Sunday, February 10, 2008

For Old Times' Sake - Sarah Winn

For Old Times' Sake by Sarah Winn
February, 2008 - ISBN 978-1-59426-849-6
$6 eBook (five formats) - Buy Now!
New Phaze Author!

Chapter One

The roar of a gasoline engine drew Linda's attention from the crossword puzzle. She glanced through the french doors of the breakfast room, and her mouth gaped in disbelief. Was that Wade Preston driving a riding mower across the emerald green sea of her father's back lawn?

How long had it been since she'd stared out this very window at the boy all the girls at Harperville High had a crush on? Seven years? Eight?

Sensing movement behind her, she turned and saw Mrs. Mills picking up the luncheon dishes.

"Why is Wade Preston mowing our lawn?" Linda asked.

The housekeeper stopped on her way back to the kitchen and looked out the french doors. "Don't know. A Mexican man usually does it."

"Surely, after all these years, Wade's doing something besides cutting grass?"

"Calls hisself a landscaper and does yards all over town. Got other men working for him."

"Well, at least he's expanded since he was in high school."

Mrs. Mills shrugged and continued on her way to the kitchen.

The steady drone of the mower's engine lured Linda to step over to the window for a closer look. In the heat of early afternoon, Wade had removed his shirt, and his sweaty pecs glistened in the sunlight. As he slowly passed in front of her, he removed his billed cap and wiped his forehead with the back of his arm. His bicep flexed. Manual labor did a lot for a man's physique.

He reached the far side of the lawn and turned the steering wheel of the mower. For a moment, all she could see was his broad back and more rippling muscles. God. He'd really filled out since their summer together. Had being in the Marine Corps done that? He completed his turn and came toward her, his straight nose and strong chin outlined by the sunshine.

Not wanting him to see her, she stepped away from the window. It wouldn't do for the lawn-service guy to think B.J. Harper's daughter still had the hots for him, especially not after the way he'd dumped her. She couldn't help feeling satisfaction over the fact he'd ended up back in Harperville, still mowing lawns.

When they were dating, he'd been full of plans to leave this town and make something of himself. Apparently, Mr. Hot Shot wasn't as hot as he'd thought he was.
As Linda stared into the shady interior of the breakfast room, a flood of memories about the summer after they'd graduated from Harperville High came back to her. Then Wade had been hot enough to tempt her into dating him. Knowing her father wouldn't approve, she'd kept their meetings secret and slipped away at every opportunity to see Wade. He'd been her first love, her first lover. No passion since had burned so brightly.

But people remember the first anything as being special. What she and Wade had shared hadn't been real love. They'd just been a couple of teenagers swept away on a sea of hormones. So why did the fact he'd turned his back on her still rankle?

She moved back to the window. For a moment, the mower disappeared behind the pump house and trellis that flanked the swimming pool. When it reappeared, Linda compared the man to the boy she had known. While he'd been well built as a high school football player, the muscles that now formed his shoulders and chest were larger and harder. His back was straighter; his jaw had a more determined line.

What else had changed about him? Had failure to make it outside Harperville humbled or embittered him? Had he married? She doubted it. Meredith, the one friend she still had in town, knew about her past relationship with Wade. She would have passed on any wedding news. But why hadn't she mentioned Wade was back in town?
So many questions and only one way to get quick answers. She pulled off the scrunchie that held her hair off her neck. Watching her reflection in one of the glass panes in the door, she ran her fingers through her hair until it flipped up around her shoulders.

Her hand hesitated on the latch, and a smile tugged at her lips. She was looking forward to letting Wade know she was well on her way to achieving her goals in life. He'd walked away from her because she wasn't willing to be his sex toy. Now she was a law school graduate, and he was still cutting grass.

The green John Deere chugged past the french doors again, and she stepped out onto the stone patio bordering the back of the house. The scent of freshly cut grass enhanced her feeling of déjá vu.

* * * *

As the mower approached the pine grove that edged the yard, Wade caught sight of movement on the patio. A woman. A blonde. Linda. He'd seen a sporty little BMW in the driveway and wondered if it might be hers. Then he remembered the pine trees and snapped his attention back to the mower in time to avoid hitting one. Linda still rattled his cage.

Once he'd safely turned the mower, he checked her out as he drove toward the patio. She stood with one hand on her hip, obviously waiting to speak to him. She'd lost the coltish look of a teenager. Her honey-colored hair fell against her shoulders instead of the middle of her back as it once had. But even in shorts and a T-shirt, she still managed to look like the richest girl in town.

As he approached, she inspected him as openly as he did her. Her direct gaze, the forward thrust of her hips and her sly smile told him she was a woman on the prowl. The rich girl must be bored. He ought to snub her just for the hell of it. But he couldn't resist seeing what kind of woman she'd grown into.

He brought the mower to a stop at the edge of the terrace and cut off the engine. Tipping his billed cap, he said, "Howdy, Miss Linda. I didn't know you had returned to the old plantation."

She smirked, obviously remembering the jokes he used to make about her father's house looking like an old Southern plantation. "Just here for a little vacation after taking the bar exam," she said in a snooty voice.

"So you're a lawyer now. Congratulations."

She looked a little miffed by his good wishes. "Not quite. I have to wait for the exam results."

"I'm sure you passed."

"Really? Why?"

He was getting mixed messages. Was she coming on to him or looking for a fight? "You were the smartest one in our class."

Linda shrugged. "That's not saying much."

That was definitely meant as a cut. Wade clutched his chest as if in pain. "Ouch."

She lost a bit of her snootiness. "I - I meant Harperville High was a small-town school,not noted for its educational excellence."

He nodded. "Yeah, I always wondered why your old man didn't send you to some fancy private school."

"He suggested it, but I talked him out of it."

"Since you're so fond of Harperville, are you going to live here now that you've finished school?"

The question seemed to surprise her. "Of course not. I've accepted a position from a very prestigious firm in Raleigh. But first I'm taking a month off for a little R&R."

Was that an invitation to join her? He deliberately checked out her long legs. The thighs were fuller than he remembered, but shockingly white. She'd been in the schoolroom too long and needed to come out into the sunshine. But he'd be a damn fool to get mixed up with Linda Harper again.

The memory of that long-ago summer, when they'd been lovers, still haunted him. Could they recreate the sexual skyrockets they once had? Why not give it a shot? He was no longer a teenager with his heart on his sleeve. She couldn't hurt him now.

He gave her his warmest smile. "After all the studying you've done, you deserve a little fun. Let me get the ball rolling by taking you to dinner tonight."

She seemed stunned by the invitation. Had he mistaken her intentions or was he moving too fast? "Well…I…have plans for dinner." She glanced nervously back at the house.

Suddenly he understood and felt his smile slide into a smirk. "Oh, is Daddy still calling the shots? I thought maybe you'd grown up by now."

She frowned at him. "Since this is my first night home, my father and I are having dinner together."

Of course, Daddy always came first with her. Without altering his smirk, he nodded. "Sure, I understand." He reached for the mower's ignition.

He was going to leave. Linda felt a moment of panic. There was so much left unsaid between them. "I'll probably be free later," she added hurriedly.

His hand released the switch, and he leaned forward, bracing one arm across the mower's steering wheel. His eyelids lowered slightly as he stared at her. "Then how about drinks at my place? We can talk over old times."

Linda felt her lips twitch with indecision. Could two people who'd once had an incredibly hot sexual relationship get together in an apartment late at night and just talk? And what did she want to talk about? Would she tell him no one had ever rung her bell like he had? Finally, she asked, "Where do you live?"

He smiled. "In those brick apartments on Monroe Street, across from the fire station. My door is at the far end of the building. Very private. You can come down the driveway and park next to the red pickup. What time?"

He sounded entirely too sure of himself. "I haven't said I'd come, yet."

"You wouldn't be asking directions if you weren't considering it. I'm just trying to close the deal."

"You make it sound like a business appointment."

He shook his head. "Oh, no, I'm just offering you a little fun on your vacation."

"Linda?" The sound of her father's voice coming from inside the house made Linda blanch. Had he heard what she and Wade were talking about? What difference did it make? She was no longer a teenager who needed his approval of her dates.

B.J. Harper stepped onto the patio wearing softly tailored slacks and a subdued sport shirt, the picture of an urbane gentleman relaxing at home. His startled expression on seeing Wade told her he had not overheard them. "Oh, hello, Preston. Having to do the mowing yourself these days?"

"One of my crew's sick," Wade replied.

With a uninterested nod, her father turned back to Linda. "Can we have dinner an hour earlier tonight? A councilman is insisting on talking with me before tomorrow's meeting. I told him I could meet him at my office by nine."

Linda felt a sting of irritation. Although semi-retired, her father still could not find time just for her. Well, she didn't have to spend the evening alone. Looking over his shoulder and into Wade's eyes, she said, "That's fine with me. I'm sure you can be there by nine."

Wade's brief nod showed he'd gotten her message. "If you folks will excuse me, I have to get back to work." The mower started with a roar, stopping all conversation until it moved away.

Linda instantly regretted her decision. Wade would undoubtedly expect more than talk if she went to his apartment tonight. Did she want to risk having another fight with him, or worse yet, risk stirring the coals of their long-ago love affair?

What if they did have sex? She'd only be here for a month, and she was no longer an inexperienced girl. Surely she could have a fling with the yard man and then walk away unscathed.

Besides, she'd never forgotten those sweaty trysts they'd had in the back seat of his mother's old Chevy. The sex couldn't have been as good as she remembered. This might be the perfect opportunity to put those old memories to rest.

"A shame about Preston," her father muttered.

"What?" Linda asked.

"He was such a promising athlete when you two were in high school together, and now look at him."

Seeing the lazy smile on Wade's face as he made another pass across the lawn, Linda shrugged and said, "He seems happy with his lot in life."

She and her father went back into the house. After closing the door against the summer heat, he said, "I've got an errand to run this afternoon, but I'll be home by six."

She nodded, and after he left, she picked up the placemats still on the dining table. She carried them into the kitchen to prove to Mrs. Mills she intended to help while she was at home. "Where do you want these?"

Mrs. Mills pointed to a counter top. "Just put 'em there."

"Did Dad tell you we'd want dinner early?"


Mrs. Mills no longer worked the long hours she once had, and Linda didn't want to be a burden while here. "If you want to leave early, I'll clean up after the meal."

"Just load the dishwasher," Mrs. Mills said, without a trace of gratitude. Then she looked at Linda as she had when lecturing a teenager. "You better leave that man alone."


"I saw you out there talking to him. He's no good for you."

How dare the woman tell her what to do or who to talk to? She was an adult. She wasn't about to be lectured by the housekeeper. "For pity's sake, he's just an old friend from high school. Why shouldn't I talk to him?"

"I know something went on between you two the summer after you graduated. Your daddy woulda had a fit if he'd known."

For a moment, all Linda could do was stare openmouthed. Mrs. Mills had been a leader in the black community in Harperville until her husband had died of a sudden heart attack and left her with two teenaged children to support. She had come to work as the housekeeper at Wisteria Hill a few months before Linda's mother died and had stayed on to supervise Linda's activities during her father's many absences. But she had never been the loving mammy type. Instead, she'd nagged Linda about everything from her homework to how much makeup she wore.

Linda didn't believe Mrs. Mills had known the full extent of her involvement with Wade or she would have made trouble. No, she'd just seen two teenagers flirting and had disapproved because Mrs. Mills's status depended on the status of the Harper family, and she hadn't wanted Linda to do anything that would detract from it.

Hoping her superior height would help make her point, Linda stood very straight and looked down at the woman. "Mrs. Mills, I'm twenty-five years old. I assure you I can manage my own social relationships."

Mrs. Mills shook her head as though she pitied Linda. "Don't be so sure. People say Wade Preston's been under a lot of skirts in this town."

Oh, great. Wade had become the town Casanova, and she'd just agreed to go to his apartment tonight. Of course, she didn't have to go, but she had this nagging feeling the door between them had never closed completely. She was about to start the most important phase of her life and needed to be free of any doubts that might distract her.

Take Me As I Am - Angeleque Ford

Take Me As I Am by Angeleque Ford
February, 2008 - ISBN 978-1-59426-850-2
$3 eBook (five formats) - Buy Now!
New Phaze Author!

Chapter One

What's easier? Falling in love or falling out of it?" Black leaned forward so he would be clearly heard across the airwaves. "For me, falling in love is the easy part. And it's not necessarily the actual process of falling out of love that's hard.

"Or even ending things, which of course depends on the situation. But, being able to accept the relationship is over and moving on, that's where the pain comes in. With the realization and acceptance that the person you thought you would be spending the rest of your life with isn't who you thought they were, and won't be sharing your bed with you or holding you during those difficult, restless nights."

He paused, took a breath followed by a low chuckle, then cleared his throat.
"Sorry, folks, didn't mean to get so heavy right there, but I got lost for a moment. Since we're not here just to talk but hopefully to enlighten as well as entertain, we're going to play a few songs before we get into the calls." The radio show producer, Diannah Washburn, typed in the next song queued to play so Black could set it up. "This next piece is an old-school joint. It's become a sorta nostalgic favorite as well as one of the new oldies from my generation. Hip-hop's version of a love or break up song. This is 'Song Cry' by Jay-Z."

The song played, then another, followed by a few commercials, then the intro jingle, and Pandora Robinson's sexy voice floated out over the airwaves.
Come on. Get in. It's worth the ride. Come...In Bed with Black...You know you want to.

"Don't you absolutely love our opening?" his co-host Pandora said.

The room broke into laughter at her question. It was a running joke. Pandora got paid every time the promo played.

"So what's with the heavy topic, Black?" his other co-host, Synda, asked. "Is it still Darrius? And I hate to sound insensitive, but you have to get past this, Black."

"I ran into him today." He paused and an audible sigh could be heard over the radio waves. "I thought I had gotten over it. But when you see the person who broke your heart because he was, what...scared? Couldn't accept me? I think that's bull shish. We were in a relationship for four years, living together for the last one. Was it my gym shoes by the door, my socks on the floor? I'm not a slob." He groaned. "I didn't mean to get into this, everyone. But seeing him threw me. And I mean, I'm not trying to be a punk, but I loved him. I wanted to spend my life with him."

"Get married, have some babies," Pandora chimed in.

"Maybe. Not exactly, given I'm gay. However, I've made no secret about wanting a family, a child, a commitment. But the point is he lied. He said he loved me. But what I don't understand is how you can be in love with someone and cheat on them. In our bed. If he told me he wanted a threesome, I would have considered it."

"Whoa. Wait a minute," Pandora interrupted. "You didn't tell us that particular piece of news."

"What was the point?" He chuckled. "And we're getting off the point. It's not about me and Darrius. It's about love in general. So, ladies and gentleman, call in with your love dedications, confessions, stories. Got something to get off your chest? Call 1-Get-In-W-BLCK."

"How 'bout we spin something. This is Mariah Carey's 'Don't Forget About Us,'" Synda interjected. "Lighten up this heaviness."

"And you picked that song?" Pandora laughed. "It's the quintessential breakup song. A perfect 'you screwed up big time when you left me for her,' well, him, song."

"He did not leave me for another guy. We broke up because I couldn't trust him to be faithful and true to us or what we were building together anymore." He sighed. "And I'm getting way too personal. Just play the damn—sorry, dang song."

The song's opening melodies drifted over the airwaves. Black gave the signal for their mics to be cut while the music played to avoid another incident like last time. Pandora's microphone had been left open and some inappropriate words got out over the air, resulting in a fine and suspension for her.

"We are not turning this into Black's lovelorn and lack of a love life show."

"Of course not," Pandora agreed. "'Cause while your name may be on the show and you get top billing, we are a part of this, too. Nobody wants to hear about your romantic life or lack thereof."

"Oh, and people want to hear about your freakalicious lifestyle," Synda threw in.
"I can't help it if I like and enjoy sex. There's nothing wrong with it," Pandora informed her. "And it's not like everyone wants to be celibate like you."

"Aight, ladies, can the crap. We have a show to get through. And I don't know what's going on between you two, but let's keep it off the air, shall we?" Black advised, his tone cautious but strong. The underlying meaning behind his words came through.

The crew gave the signal, they were back on the air, and mics opened.

Heeding his words, Pandora laughed. "If y'all could only see or hear what happens during those music and commercial breaks."

"I think we're lucky they can't, 'cause you ladies are wild. And since I'm getting a signal that the phone lines are full, I say we take a call. Line Four, please."

"Hello, caller. You're In Bed with Black. Grab a pillow and get on in. Tell us, what's your fantasy?" Pandora said, keeping her voice airy and breathy.

"You really need a new line to say," Black interjected. "Go 'head, caller."

"This is Renee. Are you sure you're gay, Black?"

"Positive, sweetheart."


"Is there something I can help you with?"

"Not now." She hung up.

The control booth laughed.

"Okay. Before we go to the next caller, Diannah, ladies, save yourselves the trouble. You can't turn him," Pandora said.

"And I know he sounds all cute and cuddly right now and you want to ease his pain, but you ain't his type," Synda added.

"Um, yeah. You're missing a key piece of anatomy," Diannah answered from the booth.

"Yeah, a penis." Pandora laughed.

"Okay. Back to the callers, before I lose any more control of this show."

"Who said you were in control?" Synda quipped.

"Anyway, as I was going to say, it wouldn't hurt you to get out there and start dating again," Pandora said.

"Next caller, Diannah," Black said, ignoring them.

"Why is that so out of the realm of possibility?" Synda asked. "All you do is work, promo ops, and go home. You make excuses when we ask you out." Turning toward Pandora, she added, "I think this is a great idea."

He ran a hand over his bald head, saying nothing.

"Um, this is a radio talk show program. We need words," Pandora said.

"No. Next caller, Diannah."

"Why don't you listen to the ladies? My grandma said the only way to get over a broken heart is to start on a new one. Sure, it may just be about sex at first, but it could grow into something more."

"Thanks, caller. Next."

"Hi. My name is Ann." The caller paused. "What about a dating contest? People could write in and say why they want to go out with him."

"Hmm. Interesting," Synda said. "Keep going, caller."

"I guess it would have to be open to men only, considering his lifestyle and orientation. The potential date could fill out a profile form, submit a picture and videotaped message."

"How would we weed out the crazies?" Black asked. "What am I saying? I'm not doing this."

"That sounded like a yes." Synda laughed.


"What about a maybe?" Ann, the caller, asked. "It's not like it'll hurt. They'll weed out the crazies and you can get a committee of your most trusted friends to pick the top ten. Then let your listeners narrow it down to the top five or top three."
"He'll think about it," the program director, Ramona Tracey, interjected. "Ann, stay on the line and we can discuss this more. Since this is your idea, we'd like you in on the setup."

"Okay. Fine. It looks like I have no choice. How about we take another caller?"

"I think it should be open to women, too," the caller said.

Black laughed. "Thanks, sweetie. But I like me as I am. I'm not looking for a woman. I prefer my sex to be with a man. Next caller, Diannah."

"How about women strictly for friendship purposes? You know someone to shop with, hang with?"

"No thanks. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. It never goes well. Some don't think that I am truly gay and want to change me. Besides, I have enough women in my life as friends and matchmakers. Plus, that's a stereotype, not all homosexual men like to shop."

"Before this gets too out of hand, we're going to play some music," Pandora said.
Diannah segued into the next song rotation. And when they came back from the commercial break, Pandora's opening played again.

"We only have time to take a few more calls, so make your questions count," Black said.

They took two more callers who wanted to sign up to win a date with Jay Black. Both were informed details would be available on their Web site within the next month.

"Time for one last call," Black said. "Go ahead, caller. You have a question or comment?"

"I have an alternative to this get-a-date thing," the caller said in a rich, smooth voice. "How about a one-night stand? Jay and I meet, on me, at a specified time and place and have at it?"

"Do I know you, caller? Your voice sounds familiar." Black paused for a second. "Plus, there aren't many people who call me Jay. The majority of the show's fans call me Black."

"No. I just have one of those voices." The caller laughed, and the rough-sounding chuckle floated through the room and sounded over the airwaves. "So, what about it? I'm disease free, single, and good-looking, if I do say so myself."

"Why?" Pandora jumped in.

"'Cause my Granny said the same thing as the other caller. Sometimes the best, only way to get over a broken heart, or a bad breakup, is with a good, hot round of sweaty, jungle-gym sex."

"Why you?" Synda wanted to know.

"Because I know what's it like to have your heart broken and not be able to just get over it. I also know that Jay's ex sounds like a real prick. Plus I'm a loyal listener. And if those reasons aren't good enough," the caller said, "I've seen Jay out and about within the community, and I think he's sexy. And let's just say...let's just say my body has quite the reaction to his."

"So this is just about sex?" Pandora spoke, leaning closer to the microphone, "Interesting. Tell us about yourself."

"Hold up." Black cut in. "We are not considering this. I am not doing this. Thanks for the compliment and all. But the answer is no." He ran a hand over his head. "Everyone says that they're disease free. And even though we would use a condom, that's not the point, the answer is no." Turning to the ladies in the booth with him, he asked, "Do you realize how insane this sounds? This man, though he has a sexy phone voice, could be a psychotic killer."

"The phone lines are blazing," Diannah interjected.

"That may be so, but we go off the air in half an hour. And this is the last caller, people."

"How about we meet, then? A neutral location? And you can talk to me and get to know me, check me out?"

"Isn't that against the rules of a booty call?" Pandora asked.

"There are booty call rules?" Synda frowned. "Why would there be rules?"

Pandora sighed. "I don't have time to explain this to you." She looked at Black. "Caller. Stay on the line, we'll work something out." Motioning to Diannah, she said, "Take us out with 'My Place' by Nelly."

"Sounds like somebody has a booty call of her own." Diannah laughed.

"Man or woman?" Ramona threw out.

"First of all, that's none of your business. Second, it's not a booty call since we've already established a relationship. It's one of my spares. Mamí needs to work off some stress tonight. Third, just play the dang song, Diannah."

"I'm still trying to get over the fact that there are rules to a booty call." Synda sighed.

"That's it for another show," Black said, his voice gruff and low. "This is not how I pictured this show going. I hope you got something out of it, even if it was just a laugh or two. And if we made you laugh, it was worth it. Laughter helps us get through the rough patches. Up next we have 90.5 WKBL's fabulous, award-winning morning team, Cuppa Caffeine Crew."

Relationships, Vol. 2 by Piers Anthony

Relationships, Vol. 2 - Piers Anthony
February, 2008 - ISBN 978-1-59426-851-9
$6 eBook (five formats), $15 trade paper - Buy Now!
Author's Backlist - Piers Anthony

from "Faking It"

Joe was the last one on the elevator before it started up, and the only black man. The white folk didn't say anything, but they gave him room. That was because he was massive, muscular, and carried the faint smell of garbage. He was used to their reaction and mostly tuned it out.

At each stop, one or more people got off, until only Joe and a small pudgy white girl remained. She stood in the corner farthest from him, facing away as if shutting out awareness of her peril. He was used to that too.

There was a rumble, then a crash. The elevator's light went out as it jolted to a halt. The girl screamed. Joe hung on to the rail, his heart suddenly racing.

Then there was silence and stillness. Joe's breathing slowed as he realized that the scare was over. Except for the complete darkness. He did not like that at all.

There was a sound from the other side, as of someone trying to stifle nausea. "You okay, honey?" Joe asked. "I mean, not hurt?"

She didn't answer. He could guess why. "Honey, I'm scared too. I don't mean you no harm. I just want to get out of here. I get uptight in closed places. Feeling like I can't breathe. There's a word for it."

Then she spoke. "Claustrophobia."

"Yeah, that's it. I like the wide open spaces. I'll be glad when they get the power back on."

There was silence. She was still afraid of him.

He talked because he had to or go crazy. "Honey, I don't like being stuck in here any better'n you do. You don't have to be scared of me. I'm just a city dump worker on his way to get a local driver's license. 'Cause I'm from out of state, and there's only so long they'll let me drive here on my old card. I'm not a—" But that was a wrong direction, because he didn't want to even hint that he might hurt her.

"I'm not afraid of you," she said. "I'm terrified we're going to die."

"Don't say that! It's just a glitch. The power'll come back on soon and we'll be okay."

"It's a tremor. It may be bad."

"A what?" At least she was talking now.

"A tremor. Part of an earthquake. We get them here on occasion. It could be hours or days before the power returns, depending on how close we are to the epicenter."

"Hours or days!" he repeated, appalled.

There was a pause. Then he heard more stiflings. She was crying.

"Honey, don't get me wrong. I'm scared too, like I said. But if you need someone to, well, hold you—" He broke off again. This wasn't a black girl. "I'm sorry. I shouldn'ta said that. I'm just going to sit right here in my corner." He eased himself to the floor, as standing seemed pointless.

"I do need that," she said, surprisingly. "May I come to you?"

"Sure," he said, amazed.

He heard her moving toward him, guiding herself by the railing. When her foot touched his extended leg, she got down, sat beside him, and felt for his arm. He remained still, knowing that she would fear being grabbed. He smelled her faint perfume, a nice contrast to the odor that clung to him despite his best efforts.

"May I?" she asked.

"Sure." He wasn't certain what she had in mind. He just didn't want to frighten her into flight. Things were bad enough without her freaking out.

She leaned into him. "Put your arm around me, please."

He did so, slowly, carefully. In a moment she was half-lying against his chest, her hair touching his neck and chin. He was conscious of the fullness of her blouse against his side. She might be pudgy, but she had a body where it counted. He tried to stifle the ideas it gave him. She was a white girl.

Then she was quietly sobbing into his collar. He felt her shoulders shuddering, and the warmth of her tears soaking his shirt. "It's okay, honey," he said. "They'll fix it soon." He hoped.

After a time her emotion abated. "Thank you," she said, not moving. "I needed that comforting."

"Any time, honey." Actually, reassuring her helped him handle his claustrophobia.
"I'm going for my driving license, too. My first. I have to take the eye test, and the written exam. I know the material completely, and my vision is good, but I'm still nervous about failing. I get—" She shrugged against him.

"Uptight," he said. "I know how it is. You know it cold, then you go blank and fuck it up." Oops. "I mean—"

She laughed, slightly. "I know the word. My brother's in the army. He told me about SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fucked Up."

Now, he laughed. "That's it, all right."

"Are we going to die?"

He had been trying to avoid that notion. "Naw. They'll get the power back, and we'll head up for our tests, just like nothing happened."

"Sometimes it takes weeks to find isolated people trapped in the rubble. What will we eat? How will we eliminate?"

She was getting morbid. He didn't know enough about white girls to be sure of her mood. "Piss in a corner if we have to. I'm used to the smell. I promise not to look."
She laughed more fully. "What would you see, in the darkness?"

"I just mean it's, well, black men are supposed to have a thing about white gals, so you don't want me looking, even if I can't see anything."

"Is it true?"

"Sure, my word is good. I don't got much, but I got that. I wouldn't look."

"I mean about black men liking white girls."

"You yanking my chain, girl?"

"I just want to know."

"How old are you?"

"Free, white, and eighteen. I'll be going to college soon, if I can ever decide on a major. Nothing appeals."

So he couldn't get in trouble for corrupting a minor. "Sure, I guess. It's a cultural thing. A status symbol. A white gal is the ultimate prize. Especially a blonde."

"Is it true for you specifically?"

He hesitated. "I don't want to answer that."

"We're going to die anyway. Can't there be truth between us?"