Saturday, October 1, 2011

Liz Stratton Closes the Store: Chapter Six

Liz Stratton Closes the Store
by
Maren Bradley Anderson

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

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Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson

PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!


SIX

O tender Eros and lady of Cyprus, some flush of beauty I pray you devise
To smooth twixt our nipples and O Aphrodite prettily slip twixt our valorous thighs!
Joy will raise up its head through the legions warring and all of the far-serried ranks of mad love
Bristle the earth to the pillared horizon, pointing in vain to the heavens above.
I think that perhaps then they’ll give us our title—
Peacemakers.

“What’s new?” Liz asked as she slipped into her seat for the breakfast meeting. They were now three months from the election, and Liz felt like she was getting the hang of this campaigning thing. “Where are we going, what are we doing, how are we doing it?”

“Let’s see,” said Zeke, consulting his notes. “We’re going to visit a college this afternoon so you can shake hands with some young voters.”

“They’re letting me mingle with young people?” Liz said. “I thought I was a bad influence.”

“You’re telling them NOT to have sex,” said Cal. “How can that be a bad influence?”

Liz grinned. “What else?”

“We got the sponsorship,” Cal said.

“Which was that?”

“The one from Good Vibrations.” Cal’s grin got bigger.

“You mean the health-food chain, right?” Liz asked slowly. “Not the other place?”

“Silly. Of course I mean the sex shop! It’s woman-owned and a long-time contributor to WAP causes.”


Liz licked her lips nervously. “I don’t see how this is going to help us.”

“Oh, don’t turn into an prissy biddy on us now,” said Cal. “Look at the swag they sent us to pass out at our next rally!” Cal hauled out a sample box full of gels and creams and tiny battery-operated devices. “This will help bolster the troops!”

Liz imagined her granny spinning in her grave. Actually, her granny used to say all you needed for a swimsuit was two postage stamps and a cork, so maybe not. Anyway, Liz thought that someone in her family ought to be ashamed of what she was doing in the national spotlight.

Her mother was probably upset. Mom always had a taste for the privately risquĂ© despite her prissy exterior. Finding her mother’s racy novels on the nightstand mortified young Liz. Now Liz’s show embarrassed her mom, who found it difficult to reconcile her pride for Liz’s success with the public shame over the show’s topics. Liz had been avoiding calling her mother since the announcement of the sex strike. She dreaded that conversation.

Liz’s father was confused by the strike. He was more technical than her mother who viewed the telephone as the end-all of communication tools. Dad had sent a one-line email the day after the strike:

“Really, Liz? A sex strike? Really?”

Liz had been amused by the similarity of this reaction to Zeke’s.

“Vibrators for peace from Good Vibrations, huh?” Liz joked on the bus.

“Oh, we can come up with a better slogan than that!” cried Cal. “I wish the ‘60’s hadn’t already taken ‘make love, not war.’”

“How about ‘Make love to me, not war?’” offered Zeke hopefully.

Cal grinned. “I love it. Let’s think of others.”

Eventually, they came up with a list that included gems like, “Vibrating for peace,” “War kills my libido,” and “Fuck me, not them.”

“Oh, hey, I forgot about these.” Cal held out a lavender rubber bracelet. Liz took it and read the inscription.

“What does ‘W.W.L.D?’ stand for?”

“‘What Would Liz Do?’” Cal laughed. “Do you love it?”

“Yes, yes I do,” she said and put it on her wrist.

“They’re going in the swag bags, too.”

“Anything else?”

“We do have one last thing to talk about,” said Zeke as he put on his bracelet. “Running mate candidates.”

“Running mate? Oh, of course,” said Liz.

“The Dems and Reps have their running mates already. We’re a little behind actually,” Zeke said. “Do you have any ideas about this?”

“Oprah leaps to mind,” Liz said, “but I’m sure she wants to be the headliner when her time comes.”

“No Oprah,” Zeke wrote down.

“Um, I don’t really know of anyone else who fits the profile, you know?”

“Well, I have some ideas,” said Cal. She pulled a manila folder out of her bag and flipped it open.
Inside was a stack of photos and biosheets of women from all over of all ages and persuasions. Cal pulled them out one by one.

“First is Isabella Terres. She’s a Hispanic leader in New Mexico who began by opening shelters for abused women and now is a state representative.” Isabella’s picture showed a small, intense woman with long black hair in a dark suit seated in front of the New Mexico state seal.

“Next is Clementine Redfeather. She’s a Native American advocate for the state of Texas. She’s now the District Attorney for the Dallas area.” Clementine was not a great beauty; in fact, Liz caught herself thinking that she wouldn’t want to find herself in a dark alley with her. But Clementine had a shrewd eye and somehow Liz knew she could trust her. Maybe it was the flag she was sitting in front of.

“Then, my personal favorite, Elektra Sampson.” Cal flicked the picture to Liz who picked it up. Elektra was a distinguished black lady of a certain age who smiled kindly out of a headshot with an inexplicably pink background.

“She looks like someone’s grandmother,” Liz said, smiling.

“She is,” said Cal. “But she is also a retired 11th grade teacher from a boy’s reform school in Harlem. In her spare time, she was the chairman of the NAACP chapter in Harlem and the foreign affairs editor at a small academic journal.”

“Really?” Liz asked, eyes wide. “This sweet little old lady?”

“She’s as sweet as they come,” said Cal. “Just don’t try to cross her.”

“When do I meet them?” asked Liz.

“They’re coming for meetings after dinner.” Cal said. “Be prepared!”

#

When Elektra walked in to the lounge, Liz knew she was there, even though she wasn’t watching the door. The mood of the room had shifted ever so slightly and Liz could feel the weight of the eyes that had turned to watch the dignified lady walk across the floor.

“Ah, Elektra!” Cal said when she saw her. She stood and waved her over and shook her hand when Elektra arrived at the table. “Elektra Sampson, this is Elizabeth Stratton,” she said.

Liz stood and shook Elektra’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Elektra.”

“How do you do?” asked Elektra as she closed her dry hand around Liz’s smooth manicured fingers. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my dear.”

Liz watched as Elektra sat, primly crossing her ankles and folding her hands in her lap. Liz could see how this little woman could control a room full of degenerate teens as she was already desperate for this woman’s approval and they’d only just met.

“So, we have the same initials,” said Liz. “We’ll be forever mixing up our monogrammed luggage!”
Elektra smiled indulgently. “Yes, I suppose we would.” Her tone indicated that she would rather they dispose with small talk and get on with things.

Liz glanced down at her notes and then pushed them away. “Elektra, I get the feeling that you are a very...proper lady, am I correct?”

“Most days,” Elektra said with a smile.

“And, you’ve been following our campaign, have you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, if you don’t mind my asking, why would you want to join me...uh, this campaign, given our, uh, tactics?”

Elektra smiled again, and Liz realized that her smile was the perfect mask. Liz couldn’t read Elektra at all behind that smile. It was a Mona Lisa smile in that it could be read so many ways that it actually had no meaning. Liz was instantly jealous.

“I do not object to your...tactics,” said Elektra, “because I agree with the objective so strongly. However,” she said coyly. “I think you are not targeting a large group that perhaps I could help with.”

“Who’s that?” asked Cal.

“Women my age,” she said. Cal furrowed her brow and Elektra scoffed. “Now, don’t tell me you didn’t think older ladies could help out? Not only are old men the ones you most want to influence, my dears, but old ladies have the most practice not doing what you want them not to do. Believe me,” she said, “Nothing can torture an old man like an old woman.”

“Please, please be my running mate,” said Liz.

“Of course, my dear,” said Elektra, clasping Liz’s hand across the table. “As long as you promise that we’re going to fight this one all the way to the end, tooth and nail! We’re not going to give up and just rattle our sabers so that our cause is heard!”

Liz smiled. “I want a change of address, too,” she said to her running-mate.

#

Still here at last the water’s drawn
And with it eagerly I run
To help those of my friends who stand
In danger of being burned alive.
For I am told a dribbling band
Of graybeards hobble to the field,
Great fagots in each palsied hand,
As if a hot bath to prepare. 

Elektra Sampson was a trim woman of sixty. She had a husband, Horatio, three adult children and five grandchildren, number six on the way. Her grey hair was cropped close to her head and she wore gold hoop earrings and red lipstick. She came across as both grandmotherly and as a woman who had seen every trick in the book and was nobody’s fool.

The campaign had taken Elektra’s advice and searched for places to hold rallies that might focus on senior citizens. The best they could do for her first appearance, however, was an Indian casino in the Connecticut “wilderness.”  Elektra wasn’t exactly pleased, but she knew that the attraction of the casino would certainly increase the numbers of people at the rally given the short notice. When she inspected the scene before the rally began, she asked someone with a walkie-talkie where the chairs were.

“I didn’t get an order for any chairs. Usually at rallies and such, people stand.”

“Not this time,” Elektra said. “This is a rally for old people, and they’re going to want to sit. You get on that talky thingy and get some chairs in here pronto!”

“Yes, ma’am!” The man scampered away and chairs were set up right away. Twenty minutes later the doors opened and a large group of white-haired ladies filed in chattering to themselves. They all found seats, and soon, the chairs were all filled. With a word from Elektra, more chairs were found for those standing in the back.

As Elektra expected, the sea of faces waiting for her were predominantly white, with a few shades of black and brown peppered in. And She was pleased to see a full house; she hadn’t expected that.
Elektra stepped on to the stage to enthusiastic applause. She hadn’t expected that, either. She smiled and waved as the crowd clapped itself out, which wasn’t long given its age.

“Thank you for that wonderful welcome!” she said. “I am so flattered and grateful to be here. I want to thank our lovely hosts here at the Lucky Seven Feathers Casino, especially for the seating they’ve provided. Isn’t it nice to sit down at a rally?” The crowd cheered again and a few canes were pounded on the ground for added affect.

“Now, why are we here today besides the bonus bingo and loose slots? We’re here to show our support for Elizabeth A. Stratton, a woman who wants to be your next President!” She waited for the cheers to die down. “I plan on being your next Vice President, myself. The first thing on our docket once we get there is to end this damnable war that’s taken our sons, our daughters and our friends. This is a war that was sold to us as a great war, but it isn’t. It’s a legacy from the old regime. It’s a revenge-play from the ugly past, and it’s got to stop!

“Now, those younger ladies are having a strike to make their point clear. They’re giving up something vital and precious to them: sex. Then they looked to me and said, ‘Elektra, how do the old ladies want to help?’ I said to them, ‘My dears, you imply that my good friends in this room don’t know how to have a good time in bed! Or would miss it if they gave it up!’” A good-humored chuckle moved through the crowd.

“I put them straight, of course. With the Viagras of the world now given out with our blood pressure pills, our old men are more randy than ever. What’s more, I reminded those little girls that our old boys are the ones who run the show. I told them that a sex strike wouldn’t work at all if it didn’t include us!

“But, let’s face it, girls. We can do more than that. Most of us are retired, or at the very least don’t have a brood underfoot anymore. What more can we do? In the spirit of the generation that burned its bras forty years ago, I think we can recruit more to the cause, march in more parades, write more letters and make more phone calls. We can stop having sex to end the war, but we can get off our keisters to break the glass ceiling, put down the bridge game to keep control of our uteri (or those of younger women), and tape our soap operas for later as we rally for women’s shelters!”

As the crowd of blue-hairs cheered, staffers passed out bags of swag. As the old ladies opened their bags, a hush spread across them. Then a titter started and flooded the hall. A wrinkled hand shot up and out of teaching habit, Elektra said, “Yes?”

“I thought we were supposed to stop having sex?  What’s with the...goodies?” asked a crone of about eighty.

“Liz Stratton said it best when she said that it is a sex strike, not a pleasure strike. Enjoy the goodies, everyone.”

#

Liz Stratton was horny. No, she couldn’t deny it, that was her problem. Her last date had been months ago, long before the campaign, and it hadn’t ended well. The last time she’d had sex? Was it Easter? She’d been so busy that she didn’t remember. But man, oh, man, did she ever miss it today.

She’d often wondered how she’d ended up thirty-five and single. Her five-year relationship with Evan Peterson didn’t help, certainly. They’d always talked about getting married, but he kept finding little 19-year-old distractions. Evan was a daytime soap actor and had his pick of delectable young actresses, and he couldn’t help helping himself, he’d said. Eventually, Liz got fed up and left. That caused a bit of a Hollywood to-do, but it had been three years ago. There hadn’t been any naked pictures of them on the Internet, so the paparazzi got bored and moved on.

She rolled over in her hotel king bed and stretched a hand to the other side, feeling how cold the sheets were over there. She wondered if she’d be allowed to date as President. Then she wondered who she could date as President? How would she meet people? Are there available men in D.C.? How would a date as Madam President go? Would the Secret Service have to do a background check on any suitors? How fun would that be?

Secret Service. Her mind wandered to the handsome guard that had been standing at the edge of every stage she’d been on for the last two weeks. She’d had a couple words with him and found him extremely engaging. His name was Dion Young, and he had green eyes. Liz liked green eyes.
She imagined him there beside her in bed, and she liked the image a lot. She resolved to get his phone number before the end of the campaign. It didn’t matter which way the war went, one way or another, she hoped to see him again.


#

Pearl wasn’t sure about video games. She had been old when the first came out thirty years ago, so she hadn’t paid any attention to them. Now she was sitting in her wheelchair in her best wig and a white thingamajig in her hand and she was bowling. Well, sort of bowling. She hadn’t been able to lift an eight pound ball in a long time, but this game was very similar to bowling, minus the stinking shoes, heavy equipment, and, unfortunately, beer.

She swung her arm and let go of the button under her thumb and watched the ball roll along the virtual lane on the screen in front of her. Her teammates, all women in their 80’s and residents at her rest home, cheered as most of the virtual pins fell over with a satisfying crash. Pearl grinned and wheeled her chair back to her team.

“That ties us up!” cackled Angela, whose red hair was almost too much. “I’d like to see those old hacks win now!”

They all sneered at the group of old men sitting next to them. They lived in the next wing over, and were frequent visitors. This computerized bowling tournament was just an excuse used by the activities directors to get the widows and widowers together. The activities directors didn’t seem to realize that, especially since Viagra was invented, widows and widowers found each other quite easily, without the assistance of well-meaning young people. In fact, Pearl was making eyes at Teddy, who had most of his teeth and was very good in bed according to Sheila who was taking her turn at bowling now.

“Knock ‘em down, Sheila!” Pearl cried to her teammate. Sheila threw a gutterball and then four pins.
She sat next to Pearl and picked up an earlier conversation as if they hadn’t left off. “I’m just ready to move on from Teddy, you know? He’s sweet, but I’m looking for someone who’s a little more, dangerous, you know?”

“You haven’t been dating during the sex strike, have you?” gasped Beth, the prude of their team.
“Well, dating, yes,” said Sheila. “But I haven’t slept with anyone since.”

“I can attest to that,” grumbled Teddy.

“Damn, it, Teddy, this is a private conversation!” snapped Angela. “Turn your hearing aid down to normal levels! It’s not nice to eavesdrop!” Teddy grinned wickedly and wiggled his finger near his ear. He didn’t fool anyone, so the girls changed the subject while the men took their turns.
“Did you see that Elektra woman speak at the casino?” asked Angela.

“I saw it on the t.v.,” said Sheila. “I like her. She’s a firecracker.”

“I like how she said that her family is having a sex strike, too,” said Pearl. “A little solidarity from old marrieds.”

Beth nodded sagely. “This movement might just end the war, you know?”

She was interrupted by snickering beside them. They turned to see all four men giggling at them. “What’s funny?” demanded Angela.

“You four old biddies,” laughed Biff. “You think that you’re helping by being all prim and abstaining. You old hussies. Who’re you keeping yourselves from?”

“The likes of you, Biff Wickerman,” snapped Angela.

“And just how does that help?” asked Tom. “You deny a helpless old man a few moments of joy for what? So he can stop the war how?”

“It’s a matter of solidarity, you old sack,” Pearl said. “What did it matter that I burned my bra forty years ago? The one act didn’t make a difference, but all us doing it did.”

“Don’t go off on your old professor shit, Pearl,” growled Ben, Pearl’s former beau. She’d stopped sleeping with him when the sex strike started, so he’d left her to find greener pastures. But there weren’t any.

“You’re just bitter,” Pearl said.

“Damn right,” shouted Ben, and everyone shushed him.

It was too late, though, and one of those well-meaning young people came over to the group, smiling and leaning over to “be at their level.”

“How’s your game going, Mrs. Lowenstien? Mrs. Beck?”

“Just fine, dearie,” Beth said too loudly and facing the wrong way.

“Do you need me to show you how to work the controller again?”

“No, no, that’s fine,” Beth said, so the worker turned and left. Beth was the best at playing the serene, senile old sweetie, which was the fastest way to get rid of the well-meaning young people. Pearl admired the skill, but hadn’t quite mastered it.

“I’m just saying,” Ben continued, looking at Pearl directly, “that old people like us are exempt from political action, since we’re essentially powerless. So, you can come back to our previous activities,” he said as he walked his fingers up Pearl’s wheelchair handle.

Pearl plucked his hand from her chair. “Powerless, huh? Weren’t you the CEO of some company or other, Ben?”

“Well, yes. It wasn’t especially large, you know. I did end up here.”

“But you know the current CEO?”

“Yes.”

“And you must know a few politicians.”

“A few from back in the day, but that’s years ago, Pearl.”

“Ben, you know as well as I do that you are three phone calls away from the governor. Aren’t you?”

Ben’s thin lips pressed together into a straight line as he grudgingly admitted, “Two, actually. My nephew married his daughter.”

“Humph. ‘Powerless,’ he says,” Pearl jerked her thumb at Ben. “Get a load of them. ‘We can’t do anything about the war. We’re old!’” The old ladies cackled in glee.

Tom had had enough. He stood up and shook his cane at the old women. “As if we miss sex with you. You’re nothing but a bunch of dried up old husks!”

Sheila stood, too, and banged her walker on the ground. “That’s rich coming from a bunch of old coots who need a pill to tell them which way is ‘up!’”

A crowd was beginning to gather around them. The elderly people on the edges of the group were keeping the well-meaning young people occupied while the argument went on.

Teddy stood. “Sheila, you old slut. I don’t need you to tell your biddy friends how good I am in bed! My reputations precedes me!”

Sheila giggled. “Sure it does. You’re part of the ‘Blue Pill Group!’”

Biff laughed. “You old tarts! It’s hardly worth getting a woody with you all. You’re all so wrinkled, we can’t find your twats!”

Beth, stood and cried, “Tom, you’re so fat that I never did find your withered old dick!” Then she sat, horrified at herself.

Accounts differ on who threw the first fruit cup, but soon the entire rec room at the Shady Pines Retirement Community was ankle-deep in soft fruit, coffee, tea and animal crackers. There was a theory that a catheter or two were removed and the collection bags emptied, too, but the rec room had always smelled peculiar, so it was hard to prove.

Once the pandemonium broke out, the well-meaning young people appeared with backup recruits, and the residents were wheeled away shouting insults that made the W M Y P’s ears burn in embarrassment and congratulate themselves on convincing their parents to send their own grandparents to a classier facility than this one.

Pearl picked maraschino cherries from her best wig, which lay in her lap. As she was wheeled next to Ben by a well-meaning young person, he grinned at her and waggled his hand near his ear like it was a phone. He mouthed, “Call me,” like a desperate high school student.

 Pearl rolled her eyes and promised herself that she’d get him to call the governor before he was allowed any misbehavin’ at all.

The well-meaning young person scolded her. “Now, Mrs. Miller, do we have to call your granddaughter again?”

Pearl cackled. The thought of her twenty-something granddaughter hearing the details of this row would be something to see. “Oh, please call her!” Pearl cried. “In fact, have her come visit and I’ll tell her myself!” She laughed the rest of the way back to her room.

#

Here is the gaping calamity I meant:
I cannot shut their ravenous appetites
A moment more now. They are all deserting. 
The first I caught was sidling though the postern
Close by the Cave of Pan: the next hoisting herself
With rope and pulley down: a third on the point
Of slipping past: while a fourth malcontent seated
For instant flight to Orsilochus’ brother
On bird-back I dragged off by the hair in time...
They are all snatching excuses to sneak home.


Amber was against the idea of Liz having her hair done at a random shop in the Midwest because she was very concerned that she’d have to fix Liz’s hair afterwards. “Just don’t let them cut anything or put in highlights,” she begged. “God, don’t let them do ANY coloring! I’m serious, Liz.”

Liz promised. The little hippie chick knew what she was doing when it came to hair, and Liz didn’t argued with her anymore. In fact, Liz could swear that Amber was better about yanking since that first day.

The visit was a surprise to the owner of Beauty Quest who was ambushed by the Secret Service an hour before Liz arrived so they could sweep the area and set up a perimeter. Then the entourage and the press descended on the four-chair shop.

Liz wasn’t impressed, but the shop was clean and had three customers in chairs and three waiting, so it was doing okay. The floor was linoleum, the lighting fluorescent, and the pictures of models with haircuts were at least ten years out of date, but the potted plants were dusted and the patrons seemed happy. She shook hands with everyone in the shop and then took a seat in the first chair. She smiled as the owner wrapped the smock around her. Her name was Maryanne, and she looked like she wrestled alligators in her spare time.

“What would you like today, then, Ms. Stratton?” Maryanne asked, eager to show off her skills. “A little color? A cut? Oh! How about some highlights?”

“Ah, that sounds lovely, Maryanne, but just an up-do today,” Liz said.

“Mmm-hmm,” she said, pulling Liz’s hair down and fluffing it with her hands. “Lovely, lovely. Let’s go wash.”

 Liz thought she could relax a little as the warm water soaked her hair, but Maryanne was a talker. She dove in as if they had been in the middle of a conversation. “So the girls and I were talking about this ‘closing the store’ business before you came it.”

“Really?” Liz said above the sound of rushing water.

“Yeah,” said Maryanne as she soaped up Liz’s head with her muscular hands. “We’re wondering how you cope with it.”

“Oh, well, it’s, not, hard,” Liz grunted between Maryanne’s attempts to squeeze her head off or shampoo her hair, Liz couldn’t tell which.

“That’s what she said!” cried Maryanne, and the rest of the shop squealed in laughter. She rinsed off Liz’s hair as she laughed.

Liz tried to laugh as her head was twisted into a towel so tightly that she began to see through time. Maryanne lead her back to the chair, still chuckling at her own joke. Liz smiled gamely, knowing that the cameras were still rolling.

“So, are you all on the strike with us, then?” asked Liz as Maryanne combed her hair. Liz was sure she could hear the last three inches snapping off like guitar strings in the teeth.

“Well, actually, most of us started, right ladies?” There was general assent. “But then most of us fell off of the wagon.”

“Oh, why?” asked Liz, turning in her chair imploringly. “Surely you all feel it’s important to end the war, right? This is a great way to get their attention.”

“We know, we know,” said Maryanne, turning Liz back into her chair like a child. “It was just, you know, hard.”

“That’s what she said!” squealed a little old lady in the next chair. The shop dissolved into the same puerile laughter.

Liz frowned. “So, you all just gave up because you were horny?” She saw the whole shop sheepishly grinning at her in the mirror, though Maryanne had a hold of her head so firmly that she couldn’t move. Liz was intensely aware that the cameras were still rolling and recording. She saw Cal in the back of the crowd having what looked like a panic attack.

“Did you all get your free goodie pack from our campaign staffers?” Liz asked.

“Oh, yes, dear,” said the old lady next to her. “I’m all for self-love, but, well, my husband is...”

“He’s hung like a horse,” finished Maryanne, who Liz could see could be counted on NOT to be tactful. “Suzie there can’t stop bragging about it. Believe me, if I had a cock like that at home, I’d have a hard time giving it up, too!”

Liz, who talked frankly about sex for a living, Liz, who encouraged others to talk about sex frankly on television for a living, found herself blushing. Somehow, thinking about 70-year-old Suzie’s 70-year-old husband’s huge member was too much. She willed herself to go on, and opened her mouth to respond when a voice from the back of the room chimed in.

“Ms. Stratton, I’m with you all the way!” cried a pleasantly plump woman under the driers. “Unless, of course, blowjobs count as sex. Do they?”

All attention was on Liz again. “It counts as sex unless you’re President,” she said without thinking. The squeals of laughter tinkled again.

Liz decided to take control of the situation. “Look, ladies. I know it’s...difficult to control your urges, much less the urges of your partners. But, this is a sacrifice to protest something very serious, and in order for it to work, we need to be diligent. I mean, remember your mothers and grandmothers giving up nylon stockings for the war effort, or gas rationing? If we don’t end this war, we’ll be sacrificing much, much more than just sex, like sons and daughters. Right?”

“My son is already gone,” said a small voice. Liz pulled away from Maryanne’s grip and turned to see a large woman with half her hair in curlers slumped in the last chair. Liz stood, walked over to her, and rested a hand on her shoulder.

“Go on.”

“He died somewheres on a road with a bomb on it,” she said to the floor. “It was a year ago. I haven’t done much since then. His daddy and me sleep in different rooms, anyway.” She smiled weakly, lifting her gaze to Liz’s briefly.

Liz knelt in front of the woman’s chair. “What’s your name, honey?”

“Beth.”

“Do any of you question whether Beth would rather have sex or have her son alive? Anyone?” It was very quiet in the salon. Liz gave Beth a hug. Then she said, “This is why it’s important that we see this operation through to the end. Whether I win or lose is not nearly as important as ending this war. We need to do it for Beth and so that there are no more Beths in the world!”

Liz returned to her chair to a round of applause. She glanced at the mirror as she sat and realized that she had just given one of the most moving speeches of her career with half her hair hanging in her face and wearing a mauve smock. She now knew why Amber was so concerned, but she was glad she had come.

#

When Liz emerged from the salon an hour later, she felt pretty good, despite the twisted mess atop her head. Maryanne had really outdone herself: Liz’s hair was a mass of ropey loops and goofy little spurts that sprouted from every angle. Still, Liz tipped her well and posed for photographs with everyone. She gave Beth her contact information so that the campaign could help her find a grief counselor and Liz could have her on the show someday.

Liz dragged herself onto the bus and shooed everyone out of her private bunk. She closed the door and immediately began pulling pins out of her scalp. She reminded herself to be extra nice to Amber and appreciate the luxury of having her own private hairdresser. When her hair was finally free, Liz gave it a good shake so it fell down her shoulders in a coffee-brown cascade.

“Ah,” she sighed. “That is so much better.”

“I agree,” said a very deep voice from behind her.

Liz whipped around. Then she realized that the man in her quarters was Dion Young, the Secret Serviceman. “Holy crap, you scared me,” Liz said and grabbed a counter for support.

“I’m sorry,” he said, smiling.

“W-why are you in here?”

“Well, I was on my way out, but you closed the door. I’m sorry for watching. That was...wrong of me. I would have said something if you started...if you were...undressing. Shall I go?”

“No, no, stay,” Liz said, recovering enough to remember how very cute Dion was with his sandy hair, three-day beard and green eyes. “No harm, no foul, right?” She smiled in a way she hoped was as disarming and charming as his was.

The bus lurched and sent her sprawling onto the bed and knocked Dion onto the floor. When Dion sat up, he grinned at her. “Come here often?”

Liz burst into giggles. “That’s what she said!” she cried, and laughed so hard tears rolled down her cheeks. When she recovered, she was relieved to see Dion still smiling. “I’m sorry. Were you in that salon with me?”

“No, I was stationed outside.”

“Oh my God, Dion! I mean, I’ve had transsexual strippers on my show before that I thought were frank, but they can’t hold a candle to those ladies in there! I thought my ears were going to burn off from embarrassment!”

“Wow,” said Dion, sitting on the edge of the bed. “That’s wild. I wish I had heard it.”

“I’m sure you will,” said Liz. “With all the media there, I’ll be surprised if there is anyone in America who HASN’T seen it by morning.” She sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. “I hope I handled that right,” she said. Then she glanced at Dion. “Sorry. Moment of weakness.”

“Not a problem,” said Dion leaning back a little.

“I mean, I don’t really talk to anyone here on the road. Zeke and Cal are running things, and the rest of my friends are back in L.A....”

“I hear you,” said Dion. “You can talk to me whenever you like.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And I can’t tell anyone. That’s the ‘secret’ in ‘Secret Service.’”

Liz snorted. “Is that a joke?”

Dion grinned. “Sort of. It was pretty lame, wasn’t it?”

“Ye-ah,” Liz laughed and bumped him on the shoulder. She was surprised at how familiar she’d gotten with him in such a short amount of time. In fact, she realized that she was dangerously close to kissing him.

She sat up and smoothed her suit. “I should get back out there. I have some briefs to read and stuff.”

“Sure thing,” said Dion. “I’ll be watching you.”

“That would be creepy coming from anyone but you,” Liz laughed as she stepped out into the front of the bus.

Dion sat on the bed so he could just see her out the door. He took out his cell phone and pushed a speed dial button. “Yeah, it’s me,” he said. “I’m finally in. Another day or two, and mission accomplished.” He snapped the phone shut and peeked out at Liz. He caught her eye and she waved. He winked in return and smiled the lopsided grin that always got them.

###




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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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