Too Hot To Handle (Weekly Writing Challenge)

The Weekly Writing Challenge wanted us to keep it real. Sur-real. Challenge accepted. Surreal I can do.

“Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backward.” -E. E. Cummings

**********

“See where that tractor is pulling off? Follow him down that road.”

“Good grief, Nathan. You really do live out here.”

“Well now you can see why I didn’t want to take the bus. Thanks for carpooling.”

“Hey man, if you’re setting all this up, least I can do is give you a ride.” Grant found his gaze slide back to his rearview mirror once more. He knew that there was a certain patch near the back of his head that liked to stand up and wave to the crowd. The more Grant tried to push it down and make it obey the pattern of the other hairs, the more likely it was to come back for a command performance. For the moment, the patch seemed to be keeping a low profile.

Grant’s had been a long one and he wasn’t done yet. First off there had been the staff meeting to discuss how they might achieve greater success and team cohesiveness in the workplace. Grant did not think that being a call-center rep really needed any cohesiveness or even a dab of Elmer’s Glue. However, he had been strongly encouraged to attend. If the first three memos stating the “voluntary” nature of the meeting had not motivated Grant, the personal invites by all four of his supervisors had done the trick. Especially when his immediate boss had asked, with eyebrow raised and a dangerous tone, “We’ll see you tomorrow, right?” Freedom to attend had no felt so menacing.

Afterwards, he had worked his eight hour shift. And the customers had been an extra kind of crazy that day. Grant could not believe, in this day and age, that he still had to convince a woman that her CD-drive was not a cup-holder, and that is why it had snapped off when she had put her latte in and the drink had spilled all over her computer and keyboard.

Who even has CD-drives anymore? Grant shook his head at the memory. A Blu-ray-drive works for everyone, but c’mon, at least get a DVD-drive. Yikes. I wonder if she has all her photos saved on floppy disc. Grant knew that on his last day he would probably talk each customer through “accidentally” reformatting their hard drives.

Grant looked out the window at the pastures that lined the road and shook his head. Cows. When was the last time I saw cows? And they’re everywhere. The only thing that had made his day, and this surprisingly long commute, worthwhile was the promise of a date. Nathan had assured him this gal would show him a hot time.

“Sizzling, man. Sunga knows things you wouldn’t believe. You’ll love her.” Since Grant’s dating life was in the midst of quite the cold spell, he agreed. What did he have to lose?

“Hey, Nathan”, Grant said as he drove by a fertilizer dealer. “Why didn’t you introduce me to Sunga before?”

“Oh, well I thought you were dating Annette”, Nathan replied. Nathan was leaning as far back as the car seat would go. Staring at the car ceiling, Grant couldn’t help but envy his coworker. He always seemed a little calmer with customers than Grant. Nathan had the answers and Grant hadn’t even figured out the questions. Grant had a lovely wife and two kids. He owned a house. Even with the salt and pepper hair that dotted his temples, he still acted young. At six foot nothing and broad shouldered, Nathan was always “that guy”. He was the guy who would crush all comers at recycling can basketball. He was the employee that actually offered useful insights in meetings. The man had his act together and it gave him a confidence that both annoyed and amazed Grant.

“Annette? Who’s Annette?” Grant tried to crane his neck backwards, but he couldn’t get a good view. He would have to hope that his nostril hairs were trim and decent. Grant wasn’t unattractive, but he was no Nathan. Grant was two inches shorter and twenty pounds heavier. His blonde hair was thicker and fuller than Grant’s brunette tresses, but that only left more ways for it to flop around and generally act unkempt. Thanks to long years of programming and sitting in front of a computer, Grant’s wrists and knuckles were wrecked. Almost every gesture or move that his hands made was accompanied by the sound of joints popping and cracking. Grant had parts of his life together, but there was certainly some assembly left.

“You know, Annette. Accounts receivable? Really nerdy?” Nathan started tapping out a rhythm on his jeans as his hands slid and slapped on his jeans.

“That Annette?” The one with the chart detailing all the Star Trek boats on her wall?”

“Ships, Grant. They’re called ships.”

Nathan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Isn’t she the one that taped big blue construction paper to her office tardisdoor until the higher-ups made her take it down?”

“Yep”, Nathan said with a smile. “The woman wanted to live in a Tardis and The Man shot her down. It was a problem even a sonic screwdriver couldn’t fix.”

Grant shook his head. “Why would you think I was dating her? I barely talk to her.”

“Well, you always open the door for her. And I see you in her office quite a bit.”

“That’s because she’s always carrying too many papers and can’t reach the door. C’mon, I’m not that big of a jerk.”

“Uh huh. And the office visits?” Nathan smiled in his own sly way as he pressed.

“Dude, her account got hacked because she opened that e-mail a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to get her computer up and running again so we won’t lose any billing information.”

“Wait”, Nathan said as he sat the car seat upright. She opened the ‘FREE RABITZ’ e-mail? The one with like, four attachments on it?”

“Yep, she was the one.”

“Dear word”, Nathan said as he went back to tapping his beat. “I really thought she was smarter than that.”

“This is the point I am trying to make. And I can’t imagine Annette and I being happy with a gaggle of bunnies pit-pattering around our place.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll like Sunga. She’s amazing, fascinating, and exotic. Oh, and they’re a colony. Also known as a nest, or my personal favorite, a warren.”

“What?”

“Turn left up here. A ‘gaggle’ of rabbits? They’re called a warren.”

“How do you know this stuff?” Grant flipped his turn signal and headed down the dirt road.

“I read. My wife tells me things. The usual. We’re the house at the very end of the block. Watch out for the tar pits over there.”

Grant and Nathan were flung forward as the car jolted to a stop.

“Grant! What the… why’d you slam on the brakes.”

“Tar pits?!?”Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

“Oh, that’s right; you haven’t been to my place. Sorry. Yeah, we’ve lost a few tires to the tar pits. A few cars and bikes too. But hey, we never have to shovel the drive.” Nathan smiled, the terrain being quirky and amusing to him.

“Tar pits. Explain.” As if to emphasize his point, Grant put the emergency brake on.

Nathan sighed and turned to the driver. “Okay, here’s the thing. We’re right above this weird geothermal zone. That’s why there are tar pits on the way. And, I might as well tell you this now, the floor of my house is made of lava.”

“I’m starting to think you belong with Annette.”

“No, you’ll see”, Nathan said with a chuckle. “That’s the only reason we were able to afford this place. I admit, it took some getting used to. Right away, we knew we’d never be able to have pets. I mean, c’mon; one misstep and those furry little suckers would get all their fur singed in the lava. That’s just cruel; we couldn’t do that to a cat. And the fumes have this effect on birds. I guess it’s like canaries in the coal mines? I don’t know, but those things pass out and don’t snap out of it. But the four of us are happy by ourselves.”

“Wait, you’re not kidding. Your floor is made of lava?”

“I know, I know”, Nathan said as he waved off the shock with a gesture of his hand. “It all sounds so insane. But dude, think about the benefits. I don’t have a heating bill. Zilch. And since it is always warm, we can keep the windows propped open. That takes care of most of the fumes. You know I’m a strong believer that kids are pampered. A toxic fume here or there will build character.”

“Hey, book guy”, Grant said as he smacked Nathan on the back of the head. “What part of ‘toxic’ is not sinking in?”

“Oh, it’s fine. Just in the ‘caution’ range, not quite in the ‘hazard area’. We got it checked.”

“Well if you’re propping windows open all over the house, how do you keep burglars out?”

“Why is that always the first question people ask?” Nathan sighed. “I’ve talked about this with Alyssa time and again. People don’t want to know how the geothermal conditions powers our electronics. They don’t want to see the cool glass studio we have out in the garage where she sculpts her art. Nope, they want to know how we keep out robbers and thieves.”

“And?”

Nathan shook his head ever so slightly. “Think about it, Grant. You’re sneaking into the house. It’s late. Sure the floor looks funny, but people pick weird carpets. So you lift one leg in through the window. The smell starts to make your nose twitch, but you continue. All is quiet. Other than the glow coming from the floor, it’s nice and dark. You swing your legs in, stand on the floor, and Wammo! All of a sudden your shoes start melting. You try to make it out in time, but then it goes after your socks, makes quick work of them, and it starts to get to your feet. You’re outta there like a shot and you aren’t coming back. I’m just glad the judge found in favor of us. For guys that make their living operating outside the law, thieves can be awfully litigious. Did you know that?”

“No”, Grant said as he tried to reclaim his bearings. “Apparently I’m learning a lot today.”

“It’s good for you.”

“Wait, how do you keep from burning? Your books, your couches, do you just float around on this constant bed of coals and magma?”

“Lava, technically.”

“What?”

“Lava is above ground, magma is underground. At least, that’s the short answer.”

“Nathan, you’re killing me here.”

“I know, but what a way to go!” Nathan had spread his arms wide but soon realized his friend didn’t share his enthusiasm. “Okay, look. The short answer is we use lots of Nomex and iridium. Lava has a pretty set temperature in our place. So we reinforce all our walls and the ground around the house with iridium and we’re happy campers. The constant flow of lava and the geothermal energy powers the array of fans we have all over; you’ll see.”

“If you’ve got it all figured out, then why is there a lake of lava in your living room!” Grant could hear his voice crack, but did not care.

“You know, that’s a question Sunga still hasn’t answered to our satisfaction. We kinda just let it go.”

“Hold on”, Grant said as he turned off the car. “What does Sunga have to do with this? What is she, some sort of Volcanologist?”

“Hmm? Oh, no she’s our neighbor.”

Grant felt a sense of dread take over. “Your neighbor who lives… where?”

“Underground”, Nathan said calmly, but with a faint trace of hesitation.untitled

“Underground. Of course, because she’s what, Lava Lass?”

“Actually, she refers to herself as a Keeper of the Crust.”

“So she’s a custodian of lava?”

“Well, I’m not sure her underlings would call her that but—.”

“Underlings? She’s, their queen?”

“No”, Nathan said with some irritation. “I told you, Keeper of the Crust. C’mon, Grant, catch up. Yeah, she’s royalty, but she’s above all that.”

“Okay, you’re setting me up with royalty. Great. How am I not going to die when I set foot insider your house!?!”

“We have iridium shoes for you, duh.”

“Where are you getting all these materials?”

“Well, Sunga helped us out. She really made the home more livable. She likes us, and wants us to stay, so she really goes out of our way to make our lives easier. She’s introduced us to lots of folks in the meteorite community. That’s how we can afford all that iridium. I’m telling you man, she’s great. Smart, wise, funny. You’ll love her. Just, y’know, keep your car keys and wallet in your pocket at all times. Five seconds after you drop anything and it’s not coming back. Alyssa loves not having to vacuum, though.”

“So when you said Sunga was hot…”

“Oh, she is”, Nathan said excitedly. “You’ll love her, I know it. She’s smart, inventive, and hilarious. Nobody works harder to take care of others than she does. She’s like Mother Teresa of the underworld. Hmm. Bad choice of words. Of the netherworld? Shoot, what did she call her realm? I’ll have to ask. It’s a much better title. Ugh, Alyssa always has to remind me.”

“But Sunga, she’s not like a Tolkein dwarf or anything? No Quasimodo hump on her back?”

“No no, she looks stunning. Think a gal from a tropic with a few differences”, Nathan said waving his hand once more.

“So, the tan to beat all others?”

“Well yeah”, Nathan admitted. “I’m not going to lie to you; all those decades around magma have made her skin a bit leathery. But man, she’s got a soft spirit. Don’t you worry.”

The car was quiet. Nathan looked to Grant, opened his mouth, and then changed his mind.

If there was one thing Grant had learned from years of fielding phone calls, it was how to read silence. He looked at Nathan. Nathan wouldn’t meet his eyes. Grant cleared his throat loudly. Nathan turned to look. Grant tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. Nathan smiled.

“What?”

“What?” Nathan adopted a look of innocence.

“Don’t give me, ‘What’”, Grant replied. “I know this feeling. Any quieter and I’m going to start seeing tumbleweeds roll across our path.” Of course here, the tumbleweeds would catch on fire and keep on rolling until it was ash. “What aren’t you saying? Does she have an extra hand? No teeth?”

“I told you, she’s gorgeous.”

“Except…?”

“Well, her eyes are all black.”

“Uh huh”, Grant said as he tapped the steering wheel. “Do tell.”

“C’mon man, she lives underground most days! She has to be able to look straight at magma, lava, and navigate dark caverns. Of course her eyes are going to be a bit different. So she has black oil swishing around in her ocular cavities, so what?”

“That…”, Grant caught himself. He was intrigued.   “That actually sounds awesome.”

“I know, right!”   Nathan leaned towards Grant as he spoke excitedly. “Alyssa doesn’t get it. She’s learned to not see it but it freaked her out at first. The kids think it’s amazing. You know, like one of those lava lamps—“

“Because you’re so lacking in lava.”

“Yeah, yeah. But between you and me? It’s incredible. Like a hula-dancer who sways hula_dancerwith her eyes. Frickin’ enchanting. Don’t tell Alyssa, though. I mean, she’s probably guessed, knowing her. But still.”

“Sunga’s fun too?”

“Oh, man, are you kidding?” Nathan slapped Grant heartily on the back. “She’s the best. A little forceful for my tastes. You know, since she’s used to commanding and ordering people around all day. For you, though? I think it’ll be great.”

“Nobody’s going to toss me into a lake of burning tar?”

“Hey, if my kids can get through their toddler years in one piece, you’ll be fine. Watch your step is all.”

“Literally and figuratively.”

“Yeah, I mean it is your first date with Sunga. Don’t say anything stupid.”

“Like, ‘Is it hot in here or—‘.”

“Exactly like that. Don’t do that.”

“Got it.”

Grant sat in his car and mulled over his situation. He had already driven all this way. He really was intrigued. The house and its strange habitat sounded interesting. More so, he was curious about Sunga. If she was half as great as Nathan said she was, it would be much more fun than another night of Celebrity Jeopardy. What did he have to lose? If nothing else, he was quite sure the evening would be memorable.”

“All right”, Grant said as he turned the car back on and removed the emergency brake. “Guide me through these hazards and pitfalls.”

“Okay”, Nathan said as he pointed up the drive. “See where the smoke is coming up from that black pool there? Drive around it, not through it.”

“Understood”, Grant said as he pressed onward. “What next?”

The Dating Game (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(Weekly Writing Challenge is your friend.  Take advantage of it.  I do!)

But when the time comes that a man has had his dinner, then the true man comes to the surface.” -Mark Twain

**********

Greg picked up the fork in front of him and cursed.  It wasn’t anything that the fork had done in particular, but the sheer pronged nature of the utensil vexed the man.  Greg tried to gauge his reflection in the metallic surface, but the gaps in between the metal made this effort difficult.  It felt as though there was a little tweak of hair on the back part of his head that was sticking up.  He reached up, attempting to comb it down with his right hand while the fork was nearly strangled in Greg’s left.

Exhaling angrily, Greg’s frustration was evident.  Hearing a giggle, he quickly put the fork back on the table.  He didn’t care that the silverware was no longer uniform in what had been its carefully placed arrangement.  Greg was too concerned about any embarrassment that he might have earned.  He glanced from table to table, hoping that everyone else in the fancy restaurant was too focused on their tiny portions and shiny gold-accented plates to have taken in his grooming performance.

The waitress walked up to his table and refilled the water glass without asking.  She smiled briefly and then moved on to the next patron without a word.  Greg sighed and crumpled up the cloth napkin that resided on his lap in a jumbled mess.  How am I supposed to be engaging and interesting when the waitress, someone who is paid to be nice, barely even gives me the time of day?  This was not a good idea.

The notion of a dating service was not one that appealed to Greg.  He didn’t relish meeting new people.  He was a baseball referee.  He spent all his days surrounded by people, most of them drunk and loud.  The last thing he wanted to do when he got home was talk sports, or even worse; partake in small talk.  However there was only so much going back to an empty apartment that Greg could stand.  He was a solid provider; not prone to wild outbursts or violence like so many overpaid celebrities that tore up the stadiums.  Greg had it on good authority that he was highly dateable.  No less than three of his friends had said so.  It had taken a few beers for them to admit as much, but the friends had stated it after only a few prodding attempts from Greg.

REFEREEA striped uniform and a chrome-plated whistle were hardly the most alluring of attire, so Greg knew that meeting someone at work was unlikely.  He realized that he would have to enlist some outside help.  That was where the dating service came into play.

Greg had sat through the pre-game ceremonies that they had called, “initiation”.  He had detailed what he looked for in a woman, doing his best not to limit any potential candidates.  “Smart, fun, cute”, he had said with a shrug.  Skin color?  Religion?  Any beliefs that might clash with his?  Greg had shrugged and replied, “Well, I’d prefer if they weren’t too crazy.  I mean, I guess I’m looking for somebody who would appreciate me and want to spend time with me.  Someone… um, who’s fun, and smart.  Oh, and cute.”  Greg had felt his face turn red when he realized how repetitive he sounded.  The depersonalization of finding true love grated on him.

I hope she hasn’t ditched me, Greg considered.  It’s one thing to accept the awkwardness of a date that someone else sets up for you.  But to be stood up and left sitting alone?  She wouldn’t do that.  Would she?

The notion dawned on Greg that he really didn’t know anything about Sophia.  The phone message had been short and unhelpful.  A chipper voice had his voicemail, brushing the “perfect woman” for him in broad strokes.  “She’s got a great personality, really wonderful, and we just love her here at the office.  She’s got some fun opinions and she’s just great.  Sophia’s beautiful, of course, and has a spirit that really stands out.  I think you two will have a great time.”  Greg had hung up on his voice mail that morning, unconvinced.  Well isn’t that just great.  He marveled at how the staff could use dozens of phrases to say absolutely nothing; all in a cheery and lively voice, of course.

“Excuse me, are you Greg?”

Greg was startled awake at the tall figure that had placed her hand tentatively on the vacant chair.  He blinked himself back into full consciousness.  He blinked again.  Still trying to make sense of the sight across from him, Greg gulped down what moisture was left in his quickly drying throat.  Then he blinked a third time.

“Greg”, the woman prompted with a warm smile on her face.

“Yeah.  I mean, yes.  Please, have a seat”, he replied.  Greg was shocked at the person that he was to share a date with.  The analytical, realistic, pessimistic side of himself had calculated the odds in his head.  His picture of a “Sophia” was a short person, cute in a tank top, and probably easily distracted by pretty things.  She would be many things, all of which could be gathered under the umbrella of “sorority girl”; with an emphasis on the “girl”.  The woman that stood confidently in his line of sight was already proving Greg quite wrong.

Sophia stood at a solid six feet at least, but she confidently wore high heels and her hair was swept up on top of her head.  If she was abnormally blessed in height, she seemed determined to embrace it.  Her smile seemed born of an inner voice that said, “Hey, how are ya?” in that natural way that Greg most clearly lacked.  She was no beanpole; even Greg could see that she had some curves to her.  Yet, like the rest of her demeanor, she appeared to own them.  Greg wondered to himself how someone this enticing upon first meeting was still single.

“Do you mind if I take a seat?”  Sophia began to pull the chair backwards.  Greg cursed to himself.

“Oh, I’m sorry”, he said half standing up.  “Please, please.”  Brilliant Greg.  Forget to stand up to greet her, and then forget to get the chair for her.  That’ll make a great first impression.

“Have you ever been to this place before?”  Sophia smiled.  She unfolded the napkin with a quick gesture and placed it lightly on her lap.

“No, I don’t really eat out much”, Greg admitted.  “They said you recommend this joint and I figured that was alright by me.”

Sophia laughed and made a move for the menu.  “Yes, I can honestly tell you that this ‘joint’ is one of my favorite haunts.  Don’t you just love sushi?”

“It’s a pretty decent food”, Greg said as he cursed himself again.  “What do you think I should try”, he asked, hoping to get back into her good graces.

sushi“Oh, I’ve always been a fan of their California rolls.”

A kind force must have been looking over Greg, for the waiter returned before Greg could blurt out a clumsy joke about Rolls Royce cars.

“What do you say, Greg?  Shall I order us up two plates?”

Greg nodded, watching as Sophia went to work.  He stared at her and soon noticed that he was unable to keep up with her orders.  A blur of high-society words came into their conversation as the woman about town and the experienced waiter bandied back and forth about various side dishes, fish freshness, and wine pairings.  Greg found himself blinking again and pulled out a piece of paper.  Holding the cheat-sheet just under the table cloth on his lap, he skimmed the list for any question that might spark a conversation.

“I really think you’ll enjoy the food here”, Sophia offered as the waiter returned to the kitchen.

“What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”  Even Greg noticed how awkwardly he had blurted out the question.

A look of confusion came over Sohpia’s face.  There was a definite pause as she took in the question that had been asked of her.

Stupid, Greg.  Put her on the spot before you even know anything about her.  Stupid.

“You’re not going to waste any time are you?  Just jump right in, huh?”  Sophia laughed and pulled her chair in closer.  Greg had thrown down the gauntlet and now Sophia was contemplating picking it up.  “Fair enough; I’ll play along.”

“No, it was an insensitive question.  We can talk about something else.”

“Oh, come on.  This’ll be fun!”  A playful and daring light was obvious in Sophia’s eyes and Greg once again questioned how this had all worked out.  Maybe blind dates aren’t so bad after all?

White_House_Front_Dusk_Alternate“Okay”, Sophia began.  “I’ve got one.  It was a year or two ago and my grandfather was invited to The White House.  You see, he was one of the last living survivors of World War II.  The whole family got to go and we were all so excited.  I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, but I still wanted to look regal, you know?  I wanted to bring the glamor if I was going to meet The President”, she said with a laugh.

“Well, sure”, Greg said in a way that showed he didn’t know what else to say.

“There were a few other families before us.  The Fourth of July is quite a big day around The Oval Office, as you might guess.  All these men in suits with sunglasses, my mom worrying that we were keeping ‘Him’ from running the country.  It was overwhelming, but delightful”, Sophia explained with an unbridled excitement in her voice.

“Anyways, in my attempt to look elegant but still keep Grandma from thinking I was a hussy, I chose this long white dress.  It was sleeveless, flowing, and I paired it with what I thought were a classy pair of sandals.  You have to plan these things just right, don’t you?”

“Of course”, Greg answered.  Be agreeable.  Forget the fact that this woman has met The President while you were probably home drinking a beer and watching pay-per-view.  Just smile and nod.

“In all the waiting around, wouldn’t you know it?  I had to go to the bathroom.  The assistants were all perfectly nice and they showed me the way.  I was about to go in the door when along comes The First Lady!  I mean, of all people!  Secret Service wanted me to wait but The First Lady wouldn’t hear of it.  She looped her arm around mine and pulled me in.  After I had taken care of things, I tried to leave as quickly as possible.  I mean, I couldn’t maintain my composure at being in the same room with her!  Could you?”

“Not likely”, Greg answered.  Thankfully, the food had appeared with surprising quickness.  Greg started to put food in his mouth so the temptation to say something stupid would be lessened.

“She stops me, and she tells me how great it is that I’m there.  She appreciates how I’m setting an example for the younger generation and goes on about how much she likes my attire.  I of course have no idea what she’s talking about.  I was there for Grandpa, not myself.  I asked her what she meant.  And are you ready for this?  She thought I was Wonder Woman!  Apparently she mistook my dress for a toga.”

“Mmm”, Greg murmured as he chewed eagerly on his food.  He could understand The First Lady’s mix-up.

“I didn’t know what to do.  I tried to explain that I wasn’t a model or an actress or anything.  I was just a granddaughter!  But how do you explain to the most important woman in the country that she’s mistaken?  Then she took me out to the reception room and told all these dignitaries’ kids that I was Wonder Woman.  That I was there just for them on the special holiday!  I turned beat red when my Grandpa arrived and we had to sort the whole thing out.  The First Lady had a great sense of humor about it though.  She wouldn’t stop apologizing and we laughed about it for quite a time after.  But being introduced by Wonder Woman; it was all so embarrassing.  I still have a picture of The President, The First Lady and myself at home.”

“That’s quite a story”, Greg said as he finished off the last of his rolls.

“How’s the fish?”

“Quite good”, Greg replied.

“And you?”  Sophia reached for her plate as she prompted Greg.  “What’s your tale societal woe?”

“I have to think about that for a moment”, Greg said as he scooped up the green pile from his plate and thrust it into his mouth without a thought.

“Greg!”

There was a moment of calmness.  To be truthful it was more of a millisecond.  In that infinitesimally minute amount time, Greg was confused.  He saw a shocked expression come across Sophia’s face.  He felt the green paste land on his tongue and do something to his taste buds.  Then, scant seconds later, all the sound and sights in the room vanished as all his senses turned toward his mouth.  All he could feel was the excruciating pain that overcame his mouth.  His tongue was on fire.  His eyes watered, trying to douse the inferno that had when his lips had closed and the fork had wisely retreated.  It was in that formerly calm moment that Greg learned what a heaping mound of wasabi would do to a man.

“Aaaaah!!!”  Greg screamed as the agony became too much for him.  He clamped his hands on to the table, pulling the tablecloth towards him as he reached for anything that might bring him relief.  He spat the green offender out and chugged down the water that had been four gallons short of what he needed to put out the blaze on his tongue.  He chugged down the wine and felt a sense of relief coming.  The worst of it was over, but a painful tingling remained in his mouth.

There, on the formerly pristine tablecloth, lay the aftereffects of what had just happened.  In a big white circle, surrounded by crystal glasses and fine cutlery was a green blob, now looking rather disturbing and on display for the world to see.  Many of the surrounding patrons took up the invitation and craned their necks; gasping and chuckling were audible from nearby.

Sophia’s eyes grew wide while Greg’s still welled up from the sensory overload.  Neither of the two could take their gaze off of that wasabi bull’s eye on the giant target before them.

“Huh”, Sophia finally replied.  “Guess we now your most embarrassing moment, don’t we?”

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.

Text Messaging in the 1940’s

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.

Texting in the 1940’s

As a teenager you are at the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you.” -Fran Lebowitz

Lionel couldn’t believe that Victoria had said yes.  He had dreamed of talking to her ever since they had shared a class in comparative literature together.  And today, when he had asked if they could split a shake, she had said yes.  Lionel was elated.  He had worked up all of his courage just to talk to her.  He didn’t have any left when it came to actually asking for her phone number.  Happily, Victoria had been nice enough to write down her number on a piece of paper, complete with little hearts to dot her i’s.

Now came the moment of truth.  His mother was hanging laundry out to dry in the yard and his dad was still at work.  He was sure that Victoria had to have completed her walk home by now.  Lionel fumbled with the piece of paper and looked at it.  Victoria had only folded it once, but as he had looked at it and held it with trembling hands Lionel had added many more creases.  The lovely handwriting, crafted by a rather keen gal, was still legible.  624 Walker Lane.  Lionel gulped and took the rotary phone in his hand.  Immediately, the operator’s voice came on the line.

“What number please?” the pleasantly professional voice asked.

“Uh…”, Lionel stammered.

“What number please?” she repeated.

“I… that is…”

“Sir, would you like to place a call?”

Lionel tried to communicate, but the words would not form in his mouth.  How was he supposed to talk to this wonderful girl if he couldn’t even say her number to a complete stranger?

“Sir, are you still there?”

Suddenly, Lionel had an idea.  “Actually, I was wonder if I could send a text message to Victoria at 624 Walker Lane.”

“Of course sir”, the operator replied.  “Just dial the message and I’ll read it back to you.”

Lionel nodded to the voice that couldn’t see him and focused on the numbered dial in front of him.  He tried translating what he wanted to say into turns of the phone.  “Dear” became one turn to the three, two turns to the three, one turn to the two, and two turns to the seven.  “Victoria” was even more work as he made three turns to the eight, three turns to the four, three turns to the two, a turn to the eight, three turns to the six, two turns to the seven, three turns to the four, and a turn to the two.  Lionel started to wonder how his fellow classmates could text so fast.  He had heard Stewie Johnson brag that he could text up to a hundred words a minute.  Lionel now realized what a feat that would be; assuming Stewie wasn’t full of bunk.  Stewie also claimed that he could run a mile in five minutes, so Lionel was inclined to doubting the speed with which he could dial.

Lionel heard the screen door swing open, followed by his mother’s footsteps.  He tried his best to dial faster.  Eventually, after much work and a rather sore finger, Lionel’s work was done.

“Would you like me to read the text back to you, sir?”

“Yes please”, the teen replied to the operator.

“’Dear Victoria.  Period.  You are just about the keenest girl in the school.  Period.  Thanks for thinking we could hang out.  Period.  I’d like to take you to the malt shoppe and buy you a burger and shake.  Period.  Maybe we could even go to the dance together?  Period.  You’re a real doll.  Period.  If you would reply to this text or ring me, that’d be swell.  Period.  Yours, Lionel.  Period.’  Is that the entire message, Sir?”

“I think so.”  Lionel was quite stunned that he hadn’t made any mistakes in his dialing.  He was rather proud at his first attempt at sending a text message.

“And the message is correct?  I made what I assumed were proper corrections with the message.  For example, I believe that you wished to ask her to the dance and not to France.  Is that correct, Sir?”

Not so terrific at dialing then, Lionel thought to himself.  “No, your corrections are fine.  Thanks for the help.”

“Anytime, Sir.  Now, you are currently looking at a charge of over five dollars.”

Lionel was speechless.

A period of a few moments passed until the operator’s voice came back over the phone.  “Sir, are you still there?”

“Yes”, Lionel replied meekly.  “I just think I misheard you.  Five dollars?”

“Yes sir.  Most of that is because you went over your family plan’s allowance of one hundred and sixty characters.  You are currently at about three hundred and twenty-five characters.  That would drop to two hundred and sixty-three if you took out the spaces.  Either way, you are well in the four to five dollar range for this service.  Might I suggest a telegram?”

Lionel started to contemplate the benefits of throwing a note in Victoria’s window when a man’s voice came on the phone.

“Hello?  Operator?”

“One minute sir, I’m assisting another customer”, the operator replied.

“What?  Is that true?”

“Yes Mr. Humphries”, Lionel timidly replied.

“Who is this?”  Mr. Humphries was clearly in a hurry.

“Lionel, sir.”

“From down the road?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well…”  A tone of irritation was quite audible in Mr. Humphries’ voice.  “See that you’re quick about it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m sure that your parents told you this is a party line.  We can’t have folks tying up this one connection when our neighbors have business to conduct.”

“No, sir”, Lionel confirmed.

“Well, all right then.  Good day.”  With that, an audible click was heard from Mr. Humphries resting his phone back on the cradle.  None of this had solved Lionel’s dilemma.  Five dollars was more than he made in a month.  He’d never be able to afford to send this message and pay for dinner for the two of them.

“Might I suggest trimming your message?  Then you would be within your plan’s terms.”

“Like what?”

“Well”, the operator started, her voice softening from professional to maternal.  “I think if the girl is getting a text message from you then she knows you like her.  You could probably ease up on the flattery and just get to the point.  I would recommend removing the line about her being the keenest girl in school.  Also, why not skip the line about the dance?  It would take pressure off of your getting a shake.  Those two lines alone would save you considerably.”

“Wowzers, you really think so?”

“I do”, the operator reassured.  “Also, you could probably remove the line about asking her to get back to you.  If she’s interested, she’ll return your call.  Or, if she’s creative, she’ll figure out a different way.  Either way, you probably don’t need to ask her to call you back.  She gave you her number, didn’t she?”

“How’d ya know?”  Lionel was bewildered at this woman’s wisdom.

“I was young once myself”, the operator assured.  “But if you were given her number then she probably wants to talk to you.”

“If you think it’ll be okay”, Lionel agreed.

Image“Well then sir”, she said with the seriousness back in her voice.  “I think I can fit that into your family’s maximum of one hundred and sixty characters.  The message currently reads, ‘Dear Victoria.  Thanks for thinking we could hang out.  I’d like to take you to the malt shoppe and buy you a burger and shake.  You’re a real doll.  Yours, Lionel.’  Is that acceptable to you?”

“If you think it’s all right.”

“I think it will be fine, sir.  Will there be anything else?”

“No, I mean… well, how does this all work?”

“It’s like a normal telephone call, sir.  We try to ring the person who is the recipient of the message.  If they answer, then I relay the message as I have it transcribed here.  If they do not answer, then I try again later.”

“Wouldn’t it be simpler if I just called her myself?”

“That’s what I would offer, sir.”

“Hmmm…”

“Would you like to do that, sir?”

“I’d like to.  I mean, it makes the most sense.  The only thing is…”

“You’re afraid your voice will crack or you’ll stumble over your lines?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Understood, sir.  Shall I try it this time?  Then, when the two of you are face to face, you can try to regain your confidence in person?  Maybe when there is less pressure you’ll find the words?”

“Sure, if you think that works.”

“I think it will do for now.  But I might suggest taking a few breaths before your date with this girl.”

Lionel smiled.  “You’re a fantastic operator.”

“We try our best, sir.  Have a nice day.”

“You too”, Lionel said.  He placed the phone back on the cradle and saw his mother duck her head back into the kitchen.  Her attempt to eavesdrop unnoticed had been successful up until that last moment.  Lionel looked at the phone and shook his head.

Text messaging, Lionel thought to himself.  He considered the new craze and how all the kids seemed to rave about it.  Nah, it’ll never catch on.

Elevator of Terror

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.

Elevator of Terror

Linus knocked on the door and gave himself one final check.  His polo shirt finally seemed to be free of cat hair and the dress shoes he had had since college looked respectable enough.  What were the odds that she would want a good look at his shoes?  He heard movement in the hotel room and swallowed the nervous lump in his throat.  He heard the sound of the lock being turned and took a deep breath, sucking in his gut and hoping that his chest was puffed out.  When the door opened, Linus’ breath was immediately taken away.

Standing in front of Linus, in all her glory, was Brenda.  The two had met in a wedding yesterday; she was the maid of honor, he was the best man.  Linus had given a rather amusing toast and had convinced Brenda to share a few dances with him before the event had ended.  It had been the best possible first impression Linus could have made.  He had been wearing a tuxedo, he was charming, and the lighting had been just right.  He was drawn to Brenda, especially her height.  She had regaled him with stories of going to college on a basketball scholarship and he could see why.  With her heels, she was an inch or two taller than Linus, but with a sense of grace about her.  Her pixie-cut brown hair framed her round face just right.  She lived in Florida and had just the right amount of sun freckles dotting her nose and cheeks.  Linus knew they lived across the country from each other, but he asked her for a date regardless.  Now, upon seeing her attire compared to his, he wondered if hadn’t squandered the first impression he had made.

“Hey Linus”, Brenda said.  “Thanks for picking me up.”

Linus only nodded as he took in her appearance. Brenda wore black flats and wearing a tennis bracelet was Brenda.  But Linus couldn’t take her eyes off of her dress.  It wasn’t the length; it was the fit that surprised him.  It was a typical dress that went down to the knees and had a modest enough cut up top.  However it clung to every curve in her admittedly pleasant physique.  Every muscle, every curvature of her body was on display.  Linus tried his best to pick his jaw off the floor and look her in the eye.

“I’m ready if you are”, she offered.

“Oh, yeah”, Linus replied.  “Sorry, it’s, I, well, you look stunning.  I feel bad that my attire isn’t quite up to yours.”

“I think you look fine”, Brenda said as she walked up to him and put her hands on his chest.  “I like polo shirts.  And, can I let you in on a secret?”

“Sure”, he said.  He was grateful for anything that might resemble a conversation starter.

“I only brought this dress with me on a dare.  For Jackie’s bridal party we were all told to bring our sexiest dress.  It was jeans, my bridesmaid dress, or this.  I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t think I could possibly mind in the least.”

“Okay then.  Shall we?”

Taking up Brenda’s prompting, Linus offered his elbow and she linked elbows with him.  “So did you wear flats in case I wanted to feel taller?”

Brenda laughed.  “No, I didn’t think my white dress heels from yesterday would match.  Like I said, I only had so much attire to choose from.  I didn’t know how long the girls and I would be out and I refuse to wear heels for too long, you know?”

Linus did not know.  He pushed the button to cue the elevator and it graciously came to their floor scant seconds later.  He offered the door to her, watched her walk in, and then he stepped inside himself.  Linus pushed the lobby button and marveled at how slowly the elevator moved.

C’mon Linus, he thought to himself.  You’ve used up the attire conversation.  She gets it, she looks good.  Think of something else.  You can do this.  You’re charming enough; just pick a topic and form words.  Words that make a sentence would be terrific, but any words will do.  C’mon.  Any time now.  Seriously.  You get how she’s fidgeting with her bracelet right there?  You see that?  That’s a bad thing.  That signals boredom.  You might want to say something.  Or you could just stand here like a mime.  You always see mimes walking around with drop-dead gorgeous gals like her.  Oh no, wait.  You don’t.  Women want a guy who can carry a conversation.  It’s been ten floors.  Move it!  Linus was thoroughly regretting Brenda’s room being on the forty-second floor.

When the elevator reached the twenty-eight floor, an older couple came in.  Suddenly, Brenda started talking loudly and with hands flailing about in gestures.

“…so the guy is just lying there on the ground with blood pouring out of his nose.  All the while, I’m standing next to my husband, whose finger is still in the kitchen sink.  I’m wondering who this stranger is while at the same time freaking out about what to do about the finger.”

Linus was confused.  He looked at the elderly couple.  The sixty-something woman with a sparkly sequin dress hugged her husband closer while they both looked agog at Brenda.  Brenda had plenty more to say.

“Then I remember back to an episode of t.v. that I saw where they say they can reattach a finger if it’s well preserved.  Or maybe it was a movie.  Remind me, Linus, was it in that spy movie that we saw a few years ago?”  Linus looked around, having no response for this question.  He shrugged his shoulders.  “Well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  Anyway, I look all through the kitchen and find out that we don’t have any sandwich bags.  Not a one.  What are the odds, right?”

The elevator stopped at the sixteenth floor and a man in his early forties entered.  He took a spot in the front corner and closed his eyes and leaned against the back wall.  None of this gave Brenda any reason to pause her story.

“In the meantime, I hear the intruder is trying to get up.  I run back to Dirk’s side and try to get him off the floor.  He’s squeezing his finger in pain but he still manages to stand.  He looks at this man I’ve never seen before, and he tells him, ‘Guido, that’s my money.  I worked hard for it.’  This other guy, who I guess is Guido, just replies, ‘You don’t get it, Dirk.  You take three and a half million from the operation and don’t give us a cut, we’re going to take our cut from you.  The finger was just a first payment.’  I didn’t know what to do Linus, I really don’t.”  

“So what did you do?”  The man who looked so tired when he gotten on had woken up in five short flights.  He looked to Brenda pleadingly, wanting to know the rest of the story.

Brenda lookeds at him, fussed with her bracelet, and turned back to Linus.  “Anyway, I’m still worried about this finger I have in the sink.  What if gets all wrinkly like a raisin and the skin doesn’t match the rest of Dirk’s hand?  What if it falls down the sink?  How’m I supposed to get a finger out of the sink, Linus?  How?  I run to the living room, grab one of Dirk’s comic books, and throw it out of its bag.  Then I run back to the kitchen, fill it halfway with ice, put the finger in, and top it off with more ice.  Dirk and Guido had just gotten to their feet when I threw the bagged finger in the fridge.”

All eyes were locked in suspense on Brenda.  In any other room they’d be focused on the dress, but here she was the queen of the story.  Linus almost wished he had popcorn to excitedly nibble on while she continued.

“I tell them that I’m going to call the police, but Dirk won’t let me.  He tells me that the police are involved; that this goes up higher than I know.  The Guido guy pulls out a knife and eyes it while Dirk says something about ‘the government can’t be trusted on this’, or something like that.”  Brenda’s eyes flickered for a moment to the floor indicator lights above the elevator doors then she resumed her tale of horror.

“So there’s blood coming from Guido’s nose.  There’s a pool of blood where Dirk was standing, and as he’s holding his cut hand with the other hand, I can see that he’s gone with in the face.  He’s only seconds from passing out.”  Brenda grabbed Linus by the shirt collar and pulled him close.  She spoke in a whispered tone that the crowd in the elevator strained to hear.  “Dirk calls me over.  I lean in close.  He tells me, ‘There’s only one way out of this.  You’ve got to…’”

At that moment, the doors sent out a “bing” noise.  The mirror doors slid apart to reveal the lobby with its grand chandelier and old leather couches welcoming its guests.

“Oh, Linus, we’re here!”  Brenda was cheerful and pulled Linus out by the arm.  The three people that remained in the elevator hurried out.  They tried to remain subtle in how they followed, but Linus could sense them walking behind him.  “Where’s your car?”  Brenda’s calm demeanor was unchanged as Linus walked her to his vehicle.  The three others gave up and went about their night plans.

Linus opened the passenger door for Brenda.  She thanked him and lowered herself into the seat.  He closed the door, rushed to the other side, and nearly slammed the car door shut.

“So what happened next?  What about this former husband of yours?”  Linus didn’t know anything about a former spouse, but he wanted to hear the ending regardless.

“Oh that?”  Brenda laughed.  “That’s just my elevator story.”

Linus was dumb-founded.  Brenda’s attire was hardly the most engaging or amazing thing about her.  Feeling the ice had officially been broken; he put his hand on her leg and leaned in.

“You’re kind of fantastic.  You know that, right?”

“I like to liven people’s night up a little.  Who doesn’t like an exciting story?”

Linus turned the key in the ignition as he shook his head in small arcs from side to side.  He grinned and thought to himself, Best first date ever.

(Hollywood lore tells us that Alfred Hitchcock had his own “elevator story” that he used.  The idea just makes me want to hug him.)

The Ring and the First Date

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 Ring and the First Date

She just seemed so darn nice.  I mean, in this world of people that are busily busing and bustling, she had this pleasant way about her.

We met in church.  “Met” would be a loose term; perhaps even inaccurate.  I started coming to the church after she did, so she already had her pew assignment all figured out.  Me, I had nothing to prove.  I sat in the middle of the middle.  The cool college kids sat off to the left.  The older folks tended towards their aisle seats in the back.  She happened to put herself about three rows from the front.

I don’t want to say that the only reason I went to that church was for attractive Christians, but it certainly wasn’t a deterrent.  Yes, I was looking for people my own age.  Still, I maintain that not once did I say, “Hey.  You look all kinds of Christian.  God thinks you and I should totally go out.”  (If you do hear that kind of line?  Run.  Run far.  Even if you’re wearing expensive heels.)  However, here was this lovely, seemingly normal, attractive gal.  So of course I took a liking to her.

Now, I’m not one that feels the need to introduce myself on first encounter.  I’m a patient enough type; I can wait to feel out a situation.  The more I waited, the more I wondered what was taking me so long.

I’m not a Christian that takes communion; it has never felt like something that I needed to do.  I stood in front of my seat and thought about God while everybody else lined all nice and orderly, took their bread and wine, and walked back to their seat.  I still think I’m probably the only one who just stood there the whole time.  (I checked with the pastors.  They didn’t really care.  They do communion their way, I practice it mine.)  However, whenever she was one of the servers, she just looked so darn welcoming.  She leaned towards people and smiled.  It was a pretty great smile.  She had that air about her; a kindness.  I’m a firm believer that there is not enough kindness in the world so how could I ignore someone who exemplified it so well?

As with all things that seem pretty intriguing, there was a catch.  She liked to raise her hand toward the ceiling during certain songs.  There, on the important finger, was a ring.  Well, shoot.  I checked for several Sundays to be certain.  Every week, there it was just as it had been before.

I don’t break up couples.  It’s bad mojo.  I figured some guy was rather blessed to have her in his life and I couldn’t blame him for making a commitment.  I thought the ring was a little small, personally, but if she liked it then that was all that mattered.  I assumed that the fellow had won the bout and I should keep to myself.

Yet, she still seemed so darn nice.  We were a few rows apart so there wasn’t really any reason for interaction between us.  I didn’t need to pass her the offering plate, she didn’t ask to share my hymnal; we just existed in our own little circles and that was fine.  Then, at some later time, we were encouraged to greet others in church.  I figured that was as good a time as any.  I walked up to her, told her that it was silly that we hadn’t said hello, and we both politely laughed at the awkwardness that we had both seen each other but were just now speaking.  Surely I could have a friend who was engaged; I’ve done it before.

After that, we talked a bit.  There was no time for actual conversations, just chit-chat.  I went jogging straight after church and used the excuse that I didn’t want to be late for my running buddy.  At the same time, she always had people waiting to speak to her.  I could hardly blame them.  I did start to question where this guy was.  If he loved her enough to give her a ring, how could he be okay with not sitting next to her each Sunday morning?  So I did what any person in this age of technology does.  I sent her a message on Facebook.

I’d like to state that it was a grand e-mail; that the lines and phrases were inspiring and that none could have matched their brilliance while attaining the perfect amount of sentimentality.  The problem with that is that my parents raised me not to lie.  I can’t even claim the above as a slight exaggeration.  No, I’m sure it was something along the lines of, “You seem interesting.  I’d like to take you to coffee if you’re up for it”.  (shrug)  There are times when I am less than eloquent.

For some reason, she agreed.  We figured an area near the church was a safe halfway point for both of us, so we met at the closest coffee shop.  It was towards the middle of the week and I had a break between my two jobs so I walked to my destination.  I arrived; as is my habit, early.  Quite early.  Too early.  I peeked inside the store just to make sure that she wasn’t as early.  I didn’t see her, so I planted myself in one of the chairs outside and did my best to look calm and nonchalant.  I would like to think that I pulled it off, but I would also like to think that credit card bills won’t make me cringe.  Regardless, it was a nice, cloudless, sunny day outside.  There are far worse weather conditions to be had in Seattle, so I lounged about wishing there were fewer cars on the road.

About ten minutes after we were supposed to meet, she came out of the store.  She had been inside studying for class the entire time.  I made my apologies, and eventually we sat down and started having a discussion.  This, sadly, was not my greatest moment of conversation.  I’m pretty sure that I said, “What haven’t I asked you about…” or “What can I ask you nex…t” to her three or four times.  In an hour.  There were long pauses.  Honestly, it was rather sad.

She, however, was pretty much what I expected.  She was very kind.  Her family sounded like they were just as welcoming as she was.  She was from a desert state so the hot sun didn’t bother her a bit.  She was trying to make a career out of helping people.  In short, she was rather impressive.

Oh, and I found out about the ring.  She hadn’t mentioned any boyfriend or fiancée in the first half hour of our chat, so I inquired about her jewelry.  She talked about her earrings.  Since I did not get the answer I had been looking for, I tried again.  In my own, oh-so subtle way, I prompted, “Tell me about this ring here.”  She looked at the small jewel on her finger and smiled, “Oh, that’s my purity ring.”

My brain was annoyed.  That’s it?  That’s why I’ve waited this long to talk to you, I thought to myself.  Because of a purity ring?  Really?  I believe what I actually said out loud was something to the tune of, “Oh, well that’s nice.”

After about an hour we had decided that was probably enough for the day.  A hug was exchanged, she went back to school and I walked back to work.  When I got back and looked at myself in the mirror I saw just how red I was.  Sunburns don’t visit me often, but when they do they leave parting gifts that I don’t soon forget.  It was effectively deployed, thorough, and painful.  Yet if I had to do it again, I would have.  Even though there was never a second date, I still maintain that it was worth it.

At the end of the day I had successfully learned three lessons.  One, if you’re curious about something (especially if it is a someone), you’d better get off your butt and just ask questions.  The answers may not be what you were expecting.  Two, sunscreen is our friend.  We should embrace it.  Finally, and most importantly, I had given it a shot.  I didn’t have to be that guy who sits in the pew and wonders.  I was the guy who was curious, took action, and doesn’t have to remember her in twenty years and wonder, “what if”.  I don’t have to speculate because I was brave enough to find out the truth.

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