April and Her Friends Ch. 02
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Kumar returned to April’s room in a matter of minutes, having quickly thrown on a polo shirt and Dockers over his underwear. Slipping on a pair of casual shoes, he returned to find April still alone: her stepmother was still out shopping, apparently.
But it was only minutes later that the door to the room was opened with a key and a woman, burdened with boxes and bags, entered.
It was now Kumar’s turn to gasp inwardly.
His first sight of Carolyn Waters was one he would remember for many years. Even though she seemed exhausted from her arduous shopping expedition, she radiated a peace and tranquility that he found immediately appealing. That wasn’t to say that there wasn’t a hefty dose of abstract beauty in her face—with its rich brunette hair, deep brown eyes, a hint of a snub nose, full lips, and a gentle curve of the jawline—and a slender but curvy figure to match. She was just an inch or so shorter than April; and although she must have been at least five or ten years older than Kumar, she looked much younger than that.
As she noticed the strange man in her room, she almost dropped the load of packages that she was carrying, emitting a startled “Oh!”
“Let me help you with those,” Kumar said gallantly as he almost plucked the packages out of Carolyn’s grasp.
As she looked on in a daze, she turned her attention to her stepdaughter. “April, who is this?”
There was something in her tone of voice that was a trifle ominous for Kumar. But April took control of the situation.
“Mom!” she cried, and Kumar was inexplicably heartened to see that she seemed to regard this woman as her genuine mother. “I have to tell you what happened!”
“What happened?” Carolyn said, sounding more worried than ever.
“Well,” April said in a rush, “I was going to take a dip in the pool, but I hit my head against the edge and just sank all the way to the bottom! Gosh, Mom, I think I was unconscious! Anyway, this man—his name is Kumar—was the only one who saw me, and he dived down and brought me up to the surface! Mom, he saved my life! And he can’t even swim! Isn’t that brave of him?”
Carolyn was taking this all in as her jaw slowly dropped. After the end of April’s excited recital, it seemed she couldn’t quite grasp the full extent of the incident.
As she stood stock-still, frozen in terror, April went on: “Mom, aren’t you going to say anything? Kumar saved my life! I could have died!”
Those words finally seemed to spur Carolyn to action. Uttering a strangled cry, she turned abruptly to Kumar and flung her arms around him. Then she burst into tears.
“Omigod! Thank you so much! My poor baby!” she exclaimed. Kumar, stunned by Carolyn’s response, returned her embrace as tentatively as he had when April had done the same thing to him hours before. To his astonishment, he felt Carolyn give him a kiss on the neck as she held him tight, pressing her breasts against his chest.
“Mom, really!” April chided as she took in the spectacle.
Carolyn suddenly seemed to become aware of the possible indelicacy of the situation. Suddenly releasing Kumar, she turned her attention to April. Taking her stepdaughter by the shoulders, she spun her around as if giving her a quick inspection.
“Are you okay, dear? Are you hurt?”
“Mom, I’m fine,” April said, seeming to find her stepmother’s attention unwelcome, as if it were emphasizing her status as a child. “Everything’s okay. I have a little bump on my head, that’s all.”
Carolyn felt the need to sit down, and she plopped herself on the corner of one of the beds. Reaching behind her to the bedside table, she snatched up a Kleenex and dabbed her face.
“Oh, God, I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you, dear,” she said in an intense undertone. “You’re all I have.”
Kumar took in the words but couldn’t understand them. What exactly is going on here? Where is April’s father—and, for that matter, her birth mother—in all this? What have I gotten myself into?
Once Carolyn had regained some of her composure, she formally introduced herself to Kumar. “I’m Carolyn Waters,” she said, extending a hand in his direction.
Kumar felt it was rather absurd to shake hands after having been embraced so tightly by this woman, but he did his best to maintain decorum. Taking the hand, he said, “Kumar Mehrotra at your service.”
“You certainly were at my service!” April said, with a sly look in Kumar’s direction.
Kumar flushed, hoping that her stepmother didn’t pick up on the double entendre.
“Mom,” April went on, “I think we should go to dinner with him—as a way of thanking him.”
Carolyn still seemed a little dazed. “Well, sure, dear, of course. It’s the least we could do.”
“Why don’t we go now? I’m starving!” April said.
“All right, dear,” Carolyn said, getting up and looking around confusedly.
“Let’s give her some time to get ready,” Kumar said to April.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Carolyn said, casino şirketleri although that seemed far from being the case.
But after some minutes, everyone seemed ready to go. They ambled out of the room and headed for the main restaurant in the hotel. There were several smaller specialty restaurants scattered around the hotel, and of course there was a wide selection of eateries in the nearby area, but none of the three felt they had the energy to go very far afield.
As they sat down and gave their beverage orders (Kumar, for one, was in dire need of a stiff Scotch on the rocks, while Carolyn ordered white wine and April settled for a Coke), they all felt a bit awkward. The very strange circumstances that led to their acquaintance—and, in particular, that led to Kumar and April’s intense intimacy, which both desperately needed to keep secret—and the fact that they knew next to nothing about one another made conversation difficult. But Carolyn, seemingly the most tranquil of the trio, opened by asking Kumar to tell them something about himself.
He gave the basic outlines of his life story. Coming from India with his parents at the age of five, he had settled in the Midwest and had a thoroughly American childhood, full of sports and games with his little friends, good schools, and a fascination with classic rock music (he was a devotee of the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen). But, although he excelled in athletics, he was determined to make a career from his brains, not his brawn, and he got into Cornell and developed a facility with computers, technology, and related disciples. He stayed at Cornell for a master’s degree but didn’t bother with a Ph.D., for he was already in demand by tech companies in the area. Four years ago he made the transition to a freelance consultant.
As Kumar was telling this story, April was listening with rapt attention. She seemed to take in every word of his account as if she was dying of thirst in the desert and had come upon an unexpected oasis, rejuvenating herself with drafts of cool, clear water.
But it was Carolyn who, giving a quick glance at his left hand (and the obtrusive absence of a ring on a certain finger), said, “No wife in the picture?”
“No,” Kumar said, feeling a bit warm all of a sudden.
“Pretty amazing that you’ve not been snatched up by some fetching lass. Surely there are plenty out there where you live?”
April was frowning furiously at her stepmother’s line of questioning.
“Sure there are,” Kumar said uncomfortably. “It’s just . . . I guess I haven’t found any who really suit me.”
“Choosy, are you?” Carolyn teased.
“Mom!” April cried.
“I guess I am,” Kumar said, with a covert glance at his young lover.
That was when April suddenly turned beet red.
“You’re not here alone, are you?” Carolyn said.
“Well, yes, I am—but I didn’t plan it that way. A friend was supposed to come with me, but something came up and he couldn’t make it.”
“That’s too bad.”
“So . . . what about you?” Kumar asked, turning the tables. “You two must have led an interesting life.”
“Not hardly!” April said, cutting off Carolyn as she was about to speak. “I’ve spent my whole life in Seattle. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a wonderful place! But I want to see more of the world.”
“There’s plenty of time for that,” Kumar said blandly. “And you’re right about Seattle: I’ve been there once or twice.”
“You have?” April said ecstatically.
“Sure. You have Microsoft and Amazon and lots of other places that are of great interest to me.”
April fell silent, but her mind was already working hard, thinking of certain possibilities.
“She’s right,” Carolyn said. “We’re not very interesting.”
“I very much doubt that!” Kumar said emphatically.
“Well, I too have lived pretty much my whole life in Seattle—my adult life, anyway. Grew up in Ellensburg. Do you know where that is?” When Kumar shook his head, she went on: “It’s a little town in the middle of the state. Not much there. I was lucky to get into the University of Washington—which is where April will enroll in a few weeks—and got a degree in psychology. That’s not terribly useful for much, but I’ve managed to find some success being a guidance counselor at various local high schools.”
“She’s really good at it!” April burst out. “Helps lots and lots of youngsters—boys and girls.”
“Youngsters?” Kumar said skeptically. Aren’t you not much more than a youngster yourself?
“I hope I’ve helped,” Carolyn said. “They’re not the way we used to be, are they, Kumar?”
“Oh, Mom!” April exploded. “He’s a lot younger than you!”
There was a deep and awkward silence. It was obvious that April resented her stepmother’s (possibly unintentional) attempt to establish a bond between herself and Kumar on account of their rough similarity in age, to say nothing of similarities in life experience.
“April, dear,” Carolyn said gently, “I casino firmaları think he’s a bit closer in age to me than he is to you.” Turning to Kumar, she said almost defiantly, “I’m forty-one.”
“I’m thirty-four,” he replied promptly.
April looked alternately at the two of them, and Kumar was fearful that she would throw some kind of tantrum. Instead, she descended into a sullen silence, picking resentfully at the plate of food in front of her.
“What about your father, April?” Kumar said in a desperate attempt to change the subject.
But the even more awkward silence—and the apprehensive, almost fearful glances that the two women exchanged—made Kumar sense that he may have blundered into even more dangerous ground.
As the silence deepened, he said quickly, “I—I didn’t mean to pry. Please don’t feel you have to answer.”
It seemed that April and Carolyn were deciding who should speak. At last, Carolyn took the initiative.
“He . . . left,” was all she said.
“Left?” Kumar said.
“Yes,” Carolyn went on with a sigh. “Just left. Three years ago.”
Carolyn closed her eyes. “I don’t know.”
Kumar knew full well that this was a topic that really shouldn’t be discussed at this moment—and perhaps never—but he somehow couldn’t help probing.
“How can you not know? What did he say?”
Carolyn looked up at Kumar. There was a mask of inexpressible sadness on her face, and her eyes were filling with tears. “He really didn’t say much. It must have been some kind of midlife crisis. Maybe I wasn’t the most exciting wife in the world—”
“Mom, don’t you dare say that!” April said.
“—but he just said he needed to leave. And we’ve not heard from him since.”
“Not heard from him?” Kumar said incredulously. “Not even you, April? He doesn’t want to keep in touch with his own daughter?”
April couldn’t speak, and she just shook her head in misery. Tears were filling her eyes also.
And then Kumar cluelessly compounded his folly by asking: “What about your mom? I mean, your birth mother.” It’s pretty strange for a girl to be raised by just her stepmom, without her mother or father in the picture at all.
Now the tears were falling from April’s cheeks. “She—she died. When I was about five. She drank herself to death.”
Carolyn was crying also.
Kumar mentally kicked himself for being a prince among fools. How could I be so stupid as to poke my nose into the private lives of these women whom I scarcely know? Why couldn’t I just shut up, or talk about the weather? But his unexpected intimacy with April had driven him to learn all he could about her and her stepmother, for both of them suddenly loomed as hugely important to him—far beyond the bounds of the few days they might spend at this vacation resort.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, reaching his hands out to both women. He wasn’t quite sure whether Carolyn had actually known April’s birth mother or was just weeping in sympathy with her; but he wished he could sweep both of them up in his arms and hold them tight so that all their sorrow were squeezed out of them.
“It’s okay,” Carolyn said, dabbing her face with a thick cloth napkin. “There’s sadness in everyone’s life.”
“Carolyn has been a wonderful mom to me,” April said, also wiping away her tears. “She married Dad when I was nine, and we’ve been together ever since.”
“You’ve done a wonderful job, Carolyn,” Kumar said with genuine appreciation. “It’s pretty difficult to raise children these days, especially on your own.”
“We’ve managed,” Carolyn said, smiling at April. “She can be a bit unruly sometimes, but she’s a good girl.”
Once again, Kumar and April exchanged quick glances. That depends on your definition of “good,” Kumar thought to himself.
The conversation thankfully shifted into safer directions, and the meal was concluded with a big dessert of chocolate mousse that all three shared. When Kumar suggested that they go out later to a nightclub, Carolyn demurred, saying her shopping trip of that afternoon had tired her out. So they merely got back into the elevator to go back to their separate rooms. They happened to have rooms on the same floor.
But just as April was opening the door to her room, Carolyn said:
“April, do you mind if I talk with Kumar a little?” Her implication was obvious: Talk to him alone.
April’s eyes expanded, and she gave an alarmed look to Kumar. He tried to maintain a phlegmatic countenance.
“Sure, Mom, whatever you like,” April said, trying to sound offhanded.
She entered her room, but was very slow in closing the door. She was peering closely at both her lover and her stepmother, and it took her several seconds to shut the door all the way.
“Shall we go to your room?” Carolyn said briskly.
Kumar felt a shudder go through him, which he hoped was not apparent to his companion. She can’t possibly know what I did with güvenilir casino her stepdaughter, can she? Maybe she just wants to thank me in private for helping April in the pool. But hasn’t she thanked me enough?
Kumar trudged to his room as if proceeding to his imminent execution, Carolyn walking soberly behind him. When he reached the door to his room, he was at first hesitant to open the door. With Carolyn waiting impatiently, he finally did use his key and ushered her into the place.
It was, as mentioned, quite small—so small that it was difficult for the two of them to stand together comfortably. There was a small couch—really no more than a loveseat—at the far end of the room, under a window, and Kumar headed there, thinking it was the safest place for a conversation. There’s no way I want to sit on the bed with this woman!
As they both sat down, Kumar formulaically asked if Carolyn wanted anything—maybe a liqueur from the well-stocked minibar. She shook her head.
Taking his hand, she said, “Kumar, I want to thank you again for what you did this afternoon. As you can see, April means the world to me, and I really don’t know what I would do if I lost her. We’re both bereft ladies, as you’ve heard, and it would be pretty hard for either of us to live without the other.”
“Please, Carolyn,” Kumar said in self-deprecation, “don’t think anything of it. I just reacted instinctively. If it hadn’t been me, I’m sure someone else would have done the same thing.”
“I’m not so sure of that. People are so self-absorbed these days—they take no interest in what happens to other people. Anyway, it was you, and not someone else, who saved my little girl. And for that you have my deepest gratitude.”
She reached out a hand and, while stroking Kumar’s cheek, gave him a soft kiss on the mouth.
Kumar gaped at her, and Carolyn seemed amused by his discomfiture.
They just looked at each other for some moments, not speaking.
Then Carolyn, in the same mild tone she had used earlier, said, “You slept with her, didn’t you?”
If a person of color could have turned white, Kumar would have.
“Wh-what?” he stammered. “What are you saying?”
She took his hand again and squeezed it. “It’s okay, Kumar. She’s of age—she can decide who she sleeps with.”
Kumar was so agitated that he leaped up from the couch, trying to put as much distance between himself and Carolyn as possible. But there was nowhere to go, and he ended up pressing himself up against the wall.
“I—I didn’t!” Kumar blustered.
“You did,” Carolyn said calmly. “I know you did. And I’m telling you it’s okay.”
He looked down at this extraordinary woman as if she were an astronaut from Mars who had suddenly descended by magic into his room.
“How—how could you know?” he gasped.
Carolyn smiled knowingly. “Oh, Kumar, I wasn’t born yesterday. The way you two looked at each other throughout dinner—it was obvious.” She chuckled to herself. “Anyway, when I hugged you earlier, I could smell her all over you.”
Kumar put a hand over his mouth. “I—I’m so sorry!”
“Sorry? Why on earth for? Are you saying you didn’t have a good time?”
“No, no! It was wonderful! I mean— Oh, God, I don’t know what I’m saying!”
“Kumar, just relax. It’s no big deal. You’re certainly not the first, I can guarantee you that. April’s been boy-crazy since she was about thirteen, and she has a long, long line of boyfriends to prove it.”
“But I am the first—I mean, I was.”
Carolyn looked at him with immense pity. “Is that what she told you? Oh, Kumar, you’re so naïve. I’m sure she said that to make you feel special. I mean, you are special, but she wanted to give you the kick of thinking you were—”
“Carolyn,” Kumar said with incredible intensity, “I cannot emphasize strongly enough that I really am the first man she’s had. Really. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, if you catch my meaning.”
Carolyn looked up at him, stunned. “You mean—her hymen?”
“Yes,” he said heavily.
Carolyn’s jaw dropped, and a frown covered her face. Then she leaped up, just as Kumar had done. “Why, that little liar! She’s made such a big thing about how many boys she’s gone out with! It’s like she was taunting me about all the boys who’ve gotten into her pants. Okay, she never said exactly that, but she certainly implied it!”
“I guess some girls—and maybe some guys—think that if there’s no actual penetration, it’s not real sex.”
“Oh, you mean that cocksucking isn’t real sex? Or feeling a girl up?”
“Something like that.”
“That’s just the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I know—but I get the impression that’s how some young people think.”
Carolyn shook her head, as if in despair over the foolishness and immorality of the younger generation.
“Well, I hope it was nice with her!” she said furiously.
“It was very nice,” he said in a subdued tone. Then another horrible thought entered his mind. “I didn’t force her, you know!” he said harriedly.
She gave him a cynical smile. “I’m sure you didn’t. It was probably more like she forced you!” And she gave a trilling laugh very similar to what April had done earlier.
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