I was 37-years-old when I met Dahlia at her father's house. Her father, my boss. She looked ready for college but something about her was so straight-laced and homespun that it seemed she must still be living at home and in high school. She was serious, in an attempt to be mature, to impress, I thought. Straight pale blond hair, pulled back to reveal an alabaster face free of makeup, and clothes that revealed nothing of the form beneath. She was watching me and I couldn't figure out why. The house was busy, a work party, and here was this girl only sixteen or seventeen with the mannerisms, though rigid, of someone in her early twenties, plainly beautiful but without making a thing of it. I found myself alone hours into the party, standing out on the large deck that circled round the back of the house on pilings that ran down fifteen feet into the dirt, well short of the water. The door behind me opened and closed and Dahlia walked up beside me. "You're Frank, right?"

"I prefer to think of myself as candid," I said with a smile.

"You're on the Gobi project."

"Yes, working with the others on the driver interface for the phone operating system."

"How many are on your team?"

"My team?" I gestured downward. "Who's been syphoning off your lake?"

Dahlia shook her head. "The city lowered the level to give people nearer the water larger backyards. I thought the team you headed . . . " The finger she was pointing at me dropped as her wrist went limp, exposing the vein.

"The team I head has been very good to me and we work very well together."

"What's your secret?" she asked, smiling a tiny bit for the first time.

"I let them talk. I let them talk and talk and I listen and when I sense they feel hopelessly deadlocked, I step in and offer my solution, which I modify as I listen with things they say. It's not time efficient, but it works like a charm. Now I'm going to go back inside before you start thinking I'm trying to seduce you."

"I wasn't thinking that," she said in broken words.

"Not yet, maybe."

She slumped.

"Dahlia," I said softly. "You know all the things you are. I just can't say them. I'm sorry."

Dahlia didn't turn around. She stared silently, hunched over the railing and I retreated into the house and out the front door to leave. The next time I saw her, I felt I should have wandered off into the desert to get a job as a carpet salesman or the equivalent, whatever that is. It was two years later and I had walked to the church down the street from my condo complex to vote and there she was, in red lipstick, a long red coat, and a warm black hat. She meet my gaze with a gleeful smile, but didn’t drop an iota of composure as I walked to her and touched her arm. "Let me guess. The whole country would be as beautiful as you if only we all voted Republican."

"How's that supposed to make us feel?" called one of a ragtag group of high school students whom I suspected came out for Obama.

"Envious," I answered. "Look at this woman for a second. Have you ever seen anyone her age who so plainly hasn't spent any time finding out who she is." I glanced over at Dahlia who looked rattled to the point of tears. I smiled gently. "That's because she thinks she knows why she's here, and she might be right. She has a sense of purpose in this life that some of us will never have."

I spun to face her. "I know I'm right. You see your place in things and you have no idea how valuable that is. I respect you, Dahlia. You and the guy who lives across the sidewalk from me who could grill so well before they passed that ordinance that made grills less than ten feet away from a building or structure illegal. You, and him, and I don't know. That might be it. Would you like to meet him?"

She laughed through nearly clenched teeth, tilting her head back and shaking it slightly from side to side. I pressed a business card into her palm and leaned close. "How I feel about you scares me. I do know I could make you happy, and also that I want to fuck you till you can't form a five word sentence." I walked away, shoulders sagging and head down.

"Frank!" She called. I slowly turned around. "I met you when I was younger," she said, jabbing her forefinger at me.

"Let me be real clear, Dahlia. I'm sinking, right now this minute, into a mire of hope and dismay that makes you feel more and more distant even as I look at you. When I was younger, all my friends, the girls I liked, the ones I dated, the ones I wanted to, they all seemed to represent something to me. They would seem, each of them, to be the embodiment of an idea at first before I got to know them well. An idea, a trend, a virtue. I treated them as set dressing at times because I was young and vain. Now people are all set dressing, all interchangeable and the same, meaningless. But you. I see something in you. You embody what I lost or never had a chance at. I'm not asking you to turn back my clock, and that's likely meaningless to you anyway. But I am asking you to understand that I want you because I've always wanted you. Now, on your father's deck, when I was going out drinking nights fifteen years ago. You're what I couldn't hope for when I was looking through my brother's dirty magazines when I was thirteen years old, and you're what I assumed I'd grow up to be when I was fucking seven. Now please, let me be near you," I finished in a tear-choked voice. She was beaming back at me.

"I'm going to watch the election returns with friends tonight. If I have energy when I'm home." She looked down at the card in her glove. "This is your number, right? This isn't some sort of . . . No, it wouldn't be. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have accused you of that. It's just that . . ." I had closed the gap between us and taken her forearms in my hands and folded them at our waists. Her eyes widened as I stared into them and I smiled as I watched her speak, lost in the warm haze of Dahlia. She must have noticed something because her face became more animated and eventually an arm tugged free from my hand and she began to gesture as she talked then the look on her face changed to confusion and hurt. "You weren't listening, were you?" she asked in a small voice.

"I got distracted by how beautiful you are."

"Really?" she asked, chin quivering slightly.

I was surprised when her mouth opened for my kiss. We kissed for as long as we could bear, moaning into each other's mouths, feeling each other out, testing boundaries, learning, confessing to feelings we could never have voice aloud. I was a bit in love by the time our embrace broke. Smiling, we rubbed the smeared lipstick off each other's faces.

"I better go vote."

"Talk to you later, Frank," she answered with an ease I admired.

My phone rang at 10:30 that night. "Can you sneak out?" were the first words out of my mouth.

"I'm nineteen," she answered with an audible smile. "You're worth sneaking out for, though. If you were wondering."

I wanted to call her "baby" so bad, but it didn't feel right yet. "I'll tell you what, dove. I'll stay on this phone until you fall asleep, but I need to see you before you go back to whatever the hell fucking cloud you floated down from."

There was simple silence on the other end.

"Dahlia?"

"I'm sorry," she stammered. "I've just always wanted someone to call me that."

"I'm sorry about the hell and the fucking."

"Don't be. They haven't come yet."

"Oh, I'm going to hell for being a liberal?" I heard an angry growl on the other end of the line. "We need to meet."

"I know."

"Do you?"

"Yes."

"I don't know."

"Liar. You do. You do too. Good night. Call me tomorrow, Frank."

"Goodnight, dove."

Five minutes later, I called back.

"No," she said when she answered.

"Nag's Head. Tomorrow morning. Meet me there so it's not awkward. At Jennette's Pier. 11am."

"An hour and a half drive? For what?"

"Privacy, to forget about what we think our roles are. To get away."

Dahlia sat with her legs hanging off the landing outside the tackle and gift shop at the pier when I pulled up at four minutes after eleven. She was dressed in white, except for a black scarf around the neck of her sweater, the same black hat from the night before, and sunglasses. Her body was striking. I had never seen it outlined in the slightest before. Dahlia had ceased to be Dahlia and instead was an apparition I was afraid would become real.

"What should we do?" I asked. "Hunt for seashells?"

"Sure," she said with a nervous smile and a shrug.

We wound up sitting in the sand, Dahlia telling me about a friend of hers she was beginning to dislike and me doing my best to offer perspective and not advice. She absentmindedly scooped up sand and let it fall through her fingers again and again as she spoke. The tempo of the talk gradually fell as she ran down her confusion and grievances. Finally, she shrugged. "A whore who drinks too much but a friend."

"A tramp," I corrected.

"And a bitch!" she snapped with a wide smile. She gazed down at her hands as she scooped up more sand. "I knelt on the beach and, raising my cupped hands to the heavens, I prayed for as many years of life as grains of sand they held. If only I had prayed that they be years of youth."

I pushed her into the sand and kissed her, my hand cupping her breast, crawling over her, sating myself as best I could with her lips, my hands, and the pressure of our bodies moving together. When I rose off my elbows for breath, Dahlia put her fingertips to my lips and chin. "Frank, that's enough for the beach." When I just stared down at her, she wrapped an arm around me and lifted herself to me, hugged me and in the gentlest whisper said, "I want to fuck."

I already had reservations at a nearby hotel. We walked through the doors, arms entwined and hands clasped. Dahlia broke away to wait by the elevator as we checked in and I motioned her to follow me. I understood it was because she smelled of her pussy, so I stamped my foot and, smiling, pointed to the front desk.

"Frank." Her voice was half a whine and half-groan.

I shook my head and walked too the desk. "Do you have room service?" I asked the concierge.

"Yes."

"I'd like to order dinner now. A six egg omelet with shallots, a large fruit salad, four pieces of toast, a bottle of champagne and water, at least a liter. At four, please." I swiped my card and joined Dahlia at the elevator.

"Thank you," she said.

"You matter." I hit the button and the doors opened immediately.

I took her hand and led her inside, the took her other hand as the doors began to close and kissed her. We began to grope, her hands moving along my back, down my torso. My hands held her ass as she squirmed in overstimulation.

"Why?" she whimpered as I began to kiss her neck.

"You were made for me and I want to claim you."

She seemed to relax at this, groaning deep in her throat as my hand ventured between her thighs for the first time to the damp crotch of her white slacks as the elevator door dinged.

Once in the room, she seemed unsure of herself. I pointed at her shoes and said nothing, allowing her to study my smiling face before she kicked them off, then I pulled her on the bed with me. We lay together, clothed, cuddling, writhing against each other, short thoughts passing our lips.

"I fucking trust."

"I'm scared."

"You lie."

"Not to you. Not now."

"Not ever."

"Make me believe?"

"I want to."

"Make me hard?"

"I fucking know."

"The need."

"You heard?"

"You came?"

"It's all . . . Baby?"

"Dahlia?"

"Don't."

"I won't."

"Trust."

"Trust."

"Daddy."

"I'll always."

"I'll never."

"You do."

"Yes, only . . ."

"Only yes."

"I won't," I said again and knelt to strip off my clothes as Dahlia writhed out of hers beneath me.

"Good. I need it." Oddly, she cocked her legs up very high and I fit the head of my dick to her pussy and slid into her as she lowered them to my shoulder tops. I stopped once inside her.

"I need this, just this for a minute."

"I can't believe I love you," she said, her eyes rolled back in her head, which shook back and forth in disbelief. It scared me out of my fucking mind. I removed her calves from my shoulders so I could kiss her more easily. Fucking everything about her was so perfect and I began to grow harder inside her cunt as I ground against her. She came easily as the tempo picked up, her head bucking up off the pillows until the tendons in her neck stood out and her eyes bulged, again and again. I lifted her legs back over my shoulders so I could fuck her harder, often slowing in pace just to move against her a whisper obscenities. I began to tire and grabbed her arms. In a smooth movement, I hoisted her up and wrapped my legs around her ass. Soon she was sitting in my lap and we kissed and I suckled, barely in heaven. We locked arms and began to buck against each other. Her hair tossed with her head and she looked so perfectly happy, and so young. I knew that image would stay with me for the rest of my life as we screwed. Finally, exhausted, I pulled her atop me and flopped back with my head at the foot of the bed. She rode me slowly, with a very intent expression on her face that I couldn’t decipher, as she watched me. When it became clear that she was too exhausted to ride me to orgasm, I began bucking my hips up into her until I threw her on all fours atop me at which point she motioned me to stop. I smiled and did. She slid down my torso, kissing.

"No." I really didn't want her to do that.

"It's okay, daddy," she said and took my cock in her mouth, giving me the most excruciatingly gentle blowjob I'd ever had till finally I came in her mouth. She gulped it back, surprised.

"Thank you, love. I needed that so much."

"Shower," Dahlia said, hopping up, and took my hand.

I rose and followed her into the bathroom. It was then, kneading her soapy tits and kissing the nape of her neck that I had the courage to say it. "I love you, baby."

"I know," she said, and shuddered.

A knock came at the door.

"We couldn't have!"

Dahlia giggled as I fetched a towel to receive our dinner.

Dahlia emerged from the bathroom in a robe. I followed my instincts, unknotted it and kissed her, sat her in a chair, opened the champagne and licked her pussy as she ate. She didn't make much noise and, when it twitched hard against my mouth, I stopped to join her at dinner.

"When are you leaving?" I asked.

"I came back for my brother's funeral."

My draw dropped.

"He's schizophrenic, was schizophrenic. It was horrible, but not a surprise. Mom and dad took it . . ." the tears began to flow. I marveled at how strong this young woman was. "I've been home for two weeks. I dropped out for the semester."

"Mostly because of them."

She nodded, looking away. I stood and half pushed her out of her chair to situate myself behind her with her on my lap. She lounged against my arm and chest, her head tucked into my shoulder.

"Frank?"

"Yes, dove?"

"I need so much." The words came out thick with mucus and tears.

Fears spun through my mind of her life falling of track, of the responsibility I was assuming with my next words. "Remember what I said about you having a sense of purpose?"

"Yes."

"You're the reason I'm here. I see that now. One of them. We'll get you through this. It won't break you and it won't scar you more than it has to. Life won't do this to you, not you. You're special, Dahlia. I don't know how, but you are. I'll take some of the weight from you whether you want me to or not. I have plenty of vacation days, time for you whenever you need it. More importantly, whenever you want it."

"Baby."

I bit my tongue before I asked, "Falling in love is so bothersome, don't you find?"