Red Azaleas

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I do love spring in the Sierra foothills thought Susan as she steered her old Toyota pickup through the gentle curve of the Colfax exit from eastbound Interstate 80. It was only late February, but in typical California fashion the grass was already several inches deep and a few daffodils were beginning to bloom, at least those with southern exposures. The others would appear in a week or two. It was hard to believe that less than an hour’s drive away the crest of the Sierras was still frozen in winter with several feet of snow. She rolled the driver side window down and inhaled the fresh smell of spring as she braked to a stop at the end of the off ramp. The world was alive again and the air smelled of life.

Lying on the passenger seat was a briefcase full of student papers. Surely it would be warm enough today to grade them while sitting in the sun on her back porch. She turned left, taking the overpass back across the freeway and headed into Colfax.

Susan was an English instructor at Sierra College, a northern California community college. Originally she had been hired to teach basic writing skills to freshmen at the school’s campus in Rocklin, a Sacramento suburb, but she had convinced the school to also let her teach a creative writing class two days a week at its campus in Grass Valley. The 100-year-old house she owned in Colfax wasn’t near either campus, but she loved living in the small town, and it gave her reasonably convenient access to both campuses.

Her life in Colfax and as an instructor at Sierra College for the past two years was a far cry from her prior life in Berkeley where she had been married to a senior member of the English Department and was working with another Cal professor as her advisor on her Masters in creative writing.

That life had ended in scandal and disaster. Her husband had been accused of asking one of his graduate students sleep with him in exchange for his acting as her advisor. Susan found the woman’s complaint credible because her now late husband had done more or less the same thing to her a few years earlier. Instead of reporting him, she had slept with him, convinced him to divorce his estranged wife, marry her, and find another advisor for her. It had worked out fine from her perspective and, she thought, his also. But apparently not for him, and worse yet, this time he had killed himself and left behind a note confessing to a string of similar seductions, including Susan, and to Susan’s dismay, two or three others since she had married him. The campus gossip had branded him as a serial predator and her, unfairly, as a facilitator. There were a few notes of condolences from faculty members, but most of them wanted nothing to do with her or her late husband. Her advisor made it clear that the University wanted her to leave. They were decent enough to let her quickly finish her Masters, but then it was out the door.

She had been married once before, right after she got out of high school. That marriage had been a disaster too. They had married hurriedly because she was pregnant, but she had miscarried shortly after the wedding. Once they got to know each other they decided the only thing they had in common was sex. They were really good at that, but neither was inclined to limit themselves to the other. Neither one of them had the maturity required for marriage, so after a couple of years they simply decided to call it quits.

She had always loved the Sierra gold rush country, so when she got a teaching offer from Sierra College, she had sold her house in Orinda and her little sports car, bought a small used pickup and a Queen Ann cottage in Colfax, leaving the high pressure of the big time university behind her. The students were different at the junior college—not as bright as those at Cal, but frankly she thought, much more committed to getting an education with the skills they had and not so impressed with themselves. They were much easier to get along with. Most of them had full time or part time jobs. They were working at life, and she respected that. The position didn’t pay much, but fortunately she had inherited a substantial royalty stream from her late husband’s writings, so money wasn’t a problem for her.

The teaching was fine, but she still missed her late husband. Yes he had been rotten she knew, but he had also been charming, intelligent, and creative in bed. Those were aspects of her old life she hadn’t been able to replace. After two strike outs, Susan wasn’t particularly anxious to take up another long-term relationship, much less marriage, but she wasn’t prepared to give up sex either. After all 32 was a little young to take up celibacy, widowed or not. She had a fling occasionally with a man she found interesting. So far though none of the men she met could match her late husband’s intellect, charm, or skills as a lover.

She steered her little Toyota into the Starbucks drive-through, grabbing a Grande coffee to assist in the grading project, and then headed down the hill and across the sincan escort railroad tracks into the old part of the town. She crossed Main and headed out Grass Valley Street towards her little cottage. Just before reaching it she remembered her need for a gift to take to a dinner engagement with a couple in Grass Valley. They were instructors at Sierra College’s Grass Valley Campus. She taught math and he taught something about diesel mechanics—not theory, but how to maintain the engines. That’s the kind of place Sierra College was.

Half a block back towards town there was a little flower shop. She had never been in it, but surely they would have something nice to take to her friends. Susan pulled her truck off into the gravel and then spun around in an illegal U-turn, hoping the town cop wasn’t watching. Marty would pull her over just to ask yet again for a date. He never gave her a ticket, even though she usually deserved one. All he wanted was to date her, but he was ignoring the fact that his wife was her hairdresser and one of the best-connected gossips in town.

Susan pulled into the graveled parking lot and stepped from the pickup. She stretched, taking a deep breath, her face upturned and eyes closed, to soak up the warm springtime sun, and her back arched to release the kinks she had accumulated in the drive up from Rocklin.


She jumped in surprise at the deep gravel voice. There was a man standing in the doorway. He hadn’t been there when she parked. She wasn’t frightened—just startled. He was short, not really short, but not tall like each of her husbands had been. Like most nearly everyone in Colfax, he was wearing jeans and a work shirt with the sleeves rolled up, although she noticed that instead of the usual work boots he was wearing a pair of faded purple Crocs. Odd, she thought.

He had broad shoulders and narrow hips. He looked strong, his forearms heavily muscled and his hands large with thick fingers, rough from physical labor. His face was wrinkled and she guessed his age as late forties. There was grey in his neatly trimmed, dark, curly hair and in the second day stubble on his face. What she noticed most of all were his eyes. They were a nice medium brown, friendly, and with a sparkle in them that really got her attention when he looked at her. A middle aged Spencer Tracy she thought. She had a habit of characterizing people as movie stars—helped her remember them.

“Oh. Yes. Good morning. It’s a lovely morning isn’t it? Or is it afternoon? It’s getting on towards noon isn’t it?”

He chuckled. “Yes. I s’pose it is. What can I do for you?”

“Flowers. Do you sell flowers? I need some flowers. I think.” Still a little rattled by his sudden appearance. Well just his appearance. She asked herself, “How do some men do that to me?”

He looked back over his shoulder at the building. “That’s what the sign says. What do you need?”

Susan pushed her long hair back from where it had fallen across her face and began walking across the graveled parking lot. She was still dressed for teaching. The heels she was wearing were sinking into the gravel, causing her to wobble. “Uh, well, I’m not sure. Maybe you can help me. I have to go to dinner tonight at a friend’s house. Over in Grass Valley. Not far really. But I want to take something to dinner they won’t expect.” Still talking a blue streak she noticed.

“Most folks take wine to dinner these days. Glad to hear you want flowers.”

Susan chuckled. “This couple has one of the biggest wine cellars in the county. I doubt if I could find much at the Mar-Val that would meet their standards. If they weren’t such good friends, I’d still go there just to drink their wine. No, wine wouldn’t do as a gift for them.”

“Sounds like good friends to have, and you’re right our local grocer’s wine rack is a might thin,” he said as he stepped into the doorway and held it open for her. The door had a creak commensurate with the 100 year old building it was hung in. He was still standing in the door as he held it open with his back, so Susan had to turn sidewise to slide by him. It might have made her uncomfortable, but instead she noticed his smell. She always noticed a man’s aroma—some good, some bad, and a few genuinely intoxicating. This man’s smell was clearly in the latter category she decided as she slid by him. Sexy eyes and an intoxicating aroma, she thought. Nice. How come I haven’t met this man sooner?

There was an earthy aroma in the flower shop also. Probably just the flowers, but it was not what she expected in a flower shop. It was subtle and hard to place. Susan paced about in the little flower shop for a few moments, her heels clicking on the aged wood floor. As she stood before a glassed in cabinet looking at various flower arrangements on display she rocked from side to side listening to the squeaking of the ancient pine planks. Her mind really wasn’t on the flower arrangements or the squeaky floor. It was on the Spencer Tracy who stood quietly behind ankara escort her. She was wondering if there was a Katherine Hepburn someplace in the back who would come out and quietly assert her ownership?

“See anything you like?”

She had, but it wasn’t a flower arrangement.

“No . . .not really,” she said as she turned and looked at him. He was leaning against a combination sales counter and workbench looking back at her with that Spencer Tracy smile. Yes, she had picked the right movie star to characterize this guy.

“Hmm. Is there a particular color you had in mind?”

“Red is nice. Yes, I’ve always liked red. Is there something you can suggest?”

“Well, we have some nice red Mountain Azaleas in these pots,” gesturing towards a display. “Not like cut flowers. You can let them bloom in the house for quite awhile and then plant them outdoors when they’re through with their bloom. They do well in our climate here.”

“What is that plant?” Susan said, ignoring his suggestion. He looked over his shoulder in the direction she was pointing towards a bright red lily like bloom nodding from the top of a long stem that had sprouted from a large potted bulb.

“Oh that’s an Amaryllis, he said. “There are a lot of names folks use for them—Belladonna Lily, Jersey Lily, Naked Lady, Amarillo, March Lily. Usually folks buy them in the early winter as bulbs and then raise them in the house. They bloom in March. After they bloom you can let them die back over the summer and get them to bloom again the next year.”

“Naked Lady? That’s a little racy.”

He chuckled. “Not sure where that name came from. I used to know someone at UC Davis that had some other names for them that were even racier.”

“Hmm. Not sure I know you well enough to ask about those.”

I’d like to know him well enough to ask though, she thought.

“By the way, I’m Susan. Susan Carpenter.” She held out her hand as she spoke, and he stepped across the floor holding out his hand.

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Spencer,” he said, omitting any last name, as his big hand swallowed hers.

“Spencer?” she said trying to disguise her mild surprise.

“Yep. Only name I’ve ever had. It was my father’s first name. His last name’s impossible to pronounce so people just call me Spencer.”

“Did you go to school at Davis?” Susan asked trying to recover from her awkward reaction to his sharing a first name with his movie star doppelganger.

“No. I used to teach there. Been a few years though.”

“Oh. I teach too. English at Sierra College. I used to be at Berkeley.” Damn. Why did I mention Berkeley, she thought.

“Really. Berkeley. Now at Sierra JC. That’s a big change.” The implication of course was that it was a huge step down in the academic pecking order (more like a cliff than a step, she thought), but he was kind enough not to say that.

She laughed. “I was married to a senior professor. I was kind of what I think they call a ‘trailer’. If a school wants to entice a big gun in some area or hang on to him, if he is already there, they sometimes have to find a job for his spouse. She’s called the trailer.”

“I think I remember how that works.”

“But he died and then, of course, they didn’t need the trailer anymore, so now I’m here.” She left out the scandalous details surrounding his death.

“Oh I’m sorry.”

“Oh I think I like it better here than Berkeley.”

“Oh, I meant your husband. I’m sorry he passed away.”

“Oh yes,” Susan said, blushing slightly at her misunderstanding. “It’s been three years, so I’m getting over it. We had only been married for a couple of years.”

“Still, sounds tough. Never been married myself.” He paused. “Well I was once, but that was a long time ago.”

So. No Katherine Hepburn, she thought with a secret smile.

She realized that they had been staring intently into each other’s eyes during the whole conversation and that she was still clutching his hand. It felt warm and rough. It was nice. She noticed his aroma again too, now that she was close to him. She couldn’t classify it as any particular aroma, but it was definitely male and seductive. And his eyes. His eyes were the loveliest shade of medium brown. Susan had always loved brown eyes.

She tried to gracefully pull her hand back, but it’s hard to be graceful when you have overstayed by that long. Continuing is okay, but quitting is awkward, and unavoidable. Spencer smiled and released her hand, but they maintained the eye contact and his aroma remained. It was seductive.

There was a silence as they stood holding eye contact until he smiled and spoke up, “There’s a lot more Amaryllis out in the greenhouse. Care to see some others?”

“Uhh. . . Sure. If it’s not too much trouble.” This man is seriously distracting. And no Katherine Hepburn, she thought.

He pushed a pair of pink Crocs at her with his foot. “Better put these on. It might be a bit wet out there and even if it’s dry, the pea gravel won’t work with those etimegut escort heels. I noticed you were having some trouble in the parking lot.”

“Oh yes. Good idea,” she said with another minor blush, thinking that she might be the only woman in Colfax wearing heels at the moment. “Lets go look at Naked Ladies,” she said as she slipped her heels off and the Crocs on.

“Right this way.” He held a door for her leading out the back of the building. Again he stood in it. This time it was narrower and she felt her breasts brush lightly against his chest as she slid by him. What’s with this guy, she thought? Doesn’t he know how to hold a door open? Then she smiled as she realized that she really didn’t object.

They followed a short gravel path and then climbed a rickety looking pair of unpainted wood stairs to a good-sized greenhouse. Like everything in Colfax, the greenhouse occupied a platform that had been carved out of a steep hillside. Flat ground was hard to come by. This time, to Susan’s disappointment, he stepped through the door and held it open from the inside. She noticed that the door was in better shape than those below and Spencer accessed it through a sophisticated sensor that read his palm print.

The atmosphere in the greenhouse was almost overwhelming to Susan. Like all greenhouses, the humidity was high and the temperature warm, a combination you would complain about during a summertime visit to Louisiana, but it felt soft and delicious to Susan after the cold of winter in the foothills. It was the smell that was striking. She knew of course that it was the smell of damp and decaying soils and growing plants, but the combination of the temperature, the humidity, and the smell of the soils and plants had an effect on her that could only be described as erotic. Susan had been in greenhouses before, but never one that had this effect on her. All she could think of was the death and rebirth of life going around her and the sudden earthy desire it had stirred up in her. A single deep breath in the greenhouse had started a fire in her core that she knew she would have to deal with before she tried to grade papers.

As Spencer stepped past her on the narrow path between racks of seedling, his hip brushed hers. It felt delicious and just stoked the fire already burning in her.

“This way,” he said, his voice rumbling. “The Amaryllis are in the back near the office.”

She followed him as he walked the graveled path, focused primarily on the way his jeans clung to his narrow muscled hips as he led her through a labyrinth of tables. She couldn’t help thinking about how much she would like to lie beneath him with her feet locked around those hips. “Down girl,” she told herself. “You just came in here to buy a hostess gift for tonight.”

At the back of the greenhouse he paused and held his hand out showing her a table of Amaryllis in various stages of growth from bulbs barely peeking above the potted soil to a few in full bloom. The surprise was the pots bearing bulbs that had sprouted but not yet bloomed. Each had a single long slender shaft with a spade like head on it. Absolutely phallic, she thought! The earthy aroma and moist heat of the greenhouse had already aroused her, but and now as she looked at the shafts and bulbous heads of a couple of dozen plants all she could think of was cocks—fully erect cocks; penises; pricks; fuck tools; boners; love shafts; schlongs. God, how many words did the English language have for what she was looking at? Dozens she was sure, and they all seemed to describe these obscene plants.

Spencer was leaning on the table watching her in silence with a subtle smile. She was sure he knew what was going through her head.

Eventually she realized she was just staring in silence. “My,” she said, “These are quite different from the one in the shop that was in bloom.”

He chuckled. “Yes they are, aren’t they?”

“So what did your colleague at Davis call these?” She was sure it would be lewd, but in the mood she was in, she wanted to hear it.

“Oh she had a lot of names for them. Most of them quite raunchy.”

“So you had a raunchy woman colleague?”


“And the names?”

He was grinning now. “Love Shaft; John Thomas; Long Shaft; Fuck Stick. Her names went on and on. Just about any synonym for an erect cock you could think of she could pervert into a name for Amaryllis.”

“How entertaining,” Susan said, taking a couple of steps toward him. Now they were closer than usual socially acceptable distance, but she wanted it that way and he didn’t back away. They were inches apart and she could feel the heat of his body and smell his unique aroma. “And did she use any of these names . . . for you?” Now her breasts were lightly grazing his chest.


“Shall I guess?”

It might be easier if you saw it.” He gestured towards the Amaryllis shafts. “As you can see they’re all different.”

“That’s been my experience too.” She pressed her breasts a little harder against his chest and let her right hand graze the growing lump in his jeans.

He was silent. A hand dropped from the table to rest on her hip. It slid around to cup one cheek of her ass and pull her even closer.

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