Iceberg Tempting, page 1
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright ã 2003 ezwritr
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Published by eXtasy Books, a division of Zumaya Publications, 2003
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I fully expect to be hit by a meteorite. It won’t be a big one, maybe the size of a small to medium Idaho potato by the time it races through the atmosphere. It’ll be traveling at about ninety-three thousand miles an hour, so I won’t know what hit me.
“Lunch.” It was Big Lou, eyeballs over the top of my cubicle. “There’s eight of us. Give or take.”
I went to lunch with this group about once a week. “You driving?”
In the parking lot, I was in Lou’s back seat, and this girl from another section sat down next to me. I knew of her, but I didn’t know her. For three years, it had been 'Hey' in the halls between us.
“Scoot over,” she ordered. And suddenly there were three people occupying two spaces, and her firm thigh was pressed against mine. “Sorry,” she said, and her smile told me that she wasn’t.
Hey, I didn’t mind. I don’t know how the rest of the world viewed her, but I thought that she was pretty, nearing beautiful in an offbeat sort of way. She wasn’t conventionally good-looking; her nose wasn’t Hollywood perky, and her cerulean blue eyes were simultaneously hidden and amplified behind granny frames. I saw mysteries through those glasses: she had secrets, and depths that I’d love to explore.
“Nervous?” she said.
“Me?” Of course she was talking to me. “Uh, no.”
“I dunno, you just seem nervous.” She seemed to be toying with me, and that hinted at depths beneath her exquisite surface: she was iceberg tempting.
I noticed her legs. How could I not notice them, so close to me: nice, shapely, with muscular tone. From conversations with others, I knew that she was a distance runner. That said several megabytes about her--of why she was so healthy, with constant natural color in her cheeks--and made her so attractive to me. It also told me that she was a person of some discipline, although that part could be as much of a liability as an asset. She had a mix of the athletic and the seeming cerebral that I found so compelling. I inhaled her perfume. Mmmm.
We got to the restaurant, and when we went to our table, suddenly someone was between us as we sat down. Damn. Three years of no contact, and now I needed some with her. As we ordered, I tried to see her without actually looking at her, the quick inconspicuous glance. The man between us was given to densely packed diatribes on the most arcane things imaginable, and was totally unaware that he was blocking my view, cutting off my communication with the girl from another section. I was forced to nod and lean and try to make contact with her, all the while trying to look nonchalant to the rest. It was a fine juggling act, and though I was not particularly adept at it, I was efficient enough. I caught her eye.
“…and that’s how a firewall works,” the human firewall next to me concluded, and I saw the others across from me, and they were glazed and confused.
I seized the moment. “Ballgame,” I said. “We gotta go to a Cubs game this summer.”
“Yeah.” Tiny responded. He was a little guy. There was momentary enthusiasm all around the table, generated more by the termination of the lecture on firewalls than by the future event.
“Ballgame?” Lou said, across from me. “What about the Sox?” The White Sox, the other Chicago baseball team. I tried to ignore the question.
The blue-eyed granny-glasses girl, the one with the great legs, she was nodding at me, and her nod told me, ‘talk to you later.’
She was absent on the ride back. I wondered about that.
What needs to be understood is why anyone was single, running around unfettered in this universe; or why that same person could be with another, just as easily. It was timing.
Oh, okay, you already knew that.
Timing is about as chancy as a meteorite, and equally as controllable. The granny-glasses girl had left her significant other, or he’d left her, or they’d left one another, or some variation of these that had made her an ion, and she’d been this way for a while now. She told herself that it wasn’t her fault. ‘It’s not my fault,’ she’d thought.
She’d gone through all of the breakup bullshit, the fights, the accusations, the division of the property, the moving out, the sobby nights alone, the dates just to do something, and the rebound relationship. Now she was just about at the point where somebody new could come along, and it just might work.
My marriage, my own personal fetter, had dissolved some time back. We’d outgrown each other. Who knows why that relationship didn’t work; maybe it had something to do with love or the absence of it or some other commonplace concept. The truth was, there was no glue. It lacked gravity. The attraction had worn off. It was without adhesive properties. ‘We’ had lost significance. What had been important no longer was.
One of us had spun out of orbit. And it had happened just long enough ago. So that covers the timing stuff; now comes the rest of it.
I hadn’t mentioned her name. Maria.
Uh-oh. I Just Met A Girl Named Maria. They Call The Wind Mariah. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. Marie Antoinette. The Virgin Mary, for chrissake.
She was none of these, and all of these.
I was sitting in my cubicle at work, minding my own business as they say, surfing the net because I was mulling over a new story idea, and surfing was one of several catalysts that I used in my particular creative process. Don’t get me started on the creative process.
Those were my options: minding, surfing, writing. Oh, and work. Something had happened a while back, and I no longer gave a damn if I went any higher in the job or not. It was wonderful, the release when I came to that realization, kind of like giving in to death. Aaaaaahhh! That was the life force leaving me, at least for the hours between nine and five. Suddenly I was on the other side, and I was free, and they could no longer touch me.
My phone rang. “Yes,” I said, a response but not an affirmation, implying ‘yes, this indeed is a telephone and someone is on this end of it.’
“Do you know who this is?” It was a honeyed voice. It was Maria.
“Yes,” I said, an affirmation and a response, as in ‘yes, I know who you are, yes, I want to get to know you, yes, you must tell me why you seem so close and yet so far away.’ A lot of yes.
“Tell anyone I called and I will deny all,” she said.
“Yes.” Etcetera yes.
A Germanic accent. “Haff you got zee formula, Bruno?” she said.
“Yes.” Confused, but yes, playing along yes.
Maria said, “Yoo vill bring it to GG’s with you, right after work.”
Would I have called her if she hadn’t called me first?
GG’s was the name of the bar, trying so hard to be delightfully now. The place was an alleged restaurant, though I‘d never ventured beyond their breaded mushrooms. It was right around the corner from work, sort of, and Maria was sitting there in a booth by herself.
“I haff zee plans,” I said, and sat across from Maria. Man, she was pretty. Did I mention her shoulder-length blonde hair? And her legs? And the beautiful face, somewhat obscured by her granny glasses, but prettier now that I was facing her?
“Plans, what’re you talking about?” She was smiling, confused, amused. Then she remembered. “Zee formula! Ha!”
“Plans, formula, what’s the difference?” I said.
“It iss your attention to detail, Bruno. Vee must work on that.”
“I was never good at industrial espionage,” I told her. “Want you to know that.”
We’d worked at the same company for a few years now. They manufactured stuff. Any stuff. It doesn’t matter. Okay, combs. They manufactured combs. Or computers. Maybe it was computers. I’d transferred to this office about four years back, and she’d joined the company about a year later. It’d been three years of me saying ‘Hey dere’ to her in the halls, not once having a for-real conversation with her, never the two of us alone, always accompanied by others. All knowledge about each other was second-hand, and though Maria and I didn’t know it, the timing factor had had sufficient time to percolate and evolve.
I’d thought several times that I might invite her for a run, or to a workout at the gym, neutral things, not really asking her out on a date; creating opportunities to talk to her without…without what? Okay, so maybe it’s me who’s the reluctant one, and my guess was that she got tired of waiting, ergo the lunch, consequently the phone call.
But as I told her, no, I didn’t have the plans, or the formula. Or a clue, apparently.
“So what do you do?” Maria asked me. It was the question underneath the question. She wasn’t speaking about the job, she was asking who I really am, skipping the quagmire of dating questions.
“I write,” I said. “And you?”
The rest was in the detail.
Sure, we had these jobs. This was what one did to avoid debtors’ prison. Not too many folks wrote well enough to earn a living at it, not at twenty-one. Or at thirty. Maybe never. Ditto the artists and their processes.
Man, it takes time. Meanwhile, you had to eat. The job was what you did while waiting to do the other thing, the real thing. Hopefully you had enough energy for the fun stuff after work, the writing or the art, and maybe the fun stuff got recognized before you died.
Some people collected Hummels. Some liked to deep-sea dive, or watched TV for extended periods of time. Some drove cars fast and played basketball. There were quilters and serious readers. There were artists and synchronized swimmers and actors and writers. Every last one of them had jobs that had nothing to do with what they do.
“You must show me your work,” I said to Maria, knowing that this could get me into her graces quicker than anything.
“Suuuure,” she said, the sure of the skeptic.
“No, I’m serious,” I said, putting on my serious face, or what I thought was my serious face.
“Sorry, are you in pain?” she asked.
“No, that’s my serious face.”
All right. Start again. “What do you paint?” I asked.
“Portraits.” Oh, wow, that was serious business, like if I’d said that I wrote history or something. She asked, “And what do you write?”
“Strictly fiction. Novels. Short stories. I have no discipline. I write whatever I damn well please.”
Then she verbally punched me. “Published?”
As though that was the measure of a writer. Well, maybe it was the measure of a writer. “Just little stuff, here and there. Not enough to live on, obviously. You? Sell many of your paintings?”
She smiled. “Just little stuff, as you say.”
Not like it was important, or that it was not important right then, but we were on level ground, both apparently competent at the thing that we do, but not overwhelmingly successful.
“So, you want to go out with me, or what?” I asked.
“Do you mean, like a date?”
“Call it what you like.”
“We could do that,” she answered.
By the way, my name isn’t Bruno.
Okay, the company didn’t manufacture combs, and probably not computers, either. Just so many stories get bogged down in really stupid details. What the company made was insignificant. What I saw in the depths of Maria’s eyes, unobstructed by twenty-first century eyeglass technology, what I saw there as I made love to her, now that was significant.
Call me Ishmael. Or Sweetie.
It’s not important what I’m called. Maria called me Babe and Honey, Bubba, Barney, Butch and Jake, sometimes Bruno. In time, one gets used to that particular quirk of hers.
So that’s who I am. The writer called Babe. The Novelist Formerly Known As Steve. Yeah, all right. My name is Steve.
When Maria was really pissed, my name was ‘Sweetie,’ and it was cutting and sarcastic and hurtful, though I’d never let her know that she’d gotten to me that quickly and efficiently.
The trouble was supposed to come later. Except that it didn’t come later. We had our first misunderstanding on our first date. No kidding. I said the wrong thing.
We were sitting in an Italian restaurant, and the discussion turned to art.
“I like the IDEA of art,” I said, “stuff that it makes me think. I’d rather have that than simple representation.” I was hooked on the strange stuff, the abstract expressionists, the cubists, the minimalists, the Dadaists; and I loved a good blotch of paint if it had been done with feeling. Okay, even if it was honest and was exactly what I felt, I shouldn’t have told a portrait artist that good representation is not necessarily good art. Or words to that effect. Maria got very quiet, scary quiet, and I mentally smacked my forehead. “But I like your stuff,” I said, backpedaling none too skillfully. I hadn’t seen any of her work yet. “I like what you do with green. No, really.”
“You’d take trash over beauty.”
“That’s not what I said.” Of course, it was exactly what I had said. Oh, crap.
“I’ve gotta go,” she said.
And we parted rather coldly, and I was convinced that there would be no second date.
I can be pretty stupid at times. That’s the last thing I wanted, to screw it up with Maria. I brought her a flower, right to her desk at work. ‘Sorry,’ the card said.
I called her later that morning, just a little follow-up.
“Mona,” I said. “I haff the plans.”
“Who writes your material? Get a better writer. That’s been used.”
Ouch. “How can I make it up to you?”
There was a long pause, so long that I thought that she’d hung up and I’d somehow missed the click. “You can take me to the Smart Museum,” she said finally. “I’d prefer the National Portrait Gallery in London, but we’d need at least a weekend, and I just don’t know you well enough.” Not to mention how many thousands a date like that might cost.
The Smart Museum was this tiny place on the University of Chicago campus, a wonderful art museum in modern dress. All of this was on the South Side of Chicago, and I have an aversion to going to the South Side because of all of those angry White Sox fans. But I made an exception for Maria.
Maria lived in the western pseudo-suburb of Oak Park, so I drove out there to pick her up. She met me downstairs; we ‘Hey’ed each other, and we were off.
As I drove I glanced over to Maria beside me; she was looking at the road, and I was admirin
The Smart Museum held all manner of art treasures, a contemporary gallery for me, and old masters for her, and a couple of areas for the both of us. Mostly we walked together, stopping in front of fine works; lots of ‘Hmm,’ frequent nods. Hey, she was the artist, and I’d said enough stupid things about art already.
We were toward the end, looking at a display of Chicago artists; it was thinking stuff. “You like this?” I ventured, in front of a large canvas filled with symbolism. “I sure do.”
“Hmm,” and it was more of a purr from her. And suddenly Maria was leaning on me. We’d been standing together, and then this, The Lean, and I smelled her perfume and felt her warmth and she held my arm, and her touch was exciting me. I turned to Maria and I kissed her, our first kiss, and it was first-kiss perfect. Her lips were soft and wet and warm, and her tongue touched mine, and there was something so animal going on between us. The embrace turned passionate, our tongues exploring, our arms tightening around each other. I wanted to take her, right there on the museum floor, make love to her surrounded by art. She whispered, “Want to get out of here?”
It was a meteor we rode, up Lake Shore Drive to the Eisenhower Expressway, and then all the way to her place in Oak Park, a third floor walkup, and I was breathing a bit heavy from the run up the stairs and from the promise of what was to come.
Oh, those soft lips. We kissed inside the door, and the full fury of her passion was upon me; we wrestled with clothing and each other. My hand was underneath her blouse, pushing her clothing away; I kissed bare breast, hardened nipple.