I Am Archibald, Scribe of S-tan: Chapter 3

By Lionel Roy

For: Bangari Fiction: I Am Archibald, Scribe of S-tan

Chapter 3

A Date with Destiny

It was 7:00 PM. He knew this for sure. He had been keeping track of the time since 4:00 PM, obsessively checking it every two minutes or so. The chronic, human preoccupation with time does nothing but annoy me. They count it down and tally it up, ‘x’-ing out days on their calendars. Incarcerated, they flatten it, taking pride in their tenure of bondage. Condemned, they put their backs against it, plant their feet, and sweat blood in the futile attempt to stop it. Young, they impatiently ascend it, like climbing the stairs of an up-escalator. Aged, they dream of reversing it, crystallizing living memories into a very useless object, like a worn out old VHS tape that does nothing to bring them back to relive a past event, but instead prematurely propels them forward into senility and insanity. They mark all the days of their temporal lives with it, blotting out the beauty of living moments with it, like nasty graffiti, scribbled with a Sharpie, on an exquisite mural. I find it so aggravating mostly because their incessant time reckoning prevents them from understanding the infinite timelessness in which we immortal beings abide –so they do not envy us like they should.

His first date in twelve years was about to go down in less than an hour. He felt like a forty year old virgin. This might be a lot easier for him if she wasn’t his dream girl! He seldom had erotic dreams during his marriage, at least until Wifey II began to hate him, and avoid him. He remembered a guilty dream with a sexy black girl, and after telling Wifey II about it, they would joke with each other about his ‘jungle fever’ condition. Over coffee Jeremy and Sheila talked about nothing more than church stuff and current events. He tried to work in a few jokes his dad told him, especially after the first one brought a belly laugh out of her that was music to his ears. Wifey II was the most dry, stoic woman he had ever known. She was as serious as colon cancer and twice as painful. At first he thought the mistreatment that life had dealt her had just driven her into a melancholy state. The girl had it tough. I’m talking about abject poverty and an unhealthy dose of parental neglect and spousal abuse thrown in for good measure. She was married once before Jem, and they were both coming out of a divorce when they got involved. He believed that a lot of love, respect, gentle kindness, and a little laugh-out-loud humor would bring her out of her sadness.

The biggest turn on about Sheila wasn’t just those exotic looks, and her happy-go-lucky personality. It wasn’t even that she had a way of carrying herself that would cause everyone in the room to look at her, while without looking back at them, she let them know telepathically, Yeah, go on, that’s it, keep wanting that which you will never have. No, that was just the second biggest turn on. What did it for Jeremy was that she made him believe, beyond believing, in just that one, short initial meeting, that if there was such a thing as an honest woman – she was one. Wifey I was a liar and a cheat. Wifey II was a liar, a cheat, a thief and a cold-blooded murderer. He wondered, did I deserve an honest woman? A sane woman? A true love? Was God gracious despite everything? Well, he was definitely about to find out…

For Sheila as well, time moved slowly…way too slowly. She was never one to spend hours and hours getting ready. Unfortunately, their date fell on her day off from work so she had ample time to work over every last delicate, frazzled nerve, as she chose her outfit – carefully. Nothing too revealing, nothing too conservative, nothing too tight, nothing too baggy –so she went for a jade green thin strap top which showed off her shoulders and that sexy decolletage with a knee length floaty skirt and kitten heels. Her hair was flowing over her shoulders, having been freed from the bondage of the elastic band that tied it back in church. As she applied the last of her makeup, she thought back to that fateful day when her dreams of marital bliss were shattered…

*******

She had so much to do this day – the cake to look at, a dress fitting, and a wedding menu tasting all in the one day. The wedding was in just over two months’ time, in May, and there was still so much to do. Their engagement had caught everyone by surprise, especially Sheila. She and Richard had been together for just under a year and things were moving along at a good pace. She certainly wasn’t expecting the proposal which came after a romantic picnic in the park on one sunny Saturday afternoon. Her mum was ecstatic, because she had secretly lost hope that her daughter would ever find someone to marry. Sheila’s mother was aware of her attraction to white guys and hardly approved, sometimes accusing her of being prejudiced against her own race. Never the less, the woman could not be water-boarded into confessing that she was thrilled that she was about to have a black son-in-law. Her color-blind daughter was over the moon just because she was soon going to begin to spend the rest of her life with the love of her life…

The food was delicious, the cake looked amazing and the dress fitted like a dream. Now she was in her flat, in the heart of Newcastle, Great Britain, with an old, sappy tear-jerking American movie, ‘Love Story’ and Ben and Jerry’s; Cookie Dough, her favourite. As she settled down in her silk pajamas, the doorbell rang. She started, dropping her ice-cream laden spoon.

“Coming!” she shouted, throwing her dressing gown on. She looked through the spyhole and saw Richard there. He looked a little tired, apprehensive even. She reasoned that it was probably due to all the wedding planning stress and pre-wedding-vow nerves. She opened the door and smiled. He didn’t smile back. She knew -that was bad.
“Hey you. Come in. You look like crap. You OK?” He stepped in a little reluctantly. Something was wrong. Very wrong, she thought. He picked and brushed at imaginary fluff on his well cut suit, finding it difficult to look at her. “So what brings you here at this time?” She asked.

“Um, you…us.” He answered quietly.
“Is something the matter?”
He looked at the floor then cleared his throat. “I want to call off the wedding.”
She stared at him disbelievingly. “What?” She asked barely audibly.
“I don’t want to go through with it.” He said, quietly but firmly.
“Why? Is it something I said? Something I did?”
He shook his head as if swatting away a verbal assault. “No.”
“We don’t have to get married, we could just continue dating until you are comfortable” She offered, scrambling for some sort of lifeline from him.
“It’s not just the wedding, I want out of this relationship.”
She was stunned into silence. She looked at him, willing him to laugh and tell her it was all some sort of twisted joke. But he wasn’t joking, not by a long shot.
“Have you told your people?” She asked.
“I’m going to tell them after I leave here” he said backing out the door.
“Why…Richard?”
He paused, weighing up his answer. “I’m not in love with you any more. I mean, I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
“Since when?”
“Does it matter?” he asked petulantly.
She stifled angry tears. “It does…to me”
He let out a heavy sigh, “Since the end of March”
She looked at him closely. “What’s her name and where did you meet her?”
He snapped out of his reverie “It’s not like that.”
“Then tell me how it is because, tomorrow, I have to tell my family that you are not going to marry me and I need something better than ‘I’m not in love with you any more’”
“Well you’re going to have to figure it out because I don’t have to explain myself to you anymore” and with that he spun on his heel and stalked out of the house. She looked out of the window into the waiting and glimpsed a slender female figure quickly get out of the driver’s side and into the passenger’s side. She closed the curtain and slid slowly down the wall; grief, anger, hurt, frustration causing her body to convulse in painful spasms. The dream was over…and it was never coming back. Sheila wept.

*******

Her phone bleeped and brought her back from her daydream, well, twilight-dream, as it was about seven in the evening. It was a message from her friend Keera ‘Keekee,’ sending her love. She wondered if this was a sign, she thought, well, god had already sent me a sign. I went looking for forgiveness, redemption, cleansing and some sort of release and he had dropped Jem, she liked to call him ‘Jem’ because she thought he was a jewel from heaven…figuring, I must like him, he’s already got a nickname… right into my lap, maybe not literally, but almost. She found him handsome, thought he was a gentleman and that he had kind eyes. She had a feeling he was a man of hidden depths and a past…But admitted to herself, don’t we all have one of those?

She couldn’t wait to see him. Her heart gave a little skip as She made her way out the door into a waiting cab. The driver looked her up and down, though, she suspected, he was attempting a nobel effort, not to.
“Where to ma’am?” he asked.
“Pride and Glory” she replied, trying to keep the excited but nervous waver in her voice under control. The driver sped off, taking her towards more than a bar, but towards destiny it seemed…

“Ahh, shit!” Jeremy said out loud as he pulled into the empty parking lot. “It’s closed. Great!” He had only been here once before on Saturday night when he first got to Kissimmee, had only one beer, and left without even talking to anyone. He guessed that Cracker bars are closed on Mondays in Florida. Just then, a gangly sunburned guy in faded cut off Levi’s, a wife-beater and flip flops staggered out of the door while lighting an extra long cigarette. Good he thought, it is open. But the victory dance in his head was cut short and replaced with the question: What kind of place was this for a first date with a nice girl?

Now his thoughts jumped from one little anxiety to another. Either I got here first, or she came and left. She probably isn’t coming. It’s good that I got here first. I’m glad it’s kind of empty. Hope none of these Crackers start anything. First racial remark is getting answered with a punch in the mouth. There’s bound to be funny looks. I can let those slide. Not a remark though. Nah, even the racists appreciate a hottie like Sheila, they’ll be wantin’ to high-five me. These rambling thoughts in his head were overtaken by the southern drawl of a bigot he was on board ship with in his Navy days: “They awwll pink on da inside. Just leave ‘em on the other side of the tracks when you done, you don’t wanna be takin’ one-a-um home to Mamma!” Disgusting, he thought “Okay, enough Jeremy, get with it” he chastised himself as he walked in the door.

He ordered a bottle of Sam Adams, pulled four bucks out of his pocket and laid it on the bar. He looked to his left for a table to start his anxious wait while the bartender popped the cap and poured the beer. He looked over his right shoulder and -Bam! There she was. He did a double take, as he immediately thought, Ooops, that must have looked stupid, like I just saw a ghost. He wondered how she got here. She must have been dropped off he reasoned. She wasn’t smiling, really, but what a pleasant look she had on her face just the same. Her chin was down and she was looking up at him as if over the top of some imaginary glasses on the end of her nose. He took a few steps toward her when he realized that he wasn’t smiling either. One more step and now the pleasant look vanished from her face, and without the movement of a single eyebrow indicating the slightest change of expression, she now looked just plain…sultry.

Yo, Jeremy…You’re still not smiling, he thought to himself. This was inappropriate. He quickly forced a smile, the first phoney one he had given her yet, but, with a good excuse — from the nose up he was in awe and his jaw muscles wanted to just completely let go and leave his chin to hang like a stroke victim’s. He was stunned. She was stunning. Her hair, out of a ponytail this time, framed a face that was even prettier than he remembered it being yesterday.

“Hi…” he said, dragging out the ‘ayee’ as he thought pretty, pretty, pretty, like his brain was a skipping CD that couldn’t get to ‘Sheila.’ Oh no! Did I forget her name? Pretty, his brain hiccoughed one last time and then finally, “Sheila” came out without a noticeable (to her) hesitation. Now his smile turned real with the relief that came when his grey matter abruptly ended its seizure, as she stood to greet him.

“Hi Jem” she said, now giving him a bright smile. Did she just call me Jem? He asked himself as he took her left hand in his left and reached for her right, just as she lifted it from the table. I’ve been called ‘Jay’ a lot, but never ‘Jem.’ He liked it. He leaned in to steal a friendly kiss. He thought she would read his body language correctly and know that he wasn’t going for an all out lip lock. That would be out of place at the beginning of a first date. She did, and puckered her full shiny lips and met his for an electrifying nanosecond, then, right back to mutual smiles.
“I left my beer at the bar, what are ya having?” He said catching his breath.
“I’ll have a beer as well”
“Okay, be right back. Sam Okay?”
“If they don’t have Newcastle.”

He turned to get the beers and touched the tip of his tongue to his upper lip, tasting her lip gloss. Watermelon. Figures. He chuckled to himself as he wondered how long it would be before they were comfortable enough with the interracial thing to crack jokes about it…His father stocked his repertoire with a plethora of shock-jock style humor that ruthlessly spared not a single race, creed or sexual orientation. This off-color humor turned off many of his friends and acquaintances, even after they came to the realization that Jem didn’t have a bigoted bone in his body. Dichotomy of character, even in the name of comedy, is lost on some folks.

Realizing that he had nothing rehearsed, he was totally unprepared for the conversation that was about to unfold. Normally that’s how he rolled, but he’s never gone into it like this before. He was wicked nervous. Help me lord, he prayed as he walked back to their table.
“Thanks” she said as he put her beer in front of her.
“You’re welcome” he replied before letting out a sigh as he sat down. He looked into her eyes as she brought up her glass, sipped, and set it down again. “Listen Sheila, I gotta admit, I’m a nervous wreck. I’m not gonna fake it. I enjoyed being with you so much after church yesterday, and I was so comfortable. But this is a date. A date that I really, really want to go well, and I’m afraid I’m gonna crash and burn.”

She looked down into her beer revealing the hint of pale green eye shadow she was wearing to match her top. She was thinking…
“How ’bout this…?” she pre-proposed, looking up and raising her eyebrows like she was about to make an offer he couldn’t refuse. “Let’s not say a word until these first beers are done, and see if we can both just be comfortable in the silence, starting…Now.” She said it like little kids do when they play an on-your-mark-get-set-go kind of game. Beautiful, and a genius he thought as they sat quietly. After that line, he instantly relaxed. They continued looking at each other, taking casual, comfortable breaks to glance around the room, or look into their beer glasses, as they finished their drinks. These next ten minutes of silence, soaking in her charismatic aura, lulled Jem right into his comfort zone.

Sheila set down her empty glass, sucked her upper lip, and then broke the silence. “That worked for me. I confess, I was nervous too.”
“I feel better too. You’re brilliant!” Jem said excitedly. “You know, when we talked yesterday, I thought it was so classy how you kept the conversation so light and shallow – shallow in a good way I mean. You didn’t even ask me what line of work I was in, which I would have taken as a sign that I might have a gold digger on the line!”
“Well that’s how I think it should be at a first ‘meeting’. But now, now this is a first ‘date.’”

“I know. So now we delve a little deeper, right?”

“Right! She confirmed, and instantly dove in — “So what do you do for a living, and how much money do you make doing it?” She broke the rules of stand-up comedy by laughing out loud at her own joke; this feigned directness in the face of his concerns that she might be after his money, which made her think that he probably had some. That laugh of hers kept pegging out his love-this-company meter, as he joined in the chorus with his own weird laugh, right behind hers, like a round. He was hoping to hear it all night…preferably longer. Before he could answer this serious question asked in jest, she asked a less direct question. “Why did you ask me how to say ‘peace be with you’ in French, before mass yesterday?”

“Because at first I thought that you were Haitian. After we talked a while over coffee, I knew I had it wrong. You sound like you have a British accent. How do you know French?” He asked her expecting to get some interesting info regarding her family heritage, a subject many people find to be like: let me show you my stamp collection. But not him. Jem was into genealogy –had been for years. He traced his ancestry back to the Pilgrims. Fun hobby, he thought.

“I’m what is called ‘Black British.’ My father is originally from Nigeria, and my mother is from Cameroon, a French speaking country on Nigeria’s eastern border. I was born in England. My Dad was a doctor who, with my Mum by his side the whole time, back in the seventies, were some of the first volunteers to work with the founding members of ‘Medecins Sans Frontieres,’ in English, ‘Doctors Without Borders.’”

“Wow. Yeah, I’ve heard of ‘Doctors Without Borders'” he said, truly impressed. “Does he still practice medicine?”
“Well, they both just retired from Newcastle General Hospital. That’s a teaching hospital. Newcastle is known for some of the best doctors in England.”
“Both? Your mother was a doctor too?”
“Yes. Still is. In fact they both just got back from an MSF trip to Rwanda to help the poor, most of them sick with malaria not to mention lots of other issues since the bloody civil war there recently. But they are only setting aside two months per year to do that. What do your parents do?”
“They’re both retired too. My Mom had a bridal shop. She is a seamstress. She’s made and sold thousands of dresses. She has been at a sewing machine since the early sixties. My Dad helps me at my construction business, that used to be his before he turned it over to me about eight years ago. I’m wrapping up the last of my contract work, and now we just started building a vacation home in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, by the border of Canada, where most of my ancestors are from”
“I’ve never been to the Northeast.”
“So, you’re from England, but you’ve never been to New England?”
“No. I’ve seen pictures and movies. I did an essay on Longfellow, the poet from Maine, right before I finished my Masters. I’d love to take a holiday there during the fall foliage. It must be beautiful.”
“Yeah, it is. Definitely. The novelty still hasn’t worn off. We, ah, I still like to go for long drives through the mountains that time of year. So, you have a Masters. Let me guess, English major?”
“Yep!”
“So what do you do for work?” he asked, almost rhetorically, fully expecting to hear: I teach.

Honesty was always the best policy, she believed, no matter how cliche the old proverb, and if it didn’t work out –no harm, no foul.
“I’m in entertainment” she said. He perked up at that.
“Really?” he seemed genuinely excited and she found that encouraging. “Do you sing? Act? Dance? Do comedy?” He asked.
She tried to remain enigmatic, determined to retain a little mystique. “I dance” she said confidently as she gave a little sit-down shimmy of her shoulders. His eyes crinkled slightly in thought.
“Like as in….”
She nodded, keeping her eyes on him “I work at Club Fantasy, the old Eastern Promise Club. Have done so for just over a year. This isn’t the career path I thought I would take when I was in college, and I might not do it for too much longer…” She shrugged both shoulders quickly, and added apathetically. “But we’ll see.”
“Do your parents know?” he asked.

She now slowly wagged her head, eyes wide, her hair bouncing on her shoulders and getting in her face. “The right time and opportunity to break it to them has not presented itself” She frowned slightly. “I hate keeping things for them, but disappointing them hurts more…I dunno”
He shook his head slightly and chuckled quietly. She played with her martini glass. She had moved from beer to martini, and thought, this had better not hurt tomorrow.
“You just don’t look the type. You look too….” He paused and bit his lip in concentration. Her insides clenched…so cute she thought, hope I’m not about to lose him in light of this revelation…
“Psychotic? Black? Dramatic?” She asked cheekily. He laughed. A deep, manly but at the same time boyish laugh. It had a sweet, sexy tone, but, a goofy tempo.
“I was going to say ‘innocent’” he said finally, as he got up to get another beer for himself. Part of her worried that he was going out the door leaving ‘innocent’ as the final word he spoke to her before she scared him away forever with her blatant honesty. He may never find out how truly innocent she really was. She nodded and stirred her drink as she held it with her other hand, using it as some sort of protective barrier during this part of their conversation –as she was feeling vulnerable. More vulnerable in fact, than when she was actually baring her delectable goodies for all to behold…in exchange for hoots, and cash.

He sat down with a fresh beer, now serious, and stated, “I know that if I had you, I wouldn’t want anyone else touching, leering or even glancing at you the wrong way.” Her back stiffened as she paused and took a sip of her martini, thinking, okay, men looked but that is all that they can do; look. That feeling of power was like a drug to her…dangerous and addictive.
“I can take care of myself you know…and no-one gets to have me. They may get to be with me.” She said somewhat testily, which to his American ears, sounded ‘extra’ testy in a British accent. His face said it all. He had slipped up and was regretful.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that…”
“What did you mean then?” She asked, her voice taking a slightly harsh tone. “Is that why you go to church? To pick up vulnerable, nice girls?”

He looked at her. Through her defensiveness, and in spite of it, she was still able to see the sincerity in his eyes. She immediately realized that this same defensiveness just caused her to regrettably project her guilt on him. She knew that she needed to cut him some slack, and was sure that like her, he had some baggage of his own, that most likely was not a mirror image of hers. Some of it was bound to make an appearance, but until then, she should only concentrate on revealing hers, instead of trying to guess what his was. Before she could apologise, he spoke.

“Well, no, not really. I go to church to stay in touch with my purpose in life, or, rediscover it. I’m discerning a vocation, now more than ever. I was seeking answers…and I found you. If that vocation is to be a sacramental marriage, then, paint me naive…but I would expect to find my future wife in a church –before a strip joint.” He smiled, gently placing a warm hand on her forearm. It burned with his touch. She liked the feeling. She liked him a lot.

“Well, you did find me in a church.” Her tone, now reassuring them both.
“Exactly! I’m not naive. I know that things are not always what they appear to be…for good or for bad. That lends to the thrill of discovery. Oh, and if you think that I’m going to quit this investigation into the heart of Sheila King based solely on the ‘stripper-fact’ that just came to light, then you have another thing coming!”
“Excellent news, Inspector Gadget!” she beamed.
“However, I think it would be prudent at this juncture to forego futher discussion of your current occupation, leaving it open to revisit at a later time.” He stated, trying to sound like he was giving a news conference.
“Agreed.” She stated with a quick nod and a smile.

They finished their drinks, satisfied that the little hiatus had been smoothed over for now. He talked about his parents, his many different jobs, his love of history, especially Bible history, and math. She talked about her family, her apartment, her friends and her love of literature and theatre. They discussed favorite movies, and how TV was different growing up in two different English speaking countries…yet much the same. He was surprised that she knew who ‘Inspector Gadget’ was.

“Do you want to get out of here?” he asked.
“Sure, let’s go back to my place” she suggested as they walked out the door of the virtually empty bar, towards the sexiest ‘Stang she had ever seen. “Nice whip!” She said, eyebrows up, indicating that she was duly impressed. “Can we put the top down?”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way” he said unlocking the passenger side door with the key, true to form, like a gentleman, opening the door for her. Getting into a man’s car, other than her ‘bodyguard,’ Lars, of whom she hadn’t told Jem about yet, caused her to feel a twinge of apprehension. He seemed safe enough, though, she thought, and she did have her pepper spray. She slid into the car. It smelt of aftershave and leather.

He got into the drivers side, turned the key and the car roared into life and continued to idle with an exciting rumble. She watched him shift, then take the wheel with both hands. His hands were big, and firm on the steering wheel. He pulled up to the curb cut, then asked, “left or right?”
“Right” she responded, and she continued to call out the directions until they arrived at her apartment complex. He pulled in, shut off the car and turned on the dome light, which brightened the interior as if the morning had broken. His left hand gently gripped the top of the steering wheel. She looked at it closely as she gathered her purse from the floor between her feet, and prepared to step out of the car – if he didn’t try to kiss her first. Little did he know that the clock was ticking and she was giving him a total of about ten seconds, to make his move. The night air was cool and refreshing, just what they both needed to clear their heads. As she sat, silently counting down…9…8…7… She continued to stare at his left hand, now tightly gripping the steering wheel. She focused in on his ring finger. Was that a wedding band? She wondered. No! Can’t be. I would have noticed that sometime during the course of the night. Especially where he is a person who talks with his hands moving…Incessantly. It could become annoying. But there was something there.

She leaned in, and looking closely she saw that it was a tan line, along with an indentation where a wedding band was recently worn.
“What?” he asked as she leaned back quickly, looking at him crossley.
“Are you married?” She asked sternly.
“A question like that can really kill a moment.” he replied with his eyebrows raised high in a worried smirk that made that handsome face of his look completely goofy at the moment. “I was just about to ask if I could give you a kiss, a real kiss, goodnight”
“Nothing like the answer you’re about to give me is going to kill this entire night!” She snapped back. Her blood was boiling. She knew from his face what the answer was.
“Look, Sheila it’s– “
“Don’t you dare say ‘It’s not what you think’” She quickly interrupted.”Or I’m going to want to kick you square in the bollards!”

Good thing she interrupted me, he thought. That’s exactly what I was about to say. Then I would have wanted to kick myself in the ‘bollards,’ (which I can assume from context must be a British term for ‘nuts,’) -for being so lame and cliche. He too, despised cliches. He stared at the gear shift, unable to look at her, while he thought, a million miles an hour, of everything that he didn’t want to tell her…yet.

He recently discovered that Wifey II, who handled all the household finances and helped with the bookkeeping for his construction business, mortgage consulting, and her stepfather’s church –had been embezzling. When he confronted her about it, she freaked, swore on their kid’s lives that she didn’t take anything, screamed that she would take a lie detector test, and then threw him out.

He figured, he wasn’t making an unfounded accusation. He caught her. It was plain as day. If his ass was put out of the house that he built for his family with his own two hands, he made up his mind to leave his ears behind. He hid digital recorders in the house, hoping to find out where she hid the money…and also why she didn’t love him anymore. When he went back to meet the appraiser, to secure the equity loan to build the vacation house in Vermont, he gathered the recorders. They didn’t reveal the whereabouts of the embezzled cash. However, what he did hear –rendered his soul drawn and quartered.

He began to try to explain. “Sheila, when you told me that you were a dancer…”
“Don’t you dare try to turn it around on me you son of a bitch!” She interrupted again, swearing again, for the second time in two minutes, and the only two times all night. She must be pissed, he figured. She was the most prim and proper, classy and cultured, intelligent and socially graceful woman he had ever met. He thought it was kind of annoying. Yet; a stripper…It blew his mind.
“Please, let me finish. I’m already okay with what you do. I don’t know how that is going to fit into our future together, I’ll figure that out later, but sorry Kiddo, after tonight , I can already tell that we have a future with each other.”

“What are you, psychic?” She snapped. “Go ahead. Read my mind. What am I thinking right now?”
“That’s easy” he said while smiling with one side of his mouth. “That I’m totally full of shit!” She just stared, stepping her anger down a notch with a look in her eyes that told him that she didn’t want to believe that he was just another jerk. “Listen to me Sweetheart.” She allowed him to continue. “Here I am in Florida, fourteen hundred miles from home. I’m not a cheat. I hate cheating. I’ve been cheated on more than once, by two different wives. It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever endured, and that’s compared to broken bones, hyper extended joints and internal bleeding near the point of death, which I’ve also experienced. So, believe me when I tell you this: I’m officially separated right now. And let’s just say that I have some baggage… Don’t we all?”

Officially separated, it echoed once or twice in her head as she thought, –and that still made him married. And if that was the case, She wasn’t going to be the other woman, the mistress -how cheezy. She wanted a man all to herself, body, soul and spirit –if at all. She had a feeling that there was a lot more going on than he was telling her right at this very moment. She recognised the hurt, that she once felt herself, when he spoke of being cheated on. Maybe, like her, he was a victim of love. She decided that she was going to stick around…for now.

“Fine” she said and made to go out the door. He gently held her back.
“Please don’t be mad…I would really like to see you again.” He said, his eyes betraying his uncertainty mixed with hope. She looked at him as she deliberated. He looked genuine enough and everyone deserved a second chance, right? –Not if it involved a wife. The internal wrestling continued and Jem waited. Then she found a compromise.

“Give me your number and I’ll think about it” she said looking him straight in the eye. He wrote slowly and deliberately and handed her the slip of paper. She leaned over, kissed his cheek before offering an awkward smile, and got out of the car.
“Good night Sheila.” He whispered.
“Night Jem” she said letting herself out of the car and walking to her flat. She walked slowly in through her door, then turned and peeked out of the window, surprised that he was still there, lost in thought, or in a prayer.

As she got out of the car he still felt a tingle on his cheek where she planted that sweetest of kisses. He thought, even if she decided not to take a seat in the front row of this three ring circus that is my life, I wouldn’t hold it against her. He could understand if she didn’t even call to tell him that she just couldn’t deal with it. That kiss on the cheek said it all. It said, ‘I’m not mad at you. I enjoyed our short time together immensely. And most importantly, I won’t forget you.’ It also said ‘I’m angry that I might not be able to be with you, because I really want to be.’
“Yeah Sheila, I really want to be with you too” he whispered as he felt his throat tighten and his eyes start to burn.

He watched her close the door to her apartment and then pinched the bridge of his nose, with his elbow on the steering wheel. He prayed. “Father in Heaven. You know my heart. If she knew it then the only thing that would scare her away would be all this crazy drama I’m going through right now. But, with Your help…I know I’ll get this mess straightened out without harming a single hair on anyone’s head. Please Father, just help me to let her know my heart, broken as it is, but easily mended in your hands and made stronger than ever. Thanks for hearing me Lord. Amen.”

He smiled as he pulled out of the parking lot. He liked this car. He always wanted a convertible. The warm nighttime Florida air smelled great. The street lights’ reflections rolled off the oily black hood of the Mustang as the CD just started playing “Calling all Angels” by Train. He would always think of Jo-Anne when that song played.

She was a single woman, about forty. She was the director of religious ed at church, and ran a pretty tight ship. At his nephew’s first communion, she let the parents know, quite sternly, that there would be no photo ops while the children received the Sacrament. This drill sergeant attitude didn’t score her a lot of points with the parents, Jem was even put off by it himself, as this was the first time he had encountered her. But she really loved her kids, and they all loved her too. They were the ones she saw every week. Most of their parents only attended church on Easter and Christmas…And for first Communion and Confirmation ceremonies. These Sacraments were important to Jo-Anne. Teaching and preparing these kids to receive them was her life’s work and her passion. She was not going to have it treated like a dance recital at the VFW.

At her funeral, Father Bert told the packed church that Train was her favorite band. Jeremy became friendly with her during his own Confirmation classes held for the adults coming to, or as in his case, coming back to the Catholic church later in life. This is called ‘returning to the sacraments.’ She was a new friend he had made about three months prior to her passing away suddenly two weeks ago. He remembered telling Wifey II the news.
“Do you remember Jo-Anne, the religious ed director at St. Mary’s?” he asked rhetorically as he sat down at her side while she laid on the couch watching TV.
“Yeah, the bitch?” she replied.
Just once, let me yank that tongue out of her mouth and smack her with it. Just once. He thought as his face darkened…”Well she passed away yesterday” he resentfully finished in monotone. He never suffered the loss of a new friend. It was a strange, sad feeling. It was easy though, for him to feel kind of happy for her; that she was in the presence of God and his angels. Man, he thought, what that must be like! It’s gotta make the grueling, friggin’ trials well worth the blood sweat and tears, or what’s the point?

He got back to the Lake Side Hotel and jumped out of the Stang, not bothering to put the top up. It was two in the morning as he stepped through the door to find Michael awake, laying on his stomach on the bed, TV still on, with the volume very low. “Michael…Whassup Buddy?” he asked, not waiting for an answer before he started rambling on about every detail about the entire time he spent with Sheila, while checking his emails. Finally quiet, he surfed around the Web a little, and then looked over at Michael who was now sound asleep. He guessed his buddy didn’t really give a shit. Michael was his best friend. He had known him about seven years now. When all this chaos broke loose, it took him all of about five seconds to jump in the vehicle and take this road trip. They were always close, but this ordeal had really bonded them. Michael had Jem’s back.

Michael never drove. He had witnessed the horror of a terrible accident that claimed the life of his sister. They were playing in the front yard together when she ran out into the road after the ball they were playing with. The driver didn’t even have a chance to stop. Obviously he felt terrible, but didn’t shed any tears at the scene. Michael would never be the man behind the wheel. He hated the man behind the wheel of a car. He didn’t even like the way the people he knew and trusted looked, especially when he was on the outside of the vehicle as it pulled up, looking at them through the windshield. The horrific memory replayed in his mind every time. Michael rode shotgun and slept most of the day while Jeremy drove, and then stood watch at night while he slept in the back. They did a couple laps around New England, making sure no one was following, stayed a few days at the site of the vacation house that was under construction in Vermont, and then headed south, to Florida.

Jeremy let out a big yawn as he shut down the laptop and turned off the TV. It was warm in the room, but he couldn’t sleep with a fan or an air conditioner running, the noise always made him have weird dreams. So he grabbed a pillow and laid next to Michael with his feet toward the headboard so they would be facing the same direction. He usually liked covers when he slept, but he didn’t want to wake Michael up and get all repositioned, so he just snuggled up to him, as he was now laying on his side, and put his stomach to his back and his right arm around him, under his armpit, resting his hand on Michael’s thick neck. He started a low, deep snore that surprisingly didn’t keep Jeremy from dozing off himself within a few minutes.

The next morning Jem went to get them both some breakfast. He walked in the door with two scrumptious smelling white Styrofoam take-out containers each holding identical contents: three fried eggs over medium, wheat toast and homefries. He set them on the table near the computer and opened them up as Michael jumped out of bed.

“Good morning Buddy! Ya hungry?” Jeremy asked him as he sat in the chair in front of their breakfast. He leaned over and set his buddy’s container on the floor. Michael wagged his tail as he gobbled it all down saving the toast for last.” Are you ready to meet that lovely lady I was telling you about last night?” He asked him as he started wolfing down the toast. He had already decided that he wasn’t going to wait for her to call, knowing full well that there is a fine line between stalking and persistence. She had already told him that she thought of him as a gentleman, so he assumed that now she would just see him as a persistent gentleman. It was that look of disappointment in her eyes, that had no good reason to be there, that caused him to decide that this thing needed to go at least one step further, whether she initiated the next step or not.

Sheila woke with a start, too early, and looked at the clock; Six thirty. She groaned inwardly and got up. Her shiny pink chemise glistened, reflecting the morning light in contrast to her dark skin that was absorbing every drop of sunrise that came through her kitchen window. Putting on the coffee, she thought back to last night, and Jem. Apart from the little contretemps outside her flat and before that, in the bar, it had been a wonderful night. They had laughed, talked all night –an estranged wife, seemed to her, a minor inconvenience. She had been hurt in the past by the ‘other woman’ and that was someone that she didn’t want to be. Although she didn’t see how she should feel guilty if it was Jem’s wife who kicked him to the curb. That’s her problem, not mine, she thought. The phone rang, making her jump…
“Hello?” She said stifling a yawn.
“Hey there Leila,” a male voice crooned down the line. There is only one person who called her that.
“Richard. What can I do for you?” She asked, her voice indifferent.
“You free this afternoon?” he asked seemingly oblivious to her irritation.
“Nah. I have things to do…like live my life. Don’t tell me you are in Florida.”
“Aw c’mon…” She cut him off mid sentence.
“Richard you loser –you lost me. The thought of listening to any of the crap that comes out of your mouth, frankly, leaves me cold. So please crawl back in the hole where you came from and leave me in peace.” She slammed the phone down and rubbed her head in frustration. She showered, dressed and left the house swinging her bag over her shoulder –off to seize the day with a spring in her step.

The town was full of shoppers, tempted out by the warm, springtime sun: businessmen in their smart suits, hassled mums with their crying children, teenagers and their friends with shopping bags swinging from their lithe young limbs. “Sheila!” a voice cut through all the noise, traffic and chatter. She looked around trying to locate the source. Then she saw ‘Jojo’ Keats, blonde hair flying, long legs pumping trying to catch up with her. “Man you walk fast,” she said between breaths. Sheila laughed at her and slowed down.
“Sorry, if I knew I was being stalked, I would have stopped.” she said sarcastically.
“I need a favour.”
“Uh-oh. Sounds serious.”
“I just need you to do my early shift tonight…as well as yours” she said not quite making eye contact. That meant that she wouldn’t have to make a decision about Jem today. Then, so be it, she thought.
“Sure. Why not?”
“Really?” Jojo asked, surprised she hadn’t pushed her luck too far.
“Yeah. Yeah. Don’t worry about it Sweetie. –that’s how many favours you owe me now?”Jojo slapped her playfully on the butt.
“Okay, okay smarty-pants. Gotta go. Really, thanks a lot!”

She got back home, still thinking. Give him a chance. Don’t give him a chance. She silently deliberated like this, on and off, all day. She looked to the heavens for inspiration, but for once, none was forthcoming. You’re on your own Sheila. Time to start making some of those tough decisions we talked about. She thought, giving herself a dose of tough love. She looked at the slip of paper with his phone number, willing it to give her an answer, but of course it didn’t. A horn beeped causing her to jump. She grabbed her bag, the one that contained her ‘costumes,’ checked her reflection, and rushed downstairs. One of the Club Fantasy drivers, Lars Sverrig, a six foot five inch muscular hulk of a man who was also a bouncer, had been patiently waiting for ten minutes before sounding the horn. He and Sheila got on very well, mainly because they both had a very dry, and surprisingly clean sense of humour.

“You’re early” she said bounding down the steps and getting in the car.
“I am never early, it is just that you are running late…as usual” he contradicted with a slight accent that he held onto since his boyhood days in Amsterdam. He winked, showing he wasn’t really scolding her.
“Lars… can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. As long as it’s not too personal…” he half-joked.
“Would you date a woman who was married but separated?” He thought for about five seconds.
“Yeah… I would”
“What if she decided she wanted her husband?”
“That’s a risk that I would have to take. If I liked her enough, it would be worth it”
“But wouldn’t you be hurt if she went back to him?” She challenged.
“Sure. But I figure, life is all about risks, and she might decide she loves me more” he said keeping his eyes on the road. “But I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try, would I?”

Before she could answer, they stopped. “We’re here.” Lars said, stating the obvious, probably, she sensed, to end the conversation. She got out of the car and went into the club. It was a little quiet, being only five in the evening. In about two hours, the sheer mass of mainly male humanity will be squeezed into the club drinking, laughing, cheering or just salivating while throwing money carelessly and drunkenly onto the platform. She sometimes made five hundred dollars in tips in just one night. That’s some good, dirty money. She frowned as she thought of a line Richard used on her when they first started dating. Like a fool she laughed at it then, thinking he was just telling a joke. Now it resided in her memory like a lingering insult, considering what she now did for a living.

*******

After two months of hot and heavy, expensive dating, Richard still wasn’t getting the kind of action he was craving. She wouldn’t go ‘all the way’ with him. Not even  third base. She wasn’t giving it away. He said, “hypothetically, Liela, if I were a multi-millionaire, besides being such a hot guy, and charming cult of personality, and I really liked you, like I actually do…And I offered you 500,000 pounds, and another 500,000 pounds to any charity of your choice, would you have, just once, all out, no holds barred sex with me for one uninhibited night, like, tonight?
“Hypothetically?” she confirmed.
“Right. Well, yeah, cuz I don’t have that kind of money on me right now.”
“Are you secretly wealthy?”
“I’m obviously horny –I’ll tell you that!” They laughed, as she began to think out loud.
“Well, I have my morals. I’m a good Catholic girl, as you know.”
“I do know!” He interjected, rolling his eyes.”
“But because that kind of money could buy a lot of mosquito nets, and save thousands of lives, not to mention half a million in the ‘what’s in it for me column’ that could support me for a decade while I discerned and pursued my true vocation in life…”
“Your reasoning is making a lot of sense to me so far, Liela!”
“So I’m thinking that I’m faced with a case of double effect here –Compromise my personal values, once, doing something bad, that on the other end, a whole lotta good is gonna come out of…”
“Oh, yes, I’m sure it would be good, for both of us –just saying!” This time it was her turn to roll her eyes at him.
“Are we boasting, Richard?” She asked accusingly.
“–Just saying” he repeated. And, let me add: you would be worth every penny! Soo?”
“So. All things considered –Yes.” She affirmed “I would accept that indecent proposal.” Richard smiled from ear to ear, locking eyes with her. She looked away, somewhat embarrassed, because she took these types of ‘worse case scenarios’ and ‘what would you do if…?” questions very seriously. They helped her form personal philosophies, and enabled her to really know and understand herself, preparing her to react quickly to similar ‘real life’ scenarios.
“So,” he said through the cat-that-ate-the-canary grin still pasted on his face, “–now that we have established what you are, let’s dicker about the price!” He laughed out loud at his own humor, that he just used to test her virtue.

*******

She snapped back to the present as she artfully applied her makeup. She often had regrets about her ‘job.’ Especially just before going out on stage. There was no purpose in it. It did nothing good for anyone. It didn’t improve her life, or the lives of anyone who paid her to perform. Maybe it charged up the libido of some old married guys, who rushed home and rang their wives’ bells. Sometimes, even couples would watch her dance…which she thought was kind of weird, but when it comes to sexual proclivities, she figured, to each their own. Maybe it helped those people, who although they were not bigots, were still racist. She understood that some white guys just couldn’t be attracted to black girls. She had the looks, the body, and the moves that could make them see sexyness in different ethnicity. Sure Sheila, she thought to herself, that’s the story to stick to, ‘battling bigotry by bending for bucks!” She chuckled at the alliteration.

She stood in the mirror and stared. Underneath her makeup, her face glowed with youth and good health, unblemished by stress, insomnia or bad habits. Her cosmetologist was working wonders with her new facial treatments. It had been weeks since she had so much as a single tiny pimple. Her stomach was toned, as were her limbs, a bit gangly, yet still feminine and graceful. The soft but firm angles of her muscular middle, formed an upside down triangle that like an arrow pointed to the glorious pinnacle of her womanhood, framed by the symmetrical outward curves of her hips. The bright blue, tiny triangle of silk, trimmed in rhinestones, was set in the beauty of her otherwise naked body, like a sapphire in the center of an oval onyx pendant. It covered the only area that would be kept private and left to the imagination. She put on a loose, almost see through blue charmeuse, inhaled deeply, then puffed out her cheeks while leaning into the mirror, exhaling through her full, shiny puckered lips as if blowing away the clouds fogging her brain. She did an abrupt, military-style about-face and exited the dressing room, cat-walking toe to heel in her sexy stilettos, until stopping on her mark behind the curtain.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Shiela King, the Raven Queen!” The announcer called, using her real name as she prefers. She believed that stage names did about as much to cover her shame as the sheer charmeuse that was soon to drop to her feet did to cover her nudity. Besides, for the most part, she wasn’t ashamed. The curtain parted, the lights dimmed, the music started and the spotlight was on her. That’s when she saw him. Those eyes, that jawline was unmistakable. Right then and there she made a decision…

I Am Archibald, Scribe of S-tan: Chapter 4: Say It Right

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