They can't hold back any longer.
North Karlson brought a first aid kit and swabbed the cut, looking at it carefully.
“I think it’s not too bad. But if you want, I’ll drive you over to the hospital. You may need stitches. You don’t want it to heal and leave a scar,” he spoke softly still. Joellen raised her face so he could clean the cut with peroxide and cotton. She was surprised that it didn’t hurt.
“No hospital,” she said.
“Can you tell me what happened?” he asked. He turned her head slightly to look at the top of the cut. He applied Neosporin and then closed the tube. “I’m not sure what sort of dressing to put on it.”
“I’ll do it. I’ve taken care of plenty of cuts for the children,” she said and opened a package of gauze pads, handing him the plastic dispenser of sterile paper tape. Together they bandaged the cut.
He leaned back and looked at her, his head tilted to one side. It was obvious he expected an explanation.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” she said. “Anyone else, well, it just would have been too difficult.”
“I don’t see why,” he said. “After all, you haven’t been drinking or anything. I mean an accident is just that. No one else was hurt, right?”
She laughed but there was no humor in it. “No,” she muttered. “No one else. Just me. And my children. And the whole …” She broke off.
“It wasn’t an accident then?” North Karlson asked.
He reached forward and took her hand, moving his chair closer to where she sat on the little couch.
“What did happen?”
She held his hand. She could feel the warmth emanating from it. And she felt again that strange sensation somewhere below her stomach. It was pushing at her now, a feeling that required her to respond to it with some action. Still holding his hand, she raised it to her mouth and, ever so slightly, brushed her lips against the tips of his fingers.
“Thank you for being so kind,” she whispered. “You don’t know how much it means to me. Especially now.”
He didn’t pull his hand away, but instead leaned even closer, as if they were in a confessional together, and he said, “But tell me what happened, Joellen.”
She held his hand against her other cheek, the one that hadn’t been injured, and she nuzzled her face against it, back and forth, the way a small child might comfort itself with a treasured blanket. Then she looked up at him, her eyes clear now, a small smile beginning at the corners of her mouth. And she moved his hand back to her lips. This time he reached forward with his other hand and cupped her chin to lift her face closer to his as he leaned down even farther.
“We shouldn’t do this,” he said.
“I need you,” Joellen whispered. “You can’t tell me you don’t feel it. I can’t be that wrong.”
“You’re not wrong,” North said sadly. “I wish you were. This only complicates things for you.”
“No. No it’s not a bad thing,” she said. “It’s wonderful. I’ve never felt so” – she couldn’t think of the right word – “delirious,” she finally said.
He stroked her hair back from her face. “Poor girl,” he said. “What are you getting into?”
“And you? What about you?” she asked.
“I feel the same way,” he told her softly. “I can’t help it. I know I should be able to hold my feelings back. You … a parishioner … and married … but … every time I see you I feel alive for the first time in …”
“I think for the first time,” he said.
When their lips met, they stayed still for a long time, each of them experiencing the moment from different perspectives, meeting at the same place, for different reasons, feeling the stirrings at the same time, surrendering slowly, thoughtfully, carefully but without holding back.
He moved to her side on the couch and they began to kiss, slowly at first. Then all the restraints that Joellen had allowed to be strung around her like bailing wire popped one by one and passion she had never guessed lay dormant overwhelmed any caution she might still have mustered.
North encircled her with arms so much more tender than Brent’s, kissed her with lips so much more hungry, spoke soft words of tenderness so intimate, that she yielded to him like water overspilling a gorge. Together they rushed toward their moment, his hands reaching around her and feeling her waist and then her hips and finally moving toward her breasts. She turned toward him and began to unbutton her blouse where red stains had seeped through, still kissing him, hungrily now, the cut on her face forgotten, everything else put aside, drowned in this moment.