Both Sides Now
We were at the “moons and Junes” phase where we danced, stared into each other’s eyes, and our heat coalesced. Passionate kisses lasted hours.
Wow! It’s been two days of hurry and hurry and catch up and I have yet to mindfully visit my microcosm.
I knew when I married him that Ry was not the sharpest tool in the chest. What I didn’t know was the extent of the lack of sharpness or the fact that he was, indeed, a tool.
I took his desire to be on a reality tv series about a group of good ole boys in stride, figuring that, while he was cute as all get out, he really knew nothing about being a good ole boy except for his love of cars. Somehow that must have won the hearts, minds, and souls of those “in the know” because he was cast.
In the weeks that followed Ry was glued, almost literally (don’t ask; there was super glue involved), to youtube watching every single fishing, hunting, and gun video that existed.
“I’m gonna be famous, honey, just you wait,” he said. He smiled at me, his big blue eyes shining and that dimple creating a crater in the side of his cheek and I remembered why I married him: because he was cuter than sin. I dug deep and found acceptance of his new found desire for fame. My bad.
I would like to say, “somehow” Ry forgot about the constantly rolling cameras, but there was no “somehow” involved. Ry forgot about ten minutes into their filming and went about life the way he always had. He became an immediate sensation. People loved him. He was a cute, foolish man who frequently needed to be reminded to put on pants. Again, literally.
Which is how I found out about Lily Conrad Shears. Real name.
On that fateful afternoon with the cameras of “Just Good Ole Boys” running, Ry Hulver stepped into the afternoon sunshine draped across Lily Conrad Shears’ front porch in his blue plaid button down and his boxers. He stood there looking around and you half-expected him to break into a chorus of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” but instead the door opened behind him and Lily Conrad Shears thrust my husband’s blue jeans into his arms and then twiddled her fingers at the camera. She was wearing only a black and red teddy.
I have been assured that there are worse things than finding out via nationally broadcast television that your cuter than sin husband has been boinking an invasive, predatory species. When asked what, the immediate response is death, of course. Which is why the sheriff of Carderiff County is on his way here. But between you and me, I didn’t do it. Oh, I’ll probably tell the sheriff that too, so never mind the between you and me thing. We’ll just catch up later.
My grandpa was a firm believer in words and thoughts. He often said, “If people could think their way out of a paper bag, there would be no wars.”
What paper bags had to do with wars, I never quite knew, but for a very long time I repeated that thought mostly to my classmates who nodded solemnly as if I had spoken great wisdom. Of course, Gar Parker, my nemesis, had to ask: “What’s that mean?”
I hitched myself up to my 4’7” and looked him firmly in his freckled nose and said: “It’s self-evident.”
He laughed. “You don’t know, do you?”
I pushed him. “I do so. It’s about wars and paper bags. I said so, didn’t I?”
He laughed harder and then had the audacity to pull one of my braids. I reared back and hit him with all of my might, which hurt me, probably more than him, although he did go sprawling on his backside and I had the momentary pleasure of seeing the tallest boy in class hunkering down, momentarily, in front of me. I didn’t know what to expect, certainly not the smile that appeared as his hand slid over his cheek.
“You hit hard for a girl,” he said.
Unfortunately for me, Miss Council saw me hit Gar and marched me to the Principal Cartwright’s office.
Later that evening, grandpa said: “Do not conquer your enemies, become one with them.”
The throb in my knuckles made those words sound like very good advice indeed. “He’s not an enemy, grandpa, he’s just a boy.”
Grandpa grinned. “One of those, eh? Now that’s much more work than an enemy.”
“But soon you’ll have him eating out of your hand.”
“He’s a boy, not a dog.”
“Semantics, my dear, semantics.”
It’s the not being alone, hearing even the whisper of a snore, the presence of someone who loves or loved you, the quickening of breathing, the feeling of warmth even without touching, the knowing, the sense of contact, because so much time you spend alone that you want that one person who once understood you to love you into reality.
Somehow Tom persuaded me around midday that a workout would do wonders for me. I doubted it. I still doubt it as I finish running a mile and head back into the gym. The air is crisp with scents of autumn, wood smoke, moldering leaves.
To say that I am caught unaware as I enter the gym and then immediately feel an arm lock around my throat would be a huge understatement. Instinct kicks in. My elbow flies, jabs into a hard stomach, but it’s enough to loosen the man’s grip around my throat. I rotate, knee up into the agony-zone, which must have been unexpected because Joe falls to the mat, his body curving in, his arms hugging himself. While I’m assessing him, wondering what that was about, from the corner of my eye I notice movement. I spin around. Tom’s advancing on me, his eyes glittering dangerously.
He blocks my first shot, my second, my third, with the fourth he grabs my arm and then I’m lying flat on the mat with him straddling me holding my arms above my head with just one hand. I’m breathing hard; he’s hardly breathing at all. Despite the violence of a moment ago, this feels erotic, sexually charged, and yet he seems oblivious. Can’t he see the desire in my eyes? I know he’s all about the job, but is he totally unattracted to me?
“Nice job with Joe, Mouse. But we need to work a little more on this,” he says.
I raise my hips suggestively. “I agree.”
If he were the eye rolling-type I have no doubt he would have done it. Instead, he sighs and gets up.
His blunder is turning his back on me. I whirl my leg, hitting his knees, which, make no mistake about it, hurts, sending him crashing to the mat and I am on him, straddling him as he was straddling me just moments ago. I try to raise his arms, but it’s like moving tree trunks. With a quick blur of movement, he’s regained dominance and I’m looking up into his blue-green eyes again. This time he grins.
“Nice, but still I finish on top,” he says.
“I’m sure you always do. You should let me be on top once in a while.”
He tweaks my nose just like I am a five-year old or a Mouse. Then he’s up, walking out of the gym while I’m still lying there staring up at the ceiling and its tangle of steel supports.
“He’s a lost cause, Mouse,” Joe says.
I look over at him. He’s sitting up now, his face still pale, his knees pulled up, his arms resting on them while he stares at me. I think I see pity in them.
“It’s alright. It’s not like I Iove him or anything.” But I have been crushing on him for over a year. And those kisses a few months back, even if it was just part of Tom’s job, they had left me wanting more, a lot more.
“That’s good. It would suck if you did,” Joe says.
“No kidding.” I am pretty sure it does suck.
Last night is a blur. A tiny creature plays bongos against my temple. My mouth feels like I’ve been sucking on sand. I lie in my bed at The Compound not remembering how I got there or in the t-shirt I’m currently wearing. I have panties on, which I normally don’t sleep in. (I guess that’s a good thing.) Mortification thy name is Mouse!
There’s a rap on the door.
Tom enters carrying a tray. I don’t think I want to look at him. Ha, right. When have I ever not wanted to look at him? You know, except for when he thought I was a traitor?
He hands me a bottle of water and an ibuprofen.
I sit up. “Did you get me here?”
He nods. “You fell asleep. Face planted on the bar. Snoring. Not pretty.”
“I could have done without the play-by-play.”
“But I enjoyed providing it.”
I swallow the red capsule and wash it down with half of the bottle of water. He hands me a plate with toast on it, which I stare at while wondering if it’s a good idea. My stomach roils like the ocean in the middle of a hurricane.
“And changed my clothes?
He has the grace to look just a little embarrassed, but not enough in my opinion. “I was worried you couldn’t breathe. Your tight bra top think looked constrictive.”
“Right. Didn’t those stop being the popular in the late 1800s?”
“Strip,” I say.
“You’ve seen me naked. My turn to see you.”
“You’ve seen me with my shirt off. That’s all I saw of you.”
Damn bongo playing critters have upped the tempo.
“Are you saying that my shirt being off and your shirt being off are the same thing? Are you suggesting I have the same dimensions upstairs as you?” I’m sure that that would sound extremely threatening if it weren’t for the fact that raising my voice makes my head hurt worse, so it’s just an extremely threatening whisper. Not very effective. Especially directed at someone like Tom.
He grins. “Now, Mouse, you know I work out.”
“Grrr!” I lean back and pull my pillow over my face. It’s impossible to suffocate yourself like this, isn’t it? The instant you lose consciousness the pillow loosens up.
“Here’s a Gatorade, Mouse. Suck it down,” Tom says.
“Thanks, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d just like to die now.”
“Not happening. We’ve a charity event to attend tomorrow evening in DC and we have to be briefed.”
“A charity event? Briefed? Am I hallucinating?”
“Possibly, but that’s not relevant.”
“So I’m going on another mission?”
“Sounds that way.”
“At a charity event?”
“Posh. So I can wear a corset?”
“You’ll undress me when we get back?”
“You’re no fun.”
“Finally we agree on something.”
There is no chase scene. I must remind myself over and over that real life is not like the movies. The brave heroine does not easily move on with life after shooting a bullet that most probably killed a man. She sits on a private jet, staring out at blackness for around five hours until the jet lands on a nondescript runaway that is not part of an international airport. One side of her asks why she thought she could wield a weapon with the intent to harm when she can’t even bear the thought of eating cow or pig or chicken. The other part says because she thought it would be just like a computer game. And while not the worst part of all, she has begun to talk about herself in the third person.
I am glad for these moments of inertia, sitting on one mode of transport after another without having to give any input. In the car back to The Compound, Joe tries to talk, but I shut him down. Someday I’ll ask him how he coped in Iraq, but maybe in war it’s different. Maybe the training is different. Maybe I was an idiot to think I could easily kill.
It’s Friday night so, as is custom, we go into one of the nearby towns to “let it loose.” I don’t really drink alcohol. I’m 5’2” and 105 pounds. There just isn’t much of me to absorb it, which mean that five sips of almost any beer makes me tipsy.
Tonight they decide that Wattstone is the town, so I figure I’ll drive myself and stay in my cabin. If I actually drink, I can walk to it from there.
The guys are scattered around the bar when I arrive. Tom is sitting at the bar, drinking what I presume is an IPA, his beer of choice. The brunette I’ve noticed before and have given her the nickname “Crazy Eyes,” which is probably self-explanatory, hangs on him, her fingers tugging at the collar of his gray button down.
I sit at the bar and order the stout that’s on tap as their microbrew special. It’s served in what looks like a brandy snifter.
“Fancy glass,” I remark to the bartender, Barry. “Did you figure I needed a small helping?”
He raises an eyebrow at me. “Alcohol content,” he mutters.
I translate: Mouse will be totally tipsy, worse, probably worse.
I sip. Oh, that’s nice.
Joe sits on the stool next to me. “Be careful of that one, Mouse. Bourbon barrel stouts will knock you on your ass.”
“Hmmm. It’s nice,” I say, resisting the urge to smack my lips. “Just what the Mouse ordered.”
A blonde woman I’ve never seen before slides in between Joe and me. She’s in a fitted camisole that displays her above the waist attributes. She orders a drink then turns toward Joe, practically leaning against him. Maybe that’s because she can’t stand up straight in those stilettos.
After five sips of the stout, I’m feeling more cheerful, but warm. I slide out of my ever-present hoodie. I’m wearing a red corset that I bought for Comic Con as part of a steampunk outfit I wore.
The bartender grins at me and nods his head. “Nice.”
I frown at him. “What?”
He continues to grin and nod.
I look down. Everything’s tucked exactly where it should be. Maybe it’s because things are pushed up a bit more than usual. Ah, well.
A cute blonde guy wearing a tight t-shirt stating he’s a Washington Nationals fan sidles up to me. “Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” I say, always one for the witty repartee.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asks.
I look at my mostly empty brandy snifter of stout. “Maybe in a few minutes.”
“Do you mind if I sit here,” he asks as a courtesy, because he’s already sat down. “I’m Charlie.”
I shake his extended hand. I’ve momentarily forgotten who I am this week. “Georgie.”
True to his word he buys me another, which I am pretty certain I shouldn’t have. But I feel so good.
He’s slides his barstool closer and is leaning into me, his left hand propped on my stool.
“You smell nice,” he says. “Like caramel.”
He’s looking down at my cleavage and then immediately isn’t. Tom’s grabbed the back of Charlie’s shirt and has righted him on the barstool. My mouth hangs open. Crazy Eyes is standing behind him with her hands on her hips.
Tom extends his hand to me. “Come on, Mouse. You’re done.”
“Wrong. I have most of my beer. Do you want to try it? It’s so yummy.” I offer him the glass but he shakes his head.
“Is this your boyfriend, Georgie?” Charlie asks.
“No. He’s a man I work with who has control issues,” I say, trying not to look at Tom, but when I do, he’s frowning at me. “What? It’s true. You do have control issues.”
“I’m taking you home to bed, Mouse.”
Ah, can’t help the cheeky grin with that one. “Do you promise?”
Charlie decides the current dynamics are not for him, especially since I have a colleague willing to tuck me in. He grabs his bottle of Bud and moves away.
“Do I promise what?” Tom asks.
“The bed thing?”
“Tom, I thought you and me were gonna hang out tonight,” Crazy Eyes whines.
Tom stares down at me, his eyes moving over me. “Put your hoodie on, Mouse.”
I know I’m being immature, but I turn away from him, back toward the bar. I look at his reflection in the mirror there and he’s looking back at me. This seems to be the only way we can see each other anymore, in reflection.