There were these cookies…”

Chapter Four…Details…Details…

A few minutes later…Durwood and I pretended to stagger sleepily into the kitchen…plopping down at the kitchen table…as we did every morning…to wait for breakfast.

We both faked yawns, stretched and tried to look like we had just crawled out of bed…and that we were ready to eat our standard breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, glass of whole milk, orange juice, coffee, and a couple of Lucky Strike cigarettes…

(I’m just kidding about the coffee and the cigarettes…that was our Mom’s breakfast…this is the Fifties…remember?)

“What are you kids doing up so early?” Mom asked with a big smile on her face…she smiled a lot.  

“Are you getting excited for Santa Claus?  Only four more days!!”

She gave 12-year-old Durwood a “silencing look”…and then smiled encouragingly at me.  She wasn’t quite sure if I still really believed in Old St. Nick…but hey…I wasn’t quite sure either.

Mom had been leaning against the counter by the sink.  She had a cigarette in one hand and a recipe card in the other.

She put the card aside and put out her cigarette in the red and green ash tray I had made for her in kindergarten class last week.

It was supposed to be her Christmas present from me but I couldn’t wait until Christmas Eve to give it to her.  It was so pretty I wanted her to have it right away.  She used it all the time!

“How about I make pancakes instead of eggs this morning?” she asked.  She knew full well what our answer would  be…

“YAY!!!”  We both cheered so loud…our dog Duke, who was sleeping under the kitchen table…woke up and barked once.  Then he went back to sleep.  Good old guard dog, Duke.

No one made pancakes like our mom…I think it was the bacon grease she put in the batter…but what did I know…I was only five years old.

“Actually,” she said as she got down her big “pancake” bowl from the cupboard over the sink, “It’s a good think you did get up early this morning or breakfast would have been  just plain old corn flakes.”

“I’m making Rosettes this morning and you both know the rules when I make those…right?  Hot grease is very dangerous…so no bothering mommy…”

She hesitated and looked over her shoulder at us sitting at the kitchen table and gave us her “very serious look”…which she only used when she was “very serious”.

No coming into the kitchen, no talking to me and no asking me for ANYTHING AT ALL until I give you the All Clear.  Got it?”   She waved the recipe card back and forth for emphasis.   

We both appropriately “seriously” nodded our heads…but then  I turned and gave Durwood a dirty look.

Sure…it had only been “a small fire”...but let’s face it…he’s the one who had started it.

(You didn’t think I would forget to tell you about “the fire”…did you?)

Stay tuned…

There were these cookies…”

Chapter Six…Back to the Mission

After all the Rosettes had been made…we were given the “All Clear” and allowed back into the kitchen.

It was time for our morning snack and today it was 2 Rosettes each…but only after we had sugared the others.

Durwood and I sat down at the kitchen table…and began the delicate task of “Rosette sugaring:  Gently placing the Rosette upside down on a plate filled with sugar and then twisting…twisting…twisting…”.

Mom sat down with us.  “I’m beat.” She said as she lit another Lucky Strike.

She pulled my “Christmas Ash Tray” nearer to her and then gave me a big smile.  (I was so proud…it was so pretty…)

“When I’m done cleaning up, I’m going to take a nap.  After you guys are done with the Rosettes you can go outside and play if you want…it’s starting to snow.  When I get up, we’ll have lunch.”

Durwood kicked me under the table and gave me a sly grin and a head nod…did he think I had forgotten that “mom taking a nap” was the key to a successful mission?  Did he think I was an idiot?

“I still have a few Christmas cards to do…” Durwood said casually.  “Lottie said she would help me.”

“Right, Lottie?” he said…glancing over at me and wiggling his sugar coated finger tips…the only things that actually worked on his cast-enclosed arms.

“Nope!  I’m going outside.”  I said ignoring him.

“I can’t wait to make a snowman!!”  I really had no plans to go outside…I just wanted to see Durwood squirm a little…he shouldn’t have kicked me!

“But, Lottie…” Durwood wheedled.  “Remember you promised you’d help me…?”

I finally looked over at him and he was moving his eyebrows up and down…apparently this was his way of sending me a “secret” message.  Also apparently…he thought our mother was completely blind…since she was looking right at the both of us.

I gave Durwood a blank look as if I had no idea what he was talking about…but then after a few seconds I relented and said…

“Oh, yeah…that’s right.  I forgot.  Maybe the snowman can wait.”

Mom shook her head at our little drama and got up and walked over to the sink.

“Christmas secrets are so much fun, aren’t they?”

I didn’t look at Durwood.  I just kept dipping Rosettes in the sugar and twisting.

I knew he was wondering if I could really pull this off.  Well, don’t worry, Durwood…I could.

“Sometimes the truth can be so boring…”

Chapter 1

It was possibly the most beautiful day of my whole entire life…a life presently consisting of twenty (almost twenty-one…but not quite) years.

It was September in Minnesota and most of the leaves on the oak and elm trees had just started turning from their humdrum shades of green to the brilliant, intense colors of yellow, red and orange.

“I should still be back lying on the beach…enjoying these last few hours of summer,” murmured Cooper Malone to herself as she looked wistfully out the window of her best friend’s car.  There were far too few of these beautiful late summer days left.

But no…instead I was sitting in the front seat of Franny Sherman’s brand-new, 1966 Candy Apple Red Mustang…chain-smoking one cigarette after another…trying to get up the courage to walk into the very popular neighborhood saloon…”The Friendly Inn”…knowing full well that I was not of legal age to drink.  I took a deep breath.

“They will demand to see my ID and then…when they notice that I am underage, they will call the cops and I will end up in a tiny, little jail cell,” I complained to Franny who… as my best friend…seemed to be paying little attention to me…and my pathetic exaggerations.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 2

“Cooper, be serious. This is just a little, nothing, neighborhood bar that serves 3.2 beer, cheese pizza and hamburgers to the families that live around here. My God you can’t even get french fries at this place!

“My parents have been coming here for years! I’ve been coming here forever. Everyone knows me…you’ll be fine.

“And on Saturday afternoons, all the really cool guys come in here to play pool and drink beer before they hit the clubs downtown which…as you have reminded me a zillion times…you will never go to before you’re twenty-one .”

I took another deep breath and said very calmly…or as calmly as was possible…considering I was potentially facing a stretch in the slammer.

“Franny. How old are you?” I asked, as I made a very obvious move to turn in my bucket seat and look at her as she was carefully tilting the rear-view mirror to check her make-up.

“Cooper…I’m twenty-one,” she answered quite patiently…ignoring my burning stare.

“You know that…remember?  We all went out last March to celebrate at the River’s Edge Grill.  Did you stay out in the sun too long today?”

Then she pulled a bright coral lipstick out of her purse and painstakingly applied it to her lips, not once letting her eyes leave the mirror.

I knew, of course, she was kidding about being out in the sun too long…and in passing…I must admit we both looked pretty damn great with our ‘fresh’ tans and slightly sunburned noses.

“Yes.  I DO know that.  And…I also know that I am NOT twenty-one.  And this stupid fake ID looks so…so…fake!  I don’t even look like a ‘Shelley Harris.”

“Oh my gosh, there’s Mike Shaw and Danny Wilson walking in…they are so precious!  Stop whining, Cooper, let’s go!”

Then she carefully re-adjusted the mirror and dropped her lipstick into her purse and got out of the car.

“C’mon, Coop.  Get a move on.”  Franny called to me over her shoulder as she quickly walked around her car and over to the sidewalk where she almost ran down to the corner.

We had parked on the street because Franny didn’t want to park her brand-new car in the parking lot that The Friendly provided.

She didn’t want anyone carelessly opening their car door into the side of her new car.  Can’t say as I blame her…that Mustang was awesome.

I finally got out…but at a much slower speed.  One could even say I was dawdling….and one would be right.

Even though I didn’t really care what I looked like right now…I guess I had to consider the customary “mug shot” one gets after you’re arrested…so I bent down and looked into the car’s side view mirror.

“Sometimes the truth can be
so boring…”
Chapter 3

The mirror’s tiny image showed a ruffled, Clairol-assisted, bleached-blonde, pixie haircut, in desperate need of a comb, hazel-brown eyes with green eye shadow (a little smudged…but who cared).

I smiled big…noting in my teeth.  My…just a tiny bit crooked…nose showed the effect of hours of basking in the sun.

My slightly ‘bent’ nose was a result of me foolishly not wearing my catcher’s mask during warm-ups earlier this spring during a fast-pitch softball tournament that I was unfortunately unable to participate in…since I was sitting on an old, very hard, plastic chair in the ER of Minneapolis General Hospital.

Incidentally…broken noses really do produce an un-Godly amount of blood.  Anyway…

I guess I looked okay.  Good enough to be arrested at least.

Franny seemed to be speed walking as I slowly dragged along.  I caught up with her at the corner…still unable to think of a way I could wriggle out of what I was certain to be a horrible disaster.

I had considered and then discarded my possible, upcoming promotion at work as an excuse.  I was in line to be made assistant to the circulation manager at the Minneapolis Journal…the newspaper where Franny and I both worked.

She was one of the local advertising reps and I was slowly moving up in the circulation department.  (No pun intended…)

However sad this sounds…I had to face the reality that most everyone at the paper had ‘liquid’ lunches and sometimes even ‘liquid’ afternoon breaks…so no one would bat an eye if I got nailed for underage drinking.

Most…including my boss, Mr. ‘party guy’ Ross Taylor…would probably consider it just a “rite of passage” into the wild world of adulthood.  

As we waited for the light to turn green, I heard a roar of motorcycles coming up from behind.

I turned and noticed two guys on Harley-Davidsons who had also stopped at the red light.

Ever since I had seen the movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando, I had…for some odd reason…become a big fan of motorcycles.  Don’t ask me why…I have no idea.

Even though they were both wearing aviator sunglasses, I could see they both looked pretty sweet!  Oh, c’mon!  Aren’t all guys on motorcycles sweet?  You know…all that leather and… you know…stuff??

Being the friendly sort of person that I am, I sent a huge smile in their direction…you know…as in “Hey welcome to the corner of 34th Avenue and 51st Street.”

Don’t judge me!  I am a very sociable person by nature.  I smile at most people…and when I am out walking…I say hello to every dog I meet as well.  As in…”Hi, dog!”

The biker closest to me pushed up his sunglasses and smiled back…may I say he had really incredibly vivid blue eyes?  I will…he did.

His smile was just a tad inviting… kind of slow and lazy.  Okay.  It was slow, lazy and sexy.

He was wearing a white tee shirt that had seen better days and faded jeans.  His scuffed, black, leather boots looked older than me.  No matter…it was working.

He was really tan and his longish, blonde hair was sun-bleached almost white…just like I was trying to get mine to look.

He was, actually…if you must know…drop-dead, fucking magnificent.

He looked quickly over at his friend and then back at me.  His friend had nodded what appeared to signal some sort of agreement…

“Want to go for a ride?” he asked me.

I think I stopped breating…no really…no intake of air was present for many seconds.

 

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 4

I was walking toward his bike before I even knew what I was doing…other than putting one foot in front of the other..and managing somehow not to trip and fall down.

Then he revved his bike’s engine…the sound was like a siren call.

“Sure…” I said, with not one single, intelligent thought floating around in my brain.

(And…I might add…whose voice was that coming out of my mouth? Certainly not my voice. My voice was perky and bouncy…one could even describe it as sprightly.)

This voice sounded like I had been drinking whiskey for the past twelve hours…during and after my job as a piano-bar singer in a smoke-filled nightblub while I was still recovering from laryngitis.

“What about your friend?” he asked and raised up his head in question…indicating, of course, friend Franny.

“What?” I said. (There was that strange voice again). I had a friend?

But then a sharp poke in my side quickly brought me back to reality.

“Oh, right!” I yelped. I turned to look at Franny who had left the curb and was now standing right next to me.

We whispered out a quick deal. We would both get on the bikes, go for a ride and then later I would go into The Friendly Inn with her. I would not quibble at all…not one quibble.

She knew that “Roger”…the guy she was really hoping to see tonight…wouldn’t be showing up until much later.

So, for her it was really a win-win situation…especially since the other biker…who had now also taken off his sunglasses…was also drop-dead good looking. That was a plus.

And…the deal was done.

“We can only be gone for a couple of hours,” Franny said to nobody in particular…because nobody in particular was listening.

“We’re meeting some people later at The Friendly.”

Then she walked over to “Biker # 2”.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 5

“What’s your name?” Franny asked biker #2…giving him her customary, blazing smile…which suited her fiery red hair and dazzling green eyes.  Franny was something to behold…and most everyone did.

“Bob Nelson”, he answered quite politely.  “What’s yours?”

“Cynthia Zimmerman.  You can call me ‘Zimmer’ or ‘Zim’ if you like…”said Franny Sherman who…being five feet eight inches tall…found it ridiculously easy to sling her long, slim leg over the seat of the bike and settle herself down behind Bob..

Franny getting on his bike was about as easy as her almost never telling the guys she would randomly meet in bars her real name.  It was just her thing.

At some point either during the evening or at a later encounter…she would tell them the truth…if she felt like it.

You wouldn’t know it to look at her but…Franny could be…complicated

I looked up at my guy.  I could see he was pretty tall even though he was sitting on his Harley-Davidson…tall with tan muscular arms that flexed every time he revved up the Harley’s engine.  Okay…

I gave him my best smile and said, “So…what’s your name?”

Instead of answering, he moved his boot and flipped down a little chrome peg from the side of his bike.

“If you put your foot on that, you should be able to swing your leg over.”

I paused only for a second and then said super confidently…and…sprightly…

“Oh, I know…I’ve ridden before…hundreds of times.  In fact, my older brother, Owen, has a Harley-Davidson…not like this one exactly…but still a Harley.”

Point of fact:  I had never ever ridden a motorcycle before and I did not have a brother named Owen.  But occasionally I stretched the truth a little…but only if absolutely necessary.

I put my right foot on the little peg and then paused…casually looking around for something to grab so I could pull myself up and over and onto the seat.

I wasn’t sure if I should grab…you know…him.

At five feet three inches tall…I did not have the ability or the agility to easily sling my leg over the bike’s seat as Franny had done.

He looked at me for a second…kind of waiting…and then asked me the oddest question.

“So then.  You do know how to be a ‘passenger’ on a motorcycle…right?”

I glanced to the left and I could see Bob talking to Franny and gesturing a lot.

Franny was listening and nodding in acknowledgement.  I couldn’t really hear what they were talking about…Bob kept revving his bike engine.  I looked back at my guy.

“Absolutely!  I’m good!  I will be the perfect passenger.  You will have no problems with me at all.”

Words were coming out of my mouth that made absolutely no sense whatsoever…not even to me.

“No problems?…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 6

But really…how hard could “being a passenger” be?  I had ridden a “bicycle” for years when I was a kid…in fact, many times somehow steering my trusty, old Schwinn (don’t even ask) with no hands.

I actually remember cruising down the sidewalk…waving my arms wildly in the air…and shouting to anyone who cared to see…”LOOK!!  NO HANDS!!”

I also remember “being a passenger” on my friends’ bikes…I just jumped on the handlebars or on the bike’s cross bar.  See?  Easy…

No…being a passenger on this motorcycle was not going to be a problem…provided I could actually get on it.

A few seconds passed as I continued to look around for something to grab.

Then…my “no-name biker”…flipped down the kick stand on his side,  got off the bike and came over to me.  (Jesus!  What was he going to do?)

In one swift motion…he grabbed me around the waist, picked me up and set me on the back of the seat.

“My name’s Hank.”  He said grinning, as he got back on his bike.

“You?”  He asked, turning slightly around to look at me.

“Cooper.  I just love bikes!”  Oh my God.  I sounded like I was five years old.

But Hank smiled at me and said, “Yeah, what’s not to…”

Then he looked over at Bob and gave him a head nod.

The light had changed a couple of times as the four of us had been talking, but now it was green and Bob took off.  I saw that Franny had her arms around Bob’s waist so I did the same.

Hank looked back at me.  “Ready?”

“Absolutely!  I’m ready.”

“Well, Cooper, hang on.”  And I did.

We went around the block and rode back towards Lake Nokomis, the lake where Franny and I had just spent the whole morning and a lot of the afternoon.

We circled it and then headed for the freeway which would take us south…thru the southern suburbs and then out to the farm fields that surrounded the city.

Obviously, we weren’t going to cruise around the ‘mean streets’ of Minneapolis.  I was fine with that.  The speed of the bike was exciting!

Before I knew it, we were whizzing through one yellowing corn field after another…no longer on the interstate.

Hank had passed Bob and Franny a ways back and then had abandoned the colorless freeway.  He shouted to Bob over his shoulder that he was taking a more scenic route.

In the distance, I could see lots of hills vibrant with the early, bright colors of Fall.  It was spectacular.

(Okay.  Here’s the part when you, as the reader, might be saying…perhaps even out loud…or thinking…

“Hey!  These two nit-wits don’t even know these guys!”…And…if you did say OR think that…well…good for you.)

Exactly what the holy hell were we thinking?  Aside from how cute these two guys were…we were thinking absolutely nothing…zero.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 7

Feeling so relaxed after laying in the sun all day…and then having a late afternoon, slightly chilly breeze blowing thru my thin tee shirt…my eyes slowly started to close and I just ‘ever so lightly’ put my head down on Hank’s back.

Before I knew what was going on…Hank had abruptly pulled over to the side of the road on the gravel shoulder. My semi-closed eyes flew wide open.

I quickly raised up my head and looked around…wondering if “we were there” or at least “somewhere”.

“What the hell were you doing? You can’t fall asleep on a bike! You want to fall off and hit that asphalt going 70 miles an hour?”

Hank was yelling at me and pointing angrily to the black highway next to us. Just then a car flew by us so fast, I couldn’t even see who was driving.

“Were we really going that fast?” I asked. “Wow!”

Yes. Yes. I know! I was obviously missing the point since Hank was not smiling…nor was he answering my question.

Bob and Franny had driven past us but now had turned back, circled around and parked next to us.

“What’s up, man?” asked Bob. Franny was peering out from behind his shoulder…she looked pretty happy. Well good for her.

She wasn’t getting yelled at…by a complete stranger no less.

“She started to fall asleep…” said Hank. He had gotten off his bike and was trying to light a cigarette. I could see his hand was shaking a little…

“Didn’t you give her the “passenger instruction” spiel?” asked Bob…looking first at Hank and then at me.

“Why would I?” said Hank…sounding totally exasperated and talking about me like I wasn’t even there.

“She’s ridden hundreds of times on her brother’s Harley!” He looked over at me…and shook his head in disbelief.

It was at this point, that Franny…my FORMER best friend…burst out laughing…and she really shouldn’t have done that.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 9

“You know…I saw a sign advertising a restaurant just a ways back,” said Bob, starting his bike.  “I think it’s just a few miles ahead off the next crossroad.”

“Let’s head over there and get some burgers and beers.  We’ll all feel better then.”

I saw Franny pat his shoulder in agreement and without waiting for us to say anything…they took off.

“Well…aren’t they just the two little love birds,” I muttered sarcastically under my breath.

Hank looked at me and I saw the beginnings of a smile…

“Owen?”  he asked.

“Well…” I said, lifting my chin up a little defensively.

“I read somewhere that if you’re going to lie…you should make it as believable as possible and Owen is a really believable name…”

Then I rashly continued…with just a trace of pride in my voice.  “I’ve used that method before…:

“Oh, I just bet you have.” Hank said as he got back on his bike.  The hint of a smile had turned into a full grin.  I liked this look a lot better…it was ‘dagger free’.

So off we went…but not before he gave me a couple of motorcycle “PASSENGER RULSES” as in…NEVER fall asleep and NEVER grab the arm of the biker…while you’re in motion.

Well!  That all made perfect sense to me…now that I knew.

In a couple of minutes, we turned off the main highway and headed down a smaller country road.

Ahead of us in the distance, I could see Franny…my ‘former best friend’ and Bob.

I was hungry…we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and then it had only been coffee and a…

Hang on…wait a minute…brain engaging...

Had Bob said “beers?”  He had.  He had definitely said “burgers and beers.”  I remembered that very distinctly.

Dammit!  I wonder what small town jails were like…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 11

Bob and Franny were waiting for us on a bench outside the restaurant.

They were talking a mile a minute and laughing…like they had been friends for years.

In my paranoid, self-centered world, I prayed Franny wasn’t sharing any personal information about me…like how old I was.

Hank got off the bike and then before I could make any attempt to get down…or should I say…before I wasted any more time trying to get down…he just lifted me off the seat and placed me on the ground…like I was three years old.

I swear…I though he was going to pat me on the head…as in ‘good little girl’…but he instead just smiled at me and then walked over to where Bob and Franny were sitting.  I followed.

“This looks like a good place,” he said, peering inside the restaurant windows and then turned to me.  “What do you think, Cooper? he asked. 

He said my name so…so pleasantly.  Much better than before…when he was yelling at me

“Looks great to me.  Let’s go in.” I said.

Then I almost fainted when Hank grabbed my hand as we headed to the door…like this was an actual date.

There were booths along the back wall of the restaurant, tables by the front window where the family was sitting, a couple of tables in the middle and then a long bar than ran from the front to the back.

There were three men sitting at the bar and they all turned and smiled at us when we walked in the door.  I just love small towns.

I bet their jails are nice too…not that I would be seeing one…but just saying…for the record…I don’t mean ‘a record’ as in ‘ a police record’…I mean…

(OH SHUT UP COOPER!!!) *

* As the author of this piece of fiction, I give myself full permission to yell at any character I have created.  It’s just one of the perks of the job…along with raking in piles of cash…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 13

I apologized profusely to sweet, young Nan…who had turned bright red but…had generously accepted my apologies…

And…after also apologizing to everyone else at the table and pleading temporary insanity…I quickly opened my menu and then slapped it shut.  I was ready.

Franny was still looking at hers and also occasionally peeking over the menu at me.

I gently cleared my throat a little…not to hurry her or anything…but…I did want her to speak first…

It was “my scene”…and even though she didn’t know it…she had the opening line to this little drama playing out in my mind.

Franny looked up from the menu and said…”What are you getting, Coop”

Yes!  I was “Center Stage”…

I glanced briefly at the menu again…just for show…and then I said, ever so kindly and politely to Nan, “I don’t feel like having a beer.  I’ll have a Coke…with lots of ice, please…and a chicken sandwich with fries.”

Then I handed Nan my menu.  I was so pleased with myself.  I looked over at Franny for her reaction.

Her mouth had fallen open slightly in surprise at my clever move…or maybe (okay…probably) because…without really meaning to…I had given my order to Nan using a heavy (and completely phony) Southern accent…a la Blanche DuBois from “A Streetcar Named Desire”…my favorite movie…

“I’ll have the same as her,” Franny said…pausing slightly and then smiling.  “Except…I do feel like having a beer.  I’ll have a bottle of Grain Belt with a glass, please.”

“My dad will have to check your IDs before he can serve you guys any beer.  He’ll be right over.”  Nan picked up the menus and headed toward the bar.

Feeling like I’d climbed Mt. Everest in the middle of a raging blizzard…with my oxygen tanks long since depleted…I leaned back against the booth.

I put my tanned hands on the table and admired my new Revlon Orange Blossom nail polish that I’d purchased yesterday at Larson’s Drug Store.

Taking a deep, relaxing breath I smiled across the table at Franny…and Bob.

“I’m hungrier than I thought!”  I said…with not a hint of a Southern accent…”I hope the food’s good.”

It never once occurred to me that we were sitting here with two strange young men…about whom we knew absolutely nothing.

Somehow it just seemed natural and perfectly fine.

I turned to ask Hank what he did for a living.  He was pulling his wallet out of his jeans’ pocket so he could show his driver’s license to the bartender who was headed our way.

My smiling eyes fell down to his hands.  They were even more tan than mine…

Except for a little band of pure white on the third finger of his left hand…you know…the ring finger…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 14

“Are you kidding me?”  I thought to myself.  Not only was he married…he was trying to hide it by taking his ring off.  What a complete idiot!!  Didn’t he see the white band?

I tried to shoot a ‘look’ at Franny so she could also notice the tell-tale white circle but her head was down as she was digging out her wallet from her purse

“Hi, folks…got to see those IDs you know.  Don’t want to lose my license serving any underage kids.”  The bartender said all cheery-like…

I should have appreciated this moment…especially after my stellar performance…but now…not so much.

After checking everyone else’s IDs, the owner looked over at me.

“How about you, dear…” the bartender asked.

“I’m just having a Coke.”  I said flatly.

“Oh.  Okay then, I’ll bring those drinks right over.  Enjoy your food and thanks for coming in…usually Saturday afternoons are pretty quiet around here.”

Polite chit chat with the owner filled the air for a couple of minutes and then he left.

Franny was all smiles and happy…apparently Bob was beginning to tell her some witty little story.  She leaned in to listen to him and I couldn’t catch her eye.

“You know…” Hank turned to me and started to say something but I gave him a tight, even smile and put up my hand to stop him and then said to Franny…

“Come to the ladies’ room with me, okay?”

My tone was more of a friendly order than a request.

“Huh?  Oh, sure,” Franny said, giving Bob an apologetic look since he was in the middle of his story.

Hank stood so I could get out…such a polite, nice…married man.  I think he said something to me but I paid no attention.  I just walked toward the “Restrooms” sign.

“What’s up?” asked Franny when the door had closed behind us.  I checked to make sure no one else was in the stalls…then I whispered to Franny…I don’t know why I whispered…

He’s “married!”  That’s what’s up.”  I said…while looking in the mirror to check out my hair.  “What a creep!”

“How do you know?” asked Franny…who was also checking her hair in the mirror.  We were such “girls”.

“When we get back, look at his left hand and see the little white band of ‘non-tanned’ skin on his third finger.”  I said while pointing to my left hand.

“Nooooo!!”  I can’t believe it!” exclaimed Franny.  “I’m so sorry, Cooper.” She put her hand on my arm.  

“What kind of guy goes around picking up girls when he’s married!  What a jerk!  He probably even has kids!!” continued Franny.

Oh, that comment made me feel good…I hadn’t even thought about that…a little ‘Hank’ running around somewhere…waiting for his “ratty daddy” to come home…

“Well,” said Franny.  “I’m pretty sure Bob’s not married…at least I hope not…I’m going out with him Tuesday night.”

“Dinner at Charlie’s Cafe and then we’re going to see that new film, “The Russians Are coming, The Russians Are Coming”.  I heard it’s really funny.  I’ll have to check his left hand when we get back, to see if he has any tell-tale ring marks…”

I looked at her reflection in the mirror and she was turning her head from  side to side…admiring her new haircut…which was actually identical to mine.  Franny was always so happy and positive.  I was glad she was my best friend.

“Hey!  What about your plans to hook up with ‘Roger’ later this afternoon?” I asked her.  “Are you no longer interested in him?”

“Sure am!  Absolutely!!  But Bob is fun and super cute.  I’ll see what happens.  I just feel bad for you, Cooper.  Are you going to say anything?”

“No…of course not.  I mean…what can I say.  I kind of picked him up…really…and we are just ‘riding around”…after all.  But still…it is crummy.”

I put on some fresh lipstick…might as well look good anyway…and then we both headed back out into the restaurant.

“I hope the damn chicken is good.”  I said and let the door bang shut behind me.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 15

“Are you going to tell Bob your real name today or wait until Tuesday?” I quietly asked Franny as we headed back to our booth.

“Oh, I’ve already told him.  He thought the whole ‘fake name thing’ was really a cool idea.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said.  “Well good for old Bob.”

Yes, yes, I know…I sounded just a little bitter.

As we approached the table, Hank jumped up right away so I could get in and sit down…so very courteous.  Whatever…

“Everything okay?” he asked, again sounding a little worried…

“Peachy…just peachy,” I said with a big (maybe a tad phony) smile.

The bartender had brought over the drinks while Franny and I were in the Ladies’ Room.  I took a swallow of my Coke.  I was so thirsty.  It was icy cold…perfect.  Who needed  beer anyway?

I glanced sideways at Hank.  You know…I could play games too.  Maybe I would have a little fun with ‘my married date’.

“So…Hank…” I asked.  “What are your plans for tonight?  Franny and I were going into The Friendly Inn when we met you guys…want to come in with us when we get back?  Play some bumper pool?”

I was trying to sound normal and friendly but I know I wasn’t carrying it off very well…but like I cared…right?

Hank looked at me and tilted his head…almost as if he was debating what to say…it was odd…but then he laughed a little and said…

“Well, actually…” and then Nan appeared with our food and Hank didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence.

The food was really great and nobody talked much while we were eating.

I popped a last fry in my mouth and said, “Wow, that was excellent!”

“I wonder what that sauce was the cook put on the hamburgers?” Hank wondered out loud.  “I’ll have to ask Nan when she collects the bill.  It was really different…but good.”  Bob nodded in agreement.

I gave Franny a look.  What an odd comment from a guy about his burger.  It seemed strange to have a guy so interested in the food.

“What…are you a cook or something?” I asked Hank…a little bit sarcastically…for no other reason…than because he was “a married rotter”.

I wasn’t usually sarcastic to people…in fact I was never sarcastic to people…so it came out a little heavy-handed.

I instantly felt bad…but oh well…if you’re going to “cheat on your wife and abandon your babies”…you get what you deserve.

He paused…obviously feeling the sting of my remark…but then said…

“In fact, yes.  I worked for a couple of years at the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis as a sous chef.  Then I moved over to the Nicollet Hotel.  I worked there for about a year.”

“It’s what I do.  I cook.”  He gave me a tentative smile…maybe wondering if I was going to stop him from talking…again.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 18

As we neared The Friendly, I realized I didn’t want to be done with ‘married Hank’…not just yet.

When we got to the corner where this hopeless misadventure had all started, Hank pulled the bike up close to the curb.

He shut it down, got off and again quickly picked me up and put me on the street.  This time his hands lingered lightly on my waist.

“You know, Cooper…” he began…

I didn’t say a word.  I didn’t even look at him.

I just pulled away and walked over to the sidewalk…ignoring him completely.

When I got there, I looked back at him.  He hadn’t started up his bike yet…but was just watching me walk away.

“Hey!” I hollered back to him.  “Don’t forget to put your ring back on…your wife might get a little suspicious if you’re not wearing it when you get home.”

And then…I turned around and quickly walked right across the street into The Friendly Inn.

I was absolutely and completely unaware of where the hell Franny was but…as it turned out, she was right on my heels.

She and Bob had parted ways, quickly exchanging phone numbers before he took off.

Franny and I stopped for a couple of seconds in the entryway of The Friendly to let our eyes adjust to the inky darkness of the bar.

“Cooper…” said Franny. “That was beyond cool! What a put down. I looked at Hank’s face right after you yelled at him and he was completely stunned.”

“I guess he thought he had you fooled.”

“Oh, look,” she pointed. “That booth is empty. Hurry before someone else takes it.”

Franny gave me a little shove from behind and I all but fell into the first booth. She didn’t want to sit on the side that faced the door…she wanted me to sit there…she took the side looking into the bar.

“Now. When Roger comes in, just kick me a little under the table…but don’t say anything.”

“And don’t be overly obvious, okay? I know that sometimes you think you’re so funny…” I interrupted her…

“Should we have a code word…like ‘Rumpelstiltskin‘” I joked. But Franny was dead serious.

“Cooper! I am dead serious. That’s why I’m sitting here on this side…if I see him coming in the door, I’ll get all crazy acting. You know me…So just do what I asked…please.”

“Oh. Here comes Stanley.”

“Hi, Stanley!  It’s really crowded in here this afternoon.”

And that’s when my heart started beating so hard I thought I would pass out.  A life of crime was definitely not in my future.

“Hey, Franny!  Haven’t seen you in here for a few weeks.  Find another place to hang out and steal a guy’s money while you break his heart?”

“Yeah, I guess it has been a while.  Oh, Stanley, this is my best friend…”  She smiled and  turned to look at me…

And…that’s when Franny’s mouth stayed open…but no words were coming out…

She had completely forgotten the name on my fake driver’s license…tick, tock, tick, tock…

Oh My God!!!  I was so screwed!!!

A very small story about life.

You know how sometimes in life…certain events just unfold that massively affect you but you have absolutely no control over them?

Like when…

Someone sneezes behind you while you are waiting in line at the cash register at your local Walgreens to purchase a bottle of Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow nail enamel…and then four days later…YOU sneeze?  Like that…

Or like when…

You are sitting in your car at an intersection waiting…ever so patiently…for the red light to change to green, and then someone crashes into you from behind…and your nose gets broken from the air bag and as blood is still streaming down your chin and onto your brand-new silk blouse…the driver of the car that has crashed into you…who happens to be a very young girl…rushes up to you as you are dazedly trying to get out of your car…and tearfully confesses to you…

“I am so, so sorry, but…but I don’t have any car insurance.”

And then…later in the ER your husband…who is so very, very sweet but at times slightly addlebrained…confesses to you that…”He is so, so sorry, BUT…” he forgot to renew YOUR car insurance?  Like that.

Or like when…

You pull a pair of your “used-to-be” favorite, old jeans out of the dryer…having just washed and dried them because you have recently lost 7 pounds and you are now really, really sure you will once again fit into them and…you do!!

…and then…when you are very, very happily slipping out of them, you discover two forgotten $20 bills in one of the pockets…and it turns out that right now…today…you really need that forty bucks?  Like that.

Or like when…

You “impulsively and later most regretfully”…tell your high school sweetheart named Jake, who loved you more than life itself…that you want to break up with him.  And, even though you never tell him why…it is because your Freshman English 101 professor at University has been asking you to come into his office on Thursday nights for some extra ‘teaching’…and you desperately want to go…even though you know he is married but you don’t care…because he is so…INTENSE and ‘DEEP’ and…CUTE!!!

However, three months later, you realize that Professor Ames is a conceited, cruel and thoughtless bastard…not to mention a hopeless alcoholic and has been asking all the girls in his Freshman English 101 class to come to his office…and so, you drop the class and never see Professor Ames ever again.

Tragically however…you feel that too much time has passed…and you are too ashamed and embarrassed to call Jake and beg him to forgive you and take you back…because you now know what you did was completely and stupidly wrong…

But then…25 years wander by and…

…one night at exactly 12:16 a.m. (and you know this because you have just looked at your watch before) you turn the corner and enter the mail room of your very large apartment building where (unbeknownst to either of you)…you both now live…

…with spouses that neither of you love anymore or even like very much…and…

Jake is standing there looking at the cover of the current issue of US Weekly and he looks up and sees you…

And…you pause for only a split second and then slowly walk the ten feet that separates the two of you…hoping with all your heart that he will open his arms to you…and he does…and neither of your lives will ever be the same again…

And…that is a good thing…

…because suddenly…all the years have melted away and he is once again that handsome 18-year-old boy who loved you without measure and transformed your young life in so many ways and you are that enchanting 17-year-old girl who cherished his love and returned it in ways that knew no bounds…

…and now both of you are together again…forever.

You know…like that.

The End.

 

 

INTRODUCING…

“The Johnsons”

“Where the Simpsons meet the Sopranos…sort of…”

Chapter One

It was a bitter, cold December night in Minnesota…and even though I was not yet born…I remember very clearly every detail of that exciting winter evening because…

…my mother was an authentic genius with a tested IQ of 171 and could correctly remember absolutely everything that had ever happened to her and…

…because my father was a devilishly clever storyteller who could weave a tale that kept you listening…with your mouth hanging open…for hours.

Sometimes…in the middle of one of his stories that took place during my “non-remembered early life”…I would be holding my breath until my mom would gently tug one of my pigtails and say, “Lottie…don’t worry…you don’t die!”

So…as this particular story goes…it was on that cold December night when my “35 1/2 weeks” pregnant mother pulled a gun on a very nice policeman…who “as they so often do”…was just trying to help.

But…let’s begin at the beginning…shall we?

The 23-pound, golden brown Thanksgiving Day turkey had not yet even been carved…when Clive Johnson and his brainy and beautiful wife Gee (as in “Gee Whiz)…announced to all family and friends who had gathered together in Clive and Gee’s tiny  apartment…to celebrate this most beloved holiday event…that they would be moving the following week from their cozy but crowded one bedroom apartment with their adorable, chubby seven-year-old son Durwood and faithful hunting dog named Duke.

Worth noting:  My father did not hunt, had never hunted and would never hunt in the future…but had met some guy in a bar (of course he did) and the guy had been trying to sell his 6-month old purebred hunting dog…for a ridiculously cheap price.

Now my father really loved a good deal…but as he later told Gee, “His eyes just got to me, honey.”  And I’m pretty sure he meant the dog’s eyes…”

When I was able to talk…I called Duke “Thido Thia” for some strange, unknown reason.

 

 

Chapter Four

Mission accomplished…Gee returned to the kitchen where she sat back down at the kitchen table.  She momentarily put the gun down to light a cigarette.  (I know.  I know.  But let’s give her credit for not cracking open the bottle of Jim Beam that sat next to the toaster…okay?)

That done…she propped the gun on a turned over jar of grape jelly and just stared intently at the back door…wondering…were there more?

Gee…my gutsy, pregnant mother sat there…at the ready.  The gun was in one hand and a Lucky Strike cigarette in the other.

Minutes later, there were a couple of loud knocks on the front porch screen door.

Gee calmly took one steadying drag from her cigarette, put it carefully out in the ash tray, picked up the gun and walked slowly into the living room.

She paused by the stairs that led to the second floor and listened to hear if either Durwood or Duke had woken up from all the commotion…they had not.

She unlocked the solid and very heavy wooden door that led to the screened-in front porch.

After opening it only a few inches, Gee flipped the switch that would turn the porch light on and clearly illuminate anyone standing on the front porch.

HOWEVER, the light didn’t go on because Clive...that lazy son-of-a-bitch…had forgotten to replace the burned-out bulb…a simple chore that Gee had reminded him to do several God damn fucking times…so she hollered…rather absurdly when you think about it…”Who’s there?”

A silent pause for about 3 seconds…then…

“It’s the police, ma’am.  I’m Officer Daniel Nelson.  Are you Mrs. Johnson?  Did you call for assistance…ma’am?”

Now Gee was no fool.  “How do I know you are the police?” she asked skeptically.

Officer Nelson…who was a VERY, VERY new police officer hesitated for a moment…and by doing so…completely destroyed any confidence Gee may have been building with him.

“Well, ma’am…” Officer Nelson said slowly, “If you open the door, I could show you my ID…and my badge?”  And because he was only 23 years old, he unfortunately sounded like an extremely nervous 12-year old boy.

Gee hesitated and pondered her next move.  But then…as I was later told…I kicked her…rather sharply.

“Fine…fine.” She said…somewhat distractedly.  “Hold on a second.”

She tugged open the heavy mahogany door that led to the actual porch with her left hand…

…and because it was so heavy and because she was so pregnant…she used her right hand to help open it…

…and simply forgot (who could blame her…really) that she had a loaded gun in her right hand…and quite accidentally fired off a shot (obviously unintentionally) in the direction of Officer Nelson who was standing a mere eight feet away…separated only by a flimsy screen door.

“Son of a bitch!…ma’am…”  shouted the always polite Officer Nelson..in a weirdly high voice…as he was sure a bullet had just sailed right by his ear.

He was absolutely correct.  The bullet…it was later mentioned in the official police report…had lodged in one of the Bur Oak trees that the previous owner of the house had planted just last June…and which crime scene investigators subsequently determined could remain there…forever.

“I’m so, so sorry…I didn’t mean to do that.” Gee said very apologetically…because she really was sorry.

“Are you okay?” She asked as she walked thru the front porch area toward the outer screen door.  But still on alert…she also asked…

“Do you now have your badge and ID out, Officer Nelson?”

And then…Gee sighed.  She was suddenly feeling very, very pregnant…because she was.

She unhooked and pushed open the outer screen door with her left hand…and then she raised her right hand…again forgetting there was a loaded gun in that hand…at this point the gun almost seemed to be a part of her…

…and she started to use the barrel of the gun to push an errant lock of her long blonde hair from her face…which was now highlighted by the piercing beam of a flashlight held by Office Nelson…which  he had produced to help her see his ID and badge.

It was unfortunate…and later, much, much later…some would say even amusing…that two other police officers, who had come to assist the rookie Office Daniel Nelson, saw the silver gun flashing in the light.  They immediately took cover by falling to the ground…unintentionally sinking completely out of sight in a huge drift of newly fallen snow.

 

 

 

Final Chapter…

The very brave Officer Daniel Nelson, a member of the police force for only three days, swallowed hard and even though he was now looking down the barrel of a very shiny but deadly weapon…he resisted every instinct he had…to pull out his own gun and shoot this obviously demented woman…who could probably end his life and/or his career this very night.

But instead…he took a deep breath and somewhat calmly said…with only a slight quiver in his voice…

“Mrs. Johnson…would you please put your gun down?”

My mother was a sucker for polite young men…so she promptly did exactly what she was asked to do.

And then…from the backyard…Officer Roger Small, who was Officer Nelson’s partner, hollered…

“Hey Danny!!  There’s a dead guy on the back porch!  And he’s wearing a Halloween mask!”

It was the first time that cold, winter night that Gee smiled.

The End.

Chapter One

I slowly opened my eyes.   A little sliver of light was trying to peek through the edge of the shade covering the window in my bedroom that over looked my back yard.  Normally, it was a pleasant light, but this morning it hurt my eyes,  so I quickly closed them again.

A few vivid images of a more than slightly out of control young woman dancing with abandon at Doyle’s last night flashed through my mind like a movie trailer…yeah, that was me.  I winced…a bad movie trailer.

I remember pulling out the little notebook I always carried and then writing down  my observations on all the drunken people around me.

They were dancing and drinking and…being mostly drunk myself…not knowing how pretentious I appeared and in fact…was.

But last night I did not care one straw.

I wondered what nonsense I had thought was so wildly insightful the night before when 4 (maybe more?) whiskey sours had given me such a false sense of importance.  Whatever it was it would be in my notebook.

I carefully and slowly turned my head on my pillow.  Lately I had had too many mornings like this one to know how painful a quick turning of the head could be.

I was…unfortunately…becoming very learned in the art of drinking…

And there it was…lying on my bedside table where I had thrown it last night.

Chapter Two

I had read someplace or perhaps been told by one of my  journalism professors that if you plan on writing “The Great American Novel”…which incidentally, I actually did…you should always carry a notebook or some other kind of recording device with you at all times in order to remember anything you may find memorable.

However…for the past year… weekend mornings had not proven to be very productive… or perhaps just not memorable.

Sometimes I was lucky to just be able to read the scrawls that I had “so importantly” jotted down the night before.  I picked my notebook up and blinked a couple of times to clear my vision.

My little notebook was not the standard reporter’s notebook that I always carried to work each day…stuffed into my messenger bag.

That size notebook would be too bulky to carry into bars or restaurants plus it would attract a lot of attention.

My “little notebook” was small enough to fit into any of my handbags or even the back pocket of my jeans.

These days I almost always just wore jeans and a tee shirt.   The color varied…black or white.  In the winter I added a blazer or jacket.  If I had a meeting…which was rare… I added a scarf.

It was pretty basic…some might even say boring…but it worked for me.

I flipped the notebook open and placed it in front of my half-opened eyes.  Squinting a little, I saw that I had only managed to scrawl on two pages and neither page had any of my trademark exclamation marks…well, well…

Two pages were hardly worth the effort it would take right now to decipher.  I was pretty sure it was just junk anyway…

I had been in a junk mood yesterday.

Chapter Three

It had been the one year anniversary of my mother’s death.  She had been killed instantly by a teenage girl texting a friend.

The girl blew a stop sign going 45 miles an hour and never even braked.  My beloved mom was only 53.

She had been walking home from Peterson’s Java Cup with a medium latte in one hand and the latest copy of US magazine in the other.

The driver’s text said, “I know I’m late will hurry.”

That one short sentence…which wasn’t even a proper sentence…killed my mother instantly.  Gone forever…my ‘mommy’, my teacher and my ‘forever always’ best friend.

That stupid text changed my life in way too many ways.

And so last night…in an ironic tribute to my mother who never drank…I had had too many whiskey sours.   Four?  Maybe 6.  Too many for sure…

Even Doyle’s new bouncer was giving me looks and the bouncers at Doyle’s never give me looks.  I’m the good one.

I seem to recall tossing out some drunken words of philosophy before faithful friend Hannah…ever so gently…pulled me toward the back door exit.  I don’t know…

I actually can’t remember.  But it seems like something I would have done last night.  Crap night.  Junk night.

Do I even remember his name?  I think I met him…

Chapter Four

Head clearing slightly…yes, of course, I knew him…but nope…couldn’t remember his name…but Hannah would.

Having just exited a crummy one-year marriage, she had become superbly single and made it a point to get to know all drop-dead, good looking single men.

Dearest Hannah…excellent co-worker and fellow enthusiastic bar attendee.

She always made it a point to become friendly with the bouncers.  Occasionally…not often…but occasionally…Hannah could get a “little carried away”.

That was when the bar’s ‘friendly force’ was good to know…and if that ‘force’ happened to be handsome and single…it was a plus for Hannah.

Doyle’s new bouncer certainly fell into that category.  He was tall and no stranger to the gym.  He had dark, golden brown skin and intense brown eyes.  There was a small scar on his right cheek.  He also wore no wedding ring which, of course, made Hannah very happy.

But as good-looking as he was, he always looked so serious.  Come to think of it, I had never actually seen him flat-out smile.

I had seen him frown though…even look angry…at me…like last night.  Sigh.  Crap night.

It was about a month ago that he had shown up at Doyle’s.  Hannah always asked the new bouncers to dance…and so after a couple of weeks…she had approached him.

Very few men refused the beautiful Hannah…and yet…

“Bouncers aren’t allowed to dance at Doyle’s,” he politely explained to her.  And that was a complete lie.

Most of them did dance at the beginning of the night.  I think it was just to get the feel of the crowd and to blend in a little.

Then a little later…just for fun and because Hannah dared me…I also asked him to dance.  He had paused for a couple of seconds and I thought he was going to say yes…

But then he said “No.”  And he just walked away.  No polite lie to me.  Nothing.

Maybe it had something to do with my spotting him a couple of days earlier at the Minneapolis Court House where I was doing some follow-up on a story for the newspaper where both Hannah and I worked.

He looked really disheveled and was surrounded by 3 or 4 Minneapolis policemen.  They were all talking and then he looked over and saw me standing there.

I was about to smile that ‘friendly little smile you give people when you don’t really know them all that well…but you don’t want to be rude and ignore them  smile’…you know what I mean?

Then…all of a sudden they put hand cuffs on him and led him into the jail part of the Court House.

I quickly looked away.  But he had seen me.

 

Chapter Five

I wondered  if being a bouncer was a good job for someone with a criminal record.  Maybe Doyle’s doesn’t know.  Maybe they don’t care as long as unruly customers are efficiently hustled quickly and quietly out the door.

No one likes to go to a club where troublesome patrons are not controlled.  One thing I did know for sure…the bouncers didn’t last very long at Doyle’s.

Just so you know…aside from last night…bouncers for the most part do not need to keep an “eye” on me.  However…my dear, sweet, friend Hannah was another story.

She was your “typical happy drinker”.  And sometimes after her 3rd or 4th margarita she became everyone’s best friend…whether they wanted a new best friend or not.

And that is when a friendly bouncer would come over to help…since at this point Hannah would refuse to listen to me when I suggested it may be time to leave.

However, an understanding and sympathetic bouncer gently guiding her out the door worked every time.  They all knew Hannah and loved her.  Everyone loved the beautiful and charming Hannah.

They all liked me…I was the good friend and for the bouncers who were single, I was their link to Hannah and possibly her phone number.  I was not above being bribed.

So on many weekend nights…the last thing Hannah heard was “That’s it Karla, time for you to go home.”

Chapter Six

Don’t worry.  I haven’t lost my mind.  I know you’re probably thinking, “I thought we were talking about someone named Hannah.”  And you’re right…we are.

The names Karla and Hannah refer to the same person.  Also.  I am called “Teddy” when in fact…my real name is…Charlie.  Let me explain.

Hannah and I are both reporters at the Minneapolis Journal.  Currently, we are assigned to cover the  crime beat in  Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs.  Once in a great while we get a by-line for writing an extraordinary story.

In the past couple of years,  both of us have had a few sketchy encounters with readers of the Journal who were pretty angry or upset with the way we had covered a story or…believe it or not…with the general philosophy of the Journal.

These encounters had always taken place in a “bar-like” setting and in all times the ‘upset’ people had downed a few too many ‘bottles of beer’…or whatever…

So last year, my long-time, very good friend Abby,…who is quite absolutely brilliant and devious came up with the idea of what she cleverly called a “protective cloak of anonymity” for Hannah and me…to be used at our discretion.

We both still worked for the Journal but…

“Karla” (Hannah) worked in circulation and “Teddy” (Charlie…me) worked in accounting.  Throw on a title of “Assistant Manager” to these jobs and BINGO…two very boring jobs that did not encourage any further questions other than an occasional complaint to “Karla” about a late delivery.  IKR…

So if “Karla” was asked to leave Doyle’s after one or two more margaritas than was prudent…she would do so…gliding peacefully out the door, into the night and down the block to the Minnehaha Grill.

It was our go-to late night restaurant on the weekends.  Black coffee, pancakes, eggs and bacon…with an occasional side order of hash browns…was our standard order.

And so that is where we had gone last night…because we both knew how bad I would feel the next morning if we did not.

We pretty much had the drinking/partying ritual down to a science.  I know what you’re thinking…not good at all…and…maybe you’re right.

But…regardless…last night was rubbish.

Chapter Seven

I sighed and flipped the notebook back on the night stand.

“I miss you mom,” I whispered.   I closed my eyes but not quite fast enough to stop hot tears from running down my cheeks.  I reached over to grab a Kleenex.  When would this horrible pain go away?

Last year…after a couple of halfhearted attempts…I had finally decided to get my own place.

I had lived at home while I was going to the University of Minnesota in order to save money…and since my mom and I were such good friends…living with her was a pleasure and just pure joy.

But I knew that after I had been working for a while that it was time to get my own house…and…it would be a smart investment for me.

We had had so much fun looking around for places in the Hawthorne area of Minneapolis…the neighborhood where I lived now…where in fact I had been born.

I wanted to get a house close by so I would be able to walk to the same shops and favorite restaurants that I did now…or even walk to mom’s house if I wanted.  Why venture too far away from the nest, right?

But then she had been senselessly killed and my life had been shattered.

I simply could not move.  Dad had died when I was 7 and even though I had only vague memories of him, they were all connected to this house.

I saw a man raking leaves or shoveling snow or walking up the back steps.   But then that  quick puff of memory would float away.

My mom had been a passionate gardener and the yard and boulevard were filled with trees, bushes and flowers that she had raised from little sprouts…just like me.

No.  I wasn’t moving…not for a long time.  Maybe not ever…

Chapter Eight

So…let me properly introduce my best friend Abby…last name Jones…who has been my best friend since kindergarten.

Abby decided (and there would be absolutely no argument) that it was not a good idea for me to be living alone in this big house.

So…she told her mom and dad that it was time for her to leave the family nest.  And she did.

She moved three doors down the block to my second bedroom…the one that overlooks the front yard…and an amazing crab apple tree.

Abby Jones.  Everyone should be so lucky to have a friend like Abby…

One day in fourth grade…during recess…two really mean girls pushed me down into a pile of dirty snow.  My brand-new, beautiful, red winter coat was ruined; stained with salt and wet sludge from the street.

Now when you’re in 4th grade, you just don’t go crying to the teacher if someone pushes you down.  Right?  Right.  So I told my mom (who most certainly would have gone to see the teacher) that I had slipped on some ice and fallen.

But Abby Jones was my very best friend and she wasn’t just mad at those bullies.  She was fuming.

A couple of days later, she somehow managed to get those two girls alone in the bathroom before school began.  I was the “look-out”…standing just inside the door so I wouldn’t attract attention.

I’m not exactly sure what she said…I couldn’t hear everything…she was talking very quietly.

But I heard the words “mob”, “not really Jones”, “call in a favor”, “not very pretty” and “you’ll be sorry”.

I looked back over my shoulder and the two girls were standing there with their mouths hanging open.  Abby was a pretty awesome storyteller…she watched a lot of TV.

Then she did the classic “I’ll be watching you” bit and put two fingers to her eyes and then pointed them back at the girls…who were frozen in place.

Then…to my horror…I looked closer and saw that Abby had her father’s antique “Wild West” six shooter pistol strapped to her waist under her jacket.  I had seen it hanging on the wall in their den for years…next to an autographed photo of John Wayne.

She pulled the gun out of its holster and did the classic gunslinger twirl…and a real bullet fell out and bounced on the floor.  After one second…both girls threw up.  Hell…I almost threw up.

Abby calmly bent down, picked up the errant bullet, turned on her little Mary Jane patent leather shoes, grabbed my arm and we walked out into the hall just as the bell rang for classes to begin.

“I thought it was empty!” she whispered to me…while  grinning from ear to ear.

Introduction of best friend Abby Jones…complete.

Chapter Nine

No one…told anyone…anything…ever.  And I never had any more bullying problems and neither did my little “connected” friend Abby.

What a memory to have with a record hangover. ..but I did smile.  I always smiled when I remembered that story.

I started to roll over.  My head felt too heavy for my neck.  What time was it?  I knew it was Saturday.  Thank God I had it off this week.

But…if I had had to go into work…I would have gone into work.  That’s how it is when you work for a daily newspaper. 

You.  Go.  To.  Work.  Among all the changes in the newspaper business…that’s the one thing that has never changed…unless you could send in your stories digitally from home…but neither Hannah nor I had achieved that status…yet.  We would need a couple more years of seniority before we had that luxury…and privilege.

Right now we had desks and cubes and a computer.   Our editor expected to see us sitting there… at our desks…unless we weren’t out on assignment.

Just like old school…without, of course, the free-wheeling lifestyle enjoyed by most  newspaper reporters of the 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s.

Back then…when newspaper ink really ran in your veins…there were always 2 or 3 bars within walking distance of every newspaper, in every U.S. city…big or small.

The success of those bars depended on how much the reporters and…let’s be totally honest here… pretty much everyone else who worked at the newspaper drank.   

And…to be honest…everyone drank a lot back then.

A Bloody Mary and a cinnamon roll for that morning coffee break?  Of course.  Martinis at lunch?  Why not.  A couple of beers before heading home?  I am surprised you’re even asking…

The office Christmas parties were legend and mostly banned in the mid-sixties.  Actually banned…I wish I could have gone to at least one.  I heard they were outrageous…and great fun!  

Now…to celebrate the Holidays…we get a complimentary (alcohol free) luncheon buffet…and maybe a candy cane.

Chapter Ten

I didn’t sit up.  I wasn’t yet sure how my stomach would react to any movement…and I didn’t want to clean up last night’s “after-drinking, food frenzy”.

I’m pretty sure I liked it the first time and didn’t want to spoil the memory…

Hannah and I almost always closed the bars.  We never left while there was still loud music slamming against the walls and bouncing around our ears…we were “dancing fools”.

We didn’t want to miss a second of the night.  We both worked hard and right now we saw no reason not to play as hard as we worked.

We had both started working for the Journal at the same time…about two years ago.  Hannah had worked for the St. Paul Gazette for almost a year but left after hearing too many rumors that it was folding…it did.

The ink on my journalism degree was still a little wet as I sat down for an interview with the City Editor of the Journal.

Every week the newspaper held a mandatory orientation/tour meeting for all new newspaper employees before they actually starting working.

Hannah and I found ourselves sitting next to each other and as we waiting…began talking about our ‘nail polish art’.  She had little yellow ducks painted on her nails and I had shooting stars painted on mine…we clicked instantly..

Afterward, we both agreed that even though it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, greasy hamburgers and cold beers at The Little Pony, a favorite ‘reporter hang-out’ across the street from the newspaper, sounded like a great idea.  A friendship was born.

Hannah had been married for only a few months when she realized that “oh so foolish” husband Harry was having too much fun on the road as a clothing rep for Nike.  Marriage done and done.

She didn’t believe in second chances and when you saw Hannah…you totally understood why.

She was beautiful inside and out…from head to toe.  Men actually stopped talking when she walked by them.  She was sweet, friendly, bat-shit smart and shared the title of “best friend” with my new house-mate, Abby…who was now yelling at me from the living room.

“Charlie!!  Are you awake yet??  Her voice…even from far away…made my brain hurt.

“I’m going over to Jack’s for some cinnamon rolls…and other stuff….”  Abby’s voice was way too cheery for me this morning…not to mention way too loud.

“I’m up,” I whispered loudly toward my open bedroom door and then I hear the front door slam.  Ouch.

Chapter Seventeen

I sat up completely and put my feet on the wooden floor…it was not freezing cold.  To my delight…Abby had remembered to turn the heat up this morning.

You would think that after living in the frigid state of Minnesota for her entire life, Abby would naturally and even unconsciously realize the importance of heat when the outside temperature is struggling to reach -15 below zero…which was the forecast high for today.  But…you would be thinking incorrectly.

Abby…like me…had spent her entire life…living in the comfort and security of her parent’s house and was not accustomed to the inner-workings of a wildly complicated heating/cooling system…as in…turn the heat on when it is cold and turn the air conditioning on when it is hot.

But…I digress…today the floor was toasty warm and therefore…I was happy.

I stood up.  So far so good.  I turned slowly and glanced at myself in my full-length mirror.  I had hung that mirror when I…surprise, surprise… realized at age 12 I didn’t want to look like a boy any more.

Stella wandered back from the bathroom and sat down next to me.  She also looked at the mirror.

“Even with the waviness of this cheap mirror, I don’t look too bad for a completely hungover 24-year-old,” I said optimistically.

Stella…with her head cocked to the side…seemed to be appraising me.

I smiled down at her, looked back at my reflection and then fluffed my short, brown hair, pulled my little side-burns in front of my just a bit too large ears and patted down my always errant bangs which would never…even in the best of circumstances…lay straight.

I patted my cheeks to add some natural color and looked a little closer at the mirror.  Bloodshot eyes.  For sure…sigh.

“Well, Stella…not completely horrible.  But, I do think I should buy a new mirror.”

“Doesn’t drinking alcohol age a person?”

 

Chapter Twenty

My house was built in the late 1940’s in the south Minneapolis Corcoran neighborhood.  It was super old but mom had always made necessary renovations.

Abby and I had both walked to school and back…everyday single day…from those first scary days in kindergarten to graduation from Hamilton High School.

It was a great neighborhood with lots of little shops and restaurants that somehow had not been swept away by a minor gentrification program a few years ago.

On the corner of the block where I lived was the little flower shop that Abby’s parents owned and operated…soon to be solely run by Abby when her folks headed to Florida and a well-deserved retirement.

We even had a small movie theater…the original one built in the 1950’s…still showing first run movies…just two blocks away.

Mom and dad had bought the house when they were first married.  Then they had me and never moved…I didn’t see myself moving for quite a while either.

Abby was a fantastic house mate…and I dreaded the day that she would move out.

Ralph Cooper and Abby Jones had been dating since 9th grade.  He was now a fledgling lawyer and currently working day and night to pay off college loans.  I’m thinking marriage is about 2 years away.

My front door opened into a 4-season porch and if you turn right and open another door you are in the living room..which led into the dining room with a swinging door (that I will never replace) that allowed access to the kitchen.

There is an eating nook in the kitchen that over looks the back yard.  It’s a style that people are again finding desirable.  I personally think the “open concept” is wearing thin.

Two bedrooms and a bath run parallel to the living room/dining room area…separated  by a long hallway.

Upstairs there are two large rooms and a full bath…with a space for an outside entrance.  I used to play up there when I was a kid.  It was like having my own little apartment.

I thought…hint, hint to Abby and Ralph…it was a perfect place for a young married couple to live as they saved for  buying  their own home.

I very slowly stood again, took a couple of steps and decided the day was starting to look a little brighter.

I slipped on my favorite fuzzy bathrobe.  It was like putting on a cashmere blanket.  I had paid a fortune for it but it was worth it.  I stuffed my feet into slippers and headed to the kitchen in hopes that Abby had left me some coffee.

After a quick trip to the bathroom I headed towards the kitchen.  Then I remembered I had forgotten my little notebook.  I turned and trudged back into my bedroom, picked it up and shoved it in my pocket.

It had become a ritual for me to share with Abby any notes I had taken during my week end,  bar hopping adventures.  That way she could vicariously enjoy “clubbing”  thru my single state while still being faithful and loyal to her beloved  fiance, Ralph.

With a little bit of luck, the jottings of the night before weren’t too insane…I just hoped I could actually read them.

I walked into the kitchen and the wondrous aroma of freshly brewed coffee gave me reason to live yet another day…

Chapter Twenty-One

Abby was standing at our breakfast nook table, unpacking two white bags from Jacks.  They were filled to the top with wonderfully smelling goodies.

Stella was already sitting…and patiently waiting…at her special eating spot on the table.

There was a squirrel racing along the railing of our back porch but right now Stella could care less.  Food was too near her little nose and mouth.

When not eating, Stella would sit nearer the back of the table so she could look out at the squirrels running around the three oak trees that my dad had planted the first year he and my mom had bought the house.

She even has a little cat-bed there…in case she needs a little nap…between meals.

It was kind of cute the way Stella’s tongue would hang out when she was about to eat something really special…like breakfast…or lunch…or dinner…or whenever.

“I just love you so much Abby,” Stella moaned.

“Honestly, Charlie, that cat seems almost human at times when you talk for her.  I could swear she was actually saying something with those meows of hers.”  Abby said.

“I know…right?”  It was odd.   For the past three or four months Stella had started to “meow” whenever I  would ‘talk’ for her.

It was kind of eerie…which is why I did it so much whenever Abby was around…it was fun to wind her up a little…

I looked over at the almost drooling Stella.  I made an attempt to push her little black tongue back into her mouth.  I wonder how rare it is to have a black cat with a black tongue…and a black nose.

“Yeah.  She’s really something…that’s for sure, ” I said.  Then I put a caramel roll on my plate and a tiny, little piece on Stella’s plate.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  My cat has her own plate and she sits on the table in her own spot.  It just happened to start out that way when she was a kitten.

Back then it was just me and Stella and I never had the heart to move her down to her regular dishes on the floor.  Plus…it was much easier to have conversations with her if she was close at hand…

Abby sat down across from me…put a larger piece of roll on the now empty plate in front of Stella…which drew another small, seemingly delighted moan from her.

“So,” said Abby, anything catch your fancy last night?”  She pointed to the notebook I had tossed on the table.

“It was an interesting night, that’s for sure.”  I said thoughtfully.

“I think that I was part of the ‘interesting bit’ towards the end…”

“Well…let the adventure begin.”  said Abby and she took a huge bite out of her eclair.

Chapter Twenty-Two

“Older, white-haired man makes fool of himself trying to flirt with young girls.  SO SAD…”  He could be their father”

“Our oh so handsome  bouncer gently removes slightly out-of-control female drinker quietly and efficiently.  Five star to whatever his name is…”

“You aren’t talking about you or Hannah here…right?” asks a worried Abby…her coffee cup pausing halfway to her mouth.

I gave her a withering glance as I looked up from my notebook.

“Hey don’t get so huffy…I just thought I’d ask,”  Abby said with a little smile.

“Hannah can get a little too ‘joyous’…as we all know.  Please continue.”

“Two phony looking but very cute,  guys  about 21-25 enter the bar near closing, looking for a couple of mostly drunk young ladies they could quickly impress for a little action after last call.  They look over at me and Hannah and we both roll our eyes.  They move on and continue looking.”

“Bobby looks at me while he is singing a love song and then he winks at me when he’s done.  I wish he would ask me out!.” 

I hear a low groan from Abby.  She is not at all fond of Bobby, lead singer in Doyle’s house band., The Continentals.

“Jake comes over and sits down.  He takes my hand in his and is just about to ask me something when we hear a loud crash from across the room.  Trouble somewhere and he leaves.”

“He’s married, you know…Hannah and I both agree.” says Abby very pointedly.  “He is absolutely married and you are being a total fool…just saying…”

I ignore her comment completely.

“And that is almost it.”  I pause and close the notebook and take a bite of my roll and glance out at our snow-covered back yard.

It was January in Minnesota and this year we have three or four feet of snow in the backyard.  I was just about to explain the ‘almost’ part…when Abby started talking.

“I have two very important things to say,” said Abby.

“One.  Doesn’t Bobby already have a girlfriend or maybe three?  And…I agree completely with Hannah…who can spot a married man a mile away…Jake is married.”

“Well…” I argued, “Bobby is the lead singer of the band and also extremely good looking…and that means he has lots of girls…you know…like groupies…always hanging around the stage…and him”

“But…I think he really likes me.  He always goes out of his way to say ‘Hi’ when Hannah and I come to Doyle’s for their Wednesday lunch buffet.  Sometimes he even stops practice to come over to talk to us…you can ask Hannah!”

I knew I was sounding pretty lame…and pretty thirteen-oldish…but still…

Abby scoffed…and continued talking.

“And…and the second thing…Jake Marlowe …”

“Stop.”  I ordered, holding up my hand to silence her.

“I know both of you guys have my best interests at heart, blah, blah, blah.  But…just because Jake hasn’t really asked me out on a proper date and just wants to go for a drive down to the Lakes after closing means nothing.”

“I think it would be romantic.  He doesn’t get a lot of free time and I have a job too.  We could really get to know each other.”

I took another bite of my roll and looked defiantly at Abby…who countered…as I knew she would.  She was Abby Jones, after all.

“And yet…you haven’t gone with him ‘down to the lakes’.  Why?”  Abby questioned, tilting her head to the side.  She looked just like Stella.

“I’m not sure, ” I mumbled.  “But I think I will…soon.  I’m really holding out for Bobby.  I know if I go out with Jake, Bobby will never ask me out.  I don’t think they like each other much.  Plus Jake is kind of like Bobby’s boss…so there’s that.”

“But when Bobby asks me out, I’m telling him my real name and where I work!”

I paused and looked out the back window.  A bright red cardinal had landed on the porch railing and was trying to pick up a piece of bread one of the squirrels had dropped.

I turned back to look at Abby who had stood up to go to the refrigerator.

“Anyway…as I was saying before you interrupted me…just before we left Doyle’s last night, it got a little complicated.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

“Say what?  What did you just mumble Charlie?”

Abby closed the refrigerator door where she had gone to get more half & half for our coffee.

“I missed what you said.”

“I said… that’s when the night got a tad complicated.  Last night…someone said ‘Good-by Charlie’ or ‘Take it easy, Charlie’ or…something like that…I can’t remember exactly…”

“Hannah and I were starting to leave.  Then I turned and waved a huge good-by to everyone around me.”

“You know the wave.  One of those very tipsy, all encompassing waves that includes the whole room.  It was just before last call.”

“How the hell does anyone at Doyle’s know my real name, Abby?  Hannah and I have been so careful.”

Abby was still standing with the half & half container in one hand.  She sat down,  added cream to her coffee,  stirred and took a thoughtful sip.  Then she took a more thoughtful bite of her eclair.

“Describe how ‘happy’ you and Hannah were last night…on a scale of one to ten.  Ten being really, really ‘happy’ but still conscious.”

She gave me one of those piercing “I am not in the mood for BS looks” that is going to work so well for her when she has kids.  Her mom could do the same look.  It truly was a gift.

“Well…Hannah was driving, so she was a definite one.  I was a definite eight.”

“Earlier in the evening, Hannah was singing a lot…along with the band.  She really got carried away a couple of times.”

“She was trying to impress the band…prepping for tonight’s amateur night…you know Hannah…”

“Oh…I know…not that practicing will make a difference with that voice.  She is persistent though.”

Abby got up to get some tomato juice from the fridge.

“So…is it possible that Hannah may have said your real name at some point…maybe as she was singing, as in c’mon Charlie, sing with me.”?

Abby sat down and looked at Stella who had suddenly paused during one of her many mini baths to look at me.  It almost appeared as if  she was waiting to hear what I was going to say.

“I can’t wait to hear this story,” mumbled Stella.

“Why is Stella looking at you like that? sputtered Abby.  “Honest to God, Charlie, I swear that cat understands everything we say.”

I ignored her comment.

“Are you  actually expecting me to remember if Hannah used my real name last night?” I answered sarcastically.

“I was flat-out drunk and that’s being charitable.  Of course she could have used my real name.  Hell, I could have used my real name.”  I reached over and scratched  Stella under her chin.

“Good answer.”

Chapter Twenty-Five

Abby was silent.  This was a rare occurrence for her.  Then…

“Was there anyone at Doyle’s last night that you ever see at the other bars? ” Abby asked.

“You and Hannah go out every weekend and most Wednesday nights.  Do you always use the phony name/job bit?” she continued.

I answered quickly…”Always.”

Suddenly Abby slapped her hand down on the table.  “By Jove, I’ve got it,” she said….using just a terrible English accent.

“Maybe…maybe it was someone who works at the Journal with you or Hannah…but neither of you knew they were there last night.”   Abby said.

“You know…you could be right…that kind of makes sense. ”  I took another swallow of my now very tepid and therefore unappetizing coffee.

My head was starting to scream at me and I got up to get two aspirin.

Just as Abby had finished putting yet another piece of eclair on Stella’s plate, the front doorbell rang.

All of us just froze in place.  No one came to our house on the weekends…NO ONE.  Even Stella had paused…tongue again hanging out.

Both Abby and I said in unison.  “What the hell?”  I know we were both thinking the same thing…this has to be bad news.

Abby was way more appropriately dressed than I was.. so she went to see who was disturbing our little Saturday morning brunch.  I returned to my place at the table…headache momentarily forgotten.

“I wonder who it is?” whispered Stella.  Never one to miss any action,  she had moved over to be closer to me.

Stella was a very friendly cat. She always loved the few people who came to visit us…but this was Saturday morning on a frigid, cold day in Minnesota.  I think even she thought something wasn’t quite right.

“I don’t know.” I said quietly.   “Why are we whispering?”

I could hear Abby talking and then heard her say, “Hang on”.   She soon appeared back in the kitchen.  She had a puzzled look on her face.

“What’s up?” I asked…eager to have this mystery solved.

“I need a dollar for a tip.”  She opened up the cupboard over the sink and took down the old Apple cookie jar where we kept change and dollar bills.  It made tipping delivery people a snap.

“For what?” I asked.

“For.  A.  Tip.” Abby said evenly…and gave me a look of exasperation.  She then went back to the front door.

I looked at Stella.  “Well, that was rude.”

“You have a killer hangover.  Everything will seem rude today.” she said knowingly.

I heard Abby say ‘thank you’ and then heard her shut the door.  I could feel little trickles of cold air that had filtered back to the kitchen from the opened door.

She walked into the kitchen carrying a long, white, rectangular floral box.  It was heavily wrapped in clear plastic to protect it from the freezing cold.

The label on the box said “Flora’s Fresh Flowers”.  It was very skinny and looked like it could only hold a single flower.

“Who’s it for?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Abby said.  “There was no name on the delivery ticket.  Only an address.  This one.”

“Well, well,” said Stella.  “The plot thickens.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Abby put the package down on the kitchen table.  I got up and carried some of the dishes to the sink and got a scissor so we could open it up.

“I can’t see a card, can you?” I asked as I gently cut away the layers of protective cellophane.

“It would be just like Ralph to forget a card.  Oh well, he’ll probably call me later this morning and we can know for sure.”  Abby said confidently.  Then she reached up her arms and stretched her back.

“That’s very good for you,” said Stella…who watched every move that Abby made…thinking…I’m sure…that another morsel of food could be placed on her plate at any given moment.

“Did you hear that Charlie?” Abby exclaimed as she quickly brought her arms down to her sides.  “I swear to God she said good!”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Abby.  Stella is just a cat.  One I happen to talk for…on occasion.  You do know that, right?  Do you not see my lips moving?”

“Well, sure I do…but sometimes,” Abby said in a soft voice, “I forget…especially when she makes sounds…strange sounds.”

“I resent the phrase ‘just a cat’,” complained Stella…to no one in particular.

I had opened the box and finished unwrapping the soft white paper.   I gently pushed some white tissue to the side.

Lying inside the box was one, beautiful yellow rose…and a small white envelope.

Abby had peered over the wrappings and had also spotted the envelope.

“Oh look!!’ she said.  “There is a card,” and she started to reach for it.

But I was quicker and I grabbed it before she did.

“I got it.”  As I picked it up and turned it over I saw just one word written on the front of the envelope.    It said…”Charlie”

Abby…who had also read the card…sat down in her chair and took a bite from her eclair and said,  “Well…this is interesting.”

“I can’t believe it!” I cried.  “It’s for me!”

I looked over at Abby who was no longer so interested in the package and squinted my eyes suspiciously at her.

“Is this from you?  You know, to make me feel better?  Considering ‘the anniversary’ and all that?”

“Nope.  And if you don’t open that envelope pretty damn soon, I’m going to.”  And she made an attempt to grab it.  But I was too fast.

I moved away and sat down opposite her at the table, holding the card in my hands.

I was almost afraid to open it.  Could it be from Bobby?  Or maybe from Jake? I would be happy either way…really.   But neither knew my real name…or for sure…my address.

At least I didn’t think so.  After the incident last night, I wasn’t so sure of anything.

“Open it or I’m leaving.”  Stella hurried.  “I have to take a nap.”

Abby looked from Stella to me and then back to Stella.

“I’m with her…open it!” Abby ordered.

“All right, all right,” I said.  “Sometimes…anticipation can be fun…”

At this point…I didn’t really care what the card said or who it was from…as long as it didn’t say, “Charlie.  Hand this rose over to Abby.  She will be so surprised.  Thanks. Ralph..”

Chapter Twenty-Seven

I gently opened the flap and pulled out a white card.

It said, “Charlie.  I hope this makes you happy.  Seeing you always makes me happy.”

I immediately got tears in my eyes.  I took a deep breath and exhaled a little shakily.

I handed it over to Abby who was impatiently reaching for it.

“NOT SIGNED!!!  IT’S NOT SIGNED!!!.  Abby yelped as she read the card.

“That’s it.  I’m done.”  Stella stood up, stretched quickly and jumped down to the floor.  She headed off to the top of the living room sofa…to begin one of her many daily vigils of the front sidewalk.

“I can’t believe it’s not signed!  What torture!”  Abby disgustedly tossed the card back down on the table, got up and started to clear away the last of the dishes.

I looked at her with indignant shock.

YOU can’s believe it!”  I said.  “YOU can’t believe it…how do you think I feel?”

“For the first time in months I have something… maybe kind of swell…happening to me and…it’s a secret!”  I shook my head in utter exasperation.

But then I looked at that beautiful, delicate rose again.  I picked it up and inhaled the unmistakable scent that only a rose can produce.

I smiled and carefully laid it back in the box.

“Abby…do you know if there’s a smallish vase around…”  I turned toward the sink but Abby had gone.

I got up and walked over to the stove.  I reached up and opened a seldom used cupboard.

“I think this is where mom kept some vases…” I said to myself…since no one else was listening to me…

I rummaged around and behind some larger ones…there was a small bud vase.   It had little pink flowers on it that were kind of faded…but it was the smallest of the lot so it would have to do.

I took it down and checked for any cracks…finding none…I went over to the sink and filled the it with water.

“Why doesn’t he want me to know who he is?” I asked Abby…who had returned to the kitchen.

“Well…I hate to say this…but…maybe he’s a married guy and just wanted to do something nice for you…like maybe Jake?  He probably would have noticed how much you were hurting last night.”

Abby was speaking very carefully, not wanting to upset me too much by using the word “married” and “Jake” in the same sentence.

I carried the vase over to the table, put it down and carefully added the rose and the greenery that had come with it.  I gently touched a yellow petal.

“Or Bobby?”  I mused.  “He did seem to be paying more attention to me than usual last night…or at least I think so.”.

“I just hope it’s not from some creep who’s going to start stalking us!” 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Abby looked at me and then looked towards the living room.  Shaking her head, she said very calmly and without any emotion or even judgement in her voice, “I’m going to get dressed now…just like other normal people do on a Saturday morning.  And  I stress the word normal.”

She got up and left the kitchen without waiting for any more comments from me…or…from Stella.

After a few more minutes of “rose appreciation”, I carefully picked up the vase and headed towards my room.  I put the vase on my dresser where I could see it from my bed and then went to gather my furry, little friend for some mystery solving.

“C’mon kiddo,  we have to talk.”  I picked up a sleeping Stella from the top of the sofa and slung her over my shoulder despite a few protesting groans.

People watching from the top of the sofa was one of her favorite activities.  Naps were a close second.  Since there weren’t a lot of people to watch in the winter…she was getting in a lot of nap time.

“I have no clue, said Stella.  “You do know that I am really you, don’t you?  I mean when we talk?”

“Yes.  I’m not crazy…not yet anyway…I just need to talk out my thoughts and it helps if I can do that with you…me…you…whatever.”

I knew full well that Abby could hear me talking as I headed from the living room  down the hallway and grinned when I heard a loud, expletive loaded groan coming from her room.

“Quiet down in there.  We have to think.” said Stella in a very teeny yet somewhat loud voice.

And then Stella licked my neck…twice.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Complicated and drawn out conversations were not Stella’s cup of tea.

She tended to stare off into space if I talked too long…and in Stella’s world…too long was defined as one or two minutes.  A yawn often escaped.

“I wonder,” I said, as I scratched behind her ears, “if this beautiful rose is connected to the someone who said ‘good-by, Charlie’…or whatever…to me last night?”

“And…how did that someone know my real name?  We still haven’t figured out that mystery.”

“I should call Hannah and see if she remembers if anything out of he ordinary  happened last night.  Or…even better…maybe she even knows who shouted out my name.”

“She’s still sleeping, I bet,” said Stella.

I continued…

“…because I’m so sure this rose has something to do with last night…”

“Of course, she had been pretty busy with that cute cop that wandered in around midnight.  I vaguely remember he was pretty interested in her too.”

“You know she’s asleep.” persisted Stella.

“So you say.   I should call her anyway to see if she still  plans to go to that party tonight at that after-hours place.”

“I thought you were done going to those places…didn’t the cops raid one of them a couple of weeks ago?”

I ignored her comment…even though I knew it was correct.

I totally knew neither Hannah nor I should go to any after-hours clubs.   If they got raided while we were there, we could lose our jobs.  Hell… we would lose our jobs.

Sometimes it sucks to be young and have a really great job.  You have to be so responsible.

“You weren’t very responsible last night.” said Stella.

“I know.  I know.  That…was the last time…for sure.  I promise.”

“I’ll be keeping track.” said Stella.

I pulled her close and nuzzled the top of her little furry head.

What I really wanted to do tonight, was to just stay home with Stella.

I would curl up on the sofa…eat hot buttered and generously salted popcorn, followed by my favorite ice cream, Haagen-Dazs Belgium Chocolate…and…watch the ‘Gilmore Girls’.  Again.

“I love the ‘Gilmore Girls'” sighed Stella.

Chapter Thirty

Of course…bitter truth be told…I was also foolishly hoping that maybe tonight would be the night that Bobby would come over during the band’s break and talk to me.  He was so damn cute.  Picture Bradley Cooper with a guitar and a killer smile…

I had this stupid crush on him…it was so pathetic at my age… even though it did appear that he maybe had a girlfriend.  I’ll give that to Abby. 

There was this beautiful flight attendant from Delta…and yes…she often came into the club in her uniform…who was always sitting at one of the front tables with a couple of her girl friends…also decked out in their uniforms.  

Her name tag…pinned right on the shoulder of her oh so cute uniform…read “Tiff”.  Yeah…I’m sure that name was on her birth certificate…give me a break.

During his breaks, Bobby almost always went over and sat down with her and her friends.

But I thought that last night he was actually heading in my direction…until she raised her arm and signaled for him to bring her another drink and…so he did.

Some nerve.  He wasn’t a waiter, for Pete’s sake.  But before he had headed towards the bar he had turned towards me and had given me a super, dazzling smile…and a wink.

“Maybe he was trying to tell me something…like ‘I was going to come over to you but I have to do this to be polite…'” I pondered out loud.  Stella raised her head.

“Wow.  That was an amazing stretch…even for you.” Stella said.

I laid back against my propped up pillows and closed my eyes, trying ever so hard  to remember last night’s smile from Bobby.  He had been smiling at me, hadn’t he?

I.  Am.  Never drinking that much again.  Ever.

Suddenly a vivid memory flashed like a bolt of lightning through my brain.

A voice.  A man’s voice…

“You’re not driving tonight are you Charlie?”

And me, drunkenly oblivious to anyone but my own pitiful self, had waved a hand in the direction of the concerned voice and dismissed the question with what I had thought was a brilliant answer.

“Driving?  Not tonight, babe.  I’m flying home tonight….simply flying…”

And then…that was it…end of lightning bolt.  End of memory.

Chapter Thirty-One

Damnation!  Whose voice was that…and how the hell did he know my real name?

I reached over and grabbed my phone to call Hannah…but then I hesitated…it was kind of early.  She may not even be alone…she and that detective had been pretty cozy last night.

I’ll wait…maybe in an hour or so when I’m sure she’ll be up…and awake…and in an agreeable mood to talk..

Stella peeked her head out from under the covers.

“You look so cute under there.”  I said.  “I bet it’s really cozy.”

In the winter, Stella often burrowed under the covers on my bed, turned around  and then just poked her nose and ears out from underneath.

And…of course I have several photos on Instagram to show everyone just how darling she looked…in case you were wondering…

I started to move the covers so I could slide in next to Stella.  I kicked off my fuzzy slippers and carefully crawled in.

“Hey!  Don’t squish me!” said Stella whose yellow eyes flashed open but then  immediately closed again.

Before my head hit the pillow, I looked one more time at that beautiful yellow rose.

To think that someone…someone I didn’t even know…cared enough about me to let me know that they were thinking about me…and…even worried about me.

To my complete surprise, tears welled in my eyes…and  I felt the deepest loneliness than I had felt since mom had died.

“Me.  You have me, you know.” said Stella.

“Indeed.  Oh, indeed.” I said and rolled over and meant to give some careful thought to all that was going on or not going on in my life.  But then Stella snuggled a little closer and  I fell asleep before one little thought could even appear.

Chapter Thirty-Four

Feeling better, I stood up and shrugged into my coat.  Since I was so hot from crawling all over the floor, I didn’t think I needed to button up.  I could handle 20 below zero for a couple of minutes.  I was…after all…a hardy Minnesotan.

I reached into my pockets for my gloves and then realized that I had left them on the front seat of my car when I had paused to put on lipstick before Hannah and I went into Doyle’s.

“See you next week, Teddy.” one of the dishwasher guys hollered at me as I passed through the kitchen.  I waved and pushed open the back door.

A blast of frigid air hit me and I immediately went into the bent-over, “huddle” position…familiar to anyone who has ever lived thru blistering cold winters.

I walked quickly across the parking lot to where my car was parked to begin my long trek home.

There would be no eating at the Minnehaha Grill tonight.  No eggs.  No bacon…and definitely no fun without Hannah.  What a bummer.  Oh, well.  I was pretty tired anyway.  It had been a long day.

The lot behind Doyle’s was huge and tonight we had no choice but to park way out on the perimeter since we had been running late.

Hannah had taken forever to get dressed.  She wanted to make a good impression on the band…and on her new ‘cop friend’.

“Amateur Night, Charlie,” she had said to me…as I tried to hurry her along.  Hannah was so beautiful she could wear a brown sack and look perfect.

As I walked to my car, I looked down to search around in my purse for my keys when suddenly a strong hand from behind grabbed my wrist and twisted my arm up behind my back.

Another arm came around my other side and a hand clamped over my mouth so tight I couldn’t scream and my struggling  was useless.

As I looked up, two more men appeared before me.  One of them had on a Grinch ski mask and the other one was wearing just a plain, black ski mask.

They swayed from side to side in an unsteady manner.   They had obviously been drinking…a lot.

“You be good now,” said the Grinch.  He was the taller of the two.  They both reeked of alcohol as did the man holding me captive.

“Jus’ let go of that pursh,” he slurred.  “An’ we’ll be on our way.”

I didn’t like the look of the long-bladed knife he had in his right hand.

I quickly let my free hand open and my purse fell with a thud to the ground.

I winced.  It was my brand-new Kate Spade bag.

Chapter Thirty-five

Please, I silently prayed… let them just want the money.

But the man holding my arm did not release it.  He pushed it up even farther.  Was he trying to break my arm?  I tried to scream but only a muffled whimper came out.

The man in the Grinch mask walked over and picked up my purse, walked back and said something to his buddy that I couldn’t hear.

He looked back at me and then they both laughed…it sounded pure evil.  Now I was glad I couldn’t see their faces.

“Get her over behind those trees,” the taller one ordered.  And suddenly I felt my feet leave the ground.  My toes skimmed the rough pavement as the one holding me started to drag me to the darkest part of the lot.

I struggled to free myself but it was no use.  Every self-defense class maneuver I had ever learned flew out of my head.

I couldn’t believe this was happening to me!  My heart was pounding so fast, I thought I was going to pass out.

Then suddenly I heard another man’s voice.   It was deeper.  Older.  Coming from somewhere behind us.

“I think you boys are done here now.  I’ll take over.”

But no one let me go.  I was still being dragged.  Was this a friend of theirs?

“Oh I don’t think so man.  But we can share,” sneered the one who had his hand over my mouth.  It was getting hard now to even take a breath.

Footsteps behind me got louder but I wasn’t able to twist around to see who was talking.

“I don’t share,” he said quietly.  Now he was right behind us.  “Let her go.  Now.”

And then I heard the unmistakable cocking of a gun’s hammer.  A big gun.  I had been around policemen long enough these past couple of years to recognize that sound.

Whoever was holding me, let me go so fast my feet hit the ground and I stumbled and started to fall forward.  I could hear the footsteps of my assailants running away.

New hands quickly caught me and kept me from hitting the pavement.  But still terrified, I fought to get away.

By

Tina Nelson

It was a chilly and bleak November day in Minnesota.  Normally, I love bleak days but on this particular day I wasn’t especially happy with my life.

Too many people who should be nice to me…weren’t.

Too many people who should appreciate me…weren’t.

Too many people who should love me a lot…or even ‘just a little more’…don’t.

And the worst part about this was that I couldn’t understand why.

If I actually thought that the problem was with me, I would have done something…anything to change the situation.  But it wasn’t me.

I had spent many hours soul searching and many hours asking questions…trying to know what it was that I was doing wrong…or not doing right.  But no answers…so no solutions.

So I got into my car and took a little drive down to River’s Edge Falls, a wonderful little park in the heart of Minneapolis, to watch the icy, cold water race fiercely over the rocks and then crash down to the bottom.

It was always a soothing place for me to visit but unfortunately, I found I was coming here more often…needing more and more comfort.

Sigh.

The park was beautifully deserted.  Good.  Mondays are like that.

I could just lean against the ancient stone wall and watch the water crash down…over and over…the rhythm so relaxing and the deafening noise somehow comforting and calming.

I knew I would get my focus back…re-charge…decide the correct path and take it.  I’d figure it out…I always did.  I wasn’t born yesterday.   I had some life skills.

“Hey there little lady, how would you like to come with me to those bushes over there and warm me up on this chilly day.”

The man’s voice was mean and angry.  His words slurred.  Could I feel a tiny prick of a knife in my back…?  No matter.

As I slowly turned, I reached into my inside jacket pocket and pulled out my loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver that I always carried…because…why not?

And then I shot him through the heart.  Twice.

No one heard the shots as I watched him fall to the ground…left hand still clutching a very sharp-looking steak knife.

“Fuck …you…” he croaked as the blood flowed quickly out of his heart and in seconds he was dead.

“Apparently not…” I said and I walked back to my car.

The End