Thursday, September 30, 2004

Emily Post would not be pleased...

...A little slow on the uptake, guys?

Many of you have been asking what I'm buying Lila for Christmas. TL (who is making a run at being Steve's #1 fan, BTW) even wondered aloud if I am buying Lila a ring. (Gulp!)

Let me dispel that rumor right now: I am NOT marrying an 18-year-old. Or a 19-year-old, or a 20-year-old. At 21, I would discuss it.

All I was saying is that Lila gave mom her dress, so now I am going to buy Lila another dress for Christmas. Taking it back after the burial would be downright macabre...

**********

Thursday, September 23.

I've been to exactly one wake in my life, when I was 9 years old.

Dad was taking me to a t-ball game, and he explained to me that a friend of his had died, and we had to go to a "wake" first. I asked him what that was, and he told me it was something held after someone passed away, so that you could pay your respects to the family. That's basically all he said.

So he takes me into the funeral home, in my green t-ball shirt and cleats, and as he signs his name to the guest book, I peek through the doorway and into the room, with its rows of folding chairs. And a dead guy in a box.

I walk up to the body. His hands are folded over his abdomen, with a set of rosary beads intertwined in them. I've never seen anyone so perfectly still in my life. It's like he isn't real, like he's a mannequin or a wax dummy. His skin looks like plastic, yellow and artificial.

His body looks tight in the coffin, as if it were too small for him. My pulse races as I think about how claustrophobic it would be in there once they closed the lid. What if he's not really dead? I think. What if he wakes up after they bury him?

I don't know enough to ask dad, and he doesn't think to discuss it with me. He doesn't say anything about it, not even one word.

**********

6:00. We are standing at the open doorway to mom's viewing room. I see the folding chairs, the box at the front of the room. Everything is just as I remember it from the other funeral home when I was nine.

Greg's wife, Nancy, is holding their five-month old daughter, Mackenzie, bouncing her gently and cooing at her. For a minute I think it is completely inappropriate that a baby is here; but then again, what is the harm, really? It's not like she is going to remember.

Nancy looks up, and I nod at her. It's time.

We slowly approach the coffin. Soft weeps hang in the air.

It may sound strange to say, but mom looks beautiful. Her hair is clean and up in a bun; her makeup is perfect; and her dress, Lila's dress, is gorgeous, colorful and flatteringly cut. I had forgotten how attractive the dress was.

After seeing mom, I feel a little better. She looks like she is at peace.

There are big, colorful sprays of flowers all around the coffin. One has a ribbon on the front that says, "Grandma," and the card reads, "Love always, Mackenzie".

We kneel in front of the coffin, two by two, and pay our respects. She does look good, but she's also got that wax-dummy appearance that I remember. It's painful to see: My mother was a lot of things, but fake was not one of them.

I touch mom's hand. It feels strange, artificial, almost rubbery. The scab is gone now. She isn't my mother anymore; she's someone I don't even know. I'm just two feet in front of her, but she's never been farther away. And she's going to get farther.

We take our seats in the first row. Guests start to arrive. We keep hearing how wonderful mom looks, and how she had a hard life, and how she is in a "better place" now. Everyone is very interested in who Lila is, too. I hear "Who's THIS pretty lady?", or some variation thereof, ten times or more.

Calling hours will be over at 8:30, and I can't wait. It really is unnerving being 25 feet away from your dead mother for 2 1/2 hours straight.

A lot of people from work come to the wake: Dom, the other VP's, most of the department managers, even a lot of our regular staff. I'd say 20 or 30 people from my office were here.

Lila was smart. She made sure to stay far away from me when work people were around.

8:00. The room is filled with 30 or 40 softly-chatting people. I think we've seen the last of the office crowd. I sit down next to Lila; she curls her hand around my forearm and rubs it absently, then lets go. It's something she's done a million times; I bet she didn't even think about it. I happen to look up.

Dan Johnson and Ross are standing there.

I stand up quickly. They each hug me. "Steve, I didn't know her, but if she raised you, she must have been a great woman," Dan says.

"Thanks, Dan."

We chat for a few minutes. Lila surreptitiously gets up and slinks away, but the damage may already be done. Did Ross see the hand-rub? Is he wondering why Lila is here so late? Is he putting together a million tiny hints that he should have picked up on much earlier? What is Dan thinking?

Turns out Dan and Ross made a special trip out here just for the service, but they can't attend the funeral tomorrow. "Guys, you didn't have to do that," I say.

"Nonsense. You are a member of the family," Dan says. "And we want to let you know how much we care about you."

"Thanks."

I walk them to their car. Dan hugs me. "If you need anything at all, you call me," he says, and he climbs into the passenger side and closes the door.

Ross is waiting for me at the driver's side. I walk to him and shake his hand; he doesn't let go. He squints at me, staring deeply, as if trying to figure out what color my eyes are.

"You're fucking her, aren't you," he says, smiling.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

"You sure you don't wanna try TJ Maxx first?"

"I wanna be with you," Lila says.

It's 2:00, Tuesday the 21st. We lingered in the hallway for a long time after mom passed, but I knew they wanted to take her away, so I kind of herded everyone into the waiting area. Plus, I really needed to hear Lila's voice.

"I'm leaving work now. I'm wanna be with you!"

"Don't, baby."

"Why?!"

"You KNOW what's gonna happen if you leave. It's gonna be so obvious that you're leaving to be with me."

"No it won't! I'll tell them I have a family emergency."

"NO, Lila!"

"WHY are you doing this to me? Why won't you let me be there for you?!"

"Baby, I CAN'T do this with you now," I say. "Just come after work, ok? As soon as you get off?"

"But I wanna be there now," she grumbles.

"Baby, I love you. But this is for the best, ok? I promise we'll be inseparable as soon as you get here."

"Even with your family there?"

"YES. I think it's time you met my family," I say.

"Really?"

"Yeah!"

"Honey, I am sooo sorry about your mom," she says. "Are you ok?"

"I'll live."

"I love you. I can't wait to see you."

"Me too," I say. "Baby?"

"Hm?"

"Just make sure you come over as soon as you get off work, ok?"

"I will."

I don't remember the drive to dad's house. I wasn't particularly sad, I know, just kind of numb. It's like when you whack your head on something, and you hear the noise, and for that split second before the pain hits, your mind fills with dread as you anticipate what's coming. I know it's going to hurt me at some point; just wish I knew when.

I've got zero experience dealing with death. One of my grandfathers took off long before I was born, and no one knows what happened to him. The other one died before I was born. One grandmother lives a couple thousand miles away at a nursing home, and I think I was nine the last time I saw her; the other one died when I was five. All of my aunts and uncles are still alive, and of course, my parents WERE both alive until mom passed.

Dad gives me a list of people to call with the news. "My mom died," I say, to dad's boss, and to his bowling friends, and to mom's hairdresser. It sounds strange coming out of my mouth, as if there has been some kind of mistake.

Uncles and cousins line the street with their cars, bearing hot plates and warm wishes. I joke that the family is going to get a lot bigger now, since all the relatives who were scared of mom are going to start coming around. It feels strange to laugh. It seems disrespectful.

Shirley is here; so is Jenny. "I don't understand why you didn't want to be at the hospital," I say to aunt Shirley.

"I don't like death," she says, shaking her head and waving her hand as if to ward off a bad smell. "I don't know if I can go to the wake, either."

We eat. Everyone is tired. My brothers cling silently to their wives as dad plays host, telling mom's story again each time a new 2nd cousin or great uncle arrives.

I can't wait to see Lila.

4:50. My phone rings. It's her.

"Hey."

"I'm leaving," she says. "Where are you?"

"Dad's house." I give her directions.

"Are you ok?" she asks.

"No. I'm glad you're coming," I say.

"I love you."

"Me too."

I walk out to the living room. "Guys, my girlfriend is coming over," I announce.

My brothers' heads, and their wives', whip around to face me. "YOU have a girlfriend?" Greg says. "She must be either rich, or really hot." His wife smacks his arm. "GRE-eg!" she says.

I'm letting them know now because I really hate answering all the same questions that everyone seems to have: How long have you been dating? Where is she from? How did you two meet? Could this be The One? and so on. It's uncomfortable having your relationship on display like that, as if you are the subject of some gossipy press conference.

5:40. Dad walks into the room, smiling. "Look what the cat dragged in," he says.

Lila is standing there. I rush over to meet her. We hug tightly for a long time, and suddenly I realize we are both crying. It's like I was holding in my emotions, and now that she is here, I can let them out.

I introduce Lila to my brothers and their wives. "Wow. You ARE hot," Greg says. Everyone laughs. Lila rolls her eyes. Those kind of jokes don't faze her anymore.

Gradually the guys and the girls separate. At one point, I look across the room, and my two brothers' wives are sitting on either end of the couch, with Lila in the middle. It's a warm scene, these three young women talking animatedly. We are a family, I think, and it makes me feel better.

I am proud to see Lila fitting in that way. The girls obviously like her. They are including her in their conversations, laughing together, crying together. They've been talking for a long time.

Lila gets up to use the bathroom. I walk over to get some peanuts out of the candy dish. My sister-in-law Nancy says, "Steve. Lila is SO sweet. We LOVE her!"

"You guys like her? Really?" I say.

"Oh my god!" My other sister-in-law, Janet, says. "She is so cool. If you screw this up, I WILL hunt you down and kill you!"

"You don't think she's too young for me?"

"Steve. She is smart, she's beautiful, she obviously adores you. What's the big deal?" Janet says.

She pauses. "You're in love, aren't you?" she says. "I have never seen you this way."

"Yeah. I am," I say. It feels good to admit it.

Lila comes back from the bathroom and cuddles up next to me. I just want to go to sleep, and wake up when this is over.

"I love you," she coos in my ear, and I'm covered from head to toe in warm tingles, like a 14-year-old boy who brushes against a girl's tit for the first time.

"I love you too. I'm so glad you're here."

My brothers and dad all approach me individually and tell me how much they like Lila. She is making a really great impression on everyone. Well, almost everyone.

At one point, Jenny and I are unpacking groceries in the kitchen. She's been very quiet all day.

"Is that the girl you were telling me about," she says.

"Yeah, that's her, Lila."

"She seems young. How old is she?"

"Eighteen."

"EighTEEN?"

"Yeah.."

She rolls her eyes. "Are you dating her, or babysitting her?" she laughs.

"Not funny," I say.

"I'm sorry, Steve. It's just, everything tends to hit me at once lately. It's kind of hard watching you two all huggy and kissy. I know it can't be helped."

"What else is bothering you?" I say.

She starts to tear up. "I didn't help her. I didn't save her. I didn't try hard enough."

"You did AWESOME," I say. "If it weren't for you, we wouldn't even have known about mom's illness. You DID try very hard; you did the best you could. Mom was a grown person. If she didn't WANT help, no one was gonna change that."

"But maybe I-"

"Shhhh." I say. I hug her.

"Look, I really want us to get along. I hope we can put that whole thing behind us."

"I'll try," she says.

Lila and I take off at about 10:30. I am exhausted.

It's hard to let Lila go to work the next morning. "Please let me call in sick," she says, but I tell her we'll keep in touch all day, and then see each other this afternoon.

Dad's house. More relatives. More mom stories. Funeral arrangements. Jerry Springer. Soap operas. Boredom.

6:30. The girls are back, and we are crowded around the kitchen table amid cartons of Chinese food.

"Girls, I have a problem," dad says, looking at Lila and the wives.

"Louise didn't have any dresses in her closet at all. Well, none that we could use for a burial. So we need one."

"We could go to Lord & Taylor," Nancy says.

"Or Macy's," Janet says.

"What about aunt Shirley? Doesn't she have one mom could use?" I say.

"I thought of that," dad says. "But Shirley is a size 2, mom is a size 6. Now, the funeral home has offered to help out with this, but I'd kind of rather buy one-"

"I want her to have my dress," Lila says.

The room goes silent.

"W-what dress?" I ask, but it's just a formality. I know EXACTLY which dress.

"The D & G," she says. Nancy and Janet stare, open-mouthed.

"Steve bought me a Dolce and Gabbana dress from Esther's for my birthday," she says.

"ESTHER'S?" Janet says. "You need, like, a mortgage to buy from that place!"

"And you're gonna give it to Louise?" Nancy says. "That is so sweet!"

"No, if it was a birthday present, I couldn't," dad says.

"I want to. I insist!" Lila says.

"Steve, are you ok with this?" dad says.

"Of course I'm ok with it," I say, kissing Lila's cheek. "Thanks, Lila. I know mom would really appreciate it."

"Thank you," say a few others.

"Just tell me how much I owe you," says dad.

"Nothing," I say.

Well, at least now I know what I'm getting Lila for Christmas.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Forty-three minutes after nine

Tuesday, September 21st.

I know something is going to happen.

It's one of those mornings when I am way too cautious. It starts before I even get out of bed: I better not stretch too hard, or I'll snap my Achille's tendon, I think. I find myself checking, over and over again, obsessive-compulsively, for bus stop-bound students crossing my driveway as I pull out. I stop at stop signs; actually STOP, as opposed to the slow-roll -as-I-check-for-police-cruiser thing that I normally do.

I'm in my office. I'm starting to calm down. I look in the lower right-hand corner of my monitor. 9:43 AM, it says. It's a random time on a random day. This is just a day, like a million other days. Everything is going to be fine.

My phone rings. It's my brother Chris.

My blood runs cold. Chris never calls me during the day. Mom is dead, I think.

"Yo."

"Steve. Chris."

"What's up man?"

"It's mom."

I can't believe it. She's gone. What....what do I do? Where do I go? Who do I need to talk to?

"What happened?"

"She had a massive stroke," he says.

"Is she......."

"She's alive," he says, "but just barely. You better get down here now. And call Greg too, ok?"

"OK."

10:40. Greg, Chris, dad and I are standing around mom's bed.

Mom is a sight. The right side of her face is sagging, Rocky Balboa-like. A thick, grey tube is down her throat, forcing air into her lungs. SSSSSSH-haaaaa, the machine goes, every few seconds. Her body lurches violently with each artificial breath, as if she is trying to go to sleep but the machine won't let her. A wavy line crawls across a monitor screen behind her bed. The digital numbers change, from 43, to 62, to 81, to 53.

"She's got massive brain damage," dad says. "They don't expect her to ever wake up again."

"What......what happened?" Chris says.

"Could've been anything," dad says. "Your mom smoked for many years; it could have been related to that."

"Did it have to do with her drinking," said Greg.

"Her body was under a lot of stress," dad says. "There could be a connection. I mean, it does seem pretty coincidental, doesn't it?"

He is right. I mean, what are the chances that she has end-stage liver disease, and then out of nowhere she has a major stroke?

"Boys, I think we need to tell them to turn the machines off."

"NO!" says Greg. "What if she wakes up! Maybe she'll make a....recovery or something."

"She won't, Greg," dad says.

"YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!" Greg shouts. "You're just giving up, you're just letting her DIE!"

"Come here, man," I say. I hug him. "Hey. We all love her just like you. Do you think mom would want to live this way?" I ask, holding him tightly. "LOOK at her, man."

"But....maybe she'll......" he sniffs.

"Greg, it's time to let her go."

"You just hate her. You WANT her to die," Greg says, pulling away from me and bolting from the room. Dad goes after him.

SSSSSSSH-haaaaa, goes the machine.

Even in a coma, mom manages to give me shit.

Chris puts his arm around me. "He doesn't mean that, Twinkie," he says.

"I know. That's how it works!" I say. "You're the smart one, I'm the successful one, he's the emotional one."

He laughs. "And mom drinks enough for all of us."

"And THEN some."

A nurse walks in. "Hi, guys," she says. "You doing ok?"

We nod.

"I'm so sorry," she says. "Has your dad made up his mind about what to do?"

"Not yet," I say.

She updates mom's chart and leaves.

Dad and Greg walk back in. Greg pats my back. "I'm sorry, Steve. You know I didn't mean that, right?"

"Yeah," I say.

"Greg agrees we need to shut the machines off now," dad says.

"But I wanna say goodbye first," Greg says.

"We all do," says dad. "Let's wait until the wives get here and then say goodbye individually before we......let her go."

My brothers' wives arrive about a half hour later. We all exchange hugs. I really wish Lila were here for me. But everyone at work would find us out for sure if she left now.

Everyone except Greg and his wife leaves the room. We pace nervously across the white tiles as we hear Greg sob and wail.

They emerge from the room, dabbing their eyes with tissue.

My turn.

I walk into the room and stare at mom for a long moment, listening to her breathing machine.

SSSSSSSSH-haaaa. SSSSSSSSH-haaaa. SSSSSSSSH-haaaa.

Her chest rises and falls heavily, like a sprinter's after a race. I brush a wisp of brown hair out of her eyes. She looks.....pale.

What the hell do I say?

"Mom, it's me, Steve."

SSSSSSSSH-haaaa.

"I just wanted to say goodbye. I guess this is it, mom."

Her arm slips off the bed. I place it across her stomach. There's a little scab on the back of her hand; she had a band-aid on it the other day. And that scab tells me that this is really mom, that this whole thing is real, and not some cruel, elaborate joke. Mom is really dying.

"I want you to know I'm not mad at you," I say. "You gave me life, and I will always thank you for that. I know we've had our fights, but.....but I think you know I love you, mom."

My voice is breaking. I can't hold back anymore. I start to sob. My throat is tight and achy. I guess this is what they mean by "all choked up".

"Dad and Chris still need to say goodbye, so I better run," I say. I look at her for a long moment. "Wherever you go, I hope you are happy and at peace, mom."

I kiss her forehead. And as I leave, I realize I'm never going to hear her voice or see her eyes or feel her arms around me again. For the rest of my life, I won't have a mother.

Chris, his wife, and dad say their goodbyes. When they are done, dad taps the nurse's shoulder. "We're ready now," he says.

Two nurses enter the room and pull a curtain around mom's bed. "Louise, we're gonna remove your breathin' tube now, sweethaht," one of them says in a thick Boston accent. There is a loud, wet, gurgly sound, like sucking up water with a shopvac.

We enter the room one final time, and form a lazy circle around the bed. The monitor goes from 21, to 48, to zero, to 62.

"Hail Mary, full of grace," dad begins, and we all join in:

"...the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

Mom is perfectly still. We watch her for what seems like hours. It occurs to me that I am watching the final seconds of someone's life.

The monitor goes to zero, and stays there.

Monday, September 27, 2004

He's baa-aaaaaaaaack......

Sometimes my "blog world" doesn't seem real.

I put words on a computer screen, and you read them, and sometimes you send words back. But as far as I know, I've never met any of you in person, and I've never even spoken out loud about this blog to anyone, EVER. Except for Doc, of course, but he's sworn to professional secrecy...

After I announced mom's death, and I saw the outpouring of sympathy from you, it all hit me: You cared about me, as a friend, or even as a family member, and you wanted to make me feel better. And you know what? You did.

I tried to thank each one of you who commented personally, but I am sure I missed a few. If you did not hear from me, rest assured that I read your comment, and that I will never forget you for it.

I am doing ok, and I am very happy to be back into my old routine again. "Mourning", such as it is, is a long, tedious, painful, and sometimes boring experience. Thanks for making it more tolerable.

I had one post already "in the can" and ready to publish when mom passed. Here it is.

I'll see you guys tomorrow....

Steve

**********

Saturday.

I can't keep blowing up at mom that way. Something has to happen, one way or another, to resolve this. I don't think she is going to stop drinking, so I've just got to make up my mind that if she's "drunk mom", I walk away. Mom's not perfect. Our family isn't perfect, our relationship isn't perfect. But I have to try to make the best of it.

11:00am. I knock at mom's door. Aunt Shirley lets me in. "She's tired," she says.

Mom is at the kitchen table, smoking a clove cigarette. "Breakfast of champions," I say.

She looks at me like a kid about to be punished.

"Do you remember it?" I say.

"No. Shirley told me."

"Mom, I went through a lot. So did Chris, so did Greg, so did DAD. Don't put Lila through it, too."

"I'm sorry, honey."

"Don't tell me, tell her."

She picks up the phone, squeezing it tightly and dialing tentatively, like a kid learning to make her first call.

"May I speak to.... Lila?"

Pause.

"Honey, I am sorry. Please believe me, I am so very sorry."

They talk for a while. Mom looks a little better.

She puts out her cigarette. "Come here, honey." She hugs me.

"I'm scared, Steve. What's gonna happen to me?"

"I don't know, mom."

I can feel her crying into my shoulder. Yes, I do know. And so does she.

"Will you go to rehab, mom? Will you do it? For us?"

"Yes, I will, honey."

No, she won't. This is probably as good as it's going to get.

**********

I have decided to hold a mandatory monthly company meeting for all employees. Unlike my last meeting, I want to have a question-and-answer session at which employees can voice their concerns.

Our first meeting is today, Wednesday the 15th.

"Apparently I caused quite a stir when I talked about a positon review," I say at the front of the room. "I expected people to be fearful about layoffs. But what I didn't expect was that not one person came to me to ask about it. NOT ONE.

"The rumors made it all the way to the CEO's desk at corporate," I say, "but not to mine. He's 300 miles away; I'm right here. SOMETHING IS WRONG."

The room is as quiet as a whorehouse on Christmas morning.

"I don't know how some of you felt about speaking to the boss before," I continue. "Actually, I take that back: I DO know how you felt. But I am going to tell you something today: I will NEVER turn you away if you have a concern. I may not know the answer, and I may not have time at one particular moment, but I am committed to keeping the communication open. Come to me. Come to Bonnie. Call me. E-mail me. I will respond."

Heads nod.

"But what I will NOT respond to is rumors. I won't respond to 'Everyone is saying....'. I will not respond to, 'Joe Smith is upset about.....'. If Joe Smith is upset, let HIM do the talking. Joe Smith doesn't need a spokesman. You don't need a spokesman until you sign a movie deal.

"Many of you want to know if your jobs are in jeopardy. I will tell you this: I have no plans to lay anyone off. But I have not conducted the review yet, and I don't know what I will find. Maybe I'll find that we're paying someone $50,000 a year to change the water in the water cooler. I won't tolerate that.

"There's a temptation in a case like this to get the boss to use the word, 'Never'. And I will NOT use that word. I can't.

"It's not my goal to lay anyone off. It's my goal to KEEP everyone. But it's also my job to run this company efficiently."

We set up a microphone at the far side of the room, at least 50 feet away from me. This was intentional: Any closer would seem confrontational.

Mike from sales: "What do you mean by, 'Run this company efficiently'? That sounds kinda scary. What are the criteria? Do your profits have to be at a certain level, and if they are not, are you going to have layoffs?"

"First off, this has NOTHING to do with profits. If we are paying $200,000 in salary for a job that could be done with half that, expect me to address it. And expect me to address it, whether there are record profits, or record losses. It's never excusable to waste the company's money. We're not helping anyone if we do that."

Marie from accounting: "Are you going to take seniority into account if you have layoffs?"

"I assume you're asking because you just got your 20-year pin, Marie," I say. There's a little laughter.

"I hesitate on this one, because it's all hypothetical. That question sounds as though I am considering layoffs, or planning on them. I'm not. If I find wasted payroll, my first impulse would be to redeploy someone, to reassign them somewhere where they are needed, not to lay them off. A layoff is a last resort, whether you're here 50 days or 50 years."

Unless, of course, you are a temp, in which case you are fucked. As soon as I can find permanent replacements for them, they are gone.

The meeting goes well. I get five or six more questions, mostly concerning the position review. I think people feel better.

Ten or eleven people visit my office after the meeting to thank me. But still, not one person asks me if their position is in jeopardy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

BREAKING NEWS

9/21/2004

Mom died today.


9/22/2004

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
(mom's favorite song)

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

At least she didn't say, "Freddie Krueger"

6:03am, Friday, September 10. Dan Johnson has just teed off, and he, Ross and I are walking down the first fairway.

"I spoke to Raul, our head groundskeeper," Dan says.

"And?"

"There was a hole in the pipe."

"I know," I say.

"I almost fired him for it," Dan says. "I asked him how someone could notice that, driving by in a car, and he could not when he looks at it all day."

"It was hiding in plain sight, I guess."

"I guess."

"Steve, we've got a big client coming in this afternoon. Kind of unexpected. I want you to meet them. I think it's a good idea that you start to interact with these people, let them see how competent you are. Put their minds at ease."

"As long as they don't see my tee shot," I say. I suck at golf.

He laughs. "Well, we've changed your travel arrangements a bit. You're flying out at 3:30 now."

Fair enough. I was supposed to leave at 11:30, but 3:30 works too. So long as I get home today.

My office at corporate is blissfully quiet and comfortable. No one interrupts me for about three hours straight, and I get a pile of work done.

2:15. Our client arrives, several hours late. So much for my 3:30 flight. There's usually a later one, though. Hope I make it.

The man coming to see us represents a large food-service chain. You've heard the name. They drop millions every year on premiums with us; that qualifies them for the royal treatment up here.

I shake the man's hand, make all the appropriate small talk, and laugh fakely at his jokes. I can't wait to get home.

"Holy cow!" Dan says at 2:30. "You have a 3:30 flight, don't you?"

I'm glad he said that. I think he did it on purpose, so I would not have to be rude and say it myself.

I say my goodbyes and dash to the airport. And miss my plane by 20 minutes.

There's another plane at 5:00, but it's oversold and there are 10 people on standby.

"When's the next one," I say.

"10:00 tomorrow morning," the clerk says.

Fuck. I could get a hotel room, or sleep at the airport. I've done it before. But I made a promise to Lila and I don't want to break it.

I know we didn't have any big plans. I just told her she could stay with me tonight. But I really want to show her how important she is to me. I have to get home, somehow.

It's a five-hour drive home, at least. And that's with no traffic. There's no chance I'm getting on that plane, I can tell you. That 5:00 flight is always jam-packed.

I rent a Buick Century and get on the road. I call Lila from the highway.

"I missed my flight. I'm driving home."

"You're DRIVING? Why?"

"I promised you I'd be there."

"But Steve! We didn't have plans or anything!"

"So what? I want to be with you."

"Me too."

Long pause.

"What did mom say to you?" I say.

"I put onions in the salad. She asked me why. I told her because I like them there. She looks at me and she goes, 'You're a bitch!' and she just starts going off on me! She is scary, Steve."

Dammit. All because of some stupid onions.

"And hey! Who is that guy who makes those scary movies?" she says.

"Alfred Hitchcock?"

"No."

"Stanley Kubrick?"

"No."

"Umm....George Romero? M. Night Shayamaylan?"

"Nope."

"Why are you asking?"

"She kept telling me I was like him. It was Charlie something. Charlie..... CHARLIE FARRUM!" she says.

"Who the fuck is Charlie Farrum?"

"I don't know! Doesn't he make scary movies or something?"

"Not that I know of."

"She kept saying, 'You're just like that Charlie Farrum in the movies'," Lila says. "And she called me a Barbie doll."

"Damn. I'm sorry you had to go through that."

"It was horrible. She called me a little bitch and a whore. And....she said I was just after you for your money."

"Well, that's stupid. Everyone knows it's actually for my 12-inch pecker."

"And your nice tongue," she says.

"Are you ok?" I ask.

"Yeah. What did you say when you called her?"

"I just let her know I was a little upset with her."

"Oh, God," she laughs. "I can't wait to see you. I love you."

"Love you too."

"You know why I was crying so much?" She says.

"Why?"

"I just kept thinking about you when you were a kid. How the hell did you put up with that?"

"You get used to it."

An hour later, I'm at a highway rest stop urinal, dick in hand, when out of nowhere it occurs to me who "Charlie Farrum" is, and I realize what movie mom was referring to.

Maybe it's best Lila didn't know what mom was talking about.

Monday, September 20, 2004

"Beth Lee, I hear you callin', but I can't come home right now..."

I love early-morning flights.

I love the idea that, before 10:00am, I can be 300 miles away from where I was when I woke up that morning. I get a great sense of accomplishment from it, though I didn't actually do anything myself.

I get off the plane. While walking toward the parking lot, I see a uniformed limo driver holding up a dry-erase board with my last name written on it.

How weird. Some rich dude has the same last name as me, I think.

Then it occurs to me that the limo is mine. Holy shit!

Our corporate headquarters is an amazing place: Huge, intimidating, beautiful, and impressive.

As we pull into the parking lot, I can see the crisscrossed mower patterns in the bright green grass, and the in-ground sprinklers busily spraying water.

The building is metal and glass, with angled roofs, and a giant, mirrored front wall in which you can watch yourself walk up to the door and open it.

The inside is just as awe-inspiring. High ceilings. Wide, sprawling staircases. Escalators. Yes, escalators! Bright, colorful, freshly-vacuumed carpets. And something resembling new-car smell throughout.

After several minutes of walking, I get to Claire's desk. "Steve!" she says, smiling. "Welcome! Have a nice trip?"

"Yes, yes I did."

"Mr. Johnson wants to take you around at 11. Just be careful. He's in a bad mood."

"Anything wrong?" I say.

"Besides everything?"

"Gotcha," I say.

"I'll show you to your new office," she says.

We walk around a corner and down a long, quiet hallway. She opens a door and flips a switch. And I almost pass out.

I know that each DM has an office at corporate, so that we have someplace to work when we are visiting. But I had no idea that my new digs were going to look like THIS.

The office is huge, roughly 25 by 25, the size of a large family room. It's got its own copier and fax machine. The furniture looks to be solid oak, and ornately carved, too. There's a high-back leather chair, and a massive armoire and credenza, all polished to a dull shine and devoid of even a speck of dust. There are paintings on the wall: Real paintings, not reproductions.

"Nice, huh?" Says Claire.

"Wow," I say.

10:45. I am barely settled when Claire calls me. "Mr. Johnson will see you now." I follow her to Dan's office.

"Steve, how are you? How is it....how have you....what have you learned today, my friend?" Dan says. He's preoccupied, looking around his desk as though he has just lost a contact lens.

"Your sprinkler system is broken."

"No it isn't."

"The last sprinkler head in the northeast corner looks to be at about half power. I bet you have a hole in your underground pipe."

"That's nonsense, Steve. Our maintenance crew is meticulous. Me-TIC-u-lous!"

"If you say so," I say. "But your grass is already getting brown in that area."

He stares at me. "Ok, I'll have someone check it out. But it's absurd, I assure you."

He looks around more frantically, lifting up envelopes, moving penholders. "Where IS it?" he says. He finally produces a thin packet from a wooden bin on the corner of his desk, and places it in front of me. It is stamped "DRAFT" on the front.

"Ahhhh, SHIT! This is just the draft!" He says. He picks up his phone and presses three numbers. "Claire, bring me a copy of that employment agreement, please."

Claire breezes into the office, papers in hand. She hands them to Dan, who slaps it triumphantly down in front of me.

"Steve, this is an agreement that all company executives must sign. We'll need you to execute that for us."

The document is six pages long. My eyes are drawn to the "HOLD HARMLESS" section on page 5.

"Hold harmless" is a scary term. It's basically an agreement not to sue or take any action against the other party, no matter the circumstances.

I skim the section, and find that, in certain (albeit unlikely) circumstances, I could be held PERSONALLY responsible for legal fees and damages!

"Mr. Johnson, are you aware of what this says," I say finally.

"Of course I am. All executives are required to sign."

"All NEW executives, right?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, this is a new document, isn't it? I mean, someone just prepared it recently. Otherwise, why would there be a draft copy floating around?"

"That is correct, Steve, exactly correct."

"And I'm guessing that you are grandfathering in all the existing executives," I say. In otherwords, he's not making other DM's sign this agreement.

"Well, Steve, is that really relevant-"

"As a matter of fact, I bet I am the only one in this whole company you are asking to sign this agreement, sir. I bet you aren't even asking Ross, because he was already a DM before he got promoted."

"Steve, this is just standard legalese. It's really not an issue. Let's not make it into one."

"If it's not an issue, why make me sign it?"

"A fair question."

"I'm not signing it without a lawyer."

"A LAWYER?"

"Yeah. A lawyer. My OWN lawyer. There are personal liability clauses in there!"

"No there aren't."

I point to page five. He stares at the paper.

"Well I'll be dipped in dogshit," he says. He rubs his hair. "I'm sorry, Steve, I'm sorry. I didn't know. It's been a horrible week. HORRENDOUS."

"Sorry to hear that, Mr. Johnson."

"Please call me Dan, Steve. That 'Mr. Johnson' bullshit is for those people," he says, pointing at his office door, "so they don't try to get too friendly. So they don't come in here kissing my ass, asking me to christen their kids and come to their family barbecues."

"They ASK you that?"

"Of course."

Dan takes me around to meet all the key players in the office. I meet at least 20 people. The last person we meet is Fran, the CFO (Fran is a male, BTW).

"YOU'RE the new DM? YOU?" Fran says, unsmiling.

"Yes."

He shakes his head and turns his back. "Sheeesh!" he says loudly, as he walks to his desk.

"Dickhead," Ross says, loud enough for Fran to hear.

"Gotta get back to work," Dan says. "You have dinner tonight with Ross and me, and golf tomorrow morning at 6."

**********

7:00. We're at Cafe' Parisian, an overpriced, way-too-impressed-with-itself restaurant, at which it's impossible to get a table on short notice. Unless you're a high-powered CEO, that is.

Even the menu is a work of art, with it's gentle, evocative color scheme and wedding invitation-style script font.

And the menu takes pains to describe in great detail how each dish is made. The lobster bisque, for example, is "lovingly prepared," with a long list of ingredients. "Lovingly prepared"? What, does the chef whack off in it?

With all that love you are getting, I guess $17.95 for a bowl of soup is a bargain.

"Steve," Dan says over crudites, "there are a couple of things that concern us about this transition."

I've been expecting this. The layoff rumors have surely reached corporate, and from there have made their inevitable way to Dan's desk. I have to be careful how I address this: If I say I knew nothing about them, they'll tell me I am not paying attention. If I say I knew ALL about them, they'll tell me I should have done something.

"Such as?"

"Several people have called this office, fearing that they are the victims of an impending round of layoffs. Are you aware of this?"

"Aware that they called you? No." A sneaky response. By answering this way, I don't have to tell him whether I heard the rumors or not.

"So you didn't hear the rumors at all," Ross says.

Thanks, Ross. You're just like a dad to me. Prick.

"I hear lots of layoff rumors. I heard YOU were being laid off, Ross. Every week, someone else is supposedly being laid off, or a department is being eliminated. That's not new."

"But you ARE new," Dan says. "And you should know that these rumors might carry more weight because of that."

"I worked hard to build that office, Steve," Ross says. "It would be a damn shame if we had 12 people go out and find new jobs because you didn't respond to a rumor-"

My phone buzzes. LEE CALLING, it says.

I wonder what Lila wants. She is supposed to be making dinner and bringing it to my mom's house tonight. Wonder if everything is alright.

Can't talk to her now. I let it go to voice mail.

"TWELVE people, Ross? Twelve people? You KNOW these people, Ross. We couldn't get 12 people to leave if the BUILDING was on fire."

"Did you announce some type of position-by-position review?" Ross asks.

"Yes, yes, of course." But you didn't hear that, because you were too busy ducking out on the meeting. DAD.

"Don't you think you should have told them that no positions were in jeopardy," Dan says.

"No. No, I don't. Because some positions ARE in jeopardy. The waste in our payroll staggers the mind. Over $200,000 a year in temps alone. I can barely sleep at night. I am a man of my word, and I would never say something that was not true. I value my relationships with the employees, and I won't ever jeopardize that by lying or misleading."

"TWO-HUNDRED-THOUSAND??!!" Dan says, looking at Ross.

"Dan, we had record profits last year," Ross says, dismissively.

"But TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND?"

"Those temps have highly specialized skills-"

"They're entry-level clerks from AccounTemps," I say. "Get me somebody who knows Excel, and who knows how to ask a question if they are stuck, and they can do it."

Dan leers at Ross. He's angry.

Still worried about those "12 people" quitting? FUCKER?

"And another thing," I say. "I'm trying to build a culture in my office. I don't want to be in a situation where I wait for a rumor, then respond to it. It should never COME to that point. If someone has a question, let them come to me with it. Let them ask it in the proper way, and I will answer. If I answer a rumor, then I'm rewarding inappropriate behavior, aren't I?"

"But in the meantime-" Ross begins.

"In the meantime, people are worried. SOME people. I'm still not convinced it's as widespread as it may seem. But nonetheless, I intend to get this message out there to these employees, this message that, if you have a question, my door is open. I don't intend to turn anyone away if they have a concern."

My phone goes off again. LEE CALLING. Fuck. I let it go to voice mail.

"Rewarding inappropriate behavior...." Dan muses. "Yes, yes, good...." he says, staring at the tablecloth.

"Come on, Dan, these people won't come to him about a layoff-" Ross says.

"But he's going to change the paradigm," Dan says. "They wouldn't come to YOU. Maybe they WILL come to HIM!"

BUZZZZZZ, goes my phone. LEE CALLING.

"Gentlemen, please excuse me. I have to take this," I say, holding up my phone.

I walk out the front door and answer the phone. "Hey. I'm kinda busy," I say.

Lila is crying hysterically.

"Baby? What's wrong?"

"She-she-she.." Lila begins, before bursting into fresh sobs.

"Did you go to my mother's house?"

"Yes."

"Was she drunk?"

"Uh-huh."

"Did she say something to you?"

"Steve, please don't say anything..."

My blood turns to sulfuric acid. One way or another, mom is going to learn the rule: Fuck with me, and I'll deal with it. Fuck with Lila and die.

"I'll call you back, Lila."

"Steve, don't call her-"

CLICK.

With shaking fingers, I dial mom's number.

Ring....

Ring....

Ring....

She's got to be there. Lila called me less than two minutes ago.

....ring.....

Aunt Shirley doesn't have an answering machine. "Don't believe in 'em," she says.

How the hell can you "not believe in" an answering machine? It's an appliance, not a religion!

Five rings. Six. Seven. Eight.

"Hello?" It's aunt Shirley.

"Put my mother on the phone!"

"Don't take that attitude with me, Steve-"

"PUT MY MOTHER ON THE FUCKING PHONE, RIGHT NOW!"

The phone hits the floor. Thirty seconds pass.

"Helllllll-oooooooooooo?" Mom's voice is dry and scratchy. Well, it's definitely scratchy....

"Mom, get a pen and a piece of paper."

"Why?"

"NOW."

"OK."

I recite Lila's number. "Now read it back."

She does.

"That's Lila's number. You call her right now and apologize for whatever it is that you did. And then maybe you won't have to deal with me tomorrow."

"You know, Steve, you're really barking up the wrong tree with that little whore."

"Mom-"

"She comes in here with her tight little shirt and her tight little pants, just like a little Barbie doll. A little plastic doll, with her big plastic titties and her plastic head with a little plastic brain inside." I think I can hear Shirley laughing in the background.

"That little WHORE is more of a woman than you will EVER be, mom."

"That's right, you jackass, take her side. Take sides with your little fucking bitch over your own mother. And then you'll find out that she's only after your money, and you'll be all alone."

"Yeah. I guess I just can't get away from asshole women, can I mom?"

"Steve, you-"

"You listen to me. You're gonna pick up that phone and you're gonna call her. You are gonna do something right for once in your miserable, rotten, drunken fucking life, mom."

"That's right. Take her side. That's right, Steve."

"I'm tired of you, mom. I'm tired of you getting a few in you, and acting like a total obnoxious ass, and then apologizing the next day and expecting everything to be alright. It's time for you to grow up and take responsibility for your actions. You call her."

"I'll do no such thing. I'm the mother. You're not the mother. You don't tell me what to do."

"MAKE THE FUCKING CALL, MOM!"

"Or else what?"

"Or else, as far as I'm concerned, you're already dead."

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Has anyone seen Steve's testicles?

It's good that there is no such thing as a dick license, because after my last couple of posts, there'd be a committee voting to revoke mine, and uniformed agents would be bursting through my door to impound my pecker straight away.

It's been a long time since I've been "hooked up" with a girl, and I am clearly out of practice. I'm always preaching about having a poker face, and here I am, freaking out at every rumor, quivering like fresh meringue in the back of a moving bakery truck.

Never fucking again.

I don't care WHAT the rumor is. I don't care if people are saying that she fucked the entire New England Patriots offensive line on my desk. I'm not asking anymore. Worrying about that crap makes me feel weak and insecure, and I hate it.

If Lila really were fucking Dom, she wouldn't be stupid enough to tell anyone in the office about it. People around here have a way of twisting things around. You work with someone in their cubicle for an hour or two, and the next day the rumor is that you are fucking. It's just how it works.

I make a deal with myself. If anything happens with Lila, if she cheats on me, or dumps me, or if it doesn't work out for any reason, I'll go away on a nice vacation, to Grand Cayman, or Bermuda, or maybe even Hawaii, and I'll hone my babe-catching skills. Hell, maybe I'll move to one of these island paradises, if I like it enough. Point is, I won't let it ruin my life. And that makes me feel better.

It's Wednesday. I haven't had sex with Lila since the massage. I am horny as all hell. I get to her house around 7:00, and she is plugging in lamps and adjusting furniture.

"Baby!!!" she says, letting me in. Her apartment is actually the lower level of a duplex, with a huge living room and family room. Only one bedroom, but it's big.

Lila is moving in with her friend Sophie. I've met her a few times before.

"Hi Steve!" Sophie says, coming out of the kitchen. She kisses my cheek. Sophie is cute, about 5'5", with short dark hair. She is covered in lean muscle, like a gymnast.

"He's HERE. Now will you please shut up!" Sophie says to Lila. " 'Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve,' " she mocks. " 'We have to get this table put together before Steve gets here.' 'We can't order that for dinner, Steve doesn't like it there.' 'You can't put the bed there, Steve won't wanna have sex with me there!' "

"I didn't say that about the bed," Lila says, chuckling.

"She has been going on and on about you ALL damn day. You must have given it to her good last night," Sophie says. Sophie is pretty blunt, but I like her.

"No, that's tonight. So make some plans," I say.

"I plan on joining in!" she says.

Yeah right. Sophie is ALL talk, believe me.

"Go get some clothes and stay with me tonight," Lila says.

"Ummm..." Walking around, bleary-eyed, in my boxers and blowing morning farts with Sophie around is not a good thought.

"Pleeeeease? You're LEAVING tomorrow," she pouts.

It's true. I have to go to corporate for a couple of days.

"Ahh, ok. But Sophie better not grind her teeth."

"YAY!!!" Lila says.

"SLEEPOVER!" Sophie yells.

One bedroom, with Sophie in the next bed? Lila probably won't be cool about fucking with her roommate there. I certainly don't give a crap, but.....

I figure now that Lila is away from her mother's watchful eye, she can stay with me a lot. But since this is her first night at the new place, I'll stay here.

"Come look at the bedroom," Lila says, staring at me. I follow her down the hall.

"OH-OH!!!" says Sophie. "Bootie tiiiime!!"

"Shut up, biotch," I say, laughing. OK, she's pretty funny.

"I was thinking about you allll day, lover," she says, grabbing my face in her hand. "I was thinking about how you massaged me."

"Yeah? Did that fucking get you off?"

"mmmmmmm. Yeah."

I kiss her, a full, wet, long, lip-lock.

"You did such a good job with the managers' meeting today," she says.

"How do YOU know?"

"Had my ear to the door," she says. "Bonnie, too."

"Is THAT why there was a Chinese food menu outside my door?"

"Hehehehehe! Yeah, Bonnie dropped it and then you found it before she did."

"Was wondering how it got there," I say.

"I LOVE how you are so in charge at those meetings," she says. "You make me soo proud."

"Thanks."

"Everyone is afraid of you, you know," she says.

"Bullshit."

"They think you're gonna do massive layoffs."

There ARE going to be layoffs. Not many, and not immediately, but yeah, I expect to tighten things up a little. At the very least, I'll reduce the staff by attrition (i.e., if someone quits I won't replace them). I know I'm going to get reamed for it, but you guys know me by now: I don't give a SHIT what anyone else says. There is so much waste in this company that I can hardly sleep at night.

"How bout you," I say. "Are YOU afraid of me?"

"Mmm-hmm. I want you to fucking spank me," she says.

Ok. Just don't call me 'daddy'. Or 'Lee'.

She slides her skirt down. She's wearing a white thong. I sit down on the bed and kiss her. It occurs to me that we are in the "power position", with me sitting and her standing. I jerk her arm down. She's not expecting it. She falls across my lap and almost tumbles off the bed.

"Hey, you almost knocked me over," she says, smiling.

"Take your panties off," I say. I am feeling very aggressive all of a sudden.

She lifts her hips off my lap and slides her thong down. She cranes her head around and stares at me.

"Were you a bad little girl?" I say.

OK, did I just say that?

"Mmhmm." She is staring at me.

"How bad?"

"WICKED fucking bad."

"Do I need to FUCKING spank you?"

"mm-hmmm."

"BEG me."

"Pleeease, Steve, please fucking spank me."

"Keep going."

"I want you to slap my fucking ass as hard as you can."

I spank Lila every once in a while. It's cool and all, but mostly I get off on it because it gets her hot. Hitting never did much for me.

I haul off and slap her ass. The SMACK! is louder than I expected. It's the sound of a whip cracking. There is a huge red handprint on her butt cheek.

I run my hands over her two soft, pale-white globes. Has God ever made such a perfect ass before? I doubt it.

I smack the other cheek. CRACK!!

She moans. "Slap me again, Steve."

I slap her again, and again. Her ass jiggles just a bit with each impact. Both cheeks are fire-engine red. She HAS to be sore.

I pull her up gently by the hair. Our mouths plunge together, our tongues mingling wetly. I feel her unbuckling my belt, then unhooking and zippering. She's not looking.

Impressive! The female equivalent of one-handing a bra.

She puts my cock in her mouth. I watch it disappear between her soft, pink lips. She is staring at me.

She takes almost all of it in, then slides it back out. It is slick and warm. She covers her teeth perfectly; there is no friction at all, no scraping (dick-biting has its place, ladies, but don't overdo it).

I can feel the pressure building. "Are you trying to make me come," I say.

She pulls it out of her mouth and stands up, pulling her shirt off. I get out of my pants and shirt.

She bends over the edge of the bed, her feet on the floor. She flips her hair over her shoulder and turns around, staring at me again.

I come up behind her, and rub my cock against her. It is warm and wet with her saliva.

She spreads her legs a little more. I slide effortlessly into her.

Oh shit, I think. I am just about to come.

I stop fucking. The urge subsides. For a minute, I thought I was going to have to go for a "ball grab".

What I do is, when I am just about to come, I grab my balls and pull down. GENTLY. I'm not yanking that water-chain like Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance", now. I just tug with firm pressure. The orgasm sometimes subsides that way.

I start to fuck her again. She is slick and slippery-feeling, and penetrating her is easy.

"Oooo, my pussy is so wet for you lover. I was thinking about you today."

"Oh yeah," I say, fucking her faster.

"I was in the bathroom..."

"Touching yourself?"

"mmmhmmmmm."

"Did you make yourself come?"

"Uh-huh. I fucking came so hard."

We are fucking even faster now, grinding away with reckless abandon. A couple of times, I pull back too far and slip out of her. She is so wide open that I slide back in, without touching.

I pull out. "You wanna ride me," I say.

"uh-huh."

I lay on my back, and she straddles me slowly, flipping her hair back. She holds her hips over mine for a long moment, then grabs my wet, throbbing cock and slides it into her, watching intently the whole time. She grinds her hips back, then forward, her eyes rolling back into her head.

She presses three fingers against her clit, and rubs just a little.

She grabs my wrist and squeezes. "Ohhhhhh. OHHHHHH! OHHH MY FUCKING GOD!" she screams.

I grab her around the back and stand up, then I turn around and fall onto the bed on top of her.

I lean back a little and look down as my cock penetrates her, fully, every millimeter disappearing inside her.

I push into her as deeply as I can and explode with what must have been a pretty loud series of moans.

The orgasm subsides. We stare pantingly at each other.

"When are you coming back?" she asks.

"Friday."

"Will you stay with me Friday night? Or can I stay with you?" she whispers.

"You stay with me," I say.

There is a loud KNOCK KNOCK at the door. "Hurry up, kids, I need to put away the sheets," Sophie says.

"You got some more to wash, now!" I shout. It occurs to me that I am still inside Lila.

"Yeah, we did the nasty all over your bedsheets, Soph," Lila says.

"EWWWWWWWWW! Now I have to boil 'em!" Sophie says.

We get dressed and open the door. "Sophie. If the door is closed, come. back. later." Lila says, smiling.

"She was just hoping to catch us in the act," I say.

"Hey! My sheets are fine," Sophie says, running her hand along the top of her bed.

"We were just joking," I say. "Did you really think we'd do it on your bed?!"

"You horny bastards are just sick enough for that," she smiles.

I'm starting to find out what it's like to have a real girlfriend. We don't really make dates anymore; we just kind of meet at my house, or hers, and spend blocks of time together, sometimes doing our own individual things, sometimes doing them together.

I like doing work with Lila in the house. It's comforting. She reminds me that I should stop working and take a break every once in a while.

9:30. I am sitting on the couch in my socks and shorts, my laptop in my lap (go figure). She comes up behind me and drapes her arms around my neck. She plants a sloppy kiss on the side of my face.

"Come to bed," she says.

I NEVER go to bed this early, never. What am I, 12 years old? But I do have an early flight.

I'm not much of a snuggler. I actually get a little claustrophobic with someone clinging so tightly to me. But I follow her to the room and do it anyway. I like it.

I reach down and check. Yep, balls are still there.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Look at all these rumors, surroundin' me every day...

A couple of quick things before I get rolling today....

...I get a lot of hits from a site called www.twinsgeek.com, and I am not sure where the link to me is. There is a message board there, but I'll be damned if I can find where I am linked. If anyone can help solve the mystery on this, please drop a comment. I'm just curious...

...A couple of you have told me you like the t-shirt design, but for some reason I can't begin to comprehend, you don't want to walk around with the word "Sexwhacko" on your backs. So, I've added another design with a blank reverse. You now have two to choose from! For those of you who have received your shirts, please send me some pix so I can post them.

...I hit two blog milestones this week: my 100th post and my 25,000th hit. Thanks to everyone out there in blogland for coming back again and again. And coming, and coming, and coming.....

Ahem.

**********

I was never big on spreading rumors in high school, but I heard and remembered almost all of them.

For as long as I can remember, I've been an excellent eavesdropper. I was the fat kid across from you at study hall, fastidiously extracting the last few precious crumbs of Dorito dust from the bottom of the bag, who you didn't think heard a word you were saying. But I heard everything: Who's fucking who, who is going to be waiting for who after school to kick his ass, who is failing chemistry, whose sister is pregnant.

For some reason, I have a knack for looking like I am so wrapped up in what I am doing that I'm not noticing what's going on around me, when in reality I am taking it all in. And it never did me much good, until now.

Eavesdropping is a great skill to have in my office. The employees are information whores, eagerly opening their ears to whatever morsel of gossip they can, regardless of the source, and then sluttily, indiscriminately, passing it on to five other people, who in turn do the same.

I collect snippets of conversation as I walk through the cubicles:

"These PO's take so long to get to me now. Ever since Steve took over...."

"I hear Steve is gonna write Barbara up for interrupting his speech...."

"He's changing all the procedures...."

"He's doing layoffs in the fall....."

The general vibe I feel is one of unease. People feel I am interrupting their routines, and they are nervous and angry about it.

Like I always say: "If you're pissing people off, you're probably doing something right." If every single person is happy, you're either lying or promising too much.

Yeah, I AM shaking things up around here. And it's not just because I want us to make more money. It's because I don't tolerate inefficiency.

I have been studying budgets for days now, and I am shocked at the amount of waste. We are blowing $50,000 per year unnecessarily on temporary employees alone, according to my calculations. And that's conservative. But I'll blog about that another time.

An old boss of mine once told me that being a manager is like being a parent. You can't go ballistic every time your child acts up; you have to pick your battles. Reacting to the right offense, and reacting properly, is very effective.

I don't like people saying things like what I heard. The majority of it is totally false, and the rest is misleading. It's probably hurting morale. But the answer is not to find every whisperer in the place and sever their vocal chords; the answer is to make sure that the COMPANY'S position is clearly communicated.

It's Wedneday the 8th. An IM window pops up on my PC. It's Bob, from IT. We talk from time to time.

BOB: Did you hear about Dom and Lila?

Oh, shit.

STEVE: No what about them

BOB: Dom bagged her the other night. My man is smooth...

STEVE: Proof?

BOB: She told Theresa [from IT], theresa told me

My breathing gets shallow. My stomach burns like I just swallowed a cup of battery acid. Is she cheating on me? IS SHE FUCKING CHEATING?

She is. She must be. That's why she was late the other night. That's why she came over to my house, because she felt guilty. She's sucking his cock, she's fucking him, she's riding him cowgirl style and ripping off one screaming orgasm after another. And she's laughing at me the whole time, because she's finally getting her revenge.

Shit. I GOTTA pull myself together. For the second time in a few days, I am freaking out over Lila and Dom. This jealousy is getting out of control. And yet, somehow, the idea that I have a rival, the idea that some other guy is poking her, gets me off.

I trust Lila, I do. I just have to grow up a little. My stomach burned the exact same way when I overheard mom and dad fighting, and I heard her say she was moving out. I was being abandoned. That naive little kid still lives in me, and he is way too simple to understand how rumors start. He hears something, and believes it.

STEVE: believe it when i see it

BOB: I believe it, dom's got game man

STEVE: for his sake he better hope its not true. i plan on enforcing company policy

BOB: O yeah, i forgot you're a big shot now

3:15. I walk into Dom's office. He's finishing up on the phone.

"......Bacardi..." I hear in his whispery voice. "........Bacardi.....", ".........Bacardi...." The word is woven into otherwise unintelligible sentences; it wafts over to me, then away, then back again, like a pesky fly.

My stomach drops.

Lila loves Bacardi.

I can hardly work the rest of the day. Is she fucking Dom?

5:15. I am still at my desk; Lila is on her way home. I call her cell.

"Hello?" She says, sweetly.

"Hey."

"What's wrong?" She can hear it in my voice.

"I thought you said they didn't serve to you the other night."

"They didn't!"

"Dom didn't give you any booze?"

"Yeah. He bought a drink, and he didn't finish it, so he gave me the rest."

Silence.

"Steve, when the HELL are you gonna start trusting me?!"

"Why didn't you TELL me, Lila?" I feel betrayed. I just want to cry like the tutu-wearing candyass that I am.

"Why didn't I tell you I drank half of his fucking drink? Gimme a break Steve!" Her teeth are gritted; I can hear it.

"What did you say to Theresa?"

"Errrr," she growls. "I told her I drank half of his drink. I told her I loved Bacardi. She asked me if I thought Dom was cute. I said yes. Okay?"

"So you think your boss is cute."

"Oh, come on, Steve, like you don't drool over Marie in payroll."

Well, that's different. She wears "fuck me" pumps to work! AND she's got a big rack!

I sigh. She is right, of course.

"I'm sorry baby. I just get jealous now."

"I LIKE that you're jealous."

"Why?"

"Because it shows that you care," she says.

"Are you tired of me yet," I say.

"Never."

I take a deep breath and feel better. This is so hard for me.

"Say it," she says softly, in her little-girl voice.

"Baby, I love you," I say.

She sniffles. "I love you soo much. I would never hurt you, Steve!" Her voice is shaking with the tears. "Please trust me. I would never do anything to hurt you."

"I know, honey."

"OK".

"What are you doing tonight," I say.

"Fucking Dom," she says.

"Smart ass!"

"I'm waiting for you to come visit me," she says. Lila is moving into her new place today.

"Red wine or champagne?" I say.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Meet the parent bourbon-guzzling, foul-mouthed shrew

2:30. My phone rings. I don't recognize the number.

"Hello?"

"Hey! Is Lila around?" Says the smooth voice on the other end.

OK, who the FUCK is this? And why is he looking for Lila? And why does he sound like a used car salesman?

Ahhh, the car guy. Lila gave him my number. Let's see if I can get rid of him.

"Who's THIS?" I say, angrily.

"Well, I, er, I met her the other day, and she gave me this number, and...."

"How old are you, friend?"

"Ah, well, if this is a big deal, you know, well, ah-"

"The questions get harder as they go along!" I say naggingly.

"I'm, uh, 28."

"Do you know how old Lila is?"

Silence.

"SEVENTEEN." Yeah, a little exaggeration.

"Oh, well, I didn't know that. I'm sorry about that, sir. I mean, SHE gave me her number, so I was just calling..."

"Yeah, well she's SEVENTEEN, friend." I'm a little too good at this father-of-a-teenage-girl thing. Should I be afraid?

"Well, as I said," he says, recovering, "she was the one who offered-"

"I don't care," I say dismissively. "Maybe you ought to find someone your own age."

Perfect. He thought I was her dad, but I never actually said so. More truth than lie, just the way I like it.

**********

I can't stop thinking about my run-in with mom yesterday. She did not deserve to be treated that way. Who cares if she was ascerbic and confrontational? My job is to be better than that, to keep my poker face and not let her get to me. Besides, she is sick in the hospital and does not need that kind of stress. I owe her an apology.

I tell Lila what happened.

"You said WHAT?!" Lila says.

"Lila, you have to know the relationship mom and I have."

"Oh, Steve."

"What do you mean, 'Oh, Steve'?"

"Steve, YOU are stronger than that. She's just trying to annoy you. MY mother does it, too."

"Yeah, well, like I said, I'm gonna go apologize."

"Oh, ok, well, I'll talk to you after-"

"You wanna meet her?" I ask.

Yeah, I want her to meet my family. It's almost like SHE is family too.

Am I crazy? Definitely. But my feelings for Lila are starting to spill over into other areas of my life. I'm helping old men change tires. I'm waving to kids on school buses. I smell candles in card shops and say, "Lila would LOVE this one!!"

Oh shit. I go to card shops.

I just hope mom hasn't been sneaking any booze. I imagine her stealing a syringe and injecting vodka into her IV bag, or better yet, mainlining it right up the vein in the crook of her elbow. Don't laugh. mom is a desperate woman.

Lila and I get to mom's room. "Wait here," I say, and head inside.

It's around 6:00. Mom's dinner tray is cast aside, resting on a tall cart. An uneaten plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes is strewn with a chewed styrofoam cup and crumbled napkins.

I stand in the doorway and knock lightly on the jamb.

Mom's eyebrows jump. "Honey!" she shrieks.

Moms have a way of saying "honey" that makes it impossible not to hug them. I walk to her and we embrace. It's hard making myself relax: Part of me fears that mom has swiped a scalpel and is waiting for the right moment to slice a red smiley face between my ears.

"Where was my hard-working man yesterday? Your two brothers came, you know."

She's beaming. Mom has two thin lines on either side of her mouth when she smiles; they make her attractive in a warm, cozy kind of way. It's the smile of mothers in aspirin commercials.

Wait a minute. I WAS here yesterday! Was mom blacked out the whole time?

"Mom, I was here!" I say.

Her smile fades. "What time?" she asks.

"Two, two-thirty."

She rubs the right side of her face with an open palm. "Ho God. I didn't wake up until five."

"Mom, you were awake."

"My eyes were open. I wasn't awake. I don't remember seeing you."

"I see."

"Did I yell? Did I swear at you? I did, didn't I?"

"Nothing unusual, mom."

"C'mere," she says, holding an arm out to me. She takes me by the back of the neck and pulls my head to her chest. She plays with my hair. "Your mommy loves you. You know that, right?"

"I love you too, mom."

She lets me go. "Dr. Patel wants me to go to rehab," she sighs.

"You gonna do it?"

"I don't know." She pulls her lips into her mouth; her eyes close slowly. "I'm scared, honey."

"Me too, mom."

She rubs my chin and studies my face as if readying to paint a portrait. It occurs to me she is trying to memorize my face before she dies.

"Mom, I want you to meet someone," I say.

I lean out the door and motion Lila inside.

She peeks around the door frame, then enters gingerly, with a sheepish smile.

Lila doesn't dress up much, and she's not dressed up today: Faded jeans and my old t-shirt, with her hair flipped over one shoulder. She's the kind of girl who doesn't mind if we can't think of anything to do on a Saturday night.

Mom gasps audibly. "Who are YOU," she says, wide-eyed.

"Lila, this is my mom, Louise. Mom, this is my girlfriend Lila," I say.

My girlfriend Lila. My girlfriend, Lila. Lila, my girlfriend. I don't think I've ever introduced her that way before.

I'm overwhelmed with pride. I'm WITH her! My stomach leaps.

Hey, guess what, mom? I'm actually in something remotely resembling a healthy relationship!!

"My GOD, you are gorgeous," mom says. "Look at those EYES!"

Lila puckers her lips to the side, stifling a grin. I put my arm around her and she pulls me closer.

"It's nice to meet you," Lila says, finally. "I'm so sorry you're sick."

"So how long have you two been dating? Ooooo, sit down, I wanna know ALL about you!" Mom says.

Mom finds out that Lila knits. That's it. Lila's hooked. Mom can be quite the charmer. Now, until Lila sees her drunk, she's going to think that I am the most ungrateful, disrespectful progeny ever to squeeze my way down a birth canal.

They talk for almost an hour. "Steve, go get us some pizza," mom says finally, never taking her eyes off Lila.

And just like that, Mr. hot-shot VP is dodging cars across a busy street, toting the flat, square cardboard box like a pimple-faced delivery boy.

It's 9:30. The pizza box lays open, engulfing the barbie doll-sized sink, with one cold and lonely pepperoni-dotted slice stuck in a corner, facing the wrong way.

Mom and Lila sigh heavily, almost at the same time, then laugh as they subconsciously touch each others' arms.

"Will you come back and see me soon?" Mom says.

"Of COURSE I will, Louise!"

Mom gives her her pretty mom-smile, her head tilted to the side, her eyes absorbing every detail. She's like a photographer, or a documentarian. She's making another memory.

I wonder how long the memory will live.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I know who you are, and you just annoy me

Sometimes I wonder why the fuck I bother with this blog at all.

Even though I dropped my therapist faster than George W. Bush running away from a library, keeping a "journal" has been beneficial to me. I sit down, and I write, and I answer comments, and it relaxes me. The writing is actually very cathartic for me. It helps me collect my thoughts and forces me to think about my actions.

But of course, someone had to fuck with me.

I don't read other blogs that much. In fact, the only reason I can keep up with my own is because I don't go to bed much before 2:30 am any night of the week. But every once in a while, I click on a few blogger friends to see what they are up to - quickly.

And I do mean quickly: If blog-reading were an olympic sport, they'd be testing me for steroids.

I'm hardly the first blogger to describe sex acts in detail. But almost since the very beginning, I'll read someone else's blog, someone who I'm pretty sure has been reading mine, and I'll see something familiar: A turn of phrase I used yesterday, a quote from my post of last week with one word changed, action being described in the present tense, like I am wont to do.

Until now, I have just blown it off. Let's be honest: If the guy has 2,000 hits, total, after 6 months of blogging, what is there to be pissed about? But if the blog is popular, and if entire concepts of mine are being stolen, well...

You might think blogging is easy for me, because I just come home and write down what I did that day. That is somewhat true, but my thoughts don't always make complete sense the first time I type them out: Often, I'm typing my first draft while whacking off to www.thehun.com, and I'll hit errant letters while wiping spoo from my keyboard. What I do takes time, and fine-tuning, and thought. The finished product is MINE.

In my recently-heightened state of maturity, I am capable of deep emotional connections. This blog is my creation, my child: My nine-foot-tall, green-skinned, flat-headed, bolt-necked child. Fuck with my child at your own peril, and mine.

There is a creepy sense of violation I feel when I am reading another blog, and things start sounding familiar, as if the author took my words, shook them up in a bag with a few of his own, then dumped them out again like Scrabble tiles.

You don't fucking fool me, asshole. I know who you are, and you nauseate me. You also confound me, because you don't NEED to do this.

So, if you are stealing from the Steverino, please complete the following steps, and I will promptly remove the pins from the genitalia of the voodoo doll resembling you that hangs in effigy from my monitor:

1. Stand in front of a mirror and repeat "Hi, I'm [state your name] and I am lower than the maggots that feed on 17-day-old, semi-digested food particles in homeless mens' beards" for 45 minutes straight.
2. Acknowledge what you did. Yeah, acknowledge it. Do it privately, if you want. Send me an email or IM me (thet1nmann on AOL IM, BTW). You don't even have to take the posts down. Just tell me what I already know.
3. If you are going to reprint me, FINE. Just credit me. I don't care if you quote me at length, or re-post my whole fucking blog entry. Just be clear about where you got it.

So much for getting caught up...

Monday, September 13, 2004

Where's Norman Rockwell when you need him?

1:00 pm, Monday, September 6. My phone rings.

"This is Steve."

"Steven." My father says, gravely.

When dad uses the name "Steven," he's either pissed at me, or someone died.

Did mom die? Is she dead?

"Dad? What is it," I say.

"Your mother's back in the hospital. She had an....incident last night."

"Oh, no."

"She was drinking all night at Pins n' Needles."

Charming establishment, by the way. Singular ambience. Twenty-five-cent drafts just taste a little sweeter with that bowling alley smell mixed in.

"She's off the wagon ALREADY?"

"Yes, Steve. Evidently, she left there around closing time, and someone found her in the morning, about 100 yards from her house."

"Where?"

"Neighbor's front lawn."

"Jesus."

"Guy got up and saw her, and called 911, and they took her to the hospital."

"So are you there now, at the hospital?"

"Yeah, just got here. I only heard about a half hour ago."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Your mother doesn't carry identification, so they had no idea who she was. Luckily Dr. Patel was on duty and he recognized her."

"So how is she? Did she wake up?"

"She's very, very bad, Steve. Her blood alcohol level was over .20 when they brought her in."

"WHAT??"

"And that's after being passed out for a few hours. Dr. Patel says one more like that and she won't wake up again."

"So she did wake up?"

"Yeah, she's still kind of out of it, but she's awake. You should come see her."

It should be easy to explain to your coworkers that you are leaving the office to see a sick parent: "Sorry guys, gotta go see my dad. He fell off his tractor and broke his collarbone." Or, "Mom's diverticulitis is acting up again. See you in the morning." But in my case, I have to be careful.

The truth, the WHOLE truth, wouldn't sound good: "Well, mom pretty much wants to die, and what with the high cost of embalming, she figured she'd defray her posthumous expenses by pickling her internal organs with Southern Comfort before she croaks. But sometimes she gets a little overzealous and wakes up in a puddle of her own puke."

I tell a few people where I am off to. "Mom's got cirrhosis very bad," I say. Yeah, it's true. But that's not why she's at the hospital, so I guess I am lying. Not that it's anyone's business anyway.

2:30. I am standing next to mom's bed. Her eyelids are half-open, and her skin has again turned to a sickly yellow. There is an IV in the back of her hand. Monitors beep and flash red numbers behind her bed.

"You look like you could use a drink," I say.

"Make itta double," she slurrs.

"Mom, what are you trying to do here, huh? I thought you were on the wagon!"

"Fuck th'wagon," she says drowsily. She blinks a few times and her eyes open wider.

"Mom, if we're gonna get you a liver we have to-"

"They're not gonna give me a liver," she says, fully awake now. "You think they're gonna give a liver to an old drunk like me? Fergeddit! They don't give a shit about me! They're gonna let me die!"

"But mom, if you stay sober...."

"AAAAAAAHHHH," she says, waving her had at me and averting her eyes. "Steve, your mother is gonna die."

"Mom, you don't know that!"

"Yes I do," she says. "And I'll be damned if I'm gonna stop having fun."

"Yeah mom. Passing out and wetting your pants sounds like a real party."

"I didn't wet my pants."

"And that catheter going up your front porch? Just like a ride on Space Mountain, right?"

"I'm leaving here today. I'm not staying anymore. No more doctors, no more medicine, NOTHING. I'm DONE," she says. "What the hell is the point? Stop drinking, so I can stay sick for another 4 or 5 months before I go? Forget about it."

"WE are the point, mom. Greg and Chris and me, and dad. And Jenny, and everyone else who gives a crap about you. You wanna have fun? Spend time with the family. Make it count!"

"You don't care about me ONE bit. All this time none of ya bothered to spend any time with yer mother. Now I'm sick and you're all around."

"Yeah, we obviously have ulterior motives. We're all fighting over who gets your refrigerator magnets in the will."

"Don't be a fucking smart ass," she snaps.

"You know what, mom? You've got a lot of nerve. After walking the hell out on us, now YOU'RE pissed that WE didn't come looking for you? YOU'RE the parent. YOU'RE the one who's supposed to find US, not the other way around."

"Just watch your smart little mouth," she growls, her lips pulled so far back that her gums are exposed. "You're such a goddamn know-it-all. You didn't get that from me, that's for sure."

"Yeah, that's true mom, 'cause you don't know shit!" I'm starting to raise my voice.

"Yeah, I don't know shit. It's all your mother's fault. Blame your mother for everything. I musta done something right! The three of ya's have good jobs, nice cars, everything. So I guess I'm not as bad as you say."

"Yeah, you did something right. You left."

"FINE, Steve, FINE!!!" She yells. "I'm the biggest loser in the world! So don't whine and bitch and piss and moan at me about not coming back! If you're better off without me, then what the FUCK are you doing here?"

"Good question, mom." I grab my keys.

"You're an ungrateful little motherfucker, you know that? You never appreciate anything. You never once said thank you for anything. It's all about you, Steve! ALLL about you! Your big job and all your fucking money, and you don't give a shit about anything."

"I learn from my mother, I guess!" I sneer.

"Get outta here!" she yells.

"FUCK YOU, YOU LOUSY DRUNK!"

"GET THE HELL OUT!" She shrieks.

Another heartwarming family memory. Gotta remember this one for the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

At least she didn't say, "Bavarian Kreme..."

I am posting on a weekend - again - because I am trying to get caught up. Enjoy....

**********

Thursday, September 2.

She's on my bed. It's perfectly quiet. A neighbor's garage spotlight casts a soft white glow over the room through the half-closed blinds.

She's on her stomach, her long hair twisted in a lazy ponytail and flipped next to her head, exposing her naked back and the steep round curve of her backside.

I'm still dressed. I straddle her lower back and kiss the side of her mouth. We look at each other for a long time.

**********

I stare dreamily at Lila's taut midriff as she places a box of Pendaflex folders on a high shelf. She cries out in pain.

"What happened," I say, snapping out of my dirty daydream.

"My shoulder," she says, reaching under her arm and rubbing at her upper back.

Dominick walks by, his cologne-cloud close behind. Our respective man-scents wrestle each other invisibly in the middle of the room. Smells like a draw.

Gotta go for 8 sprays tomorrow, instead of the usual 5. Either that, or wear less, and make him look like the Guido that he is.

"She's just looking for sympathy," Dom says softly, smiling. "She wants me to bring her some chocolate donuts."

"No, I like honey," she says, raising her eyebrows at him.

Ok, what the fuck was THAT about?

**********

The bottle says "Stress Relief Massage Oil". It's got apricot kernel extract in it. Since when do apricots have kernels?

I open the bottle. It smells sweet, fruity, and....comforting, like a holiday dessert that my grandmother would serve to a table full of overstuffed, semi-sleeping relatives.

I tip the bottle. The liquid is thinner than I expected. It overflows my cupped fingers and cascades onto her back, streaming down her side and onto my maroon bed sheets.

She rolls up on her left side and looks back at me. "Do I need to take that away from you," she says, with a smile and sidelong eyes.

**********

"Dom wants to take me and Bonnie to dinner tonight," Lila says.

"So go."

"Are you ok with that?"

"I'm ok with you getting to know your boss. I'm NOT ok with him flirting with you."

"Me neither!"

"Call me if you need me," I say.

"I'll call to say good night."

"OK".

**********

I snap awake. I am sitting at my computer. I look at the clock in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. It's 9:43.

Is she still with him?

**********

The oil is soft and warm. It soothes me, too, as I work it into her back.

Her flesh is soft and supple, like modelling clay. I knead it firmly between my thumb and fingers, and I can feel her tension melting away.

Her shoulder blade is tight to the touch. "Ow!" she says, softly, as I gently squeeze the muscle.

This is going to take time.

I rub. I smooth out with the heel of my hand. I rub again. I feel the knot reluctantly give way, and there is another one underneath. Eventually the knots are gone.

It's been almost an hour since I started.

I massage my way down her back, and work on the area just above her waist. I return to the sore shoulder blade. It's had 10 minutes to recover. I press it with my thumb.

"Ow!" She says. It's tightening up again.

I release a few more knots.

"It's getting better," she says. "You are incredible."

No, just patient. And horny.

**********

9:59. The doorbell.

I open the door. It's Lila. She is smiling.

"Hey baby!" she says, hugging me with her left arm.

"This is a....surprise," I say.

"I missed you. And I have a huge favor to ask you," she says, looking up at me with her eyelids flickering.

A threesome? No problem. With anyone but The Greasy Goon.

"What's that?"

"Would you give me a massage? My shoulder is killing me."

"We'll talk about it," I say, smiling.

I pour her a glass of wine.

"How was dinner," I say, finally. It's been killing me. A three-hour "dinner" usually involves bar hopping, clubbing, or blow jobs in parking lots.

"It was ok. He took us to Clara's."

Clara's is a very expensive Italian restaurant. Dom's finely-tuned palate and sense of culinary sophistication is going to cost the company about $200.

"We waited an hour and a half for a table," she says.

"Didn't you have a reservation?"

"Yes! But they had a problem with one of their grills and they were way behind. They were giving away free drinks, but they wouldn't serve to me."

"Really?"

"But Dom got drunk, and after dinner he tried to get me to drive him home in his car."

That motherfucker.

This is an old trick. Get loaded, or LOOK like you are getting loaded, and then tell the chick that you are too drunk to drive, and get her to drive you home in your car. Then, you're guaranteed to get her into your house, at least long enough to call a cab. But in the meantime, you're making your move.

"Where was Bonnie?"

"It was getting too late, so she took off before dinner was even over."

"So what did you do?"

"You're jealous!"

"No I'm not," I say, holding my jaw firmly.

"Yes you are, baby," she says, plopping down in my lap.

She smoothes my hair with her fingers. "You really do love me, don't you?"

"Lila! Of COURSE I do! So, how did Dom get home?"

"We called a cab. I had them drop me off at work so I could get my car, and then I guess he went back to the hotel."

**********

Her ass has been on my mind since she laid down naked on the bed. My cock throbs achingly each time my hand brushes against her soft, white globes.

Half the bottle of oil is gone. I pour out another handful and go to work on her beautiful bottom, kneading and palming, enjoying the way her flesh gives under my hands.

Her back rises and falls a little faster. A little moan escapes her closed mouth as she exhales.

I pull her sweet mounds apart, exposing a tiny puckered hole, like a little starfish. It is spotlessly clean.

I lick it.

"Make love to me," she says.

She lays perfectly still as my pants crumple to the floor, her head down, her naked body completely exposed to me, totally vulnerable to my whim. She trusts me, too.

I kneel on the bed. She is licking her fingers.

She lifts a knee under her body, then reaches between her legs and grabs my cock, rubbing softly, gently. She slides it against her twat. She is drenched. It occurs to me that her natural juices are not at all unlike the massage oil.

My cock is thick and hard, throbbing with anticipation. She slides me into her with a low groan.

I reach over and take her breast into my hand, firm and turgid in my grasp. I feel her hard nipple between my fingers. Our hips are in perfect rhythm, together, apart, together, apart.

I let go of her boob and grab the oil bottle, running my fingers along the top, just below the cap. There is a thin coating of oil on my fingers. Perfect.

I reach around and swirl my fingers around her clit. Her body stiffens. She reaches back with her right hand. I put my hand in hers, and she squeezes urgently.

"Uhhhh," she moans.

As her body relaxes, I release the full force of my orgasm inside her. She whips her hair around and stares at me as I come. I am shaking.

**********

"Hey," I say.

"Hm?"

"What was that donut thing about today?"

She tells me the story that Dom told her: When he was in college, he belonged to a fraternity that did not get along with the sorority across the street. So one day, the guys sent over a dozen donuts with a nice note saying they wanted to reconcile. The girls ate them. A few days later, the guys sent the girls a picture of themselves with the donuts around their dicks.

I explain to Lila that that story has been around forever, and that it is an urban legend. I heard the same thing on my campus when I was in school.

"You mean he LIED?"

"Yep. Hey," I say. "That whole thing about the honey..."

"I know, I felt like such a slut for saying that. It came out all wrong."

"I didn't like that," I say.

She looks me dead in the eye. "You have NOTHING to worry about. I would never hurt you, never ever."

"I love you," I say.

"I want my massage," she says. "You're the only one who does it right."