chapters

you

@2000 words

Mary came into the studio half covered in paint. Violet was there that afternoon, and she made cocoa for herself and Mary. They sat and talked awhile, as Jack was downstairs in the theatre, consulting with someone about lights.

Mary said, “I sometimes forget to change my clothes before I paint. At home, I just take off most of them, and paint in my underwear, but obviously I can’t do that at the shop. She grinned. “So at first I worried people would think I just never clean myself up, and then I decided they could see it as decoration, instead.”

Violet said, “That seems really satisfying to me. And if you’re wearing a blue top, but have a bit of emerald between your fingers or something, you’re actually pretty well coordinated.”

Mary said, “Exactly.” And they both smiled in contentment.

“Although,” Violet went on, “I expect there are people who do not actually cover themselves with the paint they are brushing onto a canvas…”

“Ah, but that’s just the thing,” Mary answered. “Most of the time, I don’t actually use brushes!”

She and Violet laughed again as Jack came in, and Mary said, “Yes, we were talking about you, in case you were wondering.” Then she whispered in a loud dramatic tone to Violet, “DON’T WORRY, I’LL NEVER TELL HIM YOU SAID THAT.”

Mary rarely shows a serious side to anyone but Kathy, her boss, and one or two close friends, and her children. Some people think she’s being serious at times when she’s having a laugh, which confuses her, but she’s mostly reconciled herself to it. She operates best under the banner of “quietly eccentric.”

Jack rolled his eyes. He asked Mary to sit on the stool he now had set up with a full microphone stand, and cautioned Violet to be silent. “None of your fussing around. Come over here and sit down, as a matter of fact.”

Violet obeyed with a smile, taking a seat on the luxurious Danish leather couch opposite the recording equipment.

Mary asked, “How many Danes were killed to upholster that couch?”

Jack answered, “Eleven, I believe.”

She grinned and said, “Okay, I’m ready when you are.”

“I heard this song the other day, which I had not heard in just years and years, and it’s been rolling through my head ever since. But my memories of it have come back slowly, like a stage at a time. I expect there’s more still, that I’ve forgotten and that might never come back.

“I tried so hard to be an ordinary kid. The fact is, I really was, but somehow never felt like other people saw me as one. I listened to the radio stations, wore the clothes, bought the teen fan magazines, went to the skating rink on Friday nights, and made sure Mom got the trendy snacks for my lunchbox at school. I collected Lip Smackers, gauze blouses, pukka shell necklaces, and toe socks. I watched the right TV shows. I don’t know, though, mostly I was alone. There weren’t a lot of other kids nearby, and maybe that made the difference. Maybe if I knew them at home, they’d have known me at school.

“It seemed to me that practically every kid in my class could have been a star athlete. They were all shiny and glossy and could run fast in their expensive tennis shoes. I felt dull and flat and slow by comparison. And I was really, really skinny. Strangely, this led people to believe that I, too, had athletic ability, but that was laughable. Every year we had a series of fitness tests we had to perform, and the only one I was really good at was sit-ups. For some reason, I could do an astounding number of sit-ups in a minute. But I was a slow runner, and could never climb the rope, and when I threw a softball to measure how far it would go, my gym teacher said “You throw like a fat girl, what’s wrong with you?”

Violet gasped. Jack stopped the recording. Mary nodded. “He was special, Mr. Repp was. I remember this very nice and talented girl in my class named Michelle. She was one of those girls who seemed perfect, but was also so kind and polite, you could never be jealous of her, just sort of happy that she was herself. And I remember that more than once, he picked her up and carried her around the gymnasium on his shoulders when we were in 4th grade. I have always wondered what she thought about that. He called her ‘Tiger,’ too.”

Violet said, “That sounds repulsive!”

Jack said, “Maybe he was actually her uncle, or something.”

Mary and Violet just stared at him. Violet said, “I have occasionally wondered how he ended up. Maybe he was just super clueless, like, to give him the benefit of the doubt, you know?”

Violet said, “Yes, but the fat girl thing. You can’t have been the only girl he insulted, besides which, just, ugh, I don’t know.”

“There was a fat girl in our class. Not like it is now, with so many people struggling. We all knew someone who was just built large, or who fought their weight, but it wasn’t common. Which probably made it extra hard. Shawna was in our class, and I wondered if she heard him and how she felt. It angered me so much. But I just couldn’t throw a ball very far. I could roll one! I was often kickball pitcher for both recess teams, because I was lousy, otherwise, and other kids wanted to kick and run the bases, anyway.”

Jack said, “Hey, you must have always been a good bowler!”

Mary answered, “Actually, I was awful. I was just awful at everything until I was about 19, and then I bloomed or whatever they always said I’d do.” She smiled happily.

Jack started recording again.

“So then I went to junior high, and we had a girl’s gym class, and I was terrible at all the sports, and the girls were shocked that I didn’t have a bra yet, so my aunt gave me one my cousin had outgrown, because she and my mom were utterly clueless about these things somehow, and it had red piping on it, so then they made fun of that. And all the girls got leather clogs with wooden heels, but when I went to get mine, they didn’t have the right size. Instead, I picked out a pair of stack-heeled loafers which were actually very sharp, but they weren’t clogs, you know, so they were wrong.” Mary sighed, but rolled her eyes with a smile.

“At that point, I started to figure a few things out. I took charge of my style, and also my fitness. I had a frustrating year barely passing all the gym tests, and so the next year, I started jogging with my dog, figuring I could get stronger that way. I wore what I liked, worked on being a little bit avant garde, and ignored the girls who seemed to need to judge me for that.” Mary looked over at Violet, who grinned and nodded. She knew that same experience very well, though in her case, it stemmed from very different reasons.

“In eighth grade, we had to take this fitness test in the fall and again in the spring. I didn’t do so well in the fall, taking over two and a half minutes to run a quarter mile, but I ran around with my dog all winter, and rode my bike everywhere, and then when it was much warmer out, I put on jogging shorts and took off up an old road past our elementary school, sometimes running three or four miles at a time, at what was a pretty serious pace for me. I had read in a magazine about how important it was to keep a good rhythm while you run, so I used to play songs in my head like a radio. The song “You” by Rita Coolidge had come out, and it might have sounded sad at the time, but for me, that song was about my dog, whose name was Monty Python. We’d gotten him two years earlier, thinking he’d be a good companion for my older brother, but he bonded with me, and stuck by my side for five years, until he was killed in an accident. At age two, he could have kept up with me, though, for as far as I could run.

“And so I’d run, to that disco beat or to another, doing intervals, though I didn’t know that’s what they were. Every time that song played when I wasn’t running, I’d see Monty and I, breezing along in the sunshine together. When I heard it the other day, I remembered that, all in a flash.” She stopped and closed her eyes just then. Violet and Jack watched her, as she shook her head and began again.

“When the spring fitness tests came, I was so excited. I just knew I’d do better, and I told my teacher, Mrs. Bryan, about how hard I’d been working at it. She told me she expected good things from me. Well, what do you know, I was running next to the girl from elementary school, Michelle, who was very fast. She ran that quarter mile in about a minute and a half, or a little less, and set a record. But I ran it in under two minutes! I’d shaved an entire minute off my fall performance. I was giddy with success. Mrs. Bryan said that if I’d worked as hard as I said I did, I should have done better. She was just like that, I guess, and I tried not to let her make me feel bad. And I did receive a good grade for my effort.”

Mary saw the looks on Violet and Jack’s faces, and said, “You guys, this is a happy story! It was a victory, and I owed it to my dog, for whom the song ‘You’ could have been written.”

She went on, “But here’s an epilogue for you. My senior year in high school I was at a different school, and we had to run a mile to pass our one mandatory year of gym. I’d chosen a fitness class, too, because it taught us how to work on a weight machine, and aerobic exercise, and lots of other things, without ever having to be on a team. I wore fun Flashdance- and Fame-style clothes, and was one of the best in the class, blazing through sit-ups, and running the mile in about eight minutes, which is not even a little bit fast, but pretty good alongside all these girls who were lazy and walked half of it, barely finishing in the maximum fifteen.

“Plus! This is why I paint. I was also always surrounded by all these people with loads of artistic talent, and I couldn’t even paint an owl on a rock for Mother’s Day in Girl Scouts. But it turns out, all the messes I made as a child, cutting and gluing and painting things that didn’t look like they were meant to really brought me a lot of joy. So I determined that when I grew up, I’d do something to help people enjoy whatever they love without judgment or grades, or competition. I teach people to bowl and to paint, and to grow tomatoes and peppers, and you do not have to be great at any of these things in order to take real pleasure from them. Maybe I’d have never known that if I hadn’t been so frustrated by how others perceived my efforts when I was a kid.”


i want to believe—chapter two

1051 words

“It’s been awhile since I thought all this through, I mean, nearly ten years, but I remember that whole weekend very well. As it turned out, it was the last time Kaitlyn and I spent any real time together. It was clear we were taking different paths. We did have a fun time, though, and what made it especially nice was seeing how well she now got along with her younger sister, who was about thirteen then. When we were younger, Kaitlyn tended to pick on her or ignore her, but Hannah had matured quite a lot, and was very smart. We included her most of the time we were at the house. 
 
“The second night I was there, we were playing music and dancing around, pretending to be on one of those TV contests, and we were in Hannah’s room, because it was larger. We stood on the bed for a stage, and the other three; a friend of Hannah’s was there, were the judges. Hannah had posters on three walls of Justin Bieber, which was funny to me, because the other wall had a periodic table of elements and a whiteboard with math equations written on it. Hannah’s friend, Kylie, jumped up and down on the bed while she sang and sometimes she’d stop and make kissy faces at Justin. I remember her saying something funny like, ‘Hannah practices making out by kissing her posters.’”
 
“And I said, ‘Oh, Kaitlyn used to do that with her Puzzle Place puppet!’ I remember thinking she’d be mad at me for revealing that, but she just laughed and said that it came in handy for when she experienced the real thing. Kylie and Hannah talked about a boy they knew at school who would be a perfect kisser, and I reminded Kaitlyn about how much she wanted to kiss the boy who lived across the street. She said, ‘But you just always wanted impossible dates with movie stars, never anyone we’d actually know for real.’” Taylor paused and looked up at Lisa when she said that.
 
Lisa tilted her head and spoke after a few seconds. “It’s normal to want a fantasy boyfriend at that age, I mean, around thirteen or so. It’s a safe way to explore your desires until you’re ready for the real thing. And yes, to answer your question, some women do continue to fantasize about a celebrity even after they’ve grown up and experienced actual relationships. It can be a healthy outlet as long as it doesn’t supplant reality.”
 
Taylor replied, “I guess I can understand that. Back then, I just told Kaitlyn I wanted to save myself for someone special. Truthfully, I was scared of sex, I mean, it had this great power, I thought, that could take you over and change you. But the other girls, even Hannah and Kylie, all said they knew how they wanted their first time to be, and Kylie said she hoped she wasn’t still a virgin when she was as old as Kaitlyn and me.”
 
“I rarely even went out with boys, even in groups. I was convinced the only reason they could be interested in me was for sex, not for who I was or for fun and friendship. So that night, when the other girls asked me who I’d like to be with for my first time, I told them it had to be someone so amazing and special, no one else could compare. Kaitlyn said, ‘You really do want to save yourself for a movie star, don’t you?’ And Kylie yelled, ‘Or a singer! Like Justin Bieber! I’d let him be my first!’”
 
“So just to get them to stop hounding me about it, I said yes. I was going to save my virginity for Justin Bieber. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. He was just a little older than me. Of course I was going to move to the city after I graduated, and I’d have a great career, we’d run into each other at a party. Maybe I’d be just a little older than the typical virgin, but obviously I’d been putting my studies and plans for the future ahead of that, and he, a high-powered star, would completely understand. I decided I’d be trying to catch a cab in the pouring rain, and he’d offer me a ride in his limousine. We’d talk and find out we had so many things in common. And it would all happen from there. 
 
"I made up my mind to it almost immediately, and then spent the next couple of years adding details and refinement to this plan. And then I kind of put it at the back of my mind, because I really was focused on my studies and plans for the future. And now here we are.” Taylor shrugged her shoulders. “That’s that.”
 
Lisa said, “I think you left out a great deal of middle, but we will have to take that up again on Thursday. Until then, I recommend you call George, or,” Lisa shook her head a little, “at least text him if that’s how your crowd communicates. But a phone call is better. Write down what you are going to say, if you need to.”
 
“But what on earth do I say to him? Thank you?” Taylor winced a little, waiting for the answer.
 
“I think the safest thing to do is apologize if he felt taken advantage of. And then you can go from there, based on his reply. You have a few more issues to sort out, though, so it would be wise to avoid a heavy vodka tonic session for awhile.” Lisa looked a bit stern and motherly as she spoke, but then she smiled, saying, “Once you figure out just what it is you really want from this, you’ll be ready to make the next sober move.”
 
Taylor sighed. “Thanks, Lisa. I’ll...think about calling him. Or I’ll text. And I’ll call Megan and tell her how much I enjoyed her engagement party...” she trailed off.
 
“Good. Emily Post would be proud. I’ll see you on Thursday.” Lisa waved Taylor off and sat down to type out her notes, laughing despite her attempt at professional objectivity. “Justin Bieber?” 

i want to believe—chapter one

Read the 488 word prologue first, in the post before this one. And I forgot to mention; I wrote it in 2013, but set it ten years ahead. At the time, I had a reason for that which is now a bit fuzzy in my mind.

1415 words

“I grew up in an old house in a little town about 30 miles outside the city. I rode the bus to the next bigger town to school, and so the kids I saw at school lived too far away for me to spend much time with them in the afternoons, weekends, and summers. For a few years, I spent most of my play time either by myself or with a girl down the street who was two years younger than me. But when I was 12, a new girl moved in a couple blocks away, and I started doing things with her, as well. She was just a year behind me in school. She lived across the street from a boy I’d known since kindergarten, and had a fierce crush on him. I think he was embarrassed by that and was less friendly to me than he’d always been. Kaitlyn was a little heavy, and wore glasses, and was just sort of a plain girl boys wouldn’t notice at that age. And she was so boy crazy. My other friend was more into sports and had a lot more friends so I saw her less often at that point. The two of them didn’t like each other much, anyway.
 
“Kaitlyn and I had lots of fun together, walking or riding our bikes to the store, making cookies, listening to music, and even reading teen romance books, which I’d never been interested in before. We watched a lot of movies, and she always had a crush on the young actors, and knew all the gossip about them. Yet at school, boys took no notice of her. I mean, they didn’t really take notice of me, either, but she seemed to have this real need for a boyfriend or for attention that I just assumed would come around later when I was older. We weren’t in the same classes, so I didn’t see her at school, and then I started high school a year before she did, and it was all very different for me. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but I don’t really know how school was for Kaitlyn, whether she had a lot of friends or did well in her classes, even though we spent a lot of time together otherwise. 
 
“When I was 15, I had a sort of boyfriend I’d met at another school, that I didn’t really see much of; we talked on the phone, mostly, and he sent me notes. He wasn’t allowed to chat with me online or anything like that; his parents were very strict and old-fashioned. I think Kaitlyn felt a little separated from me because of him, though they did like each other when they met, and he didn’t really take any of my time from her.
 
“But a few months after that, my parents were divorced, and Mom and I moved to the edge of the city. I went to a different school, and didn’t see Kaitlyn much anymore. We talked sometimes, and I knew she was now hanging out with another girl from our neighborhood, a girl I always thought was a little wild, but I knew my friend was a good girl like me and wouldn’t get into trouble.”
 
Here, Taylor paused and laughed, and Lisa smiled. “We see in others what we wish to see, don’t we?”
 
Taylor said, “Kind of like a mirror, I guess. But I think Kaitlyn just really liked being liked, and I just always assumed people either would or wouldn’t; I didn’t work at it very much.”
 
“I guess, I’m starting to realize I was really deeply inside my head all this time, not thinking about what was going on inside anyone else’s.”
 
Lisa said, “Tell me how it was for you at your new school. Did you make friends there?”
 
“Yes, in a way. For one thing, the previous school was one of those places where all the kids seemed to just ooze money and privilege, and at the new place it was more varied, I guess, different things seemed important. I felt more like I could just be me. And it was just more friendly, kids got along with each other, so I felt connected to it all, even though I was still sort of a loner. 
 
“I can’t even tell you why I didn’t make friends easily. Looking back, I can see people liked me. They do now. But like I said, I think maybe I was just inside my head too much, only I don’t know how to explain that very well. Anyway. This whole story has to do with the last time I saw Kaitlyn, and I keep wandering off track.”
 
Lisa smiled again, “Tell me what happened.”
 
“My mom was going away for a business retreat, and didn’t want me to stay alone for that long. I was nearly 18, and wasn’t afraid or unable to take care of myself, but it worried her, so she called Kaitlyn’s mother and they planned a reunion for us. Kaitlyn had a little car her parents had bought her and came to pick me up. That was a revelation for me, and also slightly humiliating because I hadn’t gotten my license yet. But she was friendly and happy to see me, and before we went to her house, we stopped at Sonic for shakes and onion rings. The Sonic was near my old high school where she still attended, and was one of those teen hangouts I’d always wondered about, imagining it like the teen romance books we’d read in junior high. Except it wasn’t the shiny bright place I remembered. The area around it looked somewhat depressed, and I saw a couple people off in the corner of the parking lot obviously making a drug deal. 
 
“Kaitlyn said, all casually, ‘I know the guy in that car. His name is Jim. We were at a party together last week.’"

“I was a little surprised, but played it cool, and just asked her how the party was, if she liked Jim. She told me she’d gone there with her friend Brooklyn, you know, her best friend after I moved, and that they’d all started drinking and then Jim shared some X tabs with them.
 
“That shocked me. I’d always thought of drugs as something sort of alien. A few other people did them, but not really anyone I knew. Kaitlyn told me everyone did, but even then I understood that is the kind of thing people say based on who they hang around with. We’d just been hanging around very different groups. So I tried not to seem judgmental, but I was worried a little, because she told me she couldn’t remember everything that happened that night, as she’d had more to drink than she should have. 
 
"Kaitlyn described the party like it was a fantastic dream, with great music and lights, and people were dancing instead of just sitting around with cups of beer. She’d never felt so happy and felt like she was surrounded by a great group of friends who all loved her. But then she’d gotten a little sick and fallen asleep. She’d woken up at Brooklyn’s house at lunchtime, and Brooklyn told her about having sex with Jim on the back porch of wherever the party was. I asked her if Brooklyn was happy about that, and she said it made her feel really sore and achy the next day, but she was glad she’d done it. And then Kaitlyn said she was kind of mad about having slept through it all, because Jim had started out interested in her, first. 
 
“Kaitlyn asked me if I was still a virgin, and I told her I was, and she said she was, too, but she was ready to change that. I really didn’t know what to say except that I thought maybe she shouldn’t be drunk or high when it happened. At first she acted mad that I’d say that and we didn’t talk anymore while she drove, but by the time we got to her house, she told me she was really happy I cared about her, and that she’d be careful when she did it. What else could I say except I hoped she found the right guy? Inside my head I was thinking, ‘and that he doesn’t think he needs to give you drugs to make it happen.’ Slightly ironic, I know.”

i want to believe—prologue

488 words
 
"How much of this experience do you remember?"
 
"Oh, all of it! I couldn't forget it if I tried. I did try, a little. But even though a lot of the party seems murky to me, what I did afterwards is too crystal clear."
 
"And this makes you uncomfortable?"
 
"I'm a little confused by that. Yes, I'm very uncomfortable. I feel guilty, but…"
 
"Yes?"
 
"I think I feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough." Taylor raised her eyes, making full eye contact for the first time since the session began. "It was a mistake. I can't let it happen again."
 
"But you think maybe you want it to, perhaps?" 
 
Taylor nodded, looking down again. 
 
“And you did decide on this plan of action before you got to the party? Do you feel as though you took advantage of him?” 
 
Up to this point, Taylor had appreciated the even, detached manner of her therapist Lisa’s speech. She now detected a note of something more. It wasn’t judgmental, precisely, but it sounded different, with a slight edge, maybe. She replied with care.
 
“No, I don’t believe I took advantage of him. I mean, I’m new at this. But I’m not a teenager; I was considering his feelings, that is, if he had expressed any deeper ones, or...” Taylor stopped herself. “I knew he was interested in me, but he isn’t interested in serious relationships. He jokes about his brother being tied down. And that’s why I chose him, yes, before the party. Before I had three vodka tonics, before I flirted with him and then brought him home to my apartment. And after I decided it was time to stop, after all these years, being a virgin for someone I’ll never even meet.”
 
Lisa nodded. “Good. Because you have to own the decision as much as you have to own the consequences of following through on it. Taylor, once you realize you’re ready for mature adult relationships, you get to stop thinking of yourself as a symbol of purity for someone else to take, and start thinking of yourself as a person with sexual desires, with the ability to enjoy a healthful union with a partner who wants to meet your needs just as you’ll want to meet his.”
 
Taylor sat quietly for a long minute. Then she spoke. “I’m not a symbol anymore, at least.”
 
“What did it mean to you? Do you believe you’ve given something up? What did you gain?” Lisa’s voice held less tension now, her expression remained placid and receptive as ever.
 
“It’s been ten years, almost to the day, when I committed myself to this idea. Maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty for breaking my vow to myself, and I know it was silly, but it stood for something important to me. Something I could honor in myself, and be true to.” Taylor stopped, reflecting.
 
“Why don’t you tell me how it all began?”

overheard at the table near the door

2008, 825 words

"So anyway, the idea is that what you see in your head can never be fully translated to the canvas."

"Obviously."

"Yes, and therefore, it can't even be called subjective truth, because it isn't actually truth at all, right?

"No, because what you're saying is that the only truth that is real is what exists in our heads. That can't be true, because everything we experience, all action, happens outside our heads. You might even argue that what is inside our minds is the exact opposite of truth, since it can't ever exist in its pure form outside our heads. What's in your head can therefore never be in my head, and if it were truth, we would never have the same truth, nor would we be able to perceive it from each other."

"But that's not possible, because there'd be no way for us to know truth unless it did in fact exist in our minds."

"Okay, I'm not really saying it doesn't exist in our minds. I'm saying that by committing to the idea that nothing you put on canvas is truth because it's different from how you visualized it, you commit to the idea that you cannot possess truth. And I don't think you get to have it both ways."

"Wait, I really think you left something out there. Let's go back to where you said we would never have the same truth. Who says that was ever possible in the first place? How do you define truth?"

"Beauty is truth, truth is beauty."

"Oh now, look right there at that ridiculous cliche. Beauty can be many things besides truth, and since sometimes what is ugly is beautiful, it therefore follows that truth must also, sometimes, be ugly."

"Now you're just talking in circles. Back to the point. Does truth even matter? If we can never translate the truth in our minds onto the canvas, then how is truth even relevant? All that is relevant is the canvas. And if I'm successful, then you glimpse the event that took place while I painted it, and maybe experience a little piece of it for yourself. Whether you decide to call it truth is up to you. But here's why it's not: Say you view my painting, experience something akin to what you believe I did while I was painting it, and then you go paint your own. Where is the truth in that? Not only is it not truth, it isn't even reality. Yet should I deny your right to recreate your view of my experience, by attempting to make it your own?"

"I might say that I believe truth is experience. What I experience in my mind is truth, and when I translate it into action it becomes a new truth, because I bring it into being. I am, virtually, a god to my creation, a god to the truth of existence, as it plays out in my mind, and manifests something new out here in the world. Further, my creation, my experience, becomes someone else's truth as they witness it and experience it for themselves."

"Then you believe truth is mutable, and even more, malleable.

"If it was malleable it wouldn't be truth. It has to be mutable, because the world is always changing."

"So, to get closer to your definition of truth, it can be changed by circumstances, but not by will."

"Something like that, but you made it sound cheesy. Of course no one thinks truth can be changed by will."

"Hitler did."

"We're done. Margaret, is there any more butterscotch pie?"

"What do you mean we're done? I'm not done."

"Yes you are. You said Hitler. That means we're done."

"This isn't the internet; this is real life."

"Wait. That's another thing. People are always saying "in real life," when they're talking on the internet. Why isn't the internet real life?"

"Because you can't touch it."

"So something is only real if you can touch it? Does that include truth?"

"Wait a minute, have we switched sides? I thought you were the one who said the truth in our heads can't actually be truth because we can't put it down on the canvas. If that's true, then the internet is in the same category."

"Now you are saying the internet is not truth, because--"

"No, I'm saying that's what you're saying."

"The internet is a bloated yet infertile wasteland, a minefield of banality, chaos borne of ignorance, and it's filled with self-serving liars. It may not be truth, but it's definitely reality."

"Here's your pie, honey. Have you worked out the meaning of life today?" Margaret smiled as she spoke, sort of the way you smile at someone you indulge without fully taking seriously. She winked, and moved swiftly away, for fear of being drawn into the daily argument.

Yesterday, the argument had been over whether you should, indeed, choose an author the way you choose a friend.


pandemic aftermath

This is not where I want it yet. And it will someday be the ending of a larger story that I've been writing in bits and pieces since 2006. 1376 words. adult stuff, a little.

She walked, like she always did, like a nymph, light on her feet, but determined. Her arms swung confidently, a little prettily, at her side, her head was held high and noble, her eye caught the attention of several whom she passed. Her hair and her hips both swayed with the to and fro movement of her steps. She looked perfectly ordinary, yet completely mysterious. 
 
"I'd like a gimlet, Tanqueray Ten, up and very cold," she accosted the bartender, yet offered a sweet sly smile. He nodded and went straight to the job, as she watched. She turned to the man seated on the stool next to her, and spoke again, "I love the fragrance of gin, don't you? It would be lovely in a perfume."
 
The man hardly knew how to reply, so startled was he to see her there, sitting next to him and chatting as though it was all a matter of course. Erica examined him. He was astonishingly just the sort of man she enjoyed looking at and also sitting next to. He was mostly medium, height, weight, all just as she'd like, and he had icy features, dark but greying hair, and hands that looked strong and useful, but well-manicured at the same time. Erica was not into cavemen; if the metrosexual had not been invented, she'd have had to create the type herself, and would have used something like this person as a model. Icy features, perhaps, was carrying the thing a bit too far. He had a sharp, rectangular face, and a long sharp nose, but his lips and his eyes appeared warm and humored, probably, hopefully, amused by her direct nature and upfront approach to conversation. 
 
The gimlet arrived, and Erica took a long cool sip, fluttering her eyes shut for the briefest of moments, and smiled. "Heavenly."
 
"Yes. And I do. That is, I do enjoy the scent of gin." Simon shocked himself by speaking this way to someone he'd never met before, who did indeed appear to be rather odd, but engaging, somehow, and very sexy. 
 
"Glad we got that cleared up then. Been here long?" Erica thought she may as well come straight to the thing. No sense wasting time on the weather at this point in the game.
 
She took a long sip of her drink while she waited for him to reply. 
 
Simon leaned an elbow on the bar. "Actually no, I mean, yes, uh, about half an hour."
 
For lack of a better reply, Erica responded, "It's a nice place."
 
They looked at each other for a minute, maybe two, before speaking again. Strange times, these, not unlike wartime, which artificially brings people close together in swift order. Maybe it's not artificial; maybe what's artificial is the usual way of doing things; formally and hesitantly edging close to someone, which sometimes breeds dishonesty. People have time to scheme up ways to appear better or more than they really are. But in extreme circumstances, there's no time for that and most of the niceties matter very little, in the final analysis. 
 
And Erica could feel it; that thick atmosphere between two people whose signals match, the one that you just know the other person can feel as well, even though it's hard to know who will be the first to admit it; always a tiny uncertainty the expression won't be returned, even though deep down, the truth says it already has been. 
 
So they talked, and Erica melted, because Simon had a lilting southern accent of the sort she adored; even-toned, a bit musical, and Simon felt giddy, because it was such a relief to just be himself with someone, not a grieving or supposedly grieving widower, just a man in a bar talking with a striking and sexy woman.   
 
Simon was drinking something brown, on ice. He sipped it carefully, almost reverently, and Erica watching him run his tongue over his lips every now and then, knew he saw her staring, and did it anyway.  
 
What did they talk about? Those days the topic was so often about the flu, who had it, who got over it, what the latest word was on avoiding it or recovering from it, until everyone was weary of the conversation, yet kept having it anyway. But Simon and Erica conversed like two people who could have met up in any previous year; what she liked and disliked, the difference between Southern and Northern people, the weather, but only lightly, as both realized that was a topic that strayed too close to the current state of things, what they'd had for dinner this evening. Simon liked baseball and wondered how the MLB was going to sort things out for this season, or if they even could, and Erica wondered about the Olympics, which had been put off until the end of the year. As they talked, they got more into a flow of conversation as though they were picking up where they'd left off the day before, instead of having just met. They leaned toward each other a little bit, and when Erica excused herself for the restroom, Simon edged his stool a little closer to hers. The place was mostly empty except for a few tables in the back. 
 
After a second gimlet, Erica felt like she was swimming in a light, delicious fog, and also like Santa Claus had just deposited her dream date right in front of her. Simon had a way of blinking that made her catch her breath a little, and gorgeous crinkles around his eyes; laugh lines, they were, and when he laughed, which he did more as the evening marched forward, his lower lip jutted out a little boyishly, making Erica wish she could take hold of it with her teeth, lightly, of course, and pull his face to hers. 
 
Simon wanted to touch the curl of hair Erica kept tucking behind her right ear. He wanted to touch the hand she used for the habit, and for playing with the little square napkin that came with her drink. When she caught him looking at her hand for an extended period of time, she took her left one and placed it on his forearm. 
 
"I don't feel like being alone tonight. Do you?"
 
Erica was not a one-night stand woman. The only one she'd ever had was quite by accident back when she was young and stupid and girlish about sex and love. And she wasn't thinking about a one-night stand with Simon. Nor was she thinking of pulling him more concretely into her life by using her wily charms on him. She just wanted to be with him until it was time not to be, and wanted to make sure he felt the same way. 
 
"I have a fantastic hotel room down the block from here. Come have a look." Simon realized as he spoke that it sounded a bit idiotic, but Erica was just tipsy enough to find it charming instead. 
 
The bartender laughed as he saw them leave together, shaking his head a little at the way the world works. That's what bartenders do. 
 
SOMETHING OR OTHER ABOUT CHILL NIGHT AIR (see what I mean?)
 
Even though she'd had only two drinks, Erica felt like her head was swimming somewhat, but decided to chalk part of it up to the man standing beside her in the elevator, which they were taking to the 19th floor. They leaned into each other, arm to arm, and when the door opened, Simon took Erica's hand to lead her out into the hall. Their fingers naturally entwined, hips bumping slightly, before either was completely aware, Erica found her other hand on the side of his face, his lips pressed against hers, as he slid his free arm around her back. And in this fashion they slowly and a little clumsily stepped back toward Simon's door. Not willing to break loose in order to find his key, Simon pulled Erica into a tight embrace; parting mouths open with exploring tongue against tongue, against teeth, pulling each other's mouths toward the other, her hands in his hair, his gripping her waist, until a throat clearing made them both stop for a moment to realize someone was standing very nearby. 
 
"You appear to have a room, you know, seems it would make sense to go ahead and use it, eh?" Simon and Erica looked up to see a tall blond young man holding his own door key card on the other side of the hall. 
 
Simon struggled in his pants pocket for his wallet as the young man opened his own door and with a wave, said, "Cheers," went inside, pulling the door after him. 
 
Erica laughed. Simon managed to slide the key into the door, and motioned for her to enter, following her in, and locking the door. Then he, too, laughed. 
 
"I've always known you, right? That makes this okay."
 
"It's like we're just picking up where we left off. It's very okay." Erica began to poke around the room a bit, still catching her breath from the kissing whirlwind unlike any she'd experienced in a number of years. She felt half her age in some ways, but felt very much all of 40 years in others. She knew she could do this. And she knew she wanted it. 
 
The room was lovely; actually there were two rooms; a sitting area and the bedroom, which she could see through an open door. There was a tray on a side table which held a bottle of whiskey and a couple of glasses. Probably wouldn't do to go any further down that road, but it did look like awfully good whiskey, and helped color the portrait she was putting together of the man she found herself alone with. 
 
He came to her, watching her lift her heavy hair up off her back and letting it drop again, and so he put his hands in her hair, leaning into the back of her neck to kiss it, sliding his hands to her shoulders and down her arms, taking her hands beneath his, entwining their fingers again, and they stood that way for a moment; his chest against her back, his breath on her neck, and then she lightly turned to face him, and there they began all over again, pressing into each other in a quiet, fevered attempt to melt together into one liquid object. 
 
Simon reached over and turned on his iPod clock. Peter Murphy's I'll Fall With Your Knife floated into the air. 
 
"Well if the birds
can reach the sky
to this land
I'll be with you
till the sun bursts from your side
with my hands
I reach to you
when you think your chance is passing by
when you blow your moon away
I'll bleed like the reed
fall with your knife
it's here I'll be with you..."
 
From that point until they moved into the bedroom, Erica could not say how much time passed, nor could she have recounted the movements between the two of them, only knowing that when they fell onto the bed, she felt like she'd fallen into a dream of the sort romantic novelists describe in their monthly offerings to the paperback aisle of the drugstore. 
 
Lying on the bed, however, her senses were sharpened, and the whole experience came into focus. She unbuttoned Simon's shirt, and spreading it apart with her hands, slipped it from his shoulders. He was not very muscular in development, but his figure was well-defined, nonetheless. She found herself kissing her way from his collarbone down his torso to the light patch of hair that started just below his navel, but before she could go any further, Simon swung around so that he was over her, lifting her blouse over her head, slipping his hands under her brassiere and releasing the clasp in the back. Then he kissed her mouth swiftly but strongly before bending his head over her breasts, where he began by flicking his tongue over her nipples, cupping her in his hands, very tenderly kneading the flesh between his fingers, drawing his tongue up and back like a cat savoring its supper. 
 
Erica brought her hands down Simon's torso to his hips, and began arching her body toward his so that her pelvis met his in a hungry gesture, and then she began caressing the back of his thighs, up over his buttocks, lightly digging her fingers into the firm flesh. He brought his face up to hers again and they kissed, over and over again, deeper and deeper, until they were fucking by mouth; the sweat on their skin became audible as they rubbed against each other. When he entered her from below, Erica felt as though nothing before that moment had ever been right, or enough, or exactly what she'd needed it to be. He groaned softly, "Ohhh, it's you," and she murmured her assent without speaking an actual word. 

working through lunch

2006, 463 words. This one's awkward, maybe because it's actually part of a larger experimental piece. But I think it fits here otherwise.

It starts this way: You catch a glance from the other person, and then quickly look away, because you were immediately hit with an unexpected intensity. It might even have been unwelcome. You find yourself thinking about looking again, to see if it was just a one-time thing, or if there's something really there. It doesn't matter if you want it to be there or not. What matters is the physical sensation it caused. Naturally, you also wonder if the other person is thinking or feeling the same thing. When your eyes meet again, because of course they do, there's an inkling that the response is a targeted one, that the sensation is reciprocal. Meanwhile, he's thinking, "Dude, she's so into me." It's not that he necessarily believes that, it's just that the male is programmed that way for the initial reaction. The second time around, he's just as flustered as you are. 
 
No two people can keep looking into each other's eyes that way without making something happen; willing it into being.
 
It doesn't matter that you think going beyond the eye connection is a very, very bad idea. A part of you just wants the feeling to continue, and to grow. Basic human nature. If it feels good, we want to do it again. 
 
You're busy, he's busy, there are other people around, and everyone does their own jobs, same as usual. But accidental deliberation becomes a part of your day. Your fingers brush when he passes you a folder. Walking down the hall together, you move to the right in an effort to reduce the growing sense of intimacy, but the space feels thick and tangible, and not nearly as wide as it looks to anyone heading in the other direction. 
 
And then it starts to feel like he can see straight through to your insides. 
 
Let's face it; you're a bold girl. You couldn't have gotten where you are otherwise. If you want something, you ask for it. If you need something, you take it. If something isn't right, you demand for it to be fixed. This shouldn't be the least bit harder than anything else you've worked for. 
 
You don't know why you want it. Because it's there. That's not good enough. Because you know he wants it. He'll never admit it. 
 
Anyway, It's more basic than that. The truth is, you've walked into a restaurant without realizing you were hungry. And as soon as you smelled the food, you were hit with hunger pangs. To carry the metaphor forward, you've never even tasted this kind of food, never encountered it before, not sure you'll like it. You're simply compelled to try it out. Bad idea? How can you know if you don't have at least one bite?

blurred reality

2005, 852 words.

1. It's been going on for a year. I mean, nothing is, or was, really going on, but the undercurrent is always there. At first I was repelled, a little horrified, and I also thought it was just me. I'd linger after the others were gone, contriving to get inside his personal space, and there it would be. That very nearly tangible vibration, which definitely caught me unaware. And I knew he was pretty clueless about it. He, being a man, found himself mildly attracted to a woman, big deal. That happens all the time, right?

A couple months ago, we were all hugging goodbye. We always hug, it's the East Coast thing to do, you know. He and I hugged last, and longest. It felt closer, and I know for certain that he felt the same energy. It was a sudden deliberate recognition that we shared, and things have not been quite the same ever since.
 
 
2. The goodbye hugs grew longer and closer. Once I accidentally ran my fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. Found myself thinking about it later with something like horror, though it had been a rush at the time. He'd pulled me in so close that we were pressed up against each other like, well, like new lovers. Only I had no intention of thinking of him that way. I felt dishonest, enjoying the sensation, knowing I'd never really let it lead anywhere, even if he admitted desire.
 
But then there was the beer. Beer is followed by a lot of hand play; that sort of fiddle-faddle nonsense that people engage in when they want to be touching but won't truly allow themselves the luxury of it.
 
There's definitely no kissing goodbye, not even a hint of it. That is a dangerous territory neither of us seems willing to approach. I don't even really wonder about it. In fact, I'm not wondering about much of anything. There's no conscious desire here, other than to keep feeling the sensation that draws us toward each other. I cannot even bring myself to imagine us together, unclothed. Maybe I simply cannot allow it.
 
 
3. He called me over to do some research on his computer, on which he is practically illiterate. He sat behind me, looking over my shoulder, occasionally leaning in to touch my arm, and I just leaned right back, until we were almost up against each other. He grazed his fingertips across my back, and, quite without thought, I said, "Oh, that feels great. Keep going."

I already wanted him to keep touching me, and had almost given in to the realization when he mentioned the wine. Being fairly picky about wine, my mind jetted off in a new direction, wondering what on earth he was going to offer that I'd feel obliged to accept and pretend to enjoy. Most people know even less about wine than they do about beer. I may not know all that much about it, but I do know what I don't like. To my surprise and relief, though, he'd asked the advice of someone I'd trust, and came up with a pretty decent and quite drinkable red, and then there we were, two people who should probably not be alone together, drinking wine and touching hands, arms, shoulders; pushing or pulling away, then beginning all over again.

God, I couldn't believe it. I had my hands inside his shirt and his were inside of mine. Something shocked me into remembering where I was, and I practically ran out of there, don't know what I said or how I said it, don't know if it really matters.

I've only seen him one time since, and it was all ordinary and pleasantly friendly as usual. No "touching," only a strong hug goodbye.

I guess I'm avoiding him. Part of me wants to, part of me is just so curious that I know I won't stay away for long.
 
 
3.1 I never choose to feel guilty about anything. I simply don't do anything that I know I'd feel guilty about later. What does that even mean, anyway? Why make a decision you don't plan to stand by and feel good about later? And we don't all have the exact same hangups, you know? I don't even feel guilty if I have a couple too many mochas in a week, and if I can't make myself be too bothered over that, I'm sure as hell not going to get worked up over having a little fun with somebody I like and trust.

I'd only feel guilty if I felt I was forcing someone into something they didn't want. Which I would never do, because that would be a poor decision. I just don't work myself into the same kinds of conflicts people seem to spend so much time and energy on. I have other issues, mostly related to not getting enough done in my day, feeling like I'm not quite adequate for all my tasks. But the rest of life? Whatever. It's 2005, hangups are way last millennium. Sex is good, discretion makes it better.