Friday, February 8, 2019

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" -- Part Five (Conclusion), 2009

Well, here's the final chapter of "For Baby (For Bobbie)," a five-part story I wrote ten years ago. I hope you don't even try to read this chapter unless you've read the previous four installments.

Another long one, but it had to be.

Previously:
 In 1974, sexually-overactive Robert "Eli" Whitney became friends with an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman.
 This was actually rather amazing, considering the fact that Eli was an obnoxious jerk, most of the time.

The awkward friendship was ended when Karen became pregnant during a one-time sexual misadventure with Eli. His response to her condition was a gut-level "Get rid of it." Karen's sense of betrayal and feelings of disgust -- even hatred -- for Eli were immediate. She walked away from him assuring him that he'd get his "wish," and that she would abort the child.

They never saw each other again.

* * * * *


2009

Above a sleazy Oregon bar oddly named "The Caster" was an even sleazier set of one-room "efficiency apartments," although the only thing "efficient" about them was the year-round fresh air provided by the windows which had been so poorly installed nearly fifty years earlier.

The Caster and the elevator to the second and third-floor apartments above it were connected by a filthy lobby adorned with cigarette butts. It was approximately 4:00 in the afternoon one day when the elevator door opened on the ground floor. One of the upstairs inhabitants had come downstairs, as he did virtually every day, just to traverse the small span of the lobby in search of strong drink and what passed for companionship.

The Caster's entry door swung inward. In rolled a wheelchair piloted by a regular (but barely-tolerated) patron known to most of the other regulars solely by his first name...

Eli.

To say that the years had not been kind to Eli would be an incredible understatement. His once-proud mane of wavy blonde hair had receded to a small area in the back of his head, from which a colorless ponytail hung halfway down his back. There was facial hair, but one could never tell whether Eli was unsuccessfully growing a beard, or simply needed a shave after several days of self-neglect.

His eyes were still blue, of course, but no longer the vibrant blue of his youth. They, too, had faded somehow. They were also habitually blood-shot, resulting in a combination of red, white, and blue which more than one sardonic soul had credited with stirring feelings that were vaguely patriotic!

Eli's legs were both gone as a result of his belief that he knew more than any doctor who admonished him about dietetic excesses. In other words, Eli was a diabetic in severe denial.

He wheeled himself over to the bar and greeted the bartender. "Mickey! Howzit?"

"Evenin', Eli."

"Not yet. Afternoon! Sun's still shining."

"Not in here... Afternoon, then. Whatever. The usual?" Eli nodded vigorously as Mickey poured out a mug of Miller Draft, serving it with a shot glass filled with Canadian Club on the side.

Eli's eyes scanned the bar for what he referred to as "new talent." Pickings had been pretty dry lately, but...

Bingo! Sitting alone at a nearby table was a fairly pretty woman, thirtyish-looking, who was sipping a glass of rosé wine. She was modestly dressed in a grey outfit -- Shame, no cleavage, thought Eli, and slacks, which hide her legs, damnit -- and she sat there quietly, reading a book. She wore stylish eyeglasses. Eli downed the shot and sipped at his beer, waving his hand in the air in a way that Mickey assumed meant "put the drinks on my tab." Of course.

A book -- a damned book -- in a bar? What is she, a frigging librarian? thought Eli, as he stared in the young woman's direction.

Before Eli could even begin to wheel himself toward her table, Mickey warned him, "Don't, Eli!"

"Don't what?" asked Eli, injecting as much innocence into his tone of voice as he could... which wasn't much.

"You know what! Leave her alone. I mean, come on, she's at least twenty years younger than you, maybe more. And she's new here. Maybe she'll add some class to the place if she starts hangin' out here."

"Class? In this dump? Get real. I'm about the classiest thing this place has going for it... and that isn't much."

"You're tellin' me," muttered Mickey.

Eli approached the woman. "Hey, sexy," he said, by way of introduction. "I'm Eli. Haven't seen you around here before. Looking for company?"

She looked up from her book, and smiled. "Hello, Eli." He liked the way her dark, wavy brown hair cascaded ever-so-slightly over her shoulders, bouncing a bit whenever she moved her head even a bit. "I've never been here before. And as far as company, whether or not I'm looking for any depends on the quality of what's offered to me."

"Oooh! I like the way you talk. I like the way you look, too. Nice bod. You fill that sweater just right."

"Thanks... I guess."

"That's a nice outfit you're wearing, too... If you like clothes that conceal everything."

"This outfit is... comfortable," she said, sipping her wine. "And as far as being 'concealing,' why display everything to the masses, right?"

"Heh. Private showings only?" he asked with a leer, as he stared at her breasts. She drained her rosé; he pointed at the empty glass and said, "Would you like to follow that up with a real drink?"

"And how do you define a real drink, Eli?" She smiled playfully. Oh, I am so going to score with this little dolly, he thought confidently.

"Anything strong, I suppose, but nothing sissy like wine. I generally stick to a shot and a beer." He turned to face the bar, and waved his arm in the air to get Mickey's attention. Mickey shook his head, but came out from behind the bar, advancing toward Eli's table to take the couple's order.

"Is he botherin' you, lady?" asked Mickey.

"Hey!" snapped Eli. "What the hell kind of question is that? The lady's going to let me buy her a drink..." He turned back to look at her, and their eyes locked. He very briefly thought that something about her looked familiar... "Isn't that right?" he asked her.

"That's right," she agreed. "What would you suggest as a 'real' drink?" she asked Mickey sweetly.

"Oh, man," Mickey said, rolling his eyes. "Eli's gotten this far already? Usually he woulda been slapped by now." He looked at the woman somewhat disdainfully. "How 'bout I just bring over a bottle of 'rotgut' and leave it here, like in the Western flicks? And maybe a brass spittoon for atmosphere?"

Eli slammed his open palm on the table. "Stop being a smartass and bring us both a beer and a shot!"

After Mickey left, the young woman removed her glasses and looked pointedly at Eli. (Now she really looked familiar, he realized. Maybe she has been here before, he thought. He indulged himself by mentally undressing her, to "see" if she looked familiar that way. No such luck.) She leaned forward conspiratorially as she donned the glasses once more. "Look, I don't care for that bartender's attitude. Maybe we can gulp those drinks down in a hurry and go someplace else?"

"Someplace... like?"

"These seem to be your stomping grounds, Eli. Where do you want to go?"

How far can I push this, so soon? he asked himself. Oh, hell, let's go for broke! "Well, I live right upstairs... and I've got a fully-stocked bar. Well, not a bar, exactly, but plenty of liquor!"

"Sounds great," she replied, as Mickey brought their drinks.

They drank their shots and their beers quickly, and she stood up as Eli backed his wheelchair away from the table. He noticed her staring at the stubby remains of his legs. "Don't worry, baby, everything else below the waist works just fine."

As they left The Caster, Mickey stared after them, shaking his head in mild disgust. "Why the hell do the sleazy guys always do so well?" he said aloud, to no one in particular.

Eli's wheelchair was at the rear of the elevator's interior, facing its doors. The young woman stood on his left. He silently eyed her up and down as she stood there. He was undressing her in his mind again, this time to satisfy more basic pleasures.

"Like what you see?" she asked, grinning.

"I sure do, gorgeous. And I can't wait until we get to my room!" As if in answer, the elevator stopped. They had reached the third floor.

The elevator doors opened, and the two exited into the hallway. "How well do you get along with your neighbors?" she asked, as her left arm made a sweeping motion to indicate the other one-room apartments on the floor.

"We all pretty much keep to ourselves... but right now, there are only two other rooms rented on this floor, besides mine. One guy's visiting his sister and brother-in-law... or his brother and sister-in-law... I mean, who cares, right?"

"Right," she agreed amiably.

"And the other's been in the hospital for a few weeks now."

"So we're alone?"

"Hey, sweetheart, we'd be alone in my room anyway!"

"Well... it's just..." She laughed. "I get a little loud sometimes, if you know what I mean."

"Oh! Heh. I sure do, and that's just fine with me." He stopped in front of his room, #3-F.

"Thought it might be," she said, as he fumbled in his pocket for the key.

He opened the door to his room, and in they went. It was a relatively large room with its own bathroom, which was accessible from a door in the wall opposite the only entrance. She glanced into her over-sized purse, and smiled at Eli. She pulled out a pair of handcuffs, and smiled broadly. "Like I said, sometimes I get loud... and kinky..." With that, she dropped the cuffs back into her purse. "You don't mind if I use your bathroom to freshen up, do you?"

"Of course not," he said, hoping she'd come out wearing less -- or even none -- of the outfit he found so frustratingly conservative.

She stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. After a few moments, he heard water running. "Hey. Hey!" he shouted. "Can you hear me in there?"

The water stopped, and the door opened slightly. "Did you say something, Eli?"

"Yes. Ummm... I was just wondering, what's your name?"

She opened the door and walked back into the room. The grey sweater was gone, but she had been wearing a plain blue blouse underneath it, and she was still wearing that. She held the purse in her left hand. "Thought you'd never ask," she said, grinning that maddeningly familiar smile yet again. "Or don't you usually ask your women their names?"

"I didn't mean anything..."

"It's okay." She sat down on the edge of the bed, only about three feet from where Eli's chair was located in the middle of the room. She stretched out her legs, making Eli wish those damned grey slacks were off of her so he could really see the legs in question!

"My name's Bobbie," she told him.

"Huh. Funny, that's..." He was about to say, "That's my name, too," prior to launching into an explanation of the whole Eli/Robert thing...

But then he looked at her face again, noticing that the eyeglasses had been removed once more, and something in the back of his mind clicked. "Bobbie." It finally occurred to him why she looked so familiar.

She strongly resembled... Oh, who was itWhat the hell was her name?

"Karen!" he whispered aloud.

Her eyebrows shot up, and she stood slowly. "I beg your pardon?"

"You look so much like an old friend of mine... it's kind of spooky."

"Thanks a lot," she said, walking toward him.

"No, it's just... I haven't seen her, or even thought about her, in such a long time!"

"Look, Eli, I might have said I was kinky, but that doesn't extend to the kind of role-playing that makes me a substitute for an ex-lover!"

"No, no! She wasn't an ex-lover, exactly, she... she..."

"What the hell was she, then?" Bobbie asked, stepping to the rear of the wheelchair, and gently caressing the side of Eli's face with her right hand.

"She was my friend," he said, tilting his head back to get a good look at her. Due to her position, however, all he really got to see was the underside of her fully-clothed breasts, which naturally cheered him a bit. "We had a falling-out, you might say. It was really quite vicious, and ... unfortunate."

"Okay," she replied dismissively. "Hell, I'm not surprised. At the viciousness thing, I mean. Teenagers are like that."

"I didn't say we were teenagers..."

"Oh, didn't you? Sorry, I just assumed... Anyway, I got teased a lot for my name in high school."

"Why, because Bobbie sounds like a boy's name?"

"Ummm... Where's your booze?"

He pointed to a large cabinet next to a tiny refrigerator. Both were near the door to the hallway. She nodded in thanks, and continued speaking as she walked over to it. "So, where was I? Oh, yeah... In high school, they even made up a crummy nickname for me, after the guy who sang that song, 'Monster Mash.' They used to call me 'Boris' after Bobby 'Boris' Pickett."

"Like... Boris Karloff?" asked Eli, feeling his skin break out in a cold sweat.

"Well, yeah, I mean, they called that Pickett guy Boris 'cause he imitated Boris Karloff, so..."

"This is just too damned weird."

"Why?" she asked cheerfully, holding a half-full bottle of one of Eli's personal favorites, a spirit with the Runyonesque name of Jeremiah Weed.

"That's another comparison between you and that girl Karen..."

'Eli, Eli, Eli," she admonished airily, as she walked toward him, and then positioned herself behind his chair once again. "You have to stop talking about this Karen chick!" She looked around for drinking glasses of one kind or another. She realized that the room had no kitchenette, and no pantry, nor anything holding pots, pans, flatware, or anything else related to the preparation or eating of food! "Damn, Sam! Don't you have any shot glasses in here? Or... do you even bother mixing this stuff with anything else?"

"Some people mix it with orange juice, but I drink it straight out of the bottle, usually."

"That'll work for me, too," she said, walking around to the front of the wheelchair.

"Well, I do have paper cups in the bathroom, if you like."

She shook her head as if to say, "No need." She sat cross-legged on the bed, and she and Eli spent the next few minutes indulging in additional small talk, and passing the bottle back and forth between themselves until it was almost empty.

At that point, Bobbie stood up, a bit shaky, and asked "Do you have another bottle of this stuff?"

"Yes, but... Don't you think we've had enough to drink? For now, anyway?"

Bobbie was already at the makeshift liquor cabinet. "You can never have enough, don't you agree?" She twisted the cap, breaking its seal. Suddenly, she began dancing around.

"Careful, kiddo, you'll spill it!" Eli warned.

Bobbie grinned and placed the cap back on the bottle. Still dancing, she got closer and closer to Eli. "Wanna dance, Daddy-o?" she teased.

Eli wasn't put off by her remark, a remark many would have thought was in bad taste... although "Daddy-o" seemed rather archaic, he thought. "Well, I can't exactly dance, but I can put this chair through some pretty fancy..." He tried to move the chair, but it seemed stuck somehow. He looked down at the wheels and frowned.

"Whassamatter, Daddy?" She said "Daddy" again, he thought.

"My wheelchair's jammed."

He was still looking down when he heard her say, "It's not jammed, Daddy. It's frozen, kinda!" He looked up toward where the sound of her voice originated, and as he did so, he felt the bottle of Jeremiah Weed slam into his left temple.

The pain was intense and immediate; he thought he'd black out. However, he never fully lost consciousness, so he was all too aware of Bobbie's actions as she shoved something in his mouth -- the sliced-off end of one of her sweater's sleeves, as it turned out -- and handcuffed his right arm to the wheelchair. And evidently, she'd only shown him one of the sets of cuffs which she'd brought, for Eli suddenly found his left arm shackled as well.

She grinned at him mockingly. "Comfortable, Daddy? No? Good. And yes, you sleazebag, you really are my Daddy. Karen Hoffman was my Mom." Bobbie sat on the end of the bed yet again, and opened the bottle of Jeremiah Weed once more. Taking a deep swallow, she reached into her purse and took out a small jar containing some kind of amber-colored liquid. "This is the nifty little invention that locked up your chair's wheels, Daddy!" Eli squinted, but he couldn't make out the words on the glass jar's label. "Maybe you would've caught me pouring it on there if you hadn't been so busy checking out your own daughter's boobs... you sick bastard."

His gag prevented him from pointing out that at the time, he didn't know she was his daughter... if indeed she was.

"You know, Daddy... Eli... part of me wants to just get the hell out of here without another word. I've spent more than enough time with you, you loser! But you deserve to hear a Reader's Digest condensed version of my life... and my Mom's life."

She glared at him, as if waiting for a reply, although he obviously couldn't give one. "The last thing Mom told you was that she was going to abort me. But she never decided whether or not she was going to for real. She considered it, sure. She also considered moving away and having it elsewhere. But you were the one that moved away. You went west!"

Eli's hands appeared to be idly resting on his chair's wheels, but he was actually trying to move the wheels. It wasn't working.

"The decision was taken out of her hands. Only a couple of weeks after you were so cruel to Mom, she got rip-roaring drunk and 'borrowed' my grandparents' car. She got into a freak auto accident and ended up in a coma! Didn't you even know about that?" He shook his head; he'd never heard about it. "Ahh, it doesn't matter anyway!" she spat. "So! Imagine everyone's surprise when they found out Mom was carrying me!"

Bobby stood and stepped closer to Eli. She kept talking, gesturing wildly with the hand that held the open bottle. Much of the liquor spilled on Eli's face and shirt.

"I was delivered by C-section a few months later, and spent about a year being raised by my Grandma Alice and Grandpa Keith. Then my Mom came out of the coma! I thank God for that, because that's how I got to know and love her, and that's also how I eventually learned about you!"

Eli was very tempted to ask Bobbie certain details about her mother, but the gag made all questions impossible.

"Mom was never quite right in the head after she came out of the coma, unfortunately, and just about everybody blamed whatever brain damage the accident and/or the coma may have caused... but you and I know where the blame really lies, don't we, Eli?"

Bobbie walked away from Eli, and toward the room's one entrance/exit.

"Mom ended up being a heavy drinker. She used to leave me at home -- sometimes alone, when I was only seven or eight -- and go bar-hopping. She slept with anyone who'd have her. And she brought home a lot of jerks. A lot of one-night stands, mostly, but some of them even stayed around for two or three nights, and some of them stayed for even more... especially the scumbags who were as interested in me as they were in her, if you catch my drift. Some of these guys beat her up, some spent her money... Oh, it was a picnic!"

Bobbie started sloshing the Jeremiah Weed all over the door, and on the rug in front of it.

"So, you're probably wondering, whatever did happen to good ol' Mom, right? Or do you even care?" She laughed derisively. "Sorry, forgot you can't answer that!"

The bottle was empty, and she casually dropped it on the floor.

"It's a short and sweet little tale. One night, when I was fourteen, she and one of her so-called boyfriends were drunk out of their minds, and he rammed them into the back of a flatbed truck. It was Jayne Mansfield all over again. Not pretty."

She sighed. Her story was almost done, and she was getting restless.

"Anyway, I've done all sorts of research on you over the years, old man. And lately, after finally having located you, I've been working overtime! And there's a well-paid kid who works at the desk downstairs who's told me all sorts of crap, like your drinking habits, and whenever your neighbors were going to be gone, for instance. He even sneaked me in the back way and let me into this room one night when you were hitting on some college chicks downstairs... a group who saw right through your brand of bullshit, as I recall hearing later. So I even knew what your favorite beverages were, especially a 100-proof bourbon liqueur that you can ignite like lighter fluid!"

Suiting the action to the word, Bobbie took a Zippo lighter out of the purse on the bed, and flicked it to life. "Oh, by the way, I hope you don't think I'm stupid enough to rely on alcohol alone to set this room properly ablaze!" With that, she reached back into the purse and removed a glass jar containing roughly a pint of something predictably combustible, unscrewed the lid, and poured it in a wide arc on the carpeting near the door.

Smiling that damnable smile which she'd inherited from her mother, Bobbie walked out of the apartment, looking back only long enough to see that the lighter she'd thrown to the floor had indeed ignited the rug.

Faster than it takes to tell it, the old, dry rug burst into flame, a flame that immediately crawled up the entirety of the door.

And Eli was trapped; he couldn't move. By the time anyone got to him, he'd be a cinder.

He tried desperately to push the gag from his mouth. He snapped his head from side to side, trying to dislodge it that way, as well.

It took almost two minutes for his frantic acts to work. He started screaming variations of "Help me!" and "Somebody, help!" as the flames ravaged the expanse of floor directly in front of him.

There wasn't much smoke -- the fire was burning too well -- but what little smoke there was stung Eli's eyes even as he felt the heat of the advancing flames rapidly rising to an unbearable level.

He screamed again. And again.

* * * * *

"My God!" cried Jackie, the new man on the third shift's maintenance crew. "Doesn't that guy ever stop screeching?"

"Who's that?" asked his boss, Steve, who sat at Dr. Janson's desk, with his feet propped up on the desk itself as he read a year-old issue of Playboy.

"That guy in 3-F! Can't you hear him?"

"Actually," said Steve, dropping the magazine, "You tune out all that crap after a while. You'll see. We're just here to clean the place, not to deal with patients."

"But he's sitting there in his rubber room, perfectly okay, screaming at the top of his lungs that the place is on fire! What's his story, anyway?"

"Well, we're not supposed to discuss it -- or hell, even know about it, but you hear things when you're mopping up and dumping wastebaskets all day and night, you know? The doctors all talk too much."

"So, what's 3-F's problem, then?"

"Short version? From what I've picked up, old Mr. Whitney's been here for, like, thirty-five years. As the story goes, he had a pregnant girlfriend who either killed herself in a car wreck, or got killed... something like that... and he totally lost his mind over it. Guilt... or grief... who knows, right? So now, every two or three months, his subconscious mind makes up some goofy scenario which acts itself out all in his own head, like a waking nightmare."

"Damn!"

"Yeah. But like I said, eventually, you'll get so you tune him out, as well as everyone else around here, too."

Jackie smiled and lit a cigarette. They weren't supposed to smoke in the asylum, but he'd seen Steve smoking, so...

"I hope I'll get used to it. I don't know. I have this urge to try to help people."

Steve laughed softly. "Kid, you're maintenance here. If you ever get an 'urge' like that, I've only got one piece of advice for you."

"Which is...?"

"Get rid of it."



* * * * *

I didn't dare break this chapter into two parts. Momentum is so important.

I hate sitting through a movie or reading a book only to find out at the end that it was all a dream. Therefore, Parts One through Four "really" happened, but Part Five was mostly in Eli's mind. I apologize for messing with my readers a bit here.

This story was rather tricky to write. Actually, that's not quite true. The story was easy to write, but keeping my so-called "author's notes" -- like this one -- to a minimum before now was difficult.

When I posted this story ten years ago, my readers were split. Some thought the "horror movie ending" was too much and were relieved that it all happened in Eli's mind. Others were disappointed that he didn't really burn to death! I'll leave it up to you to decide whether Eli was a total a-hole, or just clueless, and whether he "deserved" his eventual fate, or if he would have even deserved living the whole "Bobbie scenario" in reality, rather than in his hallucinations...

And to those who feel let down, keep one thing in mind: Steve the maintenance guy admittedly didn't have the whole story letter perfect. So you can pretty much supply your own "real" story as to what happened to Karen. In at least one scenario, I'm sure she's still around somewhere.

I sometimes hint around that I want comments on my stories, poems, etc., but this time, I'm 
really interested in wanting to hear your thoughts on the story and its characters. And I mean that in exactly that way. I don't just want to hear how "wonderful" I am, because I know that already wouldn't really believe it.

Seriously, I will 
greatly appreciate it if people take (make?) the time to critique "For Baby (For Bobbie)."

I like knowing the behind-the-scenes stuff when I read something. I love it when an author tells me a story's background in a foreword, an afterword, or even in an interview I come across somewhere. 
The late Harlan Ellison, whom I greatly admired, often did this when he wrote. And it's why I often do it as well, in case you read my blog wondering "Why does he always seem like he's trying to justify the story he wrote, instead of simply shutting up and letting us read the damned thing?"

Having said that... I guess I'll shut up 
now. Finally.

Thanks for your time.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" -- Part Four, 1974


If you haven't read Parts One through Three yet, please don't start here, okay? You know how easily I get upset.

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" is a five-part story I wrote ten years ago. I hope you take the time to read all of it from beginning to end. If you attempt to read it at all, and if you don't think it sucks.

Previously: The year is 1974. Robert "Eli" Whitney, sexually-overactive high school graduate, and an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman -- known as "Boris Karloff" or simply "Karloff" for no reason other than the fact that high school kids are predominately vicious little creeps -- have become friends.

More or less.

This is actually rather amazing, considering the fact that Eli, basically, is an obnoxious jerk. Most of the time, anyway.

* * * * *

September, 1974. Karen was now a junior.

Or, as Karen herself would have thought of it... Whoopie.

Karen wasn't entirely friendless, although she was still generally regarded as unpopular at school. Most of her handful of school friends -- all female -- were similarly branded as outcasts. They were either too smart, too independent, too unattractive (actually, make that "plain"), or some combination of the three which the "cool" kids found unforgivable.

With her limited social life -- she saw her friends at school, mostly -- Karen was generally available whenever Eli would show up, usually unannounced, to take her out for a few beers and some conversation.

Eli was Karen's only male friend. That, and the fact that he was an "older man," made the subject of "Eli and Karen" irresistible to Karen's friends... all of whom called her "Karrie." "No offense, Karrie... ha, ha... but what does he see in you?" "You two are doin' it, aren't ya?" "Did he really make it with every girl he graduated with?" "Well, if you're not sleeping with him, Karrie, what do you guys do when you get together?"

Karen always laughed at their teasing questions. "We talk a lot, mostly. And he's old enough to buy booze, so we get blitzed, sometimes."

One day, in the school cafeteria, Karen's friend Barbara, an absolutely lovely, green-eyed redhead unfortunate enough to be criminally overweight in the eyes of the popular students, joked "Better watch it, Karrie, or someday he'll get you drunk and have his way with you."

"I doubt it," replied Karen. "In fact, he's never tried anything."

Barbara suddenly became serious. "Not even 'accidentally' feeling you up when he hugs you, something like that? A lotta guys--"

"He doesn't hug me. In fact," she continued, as an uncomfortable feeling dawned on her, "he never touches me at all."

Another friend, petite and bespectacled Joyce, put down her tuna sandwich to join the conversation. "No goodnight kisses? Not even the brother-sister kind?"

"No! He's never kissed me on the cheek, or the forehead, or..."

Barbara laughed. "Or anyplace more interesting?"

Karen blushed. "Quit it. That's not what I was going to say." She looked at the group seriously. "He never touches me at all," she repeated.

"Maybe he's afraid to, 'cause of your age?" offered Joyce.

"Oh, come on!" scoffed Barbara. "Just touching her isn't the same thing as... well, you know."

Joyce looked at Karen pointedly. "It's none of my business, Karrie, but have you ever told him anything about your... ummm... I don't know..."

"What are you trying to say, Joyce?"

"Look, I just mean, have you ever told him about... anything in your past, or...?"

"In my past? Geez, Joyce, you've been spending too much time with your psychology books! I don't have any 'issues,' if that's what you mean!"

"Oh. I thought maybe you'd told him something and he was backing off because of that. I wasn't trying to pry..." Joyce said.

"You weren't. Geez! Stop squirming, will you?" The girls all laughed.

And the subject died.

Later, however, Karen wondered if there had been something she'd said or done to make Eli think she was "untouchable," even in friendly ways... which were the only ways she would have wanted him to touch her.

She wondered if she should come right out and ask him, but she was still walking on eggshells where he was concerned. He didn't share much about himself with her, not his inner feelings, or even many details about his life in general. Ordinarily, this didn't bother her, because most people -- Karen included -- defined a "good conversationalist" as "someone who will let you dump your baggage on their doorstep," so to speak.... and Karen loved to talk about herself.

Now, however, she was wondering about the whys and wherefores of this particular topic, since it directly involved her.

The next time Eli showed up at her home, it was with a full cooler of Heineken. Karen had already promised herself she'd find a way to bring up the subject of "touching" before the night was through.

As usual, Eli was driving merrily along the back roads of various towns near where he and Karen lived. Karen had just finished her third beer before Eli asked her to hand him his fifth. "Wow," she warned, only half-kiddingly, "you should slow down, or you'll wrap this car around a tree."

"No lectures, okay? I'm celebrating tonight."

"Oh, no wonder we're drinking imported beer instead of domestic. What's the occasion? New girlfriend?"

"No. That's never any big deal." He paused. "It's my birthday, actually."

Karen almost choked on her beer. "Oh, my...! You're kidding!"

"No, of course I'm not kidding. Why would I kid about that?"

"It's just that... Today's my birthday, too."

"Now you're kidding, right?"

"Nope. I swear." She laughed. "Huh! So much for astrology!"

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Here we are, born on the very same day -- well, two years apart -- and we're not alike at all."

Eli chuckled. "Oh. Yeah." He burped, and they both laughed. "Hey, why didn't you tell me earlier that your birthday was coming up?"

"Honestly?"

"Yes."

"I... I didn't think you'd really care."

"Well, I do. And I would have gotten you something."

"And why didn't you tell me about your birthday?"

"It's no big deal."

"Right. Then why the Heineken?"

"I meant, it's no big deal to anyone else. Just me."

"That's not true. It's a big deal to me, too."

He took his eyes off the road for a brief moment, looking at her quizzically. "Really?" She nodded. "Thanks. And, I'll tell you what: I'll get you a present for the next time we go out."

"Umm... I can save you some money."

"How so?"

"If you answer a question for me, a serious question, I'll consider that my present."

"Ooh," said Eli, teasingly. "This must be a biggie!"

"I think so," she agreed, nodding. "I think so, yes."

"Shoot. But this is not your present. I still owe you one."

"Okay, if I can buy you one."

"Sure." Karen didn't speak. Eli laughed. "Well, what's the question?"

She sipped nervously at her Heineken. "We're friends, right?"

"That's the question?"

"No, no! But... We're friends?"

"Sure."

"Then... Why haven't you ever touched me?"

"Touched you? You mean, like, made a pass at you?"

"No! Just like a friend, you know, like when you put your arm around a buddy's shoulders, or..."

"I don't... I'm not a touchy person."

"But..."

"Sorry. Umm... Does this really bother you?"

"Kind of. You've never touched me, except for when you flopped on top of me to keep me from falling out of the car..."

"After the Denver concert?" Eli laughed. "When you threw up?"

"Yes. That was the only time you ever touched me."

"Wrong."

"What do you mean, wrong?"

"Think back to Teddy's party, on graduation night. Remember?"

"No."

"I grabbed your hand when I dragged you out of the cellar."

She grinned. "That's right! You held my hand!"

"I didn't 'hold' your hand, I grabbed it so I could pull you out of there before Wendy could jump you!"

Karen was smiling ear to ear. "That's right. That's right."

"You're way too happy about something so simple." She shrugged. "End of conversation?" She nodded again. "Hey, will you answer me?"

"I did. I nodded."

"Well, I'm watching the road! Did you expect me to hear your head rattle?"

She didn't even mind the insulting jest. She really was feeling happy over something so simple.

What happened later could have been a result of the all-around good feelings. It could have been the dual birthdays and the attendant air of celebration. It could have been the fact that, in Karen's mind, Eli had somehow "shared" something with her that had brought them closer. It could have been the three six packs of Heineken they'd imbibed by the end of the evening (Eli had eleven to Karen's seven).

More probably, it was the combination of all of the above plus a few other ingredients no one ever factored into the mix.

Whatever the reason(s), the night ended with a sweaty and embarrassed Karen and Eli getting dressed in a little field (only twenty feet or so from the side of a back road where he'd parked his Plymouth) after having made love... or whatever one would call what they'd done.

It never happened again. And they didn't discuss it for a long time.

Not until they had to.

* * * * *

The late November evening was abnormally cold, and the roads were slick with new-fallen snow and ice. Not the best weather for Eli and Karen to be engaged in their usual riding around & drinking ritual, but... they were.  Karen was still on her first beer when Eli asked her to hand him his fourth.

"Here you go," she said, after having removed the pull-tab from his can. He sort of grunted as a thank-you. "Hey, can I ask you something, Eli?"

"I guess. Shoot."

"If you ever had a kid -- a son, I mean -- would you name him after you?"

"You mean, Eli? Or... Robert?" he said, making one of the few references to his real name that anyone ever made. (Even Eli's high school principal, handing out diplomas at Eli's graduation, had looked at the name "Robert Michael Whitney" on the list of graduates as though he had no idea who that was... although Eli himself was quite well known to students and faculty alike.)

"Robert. Your real name."

"No way. I hate it when people name their kids after them. Parents do that, but then spend the rest of their lives calling the kid something else so nobody will get confused when the kid gets older! You call your friend at home and ask for Jack, and his mom says 'Big Jack or Little Jack?' And you have to think about it, 'cause the so-called Big Jack, the dad, is 5'6" and weighs about 150, but your friend Little Jack, the college football player, is 6'3" and weighs 240..."

"But in your case, you could name a son Robert, and there wouldn't be any confusion like that, because no one calls you Robert! I mean, you could call him Bobby, or Bob, or Robbie, or..."

"Yeah, right, whatever." He laughed. "I could have a boy and a girl and name them both Bobby, only spell the girl's name with an 'I' and an 'E' at the end, like in that John Denver song, 'For Baby (For Bobbie)', right?"

"Oooh, yes! I didn't think of that! I love that song! It's one of the first ones he ever wrote, you know." In reply, Eli grunted again, a grunt which Karen thought might have meant "I know, stupid," or "I didn't know, but I don't really care."

"Anyway, no Roberts or Bobbies for me, okay?"

"I love the name Bobbie for a girl..." Karen said, more to herself than to him.

"Good. You go and have a kid named Bobbie!" He shook his head. "Why the hell are we even talking about this?"

"No reason..."

"It really doesn't matter what I'd name a kid. I'm never going to have any."

"Oh, come on, Eli. Sooner or later, one of your bimbos will win that stony heart of yours, and you'll--"

"This has nothing to do with whether or not I find my la-de-da one-and-only. I'm just talking about children. I don't want them. Ever. I don't like them. They start out as smelly little lumps, and grow into the kinds of malicious high school teenagers I finally escaped from last spring!" Eli slowed his Plymouth as a signal light ahead turned from yellow to red. As he stopped the car, he turned to look at Karen.

She was crying silently.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, rather rudely.

"You... you really hate children that much?"

"Honestly, yes... What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I'm going to be sick. Oh, my God, I'm going to be sick!"

Eli looked ahead, and then in the rear-view mirror. There was no traffic around. "Open the door!" yelled Eli.

She did. She leaned out far enough not to splatter the car with what little she vomited. The light changed, but Eli waited until Karen righted herself and closed the door before he took his foot off the brake. "Damn, girl! Roll down your window... and take a few swallows of beer, if you can. And... do you have any gum, or candy?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. I've been throwing up a lot lately." She paused. "Mostly in the mornings."

Well. Eli didn't need the proverbial house to fall on him. He made a quick mental list of little items from the last few minutes of conversation, and gritted his teeth grimly. He found a place to park, and stopped the car.

"Go ahead," he began. "Say it."

"Say what?"

"Don't play games. You're pregnant, right?"

"Yes," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Whose is it?"

"That's a stupid question. It's yours, of course."

"Are you sure?"

"How dare you say that?!? For crying out loud, Eli, have I ever talked about having any other... I mean, any boyfriends? Any boyfriends?"

"No, but... I don't just assume you tell me everything! I don't tell you about all the broads I date..."

"Which is fine, because I don't need to hear all those dirty details." She suddenly slammed her fists against the Fury's dashboard. Fury, she thought, how damned appropriate. "Can we get back to the real subject, here?" she shouted.

"Don't yell at me!" He realized that he was sweating. "God, Karen... How could you let this happen?"

"How could I...? You were there, too, remember?"

He'd slept with more women than he could count in his nineteen years, but most of them were what were still called "bad girls" in that long-ago time, and there was that old chestnut about how only the "good" girls got pregnant, because the "bad" girls knew what to do -- and what not to do -- to avoid pregnancy. So he'd never been faced with this before.

He felt boxed in, cornered. Predictably, he wasn't going to handle this situation well... but everything in his past and everything in his future was reflected in, or affected by, his next four words.

"Get rid of it."

Karen was dumbfounded. She put her hand to the side of her face as if she'd just been slapped... which, of course, she had been, in a very real way.

"What? What did you say?"

Now was his chance to correct things.

Now was his chance.

So he replied "I said... Get rid of it."

"It? That's not... It's not an 'it.' I mean..."

"I know what you mean."

"Look who just turned into Mr. Understanding. This is a child we're talking about. Our child!"

"It's not our child. It's... our mistake."

Karen looked at Eli like she'd never seen him before, which in a way, was quite true. "Wow. You're just going from bad to worse to even worse! Who are you?"

"Look, you need to calm down and think about this logically, not emotionally."

She was crying again... and this time, Karen understood for the first time what people referred to as "tears of rage."

"Take me home," she said. "And don't you say another word to me."

The silent drive to Karen's home was unmercifully lengthy. Part of her wished Eli would realize what an absolute ass he was being, and apologize, or otherwise retract what he'd said...

But he said nothing, even when they arrived at her house and he stopped the car.

Her original plan had been to exit the Plymouth in silence, without looking back. However, as she got out, she turned to look him in the eye. "Maybe having sex that night was a mistake, but I liked you, maybe even loved you, as a friend, as someone I trusted, and I felt safe with you. But... I feel so betrayed right now, I don't want anything to do with you, ever again. So that means that I want no part of you, either... not even this poor innocent life we so stupidly created." She wished she could read the expression on his face, but she couldn't. "So congratulations, Eli!" she said, brightly (but sarcastically). "You'll get your wish."

She resisted the urge to slam the car door.

Karen walked along the driveway, toward her house. And Eli simply drove away.

Neither ever called the other again. They never spoke again. They never saw each other, not even in passing, again.

And shortly thereafter, Eli left Massachusetts entirely.

Even so, as mentioned above, everything in Eli's past and everything in his future was reflected in, or affected by, those four words: "Get rid of it."

* * * * *

Next: 2009, roughly thirty-five years after the night it all turned to shit!

An awful lot can happen in thirty-five years.

See you tomorrow.

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" -- Part Three, 1974

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" is a five-part story I wrote ten years ago. I hope you take the time to read all of it from beginning to end. If you attempt to read it at all, and if you don't think it sucks.

And ohhh, my. It's a long one this time, fellow babies!

Previously: The year is 1974. Robert "Eli" Whitney, sexually-overactive high school senior, is somewhat pressured by circumstances into taking an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman -- known as "Boris Karloff" or simply "Karloff" for no reason other than the fact that high school kids are predominately vicious little creeps -- to a John Denver concert.

The two get along relatively well, considering the fact that Eli, basically, is an obnoxious jerk. Most of the time, anyway.

* * * * *

Since the John Denver concert, Karen and Eli hadn't really spoken to each other except for brief hellos and an occasional "How's it going?" when they passed in the hallways at school. So Karen was moderately surprised the day she closed her locker door at the end of the school day and saw that Eli had been standing behind it.

"Whoa!" she exclaimed. "Don't do that!"

He laughed. "Scared you, huh?"

"Well... startled me, maybe. Anyway, what's up?"

"I was wondering if you'd like a ticket to my graduation next month."

"Is this a joke?"

"No. We get five tickets, and I have one left over."

"And you have no friends? I doubt that."

"Of course I have friends. But all my friends are going to be graduating with me, goofy!"

"Oh, come on! You don't have any friends who are underclassmen, like me? I thought you were popular."

"I am... kind of. But that's not exactly the same thing as having real friends. If that makes any sense."

"It does, sadly enough. But... How about all those chicks you date... or whatever verb you use to describe what you do with them?"

"Very funny. Can... Can I be honest with you?"

Karen laughed. "Only if you want to shock the crap out of me."

"Why do you keep making wisecracks!"

"The best defense is a good offense, they say."

"Huh?"

"Just trying to beat you to the insults, for a change."

"Look, I'm trying to be nice, here!" said Eli. He quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard him, but realized immediately that most of the other students had already left the building. "For a change," he admitted, echoing her words.

Karen looked around at the hallway as Eli had, seeing that it was now empty, but for the two of them. "Great. You made me miss my bus... again."

"Big deal. I'll give you a ride... again."

They began walking toward the exit. "So," continued Karen, "Why not invite someone in your family?"

"I did."

"And they said no?"

"No, of course not. They all said yes."

"You're not trying to tell me you've only got four people in your whole family! What about aunts and uncles and..."

"Yes, I am telling you that. All I have is my parents, and two cousins. That's it." Eli noticed that they were approaching the door to the parking lot. "Here comes the door. Don't dislocate your shoulder this time."

"Very funny. That was months ago."

"So? How am I supposed to know you don't do it on a regular basis?"

Karen laughed, in spite of herself. "I guess you don't. Hey... what about your cousins' parents?"

"They're dead."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"Why do people always say that?" Eli snapped, almost angrily. "Why are you sorry? You didn't kill them!" He looked over and saw that she was staring at him because of his outburst. He tried to lighten things up a bit. "I mean, you didn't, did you?"

"That's not funny! I'll never understand how anyone can joke about something like the death of a loved one."

"I wouldn't exactly say I loved them. We weren't close. I was pretty young when their house burned down."

"Their house... ? Oh, no, that's awful."

"I guess so. Just don't say you're sorry about that."

"Are you kidding this time?"

"What do you think?"

"I can't tell with you."

"Anyway, I don't have any 'loved ones.' I mean, I don't use that... term."

"What term? Love?"

"Mm-hmm. I don't use it."

"Sure you do. Everybody does. Don't you ever say you love a movie, or an album, or..."

"Oh, that way? Sure. But I don't say 'love' like... like..."

"Like normal people do?"

"Very funny. I was going to say, like other people do. I've never said 'I love you' to anyone."

"Not even when you were trying to get some girl into bed?"

"Don't start, Karl-- Karen."

"Sorry. But... You love your parents, right?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"You don't know?"

They'd arrived at Eli's car. He walked to the driver's side, unlocked his door, and threw the keys high into the air in an arc which brought them down on Karen's side of Eli's Plymouth. As they fell, Karen looked into the sun and tried -- unsuccessfully -- to spot them before they could land on the ground near her. "Whitney, you're a turd!" she yelled, bending to pick them off the pavement.

"Don't you forget it," he said, from inside the car.

"I can't! You keep reminding me!" She unlocked the door, got into the car, and handed Eli the keys.

The drive to Karen's home was uneventful, mostly filled with small talk from Karen about how "lucky" Eli was to be graduating and "getting out of this dump," as Karen put it.

When they got to Karen's home, Karen actually "allowed" Eli to pull into the driveway. And she agreed to take Eli's fifth ticket.

He in turn actually gave her a straight compliment. "Oh, and I was right about you!" he called out to her as she stepped onto her front porch. "You look cuter now that you're letting your hair get longer."

She didn't bother telling him that his earlier comment was the reason why she was letting it grow out to begin with.

* * * * *

Eli graduated on an absolutely gorgeous evening in early May.

After Eli's graduation -- that is, immediately after -- Eli introduced Karen to his cousins and his parents, and then shrugged off their invitation to attend a private party at home in favor of going to a predictably larger bash at Teddy Wilson's house.

As Eli walked to his car, he realized that he was being followed. He stopped and turned around, only to find that it was Karen. "Umm... Hi. What's up?"

"I need a ride."

"Why?"

"Why? Because my parents brought me here, dropped me off, and left. They couldn't get into the ceremony. No tickets." Eli was staring at her. "What did you expect them to do, wait in the parking lot for two hours?"

"I guess not. Okay, sure, I can give you a ride home."

"I don't want to go home."

"Well... I'm going to Teddy's party."

"Okay."

"Okay what?"

"I'm up for that."

"Who says you're invited?"

"He's back to normal..." she muttered. "Couldn't I get in if you bring me?" He seemed to be thinking about it. "Just as a friend? I mean, you know, not like a date. God forbid."

"Yeah, that would work."

"I mean, you're not ashamed to be seen with me?"

"Don't start that crap again. It's not like I have anything against you. In fact, in between the insults..."

"Is there an 'in between' to the insults?"

"Sure. Look, Karen, you're the closest thing I've got to a friend, in terms of chicks, anyway. I can't really talk to girls, usually." He saw a smirk play across her face. "Don't say it," he warned, only half-kiddingly. Then they both laughed.

As they entered Teddy's house -- well, Teddy's parents' house -- Teddy himself greeted them. He looked at Eli first, then at Karen with obvious surprise. She immediately became defensive and said "It's okay, Wilson, I'm with Eli. But not as his date."

Teddy shrugged, saying "I don't care what the hell you are," before looking away from her and back at Eli. Karen realized with some surprise that his comment, disdainful as it was on the surface, was also "permission" to stay.

"You want a beer?" Teddy asked Eli.

"Got Schlitz?"

"Just Miller, or Michelob."

"Is it cold?"

"Of course."

"Either will do." Eli looked at Karen. "You want a beer?" Before she could answer, Teddy said, "If you'd rather have some kind of sissy girlie drink, my mother's downstairs fixing sloe gin fizzes for most of the chicks."

"Well... In spite of the way you said that... I think I'll have a sissy girlie drink."

Teddy pointed to a doorway in the next room. "That's the door to the cellar. Stairs are kind of steep; don't fall."

Karen began walking away, as Teddy and Eli headed toward the kitchen. Eli called out to her. "And try not to puke on anybody!"

Karen ignored him and opened the door. She was greeted by music -- "Street Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones -- which assaulted her from the darkness below. She walked downstairs. Not far from the end of the staircase was a fancy, well-stocked bar. Judging from that and the elegantly-decorated basement, Teddy's parents evidently took their entertaining -- and their drinking -- very seriously. Behind the bar sat a plump, cheerful, bleached-blonde woman -- Teddy's mother -- who jumped off her wooden stool as Karen approached.

"What can I getcha, sweetie?" asked Mrs. Wilson.

"Umm... a sloe gin fizz," answered Karen, trying to toss the request out as if she'd been ordering sloe gin fizzes for years... and failing miserably.

Mrs. Wilson squinted. "How old are you, honey?"

Karen decided to be honest. "I'm... I'm... uhh... sixteen."

"Sorry, sweetie, didn't hear ya. You said eighteen?"

"No... I..."

"Eighteen... Right, babycakes?"

Karen finally caught on and nodded. "Yes! Eighteen!"

Mrs. Wilson mixed the drink and handed it to Karen. "Good girl! Everybody here's at least eighteen tonight, ya know?"

Karen thanked the older woman for the drink, and walked away toward the far side of the room, sipping her drink through a straw. Now what was she supposed to do? Should she go upstairs and search for Eli? She didn't think it wise to remain down here. It would have been bad enough if she hadn't known anyone at the party. This was worse. She did know most of the kids, and liked none of them. Why had she talked Eli into bringing her along?

Even as Karen was asking herself this question in her mind, she heard a familiar voice.

"Ohhh... myyy... Gawwwd!" said a high-pitched, slurred voice that Karen immediately recognized. It was Wendy Taylor, one of Denise Nealon's crowd. Wendy was tall and buxom; her long, frizzy hair was that very light shade of brown sometimes referred to as "dirty blonde."

"Are they filmin' a horror movie here?" asked Wendy, speaking to no one in particular.

"Ahhh, c'mon, don't start, Wendy," said another young woman, one of the two dozen or so teens who stood or sat there in the basement.

"Mind your own business, Cheryl," said Wendy, walking right over to Karen. "How did you get in here, Karloff? Through the doggie door?"

Karen held her glass in both hands, fingers intertwined, sipping quickly and nervously at her drink. Karen's eyes discreetly looked across the room. Teddy's mother wasn't looking in her direction, and The Rolling Stones did their part to ensure that Mrs. Wilson couldn't hear the commotion.

Then things got worse. Teddy's mother abruptly left her place behind the bar and walked upstairs without a backward glance.

With her left hand, Wendy reached out and slapped Karen's hands just hard enough to slosh a little of the sloe gin fizz over the rim of the glass. "Hey, I asked you a question, Boris!"

"Why don't you get the heck away from me," Karen said, her voice trembling.

"You little punk!" spat Wendy, slamming the heel of her palm into Karen's chest. It hurt. Karen realized that her back was literally against the wall at this point. She also noticed that Wendy --who was on both the girl's basketball and field hockey teams -- was half a head taller than Karen was, and about thirty pounds heavier.

"Leave the kid alone, Wen!" another girl said.

Wendy didn't look away from Karen, as she wound her hand into Karen's dark blue silk blouse. "I thought I told you to shut up, Cheryl."

Cheryl, part of the crowd which was gathering around the two antagonists, replied, "I didn't say that. That was Daphne. But I think you should let her go, too."

Wendy laughed. "Who cares what you bimbos think? There isn't any one o'you who's strong enough to stop me from redecoratin' this mouthy little tramp's face!"

"Don't be so sure, Wendy," said a voice far too deep to be either Cheryl's or Daphne's. Wendy turned around and saw that it was Eli. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked, but he didn't wait for an answer. "Take your grubby paws off of her."

"And if I don't?" she demanded defiantly.

"I'll punch you right in the mouth. You think you're tough, don't you? Well, if you want to act like a guy, I'll treat you like a guy."

Wendy felt a chill. She didn't know whether Eli's threat was serious or not. Neither did anyone else in the crowd.

"Whadda you care what happens to her?" Wendy asked, even as she released Karen's blouse from her grasp.

"Karen's with me."

Wendy laughed. "She's your date?"

Karen spoke up. "I'm not his date!"

Eli looked pointedly at Karen. "You didn't have to say that! I don't care what the hell Wendy thinks." He looked back at Wendy. "Karen's my friend, not that it's any of your damned business."

A dirty smirk formed on Wendy's face even as Karen darted around her and positioned herself behind Eli. "Oh, I get it. Workin' on the underclassmen now, Eli? I didn't think you'd already gotten to all of the juniors and seniors!"

"No, Wendy. Not all of them. Quite a few, though... including you, of course. What was it... five, six times?"

Wendy turned almost as red as what was left of Karen's drink. One of the many witnesses to this verbal confrontation -- which by now included virtually all the party-goers in the cellar -- had turned down the stereo, so everyone had heard Eli's remarks.

"You don't even know?" said Wendy, in a much more timid voice than she'd spoken with during any other part of this evening.

Eli looked at her as he would something distasteful that he'd scraped from the bottom of his shoe. "I guess they just weren't all that memorable." He turned away from her and looked at Karen.

Wendy was humiliated and furious. "Don't you dare turn your back on me!"

He looked back only long enough to speak three short, sharp words to Wendy... two of which (the “F-word” and the “C-word”) Karen had certainly never heard him speak before tonight! And with that, he took Karen by the hand and led her upstairs.

They stayed among the upstairs celebrants only long enough to finish their drinks.

As Eli drove Karen home, she broke the uneasy silence by saying, "Don't you think you were a little hard on Wendy?"

Eli snorted. "You're welcome!"

"No, I just mean..."

"From the looks of things, she was ready to beat the stuffing out of you! I saved your neck! Show me some gratitude, will you?"

"Oh, I don't know if I was really in any danger..."

"For crying out loud, Karen, wake up! I've seen Wendy fight boys and win. She would have creamed you."

"Umm... That reminds me..."

"Reminds you of what?"

"You wouldn't really have punched her in the face, would you? Guys like that ... you know, guys who hit girls... they scare me. There's no excuse for--"

"Spare me the moralizing. I saved your ass, in plain English. So let's just drop it, okay?"

They were only silent for a couple of minutes before Eli asked, "You aren't really scared of me, are you?"

"No." She laughed. "Because we're friends. You said so yourself."

"Oh, geez... Look, don't go getting all gooshy on me."

"Okay, I won't. But you did call me your friend. And you did save my... behind. So thanks."

"You're welcome. But don't get used to it."

"Why not?"

"Because that's as good as I'll ever get."

And unfortunately... Eli was right.

The infamous "sloe gin fizz."

* * * * *

Next: Umm...

Oh, why spoil it? See you Thursday.


Thanks for your time.

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