Friday, March 26, 2010


“Brock, what are you thinking?” Susan’s long hair dangled in my face and tickled my nose.

How do you answer that question? After I had ruined our anniversary dinner plans in a late-night edit session and only managed to save the evening with pancakes by candlelight, I couldn’t tell her what I was really thinking – not with her laying naked on top of me.

How do you tell a woman glistening in a thin sheen of perspiration and the after-glow of a particularly vigorous session that you’re thinking you want a beer and some sleep?

I gazed into her eyes and made something up. “You.”

“What about me?”

Dammit Einstein, you should have known better.

“You and me.” It wasn’t really a lie. I had been thinking a lot about her lately – just not right at that moment. Six months of co-habitation had gone a lot smoother than I had thought. Actually, our relationship had outlasted any of my other flings by more than three months.

Susan rolled off me and onto her side. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked into my eyes. “What about you and me?” Shadows created by the candles we had lit danced across her porcelain skin.

Maybe it was because she had seen me naked before we ever met – of course the same could be said for most of the city – or maybe it was the way Ernie beat the crap out of me the night we first kissed, or maybe it was that Susan was just different, but whatever the reason, hanging out together felt natural. I didn’t have to be careful what I said, or did. I wasn’t always on my best behavior like with most of the women I’d dated. And neither was she.

Nope, with Susan, I was free to be the same happy-go-lucky prick I was before we met. We never had to play the tiresome courtship games, unless of course we played them as a sarcastic slap in the face of social norms.

And I liked having someone to greet me when I came home at the end of the day. That that someone wanted to jump by bones was a plus, and the fact that she genuinely cared about my day made those romps in the sack special. As much as I liked to pretend these were just casual flings, I knew Susan felt differently. I didn’t like the idea of leading her on. But I liked the idea of her moving out less.

“I don’t know – just us.” I rolled on my side to face her. I brushed her hair away from her face with the back of my hand and let it linger on her cheek for a second too long.

Susan breathed a short gasp. “Ooh. You just gave me the yon-yons.” It was her favorite expression to describe the butterflies in her stomach when we kissed. Her face glowed with contentment. I just smiled and let my hand rest on her cheek a little longer.

Humor. That’ll diffuse the situation.

“Who would have thought that getting my ass kicked could lead to this?” I coughed a little laugh.

Susan’s face brightened and a loving grin gave way to a toothy smile. “You looked so helpless on the floor in the fetal position with Ernie pounding you and Nubby trying to pull him off.” She rolled on her back giggling.

I laughed along with her. The beating Ernie handed me that night was on par with the way my life had been headed at that time. I had flunked out of college. My naked cameraman routine made me a laughingstock in town. I was hopelessly lost shooting news, and I was bluffing my way through life. I knew it, and others around me were beginning to suspect it. I still couldn’t explain why Susan had hung around so long.

“Why’d you take me home that night?”

“I don’t know.” Susan stopped giggling.

I waited. “Sympathy?” Susan’s face went blank. I knew that hurt, but I persisted. “Revenge?”

Susan stared straight ahead with a puzzled look on her face.

What the hell was I doing? Susan was the first woman to have real feelings for me, and I was accusing her of throwing me a mercy hump, but it was what I thought about every time I thought about us.

She turned her back to me and pulled the covers up to her ears. He shoulders twitched. She was crying.

Good work Einstein.

I nestled in to spoon her, but Susan rolled onto her stomach.

“C’mon, Susan. You gotta admit,” I pushed myself sitting against the headboard, “we went from flirting, to bed, to roommates pretty quick.”

“Is that how you think of me? Your roommate?” Her voice held no expression.

“I don’t know what I think anymore.”

“That’s your problem, Rene. You think too much. Love isn’t rational.”

There it was again. The ‘L’ word.

“You think my feelings for you are rational?” Susan rolled to face me. Her eyes puffy, determined not to cry. “One minute I want to scream because you can’t remember to take out the garbage or pick up your smelly work shoes. Then I see your sexy smirk and I just want to kiss you.”

I wanted to smirk, but I couldn’t. I’d never seen Susan like this. Vulnerable. My shoulders slumped. My heart sank. What a prick.

“Then,” she sniffed, “I want to slap that damn smirk off your face when you don’t call when you’re going to be late, and when you finally come home, I want to hug you and never let you go.”

She looked me dead in the eye. She took a deep breath as if to stiffen her resolve. “You want to know why I took you home that night?”

It really didn’t matter at this point, but I was sure I was going to find out.

“Because I knew you.” Susan sat up.

I couldn’t look her in the face. My gaze trailed off somewhere around the nape of her neck.

“I knew you had passion. The way you ranted about being fired inside the store the day we met. Who says those kinds of things to a complete stranger? One look into your eyes that night at the Cotton Gin, one kiss on the dance floor, and I knew all I needed to know. I could feel it.” Susan’s voice brightened a bit. “It was more than the yon-yons. It was the way my heart fluttered. The way the world disappeared when I was in your arms. The way the room spun.”

I remembered those same feelings that night . . . right up until Ernie landed his first punch. “I think that was Ernie.” I tried to look coy.

“Why do you always do that?” Susan frowned.

“Do what?”

“Try to make jokes about something serious. Do you think my feelings are a joke?”

I stared into the sheets like a scolded kid. “No.” I finally sputtered. “It’s just all this talk is uncomfortable for me. I feel like letting you tell me you love me all the time is leading you on. I’m not sure what I feel.”

“You know exactly what you feel. You just don’t want to admit it.” Susan leaned in to me. Her skin was soft and warm. Her eyes begged me to give in. Something inside me melted.

Susan held me in her gaze.

Why was it so easy to listen to that passion at work but not at home? She could have gotten me to do almost anything if she had just asked. Instead, she pulled me down onto the pillows and snuggled into my side. She laid her head on my chest.

“I can hear your heart.”

“Oh yeah, what’s it saying?”

“That’s something you’re going to have to figure out for yourself. But don’t think too hard. Just listen.”

Monday, March 8, 2010


Edi-turd's note: Taking a break from Brock's story for something a little different. My local writers' group tackled a little writing exercise. 600-800 words. Character opens a black box holding a secret. Lemme know what you think.

Tony gently placed a box on the table next to a large pair of scissors. His hands trembled as he ran them back and forth across the lid.

She never let him have his “little treasures” (as she called them). He always had to hide them.

Why’d she have to be such a bitch?

Once, she found one of his smut mags – another of her names for the many things she of which she disapproved – and immediately called her pastor over for dinner and a lecture.

What did he care what her pastor thought? Like he was any better, robbing little old ladies with his stories of miracles and promises of salvation.

That’s when Tony had started hiding his treasures in plain sight. She’d never think to look in the decorative black box wrapped in black and white speckled ribbon with curly-q ends. It had been sitting empty atop the entertainment center for three years.

Hiding shit in his own house. His check paid half the mortgage, the utilities, the groceries. He even paid for the expensive interior designer who’d re-done the house in colors he despised. It was all about her, and what she wanted. From the spit-shined brass knick-knacks on the mantle to the flowery wall paper in the bedrooms, to the potpourri candles that choked him every time she lit them.

Every time he took the box down to fantasize, he’d carefully untie the ribbon so as not to kink or tangle the ends and give away his little secret. And when he was done, he would re-tie the bow in exactly the same manner and fluff the loops so that she’d never notice the difference. Then he’d wipe off any fingerprints or smudges he may have left on the shiny surface and slip the box back into its place at the exact angle it had been before. He’d been doing that for almost two years now.

Fuck her.

He picked up the scissors and studied his reflection in the cold steel. His heart raced at the sound of the two honed steel blades grinding past each other, and he slid his hand down his pants to soothe his growing erection.


It was music to his ears. He had waited so long for this chance. Now he’d finally get his release.

He watched the ribbon fall to the table.

Tony’s hand trembled as he removed the top.

“Tony, I’m home!” she called from the kitchen.

Caught in the act. But this time he was ready. This time it would be different. He, with his guilty pleasures, wasn’t the freak of the house. It was her with her spotless wine glasses, polished dinner table and floor clean enough to eat on, her alphabetized book collection, her closet arranged by color and size, her early morning cleaning rituals, her meticulous schedules.

She was the freak, not him.

This was going to rock her world.

“In here, Mother,” he answered trying to keep his voice from quivering. “You stupid sadistic fucking whore,” he added to himself.

“Can you be a dear and help me unload the groceries.”

“I kinda have my hands full.” The truth and irony of the line made him smile almost as much as hatching his little plan. He released his erection and reached into the box. “Can you give me a hand?”

“Tony Simon! The ice cream is melting in the trunk. You come out here this instant or you’ll be scrubbing the car!” Her voice grew louder as she left the kitchen and made her way toward the family room, “I won’t have sour milk spoiling my clean car.”

She rounded the corner into the family room.

The blast reverberated through the spotless home. Panes of sparkling glass rattled in their frames. Blood spatters marred the freshly painted walls.

She froze. All she could do was stare as Tony’s brains leaked over the rich brown leather of her sofa.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The silence was worse than the fight. And knowing I had hurt her was worse than the silence.

I let my eyes drop from her face to a spot on the floor half-way between us. My body was drained, my mind blank. And through it all, Susan stared silently, her eyes dead, refusing to hint at what she was thinking, what I needed to say.

“When do we come first, Bock?”

Finally. A clue. I played out the options in my head. You’re always first. I hadn’t exactly acted that way. What was the other option?

I finally broke the silence. "I know I've taken you for granted lately. You're really important to me." I crossed the kitchen and stood in front of her. "But this television thing is tough. I've got so much to learn to catch up with the rest of the photogs. I've got to pay my dues. And it's still new."

“That’s what I’m talking about! Why do you always do this?”

“Do what? I’m trying to explain.”

“Why do you always make this about your job?” Susan sighed. “This isn’t about cameras or tape or news. This is about having a life. I’ve got a job too. But you don’t see me hanging around the hotel for hours after my shift. I have a life outside of work. I thought you did too.” Another tear rolled down Susan’s cheek. It was obvious she had been holding back these feelings for a while.

I wanted to tell her – to explain – but I didn’t know, myself, why I spent so much time at work.

“What is it that makes you spend night after night in that station instead of at home? Is it me? Am I smothering you? Did we move in too soon? Do you need your space?”

She brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear while she waited for me to answer. I didn’t have a clue what to say. The last thing I wanted was for her to move out.

She dabbed at her eyes with a dish towel. “I’m not asking you to spend every waking hour with me. But a phone call when you’re going to be late would be nice. And once in a while, I’d like to be able to plan a nice date.”

Susan leaned back against the sink.

Thick, heavy silence filled the room. The kitchen was only eight feet wide, but Susan felt an ocean away. I didn’t know why it even mattered. We had only known each other six months, but what she thought about me and my non-life mattered more than I wanted to admit it. My heart pounded inside my chest. "I wish I could explain the rush I get from telling a good story.” My head reeled as I searched for exactly the right words. “Its adrenaline and anticipation and butterflies . . . It's like a first kiss."

Wrong words.

"Oh, so when you're kissing me, you're thinking about work!" She turned away from me and slammed her hands on the counter top. "Fucking brilliant!"

I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to turn her to face me. “No. It’s – ”

She pulled away. "That's what you said." She answered into the kitchen sink.

"It's . . . the excitement of creation."

“So, now you're god.”

"Just forget it. You wouldn’t understand.”

“No, I need you to understand something.” Susan sighed and slowly turned toward me. The anger in her eyes had softened. “I’m not trying to take you away from your job. I know that you love it. I see it on your face every day when you walk through the door.”

A whisper of a smile crossed her lips. Susan dangled her hand limply next to mine. My heart raced as her fingers brushed against my palm, and she let my hand wrap around hers.

“That excitement in your eyes why I come home every night. I work all day dreaming of the smile on your face when you get home. I want that smile to be for me, not some city alderman running for re-election. I can’t wait for you to come in with those big, blue eyes sparkling like a kid who just pulled one over on his teacher. But I don't get that when you don't come home.” She slipped her hand from my grip. “This all happened too fast. You need time to sort out your life.”

My chest ached again, but this time it wasn't the bruise from my falling camera. I knew exactly where she was going. Things had moved fast between us, but it was that passion that kept me going. Susan's belief in me and her support made facing the mistakes I made every day at work bearable.

Brock, call me at home. The small voice pager on my belt could not have squawked at a worse time.

I ripped it from my belt and sailed it across the kitchen. It hit the wall and broke into three pieces. At least it silenced the ASSMAN.

Susan frowned. “You better answer that. Ken sounds like he means it.”

“The ASSMAN can wait.”

“It's okay, call him. He probably wants you to go in early and work late tomorrow.” She tried to smile.

I put the phone on speaker and dialed Ken’s number. I wanted Susan to hear me tell him where he could stick his late-night page, but she retreated to the bedroom. Ken answered on the first ring.

“Great fushing story!” He was smashed. “Why didn't you tell me she was sho good?”

“I tried, remember. But you didn’t want to hear it.”

“You guysh did great! I always knew you had it in you. See you at work tomorrow.” And the phone went dead.

Silence hung in the room like the smell of cooked cabbage.

I walked over to the corner and gathered the pieces of my voice pager. The speaker lay near the wall under a small knick it had left in the paneling. The belt clip landed a couple feet from it near the stove. I picked up the cover to the battery compartment from under the kitchen table last and sat down to put it back together. Why couldn’t relationships be that easy?

I sat at the kitchen table, afraid to disturb the uneasy peace, and rewound the day. I had finally found a small degree of success at work. Ken’s phone call should have been great news. I should have been happy. But all I could think of was how I had wrecked Susan’s night. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized she was right.

Why hadn’t I just called to tell her I’d be late? Stupid question. That would have been admitting that I’d rather work than go out with her. Even though that’s the way it looked, it wasn’t the case. Telling a good story was like catching lightning in a bottle. It was urgent. If I didn’t do it right then, the opportunity would be gone forever. Susan, it seemed, would always be there.

I’m not sure how long I sat in the quiet of the kitchen asking myself if I really believed that and why it was that my mind worked that way. The longer I sat there, the heavier the silence became until it was unbearable. I had to do something, but what?

I pushed away from the table as quietly as I could trusting that the words would come to me when I reached the bedroom. I met Susan in the hallway. Evidently she was thinking the same thing. We stood there for a while, each waiting for the other to say something.

It had always been my experience that in situations like this one, the first person to speak was the one that lost. For some inexplicable reason I was more worried about losing Susan than an argument. I took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. “I've been a dick lately. I should have called tonight.” I paused hoping my apology would sink in. “I'll do better. Don’t move out.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I fluffed a small bouquet of tired-looking daisies and turned the ones with brown-edged petals away from the door. It wasn't much to look at, but it was all the grocery store had at 10:05 at night. I knocked three times – in the last six months, it had become my code – and let myself in.

Susan slouched on the sofa watching Lou James toss to Tommy Kay for the weather. She didn’t move as I entered the apartment. Instead of her usual skin-tight jeans and revealing blouse, she wore formless sweatpants. The neck of her oversized sweatshirt drooped across her shoulder revealing the strap of her lacy black bra.

“Oh, good. You’re watching the news. I want you to see the story I shot. It’s the kicker at the end of the show.”

She turned off the TV and hid her face as I bent to give her a hug.

“Hey, what’s the matter? I brought you some flowers for your birthday.”

She swung her head back to face me. Her golden eyes looked tarnished. Black mascara smudges ran down to her cheek bones. “Do you know what it’s like to be stood up on your birthday?”

“I . . . uh – ”

"I was worried sick. I just knew you were on the side of the road at some crime scene somewhere, dead." She stepped back and looked into my eyes. "I could kill you."

"I –"

"Where do you get off not calling me?” Her tears dried. It must have been the flames forming in her eyes. “You were supposed to take me to dinner tonight."

"I know but –"

"It’s my birthday!"

"Yeah, but –"

"I got all dressed up.”

“Yeah, nice sweats.” I handed her the pitiful flowers and plopped down in the La-Z-Boy across the living room.

She took one look at my peace offering and slung it across the room. “Flowers ain’t gonna fix this.”

“I know I –”

“I was in the edit bay.” She mocked my feeble attempt at an explanation. “Can’t you come up with something more original?”

“I was in the edit bay, and what’s it to you?”

"Lemme guess." Susan closed the door and faced me, her hands on her hips and fury in her voice. "Another story! What was it this time, Bock? A cat in a tree? The school board set a new, longest meeting record? Or were you repairing the damage you did to another sports interview?"

That last one hurt. But she was right. This whole routine was getting old. We had moved in together just three weeks after Ernie punched my lights out on the Cotton Gin dance floor. It was quick – maybe too quick. But there was something between us that neither she nor I could deny. And the sex was great.

"A carhop." I mumbled.

"What?" Susan screamed and stared straight through me. "I missed a night in a fancy restaurant for a fast-food floozy on roller skates!” Her arms waved wildly over her spray-starched hair. “I'm getting tired of this, Bock."

"I know."

"What's this make, seven, eight times we’ve canceled our plans because of your job?"

"I know. I'm sorry.” I hung my head. I didn’t have to try to look pitiful this time. I hated letting her down.

“I don’t want your damn apologies! I want steak Janon!”

The thought of the signature dish at the poshest restaurant in town made my mouth water.

“I want a night out with a boyfriend who wants to spend time with me!”

She was right. I had been spending too much time at the station, changing our plans at the whim of the ASSMAN. When we were together, it was perfect – except for when I screwed things up. It was a constant struggle to balance my love for my new job with my feelings for Susan. And it was not an explanation I wanted to tackle, especially with Susan this mad at me.

“I do want to spend time with you. You know that, but this is the way news works. I can't tell you when the next big story is going to happen."

"And what's big news about a carhop? I know,” Susan’s voice oozed sarcasm, “she ended world hunger with her serving tray!"

I had that one coming, I guess. My head sagged between my shoulders and I sighed in exasperation as I crossed the room and scooped the disheveled bouquet off the floor.

Susan’s eyes followed me almost daring me to speak.

I obliged.

"The carhop wasn't the big news part." I fought to keep a somber look on my face. I had to look contrite, but I could feel the edges of my lips giving away my true emotions. "It finally happened. It finally clicked! I told a good story!" I felt my face light up.

"Fan-fucking-tastic!" Susan stormed past me into the kitchen. I was sure she was headed for the knife drawer, but I followed her trailing limp flower petals anyway.

She spun to face me, the anger in her face tempered by desperation. "Let's stop the world because Bock has a good story.” Tears began to pool in the corners of her eyes. “What about us? What about our lives?” A fat tear cleared a fresh trail through her mascara, smearing a gray streak down her cheek.

I hadn’t really thought that much about us. I had it good. A job I loved. A girlfriend at home who loved me. She told me as much every time I left the apartment.

“We can't just put everything on hold every time someone has a story to tell.” Susan folded her arms across her chest and waited for me to say something.

I searched my brain. What was it that she wanted to hear? It wasn’t another apology. I love you? I wasn’t ready for that. I’ll move out? I wasn’t ready for that either.

I stood there staring back at her. Waiting. Hoping. Praying for an answer that would get me off the hook. I shifted my weight, first to my left foot, then to my right.

Susan didn’t budge. She wasn’t letting me off that easy tonight.