Monday, January 31, 2005

DIALING under the influence

Many of you ask me if Lila and I still keep in touch. Yes, we do. But with the way the calls have been going lately, sometimes I wish we didn't.

It's January 14, around 10:30. Steph is asleep on the couch. My phone rings.

"Hello?"

"Hey."

"Hi! How are you?"

"OK."

"How's it going?"

"Shitty."

"Why shitty?"

"You're an asshole."

"Why am I an asshole?"

"You just are."

"I'm not sure what you want me to say, Lila."

"You used me."

"I USED you? Do you know the trouble I could have gotten into for being with you?"

Something of a lame excuse, yeah. But until she calls me on it, I'm using it.

"That's bullshit. The boss fucking LOVES you. You could have gotten away with it."

Guess she's calling me on it.

"Is that right?"

"Yeah. I would have quit for you. All you had to do was say so and I would have quit. I would have done ANYTHING for you. And you fucking DUMPED me. After a YEAR!"

"It's time to move on. I'm with someone else, you're with someone else..."

"I hate you. You think you can just... move on after you dump me."

"It wasn't working out! What am I supposed to do? Mourn for the rest of my life?"

"YOU said it wasn't working out! I never said that! It WAS working out! You just got tired of me and dumped me!"

"What do you mean, it was working out? You were being a major bitch to me every day!"

"Because YOU were acting like an asshole!"

"So everything was fine, then?"

"For me it was."

"Fine, then I'm an asshole. So why are you calling then?"

"You're such a dick!"

OK, make up your mind here, honey: Asshole or dick? Choose a body part and stick with it.

"Fine, I'm a dick."

"Fuck you!" click.

I turn around. Steph is sitting up, staring at me.

Two minutes pass. My phone rings again. I look back at Steph.

"You gonna answer?"

"No."

"Just answer it."

"Hello?"

Lila is crying.

"It's ok."

"I love you so much. I miss you."

"Lila, you have Trey now. Aren't you guys still together?"

"He's an asshole."

Pretty soon, we'll have enough for an asshole convention!

"OK."

"Can I come over?"

"No."

"Is she there?"

"Yes."

More crying.

"Lila. It wasn't right, you and me. It wasn't gonna work."

"Do you love her?"

"That's not relevant."

"DO you?"

"Yeah. Yes, I do."

"So you just used me until you found someone you liked, then."

"OK, Lila, you're just being crazy now."

"Is she prettier than me? Or better in bed? Or smarter? Is she fucking PERFECT?"

"Lila, I'm hanging up now."

"Wait!"

"What?"

"Can I ask you a question? Before you go get laid?"

"What, Lila."

"Did you cheat on me with her?"

Well, let's see. We were kind of unofficially broken up, and then Steph blew me. Crazy story: I came right in her eye that first night. Funny, eh?

"I don't see the relevance."

"DID you?"

"Lila, stop doing this to yourself-"

"DID you!?"

"No. I gotta go."

Click.

Friday, January 28, 2005

"You're so vain...you prob'ly think this blog is about you"

You are killing me.

Lately I find myself thinking about you while I am shaving, or ironing my shirt, or changing the filter in the coffeemaker. Anytime my mind is clear you wander in, like the cool breeze that finds its way through my window screen just after sundown on a June evening.

I get nervous tingles when I see your picture and watch you stare back at me. Your eyes are happy and shiny and sexy and alive. You have the giddy smile of a young girl who hasn't yet plucked her first grey hair or stressed out over a baby's rash. It's a smile that makes me want to put my mouth over yours and feel the heat of your lips against mine.

I want to kiss you. I want you to let out a breathy moan as your tongue slithers wetly against mine and your hands wander through my hair, your nails grazing my scalp.

I want to smell your perfume. And your hair. And your entire body, right after you climb out of the bathtub and dab the water off with a fluffy towel.

I want to taste you. I want to run my tongue over your bellybutton and the valley between your tits. I want to suck your bottom lip and bite your nipples and lick the hollow place just underneath your ear.

I want to stand back and look at your naked body as you smile at me and unabashedly show me everything God gave you.

I want to tease you. I want to eat your pussy until you throb with anticipation, and then I want you to look seductively up at me as you run your tongue along the spot where cock meets balls. Because teasing is what we do, isn't it?

We are big flirts, you and I. We make suggestive comments, and act as though we don't even realize it. But we are choosing our words carefully, aren't we? Our fingers float agonizingly above the keys, don't they, as we decide on just the right words, the words that will achieve the desired effect. And there IS a desired effect, isn't there, my dear?

We talk about sex. We talk about penises and vaginas and asses and breasts. We talk about who we have fucked, and who we would like to fuck, and who we would NEVER fuck. Things get a little warm sometimes, and it's all I can do not to abandon my keyboard and lay myself down on the couch, grabbing hold of my cock and stroking myself straight to Heaven, all the time envisioning your sweet smile.

It's just flirting.

Isn't it?

It's hard flirting with someone you can't touch, especially for people who like sex as much as we do. The buildup, the anticipation, always has a sour tinge to it when I remember that we can't end our little chats by attacking each other. That disappoints you, too, doesn't it?

You want it, too. Admit it. Your fingers find their way between your legs when we talk, don't they? You get wet when the conversation turns dirty, don't you? It lubricates you to think about me filling you with my stiff rod. Doesn't it?

You think about us fucking each other's brains out. You think about us foreplaying and fucking and afterplaying and fucking again. The idea occurs to you randomly throughout the day, just like it does to me. You burn with lust, like I do, but if you're like me, you've kept most of the salacious details to yourself. It seems so much dirtier that way.

You've got it just as bad as I do. Someday, we'll meet in person. And when we finally occupy the same room, we'll shake hands cordially, and as my skin touches yours for the first time, we'll exchange a knowing look. After that, I bet we don't hold out an hour.

Someday.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Donald would be proud

Tuesday, January 11.

Two people have stopped me in the hallway to thank me for intervening on their behalf on the health insurance issue this morning.

I'm glad that they are pleased, but how the hell do they know that I did anything?

"Bonnie, get Paul in here, please."

Five minutes later, Paul is standing in my doorway.

"Has someone been talking to the employees about TLQ?"

"There's a lot of buzz out there. Apparently someone's calling them. I'm guessing it's someone from TLQ and not here."

"Aren't they calling us today with their plan?"

"They said three days, right? Today is the third business day."

We call Marna's office. Her assistant says she would like to schedule a conference call for 1:00. OK, when was she going to call and ask for an appointment?

"Go out and speak to a few of these people before 1:00 and find out who's calling them," I tell Paul.

**********

12:30. I am eating at my desk, as usual. "Paul is here to see you," Bonnie says.

"OK."

Paul takes a seat across from me. He's got a FedEx envelope in his hand. "TLQ is calling our employees and telling them that all their old insurance claims are being paid."

"I see."

"They're telling them that they're releasing payment without delay."

"Sounds good."

"No, it doesn't." He holds up the envelope. "Here's the first round of checks they wrote."

Our plan is self-funded, meaning that, up to a certain dollar amount, we pay our employee's medical claims out of the company's money. It sounds expensive, but it's actually cheaper this way. Also, we're usually able to pay a discounted rate.

"How much is there?" I say. I'm starting to get nervous.

"Thirty-seven thousand dollars," he says.

GULP.

"It gets worse. You know Libby, from the call center?"

"Yeah."

"There's a claim in here for her husband. Chemotherapy, or something. A really big one. And it's a pre-existing condition, something that he had BEFORE he came on our insurance. It shouldn't be covered under our plan. She's submitted claims before for this and they've been rejected, as they should be."

"How do you know all this?"

"I know because she tells me the whole story every time I pass her in the hallway!"

I look at him, rubbing my chin.

"Don't you see what this means, Steve? They're just paying the old claims to get rid of them quickly! They're not checking to see whether or not they're covered under the POLICY!"

"Jesus Christ," I say. "And now, they're calling employees to tell them their bills are being paid!"
"See what I mean?"

"If they make representations to the effect that they are going to pay these claims, the employees are gonna try to hold them to it," I say.

"Especially Libby!" he says.

Dan Johnson can't make the conference call today. I call Marna's office.

"Your conference call is scheduled for 1:00," Marna's assistant says.

"Get her on the phone now," I say.

"Sir, I am happy to help you, but we don't tolerate rudeness."

"THE NEXT CALL IS COMING FROM AN ATTORNEY!" I shout.

"One moment, please."

"This is Marna."

"Marna. Steve and Paul."

"Gentlemen!! What can I do for you?"

"Marna, I'm looking at $37,000 worth of 90-day-old claims here."

"Yes. We FedExed them last night for your signature."

"Did anyone review these claims to make sure they were covered under the PLAN?"

"Of COURSE, Steve."

"So why do we have an $8,000 payment for chemotherapy for a pre-existing condition?"

Silence.

"If we released it, it must be covered."

"It's not," says Paul.

"There must be some misunderstanding. It just can't be."

"How many of these other ones are not covered, I wonder," Paul says.

"I'll need to get with my team, and we can discuss this further on our 1:00 call. We've been working non-stop on our plan over the weekend and yesterday."

"I can't feel good about any plan," I say. "I can't feel good about anything you say to me when I see an $8,000 check cut in error."

"Steve, I am sure there's some misunderstanding," Marna says. She sounds more confident today. "I mean, are you SURE that's chemo? Maybe it's something else. Our people don't release claims for non-covered services. Were we slow? Yes. Do we have more work to do? Yes. But the complaints that you were getting were for NON-payment, not OVER-payment."

"That doesn't mean you can't make a mistake," Paul says.

"We're all prone to error. But I would be shocked if that was wrong."

"We'll call you at one," I say. We hang up.

Paul and I call the hospital and inquire about Libby's husband's bill, taking copious notes. Then we call Marna back.

"Marna, Steve and Paul."

"Gentlemen!"

"Marna, it was chemotherapy. You're fired."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The power of persuasion (a.k.a., the shortest post of 2005)

"Steph, have you ever kissed another girl?"

"Keep dreamin', Steve."

Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Biting Biding my time

I am reminded of the scene from Pink Floyd: The Wall in which Pink (Bob Geldof) flies into a drug-addled rage and trashes his trailer, smashing every breakable object into unrecognizable bits.

After he calms down, he squats silently, organizing miniscule pieces of wood and glass into orderly patterns on the floor.

I sit for a long time on the couch, listening to the hum of the hard drive in my cable box and basking in the silence.

I love my house. It was a total dump when I bought it: Holes in the walls, peeling paint, cracked floor tiles. I renovated it room by room, with a lot of help from my friend Paulie. Together we made it into a really comfortable place to come home to. And he hardly comes over anymore.

Everything has its place in my house. Issues of Maxim, Stuff, Sports Illustrated and GQ lay neatly in the magazine rack, spine up, in chronological order. Each month, I put the newest ones in the front, and throw the oldest ones away. My bath towels are grouped by color. The milk has a designated spot on the top refrigerator shelf. All these things help me breathe and think more easily. It's nuts, I know, but people comment all the time on how "cozy" my house is, and I believe a big part of that is how it is so uncluttered.

I have routines, and I freak when I get knocked out of them. Stephanie knows this. I have no idea what happened with Toby, but he must have gone totally apeshit for her not to be able to control him. From the look on her face, she knew how upset I was going to be.

Time to clean up.

If you are cleaning anything, it's best to go from the top down. No sense cleaning a floor, is it, if you are going to dust your coffee table and dirty the carpet afterwards.

I wipe the milk off the TV and wall. I scoop up the ring dings, carefully, and pick up the black stains with Resolve. I didn't get all of them, and maybe never will. That bothers me; it's like knowing I have a scar that will never completely heal.

It takes me an hour to clean the room, but it's 100% back to normal, minus a very expensive vase. I don't want Stephanie's money, though. I just don't want any more young visitors.

My arm is throbbing. I cleaned it out with alcohol and antibiotic ointment, and bandaged it, but it doesn't feel right. It's almost like he tore a muscle or something.

I sit down on the couch, and I'm starting to feel better. I go to the bathroom to take a leak.

My bathroom smells like a nursing home. My skin crawls as I inhale the musty, pissy odor.

If there is any room in my house that I am truly anal about, it's the bathroom. I wipe the toilet rim after pissing, and clean the floors at least once a week. I wipe down the sink after brushing my teeth and clean the little spit-drops off the mirror.

My phone rings. Steph.

"Hello."

"I'm sorry."

I sigh. "I know."

"He was totally out of control, Steve."

"I TOLD you."

"I know you did. I thought I could do it! I really did!"

"I know."

She pauses. "I wanna pay for the vase."

"I don't want your money."

"I WANT to. Please let me."

"No."

"Please?"

"Steph, my bathroom smells like piss. It smells like fucking PISS!"

"I'm SORRY!" She is weeping.

"Alright," I say.

"Will you at least let me help you clean up?"

"Already done."

"Can I come back over?"

"Is the sister there?"

"Yeah."

"Of course you can come over. Alone!"

She chuckles. "You mean I can't bring Toby over for dinner?"

I laugh. "Not unless he's deep fried."

"Steee-eve!" she laughs.

3:50. Steph walks through the door and closes it softly behind her. We stare at each other. She walks over and hugs me, collapsing into sobs.

"I feel SO bad. It's all my fault," she cries.

"It's ok."

"Noooo, he ruined your carpet and your bathroom and your vase, and..."

"Shhhhh." I pat the back of her head.

She puts her head against my chest, clinging tightly to me.

"You worked so hard on your house and he just....ruined it and it's all my fault!"

Steph hardly ever cries. She certainly isn't the drama queen that Lila was. If Stephanie sheds a tear, it's something serious.

"Stephanie. It's all right," I say. "I cleaned it up; it's all over."

I put my finger under her chin and lift her head up. Her big eyes rise to meet mine. "Are you gonna look at me?" I ask.

"Mmm-hmm," she says, sniffling.

"No more babysitting?"

"No more babysitting."

**********

6:45. The doorbell rings.

I open the door. It's Linda. She's carrying a spray bottle and a rag. "I heard Toby made a mess," she says, matter-of-factly.

"All taken care of, Linda."

"I heard he made a mess in the bathroom."

"All clean." I start to close the storm door.

"I know he's a handful," she laughs.

"That's good you know he's a handful," I say.

She reaches into the pocket of her pants and pulls up a round wad of cash. She holds it out to me
like a baseball. "I wanna pay for your vase. This is all I have right now."

What the fuck is it with this vase, anyway? I've seen strippers get less cash thrown at them!

"I don't want your money."

She looks down, defeated. "It's...all I have right now.." she says, softly.

"Linda, forget the vase. I just think it's best that Toby not come over here anymore."

She turns and mopes back up the driveway without another word.

8:00. Steph speaks to her friend Chantel, the nurse. "She says anytime a bite breaks the skin, you need a tetanus shot."

Maybe while they're at it, they can take a DNA sample from the wound and try to identify Toby's species.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Note to self: Buy rat poison

"What's wrong, Steve?"

"I gotta go to work."

"Who's calling you? Dom?"

"No, it's the alarm company. Alarms are tripping all over the place at work."

She rolls up her window. "Can I watch Toby? Just until Linda's sister comes back?"

"Steph, she's just gonna keep taking advantage of us-"

"If I don't want to do it next time, I'll say no!"

"Promise?"

"Promise."

"I can't believe I'm considering this."

"Steve, I used to babysit triplets, you know. If I can handle three, I think I can handle one."

"This kid ain't right though."

"I can do it."

"You sure?"

"Trust me."

"OK. He stays in the family room. No kitchen, no dining room, no living room. And as soon as the chimney guys are done, he goes home and you watch him there."

"And when her sister calls, she takes over."

"I'll be back shortly," I say. Steph gets out of the car; I take off.

**********

"Did you trip the alarm?" I ask the cleaning lady at my office.

Blank stare. She's quite attractive, really: She's maybe 23, tops, and she always wears tight jeans, exposing that mouth-watering gap between the tops of her thighs.

Her mouth moves silently. She's got no clue what the hell I am saying.

"The ALARM," I say, punching imaginary keys with my right index finger.

"Ohhhhh, ohh," she says. "Yes."

"So the alarm went off?"

"A-al-arm?"

Oh, for Christ's fucking sake. I wish I could speak her language. I speak some Italian, but I basically know no Spanish at all. Maybe there's someone around here who could translate....

I got it! "Is Pablo here today?"

"Pablo, Pablo yeah!" she says, smiling.

"Where is he?"

"Where?" she repeats, with a narrow-eyed look.

"Never mind."

I run to the stairwell, hop down one flight and open the door. Dead silence.

Another floor. I hear the sound of vacuuming. I open the door, and there is Pablo, his "vacuum pack" on his back.

"Pablo, did someone trip the alarm upstairs?"

He turns off the vacuum. "Yeah, Consuelo did. I guess she put the wrong code in. I hear the alarm going off; so I go up there and put in the code," he says in a thick Hispanic accent.

The cops come. I explain to them what happened, and they question Consuelo at length. Apparently, she had not worked for a while and forgot the code. The code she was putting in was one digit off, and that immediately notifies the alarm company.

I've gotta get out of here. That little bastard is probably trashing my house as we speak.

I race home.

**********

It's very quiet at my house. I'm almost afraid to open the door, but I do.

Steph is sitting on the family room floor. She looks up at me with puppy-dog eyes, her face pale.

"Steve. I'll clean it up," she says. She is hugging Toby, their faces pressed tightly together. He is eyeing me without a word.

My family room is trashed.

Shredded magazine pages everywhere. Couch cushions askew. Milk splashed across my TV screen and the wall next to it. There's a ring ding on the floor, part of it squashed into the carpet.

I walk slowly towards the front of the room. A basket of folded clothes is turned over; shirts, pants and boxers are strewn on the couch, the floor, the coffee table.

Something catches my eye and I walk over to it.

My $200 Lenox vase is smashed to bits.

I pick it up. Half the vase has been pulverized into tiny shards, but the other half is intact. It's jagged-edged, like the Phantom of the Opera's mask.

I look to Steph and Toby. My head turns slowly, as if underwater.

"I'll pay for it, Steve."

My heart races. My palms sweat, and my hands shake. I can feel my breathing quicken as I open my mouth to speak.

"I want him....OUT of here."

"NOOO!" Toby shreiks. It's a shrill, high-pitched cry that makes me jump.

"Toby, you broke Mr. Steve's vase. He's very upset about that."

"Very upset"? No, that's not quite getting it for me. How about, "Mr. Steve wants to rip your spine out and use it for a back scratcher?"

"Toby, get your shoes on," I say quietly.

"No! I wanna stay here!"

I look down. There's another ring ding, ground into the carpet. I fling the unbroken part of the vase against the wall. It smashes loudly into pieces. I can feel my face harden as I grind my teeth at the two of them.

"OUT! NOW!"

"Toby, we're gonna go back to your house now," Steph says.

"NOOOOOOO!" he shreiks again. He breaks free of her grip, knocking her down, and bolts towards the living room.

I grab him as he runs by and lift him in the air, his feet flailing wildly.

"Get his shoes."

"Put me down! Put me DOOWWWWN!"

I sit down on the couch, laying him down flat with his legs across my lap. I hold his shins down as he thrashes and squirms, and Steph rushes over to put his shoes on. I turn to Toby just in time to see his mouth open hugely, sharp teeth exposed, like a Tyrannasaurus Rex.

He grabs my forearm and bites down savagely. Needles of pain shoot fiercely into my skin. He pulls his mouth away and he has torn my flesh. I am bleeding.

"JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!" I yell. I know I shouldn't be swearing in front of a kid. Maybe I'll apologize later. If Toby is still alive.

I put my hand under his jaw and force it closed; his teeth clack faintly together. Steph crams his shoes onto his feet and grabs his coat.

"Stand him up," she says.

I grab him and stand him upright, my arms around his waist. She positions his arms out in front of him.

"Hold his arms." I do.

She flips his coat upside-down and slides the sleeves over his arms, then lifts them up over his head. Just like that, his coat is on.

Wow, nice trick! Now, just clean up my family room and I'll be REALLY impressed!

She puts a hand on Toby's shoulder and guides him out the door.

"You forgot your coat," I say, throwing it to her. Our eyes meet.

"I'm sorry, Steve."

I turn away in disgust.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Past blogger chicks featured on Stevo's blog

November 2006 - February 2007
Ashley!
"You know why I am blogger chick of the month? Because I am an earnest believer that sex is like wrestling: raw, sweaty fun that is taped weekly."


January - November 2006
Blondage!
"I often fantasize about Steve standing behind me as I am bent over his desk..skirt flipped up...panties down...waiting...wondering...shaking my ass at him. Does he know what a bad girl I am? Does he know I want it rough? Will he spank me until I cum...?"

January 2006
Emily!
"I'm pretty sure that the only reason I was deemed blogger chick of the month is because Steve has pictures of my boobs. And speaking of boobs, When I finally get to suck on Shannon Elizabeth's, I'm totally going to let Steve watch."

December 2005
Jen!
"After cleaning furiously I sat in the shower with the hot water relaxing me, taking me to a safe, warm place... and I had orgasm after mindrushing orgasm. It was probably because I read too many of Steve's stories last night."

November 2005
Magda!
"For the right person, I can be a very naughty girl. There's nothing I love more than someone who knows how to shut my smart little mouth, someone who knows how to make me beg, someone who knows how to break me."

October 2005
Jess!
Quote: "Money is power, and sex is power, therefore getting
money for sex is simply an exchange of power."

July - September 2005
Ashley!
Quote: Sometimes I push myself to keep doing sit ups through the pain just so I can one day see the mischievous look on Steve's face when I "climb out of the bathtub and dab the water off with a fluffy towel." Plus, Steve desperately wants to "fill me with his stiff rod" despite the fact that I'm not in high school, and don't have a gigantic forehead and bulbous eyes.

June 2005
Margaux!
Quote: "Now that i'm actually 18, I might need a fake ID to look 17... the younger the better, right Steve?"

May 2005
The Amorous Rocker!
Quote: "Licking cake icing off of Lila's pussy. Using a popsicle as a dildo on Vicky. Steve truly gives new meaning to the phrase "Sweet Treats"!"

April 2005
Stephanie! (A different one)
Quote: "Steve's blog is like a drug. Completely addicting and such a ride. I would like to see what kind of ride his cock would give me in all my warm holes."

March 2005
Lori!
Quote: "Three things I have in common with Steverino: Writing, Orgasms, and Pink Floyd. Someday when I find out where Steve lives, I'm coming over to his house to do a "Dark Side of the Rainbow" and whatever else pops up...."

February 2005
Christina
Quote: "The hot, fast car. The sleek large desk. The power at the office. The multiple orgasm inducing talents in the bedroom. Where do I sign up to be Steve's next wrong girl to persue?"

December 2004 - January 2005
Foxy [WARNING: NUDITY]
Quote: "Id fuck steve so well he'd forget his own name"

December 2004
Girlielockhart
Quote: "When I read Steve's blog, I find myself wishing he'd find a way to travel down my way sometime. I'd make it worth his time - I'd suck his cock like no one's ever done before, then I'd beg him to fuck me until we were both cumming out of control."

November - December 2004
Slippery Sweet
Quote: "I'd like to flick my tongue over Stevo's head, feel him shiver under my hands, and make him cum a hundred different ways."

November 2004
Paige
Quote: "I don't have any qualms with being a slut- as long as I am the one to say it."

September - October 2004
Missy Mae
Quote is MIA...sorry guys! But if I recall correctly, it was something about getting with another girl (as long as a bit of alcohol was involved).

Saturday, January 22, 2005

So hot it's scary.


Eva Longoria Posted by Hello

Long, dark hair. Smoldering, chocolate brown eyes. A bumpless nose, just slightly turned up at the end. Thick, juicy lips that curl up a bit in the corners. Teeth like porcelain. A tight, gently curved jawline. Even her toenails turn me on.

Is there ANY part of this woman that is not perfect?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Love in a phone booth, part II

"......not sure........gotta.......actually..........today......."

I'm hearing maybe every third word Michael says. Steph has my belt undone and is slipping her hand inside my boxers. The cold finds its way to my lower half immediately, freezing my twig and berries as if my underwear wasn't even on.

I really want to get that plaque today, but if I don't, I don't. From what I gather, he might not be able to wait for me.

"I understand, Michael. I'll be...there...."

She slides her hand under my sweater and pinches my nipple. This girl is really going for broke, isn't she?

".....as soon as....I....can-"

She kisses me square on the lips before the words are even totally out of my mouth. I slam the receiver down as the kissing intensifies.

"Are you trying to drive me crazy?" I ask.

"Mmm-hmmm."

I slide my hand under the waistband of her sweats. She's wearing a thong.

"You are so sexy when you talk on the phone," she says.

"Is that right?"

"Yeahhh," she moans.

I pull her sweats down about six inches. We are maybe 100 yards from the road; I can hear the cars racing past. Are we really going to do this?

"Oh my God I am freezing," she says.

I put both hands on the globes of her ass and pull her against me. She puts her foot on an empty bottom windowsill, and we grind our hips together, desperately, urgently.

I put my hand under her sweater, and the t-shirt she is wearing beneath it. No bra; her tits are warm and hard.

"Brrrrrrrr," she says, shivering. "Your hands are like ice!"

"Car?"

"Car."

I walk around to the driver's side. She follows. "You first," she says.

I climb in and move my seat back as far as it will go. She straddles my legs, facing me. I watch intently as she slips her sweats down, exposing her firm, shapely thighs. The warm air feels good blasting out of the car's heater.

I slip my pants down, not off. We need to be able to make a quick getaway.

She stares at me with big eyes, her mouth slightly open, and lowers herself slowly onto me, never looking away from my face. Somehow, the feeling of penetrating her seems more intense when I am not looking.

I put my hand on her naked ass as it rises and falls in smooth, silent rhythm. I watch her arm muscles strain as she grips the seat behind me for balance. I listen to the sound of her breath, quick and shallow.

"That feels so fucking good," I say.

"Oh yeah," she says, closing her eyes. She lowers her torso against me and her grinding slows almost to a halt.

A car passes in front of us, slowing to almost a complete stop as it goes by.

I put my hand behind her, just underneath her butt, so I can feel myself sliding in and out of her.

"I want you to suck on my tits," she says, pulling her sweater and shirt up.

I lick her nipple, slowly, then take it into my mouth, caressing it with my tongue.

"Mmmmmmmmm"

Beep beep! Goes a car horn. For all I know, he could be beeping at another car and not us.

Yeah, right.

I look down and watch my cock penetrate her. It's the first I've looked this whole time. I am amazed at our perfect in-and-out rhythm, and how we both know exactly how far to pull away from each other so I don't slip out.

"Oh my God," she says, pushing against me, harder. Her lips are on me, wetly, kissing under my ear, my chin, my cheek. She bites my ear, hard; I hear her breathing so distinctly now, husky and labored.

"I wanna feel your cum inside me," she says, pulling back a little, putting both hands on the seat behind me.

Now she is really grinding away at me, her hips making big, exaggerated circles. I put my hands back on her ass, and I can feel it flexing as she rides me. I look up and our faces are almost touching. We kiss; I come.

She falls against me as our breathing slows back to normal. Another car passes, slowing almost to a halt.

This was probably a bad idea. But maybe we'll come back sometime, at night. During the summer.

**********

We get to the trophy shop. Michael is still here.

"Was just about to lock up," he says, unsmiling, as I pay him.

We rush back to the house and get the car adapter for my phone and Steph's purse. Linda is walking down the sidewalk, towards us, in her black-and-red dog sweater and no jacket as we pull out of the drive.

"What the hell does SHE want," I wonder aloud.

Steph rolls down her window. "Hi, Linda."

"Hi, Stephanie," she says, frowning.

"How are you?"

"I think Charles has pneumonia. He always gets it during the winter. He was up coughing and wheezing all night."

"Oh, that's terrible! I'm sorry."

"I think we're gonna take him to the emergency room."

"Well, I hope he's feeling better."

"Could I ask you a favor?" Linda says, squinting.

"We have plans, Steph."

She shoots me an angry glance.

"What is it? We do have some plans today, though," Steph says.

"Toby doesn't do well with doctors. As soon as he sees the hospital building, he goes crazy. He doesn't understand that he's not gonna see the doctor-"

My phone rings. It's the alarm company. Someone tripped the alarm at work. "Call Dom," I say, giving them the number.

"I would never ask, but my sister said she'd watch him, and I went over there, and now she's not home," says Linda.

Got outta Dodge, eh? Smart girl!

Steph looks at me with a sad face.

"Fine, just go over there and call me in a little while," I say.

"Actually, the guys are there doing the chimney cleaning," Linda says. "They're using these big, loud vacuum cleaners. Toby doesn't like loud noise."

"So you want us to watch him HERE?" Steph says.

"I would never ask, but..."

"Forget it, Steph, we're busy."

"Steve, Charles has to go to the HOSPITAL!"

"I'll keep trying to call my sister, and as soon as I get her, I'll have her relieve you," Linda says. "I'll pay you, too."

"I think that's a good idea," I say. Knowing that it's not free will probably make her more reluctant to ask next time.

My phone rings again. It's the alarm company.

"There was no answer at that number you gave us. And a second door has been breached. We're calling the police."

Something tells me Steph and I are not making our doctor's appointment.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Love in a phone booth, part I

Stephanie and I are always fighting.

You might not believe it, because I don't blog about it much, but we are constantly quarreling about something: I usually don't mention it because I figure you aren't interested in hearing about me getting honked off every time she loses the remote to my cable box (which, incidentally, is just about every day). Nonetheless, I have never fought this much with a girlfriend, ever.

Stephanie is a slob. When she wants to look good, she cleans up amazingly well, but she never wants to! And on the rare occasions when she does, she leaves a trail of balled-up socks and inside-out jeans twisted up on the floor, like some kind of sloppiness demon that has just been purged from her body.

I'm surprised I have not had a nervous breakdown yet. Every time she sleeps over, I come back from my morning jog to find dried coffee stains on my counter, along with a liberal dose of sugar, sprinkled around like the remnants of a brief snow shower.

She leaves the cap off the toothpaste, and piles of dirty clothes everywhere. Dishes stack up in the sink, and my trash pail looks like the streets of New York City during the garbage strike.

And of course, far be it for me to just clean up behind her. Oh, no! There is PRINCIPLE at stake! I must take a stand, lest she think I am her personal maid! And that, of course, leads to scintillating exchanges like this:

"When was the last time you emptied a trash pail, Steph? Who was president then?"

"Don't be a fucking smart ass!" she says, not looking up from her textbook.

"Did they have electricity yet? Was it prior to the age of antibiotics?"

"Not funny!"

"Were there steam engines? How 'bout cotton gins?"

"I'm not laughing."

"I'm not kidding. Empty the friggin' garbage!"

"It's your garbage."

"It's YOUR crap in there from when you cleaned out your car!"

"I'll GET to it!"

"No you won't. It'll pile up to the goddamn ceiling, until it looks like that friggin' mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and then I'll get tired of looking at it, and I'll do it myself!"

"FINE, Steve, FINE!" she says, slamming her book to the table. She removes the bag, ties it closed, and replaces it with a new one, stomping and pouting the whole time.

"UGH!" she says through a clenched jaw, her hands balled into tight fists. "You are so.....fucking......ANAL-"

I can't help it. I burst out laughing. So does she. I swear, half our arguments end in laughter.

**********

Saturday, January 15.

My friend Paulie is the most pussy-whipped person I know.

I agree, I'm giving him a run for his money lately, but he's still the undisputed king of pussy whippitude. In the last year alone, he has:

1. Caddied for his girlfriend's mother on the golf course;
2. Played bridge with his girlfriend's mother and grandmother, and their friends; and,
3. Painted his kitchen mauve because his girlfriend likes the color.

Part of being a guy's best friend is having the obligation to tell him when he's gone off the path of guyness and wandered into wimpdom. I've made comments here and there, but it's time to make things a little more obvious.

Earlier this week, I went to the trophy shop and ordered a little plaque, and had it inscribed, "2004 WUSS OF THE YEAR".

It might sound mean, but Paulie and I have a rich ballbreaking tradition. We've been going back and forth this way for a long time. After one particularly drunken year, he bought me a t-shirt with the words "Puke Machine" silkscreened on it. I still have it somewhere.

I told the trophy guy I needed it by today, since Paulie and I are going to be hanging out later.

12:30pm. Steph didn't drive last night; she needs a ride home so she can get her car and go to study group, and I need to get to the trophy shop before they close at 1:00. We're also supposed to go see Steph's friend, a nurse, at the hospital to get our testing done so we can stop using protection.

"Steph. Let's go!"

"Can't you see I'm watching this?"

She's engrossed in the latest episode of Desperate Housewives. I have Comcast DVR, and it's so much fun to use that I spend most of my free time recording and watching shows that I normally wouldn't give a shit about.

"Steph, it's recorded. You can watch it later!"

"I'll never get around to it. Just let me finish watching! It's almost over!"

I open the garage and start the car, then come back inside. The show ends. It's 12:40. We're cutting it close.

"Come ON!" I shout. She grabs her coat and we take off.

There's a work crew from the phone company working on a pole. We sit in traffic for five minutes.

"Do me a favor. Call that number on the receipt," I say, pointing to Steph's visor. "Tell the guy we are running a little late and see if he'll wait for us."

"Oh, DAMMIT!"

"What?"

"I left my pocketbook at the house!"

"You don't have your PHONE?!"

"You were rushing me! Give me yours!"

I pull it off my belt and hand it to her. She stares at it intently, pressing buttons.

"It's dead."

"It's DEAD? I charged it last night!"

I pause. "Oh, shit. No, I didn't. I totally forgot."

"A-haaaa! Mr. anal forgot to charge his phone!" she laughs.

"I can NOT fucking believe this. We have NO fucking cell phones between us. Not ONE."

"Are we almost there?"

"No. There's a phone booth at Cottonwood Dairy. Maybe I'll stop there."

"A PHONE booth? No one makes phone booths anymore, do they?"

"Evidently so."

"Can't you just get it for him later?"

"I'll never get around to it," I say mockingly.

"Shut up," she smiles.

I pull into Cottonwood Dairy and drive to the back of the parking lot. The place is boarded up for the winter. Hope the phone still works.

I get out of the car and walk to the phone booth. It looks just like you might think: Dented, scratched, and faded. The door is gone, and most of the plexiglass panes are broken or missing completely.

I pick up the receiver. Dial tone. Yes! It works!

I pat my pockets; they're empty. "Steph, can you get me some change?"

She rolls down the window. "What?"

"Can you get me some change? There should be some in there."

She gets out of the car and strides over to me, handing me about six quarters.

I deposit fifty cents and dial the number. It's about three minutes before 1:00.

"MBJ Trophy."

"Michael."

"Speaking."

"This is Steve. The guy with the plaque?"

"Oh yeah, the wuss award," he laughs.

"I'm running a little late. I wonder if you could-"

Steph kisses the side of my neck, about an inch below my ear. Her lips are warm and soft against the hard cold. For some reason, that spot really gets me going. It makes me vulnerable, like some kind of sexual Achilles' Heel. Usually, when she kisses me there, she makes sure she's ready to finish me off. But we're in a phone booth...

"Hello?" Michael says.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, so I was wondering if you could-"

She kisses my neck, right next to my Adam's Apple.

"-wait for me-"

She bites my earlobe and slips her tongue into my ear.

"Wait for you? Ahhh, how far away are you?"

I'm maybe five minutes out. But now I've got business to attend to.

"Fifteen minutes," I say.

To be continued.....

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The death of youth

Sunday, January 9, 9:00am.

"Every time I go to print somethin', the damn thing goes out on me!"

"It goes OUT on you, dad?"

"I get the damn black screen, and then the thing goes off, and then it comes back on..." I can almost see him, tilting his head this way and that as he speaks, gesturing with his free hand.

Dad is a true Italian: He's stocky, with jet black hair and dark skin. And he tends to eliminate h's, so that "thing" is pronounced "ting", and "the" is "da", just like the guys you see on The Sopranos.

And dad is hairy as hell. I tell him that he's always wearing a sweater, even when he's naked.

People are afraid of my father. He does look mean, and he can blow up if you harass him long enough, but mostly he is very calm and collected.

Once, when I was about 9, mom lost a contact lens and was shouting every word on the bathroom wall as she stormed around the house looking for it. Dad calmed her down as best he could, and started asking her questions like a seasoned detective. Somehow he decided that she had vacuumed the lens up, so he laid newspaper all across the kitchen table and pulled out the vacuum cleaner.

He removed the bag and dumped it out onto the table. Bit by bit, he pinched the little gray clumps, rubbing his fingers together over the trash pail and watching the dust and debris cascade down like dirty rain.

Almost two hours later, the pile was the size of an anthill, and it seemed all hope was lost. "I GOT IT!" he yelled suddenly, and sure enough, there it was.

Mom and dad didn't get along well, but she always told that story about him, even when they seemed to hate each other.

"You mean it reboots, dad?"

"Yeah, da damn ting REBOOTS on me! Can you fix it?"

"You mean today? "

"No, next year!"

"Alright, I'll take a ride down."

"Bring Stephanie!"

"So THAT'S why you want me down there! So you can see HER!"

"Yeah. Any chance she can come down without you?"

"She's busy all day today. She starts classes tomorrow. Those people are so crazy. They're already studying!"

**********

I like driving to my dad's house. There's some highway, but it's mostly rural roads. The last few miles are curvy, winding and densely wooded, with nary a house in sight. There's not even a yellow line in the middle of the road. It's peaceful and scenic.

The trees are a dingy, corpselike grey, and the ground below is densely carpeted with the faded orange and yellow leaves that once adorned them. It's so cold, and the trees look so dead, that I wonder how they will ever come back to life. But they always do.

There's the Astorberry Farm, and the William Thomas house, an historic landmark from 1807. I make my turn. Just a mile to go.

I pull into dad's driveway and toot twice. I've always done this. I don't know why.

The garage door opens. Dad is there, keys in hand, wearing a button-down oxford and dress slacks. "Let's go get some bread," he says.

"What about your computer?"

"Forget that for now."

We drive for about 15 minutes to a busy urban section of town. We parallel park against a curb.

We walk about 100 feet down the cold white sidewalk and push open a heavy wood-and-glass door with the words TONY'S BAKERY painted on it. As the door opens, a bell rings, the same way it did in 1975. Instantly, the hearty smell of woodburning stoves is replaced with the warm, comforting scent of freshly-baked Italian bread.

Tony's Bakery has been in the same place since before I was born. Tony's got the same cash register that I remember, the same floor tile, and the same countertop that he's had ever since I was too small to see the top of it.

An aproned man with a salt-and-pepper beard peers out of the doorway. "Frankieeeee!"

"Hey, che si dice?" (It's pronounced keh-zeh-deech) They hug briefly. Tony shakes my hand.

Now watch. This bastard is gonna call me "Little Frankie". Always does.

"How you doing, Frank," Tony says, with a compassionate stare. It's not your usual "How you doing": It's the you've-been-through-hell-and-I'm-worried-about-you "How you doing".

Dad shrugs. "OK. It's hard sometimes."

"She was a good lady," Tony says, rubbing his hands idly together. "A funny lady."

He stares somberly down at the dingy floor tiles. "My honey died six years ago. No, seven now. It gets better after awhile. You get used to it."

I had no idea Tony's wife died. I probably haven't seen him since I was in college.

The two grieving men gaze away from each other, both near tears. I hurt for them; I wonder what it must be like to be so profoundly lonely.

Tony snaps upright as if he just remembered something. "Hey, little Frankie! whattayou up to these days?"

I used to be in awe of Tony. He seemed so tall to me when I was a boy, so big. He worked the oven door and that wide bread-spatula so effortlessly, managing to slide 3 or 4 loaves out of the oven at a time with one well-practiced flick of a sinewy forearm.

I would watch in silent amazement as he'd slip a fresh loaf of bread into a slender bag, then twist it closed and drop it onto a plastic crate with a single fluid turn of the wrist.

It occurs to me, now, that they could probably train a monkey to do those things. And I'm taller than Tony.

"LITTLE FRANKIE?!" I say, as if I've never heard it before. It's a funny thing about old-school Italians: They assume that all sons are named after their fathers, and address them accordingly.

"Wha- what?" he says with a nervous laugh. "Chista ca," (keesta-kaa) he says, looking at dad and nodding towards me. Loosely translated, it means "Look at this guy over here!"

"What's your name?" Tony says.

"Steve."

"Steeeeeve, Steve," he says, with a big nod.

"He came down to fix my computer," dad says.

"Dose tings are for da birds," Tony says. "I won't go near one."

Yeah, and I'm sure Bill Gates weeps every day about not being able to crack the over-sixty greaseball-baker market.

We buy two loaves of bread and a couple of pastries. Tony walks us to the door; dad goes out first, and Tony grabs my elbow.

"Your father's a good man," is all he says.

**********

Dad has the wrong printer selected as his default. As soon as I change it, he is once again able to print to his heart's content. The whole fix takes 15 minutes from start to finish.

We sit at the dining room table and eat Chinese takeout.

I picked up dinner. I paid for it. I fixed dad's computer, and reminded him to have his carpet stretched and his gutters cleaned. I gave a paesan baker a piece of my mind, too. It feels different being home now. Dad isn't taking care of me anymore, or protecting me, or teaching me; if anything, it's the other way around. That makes me proud and sad.

I guess I'm not a kid anymore.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Cleaning house

Now it's my turn to ring a doorbell.

The little light inside Linda's bell has burned out. I press it firmly, and hear a buzz from inside the house. It's like the noise my dryer makes when it's finished running.

A minute passes. Nothing.

BUZZZZZZ.

What the HELL is going on? She MUST be home! Doesn't she care that her kid is at my house?

BUZZZZZZ.

The door creaks open about six inches. I walk inside, and Linda's already got her back to me as she walks rapidly down the hall, talking to herself. "I gotta get the meat," she says.

"Linda?"

"Gotta get the meat."

"Linda!"

"Gotta get the meat. Yeah?" she says, wheeling around suddenly.

"Charles? And your dad?"

She stares at me expressionlessly.

"They're at my house. And now that there's no emergency, they can come back home. But your dad is asleep and Charles is busy playing with my girlfriend, so they're probably both going to need some encouragement. To leave."

"What do you mean, he's PLAYING with your girlfriend?" she asks, eyeing me suspiciously.

"Connect four."

"Hmm," she says with a sidelong glare, and walks out the front door.

Yeah, lady, your 12-year-old, wheelchair-bound son is ball-deep in my 23-year-old girlfriend. Surely you jest?

I follow her down the sidewalk and into my garage, up the stairs, and through the door. "Charles, get your stuff together. We're leaving. Pop? Come on, let's go!" she says.

"But Mooo-oom," says Charles. "Can't Stephanie and I finish our game?"

"No! This guy wants us out now," she says, nodding her head at me.

"They can finish the game," I say, nodding.

"Pop! Wake up!" Linda says. "POP!"

"Ssshhphhh," says Pop. His eyes open.

"Get up. We're going home," she says.

Pop's eyes close.

"POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!!!!!!!" She screams. She winds up and smacks his shoulder with an open hand; it sounds flat, as if she is hitting a piece of wood.

All movement stops in the room as we turn to look at Linda. Pop's eyes open again. He stands weakly up and heads for the door.

"I'll bring Charles home when we're done," Steph says.

Pop and Linda leave without so much as a thank you. Well, Pop did thank me earlier for allowing him to pollute my commode.

Steph and Charles finish the game, and he's staring at Steph as she puts his blanket back over him.

"Can you come and help me with my therapy sometime," he says softly.

"Well, I'm gonna be very busy with school starting next week, honey," she says. "Plus I'm not a therapist, so I don't know how I could help."

"My mom does it. She just helps with my exercises and junk."

"Maybe when school is over this spring," Steph says.

"Pleeeeeease??" says Charles. The kid has an eye for hot chicks, I have to give him that.

"We'll TALK about it," Steph says firmly. She has a way of telling people to fuck off while still sounding as sweet as Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island.

**********

Steph and I are back on the couch, where we were a few hours before when my doorbell rang. Peace and quiet, again.

"That wheelchair is falling apart," she says.

"Oh yeah?"

"Charles says his father took off. And his brother has ADHD."

"So how the hell is she paying the mortgage?"

"No clue. Maybe the father pays alimony or child support."

"Maybe so. And Linda works. I see her driving off in the morning sometimes."

"There's a lot of grants and state programs to help families like that, and I bet she's not even taking advantage of them," Steph says.

I roll my eyes.

"What? This is what I want to do with my career, Steve! I want to help people just like her!"

"You just said you're gonna be too busy with school," I say.

"I know."

I really hope she does not turn that weird-ass family into her personal charity project.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Elvira's ugly sister

Monday, January 3, 6:30pm.

Ding-dong! The doorbell rings.

Steph and I look at each other. "Who the hell could THAT be?" I ask.

Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!

Why do people ring the bell repeatedly like that? I'm moving as fast as I can. It's a doorbell, not an accelerator!

I open the front door. When I moved into this house, one of the first things I did was to install a storm door. I really hated the idea that I could open my front door and someone could be face to face with me with nothing in between us.

Through the frosted glass, I see my neighbor, Linda. She's about 5'5", and thin, maybe 110 pounds or less. She's wearing a pair of dark slacks with an eleastic waist, and an old black and red sweater that she's had on every time I've seen her for the last several months. The sweater's got a little dog-emblem stitched near the waistline, but it's hanging most of the way off.

Her hair hangs past her shoulders, long, jet black and sticking out everywhere like stray wires. Her face is tired. Forget bags under her eyes; she's got trenches: Long, deep channels that run diagonally from the bridge of her nose to just above her mouth on either side. When you see her, the first thing that hits you is that she seems tired and old, but she's certainly no more than 50.

"My house!" she shrieks, her voice weirdly muted by the thick glass of the storm door. "My house is on fire!"

I unlock the storm door and open it. "My house is on fire! Can you please call the fire department?"

"Sure, sure, come in!" I say.

Stephanie rushes to the door. I walk to the kitchen, grab my phone, and dial 911.

"Emergency service."

"Yes, I'd like to report a house fire." I give him the address.

"Ok sir, are you a resident at that house?"

"No sir."

"We've already been called about that one. We've got units on the way right now."

"You've already been called? OK, thanks."

I look out the front door and towards Linda's house. No flames, no smoke, nothing.

I snap the phone closed. Stephanie is giving Linda a glass of water.

"They said you called already," I say to Linda. What the fuck is her issue, anyway? And I must sound like a real asshole too, because Steph glares at me. "Ste-eve!" she says.

"I think my father called. He's in the house too."

"Your FATHER is in the house?" Steph says.

"And Toby. And Charles too."

I know one of her kids is about 7 or 8, and another one is in a wheelchair. I thought she had a little girl, too.

"Your KIDS are in the house?!" Stephanie says. "Steve, we have to go get them right away!"

We hear sirens.

"Steph, the house is not engulfed in flames. There's not even smoke anywhere!"

"NOW!" she says, slipping her shoes on.

The sirens are deafening now. I open my storm door to leave.

There's a little old man of probably 75 standing there, bald and hunched over, shuddering in the cold.

"Can I use your bathroom?" He says. "I gotta go."

"Come on in," I say. "Are you Linda's father?"

"Yeap," he says, shuffling by me. "Gotta go bad." A little fart squeaks out of him as he passes by; I catch a whiff and almost fall over. It smells just like a full colostomy bag.

"Steve, come ON!!!" Steph says, grabbing me by the sleeve.

We run the 300 yards down the street to Linda's house. There are two fire trucks and a police cruiser in front of the house, as well as a phalanx of neighbors lined up watching the action, bracing against the cold in their parkas and scarves.

"You the resident?" A fireman says. "Where's the fire?"

"No, we live two doors down," Steph says.

Now, wait just a minute. I know a couple of kids might be dying in the house, but first things first: What do you MEAN, "WE live two doors down"? Don't you mean, "My boyfriend lives two doors down, and I visit him often, sometimes overnight, but I don't stay over too much because I'm tiptoeing gingerly around his fear of commitment"?

"Where is the resident?" The fireman says, as two firefighters enter the house.

"Here she comes!" Linda is walking unsteadily towards us. She appears unable to walk a straight line.

"Where's the fire, ma'am?"

"In my furnace!"

A fireman walks out carrying her son. He stops next to Linda. "Ma'am, Toby is just fine. I'm gonna put him in the fire truck for a minute."

"Yep," she says, not even looking at him. She's staring off into space, whispering to herself, as if trying to remember her shopping list.

Another fireman comes out, pushing a boy in a wheelchair. The boy's got a heavy blanket wrapped around him.

"Where are we bringing the boy, ma'am?" The cop asks.

"How about our house...YOUR house?" Steph says, tentatively.

OK, so just to summarize, we've got an old man with the shits, and now we're going to add a kid in a wheelchair? Throw in a couple of disabled veterans, and we'll have enough for a telethon!

I'm not sure how the hell I can actually say "no", so I agree to it. God help me. "OK, let's go," I say.

The fireman pushes the wheelchair slowly along the sidewalk, over the melted snow and slush. Steph talks to the boy all the way to our house. Charles is his name. "NOT Charlie," he says. "And not Chuck!"

We pull Charlie's wheelchair backwards up the steps in my garage and into the house. As I pass the bathroom, the door opens.

"Thanks a looooot," the old man says, smiling. The smell is enough to make me gag; it's foul and putrid, like dogshit baking in the sun on a hot summer day.

I walk back over to the fireman that we were speaking to. He's talking on the radio. He turns to look at me.

"Chimney's a little clogged," he says. "She was getting some smoke in the house. Or so she says. We didn't see any."

"She said fire," I say. "She said her house was on fire!"

He shakes his head. "We went through the WHOLE house. There's NO fire. That woman's a little......." he bobs his head, left to right, as if trying to decide what to order for lunch.

"Where is she, by the way?"

He points his chin toward the house. "Back inside. I advised her to get the chimney cleaned. She also should have the furnace inspected, but it seems fine. Ideally, she ought to turn off the furnace, sleep somewhere else, and have the chimney cleaned first thing in the morning, just to be sure, just as a precaution. But she says she has to sleep here. And I'm not the chimney police. I'm not gonna tell her she can't stay."

Sleep somewhere else? Bad idea. BAD, I say. I think that's probably the worst idea I've ever heard of since Cop Rock. There is NO fucking way they are sleeping in my house. I'd have to wash all the sheets. No, I'd have to BOIL the sheets. No, I'd have to BURN them.

If they don't want to stay at their house, I'll pay for them to stay in a hotel. That's how much I don't want them at my place. But if Linda is going to stay home, the kids might as well stay with her.

"Is the house safe?" I say.

"Yeah, I'm sure they're ok, but they should get that chimney cleaned. They ought to do it TOMORROW, since they were having a problem. Or since they THOUGHT they were having a problem. And they ought to clean it at least once a year, every year," he says, holding a finger out. "You know, these chimneys are nothing to fool with!"

"Come on, Toby," a fireman says, carrying the boy away from the fire truck.

"NOOOOOOOOO," screams Toby, his pajama-clad feet flapping at 100 MPH. The fireman carries Toby back into the house.

Tomorrow morning, I'll help Linda call and make the appointment for the chimney cleaning, just to make sure it gets done. Now, all I have to do is get Charles and that old guy out of my house. And then install a six-foot electric fence around my yard.

I walk back into my house. Steph and Charles are playing Connect Four.

Not to go off topic here, guys, but remember the commercial for this game, where the girl says, "I win," and the boy says, "Where?" and she says, "Here, diagonally!" to which he replies, "Pret-ty sneaky, sis!"? Yeah, a slanted line is REALLY fucking devious. Because, in the history of the world, no one has EVER won a game of tic-tac-toe with anything other than a straight line. What, does the kid have some kinda head injury?

"Where did THAT come from?" I say, pointing to the game.

"It was in Charles's backpack," she says, pointing to the bag mounted to the back of the wheelchair. "He's a man who's well-prepared! How's it going over there?"

"It's fine. There's no fire, there's no smoke. The chimney's dirty, but that can be cleaned in the morning. So it looks like everyone can go back home."

No one budges.

I look over at the old man. He's asleep.

It's gonna be a long night.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Tag team, back again..."

Congratulations to Jake, who won the 100k contest and scored himself a Gmail account...

Also, let me take this opportunity to thank all my readers. This blog hit the 100,000 mark early Monday evening. Thanks to all of you for your support!

Finally, thanks for your words of encouragement over the past two days. As I have said to many of you, my comment boards were getting a bit "toxic" and something needed to be done. I'm feeling much better now ;-).

**********

Tuesday, January 4.

Bonnie is standing in my doorway. "Steve, we've got a problem."

Whenever I hear her say that, I worry. Bonnie is very smart and resourceful, and whenever a problem crosses her desk, she makes it her business to take care of it. If she can't do so, it means it's something serious.

I look at her, eyebrows raised.

"I've been getting lots of complaints from employees about health claims not being paid. I tried to handle the first few myself, because sometimes they don't fill out the forms right, but I keep getting more and more..." She holds up an inch-thick stack of paper.

I work for a big insurance company, and now I have to waste time investigating health insurance issues? How annoying is that? Out of everything we do, this ought to be the easiest thing.

"So people are submitting claims, and they're being lost?" I ask. "Or paid late?"

"Going into a black hole," she says. "They're asking for the same information 2 and 3 times, and TLQ is taking months to process them, and then the employees get dunning notes from the doctors. And they're very rude on the phone, too."

"Get Paul in here, please," I say. Paul led the team that selected TLQ to process our claims. I'd say it's time to go with plan B.

I meet with Paul. He's well aware of what's going on and is already trying to work with TLQ to correct the issues. "I'm having trouble getting them to return my phone calls," he says.

"Give me the name of the president of the company."

"I think she's out of the country."

"I don't care."

I dial her number, and she picks up. "Marna, this is Steve. I'd like to meet with you....."

After I tell Dan Johnson about the problem, he wants to come to the meeting as well. THIS ought to be interesting.

**********

Thursday, January 6.

Dan Johnson and I are at the TLQ offices. Their office suite is big and impressive, not at all what we would have expected from such an inefficient company.

Paul has a family emergency and is unable to be here. We chose not to reschedule.

"Now, when we walk in there, Steve, I want you to sit at the far end of the table, directly opposite from me," Dan says.

"Opposite from you?"

"All the way at the end of the table."

My organizational behavior professor in grad school was big on that kind of thing. "Meeting-room dynamics," he used to call them. I never put much stock in it.

A receptionist opens the door. Marna and an older-looking man are across from each other at the middle of the table. I take a seat at the far end. Everyone exchanges warm greetings.

"I suppose you know why we are here," I say. I like cutting to the chase. Most meetings could be very short if people did not ramble.

"We are an insurance company," I begin. "Our day is filled with a lot of difficult tasks. Like most people, we barely have enough time to do everything we need to. So it's extremely frustrating when my time, or anyone's time, is wasted on INSURANCE claims, of all things.

"When one or two people complain, maybe we could dismiss it. Improperly filled-out forms, lost paperwork, and so on."

"Let me take a step back," Marna says. "I need to assess-"

"And before I forget," I interrupt her. No way I'm letting her slow me down. That's just what she's trying to do. "I'm also getting complaints of rudeness. That's even less excusable than sitting on medical claims! I know that if my medical bill wasn't paid for three months, and then someone snapped at me, I'd be complaining too!"

"Our staff is-" she begins.

"SIXTY percent," I cut her off again. "SIXTY percent of my staff is on an HMO at this point. The only people on this plan are the more long-term people who didn't want to switch over. Out of courtesy to them, we're not forcing the issue. Do I have to force these 20-year employees onto a different plan just because we can't get claims paid?"

Of course not, but I'm making a point.

"No-" she begins.

"But yesterday takes the cake," I say. "I got THIS letter from an employee, threatening legal action. LEGAL action! He's going to SUE us, because YOU won't pay his claims!"

"May I see that?" she says.

"Perhaps you'd also like to see THIS," I say, raising my voice slightly, holding up the stack of unresolved issues, which is now well over an inch thick.

She leafs through the stack. Her face is ghastly white; she's muttering quietly to herself.

"We definitely have work to do," she says, finally. "I had a supervisor working with my claims group, and for whatever reason, he wasn't notifying us of the backlog..."

"Don't you, or someone else, get reports each week, or each month, of outstanding claims?!" Dan says, jabbing the hardwood table for emphasis: tak, tak, tak. It actually sounds quite loud in this suddenly very quiet room.

"It's somewhat informal," Marna says.

"INFORMAL?!" I say. "What does that mean, you pass each other in the hallway, shouting numbers back and forth?"

"There are laws regulating this sort of thing, you know," Dan says.

Marna is totally defeated. Her head lolls slowly to face me, then back to Dan, then back to me, like a prizefighter who is about to fall to the canvas. No matter which way she looks, one of us is staring at her. She's like a caged animal.

I guess meeting-room dynamics work after all, don't they?

"I need one week," Marna says. "Obviously, I'm not involved closely enough in what's happening down there, and I need to straighten some things out. I'll put a team together and strategize, and...."

"Make it three days," Dan says.

Her head slides to the left, slowly.

"This is our credibility on the line here," I say. "Some of these long-term employees, they love to criticize. They love to write long letters to CEO's and boards of directors. And long letters lead to meetings, and meetings lead to wasted time."

I'm not as concerned about that as I appear to be. But I need to drive my point home with authority.

"I am hearing you," she says. She looks close to tears.

"Three days!" Dan says. "I need to hear back from you with a plan in THREE. DAYS. Or we'll hire another firm effective February 1."

"But our contract is-"

"I'm sure there's a way out of the contract somewhere in here," I say, grabbing the stack of complaints and shaking it.

"I....I'll be back to you in three days," Marna says.

Dan and I get up and show ourselves out.

I look at my watch. The whole meeting took a little over a half-hour.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Stevo reaches the end of his rope

OK, I have fucking had it.

I woke up this morning and read my comments, only to find a debate over - you guessed it - pussy shaving. This blog must be fake, you see, because I couldn't possibly have shaved a vagina THAT clean with clippers.

You know what, guys? If you like this blog, read it. If you don't, then don't. And just this one time, I'll answer the question, in the hopes that it will put a stop to the endless tooth-grinding and hand-wringing that goes on about me.

All the names are fake. You knew that already, from previous posts. I also change places, dates, details, and other facts to protect my anonymity. If you read about me at a wedding with a tall brunette, I was probably at a bar mitzvah with a short chubby redhead. With the kind of traffic I get nowadays, I am sure I would have been caught already if I had not done so.

If you read about me fucking, it's because I did it. Believe it or not, in the grand scheme of things, I don't get laid all that much. I am certainly NOT the most promiscuous person I know. Not by a long shot. I'm probably not even the most sexually active person on my street! I'm also not the richest, don't have the biggest house, and I'm not the most successful. Not even close. What the fuck is so hard to believe?

"It sounds too much like a book or a movie." I'm WRITING here, guys. That's the vibe I'm going for! Read "Larry King by Larry King". It flows just like a good book when you read it. Does that mean he's lying?

I probably shouldn't get pissed, because most of the comments I get accusing me of being fake come from the same 3 or 4 losers who post anonymously every few days. On a Monday, they tell me how much I suck, and I figure they're gone for good, and by Wednesday, they're back again. Maybe I'll just block their sorry asses from now on.

It was two of the ass-lickers mentioned above who started the whole vagina-shaving debate. But a regular reader chimed in, too, so I guess I'll respond this time.

I shaved her with the clippers until I saw stark white flesh and a big pile of pubic hair on the bed. Yeah, now that you mention it, there might have been some stubble left behind. It still looked damn good to me.

Why did I say "No trace of pubic hair anywhere?" Because those are the words that came to mind! You guys have already spent much longer thinking about these words than I ever did. After a hot-ass sex scene, and me saying "I love you" to Stephanie for the first time, that is all you can come up with?

Yeah, I know, they're just comments. But do me a favor: Don't fucking nit-pick me. I'm serious. It makes me not want to do this anymore.

I'm never telling you who I am. I'm never telling you where I work or where I live. If you doubt me, you'll never get the proof you seek. If that is a source of irritation for you, (as Jack Nicholson says in "A Few Good Men") then I don't give a shit. Read and enjoy. If you don't enjoy anymore, then it was nice knowing you.

While I am purging my demons, let me address another common comment: That I am arrogant. What, you're just finding this out? I could get married and have five kids, and I'll still be a cocky son of a bitch. That ain't changing, and it hasn't changed since the beginning. DEAL.

I tell you all these things because I have decided to block anonymous commenting, and to delete certain comments that I feel don't add to this blog in any way. If you think I am fake, I'm probably not posting your comments anymore. You've had seven months to make your case. I don't like censorship, but there is starting to be a bad vibe around here, and it's time to clean it up.

Monday, January 10, 2005

A series of close shaves

Keep those Bloggie nominations coming, gang! Maybe your ol' perverted pal Steve will win a blogging award! Lord knows I have busted my ass enough to deserve one.

*********

January 1, 2005.

I pride myself on paying attention to minute details. I notice things that other people wouldn't see in a million years; that is one reason why I have climbed the corporate ladder so quickly. So, you can imagine how hard I am on myself when I miss something obvious.

Yeah, I was loaded last night. Forget three sheets to the wind; I was an entire Wal-Mart bedding department to the wind. Totally, completely shitfaced. But that's no excuse.

Alcohol doesn't affect me the way it probably affects you. I get bolder and more arrogant when I am drinking. My inhibitions decrease. That's certainly not unique. But as I mentioned earlier, I never lose control. I never black out; I never forget anything. And I can pass any sobriety test you want when I am loaded. I can pound shots all night long, then get up and walk a perfectly straight line or recite the alphabet backwards with no problem. Drunks call it "instant sobriety". Mom had it too. She just chose not to use it most of the time.

With this being the case, you can imagine how upset at myself I am for not remembering to give Cherise her earring back.

"When did you get an earring," Steph says.

When trying to talk your way out of a jam, the way you act is just as important as what you say. You can come up with the best excuse your girl's ever heard, but if your eyes are darting around the room, and you're chuckling nervously, she ain't buying it.

The realization of what happened hits me all at once. Instantly I remember, the flirting, the earring, the forgetting to take it out. Nothing happened! Wouldn't it suck if she gets pissed at me for nothing? I've got to make sure I treat this exactly like the non-event it is.

I reach up and touch my earlobe to buy myself a little time, smiling dismissively. "Ahh, that belongs to Cherise. Damn! I forgot to give it back."

"Who?"

"You know my neighbor Joe? It's his neice from out of state?"

"And she gave you an earring?"

"We were talking about piercings and I mentioned I had a pierced ear, and she said, 'Here, put this on, let's see if it's still open'," I say, pulling out the earring and laying it on the nightstand.

"Talking. Right. I'm sure you were flirting," she says, smiling.

"Nothing happened," I say, evenly.

"I know. I trust you, Steve."

She climbs into bed next to me. "Did you miss me?" she asks, batting her eyes.

"I TOTALLY missed you." We kiss, separate, then kiss again. There's a long pause.

Then we are on each other like vultures, kissing and groping desperately. It's been a long time, and we were fighting, too. This ought to get interesting very quick.

I slide my hand under her sweatpants. No hint of underwear.

I'm liking this girl more every day.

I cup my hand over her perfect buttocks, reveling in their smooth roundness. My left hand finds its way under her sweatshirt. No bra.

Her breast is firm and taut in my grasp, and I go immediately hard.

"Ohhhhh," she says. "I was thinking about you the whole way down here."

"You were?"

"Mm-hmmm."

"Did you touch yourself?"

"Mm-hmm..."

"In the car? While you were driving?"

"Yeahhhhh," she says, as if she is high. "I wanted you soo bad."

"What did you want to do to me?"

"I wanted your big hard cock inside me."

"Oh yeah?"

"Mmmmm. I wanted you to fuck my pussy nice and hard."

I am so hard I can barely take it. I get off the bed and pull her sweats off, almost forcibly. She sits up and flings her sweatshirt off.

I sleep in boxers, so I slip them down, and I'm naked before she is.

I sit back down on the bed. "Did you shave again?" she asks.

"Yeah, about once a month."

"I like it. I didn't like it at first."

"I like it too."

She stares at me for a moment. "Shave me."

Oh, HELL yeah! NOW this girl is speaking my language!

There's no hesitation on my part. I reach out with my left hand and slide my nightstand drawer open, pulling out my trimmer with one fluid motion, almost without looking. I flip it on; it buzzes like a hummingbird.

I pull her legs over the side of the bed. I really should get a towel for this, but I don't dare stop now.

I press the trimmer against her flesh, lightly, and draw it slowly downward, watching her light blonde hair fall to the comforter.

"Ohhhhh," she moans. Yeah, getting trimmed feels really good. I'm usually half-hard myself by the time I'm done.

I move the trimmer to the left and pull it downward again, slower. Then again, slower still, agonizingly, achingly slowly.

"Ohhh, God, Steve, I want you to fuck me. I want your big fat cock inside me." I look up; she's gritting her teeth, almost like she is angry.

She's almost totally clean, now, but I shave her again for good measure.

I pull the trimmer away, admiring my handiwork. Her breathing is deep and labored, like she's just run a race. There is no trace of pubic hair anywhere on her. My cock gets harder still, throbbing, almost painfully.

"Are you wet? Is your pussy nice and wet for me?"

"FUCK yes. Oh my God - you HAVE to fuck me right now," she says, in a lusty, husky voice that I've never heard from her before.

I flip the trimmer off and fling it to the nightstand. I leap onto the bed. She squeezes me between her legs, pulling me to her.

I enter her easily; it's bare skin to bare skin. Watching myself penetrate her without any hair in the way makes it look ten times hotter. And dirtier.

"Uhhhh," she grunts. "I love your cock...I love your fucking cock so much."

I pump it into her, hard and fast. I'm standing on my knees, leaning over her, her legs pinned to my sides. We must be quite a sight, as naked as the day we were born, our bodies wrapped up tightly in a little package, fucking each other's eyeballs out.

"Your pussy is so nice and fucking hot," I say.

"That's 'cause I want you," she says.

She looks up at me. "Are you gonna videotape us one day," she asks.

I hear her, but it registers very slowly: "Viiiiiiiiiiid-eeeeeeeee-oooooooooo-taaaaaaaape......."
It's like Robin Williams says: God gave men a penis and a brain, but only enough blood to run one at a time.

I realize what she is saying now. She's going for Girlfriend Of The Year, isn't she?

"You want me to videotape us?" I say, pushing my cock deeply into her, slower now. "You want a tape of us fucking?"

"Uh-huh," she says. "I want to watch you fucking me with your big fat cock."

"OK, baby," I say. It's about all I can manage.

I lean back a little and feel myself hitting a different spot. "OHHHH!" she cries. "Don't stop! Don't fucking stop!!"

I have all I can do to keep from orgasming. I can feel the climax building, and in desperation I grab my scrotum and pull down slightly. I may have bought myself a minute.

"Oh God I am gonna come," she says. "Oh SHIT! Oh God please keep fucking me..."

I look at her. Her nipples are at full attention; she grips my forearms with trembling hands, her eyes squeezed tightly shut.

She presses her knees more tightly against my sides; I can feel their every tremble as she rides the orgasm out.

Without another word, she reaches down to the part of my shaft that is not inside her and rubs slowly, languidly, up and down. I pull out slightly; she rubs faster.

I am crazy with lust. I almost can't see; it's like there are bright lights in my eyes.

"Do you want me to blow a huge fucking load on you?" I say.

"I want your fucking cum all over me," she says.

I can't stand it any more. I pull out of her and rub my cock against her smooth pussy, spraying hot jizz all over her stomach.

She grabs a handful of the comforter and lays it over the thick white puddle on her abdomen.

Great. Looks like more laundry tonight!

She pulls me on top of her, so that we are both laying flat. She puts her hands on my back, tracing her fingertips in lazy circles, like ice skates. She stares at me for a long time. I stare back.

At this moment, I realize why I didn't want to be with Cherise. I realize why my gut was telling me to stay true to Stephanie. I am happy when I am with her, and it's a happy that I will never, ever find with someone I don't give a shit about.

She puts a finger between my shoulder blades and runs it down my spine, lightly, barely touching my skin. I'm covered in gooseflesh.

She puts her finger between my shoulder blades and runs it down my back again, this time stopping at the small of my back and turning sharply to my left.

Weird, I think.

Between the shoulder blades again. She makes a big circle. Her eyes are fixed on me, big and curious. She's.....reading me.

Wait a minute. Is she.....SPELLING something on my back?

Her finger goes to my right shoulder blade, then diagonally down to my waist, then diagonally back up to my other shoulder blade.

Yeah, she's spelling something, all right. She doesn't have to finish.

"I love you too," I say.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

NOMINATE Stevo!!

Hey everyone - help out your pal Steve and nominate my blog for a bloggie award! The nomination page will ask for my URL; it is http://certifiedsexwhacko.blogspot.com.

Nominate me for whatever category you want, but I figure my best shot is for "Best writing of a blog" (near the bottom of the page). Don't forget to put your email address at the bottom so your vote will be counted! Nominations close tomorrow, January 10, at 10pm.

Wish me luck, and don't forget to submit your guess for when I will reach 100,000 hits (see below) to win a Gmail account!

The countdown is on!!!!

I was hoping to reach 100,000 hits by January 1, but I guess this isn't too bad. I am a little over 1,000 hits away from 100k now, and I got this idea for a game...

Send me your guess for what day and time my counter will go to 100,000. Whoever is closest wins a Gmail account! (and you can't even cheat by using Google for this one!)

I need your responses by midnight tonight, so e-mail them to me using the link on the right sidebar. You probably want to keep your guesses confidential, so dropping a comment with your guess might not be a good idea.

Good luck!


Friday, January 07, 2005

He says, she says, volume IV

Dear Steve and Ari:

I have this friend. I find her extremely attractive, but I don't want to try and initiate something and then lose out on her company. We get along really well and always have entertaining conversations. On the other hand, it's kind of hard to tell what she's feeling because, as a rule, she's friendly with everybody.

To complicate things, she's 34 and I'm 18, which is a revelation for everybody who meets her. The first time I met her my guess was 24. To give the situation some context, we're both in the same film program at a technical school. She comes over and hangs out at my place with a few of my other buddies after the shoots.

Based on my best judgement (that is, probably not great), I have the best chances out of all of us. So, like I said, I really enjoy her friendship, but I would like to give dating a shot. How to ease into that? Suggestions?-Justin

**********
Ari says:

Justin,

she's 34 and you're 18. I see. And what are you hoping for with a person almost 2x your age? If you want a relationship, I'd say it looks grim. I mean, your pop culture references are all off, you can't go out drinking with her... not a good sign. I think in the end the large berth of age difference will doom you both. If you want to be her friend with benefits, I say the odds here are TOTALLY in your favor. As a 32 year old woman, I'd love {!!!} to play with an 18 year old. I'm also willing to bet she'd be one of the best lovers you've had and vice versa.

Keep in mind too that you are together a lot because of school - you will have to see her a lot still, try not to embarrass yourself or create awkwardness that is insurmountable. I'd suggest you strive for a physical friendship.

**********
Steve says:

Justin,

First off, your goal here is not to "ease into" anything. You are much younger than this girl, and if you want her to think of you as an equal, you're going to have to show an inordinate amount of confidence. Abandon all pretense, and go for it with guns blazing - or don't go for it at all.

Ask her out. Invite her to dinner, or offer to cook her something at your house. Ask her to go someplace specific, with you, so she knows you aren't just asking her to hang out with the gang.

Pay extra attention to how you talk to her. Never say "um", "er", "uh", and so on. Be polished.

Be assertive. Be decisive. Take control of the situation, whether it's a blowout on the highway at 60 MPH, or the group arguing about where to go for donuts at 3:00am. When you take charge, she'll notice. Believe me. There is a chance she thinks of you as nothing more than a snot-nosed kid, and it's your job to erase that.

One other thing - and you mentioned this yourself - be sure this is what you want, because if it doesn't work out, you might not have her as a friend anymore. Personally, I'd go for it.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Aftermath

Congratulations to Mega for being the first one to nail yesterday's title quote ("My Lovin' (Never gonna get it)" by En Vogue).

**********

What the fuck, I think. I'm doing it.

I'm spending way too much time thinking about this. I'll just leave the party with her, and let nature run its course. I'll just let the sexual Feng Shui take over, and see where it leads me.

"Do you want to go for a walk?" I ask Cherise.

I don't like the way I sound. I seem...weak. I'm going through the motions. I asked her, not because I wanted to, but because I had to, because that is what Steve does. I had about as much enthusiasm as you had when you got your driver's license photo taken.

I don't want to be with Cherise. I don't want to take her home and fuck her brains out. Yeah, it would feel good. REALLY good. But I don't WANT to.

Holy shit. Am I in love?

A meaty hand falls heavily on my shoulder. "HEY!" a gruff voice says.

I turn around. It's Kevin. His face is carved into an angry scowl.

"Don't leave the game like that. If you're off the phone, come back and sit down!"

"Easy killer!" I smile. "I was just-"

Cherise's phone rings. She flips it open. "Hellooo," she purrs. "Heyyy! Happy new year, girl!"

She points to the phone. "It's mah sister!" she whispers.

Kevin pulls me back to the table by the arm. The Feng Shui gods have spoken.

I lose about 5 hands in a row. "The ball's dropping!" someone says.

We gather around the TV and count down to midnight. Just as we get to zero, and a cheer fills the room, my phone rings.

It's Steph.

There's a twinge in my stomach. I'm happy!

Of course she called. Of course she cooled off. How could I have seriously thought otherwise? Steph and I like each other; we are smart people. Whatever the problem is, we can work it out. As long as we are talking, everything will be ok.

I leave the room and flip my phone open. "Hello?"

"Hi."

"Hi, Steph. Happy new year!"

"Happy new year. Am I the first person you're talking to this year?"

"Yep! How about you?"

"Yes, the very first one."

"Cool."

"Honey, I am so sorry," she says. Her voice is trembling.

"Me too."

"I didn't mean to yell at you that way. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings."

"Me too. I didn't mean to criticize Meg. Or Heidi."

She sniffles. "I'll talk to Meg. I'll tell her not to talk to Heidi anymore about us."

"OK," I say. "I know Meg is your best friend, and you guys discuss that stuff. I know I have to understand that."

"All right," she says. "What are we doing? We're apart on new year's eve! I can't believe we're not together!"

"I know. Can I see you tomorrow?"

"Sure! I'll come back in the morning."

**********

January 1, 2005.

9:35am. I roll over and look at the clock. My stomach is a churning, gurgling mess. It seems like, if I turn my body the wrong way, every chicken finger and frito I gobbled down last night will come blasting out of me like a semi-digested laser beam.

I stretch, sit up, and look at the foot of the bed.

Steph is sitting there.

I've been meaning to give Steph a key to my house, but I haven't done it yet. However, she knows the code to my garage-door opener, and knows where the spare key is hidden in the garage, so she can get in if she has to.

I jump a little. It's a pleasant feeling waking up and seeing someone you care about sitting on your bed; it's like receiving a present even though it's not Christmas or your birthday.

"Heyyy!" I say.

"Hey, hon!" She hugs me.

"Happy new year!" I say.

"Happy new year to you, too!"

"It's 9:30! How long have you been sitting there? When did you leave your mom's house?"

"I just got here," she says. "I left at 6."

"SIX?"

"You forget I'm in law school. Six o'clock is like sleeping in for me."

Her smile fades, and she studies my face, squinting.

What, do I have a snot hanging out?

"When did you get an earring?" she asks.