"I was snooping in your closet while you were in the shower. I wanted to see how much room you had before I asked if I could leave a couple suits here for work. I mean, this is a pretty small place; I didn't want to crowd you too much. Syd you have practically *nothing* in your closet. No boxes of crap, barely any clothes. There's no clutter anywhere. It's just not normal."

"I like to travel light. If I don't use something for a month, I toss it, sell it, or give it away. I'm just not a materialist person, I guess. You can bring over and leave anything you'd like. I could go over to your place if that'd be easier."

"I like it here better. My place is a showcase for the company. I'm thinking of telling the company to shove it and not renewing my lease. Find some place else."

"My land lord is wanting to sell this place in a couple months. He wants to move closer to his grandkids. I've been thinking of buying it, maybe doing some remodeling and make it into two or three bigger units. Maybe remodel the carriage house into an office. But I don't know that it'd be worth it just for me."

"Are you crazy? This place is great! Perfect location, well-maintained, big lot, nice neighborhood. How much is he asking? *I'll* buy it if you don't."

"Maybe we could buy it together? Hear me out. It's a win-win situation. If we work out, we can live together in a place we have equal stake in. If we don't, it's still a good investment. We can remodel it into two apartments and if someone wants out, they can get out and rent out their apartment and recoup their losses. If you're not ready to live together by then, we can maintain our own places right here and the other wouldn't have far to go in the mornings after we spend the night together. What do you think?" I've been thinking about this ever since he asked me if I was interested a couple weeks ago. Sometimes I'm brilliant.

"Hmm… That could work. Can you set up a meeting with him so we can discuss it? How soon does he need to know?"

"Not until the end of next month. I'll call him this afternoon. That reminds me -- I'm going to be a few minutes late picking you up. I have an appointment at six, but it probably won't take very long. You can take the car and I'll ride my bike if you'd rather. I don't mind."

"I don't mind waiting; I have plenty of work to do."

"All right. How about Chez Salmonella tonight?"

"I wish you wouldn't call it that. How did you score reservations?! It takes me at least four months to get in."

"I guess you just don't know the right people," I tease. No way am I telling her what I did. Let's just say I spent a very interesting weekend with the owner a few years ago and she remembers me *very* fondly. And just a piece of friendly advice -- feathers and maple syrup really don't mix well. Also, never, ever, under any circumstances let a French chef mix the drinks. Sure, they look fantastic and taste better, but they make you so goddamn drunk that rolling around in maple syrup and feathers and pretending to be Charlie Chicken sounds like a viable plan for a lonely Friday night. That was just disturbing. But if I do say so myself, she still thinks chicken rules.

"Will you wear your suit? I saw it in the closet and I must see you in it."

"If it pleases the lady," I acquiesce in a horrible French accent.

"Jesus, I'm so late. C'mon, James, take me to work."

"How'd you guess my middle name?" I exclaim just to mess with her. She'll spend all day wondering if it really is.


Before I know it, the day is over and it's time to hit the florist and the jeweler. Since everyone at Cynthia's office thinks we're engaged, I've decided to ask her to marry me. I'm 99% sure she'll say no, of course, because I know she's not ready, but recent events have made me think. Sometimes you just have to ask the girl. You never know when she'll be taken from you. A few days ago, she was broad sided on her way home from work. She didn't get hurt, but the car was totaled. Six inches either way and she probably would've been killed or at least maimed. Six inches… Less than the span of my hand. It scared the hell out of me. It's taken me this long just to steady enough to write again. It hasn't seemed to bother her much. Sometimes it's hard to tell with her, though. I'm keeping an eye on her to make sure there are no ill effects.

So here I am on a fool's mission. If nothing else, we can celebrate the five month anniversary of our first date there. I'm not too nervous because I'm sure she'll say no. I have my terribly romantic speech all written out and memorized. I'm not even gonna tell you what I had to read to figure *that* out. Well, okay, plagiarize. But it's not like I'm gonna publish it or anything so there. I have the perfect romantic evening planned. Dinner at Chez Salmonella and a room full of candles at home. If nothing else, I'm guaranteed second base.


Okay, ring shopping at the last moment is utterly insane and nerve racking. I didn't want to get it ahead of time for fear she'd find it. I didn't think it'd take long to pick out something simple and understated, yet classy. It's painfully obvious I should've read Bride's Magazine after all. I'm sure as hell not buying something that costs more than my damned car. I pick out something closer to 'my parents went some fucking place and all I got was this lousy ring' than 'lookie at our kids' college education'. It still runs me a month's rent and I figure that's good enough. It's got diamonds on it -- lots of little ones that won't snag on anything like one big one looks like it'd do. I figure I can't go wrong with diamonds. The jeweler tries that two months' salary shit on me. What kind of stupidity is that? By the time you have the ring and honeymoon paid for, you have no fucking money to support your wife. No wonder so many marriages fail in the first year. Poor guy's tired of looking at a year's worth of ball games and steak dinners staring at him from his wife's finger while he's eating roman noodles and listening to her bitch about it.

I pick her up at 6:30. She's waiting in the lobby with the security guard. I wave at him and help her into her jacket. "Want to run by your place and pick up anything?"

"I'd like to change if you don't mind."

"Nope, I have my suit in the back. Oh, I picked up your dry cleaning, but I left it at my place."

"Oh, thank you, baby. But when did you have time?"

"An appointment cancelled so I was able to catch up faster than I expected."

"Good. So, is James really your middle name?"


"Oh, sweet Jesus. You look incredible, darlin'." She does. She's wearing a short strapless black dress, very short and very tight in all the right places. That dress is gonna help me find religion before the evening's done, even if it's in a private service. "I don't know where to ogle first; everything looks so damn good," I find myself saying absently as I try to look everywhere at once. What else can you do when you have such a hot girlfriend?

"You're getting better at remembering to give compliments. Maybe I'll train you yet."

"Darlin', you can take this old dog upstairs and I'll learn any goddamn new trick you damn well please."

She laughs in that self-satisfied way women get when they know they have you well and truly at their mercy -- and they're gonna make you work for what you both want. "You look incredible yourself, Syd. That suit makes you look impossibly more buff and the tie really brings out the color of your eyes."

I blush, pleased. I hate dressing up, but if she's gonna look at me like that… "Good, maybe that'll cut down on the number of would-be suitors I'll have to fight off from you." That's a truly horrible sentence, but I'm too busy staring at her to talk properly or care that I'm not.

"Well, if we don't hurry, we'll miss our reservation."

"Oh, right." Taking my cue, I grab her dress jacket and help her into it. I've discovered that she really likes it when I do that. She also likes doors opened for her, chairs pulled out, and other such small gallantries. Since I firmly believe some old-fashioned manners shouldn't have died out, it works out nicely.


"Syd, you are simply amazing. How long have you been planning this to score the best table in the house? Let alone personal service from the owner/chef?! Plus flowers! Jesus, this must be costing you a mint. You didn't have to go to all this trouble and expense just because I like to eat here."

"Well, now, it's not really that expensive and it's no trouble. You just have to know the right people."

"Uh-huh." I'm not convincing her I didn't perform a miracle, so I give up. Let her think what she wants. I tried to be honest. I think I can be forgiven for excluding the mention of maple syrup and feathers. Some secrets *should* be kept -- I think poultry impersonations fit in that category.


"Happy anniversary, darlin'," I tell her while we're waiting for desert.

"Anniversary?" She looks slightly panicked.

"Yeah, we had our first date five months ago today. I tried to get the same table, but my contact insisted on this one."

"Syd, you are the only person in the world who would apologize for getting the *best* table." She shakes her head fondly, smiling, and squeezes my hand.

"I *like* that table. It was there it hit me how well and truly hooked I was when I spent damn much on a dinner I knew damn good and well wouldn't end with nudity. I've never done that, let alone with someone I wanted to sleep with. I'm a skinflint, for one. From the beginning, I've found myself doing and saying things I've never done before. And I *like* it. I always thought I was destined to be alone. I never thought I'd have normal things like a home of my own and someone who truly loved me to share it with, but you make me believe maybe I can, if not now, then someday soon. I guess what I'm trying to say is would you marry me?" I fumble in my inside pocket for the ring box, cursing myself for not following the script and rambling like an idiot ahead of schedule. I didn't even get down on one knee. They always do that in romances. I should've said I loved her too. Christ, I *knew* I'd fuck up! I don't dare look up at her as I offer her the little velvet box. For just a second I want to pretend she'll be all happy and say yes before I see the reality of her trying to figure out how to say no without hurting my feelings. For that reason, I hadn't looked at her as I mangled my proposal. She's not laughing at least. She's not saying a word or taking the box. Fuck. I should've gotten a better ring and waited awhile. She's feeling pressured, I know. I *knew* she wasn't ready. Why couldn't I leave well enough alone? I *knew* she would say no! So why is this silence killing me? Why does it hurt so damn much? Why do I feel like I'm dying? Why --

"Oh, Syd… Yes."

Yes? Did she just say yes? I look up. She's doing that crying happy laughing smiling thing. "Yes? You said yes?" I repeat, dumfounded.

"Yes, yes I'll marry you."

"You will?" I know I sound like a parrot and a stupid one at that, but I never really expected her to say yes, especially after than centuries-long pause.

"Don't sound so surprised; you knew I would."

"I didn't. I thought maybe I'd get a 'maybe some day' at best. I'm so happy I can't even talk."

"Of course I'd say yes; what other answer could there be? Now, why don't you slip the ring on my finger so we can kiss and these nice people can have some cake?"

That's when I realize we have an audience and the owner/chef and her husband are standing beside me with a giant "Congratulations, Sydney and Cynthia!" cake. I hadn't even noticed them approach. I didn't realize the surrounding diners had heard my proposal -- or at least noticed the ring and figured it out. How did the owner know I was gonna propose, for that matter? I just said I wanted to celebrate. I didn't say a word about the ring. But, practicing for eventual married life, I just say "yes, dear" and attempt to remove the ring from the box it's welded into. That jeweler apparently thought I was going to propose in a hurricane. I finally manage the extraction with a little swearing and much blushing. Then I'm left with the which hand is which dilemma. I know it's a simple concept, but I can't tell right from left on anyone but me and I have to play 'find the scar' to manage *that*. I have no idea why I have so much trouble, but I always have. She helpfully holds out a hand and I gently take it in mine and carefully slip the ring onto her finger. And I allow tears of joy to slide down my cheeks unimpeded, not caring who sees.


"Thanks so much for the cake," I tell my old friend. "Thank you all for helping my fiancée and me celebrate," I say to the room at large, partly out of sincere gratitude and partly just to use 'fiancée' in a sentence. "I didn't expect any of this when I set out to propose, but this was so wonderful of you all." It is. If you'd told me I'd be happily eating cake with a roomful of strangers and an old flame -- *ever* -- let alone after asking someone to marry me, I'd have laughed in your face. I don't like crowds and I especially don't like sharing my emotions with crowds. It's simply amazing what love can do. I've cheerfully accepted hearty handshakes and congratulations from total strangers. Cynthia is simply glowing.

"Yes, thank you all," Cynthia adds.

"It was nothing. I never thought I'd live to see you settle down. Love suits you."

"I never thought I would either. Then I met Cynthia and lost the heart I didn't even know I still had."

Cynthia squeezes my hand and smiles at me all sappy and loving. "How could I *not* fall in love with her? She's funny, loving, very trainable, gorgeous, and the sweetest woman in the world. I still don't know how she's convinced anyone she wasn't."

"Must've been the muscles and the leather," I reply dryly. There's no salvaging my reputation anyway.

They laugh.


"Tonight was wonderful, honey," Cynthia says when we're in the car.

"Yeah, it was. What would you like to do now?"

"Could we go dancing? I want to show off in front of more women who wish they were me."

"Sounds good to me. Where would you like to go?"

She names a popular lesbian bar I used to go to all the time.

"You want me to get in lots of fights, don't you? There's bound to be a lot of women I used to, uh, know, there."

"I know; thus the fun in showing off I bagged you."

"Like you need to. I think every dyke in town knows I'm heart over head over heels over you."

"Then a little showing off won't hurt anything."

I laugh and drive. I can't tell her no, especially tonight.


I'm a little nervous about going in, but I take her hand and open the door. It's crowded. I shoulder our way to the bar and order a couple beers. I wince when I realize who the bartender is. It's the chick with the tennis racquet fetish. She's got more piercings than a Goth club. Oh boy. At least I can honestly say I never slept with her.

"Stud! I knew you'd come back for more eventually. I get off in thirty minutes and hopefully again in forty-five. I just bought a new racquet. You've *got* to see the rod I have in the closet now. Five inch diameter solid steel. You could hang a tank on it."

Cynthia gives me an 'how fucking drunk *were* you?!' look and glares at her. "She's with me. Permanently. Allow me to introduce myself -- I'm the future Mrs. Stud." She holds up our joined hands and points at her ring.

"Jesus, lady, who pissed in your cheerios? I didn't know." She glares back, puts our drinks on the bar and stalks off to serve another customer with all the dignity a pincushion with legs can muster.

"She looked normal then, but I still didn't sleep with her. She freaked me out. I'll try anything once, but even at my most indiscriminate, I drew the line at anything involving tennis racquets, closet rods, and obscene pig Latin," I explain hurriedly.

She stares at me for a moment, and shakes her head. "I would hope so."

I knew I was right not to tell her about the feathers and maple syrup.


"Wanna dance, baby?" I ask.

"Of course."

I lead her out on the floor and pull her into my arms. Some Melissa Etheridge ballad is playing, I couldn't tell you which one. I'm not paying that much attention. I love holding her in my arms at any time, but it's even better holding her in front of a bunch of envious dykes. I'm a cocky bitch anyway, but there's something about walking with her hand in mine that makes me feel like the king of the goddamn world. Great, now I can't get that stupid Titanic song out of my head. "I love you. I can't say that enough."

"Me either. I love you, too."

We fall silent. I don't listen to the lyrics. I have to concentrate hard to manage any competency at all. Just another thing you'd assume I'd be good at, but I'm not. I have no sense of rhythm or coordination whatsoever on a dance floor -- a fact I unfortunately always forget until it's too late. Many women have tried to teach me, but I can't do it. Put me in a boxing ring or a dojo mat and I can out dance anyone, but play some music and add a strobe light and Elmer Fudd can dance circles around me.

I don't know how long we dance before she says she's ready to sit down for a while. I lead her off the floor to the first empty table I see, quite relieved to quit before my luck runs out and I stomp her foot or something embarrassing like that. I flag down a passing waitress for another round. Once again, my luck sucks. At least this one didn't like anything odd. Well, unless you consider an empty mausoleum in the center of an old graveyard at midnight on Halloween odd. At least, I hope it was empty. It was dark, I was otherwise engaged, and rather the worse for drink. Tequila sunrises. I think I had a good two weeks in me.

"Hey, Stud! Haven't seen you around for a while. I just got the *best* job! How about you, Jose Cuero, an embalming room, and me? Mrs. Johnson wouldn't mind."

"No, thanks. I'm getting married to this lovely lady soon and I'm permanently off the market. Been with her six months and couldn't be happier." Jesus, if we *must* run into women I've screwed, why couldn't it be one of the hundreds of perfectly normal women I fucked in a bathroom or an alleyway or some perfectly normal place like that? Must it be the one percent of the sick, kinky, and terminally twisted? Most of them were in my much younger days when I drank heavily -- and worse.

"Oh! I'm *so* sorry! I've been so busy with the new job I've been out of the gossip loop. I didn't know. I'll just go get your drinks and leave you alone."

"Two weeks worth of Tequila sunrises, maybe a month. No, dead bodies weren't involved," I tell Cynthia before she says a word.

"Am I the only woman you've had vanilla sex with?" She asks wryly, but her eyes are twinkling.

"I swear the weird ones were a very, very, very small fraction. Most of the time I was wasted. Most of them were during my self-destructive years. Why they think we're gonna take up again after all this time, I don't know. I guess the normal ones are too polite to approach."

"I'm sorry, honey. It's just I got the impression that despite the vast numbers of women you were with you were really vanilla. I mean, you'd never had oral sex before and that's hardly adventurous. It's a shock to find out you really aren't that vanilla after all. It's actually rather reassuring, really, knowing no matter what I may suggest, you've probably done something as kinky or kinkier."

"I'm just embarrassed. I don't want you to think badly of me or hate me."

"I don't, Sydney. I don't think I could. There's nothing wrong with experimenting and trying new things. I've had my share of questionable encounters. Do you have a drinking problem? Is that one of the things you're so ashamed of?"

"I used to drink quite a bit to dull the pain. I don't have a problem now. I haven't had more than a couple drinks every now and then for a few years and it doesn't bother me either way."

"I thought it was something like that. I --"

"I knew you were a no-good girlfriend thief, bitch! Now you're cheating on your own woman -- and with an engaged woman at that?!" Someone behind me exclaims.

I turn around. Yep, she's talking to me and I don't recognize her. Big beefy hardcore butch type, probably not much shorter than I am. "I never stole anyone's girlfriend and I never slept with anyone I knew was hooked up, for one, and secondly, this is *my* fiancée, thank you very much. I haven't even been around for six months."

Of course she insists on calling me a liar and insists I slept with her girl. I don't recognize the name or picture. I politely reiterate I'm innocent.

"I know you're lying! I saw you with her just last week, McGuire!"

"My name's Brogan; would you like to see my driver's license?" I ask, trying to stay polite and not get pissed off. God knows I'd probably kill anyone who even *tried* to take Cynthia from me.

"Henderson, you idiot, she doesn't even *look* like McGuire. Put your damn glasses on before you go accusing people of doing things. Not stopping for a long chat with Jack first might also help," another woman berates from a nearby table, getting up and taking her friend's arm. "My friend's really sorry. She hasn't been quite right since the accident, please forgive the intrusion."

"It's okay, don't worry about it," I reply, rather graciously, considering, I think.

The chastised Henderson mumbles an apology and lets herself be dragged off; muttering about what she'd do when she found that bitch McGuire.

"Well, now, that was interesting," Cynthia comments after a short silence.

"Perhaps we should leave before she comes back and decides to kick my ass anyway."

"Perhaps we should."

Before we can get up, our drinks arrive via a different waitress, thankfully one I don't recognize. However, from the way Cynthia just went pale, I'm assuming she does. This is gonna get interesting. I realize for the first time I don't know anything about her past either.

"Cindy! I've been looking for you, sugar dumpling. Why haven't you called? Why didn't you at least stay for breakfast, my sweet rum raisin crumpet? I had the grape nuts and crazy straw all ready just like you asked."

Okay, at this point I think I should interject a description of this waitress. Okay, picture a five-foot Barbie doll. Double the silicone in the fake tits, make the hair a really bad '80s perm with black roots. Add a lazy eye, several large moles, slight five o'clock shadow, and a voice that would make *Fran Dresher* wince. Now, imagine you're me and try not to laugh. I can't do it either. I crack up. "No wonder you're not upset about my past! What the hell were *you* drinking?!"

Okay, I deserve the drink Barbie throws in my face -- that really *wasn't* a very nice thing to say -- but did she *really* have to try to break a chair over my head? Whatever happened to a nice hard slap, maybe a few artistically placed scratches? At least she manages the witty repartee. "You want a piece of me, bitch?"

Ah, there's nothing like a pissed off Jersey cocktail waitress to start a bar brawl. I haven't been in one since a couple months before we met. If Cynthia were home, I'd be so there. But the middle of a brawl is no place for her, so I try to calm Barbie down. "Jesus, lady, stop it. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be an insensitive ass."

Alas, I'm too late. *Cynthia* stands up and breaks *her* chair over Barbie's head, hollerin' "Don't hit my woman, you silicone enhanced Dolly Parton wannabe!" and the fight is on. Cynthia's whalin' on her like she's Captain Ahab and Barbie's Moby Dick. Barbie's fightin' back, but she's clearly overmatched. She's a real trooper, though, and she ain't givin' up. They're knockin' over tables and runnin' into dykes and soon everyone's just beatin' on whoever's handy, whether they did anything or not. I jump up and take Cynthia's back. Every time I think I've figured out that woman out, something like this happens and I have to completely revise my opinion. God, I love that woman!

She gets away from me at one point when I'm tryin' to apologize to for disruptin' a pool game. Fortunately, the two huge dykes -- nearly as big as I am -- have unruly women of their own and the loser won't even take the money I made her lose when I explain -- between punches -- that my girl had been about to be clobbered with a chair leg when I bumped the table. They even apologize for hittin' me.

"Oh, hell -- c'mon!" One exclaims, looking over my shoulder.

I turn around and look. Cynthia's at the far end of the room, flyin' down the goddamn bar face down like something out of a bad movie.

"Somebody's been watchin' too much damn TV," the other one says.

"I'm never takin' her to a bar again," I groan, runnin'.

The three of us fight our way 'cross the room. Cynthia jumps up and laughs when she reaches the end of the bar. She starts kickin' people in the head and runnin' up and down the bar. How the hell she manages in that tight dress and three inch heels I'll never know. I ain't real sure I could do it naked in track shoes. Damn thing's slicker'n a snake oil salesman. She's swingin' off the glass rack by the time we're half-way 'cross the room. Someone's been watching too much Road House and Coyote Ugly. She looks like she's havin' the time of her life, though.

By this time, I'm more afraid somebody will pull her down and sexually assault her than her bein' hit. Damn that woman's fast -- and flexible. My new buddies and I get about three feet from the bar when she sees me. She grins and leaps off the bar, hollerin' "Catch!" I manage, staggerin' a bit from impact. She ain't that big, but no one told physics that.

I hear sirens and I holler "Cops!" I turn to my new friends and ask, "You got any women to rescue?"

"No, c'mon! Out the back!"

I shift Cynthia over my shoulder and we start runnin' like the IRS is on our heels. Being caught in the middle of a brawl when it can be proved you kinda started it is very bad, especially for a senior VP of a huge firm. One new friend goes ahead to clear a path and one covers our rear. I have to get these dykes' names. They're damn fine folks.

The cops are arriving near my car so my new friends offer us a ride. We're three blocks away when Cynthia grins and turns to me. "I just love a good bar brawl, don't you?"

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Copyright © 2006 by S. Berry. All Rights Reserved.

part 9

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