A Spouse Never Forgets

Love will draw an elephant through a key-hole.” –Samuel Richardson

**********

“Em, I’m home. Time to hide all your boyfriends.”

“Oh, but they brought me flowers and everything”, came the response from the dining room.

Tyler Cohn kicked his shoes off and rolled his eyes. He found the mail by the door and thumbed through it carelessly. Not seeing anything in the stack of bills and donation requests to catch his eye, he let the stack fall from his hands, most of it landing back on the table. He shrugged at the mess, tossed his keys in the general direction of the mail, and walked towards the living room.

Tyler had not been the most attractive person in high school. His odd skin tone made him stand out in a crowd, but his unruly hair had singled him out even more. It was not until college that he discovered the real him was only a few buzzes away. Coupled with a roommate who introduced Tyler to the joy of working out, and a new version was born. Tyler found that the quick, aggressive, thrilling move of hefting weights was an adrenaline rush that he loved. His muscular physique, olive skin, and shiny dome now all complimented each other. He had lost his childhood nervousness and now approached life with what his wife could only describe as swagger.

“For the record, I saw you first”, he countered as he doffed his jacket and let it land on the living room couch. In front of him was the large gray mass. He avoided looking at it, as always, and turned into the dining room. “Where are you?”

“I’m on the other side of it”, Emily called back.

An alarmingly loud trumpeting sound blared three times from the living room. Tyler and Emily both hurried to cover their ears, and by the time the noise had stopped, Tyler was almost in the dining room.

“I swear, The Moustache is going to drive me crazy”, Tyler said as he looked to his wallet and pulled out the receipts that he had collected over the day. “He keeps telling me that his business is going to get sued. I swear, that man thinks his workers are just there to collect on disability. I respond to all his e-mails but he won’t believe that we have his risks all covered. If he gets anymore up my butt, that facial monstrosity of his is going to start tickling my stomach. I wish I could get him out of my haiiiiiiiiir.”

Tyler had looked to Emily for the first time and was shocked at what he saw.

“Hey”, Emily said with a smile as she went towards him.   With her typical elegance and grace, she made every small step look like it had been planned out for months. Her composure had been the first thing that attracted Tyler to her. However, much to his delight, he found that when she went to hug him, her perfectly straight spine curved into him. Her hips ever so slightly leaned into his waist, her shoulders softened, and her long neck listed to the left, finding his nape and taking up residence there. With her normal ballerina-like stance, Emily stood a solid two inches taller than her spouse. But when they were having their quiet moments, he ended up being a bit higher up. She didn’t really care. Many of their best talks had been shared in this position, starting with when her father died. Tyler didn’t worry about being the tallest when they went out and Emily wore high heels, and Emily didn’t worry about her poise when she was alone with Tyler.

However on this night, Tyler found the embrace a little awkward. Normally he would feel her long, wavy chestnut hair against and under his chin. This was not the case tonight.   Instead Tyler felt a soft cushion of hair, then short bristliness, then another tuft of long hair. Had her entire head fit, Tyler would have felt another shaved section. And, to his great horror, sections of the hair were dyed orange and blue.

Is this what it feels like for her to kiss me when I haven’t shaved?

The only long hairs that felt familiar were the ones attached to the tail from the gray mass as it swished and brushed against Tyler’s leg from the living room.

“I got a text from Tess and Burt.”

“Are we supposed to be having them over for dinner? I don’t have enough cooked to feed us and my greedy siblings.”

“Greedy, or filled with a hunger for victory?”

“Greedy, Tyler. Definitely greedy. You play tennis with them, but you never had to share LEGOs with those two. Susan was the worst though. Leave it to the middle child to always cause the problems.”

“Em, there are four of you”, Tyler said as he tried to decide whether he should pull away from this painful dome or if it was best to keep her hair as out of sight as possible. “That makes you a middle child too.”

“Yes, but she was the first middle child”, she replied, pulling slowly out of the embrace. “You only children don’t know what we had to go through.” She kissed him, showing more passion than usual, and went back to the spaghetti on the stove.

“Regardless, your siblings want to know if we would play tennis tonight.”

“Tonight? Tyler, it’s seven p.m.”

“Right. Still daylight out there.”

“Honey, we have dinner to finish. And eat. Then, if we change into gym clothes, play several matches—“

“Then we can still be home by ten. C’mon, it’ll be fun.” Plus, knowing those two, they’ll bring up the haircut so I don’t have to.

Now out of their embrace, Tyler had the full effect. The left quarter of Emily’s hair was shaved off, except for a tiny, bristly layer of what used to be beautiful hair. That prior hair was hinted at by the next fourth, which was neon-orange and flopped around with four inches of length. The third section was the same shaved style as the first. And to finish off the monstrosity of it all was a section of long hair, looking just as it had before, only now filled with blue streaks in abhorrent strands.  

“Tyler, I know you. When we drive to the gym, under the auspices of playing tennis with my siblings, you’ll want to lift. This, as we both know, will require a change of clothes. And you’ll want me to lift with you. Honey, I just don’t have the strength.”

“You can always go swimming while we lift. The pool should be pretty empty. Maybe you’d have it all to yourself?” Maybe your new hairstyle will act like a fin that will help you steer in the water. Like a graffiti-obsessed dolphin. Or The Rocketeer on his worst day.

“Why don’t you just come out and admit that you want to see me walking around in a bathing suit?”

“Naturally”, Tyler said as he retrieved a mammoth bag of peanuts from under the kitchen counter. He took one, broke it, and nibbled on the nut while he tossed a handful into the next room. “I will always admit to wanting to see my wife in her element. You are a sexy woman and I appreciate that about you.”

“Uh huh”, she said with a look of disbelief behind her eyes. “I should never have taken you to that first swim meet of mine in college. It set a bad trend. Speaking of which, don’t go filling up on peanuts. Dinner is almost ready.”

“You don’t want me stocked up on protein before the gym? Besides”, he said as he threw another heaping handful into the living room, “how many do you think I’ll get the chance to eat?”

“We both know I’m going to be the one to clean those shells up, one way or the other. Go easy.”

“I will if you go to the gym with us. Please?”

“Fine”, she said with a feigned sigh. “But we are getting home no later than eleven. Got that? I’m still trying to get the payroll system up and running. Also, some of us don’t get to set our own hours. Twerp.”

“What can I say”, Tyler said with a shrug as he stirred the sauce, “it is truly challenging being a highly sought-after risk assessor.”

“Emphasis on ass-essor.”

“You’ll stop making that joke one day.”

“Plates please, Monsieur. And I’ll stop making that joke when it ceases to be funny.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I think you’re already cutting it too close.”

“What?” Em pulled the noodles off the strainer and carried them to the table.

Stupid, Tyler. Stupid, stupid choice of words. “Nothing. I’m only trying to defend myself against your rapier wit. You do love to cut me to the quick.” Again?!?! What is wrong with you? Dig yourself out before you get into a close shave. Tyler had to stop from slapping himself in the face. What is wrong with you? Freak.

They sat down at the table as munching noises became audible from the living room. The two often talked about eating by candlelight, but they knew that the constant threat of methane from the gray mass made that unwise. The whole situation lacked the romance that they yearned for. One day they would seek out a solution, but their everyday lives demanded their attention.

“So are we going to talk about it or what?”

“Talk about what?” Tyler filled his mouth with a forkful of spaghetti so that he would not be expected to respond anytime soon. Unfortunately, he had made the sauce hotter than he realized and was forced to take a swig of water and add it to his already full mouth.

“The hair, you twit. You don’t like it, do you?”

Tyler made a show of chewing and swallowing, trying to think of the proper response.

“All those sitcoms from my childhood and I still don’t know how to handle this”, he half-joked.

“So you hate it”, Emily replied as she set down her fork with purpose. “That’s great. You couldn’t come out and say that?”

“Risk assessor, remember? Not risk creator.”

“Don’t do that again. I’m being serious here.”

“Look, I didn’t lie to you. I just didn’t say anything.”

“Because you don’t like it.”

“Honey, it’s three different lengths and three different colors. Maybe when we were in school, but in our 30’s? I’m amazed you think people will take a human resources person seriously like that.”

As if to accentuate the finality of his argument, a large tooting noise came from the living room.

Emily turned her nose up at the new smell but was not done talking. “That, well that is a load of crap.”

“Cute.”

“Don’t cute me, it’s true. Work didn’t factor into your thoughts. You wanted someone else to tell me it was ugly.”

“Emily, that haircut isn’t you. Why would you do that?”

“Because it isn’t me.”

Tyler leaned away from the table. “Okay, well now you’ve lost me.”

“You don’t think I see how people treat you? You’re the cool one. You’re the one that travels around putting out fires. You work in crises. You get to watch cars get smashed and houses collapse. You think I don’t noticed that my siblings, my own family, they text you more than me. And why wouldn’t they? I sit behind a desk and deal with coworkers that can’t play nice with each other or decide they want to play nice in the bedroom, and then they come to me when it’s over and, guess what, they can’t play nice. You’re exciting, I’m dependable. Why wouldn’t I want a change?”

From across the table, Tyler could see Emily’s eyes tearing up. She picked up her napkin and dabbed her eyes with it. Tyler backed his chair away from the table, stood up, and slowly made his way to the other chair. He knelt down in front of his wife and put his arms on her legs.

“Because you are perfect.”

Another tooting sound came from the living room. No no, you’re timing’s perfect. Please, keep it up.

“More crap”, Emily replied sadly.

“What I’m saying is not crap. Do you know that half of the time I’m talking to Tess and Burt, I’m bragging about you? They’re the only ones who get it. They’re the ones who love you as much as I do and can’t stop being blown away.

“You? You spend forty-plus hours a week taking care of people, making sure that they get paid. In addition to all you do for me. On top of that, you make time for your church committees. It’s all I can do to get to church each week. Yet you somehow find the patience and the energy to tend to others. That is amazing to me. Why are you trying to be more like me when I’m trying to be more like you?”

“If you’re just saying this to get yourself out of the doghouse…”

“I’m not. You have this inner peace about you. I try to find little doses, little spurts of that in me. For you, it just happens. You define grace for me. I see all these people that have lost things, all these homes that have been wrecked, and while I’m trying to comfort them my brain is screaming that I should get back home to you right that second. Learning in the field is great; being away from you is not.”

“But people still like you more”, Emily said through small sniffles.

“I don’t think that’s true. They certainly love you more. Not a Sunday goes by when someone doesn’t pull me aside and sing your accolades. Even strangers, visitors to church; they talk to you for brief moments and then they meet me and tell me how blessed I am to be with you. They like both of us, sure, but they’re in awe of you.”

“Really? ‘cause this is stuff you could be telling me.”

“And I probably should. I’m sorry.”

“While we’re at it”, Emily said as the color in her cheeks, if not her hair, returned to normal. “You could also hang up your jacket when you come home instead of lazily throwing it on the couch.”

“People have been commenting on the straw odor.”

“It would also make your wife happier”, she said with a smile.

“What if I offered to shave your head? Would that help this situation or should I leave you be?”

“You know, that was what I was tempted to do”, Emily replied. “But the hairstylist said this would be less extreme.”

“I’m sorry… what?”

“She thought I might want to ease my want into this.”

“That’s ridiculous. Shaving your head is much less traumatic. I mean, you’re already halfway there, for corn sakes.”

“I said that, but she got so worked up about it”, Emily said.

“Okay, let’s try this. Do you like it? Not me, not the hairdresser; you.”

“Maybe if they had used hair dye colors that were found in nature. But as is? Notsomuch.”

“Will you let me shave it then?”

“You think you have enough expertise? I’d need someone who was used to having their hair short.”

“I think I can manage to figure it out”, Tyler said with a grin.

“All right, let’s do it. The sooner it’s over, the sooner my hair will grow back.”

“You know, I’ve never seen you with short hair. That could be cute.”

“Well, you’re going to find out. And we’re skipping the tennis and gym tonight. Now I really am too tired. And you have to help me.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll send them a note after we finish dinner. Then you’ll get your head all shorn.”

“Where do you think we should do it, over the sink?”

“I was actually thinking the shower”, Tyler said as his smile grew. “That way, you know, we wouldn’t make such a mess.”

“I should probably take my blouse off too. It will keep the hair from getting everywhere.”

“That is an excellent point. Less clothes, less mess. And I know how you hate messes.”

“First thing’s first”, Emily said with a look in her eye. “You have some business to take care of.”

“Oh”, Tyler said as he adopted his “come-hither” voice. “Do I?”

“Yeah”, she said plainly. “Dumbo over there. He needs to be tidied up.”

“Yes ma’am”, he said with a chuckle.

“Trust me”, Emily said as she brushed her long strand away from her right eye and winced at the blue dye. “Things will all be better after we’ve dealt with the elephant in the room.”

Caught Cheating While Playing (on) the Field

He that will cheat at play, will cheat you any way.” –Dutch proverb

**********

Lance sat on his couch and stared past the television.  If this were a normal Saturday night, Lance would be watching the game that was playing out on the screen.  The announcers were excited and a flurry of activity was occurring on his five-foot, HD display.  There was much cause for enthusiasm and uproarious behavior.  Yet, Lance couldn’t focus on the players.  He had heard about a game that had happened earlier in the week, and he had been obsessing over it ever since.

A series of knocks roused Lance from his brooding.  He got up from the couch, trudged over to the door, and opened it.  Without a word or a look to the man standing on the doormat, Lance returned to the couch cushion that was still warm.  He took his beer from the cup holder and took a long, slow sip.

“Sorry I’m late”, Vince said as he shook off his coat.  “Traffic was out of control.  You’d think people had never driven in the blasted rain before.”  He tossed his wet attire in a pile by the hat rack, just as he always did.  “What’d I miss?”

Lance jerked his head in a way that drew attention to the screen in front of them.  “Game’s right there”, Lance replied.

“You mind if I have a beer?”

“You know the way”, Lance stated.

Vince, feeling unsure of his standing, headed to the kitchen, removed an aluminum can from the door, and headed back to the living room.  “You bettin’ on your team tonight?  Even though they’re favored to lose?”

“They’ll be fine”, Lance said quietly.

“What is with you?”

“Do you wanna talk, or do you wanna watch the game?”

“You just seem mad.  Trouble at work?  Are you taking out Cynthia grief on me?”

“Maybe I get annoyed when people talk during the game.”

“That’s not it.  You’re usually screaming at the dang thing.  Besides, there’re commercials.”

“This beer’s empty.  I need another”, Lance announced as he went to the kitchen.

“All right, that’s it.”  Vince ran to the kitchen and stood in front of the door handle.  “What is your beef?”

“You’re blocking the beer.  Move.”  The last response was more of a threat than an actual sentence.  Lance’s broad shoulders and jar-sized head seemed all too eager to punctuate any statements with violence.  Lance could do plenty of damage when he wanted too.  And at the moment, Vince thought his friend was too ready to attack.

“Not until you tell me what’s wrong”, Vince demanded.  He hoped that the bravado in his voice was effective, even though he strongly suspected that his bluff wasn’t entirely convincing.

“Why don’t you ask Burt”, Lance replied.

“What does Burt have to do with anything?”

“I wouldn’t know.  You’re the one that’s so chummy with him all of a sudden.”

“What?  Lance, I haven’t seen Burt in weeks.”

A massive fist zoomed past Vince’s head, narrowly missing him and landing full-on into the refrigerator door.  An intimidating dent was now present where Lance’s hand had landed.

“Lance!  What the-“

“Don’t lie to me!  You two were playing football just last night.”

“How did you-“  Vince stopped himself.  Somehow Lance had found out.  Suddenly the sullen mood made perfect sense.

“What am I, stupid?  Of course I found out.”

“You weren’t supposed to”, Vince replied quietly.

“Oh, c’mon.  Half our friends were there.  You wanted to get caught.”

“Why would I want that?”

“Maybe you’re tired of me and you’re just too gutless to say anything.”

“Lance, if I that were true than why would I be here?  I’m not tired of you.”

“But you are avoiding me.  You’re just here for the beer”, Lance replied.

“Now you know that’s ridiculous.  C’mon, we’re close.  You can’t pretend that we aren’t.”

“Then why?  Why would you claim that the game got cancelled?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“Uh huh.”

“Don’t be like that”, Vince said.  “Look, just because I spent time with him doesn’t mean that I’m done with you.”

“Is he better than I am?  Does he have skills that I don’t?”

“Lance, c’mon.”

“No, I’m serious.  Does he know tricks that work for you?  Are his moves sleeker than mine?”

“Lance.”

“And I’ve heard about that T.V. at home.”

“What?”

“Oh, the guys can’t stop talking about it.  ‘Look how big it is!  It’s so gorgeous!’   I’ll bet he lets you be in charge when you’re over there.  Does it make you feel like a big, macho man?  He just thinks you’re so great to be around.  If only he knew the truth.”

“The truth?”  Vince was tired of being on the receiving end.  He had played defense in college and was ready to dust off his old skillset.  “And what is the truth exactly?  That I put up with people who are abusive?”

“I’m abusive?  Me?  That’s a laugh.”

“Please.  Everybody’s seen it.  The way you treat people.  The pushing, the shoving, the name calling.”

“It’s football!  That’s how you’re supposed to behave”, Lance replied.

“Well, nobody else acts that way.  Just you.  And our friends feel the same.  Several of the guys actually asked me to talk to you about it.”

“What, their feelings are hurt?”

“And their backs, and their shoulders.  You don’t respect other people, Lance.”

“I don’t tow cow to whiny little twits with no drive, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s what I’m talking about.  Why can’t you try to see it from their side?”

“Whatever”, Lance growled.

“All right Lance.  There are two reasons why I snubbed you.”

“Finally, the truth comes out.”

“First off”, Vince said as he jabbed his finger dangerously hard into Lance’s chest.  “You’re a cheater.”

“I am not!  I would never do to you what you did to me!”

“Not that kind of cheating you emotionally unstable nimrod.  You go out of bounds”, Vince exclaimed.

“You went behind my back!”

“On.  The.  Field!  You run out of the boundary lines that are there for a reason.”

“Oh”, Lance said quietly.  “That.  Well, that’s me taking advantage of a situation.  If a ref ain’t gonna call me on it, then I’m gonna do it.  Anything for a victory.”

“Yeah, well the guys have noticed.  So stop it.”

“And?”  Lance shoved Vince’s finger aside and took a step closer.  His beer breath was pungent and inescapable.  “What’s the other reason?”

“I’m really not supposed to tell”, Vince said reluctantly.

“I knew it.  What, you’re in love with him or something?”

“No, you moron.   Burt has pancreatic cancer, okay?”

Lance froze.  “Seriously?”

“Yes.  He has to get treatment, go to the hospital, post-op; the whole thing.  He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to play again and his team wasn’t up this week.  We used to be teammates.  We were something special before you came along and changed everything.  So he wanted to have one last round.  Him and I.  I didn’t think you’d understand.  So I didn’t tell you.”

“So it wasn’t that you’re dumping me, it’s that you were getting back together with your old partner.”

“Lance.”

“It’s the legs, isn’t it?  His legs are better than mine.”

“You aren’t as young as you once were”, Vince admitted.  “Plus you are gettin’ a few extra pounds around the waist line.”

“Wow.  Hurtful much?”

“Enough”, Vince said.  “You aren’t perfect, and I’m not perfect.  But you can see why I did it right?  Why I went behind your back?  I still love ya, you’re still my guy.  I had no choice.  I had to team up with Burt.  It was a onetime thing.”

“It would still appear that we need to work on keeping our lines of communication open”, Lance commented.

“Dude”, Vince replied.

“What”, Lance asked.

“That psychologist wife of yours is really changing you.”

“You’re jealous because Suzanne won’t let you drink in your living room.”

“Can we just watch the game now?”  Vince felt himself pleading but couldn’t stop.  His wife would want to talk when he got home.  There would be forced discussions about emotions later.  Right now he wanted to watch large groups of men beat the ever-living snot out of each other.

In the Blink of a Cursor

The trouble with worrying so much about your security in the future is that you feel so insecure in the present.” -Harlan Miller

**********

Thomas sat in front of his computer screen and pondered.  He knew what he wanted to do.  The computer screen glowed back at him, waiting expectantly.  Bandwidth was being used, but the keys remained idle.  Thomas clicked the mouse, typed in the proper command, selected the individual that was on his mind, and tapped the mouse button one more time.

“Are you sure?”  The screen asked what seemed like a perfectly benign question.  When the programmers created such a prompt, they surely only meant for it to be a double-checker.  Those nerds with their thick glasses and poor posture were adding one more layer of verification.  They had just been trying to prevent an accidental keystroke from bringing about embarrassment.  However, for Thomas, that was on more moment when doubt was allowed to settle in and take a nap on the couch in his mind.

He tried to tell himself that he was over-complicating things.  He knew what he desired to do.  Still, there were those times when what he felt like sharing and what he kept to himself were separated by only the narrowest of margins.

Thomas and Thelma had conversed over this matter many times, but never came to full agreement over the topic.  Thomas wanted to shout his feelings to the world.  Thelma was the cautious one.  If Thomas dared to click “OK” on the screen, there was a chance that Thelma wouldn’t like to his actions.  It might even start a fight.  But what if she agreed?  What if he could finally shout from the rooftops what he’d been clamoring to share with his friends for weeks?  Shouldn’t they know what had brought him joy and bliss all this time?  Thelma liked keeping her light under a bush, but that could only last so long.  People would eventually notice the fire burning and investigate, wouldn’t they?

Thomas couldn’t take it.  He had to at least try.  And with that, he set the pointer on his screen loose on its prey.  The white arrow of determination was pointed definitively towards its goal.  It was ready to act.  With a deep breath, Thomas tapped boldly and with emphasis.  The screen brought up a new message in confirmation of his deed.

“You have now listed yourself as ‘In a relationship with Thelma Thorpwite’”.  The secret was out.  Now maybe the hiding could end.  Maybe he could kiss his girlfriend when they left work together.  Perhaps they could go to parties together knowing that they had someone to arrive and leave with.  Thomas nibbled nervously on his fingernail.  The malleable material merely bent under the pressure his teeth tried to exert.  He had taken the first step in declaring his love out loud.  Now it was up to Thelma to respond.  Thomas hoped she’d publicly join hands with him, but she could just as easily shun his declaration of affection and ask him to tamper his enthusiasm.

Dating, Thomas thought to himself.  It’s a wonder guys have any hair left when we get married.  Thomas started thinking about his relationship with Thelma in the long run.  He started to let his mind wander to five, ten years into the future.  It was at that point that Thomas knew that, as was his nature, he was over analyzing everything.  There was a time and a place to think things over.  There was also a time to shut up, grab some potato chips, and watch television.  Thomas walked to the kitchen cabinet, happy that the remote was something he could still have complete control over.

Words with Girlfriends

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

Words with Girlfriends

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

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

“I can’t believe you.”

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

“Really.  We’re done”, Kelli replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How is that?”

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

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

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

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

“I wanted to play there.”

“Okay…”

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

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

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

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

“Yes”, she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you want”, she replied.

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

“Yeah, but I didn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Affair Worthy of the News

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.

An Affair Worthy of the News

Be faithful to your love and you will be recompensed beyond measure.” -Albert Schweitzer

“What do you think we should do?”

“Make out.”

“Tom”, Gretchen said with exasperation.  “We made out yesterday, now we need to be serious.”

“You think I’m not?  Well if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m always serious about making out.  I am all about serious.  I think we should do some serious making out.”

“Funny guy”, she said.  “But we need to come up with some sort of a resolution here.”

Tom lay on his side looking at Gretchen who was doing the same.  The weather was far too nice to be ignored and the couple had taken a blanket to a small patch of grass.  Tom saw his relaxing day off turning into a, “we need to have the talk” ordeal.  He took his right hand off of Gretchen’s hip and reached all the way around her back.  He rolled her on top of him and locked his arms tightly behind her lower back.

“What are you doing”, Gretchen asked.  A smile eked out of the corner of her mouth, proving that she was only partially resisting.  “We’re supposed to be talking out a plan of action here.”

“I am”, Tom replied.  “I just want to make sure that I have your full attention.  I know how you get distracted.”

Gretchen’s penchant for being distracted was what had caused the two to meet in the first place.  She had decided that the life of a reporter would be enough of a hustle to keep her brief attention span occupied.  The bosses liked her enthusiasm and had asked Tom to show her the works.  Neither of them had meant for anything to happen, but they certainly weren’t complaining at the results.  Tom had started off by showing her the press box at the arena, showing her the best secret places around the city, and generally sharing with her the secrets that came from years of reporting in they city.

In return, Gretchen had let Tom have an outlet for his playful side.  At work he was seen as reliable and professional; one of the true grunts that would work until the job was done.  Gretchen loosened him up.  Whenever she rushed off to explore some new sight in the city, she grabbed him by the hand and took him racing along with her.  Her laugh, the way her long hair bobbed up and down in the loose ponytail as they darted from one place to the next; it was all too much for Tom to resist.  Everything had come to a head at the boxing match.

Despite Tom’s protesting, his editor had enlisted him to help out while one of the sports writers was on maternity leave.  Things were quiet in the features section and the boss assigned Tom the wrestling match.  When Tom started to vent his annoyance to Gretchen over their morning cup of coffee, she excitedly revealed her secret love of the spectacle.  A quick call to the stadium resulted in a second press seat being obtained.

Tom was astounded by the fun he had at the event.  Gretchen was the main reason why.  She reached a level of excitement Tom could scarcely believe.  She screamed and cheered, calling each wrestler by name and crying for such attacks as “the whirlwind of destruction” and “the bang-town boom”.  Tom had tried to understand the actual proceedings for the first half hour, but he ended up watching Gretchen.  She was clearly having the time of her life and she only became more enthralled as the night went on.  Finally, as the victor pinned his weary opponent, the crowd echoed in one massive cheer.  Gretchen clutched her hands in front of her, her tiny hands balled up into eager little fists of glee.  She looked to Tom, unclenched her hands, and lunged at him.  Her right hand grabbed the back of his head and she pulled him close, her lips fiercely pressing against his.

Tom felt her warm kiss send sparks throughout his body.  He hadn’t expected this kind of attack at the arena.  Gretchen pulled away, realized what she had done, and blushed.

“Sorry” she apologized.  “The spandex, the chaos, the crowd”, she gestured around her.  “I guess I sometimes forget to censor myself.  Please don’t be mad?”

The reply came quickly as Tom put his hand through her hair and leaned close.  “I won’t if you won’t.”  Slowly, making sure he was okay, Tom pulled her towards him and the two enjoyed their exchange in the madness around them.

Ever since that night of kissing, the two had been having the time of their lives.  Their different assignments and pre-existing obligations kept them from spending as much time together as they liked, but they managed to sneak in a date or two each week.  If nothing else, they tried to always grab a quick cup of coffee at work.

Work, although it was the reason the two found each other, was also the biggest problem looming in front of them.  Gretchen had stated in her interview that she had big ambitions, and she had meant it.  From the day she sat down in her business suit and answered the questions asked her, the goal had always been present in her mind.  She wanted to be an editor.  She wanted to be the one making the shots and keeping tabs on all the activity around town.  She cringed at the idea of being trapped behind a desk, yet that was a sacrifice she thought she could handle.  That drive and passion was appreciated by the higher-ups.  But the part that they bristled at was the obvious affection that Gretchen had for Tom.

The newspaper had a rule.  The rule made sense.  The rule was strict.  And for Gretchen and Tom, the rule was a problem.  The rule stated that no employee should be in a relationship with an employee that could be answerable to the other.  Tom showing Gretchen around town and taking her places; that the bosses could excuse as a professional courtesy.  However two employees out and out dating while one made choices that could affect the other; that they wouldn’t have.  Gretchen had made informal inquiries to Anne, an editor she had grown to respect and like.  Anne explained it as softly as she could; management wouldn’t let an editor date a reporter, even if they weren’t assigned to the same sections.  The company wanted to avoid any and all appearances of nepotism, no exceptions.

Gretchen had tried to have fun with Tom, and that part had succeeded entirely.  The choice they would have to make soon continued to loom over their heads like a giant typewriter.  Any day it was going to fall and one of them might be crushed.  Gretchen warned Tom as they walked towards the park.  A decision had to be made.  She would prefer it to be made today.  Tom nodded quietly; a sign that he was trying to figure out a way to phrase the thoughts in his head.  That was one of the things Gretchen loved about Tom.  His thoughts always came out perfectly formed because of all the time he spent developing and arranging them in his head.  Tom rarely went through drafts or needed revisions; his writings, just like his conversations, emerged from his head ready for their audience.

“Here’s what’s going to happen”, Tom said.  He watched as Gretchen tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her.  She pulled her long hair out of Tom’s face, only for it to fall back towards him after she had readjusted it.  “Leave it”, he said.  “Here’s what we will do.  We will continue to fall deeply and madly in love.  It’s that simple.”

“Okay, she said as she ran her thumb against the line of his jaw.  And when I become editor?”

“Then I’ll quit”, Tom said quietly.

“Wait, quit?”  Gretchen broke free of Tom’s arms and sat next to him.  She stared down at him in disbelief.  “You can’t quit.”

“Sure I can”, Tom replied.  “People do it every day.”

“You can’t quit”, she repeated.  “You’re great at your job.  You love it.  You’ve spent years developing all those contacts.  What would you do if you quit?”

“I could still write”, Tom replied.  “I put some feelers out and there’s freelance work available.  Plus, my agent seems to think that there’s a book or two in this noggin of mine.”

Gretchen was stunned.  “You talked to your agent?”

“Well yeah”, Tom said has he sat up.  “You’re not the only one who’s been thinking this out.”

“Do you really want to quit, though?”

“No, I don’t”, Tom replied sadly.  He saw Gretchen was about to argue, so he spoke first.  “But I will.  You and I both know that editor jobs are rare in this city.  The media outlets just aren’t what they once were.  If you think a job is going to open up for you, then you have to seize it.  Period.”

“I don’t want you to have to quit”, Gretchen said.  “You’re good at your job.  You enjoy it, I know you do.”

“Very true”, Tom replied.  “But I enjoy you more.  And I care about your happiness more than a job, no matter how good I am at it.  Of course, if you ask my current editor, he may disagree with just how talented I am.”

“Don’t do that”, Gretchen snapped.  “I hate it when you put yourself down.”

Tom smiled.  “Yeah, I do.  Sorry.”

“You really plan to quit?”

“The way I see it, I have two choices.  I can keep seeing you, keep building on this wonderful stretch of, what, seven months?  Or I can have my job.  My job is interesting, but it isn’t everything.  I’d rather have no one calling me, offering jobs, than not have you call me at the end of the night.  It’s really that simple.  I’m supposed to support you, right?  Cheer for you when you want to have something for yourself?  Well then, consider it done.”

“You”, Gretchen said as she choked up, “are amazing.”

“No, the version of me that’s with you is.  I like myself more when I’m with you.  You make me feel more happier, smarter, and more confident.  Life is better when you’re with me.  It’s that simple.  You make me feel attractive, and it’s not just because you’re so stunning.  Which in case I haven’t told you today; you are.  The sun shining through your hair?  It’s pretty great.”

“You’re not so bad yourself”, Gretchen replied.

“Oh, I know.  I’m kinda perfect”, Tom said as he lay back on the blanket.

“Says the guy who forgot my birthday last month”, she retorted.  Gretchen lay back down and nestled next to Tom.  She put her head on his chest as they watched the few clouds above float lazily by.  A large cumulus in the shape of a sitting camel seemed to wink at her, wishing her the best.

“I did forget”, Tom admitted.  “But I promise to buy you flowers when you get promoted.  I’ll have them delivered to the office.  It’ll be a grand spectacle sure to embarrass you.  Hey, maybe you can use it as a reason to fire me?  Wouldn’t that be a fun story for our coworkers to gossip about?”

Gretchen rolled her eyes and sighed.  She wanted to be annoyed at his bad joke.  She couldn’t; Gretchen was far too busy enjoying a quiet day with a man who truly loved her.

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