Winter Into Spring

WINTER INTO SPRING (1st draft)

(c) 2017 Nitay Arbel

Wright Park Municipal Library

Winter 2011

I was working the late shift at the library, noon until 8pm.

My station was upstairs, impersonal except for the little sign, “Veronica Zielinski, nonfiction and reference librarian”.

Patrons ran the gamut at this suburban Chicago library, from homeless seeking a warm spot in winter to academics looking for something inexplicably not in the university library.  There were suburban housewives — if they brought children, they were usually downstairs in the children’s section. Another large contingent were retiring baby boomers looking for a good read.

Of late, I’d seen a new face. A tall, fairly handsome man with blonde hair and a moustache, in business casual clothes, carrying a laptop bag. Almost on the dot at 5:15 PM he would enter, smile at me, and make a beeline for the carrels where people could read or study by themselves. Rarely,  if ever, did I see him get up. Come closing time, he would get up, say bye, and leave. Almost never did he check out a book.

Recently, a blogger had complained about catching men in, well, very inappropriate activities inside city libraries. Of course we were all opposed to censorship, including of sites some would deem pornographic, but there were behaviors we couldn’t tolerate. What if children saw them, after all?

So I made an inspection round of the carrels.

There were three people left: a little old lady with a notebook and archival volumes of the local newspaper; a disheveled-looking man, sleeping with his head resting on his arms on the desk; and the mystery man. As I approached him, I heard typing on a laptop keyboard, bursts going at machine-gun speeds, interspersed with long pauses.

Internet chats? Here in the library? Well, it’s not forbidden, but why come to the library for that…

I passed behind him. He had earbuds in, through which I presumed he was listening to music—so he did not notice me at first.

On his screen was what looked like a word processing application, but with an unusual layout: to the left a column with what looked like a list of chapters, to the right the text of the chapter he was clearly writing. I saw references to spaceships, an orbital habitat, and other science fiction standbys.

Aware that he was being watched, he turned around and pulled out his right earbud.

Then as he saw me, he looked me in the eye.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, am I typing too loud?” he asked in a friendly voice.

I was used to men being dismissive of my looks. I’d inherited just those parts of my Italian and Polish genes that made me, well, a ‘hefty’ woman. I tried hard not to overeat — as my boyfriend kept making disparaging comments about my weight —-  but even so, it was enough of a struggle just to not become clinically obese.

So I was surprised that sci-fi guy didn’t seem to think me plain.

‘N-not at all,” I stuttered, then caught myself. ״I’m Veronica, but everybody calls me Ronnie. And you are?”

“Marc. Marc Schultz. Nice to meet you, Ronnie.” He took out the other earbud and reached out his hand.

‘You come here to…”

“Write without distractions. I get off from work, turn off my cell phone, turn off my internet, and make myself write for as long as I can.”

“What do you write?”

“Mostly, military science fiction. I’ve got one book and a bunch of stories up on Orinoco. I’m now writing the sequel.”

“Who do you publish with?”

“Myself.”

‘Come again?”

“Indie. I send drafts to a few people in my Facebook writers group who give critique. Then I write the final draft, and pay somebody to copy-edit it. A friend from the group who’s in advertising by day draws covers. I upload everything to Orinoco.”

“Interesting. You sell?”

“That genre has a following. I’m not ready to quit my day job, but so far the hobby’s paying for itself. I sell the Ebooks at three bucks, take two home.”

“Your wife or girlfriend doesn’t mind?”  I’d seen him look at me: there clearly was no ‘boyfriend’.

“I’m divorced.”

‘Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK. I caught her with my best friend, in our own bedroom.”

I gasped. His face remained stoic.

“Fortunately we didn’t have kids yet. She moved to Florida with him, I stayed here. I took up writing as therapy.”

“W—writing is very therapeutic.”

“You speak from experience?”

‘I—-always dreamed of being a writer.”

“Well, if you want, it’s not a dream.”

My boyfriend knew of my dream but had always dismissed it as an impossible fantasy.

Marc yawned. “I’m sorry, I’m not bored by your company, just tired.”

“C-can I bring you some coffee from the break room?”

“If you would join me. Thank you very much!”

“C-certainly. Please come with me.”

He packed up his laptop and followed me.

***

Marc gulped down the coffee. “Aah, just what I needed. Thanks!”

“Sorry for this axle grease.”

“Oh, I’ve drunk way worse at work.”

“Where, if it’s not impolite to ask?”

“I’m a network support tech at MidWest Insurance down the road there. Boring job, but pays the bills well, and with reasonable hours. Beats being a starving artist.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Hey, there’s a composer who had day jobs for twenty years, even once a moving company with another composer. Once he became well known, he wrote music full time.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Philip Glass.”

“I-I know his music. Like in that movie with the Indian title and no words.”

“Koyaanisqatsi.”

Involuntarily, my fingers formed the notes of the opening theme.

“You play?”

“Used to. Brother got organ lessons. I watched him play and learned from him, but never got lessons myself.”

That’d been my whole life: I’d looked after others — then my younger siblings, now part-time my parents who were getting on in years, and of course my boyfriend —- deferred to their wishes, and never asked anything for myself.

“Used to make music on the computer. Not anymore. Am better at writing words than music.”

“What do you listen to when you write?’

“Soundtracks. Epic electronic stuff. That puts me in the right mood to write about spaceships, space battles, and the like.”

“I never could get into sci-fi.”

“There are many kinds. Some things you might like.”

“Such as?”

“Well, what sort of books do you like best?”

“Literary fiction, old and new. I majored in English lit.”

“You like Jane Austen?”

“Y-yes. very much.”

“Try a book called ‘Komarr’ by Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s in a space setting, but it’s really a story of heartbreak and love.”

“A woman wrote that?”

“Yes, and she’s actually one of the best writers ever in the genre.”

“Always thought that was a ‘male’ genre.”

“You’d be surprised. Andre Norton was actually a woman writing under a male pen name. C. L. Moore was a woman. Ursula LeGuin was maybe the first woman sci-fi writer to become famous under a woman’s name. Bujold is my favorite, of any gender. There are many newer ones, like Sarah Hoyt.”

Now I had to check the book.

***

When I got home, I called Lenny. He sounded annoyed I was bothering him.

Of course, when he called or stopped by, I was supposed to drop everything and wait on him. I’d actually hoped he would come by and sleep here, but that wasn’t going to happen. He said he was working late, but I could clearly hear bar noises in the background.

I excuses myself and hung up. I ate a solitary meal of yesterday’s leftover salmon, while I started reading the book.

It took me a while to get into the spacey setting, but soon I was engrossed, as Marc had predicted.

I stayed up into the depth of night. Lenny stopped by, crawled into my bed. After a few minutes he had the release he wanted and fell asleep. I was left unsettled.

***

The next day, I continued reading during my shift, while keeping half an eye out for patrons.

Marc came in at the usual hour. He waved a friendly greeting: I demurely smiled back. He settled in at his usual spot and started writing, as I kept on reading.

Half an hour before closing time I finished the book. I scraped my courage together and walked to Marc’s carrel, then waited for him to notice me.

I saw streams of dialog forming on his screen as the keys softly clattered. Then he paused, frowned, turned around and saw me.

“Oh hi.”

“Hi Marc.”

He saw ‘Komarr’ in my hand.

“Did you like it?”

“It’s… Marc, how did you know this? I’m reading about this Ekaterine Vorsoisson, and it’s like I’m reading about me and my relationship.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Ronnie.”

“D-don’t be sorry. You had no idea. But thank you for helping me understand what I’m dealing with.”

“Don’t wanna pry, but would you like to talk about it?”

I was so grateful somebody was interested in hearing my troubles for a change, that I started pouring out.

Marc listened with great sympathy.

The buzzer rang. “I’m so sorry, Marc, I gotta close the place up.”

“Have you eaten dinner yet?”

“N-no.”

“So let’s go to the Flat Top across the street and continue this chat over dinner.”

I hesitated.

“It’s just a friendly invitation to dinner, OK? No other agenda. Besides, I’m hungry. Come on, my treat.”

Wh-what?

He’s hitting on me?

Come on, he can get much better than me.

“Er-Ok, but we go Dutch.”

“OK, if you’re more comfortable with that.”

***

The Flat Top was an all-you-can-eat grill place. You put your own grill together of raw meat, raw fish, vegetables, rice, pita,.. then handed it to a short-order cook, who grilled it in front of you.

Marc was clearly a regular here, as the cook and the waitresses greeted him. At least one was openly flirting: a pretty, skinny young Asian thing named Hillary.

“She likes you.”

“She’s nice, but too young. I’d feel like a cradle snatcher. Besides, she’s not my type.”

“How come? She’s pretty.”

“If you like thin women. I like a woman who’s cuddly.”

I turned red.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Just know that more men than you think like full-figured women.”

“Full-figured. Nice way to say ‘fat’.”

“Fat is fat, full-figured is full-figured. They’re not the same. Think Roseanne Barr vs. Mandy Moore.”

No wonder he likes me.

With the help of a couple of Coronas, I poured my heart out about Lenny Dunham.

“You didn’t lie. He does sound like Ekaterina’s useless husband.”

“It’s not that he expects me to take care of his every need. It’s how he feels the need to put me down every time. I’m no genius, but heck, I’m not stupid either. I did keep up a 3.8 GPA while working full time.”

“That’s amazing, actually.”

“Otherwise I couldn’t have afforded going to college.”

“How did you meet this…  ‘alleged man’, for lack of a less polite term?”

“He was in his second year of law school, I in my senior year of English lit. We met at a party. At first he showered attention on me, then after I, well, hooked up with him, he started taking me for granted.

“I actually helped him finish law school. Now he’s working as an associate at a law firm.”

“Did you ever move in together?”

“I wanted to, but he didn’t. Said he needed his freedom. He says there are no other women. I used to believe him. Not sure… not sure I do anymore.”

“I’m so sorry.”

He picked up a napkin from the dispenser and offered it to me to wipe my eyes.

“W-why are you being so nice to me?”

“Because I like you, and because I think you deserve much better.”

“I’m sorry if I sound crass, but if you’re thinking of making me cheat on Lenny you’re wasting your time.”

A streak of embarrassment flashed across his face.

“I-I’m sorry if that’s what it looked like. No, that’s not what I meant at all.”

“You don’t…”

“If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’m here for you. If you were unattached, I might actually ask you out on a real date. But I don’t make people cheat, no matter how undeserving their partners.”

“I see. Thank you for your honesty, Marc. I like you too. But…”

“Absolutely no agenda here.”

We changed the subject to our backgrounds. His was German-American on his father’s side, Belgian-American on his mother’s. He’d grown up around the US as his father was an Air Force pilot, then an instructor after he was grounded because of increasing nearsightedness. His mother had been a French teacher. One brother was a pilot, the other a doctor. He himself had studied a double major in electrical engineering and computer science.

Regretfully, I decided we should call it a night. I wanted to pay my share, but he settled the bill for both of us with ‘Hillary’ before I could stop him.

I lived about eight blocks away.

“It’s kinda slippery. Mind if I see you to your place?”

What should I do? Do I really want him to know where I live?

I could let him escort me to about a block and a turn away, then wait for him to get out of sight and continue.

Then again, he doesn’t strike me as the stalker type.

“That’s very kind of you. Yes, please, if you don’t mind.”

We walked to my apartment complex in the cheaper area of town. On the way, he pointed out the condo building where he lived in a small studio.

“Okay, we made it.”

“Thank you for a wonderful evening, Marc.”

“The pleasure was all mine. I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess?”

“You bet. Good night, Marc.”

Oh, what the…

Against my better judgment I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.

He returned the kiss, lingering but tender, as he held me with evident strength yet respect.

I made my way inside, waved him goodbye, and closed the door.

Lenny was again working late, he texted me. This time no ‘booty call’ followed. I couldn’t sleep, so dug out one of my old stories, and wondered how Marc would like it.

Of course, I’m a trusting soul, way too trusting for my own good.

***

I was morose the next day. Then Marc walked in, and all of a sudden it seemed I was walking on air rather than the orthopedic clogs I wore around the library.

“So how’s my muse today?”

“Mm-kind-of wondering if Miles and Ekaterina ever got together.”

“‘Komarr’ is part of a long series called the Vorkosigan Saga. But it has two direct sequels, ‘A Civil Campaign’ and ‘Memory’. I won’t spoil it by telling you how it turns out. You’ll just have to read them.”

“I’d love to. We’re sure to have those here.”

“She’s great, isn’t she?”

“Bujold? Oh yeah. I’m looking forward. Speaking of…”

“Yes?”

“W-would you like to read something and tell me what you think of it?”

“Ah… every writer is always begging for readers.”

My heart sank. Then I saw the twinkle in his eye.

“Of course I will. The first thing I ever wrote I was also begging for readers. How long is it, like ‘Atlas Shrugged?’”

“You’ve read that?”

“Oh yes. It’s long and preachy, but I agree with much of it. Actually, the low-budget movie based on the book made the point almost as well, and much shorter.”

“You believe in…”

“Freedom.”

“Not in helping each other?”

“Of course I do, but voluntarily, not under duress.”

“Not all people are generous like you.”

“If you say so. But seriously, how about you show me that manuscript?”

“It’s just a short story. I’m not sure if it’s any good.”

“Okay. You want me to be supportive or honest?”

“Honest.”

“Sure thing. Let me have a go at it.”

He sat down and read. Meanwhile I filed books that had been returned.

With some trepidation I walked back to his cubicle.

“How awful is this, really?”

“It’s got potential. It’s a bit willfully literary in places, but it has a compelling story. I think with a little light editing this could be quite good.”

“Y-you want to?”

“I’m no good for that style. But I know somebody in my writer’s group who’s right up your alley.”

“How much will he charge?”

“If he edits at all, he does it for free. He’s a retired HR director. He doesn’t need the money, and does’t take any—-doesn’t want to be bound to any obligations. Usually he’s pretty quick.”

“I-I don’t have the Word file anymore.”

“That’s okay. I’ll scan it with my smartphone and have him mark up the scans. Won’t take more than a few days.”

“Thank you so much. Tonight is my turn to pay.”

“Well if you insist — but seriously, I’d love you have dinner with you  again. Just forget the paying.”

***

We were again enjoying dinner at the FlatTop.

“Tell me something, Marc.”

“Yes, Ronnie?”

“Have you ever written anything romantic?”

“Well, there’s a romance subplot in my current WIP.”

“Wip?”

“Work In Progress.”

“Okay, but a real romantic story.”

He suddenly blushed.

“Sorry, did I…”

“It’s ok. Actually, I have. It’s actually sold pretty well. But it’s, well, you know, ‘contemporary romance’.”

“That’s alright, I’m a librarian, I know con rom readers expect steaminess.”

“I.. wrote it to show myself I could do it. It’s not what I imagine myself writing.”

“It’s on Orinoco?”

“Oh well… OK, it’s under my pen name ‘Frank Van Brussel ’ — dad’s first name plus mom’s maiden name.”

We chatted more. Again, he walked me home and we exchanged friendship kisses on the cheek.

***

Once inside, I couldn’t resist. I fired up a web browser, logged on to Orinoco, and found the story for 99 cents. I bought it and started reading.

It was about two high school friends, a boy and a girl who’d been thick as thieves since forever. Each thinks the other only sees them as a friend, and they share stories of their love lives with each other. Eventually, they are in college together; the boy confessed he’s never actually slept with anyone because he thinks his first time to be with a person he really cares for, and the girl says to leave it all to her —- she will set this up for him. She arranges a bed date for him, with… herself.

The actual love-making scene was steamy all right, very sweet, very romantic, but leaving nothing to the imagination.

The next morning, the two decide they can’t or won’t go back to being just friends, and agree to be a couple. Soon they marry and start a family together.

I was so worked up reading this — especially the scene where the more experienced girl teaches the boy how to properly pleasure a woman — that I had to go take a shower. That did nothing to calm me down, as I kept dreaming of myself in the role of the girl and of Marc in the role of the boy. In the end, I gave in, and within a minute a startlingly intense wave of pleasure ripped through my body.

I felt Catholic guilt at first — I’d been unfaithful in spirit to my partner, with a friend who maybe was not at all interested in me that way.

Then I realized, with disappointment — a love-making scene in a story had given me more fulfillment than all my nights with Lenny.

Maybe the time had come for some sunlight.

***

The next night.

Sobbing, I called Marc’s number.

“Ronnie, are you alright?”

“N-not really. Can I come over?”

“It’s kind-of messy here, but sure. Want me to come to you instead? It’s darn cold.”

“I…I don’t mind.”

“If you’d rather be away from your place, give me five minutes to come pick you up.”

“Oh-ok.”

“I’ll call when I’m downstairs. Hang in there.”

“T-thank you so much.”

I put on my coat and waited in the lobby. Seven minutes or so later, a Subaru Outback 4-wheel drive pulled up — fairly cheap and dowdy, but handles great in snow and ice. Marc got out and opened the passenger door. I walked out to the car, Marc ushered me in, then closed the door and moved to the driver’s side.

“We’re going home. Let’s talk when we’re there.”

He drove carefully through the 6-8 inches of snow. At his building, he triggered a small garage opener, a gate opened, and we drove down into a heated underground parking where several dozen vehicles were standing.

He parked in his assigned spot and cut the engine. The garage was chilly but not cold—the heating was clearly just enough to ensure cars would start without trouble — and closed the door.

“Come on up, then tell me what’s bothering you.”

We took up an elevator to the second floor and walked to his studio apartment. It was small, but tastefully furnished.

We shed our overcoats in the entrance area.

Then he hugged me. I hugged him back, frantically.

“Can I get you anything hot?”

“Don’t go to any trouble—“

“I’ll make us cocoa.”

He used the little espresso machine in his kitchen to heat milk, then mixed in cocoa powder and handed me a steaming mug of the result. He then proceeded to prepare the same for himself.

One arm around me, he ushered me to the sofa.

“Now tell me what happened.”

I hung on to him for dear life as I sobbed out my story.

“I do everything for this jerk. Do his laundry for him. Pay his bills when he was out of money again. ‘Comfort’ him whenever he needs a woman. He never takes the trouble to see I also got something out of it. And now—I go bring him some dinner while he’s working late, and I find him in the boardroom with the senior partner lying on the desk, his head between her legs.”

“Oh my gee.”

“He wouldn’t do that for me even once!”

“What a disgusting jerkwagon.”

“He told me I was fat and ugly and simply couldn’t compete with her.”

“You told him the difference between him and a sack of pigshit? The sack.”

I laughed wryly. “I didn’t, but I wish I had.”

“And that he should tie a knot in his d*ck.”

Now I chortled despite myself.  “She’s not even good-looking.”

“Obviously he’s trying to sleep his way to junior partner.”

“I guess. Some ‘overwork’. Ugh!”

“You think that’s the only woman he’s cheated on you with?”

“Don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.”

We talked and talked, now holding hands, then hugging.

“I was meaning to call you earlier, Ronnie.”

‘Yes?’

“This may cheer you up. My friend Juan read your story. He really likes  it. He has some suggestions for changes, but he says it’s your story to do with as you please.”

I knew it.

“He suggests that if you have more stories, that you upload this one on Orinoco, then post another one every few weeks and build up a bit of a catalog. Meanwhile you can think about working your way up to a novella, then a novel.”

“That’s usually what people do, right?”

“Depends. I went straight to a novel as I had a story begging to be written down. My characterization sucked, but in mil sci-fi, people don’t care if the story’s strong and the world-building good. Juan really liked your characters and atmosphere, by the way.”

“And all this time—Lenny kept saying this was pointless, I shouldn’t waste my time on ‘this writing nonsense’.”

“You’re not, believe me. I could see right away you’ve got the talent. All you’re missing is experience. You’re already a better stylist than I can ever be.”

“But you’ve published…”

“Because I decided I wasn’t going to really learn unless other people read my work. Even if they said they didn’t like it, I’d ask ‘where did I go wrong?’, and I’d either pay attention if they had a point, or ignore it if they were just whining.”

“So…”

“So I’ll help you with making an Ebook and finding a cover.”

“I-I can draw, you know.”

“Great, then we can scan your drawing. There’s a few practical things—covers must make sense at low resolution, and there has to be space for your name and the title—but nothing we can’t work out.”

‘It won’t be great.’

“Good enough is all that’s needed right now. That’s the neat part about ebooks—if it’s not perfect, you can always fix it later.”

“Y-you’re the first man who’s ever given me confidence.”

“Makes me sad to hear that. And pleased I can fix it.”

I embraced him fiercely. I’d always been touchy-feely, but got the vibe he wasn’t, generally.

***

“Wow, it’s gotten so late.”

“Want me to drive you back?”

“C-can I stay here?”

“Sure, I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“You don’t have to, Marc.’

“No, lovely lady.” He regretfully, but firmly, shook his head.

“Why? You don’t find me…”

“I don’t want to take advantage of your vulnerable state. If later we decide we want to be more than friends, by all means, I’ll make it worth your wait.”

“And if we just stay—“

“Friends, then that’s that. Nothing will happen unless we both want it.”

“At least let me sleep on the couch then.”

“No, you get to sleep in a real bed, by yourself. I’ve slept here before —- when my brother and sister-in-law were visiting. It’s no big deal.”

“Don’t be silly. So how about this: we both sleep in the bed, just sleep.”

“Deal.”

I hadn’t brought night clothes. Marc gave me a sweat suit that sort-of fit me, then went to change in the bathroom.

I was a bit disappointed he wouldn’t take my offer, at the same time touched by a respect no man had ever shown me.

***

I woke up before Marc and decided to surprise him. I went to his fridge, found pastrami and eggs, and started whipping up an omelette for the two of us while operating the espresso machine and the toaster.

Then I loaded everything on a tray and brought it to the bedroom.

“Breakfast time”

“Wh—mmm, that smells good.”

“Bon appetit.”

“Mmm, that’s fit for a prince.”

“Least I could do for you.”

“Thank you, sw—- Ronnie.”

I hadn’t missed that.

“You nearly called me sweetheart.“

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Y-you really think of me like this?”

“If you want to be.”

“I—-I believe I do, darling.”

We kissed for real this time. We nearly lost ourselves.

He broke the kiss. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I have to be at work.”

“Pity. But it’s ok. I’m not going to the moon, or Mars.”

“Let me get dressed for work. Your shift doesn’t begin until—-“

“Noon. I’ll walk home, it’s ok. Gotta get changed into work clothes.”

“Let me drop you off then.”

“There’s no need, darling.”

“Sweetheart, it’s no trouble. I’ll park at work. Normally I walk because it’s so close and I like the fresh air, but we do have employee parking.”

“Okay then.”

We quickly got dressed, then he drove me home.

“I’ll see you at the usual time in the library.”

“Sounds great, darling.”

“Oh, and… here’s the annotated manuscript, and my spare laptop. I OCR’ed what I could, but you’ll have to fix some stuff.”

“Th-thank you for all your kindness, darling.”

“I’d do that for any friend I really trust. You’re more to me.”

We kissed once more, lingeringly.

“I love you, Marc.”

“I love you too, Ronnie.”

“See you tonight, darling.”

I made my way inside, changed clothes, and walked to church. Though I usually took communion on Sundays, it was the first time in forever I’d gone on a weekday.

***

The next day, late afternoon.

Marc came in at the usual hour. There were many patrons around, so he blew me a kiss and whispered “sweetheart”.

“I booked us for dinner at 8:30 on the Lake. It’s kind-of fusion cuisine, but they’ve got good reviews.”

“Even McDonald’s would be fine, darling. Don’t put yourself out for me.”

“I wanted it to be a little special, as it’s our first dinner together as a couple.”

“OK, I’ll love it, I’m sure.”

“I’ll leave you to your work now. See you at closing time!”

“Nobody’s looking,” I whispered.

Marc quickly, but tenderly, kissed me.

I broke it off when I heard footsteps.

“OK, I’d better get back to my second job.” He winked and sauntered off to his usual cubicle.

I went back to my laptop and made a few changes to my story. Most of what his friend had written made sense, some of it wasn’t what I had in my head. I felt guilty about ignoring the changes but put in a little note about why I preferred to leave those things as they were.

Briefly, I lost track of the time.

***

“Baby, what you saw isn’t what you think!” I suddenly heard Lenny’s smarmy voice.

Whatever love I’d ever felt for that man was gone now. “Those were my lying eyes?”

“Aaah, don’t be like that. I don’t love her. I was doing this for us, baby!”

“WHAT?!”

“She promised to make me junior partner if I took good care of her. I’ll earn a fortune then. I can buy a big house on the lake for us to live in!”

“So you slept with her for money. There’s a word for that.”

“Oh, women sleep with men for money all the time, except it’s OK when it’s called ‘marriage’.”

“Oh really?” Now I was getting angry.

“Yeah.”

I took a breath. “Lenny, I feel sorry for you. We’re through. It’s over. Finished. Kaput.”

“How can you do this to me after everything I’ve done—“

“Gimme a break. I saw the real you. Always on the make, always looking out for Number One.”

“But I care about the environment, about racism, about—“

“Words. You don’t care about real people, only flags you can make yourself look good with.”

“Don’t think you’re done with me, bitch!” He suddenly grabbed my wrist.

“What are you typing there? Chatting with your other boyfriend?” He grabbed for the laptop.

“Leave me alone!”

He looked at the screen. “Oh, your fake English lit again, huh.”

I tore the screen away from him. In the scuffle the laptop landed on the floor. He kicked it.

“Leave the lady alone. I only ask you nicely once.” Marc’s voice suddenly sounded behind him.

“Says who? Mind your own business, punk!”

“A punk with black belts in karate and ju-jitsu. Let’s take this outside and not bother the patrons.”

“Ah, you’re all talk.”

“Try me. Make my day.”

I gasped as Lenny suddenly lunged for Marc. Then something impossibly fast happened, and Lenny flew through the air and crashed into a table.

Marc calmly walked up to him. Lenny charged again, which ended the same way.

The beat cop who often came in to chat to his sister, who worked the checkout desk downstairs, came running up.

“That man hit me! I will sue you for your last penny!”

“No way,” I interjected. “Lenny got physical on me, Marc tried to stop him, he attacked.”

“She’s right, officer. I saw it all,” the little old lady piped up. “Lowlifes like him should be in jail!”

“Yeah, I saw it too, officer,” the homeless man chimed in. “He’s no effing good.”

“I’ve heard enough. You’re under arrest for assault and disturbing the peace. You have the right to remain silent—“ he continued the Miranda warning as the handcuffs clicked on my former lover, who made a good show of looking offended but compliant. I can only imagine what would happen to his career if he assaulted an officer.

That cop spoke into his two-way radio, “Sullivan reporting. Code 1 at Muni Lib. Frank. Radio.” The speaker crackled something unintelligible. “10-99,” he responded. Police codes, I guess-had no idea what they meant. The cop turned to me.

“Did the other man hit anybody?”

“Only when attacked, officer.”

“Are you carrying a gun?” he asked Marc.

“Not here, officer, but I do have one at home. With a permit. Not that I believe I should need one.”

“Well, I don’t make the gun control laws. People like you seem to hardly need guns.”

“I’ve faced much worse than him, officer.”

“Were you in the military?”

“National guard. Afghanistan. One tour. Mostly rear-echelon, but I was in a couple of firefights.”

“Thank you for your service, sir. I was on the South Side.”

“That’s worse. Thank you for keeping us safe.”

“This is my old age assignment, as I was getting too old for that—fertilizer.”

“G-d bless you, officer.”

“Have a good one, son. Now you here—behave yourself if you wanna make bail. And you, madam, I suggest you apply for a restraining order.”

“Yes Ronnie, you should,” Marc added. “He doesn’t want to be disbarred, right? So he’d better respect it,”  he added, clearly for the benefit of Lenny.

Officer Sullivan frog-marched Lenny down and escorted him out of the building to the precinct.

Meanwhile, Marc held me as I was sobbing, with pain and relief at the same time.

“Ronnie, why don’t you take the rest of the day off? I’ll cover for you,” the head librarian spoke up.

“You were getting ready to go home, Cordelia.”

“That’s OK, Ronnie. You’d better go down to the precinct office and get that restraining order right now. I know his kind. Keep that creep away from you.”

“I’ll bring you, Ronnie,” Marc added.

“Oh, your laptop! It’s all in pieces.”

He looked at the machine. “So I’ll sue him for damages. Don’t worry about your story. I’ve done data recovery on much worse. Give me ten minutes.” He pulled a strange adapter and some unusual tools out of his bag, extracted the hard drive, and hooked it up to his laptop with the strange adaptor. “As I thought. Drive is fine. Here is your story. You have an Email address?”

“You’re a lifesaver.”

“That’s not what they call me when I tell them they can’t have ‘password’ as their password.”

***

The maître d’hôtel greeted us with a bow and seated us by the window. “Would you like an aperitif?”

“Er, I don’t know, so expensive…”

“You booked the special dinner for two. So you get an aperitif on the house as well as wine with the rest of the meal.”

“Oh, er, well…”

“Two kir royals, please,” Marc added.

“I hope that’s OK with you.” He asked me.

“Yes, I do drink alcohol. Haven’t been to fancy places often.”

A waitress—a sweet midwestern girl—brought our cocktails.

“To good riddance, sweetheart.”

“I’ll drink to that. And to us, darling.”

“For many years to come, I hope.”

“So do I. Speaking of…”

“I think you should not go home, and stay at my place. Just in case he bails himself out and comes looking for you.”

“Sure, but I’m not wearing those pajamas tonight.”

“You mean—are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not taking you out to—“

“Get in my pants? I know, darling, and I appreciate it more than you can know, but—I want to be with you. I’m sure.”

“Love, I barely knew you two weeks ago, and already I can’t imagine life without you. Don’t do this because you feel you owe me this, or because you feel you need to put out to keep me. You’re Catholic, right?”

“Yes. You?”

“Lutheran, ELCA. We’re a bit more liberal, but if you want to wait until… well, I’m cool with that.”

“You don’t get it, do you?” I raised my voice.

“Sorry, love.”

“I’m doing this for me, not for you.”

“You’re not telling me this to salve my conscience?”

“No. For thirty-three years I’ve done what others expected of me. I was a dutiful student and carer for my parents, gave up things for the sake of my siblings, played maid and bedwarmer to immature boyfriend one and sociopathic boyfriend two. You’re the first person who’s telling me my dreams and desires matter too. So Marc: you’ll put your money where your mouth is.”

I could hardly believe what had come out of me. Marc smiled enigmatically.

“I believe that can be arranged. Tonight’s all about you.”

“Let’s drink to that.”

***

Dinner lived up to its billing. We savored our meal as well as the view over Lake Michigan, then slowly walked over to Marc’s place.

The night was magical. Marc undressed me slowly, and spent forever kissing and caressing every newly exposed bit of flesh. He even kissed my feet.

By the time he had arrived at the heart of the matter, so to speak, anticipation and caresses had so wound me up that I had no trouble reaching the heights.

Only then did he undress himself and make me his woman, slowly, tenderly, and unhurriedly, lavishing attention on every sensitive region. The second climax hit me almost by surprise, and brought on his.

I sobbed, as he held me tenderly in the afterglow and kissed me all over while I came down from my high.

“Sweetheart, are you OK?”

“So—so happy. I knew it’d be good, but this is beyond anything I’ve ever known. Thank you, darling, thank you.” This was what love-making was supposed to be like—giving and receiving.

But it was more than that — it was like closing a door on one part of my life and opening that on the next.

In a tender embrace, we fell asleep.

***

Aftermath

I moved in with Marc the next day, though I kept my flat and left some of my belongings there, just in case. Once burnt, twice learned. Fortunately, this time precaution proved needless.

A few weekends later, we drove to Wisconsin, and Marc introduced me to his parents. At first they were worried I would make him convert from the Lutheran faith in which they’d raised him. Once we made it clear I had no such intention, they quickly warmed to me. They were very much midwesterners of the old school, open and friendly. It was clear I would be another daughter to them, not just an in-law.

Winning my ailing parents over took a bit more work. It took Marc and me applying for episcopal permission to marry in a Catholic church to make them realize we were serious. They capitulated and wished us the best.

Winter turned to spring. March chose the first day of spring to ask the question he already figured my answer to. I was delighted to say yes. Our families started planning the wedding: we soon both tired of the arguments between them about what to us were irrelevancies.

I’d always felt uncomfortable with the pill. Once I stopped taking it, the predictable had of course happened. Marc was delighted, but wondered if the wedding row would ever be settled before I gave birth.

So we went, episcopal permission in hand, to see a priest I had always liked, and he quietly married us in a small chapel. “Your family can have a big wedding celebration later. What matters is that you are now joined in holy matrimony.”

Laura was born a healthy, chubby baby. Her future sister is on the way. I took maternity leave but kept my job, as it’s easy to combine with what now had become my true passion—writing.

I released my first novel, a midwestern psychological drama, on Orinoco. With hindsight, it was less than perfect — but as Marc predicted, I learned a lot from the responses, and released a revised version that was much stronger. A literary agent picked the book up, and after two rounds of professional editing it was published with a fading, but still prestigious, literary imprint. It has sold fairly well, and I’m now writing my second novel for them, while still putting out short stories indie on Orinoco.

Marc also kept up his 9-to-5 job, but looks after the baby at home now instead of typing in his cubicle. He rigged dictation software so he can write while keeping his hands free. He ran a free promotion on the first part of his series, which made him a pretty penny in sales on the next three volumes.

We live not in a mighty house on Lake Michigan, but in a modest, yet comfortable and love-filled duplex just blocks away. Both of us are on our way to making a living doing what we love best.

And at last, I’m doing what I really wanted, without guilt, and am loved for who I am.

All because one book, set in the far future, showed me I wasn’t alone.

***THE END***

 

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