Following you is not easy. In fact, I grew tired of following you many years ago. I just simply forgot to stop doing it. It became habit. Thinking now I can’t remember when I noticed a difference in me. Maybe I was drinking coffee and was struck with the notion all at once. Perhaps it was something that developed overtime creeping through me like a spider crawling on top of sleeping bodies at night.
What do I do now that I remembered? Do I simply forget again or should I do something about it this time? You appealed to me so. Your very nature and need for me so strong that I always felt as though I was locked in as if on a Ferris wheel with a bar holding me in place, going round and round peaking and falling.
Other bonds have come and gone. Ours has remained steady over time breaking that which was important to me all along. Breaking me, no, I was broken long ago.
This time might be different. I have found someone. Found someone again who can cure me of you. If you were here right now standing in front of me I would have the courage to tell you once and for all. I would tell you that you are no good for me. You lied to me. You said that we would make it and be happy. Brother, you lied to me.
If you stood at my door I would cast you away. I would not go with you on your next hunt. It is entirely possible that I never knew what you were hunting. I just wanted to make sure that you would be okay. So I stayed or I went depending on what you needed.
I know I would have the courage this time to dispel you forever with the promise that I would see you on the other side. Yes, that will be my promise to you. Brother, I will see you on the other side.
It rarely rains in Los Angeles in October. Yet there it was, a wall of rain coming down as I tried to make my way to the grocery store. My wind shield wipers could barely keep up and left huge streaks reminding me that I needed to go to Shucks and get new wipers for my car and Jennifer’s car.
I planned to make seafood fettuccine for our anniversary dinner. Today was our fifth wedding anniversary. When I reached the grocery store parking lot I circled a few times hoping to get a spot closest to the door so that I wouldn’t get soaked. I looked up at the temperature gauge in my jeep and saw that it was sixty-eight. Still pretty warm.
There were about five cars circling the lot waiting for a closer spot to open. I saw someone walking toward me juggling keys and a bag of groceries. She stopped right in front of me. Perfect, this was as close as I was going to get. She tossed her bag into the backseat of her Honda and pulled out in front of me, I had to put my car in reverse and inch back a few feet to give her enough room. Just as she pulled away I saw headlights turn in front of me and park in the spot, my spot. Damnit!
She was a young thing, in her early twenties. I guess I was still pretty young too, only just thirty. She got out of the car and ran into the store. She had a very nice ass. A car honked behind me. It startled me into action. I pulled into a spot that was about in the middle of the lot. I scoured my back seats for an umbrella or coat or anything I could put over my head. Nothing. I made a run for it.
I grabbed my cart and headed toward the seafood section. My flip flops squeaking against the linoleum floor at each step. The store was florescent bright in comparison to the dark clouds that loomed outside. After I grabbed clams, halibut, shrimp, and salmon, I turned down the pasta and sauces aisle.
She stood in front of the canned fruit holding a can of mandarin oranges. She looked up at me as I passed and her eyes flickered with acknowledgement. “Hey, aren’t you Jennifer’s husband?” she asked. “I, yeah, I’m sorry I don’t remember your name,” I replied. “Oh, I’m Molly. I work with Jen in accounting,” she replied. “We met at the Christmas party a couple months ago,” she added.
I vaguely remembered her or that Christmas party. From what I did remember, I made a complete ass out of myself in vengeance. “Jen’s boss hired me as an intern and then brought me on full time after I finished college,” she said. So, I was right. That put her at about twenty-three. Her blonde hair fell down well past her shoulders framing her face. She was very attractive.
“Hey, I was planning to walk over to Starbucks after and grab some coffee. This weather has got me down,” she said. I nodded in agreement with that. Most Californians do not like the rain. “Would you like to join me?” she asked. Before I could stop myself I agreed to meet her over there after I finished up with my shopping. She agreed and headed off toward the cashier.
I found myself hurrying through the rest of the list my heart beating wildly. It had been years since a girl had shown any interest in me at all. Wait, what was I thinking, I was married and shopping for an anniversary dinner that I was about to make. I couldn’t go to coffee. Not with someone that Jen knows. It was weird how she referred to her as Jen. Only I call her that, and her family.
The rain had let up a little but the clouds seemed even darker than before hanging like a blanket that could hide anything. I told myself that I was just going to get back into my car and drive home. That’s the kind of person I was. I wasn’t the kind of person to go have coffee with a strange, beautiful girl.
But there I was sipping on a short caramel macchiato, another thing I usually don’t allow myself to do, ever since I’ve focused on keeping in shape. We talked for a few minutes about how she liked working in the accounting department and asked me what I do although I had a suspicion that she already knew.
She quieted down and seemed to be focusing intently on the foam at the top of her cup. Then she spoke and what she said made my heart plunge into my stomach. “I know about you and Jennifer,” she said. It came out like she was admitting to a lie. She was looking at me, watching my face. Did I know what she was talking about?
I thought I knew and my emotions caught in my chest like wildfire. My heart hammered as pure anger raced through my veins. I had told only one person. My brother. And here, Jen had told an intern. A twenty-fucking-two year old intern. The words what the fuck charged across my head like an insult.
“It wasn’t Jen that told me,” she said. Oh great, that was supposed to make me feel a whole lot better. Now she had heard hear say, which means what, that her entire department knows, the entire office? I felt like throwing up.
She could tell that I wasn’t taking the news well. “Let me explain. Let me explain why I am here,” she said. Why she was here, wasn’t this a coincidence? She had stolen his parking spot to get into the store to grocery shop. What the fuck?
“This isn’t easy to say and I want you to know that normally I wouldn’t get involved, but when I met you at the Christmas party a few months ago, well, I like you and it really bothered me and I wanted to help you, I have been thinking about it ever since” she said. Finally I found my voice, “Help me?” I asked condescendingly.
“Listen,” she said. “My apartment is just down the street. Could we go there to talk in private?” she asked. Her face softened waiting for a reply. I felt my emotions calm slightly replaced with curiosity about how she found out and what she might know. “Sure,” I said quietly. We got up and headed toward our cars. “Why don’t you ride with me? It will be easier,” she said. “Fine,” I replied.
In the car, I clicked in my seat belt. She began to explain things more clearly. Her and Jen had become pretty good friends. They had both been in the same sorority at USC. The story took a twist that I was not ready for. At USC she had been involved with a couple women. My body stopped moving and I didn’t make a sound as I let her words sink in. at some level everything she was telling me felt right.
My head was swimming by the time we reached her apartment. We got out and walked up two flights of stairs. She opened the door to her apartment, which was small, but well decorated. “Can I get you anything?” she asked. “No, thanks. Well, how about some water?” I asked.
We sat on her couch, each of us on separate ends. I began peppering her with questions. I wanted details. I was sick and tired of not knowing. Not knowing why my own wife had never had sex with me before. She had given me many reasons, well not really reasons, more like excuses. We didn’t have sex before we got married because she wanted to wait. Then she didn’t want to have sex on our wedding night because she was too tired. Later it became clear to me that she was terrified of have sex.
We had tried everything from counseling to going to her OBGYN just to make sure that she was capable. The hurt and rejection ran deep. So deep in fact that I had killed off that piece of me completely just to cope. In the beginning I would take care of myself, but then I gave that up, and let it go, for the sake of our marriage. I had confided in my brother only, after about a year. He told me to get a hooker. That was the last time I talked about it.
I was lost in thought. Molly brought me back to reality. “I followed you to the store this morning,” she confessed. “Why?” “Because I know that today is your anniversary and like I said before, when I met you at the party, I really liked you. And, Jen, she is having an affair,” she blurted out. By this point I had gone through such a fierce range of emotion that the latest bit of information stung only a little, although I new that wouldn’t last. I sipped on my water calculating if I really wanted to ask a follow up question.
“With who?” I managed. Molly’s eyes fell to the floor. “With me,” she said. Tears pooled at her eyelids and fell streaking her cheeks. I was completely speechless. “I don’t blame her.” I said. The words hung in the air like the dark clouds looming just outside. Molly managed a weak smile.
She moved in closer to me and rested a hand on my leg. I flinched. “I just want you to know that I am sorry,” she said. “Yeah?” I asked. I felt like my body had been squeezed dry like an orange in a juicer. The water I sipped rusted on my tongue. “I want you to know that I like you too,” she said. I didn’t answer her. Instead I reached for her hair. Her long blonde hair and pulled her onto me. I didn’t care anymore about wrong or right. I was going to take this and then I would find a new life. I would start over again.
She awoke to screaming…her own screaming. Irene’s mother opened the door and flipped the light switch. Light filled the room illuminating her daughter’s pink hide-a-bed and the pile of stuffed animals in the corner. She had a picture of Robert Pattison hanging to the right of her window above her desk. He was the most popular celebrity crush to have at her high school.
Her mom sat coddling her. She probed to find out what her nightmare was about. It was her fourth nightmare that week, which wasn’t like her. Her mom had to know that something was up. She had been watching her like a hawk since it happened. It was two weeks before graduation and Irene was glad to be rid of high school. College would be better. She would be able to forget. She would be able to move on.
The next day at school she was summoned out of her fourth period English class to see her student advisor, which at her school was just the school counselor. Irene had already met with him the previous month to review her first semester high school schedule plan so it seemed odd that she was being asked to see him again.
Mr. Franz was a decent looking middle aged man. It was rumored that he had a smoking hot wife and three young daughters. He probably wasn’t even middle aged. He was probably in his mid-thirties, which was younger than her mother. His door was opened so she walked into the doorway and peeked at his desk. He was on the phone, but quickly hung up and told her to go in and sit down.
“How are things going?” he said. “Fine,” replied Irene with a shrug. She focused at looking him straight in the eye. She would show that she had nothing to hide. “Some of your teacher’s have talked to me recently about how you have been kind of distant,” he said. Irene sat there determined to appear like she was giving what he said great thought. She allowed her eyes to tear slightly before she spoke, but she made sure that her voice remained calm. “I haven’t felt myself, really. I mean, how would you feel if you lost your best friend?” she asked.
The expression on his face changed from alarm to compassion. He dropped his shoulders slightly and put his hands on his desk. “Yes, I bet this has been pretty hard on you,” he said. She wanted so badly to ask if the police had been by the school again asking questions. They had questioned her the day after it happened. She had been tearful and quiet. Answering their questions was too much of a burden on her. Mr. Franz pulled out a yellow hall pass and initialed it. “It is almost your lunch time. Why don’t you head to the cafeteria early if you want to,” he said. ‘Thanks’. Irene got up and took the pass from his hand. “And Irene, please come see me anytime you want to. My door is always open,” he said. ‘Okay’. With that, Irene turned softly and nonchalantly walked out of his office.
She meandered through the halls on her way to the lunch room. The lockers that used to seem dull in color now seemed to pop out of the walls in bright orange. Images flashed in her head like lightening strikes. Her senses had been heightened to the world all week. Sights and sounds were sharper and brighter. But when she closed her eyes she was haunted. In her mind she saw the delicate pale face of her beloved friend. Her lips had turned blue and a small streak of blood escaped from the right side of her tender mouth. She had laid there lifeless staring back with her dark dead eyes into Irene’s very soul. Charlotte, her love, was the only one who knew, she was the only one who would ever know.
The prior week had been a pivotal moment in Irene’s life. She had been given an ultimatum and she didn’t like it. Their relationship had floated under the radar unseen and untouched for three years. She couldn’t understand why Charlotte would want to damage what they had together. They had almost been caught a few times. Sometimes Charlotte’s mom would get home early from work, but they were always careful to be ready. Irene’s mom could never know. Irene was the perfect daughter. She didn’t want to fall victim to an adulterated life when she could go on living something so perfect, so pure. They had fun together, understood one another, and could have gone on living that way for an eternity.
The bell rang which signaled that her lunch period was about to start. She joined a stream of kids headed into the lunch room. Her mind played tricks on her and she was certain she saw Charlotte in the crowd. She scanned the crowd again. Of course she hadn’t seen her. Charlotte was dead.
She joined her group at the lunch table by the windows. They were large round tables that easily fit about ten people per table. She had sat with the same group since the first week of school. A couple people came and went over the last couple years, but the core group remained. She had one other close friend, Josh. Then there were three girls who she sometimes hung out with in larger groups. Josh had been pining for her since grade school. He was nice looking and she allowed him to take her to school dances. She would go with Josh and Charlotte would go to the dances with his best friend, Todd. It worked out perfectly; they would always go in a small group of four or a larger party group.
Irene even let Josh make out with her sometimes. It wasn’t so bad. He was a decent kisser and he had a strong body. He thought Irene was the prettiest girl at school. It was true that Irene was very pretty. If she had wanted to she could have been one of the popular group and try out for cheer. She had long since made the decision that she hadn’t wanted anything to do with that.
Josh was her friend. She told him that she didn’t want a serious relationship with him. And he said that was fine, but she could tell that it both bothered and perplexed him. He sometimes commented on Irene and Charlotte. How they seemed closer than most friends. How they were always together. He thought it was weird that they had slumber parties on most school nights.
Irene picked at her dry sesame bagel while everyone else at the table gabbed and ate. Josh sat quietly besides her not knowing what to say. Every once in a while he turned to Todd and made a joke or made fun of someone and the two of them would laugh. Irene had barely eaten all week. She was already thin so it went unnoticed. She just couldn’t keep anything down.
Her mom had made spaghetti and meatballs the night after the incident. Normally, spaghetti was Irene’s favorite meal, but it had sent her stomach into convulsions. She had fled from the table during the meal and had barely made it to the toilet before hurling her guts out. Her mom thought it was grief. If her mom only new.
The first lunch bell rang which signaled it was five minutes before the next period. Irene needed to head back to her last class to grab her backpack for her next class, geometry. She loved math class. Math made sense to her. She hated English. She hated being graded on something that was completely subjective. With math you are either right or you are wrong.
At the end of the school day Irene began to feel uneasy again. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she felt like something was about to happen. Most likely just paranoia she told herself. She reached into her locker to grab her Spanish workbook and her jacket. A hand touched her shoulder and she jolted.
“Oh, sorry,” said Josh. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said. “You okay?” His arm was gently placed on her right arm and he was looking into her eyes. He was pretty mature for a fifteen year old. He wasn’t so bad. Maybe she could like him. That would be different. It would definitely be less complicated.
“I, you, didn’t scare me,” she stammered. “I just, um, was getting my stuff.” “Yes, I figured that much out,” he replied with a small smile. “Are you busy today?” he asked. “I, um, not really, I don’t think,” she said. Irene quickly thought that this indeed could be a good thing. If it appeared that she was allowing a boy console her, then she would look better, to everyone. It made sense. “Want to come over?” she asked.
They pulled into neighborhood. After turning the corner into her cul-de-sac she gasped. There were two police cars parked alongside her house. Luckily Josh was following her in his green Ford ranger, so he couldn’t see that she was freaking out. She took deep breaths to calm herself. The officers had said they would be visiting again, after she had a couple days to digest things. That was their word not hers. “Digest” things? She could feel her mouth salivate. Irene parked her car in the drive and got out. The fresh air helped her to regain her composure.
Suddenly, she wished Josh wasn’t here. Then she retracted her thought. If she played this right, it could really work to her advantage. He parked his truck along the curb, on the opposite side from the two police cars. Josh walked over to her with questions in his eyes. “Maybe I should go,” he said. “No please. This is just a normal visit.” She let out a slight burp and inhaled air deeply. He hadn’t noticed. Her stomach was in knots and she fought the urge to throw-up in the brush behind him. Then she did something rash. Irene stood up on her toes and kissed Josh. She needed something to do, she needed to feel something else, otherwise her sickness would take over her body.
Irene pulled away after a long deep kiss. She felt a little bit calmer, a little bit more in control. He, on the other hand, was be fumbled. His eyes looked a little far off. She couldn’t tell if he was confused or what. She didn’t care. Irene took his hand and led him into the house.
Hand in hand, her and Josh, walked slowly into the kitchen. There was a male officer and a female officer. The man was fat a shorter than the woman. The woman didn’t look like a police officer at all. She looked like a stay at home mom. She was reasonably fit and wore her blonde hair long, but pulled back in a pony tail. She didn’t look like the type of person ready for battle. Perhaps that was her edge.
These thoughts Irene had fleeted in a moment. Her insides were rearing. Her body wanted to bolt out the front door and run until her legs gave way. There was a folder open on the granite counter top. She saw pictures of Charlotte. It was exactly how Irene had left her, with that looming stare and her mouth slightly ajar.
Irene leaned in to Josh more closely appearing to be looking for comfort. Irene’s mom looked tired. Irene wondered how long the cops had been at her house. What had they been asking? Irene’s alibi wasn’t exactly solid. And of course Irene had fingerprints all over Charlotte’s room. That was easy enough to explain. She was there all the time. They were best friends.
Irene’s claim was that she had been at her favorite bookstore during the time of the murder. She hadn’t bought anything. She had just done her usual, which was scanning all of the magazines on the shelves. It was something that she did often, so it was almost believable. She would just stick to her story. That was the best way.
She let the officers question her. She answered every question. She had practiced these lies over and over in her head during each sleepless and haunted night since the incident. The officers asked her questions for just over an hour.
They looked to be finished and started to gather the files. Irene was relived when they closed the file with the picture of her face. Irene turned and opened the fridge to grab a bottle of water. “Oh, I do have just one more question,” said the woman officer. Irene paused at the fridge as if she were contemplating what she wanted to snack on. For some reason, Irene didn’t want to turn around.
“What’s that?” asked Irene in the most casual and accommodating voice that she could muster. “Charlotte’s mom noticed that her bedside alarm clock is missing,” she said. The officer continued, “It was the only thing missing from her bedroom.”
Charlotte’s heart was beating so wildly that she was certain everyone in the room could hear it too. She sipped on her bottled water. She needed a task, something to fixate on. She gently closed the fridge and turned to face them. They all seemed to be staring at her. She wondered if her face was flushing because she felt feverish. The water felt like ice traveling down her throat. Then she found her voice.
That is weird,” replied Irene. She tried to sound as perplexed as they were. What they didn’t know is that very alarm clock. The “murder weapon” had been picked up by the garbage company just the day before. That alarm clock was traveling to its final resting place; the landfill.
Irene couldn’t tell if she sounded convincing enough. She felt lost. At this point anything could happen she guessed. She leaned her tired head on Josh’s arm and wrapped her arms around his side. It was a gesture se hoped they found normal and enduring. She had a boyfriend now. She had no motive to kill her very best friend in the entire world.
#The officers departed. She didn’t know if they were satisfied. Irene couldn’t think about the possibility that they would be back with evidence. As far as Irene knew, she was headed of to NYU in a few short months. Her life would begin again then.
It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere. – Agnes Repplier
She didn’t mind getting a little wet outside if it meant she could inhale a quick cigarette. She wasn’t a smoker per say, she just enjoyed one when she was out drinking. She leaned against the brick building. It was cold against her bare shoulder blades. She could have grabbed her coat from the coat check on the way out, but the line had deterred her and she was hot from dancing anyway. She could feel the music thumping through the wall into the club. The cold misty rain against her face awoke her senses and cleared her head.
She smashed her cigarette onto the brick wall and let it fall to the ground. She showed her wrist stamp to the bouncer and walked through the tinted doors. It was her first time to this dance club and it felt nice to not know anybody. She enjoyed going out without her friends so she could have room to just be. She could act however she wanted. It was something she had just started doing in the last few months. If she was being completely truthful it was because all of her friends had boyfriends. Her best friend was even engaged. She was happy for them, but at the same time she was happy that she wasn’t them. At thirty-one, Rosalie, had never been in love and so couldn’t understand why they were all holed in their apartments on a Saturday night.
She stopped in the bathroom to check her hair and face. There was one other girl in the bathroom stall. She had the mirrors to herself. She examined her outfit and her face. She leaned over the sink getting as close to the mirror as possible. There were tiny lines that had just recently emerged around her eyes, crows feet. All in all, she looked good. She looked even better than she did in her twenties. It probably had something to do with her daily trips to the gym. She had always exercised, but after turning thirty she took it to a whole new level.
Every morning she swam laps for thirty minutes. During lunch she met her best friend, Betsy, for crossfit training close to her work downtown. In addition, she had given up her very favorite vice, ice cream. Before turning thirty she would allow herself one scoop of chocolate chip mint after dinner, but that was no longer. She’d shed fifteen pounds and looked and felt better than ever. She walked back onto the dance floor and moved her body to the music.
She liked what the DJ played. He kept the beat at just the right speed. She spent the night dancing with strangers and mingling with the bartenders. One of the bartender’s was gorgeous. She had left the bar went dancing with the intention of going back and asking him for his number. When she returned he had left for the night and there were now only two tending the bar instead of three. She shrugged her shoulders. She grabbed her coat and stepped out to hail a cab.
She got home at just past three in the morning and crashed on her bed without changing her clothes or meticulously removing her make-up.
Six weeks later
“You smell like smoke,” said Betsy as she glared at Rosalie. Rosalie had gone through three packs of Camel lights in the last six weeks. “Are you going through another “phase” again?” she asked sarcastically. Back in college Rosalie had been a “smoker” for the entire summer between junior and senior year. “No!” said Rosalie. ‘I barely smoke. Anyway, let’s get some coffee.’ They were standing out front their favorite coffee house. They had spent many a nights studying at this coffee house when attending the art institute of Chicago.
They walked in and stood in line. She couldn’t figure out if she also wanted to get something to eat. She’d had a bowl of cereal before her morning workout, but could feel her stomach grumbling. She picked out a pannini from the pastry case by the time she made it to the front of the line. She dug into her purse for her debit card while ordering. The voice from behind the counter said, “that will be eight twenty six”. She looked up and saw him. It was the bartender from the night club. She felt immediately disoriented. She couldn’t tell if he remembered her or not. Probably not.
She became self conscious and realized what she must’ve looked like. She was in her workout clothes, no make-up, hair toppled in some kind of bun pony-tail combo on her head. She swore to herself internally and could feel her face flush. She handed over her debit card. His fingers grazed her hand ever so slightly as he grabbed the card. Her stomach flipped and rendered her speechless. She wanted so much to say something funny or witty or clever or even sarcastic. Nothing good came to mind. She signed her name on the receipt and stepped aside to wait for her latte.
Rosalie waited until her and Betsy sat down before launching into the story about the man behind the pastry case. It wasn’t much of a story. She’d talked to him briefly at the dance club and then he was gone. “You were going to ask for his number?” asked Betsy. ‘Yes’. “Woah, that is crazy. You have never, ever asked a guy for his number,” she said. ‘I know.’ ‘There was just something about him.’ “Well, you should go talk to him,” she said. Rosalie hadn’t touched her sandwhich. She had lost her appetite. What she really wanted to do was to step outside for a cigarette, but she knew that Betsy would scold her. Besides she was ashamed of herself for having smoked so much lately. She would just throw the pack away. That was the best idea.
Rosalie found herself lost in thought. Just the touch of his hand on hers had thrown her body into an absolute frenzy. She wondered what the rest of him could do to her. Rosalie was playing out scenarios in her mind of what she could say to him while Betsy rambled on about the details of her upcoming wedding and Rosalie’s responsibilities as her maid of honor. Rosalie wasn’t the least bit interested in her friend’s wedding details, but nodded periodically to feign interest and loyalty. She loved her friend, or course, but she had other things on her mind. Okay so she had one other thing on her mind. She finally figured out what she would do. She’d waited until the line died down and just walk up to him and say, hey, I met you a few weeks back when you were bartending at Cacho’s.
“Okay, I am going to go talk to him now,” she announced the Betsy. “Too late,” said Betsy. “I think he just left because there is a girl up at the register now,” she said. ‘Damn!’ ‘If I wasn’t such a baby about it.’ “Yup, pretty much,” said Betsy with a smirk on her face. She then started listing of the things that needed to be done for her upcoming engagement party.
Two Months Later – Betsey’s Engagement Party
It was the day of Betsey’s engagement party and Rosalie was feeling restless and she didn’t know why. The dress she picked out fit perfectly, but she couldn’t get her long hair to commit to a good style. She decided to straighten it, but then wasn’t sure about how it fell over her dress straps so opted for a sleek pony tail that showed off her high cheekbones. She had stuck to her word, well the commitment she made to herself, and stopped smoking, again. It helped that she had gotten a terrible cold, which made her realize that what she was doing to her body was just not okay. She’d chewed Nicorette gum in the beginning just to calm her nerves. She kind of missed them, but it wasn’t too bad.
She drove to the bakery and picked up the “Congratulations on Your Engagement” cake. It was the only errand that Betsy’s mom had asked her to do. She was an hour early to the party so that she could help with last minute details. When she pulled up there were already quite a few cars in the driveway. She was sure that she was early, but she felt a little panic rise at the thought that she misunderstood something. She walked in with the cake. She could tell instantly that she was just fine. There were just a lot of family members already there hanging out and drinking on the back patio. Betsey’s parents had lived in that house for Rosalie’s whole life. Rosalie had many fond memories as a child playing hide and seek and spending the night. She hadn’t been over in years though because she hadn’t any reason. It was nice to be there again. Her own parents had moved to Palm Springs after she’d graduated college. She saw them a couple times a year.
Rosalie put the cake in the extra fridge in the garage. She walked back into the kitchen and saw Betsy and Roger making mimosa’s in the kitchen. Rosalie liked Roger. He was by far the best guy that Betsy had ever dated. Rosalie hadn’t felt much for Betsey when she announced her engagement. However now, looking at the two of them in the kitchen, the occasion of it filled her heart. Roger looked up and saw that she was standing there watching them. He walked over and gave her a big brotherly hug. “Rosa!” Rosa is what Betsy had always called her because when they were younger Betsy had a hard time saying her full name. She would pronounce it Rosawee, so someone, not sure who by this point, had taught her, Rosa.
“I have someone for you to meet!” said Roger with a big goofy grin on his face. Rosalie looked behind him and noticed that Betsy shared the same goofy grin. Rosalie immediately felt a little anxious. She knew this look. It was the “we found the perfect guy for you” look. They were endlessly trying to fix her up with someone most likely to make their own lives easier. She loved her friends, but wish they could just give it a rest. Rosalie rolled her eyes and shook her head playfully. ‘Not interested. This is your day. Let’s not ruin it.’ “No, really, Rosa.” He said. “He is my cousin. Well my cousin through marriage. My aunt remarried and it is her new husband’s son,” he said. ‘Your what? Never mind! You guys, you know I hate it when you do this. Now this whole evening will be totally uncomfortable.” “Rosa, listen,” said Betsy. She gave Rosalie the look. It was the look she always gave her to try to make something seem very serious.
“Just come with me,” said Roger. He grabbed her arm and gently guided her out onto the deck with Betsy trailing behind. They walked past the people sitting on the deck down to the lower level where there was a pool and more tables set beside it. “When did you parents get a pool?” asked Rosalie. “Last summer,” said Betsy without further explanation. There were a few people sitting at the table, all friends of Roger’s. Then she saw him. He was sitting with his side to her, but she knew it was him from his profile. His dark hair was a little bit longer than last time and a bit disheveled. It looked even better. He looked up and met her eyes. Her stomach jolted and her senses doubled, maybe tripled. The spring air, which before smelled good, now smelled ripe with flowers and warmth. Even the dirt freshened from the morning rain smelled sweet and delicious. The sky around her changed color and her heart leaped beating rapidly in her chest. This is what it felt like to know instantly. She’d read about it and watched movies about it, but had never before experienced what it meant.
– Happy Valentine Day, A Girl Who Writes
He created his own problems. He knew that. He was practical enough to understand that life is constant ebb and flow between cause and effect, decision and consequence. Only once before this was he faced with a life changing situation where he was thrust into a decision for better or for worse.
Now, he faced two main problems. One was in the background his whole life waiting to come to fruition. The other was something that he had manifested all on his own out of sheer stupidity.
Berkel sat in his doctor’s office gripping the chair’s wooden arms and tried to not listen to what she had to say. She explained how he would need to do some research now while it would be easy. He should find someone that he liked and who he trusted to work with during the transition. He should look for a new apartment that wasn’t on the top floor of a building that didn’t have an elevator. He should prepare for the inevitability that he was about to lose his vision. These were not the words he wanted to here. He thought he would have had at least another ten years before something like this happened. He had known since childhood that it could happen, but a person can never be ready.
At twelve he was diagnosed with child onset diabetes, type two. It had gone undiagnosed for almost a year which had heavily taxed his liver and kidneys. By the time he was diagnosed and prescribed regular insulin injections his eye sight had already taken a hit and he had to wear glasses. His doctor then had said that the long term effects of not treating it earlier would most likely lead to blindness one day. At the time, like any smoker who knows that they will die from lung cancer someday, it did not really faze him.
Berkel was not your typical kid. At eight years old he had taken to charcoal drawing like a baby takes to the nipple. When he turned eleven he switched to watercolor and at fifteen he was painting with oil. While other kids were watching Sesame Street on television he would watch Bob Ross. His bedroom wall was plastered with beautiful women like most teenage boys, but his favorite poster was of Starry Night over the Rhone. He was both transfixed and disgusted by the life of Vincent.
Through his years as a painter he had experienced some highs and some definite lows. Some of his still life’s had sold for near five thousand dollars in a gallery in Boise near his home. But those were too few and far between. He had sold a fifty five by forty inch oil painting of the Sun Valley landscape for thirty thousand dollars to a hotel when he was just twenty two. It had been a god sent because his wife, Jocelyn, lost her job and they were just about to foreclose on their small house.
Being an artist was all he knew to do. He tried a couple other jobs just to make more money for his wife and his daughter, but he could never hack it. He couldn’t sit in an office on the computer. That was not what his hands were meant for. He loved his family, but he was always looking beyond the horizon knowingly, waiting for the right time to go.
Now, he was no longer in Boise. He had moved to Cannes, France on impulse after he separated from his wife after eighteen years of marriage. They had married young, because they’d had a kid young. He had felt guilty leaving, but his daughter was a woman, just turned eighteen. His art had come to a stand still and he needed inspiration. Where better to find inspiration than France and Italy?
It only took seven months for him to find himself all over again. He found his edge, his calling as an artist. He made more money selling paintings on the boardwalk in Cannes then he did in five years in Boise. Something changed in him and passer Byers could see the fire spill from his paintings.
He sent a big check to Jocelyn. They hadn’t officially divorced, but they were no longer exclusive in anyway. For now they agreed to be two drifters. She was focused on the restaurant she had bought. He sent money for her and for his daughter. He didn’t care how they used it. They had left on good terms and all in all she had been loving and supportive of his need to seek out his talent.
To celebrate himself and his new found success he bought a black Mercedes convertible and drove up the coast to Monaco. His first trip he stayed at the glorious casino de Monte Carlo. It was decadent. He wasn’t much of a gambling man. He sometimes played friendly poker back home. He never had much money to lose.
This time was different. This time his practical nature flew out the window. It met in direct proportion to how quickly his bank account had grown. He didn’t know it yet, but at almost thirty seven years old, Berkel faced disaster.
He discovered that roulette infused his excitement more than most things he’d tried in his life. At first he just watched and devised a plan of how he would play and win. His strategy was clever. He always stuck to the same group of numbers and often correlated them to his wife and daughter’s birthdays. His first time in he walked away ahead eight thousand dollars. His heart beat furiously on the drive back to Cannes from Monaco. The wind blew through his hair and he felt alive.
His art work continued to sell and he felt he gained even more of an edge. He went to Monte Carlo every weekend and sometimes during the weeknights if he had made a good sell that day. His ego ran high and the sheer adrenaline from this new and exotic life fed his fury. It was six months later, since the first day he played, that he lost. He lost big.
In his time there he’d made some friends. One in particular took interest in him as an artist and a player. They would share stories over whiskey until the early hours of the morning. His name was Franco. Franco was a retired banker from Paris. Franco was there the night that Berkel lost big and gave his condolences. Berkel, was left with only two thousand dollars to his name and his rent was due the following week. His rent was five grand.
Franco offered to lend him the money to cover it and a little extra. He knew he was good for it .Berkel would pay him back the following weekend. This went on for a few months. Berkel would get back in the black and then fall deep into the red. Franco would help him out. Not too much time went by before the being in the red became the norm and Franco was done with it. He wanted his money back and was ready to be rid of Berkel.
Berkel walks out of the doctor’s office. He walks the seven blocks down to the water and stares out at the cruise ship anchored just off shore. His money would come in from those people, those wealthy American’s and British travelers who would want a piece of art to take home to remember their once in a lifetime vacation.
The problem was that his debt to Franco far outweighed what he could bring in a week. He stared onto the horizon perplexed as to how he got into this mess. He would just have to cut out his gambling. At thirty seven his life was starting to feel as devastating and morose as his favorite painter. Vincent had shot himself and died at the age of thirty seven. That fate almost seemed optimistic in comparison to what faced him now.
The glare of the sun off the water forced him to put on his sunglasses. He wished he could say that the sky looked anew and the water shimmered like it never had before, but that was not the case. He didn’t see things any differently now then the day before when he didn’t know that he would be blind in a month, maybe two according to the doctor. He had always seen things the way he was meant to see them. He had an acute artist’s eye and knowing that it would go away didn’t change what he already saw.
Here he was faced with both problems. Destiny had caught up to him and in the meantime he had done something extremely moronic. To make matters even worse his daughter, now nineteen, had finished her first year of art school and was flying out to visit him for the summer. In just two years he had changed from a man who was most likely going through an early mid life crisis to just a man in crisis. He didn’t want to face his daughter.
His pocket vibrated. He had turned his cell phone to vibrate in the doctor’s office. He looked at the caller id. It was Franco. He didn’t want to answer, but at the same time, he wanted to talk to someone. Hello. “Berkel, ces’t Franco,” he said. I know. Do you mind if we speak in English? “Okay, no problem,” said Franco. Listen, Franco, said Berkel. “I just left the doctors office and found out that I am going blind. You are the first person I have told,” he said.
His total bill to Franco had reached thirty one thousand dollars. Without a doubt it had added tension to their friendship. Franco knew that Berkel was an outstanding artist. Franco himself had taken a piece as payment for a portion of his debt.
The line was silent and then he spoke. “Mon amis, Je regrette,” which meant, my friend, my apologies. He sounded sincere and it felt good for Berkel to speak the words. Next he would tell his wife.
“I will get you your money before I am incapacitated,” said Berkel. “Your friendship is important to me and I have been living a fool’s life,” said Berkel. “You are going blind? For sure? He asked. “Yes, that is what the doctor said and it has always been a possibility,” he replied. “Mon amis! Your art will be worth even more than before, now that you won’t be able to paint anymore originals,” he said with his thick French accent. What he said cut like a knife, but Berkel listened on. “Paint me two of your finest ever pieces and I will take them in exchange to write off all that you owe me,” he said. “You have a deal,” replied Berkel.
“How much time do you have,” he asked. Berkel’s eyes burned with tears of resentment, not at Franco, but at the world in general. “I should have another month or so,” he replied. “Okay. I will come by your place in a month then,” he said. “Okay. On se parle bientôt,” said Berkel. He hit the end call button and then dialed his wife.
He didn’t have much time to be depressed. He had two paintings to create. They had to be his best ever and he only had a week before his daughter, Marcy, would arrive. He’d asked his wife not to tell her anything, but at the same time knew that was probably impossible. They talked about everything. Especially him, he was sure.
The first thing he did was cancel his lease on his apartment. He moved his meek belongings to his new apartment on the bottom floor of a small complex right near the water. If he couldn’t see the ocean he damn sure wanted to be able to hear it. He set up his painting supplies in the front balcony and set to work. The first one came to him in a breeze. It was something he had dreamt about as a little boy, but never dared to paint. He rarely did portraits, but he had seen a face of a man in his dreams and could still remember him. He would call it Old Vincent. He felt it was a depiction of what Van Gogh might have looked like had he not killed himself at a young age.
Old Vincent looked fuller of life and more content than the self portraits Van Gogh created of himself. Maybe he had finally found love again and was able to keep it. Or maybe he gave into life’s flaws and quit his grievance.
By the time he had finished his first painting it was the day he was to pick up Marcy. He grabbed a chauffer to the airport. He’d liquidated his Mercedes. He would have just had a car pick her up and bring her down the coast, but he wanted to greet her himself. It had been two years since he’d seen her. He was nervous.
At the airport she was waiting outside the baggage claim exit doors. Berkel got out of the car and walked to hug her. She greeted him with a huge smile. Her long brunette hair was pulled back in a pony tail. It barely looked as though she’d spent the last sixteen hours traveling. When he pulled away he saw that her eyes were wet. “Well, I guess your mom talked to you about it then?” he asked. Her expression was of worry mixed with anger. “She told me everything, dad,” she said. “You have been living like a buffoon,” she said.
Berkel didn’t have much of a response. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. On the drive back to his apartment he told her everything. She told him about her first year in art school. It was like no time had past at all since they last saw each other. They had stayed in touch via email and telephone, but it wasn’t the same, as in person.
In the weeks that followed she helped him to get settled. He had nights when he would wake up in the dark and think, this is it, I can’t see. He would reach for his bed side lamp and be able to see just fine.
He finished his two paintings and gave them to Franco. Franco was astounded by both of them, exclaiming that even if he didn’t go blind they should appreciate to be worth much more than his debts. They shook hands and said their goodbyes.
Marcy stayed the summer. They painted together and traveled around France and Italy in a used diesel van.
He never stepped foot in a casino again.
-A Girl Who Writes
It was getting dark. I’d missed the last four tennis balls. I was off my game anyway. I couldn’t clear my head of work. My boss had been such a dick about my story. It was a solid story. I had cross checked all of my references and knew that it was an iron clad indication of how our senator had managed the budget. My boss was a pussy when it came to printing the truth.
I called out to Tom to end the game on account of I could no longer tell if my ball was on the line or not when I hit it cross the net. And since I hated battling him about line points I figured it best to call it. “Wanna grab a beer at Sill’s?” Sill’s isn’t really the name of the pub. It is what the locals call it because it is on Sill’s road. “Nah, I need to head home,” he replied. He was still catching his breath as we collected our balls. “Promised Sal that I would help her with dinner tonight,” he said. “Next time then… It’s probably better. I should head home and get some work done.”
“Ah, yes, the infamous novel,” said Tom. “How is it coming along?” he asked. “Ehh.” I shook my hand to motion so-so. In reality it was going much worse than so-so, it wasn’t really going at all.
We crossed the parking lot to where our cars were parked. He drove a new BMW, white with black interior. Tom never got his degree, but managed to do very well for himself. While the rest of us were broke on our butts trying to make it through college, he was raking in the dough working in sales. He is my great reminder that there are many ways to make it in this world. My car, a used Wrangler, with one hundred forty-six thousand miles on her, ran like a beauty and got me where I needed to go.
We lived on Whidbey Island just northeast of Seattle, WA. I inherited a small house on the double bluff after my grandfather died. I’d lived on the island for just two years, but it always felt like home to me. I used to spend the summers with my grand parents, and so I always regarded myself as one of the island kids. There were a pack of us, Tom being one of them. The rest of the pack had long since gotten the hell outta dodge, but I loved it. I only went into the office a couple days a week, at most. Tom did sales from his home office and only drove into the city for important meetings. He married a girl from Seattle a few years back and since then they bought a nice house on snob hill which is an enduring term for a wealthy neighborhood we used to teepee often when we were kids. “See you Thursday, same time, same place,” he called out behind him. “Yeah, take it easy.”
I pulled the car into the gas station and got out to fill my tank. While it was filling I ran in and grabbed a six pack of Heineken. I went back out and topped off my tank. I climbed back into my JEEP and started her up.
By the time I turned to head up the hill toward my house it was near dark. I could make up a shadow just up ahead on my right. It was the dress lady. I named her the dress lady because she always walked from the neighborhood just below my house, which I assume is where she lives, to town and back wearing a dress and sandals. She would wear a coat over her dress and socks with her sandals during the colder months.
It was the end of August, which is about the prettiest time of year in the Puget Sound so no need for the coat or extra outerwear. Still it was getting dark and I did not usually see her out this late. I have thought about pulling over and checking to see if she wanted a ride, but in the past I never had. I noticed that she talked to herself. Sometimes it looked like she was having an angry conversation with the asphalt. I could rarely make out her face when I passed by. She was older, I think, but it is possible that life made her look older than she is. I would see her carrying bags of books and groceries. Her trips to town must have taken her all day. It was at least six miles to the grocery store and another two miles to the library from her neighborhood, which would make a round trip about twelve to sixteen miles. No wander she was thin.
I’m not sure if it was the fact that it was growing very dark or the expression on her face when I passed that made me do it. I pulled over a few yards ahead of her. I left the car running and got out to greet her. “Can I give you a lift up the hill?” She didn’t look up at me. Instead she replied downward to the sidewalk. “I live at the top of the hill,” she said. “That’s what I thought. Here let me help you with your things.” “No!” Again she spoke not to me directly but downward.
Okay. I started back toward the JEEP and I heard her follow me. I opened the passenger door and thought twice about helping her in. I decided to just walk to my side and let her be. We started up the hill together. The silence didn’t feel nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would. Her three plastic bags sat two at her feet, one on her lap. I noticed that she continued to grasp the car door handle as I drove.
“You walk to town everyday?” “Just about,” she responded. I put my right blinker on to turn into the neighborhood where I assumed she lived. It was the only neighborhood nearby before turning up the bluff where there were only a handful of homes, much bigger than my own. “No.” she said. She signaled for me to stop the car at the front of the neighborhood.
“Well, thanks!” She said in a cheerful voice that didn’t at all fit her personality. “You are the first person you has ever offered me a ride,” she said. “You’re welcome. Hey I am probably going to run into town for a coffee around nine tomorrow morning if you want a ride into town.” “That would be great. I will be right here at nine,” she said. “Okay, great, see you then.”
At home, Boomer greeted me wildly at the door. I usually took her to the courts with me, but she was wearing the cone of shame to keep from licking a sore spot that had just been treated. Other than Boomer, my sixty pound golden retriever, I lived alone. I was engaged once, but broke it off when I was twenty-nine, just before I moved out here. Partly it was because she wouldn’t move to the island with me and partly because I finally admitted to myself that it just didn’t feel right, at least night right enough to get married.
My life had been pretty simple the last few years. Often Boomer and I would comb the beaches surrounding the island. She loved running after the gulls and the sprays that the gooey ducks made. I loved the beach. The fresh cold air that often whips around and sometimes cuts like a knife grounds me and feeds my in a way nothing else can. I love sunny days when a cool breeze feels like a gift, but my favorite time is when a storm rolls in a takes over the bay, howling through the large evergreens, tossing branches, and ripping waves against the tide pools.
I meant to work on my novel once I got home, but I was exhausted. I cracked a beer and plunked down on the couch to watch the Mariners game. I must have dozed off somewhere in the seventh inning. Boomer was barking in my dream. I was having the strangest dream. The woman that I gave a ride to was running circles around my house, but it wasn’t exactly my house I was in, it looked more like Tom’s house, but it was still on the bluff. She was running quickly and every so often looking back at me. Our eyes would meet and I couldn’t look away.
I couldn’t tell if I was chasing her or if I was just watching her. It took me a minute to realize she was completely naked. Her body was beautiful and her skin glowed ever so slightly. Her hair reached down her back and gently glided like a veil as she ran. Then she stopped and stared at me. She stood there as the big starry sky and the light of the moon shown behind her. She was standing on the edge of the bluff backing up very slowly, but not releasing eye contact with me.
I outstretched my arm to touch her and she opened her arms wide and allowed her body to fall silently backwards off the bluff. I woke up to Boomer barking. I was breathing heavily. It was one thirty in the morning. The dream that had once felt so real quickly evaporated. I let Boomer out to the bathroom and then we went to bed.
The next morning I woke up at seven sharp, like every morning. Boomer and I went for our morning run, five miles of winding trails behind my house. I logged into my work email to see if there was anything important. I responded to a few emails then showered. I was in my JEEP at eight fifty five. I drove down to the spot where I’d agreed to meet the lady. I would ask for her name this time so that I could stop calling her the dress lady.
I felt a little odd having had such a vivid dream about her. However, I couldn’t be sure that my dream was actually supposed to be about her. It didn’t totally look like her, except I just knew that it was her in my dream. I slowed the car down and pulled to the side of the road. She wasn’t there. It was two minutes after nine. I didn’t mind waiting a couple extra minutes.
I reached behind my seat to grab the newspaper that I had stashed there to take to the coffeehouse. My passenger door opened abruptly which caused my heart to jump. She slid into the passenger seat and shut the door. This was not the same lady that I had picked up yesterday or that I had seen walking back and forth from town the last couple years. This woman was dressed in jeans, a red sweater and had long wavy blonde hair.
She must have seen the befuddled look on my face because she broke out into laughter. “Don’t look so shocked Scott,” she said. It took me a second to register that she had addressed me by name. “I don’t know your name, how is it that you know mine?” “My name is not important, but if you’d like you can call me Lucy, I have always loved that name,” she said.
“Okay then Lucy,” I replied, audibly sounding a bit weirded out. “Forgive me for sounding rude, but you are not acting at all like, well…you.” I realize that my remark probably gave away too many of my prior judgments, but it was out there now. “Not acting like me?” she asked. She was wearing a smile and was obviously enjoying the rhetoric. “But you don’t even know me,” she said. This was in fact true. I did not know her, but every time I saw her walking she was wearing a frumpy dress and a pair of Birkenstocks. Forgive me for noticing superficial things, but I was pretty sure she now had on a pair of black heels.
Without knowing what else to do I put the car into drive and we headed down the hill toward town. She was staring at me, which was opposite of what she had done the previous day. It was definitely making me feel uncomfortable. “How is your book coming?” she asked. “How do you know that I am a writer?” “Let’s just say I have a vested interest in your novel,” she replied. “Is that so?” “Yes.” She said without hesitation. “So let’s talk about how it is going. So far you have written about half the book, but you have barely touched the thing in months,” she said. “Okay, weird, weird, weird, who are you?”
“I…Am… Your muse,” she said. “Ha! Well of course you are.” I glanced at her in the passenger seat. She was sitting there bright eyed with a beautiful smile beaming back at me. I figured it best to play along because, well, she was beautiful and I was a little interested. “Okay, for the sake of time and so that I don’t say something rude, go ahead and explain.”
She waited a couple beats and then cracked her window. She sucked in the fresh air, as did I. “Do you ever take the top off and just drive?” she asked. “You’re changing the subject.” “I am not changing the subject, Scott, I absolutely have a purpose to this question,” she replied. Fine I’d play her game. She’d peaked my curiosity. Her strange behavior had infected me and I was bound to get the bottom of it.
“I haven’t taken it off this summer. Usually I take the top off each summer, but I just never got around to it this summer.” “True,” she said. That was all she said. We had reached the Java hut by this time. “I am going in for a coffee. Would you like to join me?” She stared at me. It sent shivers up and down my spine. It was the same look she gave me last night in my dream. “No, I will wait here. You go in and grab your coffee. Then I want to show you something,” she said.
“I do have work to do today, ya know.” “Oh, I know,” she replied. Something about her made me decide that either way I was going to end up complying with her. “Okay then.”
Chelsea was working the counter. “Your usual?” she asked. “Yup! And toss in a sesame bagel.” I had a feeling I should eat something now.
I walked back outside. The sun was out in full force beating on my face. It felt good. She was sitting in the driver seat. The top was off my JEEP. The radio was blaring. I slid into the passenger seat. “How did you get the top off?” I’d had the hard top on my JEEP which was impossible for me to take off by myself, so it left me perplexed by how she got it off so easily. “Where did you put it?” “It is back in your garage, where it should have been two months ago,” she said. She pulled out of the Java hut parking lot and got on the highway.
It was useless to try to talk because with the top off and the radio on, I could barely hear my thoughts, let alone have a conversation. I drank my coffee. I instantly felt the caffeine kick in. I sat back and let the sun and the breeze overtake my senses. I wasn’t sure why I was letting this strange woman lead me away. It felt right, to go along with it. I felt more alive and more relaxed than I had in many months.
She turned off the main road onto a dirt road. I knew this road. I knew practically every road on the island like the back of my hand. The first summer I had my license my friends and me had camped everywhere it was legal and some places it wasn’t. We took our new girlfriends out to the different lakes at night, for more than just looking at the stars.
She climbed the windy single lane path heading toward Lone lake. I wandered if she knew that is where I lost my virginity. I had an inkling that she did know. The JEEP bobbed and bounced along the path. The remnants of my coffee spilled out the small hole in the lid. She laughed loudly as she wrangled the steering wheel through potholes and around corners. She was breathtaking to look at. In life she was even more beautiful than the woman in my dream.
She stopped the JEEP at the trailhead. It was a short half mile walk to the lake. We got out and she started walking. I was ready to talk. I was ready to get some answers about who she was and what this was all about. “Lucy, stop.” “We don’t have much time, Scott. Let’s keep going,” she replied. “What do you mean we don’t have much time?” “We just have the day,” she said. “I am here to remind you,” she said.
I could barely keep up with her. I considered myself an athletic person, but she was practically jogging instead of walking. “Remind me of what?” She didn’t answer. We reached the lake. It was ten thirty and it was probably already in the high seventies. It would probably reach ninety by three in the afternoon.
“Undress,” she exclaimed. “What?” “Take your clothes off,” she said. She said this while taking her own clothes off and she was already half naked. The sun reflected off her pale skin. I felt inhibited by her crazy behavior. She undressed fully, allowing her clothes to scatter about. She walked toward the dock. At the dock she plunged off the side into the dark water.
I was left there standing alone, while this strange, beautiful woman was swimming naked in the lake. I stripped down to my boxers and walked out onto the dock. The water looked a cold. “It feels amazing. Just jump in!” she said. So I did.
The rush of the water against my body caused my blood to pump ferociously through my veins. I surfaced and looked around. Lucy had swum about fifty yards in front of me. I swam after her. After another hundred yards or so, we reach the middle of the lake. “Look around,” she said. The lake was deserted. There were no houses around it because it was part of a reserve. It was very quiet and yet I felt very exposed. “It’s nice out.” “Nice out?” she asked. “That is all you feel about this?” she asked.
“No, actually, I am confused. I don’t know why you are here, I don’t know why we are swimming in the middle of the lake on a Wednesday morning, when I should be back at my place working on my story, which is due by the end of the day tomorrow. I don’t understand why you were one person and now you are another. And I definitely don’t understand why you know and care about the book I am writing.” I finished.
“Your book is meant to be written and it is meant to be read,” she said. “You are going to give hope about life and how to live to many people who have let themselves die,” she said. “Too many people complacently take life for granted because it doesn’t live up to their expectations. You are trying to right this book, but lately you have become one of them yourself,” she said. I couldn’t tell where this was headed. She kind of struck a cord, but mostly I felt like she was wrong. I was living a good life. I kept in shape, I was good at my job, I had friends. I had a life.
“I am not talking about just merely having a life and living it day by day,” she said. Apparently she could read my thoughts. “Why did you pick me up yesterday? Why yesterday and not any of the other days that have passed the last couple years?” she asked. “I don’t know.” I didn’t know. I just decided to do it, to see. “It was getting dark, I guess, that is the main reason.”
“Ah, it was dark,” she replied. “I trust I know the way home in the dark. Do you?” she asked. This was starting to sound more like a riddle than an answer. “Frankly, this situation is strange. I am interested by you because you are strange and whatever you’re doing is eccentric, which by nature is interesting. I dunked my head under water and resurfaced. My head and body felt warm from tredding water.
“As your muse it is my duty to free you so that you can finish your book,” she said. “Free me from what?” “Yourself,” she answered. “Take my hand,” she said. She outstretched her thin pale arm. I took her hand. Her grip was hard, much harder than I could have imagined it being. She probably had a stronger grip than me and I’ve played tennis for twenty years.
“Take a deep breath,” she said. I did so and noticed that she did not inhale deeply. She pulled me under the surface and drug me below. Her skin began to glow, like in my dream. With every foot it got darker and her body subsequently became brighter. My ears popped from the weight of the water overhead. I could feel my lungs begin to burn. It had probably been about thirty seconds. Logs and fish and unintelligible debris flew past as we swam at the speed of racing horses.
My lungs yearned for air and I could feel her grip tighten on mine as my body struggled to get away, to find oxygen. It felt like she was trying to kill me. My body convulsed under her grip and my head lightened. I felt myself no longer paying attention to what I saw, but instead I was being drug through the dark slimy water until my inevitable death.
I saw stars; the sky was full of them. I assumed I was fully unconscious by this point. I saw her running toward the cliff. I ran after her. She floated of the side of the cliff and made it look so easy. I felt lighter than air. I floated off the cliff right after her. I dove through the air. I couldn’t see an end in sight. I was completely unafraid because I could tell there would be no painful landing, there was nothing to stop me from floating adrift.
Through my unconsciousness I felt that her hand was gone. My momentum changed and I felt my body being pulled up by the water. It felt like a rip tide and captured me and grabbed hold. My naked body surfaced onto gritty sand. My lungs were full of water. I retched water and my sesame bagel from earlier that morning. I lay panting on the cold hard sand. The sun beat down my back.
I must have fallen asleep there. When I woke subtle waves drifting up my claves and back down past my ankles. The motion of the soft waves made me feel like I was moving.
I opened my eyes and surprised to see where I was. I was laying on the beach below my bluff. My surroundings were surreal and I continued to contemplate that possibility that I was dead. I didn’t feel scared, really. I felt light. Which possibly meant I really was dead. I was thankful that I still had my boxers on because houses lined the beach where I would have to walk up the path to get up to my house.
It was a surprisingly easy and short walk home. My car was parked out front, with the top off. The air was warm and a little sticky, which is uncommon for the Sound. It looked like it was early afternoon.
I walked into the house where Boomer greeted me. She was startled by my appearance and barked at me excitedly a few times and then caulked her head sideways, as to say, “what in the hell have you been doing?”
“I don’t know Boom.” I shook my head at her. I pulled a beer out of the fridge and drank the entire thing in a few easy gulps. I belched loudly then slid down onto the floor and leaned my back against the cupboards. “I don’t know.”
I didn’t talk to anyone the rest of the day. I didn’t check my emails. I just got dressed and walked around the house. I stopped every so often and stared out toward the cliff allowing my eyes to drift off into the horizon. The cliff meant more to me now. It was the cliff that I had floated over and came back anew.
That night I sat down in front of my computer and wrote feverishly. I wrote like that for the next two weeks.
The following day I when I met Tom for our twice-weekly tennis match, he noticed something in me. He claimed that I looked different. He exclaimed that I had the same air he remembered me having when we were kids. I think he was right. I no longer felt that suffocating feeling like the world could collapse on me at any time and I could be pinned down with no where to go. I felt that there really was no where to go, but in a good way, and that changed everything.
Every time I drove to town and back I looked for a woman in a dress carrying bags walking alone along the street. I knew she wouldn’t be there. She had done what she came to do. I finished my book that same month. It was published and on shelves the following spring.
The following summer Boom and I swam out at the lake every few weeks. It was the place where I learned all a person needs to know. That you can choose to suffocate in the vast supply of air around you or you can float instead of falling because there is no end and nothing to run into.
– A Girl Who Writes
She slurped down her second dirty martini. She hadn’t eaten enough that day to suffice such an endeavor, but they were taking the edge off. Her waiter stopped by and dropped off her antipasto appetizer plate. She had been waiting an hour already and didn’t care anymore. She was going to eat something. “Can I get you anything else Ma’am?” he asked. Ugh! Ma’am?! “I’ll have another,” she said motioning to her martini glass. She was twenty-eight. It wasn’t as if she had just celebrated her forty-fifth birthday. There was no reason he should be calling her Ma’am. He was probably twenty three himself, not that much younger. It made her feel even worse about her predicament.
She had agreed to this blind date purely out of courtesy. Her new boss had set it up. She didn’t know how to get out of it, so alas, here she was, drinking alone, on a Tuesday night, when she could have been at home watching Heroes On Demand and fast forwarding through the commercials. Of course, the drinking thing wouldn’t have been any different. Although, she would have saved a bundle enjoying a nice glass of Pinto Grigio snug on her couch instead of spending ten bucks a pop on martinis.
She hadn’t went on a date in months. Her last boyfriend broke it off with her for a girl he met while on a dig in South America. After finally getting over him, which took months, she picked one of the characteristics that bothered her most about him, him being short, and vowed to never date someone shorter than her again. In fact, this would mark the first date she’d been on since.
Since then she’d also decided that being a workaholic totally made sense. She wondered why she had resisted it before. Working around the clock the last eight months had been absolute bliss. She’d gotten promoted to senior account executive and received a substantial raise. Her plan was to work even harder in the months to come and potentially jump ship in an effort to get an even bigger promotion. She was always calculating and planning her next move.
She owed her outstanding drive and work ethic to her mother. Her mother had lived on welfare for most of her upbringing. She had been an absolute embarrassment on a regular basis. She loved her mom, even more now that she had passed. The memory of her ignited a warmer glow than the reality of her contribution to Alyssia’s life. Alyssia strove to be everything other than what her mom was. She was hard working, planned her life and expected nothing but greatness in return. Eventually she would find the perfect husband, create a family of her own, and be admired for her perfection. She had no family. She never knew her dad. She relied on her best friend Jada, who was more like a sister and a mother to her than anyone she had ever known.
She sat at her table tallying her bill in her head when she noticed someone approaching out of the corner of her eye. “Are you Alyssia? He asked. She stood up quickly and took his outstretched hand for a quick hand shake. “Bruce.” He introduced himself. His hand was warm, not clammy, like hers had instantaneously become. “I am so sorry that I am late,” he exclaimed. He looked sincerely sorry and almost a little frightened. His face was adorable and his eyes were soft and kind. Overall he was nice looking and well presented. He had dark blonde hair. Best of all, he was tall. He had to be about four inches taller than her, which meant he was probably six foot one or so. Alyssia herself was pretty tall for a girl, like her mom, which was one genetic predisposition she actually took pride in.
Alyssia wasn’t about to let him off the hook too easily for being late. “Are you able to stay or do you have something else you need to run to?” she asked. His eyes widened and he did not reply. Yikes, she thought that maybe she was a bit too harsh with that. “I’m just kidding.” She said. “No I deserve that. You see, I just got the oddest call a couple hours ago.” He explained. “I was on my way home from work to change before I came here to meet you when I got a call from a friend of mine. He works for the FBI.” Wow, this guy is pathological was all she could think. After she finished her martini she was going to fake an important call and flee the scene. She sat there nodding and sipping as he rambled on. It was too bad really, he was quite cute.
After a couple minutes of feigning a look of interest she distinctly heard him say the words “back ground check”. “Wait!” she said. “You had someone run a background check on me?” she asked. “This is a date for Christ sake, not a job interview. Flag on the field!” she said. Even though she hadn’t dated in a while, she knew when something just wasn’t going to work and she hated wasting time. Alyssia grabbed her purse and plopped down her credit card. “No wait. I know this sounds weird, but I just got out of a bad relationship last year and so I felt compelled,” he said. Alyssia just stared at him, not knowing what to say.
“Listen, I know this is strange, and I wouldn’t even be telling you all of this if it weren’t for.” He stopped mid-sentence and let out a sigh. “The reason I am late is because I wasn’t sure I wanted to come and meet you. “Wow, this is awesome, you are awesome!” she replied. “No, what I am trying to say… what I am going to say is very weird,” he said. “Oh, it’s just now about to get weird?” She exclaimed. This didn’t seem to bother him. He continued on. He lowered his voice, as if all of a sudden he had a secret to tell her. “What I found out, what I am trying to tell you is that, Alyssia, you are my sister. He hesitated. I am your brother,” he said in a tone which sounded like he said this to convince himself of this truth.
This was not what Alyssia expected to hear in the least. She was ready for something idiotic like he found out she went to a state college instead of an Ivy League or that when she was younger she had been quarantined from her classmates because of tuberculosis. But this, this came out of left field and left her speechless.
When she finally regained her sense of reality she made the decision that he must be full of shit and that he was screwing with her. Maybe she was in a new reality show called Blind Date Candid Camera. That absolutely made more sense than the nonsense that was coming out of his mouth. She just sat a stared rationalizing these thoughts. When she finally looked up to meet his eyes she saw that they were brimmed with tears. “Is this some kind of joke?” she asked. “No, Alyssia, this is not a joke, he replied. Alyssia stared at his face, into his eyes. It was his eyes, she had noticed them at first, but she didn’t put it together. He had her mother’s kind eyes.
“I don’t know what to say.” She paused for a long moment. “How did you figure this out?” she asked. He went on to explain that when his friend was running her background check that his own father’s name came up in the search. His friend got access to her original birth certificate which had both her mother’s signature and her father’s. The certificate that she herself possessed only had her mother’s name.
He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He slid the paper across the table. She read it over. Indeed the birth certificate said her name, Alyssia Charlene Whitcomb.
She looked at his face again and felt her insides twist. Quickly her three martinis turned into a dull headache that throbbed just behind her eyes as she recounted what he had just told her. “Charlene, your middle name, is our grandmother’s name,” he said. Our father, Marcus, gave you that middle name, he continued on. Words flooded from his mouth for another minute or two, and then he fell silent again.
It was most likely her lack of response that kept him from going on. “Alyssia, do you get what I am saying?” He asked. “I had no idea that you existed. Dad never mentioned anything to me about you.” I tried calling him before I got here, but he didn’t answer, so I came anyway,” he said. He noticed she was picking at her fingernails again. “Are you okay?” he asked. “No, I’m not okay, she replied. “So what? He’s alive? Our father?” she asked. “Yes, he’s alive.” “I also know that your mother passed away not too long ago, I am sorry,” he said. She didn’t reply.
Questions that had no answers began brewing in her head. When she was growing up she’d rarely pressed the question about her father. When she did ask, her mom told her that he had a new life that didn’t concern them and that sometimes that’s how things worked out. She knew her questions made her mom sad, she could see it in hers eyes. She didn’t want to make her mom sad, so eventually she stopped asking and at some point, she wasn’t sure exactly when, but the questions stopped mattering all together.
The waiter came back with her bill and her card. Alyssia signed her name, realizing that she always signed it with a “C.” in the middle, which in the future might always cause her to think. She slid her card back into her wallet and stood up slinging her D&G handbag over her shoulder. Bruce looked amazed. “Don’t you want to meet him?” he asked. She grabbed her coat and pushed in her chair.
“Meet him? She replied. “No, I don’t think so, Bruce,” she said. “Had he wanted that, this would have never had to happen,” she replied. With that she walked out the through the restaurant lobby, and through the front doors. She allowed the rush of cool air to fill her lungs and bring her life. She would walk home instead of taking a taxi and allow the air and the city to take her home.
– A Girl Who Writes