Playing With Fire

A summer downpour has made the freeways a mess, so I’m a bit late arriving at the vintage hotel. Dusk is falling, and the parking lot is packed. My cellphone rings, but I don’t recognize the number, so I send it to voicemail and proceed to squeeze my Prius in between a massive SUV and a puddle that could be the sixth Great Lake.

Huge drops of water filter through the leaves and splatter onto the windshield as I collect my belongings. I take a deep breath and then dash beneath the lush oak trees toward the hotel lobby. I end up soaked, but not even the snarled traffic and the torrential rain can dampen my spirits: I have five whole days without laundry, cooking, or mom’s taxi service, and I intend to enjoy each and every second.

Thirty minutes later, I open a bottle of Stags’ Leap Cabernet, settle into a comfy wingback chair, and take out my laptop. I design software for a living, but penning novels is my passion, and this is my first chance to write for more than an hour uninterrupted since BC (Before Children). I spy the unidentified voicemail from earlier and open it: “This is Will from the tennis center.  Would you still like to play some tennis while you’re in town?”

Yes! When I made hotel reservations, I had inquired about joining a tennis drill at the outdoor club nearby. The concierge had told me she’d check, and then called back to tell me there was a tournament going on that week, and that all the regular activities were cancelled.  She must have passed my number on to the tennis pro.

I text him to say I’m interested and ask what his rate is.  His answer comes right back: sorry, you’re not a member, so it’s double the regular. i’m probably not worth it. 🙂 did you still want to play?

The price is pretty steep, but I’m on vacation, and it will be great to make up some of the court time I’m missing at home. I type in that I’d love to play, but for that much money, the club ought to be in Tahiti, have ball boys, and serve free cocktails.

He replies almost immediately: i can’t move the court, but i’ll see what i can do about the rest. 🙂 does 6pm work? this should be fun. I like him already.

I respond in the affirmative and tell him I look forward to meeting him. He asks what I’m rated, and I send xxx 😉 and then my tennis rating.

He fires back: i liked the first one better.

I text back: I’m probably old enough to be your mother, so you may need to reign in your enthusiasm.

He shoots back: i enjoy spending time with older women.

I add that I don’t want a full lesson, only a bit of match play, so he just needs his racquet and a can of balls. He sends: you are my kind of woman 🙂  since we’re just hitting, i’ll only charge you for court time. Then: if you can get a set off me, i’ll throw in another half-hour, my treat.  

I fall asleep smiling.

Early the following morning, my phone beeps: we’re set for 6pm. i’ll meet you on court 2. with just my balls 😉  I chuckle and respond that he’s definitely going to need them, because I’m planning to earn that free court time.

I take a couple of minutes to look him up on Facebook: not too surprisingly, he’s 26, blond, athletic, and has tons of friends. But I also learn that he received his masters in finance a couple of months ago—and graduated with honors.

Wow. What’s he doing working at a small, outdoor tennis facility in a place where it’s too cold to play outside half the year? I’ll have to ask him. I spend the morning writing—and looking forward to court time with the mysterious Will.

A little after 3pm, my phone beeps:  i got a call from the tournament director, and due to the rain yesterday, he needs all the courts today. i’m REALLY sorry. tomorrow at 6?

Damn. I send him a reply chastising him for leading me on and then dropping me.  He sends: hey, it’s HARD on me, too. i promise to make it up to you on Wednesday, if you’ll come.

I smirk and send back: Promises, promises. Men your age rarely have the skill to make a woman come. He fires back: you haven’t played with me.

My writing is going well, and the rest of Tuesday files by.  I spend Wednesday morning working though a long list of edits and looking forward to meeting Will in person.  At four, I gaze up from the covered patio as ominous thunderheads sneak over the mountains. A few minutes later, the dark sky is broken by lightning, and by five, it’s pouring.

My phone beeps: damn rain. Another beep: the tournament director says he’s canceling all court reservations for the rest of the week, including ours. but we could play before the tournament starts. how does 6am sound?

I’m not a morning person, and getting up at 5:30am to play tennis is not on my list of relaxing things to do while on vacation, even if it involves an attractive, mysterious tennis pro.  I text him that I’m flexible, but I don’t like to get out of bed that early.

He texts back: I love it when women say that.

I chuckle and ask him if we could sneak in court time between tournament matches or at the end of the day, instead? He tosses out a couple of text messages, trying to change my mind, and then adds: I know you don’t usually do it that early in the morning, but I’ll make it worth your while.

I reply: No one is THAT good.

He sends: you don’t know me.

We spend Thursday in a lazy text message conversation, attempting to find court time after rain delays, before dusk, and in place of defaulted matches. He teaches at an indoor facility about 30 minutes away (ah ha!), so he’s not as flexible as I am (and all their courts are booked, too). We don’t have any luck.

He texts: damn this is hard and I reply: a hard man is good to find. He comes right back with: no problem finding one of those.

At one point, I ask about his play style, and he responds: i’m very intense and focused. i like to go hard and fast. but i also know how to take my time and be patient.

Yeow. If he plays tennis as well as he flirts, I’m doomed.

I’m still smoldering when his next message arrives: but when it comes to doubles, i’m all about touch.

God, he’s good, at least on paper.

By Thursday noon, the tennis court situation looks bleak, but our steamy exchanges are making up for it. We’ve dispensed with the pretense of battling it out on a tennis court and switched over to a flirting competition.

At one point, I tell him: guys your age are fun to tease but don’t have enough experience to be good in bed.  He replies with a metaphoric earful about quality not quantity—emphasizing that he has both—and then he fires off a string of texts listing all the things he likes to do in bed.

I blush while reading it (and I’m not really the blushing type). I tell him I’m impressed with his steamy resumé, but that hooking up with a young, blond, tennis pro would just be too cliché. His reply: sex with older women is better because they know what they want and aren’t afraid to ask for it. the fact that I play decent tennis is irrelevant.

That doesn’t sound trite, it sounds honest. I consider upping the ante, but his last remark changes things for me. Until now, I’ve been teasing him, but now I find that the tide has turned, and I’m struggling to keep from being pulled under by his spell. All of a sudden, I feel off balance. Unfortunately, I really could be his mother.

After a few minutes of silence, I send: Yes, but to you, Beyoncé is an older woman.

I stare at the little “typing” notification below my message, and wait nearly ten minutes for him to send it: i have no idea how old you are, and it doesn’t matter.

I remind him that although I am thoroughly enjoying our repartee, I am, in fact, only flirting with him. He tosses back: me too. don’t stop.

Thursday evening, my phone beeps while I’m in the middle of getting a new chapter down on paper.  It’s my last full day of writing, and I really want to finish it. So, rather than get pulled out of scene, I switch off my phone, intending to check my messages the moment I’m done.

A couple of hours later, I remember his message and take out my phone: how about a beer?  my treat. i’ll be down at the bar.  And then thirty minutes later: i guess that means no. sorry if i misread your intentions.

Although I’ve never met this guy, I like his quick wit and playful style, and I regret hurting his feelings.  I fire off a message telling him I’d like to do a lot more than have a beer with him. Although it’s a flippant remark, it’s not something I would usually text to a young, attractive man, and I feel a bit of trepidation after I send it. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone that far? I’m definitely leading him on—but it’s all just teasing. Isn’t it?

Unable to concentrate, I set aside my writing and go in search of something to eat.

Flirting with Will all week has been fun, and I have to admit, I’ve been looking forward to his risqué innuendo. Still, I can’t decide if I’m relieved or disappointed about not meeting him.  I’m very happily married, and although my husband and I lead busy lives, we make time to have dinner out, play mixed doubles, and occasionally spend long weekends together in bed. So why am I feeling so ambivalent about Will, even guilty?

I leave my phone on, but it remains silent.

I end up walking across town to the open-air mall, remembering when I lived in this city thirty years ago and a night like this held tantalizing possibilities.  The evening is warm, and the closed-off blocks are full of people enjoying the street musicians, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and the gorgeous weather. Where has the time gone?

I think about the past week and the sexually charged exchanges with Will, uncertain if I would have said yes to his off-court invitation had I gotten it in time. And I wonder where it would have led. The fantasy we have been playing out over text messages is compelling, even addictive, but it IS just teasing. There’s no doubt in my mind that the reality could never be as good as the pretense, if for no other reason than he’s young and gorgeous, and I’m old and, well, old.

If I had agreed to meet, it would have ended like a bad French movie: full of awkward silences, uncomfortable miscues, and strained attempts to please a lover one doesn’t know (and won’t ever see again). It’s precisely the sort of sex that makes women fake orgasms, and men wonder if they did.

Still, if I’m honest with myself, I’m disappointed we didn’t get to chat in person. I wanted to know if the spark would still be there, if the age difference really was unimportant. The tennis court would have been safe, but the hotel bar, not so much.

I stop for a moment and listen to a well-dressed string quartet play Vivaldi. When they finish, I toss a five-dollar bill in the cello case and continue meandering down the mall.

Now that I think about it, is a hotel bar really that dangerous? Am I really that tempted? Or, am I worried that Will wouldn’t find me quite so irresistible in person? It’s something lots of older women must struggle with: Is it possible that a young, cute, smart guy could still find us desirable? We live in a society where being sexy is synonymous with being young, at least for women. Even the famous cougars spend tons of money trying to turn back the years with face-lifts, tummy tucks, and lip injections. Geez, I don’t even dye my hair.

But, I’m leaving in the morning, and it’s already getting late, so I take out my phone and text him one last time, apologizing for leading him on and thanking him for entertaining me all week, even if we didn’t get to play tennis.

I get his reply immediately: i had a great time flirting with you. but i was hoping it would end differently. i never got to use my balls.

I burst out laughing, and get some strange looks from the people around me. I sit down for a minute and gaze up into a clear night sky full of stars: I’m wishing I was 26 again, so I could give you a chance to impress me. It’s the truth, and it makes me sad.

He responds: but you already have. i want to touch you. what else do you want?

I can’t. I type it in and hesitate a moment before sending it.

that means you have a regular to go to. a boyfriend or a husband.

I ignore his reply and continue walking. And stop making me laugh. The people on the mall keep giving me funny looks.

the mall? i live two blocks away. tell me where you are. i’ll come meet you.

I step into a Starbucks and order a coffee. It would be so easy to tell him, wait for him to join me, watch him walk in and smile when he recognizes me, get lost in the fantasy—if only for a few minutes. I sit down and take out my phone, flirting with disaster.

I get another text: i can make you orgasm. and i’ll make you breakfast in the morning.

I sip my coffee, tottering on the brink. We’re flirting, remember? It’s not going to happen. But the thought is nice. 

i was hoping more hot than nice. I laugh. My phone beeps again. i know you can feel the heat. what would it take to turn the flirting into something real?

That’s the problem with playing with fire: you get burned. I change the subject before I type something I’ll regret. There are lots of scantily clad women down here. Short shorts and tight sweater dresses.  See through skirts with thongs underneath. You don’t need me.

that’s not the point. i’ve done them. i want you. He quickly adds: what are you wearing?

At first I think we’re back to the flirting, but then I realize he might come looking for me, so I switch back to flirting. Underneath my clothes, nothing.

what’s your favorite sex position?

I pick up my coffee and walk out the door. Can’t you guess?

no. yeah.  same as mine: you on top. come over.

I start walking back to the hotel. I can’t, Will. I have a husband. Kids. A dog.

i’m totally down.

Right. I’ll eat my undies if you’re not hard. I try to go back to flirting, but he refuses.

please. no one will find out.

I let out a sigh. That’s not my style. But, the rough part is, I’m tempted. I tell him that.

just do it.

And I was pretty sure I could handle it.

i assure you, you can. i’m two blocks away.

I laugh, choking on my coffee. Damn. I hate it when I’m wrong about men.

you’re wrong about me. i’m different. come over.

Sometimes I wish I were a guy, so I could just masturbate and be done with it.

i can definitely help you with that. tell me what you want.

I don’t know what I want.

well i do. i want you.

You can’t keep me. Then I add without thinking: So it would just be sex. I am such an idiot. Of course it would just be sex.

His response takes a minute. what are you wanting??

I have to think about that one. If I said no tonight, would you still play tennis with me at 6am?

He refuses to give up: yes. come.

And again: be spontaneous.

And finally: i’m young and ready. what are you looking for?

What am I looking for? I force my feet to keep moving, walking away from him.

I’m looking to be 26 again: lithe, athletic, and seductive. I’m looking to spend a week flirting with an attractive, clever guy, and get him so wound up, he can’t think about anything except touching me. I’m looking for slow, intense, messy sex—without the need to worry about pregnancies, diseases, or concealment—and I want to do it with someone who likes to tease and be teased, and who has the time, desire, and technique to turn exquisite physical pleasure into transcendental, emotionally-charged, satisfying sex.

But all I have to work with is my imagination, my aging body, and a young, attractive guy willing to take a chance.

give me a chance.

Exactly what I can’t do. I continue walking, feeling empty inside. I text one last message: Thanks, Will. Sweet dreams. I hope you wake up in the morning and remember how good it was.  I will.

When I get back to the hotel, I pack up my stuff, throw it in the car, and start the long drive home.


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