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NOTICE: This story contains explicit descriptions of sexual activity
between consenting persons. If you are not of legal age to read such
material, or if you find it offensive, then stop reading now.

This story is (c) Copyright 2002 by Wiseguy and may not be reposted on
any for-profit system. Posting on a noncommercial site is normally
okay, but check with me first and do not alter the story in any way.

The full text of this and all Wiseguy stories is available for download
(text or PDF) or for on-line viewing (HTTP) at my web site,

I welcome all comments from readers (


(c) Copyright 2002 by Wiseguy

Take a walk outside your mind
Tell me how it feels to be
The one who turns the knife inside of me
Take a look and you will find
There's nothing there girl yeah I swear
I'm telling you girl, yeah,
'Cause there's a hole in my soul
That's been killing me forever
It's a place where the garden never grows ...
- Aerosmith, "Hole In My Soul" (Nine Lives)

I stood alone by the window, staring out. As usual, I
wasn't looking at anything in particular; just doing that
unfocused, absent-minded stare that seemed to come to
naturally to me during those days.

My eyes were looking out the window but my thoughts were
exactly 17.3 miles away. On the house that I pay for, but
can't live in; on the woman I loved for a dozen years, but
who no longer loves me; on the daughter I used to drop off
at school each morning, who now sees me every other weekend
and no more.

Each morning I woke up with the same thought: this was a
terrible mistake. I'd somehow ended up living the wrong
life -- somebody else's life. My name was on the lease for
this fourth-floor apartment in an aging brownstone, but it
wasn't home; I'd paid for the simple, no-frills furniture
that was strewn around it, but it wasn't mine. My home
and my things were 17.3 miles away. And I wasn't welcome
there, for reasons I still didn't entirely know.

The radio station ended its commercial break and started
yet another tender, romantic love song. I'd have walked
over and smacked it if I'd had the energy; instead, I
simply cursed it. Cursed the radio, and the singer, and
the whole sadistic concept of Valentine's Day. I used to
like the day, back when I had a lover to share it with.
When you're alone and don't want to be, Valentine's Day is
like a grand party where everyone in the world is invited
except you.

It would have been some consolation, I suppose, to think
that Gloria was also home alone. But I doubted it. When
I'd picked up Katie for my most recent weekend visit, she'd
been bubbling over with excitement over how Mommy's new
friend Roger had taken her to see Lord of the Rings and
bought her popcorn and a Frodo doll. My first thought was
unprintable, because I'd told Gloria I was planning to take
Katie to that movie during our weekend; my second was that
it hadn't taken my wife-going-on-ex-wife long to start
lining up suitors.

That thought was interrupted when a white Mustang pulled in
and parked in front of the building. I recognized it
immediately as Holly's car, and sure enough Holly got out
of it and walked toward the building.

Holly was a good friend of mine and of Gloria's, although
the latter relationship had seen a lot of strain since our
marital troubles became known. Holly had been my entire
support network: a shoulder to cry on when I needed to, a
hand to shake me out of the depths of depression on
occasion, and a brain to remind me that like it or not, I
still had a life to live. She was also a veteran of the
divorce wars herself, having married Mr. Right only to have
him turn into Mr. Wrong -- an obsessive control freak whose
idea of a good time was to drug Holly and let his buddies
take turns having their fun with her while he captured the
scene on video.

I walked over to the intercom and hit the buzzer as soon as
it sounded. Then I pulled the door ajar and did a quick
pick-up on the living room. It didn't need much -- when
most of your time is spent staring out the window nursing
your emotional wounds, housekeeping isn't that tough.

Holly came in just as I was fluffing the couch cushions
where she usually likes to sit. "Good evening," she sang,
bumping the door closed with her butt. She wore denim
coveralls and a white turtleneck, and carried a white
shopping bag and a brown paper grocery bag, and had an
oversized purse slung over one shoulder. I was a little
slow to take the hint; she had to wiggle the bag a bit to
get my attention.

"Hi, Holly," I finally said, coming forward. I held my
arms out for the grocery bag because it looked heavy, but
she handed me the white bag instead.

"This is for you," she said. "And these," she added,
hefting the grocery bag, "are for both of us."

Inside the shopping bag was a bottle of wine and a
carefully-wrapped flower arrangement. I took the flowers
out and set them in the middle of the folding card table
that served as my dining table. "Nice," I remarked, taking
an exaggerated whiff of the flowers.

"I know you're not a big flower guy," she said, smiling,
"but this place needs some color, and some life." Opening
the refrigerator, she grimaced and gave me a scolding look.
"It also needs some food. What have you been eating,

I shrugged. "Wheaties, mostly."

Her eyebrow shot upward. "Without any milk?"

"What can I say? Shopping requires motivation, and eating
requires an appetite. I haven't had much of either

Holly's shoulders dropped, and she looked at me with
sympathy in her face. "I know," she said. "But you have
to take care of yourself. Katie still needs you."

"I know she needs me," I snapped back. "Some days that's
the only thing that keeps me from canceling my insurance
and jumping out the window. That, and the perverse need
not to make it easy for Gloria."

"But you are making it easy for her," she retorted, her
voice still calm and compassionate. "Look at you: you're
working too much, not eating right, not sleeping well
either, from the looks of you. Doug, you seem like you've
aged ten years in the last two months. If there were a
custody hearing tomorrow, it wouldn't last five minutes."

She was right, and I knew it. I'd been wallowing in self-
pity since the day I'd moved out of my own home, climbing
out of the pit just enough to put on a good show for Katie
on my precious alternate weekends. In between those
weekends, I was barely functional. I'd go days without
eating or sleeping and spend countless extra hours at my
desk staring into space, pretending to be working, just to
avoid coming back to this bare, soulless apartment. But
knowing that was one thing, and doing something about it
was another; the first casualty of depression is the will
to fight it.

My mouth opened, with every intention of saying as much,
but nothing came out. I dropped back onto the couch and
started to cry. A pair of warm, loving arms encircled me
and I felt soft cotton and denim against my face.

"I know, honey," she said softly, holding me to her. "It's
hard when there's so much pain. It doesn't feel like it
now, but trust me, you will get through this and you will
be okay. I don't know how long it will take, but you

"I wish I was as sure of that as you are. I just feel so
empty ..."

She held me for a long time, letting me quietly sob into
her chest. I hadn't had that kind of human contact in a
very long time. It felt good.

Finally, I pulled away. "Ugh," I said, seeing the size of
the wet spot I'd left on the front of her turtleneck.

She looked down and shrugged. "It'll dry. You were there
for me when my life turned to shit, Doug; cry on my shirt
all you need to, if it helps."

"It did."

Holly nodded toward the kitchen. "Ready to eat something?"

I didn't really feel hungry, but it had been something like
36 hours since my last meal, so I lied. "Sure."

We went back to the kitchen and Holly unveiled the contents
of the grocery bag: a precooked rotisserie chicken, some
cole slaw, and a package of ready-to-bake biscuits. The
chicken needed a little warming up, and the biscuits needed
20 minutes to bake, so I flipped on the oven and then
poured wine for both of us while we waited.

I ate gingerly at first, the taste of decent food having
been a rare sensation of late. As we sat there, Holly kept
up a stream of sane, normal-seeming small talk that was
first mystifying, then mildly irritating. I tried smiling
and nodding pleasantly, hoping she'd take the hint. When
that didn't work, I started responding to her in short
phrases: "Sure, okay" ... "I can see that" ... "Then
what?" Slowly, without entirely realizing it, I found
myself taking on my share of the conversation.

I was in the middle of a story about a trip to the zoo I'd
taken with Katie a few weeks back, when I noticed Holly
sitting there staring into my eyes with the most satisfied
grin on her face I'd seen in ages. I interrupted my story.
"What's with you?"

"Not me," she said, grinning even wider. "You. You're
animated, you're smiling, and there's a glimmer of life in
your eye again. I've missed you, Doug; it's good to see
that you're still in there."

That's when it hit me. "That's what this was all about," I
said. "You've been trying to draw me out."

"Guilty," she admitted, holding out her hand. "You can
smack me if you want."

Instead, I took her hand and kissed it. "Thank you," I
told her. "For everything. I don't know where I'd be
without you."

"The same place I'd be without you, maybe," she said.
"Which reminds me. I saw Martha Cooper today, and she
asked about you."

I found myself shrinking back a little. Holly had set me
up for a session with Martha when it was obvious I wasn't
doing well at handling the stress at home. I was skeptical
about how a hypnotherapist was going to help me fix my
marriage, but I went to one session out of respect for
Holly. I remembered sitting in a recliner in her office,
counting down from 500 while she told me how sleepy I felt,
feeling like a complete idiot. I felt a little bit better
for a day or two after, but then things went completely to
hell and I agreed to move out so Katie wouldn't have to
witness Gloria trying to disembowel me at every meal. I'd
told myself I was doing the right thing, sparing Katie's
feelings, but inside I felt like a complete loser. That
was when the depression set in.

Holly was still speaking. "Martha mentioned that you had
to cancel your second appointment and never called back to
reschedule. She wondered if you were working with someone
else, and how you were doing."

"What did you tell her?"

Our eyes met and locked together. "That as far as I know
you aren't seeing anyone for help. That I'm worried about
you, because you seem like you've given up. That it hurts
to see you like that because I care about you so much. And
that I have dreams about you drowning in a huge, icy,
filthy swimming pool, being pulled down by a monster you
can't seem to fight, and even though I'm right there by the
pool and I want to dive in and help you, I can't for fear
that the monster will get me, too."

I could see the dismay in her eyes, and the helplessness,
and the image of her nightmare came across to me in
terrifying detail. Despair, dread, that overwhelming sense
of paralysis -- I knew them all. In the depths of my
imagination I recreated her scene from my angle, but I saw
Katie with Holly on the side of the pool, screaming and
pointing to my sinking form, while from the other side
Gloria watched and smirked in silent triumph.

I shivered. "Hell of an image you've drawn there, Holly.
I'd be afraid, too. Am afraid." Then I squeezed her hand

"You don't have to be," she insisted. "Do you remember
your finger ring?"

It took me a second, but I remembered: in my session with
Martha, she'd told me that any time I felt angry or afraid
or sad, I could make a ring with my thumb and forefinger; a
deep breath then would draw all the tension and frustration
and anger into the ring, and when I let the breath go all
those things would be blown away into space, to be replaced
by focus and calm and peace.

"I remember," I said. I also remembered thinking there was
no way a simple gesture like that could draw out so much
emotional poison.

"Try using it. Do it now."

There was such a seriousness, a barely-controlled urgency
in Holly's voice, that it suddenly didn't seem nearly so
far-fetched an idea. Still looking deeply into her eyes, I
touched my thumb and forefinger together and rubbed the
tips against each other in a small, slow circle. An odd,
tingling sensation ran down my arm, as if a static charge
were flowing down into the circle formed by my thumb and
finger and building there, while I drew in a slow breath.

"That's it," Holly urged, sensing what I was feeling.
"Feel it all collecting, concentrating inside the circle.
And when you're ready, just blow it all out and let it go."

I pursed my lips and blew the air out of my lungs; as I
did, my finger and thumb separated and I felt that odd
static charge drain away and leave me. My next breath in
brought warmth and peace, filling the holes left by what
I'd just jettisoned. Another breath and the feeling grew
stronger, the warmth spreading through my system like a mug
of hot soup on a cold afternoon.

Holly watched all of this play over my face and held my
gaze. "Again."

I nodded and made my finger ring again, feeling the tingle
as I drew in another breath, followed by the sense of
release as I breathed out. Another wave of contentment
rolled in with the next breath of air, leaving my entire
body abuzz with a kind of energy that I hadn't experienced
in a very long time.

"How do you feel?"

It was not an idle question, and I found myself thinking
seriously about the answer. I looked down at my hand, then
out into space, then back to Holly. "Good," I replied,
more than a little surprised to be saying it. "I feel ...

Her smile made the feeling all that much stronger. "I wish
you could see yourself," she said. "You look a lot better
than when I first came in."

I looked at my hand, half expecting it to seem different
somehow, but it didn't. "I think I owe Martha an apology."

Holly beamed at me. "I'm sure she'd love to hear it -- in
person. But in the meantime, I have something else from
her for you. Are you interested?"

I made the finger ring again, marveling at the
effectiveness of it. "After this, how could I not be?"

"Great. You do the dishes while I set up a few things in
the living room."

So I did the dishes -- not exactly a major chore, as all
I'd had in the apartment were paper plates and disposable
plastic knives and forks. I put the leftover food in the
refrigerator, the wine glasses and the cookie sheet from
the biscuits in the dishwasher, and threw away everything
else. "All done."

In the living room, Holly was standing by the battered easy
chair I'd picked up from a yard sale for fifteen bucks.
She had a bunch of cords and electronic-looking gear in her
hands. "Have a seat," she directed. "I'm just about ready
for you."

"What's all the hardware?" I asked as I settled myself into
the chair. It was ugly as dirt, that chair, but still
reasonably comfortable.

"This," she said, pointing to a flat black box she'd set on
the end table next to me, "is a light and sound machine.
Martha loaned it to us for tonight; she uses it with a lot
of her patients, including me. It's a great way to go into
trance." She handed what looked like a pair of mirrored
sunglasses, but there were LED's on the backs of the
lenses. "You put these on and keep your eyes closed," she
explained. "The LED's create light patterns that put you
into trance and keep you there while Martha makes
suggestions. In this case, the suggestions will be from a
tape she made for you." She held up a cassette tape, then
put it into a Walkman that was connected to the other box
by a cord.

Intrigued, I closed my eyes and put on the glasses. I
thought I could sense the LED's just outside my closed

"I borrowed your good headphones," Holly continued.
"Gloria didn't seem overly interested in them, and I
thought they'd work nicely for this."

I felt the familiar softness of my studio headphones
settling over my ears, blocking off almost all background
noise. "Now what?" I asked.

"Nothing," came her muffled voice. "Just sit back and
enjoy the ride."

In a few seconds, the glasses came to life. White bands of
light began to move across my field of vision, interweaving
into captivating patterns. At the same time, I became
aware of music gently wafting into my head from the
headphones. The music and the patterns mixed together,
sending me swirling and spinning into the void.

A voice began speaking from somewhere inside my head.
"Relax, Doug," it said. "Take a deep breath, and relax.
Let the patterns and the music massage your mind and relax
your body, deeply and easily. You don't have to
concentrate on anything, do anything, say anything, or
think about anything ... just sit back and relax, enjoy the
sensation of floating outside your body, while I talk to
your subconscious for a few minutes. You don't have to
worry about consciously listening to me, because what I
have to say is for your subconscious to hear and act upon.
Your subconscious is always listening, so your conscious
mind can just listen to the music and drift along without

Am I hypnotized? I found myself wondering. My body felt
limp and weighed down, as if it were lying under a lead
blanket, but my mind felt free and weightless, bobbing in
the air, attached to the body only by a thin balloon
string. I must be, I concluded, and thought no more about

Martha's voice washed in and out of my awareness. " ...
feeling sad and lonely ... unloved and unlovable ... but
it's not true ..."

"... you don't have to be a victim, Doug ... use your
finger ring ... will help you to stay focused and see
clearly ..."

"... there are other women ... capable of returning your
love ... Imagine now, such a woman ..."

The light waves changed color and seemed to recede, and I
found myself arm in arm with a beautiful woman in a silky,
backless evening gown. We were dancing, slowly and
sensuously, to the faintly-heard rhythms of a three-piece
band. The warmth of her body moving against mine, and the
smell of her perfume, were intoxicating. I tucked my head
in next to hers and took in a deep breath, luxuriating in
her scent and presence. I heard her sigh contentedly, and
felt her fingers gently raking across my back. Her thigh
brushed against mine, and I felt the telltale tingling of
an erection forming in my pants. She discovered it
quickly, and moved in even closer -- so close that every
move seemed to end up with part of her body rubbing up
against my hard-on and making it worse. I let my hands
caress her bare back, sliding over to the sides, letting my
thumbs slip inside the edges of the gown to catch the
outsides of her breasts.

"Is my darling sleepy?" she whispered hotly into my ear.
"Does he want to go to bed?"

"No," I answered, "and yes."

A soft, lusty laugh filled my ear. She spun around and led
me out of the ballroom by the hand. "Stay close," she
teased over her shoulder. "We wouldn't want to offend any
passing Republicans."

I followed her closely down a luxurious hallway to a bank
of elevators. One opened for us immediately. I pressed 11
and stepped back to a corner. My companion backed up
against me, pressing her backside into my overexcited
groin, and practically purred. Since we were alone in the
elevator, I slipped my hands inside the gown from the sides
and hugged her tightly, then slid my hands up her smooth
belly and found her breasts. The nipples were already
hard, and by the time we reached the eleventh floor they
were much more so. I pulled my hands free just as the
doors opened, and not a second too soon -- there was an
elderly couple waiting on the other side. We smiled and
waved pleasantly as we slunk out of the elevator, me hiding
my erection behind my companion while she tried to
nonchalantly smooth out her gown.

I slipped my hands inside her gown again while she fumbled
in her purse for the room key. She moaned and leaned
against me. "Stop," she pleaded unconvincingly. "You're
only making it harder to get the door open."

"Delayed gratification," I remarked. "And you're right,
something is definitely getting harder."

Somehow she managed to insert the little card in the slot
and push the door open. "Let's get inside before someone
calls security on us."

Grudgingly, I removed my hands from inside her dress and
followed her into the room. No sooner had I shut the door
than she was pressing me against it, kissing me feverishly
while her hands went to work undressing me. I returned the
favor, lifting the neck strap over her head and letting the
gown fall to the floor. She wasn't wearing much else --
just a thong and heels -- so I turned my attention to
getting myself into a comparable state of undress. Neither
one of us was in a mood to be dainty, so in a matter of
seconds every stitch either of us had worn was on the floor
at our feet. I grabbed her under the bottom, lifted her
up, and started walking into the still-dark room. She
grabbed the woodwork and squeezed me with her legs "What
do you think you're doing?"

"Carrying you to the bed so I can ravish you."

"No," she insisted. "Right here. Right now."

"My pleasure." I smiled and turned, putting her beautiful
back against the door. Her arms went around my neck and
pulled me in for a smoldering kiss. With some of the
weight off my hands, I reached inward to see if she was
ready for me. She was dripping. I moved her hips, lifted
a little, and let my shaft find its intended home. She
wiggled and shifted, improving the angle for both of us,
and wrapped her legs around me.

"That's it," she moaned into my ear. "Fuck me, Doug. Fuck
me hard."

I pushed into her again and again, rattling the door with
each thrust. Her moans grew louder and longer, and soon I
felt her clenching around me and squealing with delight. I
held back until I couldn't possibly contain it any more and
then burst with an orgasm that left me weak and shaking.
We ended up in a tangled heap on the floor, amidst our own
discarded clothing, still coupled while we recovered our

Everything faded to black. It seemed unnervingly quiet,
until I realized that the music had stopped. Then I felt
the headphones being lifted off my head, and realized I was
still in my apartment hooked up to the light and sound

I took off the glasses and opened my eyes slowly. The
light flooding in from the room left me feeling dizzy and
disoriented. The first thing I focused on was Holly's
face, watching mine. "How was it?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," I answered slowly. "I'm a little wonky
still. How long?"

"About half an hour. Take your time; I know it always
takes me a minute or two to get oriented again."

As I looked around me, taking stock, I felt as though I'd
become hyper-aware of my surroundings. Aware of the faint
sounds of the central heat kicking in to warm the room;
aware of Holly's presence, so close and warm at my side;
aware of the wet, sticky feeling in my pants. "What the
hell ..."

"Martha said it was a guided imagery exercise," Holly
explained. "Apparently, a pretty hot one. You'll have to
tell me about it some time."

I looked up at Holly and saw her as if in a new light. Her
skin was pink and warm, her eyes held the telltale shine of
excitement, and her nostrils flared as she looked down at
me. I reached up and touched a hand to her cheek, feeling
the heat transfer from her to me. I slid the hand further
up, inside her golden hair, and gently pulled her down for
a kiss.

We kissed for a long time, tentatively at first and then
with growing need. By the time we came up for air, Holly
was straddling me in the chair and her coverall straps had
fallen aside, I watched her face for any hint of doubt;
for answer, she grabbed her turtleneck by the bottom hem,
pulled it off and tossed it aside in one smooth motion.
She wore a nice off-white bra with translucent cups and
thin straps. I admired the view for a moment, then
stripped off my polo shirt and undershirt together,
discarding them on the floor nearby. My hands explored her
upper body, enjoying the feel of smooth skin over muscle
and looking for the buttons that would give me more access
inside the coveralls. I could feel myself getting harder
and harder as Holly's weight shifted, grinding her pelvic
region into mine.

"Hold on," I warned her. She encircled my neck with her
arms, and I used leverage and strong leg muscles to first
slide down into a squat, then stand with Holly firmly held
against my upper body. My face was level with her
cleavage, which was just fine with me.

Holly squealed gaily as I hefted her in place. "What are
you doing?"

"I haven't made love to anyone in five months," I said.
"I'm going to do this right." Shifting her a little so I
could see enough to navigate, I headed for the back of the
apartment, kicked the bedroom door open, and deposited
Holly on her back on the modest steel-frame bed.

I stood there admiring her for a few seconds. She gave me
a lusty look, arched her back, and reached behind to unhook
her bra. I smiled and watched the bra come off while I
hastily removed her shoes and socks. Holly's breasts were
beautiful: firm and round and just a little paler than the
rest of her. The nipples were standing proud, begging me
to do something with them.

But first things first. My hands gripped the sides of her
coveralls, hooked the waistband of her panties at the same
time, and pulled both off together up and over my head,
dropping them behind me somewhere. I didn't care where --
I was too interested in the newly-revealed sights before me
to pay attention to what landed behind me. Holly's legs
were resting on my chest, so I took the left one and kissed
the ankle, then an inch further up from the ankle, and an
inch further up from that. Holly moaned in appreciation as
I inched my way up the inside of her leg, to the thigh, and
deeper. I dropped to my knees at mid-thigh and kissed my
way all the way to her holy of holies, where a glistening
blonde thatch and an intoxicating scent waited to greet me.
I nuzzled her mound and inhaled deeply, memorizing the
smell of her, letting it work its way into my system and
awaken the animal within. Holly's moans and cries grew
more frequent and more breathless as I explored every inch
of the new territory, learning through experimentation
exactly where and how I could apply a tongue or a kiss to
drive her nuts. Her button stood out and begged for my
attention, so I gave it plenty, and before long Holly was
bucking and squealing and crushing my head between her
powerful thighs. Not that I minded -- it was exquisite
agony for me, and had me almost ready to come again. I
willed myself not to and concentrated on giving Holly the
ride of her life. Every time she seemed to be fading, I'd
try a different lick or stroke or suck and she'd be
galvanized into moaning, gasping action again.

After several climaxes -- or maybe it was just one very
long, sustained one -- Holly took charge. She grabbed me
by the hair and hauled my face up where she could see me.
"That was phenomenal," she said, "but if you keep that up
much longer I'm going to pass out before we get to the main
event. Help me up." She held out her hands. I took them,
stood, and hauled her up into a sitting position. She had
my pants and underwear undone and around my ankles in
seconds. My cock was at full alert and pointing straight
forward. She took it lovingly in her hands and began to
caress it. "There it is," she crooned. "This is what I
was feeling in that chair. And it's long overdue for some
serious stimulation." Her fingers traced the length of my
shaft. One hand reached further back and caressed my balls
while the other paid careful, loving attention to the most
sensitive parts of the head and fuselage. All I could do
was stand there and groan in pleasure.

"I think he likes it," she teased, and pulled me closer.
"Let's try a little of this." Reaching around, she fondled
my balls from behind and let her breasts surround and
massage the iron in front. I'd never felt anything like it
before: my knees got weak, and there was a sudden surge of
pleasure and great urgency in my groin.

"Oh, god," I groaned desperately. "I can't hold it much
longer, Holly."

She laughed softly and reclined back on the bed, guiding my
aching member toward her center. "Then don't try."

I plunged my raging cock into her, burying it to the hilt,
with a gutteral moan. The sensation of her tissues
clamping down around it, squeezing, was too much -- I
exploded into her immediately, desperately grabbing onto
the mattress for support as my legs wouldn't hold me any
longer. Holly's legs helped to hold me in place while my
body clenched and released, and just as I was about to fall
back onto the floor I felt strong arms helping to pull me
onto the bed. My mouth found a nipple within reach, so I
latched onto it and sucked while I waited for my strength
to return.

I was half asleep when I felt Holly stir and start to get
up. I threw an arm around her and drew her closer. "I'm
sorry," I said.

Holly gave me a sharp look. "Sorry? About what? I
haven't been bedded that well in ... well, in ever."

I laughed, which got Holly looking at me strangely.
"Gloria," I explained. "Wanted me to go down on her like
that, but she has a lot of long, tangly hair down there and
it was hard to do without gagging. When I suggested she
let me trim it up for her, she took offense -- gave me the
cold shoulder for two weeks."

Holly laughed with me. "Poor Gloria doesn't know what
she's missing. You can do that for me anytime you want,
Doug." Then her face grew serious. "But really, it
shouldn't be any time soon."

"I know. Gloria would love to be able to nail me for
adultery. Which would be ironic, since she's probably been
committing it herself with that ape Roger."

Holly cleared her throat. "More than probably, I'd say.
When I stopped by the house to pick up your headphones, she
and Roger were there and Katie wasn't. Katie is spending
the night at her friend Alexa's."

That hurt, but nowhere near as much as it would have two
hours before. I just nodded silently.

Holly's eyes captured mine again, and I saw the deep
concern in them. "Are you okay, Doug?"

I thought about it. Things were still pretty much the same
as they'd been when Holly arrived: I was still living in a
cheap, dingy apartment full of yard-sale furniture,
isolated from my family, and looking into the maw of a
long, ugly divorce. But something had definitely changed -
- the dark void inside me was rapidly closing. "I'm okay,"
I assured her. "I'm not alone anymore."

"You never were. Not really."

"You're right, of course. But I felt that way -- that is,
I let myself feel that way. But not anymore. I have you,
and I have Katie, and I have a life that's worth holding on
to. Gloria is in for one hell of a fight."

Holly beamed at me, a slight tear in her eye, then pulled
me to her for another long, loving kiss. "It's great to
have you back, Doug," she told me. "Happy Valentine's



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