First snow

The wind resonates purring
soon to be clawing and biting,
chill crackles the air,
and automobile engines chatter
on this night icy and cold
from the year’s first snow;
Bobbie Ann and David, Warren,
Susie and I, we band of five
inseparably cloister against
the meowing on its prowl,
scratching, raking its talons
against the side of the house.
And then the calm. The snow calls
us from our stories, songs and games
to frolic in a niveous wonderworld
where we and other neighborhood kids
friskily pack and splatter
white balls of algidity while
missiles of ice hiss past.
A crash in the ear, a blast on the skin,
an ouch! and we slosh our retreat
to Bobbie Ann’s house,
hot chocolate and snow ice cream.

Old friends fit like comfortable shoes

Searching for my old school buddy, Wayne, I moved through the ballroom and the New Year’s Eve party crowd. I hadn’t seen him in twenty years, not since high school graduation.

Then three weeks ago he’d called me out of the blue. Said over the phone that he’d like to see me, had something to tell me, and he’d be here at this party tonight. He’d leave a ticket for me at the front door if I’d come.

I told him I’d be here and hung up. Over the days that followed, I debated. Did I want to see him again? After all, I ‘ve changed a lot since I was no longer that seventeen-year-old kid he’d hung with. We’d both been on the football team. I was a quarterback and he my receiver, and we’d done everything together. Chased the cheerleaders. Cruised in the bright red Mustang we’d fixed up. Fought in the same fights, always standing up for each other. Gone to the best parties, seeing who could out chug-a-lug the other. We were the Boomer Brothers, the toughest dudes around. Everybody said so.

Then high school was over and Wayne left town. I never found out why. I only knew that he was the restless sort, always looking for a change. The last I heard he’d gone off and joined the Army.

Finally New Year’s Eve morning, I decided I’d come to the party tonight. I made my way through the crowd, checking out the features in each face, trying to figure out if it was really him. I looked across the room and saw someone who could be Wayne. I hesitated, then headed towards the guy. A few feet away I realized that it wasn’t him.

He isn’t here. Why don’t I just leave? Though I wanted to see him, I wasn’t sure how he’d take me these days. But, over the phone, he’d sounded like he really wanted to see me. I decided to keep looking. I guess I’ll find out real soon. If he’s here, that is. I’ve looked everywhere. Where could he be?

I started moving through the sea of faces again, glancing at each one, giving each a quick once-over. Still no Wayne. I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight.

Then, a foot or so away, I saw a face, his face. I would recognize those intense, dark blue eyes anywhere. They were his eyes alright. But that couldn’t be Wayne.

I took another look at his face as I got closer to him. It was definitely my old buddy. But what had happened?

Over the phone, I hadn’t recognized his voice at first. It had changed that much. And now I understood why. But how could I ever have guessed that he had gone and done what I had done?

I ran up to him and hugged him.

“Wayne, you’re a woman too,” I said, releasing him from my hug and acknowledging our sex change operations.

“My God, John, these shoes are killing me,” he said. “When I made the change, I never realized how hard it was going to be to get decent shoes.”

Patsy Finds Love

The creative life of story making can have the most amazing moments of surprise. From time to time, the piece I am working on unexpectedly yields up a gem of a poem or a stand alone short story. Unplanned, this new work comes about because I was listening and trusting the work. Recently it happened to me again. The following thirty-two-hundred-word story came out of the novel I have been working on since March.

Patsy was thirty-five when she fell in love with a woman. When it happened, it was the first right thing she felt she had done in her life.

Pregnant, she married her high school sweetheart, Jack Pendledon, as soon as she turned 18. She lost the baby a month after the wedding. After several years of marriage, the couple settled into a comfortable existence. They took a yearly romantic cruise, but the passion never returned.

When she was thirty, Jack died of a massive heart attack. His insurance took care of his funeral and paid off the mortgage. She sold the house and decided she was going to college. She was going to be a teacher.

In her sophomore year, she signed up for a Beginning Drama class out of curiosity. She walked into the class. There were no desks, only chairs in a circle. The professor didn’t stand behind a lectern as in other classes. She wasn’t even sure who the instructor of the class of fifteen was.

Unlike students in other classes, these students were dressed not casually, but wild-like. One woman was in goth, wearing dark fingernails and black makeup. She wore a transparent black dress that revealed a black bra and panties. One of the eight guys had pink hair and earrings. Some were tattooed up the wazoo. One woman wore a mohawk. Another was dressed as if she were Mary Poppins’ evil twin sister. Patsy felt like she was crashing a Halloween costume party. She went to leave.

“Looks like we are losing our fifteenth passenger aboard our Titanic.”

Patsy turned and said, “What?”

A small man with a goatee and bowtie said, “Looks like you want off our sinking ship.”

The others laughed.

Out of stubbornness, Patsy took the only chair left. It was between pink hair and goth makeup. She wasn’t sure what she had gotten herself into but she was not going to run away. She came from stronger stock than that. But for a churchgoing, cookie baking, suburban housewife, this was a scary place.

She looked around her. The classroom had open windows. A fall breeze squeezed through. She dropped her books next to her chair, settled back, her purse clutched onto her lap, and listened to the bowtie and goatee.

“Now that we’ve gotten that settled, perhaps we can get on with the agenda. My name is Drew. Not Mr. Such-and-such. Just Drew. Most of you are freshmen. We do have a sophomore in here.” He pointed at Patsy. “She’s the one who can’t seem to make up her mind as to what she wants to be when she grows up. The rest of you pretty well know that something in drama is in your future. Either theater, tv, movies or you just want to be the clown in the circus.”

Drew paused and waited for his words to sink in. There were a few coughs. Patsy realized that she wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

“So, students, close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Visualize yourself in ten years. Where you are, who you are with, what you are doing.”

Patsy was seeing herself in front of a classroom of high school students. She couldn’t figure out what she was teaching but she was teaching.

Drew let the vision sink in. He let the students enjoy their little adventure. Then, “Now imagine a stick of dynamite blowing up that scene. Ka Pow!”

Several opened their eyes. They were thinking, “Why the hell did you do that?”

Drew clapped his hands. “Wake up people.” He was standing in the middle of the circle. “Get the hell out of my space. Don’t come back until you are ready to have your dreams fall apart.”

The students got up and walked despondently out into the hallway. One held back. It was Patsy.

Drew looked hard at this woman in her early thirties. “What are you doing? Get out of here.”

“No,” she said.

“NO?”

“No,” she said in a sinking timid voice. She felt like crying but she had done that way too much in her life. She did not leave. She shrank in her chair.

Drew walked out of the room, frustrated and wondering who this freak was.

Patsy stared out the open window. The oak trees canopied the campus park-like. The autumn leaves were still green but would be coloring soon. The breeze felt good against her face. She swiped the tears from her eyes. She didn’t care what was going to happen. She was not going anywhere. She belonged where she was. She didn’t imagine or daydream herself anywhere else. She just sat.

Thirty minutes later, Drew Baker slipped back into his classroom. He watched Patsy with a curiosity he usually didn’t have for any of his students. For the ten years since he had left Broadway and come to this classroom, he had never come across a student like this one. Tears began to flow from his eyes. He had finally found a real, live student who would empty themselves of all their previous lives to become a totally new person.

“Patsy,” he whispered from across the room.

Patsy’s eyes turned toward her teacher. “Yes?” she said.

“Thank you,” he said. These were the only words he could get out. Then he followed those words with the most welcoming of words. “I’ll see you in the small theater Wednesday morning at 10. You think you can be there?”

She nodded yes.

Drew Baker left the room. Patsy gathered up her things and walked outside into the hallway. It was empty.

Nine other students joined Patsy in the small theater Wednesday morning. Five had dropped out.

The ten students took seats on the chairs in the circle down front. From the rear of the theater Drew Baker yelled at his students, “Did anyone tell you that you could sit?”

The students stood up as the teacher ran down the aisle, yelling, “Did anyone tell you to sit? Huh, huh, huh.” He went past the group and climbed up onto the stage and looked down on them. “Has anyone here earned the right to sit?”

A tall eighteen-year-old male student said to the others, “I’m out of here. This guy is nuts.” He started walking toward the exit.

Drew said, “That’s right. Get out of my class. Go back to your momma and bitch.” The exit door slammed close. “The rest of you. Up here.”

The students held back.

“C’mon. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.”

The nine climbed the stairs at the side to the stage and stood before him.

Drew went up to each of his students and sized the student up for several minutes. He said, “You’ll do.” And moved on to the next student. When he was done, he went back to the front of the group and faced them.

The teacher continued, “I want you to spend the next hour exploring inside this theater. Don’t partner up. Understand?”

The students timidly said, “Yes.”

“You cannot leave the theater. Under any circumstance. You understand?”

They nodded their agreement.

The teacher left the group. One went toward the back of the auditorium. Another started walking up and down the stage. Still another headed to the actor’s dressing room. Each did their own thing. Patsy went backstage and found that there was a basement. In the basement, she found a costume room and another room with props and scenery.

About forty-five minutes later, the fire alarm went off. The students gathered on the stage, trying to figure out where the fire was coming from. Paul, a student with tattoos, jumped down from the stage and headed toward the exit.

Fae, the goth woman, called after him, “Where you going? You can’t leave.”

“I am not going to stay here and get roasted.” Paul slammed the exit door behind him.

The others looked at each other and wondered what to do. The fire alarm stopped. From backstage, Drew Baker walked out on stage.

“Where’s Buttface?” he asked.

“He left. The fire alarm,” Trey, the pink hair and earrings, said.

“I see,” the teacher said. “He just decided he didn’t want to take my class. Right?”

“But—“ Fae said.

Paul opened the front door and ran down the aisle and up on the stage. Out of breath, he was smiling.

Drew Baker couldn’t believe the arrogance. But he kept himself in check and smiled. “Mr. Paul Gruber, what do you think you are doing?”

Paul answered, “Rejoining the class.”

The other students moved away from Paul like he had leprosy.

Drew Baker walked up to the student. The teacher must have been two inches shorter than Paul. The student shrank with Baker staring at him eyeball to eyeball. “Mr. Paul Gruber, what do you think you are doing?” the teacher repeated his question.

“Rejoining the class.”

“Mr. Paul Gruber, what do you think you are doing?” Baker repeated his question.

Suddenly Paul got it. He had disobeyed the instructions not to leave under any circumstance. Now he had to face the consequences. Paul turned around and left the stage and down the aisle toward the exit. Patsy had never seen anyone so dejected in his life.

Drew Baker turned to the other students. “Tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Here. Now go.”

The eight students still in the class walked slowly out of the theater, not sure what had happened, but glad they had survived. There was nothing they would let stop them from attending the next drama class. On their way to their other classes or events, each imagined themselves as a part of something special. Drew Baker could have told any of the group to jump off a cliff and they would have done it.

That evening Patsy was studying in her dorm room alone. There was a knock on the door. She opened it. There stood Drew Baker. “Drew?” she said, surprised to see him.

“May I come in?”

“Of course.” Patsy opened the door further. She invited him to sit at her desk.

He took the chair and turned it around and straddled its back. “Sit,” he said, pointing to the bed.

Patsy did what she was told. She looked confused.

“Do you have something you want to ask me?” he asked Patsy.

“Yes, sir,” she answered.

“Don’t call me Sir. My name is Drew.”

“Yes, Drew.”

“Go ahead.”

“What’s going on?”

“Good. I like that. You don’t mess around. You get right to the point. Don’t like to waste time, do you?”

“No.”

“You don’t like my methods, do you?”

“No, Drew. I don’t.”

“Good. That’s good. You are willing to face your fears. What do you think I am doing?”

“I really don’t know. I just want to know. Am I wasting my time?”

“Do you think you are wasting your time?”

Patsy thought for a couple of minutes. The past two classes of Beginning Drama had thrown her off-balance. But off-balance was okay. Then her teacher showed up at her dorm room wondering what she thought. Finally, she answered, “No, I don’t.”

“Good. Very good. Now I have a favor to ask of you.”

Uh-oh, here it comes. Patsy had been through this with professors before. Two had wanted to sleep with her. She had refused. For some reason, she didn’t feel that from this teacher. “Yes, you can ask.”

“I want you to show up to my class at 7:15 pm tomorrow night. Not 7:00. Can you do that?”

Patsy hesitantly nodded yes.

“There will be no consequences. I will just go on with my lesson. Totally ignoring your lateness.”

Drew Baker left.

Patsy didn’t know what to make of his visit.

At 7:15 pm the next night, Patsy walked into the theater. Drew Baker and the students were down front in the circle of chairs. She hesitantly walked down the aisle, feeling the other students’ eyes on her. There wasn’t an empty chair for her. Drew Baker turned to Trey and said, “Will you get another chair and let Miss Pendledon have yours please?”

Trey reluctantly got up and went backstage for a chair. Drew Baker beckoned Patsy to take his place. Trey returned with a chair and joined the circle.

“Thank you, Trey,” Drew Baker said and smiled. “Now I want each of you to give me your impressions of the theater yesterday.”

Drew Baker focused upon each student and listened. No student brought up the fire alarm. After the students had finished, he asked them, “How many of you students think I’ve been sleeping with Miss Pendledon?”

The students were stunned at the question. Patsy most of all. They were thinking it but they were too scared to say it out loud.

“Let me see your hand if you think I’ve been sleeping with Miss Pendledon.”

Slowly all the students, but Patsy, raised their hands.

“What makes you think that?” Drew asked.

Fae said, “You didn’t kick her out when she wasn’t on time.”

“Is that your only evidence?”

Trey said, “I saw Patsy leave after you went back into the classroom the other day.”

“Couldn’t I have requested an academic meeting with Miss Pendledon?”

“Yes, Drew,” Fae said.

Drew then spoke, “Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you that I am not sleeping with Miss Pendledon.”  Then he dismissed the class.

The students slowly left the theater, shaking their heads, wondering what the hell was going on.

The next morning Patsy was five minutes early. The rest of the class was already in the theater, none taking any chances on getting kicked out of class. They weren’t sitting. Mostly they were standing and waiting and not saying a thing. It looked like no one had slept the previous night. Patsy nodded good morning. The others nodded good morning back.

Drew Baker came out from back stage. “Good morning. Please have a seat.”

The students made a semi-circle to face their teacher on stage.

“Welcome to the world of the theater. I suppose all of you have been wondering what the hell is going on. Who is this crazy guy?”

They nodded their heads. There were two or three yeses from the group. Mostly they waited and listened. Drew Baker had their attention.

“Here’s the deal. I have spent the last few sessions weeding out those who think the theater is a game. That it’s a job. That they can damn well show up if they want. If you are not willing to show up and do a show with a 103 degree temperature, you don’t belong here.”

Drew Baker unknotted his bowtie and pulled it off. “Damn thing. I hate these damn things.” Then he jumped off the stage and pulled up a chair. “Circle please.”

They all joined him in the circle of chairs. He scanned each of their faces. Then he said, “I didn’t choose you. You didn’t choose me. You are here because the theater chose you. Some of you may do very well. Have fame and fortune. I can’t tell you which. All I can tell you is that your life will never be the same. This is your world now. Love it and it will love you back. Not with rewards you can see or touch or feel or taste or smell.”

Drew Baker touched his heart. “But here. It isn’t the most talented that succeeds. It doesn’t matter a bit whether you have talent or not. You now belong to a family that goes all the way back to the Greeks and well before that. Since man first lived in caves, there have been theater people. So welcome. You are a special breed. Never forget that. The others that dropped out or that I kicked out don’t belong.

“Now let’s begin. I want each of you to take a turn and go to the stage and face the audience and just look. Pretend the seats are full. Just look for five minutes. Then come back down to your seat. The next person will take your place.”

When the students completed the exercise, Drew Baker said, “Our next class is Monday here at 7 p.m. Prepare to work all night long. One final thing. Please do not share the process you went through the past few days. If I find out that you did, you will be out. And don’t think I won’t find out about it, I will. I always do. Now go.”

On the way out, Trey and Fae pulled Patsy aside. “Patsy?” Trey said. “Fae and I were wondering if you want to share a house with us.”

Patsy nodded yes.

One of the other students, a student dressed like James Dean, moseyed up to the three of them. “Can you take a fourth?”

The three new roommates looked at the student. He looked young, real young.

“I’m 18. Okay? Okay. You can call me J D. That’s who I am.”

The three breathed easy. Fae said, “Yes. We can have four. Let’s go find a house.”

J D piped in. “I have a house.”

“Let’s go look at it,” Trey shouted. The four went through the front door and out into the afternoon air. They locked arms and began to dance through the parking lot, singing.

Drew Baker watched from his second story office above the theater and smiled. “Yep, this is going to be a good group. Maybe the best he had ever had.”

The students were an hour early for class Monday night. They were anxious to get started on their new life.

“Have all of you seen Romeo and Juliet?” Drew said from the stage.

They nodded yes.

“Okay. Everybody scatter out in the audience and take a seat. Settle in and imagine you are watching Romeo and Juliet on stage. Do not sit next to another student.”

Five minutes later, Drew called them back to their chairs. “Describe to me what you saw.”

He went around the circle, each student detailing what they had seen.

Then Drew said, “Theater is an art of illusion. Nothing that happens on stage is really happening. It is a re-creation. Creating this illusion is a work of imagination. You have just used your imagination to re-create Romeo and Juliet. I have four films about magicians on reserve in the library for you to see before the next class. See if you can figure out how they do their illusions. Now, let’s get to work.”

All semester of the Beginning Drama class was refreshing to Patsy. She had never experienced anything like it. By the end of the semester she knew what she would do for the rest of her life.

Thirty-five years later, lying in the hospital bed dying from cancer, she vividly re imagined each class and how alive she felt. Sewing Fae’s costume was the last thing she remembered as she fell asleep. She did not wake up. Fae leaned over and kissed her lover goodbye, then she left the hospital room, crying.

Short Story Wednesday: How I Really Met Your Mother

Short Story Prompt: “Odour of Chrysanthemums” by D. H. Lawrence.

Jack scoped out The Dancing Leprechaun with his usual scan, checking out the terrain. He wasn’t looking to make a connection of the female kind. If he ran into an attractive someone, he would introduce himself, then make a go for a weekend date. Wednesday nights were for a bull session with three former college buddies.

You could tell the Dancing Leprechaun was an Irish pub by the decor on the walls. Posters and paintings and photographs of great Irish folk the likes of Yeats, Lady Gregory, Joyce, and the Big Fellow, Michael Collins. In the middle of the floor stood a statue of the Irish Hercules, Cú Chulainn, brandishing his broad sword.

Jack was the last to arrive at their regular booth. After four hi-yas, they started talking NFL draft and Stanley Cup. In no time, Jack finished off a burger and was ready for a second Guinness. Looking for a waitress, he turned around from his seat in the booth. Across the room, he spied a brunette in a yellow dress. It was like a bomb detonated inside him.

He had to meet this woman. While some other guy might have hesitated, Jack didn’t. And he wasn’t about to wait till the weekend. He had to get to know this woman immediately. He got up from his seat and told his buddies he was calling it a night.

George looked over at the woman’s group and grinned. “Hmmmm. You may be messing where you shouldn’t be messing. It looks like they’re both with somebody.”

“That never has stopped Casanova before,” Dan commented.

Horst said. “You remember what happened the last time.”

Jack laughed. “That was then; this is now.”

Jack walked over to her group and introduced himself to the brunette and her friends, looking directly into her eyes and smiling. “Can I buy you a beer? I mean the four of you.”

“Don’t see why not,” the brunette said. “My name is Ashley.” She reached over and shook his hand. She wasn’t what you would call the kind of beauty you would see on television and in the movies. She had other qualities which gave her face a glow, but it was her beautiful brown eyes and the spirit behind them that reached deep inside Jack, a spirit that had known great pain, a spirit that could love deeply. “This is Helen.” She pointed to the other woman. The curly guy was Doug, the blond Thomas.

“Five beers please,” Jack called out to the waitress. Then he motioned to a table. “How about there?”

“Sure,” Helen winked, then pushed blonde hair strands out of her eyes. “Anything for free beer.”

Jack eased into the chair between Ashley and Helen. “What brings a party like you guys to a place like this?”

Ashley laughed. “Doug here wants to marry me. I’m trying to decide. What do you think?”

“If you have to ask a stranger, I’d say you shouldn’t.” He lifted the icy Guinness bottle and drank from it.

“But I’m rich.” Doug gave Jack a smile that didn’t feel like a smile. “And I love her. That should count for something.”

“Then I guess that settles it,” Jack said. “Right, Ashley?”

Ashley smiled and said, “I haven’t said yes yet.”

“You will,” Doug said to her, anger in his eyes.

Helen changed the subject. “What about you? What do you do?”

“I’m single. I write poetry, and I teach high school English,” Jack said.

“Poetry?” Thomas asked. “Write us a poem right now.”

“Oh, it’s not that easy,” Ashley said. “I’ve tried.”

“Let me see,” Jack said, looking at Ashley. “Tell me a favorite thing of yours.”

“She has this pillow she really loves,” Helen said. “We used to be roommates, so I know all her secrets. In case you wanted to know some.” Jack could tell that Helen didn’t like Doug or Thomas and she was going out of her way to flirt with him. If he had been after her, it would have been easy.

“Don’t,” Ashley said to Helen.

“Aw, c’mon,” Doug said. “You never told me about your favorite pillow.”

“And I don’t intend to,” Ashley said.”Now.”

“In that case, I won’t ask,” Jack said. “Maybe I can write a poem for you some other time.”

“No,” Thomas said, downing the last of his beer. “I think you should do it now.” Then he called for another round of beer. “This time I’m buying, okay. The poem will be your way of paying for our company. Right, Dougie?”

“I don’t really care for your company,” Jack said softly. “It’s the company of the women I want.”

The waitress sat the five beers down on the table.

“Now,” Helen said, “calm down, tigers.”

The waitress left.

“So you’re a poet?” Doug asked.

“That’s me,” Jack said, then drank from his bottle.

Doug went for a put-down. “Must not be many bucks in that line of work.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised how well we poets do.”

Thomas snorted and spilled some beer on Helen. “Thomas, you shit,” she said and jumped up. “I’ll be back in a moment, darling,” she said to Jack.

“Bitch,” Thomas said, watching her stalk away to the bathroom. “Dougie, why don’t we get out of here?”

“What and miss Mr. Poet’s rendition of the poem he’s about to do for Ashley’s pillow.”

“Doug,” Ashley snapped. “What’s got into you?”

Doug leaned forward toward Jack and glared. “Oh, I’ve just become a poetry freak.”

Jack smiled and looked at her and took a sip of his beer, then said to Doug, “You wouldn’t know a sestina from a sonnet if you saw one.”

“Guys,” Helen said, sitting back down at the table. “Let’s be civilized.”

“If we were civilized,” Jack said, “we probably wouldn’t be here, snarling at each other.” Everybody laughed.

Doug smirked. “Shouldn’t of let you get under my collar.”

Ashley breathed a sigh of relief, then leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. He kissed her back hard, showing the rest of us that she was his woman. But Jack noticed her body wasn’t into the kiss.

“It’s okay, man,” Jack said. “Seems to happen all the time to us poets. Guess it doesn’t take much to bring out the Neanderthal in us guys.”

“That’s my last name,” Thomas laughed. “Neanderthal.”

“You can say that again,” Helen said, rubbing Jack’s left foot with her foot under the table. But Ashley was the one he wanted.

“Neanderthal,” Thomas repeated himself. “Sorry, guys. I got to go to the little boy’s room.” He slid out of his chair and headed to the men’s room.

“I got to go pee too,” Doug said and stood up. “Now y’all behave yourself, you and Helen.” He winked at Jack. Then he was gone.

Helen moved herself closer to Jack and pushed her hand between his legs. Then she said, “Damn, I gotta go pee too.” She got up and rushed off.

Ashley smiled at Jack. “Well,” she said.

“Well,” Jack said.

She took his hand and ran her fingers across his palm.

“I’m going to have to get home soon,” she said.

“Too bad,” Jack said. “I was just getting to enjoy your company.”

“Yeah,” she said, “Doug’s going to drop me off at the Everglades Apartments. I am in Apartment 6B. That’s where I have my pillow. You should see it sometime. It was my granny’s.” Then she took back her hand as Helen returned and sat down next to Jack.

“I’m afraid I have to go,” Jack said.

“No,” Helen said. Then pouting, “Don’t go.”

“Have to,” Jack said. “Got a class to teach tomorrow. Those kids wear a guy out if he doesn’t get his sleep.”

“I bet,” Doug said as he and Thomas sat down.

“It was good to meet you guys. I haven’t had this much fun since…I don’t know when. And congratulations, Doug. Maybe you can invite me to the wedding. Here’s my card.” He handed Ashley the card.

“Sure thing, poet,” Doug said. “Maybe you’ll read the poem at our reception.”

Jack walked back to his apartment four blocks away, then drove over to the Everglades. As he pulled into the parking lot, Ashley walked up the stairs to her second floor apartment. Her lithe body had the grace and athleticism of a Jordan Baker from  “The Great Gatsby”.

He parked in an empty space at the end of the building. Then he saw Doug start his Lamborghini and take off, speeding out of the parking lot. Wonder where he’s going so fast? Maybe to Helen’s. Wouldn’t that be something?

Jack gave Ashley five minutes to settle in, then got out of his car and hurried up the stairs. He rang the doorbell.

From inside, Jack heard her call, “Doug, it’s late.”

“It’s not Doug.”

She opened the door. A white robe covered her slender body. “Well,” she said, smiling.

“I’m here to look at that pillow.” A boyish grin filled his face.

“Come in then.”

He followed her into the apartment.

“It’s in here.” She led him into her bedroom. He followed her.

“This is it,” she said, taking a hand-knitted pillow off the bed. It was white with blue unicorns dancing on it. She handed it over to him, as she looked into his eyes and he looked into hers. They kissed, the pillow between them. It was like the first kiss he had ever had. Suddenly he was happy. They sat down on the side of the bed and kissed some more.

“That’s some pillow,” he said.

“I thought you would like it.”

Afterwards, they lay side by side, both of them smiling.

“That was wonderful,” she said.

“That was what I was thinking. But what about Doug?”

“Doug? I’ve forgotten him already.”

“He’s not going to give you up that easily.”

“I’m not his possession, you know.”

“Oh, he thinks you are.”

“Well, he’s got another think coming.” She kissed him again.

The next morning her smart phone woke them at seven.

“Yes,” Ashley said, answering it. “No, I won’t be in to work today. I think I’ve got a bit of the bug.” Then she hung up and said to Jack, “That was my office. I work as a paralegal. One of my co-workers called to ask if she could get a ride.”

“I thought you were a student at the college.”

“I work three days a week and take a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

“I’d better call in too.” Jack called work and told them they needed a substitute for his classes. Then he hung up and they made love again.

Later, she turned to him and said, “You want breakfast? I am a great breakfast maker.”

He kissed her and she crawled out of bed and took a shower, then headed for the kitchen as he showered. If the rest of his life was this good, then he was going to be a very happy man.

Across from a breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and orange juice, she reached over and took his hand and said hesitantly, “I have something to tell you.

Oops, he thought. Here it comes. Oh, well. Things were good while they lasted.

She gulped, then let it out, “I only have three years to live.”

That hurt. That hurt bad. He gulped.

She went on to explain, “Don’t worry. I’m not contagious. Something inside me is all messed up.” Jack wanted to ask for more details. The tone of her voice told him she was in no mood to give him more.

He leaned over toward this woman he loved and kissed her, softly, gently, then said, “We’ll just have to make the best of those three years, won’t we?”

Five Rules for Lead Characters To Live By

I want to thank Martha Ann Kennedy and her blog post “My Rules for Good Writing” for this idea. You just never know where an idea will come from. Thanks, Martha.

1.Get to know your writer.

She won’t bite. She needs you just as much as you need her. Sure, she may put you through a beaucoup of manure. It’s okay. That is her job. Things will work out well in the end. Ask her questions about your role in the story. If you make her like you, you might get a return engagement. Series have been built around characters who have made nice to their author. Just look at Harry Potter. Seven books just because he said please and thank you and ma’am. Believe you me that boy knew exactly what he was doing. And guess what? His author may be bringing him back.

It wasn’t that James Bond and Tarzan were so popular. It was that they gave their creators a warm, fuzzy feeling. So ask your writer if they like wine? If they do, there’s no rule that your can’t give them a nice bourdeaux. Maybe she’s into clothes. Give her a new pair of shoes that fit comfortably and look great and she will be your friend for life. Just ask Scarlett O’Hara. Tomorrow may have been another day, but shoes got her the job. Jake Barnes knew his Hemingway. He gave Papa his first typewriter. It was Jay Gatsby that showed Fitzgerald how to get Zelda to marry him. And Huck Finn taught Mark Twain everything Sam Clemens knew about humor.

2.Let your writer get to know you.

You think Holden Caulfield was invented in a day. Absolutely not. Ol’ Hol was sharing his stories with J. D. for years. Originally Sal was only going to put Hol in a short story. Hol kept telling his creator more and more. Pretty darn soon Sal had a whole novel.

So tell your writer everything. How you wet the bed till you were seven. How Mary Lou Wizzama broke your heart when you were eight. How you almost died of the flu when you were nine.  Don’t forget the secrets either. How you almost got caught shoplifting when you were twelve. You just had to have that first number of The Flash comic book. How you were dumped by your first girlfriend because she didn’t like the shoes you were wearing to the prom.

Stuff like that. Believe me. Your creator will love that kind of stuff. And if you don’t have any interesting stuff, make something up. When he finds out that you did make it up, he will be impressed. It means you’re ready to work hard in your role as a character. He might even promote you from sidekick to protagonist. That was how Huck Finn got his lead.

3. Dress appropriately.

I can’t tell you how many characters have shown up on set in the wrong duds. Othello showed up in a kilt. Talk about mad. The Bard was livid. Tom Sawyer showed up in a suit. Mark Twain just about laughed him off the set. And that Nick Carroway of Gatsby fame. He thought Fitzgerald wanted him to be a cross dresser. F. Scott was drunk for a whole week over that one.

Do some research. Find out what time period your character is supposed to be in. Have a little looksee at your character’s resume. It will keep you out of all kinds of trouble. Dickens fired a character once because she thought she was doing Jane Austen. Jane Austen was very forgiving. Mr. Darcy thought he was playing Tom Jones’ daddy. Can you imagine?

4. Choose your friends wisely.

Loners don’t make it in the story business. Don’t forget how useful Doctor Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock had a good eye for character and Watson was his man. Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” got his job because he coseyed up to Nick Carroway. And talk about great sidekicks. How about that Tonto? Originally The Lone Ranger saw him working in a raid on the wagon train in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He knew he was the right sidekick the moment he laid eyes on Tonto. Besides nobody else in Hollywood could say kemosabe with a straight face.

Remember this character can save your butt in a tight spot. Don’t forget that Gretel would never have been able to get that witch into the oven without Hansel. Dick Whittington would have been nowhere without his cat. Do you think Dorothy would have ever made it back home without Toto? Absolutely not. And Peter Pan could never have found his way to Never Never Land without Tink. She was his GPS Navigator. I’m telling you sidekicks matter.

5.Don’t forget to join the Character’s Union.

It will save you a lot of heart ache and pain. There are characters who absolutely refused to join. Look at them now. Take Hamlet. He could be a rich character. Every performance would be bring in a royalty. Hundreds of times a year, that is how many performances go on. For each of those performances he would bring in the big bucks. Could be living in a mansion. Instead he’s forced to live in a trailer park. He can barely pay the rent on that run-down trailer of his. Last I heard he was a neighbor of Honey Boo Boo’s. Can you imagine how humiliating that is for one of the best known characters in all of Western Civilization? Compare that to Ham’s ghostly dad. He’s only in three scenes. But he now owns an island. For each performance in the last four hundred years or so, he has gotten minimum. Makes you think, don’t it.

If you follow these five simple rules,

you can have a successful career as a character. It worked for Moby Dick, for David Copperfield, for Emma, and it can work for you.