TEXAS MOON

Texas, 2008

 I DON’T NEED ANYMORE MEMORIES. Jonathan Stiles thought as he swallowed the last drop of coffee. He sat at his office desk at home. The blinds were no longer able to shade the sunlight. His heavy eyelids reminded him of his cool, black and white striped bed sheets and thought he might want to lie down again.

     I can’t go to sleep. I have so much work to do – these schematics…

He yawned, placing the mug onto a coaster and stretched solid arms up and out – his pecks rolled up on a deep, refreshing breath. He pushed his glasses further onto his nose. Giving one final thought to the black and white sheets which he would not lie on again until evening, he remembered the black night stand and white vase that sat on it. It contained a gift –a bouquet of dead, red roses that his girlfriend gave him a year ago. He walked to his bedroom, gathered the short stemmed flowers and marched them to the backdoor. He opened it, raised the lid of the garbage can beside the door and tossed the flowers in. He remembered a particular Wednesday night when he sat next to her on the side of the bed as she slipped her feet into a pair of black, strappy sandals. He tried coaxing her with their own romantic dinner in bed with wine, and dessert on the side. He suggested that they watch a horror afterwards – they could snuggle against the headboard and jump in each other’s arms at extra spooky scenes – the classic cliché. She responded with an invitation for him to join her. He reminded her that it was the middle of the week, that they both had to get up early and that clubs really weren’t his scene. She insisted on going. Joanna stood from the bed to straighten her outfit and prepared to leave. Jonathan hated watching his girl go out so often – and especially away from him, in what he felt was the skimpiest of skimpy clothes. But after his pleading, she still walked out of the house in a V-neck (that dipped between her breasts), thigh-high spandex dress. Apparently, she needed a lot more than him to unwind in the evenings. Jonathan loathed the situation because going home to her was the highlight of his day after long hours at work – all he wanted was to relax with her.

In his office again, Jonathan gave the plans a another glance. He dragged a hand down his face, gave his chin strap a light scratch and grabbed the nape of his neck.

“Hmf…”

The telephone rang. He grabbed it, still studying the plans. “Hello,”

“John, wassup man?” The voice came through loudly.

“Aw, nothin’ much, man – just finishin’ up some work…why are you screamin’?”

“I’m not! Eh, you still on for tonight, right?”

“Uhh, what’s tonight?”

“Aw, c’mon man, you know we supposed to be hangin’.”

“Oh yeah, right…” Jonathan said.

“You have somebody to bring, right?”

“No I don’t. Look Kendall, you’re my little brother and I love you, man, but I’m just not feelin’ it you know? If you’re a gentleman, women complain about you not letting them do for themselves.”

“I know that’s right.” Kendall agreed and Jonathan continued.

“If you’re a dog, they complain you don’t love ‘em. If you’re sensitive, they complain you’re not tough enough. If you’re strong, they complain you’re too bossy. If you compliment ‘em on nice fitted outfits, they start dressin’ like hoes. I don’t have time for it, man.”

“Aight, aight, – I getchoo.”

“Yeah man, besides, I have a lot of work to do.”

“Aight Brotha J. I’ll catch you later, man.”

“Yeah. Late.” Jonathan sighed when he hung the phone. He took another deep breath and went back to work. “Test for maximum soil pressure for concrete column footings of 10×3.0…” He spoke to himself. “…And bearing at least two thousand psi with reinforcing each way…” He took another deep breath and scribbled something with a 2H lead. “Conduct more surveys twenty degrees north of the site in question and forty degrees south; making certain the soil is workable – paying particular attention to the possibilities of seismic action.” He attacked something with the electric eraser, rewrote it with the 2H, okayed the schematics, rolled them up and slipped them into a hard plastic tube.

Engineering was in his blood. He was one of those kids who played with Legos for hours and could make just about anything with them. He constructed buildings and various apparatuses that looked as though they were supposed to move some kind of way if only he had the ability to apply a motor to them. As he grew older, he upgraded to the Erector Set, constructing even more complex mechanisms.

As a young adult, he spent his first two years of college in an engineering program at a trade school. A working man struggling to make ends meet, his father was only in the position to at least offer Jonathan and his four brothers the first two years of college, tuition free. He enjoyed the program and often participated in teasing the architecture students in the building. The banter was that architecture was easy because it required very little technical skill – that they were only artists. In turn, the architecture students admitted that the engineers did possess the skill to put things together but lacked the talent to make their projects look good.

Upon graduating from the trade school, Jonathan worked at a small firm to put himself through four more years of education at a university. Although he still enjoys the work and is good at it, something was missing from his life. She took it. How selfish of her to walk out on him – leaving him without what he needed to keep smiling. Having a nuclear family as a model and possessing the very best intentions for his companion, his relationship with Joanna was a shocker. Maybe it was his fault. Or perhaps he just picked the wrong girl.

Gathering his things to leave, Jonathan noticed a picture of him and Joanna on a bookshelf.

Another memory – That’s what I get for living with the female first. He thought, and then whispered to himself through gritted teeth. “…Rotten memories all over my house…”

Jonathan swiped the picture from the shelf, smashed the glass of the frame onto the sharp corner of his desk, snatched the picture out and ripped it to shreds. He tossed the pieces and the broken frame into the waste basket without a second thought and left.

Los Angeles, 2008

The worm of a man lost his hair from an already receding hairline with delicate spectacles perched at the tip of his nose.His top lip was an inverted triangle over the bottom. With a small head poking up and down from behind a stack of papers, he looks like a turtle. Uncle Roger thought.

“Can we move this along? He said. “Doc said I only have another month to live and I have a plane to catch.”

“Certainly Mr. Moore, only a few pages … more.” Mr. Smalls paused a second giving Roger a look and a smile.

“Oh, he’s funny too.” Roger groaned.

“Now, give me your niece’s name again.”

“Stephanie … Stephanie Turner. She always was a great kid.

“And now you’re leaving your fortune to her,”

“Well, quite a bit of it.”

“What a great uncle you are.”

“Not so great.” Roger corrected. “But she was a good kid – only child my sister had, parents gone, tryin’ to get her life together …”

“Sign here, Mr. Moore.”

***

    Stephanie raised her side of the crocheted table cloth and the other, and wiped the crumbs from last night’s dinner with the ripped rag of a dish towel. She just didn’t feel like cleaning the entire table (although that’s what she’d been taught. if you have to clean one part because you made the mess, clean all surrounding areas even if you did not make the entire mess – and Stephanie had not made any of the mess). Following that teaching would have meant moving the cake with the words, love you always that Steven gave her a few days ago – it was a just because gift, and the bottles of red nail polish and quick dry. She had been polishing one nail at a time – in between tasks.

     I hate rotting food peeking at me through those holes as I sip my tea.

She took the honey from the cabinet full of Top Ramen noodles that she no longer had a taste for since the pregnancy of her first child who died due to complications.

“Steph!” Steven Jacobs bellowed from the upstairs bedroom. “Can I get an undershirt?”

     You sure can. She thought but would never say it. Stephanie dashed up the stairs, grabbed one from his underwear drawer and gave it to him.

“Hey Babe,” Stephanie had started back down the stairs. “Could you hand me my shirt and tie, please?” She took them from the table in the walk-in closet. Just as she was about to lay them out neatly on the bed, he spoke again. “Could you hold ‘em, Babe? I’m about to put ‘em on right now.”

Stephanie stood like a coat rack, shirt and tie in hand as Steven finished putting on his undershirt and took his time slipping his feet into his shoes and admiring himself in the full length mirror.

“It’s goin’ sweetie…it’s goin’…I think I lost about twenty pounds.”

“Yeah, I know. You look good.” Stephanie said.

Steven turned his back to her so that she could help him into his shirt. She tried to direct the sleeves toward his hands.

Steven frowned. “Just let me do it, damn!

He remembered just then that he told her a few days ago that he would stop cursing. He turned to look at Stephanie and saw that, mm-hmm, there you go again look on her face. The moment her face softened, her eyes widened again in horror. She glanced at her nails remembering that she had been polishing them and hoped they had not ruined Steven’s shirt. She did not notice any red stains on it.

     That quick dry works fast! She thought.

“Do you need anything else?”

“Naw, just ma breakfast. I need to get outta here … gotta be at work by seven.”

Stephanie went back to the kitchen and sat down to the natural wood table and chair set that matched the wood sculpture she had tried her hand at. Although she loved color, she thought painting the sculpture would somehow ruin it. However, the table and chairs are a different story.

     I think we’ll have to shellac this set in the near future to protect it from the food and drink that we drop and spill on it.

She sighed. She polished another nail, added a brush full of quick dry and stirred a tablespoon of honey into her mug of green tea. She drunk some.

“I’m gone, sweetie.”

She quickly removed the mug from her lips, spilling tea down the front of her robe. Brushing at the droplets of liquid, Stephanie scooted backward in her chair to stand – it rocked and banged the floor causing a loud thump. She raced to the front door for a hug and kiss “see you later” when Steven snatched his remaining things and stepped into the coolness of morning just missing Stephanie’s puckered lips.

      Okay… She thought as she stood stiffly in the cold doorway.

When the front of the car was last seen as Steven backed out of the driveway, she finally exhaled. The white cloud of warm exhaust dissipated quickly into the cold. She looked up to take in the clear and crisp blue sky.

Stephanie finally decided to step out of the way and close the door. As she turned to walk away, she noticed the small pile of unopened mail on the pedestal table. She did not like opening those letters. She knew what they said:

Dear Applicant:

Thank you for expressing your interest in the Administrative Assistant position. However, your qualifications are not needed at this time. But we will keep your application and resume on file and we wish you the best of luck.

Who had time to listen to that kind of rejection day in and day out? No thanks. She had to get out of the house too. She put everything in its place in the kitchen. Straightened the living and dining spaces then ran upstairs to attack what hurricane Steven left behind. She stopped at the night stand next to her side of the bed and dragged her fingers over the unfinished manuscript she’d been writing. She flipped through it to the last entry, an idea popped into her head and she curled up on the floor to write.

An hour passed. Ideas stopped flowing and Stephanie was hungry. She quickly finished cleaning the master bedroom and dressed for the day and grabbed breakfast.

Traffic is constant on the streets of Los Angeles.  She decided to visit the public library to get some homework on publishing houses for fiction manuscripts done. She blasted alternative rock all the way down Crenshaw Boulevard. She looked to her left when stopped at a red light and noticed some girls looking at her and laughing. She just knew they were laughing at her – and why shouldn’t they? There she was, nerdy, dressed in a pink, ribbed turtleneck and jeans a half size too big (not that they could see), with semi curled, frizzy hair and banging her head to rock music.

Stephanie you got all dat hair an’ don’t know what to do with it. An’ you need to buy some better clothes. Stephanie remembered what her junior high school classmates used to say to her. And now with only one income, she still couldn’t buy all that she wanted.

As an expression of her anger as well as enjoyment, she turned up the music louder and sung along. She heard her cell phone ringing and searched desperately for it with one hand – it was buried within the folds of her purse in the passenger seat. Steven hated it when she didn’t answer his calls.

“Hello,” She finally found the phone and answered.

“Hello – Stephanie Turner?”

“Yes,”

“My name is Wayne Smalls. I handled your Uncle’s will. Did you hear about his passing?”

“Uncle Roger?”

“Yes ma’am,”

“No, I didn’t know.”

“Well ma’am, I’m in town on business. Your uncle left you a package that you have to sign for. Can we meet sometime today?”

“Of course,”

“I have your address here and I’m at the Radisson by LAX. I thought we could meet somewhere in between.”

“Oh, it’s all right, I don’t mind coming to the hotel – I’m not very far from the area.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. What time?”

“I do have a few other appointments, how about six this evening in the lobby of the Radisson?”

“That’s sounds good. I’ll see you then.”

“Swell.”

“Hey, what did he leave?”

“Don’t want to discuss it over the phone, Miss. I’ll see you at six.”

“Okay. Bye.”

Stephanie ended the call just when it rang again. She recognized the number on the screen. “Hi Steven,”

“Hey Steph, what are you up to?”

“Driving around pretty much – I’m on my way to the library and then I have a late evening appointment. You know, my uncle died.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I had no idea. No one contacted me.”

“Aw sweetie, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, me too. Anyway, he left me something and I have to go sign for it – that’s what the late evening appointment is.”

“Really. Was he rich?”

“No, not that I know of, It’s probably some keepsake – we did have a nice relationship. I loved it when he visited more often when my parents were still living.

“Well sweetie, I wanted to tell you that I’m working late this evening – don’t wait up.”

“That’s perfect. I don’t know how long this appointment is going to take but since I’ll already be out and about, do you mind if I go ahead and eat out instead of cooking?”

“Naw Babe, go ahead and enjoy yourself. I’m good.”

“Okay. See you later.”

Stephanie went home at four o’clock for a small, late lunch and to brighten herself up a bit. She changed into a red collared shirt and a fitted, black skirt with black, strappy sandals. She did have a nice figure. She smoothed her otherwise frizzy hair into a ponytail, powdered her face and applied mascara and red lipstick. She really didn’t need make-up; her light brown complexion had its own way of highlighting her high cheekbones. She had smooth and perfectly shaped eyebrows and wide, expressive eyes. She thought red bulbs on her earlobes would add an extra special touch and took them from her jewelry drawer. She stood in a full length mirror.

     Mmm…not exactly what I want but it’ll do for this occasion. She thought and left the house at five fifteen.

Arriving at the hotel lobby, Stephanie looked into the seating area and found a frail little man sitting on a couch behind a triangular name card propped up on the coffee table. It read Smalls. She walked over and extended her hand when she reached him.

“Hello Mr. Smalls,”

The little man gasped over his cup of coffee. “Oh,” He stood, shaking her hand.

“I’m Stephanie Turner.”

“Yes, I assumed as much. Please, take a seat.”

“Thank you.”

“Well…shall we get started?”

“Yes.”

“I.D. please…”

Stephanie quickly produced her driver license.

“Wonderful,” He said. “… And here are the papers for you to sign.”

“Well … wait. What am I signing for?” Stephanie asked.

“Five million dollars.”

“What?”

“… Five million dollars …” He sounded happy to repeat it.

Stephanie’s face went blank. “You’re kidding.”

“No ma’am, he has it right here in his will … would you …”

“But I’ve never known Uncle Roger to be rich and why me?”

“He said you were … let me see if I can quote him … ‘she was always a great kid.’” Mr. Smalls smiled.

“Yeah, he did tell me that a few times – or I’d hear him tell my mom.”

Mr. Smalls was smiling and nodding. “Are you going to sign the papers?”

“… But five million dollars?” Stephanie whispered.

“Ms. Turner?” Mr. Smalls held up an envelope.

“Yes?” She said.

“Sign the papers.”

“Oh yes,” She quickly scribbled her signature and they made a trade.

As Mr. Smalls packed his things to leave, Stephanie peeked inside the envelope to see a cashier’s check with the number five and six zeros following behind it. She glowed with joy thinking of all the things she could finally do. She sealed the envelope, secured it in her purse and decided to go across the room to the hotel dining room for dinner. She was served at 7pm. Stephanie treated herself to the open faced turkey sandwich after a garden salad and a glass of Champaign.

Stephanie went home to find Steven’s car parked in the driveway.

He said he’d be very late. She thought.

A strange feeling came over her for a second then she dismissed it as quickly as it came. She couldn’t wait to tell Steven the news. They could finally do all the things they dreamed of: shop, travel, write, avoid jobs they hated, pay off the house and car notes and whatever else. So many things filled Stephanie’s head as she went inside the house.

Just as she locked the inside door and turned around to find out where Steven was, he and a friend ran down the stairs laughing and in the nude. Stephanie couldn’t help the rictus of surprise on her face – she was frozen. When the young lady who happened to be a co-worker of Steven’s noticed Stephanie watching in a daze, she ran up the stairs for her clothes. Steven, in the sleek outfit he was born in, continued to approach Stephanie.

“Steph, it doesn’t…”

“What, look like what it seems?” She finally spoke. “Well, Steven it looks like you and a girl ran down the stairs naked. I mean, that’s what it looked like. Is that what I saw? ‘Cause maybe I was hallucinating!”

“If that’s what you saw, that’s what you saw!”

“Then don’t try to play mind games with me and say that it’s not what it looks like. You’re not the only one with a college degree.”

Just then, Steven’s playmate came down the stairs dressed to leave.

“Umm …” Steven started when he glanced quickly over his shoulder. “I’m sort of … her ride.” He pointed behind him with a thumb.

“Sort of. Don’t worry about me. Handle your business.” Stephanie followed Steven upstairs and watched him dress. He slipped into his shoes, grabbed his keys and headed through the bedroom door but stopped.

“Steph,” He turned to her. “We can get through this.”

“There’s nothing to get through,” She said. “We’re not married. Mom used to tell me not to live with a man first … never mind … don’t worry about it – it’s just another one my many mistakes. Handle your business.”

“Okay, I’ll be right back.”

“I said there’s nothing to get through … don’t ruin your evening because of me … you two looked like you were having fun.”

“What, so it’s over?” He asked.

“You never put a ring on my finger … looks like it never really got started – we’ve just been playing house. And we never had as much fun as you two running down the stairs.” Stephanie smirked.

Steven turned to walk away and Stephanie heard the front door close.

     What am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to go? I don’t have any close family …

She looked at her manuscript on the night stand and picked up the envelope sticking out from under it. It was a letter from her friend Robyn in Red Oak, Texas. She grabbed her purse which was still secured beneath her arm and the telephone. With her credit card, she called Southwest Airlines and bought a one way ticket for the next flight out. She packed all her most important things into two large suit cases and a carry-on shoulder bag.

      I can withdraw three hundred dollars from the account and pay Steven back later – after the check is deposited and clears.

***

      Robyn pulled up in a navy blue Ford Escape. Although it was nighttime, Stephanie felt like she was melting on the sidewalk of Dallas Love Field Airport. Robyn jumped out of the vehicle and greeted her longtime friend with a hug.

“Give me those bags, girl – we can put them back here.” She opened the truck and Stephanie helped her to lift the suitcases in.

They slid into the driver and passenger seats and drove to the airport exit.

“So, Lil Stephanie out here in big ole Texas … You didn’t tell me much on the phone, why are you out here?”

Stephanie glanced at her. “Steven got a new girl so I decided to get a new life – do something for me that I always wanted to. I don’t have any close family being the only child with two dead parents and I remembered you. I have a check that might take about a week to clear so I took three hundred dollars from my and Steven’s account, left my car and here I am. I’ll pay him back later.”

Stephanie turned a thoughtful face to the side window. She hadn’t done much to pursue a writing career although she did a lot of writing. She felt like she majored in the wrong field since she couldn’t get a job in the past. She had no family and now Steven left her in spite of all her kindness.The two things she was determined to do was to start fresh with this wonderful monetary gift and do something with her writing.

Robyn hooked a left turn onto the thirty-five freeway south. “Pay him back, what for? He cheated on you and why did you leave your car? You could ‘a drove out here or had it shipped with you on the plane.”

“I didn’t want to drive – that would’ve taken too long and I didn’t have the money for a drive or a shipment on that large scale. I’ll buy another one in a week – a used Nissan Sentra or something.”

“Why used?”

“’Cause it’ll be exactly what I would’ve driven out here.”

“But after you get workin’ you’re getting a new one, right?”

“I dunno. We’ll see.” She didn’t want to reveal her gift yet.

“I guess – I would.”

“Man, I’m hungry.” Stephanie held her stomach.

“What, they didn’t feed you anything on that plane?”

“Nuts …”

Robyn smiled, taking Stephanie’s response as a sexual innuendo. “It’s late but Wal Mart stays open all night.”

They merged onto the sixty-seven south.

“So what’s going on with you? Tell me something you haven’t written about.” Stephanie said.

“I’m seeing a new guy …”

“Good, I need him!” Stephanie said.

“What?”

“You heard me …”

Robyn smirked at her.

“… For when I get ready to buy a car – you know how those people try to screw over women.”

“Oh.” She answered relieved.

“What’d you think that I wanted him for some special favors?” Stephanie revealed a seductive smile.

“Well …”

“Naw, girl! Now you know I’m just playing with you – you are so crazy!” Stephanie laughed.

Robyn joined her. “So what are you going to do out here?”

“Write.” She said as a low, rumble moved her insides. Stephanie burst into laughter again. “Did you hear that? You had to hear that.” She grabbed her stomach.

“What?”

“My stomach just growled like a bear!”

Robyn laughing, “We gotta get you fed. What do you have a taste for?”

“Anything. But I should probably eat Subway. You have one those out here?”

“Yeah, there’s one in WalMart but it’s probably closed at this hour. We can get some sandwich stuff and cereal or whatever …”

“That’s fine.”

Robyn smiled.

***

     They continued their journey down Beltline Road. Robyn recognized that they were approaching the grocery store.

“Hey Steph, here we are.”

“Oh good.” Stephanie noticed a bank sign on the grocery store. “Hey, there’s a bank inside?”

“Yeah. They’re closed right now, though. We can come back tomorrow.”

“Good. I’d like to pay a visit and deposit this check.” Stephanie thought she’d open a checking and a savings account the next day and get some brochures on investments.

“Yeah, no prob,”

Their brief shopping led them back to their jaunt on Beltline Road.

“You can’t really see right now but these are some of the housing communities I was telling you about.” Robyn pointed on both sides of the road. “These massive homes start at one fifty.

“Are you serious? These giant things?” Stephanie asked.

“Yep.”

“You know I’m getting one.”

“Shoot, me too – I’m saving now for one.”

“How much do you have saved?”

“Mmm … ‘bout fifty grand.”

“That’s good – you’ll have it in no time.”

“Yeah. It takes will power not to touch that cheese.”

“Will power? You mean discipline – it takes discipline to save that much and you’ve done a good job. Congrats.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Aren’t you still with that city job?”

“Oh yeah – picked up a couple of extra gigs too.”

“That’s real good.”

Robyn finally parked after what seemed like a long drive, in front one of the Villa Apartment buildings just outside a housing community.

“We can drive around tomorrow and tour some of these homes.” She told Stephanie.

They gathered the groceries and the luggage and carried everything to Robyn’s first floor apartment.

For Stephanie, the week seemed to pass the way lightning flashes.

“Come on in ladies.” Mr. Flanders led them into the third house.

“This is nice,” Stephanie said. “The others were very elaborate and I’m only buying for me – I don’t’ know what I’ll be into in a few years.” Stephanie walked down the hallway to the right that led her to four bedrooms and two bathrooms. “I think I want this one.”

“You sure?” Mr.Flanders asked.

“Yes.” Stephanie said.

“Really?” Robyn asked. “I want a two story.”

“Well, we can go back to the office and get the paperwork going.”

“All right,” Hey Rob, what time did Jason say he would meet us at the car dealership?”

“Four – we have time.”

“Perfect.”

The used car lot along the thirty-five freeway had rows of cars to choose from. Stephanie and Robyn sat in the car parked at the curb waiting for Jason. A car pulled up behind them. Robyn watched in the rear-view mirror until she saw Jason step out.

“He’s here. Let’s go.” Robyn turned the car off, which she had running for the air conditioner; they gathered their purses and leaned out.

“Hey girl,” Jason greeted Robyn with a hug.

“Hi Jason. This is my friend Stephanie from L.A.”

“Hi.” Stephanie extended her hand.

“Wassup Stephanie? So you need a car, huh?”

“Yeah, I left mine in Cali.”

“How much you wanna spend?”

“For a used car? Only about … fifteen hundred.”

“Good price – let’s go get you one.”

The three were not on the lot long before a salesman approached them. “Hola, whatchoo lookin’ for?” A gentleman greeted them with a heavy Hispanic accent.

Stephanie noticed his nametag. “Ricardo?”

He nodded. “Si.”

“I’m looking for a Nissan Sentra. You have any?”

“Yeah. Over here.”

They followed him to the third row of cars. Ricardo pointed to the car with an open palm. “Goin’ for three thousand.”

“Three thousand?” Jason asked. “That’s too much. Pop the hood.”

Ricardo opened the door and slipped inside. Jason raised the hood when he saw it pop open and noticed the different color paint.

“This car was in an accident.” He turned to Stephanie and said, “You don’t want this.”

Ricardo showed them another Sentra. They inspected the body and heard the engine.

“How you payin’, Steph?” Jason asked.

“I have cash.”

“Good girl … I like how you do business.”

Stephanie smiled. It’d been a long time since she’d been complimented on her brains and her knack for business administration.

“Ricardo?” Jason started. “We like this one.”

“Okay. I give it to you for two thousand – you can finance it.”

“We don’t want to finance it. Fifteen hundred – cash.”

“Cash? Okay, lemme go check.”

Ten minutes passed. Ricardo returned smiling. “We can do it. Fifteen hundred cash. Come to the office, please.”

Stephanie overheard Robyn and Jason talking.

“We still on for tonight?” Jason played with Robyn’s ponytail.

“Yeah, ‘bout eight?”

“What are you guys talking about?” Stephanie interrupted.

“We’re hittin’ a club tonight – you should come.

“Naw. I don’t even have club clothes. My entire wardrobe screams maternal.

“That’s okay.” Robyn started. “You can follow me in your “new” car back to the apartment, park it and ride with me over to … some store. We can go shopping.”

“Yeah, you guys have time.” Jason said.

“Okay – sounds good.” Stephanie agreed.

Although night clubbers were just getting the party started, the night was not young for Jonathan, who had been working late. He sneered and rolled his eyes at the young women dressed in thigh-high miniskirts and halter tops.

Somewhat uncertain of the club scene, Stephanie sauntered behind Robyn and Jason. Although she liked showing some skin sometimes, her low-cut top and miniskirt created apprehension within her. When the line they were in stopped, she leaned backwards against the railing parallel to the side of the building. The area contained an animated volcano scene constructed with wires of fluorescent lights. Flames gushed out of the top spewing into thick clumps of lava puddles down the sides of the mountain into a lake of fire. The background glows surrounded Stephanie, illuminating her beauty.

“Put some clothes on!” Jonathan yelled out of the car window.

“Did you hear what that guy said?” Stephanie turned to Robyn.

“Forget him. He’s just mad ‘cause he’s not about to get his groove on.”

Stephanie looked down at herself noticing how her breasts seemed to be squeezed up to her neck. She tugged at her skirt as if it could go any lower.

“What’s wrong, Steph?”

“I definitely don’t look maternal in this outfit, huh?”

“Nope.” Jason volunteered.

“What? You look hot – I pick out nothin’ but the best outfits. Now c’mon, let’s have some fun.” Robyn smiled and tapped Stephanie’s shoulder.

Stephanie bared her teeth, trying to smile.

Jonathan continued in traffic as he watched Stephanie enter Club Babalu.

     Remind me of Joanna…always runnin’ the streets with half her ass hangin’ out …

The club jumped with Latin music. She had never been to a club before and enjoyed swinging her hips from side to side for almost an hour. She twirled her wrap in the air above her head, tossed it to the booth where they sat and swung her hips some more just before going to the bar for another Virgin Pinacolada.

“You’re really shakin’ your butt out there, huh? A man at the bar asked.

Stephanie turned to face him with a touch of embarrassment on her face. “Oh, I’m just have a little fun.” She said.

She was not trying to get men’s attention but she realized that’s what she was doing anyway.

     Put some clothes on! She remembered what the man outside had yelled and then another thought invaded. Mom would surely think that I’ve forgotten all of her teachings.

Stephanie took her drink to the booth where Robyn and Jason sat.

Jonathan squeezed the bridge of his nose and massaged both sides of his forehead as he drove home.

     It couldn’t work out all because of her childish desires to run the streets. He thought.           He could not understand the break-up that he and his girlfriend went through and he was not going to stand by and allow her to disrespect them both with whorish behavior as he called it. All she ever wanted to wear was skimpy clothes that showed BODY PARTS. What the hell was that all about? He could not shake the bad memories – the women at Club Babalu brought up too many for him.

The loud cell phone startled Stephanie out of her sleep. Her night was long on the dance floor. There was no way she was going to allow someone’s opinion to keep her in a seat for the rest of the night – especially on the first night of her new start in life.

“Hello,” Stephanie held the phone to her ear with her eyes closed. “Oh Mr. Flanders, hi… it closed? Oh good! Thank you. Okay. Bye-Bye.”

Stephanie dragged herself out of bed and walked slowly to the bedroom for a cool shower to wake up. After the shower, she smoothed a body-butter over her skin, trapping the beads of moisture as she walked over to the open suitcase containing a few new garments on top of everything else.

     I don’t feel like covering up today. Stephanie thought…A miniskirt and platform sandals? She not only remembered the obnoxious guy yelling from his car but the fact that she drew unexpected attention in the club. That was not her intention. Oh what the hell … it’s my new start in life, right? Just as she snatched up a fitted top and miniskirt, her bottle of red nail polish fell from the folds back into the suitcase. She dressed and quickly sat down to polish her finger and toe nails. It was the first time she could do it without interruption.

Remembering Robyn who was sleeping in on this Saturday morning, Stephanie waddled to her room on her heels with fingers splayed to keep from smearing, chipping and poking the fresh polish. She gently turned the doorknob with a straight index finger and thumb.

“Rob?” She whispered.  No answer. “Robyn.” She called a bit louder.

“Hmm?”

“I’m going out for a little while – the house closed.”

“Hmm. Congratsmmm …” Robyn turned her head, finding an even more comfortable position.

Stephanie snickered. “Yeah, thanks.”

It wasn’t difficult to get around using the map that Robyn had drawn for her. Stephanie kept it beside her, in the passenger seat, glancing at it occasionally. She made a right turn into the driveway of a shopping plaza thinking that she would frequent those stores soon. She found the realtor’s office along the train of storefronts and parked. Inside, she sat for less than fifteen minutes before responding to all the information that she had received.

“Thank you, Mr. Flanders. It was indeed a pleasure doing business with you.” Stephanie said.

“Indeed.” Mr. Flanders answered, handing her the key and giant folder of final house documentation.

She drove away, through the plaza excited about her new home and thinking about how she would decorate it. She controlled the steering wheel with two upright thumbs with the rest of her fingers sprawled across the steering wheel – admiring her nails. Suddenly realizing that she was driving through a stop sign, Stephanie slammed on the brakes with her eyes closed, hearing a loud screeching sound like fingernails dragging on a chalkboard. It was followed by a bang. Reluctant, she got out of the car to see the damage and also to find a slim muscular build charging at her. She flinched and took a step back.

“Just what the hell do you think you’re doin’?”

“I’m sorry – I’m sorry!” Stephanie pleaded scanning the dent in the man’s car.

“Oh, you’re sorry? Well sorry’s not going to fix this!”

“I will. I’ll pay for it.”

“When are you no drivin’ women gonna realize that you can’t drive while concentrating on make-up?”

“I wasn’t …”

“Don’t tell me what you wasn’t … I saw your fingers spread across the damn wheel.”

“I’m sorry … I… I’ll …” Stephanie walked around her car where the collision happened. “Oh, my entire fender came off – what the hell are you yellin’ about, you …”

“You what? Say it!” He stepped closer, looking her up and down, detesting the miniskirt.

“You whinning baby!” She yelled in his face. “You only have a dent that I offered to pay for! And how were you driving anyway while looking at my polished fingers!”

“Oh I dunno … multitasking maybe? You know, we men do that very well.”

“… Obviously not, you didn’t hit the brakes in time…you get a scratch on your jag and go BALLISTIC!”

Jonathan sucked his teeth. “Man, whatever … you know, you look familiar.”

“Yeah, right, okay,”

“Club Babalu …”

“Oh that screamin’ heathen was you?”

“You no drivin’ women in your miniskirts …”

“Look, get off it already, all right? I think you’ve bellowed enough out here!”

“Hey, you ran into me!”

“No, we ran into each other – we were both looking at my nails, right?” Jonathan felt for a minute like he wanted to smile – at least a little bit but he didn’t give in. “… And I offered to pay for it so what more do you want?” Stephanie was handing him a piece of paper with her information on it.

“Forget it.” He started walking away. “No drivin’, miniskirt wearin’…” He mumbled then turned slightly to face her again. “You silly women don’t understand that you don’t have to put your beautiful bodies on display to be pretty and sexy.”

Stephanie’s face softened. He spoke with such sincerity that she forgot whether one of them were ever angry. It was almost like two friends shooting the breeze commenting occasionally on concerns of the day. A part of her wanted to hear more from him in that tone but the other part felt a need to defend her mini skirt. Just when she found words amidst the sudden ambiance of kindness, she noticed him walking away.

“Aren’t you going to take my information?” Her hand was still extended.

“Just leave – I don’t need you to fix it.” He went to the driver’s side and the next moment, he was speeding off.

“Shoot,” Stephanie surveyed the damage a second time. “Now I’ll be without a car again.” She whispered to herself. She went to the front of the car, yanked the hanging fender, tossed it into the trunk and drove away.

“Steph?” Robyn called out as she closed the door to her apartment and locked it.

“Yeah, I’m in here!” Stephanie said.

Robyn arrived in the doorway to find Stephanie packing. “Are you okay? I saw your car.”

“Yeah I’m fine. It was my fault.”

“What happened?” Robyn entered the room and sat on the bed. “Movin’ out huh?”

“Yeah, this is my last night here – thank you.” Stephanie said.

“No problem. Okay so tell me what happened.”

“Well there’s nothing to it – embarrassing really. I wasn’t paying attention while going across an insection in one of the plaza shopping areas and I crashed into a guy’s car.”

“Oh no! By the looks of your car, his must have been jacked up!”

“On the contrary, I only dented his. He got out screaming, charging at me like he was going to do something. We got into this big, ridiculous argument.”

“Was he cute?” Robyn asked.

“What difference does it make? He was a jerk!” Stephanie laughed. “… at first …”

“Only ‘cause you hit his car. And what do you mean by at first?”

“Oh, he just calmed, and spoke to me like a human being right before he said that he didn’t want me to fix it and left.”

“So, was he cute?”

“Gorgeous.”

“See, I knew it!”

“Your typical tall, dark, and … fine! Lean muscle bulging through his business shirt …”

“I knew you’d meet somebody out here!” Robyn yelled.

“Yeah, well,” Stephanie laughed. “I’ll be moving out of your hair tomorrow. I wanna give you something.”

“What?”

Stephanie handed Robyn an envelope.

“What’s this?” Robyn opened it and froze. Ten flies could have flown into her mouth.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.” Stephanie began. “I figured since you said you were saving for one of these homes, or whatever you wanted to do with it …”

“Where’d you get this kind of money? And you have to have more ‘cause you gave me this.”

“… An inheritance – from my Uncle. He left me a nice piece of change – that’s why I told you that I was coming out here to start over.

Robyn removed a cashier’s check in the amount of two hundred thousand dollars from the envelope. She hunched her shoulders and grinned. Thank you.” She jumped off the bed into Stephanie’s arms. “I don’t know what to say, Steph. The words thank you just don’t seem to be enough.”

“I know what to say …”

“What?” Robyn’s eyes were tearing.

“Let’s celebrate. We can rent movies and pig out on pizza and popcorn!”

Laughing and crying simultaneously, she managed, “That sounds good to me.” Robyn hugged her again.

It is 2008 in Red Oak, Texas – one of many cities flourishing with Californians and many other people in search for more house for their money. A clear demonstration of the phrase, fight or flight – in lieu of fighting house prices like four and five hundred thousand for a three bedroom shack, they’d rather take flight and establish a home where the prices are reasonable until you pull off the road to fill up your gas tank.

“That’s what happens during war.” Some people could be overheard in grocery and department stores commenting on the war in Iraq. “Prices go up.”

And gas prices continue to rise. Prices are almost exactly four dollars a gallon for unleaded gasoline. The price of food is high. The condition of unemployment prevails. Many people sell their homes and other possessions to have money to work with.

A pale-faced gent with a bushy mustache wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap answered his ringing cell phone. “What up Joe?” Nothin’ much, I’m just sittin’ here havin’ lunch with Bob and Tina. Yeah, I’ll uh … be out there in a ‘bout an hour. Don’t worry ‘bout that. It’ll sell – it’ll sell.

The rusty, mud-laced pick-up parked in front of the apartment complex an hour later.

“Hey Joe,” Randy hollered through his bushy mustache.

“Yo, Joe – those engineers called and said they’d be out in a while ta take a look at the foundation for ya.”

“Yeah, we’ll wait on ‘em ‘cause this baby’s ‘bout ta sell. Ever’ thing else has been checked out and okayed. I’m ‘bout ta make a pretty penny off ‘er.”

Randy rubbed the bush across his lip with one hand while resting the other on a hip. “I already got ‘er posted on the net.”

“Yep,” Joe agreed. “It’s a good six unit money maker all right. Why you sellin’?”

“Oh, I’m getting’ out – got family could use a hand up north. It’s jus’ best for me ta sell.”

“Yep, I know watcha mean.”

“Hey Stiles,” A dough-boy type bellowed throughout the room of draftsmen. Jonathan looked up from his desk. “… That Burke site is ready for your team!”

Jonathan nodded. “I’m on it!” He transferred the schematics from the plastic tube to the card board one, filled in the mailing labels and placed it in the bin for outgoing mail. He gathered his team of engineers together and prepared to leave. Although Jonathan had a good idea of the time frame for the task, he’d hoped the survey of the land wouldn’t take the entire afternoon. He wanted to give Mr. Burke a stamp of approval on the land and get out of there as soon as possible.

Today,  Stephanie was the embodiment of every man’s belief (unless otherwise enlightened by new information): women love shopping. Toting a few bags of clothes, various colors of book bindings and banners advertising books for sale caught her eye and she made her way in the direction of the bookstore. It’d been a long time since she visited one with money. She easily spent an hour browsing the Action-Adventure section and the aisle containing how-to books on writing. She selected one on character development and squeezed it under her arm along with a few adventure novels that she couldn’t resist. On her way to the cashier, something else caught her attention. She stopped abruptly at a sign-up table at the end of one of the stacks and listed her name, number and email address for the writing club sponsored by the book store. She was happy to learn that her first class was that upcoming Saturday.

Stephanie was happy with her new home. The front door opened into a tan living room with orange accessories. A lengthy bar counter invited guests to sit before burnt orange place mats and the kitchen donned a few matching ornaments. An opening, extending just beyond the nook led onto a patio, enclosed by glass. Stephanie mounted rods and hung curtains around the perimeter. She also lined the perimeter of the floor with cushioned benches. Down the bend of a hallway, was her writing space, an extra room she hadn’t made any decisions for and the master, decorated in orange with hints of blue. She stood alongside the bed looking down at the clothes she’d purchased with a glimmer of a smile. She thought about the sensible words that the angry man had shared with her the day they had blown-up at each other and was in total agreement.

“… You don’t have to put your beautiful bodies on display to be pretty and sexy …”

Saturday evening brought Stephanie into a medium sized conference room of the nearby, public library. They were just getting started. As she entered, she quickly scanned the empty seats and the heads of people that filled some of the others. She walked down an aisle with rows of chairs on both sides, toward the front. Just as she found a seat on the front row, she glanced to her left unable to thwart the double take action. But on the second glance, she found the gentleman from the accident frowning back at her.

     Oh great, the jerk from the parking lot. Stephanie took her seat.

“Excuse me,” The conductor at the front of the room approached her. “You’re new, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Stephanie said.

“Great, you’re just in time, for our new round of reading. We just finished one manuscript last week and now …” He directed his attention to the entire class. “We are getting ready to create new writings for our reading pleasure. This time, we’re going to have writing partners. Each one of you on this side,” He pointed to the area where Stephanie sat. “… will select from the box, find your partner, sit with your partner and get to know your partner a little bit. You’ll have cart blanche on your writing assignment by the way,” He looked at Stephanie. “My name is Justin.” Stephanie nodded. He proceeded to visit every individual on the side where she sat, allowing them to select from the box. People began to call names, seeing hands go up on the other side of the aisle and smiling faces. New couples sat together in various spots throughout the room.

Stephanie called the name she selected. “Jonathan?” The jerk from the parking lot leaned forward and smirked when he saw who called his name.

     Oh, that’s his name … She thought.

He made no attempt to join her so she walked over to him. As she took the seat at his side, he eyed the sandals, jeans and fitted T-shirt she wore. Her hair flowed beautifully over her shoulders, he thought. He leaned back, against his chair, silent and watchful.

Stephanie tried to think of something to break the ice thinking of the dent in his car and how it was her fault. “Well I guess I’ve already made my first impression on you,” She chuckled. Vaguely moved by her humor, a glimmer of a smile tried to curl a side of his mouth but he wasn’t ready to smile yet. He only sat, looking at her. “… and obviously not a good one.” She took a deep breath and tried starting over. “Look, I know we didn’t meet under the best circumstances but I’d really like this to work … and I am truly sorry that I crashed into you.”

To her surprise, he finally broke the stare and extended his hand. “I’m Jonathan Stiles … and I too … am deeply sorry.”

Stephanie smiled and took his hand into her own. “Stephanie Turner,”

***

     “Shut-up, girl!”

“What!”

“Do you mean to tell me that your writers club hooked you up with the gorgeous jerk from the plaza parking lot?”

Stephanie smiled. “When the box came my way, I picked his name …”

“That’s fate. No doubt about it.”

“Oh, he’s just a partner in writing!”

Robyn pointed a definitive finger. “Mark my words. You two are gonna hit it off.”

Stephanie’s eyes filled with wonder as they attempted to finish their lunch. She had awakened that morning well rested and pleased with what she had done for herself. She stretched and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She looked all around herself at the plain room finally coming together. No ornaments or paintings adorned the room yet but it was coming together. She left her bedroom and walked through every room ecstatic, like the new home owner she was.

At one o’clock, she left for Cedar Hill to meet Robyn for lunch. For the first time in her life, everything was coming together like the piece by piece decoration of the new house. Her life was finally beginning at thirty-two. She was never able to pursue her writing before with Steven breathing down her neck about finding work. He had nerve to beg her for financial assistance without even making her his wife. The household was even worse after their child died. He was so nonchalant about it. Perhaps that was his way of dealing with the death but it wasn’t helpful to Stephanie. Steven’s coping method was undoubtedly the precursor to Stephanie’s extreme measures to avoid such pain in the future by having her tubes tied.

She and Jonathan had planned to meet at the Starbucks on Beltline Road in Cedar Hill. Gazing out of the window appearing to be in deep thought, Jonathan noticed her when she leaned out of the car. Half a smile curled one side of his face at the thought of how cute she looked. Her hair bounced in a ponytail at the crown of her head and she wore a white tank over a black Maxi skirt with black and white Chucks. The moment she walked in and peered to the left, he raised a pencil into the air and she smiled at him.

“Hi,” She said, pulling out a chair and dropping her purse and bag into the seat next to her.

“Hey,” He answered.

Stephanie proceeded to remove a tablet, a pen and a cup of pens from the bag. Jonathan watched her place the tablet and pen just right, before her – the perfect position for writing for a right-handed person. He leaned back in his chair and continued watching – she definitely appeared to have some writing gimmicks of her own. She placed the cup of pens in the middle of the other table (Jonathan had put two together thinking they would need more space than one small table).

“What?” She met his eyes and finally asked.

Jonathan shook his head. “Nothin’”

Well do you have any ideas for the story we’re supposed to write?”

He only shook his head silently, again.

“Neither do I …” She pronounced the word neither with a long i sound and he smiled again although very briefly. That’s something he hadn’t heard anyone in Texas say.

He finally decided to speak. “You’re not from here, are you?”

“No, actually I just moved here from L.A. about a week or so ago. This was information she hadn’t shared at their first meeting.

“I thought so … I’m from L.A. too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,”

“Cool … so, since we have no ideas, do you want to begin with our manuscripts? You said you’d bring what you’ve started.”

He reached for something that he already had in a folder on the table and she reached into her bag and paused, gasping.

“I have an idea!”

Jonathan froze and met her eyes.

“Have you ever done shared writing, John?”

A bit startled but pleased by the sudden use of a nick name already, Jonathan shook his head no.

“It’s so much fun!” She grabbed the short stack of papers of a manuscript and placed it near Jonathan’s one sheet.

He smiled at her enthusiasm.

She grabbed his paper and looked at what he’d written.

     That was his problem: he’d met a beautiful girl. No, that’s not right. He met a beautiful woman.

“Oh my god! That’s all you’ve written? Why?”

“So now you’re making fun of me?”

“No I …” She stole glances at him and then the paper then him again. “I just didn’t expect a one liner.”

“Yeah well, I just haven’t been …shall we say, inspired? My muse hasn’t visited me lately.”

Stephanie nodded. “… Until now …” She grabbed a pen from the cup. “I feel ideas coming already!”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow at her.

“So this is how it works, it’s simple. You’ve already written a line. Can we use this as a beginning?” She pointed to his paper with her orange pen.

“Okay,” he said.

“Cool. So, you’ve already written a line so it’ll be my turn and I’ll write in orange. I’ll write until the ideas stop flowing and when they do, I’ll pass it to you, you’ll read what I wrote and then you’ll write in a different color. Okay?”

“Okay.” Jonathan nodded then frowned when her enthusiasm seemed to go on hyper speed.

“Ooh! I got it! Holding a pen always helps!” She put the paper flat on the table and started writing like this was her last time to express herself this way.

Jonathan’s eyebrows almost converged when he leaned forward, resting his face on a fist. After the first few minutes he couldn’t help wondering what she was writing. And the ideas must have been racing a mile a minute because she didn’t come up for air. He admired her love for the craft. Her enthusiasm was becoming contagious. Jonathan thought he felt an itch to write a little although his thoughts had not exactly come together yet. He never met anyone who loved writing as much as he did. His ex never paused to look at anything he’d written not even to say that it was bad writing. He found himself captivated by her love for the art. He also noticed that her ponytail hadn’t stopped bouncing since she sat down. She was filled with energy. Suddenly, Stephanie paused and looked up from the paper catching a raised eyebrow from Jonathan. She frowned, shaking her head no and quickly went back to work. He couldn’t stifle the chuckle that broke the silence at their table. Smirking, Stephanie shot a look at him as her hand kept writing, and then she looked down at the paper again. He loved this. He couldn’t remember when he had so much fun.

Finally, Stephanie stopped. She tapped her pen on the table quickly, five times, eyes darting, then put it down.

Jonathan exhaled for her. “You almost wrote for a full fifteen minutes!”

“Really?”

“Yeah!”

“Well, what can I say? It’s a good first sentence.”

“What’d you write?” He took the paper. “Man, my one little sentence inspired all this?”

Stephanie smiled. “Read it … see if you like it.”

He raised his arms, stretching away from the table, a bit. “I will.” He slipped on his sporty, gold rimmed glasses and leaning into the table, he hunched as if to feel his own body heat in the path of a cool breeze. He rubbed the hair on his chin and was silent. He was completely engaged, eyes darting from left to right.

All the signs were there: beauty, desire and acceptance all wrapped up in a nice little package of ugliness, insecurity and rejection. She stood before him on the precipice, reaching and mouthing the same words as before: I don’t belong here … come with me …

     It was surreal. The pale blue gown stuck to every dip and curve with the help of the wind that blew against her and she used a soft, high pitched voice almost inaudible. He could not break his gaze. He took a step forward to take her into his arms just when she exploded into the fanged and horned beast that tried to grab his hand just before he withdrew it with bulging eyes. He seemed to be under the beast’s scrutiny followed by an outcry that shook the ground and Travis along with it. Travis jumped back when the beast reached for him again. Then with flailing arms, it leaned over the cliff to the icy waters below.

     Travis sprang awake gasping for air. He quickly swiped a hand over his drooling mouth simultaneously freeing himself from the private embarrassment of being rattled by a bad dream like a kid. Inhaling deeply, he fell back onto his pillow enveloped in thought. That was the fourth time he’d dreamed about Jana – and in the exact same situation! He remembered the first day they met. But why was he dreaming about her? Why did he have to meet “her” of all people?

Jonathan suddenly spoke. “This is good.” He shot her a nodding glance over the top of the paper, set it on the table and snatched a green pen. Stephanie smiled at the thought of her being his muse and went to the deli counter. She glanced at him from the line and couldn’t help thinking how gorgeous he was in his glasses. And he had the kind of face that didn’t change whenever the glasses were off. He looked nice in his clothes, too. Nothing hung over his belt – he was totally fit. Somehow, the pale gray silk shirt and slacks added a silvery hue to his dark complexion which only complimented the gold. After five minutes, she returned with two sandwiches, a hot cup of tea and a bottle of water. Stephanie quickly began eating upon sitting and the tea was refreshing. Jonathan raised his head from the enjoyable task just as she was stuffing another piece of sandwich into her mouth.

“Is that for me?” He asked, pointing at the other sandwich.

“Mmhmph,” Stephanie nodded, taking a look at what he wrote.

“Well thank you. That was kind of you.”

“You’re welcome …”

“Anything else coming to you?” He asked, unwrapping the sandwich and taking a bite.

She shook her head. “Not yet … but this is good.” She shook the paper at him. “We got a lot done.”

He smiled to see her talking with food in her mouth, although it was tastefully done. She was so down to earth in lieu of hiding her face with a bashful and dainty hand as if women weren’t supposed to eat heartily. She was just … so REAL. “This is great. Thank you.”

“Why are you thanking me?”

“… ‘Cause I haven’t written in months ‘til now.” Stephanie nodded in pleasure. “So tell me …” Jonathan began again, taking another bite. “How did this cute outfit bump the exotic miniskirt?” He made quotation marks with his fingers when he said the word exotic.

Stephanie hunched her shoulders. “I like them but I was never really comfortable in them … I mean, I like showing a little skin every now and then but … I don’t know.” She hunched again.

Jonathan nodded. “A little skin is sexy I agree, but lookin’ partially naked is ridiculous.”  Partially raising the sandwich in his hand and bringing it down again, “You’re gonna have to let me repay you for dinner.” He said.

“Well thank you.”

“Is the water mine too?”

“Yeah, I thought you probably had enough Fraps.”

“What, now I have to treat you to drinks too?”

“ … An outing with dinner and drinks is enough, I think.” They both shared a smile just before Stephanie left her seat to get extra napkins.

Jonathan noticed how focused she was on their work. Not once did she fiddle with her hair or lipstick or anything. He thought of how many women he’d encountered who often smoothed a small section of hair behind their ears or in the case of Stephanie’s hair do, smoothed their pony tails, making sure every strand of hair remains perfectly in place. Or sometimes, they’d split the pony tail in half and lightly tug on each half to tighten the scrunchii. Maybe too much of this hair play was the result of nervousness – especially brushing hair behind the ear. He smiled at Stephanie again when she’d returned, thinking that she had done none of these things. He felt good knowing that she seemed to be comfortable with him especially after he blew up at her in the plaza parking lot. He soon lowered his eyes to the table, continuing to eat, and she began focusing on his entry.

No, what should be asked is, why did he have to fall for her? Maybe it was because she was pretty. But there are many pretty women in the world. Perhaps it’s just one of those things that happen. You hook up, things go wrong, and you break up.

“Is this autobiographical?” She asked after the first few lines.

Jonathan glanced at her. “… A little bit …” And lowered his gaze again. Stephanie continued reading.

Travis stared at the ceiling with his hands folded behind his head. Maybe her ignoring him was a sign. He’d asked her for the time the other day and she only looked at him. Maybe it was best that he didn’t pursue her. How rude can a person be? I mean, you speak to someone and on average she answers, right? Why couldn’t she give him the time? She was wearing a watch. No, that was just down right snobbish. And he was definitely better off without a snob – he was not interested in those kinds of people. And on that note, Travis yanked himself out of bed to greet the day. It was Saturday and de couldn’t wait to get to his favorite coffee shop. But of course, that is where he always saw “her”.

***

     The Saturday evening of August 16th drew Stephanie onto the back patio. She noticed a bright light in passing and could not resist investigating. It appeared as though the yard was lit by a fluorescent, one hundred watt bulb but she hadn’t mounted any lights around the house. To her surprise, it was the moon light. Awe struck, she froze at the wall of glass. The bluish white luminosity romanticized the yard into a serene sitting area. And as all single thoughts lead to multiple ones, she thought of sitting with Jonathan on that enclosed patio on a night like this one, writing, and wondered what his response would be to an invitation to her house for the next writing session. Of course she had met him only two weeks ago. He could be a rapist or a murderer. Stephanie pulled herself from the glass, stormed down the hall to the home office and plopped into the chair behind the desk. She googled background checks and clicked the first link entitled, Instant Background Checks – free. Stephanie’s wide eyes were glued to the screen. She typed his first and last name into the correct fields and clicked search. A horizontal green bar slowly moved across the bright screen as an indication of conducting a search. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Jonathan Stiles were found. She followed the prompts to refine her search until all at once, there it was in black and white.

The next week, a 98 degree scorcher prevailed long after the setting sun. Taking a wrap into the blackness of night was unheard of since continuous heat usually encircled chilled arms. But Stephanie spooned a cheesy, broccoli and potato soup to warm her chilled body in the coolness of her home – she often cooled the house off, before bedtime to avoid leaving the A.C. on all night. The manuscript sat before her just before concealing it in her bag. She’d hoped to see Jonathan at the Writers’ Club meeting since he didn’t make it to their personal writing session the night before. She skimmed what she had written – scrutinizing it, examining word choices, punctuation and wondering if it was interesting enough. Deciding it was perfect the way it was, she smiled at the thought of Jonathan nodding his head in delight as he read. She spooned more soup into her mouth and looked at the screen of her ringing phone.

“Hi John,”

“Steph, hey! Listen, I’m so sorry, I won’t be able to make it tonight, either.”

“Oh,”

He could hear her fallen countenance through the phone. “I – I’m caught up at work.”

“That’s all right. We’ll talk next week.”

“Yeah, we will.”

“Okay then,” Stephanie ended the call with a brief, pouty mouth looking at the manuscript again.

Jonathan heard her end the call on the other end but he held the receiver, leaning into it with his eyes closed. He didn’t exactly know why since they’d just met but he hated cancelling on her for the second time. He finally grew tired of the loud dial tone in his ear and dropped the phone onto the cradle and turned back to the computer screen and his legal pad. Before focusing all of his attention on the task before him, he glanced around the vacant office space and oddly found himself thinking of Stephanie again. He just cancelled on meeting her for the Writers’ Club. He just cancelled their personal writing session the night before. Wait a minute; they have their meetings on Fridays. That was Friday? His elbows propped on the desk, he dropped his head into his palms, slowly dragging his hands over his face. Good grief! He was stuck at the office on a Saturday night! He blew off a pretty girl that he has something in common with, on a Saturday night. They probably would have gotten something to eat afterwards. He inhaled deeply, falling back in his seat and exhaled harshly.

Jonathan worked for J.T.’s Construction and Engineering, a large construction firm in Downtown Dallas. He was working on bringing the new Bellevue Museum to Dallas’s Art District. The CAD (computer assisted drafting) program showed completed schematics on one screen, while he typed the formal report on a second screen, using notes from the legal pad in front of him. He looked out of the window (from the fourth floor office) hoping rush hour traffic would have died down by the time he was ready to leave. And that meant, not leaving until about seven thirty or eight o’clock. He thought about taking it home but he was already late – the report was due that evening. He rolled the sleeves of his white, collared shirt, gave his glasses a push, and took a sip from the nearby water bottle and refocused. The report contained some general information for the owners: the name of the project, address confirmation and the deadline. Jonathan kept writing, glancing at the computer screen every now and then. He listed every material to be used for the entire building (I-beams, precast concrete, steel studs, etc.) and the cost for each one or for each bundle of whatever. After an hour or more, Jonathan finalized the report with a few extra notes, a date and signature and printed it.

The clock read 8:00pm when he finally slid behind the wheel of his car and turned the key in the ignition. Having started at six, the Writers’ Club was ending now.

Texas summers were blistering scorchers. Unless nearly frozen into popsicles by air conditioning units, adults were restless complainants and bickering children, were reduced to dazed lumps that the televisions enjoyed watching. Cold natured, Stephanie at least kept the air conditioner at seventy whenever she was cooking. A tomato soup full of vegetables and herbs was boiling on the stove. She’d decided to make it, the moment Jonathan called while she viewed houses with Robyn and told her that he couldn’t join her tonight because he was sick. Oh she wasn’t having that. She insisted on at least dropping off the manuscript at his house – shoot, they had been talking for weeks now. They weren’t total strangers anymore. Perhaps Jonathan was beginning to feel the same way because he’d given in and gave her permission to swing by his place. She couldn’t wait to surprise him with what she had written and the soup.

Jonathan opened the door with a wad of tissue at his nose. He said nothing, only stood back, holding the door to allow her entry.

“Poor thing, you do feel awful, don’t you?” She said, staring at him and crossing the threshold. Having locked the door behind her, he led her into the living room but she didn’t sit. She simply dropped the manuscript onto an end table then turned toward the kitchen. Jonathan frowned, finally realizing that she had something in a pot. He guessed that it was routine to lead her into the living room for a seat. He eyed her every move. Somehow, she appeared to be so comfortable – so at home within herself – with him. She placed the large pot onto the counter and noticed a picture on a small, spice shelf.

“Oh is this your wife or girlfriend?” She pointed.

He flanked her side and slapped the picture face down. “Another one that escaped my wrath …” He said, meeting her eyes but the nasal congestion made it sound like: adother one that escaped by wrath. She smiled at his humorous discomfort and he continued. “No, to answer your question.” But it came out, “Dough, to answer your question.”

Stephanie brought a hand to her mouth to cover increasing giggles.

He looked in her direction. “Are you laughing at be, dow?” He asked.

“Of course not,” She snapped, looking away before looking up at him with puppy eyes. “I have one of those too, you know.” She pointed at the picture on the spice shelf. “You know the worse part about breaking up?” He seemed to search every inch of her face. “… The feeling that you’re not enough … realizing that you’re suddenly shoved aside for someone else.”

Jonathan parted his lips like he wanted to say something but sniffed and began to make clucking noises in his throat, instead.

And Stephanie continued.

“Oh you sound absolutely awful, poor thing, and in summertime too! You do know that summer is the worse time to have a cold.”

“Well, it’s dot like I planned it.” He sucked in air through his mouth.

“It’s hot anyway and suffocatingly stuffy like a cloud of heat surrounds your head in particular and not to mention your obvious congestion…”

“Are you quite done yet?”

She spoke with excitement in her eyes, occasional frowns when emphasizing certain points and lots of hand motions gesturing at the nose and head area. “Just makes you feel like a ball of cloth is obstructing the tiniest of air flow and you’re constantly struggling just to breathe!”

“Did you come here to bake be feel better?”

“I came to bring you the manuscript so you can get to work while you’re resting.”

“Well that’s an oxyboron if I ever heard one.”

“And here’s some soup!” She placed both hands face down on the pot. “I threw it together the moment you said you weren’t feeling well.”

Jonathan was captivated by the idea that she thought enough about him to help him get better.

“You didn’t have to …” He started when she interrupted.

“Make sure you have a big bowl before getting into bed, okay?”

She touched his back, an arousal spot, between his shoulder blades, caressing a little. He could feel himself beginning to melt from the electrifying warmth of her touch and shot a bit of a surprised look in her direction.

Stephanie quickly withdrew her hand. “I’m sorry … I do tend to be a little touchy-feely sometimes.”

He started to shake his head no in an effort to inform her that it was okay … that she did nothing wrong but she’d already turned to the door.

“Take care of yourself, John. Hopefully we can get together next week.”

He followed her to the door and watched her leave. “Dough Steph,” He coughed into the tissue wad. “The worse thing about break-ups is being aloned.” He mumbled as he slowly closed the door.

Feeling a possibly odd longing for her company, Jonathan was obedient to her word and prepared a large bowl of soup. He took it from the counter, scooped the manuscript from the end table and headed for his bedroom. He couldn’t wait to see what she’d written.

He was sipping the last of his coffee when the object of his affection exited the café and crossed the street into the park. He watched her stroll deeper into the brush when he decided to follow her. He could have sworn he heard whimpers as he continued on the path that she took. The park became thick, dense on all sides with the exception of the path that led to the ocean. And there, in the clearing, she struggled to free herself from two loiterers.

“Let me go!” She cried, kicking one in the shin and yanking her arm from the other.

“Hey!” Travis yelled, one outstretched arm pointing an accusing index finger. “Leave her alone!”

And without warning, one of the brutes slashed her midsection with a blade just as she dashed across the dock, leaping into the water.

“Hey!” Travis gave chase and jumped in after her.

To his surprise, the waters were dark and murky. It was as if she’d disappeared right before his eyes and he was suddenly alone. Unaware of what direction to take, Travis swam forward, looking all around himself hoping to catch even a glimpse of her – some sign of her. But it was no use. Feeling a bit of a sharp pain in his gut helped him to realize that he was unable to hold his breath any longer and harboring the fear of being dragged under somehow, where the pressure would burst him into pieces, he went up for air where his eyes bulged in awe.

Gone were the park and the café across the street that he knew. The sun seemed to sparkle with diamonds and everything beneath it glistened. Travis just knew something happened to his eyes in the water. He pulled himself out, observing all that was around him. The café sparkled. The cars driving by seemed to glow. Then his sights zoned in on something that really freaked him out. His eyes attached themselves to an object across the street. He broke free briefly to scan his surroundings for a giant mirror or reflectors, maybe, or something because standing there in the same blue jeans and collared shirt was he. He walked a little closer, cars zooming between them, looking. He could not break his gaze. What is this? He didn’t have a twin. How could this be? And in the midst of all his muddled thoughts, Travis’s double stepped into the street.

“Nooo!” Travis yelled beginning to run for him but a Mac truck slammed into him, knocking him fifteen feet into the air only to crash down face first, onto the asphalt. “Nooo!” Travis hysterically cried again.

In a frantic panic, he rushed to his double’s side, looking, checking and not believing, fumbling, not knowing what he could do and wondering if anything could be done. People gathering didn’t even seem to notice that they were doubles. It was weird – surreal. His jaw seemed to be wired shut and no one else behaved like they should call an ambulance. The crowd grew too thick as if they were about to devour him and all of a sudden, that locked jaw became unhinged. Travis stood and backed away, onto the sidewalk. Just as he began to catch his breath, a white van arrived to haul the body away like it was cleaning the street of the broken and twisted body of a dead animal. Appalled and actually rather frightened by the entire scene, his jaw dropped and furrowed brows nearly converged.

     You’re not alone … The words seemed to whisper on a breeze through the corridors of his ear and he turned.

Jonathan gasped at the soft but sudden strike in his diaphragm and looked over his shoulder as if he too, heard the words: You’re not alone … He frowned, trying to make sense of it. It was like an awakening of realization of some sort. Lying prostrate across his bed with his face over the soup bowl and the manuscript, ahead of him, propped on a pillow, he embraced the message in the writing and continued reading.

“Hey Babe, what are you doin’?” A female voice startled him.

Travis frowned a little at the sight of the girl, no, woman of his dreams! The beautiful woman who ignored him! The beautiful woman who disappeared from the water! Was he dreaming? Was this real? Had she whispered those words in her ear? Tip toeing, she touched his face and kissed his lips softly. When she pulled back, Travis only stared in shock. What was going on here? She leaned in for another one, kissing him on the cheeks and neck. Travis wrapped his arms around her and instinctively took her up to their apartment.

Heritage Meadows only featured a new and upcoming tract of homes in the city of Red Oak – people were buying them fast. But Robyn fell in love with the two-story model that she and Stephanie just walked through. Upon entering, tile covered the high traffic area, from the front door all the way through the stretch of hallway to the living room. They passed two bedrooms and a staircase on the way to the living room, the kitchen on the left and another bedroom sat adjacent to the dining room. Upstairs was the master bedroom, a loft and his and hers bathroom and closet. Robyn loved the geometrically attractive mirrors, decorative paint on only one or two walls in each room and the quaint framing of pictures or trinkets that hung on the walls. Only the frame was mounted around the displays – without the glass covering.

“So what do you think, Robyn?” The agent asked, snacking on something while sitting behind his desk.

Stephanie looked at her.

“I love it!” She darted a glance at Stephanie and chuckled. “I almost don’t wanna wait for the new tract.”

“Well you don’t have to … we can sell you this one as is.”

“Really?” She gasped. “I’ll take it!”

“Great! Let’s get those papers started.”

Stephanie shared her friend’s joy. “We’re neighbors now.”

Jonathan arrived at Starbucks just in time to see Stephanie exiting her car. Once in a parking stall, he quickly leaned out from behind the steering wheel to catch up to her.

“Hey girl,” He bellowed.

She adjusted the shoulder strap of the book bag she carried and looked over her shoulder with the expression of surprise and pleasure all wrapped up into one as if she had been expecting him to cancel on her again. “Hey John!”

“You are awesome!” He yelled, feeling unrestricted.

“Yeah, I know but why are you saying so?” She answered, still smiling.

Jonathan laughed. Arriving at her side, he touched her arm. “What in the world did you put in that soup?”

“You liked it!” He placed a hand over his stomach and acted as though he was about to faint from pleasure as Stephanie looked him up and down. “… And you feel better!” Jonathan was nodding. “See? It worked!”

“Yes it did! I was better the next morning after having four giant bowls for dinner!”

“Four?”

“It was good!”

“Of course it was … Grandma’s recipes are nothing but the best.” She raised a snooty nose to the evening sky.

They both realized that they were blocking the entrance when a few people tried to get through and they stepped to the side.

“The minute I tasted it, my nasal passage cleared, the fever left, my throat stopped itchin’ and hurtin’, what’d you put in there?”

“Just garlic and onions …”

“Is that all?”

“That’s all it takes.”

“Man,” He was shaking his head. “Well thanks again.”

She smiled coquettishly. “Anytime,”

Jonathan noticed the intent in her eyes and grew warm all over although he hadn’t thought about whether or not he liked her yet. However, he did like the fact that she was beautiful, cute, sexy and confident without putting her body on display. Perhaps that’s what Joanna lacked – confidence – putting herself on display to draw attention to herself because she lacked in certain areas. He didn’t know. The only thing he did know was that the intelligent and pretty lady standing with him now had been his muse – he was happy again and wanted more of it.

“C’mon, let’s get in here – your writing was good, too!” He opened the door for her. They located a window table and sat. Having plopped her bag on the table, Stephanie reached in and withdrew the Writers’ Club list of classes.

“John, are you the least bit afraid of this next class meeting?” She looked at him. “… Talking to the dead?”

He laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. Hey,” He leaned into the table as if to share a secret with her. “Steph, would you do me a favor?”

She felt a small, burst of excitement within her at the thought of being able to help him again. “Sure, if I can.”

“Be honest with me about my writing. Sometimes I make a lot of mistakes … tell me if it’s one way or another, good or bad.”

“Oh, of course,” She smiled, watching him. Her imagination took her back about twenty-five years thinking that he must have been a quiet and shy kid with his soft and truthful words and his leaning into the table, keeping his business from outsiders. Stephanie suddenly gasped (to herself). She was an insider – someone he could trust. Why? Or how did that happen and so soon? It was nice but … and why did she feel the sudden need to help him? Perhaps the obvious reason: Jonathan appreciated her kindness whereas Steven only took advantage of her. Jonathan’s childlike sincerity and appreciation of her was most appealing. She knew he was growing on her and she loved it.

“You know Steph,” He began again. “I don’t have my entry.”

“Didn’t do your homework, huh?” I’m gonna have to take points off for that, Mr. Stiles.”

He smiled again, leaning back in his seat. “No, I …” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I was so moved by yours that I wanted to talk about it.”

“Really?” She adjusted herself in her seat almost like fidgeting, and then she focused her attention on him.

He held her gaze like he never held it before. He even moved his chair around the end of the table to be closer to her. Stephanie felt a sudden something in her gut at his proximity.

“The entire concept of the alternate reality is totally cool.” He said, talking with his hands.

Stephanie nodded. “Okay, thanks,”

“But those words you wrote in there …”

Stephanie only looked at him, waiting.

“The message from Travis’s girl, you’re not alone …”

Stephanie nodded.

“I felt like I … kind of heard them to.”

“What?” Her eyes widened.

He looked at the floor then back at her. “I even looked over my shoulder.”

“Wha …” She started again in a whisper then trailed off.

“I know …” He held up his palms. “I know … it’s just that, I have been feeling angry and alone until the Writers’ Club put us together and when I read those words written by you …” His voice trailed off and she held an endearing gaze for him.

Jonathan continued. “I just felt comforted in a way, and I just knew that everything would be all right somehow.

Stephanie had no words, knowing that she liked him just a little bit more.

“How did you come up with that?” He asked.

She moved her head slowly from one side to the other. “I just wrote it the way it came to me.” She shrugged.

Jonathan nodded, his sights falling to the floor again.

“Hey,” Stephanie got his attention and he looked up at her. “Sometimes getting out, helps with writing. You wanna get outta here? Go do something?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Yeah … sure …”

Leaving Stephanie’s car in the parking lot, they decided that Jonathan would drive. He lived in Texas longer and knew of a few nice spots and Stephanie was all for a little break from driving. She enjoyed watching him relaxed behind the wheel, handling the car the way men do – left hand clutching the top of the wheel while the right rested atop the gear. She eyed the cuffs of his shirt, admiring his business style. He donned a gold watch on his wrist and a single ring on the ring finger of his right hand – his class ring. A very fine gold chain hung about six inches from his neck. She noticed it, thanks to the two, unfastened buttons that revealed a little chest hair as well.

Thin white clouds now covered a slowly, setting sun as they drove west bound on Beltline Road. Jonathan extended an arm across Stephanie, pointing to one of the unowned stretches of land.

“I call that the field of dreams …”

A sea of sunflowers seemed to extend for miles. Stephanie turned to look and smiled. “They seem to project a brightness for hope.” He said.

“That’s very symbolic and poetic.” Jonathan returned a smile. “Sounds like we could get a title for our story from that idea.”

“Mmm, how about  …” Jonathan leaned his head to one side. “Land of Dreams?” She pointed a finger at him. “Bingo! That’s perfect because things begin to pick-up for Travis, right?”

“Yeah, and you know what? I think we might add a little more background on Travis.”

“Okay, that’s good, more backstory.”

Jonathan switched his left blinker on and followed the road toward Downtown Cedar Hill and passed it. He continued until he reached the Mansfield border and until they were crossing a bridge over sparkling, blue waves.

“Oh my god! I had no idea there was such a great body of water out here!”

“Oh yeah! This is Joe Pool Lake … it stretches for miles.” Jonathan said, pulling over to the side of the road.

Leaning out of their seats, they walked back, leaning on the railing to enjoy the view.

Stephanie looked at Jonathan. “I knew some fresh air would do us good.”

“Yeah,” He said. “So what brought you to Texas, Lady Stephanie and how long have you been writing?”

“Well I …I had to get away from my boyfriend. He cheated on me. I remembered my friend Robyn out here and decided to come and start a new life.” He was nodding silently, looking into the distance, across the water. “I’ve been writing since childhood. And you?”

He looked in her direction. “Oh I think I started writing around twenty-five. And I was a part of the great migration of house hunters … a swarm of relatives and friends wouldn’t stop with their proclamations: ‘Come and see! As if it were a miracle they were yellin’ about. He mimicked yells in hushed tones. “’You’ll love these houses if you just come and see!” Stephanie smiled at his story-telling knowing she liked him a lot more. “… And check this out …” He pointed at her. “Then they get you with, ‘You owe it to yourself to come and see!’ As if you hadn’t been good to yourself all along.” He was shaking his head. “I caught the bait … came out and took a look … liked the amount of house for less money and here I am.” His voice rose a little on the last few words.” Stephanie was still smiling at him and he moved closer to her. “I like coming out to these waters because I miss the beach in California. I mean, who has time to drive four hours down south to the beach, out here? I don’t.”

“There’s a beach out here?”

“Yeah, in Houston … I think …”

“The beach was one of my favorite spots too although I didn’t visit often as an adult since I was always job hunting but I remember skating for miles out there with my dad when I was a kid.” Stephanie smiled to herself, lost in her memories. Jonathan narrowed his eyes on her, waiting patiently for her return to the present. “That’s why I love it out here.” She glanced around at the waves again. “Thanks for bringing me.” She looked in his direction and he nodded.

“Any kids from that relationship?”

“There was one …” She appeared to get lost again. “But she passed … I got my tubes tied to avoid pain like that again.” That was very personal, Jonathan thought. Perhaps she’s even more comfortable with him than he thought. It was like she wanted him to know all about her – like she wanted them to feel closer to each other. “You?”

“No, I don’t have any. I’m sure my time for having them is passed by now … thirty six year old, workaholic with his own bundle of needs to be met.” Stephanie smiled at him. “So how old are you, Steph?”

She nudged his shoulder with hers. “Wouldn’t you like to know.” She chuckled and he grinned. “I’m thirty-two.” He nodded once. “So where did you live in Cali?”

“Hawthorne,”

“Hawthorne? So did I! I wonder why we never bumped into each other then!”

I guess it wasn’t time … we had to live a little more … grow a little more … get rid of some demons …”

They shared nods in agreement and her eyes narrowed on him as silence grew between them for a few minutes. She believed his words spoken and unspoken here, over their own, personal beach, to be truth. And she thought of the background check in black and white. There was nothing to taint his name.

Although temperatures were still in the nineties, a warm breeze continued to make ripples in the lake and the sparkling light on the waves began to fade quickly.

Jonathan looked at his watch. “It’s almost nine, we better head back.”

Although she did her best to ward him off, he insisted on tailing her all the way home. And when they arrived, Jonathan quickly stepped out of the driver seat to walk her to the door.

“Thank you,” He said. “I needed some time away … I had fun.”

“I did too.” Stephanie said.

“Hey, since I missed a few sessions, do you think we could have an extra? Maybe on Monday?”

“Yeah, sure, my house?” She gestured with her head toward the front door.

“Sounds good, I’ll be here.”

She saw him leaning into her. Was she ready to be kissed by him? She wasn’t sure. But it would be nice to be kissed. She thought. He certainly was tempting, inching closer to her. As tall as he was, all that was in her view was his parted, perfectly shaped lips and the black velvet hairs on his chin. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her face when she thought she’d swoon. She just knew she was being drawn into what felt like another dimension – drawn into a world of passion by his will and arousal.

But his phone had rung. Jonathan stopped and simply stared at her as if to ask, really? He took the phone from his hip and answered. Stephanie watched him mouth the four-letter “F” word upon discovering who phoned. He took a step back and raised a waving hand to her. She smiled ruefully waving back. His hand came down on her shoulder as he turned to leave.

Thirty minutes later, Jonathan found himself lost in his own thoughts. She didn’t step away or purposefully fidget with her bag or clothes as if something had been dropped on them. She didn’t lower her head and say, “um” as if to strike up additional conversation when he leaned toward her. She wanted him to kiss her.

When he arrived home in the community of Shinning Lakes, the thought of turning tail and running away from the challenge before him was a pipe dream. He stopped in his tracks and rolled his eyes. Casually sipping something from a bottle, Joanna sat on his porch like she belonged there. Jonathan didn’t think he’d see her so soon after speaking to her when she interrupted what might have been his and Stephanie’s first kiss. He was approaching her when she spoke. “It’s nearly black out here. I’ve never known you to stay out so late … you’re coming from work, right?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“Hey, I don’t want to fight, okay?”

Jonathan pointed to the bottle that she sipped from. “Don’t bring that shit in my house.” He proceeded to unlock the door and opened it.

“Well excuse me … I’ve never known you to be a cursin’ man … guess I bring out the worse in you, huh?”

“Yep. Guess you do. Lock the door behind you. I hope you ate ‘cause I didn’t cook … you sleep on the couch.” He said all this as he walked to his room without looking back.

Between the comforting yet odd feelings he experienced with Stephanie and the manuscript, and Joanna’s return, Jonathan awoke in a fog the next morning – thankful that the black curtains blocked out all bars of light that were trying to penetrate. He blinked a few times and rolled over on his back thinking that he was probably too hard on Joanna last night. Afterall, she did say that she needed his help. He drew a long breath, swung his legs over the side of the bed and shivered from the light cool breeze of the air conditioning that had been blowing all night to ward off the compact thickness of the summer heat. He took a black, Terri cloth rob from the foot of the bed, swung it around his shoulders and dragged himself off the bed. He walked slowly down the hall, clearing his eyes of cloudiness for any sudden appearance of Joanna in any of the rooms. He stopped at the end of the hall where it opened into the living room and just stared – his eyes rolling slowly from one sight to the next. Open boxes of cereal, crackers and cookies were scattered over the kitchen counter along with bags of chips, dip and dirty dishes. At this moment, Jonathan regretted not having any dinner cooked for her and not taking her out to grab a bite at one of the local fast food restaurants. Joanna’s clothes adorned the living room floor as if she had thrown each piece as she removed it. And she, prostrate on the couch, wrapped in a sheet, she lay dead to the world with an arm over the side. Jonathan leaned his head to one side, moving in her direction, not believing his eyes. The bottle that he told her specifically not to bring into the house was on the floor at the end of her fingers, empty.

He could feel the anger rising but drew another long and deep breath, keeping the anger at bay. He thought to wake her with a swift kick to the couch then quickly decided against it. No point in damaging the couch. He looked at her clothes again – shoes, jacket and purse all over the floor. Did she have her own private party? He didn’t remember hearing any music. Perhaps it was all in her head and as she performed exotic dance moves, maybe she tossed pieces of her clothing to whomever she envisioned in the audience. Jonathan decided to let her sleep in hopes that she’d regain her strength to clean up the mess she’d made. And he turned toward the hall.

In his office, Jonathan sat with the manuscript to finish his share of the writing. The moment he selected a pen and reread Stephanie’s entry, ideas began to come to him. He felt comfortable and easy. He relished the rush of flowing ideas and couldn’t put the pen down – not that he wanted to. In the quiet of his office, he could hear and see everything in the world that he and Stephanie created. Although completely engrossed, he paused occasionally – not looking away but blinking at the writing before him, holding the pen suspended. He found himself thinking of Stephanie and how she worked at the craft with such zeal. He’d smile to himself at how she’d look or smirked at him whenever he thought she was done writing and then continue his portion of storytelling.

An hour or so later, Jonathan jumped, startled by the noise that snatched him out of the writing zone. Without the slightest inquiry, still trying to gather himself, he stared at the office door frowning.

Joanna tapped on it again and opened it. “Good morning,”

His throat was dry and his reply came out in a rasp. “Good morning.”

“Can we go to the store? I’m really hungry and I need to get some things.”

He paused, still frowning. “Yeah uh …” He trailed off as if in thought.

“Well you know my car’s in the shop – I came here in a cab and I know you probably don’t wanna give me your car.” Jonathan sucked his teeth, making a smacking sound as he pointed at her with the pen. He looked down at the story, back at her and then the story again. He sighed harshly, standing from the desk and tossed the pen down. “Well, c’mon, I hope you’re ready to go.”

“Already got ma shoes on!” She said cheerily, holding a foot up.

In WalMart’s parking lot twenty minutes later, Joanna did her best to drag Jonathan inside. “Are you coming?” She poked her head inside the car after stepping out.

“No. Just hurry up, I have to get back to work.”

“Work? I didn’t see you at the drafting table.”

He gave her a look.

“C’mon in with me. I won’t be long.”

“Joanna!” His stern voice spoke for itself.

“All right, all right, forget it. I’ll be back in a few.”

Jonathan leaned into his seat folding his hands behind the head rest. He couldn’t wait until all this was over. But the funny thing is until recently, he thought it was over. Then she just had to show up on his door step. Jonathan sighed looking out of the window as people passed his car to get into their own. He found his thoughts drifting back to the story he was co-writing. He also thought of Stephanie. He thought about her a lot these days. He thought about what she was doing at certain times of the day, how she was wearing her hair – because he really liked the ponytail that bounced at her crown when they first met at Starbucks. He thought of what she was eating and what new ideas she was jotting. Why was she on his mind so much? He thought. Then it finally hit him. It was with Stephanie that he felt his best in a long time. He wasn’t angry but at peace and content when he was with her and writing with her. It was her that showed him how to get back into his writing. It was like she pulled him into a new world – a new way of seeing things. Actually, in some ways he felt a lot like Travis being thrown into an alternate reality with a pretty girl.

Forty-five minutes would have been the perfect length of time to slip further into the dreamland where he and Stephanie experienced more shared writing on the beach where they also shared eating, shared laughter and shared kissing but Joanna yanked him from his thoughts with banging on the trunk of the car.

Jonathan couldn’t believe the time of day when he finally finished running around town with her. 2:00p.m. in the afternoon hardly left him with enough time to get back into the writing zone and complete his portion of the story by the Writers’ Club appointment time at 5:00p.m. But he was going to try. Joanna could not understand his determination when he proceeded down the hall, back to his office upon arriving home.

“You wanna do something?” She called out after him.

“No, thanks.” He said, and shut the door. And he didn’t reemerge for anything.

Two and half hours later, Joanna banged on his office door again, and opened it. “John, can we go check on my car? The place closes at six.”

Jonathan was quickly gathering his things to leave. “Nope. I have an engagement.” He moved from behind his desk and out into the open to leave the room.

“What? Where are you going?”

“I do have a life without you, Joanna.” He answered over his shoulder. “And no parties in my house while I’m gone.” He added when she smirked.

***

     Jonathan and Stephanie stopped in the doorway of the Writers’ Club, shoulder to shoulder. Well, shoulder to bicep considering his height in comparison to hers. He stood 6’4” and she, exactly 5’5”. His eyes glued to the scene before them, as Stephanie’s was as well, and leaned toward her whispering.

“Is this for real?”

She whispered the reply. “If it’s not, it’s a helluva hallucination.”

He smiled and pulled his eyes from the creepy scene to gaze on her. “Did you guys do this last week?”

She turned to face him. “No. Class was cancelled.” Whispering, they were close to each other and Stephanie noticed the pretty brown coloring of his eyes.

They stared forward again into the dark room only lit by candles.

“Come in people.” The teacher said in a smooth, eerie tone as if he were Dracula. “Come, sit with your writing partner. I am Justin the Great! Here to help you contact your dead.” He gave a spooky, low rumbling chuckle.

Jonathan and Stephanie looked at each other then forward again and finally moved together toward two chairs. All student chairs were positioned around a circular table as if they were knights at the round table. Justin sat in their midst wearing a gold turbin and some gold drape to match. Strangely, a crystal ball adorned the middle of the table as the perfect center piece. But oddly, it revealed alternating, pop-up questions in single or double words: age? Occupation? Favorite color? Brothers/sisters?

Jonathan and Stephanie looked around themselves, at fellow classmates, then at each other, exchanged a chuckle and wide eyes and returned their gaze to Justin who began to distribute a stack of papers.

“Did everyone notice the crystal ball?” He continued the Transylvanian accent. Everyone either nodded or spoke the word, yes and he continued. “This is kind of a reverse séance. The crystal ball is asking you questions about your character or characters.” Students around the room could be seen exhaling. “And I am giving you a questionnaire sheet to interview your main character. Unless you communicate with your characters and make them REAL …they will remain dead and therefore, make your writing dead.” The low, rumbling chuckle happened again. Then, in his own voice which was about two octaves higher, he clapped his hands and spoke again with enthusiasm. “So get to work people!”

Jonathan leaned toward Stephanie and whispered again. “Still scared?”

“Yeah, I don’t know any of this stuff about my character.”

He laughed briefly, loving her humor. Noticing that she never looked up from the paper, he joined her in getting to work.

The atmosphere was perfect, Jonathan thought. The quiet with only the sound of papers rustling was encouraging. He scanned the cozy environment again which made him think of Stephanie and he looked at her. He felt as though he more than liked her and really wanted to take her into his arms and hold her as closely as he could get her if for no other reason than to be comforted from all his negativities and to say thank you for crashing into him a month and a half ago; he also wanted to thank her for joining the same writers’ club. If she hadn’t, he never would have found her. Ideas came to him left and right. He gave his muse another glance, knowing she was the reason for this influx and felt himself sink into his seat, nuzzling into his thoughts.

Stephanie saw his shoe in her peripherals and turned to see Jonathan slumped in his chair with his leg figure four crossed, coolly, yet he worked with the intensity of the model student. And why wouldn’t he? He was an engineer for goodness sake. But after that one-liner he presented at their first meeting, it was nice seeing him tackling his creativity with just as much zest as he did with his technical projects. She was deeply touched by him and loved his company.

***

     Even after they had dinner at the nearby IHOP and he tailed her home, his weekend of writing continued into the wee hours of Sunday night. And that Saturday night when he tailed her, he couldn’t explain the apprehension to walk her to the door but he didn’t. He watched her go inside, waved and drove away. He didn’t know how to explain it. She didn’t behave like she would’ve moved away had he tried to kiss her. She was different from Joanna – from Joanna’s type. Maybe he was just a little fearful deep down inside of creating another negative situation.

As she stepped out of her car and into the driveway, Stephanie thought it was weird that he didn’t accompany her to the porch. After he insisted on tailing her the first time, she actually looked forward to his company on the porch this time. Once inside, she returned the wave and felt pained to see him go.

Although Mondays are dreaded by the populace for one reason or another, it could’ve been an extension of the weekend for all Jonathan cared. When instructed to rework the report on the Bellevue Museum for more economic materials, his mind drifted to the career challenges and triumphs of Travis in the alternate reality. He somehow, felt lifted – knowing everything would be all right. When it became necessary to conference with the Bellevues, his mind drifted to his relaxing conversations with Stephanie. At lunch time, he took a stroll through the rose garden across the street from where he worked – remembering Stephanie saying that sometimes it’s good to get out and experience different scenery to generate ideas. When he returned to his desk, he found a low cost building materials manufacturer through Olympus’s Steel and finalized the report before the end of the work day. In lieu of scowling through traffic, Jonathan listened to smooth Jazz on his ride home.

Upon opening the front door and entering, Joanna was nowhere to be found and he didn’t call her name – just hoping that maybe she’d taken off with a friend. His eyes passed over the various pieces of clothing strewn about the living room and he simply shook his head as he proceeded down the hallway. In his home office, he closed the door, dropped his brief case into a chair, removed his suit jacket and sat behind the desk, hoping to add some finishing touches to his portion of the story before heading over to Stephanie’s. Just as he slipped on his glasses and selected a pen, the door swung open and his blissful day took a turn for the more complicated.

“Hey John, can we go check on my car?”

“Don’t you know you’re supposed to knock and wait for permission to enter?”

“Right. Sorry.” She closed the door, knocked and waited.

“Joanna, c’mon,” He sighed, rolling his eyes.

“Better?”

Without words, he froze, eyebrows raised and pen dangling over the manuscript. He lightly scratched his goatee and he took a deep breath before speaking. “Joanna, I have an engagement this evening.”

“It’s only five and they close at six – we’ll get in and get out in no time.”

He took another breath and released it harshly. “All right,” He dropped the pen and peeled the glasses from his face. “You sure they close at six?”

“Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye …”

“Let’s go.” He reluctantly rose from his seat.

***

     Desperate for a romantic setting, Stephanie thought of spreading a blanket and snacks in the middle of the floor of the enclosed patio. But how would they write comfortably? And considering the fact that it didn’t get dark until 9p.m., how would that be romantic? She reluctantly resorted to the office. He’d worked in an office all day. Oh well, she thought she could make it work. The desk was a single rectangle so she placed two chairs side by side knowing that they could arrange them however they wanted. She placed a small table in the center of the room and dressed it with small trays of fruit and vegetables with crackers and cheese. She placed two scented candles in the center, lit them to fill the room with their aroma and threw large pillows on the floor, around the table. She turned off the overhead light and turned on the lamp at the desk. Stephanie stood in the doorway analyzing what she had done. It was both inviting and relaxing after a long day at work. She was pleased and could hardly wait for Jonathan’s arrival. Leaving the room, she paused in the hallway to set the air conditioner to 75 degrees to keep the house comfortable while the candles burned.

***

       At 5:30p.m., Jonathan and Joanna pulled into the lot of Tim’s Tune-Ups and parked. Joanna grabbed her purse and stepped out of the car. Jonathan followed. She found a salesman and made her request when they were led to an indoor seating area with vending machines and a television. They sat down at 5:45p.m. Appearing to watch the T.V., Jonathan alternated between trying to maintain a calm disposition by occupying himself with what was on the screen and watching the salespeople through the glass window of the door, continually pass them by.

Finally at 6:05p.m., he turned to Joanna. “I thought you said they close at six.”

“Oops,” She hunched her shoulders.

He rolled his eyes and looked through the window again then back at the T.V. At 6:30p.m., a salesman entered and called her name.

“Yes?” Joanna raised a finger.

“You’re here for the Mustang, right?”

“No,” Joanna said. “The Toyota Celica,”

“Right.” He pointed his pen at her. “Be right back,”

Jonathan dropped his head in a huff, waited a few seconds then turned to her. “You ready for me to stick that needle in your eye?”

Joanna sneered at him. “Very funny,”

“I told you that I have …”

“An engagement! Right! I know! I got the times mixed up!”

“I’m supposed to be meeting Stephanie …we’re …” His voice trailed off as he turned his face away from her.

“So who’s Stephanie?”

“I don’t think you have the right to ask.”

“Well excuse me. You brought her up.”

Leaning forward, Jonathan dropped his head into his hands, mumbling under his breath. “Why did I have to do this? All the countless times he neglected himself for her came back to him. He’d prepared romantic evenings and she’d come home and get dressed to go back out. He’d plan to take her shopping and she’d leave with friends instead. Knowing he was cooking dinner, she’d eat out. There were many situations like these and others. Now here he is again, helping with her car thinking he’d return home in time to keep his appointment and she gave him the wrong closing time for the mechanic shop. Jonathan shook his head thinking that whenever he did anything for Joanna, he wound up with the short end of the stick. It was like she just completely disregarded him and all his efforts for her. When he looked at his watch again, it was almost seven thirty. He sighed thinking that maybe he’d show up late until he heard another salesman’s announcement.

“Miss?” He said when entering.

“Yes?”

“Your car is ready – it’ll just be another little while as we gas it, clean it and pull it ‘round front. At that point you can pay for it at the service center.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

For the first time today, Jonathan’s countenance had truly fallen and he decided to give Stephanie a call. The moment he heard her voice, he glanced at Joanna and stood to move away from her – creating his own private space. “Stephanie,”

She thought she heard her name through the phone in a whisper. “Hey, what’s up? You’re not here yet, you know.”

“Uh, yeah Steph,” Smile lines curled one side of his mouth and he heard her giggle. He felt something of a flutter in his chest and frowned, not wanting to announce the bad news. “Steph, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it tonight.”

“Aw, c’mon John our story …”

“I know, Steph, I know …I”

“We’ve gotten so much done.”

“I have to handle some personal business.” Frowning and rubbing his forehead as though befuddled, he continued. “Look Babe I …” He stammered. “I just don’t think I can do this right now.”

Stephanie’s voice was soft and reassuring. “You could come over later maybe …right? Around 8:30 or 9:00p.m.?

He chuckled a bit. “I get sleepy around ten. Naw, thing is, I really don’t know how long I’ll be. I’m so sorry Steph.”

There was a pause that felt like it lingered far too long and then Jonathan spoke again. “Look I’ll …” He swallowed feeling a little like he was getting choked up. “I’ll call you soon.”

“Okay … John?”

Without another word, he ended the call. He leaned his forehead on the wall with his eyes closed hating what just transpired. There, he stood a few minutes, aching as though he knew all the trouble Stephanie went through to prepare a nice evening for him. Even more than that, he ached because he cancelled again on the wonderful woman that he was falling in love with.

Stephanie held the phone to her ear although his voice was gone. She didn’t know why she called his name again, that last time until she felt something awful within her and then she knew it was because she loved him. The pang of disappointment of not seeing him tonight stung her in the gut like a hot needle searing through soft flesh. And was she even hearing correctly? Had he really called her Babe? Had he whispered her name through the phone? Or was it all her imagination? She glanced over the cozy set-up she’d prepared for their evening of writing – she’d added a bottle of wine later on, as seven o’clock approached. She really wanted him over on this evening because later on, she could just see him kissing her for the first time in that moonlight. And now he wasn’t coming.

To their disappointment, things went this way for the next week and a half. They didn’t meet that Friday, Stephanie attended the Writer’s Club alone on Saturday and they failed to schedule any other meetings.

The workload for the Bellevue Museum kept him at the firm until six in the evenings this week and he dealt with Joanna for about two to three hours after work once he got home. On Tuesday, he saw that she cleaned his house: her scattered mess throughout the living room where she slept, the kitchen and bathroom. On Wednesday, he tried talking her out of going out to stay and search for an apartment to rent. Early Thursday morning, he’d dropped off the manuscript at Stephanie’s. He didn’t bother knocking on her door or calling. Although he knew he should’ve because he missed her. He just left it on the porch in an envelope, leaning against the front door. That evening, he helped Joanna to retrieve some items from the storage. The Thursday before the weekend when he and Stephanie was to present their story rolled around quickly. He loaned his car to his brother and found it odd that Joanna hadn’t asked him to do anything. The past week had been so hectic that he just knew she’d come up with something. She was just that way. Jonathan emerged from the hall, strolling into the kitchen.

Standing in front of the couch, Joanna tugged here and there on an outfit, trying to get it just right. “So what are you doing tonight?” She asked smirking.

“I have work to do.” Jonathan answered dryly.

“Same ol’ boring John …”

“Excuse me?” He already felt the anger rising inside him.

“I said you’re still BORING!” She spoke annoyingly proper in a nasal tone, with definitive head gestures and lots of hand movements seemingly to show off her false nails. “Every time I wanted to go out, you tried to keep me in with some stupid little dessert in bed or dinner by candle light and some stupid little horror movie or something and here you are still, just staying in!”

The words she spoke stung and Jonathan stood agape, unable to believe what he’d just heard. “What the f …” He restrained himself – frozen with his top teeth on his bottom lip then looked away taking some deep breaths with pursed lips. “After everything I’ve been doin’ for you, haulin’ this and haulin’ that and drivin’ you around before you got your car, you have the audacity to disrespect me like this?”

Joanna maintained a smirk with her head leaning to one side.

“Not to mention that I’m lettin’ you stay at my house!” Jonathan continued. “And excuse the hell out of me for tryin’! Most women like a little romance in their relationships! What planet did you fly in from?”

“Oh save it for the movies! All you sappy types are the same!”

“Hey, you don’t even have to be here! You can take yo trifling ass to one of yo hoe friends’ house!”

“Don’t …” She held up a palm. “… Call us hoes!”

“Well what the hell else should you be called when you dress like a hoe and act like a hoe, paradin’ yourself at every club on every day of the week!”

“A party girl – and that’s why we broke up because you’re too boring!”

“No, that’s what you told yourself to justify your leaving me!” He pointed an accusing finger. “I was good to you, Joanna! But good riddens! I don’t know what I saw in you in the first place!”

“You saw beauty!” She wiggled her hips.

“Yeah, that’s all you know how to do, huh? No, I only saw an imitation of beauty until I learned better …” He raised his voice louder on the next few words. “… and I want you out of my gaddam house by tomorrow morning! Do I make myself clear!”

“Whatever!”

The doorbell rung and Jonathan moved quickly across the room and yanked the door open. “What!”

There on the porch, Stephanie flinched and with raised eyebrows, tried to make light of his response. “Well that’ll go down in the Guiness Book of polite behavior.”

Jonathan stepped outside and slammed the door behind him. “I’m sorry but this is not a good time, Steph!”

“Then why did you come out?”

“What!”

“Why did you come out and why are you shouting!”

“To see what you want!”

“But you said it’s not a good time!”

“Whadda yo want!”

“You didn’t call me like you said you would and you left your writing on my porch! I wanted to come by and …”

“Well there are other things that come into play sometimes, Steph! My life just got too complicated …”

“What, just when I came to your door?” She stepped closely to him as if to challenge him. “I’m a person too John, with stuff to take care of while we’re writing this story!” She pointed a finger at him. “I told you in the beginning …” He looked away briefly then returned his gaze toward her. “That I want this to work and you need to finish what you’ve started! I have all kinds of things to …”

He cut her off again. “You don’t have half as much as …!”

“Oh, who are you to …?”

He took her by the shoulders and kissed her, wrapping his arms around her, realizing that she’s perfect for him because she was pushing him beyond his limits while providing the necessary comforts to accomplish pending tasks. Without pulling away for air, his hands moved up her back, cradling her head in both palms. Stephanie’s body seemed to collapse in his grasp but a hand crept over the nape of his neck and grabbed as the other remained pressed against his back. Jonathan kissed her forehead, dragging his bottom lip down her nose. Electricity surged through her body with every touch and her heart raced with the sound of his rapid breathing. He kissed her lips again and now, he pulled away between kisses just enough to allow words to escape.

“Take me away from here.” He whispered and kissed a cheek. “I gotta get away from here …” He kissed the other cheek. “I love you …” He panted. “Take me away from here.” His parted mouth covered hers until she reluctantly pulled away after seconds passed.

“My car …” Stephanie pointed blindly behind her. She took a step back and he followed her lead.

It was thirty minutes until dusk and Stephanie pulled into her own driveway. The moment she closed the front door and locked it behind them, Jonathan drew her into his arms and kissed her, finishing up where he left off. Gladly welcoming his affection for her, she embraced him around the neck. She relished the soft touch of his lips on her own, on her neck and bare shoulder. Every touch was electrifying and piqued her arousal. He was so warm – steamy like summer itself. Jonathan wrapped his arms around her back and buried his face into her neck, still applying small kisses. Pressed against the softness of her body was a world of comfort for him and he knew he’d never let anything else come between them again. He bent his knees slightly and picked her up as she wrapped her legs around him. He started down the hall almost stumbling blindly as he continued to kiss her. Enthralled by the scent of cologne lingering on his jawline, she kissed the hairs on his chin and he gasped, taking her lips with his. When they bumped into the door jamb of her home office, they rolled down the wall into her room, sharing a bit of laughter. He carefully laid her on the bed like the rare find he knew she was and slowly lowered himself. They made love slowly and intensely. The sun found itself setting and rising on them in bed.

Resting on his back, he watched her scramble out of the bed in which he’d just spent the best night of his life. He knew she was his one true and only love. He watched her round the foot of the bed and approached the door.

“Steph, wait!” She stopped immediately and faced him.

“What’s up?” She smiled.

Jonathan covered himself with her robe and met her at the door. He stepped closely, gently taking her face with both hands. He held her gaze, tracing her soft skin with both thumbs. Stephanie felt tingling softly vibrating within her when he brushed his lips against hers. Slipping an arm around her and pulling her into the warmth of his body, he pressed his lips to hers.

“What do you want to do today?” She asked when he pulled back to look at her.

“… Hang out with you … and finish our story for tomorrow … I’ll take a break from work today.”

Stephanie smiled. “There are clean towels on the vanity rack in the bathroom and some new toothbrushes in the cabinet, under the sink. You can take a shower while I fix breakfast.”

He nodded once. “That sounds good.”

Almost thirty minutes later, Stephanie looked up from the plates she was preparing and saw Jonathan approaching in the black jeans and untucked, white T-shirt that he wore the night before. He eyed her with his head leaning to one side as he rounded the bar counter. She wore something different: black shorts and a fitted, spaghetti strapped tank. The idea of her freshening up and changing clothes while he was showering did something to him. He slipped an arm around her, resting a hand on her hip as he broke half a pancake and ate with the other. Nuzzling against the hard body and caressing one of his legs with her own, they were like the happy couple after years of marriage.

“Can we swoop by my place after breakfast …” He kissed her on top of her head. “Get a few things then come back here to work?”

“Yeah, sure.” She patted his firm midsection with a flat palm before pulling away to get the plates and gestured for him to come and sit down.

***

     No one was absent. They’d all been waiting for the action adventure/horror. The Writer’s Club was packed on the Saturday that marked a two month period since they began the project. Jonathan and Stephanie quickly passed out copies of the manuscript and took their seats side by side. Justin designated a few readers to read three pages at a time and they began the reading.

An hour later, Stephanie placed a hand over her growling stomach hoping no one could hear. Jonathan chuckled and leaned into her.

“Don’t you eat before these sessions?”

“Not this time,”

“Me either … we’ll get something after.”

She nodded.

Forty-five minutes ended the reading and started the critique. Jonathan placed a hand on the knee of Stephanie’s crossed leg. She covered his hand with hers. They held each other’s gaze and took a deep breath.

“I for one enjoyed the concept of the alternate universe.” One member started and leaned forward to catch the couple’s attention. “It’s the kind of Sci-Fi that makes you wonder if there really is something like that out there, you know? Like the Outer Limits …”

Jonathan and Stephanie were nodding with smiles at the comment.

“Nice work,”

“Thank you.” They said.

“I don’t know,” Someone else started from behind the couple. They briefly looked over their shoulders once but did not strain themselves. “The idea that we have a twin out there somewhere is kind of freaky.”

“I’m sorry; do we know Travis’s occupation? I don’t think that was clear …” A gentleman asked.

“Yeah, he’s an architect.” Someone answered.

“So what’s the deal with the monsters that live on the other side of the hill?” A man on the other side of the room asked.

“They have their conversion seeds in the water just in case any human passes through to preserve their race …” Someone began. “But their goal is to live in symbiosis with Earth.”

“Well that’s original!” Another responded. “Alien types are usually out to destroy or over take Earth.”

“Nice work, you two,” Justin nodded at them. “I especially liked the opening line, ‘That was the problem: he’d met a beautiful girl’, in relation to how it was following the beautiful woman that got Travis in that world of trouble in the first place.”

Jonathan smiled, remembering how Stephanie praised him for that line and wanted to use it for the beginning of this whole thing. She is a beautiful woman. He thought.

Justin continued his praise. “Yeah, you two are great writers – congratulations.”

John and Steph smiled and gave each other high-five, interlocked their fingers and kissed.

Antoinette Clinton

Copyright 2013

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