Writer’s Digest(ion)

I will follow my instincts, and be myself for good or ill.”  -John Muir

**********

Consider this your first and only warning; if you are a person who finds that the sight of someone being sick makes you sick?  Then perhaps this story is not for you.  Hypochondriacs should take this as their cue to exit the story.  Should you decide that a story on nausea will not sit well with your stomach, I shall even give you the moral up front.  Ready?  It all comes back to the beginning.  The third part of a movie trilogy should make a reference to the first part.  Comic book origins will be retold (and in some cases retold and retold and retold; I am looking at you, Superman).  From the ground we come and to the ground we all return.  Food is no exception.

Consider yourself warned.  It's -that- kind of story.

Consider yourself warned. It’s -that- kind of story.

Happily, I tend to be like that episode of Seinfeld.  I throw up once every decade or so, usually less.  When folks ask why I do not drink, my hatred of puking is often cited.  Everything about vomiting sounds horrible.  There is the sight of one’s breakfast returned to them in the evening, the smell, and that tightening of the abdomen that you cannot control.  I do pretty much whatever I can to avoid that sort of occasion.  Still, even I get food sickness.  Again, I am fortunate enough that it does not happen too often.

The first memory that I have of such illness was in college.  I had been working as a cashier the night before and had been on a break.  I, much like Winnie the Pooh, had a rumbling in my tummy.  And the loading dock had a vending machine.  So, in all of my infinite wisdom, I put in my change, made a selection, and chomped away.

Now, in case this is not a lesson that you have learned already, let me make it abundantly clear.  Never, under any circumstances, buy meat from a vending machine.  Certainly not one at work that you know is only sporadically restocked with fresh product.  I know what you are thinking.  “Oh, but it’s vacuum sealed.  That means it’s okay, right?”  I am sure there is some scientific mumbo-jumbo we could throw back and forth, but here is my stance on the matter:  No.  Don’t do it.  Ever.

However, hindsight is twenty/twenty.  I was nineteen.  I was a silly college kid who was munching on two small logs of meat, enjoying the slightly spicy sensation in my mouth.  Had I known that I would soon be reliving that spiciness, I would have been less enthused.  (They later not only moved the vending machines, but they stopped carrying the meat sticks.  Still, whenever I see a vending machine of any variety, I approach it with a wary eye.)

Work ended, I slept, and the school day was upon me.  I was scheduled to perform some sketch in drama class that day, but my tummy was rumbling in a different sort of way.  (Instead of Winnie the Pooh, picture Tigger exercising his right to be “bouncy pouncy” over and over.)  I told the T.A. that I was not going to be up for assignment.  She told me it might affect my grade, and I nodded as I made my way out of class.

Right outside of the drama building there is a small patch of grass.  There are little concrete pathways around the perimeter, the brick building serves as a wall, and a tennis court is visible from its soft green terrain.  In the summer and spring quarters, it is not unusual for the students to set up a volleyball net and have a go at relieving their study-induced stress.  The grass is just big enough for the court and ten to twelve students, but no larger.  In the fall, the leaves lay happily on this patch of greenery.  It is, to put it simply, a pleasant escape from the large dwellings of academia.

I walked down the stairs of the drama building, and not ten steps into that grassy field, I fully embraced my own “escape” onto the grass.  Had I stayed in class five minutes longer I would have become the star of the day.  No one would have doubted my dedication to keeping an audience’s attention.  However, I was always more of a backstage tech than an actor, and therefore I was quite happy that my performance was seen by no one except whatever poor bugs were crawling around in the grass.  I groaned out thanks to God that my vomiting hadn’t occurred inside, and I made my way home.  That was my oh-so joyous food poisoning of ninety-nine.

It only looks like it's your friend.

It only looks like it’s your friend.

Flash forward fourteen years.  I am now an enlightened movie usher.  I know how my stomach works, I have control over my abdomen, and I had just taken the food handler’s permit test the week prior.  For the fourth time in a row, I had scored one hundred percent.  I was much wiser than the college-version of me.  I brought my food with me and happily placed it in the work microwave.  Being a professional food handler, I knew exactly why the instructions on my turkey pot pie warned me to make sure the food was heated to one hundred and sixty-five degrees.  Yet one of the many amenities you will not find near a work microwave (such as forks, napkins, plates, or canaries to sing you a merry song), is a thermometer.  I followed the instructions, thought the food was a little cool in places, but decided that everything would work out just fine.

Again we fast forward to the day after.  I was having a rather quiet day at work.  I had watched an episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., done some reading, and generally kept the store from falling into a state of catastrophe. The usual customers had come in, there was a sense of calm about the place; all was well.

Then I started to feel cold.  Then warm.  My temperature is always pretty steady.  I can wear shorts in the fall, flannels in the spring; I don’t suffer great shifts in warmth.  Yet, the store felt cold all of a sudden.  I looked at the thermostat panel and everything seemed like it should be fine.  A few minutes later I was still feeling odd.

I found myself light-headed even though I was sitting.  I hadn’t moved quickly and I didn’t feel overly feverish.  I started to wonder if the sickness that had been sweeping through my coworkers had finally decided I needed to be dealt with.  My stomach protested the loudest.  I acknowledged its grievances and took action the only way that seemed logical.  I headed to the bathroom.

Like this, but -cleaner-.

Like this, but -cleaner-.

Thankfully my store has a reputation for being clean.  Even the bathroom floors are clean enough to sit on without complaint.  I can now attest to that fact.  Sure enough, with a little effort, some “secret ingredients” that I’m hopeful that the KFC next door has never used were vomited up.  It took a few tries, but I got it all out of my system.  I was rather pleased at how mild a case it had been.  Honestly, an hour later I was feeling much better.  (Which should serve as a lesson on gluttony; never buy two pot pies, nor should you opt for the Hungry Man size.  And if you do, nuke the crud out of those things.)

Now the question you’ve all been wondering.  Why the sam hill am I telling you this?  Am I bragging that I’ve only had food poisoning twice?  Am I this desperate for a story?  Am I a masochist when it comes to masticating?  Nope.  I simply want to point out that what goes around comes around; food for thought, if you will.  And that will become clearer when I share the piece of information that I left out.

Let us revisit the vending machine that I purchased the meat from.  I told you that they moved it, but I did not go into details.  The truth is, they moved it only a few feet, just around the corner.  In its place, they put a filing cabinet.  And on top of that filing cabinet?  Why, they gave us a nice little microwave; the same microwave that I heated up my pot pie in.  I in effect poisoned myself twice; both in the exact same spot.  I returned to the scene of the crime, in more ways than one.  It may take fourteen years, but much like an ill-chosen dinner will prove; what goes around comes around.

Cereal Adventures

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” –Mark Twain

**********

Nighttime was in earnest.  The college campus that often bustled with activity was almost somber in tone.  Classes had started two days ago and the activities around the grassy lawns hadn’t quite begun for the year.  Laura opened her door just a hair and listened.  A few doors down a stereo was barely audible, but nothing else.  Laura threw her door open, her living quarters now open to all who might be in the vicinity.  Yet, as she stood there with her hands on her hips and a majestic pose, she was greeted with… nothing.

Even college kids in 1899 knew how to have more fun

Even college kids in 1899 knew how to have more fun

There were no young people running franticly through the halls with rolls of toilet paper streaming and waving behind them, no blindfolded and terrified males nervously tiptoed around as they suffered the indignities of initiation.  As disgusting as Laura thought public displays of affection were, she would have even settled for a couple groping and slobbering over each other as they decided who would say “Good night” last.

Laura felt betrayed.  Here she was, stuck in a dorm, and there were no shenanigans to partake in.  Years and years of romantic comedies and frat humor flicks had convinced her that she was in a world of wacky hijinks and excitement.  So where were they?

She was aware there were things to do.  She could feel her newly assigned twelve-page paper calling to her from her tiny excuse for a desk.  In the corner, next to her bright-blue desk lamp, two massive tomes beckoned to her.  The books demanded tribute in the form of highlighter marks and scribbled notes; their pages glowing with impressive wisdom.  Laura’s jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed as she felt the stress kick in.  She had no hunger for knowledge at that moment, just the old-fashioned nagging in her tummy.

Laura returned to her desk, sneered at her homework, and lifted the biggest book only to retrieve her student I.D. from its resting place underneath.  Having obtained it, she let the book fall back to the wood surface with a satisfying “thunk”.  Laura looked at herself in the mirror and shrugged.  The loose ponytail kept the hair out of her face, which was important for what she had planned.  Her “I do my own stunts” t-shirt and flannel pants were “cute enough” for venturing out.  More importantly to her, they were comfortable.  In a final act of defiance, she slid her feet into her dog slippers and headed out.

"Fear me!  Or Beer Me.  Whichever."

“Fear me! Or Beer Me. Whichever.”

The door locked after some effort with a newly-cut key, and Laura was quickly confronted by the hallway’s Panther painting.  The Panthers were everywhere on campus.  The inescapable school mascot bared its teeth, threatened to attack with its claws, and generally annoyed the new student.  She was here for the biology program, not the jocks.

If she were cornered, Laura would admit that she liked sports.  Her dad was on a softball team and her cheers were always the loudest.  She had participated in track and did well, though was never driven enough to be the best.  Her new school had a different view on the matter.  They were determined to let everyone know that they were, without a doubt, the greatest college team ever; despite what their scores were.

“Panther Power!” was painted in bold red letters with jagged edges accented with black and white to ensure that one’s full attention was directed at the jungle cat.  As if those mighty words weren’t enough, many of the displays had sub-posts beneath the panther image.  “Tear ‘em apart!”, “Rend your way to victory!”, and the worst of them all, “No one says no to a panther!”  The last of the phrases was, either by mistake or through incredibly poor planning, put up in the campus’ main cafeteria.  The two biggest fraternities warred back and forth every day over whose supposedly brilliant idea it was to use the absurd phrase as a pick up line.  Too often, when a girl turned down the opportunity to date a guy whose shirts were tighter than hers, he had his retort all planned out.  Sometimes it was with a wink, quite often a guttural roar or a raised eyebrow.  In the end, they all tried to assure the lucky lady that no one said no to this panther.

According to Laura’s high school English teacher and college confidant, the women had learned to deal with it over the decades.  Some freshmen girls thought it was cute, but most just accepted it as one more silly ritual.  The women would make a retort about neutering the boys, the women would be accused of having their claws out; it was one of those things.

Laura didn’t feel assimilated to the “Panther Pack”.  She had husky slippers and she liked them.  Her favorite aunt had given them to her the winter before she had moved away from Laura’s family.  Her aunt always encouraged Laura to do things that nobody else would.  Laura thought it appropriate that it was her aunt’s canine gift that was now shedding its fuzz on the floors that were covered in cat paw prints.  Plus, the slippers were unbelievably soft.  After all the years of use, they still kept that mysterious inner warmth about them.  She only wore socks when she had to; the slippers were better than any shoes could ever be.  The only downside to the worn and faded apparel was that they no longer yipped reliably when she squeezed the ears.  Years of micro-chipped barking had come and gone.  Now, if she jumped on a flat surface hard enough, she could sometimes get a little squeaky, metallic sound to emanate from them.  It was not a concern for Laura.  She liked the footwear because of how they felt and the impish nature they brought out in her, not because of the defunct technology.

Stepping outside the dorm’s side entrance, Laura couldn’t believe how quiet it was.  The Quad, the statues, even the tennis courts, famous for the drinks that were often “served”; all were empty.  Laura looked to her slippers, which grinned happily.  Whatever their owner had in mind, the feet-dogs were all too eager to join in.  Their pack was small in numbers, but they were entirely loyal to their commander.

The street lights glowed pleasantly along the sidewalk.  There were errant bushes here and there, but Laura had always felt safe on campus.  Maybe it was the dogs that she had with her, or perhaps it was the generally ho-hum nature of the grounds, but confrontations and muggings were the last thing she had to worry about.  Right now, it was hunger that was attacking Laura.  Happily, the cafeteria was open all night.

The front door slid open as Laura approached, waited patiently for the student to enter, and then returned to its resting state.  Laura headed straight for the cereal bar.  There, like some sort of plastic and industrial amalgamation, stood giant tubes full of carbohydrate delights.  The plexi-glass chutes stood tall before her.  Some filled were half way, some threatened to burst out the top.  All the chutes were transparent so the students wouldn’t have to bother with the pesky chore of reading the signs that dutifully decorated each tube.  At the base, each chute curved just enough to prevent too much food from spilling out, yet a small collection of grains and crumbs gathered around the bottom of each.

Bliss

Bliss

Taking a bowl and cupping it in both her hands, she held the container close to her stomach.  She surveyed the many choices.  Laura knew healthy food wasn’t going to suit her mood or her appetite.  She considered her options; there were bran flakes with real fruit added or perhaps the frosted whole grains.  In the end, she listened to her gut and selected exactly what her stomach wanted— Lucky Charms.

A small plastic scoop, presumably manufactured with ice in mind, was tethered to the counter.  Laura loosened the grip on the bowl and placed it on the shelf.  She picked up the scoop and started to fill the bowl.  Two small heaps of questionably-healthy food later, the college student’s brain began churning away.  Laura turned her attention from the bottom of the chute, filled mostly with brown pieces, to the top.  Two feet higher up there was an abundance of color.  The sugary marshmallows called out to her.  Those were the succulent bits she was after, not the commonplace dribble that looked bland and tasteless.

As she stood up on her tip toes, the cord that reigned in the scooped pulled in protest.  The fading chip in Laura’s slipper weakly chirped, encouraging her to keep trying.  A leg lift here, a slight twist in her arm there, and finally, success.  She found that she could just manage to get the scoop into the opening at the top.  She shoved the scoop in, pulled out an array of artificial colors, and watched as her late night snack came alive.  Pouring a carton of milk over her victory meal, Laura was elated.  Her hips slid to the left, slid to the right, and convinced her elbows to join in the fun.  A few moments into her celebration dance, Laura noticed two students who had been huddled over their books across the room were now smirking and whispering at her antics.  Laura shrugged her shoulders, tossed them the obligatory wave, and took her bowl to the cashier.  The expression on his face showed that he too had seen her dispensing methods and rhythmic swaying.

Too busy playin', Yo

Too busy playin’, Yo

“You really put in the effort for that cereal didn’t you?”  The fellow college student looked at her and was clearly amused.  Adorned in a wrinkled polo shirt, four-day gristle littering his chin, and untied shoelaces, he was clearly a master of proper etiquette and appearances.

“Hey, I like what I like.  Somebody had already picked all the marshmallows out of the bottom.  I was evening it up.”

“Yeah, some people really paw over the food.”

Laura caught what she felt was a Panther-reference, but let it go.  “Well, some of us have discerning tastes.  We connoisseurs of finer dining will go the extra mile.  C’mon, they taste better.”

“I was just having a little fun with you”, he said as he swiped her ID card through the register.  He noticeably glanced up and down, engaging in two very different kinds of checking-out.  “No need to get all catty about it.  I’m not trying to rub your fur the wrong way.”

“Uggggh”, Laura groaned she grabbed her card back.  “You wanna ogle me, that’s one thing.  I am rather adorable.  But you guys…. You just can’t stop will you?”  She turned to take in the rest of the cafeteria and gestured with her non-cereal laden hand towards her fellow classmates in the room.  All seven of them.

“C’mon people!  Break out of the imposed restraints!  Be yourselves, not some enforced false-community that dresses the same and acts the same.  Be a Vonegut, be a Picasso, be whoever you want!”

The fourteen eyes looked back at her and only blinked in reply.  A second passed; then two, and then ten.  The audience was no longer startled and they went back to scribbling in their notebooks and checking their syllabi on their laptops, their pencils and desktops adorned with the university’s mascot.

“Wow”, the scruffy cashier replied.  “You kinda lost it there.  Don’t you have any school pride?”

Laura glared and made her way towards the door.  She grumbled and hugged her cherished food.  It was the only ally, other than her always stalwart slippers, that knew how to have any fun.  She threw the polo-clad youth one last look and said, “Close, but no dice pal.  A pride refers to lions, not panthers.  You’re in college for crying out loud, read a book.”

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.

College Learning Put to Use

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.

College Learning Put to Use

Dating is like trying to make a meal out of leftovers. Some leftovers actually get better when they’ve had a little time to mature.” -Lisa Kleypas

Joel thought Trisha was pretty cute.  Everything about her was round.  She had round eyes, round cheeks, and a rounded off chin.  If there was anyone that had soft features and an attitude to go with it, that was Trisha.

Trisha in return often told Joel how much she appreciated his attentiveness.  Trisha was always the caring one, the friend who took care of everybody else.  For some reason, Joel took it upon himself to take care of Trisha.  He was liked by their fellow church members, he hugged when asked, but he did not actively seek to help out anyone except Trisha.  He ended up sharing a pew with her in church one Sunday, held the hymnal for her, and his willingness to support her sprang from that.

Thus began a rather pleasant friendship.  The two shared conversation time after church, though both would have been quick to say that no profound topics had been discussed.  When two teenagers have active social lives, homework, and a family to ride home with, it is hard to dive into every aspect of the other person.  They each thought the other was fine, and they were fine with that.

Many high school friends drop out of touch when college life begins.  Trisha and Joel were no exception.  They had expected to keep in contact, but they had both underestimated how busy they would be.  E-mails went unanswered.  Whenever one was home for holiday or summer break, the other was off on some wild trip or simply working a few extra shifts to pay for the increasing cost of tuition.  The two friends that had once been quite cordial eventually lost touch entirely.

Joel kept very busy.  Nicole saw that as her mission.  She found Joel sitting in the back row of their Advanced Applied Chemistry class and decided on the spot that she had to have him.  Nicole was not the sort of person that sat around and mulled over cause and effects; she had enough of that in class.  In life, when Nicole wanted something, she went after it with all the gusto she could muster.

Joel had to admit that he found the attention very flattering.  He had never been doggedly pursued before and he rather enjoyed it.  He did not think that Nicole was someone he would have selected as his “type”, but she was certainly attractive.  The multiple nose and facial piercings had given him pause, especially when paired with a head that was shaved off on the right side with bright pink spikes on the other.  However Nicole was adventure personified and Joel found the ride to be fascinating.

To say that their relationship was wild would be understating it.  Joel found himself trying to recuperate after each outing.  But Nicole would always grab him by the hand and yank his arm, along with the rest of him, off to some epic trip.  There was the time that Nicole hopped onto the field during a baseball game and Joel spent three hours trying to get her released from jail.  The Great Grand Canyon Adventure taught Joel what it was like to be lost in the wilderness for three days with no compass and not nearly enough food.  The howling animals at night and his fear of snakes had not helped matters any.

Joel’s logical side constantly warned him to turn and flee in the other direction.  Then there was the other side, the side that most college fellows listen to quite often.  That was the part that Nicole nudged along every time she offered to reveal a new tattoo.  Their own personal chemistry was beyond anything that Joel learned about in class and the two had some rather steamy nights.  The whole thing should have been tremendous amounts of fun for Joel.  However, after almost a year of being sucked into the force of nature that was Nicole, Joel finally figured out what the problem was.

Nicole was always the one in charge and Joel did not mind that.  However, in her eagerness to try new things and perhaps get a few new bumps and bruises, Nicole never consulted with Joel.  He was often too tired to care where they went and Nicole had a long list of things that she wanted to do while she was still young.  The result was that Joel never felt like himself.  He was the “plus one” in the relationship.  Nicole suggested something then he went along with her.  As that year came a close, Joel felt his identity slipping away.  He did not like it.

The break up took thirteen hours, none of which Joel thought went well.  They started out in a greasy burger restaurant.  Joel told Nicole that he felt she was overpowering him, overly reckless, and therefore their relationship should be over.  Nicole responded by over-reacting.  Dishes were thrown across the dining area and they were asked to leave.  The yelling started on the way back to Joel’s place.  For the rest of the night there would be apologizing, making out, fighting, and more yelling.  When it had all wrapped up just after sunrise, Nicole was off to go steal a motorcycle and Joel wondered if hiding under his bed was allowed.  His fear of further retribution proved to be unwarranted, but with Nicole one never knew.

Playing Pool by Kristel Rae Barton

Joel spent the rest of college being single for the most part.  He would go on a date or two, but nothing really clicked.  There were the nice gals that were uninteresting and the darker gals who had heard about him and Nicole.  Neither scenario ended with Joel feeling like himself or caring deeply for the other person.

Joel focused on his studies.  He worked on the school’s grounds crew to help with tuition.  He studied until his eyes were red.  And after many hours of lectures and tests, he graduated.

Summer came, final transcripts were printed off, and Joel found himself heading back home.  He did not have a job yet, but he felt that he was capable of being hired soon.  For a few weeks Joel just wanted to relax.

In all the years of college and all the nights out with Nicole, Joel had never once played pool.  In the back of his head he always pictured playing pool with a glass of beer nearby to be part of the college experience.  That was why, a month after he returned back to the town he had been raised in, Joel walked up the stairs of the town’s only pub and made his way to the pool table on the second story.

When he found the pool table, he saw that it was occupied by a single player.  A woman whose back was turned to Joel was muttering to herself.  Joel watched as she talked to the table, re-aimed the pool stick a few times, and finally bounced the white ball along the red-felt surface until it struck the nine-ball.  The end result was that the nine-ball ricocheted off of the side of the table and then rolled to a stop just short of the pocket.

“Close shot”, Joel commented.

“Thanks”, the woman answered without turning.

“Would you like someone to compete against?  Although I should probably warn you I’ve never actually played pool before.”

The woman turned around, a smile appearing slowly on her face.  “If that is the voice of Joel Braden, then I would love to thwomp you soundly.”

Joel had to look, and then look again to confirm what he could scarce believe.

“Trisha?”

The two hugged and laughed at finding each other.  Apologies for not keeping in touch were made, memories were recapped, and degree information was soon exchanged.  The two lingered near the pool until they picked up their pool sticks and faced off.

Joel watched Trisha play and found himself feeling captivated with her.  He remembered Trisha as having lots of nice curves in her face.  Yet now he realized that the rest of her features followed her face’s lead.  As Trisha leaned and maneuvered around the table, Joel wondered how his hormonal high school-self hadn’t seen what was so completely obvious.  Trisha was unequivocally stunning.

“What shall we do when we finish off this game?”

Joel found his train of thought interrupted by Trisha’s question.  “Did you have something specific in mind?”

“Oh, you know me”, Trisha replied.  “I always have a few fun ideas up my sleeve.  But what about you?  Surely there is something that we could both enjoy?”

With that gesture of consideration, and with the way she kept running her fingers along his arm, Joel was quite taken.  For some couples, love at first sight works out fine.  With Joel and Trisha, a double-take was more their style.

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