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Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

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 felt her fist pounding against my shoulder blade as she shuddered against me; her nails tearing the skin along my ribs.

It smelled our bodily fluids mingling with latex and lubricant.

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?”

“No.”

“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?”

Your aversion to the word Chief.”

“Before that.”

“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?”

“Yes, Chief.”

“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.”

“It is?”

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.

to be continued…

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Patchwork

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

I dreamt about her again… scratch that. It was the first time I’d dreamt about–or had even seen her–since she’d sent me the letter telling me that we shouldn’t be together anymore.

While it was the most linear, literal dream I remember having, it still had enough of Morpheus’s logic that things didn’t 100 percent track upon waking. For example, I’d never before met the couple I was joining for dinner or brunch, and so I didn’t know where I allegedly knew them from. They were a casual group, but a bit more formal than those with whom I would ordinarily associate. We were all quite fond of each other, and these dinners or brunches were a regular occurrence.

And so it came as a surprise to see her there in our booth, nodding along to the meaningless and unmemorable conversation. It came as even more of a surprise that she didn’t bother to introduce herself, nor did my friends do the same. In fact, they didn’t acknowledge her at all. She just sat there across the table from me, attentive but quiet, like a ghost. Typically, a ghost is accompanied by a sense of dread, and this was no different. In this case, there was an added sense of guilt, as if I had brutally broken her heart.

In the waking world, this was not true at all. Quite the reverse in fact. Her age of nineteen made our relationship legal, both legally and morally, but she was still just graduating from high school. She had a future, and I lived entirely in the moment. She understood that. I didn’t. I hadn’t abandoned or cheated on her; I could have handled the consequences of that. What I had done was disappoint her. In a way, I guess it was my fault.

My not-really friends weren’t there with us anymore. This was the thing I feared more than anything: being alone with her. I could no longer pretend not to recognize her.

“Hi,” she said. What she hadn’t said was, “Hi, Max,” or, “Hi, asshole,” or ” You have a lot of nerve showing your face around here, you miserable bastard.” Maybe she’d forgotten who I was.

That gave me hope.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time,” she said.

Oh, crap.

Just then, I realized that we were sitting together on the same side of the table, with just a couple of feet of space between us. Neither of us had actually moved; the dream did it for us, in such a subtle way that I hadn’t even noticed.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I don’t know how long our hips had been within a whisper of each other.

“Don’t,” she replied.

I couldn’t think of something to say, which probably had something to do with the way the two of us had been lying on our backs on the empty table. When I rolled over and propped my head on my elbow, I remembered that, the last time I’d been this close to her, we were in Albuquerque, promising each other a future together.

She must have seen my thoughts on my face. “We can’t kiss,” she told me.

I’ve made out with many women over the years, but Carissa’s kisses belonged to her alone. Whenever she pulled away, she bit my lower lip gently–not enough to hurt, but just enough to remind me she’d been there. My mouth dried in anticipation of the nibble that would never come again.

I needed to touch her. I told her so.

“Please,” she whispered.

I’m not a humble man. I possess many extraordinary talents, and I refuse to hide them. Among these is my skill at lock-picking. I’m not referring to the deadbolt variety. What I mean to say is that, when I have permission, there is not a button, buckle, zipper, clasp, strap, or lace that can stand between me and nudity.

Almost instantly, the bottom four buttons on her shirt were unfastened. My fingers drifted underneath the fabric to massage her gymnast’s stomach, a sign of her physical strength, and trace the line of the scar that ran along her right hip, a reminder of her physical vulnerability.

She sighed and squirmed in such a way that there was a gap between her jeans and her bare skin that my hand could slip comfortably inside. It moved to do just that.

I don’t know how much further this would have gone if my neighbor’s alarm clock hadn’t gone off right beside my head.

More often than not these days, Emma and I vented out our frustrations with our workdays or social lives by exchanging sweat and orgasms. Since this was so exhausting, it was rare that I ever bothered climbing over the fire escape and back into my own bed.

As I retrieved and put on my clothes for my short journey home, Emma muttered, “You could save us both a lot of money and hassle if you just packed up and moved in.”

If you’ve ever seen a long corridor equipped with fluorescent bulbs light up incrementally and randomly after the switch is flipped, you can visualize how my brain activated during the ensuing conversation. “What,” I asked, “did you just say?”

It’s not like you can just knock on my front door,” she continued.

“No,” I agreed, still not at full illumination, “because my roommates might suspect I’m straight.”

And you can’t keep using the fire escape.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s going to be cold in a few months, and I’m planning on keeping my window closed,” she replied.

“I was kind of hoping you’d have a real boyfriend by then.”

So you don’t have to deal with me anymore?”

“So you could be happy.”

She froze. “So I need a man in my life to be happy?”

“I didn’t mean it that way!” Well, I did actually kind of mean it that way, but to be fair, I wasn’t entirely awake.

Does fucking all the women make you happy?”

“A little bit, yeah.”

“Bullshit.”

“How would you know?” I asked.

She took a breath and concentrated as if this were a pop quiz. “Because they’re only booty-calls.”

“I prefer to think of them as ‘liaisons.'”

“They’re booty calls,” she said.

“What do you call this then?” I don’t know why I had to ask this question. It was one part genuine curiosity and one part slap in her face.

Convenient.”

Touché. “Can’t argue with that.” I didn’t say anything when I crawled out her window, and she didn’t say anything back. There were all sorts of things I wanted to say, but they crashed and collided throughout my head, becoming shards of battered half-thoughts.

I stood in my room feeling like a computer with no operating system–i.e. a paperweight–when my body decided to do what the rest of me couldn’t figure out how to. I stormed all the way out of my apartment and pounded on Emma’s front door.

She tore it open and growled, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Knocking,” I replied.

Upon hearing this, she didn’t change her expression. But something in her posture did shift, just a little. She reached over and wrapped her hand around the back of my neck and said, “You better get inside, dude, before you get yourself evicted.”

to be continued…

Road Trip

previously…
(…or start here)

At first, everything stopped, and I mean everything–even gravity it seemed, just for a moment. It had to have been only a short moment, though, for had it been any longer than that, my ceasing heart would have killed me. It didn’t feel like a short moment. I gasped, and with it came the jolt that ran down my thighs and calves to rebound off my toes and shoot up my spine, tightening every muscle it passed through.

This wasn’t my first orgasm, not by a long shot; what made it special was that it was the latest in a long line with her.

She hadn’t quite finished this time, but there was nothing I could do about that. I gulped in some air, rolled onto my back, and bathed in my own humidity.

“Wow!” she panted.

“Yeah,” I replied. When I regained control over my body, I sat up and disposed of the condom.

As I did this, she reached for the wad of sheets in the corner near her head, shook them out, and covered herself up to her collarbone. Her modesty always made me smile, especially since I’d just seen and tasted her naked. Hell, I was responsible for making her that way in the first place.

She sighed. “I love how worked up you get when I get out of class.”

“I don’t have any control over that.” I really didn’t. She went to a catholic school and wore the uniform; though not for long whenever I had a say in it.

I know: it’s weird that I was fucking a schoolgirl when I was in my mid-twenties. Sure she was nineteen, but it was still pretty weird.

“I wish I didn’t have to go,” I whispered.

“Please, Fox, let’s not do this. You’re not leaving for a few weeks.”

“I know, but New York’s so far away.”

“I’ll be there with you before you even know it.”

Her sleek black hair had become understandably entangled, and so I ran my fingers through it. “Where’s the first place you want to go when you get there?”

“Besides your bed?” She giggled at me when I rolled my eyes. “I always assumed you were too cool for touristy crap.”

“I am cool,” I replied, “but I do love the touristy crap. I just never have an excuse to go unless I have a visitor.”

She screwed up her face in mock concentration. “Statue of Liberty?”

“Fuck that,” I said. “You get a better view of it from the Staten Island Ferry. How about the Empire State Building?”

“Could I see my house from there?”

Cariño,” I told her, “you can see the entire world from there.”

“I only need to see you.”

I laughed. “That’s the cheesiest thing you have ever said.”

She shoved me onto the bed. “I’ll show you cheesy.”

“Are you going to sing show tunes?”

“Stop it …”

“Deliver an emotional monologue about the triumph of the human spirit?”

“Stop!”

“Give me a pizza with extra mozzarella and ricotta?”

“You are so dead!”

“So you can read blank-verse poetry at my eulogy?”

She couldn’t bring herself to stop grinning. “I don’t even know why I even talk to you.”

“Because I’m witty.”

She kissed me tenderly. “And because I love you.”

Tossing aside the sheet, she crawled backward and then began running her tongue up my thigh.

“Is this what you mean by cheesy?”

She giggled.

I moaned. “Because I can do cheesy.”

That was months ago.

Decades before that, I looked at my bedroom, tucked into the back of a trailer that perched along the unpaved, gravel road that skirted the edge of the ragged hills that orbited my hometown in a remote corner of New Mexico, and I decided that it was time to go. I was seven.

Ten years ago, I graduated high school and ran toward the world in front of me while fleeing the bridges burning behind me.

Six months ago, for reasons I’m still not sure I fully understand, I went back.

Four years ago, I began my career as a journalist, spending my days and nights with no overtime, conning celebrities into liking me and telling me how their next movie, album, or TV season was going to be so much better than the last and how they didn’t care about what others thought and how they were really just shy.

Six months and one day ago, I looked into the mirror and saw, like I did everyday, a vision of myself ten years in the future, dressed in the same clothes, working the same job, and tearing myself to pieces.

Six months ago, I met her.

Yesterday, I could look in the mirror and see an adult.

Three months from now, I would going to walk away from all of this. I was going to leave New York, and with it, the drugs, the alcohol, the sex, the rock, and the roll. I didn’t care where I went–it was time to go.

Twenty years ago, El Dorado was anywhere but home.

Twenty years later, El Dorado was back home, in her arms.

Today, the letter in my hand told me that she wouldn’t be coming.

It took me three tries to get through it.

Fox,

I tried to begin this letter with some small talk. Maybe I’d tell you about Daddy. Maybe talk about school. But I can’t do that to you. By now, you already know what I’m going to say, because that’s just how you are.

I can’t tell you how much I love you. It makes me crazy that I can’t. I can’t even tell you how much you changed me.

When my mother left, I thought I was being punished. Because I had too much fun, goofed off, cared more about anything other than school and being a good daughter. And even though I knew she wasn’t coming back, I worked so hard to study and to take care of Daddy… I didn’t think I could have fun and be responsible at the same time. You showed me I was wrong.

It’s funny, but I don’t think you know that. You think I’m going to rescue you from the life you lead. You think I can make you a grownup. I can’t do that, Fox. I’m just a kid. Sure, I’m older than everyone else at school, but I’m still a kid. I’ll be starting college next year.

You’re living in your own apartment, paying your bills. I’m going to be living in a dorm, getting care packages from Daddy.

I’m still learning who I am, and I can’t support you when you’re trying to run away from who you are. We’re so different, and for one split second, we were the people we needed each other to be.

That doesn’t make sense.

I’m sorry to do this like this. If I saw you or heard your voice, I’d chicken out. But I’m not sorry I love you. I hope that one day you’ll feel the same.

I’ll always be your cariño.

Yesterday she was my cariño.

Today she is my ex-girlfriend.

Tomorrow she’ll just be Carissa.

I had no friends, no one to hold onto, and now, thanks to my landlady and my penis of a roommate, I had no place to live.

I called in sick to work, but I don’t remember how. I didn’t know where my phone was. My fingers were useless. It felt as though every word that left my mouth would melt into anguished sobs.

For an unknown period of time, I couldn’t bring myself to eat. I couldn’t even bring myself to walk to the kitchen and find a bottle of liquor. The only reason I got off the couch was because some movers came and took it away.

When I finally stood again, I took in the apartment without my roommate. He had taken with him the large television I never watched, the dining room table I never used, the wall art I never looked at, the canned food I never ate, and the wireless Internet antenna I never lived without. All that remained for me was a wok and some saucepans, a spice rack, a flattened mattress on the floor, a bureau moments away from collapsing, two unpacked boxes of books, and a refrigerator full of leftovers.

She left me.

Now what was I supposed to do?

to be continued…
(… a look back, for perspective)