Sunday, October 30, 2011

Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store: Chapter Ten

Maren Bradley Anderson

This is the tenth chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
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Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson

PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!


Even though Cal was cross-eyed from her never-ending date with Nicolas, Cal recognized a fellow non-sleeper with a “glow” about her.

“You slept with him, didn’t you?” Cal whispered from across the table. Not seeing an instant denial, she squealed quietly. “Oh, you did! You did!”

“No, no, no,” Liz insisted. “It’s not like that.” Then coyly, “Who do you mean?”

Cal grinned. “You know who.”

“Yes, but I’m surprised you do.”

“Oh, please,” said Cal. “Anyone within ten feet of you two can feel the chemistry.”

“I the last one to notice?” Liz said with a sigh.

“You always are,” said Cal with a smile. Then, leaning forward, “So our, um, sex strike is still in tact, correct?”

Liz smiled. “Of course. We’re adults. Not that it was easy.”

“I want a blow-by-blow.”

“For starters, I don’t kiss and tell...”

“Yes, you do, honey.”

“...and second, there was none of that anyway.”

Liz sat back with a smile and a sigh. Without thinking, Cal did , too. Liz’s sharp ears recognized the same happy note in both of them.

“Cal, is there something you want to tell me?” she asked.

“Hmm? About what?”

Liz sat forward. “That self-satisfied sigh of a woman in...Cal, where’d you go last night after the rally?”

Liz was stunned when Cal blushed. “You had a date?”

“The Biology Professor with the brown eyes,” Cal admitted.

“Wow! That was quick.” She peered more closely at her friend. “Wait a minute. You didn’t get any sleep last night, either!”

“No, I didn’t. But we were good, too!” Cal added quickly. “Though it was hard.”

“That’s what she said!” Zeke said, walking up to the table and sitting down. “What? Is that joke passé now?”

Liz and Cal giggled. “I can see by Cal’s face that last night’s adventures have been discussed and given approval.”

“Yes,” said Cal. “But none of this can be out in the open yet, kids.”

“Right,” said Liz.

“I’ve been waiting years. A couple more weeks will be okay,” said Zeke.

Elektra joined them. “Good morning, team,” she said. She took one look at the faces around the table and said, “Okay, what’s going on here?”

Cal jumped in, “We’ve had a breakthrough. Liz and Zeke have admitted their feelings for each other.”

“’Bout damn time,” said Elektra. “It was like a sauna standing near the two of you.”

“And Cal had a date last night!” said Liz.

“Really?” asked Zeke. “Who?”

“Professor here. I’ll fill you in later,” said Liz.

“I see,” said Elektra carefully. “We’re still go for the strike, though, right?”

“Oh, yes,” said Liz.

“I believe you, but no one else will,” said Elektra.

“We know, Elektra,” said Zeke. “We’re all keeping it under our hats for now.”

“Good plan,” she said, shaking out her napkin. “’Specially since they want to see us tonight.”

“Who?” asked Liz.

“Haven’t checked your email yet?”

Three mobile email devices suddenly appeared and thumbs flew. All of them read the email from the office of the President at the same time:

To: Elizabeth Stratton and Elektra Sampson
From: The Office of the President of the United States
Subject: Meeting Tonight


Your presence is requested at a meeting of upper-level officials tonight. Subject to be announced at the meeting. A car will pick you up at 7:30 p.m. outside of your hotel to take you to the meeting place.

Melvin Bernstrom
President of the United States

“Oh, my God,” said Liz. “Is this for real?”

“I’ll check this out. I’ll call the White House and make them confirm or deny it. I’m not letting either of you in a car without confirmation,” Cal said, punching a speed-dial number in her phone.

“You have the White House number in speed-dial?” Liz asked.

“Yeah. The switchboard operator, Madge, and I go way back,” Cal said. “Hey Madge. Cal. I need someone to confirm an email we received...uh, huh. Really? Can you confirm the car, too? Wow. Okay. No, they’ll be there. Thanks again, Madge. Bye.”

“Where do you know Madge from?”

Cal smiled. “She’s a charter member of WAP. Plus, when you call the White House to protest as often as I do, it’s best to make friends where you can. Madge says this is on the up and up. She was even left instructions for when I called by the Chief of Staff himself.”

Liz leaned back in her chair. “What the hell do they want?” Zeke put a reassuring hand on her knee under the table.

Elektra said, “We should be prepared for anything. Maybe they’ve dug up some dirt, or maybe they made up some dirt.”

“You think the President would stoop to fictional blackmail?” asked Liz.

“You are way too nice to be President,” said Cal. “This is the same man who is continuing a war just so his buddies can make a buck. He’d like to make a buck now, so he would love his friend Ostrem to win the election.”

“I see,” said Liz. “Then let’s be prepared. Let’s put our heads together and come up with a plan.”


The black sedan pulled up to their Boston hotel’s front door right on time. Liz and Elektra walked to the car with only a pocketbook and an overcoat each.

“Ladies,” the driver said in greeting as he held the door for them.

Liz smiled at him. “As long as we’re back by curfew, there won’t be any trouble.”
The driver smiled and closed the door after them.

The drive was far shorter than Liz had anticipated. She hoped to compose herself a little more since her nap on the bus didn’t really replace a night of sleep. But in twenty minutes, the driver pulled behind a large building and stepped out to open the door for them. Then he led them up a flight of carpeted stairs. Finally, he opened a door to a small meeting room in what looked like a hotel.

Seated at the table in the center of the room was, in fact, the President—Liz had doubted Bernstrom would actually show—and astonishinly, beside him sat both Bill Ostrem and Oscar Beckinger.

They stood as Liz and Elektra entered. The President shook hands with them enthusiastically. “Ms. Stratton, Mrs. Sampson. So good to finally meet you. Someone get their coats. Sit, sit.”

“It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said Elektra as she sat and crossed her ankles. “I never thought I’d see the day when I got to shake the hand of a sitting President.”
“I never thought I’d see this day, either,” grumbled Ostrem. He yelped as Beckinger kicked him under the table.

“So, I’m dying of curiosity, Mr. President. Why did you ask us here?” asked Liz.
The President rubbed his face. “Well, it’s like this,” he said. “We’re sick of this sex strike thingy, and we want it to stop.”

Liz and Elektra glanced at each other. “Oh, really?” said Liz.

“Sure, sure we are,” President Berntrom said. “Aren’t you sick of it, too?”

“Naturally,” said Elektra. “You can imagine how hard Mr. Sampson is to handle these days.”

“No, but I mean you miss it, too, don’t you?”

“We’re only human, Mr. President,” said Liz. “Are you going somewhere with this?”

“I just want to establish that we all want the sex strike to end.”

“Mr. President,” said Liz carefully. “We want the war to end. The sex strike will end once the war is over, and we are prepared to stick to our guns until then.”

“I told you this wouldn’t work,” grumbled Ostrem, and yelped again as he was kicked from two sides this time.

Beckinger leaned across the table. “You know you’re losing impetus, don’t you? You’ve heard the reports about women giving in? You’ve heard about the preachers telling women that it’s their wifely duty to lie with their husbands? Why not end it now while you’ve still got some people following you? We can arrange a bit of a cease-fire that will appease your constituency. How would that be?” He smiled winningly, all confidence and teeth.

Liz was amazed that she ever thought him attractive. “That would be a start,” she said.

“All you’d have to do is call off the strike and drop out of the race,” said the President. “We’ll call a cease-fire before the election and we’ll all be back to normal relations before we know it. That was easier than I thought it would be.”

“Hold up,” said Elektra in a voice that had stopped seventeen-year-old felons in their tracks. “We haven’t agreed to anything yet. I’m not dropping out of the race, and neither is Ms. Stratton. We’re not settling for a cease-fire, either, because in a cease-fire, guns are still pointed both ways, we just save on ammunition.”

“That’s right,” said Liz. “We are committed to ending the war, not delaying it or stalling it so that one of you can be elected just to start it up again.”

Governor Ostrem had had enough, and stood and glowered at the women from across the table. “Listen here, ladies,” he hissed. “If you don’t drop out of this race, if you don’t call off this strike, we will make sure that you don’t win, by any means at our disposal. Any means, do you hear?”

Liz locked him with a steely gaze she usually reserved for weasely show guests who were trying to avoid answering a direct question. “Governor Ostrem,” she said, pronouncing each syllable of his name. “And the rest of you. Listen to me carefully: We realize that we may not win this race. We realize that you may do your damnedest to ruin our reputations to ensure that we don’t win. We also realize, however, that we have the nation’s undivided attention; we have the spotlight. We are shining that spotlight onto our cause, ending the war, and we don’t intend to give up as long as we have America’s attention. We may not win the election, gentlemen, but we are already two of the most powerful people in America because we have the backing of half of the populace, and we control the one thing you want more than anything else: the female body.”

Liz and Elektra stood and picked up their pocketbooks. “Unless there is anything else, gentlemen, we’ll be on our way,” said Elektra. “Good night.”

And they left.


“How’d it go in there, ladies?” the driver asked politely as he held the door for them.

“Surprisingly well,” said Liz. “What is your name?”


“Well, Ed,” sadi Liz. “There’s a $100 tip in it for you if you can find us some Veuve Cliquot and Ben and Jerry’s Phish Phood in this town.”

“Yes, Ma’am!”

Elektra and Liz giggled as they sat in the back of the car.

“I have to say, Elektra. You have brass balls,” Liz said.

“Same to ya,” replied Elektra. “I cannot believe that just happened. Some nerve they have.”

“I’m amazed they let us just march out of there with the last word and everything.”

“I think they’re amazed we just marched out of there with the last word,” said Elektra. “I think Ostrem went apoplectic after we left. I’ve never seen a man so purple.”

They gave Ed his $100, and then toted the pints of ice-cream and bottles of champagne into the hotel where Cal and Zeke awaited them. None of the other staff knew of the meeting, but Cal and Zeke were waiting and hugely relieved to see them.

“What’s the ice-cream for?” asked Zeke.

“We’re celebrating,” said Elektra.

“They’re afraid of us,” said Liz. “Running scared. Ready to offer us anything to call off the dogs.”

“It was fun,” said Elektra. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Ostrem were dead of a stroke by now.”

“Ostrem was there?” asked Cal.

“Ostrem, the President and Beckinger. The whole lot of them,” said Liz, digging in to a pint of ice cream.

“They’re working together? Oh, that’s bad,” said Zeke.

“They wouldn’t have offered us anything if we weren’t hurting them badly,” Liz said, mouth full of mocha and nuts.

“You should have seen your girl, there tonight,” said Elektra as she opened the champagne. “She was on fire and steely.”

“Nothing intimidates Elektra,” said Liz. “We make a great team.”

“Well, then, a toast,” said Cal, raising her glass. “To having them on the run.”

“On the run!” They clinked glasses and tossed back the first of many toasts that night.

After three glasses, Zeke put his arm around Liz’s waist and whispered, “I worship you, you know.”

Liz smiled. “I did not know. Thank you for telling me.”

“I adore everything about you.”

“Go on. Tell me more about my eyes.”

Instead, he pulled her to him and kissed her.

“You,” said Liz. “I’ve thought back over the years, and I don’t know what I would have done without you. You have always been there for me.”

“I know,” said Zeke. “Pathetic.”

“Heroic,” corrected Liz. “I really couldn’t have done any of this without you. Thank you.”

“Oh, don’t do that. Don’t thank me. I had to. I loved you.”

“I know that now. Thank you for loving me. Obtuse me.”

“You’re more than welcome.”

Two bottles into the celebration, Liz had an idea.

“It’s not enough to simply deny them sex anymore,” Liz said. “It is now time to taunt them. I want revenge. I want to see them squirm.”

“What do you propose?” Zeke asked, emptying his glass.

“I’m thinking, bikini days,” Liz began.

“Oh! Oh! And girl-on-girl massage-a-thons,” Cal jumped in.

“...And lingerie lunches!” Elektra said. “Mr. Sampson really likes those.”

“So the idea is to get as much naked female flesh into the public sphere as possible?” Zeke asked.

“Yes. Unavailable female flesh,” Liz said. “Porn is one thing. A girl in a tube-top on the street is another.”

“But it’s fall. Won’t it be too cold most places for fleshy bits?” Cal wondered.

“Improvisation. Black lacy bra under a white shirt. Too short skirt at work. Skin, skin, skin. Women should be as naked as possible before the election.”

“I thought torture was illegal,” said Zeke.

“Poor boy,” said Cal, patting his knee. “In every war there are innocent casualties.”

“I like the idea,” said Elektra. “I would like to show those old men that we can fight dirty, too.”


Esther watched the evening news with her cat while her live-in boyfriend Mark pouted in the bedroom. She had cut him off after a particularly derisive remark about a woman being President, but she found later that she did want the war to end enough to give up sex with the whiny misogynistic shit in the other room. She knew she would make up with him later, but at the moment she was enjoying the perks her anger had given her. Like watching the 10 o’clock news with Powder and a pint of ice cream unmolested by “Randy McHandsy.”

Her favorite local anchor, a pert blonde named Blaire Sanders, was wearing a shirt Esther didn’t approve of. It was eggplant, which clashed with her skin tone, and hung off her shoulders like a flour sack. The way it was gathered completely erased her waist, too. Esther wondered if the wardrobe mistress was getting even for something.

Esther snapped out of her critique when she heard the words “bikini days.” This was intriguing enough that Esther hit the reverse button on the DVR to the beginning of the story. It annoyed the hell out of Mark when she did this, but it amused her to see people talking backwards.

“In election news,” purple-blonde Blaire said. “WAP candidate Liz Stratton is encouraging women everywhere to don their skimpiest outfits. She has called ‘bikini days’ until the election. Ms. Stratton says that the feedback from the press conference that is now being called ‘The Spectacle’ was so positive, that she believes more skin is called for.”

The picture changed to a shot of Liz Stratton standing at a podium, smiling to a group of reporters, wearing a conservative white blouse unbuttoned to mid-chest and a lacy lavender bra showing through. “It is imperative that we keep the attention of the country on our cause. To that end, I want everyone who believes that the war in Mesopotaminastan should end should wear as little as is legal in her geographic area. I don’t want to hear about anyone getting frostbite, now, but I want their eyes popping out of their heads, ladies!”

The anchorwoman came back on screen, grinning from ear to ear. “The campaign has set up a page on the website on ideas for ‘bikini days.’” Still grinning, she turned to her male co-anchor. “It should be an interesting couple weeks, huh, George?”
George shifted a little in his seat and smiled bravely. “Yes, yes, interesting, Blaire.”

“Heck, bikinis sell coffee, why not politics?” the weather guy/comic relief said from the edge of the desk. It was rumored that he was gay, and his glee at George’s discomfort was palpable.

George cleared his throat and began a story about yet another convenience store being robbed.

Esther turned off the TV and stroked Powder for a moment. In her head, she went through the outfits in her closet and pictured herself going to work in the skirt she reserved for third dates, or the shoes she wore when she needed to feel good about herself. Her boss, a dangerously fat man who sweated as he ate lunch, might have a coronary when he saw her, but Esther decided she would risk it. It was for a good cause, after all.

The next morning Mark watched with widening eyes as Esther dressed for work. She put on each of his favorite articles of clothing, and primped and pranced in front of the mirror until she looked as good as he’d ever seen her. When she turned to leave, she found Mark kneeling in the bedroom doorway blocking her way.
“Please,” he said in a funny, growly voice. “Please, Esther. Just once. You’re killing me.”

Esther drew her fingertips along his handsome jaw-line, rough with stubble, and kissed his forehead. “You’re a dear, Mark, but no.” Using the extra height her favorite attention-getting heels gave her, she stepped over her boyfriend and left for work.

The office she worked at was full of ladies who had seen the same news segment Esther had. Every woman there was dolled up in her most revealing outfit. They ranged in taste from vamp-ish to subtle, but they all had basically the same effect. Every woman who showed her skin, from 300-pound Vera to pixie-like Angie, reduced the men in the office to staring, drooling mannequins. Productivity was reduced by precisely two-thirds: Esther’s company hadn’t yet achieved an equal man-woman ratio.
Esther, however, found that she was getting more work done. What men who were still functional sheepishly scurried along the hallways with their eyes averted. If they had to speak to a woman in person, they kept the conversation as short as possible. If something had to be worked out in detail, telephones or emails were used. Best of all, even Creepy Dan was too overwhelmed to come sniffing around Esther’s door. Before Bikini Days, Esther could count on Dan to interrupt her at least ten times a day so he could rake his lascivious eyes over her body. Ironically, now that she and every other woman were dressed as he had only fantasized, he couldn’t stand to look at them. Esther was in heaven.


 Maureen sat on the stage of Spare Me! feeling hot under the lights and angry. The smug bitch in the navy pantsuit seated across from her was an executive of a major “energy development company,” which everyone knew was just an oil company that dabbled in wind on the side. She had just finished telling Maureen and the audience that her company supported ending the war in Mesopotamianstan.

“I’m sorry,” said Maureen. “Could you explain why to me again? I’m fuzzy on the details.”

“Well, naturally, war isn’t good for the economy,” the executive, Ms. Jackson, began.

Maureen cut in. “That’s bull. Wars are great for the economy. They’ve pulled this country out of at least two recessions. Give me a better reason.”

Ms. Jackson re-crossed her legs. “This war hasn’t been good for the economy of our company,” she said. “We’ve been cut out of Mesopotamianstan exploration for years as a result of the war.”

“But the price of oil has doubled since then,” said Maureen. “You’re telling me that hasn’t helped your company? Plus, The Times reported that your company has had exclusive development rights there for the last three years.”

Ms. Jackson glared at Maureen. “We develop other kinds of energy, too, you know,” she snapped. “We’ve spent millions of dollars on our West Texas wind farms.”

“Hardly anyone lives in West Texas, so what good is that?” Maureen said. “Ms. Jackson, it comes down to this: I don’t believe what you or your company says. I think that you are profiting hugely from this war. What’s more, I think that your company is an example of the rampant war profiteering that has been going on since this ‘operation’ began. And I think it’s shameful.”

“I didn’t come on this show to be abused in this way,” Ms. Jackson huffed.

“You’re welcome to leave,” said Maureen. “I’m tired of your lies.”

Ms. Jackson stood and pulled the microphone off of her lapel. She stomped off of the set to the jeers of the audience. Maureen sat back in her chair and crossed her arms, glaring after her. In her head, however, she was thinking, Shit. Now how am I going to fill time on the show?

She glanced at her producer, Kevin. He shrugged. Then he signaled a commercial break. Thank heaven this wasn’t a live show. They’d have some time to scramble.
Kevin stepped up and sat in the chair the oil executive had just vacated. “That was cute,” he said, smiling. Maureen wished again that he weren’t a flaming homosexual. He was tasty.

“I know, I know,” she moaned. “I got fed up. I also got the feeling that she wasn’t up for another ten minutes of interview.” She sighed. “Do we have any emergency filler hiding in the back?”

Kevin flipped though the sheets on his clipboard. “Nope. Maybe it’s time to interview the audience again.”

Maureen shook her head. “I hate that. Let me think.” She looked up at the lights and wished that Liz were there. “Wait. We can link a phone call to the speakers, right?”
“Ya-huh. What are you thinking?”

“Let’s get Liz on the phone. But don’t tell the audience.”

Kevin grinned and scampered off. Maureen wondered again if he had a straight brother with a similar button-cute ass.


“And now, we have a surprise for you!” Maureen said when the intro music and applause quieted. “We’ve got the most famous woman in the world on the phone!”
An excited murmur rippled through the crowd.

“She is super-popular, super-cute, and knows how to whup ass. Are you there, mystery guest?” Maureen asked the ether.

“Yes, I am,” said Liz from the speakers. The audience cheered. “Thank you, thank you.” Liz’s voice was a little tinny and scratchy from the cell phone, and Maureen could tell that she was weary. She hoped that the audience didn’t pick up on it.
“So, where are you, Liz?”

“Ah, good question. Let me look,” said Liz. Maureen could hear her shift her seat on the bus. “Well, we’re somewhere where there’s lots of fall color on the trees and rolling hills. What’s that?” There was a muffled murmur on the line. “My campaign manager, Zeke, has told me that we’re in Massachusetts on the turnpike on our way to Boston. Silly me.” The audience chuckled.

“I’m not surprised you are having trouble keeping track,” said Maureen. “You’ve been everywhere since you started the campaign.”

“It’s true,” said Liz. “I couldn’t have done it without my support staff, and all of you in the audience.” They clapped. “That’s right,” she said. “I’m like Tinkerbelle in Peter Pan. I’ll go away if you stop believing, so keep believing, keep clapping!” The crowd cheered. Maureen had to grin.

“Liz, a few audience members had some questions for you. Will you answer them?”
“Sure thing.”

“Okay, our first question is from Beverly from Orange County.”

Beverly stood awkwardly at the microphone, a housewife who had had her hair done especially for this outing. “Hi, Liz,” she said.

“Orange County is a big place. Which town, Beverly?”

“Oh, Irvine.”

“Nice. I like to have lunch downtown near the college. What’s your question?”

“Oh, um, I was wondering if you had any advice on how to keep my husband happy during the sex strike?”

“Well, the point is kind of to keep him un-happy, Beverly,” Liz said to the amusement of the crowd. “However, I don’t want any divorces occurring here. Remember, this is a sex strike. Without getting too Bill Clinton here, there are things that are sex, and things that are not. I’ll let you draw the lines, but maybe your man need to know that while you still love him and want him to be happy, you are giving up something special in order to show solidarity to something that’s important to you. Then make him his favorite dinner.”

The next woman at the microphone was very young and orange-county. “Liz, I wondered if there were a man in your life right now?”

Maureen heard the half-moment extra that Liz took before she answered, though she didn’t think the audience noticed. “No,” she said. “I’ve been on the road so much that I haven’t met anyone new, not that I’d have had time to start a romance, even if I had.”

“So this sex-strike is kinda easy for you, then, isn’t it?” the woman said.
“Well, it’s as easy as any dry-spell is for a girl, I guess,” admitted Liz to laughter. “I’m not finding it easy, myself, but I guess I don’t have the daily temptation that a woman with a husband faces.”

A new woman stepped to the mic. “I heard rumors that you had a man sleeping in your room with you, Liz. Is it true?”

Liz laughed. “It’s true. I had a plain-clothes secret service agent posted in my room at night when we had a minor security scare. It was only temporary, and it was purely innocent.”

“Why not have a female agent in your room? Wouldn’t that be less suspicious?”

“Our best agent happened to be a man, and I decided not to hold it against him.” The audience laughed a bit.

A woman of a certain age and a certain seriousness stepped up. “Liz, if you get elected, whose going to be your Foreign Affairs secretary?”

“We haven’t filled that position yet,” said Liz. “We’re looking for someone with experience, naturally, but also someone who is passionate about ending this war while keeping the country secure.”

“What will be your first priority if you’re elected to office?”

“Ending the war, naturally, but my second would be to eliminate the glass ceiling in this country. If we can’t legislate it out, then we’ll culture it out.”

“Where are you going to be on election night?”

“I’ll be at home, since I have to cast my ballot in California. After that, we’re going to Camp Pendleton to watch the results with some military wives. We’re having an election night bash, and everyone in the audience gets to go!” The audience cheered at Liz’s generosity.


Liz was over the moon. She was in love with Zeke Rowan. Two days ago, when she’d snapped out of her snooze to find his fingers tickling the tender spot behind her knee, her first feeling was of shock, but then she realized how turned on she was. In fact, his hand cupping her calf made her very excited, indeed. She surprised herself by wanting to jump him right then and there.

She sat back in her seat and watched Zeke at work, bent over his laptop, furiously typing by punching the keyboard with only his index fingers. He felt her looking at him, so he peeked at her over his glasses and gave her a wink.

Though they were able to eat together and saw each other nearly every minute during the day, since they had decided to keep the relationship quiet until after the election, they couldn’t be affectionate, even in the relative privacy of the bus. Most of the staffers were aware of the change in relationship, though most of them had figured out that Zeke had the hots for Liz long ago. That much had been common knowledge.

Liz closed her eyes, and played a game she’d started two days ago: when did I realize that I loved Zeke? That night in her room, Liz wasn’t exactly surprised by her feelings for Zeke. The feelings were familiar and comfortable; what had been surprising was that they hadn’t surprised her. It was like realizing that your mom’s spaghetti is your favorite food without having missed it before.

She went back in her memory day by day trying to pinpoint the exact time she began to rely on Zeke in a way that wasn’t just professional. She went back years before she realized that it had been a long time indeed since she had become so connected to Zeke.

She kicked herself again for being so blind and not recognizing her feelings for Zeke sooner. So much time wasted. Worse, so much energy spent on space wasters like Dion and Evan. She moaned inwardly at the thought of “Agent” Dion Young. She hoped he was miserable somewhere. She still hadn’t recovered fully from the shame of that event.

Liz stole a peek at Zeke again. He had waxed his head that morning, so it was especially shiny. His dark-rimmed glasses framed his round face and made his brown eyes stand out. He was dressed in his customary dark colors, but he was a little casual today in jeans (dark wash) and a tee shirt (black). She squinted at the printing on the shirt and made out the words “Runs with Scissors.” She found herself wishing she hadn’t called the sex strike so she could pull that shirt off and wrap his thin frame around her.

Cal slid into the seat next to her. “I know what you’re thinking,” she whispered.


“’Cause I’m thinking it, too.”

“I doubt it.”

“You’re thinking about jumping him.”

“You are, too?” Liz grinned. “I think we might have a problem, here.”

“Not him,” Cal said. “I’ve got my own libido, you know.”

“True. You still need to tell me more about Nicolas.”

“Fine. But you’re going to laugh.” Cal pulled out her palm pilot and brought up a picture of a man in a corduroy jacket with suede patches on the elbows drinking from an enormous purple glass.

“Cute,” said Liz. “Wait. That’s a scorpion. He took you to the Huki Lau?”

“Other way around.”

“Nice,” said Liz. “You like him?”

“I want to nibble his ears off and keep locks of his hair in my bra.”

“Isn’t that what you once said about George Michael?”

“Oh, he’s British and gay,” Cal said. “Don’t hold my teenage crushes against me, Ms. ‘I want to have Luke Perry’s babies.’”

“Okay, fair enough,” laughed Liz. “Seriously, I’m happy for you, Cal. When do you see him again?”


“Really? Aren’t we in...Ohio on Friday?”

“He’s flying out.”

“Really? Isn’t that far to go for a date? I mean, I know guys who’d go to those lengths for sex, but a date?”

Cal’s face twitched ever so slightly, but Liz caught it.

“Cal, no!” Liz hissed. “You didn’t promise him something!”

Cal dropped her gaze to her lap. “No, I didn’t. But Liz, he’s sooo yummy. I’m not sure I can...hold out.”

“Calliope Anne Talmadge.” Liz pointed at Zeke. “You see that adorable man over there? I am going out of my mind because I’ve been in love with him without realizing it for at least five years, if not ten, and all we can do now is kiss in secret. If I can hold out, so can you, Madam President of the Women’s Achievement Party.”

“I’m not some sort of saint just because I work for a women’s organization,” pouted Cal.

“I know,” said Liz. “I’m not a saint, either. But if I have to do it, so do you.”

She threw her arm over her friend’s shoulders. “You should make sure Mr. Brown knows he’s not getting past second base in Ohio.”

“Yeah, I’ll call him. I’m sorry.”

“Pshaw,” said Liz. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I can’t wait to meet him. What’s he like?”

Cal grinned. “Besides sexy in that young professor way, he’s devastatingly intelligent. He’s not intimidated by me, either.”

“I know how that is,” said Liz. “It’s really hard to find  men that aren’t afraid of my brain or think that they have to prove something because of it.”

“He’s funny, and sweet, and so earnest. I’m charmed, Lizzy. I haven’t felt this way since...well since Jerry.”

Liz nodded. Liz remembered the hell Jerry had put Cal through, but knew how Cal had loved him. “I’m sure Nicolas will be a far better man than Jerry.”

Liz thought later that it was remarkable that intelligent and powerful women like them could be reduced to giggling schoolgirls by men. She supposed that men went through similar transformations, too, but a powerful man compromising himself to have sex was cliché. However, strong women were somehow expected to be steely and perhaps made of stone below the waist. She suspected that most of the country assumed that Cal was a lesbian since she wasn’t married and headed a pro-women’s organization. She supposed that portion of America assumed Liz was also batting for the other team for similar reasons. America would be surprised to hear the two of them chattering like teenagers about boys. Liz thought it was unfortunate that people thought it was impossible for a woman to play a man’s game and still be a woman. Hillary had not been able to convince people that a little girl lived under her smart pantsuits, much less a sexual being. It was a shame, because recognizing such things would make powerful women more human, and thereby more relatable to people. That would make my job easier, Liz thought.


Go to Maren’s author page at to download my other stories to your e-reader. 
Can’t wait to see what happens? Download the entire book at!

About the Author
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, podcaster, blogger, and alpaca rancher who lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She has written short stories and plays for years, and has recently taken to writing screenplays and novels. She teaches live and online classes on literature and writing at Western Oregon University. She has Master’s Degrees in both Literature and Teaching Writing from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in English and Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. Maren hosts a podcast about alpacas (Paca Talk) with her husband, and blogs about alpacas and writing. Her alpacas win ribbons for conformation and fleece, plus she thinks they are darned cute. 

Connect with me online!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store: Chapter Nine

Maren Bradley Anderson

This is the ninth chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
Did you miss a chapter? Click here for the previous chapter.
Click here for Chapter One.

Can’t wait to see what happens? Download the entire book at or!

Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson

PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!


The air had a distinctive frosty bite to it that brought Cal back to dates when she was still a student at Mt. Holyoke. The meeting at the door was the same. The dash in the cold to the car was the same, and so was the anticipation of the dry air from the heaters finally warming them up enough for a smile.

“So, where to?” Cal asked.

“Well, I was wondering if you had a suggestion. Having been a student here, you must have a favorite,” Nicolas said, pulling out of the parking lot.

Cal laughed. “You don’t really want to go where I went,” she said.

“Yes, I do!” Nicolas insisted. “I’m very curious, especially now.”

“I’m embarrassed to say,” Cal said. “But I’ll show you. If it’s too terrible, we can just go on and find something else.”


Cal directed him out of campus and down the highway which found its way to one of the few traffic lights in the college town. As they idled at the light, Cal pointed across the street at a squat building with a tiki torch burning weakly in front.

“No,” Nicolas said in disbelief. “The Huki-Lau? Really? You and your friends used to go to the Huki-Lau? On purpose?”

“I told you it was terrible,” Cal said.

“You better hope this never gets out to the press,” Nicolas said as he turned into the lot.

“Oh, we can’t go in there!” Cal said. “It’s too embarrassing!”

“Can, will, and are!” Nicolas said triumphantly as he switched off the engine. “Let’s go in.”

The Huki-Lau was pretty much as Cal remembered it: Chinese buffet along one wall, tiki torches, grass skirts and palm fronds everywhere and booths circling a stage and tiny dance floor. Two nights a week a trio played music that some people danced to. The other five nights was karaoke. For booths that didn’t have a clear view of the stage, televisions bolted to the wall showed the stage and the singers.

A tiny redheaded woman was on the screen hollering out something like a U2 song. Cal felt like slinking away, but Nicolas was grinning in glee. “I’ve never been here,” he whispered conspiratorially. “I’ve always wondered what it was like!”

A tired-looking waitress led them to a stage-view booth and handed them thick menus with pictures of drinks. Cal smiled when she realized that the pictures were the same as the last time she was there.

“Liz will be so jealous that I’m here without her,” she said.

“Really?” Nicolas said. “I can’t imagine you two here.”

“There’d always be at least four of us.”


“Oh, neither Liz or I had a car,” she explained. “We always had to have a friend drive us, and if a car left campus, it was always full of girls. We traveled in packs.”

“So, four co-eds giggling away in a car on their way to a tiki bar for a Friday night of fun, huh?” Nicolas said. “That’s a fun picture.”

Cal grinned. “Well, we’d start here,” she said. “But, as you can see, this isn’t a great place to meet people, so we’d usually move on after a drink and bad Chinese.”

The waitress showed up to take their orders. Nicolas ordered a G&T, but Cal ordered by pointing to the menu and smiling. The waitress, though tired, smiled too, and left.

“What was that?”

“My usual,” Cal said. “Regulars get it. You’ll see.”

Nicolas leaned forward on the table. “My, you’re interesting,” he said. “Why are you so interesting?”

“I don’t know,” Cal said. “You’re forward. Why are you so forward?”

Nicolas sat back, flustered. “Oh, Jesus. I’m sorry. I do that. I just say what’s in my head. I don’t have much of a filter. It can get me into know, with women.”

Cal reached across the table and patted his hand reassuringly. “It’s refreshing, believe me,” she said, leaving her hand on his.

Nicolas put his other hand on top of hers and grinned again. “So, how did you go from Mt. Holyoke to WAP?” he asked.

“That seems like a pretty straight line to me,” Cal said.

“But you’re so, approachable,” Nicolas said. “Many of my colleagues in the Women’s Studies department are, if you’ll forgive me, a little prickly.”

Cal rolled her eyes. “Just a different approach, or maybe a different reason for studying women’s issues.” She smiled. “Not all of us are shrill harpies lobbying for male castration.”

“So you saw that, too,” Nicolas chuckled. “I wasn’t worried about that,” he said, stroking her fingers with his thumb.

They had to sit back when their drinks arrived because, although Nicolas’s G&T sat neatly on a bar napkin, the scorpion that Cal ordered took up most of the table. Purple and sporting straws and umbrellas as “legs,” the drink came in a stemmed contraption that more resembled a punchbowl than a cocktail glass.

“It’s for sharing,” Cal answered Nicolas’s raised eyebrows. “Lean back,” she warned. The waitress stepped up and lit the drink on fire. “Now BLOW!”

After the flames were out, they sat giggling over it, making a show of slurping up the fruity slush. Finally, Nicolas pushed back.

“No more,” he moaned. “I have to drive us back tonight!”

“Wuss,” Cal chided him. “We can get a cab.”

“No, no,” he said. “That would have worked on me ten years ago, but I’m an adult now, really,” he hiccupped. “No, really.”

Cal was tipsy, but she was having a really, really good time. “Well, then, what should we do now?”

Just then, the music changed and they both looked up at the stage where a very fat man began to sing “My Way!” Nicolas grinned at Cal and raised his mischievous eyebrows.
“Oh, no,” said Cal. “I’m not in college anymore. And I’m so not drunk enough.”

“Oh, please!” Nicolas said. “Together!”

Cal began to protest again, but found herself with a microphone in her hand as Nicolas spoke to the DJ. Then Nicolas was next to her in front of the very sparse late-Thursday-night  crowd.

The music came up and the words to “Jackson” blinked to life on the screen. Cal couldn’t help grinning at the duet choice. Nicolas had a passable voice, but Cal was able to show off a little as her training in the campus a cappella group came back.

They collapsed back in their booth laughing. “I didn’t know you liked country music!” she laughed.

“I didn’t know you could actually sing!” Nicolas said. He took both her hands in his and gazed at her. Suddenly—he seemed to say everything suddenly—he said, “I’m finding this booth...confining. Let’s get out of here.”

Cal nodded and stood before she could change her mind.

Cal hadn’t necked in a car since school, but she had seen it coming. She hadn’t said anything when Nicolas parked his car in a picturesque spot next to the river and tuned the radio to jazz. But it was just as delicious as she remembered it: the thrill of being semi-in-public, kissing someone new, and being out past curfew...she was going to be dead tired tomorrow.

Finally, she came up for air. “Nicolas, I hate to be a wet blanket here, but I really do have to be up early tomorrow...”

“But you’re leaving tomorrow,” he said earnestly. He took off his glasses and looked seventeen. “Oh, please, just come home with me. Please!”

Cal closed her eyes and tried not to show how badly she wanted to do exactly that. “We’re adults,” she said. “We’re old enough to know better, Nicolas,” she began.

Nicolas turned on the car. “I live near campus. I’ll just drive by and if it’s too terrible, we’ll just pass by on the way to the hotel, okay?” He grinned at her.

Cal bit her lip. “You’re bad,” she said.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m very, very good. You’ll see.”


If asked, Dr. Brown would quickly explain he wasn’t from the South. He claimed no Southern connection at all besides graduate school at UF. He had discovered that his spider specialist hero taught there, so he applied and packed his bags and left the cold Northeast for the balmy extreme South.

It was the Southerners who taught him that he was not one of them, nor would he ever be. That was fine with him. He missed the passage of time reflected in the seasons of the North. He missed Northern punctuality. He missed apple cider.

He couldn’t argue with 75 degrees in January, though. His closet poet side wrote poems about manatees and the Bermuda Triangle and Hemingway. His spider-hunter side was in heaven.

After graduation, Nicolas bounced around from job to job; there wasn’t a lot of call for spider specialists outside of academia and pesticide companies, and he couldn’t bring himself to study how to kill the most fascinating critters on earth. He spent a little time teaching high school biology to support his writing habit, but throwing poems into the ether to have them frequently rejected disheartened him. He kept writing, but eventually applied for academic positions. Mount Holyoke welcomed him with a tenure-track position teaching young women biology. Research was part of the deal, which meant less time to write. The writer in him recognized it as a compromise and a cop-out, but he was comfortable with it for now.

Then one magazine decided to publish a poem and sent him some money. Then another did, and another. On a lark, Nicolas put five poems into an envelop and sent them to The New Yorker, and damned if two of them didn’t show up there, too!

Finally, a national publisher bought a collection of his poems. He found himself one day a year later staring at his book Florida Gales in a bookstore windows. Florida Gales was a best-selling poetry book for several months, though he was hardly a house-hold name. Poets rarely are.

Now, he was publishing a couple poems and spider articles a year. Not fast, but acceptable.

But in the back of his mind, he felt complacent in a dangerous way. He was beginning to feel lazy, and that made him nervous. He needed a little more hunger in his life to keep him working.

His house wasn’t as dark or cold as before, but it was just as empty. For a man as attractive as he thought he was, he was lonely. He had lots of female friends, but he was rarely able to close the deal. Like many nice guys, he found himself relegated to the “friend” column so quickly it made his head spin. Part of this was due to his earnestness and thoughtfulness. Honestly, many of his female friends started out thinking he was gay because he was so neat and polite, and his name was “Nicolas,” not “Nick.”

Cal knew for sure that Nicolas wasn’t gay. He was every ounce a man, and a very eager one at that. Cal was enjoying their necking session on his couch in his neat living room. When she came up for air, he plunged his face into her bosom and moaned with pleasure.

“Oh, God,” she said. “Nicolas, honey. It’s 2 a.m. I have to leave.”

“No, no, no,” he murmured from her chest. “Don’t go.”

“No choice,” she said. “I have to get up and get Liz elected.”

“No,” Nicolas said, looking up at her from her lap. “I won’t let you go. This is too good. For both of us. I think.”

“Oh, I would give anything to stay,” Cal said. Suddenly a thought popped into her head. “Oh, shit,” she said.

“What?” Nicolas sat up surprised by her vehemence.

“I may as well go,” Cal said, sitting up. “We have this fucking sex-strike going on!”
“Fuck, no!” Nicolas said, sitting back on the couch, slapping his hand to his forehead. “I totally forgot!”

“Weirdly, I did, too,” said Cal, staring into space. “I didn’t remember until this second. We were so close to...Shit, I would have ruined it all!”

Nicolas took her into his arms again. “No, it wouldn’t have been ruined. I can keep a secret. It would have been fine.” He kissed her again and looked deep into her eyes. “Damn your little sex-strike,” he groaned. “I would have done unspeakable things to you tonight.”

“You’re not mad?” Cal asked, surprised.

“Why would I be?”

“Well, haven’t I given you the equivalent of blue-balls or something? I thought that was a sin.”

Nicolas shifted uncomfortably. “Well, this isn’t how I planned to end the evening,” he said. “Not that I had any of this planned, so to speak. I was hoping that I would wake up in your arms and watch the morning sun play with your golden hair, but perhaps another time.” He drew a finger across her forehead and tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear.

Cal looked him directly in the eye and said, “If you promise no hanky-panky and that I’ll be back at the hotel by 6 a.m., I’ll stay here tonight.”

“You’re kidding. Really? But, won’t that look, I don’t know, bad?” Nicolas asked.
“I’m not the important one,” Cal said. “I doubt anyone will notice. But on the principle of the thing, here are the ground rules: nothing below the waist, ‘no’ is instantly obeyed, and I’m not late in the morning. Agreed?”

Nicolas cupped her face in both his hands and said, “Agreed.” He kissed her and said, “Bedroom’s that way. Race you!”


Cal stood under the water in the shower in her hotel room trying to replace sleep with hot water. It was 6 a.m., which is when she would have rolled out of bed...had she ever gone to sleep, that is. 

She didn’t really have to worry about people noticing her as she walked in in the same clothes she wore the night before, because neither the hotel staff nor the Secret Service cared, and they were the only ones up. Still, she hurried to her room with her eyes on the floor.

It had been very hard to leave Nicolas in the car, but it had been harder still to leave warm his bed for the cold dark that morning. As she had dictated, only hanky and no panky had taken place that night, but Cal found herself wishing on more than one occasion that night that one of them would “lose control” and they’d finish the deed. Alas, they were both mature enough to stop before any silly sex strike rules were broken. However, this didn’t mean that they didn’t have a marvelous time.

They drove in relative silence on the way to the campus hotel, drunk on each other and lack of sleep, but also very aware that this was the end of the night. But it was also the end of what? How were they to handle this...whatever this was?

Nicolas pulled into an empty parking lot a few blocks from campus and put the car into park. He swiveled in his seat so he was facing her and took one of her gloved hands into his. He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb and said nothing for a moment, letting the engine run and a plume of exhaust puff around the outside of the car.

Finally, he swallowed. “I don’t know what you may be feeling,” he began, “but I know what I’m feeling. I want to see you again.” He looked up at her like a brave, frightened teenager.

Cal realized she was grinning. “Of course, silly,” she said. “I really want to see you again.”

“So, when?”

Cal sighed. “That is the difficulty. I don’t think the campaign has plans to come through here again.”

“That means...?”

“That means that I couldn’t make it back here until November at the earliest.”

“After the election,” Nicolas said. “No, that won’t do. How about if I come out to see you?”

“On the campaign trail? Really?”

“Sure. Is there a rule against it?”

“No, there isn’t, not against you coming to a campaign stop,” Cal said. “But, you realize that the other rule will still be in effect.”

“Nuts, really?”

“Really, really.”

Nicolas looked down at Cal’s hand long enough that Cal began to panic. Then he looked up at her again.

“It usually takes me five or six dates to get to third base, so I figure I owe you at least that many dinners. Sound fair?”

“More than fair,” Cal said. She leaned in and kissed him. They sealed the deal with a good five minutes of necking before they remembered themselves and headed to the hotel.

Cal scrubbed her head with shampoo in an effort to massage energy into her feeble, hormone-scrambled brain. She could still feel Nicolas’s hands and lips burning on everywhere. She was so wound up that she felt like a balloon about to pop. Then she brightened. Without even rinsing the shampoo from her hair, Cal leapt from the shower and dug through the promotion materials in her room, dripping shamelessly on them. She found what she wanted, one of the campaign “goody bags” from the female-owned sex shop, and returned to the shower with a smile on her face.


When Nicolas got home, he emailed the Department secretary to cancel his classes that day. He then took off all his clothes and fell into the bed where he and Cal so recently lay. He wiggled over to the spot where her perfume lingered most strongly and fell asleep breathing her scent.

When he awoke the autumn sun glowed warmly on the bed. He opened his eyes and they fell first on a golden hair shining in the sunshine. He smiled and stoked the strand like a pet. His eyes flashed and he leapt from the bed and raced to his desk. He tore through the piles of papers and books until he found a blank sheet and a pencil. He sat his naked ass down on the cold wooden chair and penned the poem that so urgently presented itself in his head.

Rosy-Golden, light
Muse of
music and fear.
Desire and denial,
A mirrored goddess:
Sex kitten,
And a door both open and closed.
Hours separate us,
And principle.

Nicolas did manage a meal and a shower that day, but mostly he sat in that chair and wrote poem after poem. Not all of them were about Cal; actually, most of them weren’t about her, but once the gates were open, the words gushed from the reservoir.

He fell into bed late that night exhausted but awake. His brain felt so drained that he actually turned on the television normally only used for the morning news and caught the middle of a black-and-white movie. It was a romance involving characters he didn’t know, but instantly cared about because they were tangled in a no-win romantic situation. He wept in befuddled relief at the end when it all turned out all right. He fell asleep in the spot that smelled like Cal without realizing that he hadn’t spoken a single word since he and Cal parted that morning.


Go to Maren’s author page at to download my other stories to your e-reader. 
Can’t wait to see what happens? Download the entire book at!

About the Author
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, podcaster, blogger, and alpaca rancher who lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She has written short stories and plays for years, and has recently taken to writing screenplays and novels. She teaches live and online classes on literature and writing at Western Oregon University. She has Master’s Degrees in both Literature and Teaching Writing from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in English and Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. Maren hosts a podcast about alpacas (Paca Talk) with her husband, and blogs about alpacas and writing. Her alpacas win ribbons for conformation and fleece, plus she thinks they are darned cute. 

Connect with me online!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store: Chapter Eight

Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store
Maren Bradley Anderson

This is the eighth chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
Did you miss a chapter? Click here for the previous chapter.
Click here for Chapter One.

Can’t wait to see what happens? Download the entire book at or!

Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson

PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!


 “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” Liz said as she balanced on impossibly high heels.

“I can think of crazier things,” said Cal, pinning a bit of Liz’s costume back.

“Not fair, you knew me in college,” Liz said. “Nothing I did before age twenty-five should be held against me.”

“It’s just a good thing none of it hit the papers, or we wouldn’t be here,” Cal said, tugging on a strap. “Damn thing won’t stay up,” she growled.

“What kinds of things did you do in college?” Zeke asked.

Liz grinned at him. “Well, what do you think girls who go to a women’s college do on the weekend?”

“UMASS and fraternity row were just up the road, you know,” said Cal. “And the busses were free on the weekends.”

“Why?” asked Zeke.

“Too keep the drunks off the road between the schools. We called it the ‘love bus.’” Liz giggled.

 “That all sounds pretty tame to me,” Zeke said. “Rather typical, especially compared to the current administration.”

“Oh, pooh,” said Cal. “He can’t have had as much fun as they say he did. He’s such a stick-in-the-mud now.” She gave Liz a knowing wink. “We had our fun, didn’t we, Liz?”

Liz smiled. “Those were some times, weren’t they?”

“Oh, come one,” Zeke pleaded. “You can’t tease me like that! Give me some details.”

“Not here, Zeke,” Cal said. “It’s silliness, anyway. We’ll get together at Thanksgiving and have some drinks and tell all.”

“Promise?” Zeke looked at both of them.

“Promise,” Cal and Liz said, crossing their hearts.

“As long as you deliver some goods, too,” Liz added, smiling.

Zeke sat back and watched as they finished Liz’s outfit. He had counted himself among the luckiest bastards in the world because Liz allowed him to sleep in the same room with her since the “Dion incident.” Granted, Zeke was still dying to sleep with Liz, in the same bed, but one thing at a time. To offset any wild rumors about Liz sleeping in a room with a man, they were careful to announce that Liz was observing enhanced security including a plain-clothes officer stationed in her room at night. No one seemed to give it a second thought, to their immense relief.

Those nights, he watched her sleep and amused himself by creating little vignettes of a home life with her. He knew it wasn’t healthy, so he promised himself that he’d tell Liz how he felt after the election. He couldn’t do it before; that would really screw things up.

Liz finally stood up and turned to him. “So, how do I look?” She wore a gold lamé bathing suit with strategically placed sequins. She also wore a headdress of feathers and eye makeup that made Cleopatra seem conservative.

“You look like an understudy for Showgirls,” Zeke said. “Pretty damn hot.”

“Is that any way to talk to Madam President?” Cal said, scolding, as she applied more kohl to Liz’s face.

“Well, it’s true,” Zeke said. “I mean, her legs go on forever in that getup.”

“Hmm, so it doesn’t scream ‘Leader of the Free World’ to you?” Liz asked.

“Not the poi-nt!” sang Cal, as she handed Liz her note cards. “Now, just don’t trip on those stripper heels, and we’ll be golden.”

“Yes, ma’am! Or Madam!” Liz clicked her ridiculously high heels together in a salute.

Elektra walked in to say, “It’s time, honey. You ready?” Zeke did a doulbe-take when he saw the petite black woman in the shimmery sheath with the plunging neckline. She had on opera length black gloves and somehow projected sex, class, and authority all at the same time.

“Damn, girl!” Cal said. “Look at you!”

Elektra smiled and did a little spin. “I have to say, that girl Amber of yours is a genius. Mr. Sanders is going to have a heart attack when he sees this!”

“What do you think of Liz?” asked Cal.

Liz suddenly felt shy, but did a careful spin for Elektra.

“Hmmm,” she said, appraisingly. “I think if we covered her in whipped cream, we’d even have the homos standing at attention!”

Liz almost forgot to laugh because she was too surprised.  “I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said.


Zeke traveled down a corridor to a side entrance of the press conference room. The campaign hadn’t given any details on the conference, but they had requested male correspondents by name. The room was full of frustrated male energy.

Zeke slipped into the edge of the crowd where he had a good view of the stage. The people with these seats didn’t know who he was, so he could watch with relative anonymity.

The stage was set up with a short row of chairs and a podium with a jumbo-tron screen set up behind. There was a plant or two in front of a blue curtain. It looked as boring and official as could be.

“I tried to get out of this assignment,” Zeke heard one reporter tell another. “I hate this bitch with every inch of me.”

“I hear ya,” said his friend. “My girlfriend cut me off a month ago, and me and righty just don’t get along the way we used to.”

“What’s worse is that my cable is broke.”

“Hey, mine, too! None of the pay-per-view comes in right.”

“Yeah, none of my premium channels have any good stuff on at night. I’m going through porn withdrawal.”

Zeke grinned privately. The bribes to the cable companies and premium channels had been his idea. It just took a couple key people to lean on a switch or two, and suddenly there was no soft-core porn on television.

“You know, I wonder if there isn’t a conspiracy. ‘Cause I can’t get my porn sites to load anymore, either.”

“Mine, either!” The reporters looked at each other and began scribbling notes.

Zeke hadn’t heard about any plans to curb Internet porn, but he’d take credit for it if anyone asked. He just didn’t think it was possible. He suspected these two idiots just didn’t know how to optimize their downloads. Or their significant others had wiped the caches clean on their browsers. Zeke made a mental note to post directions on how to do that to the campaign blog.

Music swelled and the crowd shifted its attention to the stage. Cal’s voice announced over the loudspeaker, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Elizabeth Stratton, Elektra Sampson and introducing the WAP drill team!”

The crowd clapped until Liz and Elektra strode onto the stage in all their glimmery sexiness, waving and smiling just as any politician would, only with much less on. The clapping staggered and fell over like a surprised drunk. The sight of Liz’s long, lean body in the shiny golden suit was enough to make Zeke’s pants a little tighter, even though he’d seen her just hours ago padding around in satin pajamas. That thought made his pants tight enough that he had to shift a little.

The crowd continued to clap in confusion as the “drill team” made its entrance. They bussed the girls in from a Vegas show, which had allowed them to use their costumes for the event. The stage was filled with girls, feathers, and sequins, but not much else. It took about three seconds for the crowd to recover from this shock and show its enthusiastic appreciation.

“Holy shit!” Zeke heard the reporter say to his friend. “I’m going to have to write my editor a thank-you note!”

“Hell, yeah,” his friend said. “This is more T and A than I’ve seen in a month!”

Every man in the room was whooping with joy at the sight, and it took Liz a good long time to calm them down enough that she could talk. “So, you like my ‘drill team’?” she asked, which renewed the cheering. “You all should see their routine sometime.”

“Now that I have your attention,” Liz began, but a cry of “Take it off!” pleaded from the front of the room.

“Not yet, eager beaver,” Liz said coyly. “Be patient. We have some things to talk about first.”

This was the cue for the lights to dim and the jumbo-tron to switch on. As Liz began to speak about ending the war and the draft, a classic stag film flickered above her head with the sound off. The showgirls moved slowly behind her, striking poses as they made a stately march back and forth. The crowd was enraptured.

“Gentlemen and ladies,” Liz said. “As you can see, there is so much more to life than fighting and winning. There is love and sex. In order to attain peace, each side must concede something, must sacrifice.

“In order to gain peace, my supporters have sacrificed sex.” She gestured to the film, which showed two people having enthusiastic relations. “Look at that. Look at what we’re willing to live without while the war goes on.” She looked up at the screen. “I don’t know about you guys, but I really, really miss that. Don’t you?” The crowd roared. “Wouldn’t you all like that to happen again? I sure would. Don’t you want to know how we can all start doing that again?”

When the cheering and jeering quieted, Liz went on. “In order to gain peace, this country is going to have to concede some things to Mesopotamianstan that we won’t like. Such as promising to keep our fingers out of their oil fields and not interfering with the natural order of their government. That’s going to be very difficult for us to do because we like oil, and we seem to think that everyone would be happier in a democracy. We’re democracy missionaries, and it’s made us the unwelcome neighbor who pushes his “religion” onto others of the world.

“That’s not to say that Mesopotamianstan won’t have to concede some things, too. They’ll have to promise to nip terrorism in the bud and to follow basic human rights conventions used by the rest of the world. They won’t want to, but in a compromise, no one leaves completely happy.”

At this point, the showgirls began to descend the stairs and mingle with the audience. They glided up the aisles smiling at the men and stopping to give kisses and have their pictures taken.

But Liz continued to speak. “Aren’t they nice, boys? Wouldn’t you give anything to have them available again? Or any woman?” There was a general rumbling of assent. “Well, you know what to do, gentlemen and ladies of the press. Tell the world what must be done to end the sex strike. End the war. Tell the world how we can do it so that it will be done! We can close this door on history and open other doors at the same time. Thank you!”

Pandemonium would have broken out had they not had so many security personnel. The men were straining to have some contact with the showgirls who were patient and obliging. “Look but don’t touch” rules were enforced. The crowd hung around for ninety minutes after Liz and Elektra left the stage, and the girls were good and tired when they got back to the dressing room, but all went peacefully enough.

Liz took them all out to dinner that night at a local Japanese restaurant. Without their feathers and glitter, the girls looked thin but average; their sex-goddess appeal lay in their costumes more for some than others, but Liz was glad to see that they were just regular girls underneath. Since they had all volunteered their time and the show had donated the use of the costumes, as stunts went, this one had been cheap.


After dinner, the staff and showgirls commandeered the big-screen television in the lounge of the hotel to watch the news. It was the first time most of the girls had been on national television, so all of them hovered by the television waiting for Stone Phillips to appear. They knew that they were going to be the lead story just by looking at him.

Stone struggled to keep his normally placid face from twisting into a wry grin as he introduced the story. “This unusual Presidential race took another...interesting turn today,” he began, lip twitching. “Elizabeth Stratton and her running mate Elektra Sampson took to the stage of a press conference wearing provocative outfits and flanked by...supporters in very ornate dress. I must warn you, this clip may offend some viewers.”

Liz couldn’t have asked for better footage. Although the stag film was understandably blurred out, the television screen was filled with tits and ass and feathers galore. The editors at the news program had tried to do her speech justice, but the footage was so provocative that Liz even had trouble concentrating on her own words. She was very pleased with how good she looked in her outfit, too. 

Stone Phillips reappeared on the screen, still struggling to keep a serious face. “We have with us three commentators to help us understand this press conference.”

“Here come the pundits,” whispered Cal, squeezing Liz’s hand.

“First is conservative think-tank leader Reverend Mitchell Mennen.” The bearded pundit appeared on screen.

“One guess what his position will be,” said Zeke.

“Missionary, I’d guess,” giggled Cal.

“Next is Gretchen Lund, Political Advisor to Senator Mary Kelly during her successful Congressional race.” A prim woman in her forties appeared, hair in a bun.

“I’m curious about what she’ll say,” said Liz.

“And finally, Dr. Marjorie Green of the Women’s Studies Department at Mt. Holyoke College.” Both women gasped.

“Professor Green!”

She hadn’t aged much in the fifteen years since they had taken women’s studies from her in college. Her long grey hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and her granny glasses rested on the bridge of her nose. She wore her customary flowing cotton dress with a tailored suit jacket over top. Cal had had lunch with her a couple years president of WAP, she was in contact with many Women’s Studies departments. Liz hadn’t had nay contact with Dr. Green since she graduated, but she remembered the highly intellectual professor very clearly.

“I think I’m going to die of shame on this spot,” she moaned.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that bad,” said Cal, but the color had drained from her face and she gripped Liz’s hand harder.

Stone began the commentary with the Reverend Mennen, who, naturally, took a dim view to their shenanigans. “Stone, I was outraged to see this behavior from a serious contender for the highest office in the land. Such puerile tactics are better suited to...well, I can’t think of a single instance where they would be appropriate. Displaying themselves like that, like commodities, it was just sickening.”

“Don’t you think they were trying to make a point about....” Stone began.

“I don’t care what her point was, I was too offended to care what the devil they were talking about,” huffed the Reverend.

“Looks like his wife is striking, too,” said Cal, clearly enjoying herself.

“Ms. Lund? What do you think of tonight’s spectacle?”

“Well,” said Ms. Lund in her straightforward suit and Washington-sized pearls. “I don’t know if I would have suggested to Ms. Stratton to appear like this so close to the election, if ever. I am very concerned about her credibility eroding, and I wonder if this stunt hasn’t lost her the vote of every man in the country. I mean, she is antagonizing half of the voting population.”

“Dr. Green?” Liz and Cal leaned in and squeezed their hands. “How do you interpret tonight’s event?”

Dr. Green smiled at Stone Phillips charmingly. “Stone, this is a turning point in this campaign. This may affect the way all campaigns in the future are run. Here is what has happened: Stratton and Sampson are responding to the negative ads and dirty politics of the Democrats and Republicans. These campaigns have been especially nasty in the last weeks, insinuating all sorts of things about the WAP candidates and flat-out stating that neither of them is fit for office. Instead of responding in kind, the WAP campaign has re-invigorated its position of representing women by showing in gaudy glory the power that women everywhere have. Instead of trying to convince us that Ostrem is in the back pocket of the oil companies, or that Beckinger is a puppet to the union bosses, Stratton and Sampson have shown us that they are perfectly in command of one of the true powers women have: sex. Their efforts with the sex strike have propelled the peace process faster than any other impetus. Any thinking person will see that women who have the kind of power that Liz and Elektra do are the kind of people we want in office.”

“That’s ridiculous,” huffed the Reverend Mennen through his fluffy beard. “What are they going to do about Iran? Show up to a nuke negotiation in Wonderbras and three-inch heels?”

Dr. Green laughed. “If they thought it would be effective, they might, Reverend. The point is that they are open to all of the negotiation options open to women, even those traditionally taboo. The paradigm has shifted. Women can use sexuality as a tool of negotiation. If the men can play dirty pool in the political arena, so can women.”

“Doesn’t that put men at a disadvantage, Marjorie?” asked Gretchen. “I mean, when Senator Clinton got choked up in 2008, it was suggested that she was faked crying and it hurt her in the polls because it was seen as a tool men couldn’t use, giving her an unfair advantage.”

“Gretchen, Beckinger and Ostrem drew the line in the sand with their behavior. I don’t lose any sleep over their being at a disadvantage.”

“Do you have anything to add, Reverend?” asked Stone.

The Reverend had been turning purple and huffing like a steam train in his little box in the corner. He blew like a locomotive when Stone addressed him, but he was so angry that he could only spit out single words. “Lewd. Disgusting. Display. Female. Parts. Unseemly. Sinful!” he cried at the top of his crescendo.

“Thank you all for your comments,” Stone said in conclusion and then moved on to the other, far more boring, stories of the day.

A cheer went up in the hotel lounge, and Liz and Cal began to breath again.

“I have to write Dr. Green a thank-you note,” said Liz.

“Better yet, give her a cabinet position,” said Cal. “She deserves something juicy like Secretary of State or Chief of Staff.”

“Do you think she remembers us?” Liz asked, sipping her Manhattan thoughtfully.

“Well, she remembered me with a little jog of her memory when we had lunch at the WAP conference last year,” said Cal. “I’m sure someone at MHC has figured out who you are. The Alumnae Association doesn’t miss much. Neither does the student newspaper.”

“That would be a fun stop on the campaign,” said Liz. “I haven’t been back, not even for a reunion.”

Cal grinned. “That can be arranged.”


October in central Massachusetts is a picture-postcard with a brisk breeze. The air was crisp, the water sparkled, and the leaves set the trees aflame. Bits of fire, little leaf-embers, floated down from the canopy of the grand maples and elms of the old women’s college campus. Liz and Cal snuck off the bus as soon as they pulled in wearing jeans and old MHC hooded sweatshirts and took a walk around the grand brick buildings of their alma mater. They would have gone more slowly but they wanted to stay ahead of the Secret Service detail that was not nearly as discrete as it thought it was.

“Wow, it feels so natural to be back here,” Liz said. “I feel like we’re just hurrying to class, trying to beat the bell.”

Cal smiled. “I don’t feel that young, but I know what you mean.” She pointed at a building in the distance. “There’s Wilder. Let’s go visit our old room.”

They stood by the door of the squat dormitory with its Dutch gables waiting for someone to let them in. Finally, a student appeared with a key.

“Hi,” said Cal. “We’re alums. Could you let us in so we can see our old room?”

The student eyed them, looking at their old sweatshirts carefully. “Sing a verse of the school song,” she challenged them.

Liz grinned. “Nobody sings that,” she said. “We only ever sang the alternate version:

“Oh, Mount Holyoke, we pay thee tuition,
In the fervor of youth that's gone wrong,
Each year it gets higher and higher,
My God, alma mater, how long?”

Cal joined in here:

“So from barroom to bedroom we stagger,
And united in free love for all,
Our drinks are too strong and our morals gone,
Mount Holyoke what's happening to me?
Mount Holyoke what's happening to me?”
The student grinned and held the door open for them.

“Welcome home, ladies,” she said. They ducked in before the Secret Service guys could follow; they stood outside sulking.

The dorm had been given yet another coat of paint, yet she knew the clanking radiators would flake and peel by winter’s end. Dark overstuffed furniture lined the walls of the parlor they stood in, and Liz could smell dinner cooking in the kitchen. A young woman sat at the bell desk, reading a thick text. She looked up at them and asked, “Can I call someone for you?”

“Oh, we’re alums,” said Cal. “We wondered if we could go up to the second floor and see our old room?”

The girl looked at them more closely. A smile leapt to her face as she recognized them. “Liz? Cal? Is it really you?”

“Shh,” said Liz. “We’re incognito.” She plucked at her sweatshirt.

“We’ll get you and the girls in our room backstage tonight if we can go in and see the room without causing a huge stir,” Cal bargained.

“No sweat,” said the girl picking up the phone. “Lemme see if they’re in.”

A moment later, Liz and Cal met Trisha and Robin, the current residents of 201 Wilder Hall. They stepped in to the corner room, which boasted two windows and a view of the green and the student center.

“I used to sit on my bed here and watch the whole world go by,” said Liz, pointing to a window facing east.

Robin bounced in glee. “That’s my bed! Liz Stratton slept in my bed!”

Trisha was equally star-struck with Cal. “What did you major in, Ms. Talmadge?” she asked shyly.

“Boys, mostly,” Cal answered with a wicked grin. “Then that subject got too hard, so I switched to Women’s Studies.”

“Did you see Dr. Green on the TV last week?” asked Robin.

Liz and Cal looked at each other. “Yes we did. She’s the reason we’re here. We’re going to see her next.”

“She’s my hero...and so are you,” said Trisha to the both of them.

“She’s probably the main reason we are where we are today,” said Cal. “She inspired us when we took her class.”

“Really?” Robin and Trisha were wide-eyed. “She was teaching here when you were here?”

“It wasn’t that long ago,” said Liz who had suddenly grown weary of talking to nineteen-year-olds. They were worse than twenty-five-year-olds.


“Were we that...chipper when we were nineteen?” asked Cal once they’d left the dorm. The Secret Service was following much more closely now, but they didn’t care.

The crisp air made Liz feel giddy. “I think we might have been worse, honey,” she said. “Let’s go find Dr. Green. I want to thank her for the other night.”

They marched past the student union and past the lakes on the way to the tall old building that housed the Humanities. Dr. Green’s office was exactly where it had been fifteen years ago, but she wasn’t there. The excited department secretary told them she was teaching a class down the hall, so they went to wait by the door until class was over.

The door was open, so Liz and Cal slipped into the back of the lecture room and stood behind the last row of seats. Dr. Green was leading a discussion about women and politics, answering a question posed by a student: why aren’t there more female politicians?

“Women are underrepresented in politics for the same reasons they are underrepresented in all professions: first, they have children and are expected to be the primary caregivers; next, they have been conditioned to think that competing with men in the professions is unseemly.” At this point she looked up and saw Liz and Cal at the back of the room. “Oh, my,” she said. “It seems we’ve attracted a couple of visitors. Class, may I present former students Liz Stratton and Cal Talmadge!”

Forty heads swung around and then the class cheered for them as they walked to the front of the class.

“I’m sorry for just dropping in, Dr. Green,” Liz said.  “We just wanted to stop in and say ‘hi.’ The secretary suggested we come by your classroom.”

“I think it’s wonderful that you’ve come to see all of us,” Dr. Green said. “These ladies have oodles of questions for you, I’m sure, and I’m happy to devote the rest of the class time to you.”


Official faculty events could actually be fun, Cal decided, if you were faculty. She watched tables of them chatting with each other, cliquishly sitting at tables divided by mostly by department. Tablecloths and cloth napkins notwithstanding, this was just like any other school cafeteria.

She and Liz were circulating, shaking hands and schmoozing in general. They were both good at this; they smiled and hovered and chatted lightly and talked seriously, depending on what the current audience demanded. The faculty were flattered to meet Liz, but most were intelligent enough to have serious questions, too. They also got endless razzing about being alumnae. It was hard work that took all of Cal’s concentration.

Almost all of her concentration, anyway. Most of the evening, she had been half aware of someone watching her. This wasn’t unlikely as she and Liz were the stars of the evening, but something was different about this pair of eyes that made the back of her neck itch in a peculiar way. She tried to surreptitiously glance around to locate the source, but she couldn’t focus long enough to find it.

Eventually, the two women got to the table that held the source of Cal’s itch. A pair of cool brown eyes latched onto hers as she and Liz approached a table of English faculty. The intensity in those eyes made Cal’s breath catch in her throat and she coughed.

“Hello!” Liz said, placing her hands on the backs of two chairs. The old men occupying them smiled up at her. “Is everyone having a good time?”

Cal went to stand next to her friend amidst a chorus of “Oh, yes-es,” and smiled at everyone at the table. “Liz will answer questions, if you have any,” she said, as she had to every table, but she was staring at the bespectacled man with the brown eyes.

He was in his late thirties, with one of those not-tall-but-perfectly-proportioned  bodies that some men under 5’ 9” possess. He looked far too athletic to be an academic, and too smart to be a jock. His mop of dark, loose curls gave him a boyish look, but the way he locked her with his gaze was not at all childish. She wished suddenly that he had been her teacher.

“I have a question,” he said. “I’m Dr. Nicolas Brown, Poetry and English Literature in Translation. Whom would you appoint as Poet Laureate?”

Liz thought a moment. “Fantasy or living?”

“I like the fantasy idea,” Dr. Brown answered. “How about both?”

“Let’s see...I think Plath as my fantasy Poet Laureate and, living...I don’t know. What are you doing for the next four years?” The table chuckled. “Honestly, I’d have to appoint a council to pick one. I haven’t been keeping up with modern poets. I’d hate to pick someone based on what Oprah says, although she’s a dear friend and I owe her so much.”

There were other questions, and Cal tried to pay attention, but her gaze kept going back to Dr. Nicolas Brown’s. She determined that there was no ring on his left hand, and that she liked his hands a lot. The fingers were not long and looked powerful, like baker’s hands that kneaded lots of bread. She tore herself away when it was time to move on to the next table, but she couldn’t help throwing a glance over her shoulder. He was watching her and caught her glance. He smiled.

The dinner wrapped up so that they had just enough time to get everyone over to the auditorium for the rally. Liz, Cal, and the entourage walked out of the building chatting and in high spirits, and Cal didn’t even notice the English professor standing by the door as she passed it. But she did feel his gaze on the back of her neck, so she stopped and turned around.

“Hello, Dr. Brown” she said.

“Hello, Ms. Talmadge,” he said. “Please call me Nicolas.” He held out his gloved hand and Cal took it, cursing the snap in the air.

“Call me Cal,” she said. “Are you coming to the rally?”

“Yes. May I walk with you?”

“Of course,” Cal said. “Chapin Auditorium hasn’t moved since I was here last, has it?”
“Naw,” he said. “The dorms get shuffled every decade or so just to keep the students on their toes, but the main buildings stay pretty much as they are.”

They were quiet a moment as they had to negotiate a press of people crossing the bridge to the main part of the campus. The October leaves on the maple trees were barely hanging on, and the creek below was littered with a thin crust of red and gold. A pair of ducks and an impossibly large trout watched the crowd negotiate the bridge. Cal sighed appreciatively.

“I forgot how pretty it is here in the fall,” she said.

“Yes, it’s my favorite season,” Nicolas said. “And this campus is probably the prettiest I’ve ever been to.”

“I remember one day I was so overwhelmed by mid-terms that I just struck out on a walk. I walked around the perimeter of the whole campus, golf course and stables included.”

“That must have taken all day,” Nicolas said.

“Nearly. I was so energized by the end that I studied for hours afterwards.” She grinned at the memory, and then looked at Nicolas. “That was a while ago, I guess.”

“I was a student once, too,” he said. “I don’t have quite the nostalgia for University of Florida that you do for MHC, but I understand.”

They had been walking ever so slightly slower than the group, and now they had a modicum of privacy. Cal found herself blushing for no reason. Then she felt his hand on her elbow pull her to a stop. 

“Cal, I don’t normally do this, correct me if I’m wrong, dammit,” Nicolas stammered for words. “Is there something here?”

“Here?” Cal said weakly.

“You know. I’m feeling...I don’t this chemistry I feel? Here? Between us?”

Cal broke into a big smile. “Perhaps,” she said.

“But you feel it, too?”

“Yes. I do,” Cal admitted. “It seemed wrong to point it out. Silly, huh?”

“How about if I ask you for a drink after the...what is this? A ‘show’? Anyway, a drink after?”

“Yes, okay,” said Cal. “Meet me outside the door we just came out of at ten.”

“Done,” Nicolas said. “Until then, we have this very long walk to the auditorium to enjoy.” He slid her arm through his and they walked the rest of the way across campus just like that, unnoticed. 


The noise coming from the auditorium had the particular high-pitched hum that only a huge group of young women has. Women from two women’s colleges plus plenty of co-eds from other local colleges packed Skinner Hall, chattering with excitement. Liz could feel the pulsing hormones wafting through the curtain. She wondered how well the young ladies out there were abstaining.

She whispered to Cal, “Do you think we’d have been able to give up sex for a whole campaign when we were 20?”

Cal grinned her wicked grin. “Maybe. But not when I was 21.”

Liz smiled back. “I remember Rory. I don’t blame you.” She looked out over the crowd again. “What do you think about them?”

“They look pretty determined,” she said. “I wouldn’t put it past them. They’re capable of anything. Remind them of that.”


Liz parted the curtain and a moment later the auditorium was filled with glee-filled screams of young-adult females.

“All right, enough,” Liz said finally. “It’s not like I’m one of the Beatles or Duran Duran.

“I want to do something a little different tonight. Normally, I’d stand up here and pontificate, listing our platform ideas and hyping you up. Instead, I want questions from you. I’ll answer them to the best of my ability, and I’ll tell you honestly when I can’t answer a question and why. Does that sound good?”

“Yes!” came the answer.

“Great. There’s the microphone in front of the stage. Form a nice line and go to town!”

There was some rustling as a spot was turned on to the mike and an orderly line formed. The first woman at the microphone was typical from her sweatshirt to her flip-flops.

“Ms. Stratton,” she said. “My name is Lauren Bierce. I’m unclear on how not having sex with my boyfriend is going to stop the war in Mesopotamianstan. Could you explain?”

Liz smiled. “Wow. We didn’t waste any time getting to the issue, did we? Okay, it works like a union. Unions work to improve working conditions for its members by stopping work, right? All of the workers stop even if the things the union wants changed doesn’t affect them. So, for example, let’s say at an envelope factory, the folders work 15-hour shifts, but the gluers only work 8-hour shifts. In order to get 8-hour shifts for the folders, the gluers stop working, too, even though they already have that kind of shift. They do it because they know that if they need support in the future, the folders will help.

“So, to our situation. I know that your boyfriend probably has little individual power to stop a foreign war. However, if he were to band together with all of his friends and they all went to their fathers who went to their bosses, well, you get the idea. It won’t take long before the people at the top feel the pressure, not only of their own needs, but also of those of the people they represent. So, tell your boyfriend that if he wants to see your delicates again, he needs to do his part and start pressuring the people he knows to do something about ending the war, just like you are.”

The next person in line looked older than a typical student. “Ms. Stratton,” she said. “Don’t you think that this sex strike is a silly diversion to the campaign? Shouldn’t you be focusing on trying to get into the White House instead?”

“Well,” Liz sighed. “I do admit that this campaign has taken a riskier track than I thought it would when I began. However, when I began, WAP was little more than an outside irritant to the Democrats and the Republicans. But last week we polled at an astounding 34%! Think about that. That means that one in three people are thinking of voting for us. Registered Democrats and Republicans and Independents have said they’d vote for us. Before the sex strike, WAP polled at something like 2%. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t think the sex strike is a silly diversion. I think it is a legitimate way to make our concerns take center stage. So even if we don’t get to the White House our concerns are front and center because the strike doesn’t have to end on the first Tuesday in November. We can hold out until the war is over. Can’t we?”

The crowd broke out into applause.


Zeke rubbed Liz’s feet in their room at the small hotel on campus. The rally had gone on much later than even Liz had estimated. The questions had kept coming, and she had worked really hard to answer each one honestly. She had been spectacular, but she was completely worn out and looked somewhat deflated in her satin pajamas.

“You looked like you were having fun out there,” Zeke said as he squeezed her left heel.

“Oh, it was a blast. The whole day was wonderful,” she said, her head propped up against the headboard. She grunted, “That’s wonderful. Please don’t stop.”

“As you wish.”

“I had forgotten what a wonderful place this is,” Liz said, staring at the ceiling. “If we’re elected, we should do something to charter more women’s colleges or something.”

“That would be fun,” Zeke said, moving on to her arch.

“Yeah.” Then Liz groaned as Zeke pressed his thumbs into the ball of her foot. “That’s the spot. Jesus, that feels nice.”

Zeke laughed and shushed her. “You sound like you are having too much fun,” he said. “You don’t want any rumors flying around just because of a foot rub.”

She laughed, too. “You’re right. I’ll be quiet as a churchmouse. Squeak! Squeak!”

They laughed a bit, and then Liz relaxed into the pillows with a sigh. “You’re too good to me, Zeke,” she murmured.

“I know,” Zeke said, and moved on to her other foot.

He continued to work the foot for a while. When he was done, he set her foot down on the bedspread but left his hand on it as he looked up at her face. She was smiling, and possibly dozing. Without thinking, Zeke slid his fingers slowly up her foot to her ankle, and then pulled them back down, caressing her. Liz didn’t react, so he did it again. Slowly trace fingers up, slowly drag them down. Zeke didn’t breathe.

Zeke closed his eyes and let his fingers trace their way up her calf under her pajama leg to the soft spot behind her knee and back again. She sighed and moved a little, so he did it again, so slowly.

Liz started and sat up. She met Zeke’s eyes and held him there with her stare. He couldn’t stand it and looked away, pulling his hands into his lap.

“Oh, Zeke,” she said softly and put her hand over his.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can be out of here in five seconds.” He tried to pull away, but Liz held his hand fast. He looked up at her.

“How long have you felt this way?” she asked.

“Oh, probably since that first lunch in Arizona,” he said.

“So, all those times you asked me to dinner?”

“I hoped each time you’d say ‘yes,’” he admitted. “Liz, let go. Let me go.”

Liz bit her lip. “No,” she said, “Dammit. You’ve got a helluva sense of timing.”

“Really?” Zeke took her hands in his. “Really, Liz? You could, we could...really?”

“Well, we can’t now, Zeke,” she said. “We can’t risk a scandal. You just said so five minutes ago.”

“Liz, I can hold out if I can hope. Shit. I’ve wanted you for ten years. I can wait a bit, if you’ll just tell me you’ll give me a chance.”

“Of course,” she said. Then, after a moment, “Why did you wait until now, Zeke?”

Zeke laughed sadly. “Liz, I’ve asked you to dinner every day for ten years. How is that waiting?”

“I’m sorry to have put you through that,” Liz said. “Let me make it up to you.” She pulled herself to her knees and kissed him.

Zeke smiled. “I thought we couldn’t do this.”

Liz said, “Silly, it’s a sex strike. No one said anything about kissing.” She kissed him again. “You are going to have to find another place to sleep tonight, though.”

“No problem. Kiss me again, and I’ll do anything you ask.”



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About the Author
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, podcaster, blogger, and alpaca rancher who lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She has written short stories and plays for years, and has recently taken to writing screenplays and novels. She teaches live and online classes on literature and writing at Western Oregon University. She has Master’s Degrees in both Literature and Teaching Writing from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in English and Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. Maren hosts a podcast about alpacas (Paca Talk) with her husband, and blogs about alpacas and writing. Her alpacas win ribbons for conformation and fleece, plus she thinks they are darned cute. 

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