel was that, when he was pursuing a problem, he was like a horse with blinders on; he could only see straight ahead. Consequently, when he stepped off the plane in Salt Lake City, he was completely unaware of the magnitude of what awaited him, despite the fact that Sam had tried to warn him.

At the Salt Lake Airport, he phoned Janet Michaelson. She was glad to hear from him and invited him to have dinner with her and the family that evening; he accepted. He wasn't going to take a chance on being alone with one of those sex crazed Epidemic E women. It wasn't that he was overly moral, he was frightened. After almost a lifetime of studying disease, he was afraid of becoming of becoming a victim, and he knew that venereal diseases and promiscuity went together. It was bad enough that he broke out in a herpes simplex sore when his lip was exposed to the sun. The thought of a herpes simplex II on his genitals terrified him. Besides, how would he explain it to his wife. He would play it safe. He would spend the evening with Janet Michaelson and her two children.

The first people he located were the ones involved in the Benedict School incident. The two men were no problem. He simply collected his blood samples and left. Elise Prynne might have been a problem except that one of her boy friends was with her. Even so, she kept staring at him and wetting her lips with her tongue. She even asked him if he wanted to come back tomorrow morning to collect another specimen.

Mrs. Louise Case seemed a very proper woman. She checked Nick's identification before welcoming him into her home. She was an attractive and petite brunette who seemed much younger than her forty three years. She wore a long sleeved flower-print dress. When Nick explained that he was investigating the illness that she had before the incident, she was most interested and eager to cooperate.

Nick took out his blood drawing paraphernalia and seated her in a chair. When he tried to slide her sleeve up so that he could get at the vein in the bend of her elbow, he found that it was too tight to slide up. He was stymied for a moment, but she helped him by saying that she could take care of that. She withdrew her arm from the sleeve and presenting it to him from under her dress, which had the effect of lifting her skirt up to her waist and exposing her from the waist down. She had no underpants and Nick immediately shifted his gaze to her face only to find that she had demurely bowed her head and closed her eyes. His composure was so shattered that he missed the vein and had to stick her again -which was unusual for him since he was a past master of the art of phlebotomy. When he had drawn the blood, she replaced her arm in the sleeve and looked at him with demure anticipation. He thanked her and quickly departed.

The damage had been done. In his minds eye he could see the forbidden sight of the small patch of hair between her legs and he thought of what might have happened had he chosen to accept the unspoken invitation. He had been prepared for everything except what he wasn't prepared for, and the view of her pubic hair had struck his unguarded mind where it was most vulnerable -the child within him getting his first view of a forbidden part of female anatomy. As he was driving away, he remembered that he had forgotten his tourniquet. He toyed with the idea of returning for his twenty cents worth of rubber tubing, but it was 5:30 and he was expected at Janet Michaelson's house at six.

Janet was delighted to see him, embracing him with an almost embarrassing enthusiasm. The girls were very happy to see their Uncle Nick, having had too little adult male attention lately. Since the children were hungry, they sat down to dinner almost immediately.

"What brings you to Salt Lake, Nick?" Janet asked.

"It's a secret project that I'm working on -I can't talk about it."

"Sam wouldn't say what he was working on either, and he usually talks about his work all the time."

"It's the same project."

"Then you've seen Sam?"

"I left him yesterday in Buffalo."

"Then you know about the divorce?"

"Yes. I'm terribly sorry about it."

"Don't be, Nick, it had to happen. I think that we're both better off."

"Well we're not better off," the oldest daughter said, "It was much better when daddy was here."

They quickly changed the subject to what the children were doing in school and what Nick's family was up to.

After the family business was exhausted, Janet asked "Where are you staying in Salt Lake?"

" I think I'll stay at a motel near the airport. I have a 10 A.M. flight out."

"Why don't you stay here?" Janet asked, "We have a spare bedroom, and I can drive you to the airport in the morning."

"I'd like that. Are you sure that it's not too much trouble?

"Not at all, Nick. I'm a bit starved for male companionship, since Sam left." At the word "starved", Nick tightened up inside.

When the children had gone to bed, Nick and Janet sat in the living room sipping brandy and reminiscing about things past and present.

"The terrible part about a divorce as far as I'm concerned," Janet said, " is that it makes me feel very unattractive and undesirable. Sort of like a reject."

"That's nonsense! You're one of the most attractive women I know. If we weren't married, I'd give Sam a run for his money," he said, realizing too late that he had made an irretrievable faux pas.

"I'm not married any longer," she smiled and moved from the chair on which she had been sitting to the sofa, next to Nick.

He put his arms around her and kissed her the way that he used to kiss her when she was married to Sam. She was not prepared to settle for that and put her arms around him and kissed him, her mouth open and receptive.

Even though Nick knew that she and Sam were no longer married, he felt the guilt of one who was betraying his best friend. The combination of logic(she wasn't Sam's woman any more), the residual horniness from his afternoons activities and the fact that he really did find Janet one of the most attractive women he knew, eventually won out. By morning, he had much more to feel guilty about, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not unbearable.

While Janet slept, she dreamed that Sam was in bed beside her, but that he was twice as large and very hairy. As the twilight entered her window, she could dimly see the bearded face of Nick Tarkas on the pillow beside her. She looked at the clock and saw that it was not yet six; the children would not be up for another hour. She would wait a bit longer before waking him and directing him to the guest room. Despite her fear of being unmasked by her daughters as "an immoral woman," she smiled. She felt more whole than she had in many years. She was once again a desirable woman and sleeping beside her was one of the most desirable men she had ever known. She had wanted Nick for as long as she had known him and the act itself surpassed anything that she had imagined.

She thought about the series of events that had brought her to this moment. When she found that she was tired of being a housekeeper, she felt that she had made a deal with Sam that she couldn't renege on. She had said to him so many times that she wanted, more than anything else, to stay home and care for her house and children and now to say that she wanted to go back to work would be childish. Besides, didn't Sam want for her to stay home and keep house -to be his servant, damn him? When he had that affair with a woman whose mind was concerned with the world, not just what to get for dinner, it proved than he didn't care for her any more. All that she was to him was a housekeeper and baby sitter. But to Nick, she was the most desirable woman in the world, a princess, and he had loved her with great gentleness and great power at the same time. He had let her control this great bear of a man and she had made him stand at her touch and perform wondrous tricks for her. And he had kissed her in all sorts of places where she had never been kissed before and she had trembled at his touch as she did with the first boy she had ever kissed. She smiled and thought that, once again, she was a woman.

She woke Nick and led her sleeping giant to the guest bedroom where she tucked him in. Then she went to the kitchen and, humming softly to herself, put the coffee maker on and started a pancake batter.

At breakfast she and Nick played a little charade for the children in which she asked him if the bed was comfortable and had he slept well. Nick played his part as well as could be expected. When the children left for school, they sat at the kitchen table and talked.

"You know," Nick said, "I feel funny about this; I always thought of you as my best friend's wife. You were taboo."

"I suppose that's one taboo that's more often broken than any other. Besides, I'm not Sam's wife any longer. It's I who should feel guilty, taking Illona's husband to bed."

"I suppose men feel different. When I'm with Illona, I'm Illona's husband, but when I'm away from her, I'm just Nick."

"Until now, I've never been away from Sam -but he's been away from me. I wonder if he looks at it the same way that you do."

"Maybe if you had been away from Sam, you might have looked at it the same way that I do."

Janet wanted more of what she had had, but it was time to drive Nick to the airport. Before Nick left she extracted a promise that he would return before too long; a promise that Nick made freely and without reservations.

As she drove home she felt wonderfully wicked and free. It was as if that day marked the beginning of a new life -and it did.

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