A Past Beau(ty)

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

A Past Beau(ty)

A romance is a short period when two people cannot see too much of each other, followed by a long period when they do.” -unknown

Nancy couldn’t help but stare at the headline of the newspaper.  Patrick Helmswid- The Story Behind the Region’s Most Charming Senator.  She had known Patrick in another time, a more romantic one.  Unknowingly, Nancy found herself remembering the bond that the two had once shared.

It had all started out as most college attractions do.  Nancy was a chemistry major trying to get to class before the bell.  The rain outside had made the tile floor rather slippery.  When Nancy, loaded down with a backpack full of books, took a turn too quick, she had found the floor beneath her sliding away.  She flailed her arms in the air and tried to regain her balance.  Nonetheless, she found herself headed towards the floor.

That was when Patrick came on the scene.  From behind Nancy, the strong quarterback put out his arms, bent his knees ever so slightly, and caught her with soft but sure arms.  Finding herself at a forty-five degree angle, Nancy was struck with surprise at how she had avoided the hard floor.  She twisted and turned to find the handsome rescuer behind her.  She giggled nervously, he beamed with white teeth.  The two were quite taken with each other in that moment.

Nancy put down the newspaper and went to her shoebox full of photographs.  Photos had become a funny topic to Nancy over the years.  There were pictures that scrolled across the wallpaper of her computer monitor every day; a never-ending montage of joy that silently came and went.  Still, there were pictures that she saved for special occasions.  Many photographs that resided in the dingy and ugly cardboard box only came out once every few years.  Their rare appearances and the flipping-sound that they made as she ran her fingers through the glossy paper brought a smile to her face.  The representations of events gone by didn’t call out to be displayed on a regular basis, nor were they as clean and crisp as the shots taken with her high-tech digital camera.  And yet, these prints, lacking focus and out of date, were special to her because of the moments in her life that they recalled.

The picture at the top of her stack constantly brought a smile to her face.  There she was, wearing Patrick’s college jacket, while he stood there looking endlessly rugged in his muddy jersey, shoulder pads, and trademark grin.  She had often teased him about bleaching his teeth, but he repeatedly claimed that the pearly whites she saw were the teeth he had been born with.  Nancy didn’t know whether to believe him or not, and back then she hadn’t cared.  Her boyfriend was attractive, charming, and athletic.  She thought she had hit the jackpot.

Patrick had played the role of significant other quite well.  He had taken care of her when her appendix had almost ruptured on their ski trip in the mountains.  Patrick had carried her in his arms without complaint for the two miles it had taken them to get to a car, and then he had braved a snowstorm to get her to a hospital.  After all that, he stayed by her side, never sleeping while she recovered from surgery.  Whenever Nancy yearned for the Patrick of yesteryear, she always brought up those three days that he took care of her without a thought to himself.  Of course, that had been early in the relationship.

The trouble started around three months into their romance.  Patrick was becoming quite the star on the field.  He was already a prominent law student, now he was becoming an unbeatable player on the field.  He liked it when crowds of people gathered around and proclaimed how spectacular he was.  His professors praised him, the college kids cheered him, and the women were especially appreciative of having Patrick nearby.

Homecoming of their senior year was when Nancy knew she had officially lost Patrick.  She looked at the faded photograph in her lap.  There she stood, modeling her dress in her bedroom, entirely alone.  That was exactly how the night had ended.  In between the times of reflection there had been no longing gazes or kissing.  Nancy had to admit even now that the Patrick she remembered had looked especially dashing in his tuxedo, complete with red cummerbund and bow tie.  Nancy had cut his hair only a week ago.  He was, to all eyes in the dance hall, perfection.

The problem arose when Patrick left his pristine decorum in the back seat and let his hormones do the driving.  Patrick and the head cheerleader shared a wild dance while Nancy went for punch.  The football player showed off his fancy feet with a sorority girl as Nancy visited with her friends.  Tired of waiting for her boyfriend to glance her way, Nancy drove herself home.  Patrick hadn’t noticed.  He had somehow managed to hold two female fans inappropriately close as he pranced about with a girl on each arm.  Nancy never cut a rug with Patrick on the floor that night, but three hours’ worth of other females did.

Their relationship had only deteriorated from there on.  Nancy would wait outside the library for Patrick to meet her.  Late at night he would call with an excuse about an unexpected practice while giggles resonated in the background.  A promise to pick her up from lab and take her to dinner turned into a story about how the gasoline meter in his car had stranded Patrick in the middle of nowhere.  Nancy questioned him on how he had managed to be in the boonies when his roommate had claimed he was studying in the library.  Patrick bristled and yelled.  “Are you calling me a liar?”  Nancy had affirmed that she was.

Patrick had turned uncomfortably silent at the accusation.  Nancy had replied in a single sentence.  “One day, you’re going to realize what happens when you don’t treat people right.”  After a year of dating, those fourteen words effectively ended their relationship.

One large photograph sat at the bottom of the box.  The edges were curved and the picture was forever curved and warped.  The image of the graduating class in their green robes fit in the box about as well as the two thousand students had fit in a “neat group” on the football field.  Naturally, Patrick was in the center of the group, his full physique visible to the camera.  Throngs of beautiful women and robust men surrounded him.  Nancy had been off to the rightmost area towards the back.  Her arms were around two women that she still had coffee with every month.

Looking back, Nancy couldn’t muster up too much bitterness.  She had been swooned and enjoyed it.  For a time, Patrick had made her feel attractive and desired.  No matter what injuries the past had brought up, there had been plenty of good memories.  Patrick had been an excellent kisser.  He had looked great with his shirt off.  And there was that kind and affectionate Patrick that she had known at the beginning of their relationship.  She would still cherish that part of the man, even if his character had lacked later on.  If anything, Nancy would say that they started out having the time of their lives.  She saw no reason to diminish that fun with the harsher incidents that had come later.  With that, Nancy closed the lid on the past and pulled open the newspaper.

There, with a few more wrinkles in his face but still with that engaging smile, was Patrick.  He wore a black suit, white shirt, blue tie, and a look that exuded confidence.  The caption beneath his photograph told another story.  “Senator Patrick Helmswid; seen here moments before he was brought up on charges of embezzlement and campaign fraud.  The Senator dismissed the claims as ‘misunderstandings’, and promised that he and his lawyers would soon clear up matters to all parties’ satisfaction.”

Oh Patrick, Nancy thought to herself as she shook her head.  You really haven’t changed.

“Honey”, she called out to the man putting up decorations on their Christmas tree.  “Come see what that silly ex of mine has done now.”  Nancy had learned from her past a while ago and had found a life she liked better.  Patrick would, as always, change at his own pace.

A Suitable Attraction

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

A Suitable Attraction

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” -Fydor Dostoevsky

Pic from Wikipedia

Celeste watched as the water fountain rushed almost to the point of over-flowing.  The brim of the stone-walled bowl tried to contain all the demands that were forced upon it, but the supplier just sending more and more liquid its way.  Celeste decided that the splashes that occasionally hit the ground were not the bowl’s fault.  The poor fountain was simply overworked and overtaxed.  She knew how it felt.

In forty minutes, Celeste was to give a presentation to her supervisors and decision makers.  It was her job to persuade everyone in the room that the funding they were considering allowing her would make their company more profitable.  Celeste was mostly concerned about the extra staff that the money would pay for.  She was doing the work of three people and wanted to share it with at least one other.  The problem was that Celeste wasn’t very successful at singing for her supper.  She had tried to hire support staff for several years and this was the first time that the board had shown signs of willingness.  If she failed this afternoon, Celeste would have to wait at least another year to ask for help.  She would never last that long with the work load that had in mind for her.

That was how the woman in her mid-twenties found herself at the park.  It was only a five minute walk from work and Celeste appreciated the congenial nature of the area.  Women who couldn‘t have been much older than her walked by with their double-wide strollers while talking on their phones.  An old woman walked an excited dachshund on the leash.  Behind the hunched over woman with the purple hair and the excitable pup came a man with bony arms, a loose plaid shirt, and a John Deere cap that was too big for his pale head.  He smiled and waved as his wife called for him to catch up.

Even the squirrels were friendly.  Most of the creatures would scurry away and hide in a garbage can, but one had learned from its years spent in the park.  It stood in front of Celeste, its head cocked to one side.  Celeste stared at the squirrel.  The squirrel looked back patiently.  Celeste blinked.  The squirrel munched on something in its mouth and took a step closer to the woman’s feet.  Celeste held out her empty hands, palms open, showing that she had no treats.  The squirrel squinted.   It seemed annoyed at Celeste’s lack of people food and then ran off to climb the closest tree.

Underneath her dark blue jacket, a small watch lay comfortably on Celeste’s right wrist.  She slid her sleeve back and checked the clock.  She wanted some time to prepare a few sections, but she also desired to be outside enjoying the park for as long as possible.  She brushed a small cluster of crumbs off her suit pants; the residual bits fell and mingled in the tall blades of grass.  She saw with relief that her white blouse was still clean and crisp and her straight blonde hair was free of leaves and tangles.  Celeste was a picturesque executive, properly poised and attired to take charge of the meeting room.

Of course, the situation wasn’t meant to last.

Celeste saw the unexpected variable in her lunch break as it barreled towards her.  She only had time to cry out, “Watch it!“  After that, Celeste was knocked backwards by a bike messenger.  She felt herself being lifted into the air.  A second or two later, she came crashing back down to the ground.  If Celeste had been in control of the situation, she probably would have liked to land on the soft patch of grass that was only inches away.  Instead, she collided on the concrete at the base of the fountain.  She slid along her bottom and felt the concrete and rocks scratch up her posterior.

“I’m so sorry!”  The bike was hastily tossed aside and the operator leapt to his feet.  “I didn’t see you, and there was this kid running in front of me so I had to veer so I wouldn’t… oh man.  I’m so sorry.”

“Ow”, Celeste replied.  She struggled to her feet.  Her hands had been scrapped by the impact, but most of the injury was to her bottom.  “Ow, ow, ow”, she repeated as her injured muscles protested and complained with each movement.  Even with the biker’s hand helping her up, she still felt the pain shoot along her body.

“Are you okay?”

Celeste raised herself to her full height.  Her jacket had scratched cuffs so she took it off.  The blouse had held up remarkably well.  Okay, Celeste thought to herself.  It isn’t ideal, but the top works without the jacket.  She adjusted her white gold chain necklace and freed the lingering strands from their awkward perch in front of her nose.  I can fix this, Celeste reasoned.  The sound of children laughing around her woke Celeste from her confidence boosting.  Now the small ones were pointing as they giggled.  Worse, they were pointing at her.

“Oh, man”, the biker replied.  “Uh, your pants… well, they didn’t make it.”

Eyes widening, Celeste reached for her backside.  Where the dark fabric had once covered, there was now only undergarment.  Horrified, Celeste reached lower until she discovered that, much like the pajamas in Norman Rockwell paintings, the seat of her pants was now a flap that exposed that precious area below the waist.  Even the loose material was torn into strips.  Celeste threw her jacket around her waist and tied the sleeves in front of her midsection.

“That’s great.  Freakin’ great.  Son of a dadgum, mother-lovin’, horse poop pile of squat.  Crud.”

“I really am sorry”, the biker apologized yet again.

“You!”  Celeste turned upon the man intent on having a focal point for her anger.  “You did this!  You and your bike with no brakes and your no-steering!  What the sam hill!”

“I’m so sorry!  I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear!”  The man took off his helmet and revealed a pained expression.  The embarrassment and shame on his face was as clear as the skin on his shaved head.  “What can I do?”

“Do?!  Do?  There’s nothing to do.  I have to give a presentation in…”  Celeste paused to look at her watch.  The result horrified her.  “Twenty minutes!”  The torment of it all was wearing on Celeste.  “There are no clothing stores in a park!  I have people to impress!  What am I supposed to do?”

“Uh, I know where you could get some new pants.  Or maybe a dress.  I guess it would depend on you.”

Celeste’s brown eyes which had previously been fully visible in excitement and frustration now slammed into thin slits of determination.  “Don’t you dare mess with me.”

“I would never…  Look, I just live in that apartment right over there.”

The woman followed the man’s finger and saw a small three-story brick building near the border of the park.  It was nothing fancy, but it added a quiet charm to the open area.

“I’m so happy for you”, Celeste replied.  “Congratulations on living nearby.  How does that make it better?  You have a mall in your apartment?”

“No, a closet.”

Strange and worrying notions started to swirl around Celeste’s head.  She began to back away slowly from the man she had been focusing her anger on.

“No!  It’s not like that”, the man laughed.  “I live with my sister.  She’s about your size.”

“So, you don’t just keep a closet full of women’s clothes in your room.”

“No.”

“You aren’t some weird guy that injures people and then lures them back into your abode so that you can lick their hair or wax their fingernails?”

“What?”

“There are people”, Celeste defended.

“Where?  Where are there people like that?”

“I saw a special on it.”

“Like a news broadcast?”  A smile was introducing itself to the man’s otherwise bare face.

“Not exactly”, Celeste responded.

“What exactly?”

“Okay, technically it was a movie.”

“Uh huh.”

“On HBO”, Celeste said quieter.

“Got it.”

“But it said it was based on true events!”

“They all say that”, the man replied with a laugh.

“I guess they do”, Celeste said begrudgingly.  She shrugged.  “All right, so that may have been a little paranoid.  I’m sorry; this whole thing has thrown me off.”

“No, I’m the one who’s apologizing today.  You’re allowed to be cautious.  But the offer still stands.”

Celeste considered her options.  Either way, she would have to get back to work soon.  If she passed up the offer, she would have to go back dressed like…  Celeste didn’t know what she was dressed like, but it wasn’t someone with the authority to hire more staff.  Without more suitable attire, there really was no point in attending the meeting.

“All right.  I’ll head to your place.  But I have mace in my purse!  Any funny business and you’ll be the one looking for help.”

“Understood”, the man said as he jogged towards the building and motioned for her to follow.  “Despite the initial onslaught you incurred, I really do bring tidings of peace and good will.”

“Sure”, Celeste said as she picked up the pace and thanked her shoes for being flats.  “You’re a winning example to the U.N. for how to exude warmth and decorum.”

The biker pulled his keys from his pocket as they ran up to the front door.  Without pausing, he threw his bike to the curb and bolted up the flight of stairs with Celeste matching him step for step.  At the top of the stairs, the man made a quick right and then unlocked the door.  He waved Celeste inside.

“Welcome to our home, sorry for the mess, no time for the tour now”, he yelled as he opened a door.  “This is Jamie’s room.  She’s out of town.  Pick something you like.”

“Your sister’s going to understand all this?”  Celeste slammed the door shut, not waiting for a reply.

“She won’t be home for another week”, the biker called through the door.  “Besides, she owes me two months’ rent.”

Celeste made sure the door locked and then set her eyes on the closet.  The first things that met her eye were swimsuits and exercise gear.  The articles of clothing would certainly make an impression on the older, male members of the board, but not in the way that she would like.  Brushing past bathrobes and sweaters, Celeste started to get frustrated.  She had ten minutes.  All she wanted were dress pants.  Something resembling professionalism would be great, but she wasn’t finding anything close.  Next up came what she could only assume were bridesmaids dresses.

“Doesn’t your sister ever wear work clothes?”  “I mean, what is with her closet”, Celeste yelled to the hallway.

“She’s a swim instructor”, the man replied.  “We don’t really go for fancy too often.”

“Well every once in a while wouldn’t hurt!”  Celeste almost stopped to consider if she could make a wedding party-reject work, but she continued digging.  Finally, at the back of the closet, she found it.

A tan dress hung in the closet.  In contrast to the gaudy and skimpy clothes around it, the dress was a true standout.  Even in a department store, Celeste would have picked this sleeveless dress.  It was work appropriate, yet elegant.  The shoulders were covered and there was a square cut to the neckline.  The folds and lines hugged the waist casually; not in a confining or suggestive way.  The hemline appeared to reside just above the knees and allowed for brisk walking, which Celeste would need on her way back.

“It’s pretty quiet in there”, the biker called in.  “Does that mean you found something?  Or have you taken to sneaking her television out the window to your accomplice?”

“No”, Celeste answered back.  “I’m actually just trying to get this mattress out the window without opening it all the way.”  She tossed her purse aside yanking off her skirt and blouse as she kicked her black shoes aside.  Her eyes locked in on the hanger which she quickly removed.  She pulled the dress over her head and thanked whatever power above that the dress wasn’t strapless.  Somehow, someway, this perfect dress fit Celeste like it was made for her.  She kicked her shoes back on, grabbed her purse, and threw the door open.

The biker who had been leaning on the opposite wall stumbled to stand up.  “Uh… wow.”

“Zipper”, Celeste demanded as she walked towards him.

“What?”

“Zipper!”  Celeste lifted her hair above the base of her neck and pointed to the back of the dress.  “I need you to help me with the zipper.”

“Oh, right”, the biker said as he moved closer.

Celeste stood impatiently waiting for the final stage to be complete.  Nothing happened.  She was about to turn around when she felt the biker’s hand rest clumsily on her right hip.  Celeste swore she heard a gulp of nervousness from behind her.  The other hand slowly raised the zipper up to its topmost resting spot.  The right hand remained on her hip.

Celeste turned, putting her hand on the biker’s.  She stopped for a moment, facing him, and enjoyed the half embrace of his arm.  “Thank you”, she said kindly.  “I’ll bring your sister’s dress back after my work day.  She’ll never even know I borrowed it.”

Running towards the stairs, Celeste heard a voice call after her.  “I really wish you wouldn’t”, the man replied.

“What?”  Celeste stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked up.  “Why not?”

“You… I… you can’t bring that dress back to my sister.”

Celeste looked at her watch impatiently.  Only six minutes remained.  “Of course I have to.  Why wouldn’t I?”

The biker started to hurry down the stairs, his hand rubbing anxiously on his shaven dome.  “I couldn’t take that.  My sister in that dress; she’s pretty enough.  But you?  I… I’ve never…  Look, that dress wouldn’t be right for her.  Not after the way you wear it.”

“So”, Celeste said cautiously, “I look okay?”

“Stunning.”

“Professionally stunning or corner of Third and Boston at two a.m. stunning?”

“Oh, the first one.  I’d sign whatever contract you’re negotiating.”

“I actually don’t deal with…”  Celeste stopped herself.  “Thank you.”  She looked at the stranger for the first time and took him in.  “In all this craziness I don’t think I ever got your name.”

“Bryan”, he replied.

“Well, Bryan.  If you won’t let me give back the dress then maybe we could go to dinner.”

Bryan stood stock still.  “After all I did to you, you want to go to dinner?”

“Why not?  The first part was an accident.  A painful one”, she said as she rubbed her bottom, “but an accident nonetheless.  Ever since then you have been the perfect gentleman.  Going out of your way to help me, apologizing the whole time; it isn’t something most people would do.”  She stepped forward and rubbed her hands on his head.  “And I like bald guys.”

“Seven?”

“Seven”, Celeste said as she pecked him on the cheek.  “I’ll meet you here”, she called out as she burst out the door.

Celeste sprinted across the grass to her office building.  She had four minutes until the meeting officially started.  She thanked her paranoid nature for setting up the meeting room before her lunch break.  The breeze blew her hair about, but Celeste paid it no mind.  She was enjoying herself.  She might not be a great health buff like Bryan’s sister, but she enjoyed a run now and then.

Celeste couldn’t help but grin.  She was going to own that room.  She was going to show how confident she felt and it would come across in her presentation.  The men and women that she answered to would see how well-thought out her plan was and give her the staff she needed.  Her office rose into view as Celeste covered the distance quickly.

At the street outside her work, she made sure to pause for any oncoming cars or bicycles.  Seeing nothing to impede her travel, Celeste darted across.  She was already getting excited for her victory dinner that evening.

Slowing Down

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Slowing Down

I have seen slower people than I am–and more deliberate…and even quieter, and more listless, and lazier people than I am. But they were dead.” –Mark Twain

Geoff looked out the window at the cars zooming by and felt an immense sense of bitterness.  That used to be him.  He used to pass by every person, every car on the street.  No one could match him for speed.  He could do things that no other man could possibly consider.  Once, in what now seemed like an eternity ago, Geoff was the fastest man on the planet.

In the beginning there was the terrifying accident.  Geoff had been making some adjustments on a revolutionary particle accelerator.  It had been theorized that they could simulate microscopic explosions by throwing minute matter at each other at terrific speeds.  However, for the power demands that were required, they had been forced to implement a new kind of system.  The generator wasn’t as stable as the staff would have liked, but they had run low on options, time, and funding.  That was where Geoff came in.  If anyone was going to be able to jury-rig their creation into working better, it was him.

The scientists had taken steps to make the area as safe as possible, including installing blast doors that would shut down the moment the regulators felt compromised.  That precaution ended up trapping Geoff.

He had been replacing the paneling on the generator when a power surge forced the regulators offline.  As the lights blinked back on, the blast doors took the incident as a cue and slammed shut.  The staff in the operations room had been so busy focusing on getting the massive doors open for Geoff that they didn’t notice what was happening inside the room until it was too late.

The resultant effect of the surge on the generator itself was that the machine translated the power as a reset.  It clicked and whirred to life, revving up its internal workings without any keystrokes.  Geoff stopped banging on the doors and shouting when he heard that familiar and eerie thrumming coming from behind him.

In the control room, Geoff’s coworkers managed to open the doors in time to see the machine light up with energy.  They froze in terror.  Geoff pointed to the generator and yelled as he fought the panic away.  Barry, Geoff’s longtime lab partner, saw the gesture and rushed to the shutdown button.  Unfortunately, in his hurry to get to the computer he slipped on the floor and banged his head on the shelf.  As the chaos was ensuing, the accelerator came to life.

Another man went for the emergency stop button; however several moments had already lapsed.  The accelerator was at full power and Geoff was caught in a burst of energy and radiation.  He collapsed from the assault just as the button was pushed and the accelerator ceased.

Miraculously, Geoff had been unharmed.  However, he wasn’t the same.  He was kept under close observation for several days.  By the end of the week, Geoff was discovering some surprising abilities that he kept to himself.  There was the clipboard and pen that he had caught when the doctor bumped them off a shelf with his elbow.  A fly that Geoff had meant to brush from his nose had been swatted into the wall across the room and splattered on the wall from the impact.  Also, two or three days into his visit, Geoff noticed that the second hand on the clock seemed to stand still.  In time, he found it that it was him that was moving faster while time went on as it always had.

The first couple of days had been frightening.  Geoff was afraid to move.  A brisk jog to get to the oven in time had turned into him speeding towards the oven and crashing.  His typing on a computer at home had wrecked the device for good.  And just like in the hospital room, he spent what seemed like hours with his senses sped up.  Those were the worst parts.  He wondered each time how long it would take for the world to resume its normal pace.  Was he always going to be left out of synch with everyone else?

Two things had calmed Geoff down considerably.  The first was that his body started to adjust to the changes it had gone through.  With focus and practice, he was able to control when his body sped up and when he operated like a normal person.  His science background and some trial and error afforded him the help he needed.  When he had gone for his first super-speed jog, he found out that there were side effects.  He stopped when a searing pain took over his skin and his clothes started to smell smoky.  Returning to normal speed, he found that the air friction from the human body moving at such a velocity gave him burns and his clothes caught on fire.  After a few all-nighters in his small lab at home, Geoff developed a suit that covered him from head to toe and constantly cooled off the surface temperature of his body.  Within a few weeks, he had managed to rig the controls so that they would shut on and off automatically depending on how fast he was moving.  The soles of the suit were another matter.  Geoff tried various combinations of Teflon, rubber, and asbestos, but he always ended up with a melted mess on his feet when he surpassed their limits.  In the end, it was the government who provided him with an experimental material they had been testing.  As thanks for his public service in rescuing people, they kept him supplied with small amounts of the materials.

The second thing that had helped Geoff fit into his new life was Laura.  Laura was a doctor in the hospital who had a long case history of helping burn victims and those caught in industrial accidents.  She was not only used to keeping busy and moving quickly, she also knew how to get a person up and running again.  Not surprisingly, she was exactly what Geoff had needed.

Geoff’s last checkup appointment had been three months after his accident.  He knew that time wasn’t on his side.  He had needed to move fast.  After this appointment, he wouldn’t have an excuse to drop in on the lovely doctor anymore.  The laughs, the soft gestures; Geoff couldn’t imagine doing without.  She had wished him well and headed for the door.  Without thinking, Geoff sped up and rushed to partially block the door.  His gust of speed caught the objects in the room and tossed them about.  Laura’s hair had also been swept up and now it lay disheveled on her head.  She was so stunning like that, Geoff hadn’t been able to resist.  He asked if he could be assigned a different doctor for his one-year appointment so that he might take the current one out for dinner.  After that, Geoff was never examined by Laura again.  Well, at least not professionally.

That had been five years ago.  For five years Geoff had been doing his best to use his gift.  There were times when he ran around purely for fun.  He liked watching the world whoosh by in a long, blurred line of colors.  He never used his car except when he was riding around with Laura.  Even then, he got restless at not being able to leave the world behind.  Being with his wife was the only part that made car rides enjoyable.

He and Laura agreed that he needed to help others.  Geoff had set several records for sandbagging rivers.  Floods, fires, earthquakes; all were cause for Geoff to run out and grab rescue victims.  Once he learned about grids and GPS, he became a one-man search and rescue team.  Lost hikers and skiers sang his praise and marveled as the snow melted under his feet.  Geoff only wished that he could do more.  He was superfast, but he was only as strong as he had been before the accident.  He couldn’t lift more than two people at a time.  The trouble was that in order to go fast enough that their weight wouldn’t burden him, he would have to speed up to the degree that the friction burns might set in.  It was a delicate balance that Geoff worked hard to master.  Then, on that day three months ago, Geoff’s fun had slowed to a halt.

For a few weeks he had felt like he was slowing down, but he assumed his brain was just playing tricks on him.  The world still moved at a blur.  He was still as fast as he had ever been.  Wasn’t he?

The questioned gnawed at him.  Then, on that Wednesday morning, he had tried to outrun a car that was barreling towards a crosswalk.  The woman behind the SUV screamed that her brakes were out.  Most people ran from the intersection, but an older man couldn’t go any faster.

Geoff set out to do what he did best.  He didn’t have his suit, but he still poured on the speed.  He ran as fast as he could.  He pushed himself to the limit.  And as he moved to pull the man out of the way, he got him clear.  Geoff himself hadn’t escaped so cleanly.

The woman driving the SUV managed to run into fences on the side of the road to slow her vehicle to a stop, but not before running over Geoff’s foot.  Many of the bones in Geoff’s leg shattered and snapped.  Along with his foot, Geoff’s gift seemed wrecked as well.  He hadn’t been able to outrun a simple car.

That had been the day that Geoff had given up on being a speedster.  He knew that whatever energy had changed his body had almost worn off.  He might have some speed in him, but not enough to be reliable.  He still helped people where he could, but now his joyous jaunts of jogging turned into painting kitchen walls or carrying a couch to the truck.  Geoff had a normal job in a lab.  Geoff was in shape.  Geoff took long walks.  Geoff’s life was, in all ways, average.  It drove him crazy.

Geoff once again felt out of synch with the world, but this time it was his turn to watch everyone speed by.  His mind returned from his happier days and refocused on the window outside.  The vehicles continued to whiz by, but a new sight caught Geoff’s attention.  On the wood ledge outside, a small slug inched its way along in search of shade.  Geoff took note of the effort that the slug put forth and how slowly it moved.  Every small increment of advancement came only from gradual, almost painfully slow deliberate moves.  Geoff shook his head and realized he identified more with this disgusting creature than he did with the motorists hurrying by.

Lost in his sulking, Geoff didn’t notice his wife as she walked up behind him.  She took her long arms and wrapped them around his neck.  She rested her head gently on his shoulder as reached behind and scratched her on the small of her back.

“Having a rough morning, are we?”

“Yeah”, Geoff replied.

“Did you know that there is an African tribe named the Maabans?  They live in an extremely quiet place.  I mean, it’s gotta be like the anti-New York.  Do you know what these guys are known for?”

“Their ability to milk slugs?”

“What?  No.  Milking slugs?”

“Bad joke.  So these Macaws?”

“Mabaans.  Culture, dear.  They have pretty much the best hearing around.  They can hear someone whisper from across a baseball field.  That’s a little science fact to impress your lab friends.”

“I’m sorry Laura, but is there a point to this?  It isn’t really helping.”

“You have a lot of different voices, were you aware of that?  When you’re excited, your voice takes on this almost high-pitch tone of glee.  It’s kind of adorable.  When you want attention, you drop about two octaves.  But there is one tone, one tone that you only ever use in one situation.  And the funny thing is, I’ve only ever heard you say two phrases with that tone.  It makes those two sentences that much more meaningful.”

Geoff turned around; a look of confusion present.  “What are you saying, exactly?  What tone?  Do I talk weird?”

“I suppose you could say that, yeah.  But the thing is; you get really quiet.  You almost whisper, ‘It’s okay.’  There’s this underlying feeling of confidence and calmness in your voice.  From anybody else, it’d be patronizing.  Not when you do it.  You simply, almost inaudibly say, ‘It’s okay’.  And the way you say it makes me believe you entirely.”

“You think I learned that phrase from Africans?”

“No.  But I can always hear you when you use that tone.  The world can be full of millions of distractions, but from across a crowded room, I can hear you when you use that voice.  My ears know it and love it.”

Geoff paused.  A look of consideration was evident as he asked, “What’s the other phrase?”

“’I’m not going anywhere.’  It’s not quite as powerful as the shorter phrase.  You don’t say, ‘I’m not going anywhere’ nearly as much.  They’re both pretty great though.”

“Well, I stole ‘It’s okay’ from Commissioner Gordon in Batman Begins.  So there’s that.”

“I know”, Laura said as she interlaced her fingers in Geoff’s.  “I like the way you say it, though.”

“Well thank you, but I’m still upset.  I mean, you don’t know what it’s like.  Have you ever run on water?  It’s incredible.  You’re traveling at this speed, the wind blowing against you as you go faster and faster.  Then you notice that you’re a reflection.  You look down as you soar over this large lake.  It’s you, your mirror image just underneath you, and nothing else but blue sky and blue water.  You aren’t just walking on water, you’re running on it.  The water isn’t a barrier, it’s a route.  No one else can travel like that.  No one knows how it feels.  Part of you is showing off for yourself, but another part of it feels so natural.  It all clicks.”

“Geoff?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.  It’s okay.”

Geoff smiled.  “You’re not sick of me?  You’re okay that I’m around the house more than two hours a day?”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong”, Laura joked.  “It’s been an odd experience.  I think I’m getting used to it though.”

“You sure about that?  I mean, I could become a workaholic.  Maybe I should hang around the lab fourteen hours a day.”

“Nah”, she replied.  “I like you just the way you are.”

“It’s okay?”

Laura smiled back and ruffled his hair.  “It’s okay.”

Relative Discourse

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Relative Discourse

There can be no situation in life in which the conversation of my dear sister will not administer some comfort to me.” -Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

“There you are.”

“Oh c’mon now”, Joy said as she walked up a pathway to the bench.  “One of us has a husband who wants attention, a house that’s a wreck, and two small children.  The other spends most of his nights watching videos and chasing down Cheetos with Mountain Dew.  And yet you asked me to meet you in a park closer to your place than mine.”

“I’ll have you know that I’ve changed”, Jim said.   “I replaced Mountain Dew with Diet Mountain Dew.”

“Well that’s something.  Are you intending to go the Baked Cheetos route as well?”

“Ick.  White Cheetos?  Why would I do that?”

“I didn’t think so”, Joy replied as she sat by her brother.  “But you were insistent that I meet you as soon as possible, so I figured some big life event had taken place.  If you started living off of food that doesn’t have corn syrup as a main ingredient, that would certainly qualify.  You do know what real cooking tastes like, right?  It’s that stuff we eat when you’re over at my place?”

“Do you really think I asked you to come out at nine in the morning, on a Saturday, nonetheless, to get lectured about my diet?  I’m still somewhat thin, aren’t I?”

“Skinny doesn’t always mean healthy”, Joy said as she shook her pointer finger.  She looked at her hand and her eyes widened with horror.  “Oh no…”

“Yep”, Jim said as he diagnosed the gesture.  “Total Mom-move.  Congrats; you’ve turned.”

“You hush”, Joy said as she forced herself to put her hand down.  “Besides, we’re not going to talk about my domestic nightmares coming true.  We’re talking about the fact that you finally kissed her last night.”

“How did you know?”  It was Jim’s turn to have the whites of his eyes grow larger, only his expression came from astonishment at his sister’s apparently clairvoyant ways.

“It’s all over your face”, she calmly replied.

“She left lipstick on my face?”

“Ugh.  No, I was talking about the expression on your face.”

“Oh”

“Does this mean you didn’t wash at all since then?”

“It was only last night.”

“Shower.  Scrub your face.  Brush your teeth”, Joy lectured.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“How are you getting women to kiss you when you’re all grimy?”

“I thought you were trying to avoid sounding like Mom”, Jim retorted.

“That’s not being Mom”, Joy responded.  “That’s just common hygiene.”

“Uh huh.”

“So are we going to talk about this epic kiss or what?”  Despite the seemingly impatient tone in Joy’s voice, she was a woman of immense inner-calm.  Wearing a light fleece jacket, workout pants and tennis shoes, she was ready for whatever the world threw at her.  The busy life that she led meant that her shoulder-length black hair was always pulled back in a ponytail.  Only for formal family functions would she spend the effort to style her hair.  Her coworkers had only ever seen her trademark ponytail, even at fancier functions.  Joy simply didn’t have time. Also, she was genuinely self-confident.  She had a family that loved her, a career that challenged her and a bookshelf full of reading material.  By any standards, this woman in her early-thirties was a formidable, yet surprisingly soothing individual.

“Look, let me just get this out in my own way, would ya?”  If there was anyone who respected Joy, but wasn’t too impressed by her, it was Jim.  He was five years younger than her, which meant that she felt as though she was old enough to tell him what to do when they were children.  Jim was the little brother who was unwittingly talked into attending tea parties and playing with dolls.  Jim was the one who was told that it would be okay for him to sit on the handlebars while Joy bicycled recklessly down the steep hill by their house.  (“He said he wanted to do it”, had been Joy’s response when she had to explain how Jim ended up thrown into a series of blackberry bushes.)

Around the time that Jim was finishing junior high and Joy was starting college, the two started really talking to each other.  Their parents believed that the two just needed a little distance to appreciate what they liked about the other.  Jim started high school and wanted advice from his valedictorian sister and head of the drama department on how to survive the experience.  Joy, stressed by the demanding school load she had created for herself and frustrated by her slob roommates, liked recalling the simpler days of life.  When Joy graduated and moved back to the same area, the two siblings started visiting each other regularly.  If there was dirt to be had, the brother-sister pairing were the first to know.

“Has mom even met this girl yet?”

“Are you kidding me?”  Jim shook his head vehemently.  “Joy, we aren’t even a couple.”

“Wait, you’re not?  You haven’t shut up about this Cheryl person for three months.”

“I was wearing her down.  Don’t worry; your little brother can be a very smooth operator.”

“More like a very slow operator.  So what prompted this whole kissing scene?”

“Well, we had the talk in my car last night”, Jim explained.

“Wait, the talk?  As in the talk?  You’re sleeping with her?”

“No!  Good grief, how am I going to sleep with her if we just kissed?”

“Well, you said it was the talk.”

“I meant the ‘define the relationship’-talk.  Not the sex-talk!”

“Oh, well then you call your talks different things.  Just, y’know, take it slow.  Respect her needs too.”

“I know, Joy.”

“No really, pay attention to her.  You aren’t the only once dancing the horizontal polka.”

“Joy!”

“And please, for all of our sake, wear some protection.”

“Joy!  Stop!”

“I know you want to make Dad a grandfather again, but he’s in no big hurry.”

“I’m going to smother you in your sleep.  Charlie will understand when I explain how his wife tortured me.”

“And when you get up afterwards to get some food from the kitchen?  Make sure you offer to get her something.”

“Oh.  Dear.  Word.”

“Hey, somebody’s gotta stand up for this new girl in your life.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for my sister’s sick sense of humor.  She can’t be stopped.”  Jim stopped addressing the imaginary audience and turned his attention to Joy.  “Do you want me to tell Mom the truth about the car crash of prom?”

“You’re just jealous.  That raccoon story was genius and you know it.”

“So that’s it?”  Jim proceeded with caution.  “We’re done talking about my non-existent sex life?”

“That’s what you get for giving Charlie the talk”, Joy replied.

“The talk?  Ew, I would never have a sex talk with Charlie.  That’s gross!”

“Oh good grief.  Not that talk; you really gotta figure out these conversations.  Remember, when you threatened to have all your hockey friends meet him in a dark alley if he hurt me?”

“I also recall telling him that that conversation was just between the two of us.  I was hoping that he understood that it was an accord between gentlemen.”

“Uh huh.  Well the way he tells it you were wearing a Goofy t-shirt when you pulled him aside to chat with him.”

“Don’t knock the shirt.  That shirt is awesome.”

“Is that what Sharon thinks?”

“Sharon happens to like Disney movies quite a bit, yes.”

“But not in the creepy way?”  Joy leaned in close and poked Jim in the shoulder.

“How so?”  Jim couldn’t tell if his sister was teasing or not.  Either way, she had succeeded in making him curious.

Photo from Wikipedia

“Oh, there are two kinds of Disney fans.  There are the ones who like the movies as well-told stories and a cherished part of their childhood.  And then there are those that have Minnie Mouse wallpaper and keep four stuffed animal characters on their beds and wear the same Disney costumes to every Halloween party.”

“She’s not like that.”

“I should hope note.  Every party, Jim; it’s not pretty.”

“No, Sharon’s not that crazy.  I get enough of that from you.”

“And I got chickenpox from you.”

“I still maintain you gave it to me before I gave it to you.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“That’s how devious you are.  I’ve seen your paystubs; I know how devious you’re paid to be.”

“Sharon.  You.  Kissing.  Talk.”  Even Joy’s patience had its limits.

“What, you want the details?”

“Do you know how long it’s been since Charlie and I made out in a car?”

“No, and I don’t really want to…”

“Three years.  Three.  We dropped off Nick after our first night alone since he was born and we spent two hours of the night just making out in the car.  Those kids’ll suck the life out of ya.  Just you wait and see.”

“…hear about it.”  Jim shook his head at his sister.  “Why are we having this conversation?”

“Because I’m still cooler than Mom.  And Dad’s head would explode.”

“Oh man, it so would.”

“Sharon.  Kissing.  No stalling.”

“Well, one of my friends gave me tickets to see a play.”

“What kind?”

“Shakespeare.”

“Unnh.  Tragedy?”

“Comedy.”

“Better.  And did you tell her they were free?”

“No.”

“Perfect.  Dinner?”

“Uh, that Italian restaurant on fourth?”

“The one by the gas station?”

“I think so?  It’s new.”

“Jim, that opened like four years ago.”
“Well I hadn’t been before.  It was her choice.”

“Good.  And you paid?”  Joy was using her voice that meant there really was one correct answer.

“Uh huh, but we agreed she’d cover the tip.”

“Very good.  You’ve learned.”

“A glass of wine in the face has that effect on a guy.”

“Dating a wacko like Susan will have that effect too.”

“True, but she was fun”, Jim replied.

“There’s ‘fun’, and then there’s ‘spend a night incarcerated while the cops at the border search your vehicle for drugs’.  Not a phone call I want repeated.”

“Well Sharon isn’t like that.”

“Points to her”, Joy said.  “And what’d you wear?”

“Polo shirt.”

“Hrrm.  Blue one or black one?”

“Black one with jacket.”

“Oooh, much better.  You are learning.  And did you get her flowers?  Was this a ‘date’-date?”

“Flowers, but not large, intimidating ones.  Simple daisies.”

“Very good.  And she liked the play?”

“I think so.  We kinda started to fall asleep towards the end.  It was two and a half hours with no intermission.”

“Ah, yeah that would do it.”

“So we started using each other to keep awake.”

“Oh really?”  A mischievous smile took over Joy’s face.  “How so, Mr. Cool?”

“We only had the one armrest, which I let her have for the first two hours.  But then I snuck my hand on top of hers.  Y’know, let my fingers rest in between hers?  A little light sliding of my finger along hers.  And then I did a subtle scooting in my seat towards hers”

“And did she take the bait?”

“Her head was soon on my shoulder.”

“Jim!  Look at you, my little brother does have some moves.”

“I’ve been telling you that for years.”

“Yes, you’ve been wrong many of those times.  Now you’re starting to figure it all out.”

“So then we went back to my car after the show.”

“Did you open the car door for her?”

“Naturally.  I also let her borrow my jacket when we walked out of the theatre in case she was cold.”

“I was going to say…”

“Yes, yes.  ‘Take the jacket off or she’ll call the date off.’  I remember.”

“So you’re sitting in the car together.  Front seat or back?”

“Front. Why would we be in the back?”  Jim saw the shrug of his sister’s shoulders and suddenly understood.  “What is wrong with you?”

“Hey, I’ve had some fun in back seats over the years.”

“Joy!”

“Oh, relax.  It was all perfectly PG-13.  No R-rated.”  Joy paused.  “Actually, I take that back.  Steven was probably getting close into R-terrain.”

“Joy!  C’mon!”

“What, he was very affectionate and he played football.  Nothing like ‘that’ happened.”

“You had much more fun in high school than I did.”

“How else would I be able to dole out this much wisdom in your time of need?”

“Right.  Anyways, Sharon and I just sat there, looking at each other.”  Jim was much more comfortable talking about his own escapades than reliving his sister’s.

“And?  Lemme guess, you ran your fingers through her hair and then put your palm on her cheek?”

Jim was stunned.  “How did you know?”

“Guys always do that, especially when women have their hair down.  It’s like guys think they just have to touch it.  It’s only hair!  But the hand on the cheek is always nice.”

“Well I leaned in…”

“And she leaned in?”

“Yep.  I told her that I really liked being around her.”

“You talked before you kissed her?”

“Yeah, I wanted to tell her how I felt.”

“Jim, that’s very sweet.  But just shut and kiss the poor girl for goodness sakes.  She’ll get the idea.”

“I like talking.”

“Yeah, but don’t you like kissing?”

“Sure.”

“Trust me on this.  Kiss first, talk later.  Then kiss again.”  Joy paused and then punched her brother lovingly in the shoulder.  “How was it?”

“The kiss?”

“No, the pasta sauce.”

“Very nice.  Soft, moist; simple.  Not a make out-kiss, just a tender coming together.”

“Man, Mom and her movies from the forties really softened you up.”

“At least I don’t watch The Notebook.”

“Well then you’ll never understand how great it is”, she said as she stuck out her tongue.  “Seriously though; do you like this girl?  Sorry; woman.  I still don’t think you should be old enough to be dating women.  Stupid aging.”

“Yeah.  Yeah I really do.”

Public domain due to age.

“And she likes you back?”

“Well we’ve already texted about four times since then.”

“A nice sign.  So you’re happy?”

“I am.  I really am.”

“Then that’s all I need to know.”  Joy hugged her brother and then sat back against the park bench.

She watched two little ducks interacting at the edge of the grass.  One clearly thought it was in charge of the other and nudged it along with the top of its bill.  The smaller duck quacked in protest, and the two waddled side by side back into the lake.  With two little splashes, the small ducks pedaled through the water in search of adventures they could share.

The Scene Change

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Scene Change

Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great and marriages happy.” -Phyllis McGinley

“Do we really need to have this fight now?”

“Well if we don’t talk now, then when?  You’re going to crash and I have to get up for work long before you get up.”

“Okay, but I’m tired, you’re tired; can’t we just go to bed?”  Denise had gone through this conversation with Joel before.  She could tell that if they picked up the discussion tonight it would probably turn into a squabble.

“Never let the sun set on an argument”, Joel quoted.

“All right”, Denise said as she tried to adopt a cooperative attitude.  She kicked off her shoes and walked towards a specific chair in the kitchen.  Instead of immediately sitting down, she waited.  Over the years Denise and Joel had gone through their share of “discussions”.  They thought it was a good idea to start their talks sitting close to each other so they could remember that they both wanted a happy ending for the both of them.

Per their custom, Joel sat down on the chair and put his hand on the small of Denise’s back, which she took as her cue to sit on his lap in a more or less sideways position.  She laid her head on his shoulder and he leaned his head on hers.  Denise breathed in the familiar smell of her husband and realized that she was probably getting her stage makeup on him.  Joel was used to waking up with brown smudges on his face and clothing by now.

Denise was happy like this.  She wanted to simply rest in her husband’s arms and drift off to sleep.  If there was anything that Denise appreciated about Joel, it was how comfortable she made him feel.  The same man who had a hard time sharing her excitement was also the one who took deep and slow inhalations.  Joel was almost always calm, even when he was upset with Denise.

Knowing that Joel was letting her rest and recuperate, Denise lifted her head.  She looked at her husband’s face and saw the light creases that had recently increased around the edges of his eyes.  They matched the prematurely gray eyebrows that he had acquired in the last few years rather nicely.  Denise had to admit that she had plucked a few hairs herself this year.  There were still people that commented on how she looked like she was in her early twenties and not her thirties, but those remarks were coming less and less frequently.  She was still young enough to have her pick of roles, so that contented her for now.  Also Joel was constantly telling her how beautiful she was; inside and out.  The world appreciated her beauty, her friends liked her for her spirit, but it was Joel who loved every part of her, body and soul.

“Hi”, she said with a quiet smile as she leaned in and kissed Joel.  It was a slow kiss, and a light one, but their method of kissing was better than any that she shared on stage.

“Hey”, Joel replied soothingly.

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“I think so”, Joel said as the creases near his eyes deepened with happiness.  “And I hope you know how incredible I think you are.”

“I do”, she said as she put her hand on his chest.

“Good”, Joel said as he let his hand trace the line of her chin.

“But?”

“But”, Joel replied.  His voice changed from reassuring to serious. He didn’t change his affectionate demeanor, though he was clearly ready to get down to business.

“What’s going on?”

“I miss you”, he said.

“I miss you too”, she replied.  “But you know how musicals are.  There’re the lines, the choreography, and I’ve told you how hard the singing is.  And honey, I’m the supporting female lead.  I need to be at my best.”

“I know all of that”, Joel said.  “I still would like to see you once in a while.”

“I was home all Monday”, Denise offered.

“I had to work”, Joel countered.  “And when I came home at six you were already fast asleep.”

“I was tired.  Do you know how exhausting it is to be on sixteen hours a day, six days a week?”

“Denise”, he said with a pause that meant he was considering how best to present his case.  “I’m not upset at you for being dedicated.  I appreciate how much work it takes to be as good as you are, even with all your talent.  I also want you around the house.  That’s all I’m saying.”

“What do you want me to do, quit?”  Denise was done sitting down and behaving calmly.  “This is my career.  I have an entire cast depending on me.  Do you think the rest of them don’t want to clock off at six and go home to their families?”

“I don’t care about them.  I only care about you.”  Denise didn’t know how to react to that, so she brought in their go-to source of discord.

“Is this about the bikini again?”

Joel blinked.  Then he blinked again.  In his understated way of expressing himself, it was as if the man were screaming.  “We’re going to back to that?  I thought we agreed to let it stay in the past.”

“Well, the past informs the present”, Denise replied.  She was already regretting bringing up that play.  Joel had been a good sport for their entire dating relationship and the first two years of their marriage.  However one single play almost sent him packing.

Denise was a very attractive woman and Joel’s friends had no qualms about reminding him of that fact.  “If you want to sleep well at night, don’t have an attractive wife”, his friends would joke.  Joel often felt other men checking out Denise when they were out in public, but the gym was the worst.  Denise was friendly and she had a matching set of long legs and a nice chest.  Many men found that to be grounds for familiarity.  Joel had tried his best to let it roll of the shoulders, but then that one play had come along and pushed him too far.

The play itself wasn’t the problem; it was the on-stage scene change.  Denise was a debutante at a luxury getaway.  She was playing a woman who was talking with her best friend about how much fun they were having and how she never wanted to sleep again.  Then she proceeded to change, with very strategic scenery blocking her, from a sexy evening gown to a barely-there bikini.  Joel had gone to opening night, as he always did.  Denise had told him about the on-stage display and he thought he understood what it entailed.  What he hadn’t considered before he had sat in his theatre seat was the commotion all the men around him would make.  To this day, that was the only time Denise had ever seen Joel truly yell.  She had promised to try to avoid roles that might make him feel disrespected.  If she were to tell the whole truth, her age meant that Denise was offered those roles less often each year.

“That play is a sore spot for me”, Joel replied after a long pause.  “It probably always will be.  But that’s not what’s upsetting me.   I’m only stating how much I would like to see you and how I hope that we can make time for each other soon.”

“Okay”, Denise said as she tried to regain her calm.  “But what about the pre-party?”

“The what?”  Joel was caught off guard.

“Right after I was cast, there was that big gathering.  Remember, I told you how the appetizers were stale and Jeremy balanced that plate on his nose like a seal?”

“I guess.”

“That was the pre-party.  I wanted to show you off to my friends and my new cast mates.  Instead, you went on a fishing trip with your pals.”

“Oh”, Joel said as he hung his head an almost imperceptible amount.  “That party.”  The quiet in the air remained.  Joel finally stood up and walked to the other side of the kitchen.  “You know those things really aren’t for me.”

“I know”, Denise said.  “That’s why I don’t ask you to come very often.  I don’t even go that much anymore.  When I do go, though, I would like you there with me.  I like having you with me.  It’s important to me.  So I feel upset that you’re saying I should make time for you when you’d rather spend three days outside than with me.”

Denise could see the Joel’s jaw clench and the few muscles that Joel had in his arms tense as he pulled at the countertop.  Her husband was going into defense-mode.  Denise had learned long ago that all she could do was wait this phase out.  Anything she might try to do to diffuse his anger would only bring it out faster.

A minute passed without speaking.  Then two.  Denise was beginning to become uncomfortable with the silence.  She wanted Joel to say something, but he didn’t like to be rushed.  He was clearly formulating thoughts, processing his reasoning.  Then he looked up at her.  He walked across the room and stood in front of Denise.

“You’re right”, he admitted.  “That was somewhat unfair, and I apologize.  I do miss you, though.”

Denise took Joel’s left hand between both of hers and rubbed her thumb against his wedding ring like a worry-stone.

“I miss you two.  And I’m sorry for bringing up that play again.  We need to make more time for each other, obviously.  Can you wait a month or two?  I mean, we can get a day here or there to ourselves, but things will quiet down after this show.  You know they will.”

“You still have Mondays off, right?  I think I’ll take some off those off from work and be here with you.”

“I’d like that”, she said as her smile reappeared.  “We need to come to an agreement about our scheduling, though.  Why don’t you spend your weekends outdoors when I’m having my busy show weekends?”
“That’s probably a sound idea”, Joel agreed.

“More than that, let’s make it a rule”, Denise challenged.  “No leaving town without me.  Be outdoors when I’m busy.  But when we can both be free, we should be with each other.  It’s too easy to grow apart if we’re not a priority in the other’s schedule.”

“True”, Joel said.

“’True’ as in, you agree?  Or ‘True’ as in, let me think about it?  I’m really hoping it’s the first one”, Denise said.

“The first one”, Joel said with a grin.  He took a step forward and closed the small gap that had been between the two of them.  “You are always my first priority.  I don’t care if you’re a star or not, so long as I get to be around you.”

“Well thank you”, she said as she hugged him and put her head on his shoulder.  She pulled away just enough to look Joel in the eyes.  “Now can we be around each other in bed?  I’m freakin’ exhausted.”

Death in the Super Family

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Death in the Super Family

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” -Christopher Reeve

“What did you do?!”

The window that had formerly sat in the door to Forgotten Acquaintances shattered.  The shout that had emanated from the muscular and mask-clad character echoed off the walls threatening to knock the numerous pictures off the wall.  The people in the photographs were unspoken legends.  They had paved the way over the past century for the current generation.  Stories were still swapped about the narrow victory they had almost grasped or the hero that they had narrowly escaped from.  Forgotten Acquaintances had a reputation, a feeling that no other bar in town could match.  Only this bar could lay claim to hosting the cleverest and most infamous villains that Prosper City had to offer.

There were civilians in attendance, but one didn’t need to be a criminal mastermind to recognize the hulking figure of The Do-Gooder.   His white uniform; decorated by a blue utility belt and cape, with white domino mask to match; had been spread over countless broadcasts and newspapers over the years.  Fittingly enough, the fair-haired hero often spoke of fighting fair as well.  He was adored by young children throughout the city and even parents smiled when he flew by.  Any other person with the abilities of flight and super-strength would have frightened a populace within days.  But there was something about The Do-Gooder.  He wouldn’t punch super-villains below the belt, he operated in daylight, and he even took time to attend school assemblies.  It was his squeaky-clean reputation that made his outburst in the bar that much more unsettling.

All in attendance had the urge to whisper, however they could only cower and stay out of the way of his rampage.  The Do-Gooder had the ability to float, yet his legs took powerful steps and almost smashed through the floor.  A thin man with a moustache to match sat at the bar.  He felt the beer in his hands slosh out of the cup just enough to be noticeable.  He set down his beer, gulped down the nervousness that was building in him, and tried to maintain some composure.  Ned Neener could tell that the hero had come here for him.

“Well, Mr. Do-doo”, he tried to joke.  “What brings you to the bowels of the underworld?  Come to slum a little?”

“What did you do, Neener-Neener?”  The Do-Gooder’s voice had become eerily calm.  There was a focus behind his voice that was frightening.  It was clear the conversation was not going to end until the hero got the answers he wanted.  “What did you do to her?”

Neener sighed.  “I’ve told you before, I changed my alias.  For one thing, that childhood taunt wasn’t me.  Who wants to be robbed by a guy that goes by a playground jeer?  Just because I’m born with an appropriate name doesn’t mean I have to be saddled with it for the rest of my life, am I right?”

Neener’s attempt to diffuse the situation with humor only seemed to make The Do-Gooder angrier.  A table stood in the path between The Do-Gooder and Neener.  The occupants had abandoned it and ducked over the bar as soon as they had seen that they were in the route of possible destruction.  Without looking, and with no effort whatsoever, The Do-Gooder grabbed the table with one hand, ripped it free of the bolts that had previously held it to the ground, and threw it across the room.  There were no obstacles between The Do-Gooder and Neener now as the massive bulk of white menacingly loomed right over his nemesis.

“Fine”, The Do-Gooder said through clenched jaw.  “What did you do to her, Ne’er-Do-Well?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific”, the thief said as his voice started to audibly crack.  “There are a lot of ladies who hang out with me.  I’m a dangerous guy.  I attract lots of women’s attention; lots and lots.  Don’t I, fellas?”

Needer looked around the bar but could find no one to take his side.  All of his former drinking companions had either fled in terror or were choosing to remain silent.  Whatever Needer had done to get himself on the wrong side of The Do-Gooder, the man was on his own.  It was his fight to win or lose.  The bar was full of disreputable types.  They had been henchmen and thugs, so they all knew a “Super-Brawl” when they saw one.  There was a saying in the underground of Prosper City.  “You can deal with another guy’s B.S., but don’t ever get near another guy’s S-B.”

“You know who I’m talking about Needer”, The Do-Gooder snarled through gritted teeth.  “You killed the woman I love.”

“Killed?!”  Gone was the act of composure and posturing that Needer had employed up until that moment.  “Are you nuts?  I don’t kill!”

Grief At Cemetery by Petr Kratochvil

“You told me, the last time I put you away, that’d you make me pay.  You swore you’d take away everything you hold dear to me.”  The Do-Gooder’s rage came out in the form of a massive arm gripping Needer by the neck.  “I don’t know how you did it…”

“Wait”, Needer gasped.  “You’re making a mistake.  That isn’t my style and you know it.”

The Do-Gooder paused, a flash of doubt appeared across his masked face.  The grip around Needer’s neck softened.

“Look”, Ne’er-Do-Well said as he tried to pull the hero’s hands off of his neck.  “I steal from people.  That’s it.  I want a little more bankroll in my wallet.  But I don’t kill people!  Who do you think I am, Hangman?  C’mon, that guy belongs in whatever lunatic joint can hold him.  I’m greedy, nothing more.  Sure, we have our games back and forth.  I tease you, you catch me, but we don’t actually hurt anybody.”

“Last time… your threat”, The Do-Gooder stammered as he took his hands off of Needer.

“I was toying with you.  I meant I was going to steal your Do-Gooder Go-Cart and sell it for parts.  I already got a fence lined up; ask around.  I embarrass guys like you; I don’t off ‘em.  Really, it’s business between you and me.  I may not like being roughed up or tossed in the clink; but that doesn’t mean I’ve turned into a killer.  How would I sleep at night if I got all dark like that?  How’s a guy supposed to enjoy his own private island with blood on his hands?”

“So, you didn’t give Martha cancer?”  The whispered tone that had crept into The Do-Gooder’s throat showed how unsure he really was.

“Who’s Martha?”

“She was…” The Do-Gooder hesitated.  He knew what kind of place he was in and he knew that he had already revealed too much.  “She was someone close to me.”

“Oh man.  Look D-G, I’m sorry to hear that.  I really am”, Needer said.  “I wouldn’t give anyone cancer, though.  Life’s hard enough without that stuff.  Besides, I don’t really have access to anything medical or radioactive, y’know?  I think you might be giving me a little too much credit.  I’m a schemer, sure.  Only not on the level you’re talking about.  I’ll spend hours cooking up stuff in my secret laboratory.  You gotta remember though, I’m a gadget kinda guy.  The extend-o-arms that reach across a building?  The nanites with miniature hammers that chip away at a building overnight?  Those’re my kind of devices.  And they’re all non-lethal.”

“That’s it?  I didn’t bring this on her?  You’re serious?”

“Aw, man”, Needer looked at The Do-Gooder’s face and felt sorry for the large man.  All the powers he had, his never-ending feeling of justice; both had failed the hero in this fight.  “Look, why don’t you let me buy you a beer?  I mean, you can’t just go around tearing things up and scaring people like you are.  Do you realize you almost pulverized those two guys in the corner when you threw that table?”

“I wasn’t… I mean I didn’t…”

“I know, I know”, Needer said as he tried to console the man.  “Listen.  I’m going to tell you something.  This is between you and me and the room.  You ever mention this to anybody else and we’ll all flatly deny it.  You hear me?  This all sinking in, Do-Gooder?”

The man clad in white nodded solemnly.

“Okay.”  Needer took a deep breath.  He surveyed the room, made eye-contact with those left in attendance, and then turned back to The Do-Gooder.  “The truth is, we all respect you.  We want you to be better than this.”

“Hold on”, The Do-Gooder said.  “I’m confused.  You want me around?”

“I don’t want you around me”, Ne’er-Do-Well said quickly.  “But yeah, we like having you in Prosper City.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Sure it does”, Needer replied.  “If the dam breaks and our town might get flooded, you’re our best bet.  Whenever Hangman or somebody like him comes to cause trouble, we want you on the scene.  And if I’m being completely honest, my kid looks up to you.  Other heroes; like the ones with all the guns and facial piercings?  They scare the living daylights out of him.  He’s got you on a t-shirt.”

“Really?”

“Yeah”, Needer said with a touch of annoyance.  “I haven’t really told him about the whole Ne’er-Do-Well thing.  He thinks I’m an account representative for a textile company.”  Needer closed his eyes and shook his head from side to side.  “If that little guy knew how many heists I’ve pulled to get him what he wanted…”

“So, you want me to catch you?”

“No!”  Needer looked The Do-Gooder square in the face and commanded his full attention.  “I want to be left alone to do my thing.  All these fellas do.  However, there are times when life gets a little too dangerous around here.  There are days when the city needs a hero to believe in.  And for Prosper City, that fellow is you.  Right boys?”

The Do-Gooder turned his attention to the rest of the room.  They had been a captive audience to the entire conversation, but none of them had dared to leave their hiding spots.  They remained unsure as to how to proceed.  Yet, as The Do-Gooder turned to look at them one-by-one, they all nodded their affirmation of Needer’s statement.  “You’re A-O-K”, one man replied.

“All right, all right”, Needer said.  “There’s no need to butter the guy up.   He’s still gonna arrest you and wrap a light pole around your gut the next time he sees ya.”

Needer sized up his supposed enemy.  Normally there was an immense strength about the man’s stature, but today his shoulders were unmistakably drooping.  The fight that had raged so strongly when The Do-Gooder had burst in the door had now drained out of him.  He was, to put it mildly, in a sad state.

“What do you say I buy you a beer and you tell me all about her?”

“I’m surrounded by troublemakers.  I should be stopping crime or arresting most of you.”

“Yeah yeah”, Needer replied as he waved off the idea.  “You can catch us tomorrow.  Take a day to mourn the woman you love.  Everybody needs a day off, am I right?”

“I guess”, The Do-Gooder replied as a pitcher was slid towards him.

“Good.  Besides, you’re not in any condition to take on the newest invention I got cooked up for ya.  I tell ya D-G, this one’s really a pip.  I’m gonna make my fortune off of this one.”

“Needer…”

“Sorry”, he replied with a sheepish grin.  “It’s not the right time.  Pull up a seat and tell me all about her.”

That night, the police would comment on how quiet it was in the city.  It was almost as if the criminals had occupied themselves with something other than heists and devious plots.  Unbeknownst to the police the city’s less-desirables were sitting around a man and helping him deal with his sorrows.  Crime continued to be a problem in the days that ensued, but not onr that somber evening.

Parallel Loves

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Parallel Loves

“The holes in our soul may never heal, but we would not have souls in the first place if we did not love.” –Geoff Johns

Paul looked at the park and couldn’t believe how similar things were.  There were differences, to be sure, but there were also more things that he recognized than he would have thought possible.  The swing sets were different and the logos on the baseball field’s walls were not what he thought they should be.  Still, their tree was exactly as he had left it back home.  The same branch jutted out at the same quirky angle with the strength to hold two people securely.  If there were this many similarities visible already, then surely there would be a Lynn who was like the one he had lost back home.

Rain slowly started to fall from the sky.  It wasn’t an oppressive, torrential rain; more of a light sprinkling.  Paul ignored the few drops that spattered about his head and he walked to where he thought there was a phone booth.  He couldn’t remember the last time that he had used a payphone, but now it seemed to hold the answers that he was looking for.  Sure enough, right by the fire hydrant that was red and should have been white, Paul found the phone and its directory.

With a slow precision that betrayed a degree of hesitance, Paul let the pages turn quietly in his hands.  The J’s passed by, then the L’s.  He soon came to the M’s.  He turned the pages one by one, hoping that the entry he was looking for would be there.  Finally, he found the entry right where it should be.  Paul and Lynn Monroe resided at an address not more than a mile away.

As he walked to the home, the memory of house shopping came into his brain.  Lynn had been the excited one while Paul just wanted to find a darn house.  He would be happy in any home, so long as Lynn liked it.  He would content himself with whatever choice she made, but Lynn had always been particular.  “Don’t you want to find the perfect home for us to live a life in?”  That was the mantra which she kept repeating to Paul.  Each and every time, Paul would respond, “I already found the perfect wife; the home is only a detail.”  She liked that response, but her determination was never softened by it.

In the end, she had found two houses that she liked.  In  Paul’s version, Lynn had settled for the one with the bigger fireplace because she had wanted to spend winters together, huddled around reading stories to each other and one day their kids.  Apparently this world’s Lynn had opted for the home that was closer to the park so that they could go for walks and take their kids out to fly kites and chase each other in circles.  If they were going to live near a park, Paul knew that it had to be this park.

There were other parks in the city, many of them nicer and most all of them were bigger.  However this park had their tree.  The big tree with the odd tree branch had been a touchstone for the couple.  It was on their first date that they had gone for a walk and ended up in that park.  It had been that tree branch that he watched her ascend with childlike enthusiasm.  They both had made comments about wanting to climb the tree, but Lynn in her skirt and blouse had made note of the impracticality of her scrambling up.  Somehow Paul knew that she really wanted to climb the tree, but didn’t feel like she should.  He cajoled and harangued her until she had caved.  He had helped her up, putting his hands underneath her foot and giving her a boost.  Then he had jumped for the branch and pulled himself up beside her.  That became their tree.

They didn’t go by the tree on every date, but it was certainly a place of interest for them.  If nothing else, the little hollow spot where the branch met the trunk would always be remembered fondly for the way it had held her engagement ring.  Paul had been a bit nervous not only because he wasn’t absolutely positive that Lynn would say yes, but also because he was afraid some kid or a squirrel would come across the ring and carry it away.  Yet, after the tradition of helping Lynn up had been completed, he brushed the leaves and twigs aside and the ring was still there.   Paul hadn’t been able to kneel on the narrow tree branch, but he managed to ask the question without tripping over his words.  Lynn had cried and lunged to hug him, which had almost sent the two of them falling out of the tree.  If the tree hadn’t been in that park, Paul would have seen it as a sign to go home.  Instead, he was encouraged.  Seeing that landmark there in all its perfection helped Paul to believe that it was all going to work out.

 Suddenly a thought entered into Paul’s mind.  He hated to make a detour, but he knew that it was the wisest course to take.  Walking two miles out of the way, Paul was relieved to find that the drugstore was right where it should have been.  Commerce was not one to be swayed by such trivial things as parallel earths.  He walked in and found a pair of cheap binoculars.  The cashier gave him an odd look when he tried to pay with cash.  Rather than explain that his payment was indeed valid, he offered his credit card which the man with the apron took and swiped.  Paul left as rapidly as he could, leaving his receipt and plastic bag behind.

Paul headed back towards his, or rather “their” home.  He felt like a creep holding a pair of binoculars in his hand as he came closer to the residence.  He had to keep telling himself that spying on Paul & Lynn was like looking in the mirror.  It wasn’t perverted, it was just curiosity.  The Lynn he knew always appreciated how intently he had looked at her.  Over the years, he had found more and more things on her face to be fascinated with.  Before she got sick, Paul had known there was something wrong.  Her hair had gotten thinner and her complexion had gone paler.  Paul guessed at the illness before Lynn had even gone to the doctor.

Shaking himself from his grief-filled past, Paul found himself standing in front of the home that the two of them had almost bought.  There was that pink flamingo that Lynn thought was so wonderfully gaudy planted in the front yard.  Even from his safe distance away, Paul recognized the couch that sat happily in the living room with its picture window.

Paul found a tree stump to sit on behind a group of bushes and sat down.  He put the binoculars to his face, feeling like he stood out more than he liked.  The park was empty, and his only goal was to get a quick look at this version of the two of them, so he put his thumb to the focus wheel.  That was when she appeared.

Walking into the living room, a bowl of popcorn in her hand, Lynn came into view.  There was no sign of sickness about her.  Paul felt himself gasp when he saw how young she looked.  He had forgotten how youthful she had once been.  Her complexion was tan like it used to be each summer when they would spend every weekend hiking.  Her hair was its full self, no bare or bald patches like he remembered.  Paul looked at this version of Lynn and felt an enormous lump develop in his throat.

She behaved much like he remembered.  She still sat cross legged on the couch, insisting that her bare feet were happier on a cushion than on the floor.  She still shoveled massive amounts of popcorn into her face in a comical display of messiness.  And she still called Sir Sheds-Too-Much to her and placed him on the back of the couch.  Paul put down the binoculars to wipe his eyes.  When he brought them back up, he got the first good look at himself, or rather at this version of himself.

Paul walked into the room carrying a stack of DVDs.  Paul didn’t have to read lips to realize that they were having their typical discussion.  Sometimes it took half an hour for the two to decide what they were in the mood for.  The whole ordeal seemed silly for the number of times that one of them dozed off during the movie, but it was simply how they worked.

This Paul clearly had fewer problems on his plate.  He looked healthier and was only starting to develop the first few wrinkles that the onlooker-Paul had developed years ago.  There were no gray hairs in his temples.  His laugh, the absence of slumped shoulders; the Paul that lived here was a man with no apparent worries.

Paul felt himself glaring through the binoculars.  He wanted to hate this world’s Paul.  The happy-go-lucky Paul didn’t have to suffer through what Paul had.  This younger looking Paul hadn’t spent months living in hospital rooms and years watching his wife deteriorate.  This Paul who had a view of the park didn’t have to call up Lynn’s sister and ask her to pick out his wife’s coffin because he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.  This Paul was living out the happiness that should be his.

Without even realizing it, Paul was standing up and walking towards the house.  His eyes never left the living room and the two people inside.  He wanted to scream to this other Paul that he wasn’t the one who should be happy.  Paul had already suffered.  Why should that Paul get everything when he had nothing?

Out of nowhere, it happened.  There had been no leading up to it, no grand gesture.  The two had simply smiled at each other, put the popcorn aside and sat close to one another.  The Paul in the house had leaned in, put his hand on Lynn’s thigh, and happily kissed her.  That brought Paul back to his senses and he stopped in his tracks.  He remembered why he had come here and he dropped the binoculars.

As he fished for the remote control, Paul gave the blissful couple one last look.  He captured the moment in his memory and turned away.  He had stopped himself from banging on the door and telling Paul just how lucky he was.  The truth was, Paul could see it on the man’s face.  This version of himself, this man that hadn’t tried to fight his wife’s illness and lost; he knew what he had.  Paul could tell by the way they held each other and they looked at the other that they knew how blessed they really were.

The rain had developed into a full-on downpour.  Paul fumbled with the wet remote in his hand and walked back to the wide open field in the park.  All he had wanted was to see that some version of him was happy.  He wanted to know that some parallel version of Paul and Lynn had gotten the cheery life that he had been denied.  He pressed a button which activated the portal back to his earth.  Paul went home knowing that for all the agony and pain he had gone through, there was another version of himself where his dreams had come true.  Witnessing that, finding out that things worked out even if it wasn’t for him, was enough for Paul.

Words with Girlfriends

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Words with Girlfriends

My proudest moment as a child was the time I beat my uncle Pierre at Scrabble with the seven-letter word FARTING.” -Tina Fey

“’O’, ‘B’, ‘L’, ‘I’, ‘Q’, ‘U’, ‘E’, ‘S’.  Obliques.”

“I can’t believe you.”

“So that’s eighteen points, on a double-word square makes it thirty-six.  Then of course, it’s a bingo…”  Chuck let his voice trail off as he finished reveling in the victory.

“Really.  We’re done”, Kelli replied.

“…which would put me at eighty-six points.  If we were keeping track, that is.”

“I don’t think you should make that move”, Kelli said.

“Wait, why?  Because it opens up the top row for you to get a triple?  I think I’ll be okay.”

“No, I think for the sake of keeping your girlfriend happy, you shouldn’t move there.”

“What, are you joking?”  Chuck took his eyes off of the board.  It was evident by the way Kelli had leaned away from the board and crossed her arms that she was not kidding.  Her brows furrowed in a way that they met her ebony bangs just right and Chuck found it adorable.  However he didn’t feel that now was the best time to tell his significant other that her look of angry defiance was cute.

“You’re already something like seventy points ahead.  Now you’re going to win by one hundred and fifty.”

“I thought you weren’t letting me keep score?”  Chuck was confused.  He had a great fondness for the game.  He had it with him at all times.  He played it on his phone while waiting for the bus, he played it online against friends and family members; it was like the world needed more words to be spelled out and Chuck was only too happy to oblige.  Oddly enough, it was the physical board and tiles that he used the least often.

Kelli, his girlfriend of the last five months, was less enamored with the game.  It had taken some thorough cajoling to get her to play.  Backrubs had been promised, along with the solemn decree that no points would be written down.  Despite how it felt at the moment, Chuck’s intentions had been for this to be fun.

“I don’t have to use a pen and paper to figure out that you’re beating the pants off of me.”

“Now that’s an entirely different version.  If you want to start doing that, then I’ll definitely…”  Chuck stopped himself.  Kelli wasn’t smiling.  He wasn’t sure what a more severe version of a frown was, but Kelli had it.  Daggers were shooting from her eyes to Chuck, then the board, then back to Chuck.  If there was such a thing as an anti-laugh, that was what Kelli had on her face.

“Don’t try to change the subject.  You’re being inconsiderate.”

“How is that?”

“You should be letting me win.  It’s the chivalrous thing to do.”

Chuck had to shake his head and blink a few times.  “I’m sorry, I’m not chivalrous?  I thought I was all kinds of gentlemanly around you.  The flowers, the car door openings, the making of breakfasts?  When did I stop being chivalrous?”

“When you played that word”, Kelli replied.  “If you were a truly nice guy, you’d take that move back.”

“But”, Chuck stammered.  “That’s the best move to make.  If you can make a word with a ‘Q’, especially on a double word spot, and certainly when it’s an eight-letter word, then you make it.”

“I wanted to play there.”

“Okay…”

“Look”, she said turning her tiles to him.  “I was going to spell ‘SIN’.  I put the ‘I’ by the ‘’Q’ and the ‘N’ by the ‘U’.”

“I get that, by why not just put it at the bottom of ‘FIGHT’?  Or you can use just the ‘S’ and the ‘I’ and get a double-word out of ‘SIX’?  Why do you care if I use the ‘Q’?”

“I want the ‘Q’.  I like that word”, Kelli replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

Chuck waited in silence until he was sure no further explanation was forthcoming.  “That’s it?”

“Yes”, she said.

“You want me to cheat, to take back a word… just because?”

“Yes.”  Kelli’s voice had a dangerously calm tone to it.  She wasn’t merely explaining, she was stating.  Whenever she stated, it was a firm stance that she would not budge from.

“What happened to women being treated as equals?  Aren’t I supposed to give the same opportunities to both genders?  Do you really think a guy would get to tell me where I would play if we were facing off across the board?”

“We could play it that way”, Kelli said.  “If you want this relationship to go how it goes with your buddies, then we can do that.”  Leaning over the board that was between them and arching her back just enough to show her intent, Kelli whispered in Chuck’s ear.  “I don’t think you really want a ‘friend’ kind of arrangement here.  Do you?”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?  You want me to take that move off the board.”

“Yes”, Kelli replied as she returned to her side.”

“And you have no problem with me going easy on you instead of playing to the best of my ability?”

“Golfers have handicaps”, Kelli countered.  “You’re more of an expert at this game, so why not give me the edge so that I have a shot?”

“Am I supposed to double check every move with you before I play?”

“If you want”, she replied.

“That was a rhetorical question!”  Chuck was filled with disbelief.  “If anything you were supposed to say ‘no’.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t.”

Chuck stopped and fought off his urge to argue logic.  Kelli was the heart of the relationship.  She was the one who rolled around on the floor with her nieces, she was the person who would stop and ask the checkout clerk at the grocery store how they were doing, and she was the one that would run marathons for charity.

Chuck was the book-type.  He wanted precision and he wanted accuracy.  If they were leaving for a movie or a play at seven, he was in the car with his seatbelt fastened at six fifty-nine.  He always knew how to spend less on electricity.  He factored out which gas station would have the lowest price and whether or not its distance from Chuck’s residence warranted the cost of driving there.  Kelli wanted the world to be a better, friendlier place while Chuck wanted the world to make sense.

Somehow, their differences worked with the other.  Chuck’s attention to detail made sure that Kelli never felt forgotten.  Her birthday had been celebrated, he listened to gift suggestions and acted upon them four months later, and he worked to put her priorities at the top of his agenda.  In return, Chuck saw how people reacted to Kelli and was immensely proud to be with someone like her.  She always made him feel like the world was a decent place.  Some days Chuck couldn’t make sense of why things were happening or why people acted the way they did.  When he turned to Kelli, he saw a source of hope and he could believe that things would work out.

Now Chuck was analyzing the data put in front of him.  If he continued to play the way that he liked, then he would win and victory was his.  Even if he took back his move, Chuck was a sure bet.  Yet, if Chuck took back his move, Kelli would probably see it as a sign of affection.  He considered the act as something akin to giving her a boost when she couldn’t reach a tree branch.  Was it really so bad to let her have a leg up once again?

“All right”, Chuck said.  “I’ll capitulate.”

“What?  Is that like a catapult?  Are you going to throw your tiles across the room?”

“No, I’m just throwing the game off.”  Chuck flipped the tiles back into his fingers and made his move towards the other side of the board.  “’B’, ‘O’, ‘X’, ‘E’, ‘S’”, he spelled.  “BOXES.  There, now the ‘Q’ is all yours.  Happy?”

Kelli glowed with delight.  “Yes, yes I am”, she said as she put her three tiles down.  “Thank you for understanding.”

“Now hold on there”, Chuck said as he felt himself smiling along with Kelli’s infectious grin.  “This was a one-time thing.  If I get another good word, I’m going to play it.  Understood?”

Kelli leaned over the board and kissed him quickly.  “Yes”, she said as she put her hand on his cheek and rubbed it with her thumb.  “I still like the gesture, though.”

Kelli sat back down on the carpet as Chuck picked four new tiles out of his bag.  He cursed under his breath.  If he played his tiles correctly, he would be able to spell “SUBTITLE”.  At least it wouldn’t use a “Q” or get double word points.

Taking Work Home with You

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Taking Work Home with You

The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public.” -Oscar Wilde

Byron couldn’t help but look across the ballroom at the woman standing by the painting. She was like some sort of temptress from a spy novel.  Her olive skin and regal posture made her stand out amongst the well-to-do in their formal attire.  As if asking for more attention, she was the only one wearing a dark green dress amongst a sea of black with white specks tossed in here or there.  And the dress… Byron gulped.

The dress was an impressive combination of fabric and engineering.  The neckline plunged to an extreme depth would put any natural chasm to shame.  Byron saw many V-neck dresses around the room, but none of them went down to the belly button.  It possibly dipped even lower than that, depending how the woman stood.

Byron decided that the dishes at the other end of the grand dining table needed to be cleaned off first.  The closer vantage point to the woman in the green dress didn’t hurt his decision either.  He smoothed the apron in front of his slacks and tried to quietly gather the gold-plated dinner ware while taking in the view.  Her eyes were wide-open and perfectly round.  While others had started wobbling from too much champagne or dragging their polished-shoes as a sign of exhaustion, this woman maintained her perfect pose.  She carried herself with sure strides and led with her chest.  Byron was starting to notice that there were other quite round attributes to the woman in green besides her eyes.

“You know those aren’t real, right?”

Byron almost dropped the dishes on the table.  As it was, he struggled to regain the load he had been carrying and the clattering sound caused the woman in green’s head to turn.  Byron nodded to her and faced the woman next to her.

“Seriously, those were store bought maybe half an hour before this shindig.  It looks like they were made on the cheap too.  I mean, c’mon.  Does she really think she’s fooling anyone?  These people know their high-value accessories and she went the bargain basement route.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, Byron whispered back to Allison.  An angry tone was present underneath his hushed voice.  “I was just…”

“You were just what?”  Allison wrinkled her nose and elbowed Byron above his kidney.  “So you’re saying you weren’t scoping out the emerald earrings?  I’m telling you, those things aren’t real.  I have costume jewelry that looks better than those.”

Byron laughed in relief.  “Yeah; those earrings.  I don’t know what she was thinking.”

Allison put her hands on her hips. The black apron and white dress shirt were a match for Byron’s, but somehow her disappointed attitude shown through.

“Really?  Those things?  That’s what you were looking at?  I hate to tell ya, bucko, but those aren’t real either.”

Byron started to push Allison towards the catering area.  He didn’t think that the woman in green had heard, but he wasn’t in the mood to be embarrassed or get in trouble.   He hurriedly pushed the door open and ushered Allison inside.  Their two fellow caterers were headed out and Byron closed the door behind them.

“Are you trying to get us in trouble?”

“Oh c’mon.  She didn’t hear me.  You’re just upset that I interrupted your ogle-fest.  One more time; those breasts aren’t real.”

“You’re upset that I’m enjoying the scenery?  At least I haven’t been slipping extra fish fillets to the old guy.”

“I’ll have you know that his name is Reginald”, Allison replied.  “He owns a house in the country and three around the world.  He’s already invited me to go horseback riding with him.”

“And you’re going to let the grandpa cradle-rob you?  Please.”

“He’s not old, he’s distinguished.”

“He’s bald.”

“I’ve told you time and again that baldness is a sign of extra testosterone in the body.  I would hope that you’d find that comforting, what with the little Friar Tuck spot you’ve got going up top there.”  Allison smiled as he reached up and ran her fingers through Byron’s hair.

Byron cocked his head at an angle, raised his eyebrow, and sighed.  “I shall consider myself thoroughly chastised.  How about we go back to work now, please?  We can both not get fired and we can go sit on the couch with our loved ones of choice.  Deal?”

“Alright, but don’t come crying to me when she turns you down and I have plans to go yachting tomorrow.”

Allison left her coworker alone to compose himself.  Byron adjusted his tie, looked at the clock on the wall, and took a moment.  Just one more hour, he told himself.  The crowds will be gone in an hour and you can get out of here.  Maybe with a little company, if she’ll let you.  You’re so close.  Byron brushed off his apron and opened the catering door.  Standing right in front of the door, her fist raised and ready to knock, was the woman in the green dress.

“Oh, hello”, she said.  A smile started to form on her face.  Byron had seen society women smile like that before.  It was a dangerous smile.  The woman couldn’t have been any older than Byron, but she clearly had years of experience perfectly that seductive and terrifying smile.  “I was wondering if I might be able to get an extra napkin from you.  I seem to have gotten a drop or two down my dress.”

Byron gulped.  He nodded and reached for the pile of napkins that was thankfully right by the door.  The woman in green took it with a nod of her head and dabbed at her chest and stomach.

“That’s the problem with this dress”, she commented.  “It looks great but you have to take care of it.  One false move and I’ve got dinner all over me.  We wouldn’t want that now would we?”

The woman in green laughed as she tossed her head back.  Her long black hair fell behind her shoulders and Byron caught himself looking at the sleek curvature of her neck as it flowed towards other curves and slopes.

“No”, Byron said as he tore his gaze away.  The fire extinguisher on the right wall needed all the attention he could muster.  Byron focused on that red cylinder and nothing else.  The fire extinguisher; it was clearly the most important thing in the room.  There was no reason to look at the exotic woman in front of him.  No reason whatsoever.

“I remember the first time I wore this dress”, the woman in green said as she reached over and turned Byron’s chin towards her.  “Why, I turned the wrong way too fast and the dress nearly fell off.  Can you imagine?  It’s amazing to me how easily and how quickly some dresses can come off.  But sometimes it can be rather convenient, don’t you think?”

Byron started to walk sideways away from the woman in green.  “I’m sorry Miss, I really wouldn’t know.”

“Vanessa”, she corrected as she stepped sideways to match his location.  “Call me Vanessa.  I’d like you to know my name so we can become better acquainted.”

“Well thank you Miss, but I really do need to attend to those dishes.”

Vanessa shook her head.  “No, I think not.  I know the organizer of this gala; you’re fine.  Focus on me.  Give me your undivided attention and I’ll make it worthwhile.”

“Oh, I think you’re quite fascinating Miss, but I really should…”

“Look”, Vanessa said as she stroked Bryon’s bicep.  “Have you ever seen anything quite like me before?”

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that I haven’t”, Byron admitted.

“And you are attracted to me, yes?  The windows in this room reflect the lighting quite well.  I saw you taking me in.”

“You are a stunning woman”, Byron said.

“So you’re saying that you don’t want to get out of here?  Go back to my place and admire me some more?”

“I would have to respectfully decline”, Byron said.

“Why?”  Vanessa was indignant.  “You really think you can do better than me?  You think some sexier woman with more money than you’ll ever see is going to come up to you?”

“I don’t think that at all.  I just have other arrangements that I need to see to.”

“I told you”, Vanessa purred.  “Your job will be fine without you.  I’ll take care of it.”

“And I appreciate that”, Byron replied.  “But there’s someone I’d like to spend the evening with.”

“Not me.”

“No, but it is a very tempting offer.”

“You’re turning me down.”  Vanessa’s flirting ways had turned into indignant anger.  “You’re a caterer, you’re nothing.”

“I would respectfully disagree with you Miss.  But she’s sort of everything a guy could want, so what can I do?”

Vanessa sent an icy glare straight into Byron’s eyes.  He felt a chill go through him as the formerly beautiful woman transformed into a heinously bitter person.  The scowl on her face made Byron’s blood run cold.

“You’re a fool.”  Vanessa reached for the nearest glass, threw it in his face, and stormed off.

Byron sputtered and wiped the liquid out of his face.  At least at had been water and nothing more.  He noticed the room’s attention turning to him.  He twisted and ducked back into the catering room.  A few seconds later, Allison burst in after him.

“What happened?”  Her eyes were wide with panic and concern.  “Did you do something wrong?”

“Apparently”, Byron said as he held out his arms and displayed the large water spot on his uniform.  “Hand me a towel, would you?”

Allison complied but she wouldn’t stop staring.  “What did you do?  Did she catch you staring at her?”

“Yeah, but that’s not why she was mad.”

“What do you mean?”

“She was mad because I wouldn’t sleep with her.”

“What?”

“Apparently Vanessa has quite the hots for me.  I would have considered it a better compliment if she hadn’t ended our conversation so abruptly.  I’m going to guess that she has anger management issues. What do you think?”

“She wanted you to leave with her.”

“Yes.”

“And go back to her place.”

“I assume so.  We didn’t really go into specifics.”

“And have sex with her?”

“Very much so.”

“And you said no?”

“I believe that is what happened.  Why?”

“I saw the way you were staring at her.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t supposed to see that.  I was just going to glimpse and walk away.  It’s like holding your breath.  It’s a fun little diversion for a bit, but after a while it becomes dangerous.”

“So you didn’t want to ask her out?”

“Well, maybe a part of me did”, Byron admitted.

“And the rest of you?”

“A good ninety-four percent of me would like to go back to my place and watch a movie with you.”

“Ninety-four?”

“It was like ninety percent before, but then she had to go and throw the water on me.  That’s just rude.  Either way, you won; by a large margin.”

“You really like me that much?”  Allison’s eyes were starting to water just as Byron’s apron was drying off.

“What have I been telling you these past seven months?”  Byron put his hands on Allison’s shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes.  “Yes, Allison Allons.  I like you that much.”

“Thanks, you’re pretty great when you’re not ogling other women.”

“Oh come on now, what about you and Alfred Hitchcock over there?”

“He’s not that big”, she said with a giggle.

“He’s not small”, Byron replied.  “I think he got so rich because he sits on small children until they give him their lunch money.  Is that who you want to spend your weekend with?  A child squisher?”

“He happens to be a very nice man.  He’s just lonely.”

“Well it would be nice if you weren’t so attentive to him.”

“Then I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t stare at other women when I’m around.”

Byron pulled Allison close to his wet apron.  A few tears found their way to his apron and dabbed a series of watermarks onto his uniform.  He wrapped his arms tight around her and hugged her.

“I think that can be arranged”, he offered.  “Of course it wouldn’t hurt if you wore dresses like that.”

“Unnhhhh”, Allison groaned as she pulled free just enough to look Byron in the face.  “Honey, no one wears dresses like that.  Not even mannequins.  But I think we can work something out.”

“Fair enough”, Byron replied.  “In return, I shall do my best to go bald since you clearly like that sort of thing.”

“Oh no, you’re doing just fine.  Another year or two and you’ll be all caught up with him.  You’ll be completely bald in five years; guaranteed.”

“Remind me again why I’m turning down a night with a stunning woman who thinks I’m rather stud-like?”

“Because I’m classier and cuter and funner.”

“Funner?”

“Yes.  I caught you gawking, so I get to use bad grammar.  Funner.”

“Alright”, Byron said.  “You’re funner.”  He looked to the clock on the wall again and noted the time.  “Forty-three more minutes.  Then we can go do whatever we want.”

“Think you can make it through with a slightly damp apron?”

“Hey, I’m not the one whose butt is about to get pinched.”

“What?”

“I’m telling you, the old man that seems so nice is about to get frisky.  They can get away with it because they’re ‘harmless’.  Keep a safe distance there, missy.”

“Now would be an excellent time to shut up and kiss me.”

“Yes ma’am.”  He leaned forward, as did she, and they felt their lips brush together.  They immersed themselves in the moment, broke off their embrace, and headed back to work.  Byron was irked that their affection had to be put on hold, but he was confident that they could pick up where they left off.

A Prom(ising) Date for the Brave

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Prom(ising) Date for the Brave

The prom is like the Olympics of high school. You wait four years, three people have a good time and everybody else gets to live on with shattered dreams.” –Prom

Michael opened the refrigerator door for the umpteenth time that afternoon and stared down the corsage.  As with every other time that day, the floral arrangement gave no sign that it noticed the onlooker.  The red roses sat there with their deep, rich colors; the silky texture refused to wave or yield for the teenage boy.  The corsage remained passive, its emotions as hardened as the plastic box that served as its temporary home.  Soon, the corsage would find its real home, its true place, resting on a lovely young woman.  Of course, all that depended on Michael keeping his resolve.

The whole evening made less and less sense to Michael the more he thought about it.  He still had a hard time believing that Noelle had said yes to him.  The head of the track team was newly available, thanks to her boyfriend’s “indiscretion” behind the gymnasium.  Neither Michael nor his friends really thought that the famous redhead would have deemed him worth her notice.  But, with the promise of free cafeteria chicken burgers for a month, Michael had taken the dare.

He had walked up to the tall girl, her uncontrolled hair blocking Michael from her peripheral vision.  When he cleared his throat to signal his approach, Noelle had turned around with a piece of lettuce still protruding from her lips.  Michael had turned his eyes away in embarrassment and Noelle’s friends had giggled excitedly at what they guessed was coming.  Somehow, despite Michael’s awkwardness and the unromantic status of the conversation, he had managed to squeak out the question.

“Hey Noelle.  I’ve always thought you had a quality about you…”

“Quality?”  Noelle raised an eyebrow.  “What sort of quality, Michael?”

“Well”, Michael said with a pause.  He was shocked that she even knew his name.  They’d had classes together, sure.  Still… she knew his name?  “You seem, I dunno… nice.  And confident.  I admire that about you.”

“Thanks”, she replied as she put down her fork.

“And you’re hot.”

The table erupted with laughter at that.  Michael felt that the table had lost all interest in eating their lunch and was no focused solely on him.  He swallowed his throat and put his finger in the neck of his shirt.  The t-shirt had always sat loosely on him before, but now he found himself suffocated.  He considered caving to the utter humiliation of the scene.  Then he noticed the way Noelle was looking at him.  There was that kindness he liked about her, sitting right on her face.  He took a breath and tried again.

“I mean, attractive.  I suppose you could say ‘hot’.  All the guys do.  But, I mean, it’s more of a grace, y’know?  Like you’re pretty and all that, but you walk around without knowing it.  Even when you’re running, you’ve got this calm poise about you.”  Michael felt himself rambling.  “Does that make any sense?”

Noelle’s expression became very quiet.  If she had been considerately attentive before, she was now fully engaged in their conversation.

“Thanks”, she repeated.  “I really appreciate that.  Did you come all that way to say that?  Did you maybe have something, you know, else, that you wanted to ask me?”

“Actually, yeah”, Michael said, picking up the ball that had been gently lobbed at him.  “I was wondering if you’d feel like going to the prom with me.”  Michael had never felt more awkward in his life.  Noelle had certainly been respectful and kind, but that was no guarantee that she wanted to spend an evening with him.  Fortunately, Michael’s waiting was short-lived.

“Sure”, Noelle replied as the cafeteria gasped in response.  She pulled an unused napkin from beside her plate and nodded towards Michael’s constantly full shirt pocket.  “Mind if I borrow a pen?”

Noelle proceeded to write down her number and Michael hazarded a look over his shoulder.  He turned to his friends who were four tables away and flashed them the double thumbs up.  The table pumped their fists in the air silently, but then a look of alarm spread over some of their faces.  They made wild and panicked circling gestures with their arms until Michael finally caught on.  He returned his attention to Noelle to find that she was waiting, a bemused look on her face.

“Here’s my number.”  She said, handing the previously ordinary napkin over and bestowing upon it the rank of sacred treasure.  “Why don’t you call me tonight and we can talk.  Sort of, discuss plans, and all that.”

Michael grinned sheepishly and took the napkin which he handled carefully.  He nodded and starting walking back to the normal table where he belonged.  It wasn’t until he was twenty feet away that he remembered his manners. He turned, yelled, “Thanks!” and was met by his friends with a round of high-fives.

That had been three weeks ago.  Michael had been too terrified to call Noelle right away, so he waited until his nerves had calmed down to a somewhat reasonable level.  For the day’s purposes, “reasonable” would have to be defined as stammering only once every five words.  Still, Michael had managed to take a deep breath and dial up Noelle’s number.  He looked at the number on the napkin one more time to be sure, but his retinas had already burned the number into his brain from an afternoon spent studying its writing.

The phone conversation had been surprisingly easy.  Noelle seemed much easier to talk when Michael didn’t have to look her in the eye.  They had ended up talking for a good half hour and even had talked some since.  Sometimes it was a simply text message from Noelle asking how Michael’s day was going.  One time they talked about college and summer plans for almost an hour.  Michael couldn’t understand why she was being so nice.

The weeks of nervousness had all given way to today.  Michael had followed Noelle’s instructions and had purchased a corsage that would match dress.  She had tried to explain the details of how beautiful it was, but he admitted that he couldn’t keep up.  Once he heard the words “red” and “strapless”, his brain started to shut down.  All he knew was that he was taking the greatest gal at the high school to prom.  Even the jocks had stopped flushing his gym socks down the toilet.

Michael paced back and forth in his living room.  His parents had promised to be gone when Noelle showed up for their drive to the prom, but Michael was suspicious.  They seemed to continually find errands that needed to be done around the house that would, “only take a second”.  He didn’t feel that the kitchen lights and the top of the cupboards required dusting, but they were adamant.  If nothing else, Michael’s father had been useful in helping with the formal attire.  Michael had never worn a cummerbund before.  He figured it was some sort of royal sash.

The limo was due to arrive in half an hour and Noelle was supposed to appear in fifteen minutes.  Michael gulped for the umpteenth time that night.  The doorbell rang and Michael could feel himself sweating through his dress shirt.  As he walked to answer the front door, Michael noticed that both his parents were watching from around the kitchen doorway.  When they realized they had been discovered, they ducked back into the other room.  Michael rolled his eyes upward and moaned in annoyance.  He took one more breath, placed his sweating hand on the doorknob, and opened it.

“Hey, Michael. Are you ready?”

Michael tried to respond, but he couldn’t speak.  There, standing in his doorway, was Noelle.  To call her stunning was over-simplifying things.  The sleek red dress hugged her body while the slit down the side showed off her legs.  Her usually unkempt curly hair was pulled back and swept up, giving way for a red piece of fabric to drape under her chin and down by her shoulders.

“You… you look great”, Michael replied.

“Thanks”, she said with a smile.  “You too.  Very handsome.”

“I like your scarf”, he offered.

“Oh, this?”  She laughed and put her fingers to the loose fabric.  “It’s actually a wrap.  I thought it added a little dramatic flair.”

Michael nodded and stepped away from the door into the living room.  It was the closest Noelle was going to get to an invite to come in, and she understood it as such.  Michael couldn’t believe that Noelle was here.  In his house.  About to go on a date with him.  His curious nature got the better of him.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Noelle had been taking in her surroundings.  She stopped and turned to Michael.  “What’s up?”
“Why are you here?”

“What…what do you mean?  You asked me out?”

“Yeah”, Michael replied.  “But why did you say yes?”

“You’re a nice guy aren’t you?”

Michael only shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve found that there aren’t a lot of nice guys in college.  I’ve noticed how you clean up after lunch when someone leaves a mess.  You helped Mrs. Nolan get around and got her chair for her when she had that surgery on her hip.  You take care of people.  Why wouldn’t I go out with you?”

“You’re pretty out of my league”, Michael offered.

“We may not have the same friends, but that’s not much of a reason, is it?  And just because I look confident when I’m running, doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out.  We all have our baggage, Michael.”

“Really?”  Michael was intrigued.  “What kind of issues?”

Noelle laughed.  “How about we get through this date first?  Maybe we’ll talk about our shameful quirks on the next one?”

Michael had a hard time believing what he was hearing.  A second date?  That lunchtime dare might have been the best thing that ever happened to him.

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