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 Smashwords.com or Amazon.com!
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 trouble...you 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.”
Cal sighed. “That is the difficulty. I don’t think the campaign has plans to come through here again.”
“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.”
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.
music and fear.
Desire and denial,
A mirrored goddess:
And a door both open and closed.
Hours separate us,
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.
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!
Twitter – http://twitter.com/#marenster
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/
Writing Blog – http://closingthestore.blogspot.com
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Marenster