"So there is actually one flower that doesn't...affect you that way?"
Carrie nodded, her glorious smile vividly lit by the tall white candles on the table. "Gloria and I tested them out. Lilies. Some of them are a little strongly scented, which does irritate me a tiny bit, but Leo- the man in the flower shop- said that he'd try to sniff out the ones for the bouquet personally. So we're going with lilies, stargazer lilies, and were going to pad them out with a lot of greenery and maybe a few artificial blooms here and there. Do you think your mother'll be all right about that?" She sipped her white wine, which was going straight to her head- Carrie never had been much of a drinker, and wine always made her a little more outspoken.
John groaned softly. "Carrie, darling, how many times have I had to tell you that it really doesn't matter? I can't believe you've gone to so much trouble just because my mother's hopelessly affected. Do you know that the only reason she didn't call me Beauchamp was because my dad threatened to leave her and take the stocks and bonds with him?"
Carrie smiled. "I just want things to be perfect, that's all." She'd showered thoroughly, making sure that she soaped every square centimetre of her body and then doused the day's dust and pollen from her flushed skin. Given the state of her nose, which had been twitching and tickling a little since she'd got out of the shower, even reacting to the slight scent of her apple shampoo, she didn't dare to risk even a light application of powder or perfume.
To Carrie's tender nose the entire night seemed filled with potential allergy attacks. The early summer air was so rich at night, thick and fuzzy with a variety of scents, and she could feel just the tiniest, most irritating of itches in the very back of her nose playing with her, coaxing her to take deep breaths to build it, growing in intensity with every breath she took in, stronger every second, making her want to-
"Don't even think about it!" she sternly told herself, looking around at the other hushed, beautifully dressed diners. There was absolutely no way she could...could...
"Things will be absolutely perfect," John said seriously, "don't worry."
Carries face screwed up just slightly, "huh-" she breathed, "huh-huh-haahhh."
John saw her tensed-up shoulders relax just a little as she successfully staved off the sneeze, placing a finger under her twitching nose. He loved her sneezes most when they were like this, when she was trying to pretend that she didn't have to sneeze at all, even when he could tell that her nose was tickling like crazy and all she wanted to do was let the sneezes explode freely out of her, like she did when the two of them were alone. Carrie's ultra-femininity, her delicacy, her painstaking attention to what she considered to be social decorum were just a few of the things he loved about her, and for John, they were never so obvious as they were in this moment, as she sat, eyes fixed intently on him though they were a little watery-looking, one finger pushed under her nostrils- apparently casually- and a slight pursing of her generous red lips indicating her discomfort.
"You look beautiful," he said fervently.
She smiled, although the finger stayed under her nose. "Thank you."
For their date, she was wearing that standby of all classic dressers- the Little Black Dress. She'd bought it when she was a little slimmer; nerves about the wedding had made her snack more than usual, and the strong, sexual curves of her hips were a little exaggerated, her breasts not completely contained by the low, square-cut neckline. Her long legs were caressed by simple black stockings and on her small feet were a pair of strict, sexy black kitten-heeled shoes with ankle straps. Her hair was loose, bright against the dress's pure black, and she wore no makeup but a strong application of rich red lipstick which turned her clear-cut, simple look into that of a glossy movie star from another era. But she'd never seen any of those women sneezing, and at that moment, that was all she wanted to do.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"It's just...you're sitting with your finger at your nose like that. Allergies acting up?"
"A little." She sniffled. Promising, he thought. "I've still got a slight case of the tickles from my little testing session with Gloria. I'll be fine in a minute. I just hope I won't be like this with my bouquet!"
"We could probably get artificial flowers for the bouquet itself," he said, refilling her glass. "Unless my mother wants to catch it." "It's all right. Those lilies really don't affect me." He saw the slightest twitch in the bridge of her nose. "Besides, I'm going to stuff myself with anti-histamines."
Her voice, he noticed, was a tiny bit stuffy. Ever since they'd been seated, she'd been sniffling a little- it was a warm night, with a strong, vital breeze, and this kind of weather generally got a few sneezes out of Carrie's sensitive little nose. He saw her nose twitch again, and watched as one of her delicate fingers slowly rubbed at her right nostril, as she tried to pretend that nothing was the matter. Transfixed, he watched her finger move in an agonisingly slow, circular motion, corresponding with the gradual, rhythmic flare of her left nostril. She moved her finger and began to rub that instead, but already he saw the tiniest glimmer of allergic tears in her eyes.
The productions that she went through trying to hold back her sneezes in public excited him so much that it usually wasn't just Carrie ducking out of concerts and plays, but John too. Unfortunately, they always ended up in different bathrooms- he felt strange enough that she didn't know about his fetish, and worried that one day she wouldn't be too absorbed in trying to stave off her sneezes to notice how aroused he was.
"Oh, we found the dress," she said, and sniffed wetly, her voice sounding slightly choked.
John saw how her face was contorting- ever so slightly, only just mirroring her irritation. Then his gaze fell on an explosion of flowers behind her shoulders- she was only a few inches away from a huge black Japanese vase of flouncing, richly coloured orchids. No wonder she looked uncomfortable.
"Really?" he said slowly. "Whats it like?"
"Gorgeous. Its...huhhhhh....kind of-" she scrubbed her nose furiously with the base of her palm, "kind of..."
John had always thought that if angels ever sneezed, they'd look just like Carrie in the grip of a major allergy fit. Slowly, achingly slowly, he watched her beautiful face in the soft light of the restaurant, the delicate golden down on her jaw and cheekbones catching the glow of the candlelight, her eyes brightened a little with allergic tears, her tiny nostrils flaring uncontrollably, her lips tightly pursed and then gently falling open as she lost control bit by bit.
Then she seemed to recover, staring at him with copiously watering eyes, her finger under her nose, and re-started her sentence as though nothing had happened.
"The dress is very glamorous, I mean more elaborate than I'm used to. But its very beautiful." God, her nose tickled so much... "Gloria wanted me to get this-huh...insane dress...huuuhhhh...from Italy-"
Carrie, only able to think about how desperately she wanted to sneeze, was unable to control her breathing, which slowly fractured into gasps- at first delicate inhales, and then urgent warnings which reflected the agony she was going through, each little fit ended for a second by a temporarily successful stifle.
"It huhhhad these-hah-Hah-HAH-HAH-"
The gasps grew in intensity, but she still managed to stifle the actual sneeze, "hahhh. It was covered in glass beads and of course, Gloria just hahahuh...HUHuh- HUH- HUH- ohhhh- oh God."
She sniffed harshly and then her animated, beautiful face turned completely blank, dazed-looking, as the sneezes took control.
The huge buildup exploded in a great barrage of sneezes which rocked Carrie's upper body back and forth as she unsuccessfully semi-suppressed them with her hands, not daring to use her elaborately folded napkin although it looked so wonderfully tempting, so white and soft, and her nose was overflowing, irritating her madly.
"HA-SHOO! Ha-HAshoo! Ha-CSCCHHOO! Ahhh...ahhh... ah-haSCHOO! HA-HA-HASHOOOO! Ha-ha-haaaaa-AH-SHOOOOO! ahh-Ahhh-AH-AH-AH-SHOO! Ha-ha-ha-HASHOO! haSHOO! Ha-AH- SHOOOO!"
her unashamedly. Even if she hadn't noticed how aroused this made him,
Carrie was used to the way he looked at her- just calm, not complaining
like some people did, not waiting for her to finish. He understood the
language of her allergy attacks- what the tone, volume and wetness of
indicated about the fit she was having, how long it would last, how it
would affect her.
One hand fanned frantically in front of her nose as her head tipped back, her eyes squeezing tightly shut as she embarked on an incredible build-up.
"huh-oh-ohhhh- huhuh- huh!- huhhh-haEESHoooo! HATSCHOO!" she sneezed almost immediately after that, barely taking another breath, as though the first buildup had been enough to start a whole fit of sneezes on it's own, "HACHOOO! Huh-HAISHOO!"
She could feel that tempting, teasing, delicious core of light spreading between her legs, and knew that if she slid her fingers into herself at that moment- which, she thought, she may have to do- she would feel like a hot, wet pulpy fruit, giving beneath her fingers.
"Oh...by doze...by doze...hehh...hehhh...just wod't stop...stahhh...hah!- HuhISHOOO! Huh- hh-huh!huhuh-huh hh-hh... "
Her face cleared, and the last gasp turned into a small relieved, "huhhh," as she set her hands down on the table.
Then she immediately exploded again, before she had time to cover her nose. "HuhISHOO!"
She sniffed, and finished her sentence, "ticklig."
Carrie looked around at the people at the next tables, who were staring at her. "Scuse be," she said stuffily, and sniffed wetly again.
He smiled, "Bless you, love," and took her hand as his own excitement subsided a little.
John thought, not for the first time, that his wife-to-be had the most perfectly formed sneezes imaginable. Hed heard a lot of beautiful women sneeze, but Carrie's fitted every single criterion that he could ever have dreamt up to measure a womans sneezes by- long, tortured build-ups, well-rounded finishes, and the general air of drama and ladylike discomfort that she built up around them.
John had wondered many times if it meant he was a sadist, but it was that discomfort which made it absolutely perfect for him. Of course, when Carrie was suffering from a really bad allergy attack or a terrible cold, all he wanted to do was hold her, look after her and make her feel better- no matter how wonderful her sneezes were, he couldn't even begin to get excited when she was genuinely suffering.
The kind of discomfort he liked stemmed from the knowledge that Carrie was one of the shyest, most controlled women hed ever known. Not that she wasn't capable of immense humour, generosity and passion, but in public she was a perfectly behaved observer, with one fatal flaw- her nose.
"Understandable..." Gloria had softened slightly, and her eyes were cast towards the high window. "That whole helpless, thing...I must admit, its delicious. John..."
"Were you attracted to that initially?" She sipped her brandy as though to imbue her with courage to say what she needed. "The way she sneezed?"
"No, no, it was more than that. I mean, I thought she was incredibly beautiful, but out of my league. I mean, I was used to going out with... Girls like me." "Well, worse than you, Gloria."
"Damn. You must introduce me to some of them so we can have an orgy." "I take it back. Anyway, these women were nothing like Carrie. Totally unselfsconscious, expansive, confident, capable of dancing on tables even without the benefit of tequila. So when I first met her..."
He'd had no idea how to approach this delicate, beautiful young woman in her high-necked blouses and sensibly sexy shoes who could sit in the most boring classes for hours, head up, eyes front, her hands together like a Christmas card angels. He'd resigned himself to admiring her from afar- no matter how gorgeous the other girls said he was, a young student with his underpants on inside out to maximise wearing potential just couldn't get that close to perfection. He and Carrie occupied different universes until he saw her sneeze for the first time.
It had been summer, of course. The bright late-May sunlight streamed in through the high windows, and dust motes floated thickly in the afternoon sun. He had been attempting to dredge up the date of the foundation of the Oratory of Divine Love through the mist of last nights beer when he heard a soft series of muted gasps, "haahhh...hhahh....hahhhh-" ending in a definite stifle.
He looked over at Carrie, who was bathed in a ray of pure yellow light- which, for all it made her look like the goddess of spring, seemed to be the problem. A fresh influx of summer wind streamed over the bent heads of the students, and triggered a long shuddery breath from Carrie. He saw that she was actually wearing jeans in honour of summer, and a T-shirt, a clingy white cotton top which darkened the honey-tone that varnished her skin, and as he watched her trying to suppress the sneeze, John was amazed as he saw her nipples grow slowly hard, pushing out the thin fabric of her top as though it was freezing in the room.
She pushed her index finger under her nose, taking slow, soft breaths in, "Ahhhh-hahhhh-ahhhh..." then the breaths grew in frequency and pitch, "ahhhh-haahhh- haah." She breathed a sigh of relief, and then came the real build-up, full of desperation and need, "hah!...hah!hah! hah-Hah-CSHHHOOO!"
He had expected her sneezes to be little and soft, maybe even squeaky, coming from this quiet, ultrafeminine young girl, but that was a long, drawn-out, well-rounded explosion which gently bent her back and shoulders forward, her downy, slightly rounded arms raising gracefully upwards, clasping long, expressive hands to her nose.
The girl at the desk next to her, a tall girl with long strawy-blonde hair, whispered, "Bless you."
She muttered, "Thaks," sniffed harshly and then her eyes squeezed tightly shut again. For a few precious seconds, he watched her hand fan in front of her nose, as though trying to ward off the tickle, or maybe fan its embers into flame- who knew?
"huhhh-CSHHHH!" she sneezed wetly, her cheeks turning bright red with self-consciousness.
Then she did something which he thought would immediately make him explode- she leant over to her neighbour, and whispered urgently in an unbelievably endearing, stuffy little voice, "I thik I'b gudda.... she paused, struggling again, "sdeeze...huhuhuhhh...huh-uhhhh."
She stifled it with a finger, choking the sneeze back with only the slightest of sounds in her throat. "Cad you- cad you had be huhhhh- a tissue- pleaaaah-HAH-AHHCSSSHHOOOO!"
John could tell that the last one took her by surprise- she turned away from her deskmate to sneeze, of course, and John got an absolutely perfect view of Carrie's face, which usually looked as though it had been carved out of marble, screwing up in discomfort as she actually discharged a great, explosive sneeze in his direction, her eyes tightly shut, nostrils flared to their outermost limits, mouth open slackly. Then she turned back to the girl, who handed Carrie a Kleenex from her pocket.
Carrie nodded her thanks. Then, watery-eyed, her nose running uncontrollably, Carrie turned to him and whispered frankly, "Sorry if I sprayed you." She sniffed wetly. "I did't bead to..."
Then- miracle of miracles, he thought- the sneezes actually took control of her again. "Huh!" she exclaimed, her enormous blue eyes widening, her mouth falling right open. "Huh! Huh! Huhhh- uhISHOOOO! HuhISSSSHH! HuhCSHHHH!"
He hadn't noticed whether she'd sprayed him or not the first time, but this time, she definitely did- he felt it landing on his cheek, cool as a chaste kiss. And she knew, of course.
"Oh God, I'b so sorry!" she exclaimed, her cheeks bright red from embarrassment and exertion, as she grabbed her bag and ran from the class.
Of course, he'd followed.
"We're getting off the subject, romantic though that is." Gloria reached for the bottle again. "What I want to know is, how did you survive dinner? It sounds like you would've been able to pole-vault home."
"Huhuh-uhah-hatCHOO! Johd- I do't dough whad's bakig by doze tickle like this-" her voice was tight and strained, "but I- huhhhh-I-cad't seeb to- stop- sdeeeehhh-" the word she had been trying to form trailed off- "huhah- huh-huh-sdeezig- hahhh-" She sniffed, concentrating hard, then the buildup began to accelerate immediately as she closed her eyes. "Huh-HUH-huhuhuhuh-" Then she felt Johns finger under her quivering nose, pressing hard. He often did this when she was having a sneezing fit. The surprise factor of his finger at her nose sometimes gave her a little relief, which made her happy, if not him. Her slightly bloodshot blue eyes jolted open as the sneeze left her.
He took his finger away.
"HAH! HAH! HATSSSHHHHOOOO!"
It was a truly incredible sneeze, he thought admiringly. It happened almost immediately, so violent that she bent over as though she was trying to cradle an exploding bomb inside her, spray escaping from her nose and her trembling mouth, her cupped hands not even reaching her nose in time.
"Sorry!" she exclaimed, laughing a little in her stuffy, sneeze-congested voice. "I really thought it had gone there." "Are you feeling better now?" he asked softly.
She sniffed. "Mm-hmm. I really needed that!"
He shifted a little to accommodate his erection. "So. Did Gloria finally manage to find a dress she'd wear?"
Carrie nodded. "It's emerald green. Satin. Not cut like a bridesmaid's dress. More sort of, like... Marilyn gone mad. You know her style." Carrie sniffled. "She does look great in it, though." "I'm sure you'll look incredible. Besides, she doesn't really want to outshine you. I know she likes to be the centre of attention, but she definitely likes you enough to-"
She sniffed harshly, wetly- so wetly that he felt licenced to look at her, eyebrows raising, asking her silently what was wrong. "Huh-heh-" she breathed softly, eyes wide, silently telling him to go on.
"Anyway, she's not going to steal your limelight. I know, I know...you wish she would, but- are you sure you're all right?"
The sneeze kept on building. "Heh- heh-huh-" and then wildly up and down, "hehuhehhehuh... huuuh."
She was still again. "Fine," she said curtly. Then she made a small, desperate noise, "Hah!" Then a repeat performance of the whole thing, "haaah...hah...hah...HAH..." ending in a laboured "Huhhh", stifle and a thick wet sniff.
Almost five minutes passed, during which she didn't take her finger from her tortured nose, but carried on slowly building up to a tremendous sneeze and then stifling it successfully again and again as he talked about how outrageously Gloria had behaved when he'd known her in high school.
Carries tickly nose teased John unmercifully. Any time she let out anything that seemed like the pre-sneeze noise she always made when she really had to explode, he looked up at her, every nerve in his body tensed to react. Hed had his right hand closed tightly around his handkerchief for the past five minutes, the other hand trying to gently quench his arousal and failing- even the slightest touch seemed to exacerbate the problem.
Then he heard it- the small, absolutely desperate, gasp that she made to signal a big sneeze, her vocal cords getting slightly involved, almost an exclamation.
"Hah!" Just one breath, and then "HuhISSSSSSHoooo!"
It was so wet that it sprayed John even through the gaps in her long, slender fingers, and so shatteringly loud that several diners looked across at them.
Carrie flushed scarlet, reminding him even more of that shy young girl at her desk, and then leaned across to him, her damp lips caressing his earlobe as she stuffily whispered, "Johd- by doze- it's still- ahhh- still ticklig a little bit-" Her nostrils were flaring dramatically, "I'b really tryig to hode it back, but..."
He offered her his handkerchief. "Here, honey. Give your nose a good blow. That might take care of that tickle."
"Thaks," she muttered, buried her nose in it and, in spite of the great amount of congestion in her poor nose, managed to blow almost silently, conscious of the other diners' stares.
Then she looked up, her face contorting again immediately as a dreadful, burning itch took control of her sore, delicate nose. Laundry detergent.
She'd always been irritated by strong scents, and John- who was still a carefree bachelor in his domestic habits- always washed his socks and handkerchiefs in such a great amount of detergent that they seemed almost stiff.
"I thik I'b- I'b- ohhhh-"
This handkerchief felt as though it had been coated in whitewash- harsh to her raw little nose, and when she inadvertently sniffled after blowing her nose, poor Carrie inhaled a great gust of strong lemon scent which tickled her unmercifully. She made a high-pitched, uncontrollable whimpering sound, and then simply exploded.
"HAISHOO! HAESHOO! uh-uhuhuhuhuhh-haISHOO! Uh-UH-UH-ohh! ohgodI"mgonna-haISHOO!' She had no choice but to use the handkerchief to muffle her violent, urgent sneezes, catch the great discharges of spray that jetted from her nose, but the scent of the handkerchief kept on driving her crazy, grabbing the tender insides of her nostrils with a sharp, pincer-like tension which built and built until Carrie felt the urge to expel the itch ripping through her chest and throat.
She sniffled, laughing although her eyes were still tearing. "That was a big one!"
Carrie had to keep the handkerchief to her face, as her nose was streaming visibly and messily. She sniffed wetly automatically and then, in embarrassment, made the mistake of blowing her nose mightily into the handkerchief. This time, in spite of her self-control, it was a great, messy, gurgling blow which startled her- and a few of the other diners- with its volume and wetness. It was such a heavy blow that she took in a deep breath immediately afterwards, and the harsh scent of laundry detergent seized her nose again.
Realising her error, Carrie- flushed with embarrassment- looked upwards at the shielded restaurant lights as her gorgeous eyes began to tear. As she saw the concern in John's green eyes, she tried in vain to explain.
"These sdeezes just wod't- wod't-" her voice grew so faint it could barely be heard, "ahhhh- ahhhhh-huuuhh- stop!" she finished, her voice fading into "huh-huhuhuh-huh!" Desperately, she placed a finger under her nose, her upturned eyes tearing uncontrollably, "huhuh-huhu-huh-huh-huhISSHHHoooo!
Making an excuse-me, gesture with her hand, she ran to the bathroom. After loudly asking the waiter if he could move the orchids somewhere else, John also went to take care of some business. He took Carrie's evening bag with him, ostensibly because it might get stolen, but really because it helped to camouflage the difficulty he had with walking.
"Much as I'd like to empathise with you," Gloria stretched and yawned, "it's late and I've got a date with a long, hot bath. Today has been somewhat tension-inducing, no?"
He grinned at her and gently kissed her cheek. "Really, Gloria, you've helped me out so much. And by the way, you've got one hell of a sexy sneeze yourself.' "You've got a one-track mind, Matthews." She retrieved her coat and stood still as he helped her into it- she knew that he would.
"Most guys do," he replied.
"Indeed," she said dryly. "However, the track their minds run on doesn't have as much to do with Kleenex as yours..." then she grinned beautifully at him. "What am I saying? Of course it does! God, when you two move in together, have you got any idea how much youre going to spend on tissues?"
He swatted her on her shapely behind.
"Seriously, though, youve got to tell her. If youre living together..."
"You know what she's like," John said. "She'd just be totally freaked out. Please, she hates sneezing so much already I don't want to wear her out further by jumping her bones every time she has to sneeze. Have some sense, Gloria." Standing in the doorway, she had the face of a plaster Sphinx. "Of course. Very considerate of you, Matthews. In fact, this afternoon she was in a real state about sneezing during the wedding. You wouldn't mind that, would you?"
He sighed, leaning against the doorframe again. "I suppose bridegrooms with huge erections are quite common. Was she really worried? I mean, what else did she say to you this afternoon?"
"Oh, nothing else."
"Nothing. But a tip for the future- you like long build-ups, don't you? Try and get her around some daisies."
"You're wicked," he said, grinning.
She grinned back at him as the door closed. "You have no idea."