“Josie, please, can I come in?” Josh was kissing her neck and her right ear.
Josie Marcus kissed him back. There was a deep silence, broken only by heavy breathing. “Sorry, Josh. It’s a school night,” she panted. “I have to be in by ten.”
Josh unbuttoned the tiny pearl buttons on her shirt, then kissed the tops of her breasts. “I’ll be very quiet,” he said.
Most silence. More kissing. More panting.
“My mother’s upstairs,” Josie said, breathlessly. “She’s got ears like a bat.”
“Come to my place,” Josh said. “There are no old bats. Just a big bed with fresh sheets and some very nice wine.” He flicked open the front closure on her bra and said, “Oh my God.”
Josie was glad the porch light was out. Her knees were weak. That must be why she was clinging to Josh. “I can’t,” she whispered frantically. “There’s my daughter, Amelia. I have to be home for her.” Josie refastened her bra.
“How about my car?” Josh said, kissing her again.
“It’s parked under a street light,” she gasped. When he kissed her that way, she could hardly stand up.
“We’ll have the windows steamed up in no time,” Josh said.
Josie almost said yes. Then she saw the curtains twitch at the house next door. Now she felt hot, but it was the heat of anger.
“I can’t,” she said. “Mrs. Mueller will see us.”
“Who,” he said between kisses, “is Mrs. Mueller?”
“The neighborhood gossip. She’ll tell Mom and my life will be hell.”
“Josie, how old are you?” Josh said.
“Why are we making out like horny teenagers on your front porch?”
“Aren’t you glad I make you feel young?” Josie pulled away and buttoned her blouse.
“That’s not how I feel,” Josh said. “I may never be able to straighten up again. We’re too old for this.”
“No, we’re exactly the right age,” Josie said. “If we were teenagers, we’d be boffing like crazy. Only adults have these problems.”
“Josie, please let me in.”
“Josh, I really want to, but I can’t.” Josie tucked in her blouse. “We should have thought of this earlier.”
“Are you kidding? It’s all I’ve thought about tonight. But I wanted to take you to dinner like a gentleman instead of just jumping your bones. Look where it got me.”
Josie laughed. Josh didn’t. “Who the hell is this Mrs. Mueller and why is she so important?” he asked.
Josie studied him in the starlight. Josh was four years younger, smart and sizzling. Her friends wouldn’t believe she was telling him no. Josh had a sensitive poet’s face, a dangerous walk, and expert hands. He wanted to be a sci-fi writer, but right now, Josh was the best barista in Maplewood, producing sensational espressos and cappuccinos on his gleaming machine. When Josh was with Josie, he pulled out all the stops.
She kissed his nimble fingers and tried to explain the constraints on her life. “Mrs. Mueller rules the neighborhood,” Josie said. “She’s convinced I’m a slut, and I haven’t done anything but wear a couple of trampy outfits for my job. If I go to your car, she’ll have proof. She might even take pictures. She’ll tell my mother, who is also my landlord and my babysitter, and therefore has absolute power. It’s a Sunday night. I have work tomorrow and Amelia has school. If I let you inside, we’ll wake up Mom and I’ll never hear the end of it. Even if we don’t wake up Mom, Mrs. Mueller will be standing by with a stopwatch. She’ll watch the shadows on the window shades and listen for the bedsprings.”
“She sounds obsessed,” Josh said.
“Mrs. Mueller has had this thing about me ever since I was fifteen. She caught me smoking behind her garage and ratted me out to Mom. I got even by putting a bag of dog doo on her porch and setting fire to it. Mrs. Mueller stamped it out.”
Josh burst out laughing. “Mrs. Mueller fell for the flaming dog doo of death trick?”
“You may think it’s funny, but she never forgave me. My name is mud. No, it’s worse than mud.”
“Why do you care what she thinks?” Josh kissed her so hard, her last few wits nearly fled.
“I don’t,” Josie said. “But Mrs. Mueller runs all the major church committees and clubs in the neighborhood. She rules Mom’s social life. Mom thinks the sun rises and sets on that awful woman. To make it worse, Mrs. Mueller has this perfect daughter named Cheryl. She keeps rubbing Cheryl’s achievements in my mother’s face until Mom can hardly hold her head up.
“Josh, you’re single, so it’s hard to understand. If it was just me, I wouldn’t care, but Maplewood is like a small town. Gossip about me will hurt my mother and my daughter.”
“I do understand,” he said. “I just don’t like it.”
“Amelia has a sleep-over soon. Maybe we can be together then,” Josie said.
Josh kissed her again. They stood hand-in-hand on Josie’s front porch, looking at the clear November night. The old sycamore trees rustled and the houses creaked in the warm wind. It was one of St. Louis’s famous freaky weather switches. The night was a springlike sixty-five degrees when there should have been frost.
“Look,” he said. “A falling star. Make a wish.”
Josie saw the curtains twitch again.
“I wish Mrs. Mueller would get hers,” Josie said. “I wish she’d be so embarrassed she couldn’t hold her head up in Maplewood – no, the whole St. Louis area. I wish she’d fall so low, she’d have to look up to me.”
Josie got her wish. Every word would come true.
And she would regret them all.