It seemed somehow that life simply was not fair.
Imagine being born and raised in New York City, the most exciting place on Earth, where everything was possible, everything was available.
Then just after you turn fifteen with all the sinful pleasures of adulthood beckoning, your dumb-ass parents decide to move house to Penrith, Maryland.
They could have named it ‘Dullsville’ but that still would have been over-statement.
For Tom Kennedy, a young man in a very big hurry, it was hell on Earth.
Now aged seventeen, Tom had tried to impress the locals with tales of his big city exploits, but these hicks were so lame they had remained unmoved. The fact that his stories were entirely untrue was beside the point. Losing your cherry on the night of your thirteenth birthday to a pair of hookers, twins no less, was surely the stuff of dreams? Apparently not here. Instead of making him the kingpin at school, he was more or less shunned.
He had tried a different tack. "Yes, I am related to the Kennedy’s"
Zero, zip, zilch. Not even the one genuine truth, that he possessed a pretty decent car, had earned him so much as a kiss. It was becoming an increasing problem for Tom. The fantasy that he was a worldly wise, well-connected, lothario clashed uneasily with the reality that he was an awkward virgin with no real friends and parents whom he rarely connected with. His inner demons were becoming restless.
In Penrith, California, Sharaaz ‘Shaz’ Kapoor had few inner demons.
Also aged seventeen, the only thing that she would have in common with Tom Kennedy was that she too felt a sense of distance from her parents.
Her feelings were not those of resentment, simply that somehow she was ‘on a different wavelength’ to them.
Unlike Tom, Shaz appreciated the comfortable lifestyle that her parents had provided, respected them as people. She just could not share their ambition.
In fact Shaz worried sometimes that she herself seemed devoid of ambition, did not have a distinct goal in life, maybe was just too damned content.
Though Penrith, Ca. was many times larger than it’s Maryland namesake, it would still be considered by most as a ‘sleepy’ sort of place. That was fine by Shaz, she had not known anything different. Excitement could be found in a good book or a well-crafted movie…there was no need for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Actually, that was not strictly true. Having discovered the thrill of self-exploration, Shaz had masturbated regularly, if somewhat guiltily.
In fact whilst Tom found his reality to be a source of concern, Shaz slightly worried about the fantasies she conjured on those thankfully frequent evenings when her parents would go out and leave her to ‘entertain herself’.
Valentine’s Day had been highlighted in Tom’s little used diary for some time.
Falling on a Friday this year, his parents had chosen to "make a weekend of it" and had flown back to NY City the evening before.
Tom foresaw his opportunity elsewhere.
About an hour’s drive away from Penrith lay the town of Hogarth.
To his puritan neighbours, Hogarth was as near to a "Sin City" as they would care to imagine. Synonymous at least locally with drugs and prostitution, Tom had also heard that the bars there were none to strict about enforcing the below age drink laws. More importantly, real or imagined prostitution aside, it was rumoured that the women in Hogarth were "up for it, big time"
The actual date had no significance when Shaz chose to inform her school that she could not attend classes due to "a really sore stomach."
It had been a minor act of rebellion that she herself wondered about a mere half-hour later. Bored and restless, she rather wished she had just gone to school as usual. Finally she decided that she may as well take the long walk to the shops.
Shaz had nothing specific she needed to purchase, it just seemed like it may be marginally more entertaining than hanging around the house watching TV.
Tom had mentally rehearsed several scenarios for his big day.
The end result of him getting laid was never in doubt, how often varied greatly.
Another factor common to each of his musings was that he would need to begin with a little ‘Dutch Courage.’
Though a serial fantasist, Tom had the self-awareness to realise he was basically a timid character. His problem was that while a few cans of ‘Bud’ undoubtedly raised his self-confidence, it also invariably made him sick.
The mere aroma of his dad’s Chivas Regal offered little promise, but with a liberal dose of cola added he raised his glass in a toast.
"Scotch Courage" he smiled before taking a tentative sip.
Shaz had walked this route many times before. After a couple of early meanders, it was basically the long, arrow-straight route of Pond Street. Today was perfect weather for walking. Not too warm yet with bright sunlight that displayed the pristine qualities of her affluent home town.
The ‘landmarks’ such as they were familiar, reassuring. A church, an obscure statue, even a small fountain, though oddly no pond. One unfamiliar sight, albeit in the distance was someone propelling themselves up the gentle incline in a wheelchair. Not exactly hurrying, Shaz found herself inexorably closing the distance between herself and the ‘invalid.’
Now just a few yards behind, it occurred to the young woman, perhaps for the first time, that Pond Street was not quite as flat as she had previously supposed.
"You seem to be struggling a bit, do you need a hand?"
Tom Kennedy was quite elated. At last his plans were falling into place.
He recalled one of the few earnest conversations that he had ever had with his father.
"This is not a Clint Eastwood ‘blow your head, clean off’ type of weapon" Tom Snr. had informed him.
"It is quite simply the most accurate hand-gun available. Aim for the knee, it will hit the knee. Your average house-breaker will soon drop the VCR when he finds his kneecap lying back in the driveway"
Young Tom had been quite impressed not to say thrilled that his dad had shared,
entrusted this knowledge with him.
This connection had been all too brief. After stressing that the gun most certainly could kill, Tom Snr. had stated that a good leg shot was his preferred option; he pointed out the usual location of the weapon then simply walked away.
Tom was not overly enthused by guns, yet it could have provided a point of some common interest…but apparently his father had little concern for bonding.
Today however, after a few glasses of Chivas Regal, each time with a diminished cola content, Tom decided that a trip to Hogarth might just merit the carrying of some ‘hardware.’ Add to that his dad’s money-clip which rarely held less than a thousand dollars and the fact that it had been resting in a sock drawer for so long that his father would probably have forgotten about it, this trip to Hogarth was looking sweet.
At the same time as Tom was experiencing a false sense of serenity, Shaz found herself either mentally or emotionally confused. Perhaps both.
She had never doubted her own intellect, never deluded herself about her own, as she saw it, rather plain appearance.
Her life was ordered, maybe predictable but ultimately comfortable.
At least it had been until an hour or two ago.
After the initial pleasantries, they had been slightly combative.
"So where are you from?" It may have seemed an innocent enough question.
"Here, Penrith" Shaz had duly replied.
The woman in the wheelchair had smiled.
"I suppose I meant originally"
This had returned some childhood memories and for Shaz the blue sky had faded.
"Honestly, I was born in Penrith" she retorted with some annoyance.
"I am not white, not black, not Mexican." She stated boldly.
"Just an American citizen born and bred. I am sorry if that offends you."
The wheelchair bound woman had looked up with a wry smile.
"I’m Alexa, Polish-American, and if you really want to help, push me in the direction of the grocery store"
For a brief moment, each fell silent. Like wrestlers circling or grand masters surveying a chess board, only hesitation prevailed.
It was Alexa who broke the impasse in an unexpected fashion.
"Please stop staring at my tits, my legs are still pretty decent and my ass is to die for"
In Maryland, the weather had turned foul, as had Tom’s mood.
Whisky induced bravado was being replaced with self-doubt, plus a slightly dodgy stomach. Hogarth would be a wash-out, he would die a virgin, and indeed he may well die quite soon. Why is life never easy?
It had never been part of any of his plans, but for Tom’s sake the intervention of sleep was probably his genuine saviour. Tortured thoughts and loaded hand-guns could be an unfortunate mix.
Despite another strained exchange over the potential purchase of bacon…
"Muslims don’t eat bacon, Hindu’s don’t eat beef, I am neither" Sharaaz had grudgingly explained, the two women were now in Alexa’s apartment.
It was now Alexa’s turn to reveal her insight on prejudice.
"Listen, before the accident I was a professional model, so I am not being arrogant about my appearance. I personally think that I am nothing special, but several magazines would argue otherwise. I accept that."
The woman of Polish origin sounded more matter-of-fact than annoyed, but then her timbre changed.
"Yet I can see in your face you feel sorry for me being in a wheelchair, more sorry than if I was elderly or even downright ugly…"
Shaz winced, because despite herself, she knew it could well be true.
"I’ve even heard it at the hospital, doctors and physios whispering things like
‘what a waste, a piece of ass like that stuck in a wheelchair.’ It makes me sick"
Shaz wondered just how much of life was pure fate, luck, happenstance.
Here she was with a virtual stranger, arguing strongly yet with respect about a huge variety of subjects, often from opposing viewpoints, yet she was having the time of her life. All because she had chosen to bunk off school, for no particular reason, only then to encounter this wondrous, intelligent beauty who seemed to be giving her stirrings in places that she would not normally mention in polite society.
When Tom awoke, he wasn’t sure to be relieved or disappointed that he still had plenty of time to attend the promised ‘Valentine’s Extravaganza’ in Hogarth.
The fact that he had vomited on the settee seemed unimportant, his brain was still much of a fog. His stomach however was less troublesome, and he figured that returning to a decent amount of cola to dilute the whisky would allow him to decide. His plans, perhaps his whole future would hang in the balance…
"Actually I feel a terrible fraud" Alexa explained.
"I have total feeling from the knees up. It is only my lower legs that were truly damaged. I can just about walk on crutches, though it is exhausting. When I see and meet genuinely paralysed people, sometimes I can barely look them in the eye"
Previous abruptness between them had given way to some connection that neither fully understood.
"I don’t know what to say" Shaz was genuine.
"How I walked away from that crash I will never know" Alexa was becoming plaintive.
"Perhaps, crawled away" Shaz corrected her.
"Smart-ass!" Alexa laughed. "Am I frying the bacon or will you? If you volunteer, mine has to be extra crispy"
"My bacon has to snap like a twig" Shaz suggested "and on white bread, none of that healthy brown cardboard for me. And before you forget, you invited me…cook it yourself, your not a helpless cripple"
With the weather conditions deteriorating, Tom gunned his motor, checked the money-clip (700 dollars? Cheapskate!) Suddenly realised he had forgotten the gun, but chose to press on regardless. The road to Hogarth was no six-lane freeway, and the wind was blowing the rainfall sideways, it was already dark
and once past the driveway of his home, lighting would be at a premium.
Was this really a good idea?
"Oh God! That is just fantastic!"
"I cannot take anymore…but I cannot stop!"
"I have never had better"
"Doing that to me, you must be the bitch-queen from hell!"
"You love it and you know it! Can you handle more?"
"Give it to me, just give it to me!!"
Passing the doorway, Mr Johnson the building supervisor, had let his curiosity get the better of him. Upon hearing the exchange of two female voices he had become transfixed, perhaps over-excited.
Inside the apartment, Alexa and Shaz were wallowing in the afterglow of bacon sandwiches, agreeing with their eyes that neither had experienced better.
Tom had barely reached the outskirts of Penrith, the storm was if anything intensifying and his heart was no longer fully committed to the pre-planned cause
when he noticed a huddled, slowly shuffling figure in the beam of his headlights.
Slowing down, he vaguely recognised the form just ahead.
Lowering the side-window his suspicions were confirmed when an ashen face poked through the small gap.
"Charlie? Charlie Stockton?" he asked somewhat rhetorically.
"Charlotte" the girl replied wearily.
Charlie, Charlotte Stockton attended the same school, indeed the only school in Penrith, as Tom. Also a bit of a loner, she was called ‘two-backs’ on the account that she was the most flat-chested sixteen year old in existence.
She certainly made for a pitiful sight wandering in the dark in such a storm.
"Is everything OK? I mean what are you doing?" Tom spoke his thoughts aloud.
Though he had basically ignored her during his stay in Penrith, Tom had to concede that Charlie, Charlotte, was one of the few school kids who had never given him grief about something or other.
"Just ignoring people, family…no problem" the girl spoke with a resignation, perhaps even a rehearsed response.
"For God’s sake get in the car, you must be freezing" Tom offered.
"I’m not going to rape you or anything" Tom added without thought.
"I don’t suppose you will" Charlotte responded quietly, but did accept the offer of shelter.
"So where are you going?" she finally spoke as some warmth at last returned.
"Nowhere in particular" Tom suddenly and finally had dismissed any notion of Hogarth. As he drove around, with an unexpected yearning for his home, Tom could not help but glance at Charlotte as they passed the most idle of chatter.
Rubbish talk just seemed less embarrassing than silence.
She actually wasn’t so very unattractive. Maybe the oddest thing was that the more they chatted, the more they discovered mutual points of agreement, about music and TV shows Tom realised that girls were just people too. He had actually enjoyed a conversation!
He became aware that Charlotte was by no means ugly…in any way.
She would never be Miss Penrith, leave alone Miss Maryland, yet she had just the most enchanting features…why had he never noticed before?
"I just do not believe that an Indian Princess, the Queen of Calcutta does not have a date for Valentine’s night" Alexa was grinning as she spoke, though partially it was a nervous grin. The entire day had gone so well, Alexa feared she may just have pushed her luck.
"Hmmm" was the initial worrying response.
"I have never been to Calcutta, nor any part of India in my life. To be brutally honest, I have no desire to." Shaz has kept an admirably deadpan expression.
Alexa looked crestfallen.
"Listen you. I apologise for being a brown-skinned, proud American, I apologise that I am no great beauty unlike miss big tits, Polish-America. I would like to say that I am sorry that I even met you today…but I am not. Today has likely been the best day of my life. You are gorgeous, witty, intelligent, charming and a king-sized pain in the ass"
"Did I not mention that I am a lesbian?" Alexa boldly stated.
"And neither before or since the accident has my ‘piece of ass’ gone to waste. Do not feel sorry for me, or ‘safe’ around me. I really like your upfront opinions, so here is one of mine…you have captured me with words and smiles…but I would be lying if I did not admit to a deal of lust too"
Shaz visibly baulked.
"I have had sex twice, with other people, both men. About ten minutes worth in total. On my own, I have had sex with Xena:Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Callisto
about a dozen amazons and any combination between them that is possible, and probably a few that are not possible"
Alexa had a grin as wide as the Pacific.
"Xena! I loved that show. You gonna spend the night? "
"Does Xena love Gabrielle?"
Tom had persuaded Charlotte to go back to his house for coffee.
"I wish that I had made the effort sooner, you have been so sweet tonight" the girl said.
"Honestly, I’m not really that likeable" replied Tom feeling oddly tearful.
Charlotte had to muse for a while. It was perhaps a good thing that Tom seemed lost in his thoughts. Long aware that she had been the butt of jokes, the ‘outsider’ amongst her peers even though they had pretty much all grown up together, "Charlie" had almost grown into that role, especially since she hadn’t grown into a bra. Her mind-set was of the asexual girl with the androgynous name.
On a day such as February 14th, an acceptance of life without love was simply self-preservation. Being only human, she had allowed dreams of the handsome knight to sometime enter her head; she had never envisaged that the likes of Tom could fulfil that role…could he?
"I honestly don’t want to sound hurtful" said Charlotte "it isn’t that I don’t fancy you…but just for tonight, could we snuggle without getting ‘heavy’ about it?"
On February 15th, Tom and Charlotte awoke in each other’s arms. They had shared a tender, goodnight kiss and huddled together through the Maryland storm.
On February 15th, Shaz and Alexa awoke in each other’s arms. They had shared a night of unbridled passion and lust, plus a measure of more romantic tenderness through the California darkness.
All four individuals felt they had discovered something new, something better in life. On this Valentine’s Day, just maybe you will too. :)