Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chapter 50: Somethings 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?

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.
Figures.

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?"

"Sometimes."

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.

"No."

"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.  

Friday, April 29, 2016

Chapter 39: Justification

I was watching television this evening when caught I end of a cheesy romance on some cable station. The male lead proposed to the female, promising to make her life wonderful. The huge diamond he slid on her finger promised "happily ever after." I wondered then, at marriages where husbands and wives met with others, secretly and in the dark. I wondered if they were failing their marriage or if their marriage had failed them.

When I wonder, it's not about the marriages entered into lightly by those who had no intention of honoring those vows. I wonder, instead, of those who said "I do" with their souls but then found themselves having the audacity to change along the way. They are the ones who still love their spouses and cannot understand for the life of them why what was once enough isn't nearly. Or is it a failing on our part? For refusing to change along with them -- or did we refuse to not change?

When we're the ones in the dark, saying a very different "I do" to someone whose wedding band does not match ours, are we selfish or desperate? At what point does an affair -- either sexual or emotional -- becomes less an act of deception and more an act of survival?

What can I say that would, in most people's eyes, justify what I have done? I'm not going to try, to be honest. I just know that I've spent too much of my life being Little Miss Perfect. It never quite got me anywhere.

Somewhere along the way, I changed; I took a path quite different from the one anticipated. It's hard for me to view that as wrong. Liam, too, failed to remain who he was. We sat side-by-side in an office, sharing space for nine months before daring to acknowledge let alone touch. For nine months the others in the office pushed us together, dumping us into an un-official couple based on our mutual youth. Old enough to be our parents, they found him maddening and me mercurial.

And so the youngsters were sent off to play.

Most mornings I'd fix his collar after he tied his necktie. He dubbed me his "office wife." We learned how to read each other's expressions. We laughed until we were breathless. Secret notes were passed back and forth, much like two sixth graders. He listened to me. He didn't dismiss me.

How could nothing happen?


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chapter 38: Quiet Intimacies

Have you ever considered the intimacy of writing? I have a pen, an expensive one given to me as a gift years ago by a man who cared for me. We became lovers for a brief time. I've used it almost constantly since.
Using his gift increased the intimacy, preserved it, even as we drifted apart and lost the other. The words I write are still tinged with his touch. Every stroke of the pen on paper is as soft as his hands on my body once were, covering the page with what can be said... covering my body with what words could not describe...
The intimacy of words is never been far from my mind. In many ways, reading what I write leaves my soul naked in a way that sex never has.  There's something more honest about it.  I think.

It's a cleaning-out day for me, sifting through the boxes claimed from Reed's house and jammed in my basement.  Still packed after all these months, still waiting for me to decide their fate.

I found box with nothing but my writing.  Page upon page of dot-matrix printing from my fifteenth summer when I sat down before the computer and didn't move for three months. I remember how I set up shop with my boom box and tape cassettes on a folding table next to me. Rain, shine, heat wave, it didn't matter. I sat and wrote. That was it. If it was exceptionally hot, I'd pull my hair into a granny knot and put on my bikini top with a pair of cut-offs. And I'd write. If my brother's friends came over to swim, I'm close the kitchen windows to keep the noise down. And I'd write. When my mother would shriek about whatever, I'd turn up the music and write. I played Fleetwood Mac until the cassette tape wore out.

I've never really finished a single book I've started.  Perhaps because I never had the need.  Perhaps I never knew the ending.

I think, though, now as I remember, that I might.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Chapter 37: Jimmy's Pub

"Mer?"
"Excuse me?"
If her tone was any colder, he thought, he'd have frostbite.
"My name's Greyson."
"Mine is Meredith."
"I know."
She wasn't making this easy for him.  But he didn't expect anything less.  Save for her relationship with some former office mate at her former workplace she was rumored to not get along with anyone. But Greyson wasn't inclined to believe gossip, particularly given that no one could say anything for sure. It was only speculation. She was seen with some guy... no, it was him, the fellow who just left for Ohio...  she's single, no, she's living with someone... The only definite bit of gossip he could glean was that Meredith and someone named Liam were constantly fighting.
She'd joined the company a few months ago, after leaving her previous position abruptly, something to do with a love affair if the gossips were to be believed. Others said she knew that there was an ethics probe in the works and jumped ship before she went down with it.
Meredith, meanwhile, was openly studying him, taking in his dark eyes and golf course tan. She had no clue who this man was, but was guessing that he might be the new hire.
"And you're here because...?"
"Oh, yeah, Mr. Watson said you had a deadline to meet and thinks I can help you."
Great, she thought. Probably one of Watson's nephews.
Watson didn't talk to new employees unless there was DNA involved.
_____________

"Hungry?"
She shrugged and looked at her watch.  It was almost the end of the day.  Why not?  If he was related to the CEO, then this would be to her benefit.
______________

Next door at Jimmy's Pub, Meredith ordered her usual and said nothing when he raised his eyebrows as she drank straight from the bottle.
"No ladylike glass?"
"No."
"You get right to the point."
"Yes, I do tend to do that."
"So I've heard."
"I'm sure you have."
He just laughed, but she didn't hear him, remembering instead sitting here with Liam.  Remembering being in their office before coming here.
"Roll up my sleeves."
"You're pushing it, Liam."
"I know."
But she obeyed, willingly cuffing the sleeves of his hunter green dress shirt -- the one she loved best on him.  
"Take off my tie." His low whisper had been so forceful that she had to smile as she did as he asked. It had sent a shiver through her, no man had ever ordered her around like this, but she loved it.
"Mer?"
She started slightly, pulled back from her thoughts of Liam. "Meredith. Not Mer."
"Gotcha."
She rolled her eyes.

The rest of the meal went reasonably well, in Meredith's opinion, though Greyson was too open, too fast, for her tastes. He was convinced, and even said as much, that her cool facade must cover a very passionate woman. At that remark, she remarked on how he apparently studied his conversational skills "at the local watering hole."
He threw his head back and laughed so loudly that she wondered how he'd respond to something that was actually funny.

"I need to get home. How about you?"
"I suppose," she replied, getting her wallet out and feeling relief to be getting away from him. If she heard one more story of his career exploits, she would probably start feeding him lines and asking inane questions just to amuse herself.
"Husband waiting for you?"
"I live alone." Dear Lord, did she really admit that? Then again, could he be any more obvious? Two bad pick-up lines and now the bald statement-question regarding her status. Cut the guy some slack. I'm getting paranoid, she silently scolded herself.
"Put your money away," he ordered. "My treat."
She slapped a ten on the table. "I pay my way." Her tone reminded him of a schoolmarm. "Take it, Greyson," she said when he tried to slide it back.
"Of course, my lady."

"Can I drive you home?"
"I've a car."
"You've had a bit to drink."
"I'll see you tomorrow," she said, ignoring his remark and walking away.

Greyson watched her leave. A bit anticlimactic, given the rumors.  No matter.  He could wait. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Chapter 36: Last-name Basis

"I said that was fine!"

Despite being on the other end of the hallway, Beth could hear Liam shouting  No doubt Meredith was in his office again.

"Your version of fine and mine are two different things, Liam.  Quit trying to tank the project and give me the extension that my team needs!"

Yep.  It was Meredith.  Beth turned around and headed in the opposite direction.  She was not going near him until that was over.  He'd tear the head off of whatever unfortunate stepped into his office after Meredith left.

A moment later, his office door slammed open and Meredith stormed out.  Muttering to herself, she headed directly to the kitchen on eight.  "Stupid jackass, stubborn as a goat, jerk... who does he think he is...."  The litany continued up three flights of stairs, down the hallway, and into the kitchen itself.  By that time, she was in a lather, furious over his refusal to grant her team the extension required after learning about the client's changes just yesterday.  "How can I make their changes when I didn't even know about them... arrogant jackass.... thinks he knows..."

She was so deep into her rant that she didn't notice Beth or the gentleman sitting beside her.  She just grabbed a soda from the refrigerator and stalked out, still muttering to herself.

"Nice welcoming committee," he drawled, leaning back in his chair.
"You'll get used to it."
"So who's playing the role of Medusa?"
"Meredith Hagan."
Had he been eating, he would have choked.  "Did you say "Meredith Hagan?"
"The one and only.  Charming, wasn't she?"
He couldn't quite process the name yet.  "Hagan?"
"Yes."
"Niece of Geenie..."
"Yes."
"Hell, Beth, why didn't you warn me?"
She looked at him and smiled, just a little bit coldly.  "Who said I wanted to?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Chapter 35: Looking in from the Outside

They were in a meeting, again.  The client loved meetings.  Beth sat across from Liam.  Meredith sat two seats away from Beth.

When he could get away with it, Liam started at Meredith.

Beth wanted to gag.  How someone who was otherwise the epitome of professionalism and class could make such a fool out of himself was beyond her.  Then again, who knew what Meredith was doing.

CAN YOU SEE HER FACE?  She texted to Lydia.  There was no need to identify who her was.

A moment later, her phone buzzed with the reply.  SHE'S IGNORING HIM RIGHT NOW. SHE LOOKS WHEN HE DOESN'T.

Beth managed not to roll her eyes.  She liked Meredith.  She liked Liam.  But the two of them were a train wreck in the making.   Why they couldn't play nice with each other was a mystery.

Her phone buzzed again.  DID THEY EVER FIND THE MISSING FILES?

Beth glanced at Lydia and gave a slight shake of her head.  Last October, during the big shake up when Liam was transferred out -- then abruptly brought back -- files regarding an ethics breech disappeared.  More accurately, the thumb drive disappeared.  A tiny one-gig drive barely an inch long.  Some people thought that it had simply been lost and thrown away, which was actually quite likely, but those who knew exactly what was on the drive were less likely to be that optimistic.  In Beth's opinion, Liam knew exactly where they were, and whatever had happened between him and Meredeith -- she knew about Meredith's visits to his hotel room -- had something to do with them.  She just couldn't prove it.

WE'LL TALK LATER. She hit send and closed her phone.  No point in drawing further attention to herself.

Settling back in her seat, she studied Liam again.  Meredith was saying something to the client, and Liam's attention was wholly on her once more.  Get a freaking room, she thought, annoyed.  They should have sent him to wherever and left him there.





Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chapter 34: A Simple Kiss

Amazing how one's life can change over a kiss. A simple kiss and everything I ever believed I would never do... I did.

"I'm going to kiss you."

Five basic words spoken while we sat in our office, insanely trying to rationalize the tension between us.

Is it wrong if we kiss? He wasn't looking at me when he asked this; he was feigning interest in his datebook.
I think so. My throat was so tight that I was surprised that the words even came out.
Do you want to kiss?
Is the Pope Catholic? Is the grass green? Is the sky blue? Haven't I been wanting this since the day we were first introduced? Didn't I look at him that day with a jolt of absolute awareness that I couldn't recall ever having felt before? Yes! Kiss me! Somehow I kept my voice steady: Yes.

Yes.

A word as powerful as his. Bending, bowing, giving in to my wants as well as his.

Yes.

Not ten minutes later, after a too-long period of silence and thought, after I began to reconcile myself to never knowing what he tasted like or what his arms would feel like around me... not ten minutes later my "yes" was accepted.

"I'm going to kiss you."

And feeling his mouth on mine... while I sat, submitting more then anything, and disbelieving. Unable to fully respond as I thought I would have. As I had intended to, should the opportunity ever arise.

Who would have thought that I'd be here? Eight months ago, I would have laughed. Liam? Want me? You have to be kidding.  I'm just a little nobody, someone who hangs out in his office now and then. That's all. I probably amuse him, nothing more.

Two days after, I found myself in a bookstore reading a slim little text on affairs and marriage. It's purpose was to talk about a relationship surviving adultery, but to me it was a primer of sorts. I read it with too-obvious interest, I suspect, but didn't particularly care. My mind was elsewhere, learning the differences and similarities between a serial affair and a fling, a romantic affair and a long-term one.

"I'm going to kiss you."

I didn't buy that book. Instead I picked up Kate Chopin's The Awakening, reading it cover to cover that same night. Reed came to me, making an attempt at intimacy, but failing. Somewhere in there he murmured something about "owning me," about my "being his little girl." For the first time ever, I (silently) disagreed and rebuffed him with a lie about it being that time of the month.

I had to turn him away. It wasn't because of Liam himself, it wasn't because I was feeling guilty or unworthy or even exultant. It was because of the fact that just a hours before I was in another man's arms, ready to give to him what I had always thought of as Reed's: me.

I'd been ready to welcome Liam, to let him make me his. It had been on my lips that night, that invitation: "Make me yours."

That was what had really stopped me -- the realization that I was simply going to transfer ownership from one man to another when, really, I needed to revoke all rights and revert them back to their rightful owner: me.

You can't give what you don't believe you own. My mother often said that no man ever owned her, that was why it was so easy for her to slip from bed to bed. In my own way, a fact I'm slowly awakening to, I believed -- still believe? -- that if I let a man stake his claim, I won't be like her. If I let him be the traditional controlling male, I'll be the well-behaved docile female and never cave to the same forces that ruled my mother.

"I'm going to kiss you."

So much for that theory.

Waiter, I would like another glass of wine. Pouring it myself, I stared out the back window.  So much easier to think with a little vino in hand.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chapter 33: Tangling up

So what is the difference between a meaningful affair and a meaningless fling? Semantics? Does one reduce the actions in significance, thus making said actions more easily excused? If it's meaningful, will it hurt more when the inevitable end comes? Does meaningful imply love between the two parties; whereas meaningless is equated with loveless? Too, what is the difference between an affair and a fling?

That last question is possibly the easiest. Affairs are long-term, thought-out, and emotion-laden. Flings are quickies; get-togethers between two who need and want for the moment, but cannot sustain for the duration.

Can one have a meaningless affair, or is that an oxymoron?

If I have a fling, does it mean that I'm as expendable to him as he is to me, emotionally? He's certainly not expendable. Otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here, on-line, with my computer's chat mode enabled.

If I have an affair, am I committed to supporting and taking care of him much like a wife might? How very unattractive. Affairs, it seems to me, should be -- or are -- escapes. I want to compare them to the rabbit hole that Alice fell into, to a dark alley that one ducks into, or to a secret hiding place one can crawl into.

All of the comparisons involve going into something. How fitting for an affair, being that it's usually sexual in nature. He's going into me, literally and figuratively. I'm letting him come into me. We are into each other mentally. I'm into him, a teenage girl might say. Come into my office, my house, my life. Come into my emotions, needs, and wants. Come into my hang-ups and issues. Come tangle with me.

Tangle implies knots and confusions. An appropriate word, much like into. Fitting. Exact. Defining. We tangle our bodies, entwining until where one ends and the other begins is lost. We tangle our words, playing with them to hide truths without lying. We tangle our emotions, riding them as if they were ocean waves... and waiting for them to crest, throwing us into the water and tangling us up even more...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Chapter 32: At What Price Peace?

One of the perks to being alone is time to think. Just me and little Cleo the Cat, hanging out at chez Meredith sans headaches.

I've been thinking about anger lately, what it makes us do and refrain from doing. My Aunt Geenie's anger kept her from being anything but nasty. Rory's propelled her to write. Mine? Well, I don't know. Once it kept me in bed, staring at the ceiling while I contemplated my various entanglements.  Reed, Liam...  Now, though, it's shoving me in new directions.

It would be easy to turn into another Geenie or Dakota. My own mother was certainly angry enough, don't doubt it. She turned on virtually everyone, indulging herself with the bottle and with men. My indulgence, I know, comes in pill form. Diet pills, to be exact.

Just today I popped another one. I had to. I looked too good yesterday to skip a dose. When I walk down the hall, I strut just a little bit.

Anger will make me make it a point to look good even on mornings when I hate life. It makes me curl my hair just so and bother with lipstick. I bought four-inch stilettos to wear with my conservative black slacks for the sake of contradiction.

But where does appearance get one in the end? A lot of places, to be sure - let's not deny the truth. But does it get me what I need? Can an angry woman find what she needs, or does her anger cloud everything?

My main question is whether or not I can afford to not be angry.

Not being angry often equal complacency, something that is painfully expensive. It turns me into a "good little girl" who does nothing but make sure that everyone else is comfortable. Turns me into a damned stewardess. Are you happy, sir? Can I get you anything, ma'am?

How wonderful it is to know when someone likes you for yourself. I don't, didn't, get a lot of that in my life. When I find it, I savor it. That's why I put up with Rory, and why she tolerates me. There are no pretenses with us.

When she talks about her husband, it's obvious that they also lack pretense. When she talks about her brother, it's apparent that he and his ex-wife were all about changing the other.

Like me, she has her own set of issues -- all of which were compounded for her by Paul and Richard. When I talk about men not wanting girls like me, I'm referring to those with background such as mine. When she talks about girls like me, she's referring to an amazing amount of self-doubt that she carries.

Her husband, she once said, could never really want a girl like her because she was neither beautiful nor smart. He just happened to like vulnerable little damsels in distress, she insisted. Girls like her tended to be the one that men like him would use for amusement and nothing more.

Just as she had no qualms about marching into my house and emptying my liquor cabinet, I had no qualms about telling her to just take a chance and see what happened and shut the hell up about being less-then-worthy.

"MEN like Cade want a WOMAN like you," I remember hollering. "WOMEN like you are what BOYS like him NEED!"

I was in her wedding a year later.

Her cousin, on the other hand, was reeling from a failed engagement and desperate for "proof" that he was lovable.

But how did I get here from my ruminations on anger? Change, I suppose. Anger induces change. But whether or not it can be permanant is another story. I've been mentally wandering lately, but you knew that.

It comes back to the question, though: can I afford not to be angry?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chapter 31: Need vs. Want, and a Convertible

Need versus want. I once needed to be with one sort of man; now I want to be with another. Fickle? No doubt.  

When I look at him, I realize that I don't need him. I want him. I want to be with him. I want to run jump play with him. I want to laugh and joke and make him smile.  But who one am I looking at?   The real man or the one of my creation?  The one I fantasized about for all these years?

Today we went to lunch, me and this fantasy, pretending that all was well.

At lunch, I ordered a dessert I can't spell, daring to try something new. It arrived, smothered in honey, ice cream, and cinnamon sugar. The presentation alone was incredible. Scooping it all up with a fried tortilla, I found myself thinking about the movie 9 1/2 Weeks and how I never quite understood the sensuality of "the food scene."

Abruptly, now, I did.

I was conscious of the coldness of the ice cream as well as the heat of the plate, of the honey's texture, and the spice of the sugar...  I picked with my fingers, getting them sticky in the process, and thoughtlessly popping my index finger into my mouth to lick off the honey. I don't know if he noticed. Don't, I told myself. Behave!

I tried.

My mind rebelled for a moment, reminding me that he was as interested as I. All I needed to do was put my knee to his or daringly put my foot on the seat next to him. Once in the car, if I wanted to, I could squeeze his thigh, my nails telling him that it was so much more then a friendly touch...

Need versus want. Want connotes choice; need denies it. Need demands that one act, while want offers a choice and the option to wait. Need comes from something missing, an absence.

Want comes from the recognition of desire, from the knowledge that having will possibly make life better. Different. In theory, anyway. Want can result in disaster, of course. What do I want? Need?  I once needed a man who would hold me at the right moments, let me cry and rant. I also needed someone who would, when I went too far into my spiral, tell me to get a grip. I escaped, grew up, and moved away. I found my confidence and my balance. My needs changed to wants.

Now I want a man to hold me at the right moments, to let me cry and rant. I want someone who will tell me to get my act together when my melodrama kicks in.  But, if no one is there, I can cry and keep myself together. When I feel like being a drama queen, I indulge.  I escaped, grew up, and moved away. My theme. I did those things because I wanted to, I decided that living in the middle of nowhere, where my mother was infamous, and my best friend disappeared but nobody talked about it, was not a life to condemn myself to. Want and need. Need and want. Thinking out loud on the electronic page. I wonder at the expressions that cross my face as I write this. Right now, I've a half-grin on my face, amused at the words I'm typing. Am I really saying this? Thinking this? And what will he think when he reads this? Perhaps such depth and curiosities are better saved for another day. It's been a long day and two glasses of wine are dulling my filter. Writing, rewriting, meetings, and clients... Tonight I'm home alone. I finally bought that convertible. Picked it up today.

I keep eyeing the keys.  

Friday, April 08, 2016

Chapter 30: Want and Need

Want does not imply need.  I don't need Liam to make my life whole or better.  I don't need him to take care of me.  I don't need him for anything.

So what's on the flip side?  The side of need?  What do I need?

Has "lonely" crossed your mind, readers?  Lonely for attention and affection?  I say little of what my life at home was like, of the not even to Rory.    Reed never knew that I found his account on the internet's innocuously named "friend finder."  Why should I have told him? There was, at the time, no way to "win" in this situation, no way to look like a woman who wasn't scorned and seeking revenge.

One morning, long ago, during the drive to work I almost confessed my loneliness to Reed.  The drive to work, though, left me cold, angry... wanting to retaliate.  I remember it too clearly.  All I wanted was to hold hands with him while we sat in traffic.  Just a squeeze of the hand.  Nothing more.  Half-asleep in the passenger seat, he didn't even indicate that he even noticed that I took his hand and squeezed.  When I did it twice, he moved his hand away.  I said nothing.  When I went to kiss him good-bye before going into work, he averted his eyes.

Why do I bother?
  
Liam was very easy to want. Shall I go on about his eyes and his hands? His arms? Should I tell you how I once spent my days trying not to look at him and let my emotions show? He wore jeans one day. Missed a belt loop in the back, though I didn't tell him. I liked it somehow; it made me think of his morning ritual and how rushed he always is because of his tendency to get up late.

We could have fit into each other's lives very easily under other circumstances, though I still think he would have gone into shock if he saw my version of home-maker.

Tomorrow morning, we have to work together. A client called, we need to meet with him. We'll go in early, do our job just like always.  But we won't steal a few minutes.  We won't take the longer route. We won't spend our private moments passionately necking.

Where was that going anyway?  Did he and I have a future?  Damned if I know.  Some days I think that I fled the room because there was noting else I could do.  I ran from him because I knew, unconsciously, that there was nothing more for us save for sex.

What happened since that night, you ask?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.



Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Chapter 29: Survival

What if I watched you watching me?  That's what you're doing, isn't it?  Watching me.  Waiting to see how the poorly drawn Meredith shapes her life.   Or perhaps you're waiting to see how I end it.  After all, I'm here, alone.  I'm adrift.  Aimless.

I can leave this room and return to my life.  I can leave it and move.  I'm good at running, you know.  Marvelous.  Do it all the time.  I ran from my childhood, from Reed, I ran from Liam.  Are you watching and thinking I'm a train wreck?  I don't mind.  I am, you know.  How could I be anything but a disaster in progress?  What if I told you this experiment in living is failing?  Would you laugh and say, "no kidding"?  It's true.  I'm failing.  I'm not the woman I'm creating on the page.  I'm a different Meredith, one who plays with time, stretching and folding it, twisting it to suit my own purposes.  If I was me, truly me, I'd be quite a different lead in my story.  The reasons I'm not me, though, as quite simple.  Actually, it's only one reason.  And, dear readers, I have no doubt that many of you can relate to this reason.

It's survival.

Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Survival.  Who doesn't know what it's like to swallow her words and say the scripted ones instead?  Who smiles when she would rather scream?  For that matter, who screams when she would rather not but knows it makes him feel good?

You're a liar if you say you don't know what I'm talking about.

Survival tonight comes in the form of one Mr. Daniels.  Jack, to be exact.  He and I have a lovely relationship, just a single shot and I'm much, much braver.  So brave that I'll even hit "publish" when I finish.  I'll return to work tomorrow, look Liam in the eye, and turn away.

Perhaps I'm not so much the train wreck as he is.  That would be a switch.  The man is unstable, not the woman.  The man makes the woman less certain, less sure.  Perhaps, without a man, I will be certain and sure and able.  Perhaps men are a socially constructed crutch, designed for us to lean on, designed to give us the illusion of being able to stand on our own...

Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps I created that crutch myself, building it with blueprints drafted from years of watching Dakota ply her trade to pay the bills.  Men as so easy, she said to me.  A smile, a slight tilt of the head, a skirt hemmed just an inch shorter.  Let them think that they're protecting you from the big bad wolf.  Let them live the knight in shining armor complex, Merrie.  They get off on the fantasy, so why not give it to them?  You make out in the end, so what harm is there in playing the little girl lost and clinging to them in the bedroom?  Play to their egos, to their weaknesses, and you can have exactly what you want.

My mistake -- I think -- was wanting the wrong thing.  I wanted to be my own person, to prove that I was as good as not dependent upon.  Silly me.  No wonder my relationships failed.  I was trying to be a person.  Looking around this apartment, though, I have to wonder if perhaps there wasn't some mercenary wisdom in her words.  After all, they get what they want, and I get what I want.  Stripped down to the basic level of mutual trade, when one gets what she wants by giving what he wants, it would seem to be nothing more than an economic transaction.  A bartering of goods and services.

Three shots in.  My typing is still clean.  I can still walk without swaying.  Time for bed.  

Monday, April 04, 2016

Chapter 28: Dakota's Life Lessons

I remember watching my mother chat on the Internet. She kept a dozen men dangling after her, all of them hot for her and the promises she made. Some came to visit, most often others did not. Few stayed. She called it "auditioning." I called it "trolling." She would log on with some sexy little screen name and a profile guarenteed to bring the horny calling, then she'd chat with them... quizzing them on their interests and hobbies, sexual histories, and income.

"It makes dating so much easier, Merrie," she'd tell me on those rare occasions I merited notice. "I can weed out the losers much faster this way."

What I never understood was how cybersex helped her find men of virtue and large paychecks.
"If he's this needy now, imagine how easy it will be once I meet him." That was said one night as she prepared for her first date with a man I came to know as "Uncle" Walt, though by then I'd long-ago quit calling them "uncle."

"He's been on-line with me for the last three weeks, constantly talking about what we'll do when we finally meet. Dear Lord, Mer, if he's half as good in person as on-line, I might just marry him!"

She didn't. Not after she found out that he was exactly what he hadn't advertised in his profile. "I'll just have to be more careful," she said. "Perhaps hold out on the cyber-games until after I know they're really what they claim to be."

I pointed out that she was as dishonest as they were, which earned a crack across the face. I was only seventeen at the time, and slaps for "impertinence" weren't uncommon. It was the last time, however, that I bothered to point her duplicity out to her. What was the point? She'd been like this since she forced my father to leave.

"You can't trust men, Meredith. They do nothing but think with their cocks. All of them. Use them and leave. Don't get trapped like I did, married to that bastard you call a father. The son of a bitch doesn't even have the decency to send child support or try to see you." I'd heard that since I was eleven, since he walked out and -- for all intents and purposes -- vanished. She never knew, though, that I'd heard the argument that night, that I'd heard the obscene lies she concocted about him to make him leave so permanently.

She taught me a score of lessons, most of which I studiously ignored until now.

She knew how to tease and torment, how to keep them coming back for more. It's all I can do not to manipulate him with those same tricks. It would be easy, though... promise sexual acrobatics, tell him about what I want to do to him, talk about my fantasies at night when I'm alone in bed...

If I keep him panting for more, will I keep him? If I make promises, do I have to carry through right away?

The realization of my power, so much like my mother had, frightens me. Does this explain my life? My past decisions and relationships? Does this explain why men always seemed to be so determined to find their way into my bed? Am I really as much as she was in beauty or have I perfected illusion?

It's crossed my mind more then once, to send a racy e-mail or phone call, to drag him into the metaphorical water whether he wants to come or not. And, once he's in, can I pout and cry just so to make him believe that he jumped on his own will and not on my urging? Probably. He once said he's no desire to make me cry. Surely the right tears will work in my favor. Guilt and lust, tied together, are key... so claimed my mother.

Remember, Merrie, men want to believe that they're in charge. They want to believe that we're helpless little ornaments, depending on them for everything from a roof over our heads to the orgasms we have. If they think we need them, they can be made to believe they hurt us.

Don't ever need them. That way they can never hurt you. And, when you need to make them do what you want, use your body. If that fails, cry. God gave your those big green eyes, use them to your advantage. Quiver that lower lip and think about whatever you have to to bring tears to your eyes. Let them comfort you. It helps build the illusion that they're taking care of you.

Once upon a time, after that boy ruined the girl I was, I cried in his arms. In truth, I wanted to rail and scream, accuse and condemn, but at eighteen I was still too much my mother's daughter. If he comforted me, despite my being so unresponsive to his unwanted "affection," he wouldn't leave me. He didn't, you know. It took three months for the end to come; one brought about by me, not him.

That Christmas I went home alone, failing to bring him despite my mother's invitation. She was furious when she found out why I was alone. Girls like me did not break up with their boyfriends, particularly when the boyfriend was the best-looking man on campus. Girls like me were supposed to use boys like him to advantage, to attract older students -- or even professors. Girls like me, she screamed, worked their way up the social ladder... they didn't jump off into oblivion and let some other bitch have that rung, for God's sake.

Before school ended that May, I found a small apartment near the university and a job that paid most of the bills. I found that I could live without cable and that walking to work was healthy.

I never went home again.

Now, staring at my computer all of these nights, I often found myself thinking about what I could say to bring this good man to me, and how to make him think it his decision.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Chapter 27: Family

Aunt Geenie married her own demon, a brutal man ten years her senior who believed in the stereotyped woman of the 1940s. Under his guiding hand, she learned how to mix a perfect martini within minutes and have it ready when he came through the front door. When he suffered a heart attack one morning after twenty-odd years of martinis and dinner on the table to five, she made up her mind.

"I knew if I called the ambulance right away, they'd be here in minutes," I heard her confide at his funeral. "So I decided to do my hair first. Harry would never have forgiven me for letting them in if I didn't look my best. He always did demand that I present the right image, given our station in life."

The relative tsk'd sympathetically and squeezed Geenie's hand. I was five at the time and small for my age, neither one saw me sitting behind the flowers that were heaped around his casket. I was pretending that I lived in a magical forest.

"It didn't take that long to finish my hair, but I guess it was too long for him. The paramedics said that he was gone by the time they arrived." Geenie sighed and the relative tsk'd again. "They asked if I wanted to go along in the ambulance, but I declined. He was dead, after all."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to go on, of course. Why, I bought my first pair of slacks yesterday. Harry never let me to wear them. He said that women's legs were made to be looked at. I tell you, Ethel, they are liberating. I'm going to wear them tomorrow to the burial!"

It wasn't until years later that I understood the full story.

What is it that makes some of us bounce while others shatter? What made her bitter and Rory resilient? And as my life moves toward some inevitable denouement, will I find that shattering is my only option? Or will I be stronger then that?

Will I again go home to my childhood this summer for some duty-riddled visit? Or will I make a new "home" with Rory and her family? She's invited me to spend time with her and husband and their new baby on Memorial Day weekend.  They're having a picnic with a few dozen friends and relatives.  Her newly-single cousin will be there, she hinted, as will other relatives that I know reasonably well. I don't have to seek out the Brooks or the McKenzie families to find "family."

We humans make our own family, I'm learning. We do not have to rely on blood connections. Who cares who beget whom, who married whom, and why people who hate each other insist on gathering together for the sake of "family."

Growing up, before my mother became the complete pariah that she did, the brood would gather at Geenie and Harry's for Christmas and Easter. We children knew nothing of the dynamics or undercurrents; we did nothing but play happily. We never noticed that Geenie would ignore my mother, that Harry would refuse to acknowledge his brother-in-law, and that various aunts and uncles would never be in the same room at the same time. Gifts were perfunctory, chosen to out-do the other. The more expensive and extensive the better. Never mind that they were unwanted and useless.

After Harry died, Geenie cancelled the parties.

That was the end of the gatherings, for no one took up where she left off. Why bother? No one liked anyone else. How could they, given various relatives' penchant for stirring up problems running gossip from one family member to the next?

I have cousins that I haven't seen in years, aunts and uncles who would not recognize me if we tripped on each other, and a myriad of relatives who remember me -- I'm sure -- only as Dakota's troublesome daughter.

My brother Stephen still can't figure out why I would want to be single. Silly me for confiding in him. He takes after our uncle in that respect: I should have a husband who pays the bills.  Worse, once I have him I should keep my mouth shut, have babies, and get an occasional screw.

I'm not sure where this post is going today, readers. It's a meandering one, it seems. Perhaps I'll figure it out later. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Chapter 26: Remembering

There are parts of your life that you never forget and, if you close your eyes, can happen again. They are the parts where the memories are sometimes too clear and too unforgettable to ever really leave you alone. When he crossed the room and took you in his arms, you can still see the purposeful stride and -- when he kissed you -- you can still feel the pressure of his lips on yours. It doesn't matter if it's two weeks or months or years. It doesn't matter that you haven't touched or talked to him in however long its been, because you can still feel the shape of his face as you traced it with your fingers and explored his features, learning by touch what you knew so well by sight.

Those parts are hidden in memory, brought out at night in bed alone when it's safe to think about him. The torment is sweeter and sharper -- but at night, alone, you can give yourself over to the memories and, yes, the regrets.

When you touch your left hand and feel how naked your ring finger is, you wonder at whether you'll ever want to be part of two again, chained by gold and diamonds more than by want. It started, all of it, the day you found that the unused box of condoms was opened and two were missing and you knew that your intimacy with your fiance was not the cause. When you found, then, the forgotten e-mail -- the one he didn't delete for whatever reason -- with the password to his new account on the adult friend network, you knew. And he started working late, started forgetting to call when he was heading home, and started not questioning anything you did. Then your hand is bare and he never remarks on it.

Perhaps it started as revenge. Liam was there and willing, after all. Perhaps the fiance's infidelity was all the permission you needed and there was no revenge. Does it matter?