Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Chapter 52: Personal Narratives

We all have our own narratives.  We all frame our stories a certain way.  Design them and casting ourselves as the stars.  The world revolves around us.  People worry about our opinions.  About our wants and needs.  That's what we tell ourselves, anyway.

There's nothing wrong with it.  Nothing abnormal.  It's all quite human, actually.  We need to create a schema that works for us, something into which we can assimilate everything that the world hurls at us and try to make sense of it.  Sometimes it works well.  Sometimes not so well.  

Liam's dead.

Five months ago, he realized that his narrative no longer worked for him so he took a running leap from the roof of his very expensive condo and landed on Liberty Avenue with a very unceremonious splat.  He ran out of ways to spin what he was doing.  It turned out that the documents from the Fox Project implicated him after all.  

The days after were a blur, as the stereotyped reaction goes, as I tried to understand the man that he was rather than the man I thought him to be.  

I'd let him kiss me.  Let him convince me that his greatest fear was that I'd be taken down by the files I had.  He didn't want me to turn them over to anyone.  He wanted me to hold onto them and do nothing.  "For now," he always said.  

In my narrative, he loved me and was trying to protect me.  In his, I was an afterthought.  

Our narratives can get away from us sometimes.  We can lose control over things that go unsaid and others can fill in the blanks, assigning us roles we have no intention of playing.

After Liam's suicide, I fell into another's narrative.   It's an interesting one, though I don't know where it's taking me quite yet.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Chapter 51: Undone

He re-buttoned my shirt when we were finished. I don't even know how to explain the intimacy of such an act.

Any man can undress a woman. So long as he has the skill, he can seduce her right out of her clothes. She's left, then, when it's over, to re-dress and right herself. Re-do what was undone, all without his help. Prostitutes to wives cover themselves when the men are finished. Some might lie about first, indolent and sated, but even they draw a sheet up over their breasts... or so says Hollywood. We're taught to cover what the men uncovered, as if our nude bodies would offend once their purpose were past.

He re-buttoned my blouse. I didn't ask; such a thing never crossed my mind. Why would it? I've been covering myself since the first time, and no one else ever offered otherwise.

Of everything else that transpired, somehow that's was the most delicate of moments, the most intimate. Tender. Gentle. Soft.

Those are the intimacies I ought not enjoy. They're the ones that lead to thoughts of things I'm not even sure I have let alone want sometimes.

He buttoned my blouse. Somewhere an author mused over the word button and how it came to suggest undone and undoing, two words that are tied to closely to sex and lust. He was my undoing. He undid me. Took me apart then put me together. For all appearance's sake, re-assembled just the same. I went back to work and no one was the wiser. Though for as buttoned-up as I was, I felt undone for the rest of the day. Sitting in meetings, talking to clients... I was undone. Un-buttoned and offered to my lover just a few hours before, now wondering what they'd think if they knew that the office's ice princess -- yes, I knew about the nickname -- had spent the morning coming un-done, melting you might say, in broad daylight in the backseat of a car.

Un-button, undo, unleash. Release. Free. Open. Uncage and unchain. The scene from Their Eyes Were Watching God comes to me, where Janie lets her hair down -- undoes it -- when her husband passes.  When she re-does it, tying it under her bandana, she does so because she chooses to, not because he always commanded her. Un-doing on purpose; re-doing by choice. Throwing the shutters open and heralding the man's death, a trumpeting cry of freedom. Secret, though. No one would approve otherwise.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Chapter 50: Baubo

From a distance, it looked like they were just talking. No one could see -- from that distance -- that the lower buttons on her blouse were undone and his hand was inside, feeling the warmth of her belly where her fire lay.

According to legend, a woman's fire is in her belly, closer to her thighs then her mouth. When she speaks with her face's mouth, the fire has too much time to cool. When she speaks with her other mouth, the heat remains and speaks much more truly. The little belly goddess Baubo's mouth is between her legs; she represents sexuality, particularly pure sexual humor.

When he touched her, his own body's warmth filled his palm, increasing the heat she already felt. She found herself thinking about that heat within her and how he rekindled it just by being near her. She wondered if he know about Baubo.

Then it didn't matter. His hand inched downwards, touching her intimately, and thoughts of the belly goddess were pushed aside and replaced by a thankfulness that she'd worn the pale pink bra today. He'd told her once that he imagined her in one of his white button-down shirts with the pale pink bra underneath. Today was the closest she could come to meeting that fantasy. When she dressed that morning, she'd laughed at herself for even bothering -- for she was sure that he'd never see it.. A white shirt was impossible, the pink would have been too noticeable. She'd opted for a pale blue shirt and left the two top buttons undone, just for him.

But he took her for a drive, an innocent ride in the park, where they could hold hands and talk without much fear. The tension, though, was undeniable. It sat between them, she noticed, laughing at their frustration.

"Can we park somewhere?" She finally asked, wanting just to be able to talk without his having to focus on the road. She had no other intentions, having promised herself to respect his boundaries -- and help him keep them.

But then his hand crept to her belly, undid the button, and slipped in. And they talked, though she has no memory of about what. What she remembered most, when she laid in bed that night, was the look in his eyes, the absorbed fascination as he studied her hair, her face. She'd never seen that before in a man's eyes, not that she could recall, anyway.

She knew what was coming and, frankly, did nothing to stop him. How could she? She wanted it as much as he did. The kiss, their first kiss, nearly sent her over the edge then and there. The throaty little sounds that she tends to make were automatic and immediate. Usually they're delayed, waiting for the pitch of excitement to kick in, waiting until her body finally begins to respond. He murmured something about "so that's how you sound," but she was too immersed to fully hear him.

They were on an isolated road in the park in the middle of the morning in the dead of winter. If people passed by, she no longer knew. If you asked her about her sunglasses, she'd only be able to tell you how he took them off of her and tossed them into the backseat. If you wanted to know when he unbuckled her seatbelt, she'd look at you blankly, just knowing that it happened at some point. She can, however, detail the feel of his unshaven face and tell you about nipping at his earlobes. Her mind's eye can still see him unbuttoning the rest of her blouse's buttons and, because she actually considered the wisdom of this act, she can tell you how she asked if he felt guilty and then gently pushed him away when he said he did.

"I don't want you if you feel guilty," she said softly, aching because she knew they'd have to stop. It was true, too, as much as it would mean losing him.

He kissed her again, wrapping his fingers in her hair and tugging just so. It was a slightly possessive kiss, it seemed... as if he were claiming her.

Regretfully, she disentangled herself. "You have to make up your mind, darling." Who knew being reasonable and logical could be so awful? She hated herself right then, hated the idea of doing the right thing and not simply seeking instant gratification. Everyone else, it seemed, took and worried later. Not her. Never her.

"Okay," he finally said after a moment's hesitation. And his lips were on hers, this time indeed claiming her. She would be his at that moment, his kiss demanded it. She intended to ask him how he could make his mind up that quickly; she intended to hold onto a semblance of reason even as she allowed herself to drown in his arms. She had to keep some semblance, didn't she? That's what women did. They kept their heads on straight, they spoke from their lips and used their brains. While men could be irresponsible, women like her would be responsible and make sure that no one made a move that could be regretted. She would hold on to reason and let him enjoy. She would. That was her role, after all.

But then his fingers slipped to the waistband on her pants and she could only moan while the fire within surged, charring the words she meant to speak but didn't really believe or want to give voice to. Responsible intentions vanished, ashes in the wind. Instead she spoke with her body, opening herself to him. Those words took no form, but they were the ones he heard.

The little belly goddess, if she were watching, would have been pleased.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chapter 49: Some Things You Can't Hide From

In what is apparently classic fashion for me, I left.

To hell with work, with Greyson, and with Liam, and with memories. To hell with love and lust and romance. I'm going to become that single lady on the street who lives with twelve cats and no men. Female cats, thank you!

Don't ask me why Liam ended up lumped in there, but Greyson's parting shot made it impossible to leave him out. Why isn't he fighting for you, Merrie? Why is he so accepting about everything? My God, he found a strange man in your house and didn't do a thing about it! What's going on in that head of yours that you have to get mixed up with someone like that? Why can't you pick someone who can handle you, who will let you be yourself? You're too alive to squander yourself on a man so far away and still so married.

Even then I managed to refrain from dumping anything on him beyond a killing scowl. Don't ask me why. I should have emptied my coffee mug on his head, then followed it with the Pepsi on his desk. Run all over him? All over Liam? Ha!

My supervisor accepted my excuse of a headache, said I looked rather pale, and that she hoped I'd feel better tomorrow.

Liam didn't have to question Greyson's presence, I told myself. Why would he have to question anything? He trusts me!

That's right, run away again, I told myself. Just like you ran from Reed, from Liam. This is different, though. I'm trying to get my life together. The last thing I need is some two-bit journalist... ! Who in the hell does he think he is? What right did he have to dig that deeply into my life?

And why did this article never materialize? If it had, Reed never would have... then again, those first few weeks after the accident were still a little hazy. Admittedly, I took full advantage of the pain pills they'd given me for my broken leg. It made dealing with everything easier. Reed had been the one to handle everything. He'd decided what to keep and what to sell, what to store and what to display. So little of me was kept and kept out, per Reed's direction, that when I moved out a few months ago it wasn't that difficult. Most of my life was still boxed when I told Reed that I was leaving. Even my brother had commented on it when we moved me out. What's with this, sis? It's not like you to leave everything packed up. It looks like you figured you weren't staying that long. Am I right?

No, Stephen, that's not true. I thought this would be permanent. It's just, well, Reed decided otherwise.

Ah, com'on, kiddo. This is your brother you're talking to. You grew up with Dakota. Mincing words and telling lies ain't your style. Though God only knows why you're letting something as silly as a cyber-fling drive you out of this life. What are you thinking anyway?

Just finish loading the truck, will you? I know what I'm doing. I'm not our mother, and I won't put up with being that man's occasional amusement.

It's not like he's having an affair. He's still sleeping with you. Not her.

I forced myself to stop thinking. Perhaps, in hindsight, I hadn't unpacked because I knew something was wrong. Liam once suggested that Reed was threatened by my strength and thus had to try to run my life, which I scoffed at. It wasn't like Reed was some abusive, controlling man. Weak and insecure and  jerk, yes. He was also incredibly passive. Trying to control me and my life would have taken too much effort on his part. No matter what I didn't know about life, I did know what he wasn't.

I pulled into my driveway, turned off the car, and retreated into my house, to my kitchen for something -- anything -- to chew on while I mulled over the man (men?) in my life.

One of these days I need to go shopping. In moods like this, I need something crunchy... and the only thing I had was a box of croutons. At least I had my supply of Pepsi.

So what happened to the article? No one ever mentioned it to me, showed it to me. Not even Aunt Geenie, who would have delighted in tormenting me with it. She would've sent the magazine to me immediately -- along with a note about how much I was living up to the McKenize name. She would've sent something to Stephen, too. Come to think of it, Stephen's miserable wife would've made it a point to share it with me as well. So what happened to the article?

Time to do with I've always avoided, I guess. A moment later, I had my laptop up and running and was googling London's name. Nothing -- most of the hits dealt with the city. Jamie + Addams + Meredith + Hagan. I'd try both of our names.

Bingo. Hidden in the on-line archives of American Faces magazine.

...Jamie Addams, Lafayette County's rising son, was killed... in his car was co-worker Meredith Hagan... the single-car accident on River Run Road shattered her right leg...

I skimmed it quickly, but found nothing whatsoever about my life. Hell, aside from the mention of my being in the car and my broken leg, there was nothing of note. Even if someone I knew had seen it, it wouldn't have been worth mentioning.

So what was he doing researching my life?

Dammit. I was going to have to talk to him again, wasn't I?

My head was absolutely pounding. I didn't want to talk to him again. I didn't want to talk to someone who had a way of making me question everything I thought I was so sure of.

I picked up the phone. "It's me. We need to talk."

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Chapter 48: Friday Morning Recap

"You had me fooled, Mer."

She rolled her eyes. Bad enough Liam was gone again. Bad enough Beth thought her a slut.  Now Greyson was going to insist on talking to her about the weekend. "My private life is private, remember?"

He ignored her tone and went on as if she hadn't snapped at but invited instead.

"You're better than that, you know. Why are you wasting your time with a guy who leaves you alone on holidays?"
"Drop it," she said, her teeth clenched.
"You spent Thanksgiving with me, don't forget. You cried on my shoulders, not his. I held you, he didn't."
"Don't!" She wanted to cover her ears like a little girl might. If she didn't hear him, she wouldn't have to think about what he was saying.
"Don't? Don't what? Tell you the truth?"
She slammed her pen down. "Truth? You think I don't know the truth?" It took all her control not to scream at him, though she wished she could! How good it would feel! She hadn't screamed, hadn't let much emotion out at all in fact, since she'd left Reed.
"Oh, no," he said softly. "You know it, Merrie dear, you just choose to ignore it." If he'd snapped back, if he'd yelled, if he'd called her names, she could have handled herself. She could have fought back, lied if she had to. But this, this low drawl that hit her square... she turned in her chair, faced her back to him, and stared at the wall.
"Leave me alone. You don't know a fraction of the story. You have no right, Greyson." Somehow she didn't let her voice crack.
"I know that your old co-worker blew into town at six in the morning and came straight to your house."
"You're assuming too much."
"He had his own key. Who wouldn't assume? By the way, did he tell you what he did when he found me on your couch, Mer? No? Nothing.  He did nothing except tell me that I could leave."
"You're exaggerating," she said to the wall.
"I'll tell you something, I grew up fighting just like you. I don't let anyone lay a hand on me without my laying one back and winning." When he saw her shoulders fall, he faltered for a moment. What was he doing? What did he hope to win here, anyway? But something made him keep going. "He never did a thing, Mer. He questioned me. If that had been me, the last thing I'd be doing is asking questions. He'd have been a foot off the ground and against the wall before anything else."
"I would think," she choked, making him again wonder at why he was doing this to her. "I would think that you'd be grateful that he didn't attack first."
In Greyson's eyes, Liam tossing him out on his ass it would have been acceptable. Expected. Hell, even admirable. When it came to a woman, Greyson believed that once he had laid claim to her, she was -- despite its medieval implication -- his and his alone. Any man who dared come too close was the enemy.
He wasn't a fool though; despite Liam's calm facade, Greyson sensed that the man could do him harm. Meredith was right about that, though to tell her would cause him to tip his hand too far.
It was why Liam hadn't even attempted to stake his claim on her that bothered Greyson.  He just assumed that he would be next.  He wasn't there because he loved her.  He was there because he didn't.

"I know about him."
Meredith didn't turn around. She didn't move.

"I know about the car accident. Two years ago this past week, I believe."

If she moved, Meredith knew, she'd start screaming. Her fingers dug into the arms of her chair, and Greyson watched her knuckles whiten.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Chapter 47: Good Girls Only

"If you aren't careful, Meredith, people are going to call you a slut."  Leave it to Beth to put such a positive spin on things.  All I did was tell her about Thanksgiving.  It was Saturday evening, she and I were enjoying dinner at the local dive, and catching up on everything that had happened since I left Martinson.  However, once she learned about Liam, all bets were off.

"How does sex make me a slut?"

"It's not the sex.  It's the fact that you're having it with different men."

"Actually, just one.  Friday morning.  On the kitchen table."

She just sighed.  "I don't want the details, Meredith.  The point is that people are going to judge you for being so easy."

"Define easy. Why is the woman a slut if she so much as dates multiple men?"

Beth thought for a few minutes, chewing on her pizza and taking her time before she answered.  "Because she lets them use her," she said at last.  "Because she doesn't respect herself enough to see just one man at a time.  It's up to her to keep the men in check and make sure they don't do something she'll regret.

I just stared, suddenly wondering if my head would explode.

She didn't catch my expression and just kept going.  "My mom taught me that it was up to me to make sure that men respected me.  She taught my brother that he had to respect women, of course, but she also made sure he only dated nice girls."

"Define nice."

"The ones who don't sleep around, who save themselves for marriage."  She shrugged.  "But that's her.  I'd say girls need to save themselves for a commitment, now."

"What about women who are widowed or divorced?"

"Oh, mom never talked about them.  She did say something once about her neighbor 'throwing away a thirty-year marriage' just because the husband was cheating on her."  Beth went to college, graduated engaged, and went on to have three lovely children with her husband.  He owns his own hardware store.  They live above it.  When he needs extra help, she comes down to pick up the slack.  Otherwise, she lives upstairs as the perfect stay-at-home mom.  Her life is Pinterest perfect, a Facebook dream.  Me?  Not so much.

"What if you found out Bill was cheating on you?"

She laughed.  "Have you looked at him lately?  He's like the Pillsbury Doughboy, just not as cuddly."

"Did you ever think that maybe the men I'm with are the sluts, and I'm using them?"  There.  I'd said it.  "Maybe they want the commitment and I want to just have fun."

She stopped mid-chew and stared at me.

"Think about it.  Reed was using me for his personal maid.  I got fed up and left.  Liam was my rebound.  Is my rebound.  Greyson and I didn't do anything tawdry, so I'm 'using him' for company.  He's a conversation slut."  Popping my third beer, I took a swig and continued.  "Didn't you ever wonder why you were the one who had to keep the men in check?  I mean, think about all of the girls you went to high school with and who you knew where sleeping with their boyfriends.  They turned out okay, didn't they?  Not every girl who has non-marital sex destroys her life.

"Last night I was watching Grease, I caught the end where Sandy turned into the bad girl, and Danny turned into the good boy.  The minute you saw those hot pants of hers, you knew she was looking to getting laid.  And Danny, seeing them, whips off that nice letterman's jacket -- reverting to his all-black outfit and his bad boy image.  My mother always told me that Sandy was wrong and Danny was right.  She told me not to ever change for a man.  While I like the whole 'be true to yourself' message, the second message was that good girls were to stay good and bring the rutting, lusty male up to snuff and teach him to control his baser instincts.  Why is it my responsibility to control a man?  Why is sex equated with being bad?  Are men that afraid and insecure that they have to control us?  Don't answer that.  I'm so tired of being told that I'm not a full person because I have breasts.  I'm tired of being an object d'art who's praised for sitting in the corner and not making a peep.  I'm tired of feeling guilty for not feeling what I don't feel.

"What if I slept with men as widely as men slept with women?  As publicly, as indiscriminately, and as apologetically?  Think about it.  Wouldn't it be awesome to not worry about what other people thought and to worry only about whether or not you..."

She grabbed my beer out of my hand.  "You've had too much.  You're a nice girl and you just need to get your head on straight again.  You'll regret this in the morning."

"Regret what?  Regret telling my friend how I feel?  Maybe you're right.  Maybe I'm regretting it even now.  Maybe I should have saved my thoughts for someone less prudish."  I grabbed the bottle from her, eyed the contents, and drained it in a few seconds.  "It's been fun, Beth."

And I left.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Chapter 46: (Un)invited

I stopped short of the kitchen, realizing now that it wasn't Greyson. I felt as though I were in the hotel again, preparing to open the door and let Liam in. Let him in, quite literally, in a number of ways. I hadn't let him in this time, but here he was. In my house. In my kitchen. Playing the role of the man in my life. Uninvited. Right?


Somewhere between my falling asleep Thanksgiving night and waking up Friday morning, the two men quite literally switched places. How dare he presume, I would dare to think in anger... but which he did I mean?

For the last few months, it's been Greyson who's been with me, working mainly -- but also making me laugh, cajoling me into having a pizza with him, and keeping me company. It's with him I've been having conversations, taking road trips.  It was texting with him, about superficial and innocuous topics, that made nights less lonely.

It crossed my mind to turn around and walk out the door, to leave my own house, get in my car, and drive to where I might find the life I keep thinking I need. There isn't much I'd miss; I own so little of true value.

I'm going to kiss you.

And what has it gotten me? My hands went to my face, what was, no... what am I doing? Replicating my mother's life? Living down to Aunt Geenie's predictions? What sort of woman am I?

But make no mistake, readers, I'll walk in there and fall into his arms. When he touches me, every thought I have will vanish except for the thought of needing him. I'll shiver as he re-acquaints himself with my body, his hands going to my waist, to that curve he so loves. I'll find myself arching and my body language inviting him and every move will be honest. I'll find it hard to catch my breath again -- especially when he kisses me, his tongue mating with mine.

Sometimes I want to ask about us. About his actual, real, legitimate intentions.  Sometimes I can't help but worry myself into headaches, coming up with thoughts that one of us is using the other or that one of us is losing interest. Who's doing what varies. Sometimes it's me. Sometimes it's him.

I can't put this off. I can't run away. I have to go in, don't I?

And so I turned the corner and walked into my kitchen and saw him... and stopped, finding my hand resting on the kitchen counter so near an empty vase... if I threw it, how badly would it hurt him? He's coming toward me, so fast it seems, too fast to take in, one second he's at the table and the next he's holding me, his mouth on mine, his tongue plunging in and claiming and mine responding they tangle then hinting at what's to come later and my hands are on his face to feel where his beard once was my fingers are in his hair.... he's all over me and I'm responding and I'm on the table, under him... tangling....

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Chapter 45: Guessing Games

Hangovers are hard to come by for me, so when I woke Friday morning, the headache took me by surprise. Excluding the dry tongue-stuck-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth sensation, to be honest, I'd never really had a hangover. What had I been thinking last night to drink so much?

The pillow next to me was obviously unused, answering my question as to whether of not I'd let more then my guard down last night. I was still in my clothes. Damn, I must have been gone -- I hate sleeping in jeans.

What is it about certain memories, anyway? This one, at this time of year, really did make me want to drown myself in a bottle of whatever happens to be handy.

Always keep them guessing, my mother's words came back to me abruptly.

Keep who guessing? I wondered with more then a hint of sarcasm. Right now I have no memory of how I made it to bed, when I made it to bed, and what happened to Greyson.

I closed my eyes. Why did the sun have to be so damn bright? What had I been thinking to have windows in here, anyway? Right now, a dark cave and a pair of sunglasses sounded ideal. Actually, going back to sleep for the next few days was pretty appealing as well. I didn't have to be at work until Monday, after all. Seventy-two hours until I had to move.

Then I heard it: the sound of someone moving around in my kitchen.

The smell of bacon hit me, making the room spin. I'm going to kill him. What is he thinking to cook food when I feel like this?

Years of training kicked in after a moment. While I scoffed at my mother's lifestyle, there were a few habits that I picked up... one of which propelled me to the shower. A woman did not show herself to a man unless she looked her best, and to hell with how she was feeling. A simple hangover would not be an excuse to wander downstairs looking like I had one.

In the fog after a shower, though, mirrors can indeed lie and distort. It's the heat of the moment. In that after-shower fog, I'm perfect. Svelte. Seductive. Flawless.

I barely glance, though, for now my head is clearing, and I know that I should get downstairs before much more time passes.

Fresh jeans and a sweatshirt, nothing fancy. God only knows what I said last night, and casual cotton somehow seems the safest route.

What does a woman say to a man who apparently spent the night? Particularly when she hasn't a very clear memory of much beyond crying on his shoulder? With Liam, it would be easy. He would understand without asking much; he'd let me keep my secrets. He was rather non-curious, you know. Or maybe he just never wanted to ask. Not that I have room to speak about that. I'm equally guilty of asking little.

When the time's right, I know, we share our secrets with those we care for, we have the necessary conversations and create the verbal intimacies that separate sordid affairs from solid relationships. But what are words, anyway?   We exchange millions of them over a lifetime, some right, many wrong. All with some purpose.  What did we exchange last night?

What words do I use next?

Clear mirrors never lie, but Lord knows we do. It looks like he tried to stop. Those words were lies. Well, true enough in the sense of skid marks and failed breaks, but even as I heard those words my unbelieving brain refused to accept them. He never stops, why would he try now? Stopping is too much an end to something, he said. He prefers to pause. That's what happened. It looks like he tried to pause. Stopping means he's finished. We can't stop now. He can't stop now. We have too much to do...

Now it's time to look in the mirror, to check for make-up smudges and lipstick on my teeth. To adjust collars or add earrings, both of which I do. One last look, one last stall, and it's time.

"Wish me luck," I say to my reflection.

She just stares back.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Chapter 44: Company

Happy Thanksgiving. I suppose that I could go on about what there is to be thankful for -- my health, my job...

Loved ones? What loved ones? What am I to do, call Aunt Geenie and ask to be taken back into the fold? Me! The daughter of that McKenzie whore! Carrier of the Hagan family DNA by default! If only good old H.J. hadn't hooked up with that no-good Dakota McKenzie woman! Ask to be re-instated to that family nightmare? How laughable.

Pardon the sarcasm, readers. But an empty kitchen table stings even now.

My sole guest was going to be Jack, but Mr. Daniels was half-empty and there's no point in drinking to half of a hangover. Jim was my second choice, but I've never been one to stock Mr. Beam. And I couldn't even seek some comfort from the south. The lesson to be learned here, of course, is that there's no danger in my becoming an alcoholic.

So, despite my best intentions, it was a sober Meredith that Greyson found on the other end of the line. "Hey, Merrie, I've been thinking," he said by way of introduction. I didn't mind his forgetting a hollow holiday wish, to be honest. "We're both sitting home alone, and that's really rather stupid of us both. I'm calling to ask you out for the evening. For company, nothing else. Why sit there all alone when we can do that any other evening? It's Thanksgiving, kiddo. Let's celebrate with a pizza and beer somewhere." There are times I appreciate his lack of tact. At least he didn't pretend not to know that I was in a house as empty as his.  Nor did he pretend that romance was part of the equation.

We're sorry ma'am, it looks like he tried to stop.

"Give me a half hour. I'll meet you at Cavatalino's Pizza," I said before I could talk myself out of it.

I didn't think about Liam as I fluffed my short hair and touched up my lipstick. What was there to think about? It was over.

Hours later, Greyson helped me stumble up to my door. I hadn't meant to have quite as much as I did, but I kept thinking too much.

We're sorry ma'am...

Punch lines.

Here was another one. What a joke I was. Meredith Beth Hagan, the girl with a harsh first name and soft second. Rough and gentle. Two sides to me like any good Gemini. Hard with the world, the ice princess. Soft with Liam, silky and buttery and hot. Cold and hot, mercurial.  Greyson sometimes calls me Merrie, a softening of the hard noises that make up my name. How tired I was of being two people. How suddenly tired I was of being independent.

"Do you need any more help, babe?" He asked as my door swung open.

It looks like he tried to stop.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Chapter 43: Punch lines

How tempting to celebrate Thanksgiving with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Celebrate. Meredith gave an unladylike snort of contempt each time the word crossed her mind. What was there to celebrate? 

And there she was, staring at her kitchen walls and wondering what the fuck had happened to her fairy tale life.

"Don't go out tonight, Jamie, let's just stay in."
"Mer, love, I'll be right back. I just need to drop these papers off for tomorrow. You'll have me all to yourself this week, I promise. Once I get home, I'm turning my cell phone off until next Monday."
"Okay," but she was disappointed. His kiss, however, made up for it.
"Once I get back, little one, you'd better be ready. I'm going to make love to you until you beg me to stop."
"I could never do that," she laughed. "You'll be begging me to let you stop."
"We'll have to make it a point to find out then."
The joke, of course, was that they'd yet to make love.

The punchline was exactly that. Was it really today? Of all the years for that date and Thanksgiving to coincide. Fuck. Every time she remembered it she felt as if someone punched her. Punchline. Punch me, pinch me, tell me it's just a line.

We're sorry, ma'am. It looks like he tried to stop.

Black tire skids, two black lines. Punch lines.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Chapter 42: Just a Plaything

"Do you still read my blog?"


It's easy to talk after you screw. Curled up together and cozy, more intimate now then when in the act itself.

"What do you think? It's changed a lot."

"You're very imaginative."

"You're not answering me."

"What do you want me to say? That I can't tell fact from fiction because you blend it so completely?"

"What do you want to know, then?"

He nipped her ear then, nuzzled her pale neck, and made her giggle. "I want to know why you worry. I'm here and we are what we are."

"I never want you to worry. That's why I worry."

"Worry about more important things, sweetie. I'm just your plaything."

"I know."

"What happened to wanting to be single, by the way? Weren't you going to swear off men for a while?"

Laughter.  "Not all of them. Just everyone but you."

"Really? That's good to know."

"Isn't it?" She laughed again, her hands running over his bare chest and her words bold. "Why not show me how relieved you are to hear that news?"

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Chapter 41: The Fox Project

"Meredith, we need to know if you still have the drafts of the Fox project." It was Marylyn from the compliance department.


"But you worked on it with Liam, didn't you?"

"Only briefly. We were both pulled off of it after a few weeks. I was moved to another job, and Liam was sent to open that new office. I think Clancy Williams took over, but don't quote me on that."

Clancy was the perfect answer. Notoriously disorganized, Clancy could work on a project and finish it... then promptly lose everything and forget he ever had the job. The company was trying to fire him, but the wily old man was too clever to give the company a leg to stand on. He would give Marylyn the run-around until she thought that she'd lost the project.

"Are you sure?" The woman's purr rubbed me the wrong way. I can't stand pencil-pushers to begin with, and Marylyn was the ultimate bureaucrat. The woman didn't do anything that wasn't in the handbook, and she was well known for her nit-picking.

"Marylyn, I don't have the damn project and you know it," I snapped. "Now please let me get back to my work and stop leaving umpteen messages about things I didn't work on!"

"I'd be a little nicer, dearie. You may be in another division and under a new boss, but you aren't out of the water here yet."

"What are you talking about?"

"They dumped your old hard drive, sweetie. There's some interesting information on there, did you know that?"

"I shopped on E-Bay and e-mailed by friends. Try not to steal my credit card numbers."

"Don't waste your time with humor, Hagan. It's a poor defense. You were very involved in a few jobs that are now being questioned."

But not the big one. Not the Fox project. I handed that over before they started to ask for too much from me and before I had to tell them no. "Let them question, then. I have nothing to hide."

"Liam might."

"Then call Liam."

"Scuttlebutt is that you two are more then friends."

"For God's Sake, Marylyn! I'm ending this conversation! Tell those damned old hens that you smoke with that they need to find something better to do with their lives then make up stories about people who aren't there to defend themselves!"

Monday, May 02, 2016

Chapter 40: Respite

"You look thinner."
"This top's too large. That's all."

Winn was somewhat satisfied with that remark, but I'm not sure she believed me. I've been eating. Honest. I think it was just what I was wearing, a ratty old t-shirt and worn capris that have been washed so many times they're like a second skin. There's really no need to dress well when one's weeding the yard and hanging out with a friend.  Then again, perhaps I have lost weight again.  With everything going on at work, I've been running on either nothing or an occasional can of Pepsi.

Coincidentally, Greyson -- of all people -- remarked the other day on the power that comes with starvation and how he didn't quite understand it. This as he ate a giant steak sandwich from the bar next door while I had a salad.  What is it with men and weight?  Liam said he loved my curves.  Reed encouraged me to diet more often.  Now Greyson is talking about it.  Well, not about me.  About an ad campaign he's in charge of.  He was baffled by the client's insistence on what he called "mutant stick-thin women that don't exist in nature."

"You got me," I said, laughing at his description.

And he was off again, expounding on "size negative-two aliens" that were airbrushed into existence by men who didn't have the sense to look at the human body.  I just kept laughing.

It felt good.