Despite my best intentions, my mind took a long, gentle stroll. It found itself listening to Emma panting in my ear until she climaxed, causing that breath to catch in her throat, like a cross between a grunt and a hiccup–which is far sexier than that description makes it seem.
It watched her rock back and forth while her half-closed eyes stared urgently into mine, and her lips parted, and her hair freed itself, one curled, cinnamon lock at a time, from a loose ponytail.
It tasted her sweat.
It was a nice stroll, while it lasted.
That is, until my editor shouted my name several times. I returned to the present and replied, “Yes, Chief?”
Myron grunted. “Do I look like a fire marshal to you?”
I turned to my photographer, Gretchen, and frowned. I took my eyes off of her because I never experienced her the way I’d experienced Emma, but the part of me that wasn’t consistently irritated with her wanted to.
When I returned my gaze to Myron, he said, “Well?”
What the hell were they talking about when I was away? “No?”
“Do I look like a commissioner or a high-ranking lieutenant in a police precinct?”
“The engineer in charge of a naval vessel?” he persisted. “The president?”
“No, but I did vote for you on that last one.”
“The head of a Native American tribe?”
Having grown up near an Indian reservation, I couldn’t find any humor in this.
“Then stop calling me Chief,” he concluded. “Do you understand me?”
“I do now.”
He asked, “Have you been paying attention?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Then what have we been talking about?”
“I wasn’t paying attention to that part.”
“Gretchen,” he snapped, “grab that paper over there and hit Max with it.”
“With pleasure!” she replied, rolling up yesterday’s first edition and smacking me across the cheek hard enough to fill both of my eyes with burning white light.
“Jesus!” Myron yelled. “Not in the face!”
“Right,” she said, and, with an incredibly flexible swivel of her arm, flattened my testicles.
On the bright side, I wouldn’t be distracted by sexual fantasies for the foreseeable future.
Myron sighed, “I meant hit him on the shoulder or something.”
“Oh.” She raised the newspaper again.
“I think he got the point, Gretchen.”
She relaxed her shoulders and sighed, “If you say so.”
“Oh, what the hell,” he said, “one last time.”
“Hey!” I called out immediately before I lost all use of my right arm.
“Are you paying attention now, Max?”
“Hit him again.”
She did–with a smile.
“All I was saying was,” he told me, “there’s an actor coming to town this weekend to cover the morning- and late-show talk circuit.” He scribbled on a notepad and tore the sheet off. “This is his publicist’s number. Have Bill set something up.”
“You never told me who it is.”
“Yes, he did,” said Gretchen.
“You never told me who it is when I wasn’t daydreaming.”
“I give up,” he groaned. “Gretchen.”
I flinched, and she raised the newspaper.
“Tell him,” he said.
“Oh,” she pouted. “Frank Beatley.”
“That has to be the worst name for an action star,” I snorted.
“People used to say that about Oleg Flatowicz,” he said, turning his attention to a page proof, “and now he’s the governor of Idaho.”
“Governor of Idaho’s not all that impressive, either,” I said.
“You’re not a political reporter, Max, so you’re not qualified to make those kinds of judgments,” he concluded without looking up. “And Happy Birthday.”
“It’s your birthday?” I asked Gretchen.
“No,” she replied, “it’s yours.”
They both doused me with a glare that answered my question. “In that case,” I said, “thanks, Chief!”
She didn’t need to be told to hit me.
I hobbled out of his office and, this being the end of my shift, for the exit. “This can’t be right,” I said to an empty elevator, but a quick look at the date and time on my phone revealed that it really was October 6. “Well shit. It would be nice if I’d had some kind of warning. I’d have made plans or something.”
Once in the lobby and on my way to the street, I noticed that I had voice mail waiting. Bracing myself for my parents’ annual tone deaf singing, I tapped in my password and listened.
“Hey, Max,” said the voice that belonged to neither of my parents.
I stopped walking at the exact time my heart stopped beating.
“It’s me,” the voice continued. “Carissa. Happy Birthday!”
I definitely could have used some kind of warning.
“I know we haven’t been in touch for a while. Well, since, you know. I wanted to let you know I was thinking about you.”
I hadn’t been thinking about her at all. Honest.
“And I miss you. Call me sometime.” And she hung up.