Saturday, December 24, 2005

"....In that case, can I interest you in a nice cup of coffee?"

Sunday, December 4, 2005, 4:30pm
Steve's house

My cell phone rings. Psycho calling, it says.

I've been stalked by a few people in my life, and each time it's happened, I've just ignored them, and they've eventually given up. But in the last week, I've probably deleted 40 messages from Holly, and it only seems to be getting worse.

I let the phone go to voice mail, and sit down to check my email.

I check the subject line on the first message and a shiver crawls across my skin.

Are you there? The subject line reads, and it's funny how I suddenly feel like I'm being watched.

Maybe it's not Holly. Maybe it's someone else looking for me. I double-click the message:

Hey handsome! Where r u? I've been calling u like crazy the past couple of days, but no word back yet. Your not ignoring me r u? ;-P Anyways, just hit me back when u get this so we can catch up.


I hit the delete key. But I know this isn't over yet.

On weekends, I like to sit for a few hours and watch all the shows I TiVo'd over the previous week. It's much faster to watch them this way, and skipping the commercials makes me feel like I'm putting one over on The Man.

At some point between "CSI" and "ER", I doze off on the couch, and wake up an hour later to a strange feeling of dread.

I stand up, peering around the dark room, illuminated only by the weak light from the TV screen, casting the remote control and the coffee table it sits on with a pale glow.

Did I just see something out of the corner of my eye?

I turn slowly to my right, peering across the kitchen and through the sliding glass doors leading to my deck.

Holly is standing there.

The best plan is to ignore her. The best plan is, probably, to pull the vertical blinds closed and make believe she's not there.

Fuck the best plan.

I stomp through the kitchen and fling the door open. "Holly, get a grip on yourself! What the hell's the matter with you?"

"You didn't answer your phone! Or your email!" she says, insistently, but her flirty smile doesn't match her tone.

It's a shame Holly is so unstable. She's growing into a beautiful young woman, with auburn hair down to her shoulders, and wide, bright brown eyes. She's small, maybe five-foot-one and a hundred five pounds at the most, and it strikes me as odd that someone so slight could create such king-sized problems.


"So I was worried!"

"I'm fine. Goodbye, Holly."

"Can I come in?"

"No. I have to go out."


"Nowhere. You have to go."

"Are you going out with your girlfriend?" she asks, sounding like somebody's nosy little sister.


"Steve, please tell me who you're going out with!"

"Why?" I demand, with growing exasperation.

"I just wanna know!"

"Holly, get out now. I'm serious. You're starting to piss me off."

"You're the one who won't call me back! I'm pissed at you!" she says, raising her voice. Huge grey veins bulge on either side of her neck.

"If you're pissed at me, then go. Or should I call the cops?"

"If you call the cops, I'll report you for statutory rape, Steve."



Friday, December 23, 2005

Stevo, the NC-17 version

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Using her considerable womanly charms, Lila drags me to her grandmother's sweltering, 100-degree tin can-sized apartment, with its dingy indoor-outdoor carpet and cloying hand-lotion smell. Throughout our visit, we make insufferable small talk, which I devote no more than 30% of my attention to, since the other 70% is preoccupied by Lila's tight green turtleneck, with the cuffs of her white shirt folded under her sweater sleeves.

I hate talking to old people. You have to scream your ass off just to get them to hear you, while at the same time choosing every word carefully, lest you shock them into a myocardial infarction.

I don't know why Lila needed me here; she is actually a great listener, maintaining steady eye contact, nodding or saying "mm-hmm" frequently, and smiling often. Maybe she didn't need me here at all; maybe this is just a ruse on her part to pull me back in. Then again, maybe I shouldn't flatter myself.

It's very picturesque looking out the 12th-floor window as the snow falls. It's especially gratifying, knowing that it gives Lila and I an excuse to make a beeline for the door.

I keep catching her looking at me as I struggle to maintain control of my little car on the snowy roads. She's definitely planning something. I'm sure she's going to ask me into her house. And then, she's going to let the chips fall where they may, just the way I would.

"Do you want to come inside until the snow stops?" she asks, in a soft whisper, as I pull into her driveway. It's not her little-girl voice; that would be too obvious. But it is sexy nonetheless, and she is careful not to plead with me. The pretext is that this is a friend helping a friend, and that it's no big deal either way.

I come inside, hang my coat, and sit on the far right-hand side of the blue couch in her TV room, just as I always did when we were together, and after turning on HBO, she plants herself beneath me on the floor, just as usual.

Each time the screen goes dark, I can see Lila's reflection, her leg folded under her, a strand of hair in her mouth. At one point, she reaches back without looking and takes the fingers of my right hand in hers, softly brushing her thumb across the back of my hand. And damned if it doesn't get me hard as hell.

"You want a drink?" she coos. It's the little-girl voice now. I know exactly what she's doing, I know that I should resist, that I should devote all my energy to getting Tim back, but I also know very well that I won't be able to fight it, that the pull of my infatuation is too strong to resist, and that when it comes to Lila, just about any excuse will do.

She returns from the kitchen, handing me a bottle of Evian, and sits down next to me on the couch. I don't look at her right away; I just sit, inhaling the green apple-scent of her hair and the sweet smell of her breath. But I can tell she is looking at me.

"Thank you for coming to nana's with me," she whispers, holding the last word for a second, letting it trail off.

"You're- you're welcome. Lila."

"Thank you for getting me my job."

"Welcome." My heart pounds uncontrollably. The water bottle trembles in my hand.

I'm not sure who kissed who first. But once we did, it was over.

I love watching her sweater come off, finally seeing the white shirt that was hidden underneath, getting a clear glimpse of the bra beneath it. I love the first glimpse of her black panties as she peels her jeans down. I love listening to the sound of my own breath quickening, and feeling my racing pulse.

I tremble harder on the touch of her firm legs to mine as she climbs on top of me, her knees flexing tightly on either side of my lap. She's more shaved than she used to be, I think, as I watch myself slide into her.

She grabs me behind the neck with a well-muscled arm, and tilts her head back, her hair brushing against the tops of my legs. The TV screen goes black for a second, and I can see her round ass bouncing slowly up and down. I can't believe we're actually doing it! The whole thing seemed so easy, so effortless.

Just like it used to.

She pulls my head to her, forcefully. "I love you baby, I love you so much," she says into my ear.

No way I'm saying it now. She has succeeded in revving my hormonal engine, but I know where this road leads, and it's a road best avoided. Part of me will always love Lila, but even I realize that getting with her long-term is bad news. So I kiss her instead.

I touch her concave stomach, firm and tense as she grinds her hips back and forth against mine. I look down for what seems like forever, admiring the sight of me penetrating her, remembering every detail like a favorite movie that I haven't seen in years.

She pulls my head to her again, kissing my ear, teasing it with her tongue, filling it with her hot breath.

"I want to feel your cum inside me," she says, so softly I can barely hear it. But I hold back, wishing against wish that I could watch her come.

Instinctively, I press a thumb against her swollen clitoris, gently, softly, letting the motion of her pelvis do the work. You're not calling an elevator here, guys, so go easy.

"Mmmm," she says, shifting her body this way and that, finding the perfect angle. She remembers how we used to do it, too; we've fallen back into our rhythm, just the way we fell into our work-relationship at the office: instinctively and without thinking.

Sex is often made into a dirty thing, but the only word that comes to mind while I watch Lila is beautiful. I can't help but cup her breasts in my hand, rubbing my palms against her firm nipples, softly kissing the spot where her rib cage comes together.

"Ugh," she moans, and then she is in the throes of it, pulling the back of my neck tighter, tensing her legs around me, freezing in place as the orgasm overcomes her.

She rides me harder now, with long, slow strokes, coaxing the climax out of me, and I feel myself slip away, grabbing her ass and pulling it hard against me as I explode inside her.

Just like I used to.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Stevo, the PG-13 version

Sunday, December 3, 2005, 11:00AM
Steve's house

Lee calling, says my cell phone.

"Hey, Lila!"

"Hi! How are you, Steve?"

"Ok. You?"

"Could I ask you a huge favor?"


"You know my nana? The one up at Vista Verde?"

"That senior condo place?"

"Yeah. She's been bugging me to come visit. I hate going up there alone. She gives me such a guilt trip-"

"You want me to go visit your grandmother with you?" I ask, incredulous.

"Please? It'll be, like, an hour tops. And she's my great-grandmother."

"Oh man. Yeah, I guess so. I'm kinda bored today anyway."

"Thank you, Steve! That's so cool of you!"


1:05 PM
I-95 north, exit 8

I can see the five high-rise buildings before we're even off the highway. From a distance, the tall, grey structures look like they might house pricey condos, or ultra-modern office space. But as we pull into the lot, the towering evergreens and fluffy white blanket of snow fill me with a sense of calm, just as they were meant to.

I tap a little metal bell ornament hanging from the stubby christmas tree in the lobby as we walk by. A middle-aged woman helps a young girl on with her down jacket, saying, "You can't go without a coat, or you're gonna get hypothermia!"

"What's hypothermia, mom?"

"It's what little girls get when they don't listen to their mothers."

The woman looks up at Lila, smiling. "Is it still freezing out there?"

"Yes, it's really cold," Lila replies, with a little sniffle.

"Merry Christmas," the woman says, leading her daughter out the door.

For no particular reason, I find myself reading the announcements on the bulletin board. There's a bingo sign-up sheet containing five names; someone has drawn a line through William McKay and written "died" next to it. There will be two masses on Christmas day in the chapel, and Friday night's movie will be "Bridge on the River Kwai".

This place is like a city unto itself. I'm glad that these seniors have things to do, but it's also kind of claustrophobic to think that many of them will never leave the grounds again until they die. Is this all that's left for them? Bingo and old movies?

"You coming?" Lila asks with a smile, flipping the long hair that streams out from under her pink knit cap.

We get off the elevator on the 12th floor and knock on the door marked "1212".

"Come in!" says a frail old voice.

Lila pushes the door open, and we're hit by a whoosh of very hot air, and the loud blaring of a television set.

Nana is a small, frail woman, with her scalp clearly visible through her neatly coiffed grey hair. Thick glasses rest on a prominent bump in her nose, making her eyes look huge, like a muppet's. Wrinkled, veiny fingers clutch the handles of her wheelchair as she scoots toward the door to meet us.

"Leee!" she shouts, grabbing Lila's face in her hands, kissing her forehead. "Ooo, you're so cold! Here, lemme turn the heat up!"

Good idea! Turn it up a little higher, so I can pop some popcorn on your radiator.

"And who is this?" she says, turning her chair to look at me. "Oh, how handsome he is! Is this your boyfriend?"

"No, nana. This is my boss."

"Your what?"

"My boss!" she shouts.

"Sit down, let me get you a drink. You wanna drink?" We shake our heads no.

Lila and I take seats at a small round table, with faded snapshots carefully positioned under the glass top. I notice Lila's high school picture, and a couple from when she was growing up, plus six or seven other kids I don't recognize.

Nana scoots her wheelchair expertly around a corner and into the kitchen, pulling open the fridge with surprising force. I'm impressed at how well she gets around, especially for 98 years old.

She zooms back around the corner, three pink plastic teacups in one hand, a bottle of Ginger Ale in the other. She places them on the table and quickly scoots away again. "You want cookies?" she shouts, and Lila and I look at each other and laugh. Never bother trying to say no to an Italian grandmother.

Time passes quickly. Nana, or Fran, as she wants to be called, regales us for a solid hour with stories about growing up during the depression, meeting her first husband and raising her family.

The room falls silent for a minute. "Who are these for?" Lila says, pointing to little wrapped boxes underneath a short ceramic Christmas tree.

"Those are empty. And wouldja believe they won't let us have a real tree here? Isn't that a shame?" Fran says.

"Do you wanna go downstairs for a walk, Nana?" Lila asks. "It's snowing. It's really pretty!"

"No, I go on a Tuesday, when the nurse comes," Fran says. "She takes me downstairs, and I get a little air. And then every other Wednesday, I get my hair done. They come right up and do it here for me."

But what about every other day?, I think. What about all the empty hours? I think the boredom would probably kill me.

Fran takes Lila's face in her hand again. "You are such a beautiful girl, Lee. You were always so beautiful. I remember the day they brought you home from the hospital. I said, 'that is the most gorgeous baby I have ever seen!'"

"Thanks, Nana."

"You gotta boyfriend, Lee? Are you seeing anybody?"

"No, not really. Not right now," she says, blushing.

Fran turns to me, frowning somberly. "You don't like her, hah?" she says, and we all laugh.

"Lee, you want some oatmeal cookies? Lemme get you some oatmeal cookies." She zooms to the kitchen, then zooms back. "Oh, they have raisins. You don't like them with the raisins!"

"That's ok, nana-"

"When you were a little shrimp," Fran says with a twinkle in her eye, "you used to love oatmeal cookies, but God pity me if I got them with the raisins. You used to say, 'No bay-sins, nana! No bay-sins!' You were too young to even say it right!"

"You always tell that story, nana!"

"You were so cute," Fran says.

Lila peeks at her watch, then up at me. Looks like I'm the bad guy today.

"Lila, we should probably get going. The snow is supposed to get worse."

Fran puts a hand across my wrist. "Stay for a little bit. You want some pizzer? Lemme order you a pizzer. They bring it right up to the room!"

"It's getting bad out there, Fran."

"Come and see me again sometime. I'm all alone up here, you know," she says, turning her pale brown eyes up at me.

"We'll- OK, we'll do that Fran," I say, and as she warmly shakes my hand in both of hers, I feel a bit of melancholy for her, a dull ache that revisits me off and on throughout the day. This little visit might wind up being the highlight of her holiday season.

Lila's house

The snow really is getting bad; I almost spun out a few times on the way here.

"Why don't you come in until the snow stops," Lila says.

My heart races. I've been thinking about this all day, about what would happen when I dropped her off home. Would she invite me in? Would something happen? Did I want something to happen?

"You still fighting with Tim?" she asks as she pulls the hat away from her staticky hair.

"For now. It all comes out in the wash."

"I know."

I sit on her blue couch, on the far right hand side, just like I used to, and she sits on the floor underneath me, just like she used to.

And then we fuck. Just like we used to.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Holly Holly oxen free

Saturday, November 26, 2005, 8:30am
Steve's house

My phone rings. It's Holly.


"Hey! I'm coming over!"

"What? Why?"

"Why, you don't want me coming over?"

Ever since I nailed Holly, she's called from time to time. Occasionally she's invited me over, but I've always refused. I got enough shit the first time I was with her.

Lately she's been calling more often. I thought it was just because she was excited about getting her grandmother's old Hyundai and her $7-an-hour job at the mall. But inviting herself over first thing in the morning seems odd.

"Holly, it's 8:30!"

"Yeah, right. You just don't want me coming over."

"That's not a good idea."

"I've only seen you twice since last year!"

"You remember what happened the last time we were together. Right?"

"My sister was spying on me!"

"Uh huh."

"I was talking to my girlfriend on the phone and she was listening next to the door!"

"It doesn't matter how she found out. I got a lot of shit for that, Holly."

"I'm sorry," she says, tearfully.

"Yeah, well I'm not going down that road again."

"Why not?" she demands.

"Holly, you're 17."

"I'm 18 in less than a month!"

"I'm with someone."


"None of your business, Holly!"

"Just tell me!"

"I gotta go."

"Don't hang up, Steve!"

"I gotta go!"

"Do not hang up!" she shreiks.


Bitch. I really hope she doesn't turn psycho.


My cell phone rings. Tim calling, says the readout screen.




"Are you ready to talk to me now?"

"Depends. Are you ready to be an adult?"

"Steve, you have to stop this defensiveness. I-"

"Tim, is your mother there? Is she standing next to you with cue cards? Why don't you just skip the middleman and put her on the phone?"

"She's not here, Steve."

"So she just gave you your script and left?"

"Steve, cut it out!"

"You got what you wanted. She got what she wanted. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"I told you I didn't want to break up!" she says, exasperated.

"But we're moving too fast."


"What does that mean, Tim? You want to date me, but fuck every male in a five-mile radius?"


"Either you're in or you're out, Tim."

"Steve, we just need to slow it down. We were talking about moving in together!"

"In February. If everything worked out ok."

"That's like putting pressure on the relationship. It's like setting a deadline."

"You're not serious about this. You can't be."

"I am! Why would I be calling you-"

"If you're serious, you'll tell your mother to go straight to hell and live your life the way you want."

"You don't under-" she stops herself before the word is out.

"Go ahead, Tim. Say it."

"I'm always going to be close with my mother. Don't make me choose!"

"I'm not. I'm just going to make you be a grownup, and evidently you can't deal."

"This is the best I can do right now, Steve."

"That's not good enough."

Beep! goes my phone. Holly calling, it says.

Long pause. "I don't want to leave it like this."

"You just did."

"Fine. Bye, Steve."


I place the phone down on the table and it rings again, somehow seeming to vibrate harder and louder than it usually does.

Holly is coming unglued on me. It's a wonder this doesn't happen more often, with as much screwing around as I do.

I turn the phone off for a while as I do my errands. I turn it back on after lunch, and it's funny how the innocent message on the screen makes my stomach twinge with fear.

7 new messages, it says.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Coming soon to a morgue near you

Friday, November 25, 2005
Steve's house

If I ever kill myself, it's going to be with a gun.

Why the hell people climb to the tops of buildings and jump is beyond me. It just seems like so much work. And pills? You have to be careful not to scarf down too many at once, lest you puke up the whole mess. And if you take them too slowly, you'll go to sleep, and wake up still alive. Bummer, ain't it?

A firearm presents the quickest, easiest means to off oneself: Place gun in mouth; aim up slightly, at the brain stem; pull trigger, and slump lifelessly down to the ground as bluish-grey brain matter hits the wall behind you at roughly 600 MPH.

I've been thinking a lot about killing myself over the past day. I talk from time to time about wanting to have a wife and a family someday, and I still do. But the more I ponder it, the more I think that it will never happen for me.

For a long-term relationship, I would need an emotionally mature, intelligent woman. Someone just like Stephanie, who loved me and who probably would have walked barefoot over alcohol-soaked broken glass for me. But, although everything was going well, I pushed her away. I say, "She broke up with me" as an excuse to make it her fault. It wasn't; it was mine. The whole thing felt unnatural, like trying to sign your name with the wrong hand, and I was relieved when it was over.

The truth is, I was greedy. I was addicted to the idea of conquering. I didn't like being with one person. I wanted more attention, more affection. I felt like I was missing something, so I deliberately tested Stephanie, pushed her to prove herself to me over and over again, until she finally gave up. That was what I truly wanted.

Then I took up with Tim, and to my surprise things progressed, and I fell for her. I fell deeply in love, moreso than I've ever been, but in the back of my mind, I always knew it wouldn't work out. How could it? Tim was just as screwed up as I was; maybe even worse.

Maybe I loved her because she reminded me that someone was worse off than I was; maybe it was just my self-centeredness rearing its head again. Maybe, subconsciously, I was drawn to her because I knew it was temporary. Maybe I am incapable of a long-term relationship; maybe I'm just not wired for it.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. It's over with Tim now. The relationship failed miserably, just like it was always destined to.

Lila? She's too young, and again, a train wreck waiting to happen. I've never known anyone who's lived through so much drama at such a young age. If I ever married her, I'm sure our house would get struck by lightning the first day.

The ones who are capable of long-term relationships I have no interest in; the bad choices are the ones I love. And there's no future with them.

There is no point in me living my life like this. I don't care how much money I make or what nice stuff I buy. I don't want to be a nursing home-bound 80-year-old man spending eight hours a day propped up in a urine-soaked geri-chair, staring absently at a grainy TV screen, catching imaginary flies with my tongue, counting the days until my grown neices and nephews come for their monthly fifteen-minute visit, which will inevitably be filled with twelve and a half minutes of uncomfortable silence. I'd rather die now.

Maybe I wasn't meant to live past 35. Maybe I wasn't meant to live past 2005. Maybe I wasn't meant to live past November 25.

It probably wouldn't hurt a bit. If I blew out the back of my head, I wouldn't feel a thing.

My heart races; my mouth goes dry. Would I do it? Would I do it right now, if I had a gun in the house?

I don't have a gun. So I just sit here, staring at my computer screen, and crying like a big fucking baby.

Eventually, I fall asleep.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"And I think to myself, what a wonderful world..."

Tim's mother Diana is utterly forgettable, physically.

Her spotless black blouse and grey knit skirt tell me that she has fashion sense, and money, and her trim figure says that she watches her weight, but she's not been blessed with her daughters' plump lips and striking eyes; her mouth seems to disappear when she closes it tightly, and she's keen to hide her eyes behind huge, goggle-like glasses.

"There are things about Tim you don't know," she intones, so nasally that it seems she could speak without opening her mouth.

We're interrupted by the piercing sound of glass breaking. It's a big, loud crash, almost like a window being smashed.

"Steve!" Tim calls, her voice shrill with panic.

I dash up the stairs to find Jenny sweeping up the remains of the glass macaroni and cheese pan. She smiles up at me through her black curls as she dumps the pieces into a brown paper bag. "Kids were fighting over it," she laughs.

"What the hell did you put in there, Tim? Catnip?"

"Salt and a little cayenne pepper. My own special recipe."

"Cayenne pepper? For kids?"

"Just a little! They were fighting over it, weren't they?"

"So what did you want?"

"I was gonna ask you to clean up the pan, but Jenny got it. I told her she was our guest, but she insisted."

I turn to leave the room, and when I reach the steps, I turn back and look at Tim as she stands at the sink, spraying out a skillet with hot water.

She turns to face me, brushing the hair out of her eyes with the back of her wrist, her face shiny with sweat. It's way too noisy to hear her from this distance, but she mouths the word "Hi," smiling brightly through the billowing steam.

I have not been able to get that image out of my head since I saw it. She seemed so happy, so comfortable, as if she had been living at my house for 100 years. I enjoy her company; being alone has become harder than it used to be.

I could marry this girl, I think.

I trot back down the stairs to speak to Diana. Wonder what the hell she was talking about before.

"Saving the world?" Diana says.

"Not this time. They didn't need me."

"So Steven," she says with a little sigh, lightly slapping my knee. "There are some things we need to discuss." She reminds me of a teacher about to lecture an unruly student.

"Call me Steve."

"Listen. Tim has been through a trauma. A trauma that most people would kill themselves over."

"MOST people?"

"Steven, you have no idea. That's the problem here, you really have NO idea what you are getting yourself into. Tim hurts men. She always does. It's not her fault; she's a good person. She's still healing."

"Diana, I know about the rape."

"I doubt you know about the rape."

"You doubt I know about it?" I say, wrinkling my forehead. "So how do I know it happened?"

"I doubt you know all about it."

"Sixty stitches? The asthma attack that put her in the hospital? Alex Rodriguez?"

She glares at me in shocked silence, as if she had just caught me rummaging through her underwear drawer.

"Steven, you shouldn't make her talk about that! That was a very traumatic event in her life!"

"I didn't make her talk about anything, Diana."

"She didn't want to talk about it," she says to the wall in front of her.

"Then why did she do it?"

"Maybe you forced her to."

"Why don't you go to talk to her about it?"

"You don't talk about rape on Thanksgiving, Steven," she sneers.

"Not talking seems like a good idea right now."

She breathes deeply, slowly examining the pictures on my wall one by one. "Steven, don't be defensive. We're just talking. There's no need to be defensive."


"You need to understand that healing is a long process. I guided her through the process," she says, painting imaginary cirlces with her hands. "There are a lot of, steps in the process. Tim and I got very close. She leans on me; I am her support system. "

"I'm glad to hear it."

"No you're not."

"Excuse me?"


"Call me Steve. Ok?"

"Steve, Tim is a beautiful girl. You're playing it cool, like all the guys do. You're in love with her. I saw that little speech you made before. You're in love with her," she says, smirking pretentiously from the side of her mouth, they way your mother did when she asked if you got into trouble at school.

"Guys fall for her. They always do. Even the ones who normally don't fall in love. Just don't get too attached to her."

I pride myself on keeping my temper in check. Even if I do get angry, which is rare, I am careful not to show it. When you show your anger, you let someone know they are bothering you, which gives them the confidence to keep doing so.

I am angry enough to throw something. No one tells me my business. No one tells me how to run my life. And how dare she pompously claim to be protecting my feelings? What am I, nine years old? And since when has a woman ever hurt me for longer than 15 minutes, anyway?

Despite my rage, I'm careful to keep my voice at normal volume, and to maintain a relaxed position in my seat. I want Diana to see me calm and businesslike. She's used to manipulating people, I know, and I want her to wonder why she's not affecting me.

"Diana, as you pointed out, it's a holiday today, and it would be very un-Thanksgivinglike for me to tell you what I truly think about what you just said. I'm very familiar with Tim's dating history. She's familiar with mine. We actually have very similar pasts in that respect. We've discussed the risks involved in committing to a relationshp. We're adults. We accepted the risks and so far, everything's going very well."

"You're not listening. You're not listening," she says, with a shrug of resignation and a note of fatalism in her voice, as if she were complaining about bad weather.

"Diana, I heard you. You can't seem to accept that your daughter is an adult now. You've got to let her go!"

"She's never going to be with you, Steve," she seethes through tight lips, her heavy glasses sliding visibly down her nose. "You're just like alll the rest of them. You're gonna change her, and you're gonna cure her, and you're gonna live happily ever after. I'm just trying to help you! If you don't want my help, fine. Learn the hard way," she says, waving her hands like a conductor ending a symphony.

I seriously can't look at her anymore. I want to wrap my hands around her bread-stick neck and twist. But I manage a cool smile and a suble nod of the head as I stand up from the couch and stride toward the staircase. "Hey, Diana. If you ever want to cut the umbilical cord, I can recommend a good obstetrician," I say.

She narrows her eyes at me, and for the first time I see unmistakable hate in her face. Maybe I took it too far?

Tim is going to be pissed at me for this, but there's no sense letting up now. "Thanks for the advice," I say, with all the sarcasm I can muster, locking eyes with her as I climb the stairs.


I don't want to ruin Tim's Thanksgiving. I also don't want to make her take sides. With any luck, her mother will come to her, losing her mind, betraying herself as the out-of-control sociopath that she is.

Twice after the confrontation, I saw Diana speaking animatedly to Tim, gesturing powerfully with her hands, like a preacher. Each time, Tim stared mutely, hypnotically, at the floor.

8:10 PM

The last of the guests have gone. The house is already amazingly clean; most every countertop shines, and every dish has been cleaned and returned to its rightful place in the cupboard.

Tim and I haven't discussed my conversation with her mother, and I'm starting to think that I gave away a major advantage by letting Diana speak to Tim first.

"The house looks awesome, Tim!" I say, and as I see her avoid eye contact, I know it's going to be a long night.

"You ok?" If she's pissed, I'm going to make her tell me all about it. Why assume anything? Let her tell me what's bothering her, and I'll address those issues and only those issues.

"I think we're going too fast," she says.

Son of a bitch.

Actually, son of a is completely unnecessary.

"Tim. Do you have any idea what a psychotic, manipulative shrew your mother is?"

"Leave her out of this!" Tim shouts.

"Why? This was her idea. All her idea. And you're going right along with it."

"You weren't close with your mother. You didn't talk to your mother. That doesn't mean I can't talk to mine."

"This isn't about talking. It's about her controlling your life. Don't you see it?"

"Steve, I need her. She helps me! I know you think it's bullshit-"

"Tim, no offense, but you've had sex with what, 60, 70 guys? You did coke and ecstasy and went to sex parties? And fucked four guys in an hour? Didn't you do that?"

Yeah, I would never do such things. Well, only if I had the chance.

"Oh, and like you don't fuck."

"Not like you did."

"So I'm a slut now?"


"No, I'm serious! I want to know! Do you think I'm a fucking slut?"

"No!" I shout. "But your mother is supposed to be this positive influence on you. How do you explain what you did?"

"Sometimes I didn't listen," she says quietly, staring at her shoes. "You'll never understand, because your mother abandoned you, so now you think that no one needs their mother."

"No, no one needs my mother. There are good mothers around. Yours just isn't one of them."

"Don't talk about my mother that way!" she shreiks, startling me, her voice reverberating painfully from the kitchen walls.

"Don't be manipulated that way!" I scream back.

"She's not manipulating me!"

"Yes she is!" I thunder back. "You can't see it! You're fucking blind to the whole Goddamn thing! You're fucking blind!" I shout, lunging at her with the last word.

"You don't understand. You're just a hardheaded idiot! You're not even listening to me!"

"Hm. Sounds just like something your mother said earlier."

"Just forget it, Steve. You'll never understand."

"Stop saying I don't understand!"

"You don't!"

"Stop saying it!" Now my voice is reverberating.

"You don't fucking understand!!" she snarls, baring her teeth, lunging back at me.

I grab the nearest object - a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels - and hurl it to the ceramic-tiled floor with every ounce of strength I can muster. The bottle smashes violently, sending shards of glass in every direction, and I watch for a second as reddish-brown tendrils of liquor trace their way across the grout lines.

The room falls eerily silent. Tim has gone pale; her mouth hangs open as fear, anger, and panic crisscross her face. I scared her.

Excuse me, Tim? Could you possibly pour a little Coke on the floor? This stuff's no good straight up.

Suddenly, I want to hug her, I want to apologize, I want to tell her that we can talk about it, that I love her, and that when two people love each other they find ways to work things out. But I am not enough of a romantic to believe that that could really be true.

Her mother controls her fully. She might as well have a remote control with buttons marked "break up" and "let him down gently". There's no way Tim is going to let me in; there's no way this can work between us unless she sets the proper boundaries with her mother. And that will happen sometime after I fuck Eva Longoria.

"Steve, I, I, don't want to break up! I don't want to make you angry," she says, her breathing quickening, her eyes welling up. "Can we please talk about this? Calmly?"

"Fuck you. Get out."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Confuscious say: Never insult chef before she serve mashed potatoes

November 24, 2005, Thanksgiving
Steve's house

They start arriving at noon.

Brothers bearing covered plates. Sisters-in-law with bottles in hand. Aunts, uncles and cousins. Babies. An elderly man carrying a cane and wearing a zippered Cardigan sweater. Some I know well, and hug warmly as I open the door for them; some are vaguely familiar, and I greet them with awkward handshakes and sheepish smiles. Some I have never seen before, and I offer them an open mouth and a quizzical look.

Each time the bell rings, Tim abandons her mashed potatoes or candied yams and rushes over to me, insisting on being at my side when I open the door. "Hi!" we end up saying in unison, just like a couple of PDA'ing newlyweds.

"Forget you, I want her!" one old man says, hugging Tim longingly. She turns her cheek to him, blushing visibly.

"Who was he?" she whispers, as he places a tin of cookies on the counter.

"I thought you knew him!"

"I thought you did!"

I have met Tim's parents a couple of times, briefly, when we crossed paths in her driveway. Her mother seemed a bit loud; her father acted withdrawn. I know Tim has a younger sister, Drea, but I've never met her.

When the three of them arrive at my doorstep, my eyes go straight to Drea; I can't help it. Although she has a huge hoop earring stuck through the middle of her bottom lip, and her pant legs are wide enough to obscure a UPS truck, I can tell right away that she is gorgeous. Her eyes are huge, round, and deep blue; her hair thick and healthy, her waist impossibly thin, her breasts full and round. She reminds me of an actress, trying, unconvincingly, to pass herself off as a gangster, her beauty refusing to be hidden.

"Hi Marvin, hi Diana," I say, warmly.

"Steve, I want you to meet my sister Drea; Drea, this is my boyfriend, Steve," Tim says.

"How do you do," I say, extending my right hand.

She shakes it, though it's not so much a shake as it is a slide of her palm across mine.

"What's up, G?" she says, flashing a mouthful of flawless white teeth. It's almost like she can't act this way and keep a straight face.

"What's up G?!" Tim sneers. Drea flashes the exact same look back at her. It's amazing how alike they look, now that I think about it.

"She's going through a black phase," Diana murmurs as they walk by.

There were 32 people in all; everyone who was supposed to show up, did.

1:58 PM

"Soup's on!" Tim announces, ushering guests to two long pairs of tables. The first course is homemade French onion soup for the adults, and mac and cheese for the kids. She patrolls the dining rooms, smiling jauntily, asking, "All done?" as she removes empty bowls from the table.

"Hun, can you start stacking the dishwasher?" she asks. "Just keep stacking as much as you can in there, and anytime it fills up, run it."

"Yes ma'am."

"Could I possibly get summa them macaronis and cheese?" The hugging old man says. It turns out he's my father's uncle Sal.

"Actually, would ya mind if I had some too? It smells so good," Aunt Shirley says.

"Yeah, me too," say three other adults.

"Hey, no fair! That's our macaroni and cheese!" A voice calls over from the kids' table.

"Watch your mout' " an Italian-sounding voice replies, harshly. That's definitely someone from my side.

Tim scans the table, as if waiting for silence. "Was there something wrong with the French onion soup, guys?" she asks, in what sounds like a half-hearted attempt at humor.

"No," say a few people with empty bowls in front of them.

Tim scoops out three bowls of mac and cheese from a glass baking pan, frowning bitterly.

"What?" I ask.

"Macaroni and fucking cheese? On Thanksgiving?"

"Hey, it was your idea."

"Turkey will be ready in fifteen minutes!" Tim announces, serving the mac and cheese.

Tim insists on carving the first few slices of turkey herself, inspecting each piece, front and back, as if she works for the USDA. "Perfect," she whispers to herself.

I can tell right away that this is no ordinary turkey. I'd say it was juicy, but juicy brings to mind the image of biting into something and feeling moisture. This is way beyond juicy.

This turkey is so moist that the juices run off the pan, onto my counter, and all over the tiled floor. I have to mop. Twice.

I fill up a platter of turkey slices and grab it to bring to the table. Tim snatches my wrist. "We bring out all the platters at once!" she admonishes.

Tim taps a glass with a butter knife. "Everyone? Excuse me!" the conversations grind to a halt.

"Thank you all for being here. Steve and I really appreciate your company, and we hope you love the turkey! And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a toast, so Steve, take it away!" she smiles broadly, gesturing across the table to me.

Thirty-one heads swivel around to face me.

"I want to repeat how happy we are that so many people from both families could be here today. I'm happy that we're all getting to know each other. Tim and I are very close and we like the idea of our families being together, so thank you."

"Awwwww," say a few voices. Drea rolls her eyes, slipping white earbuds into her ears.

"I also want to take this opportunity to thank Tim. She says that I'm the host, but she's done 90% of the work here, and trust me, this dinner is going to be amazing. Tim, thanks."

She smiles sweely as a wave of applause fills the room.

"And finally," I say, raising my glass, "I am sure you'll love the turkey, but in case you don't, we're going to have some mac and cheese warming up in the oven-"

Laughter. "Yay!" says the kids' table.

"I wish you all the health and happiness in the world. Cheers."

"Cheers!" the group answers in unison.

My father is the first one to taste the turkey. He sits perfectly still for a moment, inspecting the slice, front and back, just as Tim did. I've been watching him carefully ever since he filled his plate; dad isn't tough to read.

"Tim. Tim!" he says, waiting patiently to get her attention.

She looks at him, eyebrows raised.

"Tim," he booms in his trademark deep voice, "dis is de best turkey I have ever tasted in 65 years of human life!"

He's answered with a roar of laughter.

The activity grows more frenzied around the platters, the laughter subsides, and the room falls silent save for the clinks and clanks of silverware against china.

"Oh my God, this is amazing!" "So juicy!" "Tim, how did you do this?" "This is the best turkey I've ever tasted!" The kudos keep rolling in, and Tim is sure to acknowledge every one.

The eating slows considerably, and there is still plenty of meat left. I don't know exactly how much the turkeys weighed, but they were the fattest ones I had ever seen, so fat that we had to use my neighbor's oven to cook the second one.

"Wouldja mind if I took somma the leftovers home with me?" Uncle Sal asks.

Heads turn to look at Tim. Something tells me Sal is not the only one who wants to get their hands on this turkey.

"Sure, uncle Sal," she smiles.

"The line forms to the left," I say.

I seriously think Tim should dump the catering business and open a restaurant. This was the best meal I've ever eaten. Other people said the same. There were endless courses of food, each served at just the right time, and all of it was prepared perfectly.

After putting away the third load of dishes, I slip downstairs to watch the football game. I'm not antisocial, but having that many people around starts to wear on me after a while, to the point where I need a break.

I park on the sectional couch, longneck beer in hand.

"Hel-lo!" sings a voice from the staircase behind me.


"Yo?" Diana says.

"Hi Diana. Coming to track me down?"

"I'm tracking you down," she says in an ominous tone, as if she were a villain on The X Files.

"Tim looking for me?"

"No, I'm looking for you."

"How nice of you!"

"Steven, we need to talk."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

We have liftoff....

Tuesday, November 22, 2005, 5:30PM
T minus 44 hours, 30 minutes

"Can we go shopping for Thanksgiving, Steve?" Tim says.

"Sure. Where's the list?"


"Tim, that's a notebook!"

"It's not full!"

"With all that stuff, we're gonna need your truck."

"Of course. I just need to stop and cash a check first."

"I'm buying, Tim."


"Yes! You're cooking, and I'm paying."

"I guess I'll just have to give you a really nice Christmas present, then."

7:40 PM
T minus 42:20

My kitchen looks like it got hit by an out-of-control grocery truck. Every free inch of counter space is filled with jars, bottles, and packages of all description. The floor is barely navigable for all the white, two-handled plastic bags.

"Most of this is non-perishable, so I'll pile it on your dining room table until tomorrow," Tim says. "The perishables will go in the fridge, and if that fills up we can put the rest in your garage. It's cool enough to keep out there for a day.

"Here's tomorrow's shopping list," she says, tearing a sheet from her notebook and sticking it to the refrigerator with an FSU magnet. Can we make a run around 8:00, before the crowds get too nuts?"

"Tim, we just went shopping. Why didn't you get that stuff just now?"

"I like to work with fresh fruits and spices. The produce places I go to are all climate-controlled, and they will keep better there than here. Also, we have to pick up the turkeys at the farm tomorrow. I picked out two really nice ones!"

"You picked them out?"

"Yeah! I inspected them and everything!"

"You mean they're still ALIVE?!"

"Yes, Steve. I picked them out a month ago, and I checked on them yesterday. Nice fat ones!" she exclaims, wide-eyed.

"Did you - apologize for the fact that we're going to be ripping them to shreds and eating them in a couple of days?"

"Do you eat hot dogs, Steve?" she says, tilting her head impatiently.


"That means you eat rat hair and pig snouts. I think you can handle this."

"You're weird, you know that?"

"Always!" she giggles sweetly.

November 23, 2005, 6:00pm
T minus 20:00

"What's that... fruity smell?" I say, sniffing the air.

"That's for my brine!" Tim says, stirring the contents of a large sauce pan.

"Your what?"

"My bri-ine," she says, leering at me from the sides of her eyes with a sexy twist of her head. "It's to make the turkey juicier!"

"Juicy is good."

"Stop it!" she flirts.

I run my hand across the back pockets of her jeans. Tim's ass is so firm and tight that I could squeeze it all day long and not get bored. Horny, yes, but not bored.

"Turn that stove off."

"Not now, honey! This is a very important part of the turkey." She turns to face me, still holding her wooden spoon, and drapes her arms around my neck. She presses her lips to mine, as I tingle from head to toe.

"You better be good and horny later," she whispers, her eyes drilling holes in mine.

"Bet on it."

Thursday, November 24, 2005, Thanksgiving, 2:04AM
T minus 11:56

My clock radio pops on and screeches "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson at a horrifyingly high volume. The tinny speaker can't handle the amplitude, and Kelly's normally in-tune voice is muffled by static and distortion. When I'm half asleep, it's more frightening than the theme from The Exorcist.

"Mmfffffff," grumbles Tim, propping herself up on her elbows and peeking at me through narrowed lids.

"What's going on, Tim?"

"I set the alarm. I gotta flip."

"No, you don't. On your back is fine!"

"No! I need to flip my turkeys, silly! They're soaking in the brine and it's time to turn them over."

"Forget your turkeys," I say, slipping my hand under the sheet and grabbing for her nightshirt. All I feel is skin.

"Are you naked?!"


"You were gonna flip turkeys naked?"

"Mmmmmm," she nods.

She rolls over, laying the full weight of her body on mine. I run my hand along her back, enjoying the softness and heat of her skin. I trace the valley of her lower back, the curve of her ass, her muscled thigh.

Tim and I got tested together a few weeks ago, and we've been going without condoms ever since. I had forgotten how much fun it is to fuck whenever the mood strikes us, to attack each other in the bathroom or the kitchen, not having to stop the action and fight with a condom, tugging, straightening and adjusting, like a commercial break in the middle of my favorite show.

I had also forgotten how good it feels to have sex without a condom. No matter how "sensitive" the condom is supposed to be, it's still there; it creates a barrier between us, blocking the mind-blowing friction of our warm flesh.

She lifts her hips up higher, grabbing me fully in her hand and guiding me into her, lowering herself down with a low sigh. She pushes up on my chest, straightening her toned arms, her blonde hair tumbling down between us.

I like letting Tim do the work in bed sometimes. It's fun to relax, and watch, as she grinds, bounces and moans on top of me. I like watching her eyes slip closed and her mouth twist into a snarl as she climbs toward orgasm.

"Ooooo," she whispers as her arms stiffen against me, her hips slamming against mine with growing urgency; I push her hair aside and watch her gently heaving breasts.

Late-night sex is so much fun because it feels different; the sensations are magnified somehow when experienced in the half-awakeness that I feel in the middle of the night.

Tim and I fit together perfectly; whatever position we happen to be in, it feels like we got it just right. I'm always holding back, trying to prolong the experience as I feel my body rushing to a climax.

Her breathing grows to a heavy pant, as if she'd just run a 100-meter dash. She pumps away at me furiously, her hands crossed on my chest, and my eyes close as I try to memorize this moment, this perfect moment of pleasure. I am completely at ease, completely happy, and yes, completely in love with this beautiful, mature, sexy, horny woman who is thrusting and grunting above me.

I feel her hair in my face and open my eyes. She's lowered her head in exhaustion or ecstasy, or both. "Ohh. Oh fuck," she whispers. She pauses for a moment, her eyes opening, then lets out a long, low moan.

The moan does it to me. I couldn't hold back anymore, even if I wanted to. I relax and finally let myself come.

"Good night, sweetheart," I say softly, as she lays her head gently down on my chest.

"Don't you want to see me flip my turkeys naked?"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cleaning up for the holidays

Friday, November 11, 2005, 6:30PM
Steve's house

"Hello, Jenny?"

"Yeah! Hi, Steve."

"How's it going?"

"OK," she says, unconvincingly, her voice sinking like a boat anchor.

"You and Bill talking?"

"A little. He's upset at me, obviously."

"You TOLD him?"

"I told him I slept with someone. I didn't tell him it was you."

"So, is there any hope?"

"He cheated too, about six months ago. So the whole thing is just marvelous."


"So how's Tim?"

"She's ok. In fact, she's coming over here on Thanksgiving. She's making dinner for both families, hers and mine. "

"So you're inviting me?"

"And Bill. And your mom, of course."

"Mom will come. Bill, I dunno."

"How about you?"

"Yeah, of course!"

"Are we ok?"

"Steve. Of course we're ok."


Now for the tough one.

I hit the flash button and dial.

"Hello, Nancy?"

"No, it's Holly! Is this Steve?"

"Yeah. Hi, Holly."

"How are yoooou," she flirts. "It's my birthday next month you know. I'm gonna be 18 and legal," she adds, before I can answer.

"That's cool-"

"I called you the other day."

"Oh yeah. It's pretty crazy right now. Hey listen, I'm in kind of a hurry. Is Greg around?"

"Fine, don't talk to me," she pouts. "Hold on."

A full minute passes, with muffled conversations audible throughout. "Hello," Greg finally says, sounding annoyed.

"Greg, hey. How's it going?"

I think he's being a little bitch about the whole Jenny incident, but if I want to make amends, I've got to be cordial, and let him know that I hear his concerns. I'm tired of this feud, and it would be nice to have the whole family together for Thanksgiving.

"Ok, Steve."

The mistake a lot of people make in this situation is that they start to debate the issue again. Why bother? Sometimes, people cool off, and they are able to see the other side without help. No sense bringing it up if I don't have to.

"I hope we can put this whole business behind us," I say.

He sighs. "I'm really- disgusted by the whole thing, Steve. But I know that's you. That's what you do. You're still my brother, and she's still my cousin, and I have to accept you the way you are."

"If I was hurting you, Greg, I could see it more."

"I know you think I'm being overly sensitive. I'm sorry! Am I supposed to apologize?"

Overly sensitive? No. Pantyhose-wearing bitch? Maybe!

"No! You don't have to apologize. I just want you to know that if this involved you, personally, in some way, I wouldn't have done it."

"Then what happened with Holly? That's my wife's sister."

"Are we back on that again? Greg, I didn't know how old she was. I probably should have. But it's not like she's hung up on me. It's not like she hasn't been with 1,000 guys since then."


"If I had known Nancy was going to give you a hard time..."

"I gotcha."

"Listen. I want you to come over to my house with the family for Thanksgiving. Tim's making dinner for both families!"

"Wow! You guys are getting serious."

"Yeah, she's awesome."

"She doesn't work for you, does she?"

"Ha ha ha."

Monday, December 12, 2005

An equal and opposite reaction

Monday, November 7, 2005, 6:00PM
Steve's house

I was so happy for Lila, and so relieved that things worked out well on her first day, that I let myself ignore the obvious problems with what I heard.

Lila managed to clear a week's worth of backlog in a four-employee department on her first day. She got a softare bug fixed on a program that is used by 20 people or more across the company. She's a good employee, but not that good. There's no WAY there should have been that much easy work laying around. Just what the hell was everyone else doing?

I need to address it, but I haven't yet. I need Kevin to tell me how a 19-year-old, in her first eight hours in a brand-new job, was able to clear so much work. What if Lila never got hired? How long would the problems that she solved have gone on?

My phone rings. It's Lila.



The line goes so quiet that it seems we've been disconnected.



"You ok, Lila?"

She heaves a weary sigh, as if she's been digging ditches all day.


"I probably shouldn't even tell you this. I want to solve my own problems! But-"


"It's not going well at work."

"I thought it was going great!"

"It is, but it's not."

"Well then I'm happy and sad for you!" A great line from Real Genius. Rent it!

"Steve, I'm serious! Those girls are giving me a hard time!"

"The three girls that work with you? Alexandra and them?"

"Yeah. Alexandra is the team lead, and ever since my first day she's been catty and bitchy with me. She calls me 'Wonder Woman' or 'Teacher's Pet'. They all do."

"Wonder Woman? Why?"

"Remember that first day, when I did all that work? They saw me with that big pile on my desk and they just laughed at me. It's like, they just sit around drinking coffee and eating bagels all frigging day, and they thought it was funny that I was working so hard. How do you think I got that much work done? It's because they don't do shit!"

"So what have you done to solve it?"

"I just tell them that I'm there to work and I don't care what they say."

"I've got a better idea. Ignore them totally. When they laugh or call you 'Teacher's Pet' pretend you don't hear. Keep producing work like you have been, and you're gonna make them all look bad. Make them look bad, and their jobs will be in jeopardy. Especially Alexandra, who is supposed to be leading the four of you."

"That's it?"

"That's all. Just keep setting the bar high and you'll force them to keep up."

"But that's gonna be hard! It kinda sucks listening to them."

"Get used to people resenting you. It's going to happen. But this is a great opportunity for you and I don't want to see you miss out on it."

"OK, Steve."

I punch keys furiously as soon as I get a dial tone, and hit Kevin's extension. "Kevin, Steve. See me in my office first thing tomorrow morning." CLICK.


Tuesday, November 8, 2005, 8:45AM
Steve's office

"Steve, Kevin from underwriting is here to see you," Bonnie says.


He sits in the chair across from me, squinting inquisitively. Kevin is about 5'10", with a mop of unruly brown hair and little round Harry Potter glasses.

"Kevin, I should have asked you some of this a couple of weeks ago, but obviously it's a bad time of year for conversation."

"I know. I've got a pretty full plate myself-"

"Let me ask you a question. How is it that a 19-year-old girl clears a week's worth of backlog in a day? In less than a day?"

He sits up straighter in his chair, adjusting his glasses, answering me before I'm done talking. "Now, when they're reviewing an application, Steve, they have to make a couple of calculations. Now, the calculation is usually made by InsurePro. But InsurePro has that bug, I mean, had that bug, where you couldn't save it halfway through. So they were making all the calculations by hand. It took a lot longer. Once she got the software fixed, it went much faster."

"She was the only one using it after it got fixed?"

"We've had lots of problems with InsurePro. So when she told me it was fixed, I told her to just do a few on her own to make sure it was ok. She ended up doing the whole pile."

"So they couldn't save their work halfway through. But they normally don't stop halfway through anyway, do they?"

"Not usually."

"So why did they stop using it?"

"The program autosaves every five minutes. You can't shut that off. And every time it tried to autosave it would crash. InsurePro is screwed up."

"So all that time the program was down, we were working at 50% capacity? Or less?"

"Now, we had a service ticket open with the software folks, Steve. They had been working on it for days."

"How did Lila manage to get that escalated?"

"I- I don't know, Steve. She's good, I guess."

I look at him for a long moment, turning my lips this way and that. "Kevin, you got shown up by a 19-year-old. You all did."


"I'm hearing through the grapevine that those girls are giving her a very hard time. Calling her names, like they're in junior high school. Apparently, they don't like the fact that she works so hard. I asked Lila, and she says everything is fine, but of course, she wouldn't tell me if it wasn't. I'm counting on you to take care of it, whatever it is. And don't be afraid to rip someone's head off if they're taking too long to help you. No way those software people should have taken that long."

"I will. And I know, those girls are kinda, rough over there sometimes. I didn't think it was that bad. I'm sorry, Steve."

"Don't apologize, just make sure it's ok. All right?"


"I get productivity reports every month for the underwriting teams. Check this out," I say, handing him a wide sheet of green and white-lined paper with tractor-feed holes on the sides.

"Alexandra's team is in last place out of five. But the software-"

"All the teams had the same software issue Alex's did. Her team's numbers weren't horribly bad, but they were bad enough. They did just enough work to get by. They took advantage of the situation. Next month, I want them to move up. Significantly. Let them know."

"I will."

"And let them know that I better not hear any more about any name-calling. They ought to be learning something from Lila, not ridiculing her. Apparently, she's the only one who knows what the hell is going on over there," I say, emphasizing the word "hell" like a priest at an exorcism.

"Yeah, yeah, now, she's really good, Steve, I mean, she's excellent out there. I know she's gonna be a team lead someday. I'll make sure there's no more issues."

"Do that."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Pumpkin seeds and shit

Saturday, October 29, 2005, 2:00pm

Next to Christmas, Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the chilly bite in the air, the bowls of bite-size candy that pop up on every dining room table and workplace desk, and the scary/cute decorations on every window and door. I even like the cheesy music they play on the radio. There's no other time, except for Christmas, when you know what holiday is coming just by looking at your neighbors' front lawns.

Why, I even hang a few decorations myself. I was never much for pumpkin carving, though. Which brought up a dilemma...

"Wanna go pumpkin carving tonight?"

"I don't think so."

"Pleeeeeease? My girlfriend and her husband invited us over. They're gonna buy us dinner!"

"But PUMPKIN carving, Tim?"

"It's cool! They have those nice patterns and the little tools to carve with. You'll be awesome at it, I know."

"Oh yeah?"

"Mmm. You have good fingers," she says with a sly smile.

I still haven't figured out how to say no when she smiles like that.


Todd and Sherri's house

"Do you mind if I use some of your spices?" Tim asks.

"We just ate," Sherri says. General Gao's chicken and pork fried rice. Yum! "What are you making?"

"I'm gonna make some pumpkin seeds!"

"Ewww! They're all slimy and stuff! We just throw them away, don't we Todd?"

"You'll like them. Trust me." And with that, Tim goes to work, preheating and measuring and mixing.

"So how long have you guys been going out?" Sherri says, not looking at either one of us. She's 28 or so, and the lines next to her eyes give her face a comfortable look.

"Couple of months," I say.

"I smell marriage," Todd says, smiling up from the pumpkin he's working on. If using the word "marriage" while carving out an image of a graveyard ain't symbolism, I don't know what is.

Todd's finger has swollen around his wedding band, so much so that it actually looks painful. He's probably put on 15 or 20 pounds since he got married. I wonder how it must feel not to be uptight about one's appearance.

"I think that's a dirty diaper you're smelling," I say. They have a three-month old daughter, but she's been sleeping since we got here. We all laugh.

"Just let them spend the holidays together, and we'll see how it goes!" Sherri says to Todd. "No pressure. Right, Steve?"

"Sounds good to me."


Tim pulls a frying pan from under the oven. "A frying pan?" says Sherri.

"I have to caramelize!"

Something smells good. REALLY good. It's a wintry, spicy smell, almost like apple pie.

She transfers the seeds into a bowl and stirs furiously with a wooden spoon. "I gotta get my hands on somma those!" Todd says.

"No! Let them cool first!" Tim scolds.

Todd and I look impatiently at each other as the wall clock ticks.

DING! goes the egg timer.

"Dig in, guys!" Tim says, placing the bowl on the table in front of us.

The initial handful is like tasting candy for the first time as a kid. Delighting in the warm, sweet, spicy flavor on the outside, I bite down, and the hearty pumpkin-seed taste joyously fills my mouth. These things are amazing!

"Where did you get this recipe?" Sherri says.

"I saw it somewhere, but I didn't write it down, so I just kinda winged it."

"Absolutely amazing, Tim! A Tim special!"

"It would be nice to have a wife who cooks like that, wouldn't it?" Todd says, grinning at me.

A loud, shreiking cry pierces the sounds of our crunching and chewing.

Sherri runs to the living room, picking the baby up out of her playpen. "Oh my God, she's a mess. Her diaper leaked. Todd!"

"Be right there," he intones, lumbering out of his seat and into the living room.

Tim takes a seat next to me. "Your pumpkin is awesome!" she says, admiring my wolf-howling-at-the-moon masterpiece.

"Thanks. So are your pumpkin seeds."

We both look away. We're thinking about something else.

"Todd is so crazy."


"Can you picture us married, Steve?" she says, with a little chuckle.

"I'd have to say I love you first."

"Well you better say it first, because I'm not," she smiles.


"A lady never says 'I love you' first!"

I look at her again. I didn't even want to come here tonight; part of me was dreading it. And I've had the most amazing time.

Maybe it's time to say it after all.


October 31, 2005 - Halloween, 8:45pm

"Good turnout today," I say, flipping my porch light off and hitting the STOP button on my Halloween Hits CD (time to moth-ball that one for another 11 months). "We got a couple of Three Musketeers and some Snickers left. Interested?" I hold up the almost-empty silver salad bowl.

"Uh-uh. Can we go for a walk?"

"Sure, Tim."

It's a beautiful night, warm enough to go without a jacket. As we're walking out of my driveway and onto the sidewalk, I feel her left arm slip around my waist, her hand sliding into the back pocket of my jeans.

"I was thinking..."

Uh-0h. Wonder what THIS is about.


"What would you say about getting both our families together for Thanksgiving? At your house? I could make a turkey. I could make TWO turkeys!"

It's a great idea. Of course, I'll have to make amends with Greg about my boning Jenny. Oh, and I'll have to speak to Jenny, too, to make sure we're ok. I'm pretty sure no one in my family would be dumb enough to mention what happened with her in front of Tim, but one never knows.

If all goes well, this could be a great Thanksgiving. But it usually doesn't go well with my family on a holiday. Still, Tim and I have gotten serious, and I like the idea of our families getting to know each other.

We stop by the pond, admiring the reflection of the streetlights on the still water, and the leaves that float slowly by.

"Tim," I say, turning to face her, my heart racing.

"What?" she beams back at me.

"What are you smiling about?" I laugh.

"What were you gonna say!" she giggles.

"Tim, I love you."

Her face goes blank. Is she uncomfortable? Happy enough to cry? Shocked? Constipated?

A tear wells up in each eye, like tiny diamonds. "Ohhh! I love you too, honey!"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

You mean she didn't even vacuum the carpets?

Monday, October 17, 2005, 8:30am
Steve's office

I played up the idea that everyone in the office wanted Lila back, because I didn't want the HR people thinking that there would be any resentment about us rehiring her. The actual truth is that I thought everyone would be neutral.

Then I see the ten-foot long string of multi-colored party letters hanging in the break room:


Seeing it actually chokes me up a bit. What a thoughtful thing for her coworkers to do!

Maybe the employees think a little less than I suspected about Dom and me.

I saw her briefly, last week, when she stopped by to fill out some forms. She was scrubbed out, in sweats and a baseball cap, and waved to me from across the hall as I went into a meeting. Today, I am seeing her up close for the first time in months.

She's gotten hotter.

Her hair has grown noticeably longer; now it cascades well past the small of her back, as straight as falling raindrops, and shiny as clean glass. I can smell her green-apple shampoo from ten feet away.

Maybe it's the pleated skirt and dark sweater she's wearing, but her ass looks fuller, and her chest bigger. My eyes fix on her thick, lipsticked lips and her huge almond-shaped eyes, and, staring at her face from afar, she exudes the glamorous perfection of a supermodel or a Hollywood actress.

Lila has a desk now, not just a cubicle, in a small alcove with three other underwriters. I stop by as she is arranging staplers and paperweights on her desktop.

"I need to speak to you," I say, in my best work-voice, a bit deeper and more humorless than my regular one.

"Sure, Steve," she says, in a womanly version of the work-voice, darker and more mature than her normal one.

And just like that, Lila and I are partners in crime again, expertly hiding any hint that we were ever a couple, or that there is even a remote possibility that we ever could be. And we somehow manage to do so unspeakingly, knowingly, without any advance planning or discussion. It's simply a mode we slip into, together.

"You're ok on the procedures, right, Lila?" I say in my office.

"I have a 10:00 with Kevin to go over everything. But I studied what you gave me."

"Good. There's also a training class I want you to go to. It's out of state."

"Kevin told me. It's fine."

"Ok! Well, I'd show you where the bathrooms and the water cooler are, but..."

"Totally unnecessary?" she says, her pink lips stretching into a smile straight out of a toothpaste ad. God, she is beautiful.

"Huh?" I say.

"Are you daydreaming already? It's only ten after nine!" she chuckles.

"You- you look really nice."

"Thanks! Now I don't feel so bad about being broke!"

We laugh. "Well, I guess that's about all I had. Just remember, Lila, we're going to get one shot at this. It has to go well-"

"I'm ready. I won't let you down. I want to thank you for giving me another chance, Steve."

"You're welcome."

"I mean it."

"Do a great job. That's all you have to do to thank me. Go out there and show them what you can do."

"I will."


Steve's office

Kevin, the underwriting manager, taps on my door frame.

"Come on in!"

He plops into the chair across from me.

"So I came back from lunch, around two today..."


"We have a basket where we keep all of our pending policy applications. It's sorted by date, oldest first."


"This time of the year, we're about, I dunno, a week, ten days behind, maybe. But when I came back, the basket was empty. So I started yelling at them. I said, "Don't take an application out of the basket unless you're working on it! Sometimes they'll take two or three, so they don't have to get up."

"I see."

"So then I looked at Lila, and she went, 'Hey, Kevin, I need you to sign off on these.' And she had a pile of completed applications like THIS," he says, stretching his index finger and thumb far enough apart to hold a Big Mac. "I checked them all. Every last one. They were PERFECT! She finished all of our backlog in THREE HOURS! She's INCREDIBLE!"

"I told you," I say.

"And you know InsurePro, that software we use for underwriting? Ever since the upgrade, there was a bug where we couldn't save the file halfway through a project. We had to finish the job in one sitting or we'd lose our work."

"I heard that."

"Well, she got someone on the phone from tech support, and they found the problem and fixed it! It was one line of code!"

"You're kidding!"

"And wait 'till you hear this! The copier's been busted for about three or four days. Somebody melted a transparency in there, and they sent the replacement fuser unit, but we haven't been able to get them to come down and install it..."

"So she got them to come down?"

"NO! She installed it herself!"

"No shit!"

"Yep. Steve, this girl is gold."