Maren Bradley Anderson
This is the twelfth 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!
Cal could hear Liz speaking on stage from the green room where she was hiding. Liz’s strong, confident voice rang in her ears as tears left trails of anger behind them. How could he? How could he not understand? Hadn’t she been up front with him? What right did he have to be angry with her?
But, like many women in her predicament, the weak little voice in the back of her head said quietly, “But, are you sure it’s not your fault?” Cal bit her lip and replayed the day in her head carefully, analyzing the minutia while Liz spoke on stage about equality and chastity.
Nicolas and Cal had been playing phone tag and missing appointments with each other for days. Cal was bitterly disappointed when Nicolas had to cancel the trip to Ohio at the last minute. His excuse of grading papers had sounded suspect, and it had been, in fact, a lie. He had sent poems to her email as tiny gifts, and they were a little comfort.
She had tried not to take out her frustrations on the campaign staff, but she did snap at them over the next couple of days. Most people chalked it up to the same tension and frustration that everyone on the tour was feeling.
Cal expected Nicolas to bail out on their next try in Chicago, too; that is, she tried to tell herself to expect it so that she wouldn’t be disappointed if he blew her off again. She was doubly delighted, then, when she got a text message from Nicolas saying that he had landed at the airport and found the driver she had sent for him. He was on his way! She was over the moon.
The campaign had arrived in Chicago two days ago and had done all the campaigning yesterday. Today was a little break, a reward so tired campaigners could go to a museum or a zoo or shop or sleep in late. Cal had left her day wide open and had two plans: Plan A included touring the city with Nicolas followed by dinner and snuggling. Plan B involved trying not to eat more than one gallon of ice cream by herself as she dove into unnecessary busy work to keep from feeling rejected and depressed.
Cal waited for Nicolas in the hotel lounge, watching each car as it rolled to the curb. Finally, his dark head emerged from a black SUV. Cal leapt from her chair and nearly ran to the door. It took all her composure to greet him with a discrete kiss. She felt like jumping and squealing like a cheerleader on the 50 yard line.
Nicolas took Cal into his arms and held her tightly for a moment. “I am so glad to see you!” he said.
“Me, too,” she said. “Let’s get you checked in so that we can go have some fun.”
“Okay. I could use a shower.”
Upstairs, Cal stood next to Nicolas as he opened his room. She took one of his bags and followed him into the room. “Where do you want thi-is!” she yelped as he grabbed her and tossed her onto the bed.
“Right here will do,” he laughed, kissing her.
Cal laughed, too, and ran her hands through his hair. “I’ve got a whole day planned, Nicolas,” she protested mildly.
“Me, too,” he said. “First, I’m going to ravish you, then I’m going to make sweet love to you, then we’re going to cuddle and order room service until we’re sick of hotel food.” He stripped off his shirt and gnawed on Cal’s neck.
“Ooh,” Cal groaned. “Sounds lovely, Nicolas. But the rules from before still apply. Nicolas, did you hear me? The same rules...apply?”
“Are you sure?” Nicolas nibbled on her collar bone. “You really want to...miss this?”
“No, I mean, yes...I mean, Nicolas!” Cal sat upright when Nicolas’s hand slid up the inside of her thigh. “It’s not what I want, Nicolas. I want you with every inch of me. But it’s not happening today, or tonight. You understand, right? We have to be strong because we want the war to end. Right?”
Nicolas knelt surprised and shirtless on the bed, looking at the mildly disheveled and wild-eyed Cal. He sat back on his heels shook his head. “Oh, God, I want you so badly,” he said softly.
“But you understand?”
“Yeah,” he said. He threw his legs over the edge of the bed and looked out the window at the grey city. “This isn’t going to be easy.”
Cal wrapped her arms around him and rested her chin on his shoulder. His skin tingled. “You said you owed me five or six dinners before we tried this again,” she reminded him. “I’m going to hold you to that.”
“Can I at least expect the cuddling and room service part tonight?” Nicolas asked hopefully.
“Let’s think about it,” Cal said. “We’re a little more...public here than we were in South Hadley, Massachusetts.”
For all the exciting things to do that Chicago has to offer, Cal and Nicolas ended up sitting in a cafe, sipping warm drinks and talking. They had a strong second-date aura around them, and people smiled to see two people so obviously in the first stages of love. Nicolas stroked Cal’s hand, and she idly caressed his shirt cuff as they chatted about philosophy, politics, poetry and past pets. A local artist who spent his time loitering in the cafe when his paintings weren’t going well sketched them in profile and thought they might make an interesting study if he could only capture the glow of their giddiness and restraint.
They moved from the cafe to a dim private little restaurant and had wine and cheese and all those foodstuffs poets and lovers indulge in by candlelight. Nicolas was nothing if not a romantic. Cal was normally far more pragmatic, but something about Nicolas made her forget herself and her past wounds. She even forgot about Ohio.
So, when they found themselves back at his hotel room ordering movies on the television and room service, Cal was relaxed and happy. She even changed into her pajamas and crawled into bed with Nicolas. An action flick boomed on the TV, greasy finger food balanced on their knees, and the wine flowed. Eventually, however, the wine and heavy food caught up with Cal and she drifted off during a plot-heavy portion of the film.
When she woke up, the room was dark, but the TV was still on, but the noise that she had heard in her sleep didn’t match what was happening on screen. She propped herself up on one elbow and squinted at the pictures flickering across the room and realized that the TV was muted. What was that sound? There was a grunt and a little whine and...the bed jiggled a little.
Cal turned around. There was Nicolas, lying beside her, curled in a “C,” and he was...
“Oh, my God!” Cal shrieked, leaping off the bed and clutching her shirt to herself.
“Jesus, Cal,” Nicolas moaned. “I’m so sorry!”
“What are you doing?” she asked and immediately felt stupid.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Nicolas snapped. He sat up and yanked the sheet over himself. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised,” he said, not meeting her eyes.
Cal plunked down in a chair next to the bed. “I’m surprised...to see you...” she couldn’t finish for a moment. “I mean,” she began again, “I’m sorry to react like that. I was just not expecting, in bed next to me, I mean, of course...” She staggered to a stop again.
They sat together in mortified silence as the television flickered ghastly blue light over them. Cal felt like there was something that could be done here. One of them could say something to make light of this, or make it into a good thing, but she was so befuddled that her brain only came up with one solution.
“Maybe I should go,” she said very quietly.
“Maybe you should.” Nicolas’s voice cracked as he spoke and he looked away as she padded out the door in her bare feet.
This time when Cal stood under the hot water of her shower, she was trying to stop shaking and feel as warm as she was while in bed with Nicolas. She never did and slid between her own cold sheets too stunned still even to weep.
Cal lay on her bed in agony all night knowing that Nicolas was less than fifty feet away thinking God-knows-what about her. She stood up at least three times determined to knock on his door and apologize, or kiss him, or something, but each time she scurried back to her bed in fear, shame, and defeat. She watched the colorless dawn ease into the day wrapped in her comforter seated in an uncomfortable chair by the window.
All Nicolas wanted to do was escape. He crawled out of bed when it was light enough to see that he was too cowardly to go to Cal’s room and apologize, or kiss her, or something. Anything. He began to pull on the clothes he wore the day before, but they reminded him of her, so he put on a fresh shirt from his suitcase. He didn’t bother to comb his hair or brush his teeth. He just dragged his suitcase into the hall and let the door close behind him.
Liz rounded the corner on the last leg of her early-morning jog, Secret Service detail trotting along behind her. She had been going crazy with the demanding campaign schedule until she realized that no one wanted her before 7 a.m. For a week, she had been running for an hour a day beginning at 5:30 a.m. and she felt great. She even had a whole 30 minutes to get a shower before her breakfast meeting. She had never felt so perky at breakfast.
Liz checked her stopwatch/pedometer as she stepped into the hotel lobby. She wasn’t the runner she’d been in college, but she was pleased with her improvement over the past week. She was wiping her brow and making her way to the elevator when she saw Nicolas at the check-in desk. She smiled and walked over to him.
“Hi Nicolas,” she said, still breathing a little hard. “I’m surprised to see you up this early. I had it from Cal that a late night of pay-per-view was the order of the day.”
“Oh, Ms. Stratton. Hello,” Nicolas stammered. He looked terrible. Dark circles sagged under his eyes and he was hunched over. He looked cold and pained.
Liz furrowed her brow. “What’s up, Nicolas? Where’s Cal?”
“I expect she’s still in her room,” Nicolas said.
The clerk handed Nicolas his credit card back and said, “I’ve credited your account for the remaining nights, Dr. Brown,” she said. “I’m sorry your plans have changed, but remember us in the future. Can I call you a cab?”
“Yes,” said Nicolas.
“No,” said Liz taking Nicolas by the elbow and dragging him to a seating area in the lobby where she sat him down on a couch. “Your ‘plans have changed?’” she said in a hushed voice. “What does that mean?”
Nicolas looked as if he might become indignant for being drug around like that, but then he withered into his coat. “Ms. Stratton,” he said. “Cal hates me and she has good reason to.”
“Cal does not hate you,” Liz said. “What makes you think she hates you?”
“She left me in my room last night.”
“And? Come on, just going to her own room doesn’t mean she hates you. What else happened?”
Nicolas shrank more into his coat. “She, uh, caught me,” he muttered.
“Caught you? Caught you doing what?” Nicolas was turning a purply-red before her eyes. “Oh, Jesus,” she said before she could stop herself. “But Cal knows that all men do that. Why would that make her leave?”
If possible, Nicolas blushed even more deeply. “Maybe it was where she c-caught me.”
Liz sat back in her seat and pondered what she would have done if she’d caught Zeke masturbating in bed beside her while she slept. She knew that not much bothered Cal, but given enough of a shock, even cool-as-a-cucumber Cal might stumble through something like this.
Liz put her hand on Nicolas’s knee. “Honey, do you really want to break off this thing with Cal, or do you just want to crawl into a hole and die?”
“If it were a deep enough hole...” Nicolas smiled weakly.
“Good.” Liz stood up. “Don’t move. I mean it.” She turned on her heel and marched to the elevators, Secret Service detail trailing.
Liz found Cal still wrapped in her comforter. After opening the door, Cal went back to her chair and looked out at the ever-lightening sky. Liz sat next to her and stared out the window, too.
After a moment, Cal asked, “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done, Liz?”
“Before or after the event with the showgirls?”
“No, I mean really mortifying, Liz.”
Liz thought back. “The second time I got my period, I was in seventh grade and I didn’t know it had happened. I bled through some of those acid-washed jeans. I didn’t have any other clothes, so even though I begged her, the school nurse wouldn’t let me go home, so I had to spend the rest of the day in those stained pants. I eventually borrowed a sweater to tie around my waist, but it was too late by then. The whole school knew. I faked sick for three days after that.”
Cal nodded. “That’s what this feels like.” She turned to her friend. “I don’t know how you know, but you know what happened last night, don’t you?”
“I caught Nicolas trying to check out downstairs.”
Cal began crying. “Oh, Liz, I couldn’t think of what to do! I mean, he was so embarrassed, and I just...ran!”
Liz hugged her friend. “I know. I probably would have, too.”
“And now I’ve lost him forever! I was too chicken-shit to go and, and...”
“Well, that’s what stopped me. I don’t know what to do. I could apologize, but I don’t know what I did wrong, if I did anything wrong.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“But then, what else could I do?” Cal began crying anew. “Look at me! I’ve been reduced to a blubbering fourteen-year-old! I hate myself like this!”
“Let’s get you dressed,” Liz said. “Nicolas is waiting downstairs. I’ve put Nelson on him so he won’t try escaping before we get down.”
“Oh, I couldn’t face him again, Liz!” Cal said.
“You will. Go take a quick shower and brush your teeth. I’ll find something for you to wear.”
Fifteen minutes later, Liz and Cal emerged from the elevator, Liz still in her running outfit and Cal with wet hair, but wearing a clean suit. Liz waved for Nicolas to follow them into the restaurant where she got a waitress to bring them coffee. They sat at a table where Cal and Nicolas stared at the table. Finally, with three steaming cups in front of them, Liz began negotiations.
“First of all,” Liz said. “Let’s establish that what happened is not anyone’s fault, all right? Second, no one has been injured, correct?” Small nods answered her. “All right then. I want both of you to sit up and look into each other’s eyes. Now.”
Slowly, Cal and Nicolas raised their gazes. Almost at once, the both began to talk.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Nicolas said as Cal said, “I didn’t mean to run out like that, I was just surprised...”
It didn’t take long after that for the two of them to be holding hands and whispering sweet nothings again. They didn’t even notice when Liz stood up and left to take the world’s quickest shower and take on less sticky issues with the state’s senators.
Governor Bill Ostrem rode in the back of a town car in his favorite part of town...the part with all the tittie bars. He fancied himself a connoisseur of tittie bars since he’d been to at least one in every state. There was always one near the airport for those long layovers. He favored a certain kind, the kind with steaks and “chili night” promotions.
Nothing like steak and tittie, he thought, peering out of the window as the neon-lit buildings rolled past. He hated private escorts because every one of them reminded him of his wife when she was young, glamorous and rich, even though he knew the girls were faking the rich part. He liked unpretentious pussy. That’s why he liked real strip clubs.
“Jim, where’s this place at?” he hollered up to the driver.
“Just down a piece.”
“They got steaks and big guns, right?”
“Sure do,” answered Jim. “Plus a champagne room, if you know what I mean.”
Ostrem did know what Jim meant, and sat back in satisfaction. He loved a good driver who knew where the best attractions were. He passed his tongue over his teeth and tried to remember where he was. It had been tough to keep track as he found all small Midwestern towns as indistinguishable as the backwater towns of his own state. All auditoriums looked the same to begin with, but all the towns did, too. He missed the charming little places of his childhood. He blamed McDonald’s, but they had contributed a million dollars or so, so he kept his mouth shut. He decided that wherever he was was fine.
He was glad that there were tittie bars everywhere. The damned sex strike had made the choices somewhat more limited, but most strippers and prostitutes couldn’t afford to pay attention to politics, so they continued working. They worked because they needed money. Ostrem smiled. He had money.
Jim pulled the car into the lot of a particularly squat building painted inexplicably to look like an English pub: red and black with a shingle hanging over the door bearing a coat of arms adorned with naked girls in outline. “Ye Olde Countryside Inn” read the sign. Ostrem was impressed.
He stepped out and peeled a $100 off of his wad and handed it to Jim. “Well done, sir,” he said as he patted him on the shoulder and walked in.
The bouncer may not have recognized Ostrem, but he knew an expensive suit when he saw it, and led Ostrem to the premier seat near the stage. A waitress in far too much clothing for Ostrem’s taste instantly produced a dirty martini and received a smack on the bottom for her trouble. He settled back with his drink as the DJ announced the next girl: Amber Waves.
The young blonde strode on stage in a red-white and blue sequined tailcoat and panties sporting an eagle. A dance mix of “America the Beautiful” blared on the sound system. Ostrem liked her style and clapped enthusiastically, though with some difficulty since his arms had recently become too short to reach across the widening expanse of his belly.
She saw him and also recognized the expensive suit and the premier seat. She stalked over to give him a jiggle. “Hi, honey,” she purred. “Are you a patriot?”
“Darlin’, I am tonight!” roared the governor.
She smiled and threw herself at a pole in the center of the stage. Ostrem had tried to convince his mistress to take a pole exercise class, but she’d been “too busy,” so he still had no idea how dancers defied gravity like Amber did, hanging upside down and flicking her heels at him. He liked it, though, and threw some more money onto the stage.
Amber’s coat came off and she had on a bikini top with nice big titties that jiggled like they were mostly real. Ostrem didn’t mind fake ones, mind you. He had a taste for some silicone, but he respected natural beauty, you see. Amber slithered her way back to Ostrem to pick up the $50 from the table with her teeth. She looked in his face and said, “Thank you, darlin’,” and slithered back. He put another $50 in front of him.
Amber’s top came off and Ostrem took time to admire her. He loved young, creamy skin, and Amber glistened like ripe fruit. He peeled off a hundred dollar bill, but kept his paw on it. When she ambled over to him again, he wiggled it and said, “You wanna date, young lady?”
She opened her green eyes wide at the sight of the money. “I like dancin’, sweet-pea,” she said.
Ostrem peeled off another hundred and set it down beside its brother. “Are you sure you don’t wanna dance with me?”
Amber stared at the money with obvious interest. Then she looked Ostrem in the eye. “What’s your name, darlin’?”
“Bill,” he said.
“Are you somebody famous, Bill?”
“Me? Nah. Just a rich fucker on a business trip.”
“You look famous,” Amber said and danced away.
She came to his table when her song was over and she had replaced her coat and panties, bikini top in her hand. “Are you sure you’re not somebody I know?” she asked, sitting very close to him. “I swear I’ve seen your face somewhere.”
Ostrem slung a fat arm around her tiny waist. “I ain’t nobody important,” he chuckled, pulling her close. She smelled like a stripper should: coconut oil.
“No touching, sweetie,” she said, slithering from his grasp. “Not here. Would you like a dance in the Champagne room?”
“Would I!” chortled Ostrem. He pulled his bulk from his chair and followed her to the back of the place, through a beaded curtain.
A bottle of cheap bubbly sat on a table in the room already, and though it was cloyingly sweet, it was also properly chilled, so Ostrem drank the glass Amber offered him when he sat down. She turned on some music, shed her clothes and began to dance on the other side of the room, out of reach.
“C’mere, baby,” he said.
“No touching,” Amber repeated, staying just beyond his fingertips.
“I’m dyin’ here,” he moaned. “My wife, my mistress, they’ve cut me off.”
“Poor baby,” she purred. “What did you do to deserve that?”
“Nothing!” he cried. “It’s this fucking sex strike. I can’t catch a break anywhere.”
“Poor thing,” Amber pouted as she gyrated.
“Couldn’t you help relieve an old man?” Ostrem pleaded, grabbing her wrist roughly. “Please?”
“I don’t know...”
“I’ll give you $500.”
“How much?” Amber asked, amazed.
“$500,” he repeated.
“For a dance?”
“No, no, no, you stupid cunt. I need to have sex. I want you bouncing on me like a puppet on a popsicle stick.”
“I don’t do that,” she said carefully.
“I’d give $250 for a blowjob right now,” grumbled Ostrem.
“I don’t do that, either,” Amber said. “Could you let go of my arm please?”
“Fuck if I will,” he said and pulled her into his lap. He was strong for a fat guy.
“Let go of me!” Her eyes were wide. “Let go!”
“Shut up, cunt. I’m tired of you talking. I know you need the money, and I need your little twat.” His other hand made grabs for her breast, but she swatted him away as best she could. “Stop that!” he hissed, snatching her arm out of the air, and then holding her two thin wrists in one meaty paw.
“How do you like that, honey?” he said, pulling her face next to his.
“Danny!” Amber shrieked.
The bouncer appeared in the doorway instantly, but he wasn’t exactly as Ostrem remembered. His outfit was the same, but there was something different about it...perhaps it was the shining star on the breast pocket. Yes, Ostrem decided that was it. He let go of Amber.
“Why, hello, officer,” he said in as syrupy a drawl as he could muster. “I was just having a little chat with this kitten here. She’s feisty, isn’t she?”
“Sir, could you stand up, please?” said the officer/bouncer.
“I’d rather not,” Ostrem said. “I have a bit of a condition.”
“Stand up, sir.”
Ostrem stood, but he needn’t have worried about his erection showing. His belly fat more than disguised it.
Amber re-clad herself and stood behind Danny the officer/bouncer. “Did you get any of that?” she asked him.
“Yes. It’s all on tape,” he answered.
“Tape?” Ostrem was suddenly interested and the wad of bills he had been pulling out of his pants to bribe his way out to his car suddenly disappeared into his pocket. “Tape? Of what?”
“Tape of you first soliciting sex from a legal dancer and then, when she refused, of you attempting to force yourself on her.”
“Oh, that,” Ostrem said. “That was just a little misunderstanding, wasn’t it, darlin’?” He looked desperately at Amber. “You knew I was just kidding around, right?”
Amber was still rubbing her wrists. “Governor Ostrem, I don’t know how or why you walked into our sting tonight, but I am so very glad you did. You are a legendary asshole, and I’m glad we caught you.”
“Amber, darlin’!” Ostrem cried as Officer Danny stepped behind him and tried to get cuffs on his chubby wrists. “Don’t be so cruel!”
“Won’t work,” said Danny, resorting to using two pairs of cuffs on his perp. “She’s working for us.”
“She’s a, a...”
“An officer, yup. Plus, she a she-devil in the sack.”
“She’s my wife, fucker,” Officer Danny said, cinching the cuffs very tight until Ostrem yelped. “Oh, too loose? I’ll fix that.” Ostrem yelped again.
Jim saw the cruisers with the flashing lights arrive and put two and two together even before he saw Ostrem led from the back of the building to a police car. He put out his cigarette and started the drive back to the garage. He was glad that Ostrem had tipped him in advance. It was nice when things worked out that way.
Liz was laughing so hard that tears streaked down her cheeks. “He did what to a who?” she asked Zeke.
“No, he didn’t really,” said Cal, still in disbelief.
“No, no, that’s what my source in Sioux City says,” Zeke said. “Bill Ostrem was caught on video tape trying to rape an undercover police woman who was posing as a stripper.”
“In Sioux City?” hooted Liz. “Really? Sioux City?”
“What a scumbag.” Cal shook her head. “I mean, I knew he was a lech, but a rapist?”
“Sioux City has, what, four strip clubs? And he picks the one with the stakeout?” Liz put her head on the table and laughed more.
“This is great news!” Zeke said. “Ostrem is out of the race! His Vice President doesn’t have the recognition or name-power that Ostrem had. He’s not really a threat. We’ve got three weeks to the election, and one opponent is G-O-N-E, gone!”
Cal smiled. “You’re right. And probably the best part about it is that that scumbag is never winning another office in his life.”
“...And she was a cop!” Liz couldn’t stop laughing, so Zeke and Cal began adjusting their strategy while Liz hiccupped with glee in her chair.
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