Saturday, February 7, 2009

Crossing the Railroad by Marie Rochelle

The woman stood silently in the shadows as she watched the two people inside the bedroom. She couldn’t believe after she had practically threatened him to stay away from that slut, he hadn’t listened to her. Why did he want to embarrass her? She had spent most of her life in love with Bill Richardson. Hell, she had even tricked him into marrying her right after they finished college. When she first laid eyes on him, she couldn’t imagine a time that he wouldn’t be in her life.

She had stuck with him all through those long, drawn out law school classes and gave up her dream of being an English teacher just to help him study for his dream. Bill actually thought back then she had been doing it for him, but he was wrong. She had set her sights on him the day he gave the speech to the entire student body the second week of school.

Anna Richardson’s gray eyes hardened into cold steel as she listened to her husband’s rich baritone voice whisper repeatedly how much he loved the mocha-skinned beauty he was having sex with in their bed.

How could he possibly want Danielle Simmons when he was married to her? Sure, she only stayed with him for the past fifteen years because he was one of the most sought after attorneys in Georgia. She had gotten tired of his hands being on her body years ago, but how dare he disgrace her with their housekeeper?

Sure, back in college, she noticed the black women Bill dated when she was setting her sights on him, yet she didn’t think much of it. Didn’t everyone break out and do different things when they left home? Drink a little more? Experiment with lifestyles they didn’t do before while under their parent’s roof? However, after a person graduated, all of that stuff fell into the background as their adulthood approached.

She continued to hide in the dark hallway while her husband made love to Danielle. She hated Danielle the second she laid eyes on her. There was just something so sweet and alluring about the younger woman. Why hadn’t she stood her ground and fired the housekeeper? She wondered how long this had been going on. Hell, she didn’t want Bill anyone. Honestly, even before Danielle entered the picture, her husband had been asking for a divorce, but she wasn’t going to let him leave her. She wasted the best years of her life for him, and he owed her big time. If she was miserable in their marriage, then she was going to make damn sure he was, too. No, there wasn’t going to be an out for her dear old husband.

However, the more she thought about it, the writing was on the wall about her husband’s feelings for Danielle. Bill had always found ways to be around Danielle since the first day she started working for them. When she confronted her husband late last year about his eagerness to help their attractive housekeeper, Bill just blew her off. But she wasn’t crazy. Her husband was in love with that woman he was now in their bed with. Without a doubt, she knew it was the truth, because Bill never sounded like that on the rare occasions they had sex.

She wanted to be more upset about Bill cheating on her. She wanted to feel the need to run in there and jerk his perfectly tanned body off Danielle’s. Truthfully, she didn’t give a damn. All she wanted from her husband was the life he accustomed her to.

“I’m not going to let that tramp take away my wealth. It took me years to get here, and I’ll do anything to make sure that it doesn’t happen,” she promised. Anna took one last look at the couple in bed and made her way down the stairs and out the front door.

Twice as Strong by Kally Jo Surbeck

This was the seventh session, but it didn’t seem any more important than the first. There had been no progress, and now, just as during the first meeting ten weeks ago, Francis Lynn Clemment still had not responded to the counselor beyond simple hellos and goodbyes. She refused to answer questions, to disclose anything. To her, this was a waste of time and money.

Her husband, however, sat next to her on the overstuffed tan leather couch, his big hands folded uncomfortably in his lap, staring earnestly at the young psychiatrist.

This fool idea was his. Every Tuesday and Friday they came to the small, three-story office building. They rode the elevator in silence, both in opposite corners, like fighters waiting for the bell. They walked through the institutional gray halls without touching, then came into this expensively decorated office, all at his prompting. If given the choice, Frankie would have let him go it alone. Maybe it would help him. Maybe he did need to “talk it out.”

She didn’t.

She could just as easily have stayed home, but somehow her beguiling husband had managed to convince everyone this was best., from her general practitioner to her mother. What was wrong with her that she would not try to salvage their marriage? Did she want their marriage to end? Frankie scratched her forehead. The only suitable response to that question was cooperation. So, here they sat, each as distant and alone as before the first session.

No. Frankie modified her thoughts. She was alone. Her husband, Tanner, sat spilling every last sordid detail of their married life to the pretty doctor woman., iFrankie watched his perfect lips move in a steady stream of description. She recognized her name. Frankie. He’d called her that since they first met, never caring for Francis. He’d said it didn’t suit her. That Frankie sounded more fun, youthful, adventurous. That’s how he saw her. He frowned at something. She didn’t know if it was inner conflict, or if the doctor had responded to his tale of woe.

At one time, she loved to watch his facial expressions. To guess what he was thinking by the light in his eyes. Yet, somehow, the light had seemed to fade. The spark of desire still smoldered in their depths, but his happiness, his zest, his hope seemed gone.

For a brief instant, she wanted to reach out to him and smooth the pained lines of his face. She yearned to make the deepening frown scoring the edge of his mouth disappear; but as quickly as the compulsion came, it left her again.

In the years they’d known and loved each other, she’d felt his lips in the dark, memorized the weathered planes of his handsome face. Intimately, she knew the mole behind his left ear right at the hairline, the scar in his right brow. Those little details, seared in her memory, had once been a source of so much joy. Now, they stood out to her as distractions.

Perhaps the accident had taken more from her than anyone knew. It had stolen her youth and that adventurous wife he knew. It had robbed her of music, the beat of her soul. Had it taken her heart as well?

The Wrong Valentine by Dana Littlejohn

“So, do you have any special plans for tonight, Shante?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” she answered excitedly, packing her briefcase. “I’m going to go home and cook a very romantic dinner. Some shrimp scampi with a little bow tie pasta and chicken, and then some chocolate covered strawberries for dessert.”

“Mmm.” A small smile teased Mark’s lips as his eyes closed.

“Then I’m going to take a nice hot shower and buff-puff my body until it is soft and supple before I cover it from head to toe in creamy vanilla lotion.” She heard Mark make a soft pleasurable sound from deep within his throat and giggled before continuing. “After that I’m going to slip into something new and very sexy, open a bottle of wine, and have that wonderful dinner by the fire…alone.”

Mark hung on every word she said as she painted a picture in his mind. When she emphasized the last word, his face dropped and his eyes sprang open. “Huh? I’m sorry, did you say alone?”

“Yes, Mark, alone,” she said with a small chuckle as she slung her bag over her shoulder.

“I don’t understand, Shante. A woman as beautiful and smart as you are should not be alone at all, but especially not on Valentine’s Day. What’s up with that?” he asked, following her out of the office.

“I’m alone by choice. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. I have friends, family, and a great career. My life is full.”

Mark nodded but didn’t comment. He held the door open for her and they walked into the blistering wind that was sweeping through Manhattan off the Hudson River. Shante held out one hand to flag down cab when Mark reached out for her other.

“Shante, is there something wrong with me?”

She turned a confused look on him. “What? No, what makes you ask me that?”

“Well, I have asked you out on several occasions and you turned me down each time. I get the impression you are not against having a relationship. You’re just not in one at the moment. So I have to ask, is it that you’re not comfortable starting a relationship with someone you work with? Or is it just me?”

Shante pulled her collar up and adjusted her scarf higher on her neck. “Mark, it has nothing to do with you, really. It’s just that I am new to this company and this city, and you’re right, I don’t think it is a good idea to get involved with someone I work with.”

Mark sighed and gave her a half smile. “Okay, well, I appreciate your honesty and will respect your decision but if you change your mind…” He added a wink and left his sentence unfinished.

Shante laughed and hugged him. “I hope we can still be friends.”

“Absolutely, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” A cab came to a stop in front of them. “Here is your cab. You enjoy your evening and I will see you on Monday,” he said and swung the door open.

“Thanks, Mark.”

She slipped into the back of the cab and gave the driver directions to her apartment building. With a quick look out the back window as the cab pulled away, she saw Mark walking away dejectedly and a pang of guilt rang through her. She rested her head back and sighed. She hadn’t been completely honest with Mark; she didn’t know him well enough to give him full disclosure. New York City was to be a new beginning for her. With an advance from her new company, she had come to town with a list of five apartments they recommended and one month to get it together before she started her new job. Her hometown of Philadelphia was a great place to live, but New York City was an incredible city. It was the perfect place to advance her career and get over a relationship.

Yes, she was new to the city, but not that new. It had been over a year since her arrival to The Big Apple. She’d done well at her job, made a few good friends, seen wonderful plays and musicals with and without her new friends and had dinner at some of the best restaurants. But it wasn’t until the holidays came around that she felt the tug of loneliness.

Here it was Valentine’s Day and she was getting geared up for a date with herself with less enthusiasm than she shared with Mark. But she would rather be alone than in another relationship to nowhere. Mark was a really nice guy, that part she truly meant. She didn’t believe it was a good idea to date someone at work. Rule number one for her was always keep work and home separate.

Having someone in her life would be nice for sure, but if there was no one in her life to treat her special, then by god she would do it herself.

Papa Knows Best by Jaxx Steele

The waitress returned with Ben’s lunch and they ate quietly. Papa continued to look over at Professor Louis to keep up with his progress. When Papa finished the half burger and the few cold fries that were left on his plate, he wiped his mouth and stood up abruptly.

“Where are you going?” Ben asked with his mouth full.

He picked up his camera. “I’m going to ask permission to use the pictures I took of Professor Louis, like you said. He’s almost done and I have a class in half an hour. So it’s now or never, right?”

Papa walked away before Ben could swallow and talk him out of the move he now deemed stupid as he stood in front of the man trying to find his voice.

Professor Louis looked up at Papa over his glasses. Papa continued to stand there mute for several long seconds until Professor Louis leaned back in his chair, wiped his mouth, and held out his hands gesturing toward him.

“Well, are you just going to stand there watching me eat or did you actually have a reason for coming over here?”

Papa’s lips moved, but no words came out, then suddenly the audio connection to his brain returned and blurted out, “My pictures!”

Professor Louis raised an eyebrow. “Eh? How’s that again?”

Papa cleared his throat and tried again. “Mind if I sit?” he asked as he pulled out the chair and sat down.

A smirk showed on Professor Louis’ lips and his eyes glistened with amusement. “Obviously not. What can I do for you? Are you a student?”

“What? No, no, I’m not a student. I’m a teacher.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, my name is Dominick Pappas. I teach photography here,” he said and held out his hand. ”I came from another school and—”

Professor Louis shook his hand and leaned on the table, cutting him off. “Yes, yes, that’s quite the tale. What does all that have to do with me?”

“Oh, yes, well, as a photographer I take lots of pictures, you know.”

“Really?” Professor Louis said with false astonishment, muffling a laugh. “One would never have guessed.”

Papa paused, staring at the professor for a moment, then sent a look to his friend, who was peeking at them from behind the menu Papa had earlier. He took a breath before addressing the professor again.

“Yes, well, I did have a reason for coming over here. I took a few pictures of you and I wanted—“

Professor Louis’ face no longer appeared amused. He straightened up in his chair and held Papa in place with a stern look. “You did what? When?” he asked crisply.

“I, uh, well, while you were eating,” Papa answered in almost a whisper.

Professor Louis pressed his lips into a thin line and then pushed his chair back abruptly. “You did what?” His voice still held its crispness. “You had no permission to do so. I don’t know you and I don’t like my picture taken. That’s three reasons for not doing what you did. You will erase those pictures from your camera immediately, and I don’t want to see them anywhere. Is that understood?” He snatched his jacket off the chair and his ticket from the table. “Good day to you, photography teacher,” he said ending their conversation, and walked away.

Papa watched him as he paid for his meal at the register and left the restaurant without making even the smallest backward glance. He left the chair and returned to the table with Ben.

“Well, that went well.”

Sapphistocated - Four Tales of Mirror Geography

from Double Decker by Alessia Brio

I got to the Double Decker a few minutes after nine and added my name to the sign-in sheet at the front door. Yeah, I was early. Anxiety had that effect on me. I’ve been told I look totally calm and collected before a show, but on the inside, I’m a nervous wreck. I knew I was good, but that did nothing to assuage the stage fright. It would vanish with the first few notes, but until then I had to endure it.

The first round didn’t start ‘til ten. The thirty slots would fill up fast, I figured, given the juicy prize. The main entrance led to a bar—pool tables, C&W jukebox, pinball machines. Next to the phrase ‘gay honky tonk’ in the dictionary there should be a picture of the Double Decker’s first floor. The only thing missing was the layer of smoke that used to hover just outside the reach of the lazily-spinning ceiling fans. City ordinance took care of that about five years ago, which was just fine with me.

Rough-looking women in baggy cargo pants and steel-toed Doc Martens, none with hair longer than two inches, pretended to ignore the baby dykes at the bar. If I had a dollar for every Shane wannabe in the room, I could forego the contest and just buy the spa weekend outright. I once heard a famous author speak at a conference, and something he said stuck with me: Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. That summed up my feelings about the copycats emulating a fictional television character who physically resembled a fifteen-year-old boy. It was undoubtedly her confident, unapologetic sexuality they hoped to capture, but most needed to lay off the cheese fries to achieve anything close to that strong, sinewy look. In my not so humble opinion, muffin tops and wife beaters were just not an effective combination.

As expected, I saw at least one gaggle of local girls who’d summoned enough courage to show up in the hopes of exploring their sexuality. High femme types, mostly. I steered way clear of that scene. It seems that every “straight” chick I’d ever fooled around with fell head over heels in love with me, and it took me far more time and trouble to get rid of her angst-ridden ass than the ass was worth in the first place. Pass! There’s nothing like a woman scorned to make me wish I liked men.

Now, I’m not one of those dykes who won’t touch a woman who’s touched a dick, but there’s quite enough drama in lesbian circles without bringing Buffy and her angry ex-boyfriend—the one with the Chevy Silverado sporting a Confederate flag and a loaded gun rack—into the mix. The last time I dabbled in that kind of pussy, I wound up having to send a linebacker to the E.R. with a busted tibia. Those steel-toed boots do come in handy on occasion.

A contingent of gay men occupied one corner, having discovered the Double Decker a good place to hide from the fruit flies who hung around just to prove they weren’t homophobic. They waggled their fingers at me, and I waggled back. No pretentiousness there. As a whole, I admired their moxie. It takes big cojones to be yourself when your self is living in a rural Appalachian college town.

“Hey, Corey,” I yelled at the manager over the twangy strains of Alan Jackson’s Chattahoochee. “Can I change in your office later?” I held up the garment bag and winked. He responded with a nod and a thumbs-up, tossing me the keys. Corey and I went way back: high school classmates who never really fit in any niche. We hung out together by process of elimination. No one else wanted us around. Misfits, Unincorporated.

Well, the years changed our welcome in various circles, but not our connection. I could go months without hearing from him, then we’d hook up for a beer and it’d be like old times. He was the one who let me know about karaoke night. I hadn’t participated in a while, because I was ineligible for a full twelve months after my last win.

At the bottom of the narrow stairs, the atmosphere changed along with the d├ęcor. Blood velvet tapestries hung from the walls, which were lined with cozy, high-backed booths—perfect for snuggling or a discreet public finger fucking. Not that I’d know, of course. I had to fiddle with the key a bit to get it into the old deadbolt, but once I’d managed to unlock it, I hung my outfit on the coat hook on the back of Corey’s office door, ran the keys back upstairs to him, then went to check out the stage and setup.

Two men I didn’t recognize were testing the sound system. They must’ve been new to the touring company, ‘cause I’d never seen them before. It felt weird to be downstairs with the lights on and the music off. I was used to it being noisy and dark and sexy, not bright and sterile and kinda naked. Accustomed to the soft, filtered light of the red sconces, I felt like I’d seen the Wizard behind the curtain.

“You singin’ tonight, babe?” The older guy motioned to me. Babe? Only on an S.O.L. day do I get called ‘Babe.’ “We need a sound check, if you don’t mind. I know you’ll sound better than Jeff over there.” The other man—Jeff, I assumed—barked a laugh as he taped a bundle of thick cables to the floor along the perimeter of the room. Looking around, I decided it was to my advantage to help them out. I’d get to warm up my vocal chords while getting a feel for the acoustics.

“Gimme This Kiss,” I said as I took the stage. Faith Hill was way out of my comfort range, but I figured she’d let me know my limits for the evening.

Since no one but the sound crew was downstairs, I saw no reason to hold back. It wasn’t as if I was gonna give away any big secrets, after all. And, if someone did happen to overhear, they’d hardly think me serious competition. The guys completed all their checks before I even hit the second verse and graciously allowed me to finish the entire song—a good sign.

“You don’t happen to have any Lucie Silvas, do you?” I asked as I stepped off the small stage. I thought it unlikely that they’d have a British artist who was virtually unknown in the States, but Jeff surprised me. Another good sign. “I’m gonna take her for my opening, then.”

“Nice pipes. G’luck.” Jeff’s colleague stuck out his calloused hand. Ask I took it, he continued, “Name’s Roy. I’d bet my next paycheck you’re Tess.”

My stunned expression drew a wide grin, and something about his smile was incredibly familiar. I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could formulate a coherent reply, he pointed to the flyer tacked to the wall of the stairwell. There, amidst a collage of posters advertising roommates wanted and second-hand furniture was my smiling mug ‘neath the words ‘Returning This Friday!’ Apparently, my karaoke reputation preceded me. I grinned and shrugged.

“Nice to meet you, Roy. You two new with the tour?”

“Found out at the last minute that the new tech’s afraid gay is contagious or something, so we’re just filling in as a favor for the boss lady. She said you were good, and she was right. She usually is.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that!” Jeff called from across the room.

Score one for the acoustics, I thought. Our words shouldn’t have carried that far. Something to keep in mind. I was flattered that the woman behind the tour thought enough of my talents to tell others about me. When Roy burst into laughter, the source of familiarity became instantly clear. “You’re related,” I blurted, more to myself than to him.

He confirmed with a nod. “My sister. She’s not here yet, so no worries.” Roy directed the latter toward his partner.

“She got the looks and the brains,” Jeff joked as he joined them. “Roy here just got the brawn, and now even that’s going to pot.” He threw one arm across Roy’s shoulders and with his other hand, lovingly patted the substantial abdomen. With a wink, he added, “He’s all man where it counts, though.”

I watched the blush rapidly climb Roy’s neck and settle on his cheeks, thinking them a delightful couple. I wondered how they met, when and where such a relationship blossomed, and suffered a momentary pang at the absence of such in my life. Tonight would change all that, I promised myself. Someday, we’d tell our kids—and grandkids—about karaoke night at the Double Decker.