Greg and Amy
"Greg & Amy
“But then something I saw in your eyes
Told me right away
That you were going to have to be mine
The strangest feeling came over me down inside”
Fresh blades of wild grass have sprouted along the margins of a narrow and twisted mountain road. The week’s passing mid-spring showers have proven to be persuasive; coaxing several bright green shoots to finally show themselves. But today, there is no threat of rain. The highland air is crisp, clear and filled with the busy conversation of numerous Blue Jays. Aware of (but ignoring) the jays, a young mule deer takes advantage of nature’s seasonal bounty. She casually grazes roadside while bathing in streams of sunlight that flow between branches of pine and oak. If captured and framed, this moment in time could be labeled: ‘Serenity’. But soon a foreign tone arrives from afar. And this sound causes the scene and emotion to be short-lived. The Jays have suddenly become silent, the doe’s head rises and her muscles tense. A distant rumbling has caught everyone’s attention; a rumbling that doesn’t fade. The clamor continues to advance and amplify into a thunderous roar that sends the quick-footed deer bolting from the mountain roadway. She quickly and wisely chooses an escape path through a grove of gnarled pine. And it’s an exodus that was none too soon. For in a mere blink, a flash of vociferous red explodes from around the bend, blowing right through her abandoned grazing spot. Not even vaguely aware of the deer’s presence, a young driver continues to attack this prolonged section of S-turns. Through the open canopy of a vintage Corvette, a dazzling sun accentuates the attractive driver’s equally dazzling smile. She’s enjoying the thrill of a swaying chassis and the feel of her blond ponytail, that’s wagging like an excited puppy. As for the frightened mule deer; she keeps running, never looking back.
A short distance away, a large white van lumbers its way down the same mountainous route the Corvette is currently ascending. It’s the type of vehicle most people hate to be stuck behind, especially on a narrow mountain road. You know the kind: a big metal box that goes from 0 to 60--eventually. The heavy and high profile transport, while going near the posted speed limit, appears very sluggish compared to the red sports car that’s rapidly nearing. Behind the wheel (Professor Greg Kingsley) has his flannel sleeved left elbow propped out the side window. His posture is relaxed and content as a rush of cool mountain air crosses his face.
With a tight grip on the wheel (Amy Garrett’s) chiseled arms guide the Vette left, right and back left again; fearlessly engaging the seemingly endless snug curves. And all the while those beaming lips help Robin Thicke belt out ‘Blurred Lines’. Even the Vette’s snarling engine can’t over power headphones cranked-up to ten. Beautifully restored, the 62’Vette, she’s tearing through the mountains in, is a special gift with a precise purpose. It’s the tangible motivation (some might say bribe) Dad has provided for her to graduate posthaste. And Amy has tried to keep her end of the deal; remaining focused and studious, but the thought of another adventure always seems to be more seductive and spiritually fulfilling. So, she continues to aggressively weave her sports car up the long and steep mountain road; causing trees, rocks and critters to dissolve into peripheral streaks of color.
Continuing his descent through patches of shadow and sun, Greg picks-up on the distant growl of a high performance engine. The young professor looks over at his assistant (Carla) riding in the shotgun seat. “Sounds like a 427.” He says.
The dark haired beauty, only a few years younger than Greg, throws a vacant stare, as she says. “Whatever that is.”
After negotiating another sweeping turn, Greg smiles without explaining. “Maybe a 402.”
Carla turns her head and attention toward the undergrads riding in the back. “Anybody know what the professor’s babblin’ about?
Wearing a fresh UCLA t-shirt, a thin dark haired kid named Javi shouts. “A big bore engine.”
Bearing an enlightened tone and face, Carla says. “Ahh… so engines can be like some of your lectures: a BIG…BORE.” Laughter immediately fills the spacious van.
Having driven this route through the San Gabriel Mountains on many occasions, Amy knows every curve and coil along the serpentine roadway with intimate detail. Her rapid ascension through the forested mountain side, albeit a bit reckless, has purpose in mind. The young thrill seeker is, once again, on her way to ‘Condor Peak’; for an afternoon of serious rock climbing. It’s an athletic endeavor and obsession she’s become more than competent at. She throws a scant glance at a text book, deposited on the floor; momentarily considering the exam she should be studying for. But being blessed with abundant athletic ability as well as loving, affluent and accommodating parents, Amy tends to follow wherever her strong and daring heart leads her. And on this day it’s beating a path toward adventure. Her yearning is to be one -on-one with nature, feeling the wind caress her body as she ascends ‘Condor Peak’ one more time. She’ll tackle ‘Macro Economics’ tomorrow.
Greg catches a look from Carla. Having worked together for nearly three years now, he acknowledges her strange yet familiar facial sign, with a wry smile. The pinched lips; squeezing the end of her exposed tongue and wild eye rotations can only translate to: it’s time for an impromptu quiz.
“Sisyrichium?” Greg says.
“Blue-eyed grass, but it does not have blue eyes and it’s not a grass.” Javi replies. “Prone to promiscuous self-seeding “
“Like you.” Chalise quips.
With laughter subsiding Greg throws out. “Datura inoxia.”
“Moonflower.” Chalise answers. “Often mistaken for jimson weed; its seeds are both hallucinogenic and poisonous -- by the time you’re high you’re on your way to the hospital, C.D.C. Reports multiple repeat offenders every year.” With a subtle shake of her head, Chalise adds. “I don’t get it Prof.”
Greg says. “People like to get high.”
“Even if it kills ’em?” Chalise says.
Greg glances over his shoulder at Chalise with raised eyebrows. “Yeah, what can I say?” Quickly back toward Carla. “Carla, can you cross section and mount the lichen samples by Wednesday’s lab?”
“I will if you tell one of your bad jokes.”
The students chant in unison. ”Bad joke! Bad joke!”
The professor doesn’t need much prompting to slide into his well-known humor zone. “All right... two rhododendrons are in a hot house. One rhododendron says, “man it’s getting pretty hot in here,” and the other rhododendron says, “Oh my God, a talking rhododendron!”
Wearing a goofy grin, Greg swivels his head around to absorb the anticipated jeering and booing from his students. But what he receives instead are screams and contorted faces, depicting tales of impending doom. Realizing their gaze is directed beyond him and through the windshield, Greg quickly snaps his head front and center. And there it is, from around a blind bend: a red Corvette screaming directly into the vans path. Amy is a talented driver, but her excessive speed has forced the Vette to encroach upon Greg’s driving lane. The adrenaline rush is immediate and substantial; Greg’s foot smashes into the brake pedal, putting the van into a skid and on a path divergent from his lane. As the van’s smoking tires screech across the double yellows, Amy makes a snap decision to go wide. She steers hard left, roaring passed the skidding white wall, completely on the wrong side of the road. Her churning tires, kicking up a cloud of gravel and momentarily in danger of sliding off the edge, find their way back onto the road, and then rapidly vanish around the next turn.
The sliding van rocks to a stop in the middle of the mountain road. The lingering effects of thundering hearts, clenched muscles and frazzled nerves are still present, but everyone somehow manages to breathe a sigh of relief. Even with a thick pounding assaulting his ears, Greg appears and sounds very calm, looking back at his students to ask. “Is everyone all right?” There are various confirming nods and mumbles, asserting that everyone is. “Good. Hold on.” Greg throws the van in gear, pulls a squealing U and roars off after the Vette. Carla and all the surprised students grab their seats and pass bewildered looks in Greg’s direction.
“What are you doing, boss?” Carla asks. Greg doesn’t respond or even turn his head, for now, catching up with that Corvette is the singular mission. “Are you going to kill her?” Again Greg doesn’t reply. “You kill her; I don’t think you’ll make tenure...”
Only a few miles down the road, the red Corvette is parked on the dirt shoulder. It’s all alone, resting near a dark brown sign that reads ‘Condor Peak’, in bright yellow letters. A popular hiking and climbing spot for the adventurous, the summit of Condor Peak offers a stunning view of the valley far below. The trailhead is heavily forested for about a half mile then trees give way to granite boulders at the base of a steep and rocky face. From there, the path to the top of this mountain can be a challenge. Success requires negotiating toeholds and outcroppings, but the reward is nothing less than a feast for the senses. The 360 vistas overlook groves of fir, oak and pine that line seemingly endless rolling hills. You can see a lush green valley fed by streams of melted snow and the mountain breeze often brings the fragrance of wild lavender. The sense of peace and tranquility Amy experiences from this special place has prompted her to start calling it: ‘Her Rocky Nirvana’. Spotting the iconic vehicle, Greg skids the van to an abrupt stop-- right behind it. A tightened jaw and furrowed brow accompany the professor when he leaps from the van. He starts scanning the area, as Carla and the students pile out. Almost immediately, Greg is drawn to the Corvette; his tense features begin to relax as he circles it in admiration. He lightly glides his fingers along the glossy fenders and onto the stitched leather seats. As a kid, he saw a couple of these in his father’s chop shop-- but they didn’t stay long. He loved the body styling and the throaty engine. Even though they were always hotter than habanero peppers he hated to see them leave. “62, with Blackmoor pipes, you don’t see a lot of these...”
“Okay, I guess she’s not here.” Says Carla. “No need for any further violence...”
Javi yells. “There she is!” About halfway up the face of a sheer cliff, free climbing (no ropes; just hands, feet and guts) is Amy. She’s in her element; one on one with nature, looking strong, confident and fearless with each advancing step. Greg tears himself away from the Vette and walks to where he can see her.
“She’s gotta be part mountain goat.” Chalise says.
“Or really drunk.” Javi snorts.
Greg with cupped hands. “Hey! You!
High upon the cliff face, Greg’s booming voice reaches Amy as she pulls her body onto an outcropping. Looking akin to erect insects, from her elevated position, Amy stares down at the group of spectators. The boisterous summons puts a puzzled look upon her face--until she spots that big white van. “Me? Sorry about before.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it!” Greg yells. “We need to talk...now!”
Realizing this guy is mad, and for good reason, Amy quickly calculates: this guy’s tongue lashing might be slightly tempered if delivered from the serenity of ‘Condor Peak’. “Okay, I’ll wait for you at the summit.” She keeps climbing up and up as Greg glares after her, but he doesn’t move.
“Go ahead.” Carla says. “We’ll wait.”
Greg looks over at Carla, then to his encouraging students and back to Amy. She is now just a speck; similar to a fly on a wall, except Amy is on a very, very big rock.
A short time later, Greg once again has the van and his students headed for home. The atmosphere within the vehicle feels different now: quiet and subdued. No one is quite sure why the professor didn’t pursue the two-legged mountain goat with a ponytail. And only one person is brave enough to ask.
“So why didn’t you go after her?” Carla inquires.
Just above a whisper, Greg says. “I don’t like heights...” After a heavy sigh, he adds. “It’s a long story.”
“It’s a long drive.”
Greg shoots her a look that says ’mind your own business ’, but those words never escape his mouth. Truth be told, he’s actually always felt comfortable confiding in her; almost from the day they met. It was three years ago, when Greg was speaking at Descanso Gardens, where she happened to be a volunteer. Carla’s sharp wit, love of nature and outgoing (yet down to earth) personality sparked an instant and lasting friendship. And friendships have rarely sprouted quickly or easily for Greg. A difficult childhood, that provided abundant separations and abuse, has convinced him: the heart and soul require protection. But Carla was engaging and seemed authentic, so Greg opened up and his visions of the future expanded. Within weeks, he was hoping their friendship would develop into something more. But it was not to be. When the subject of “are you seeing anyone?” arose, Greg learned of Tawny: a lovely young lady who doubled as Carla’s classmate and current love interest. Although slightly embarrassed, Greg turned an awkward moment into one of mutual opportunity. Being in need of a good assistant and Carla a real job, they agreed to do the next best thing: develop a working relationship. And that relationship has grown tight. Lowering his defenses for a good friend, Greg says. “My old man was an alcoholic ass-wipe, who used to dangle me out the window… eight stories above ground.”
Absorbing the image, Carla says. “That’s not such a long story…” She casually takes a couple swigs from her water bottle, before continuing. ”Well, maybe you’ll run into her on campus someday.” Instantly, Carla watches bewilderment radiate from Greg’s face. “What…you didn’t notice her student parking pass?”
“Really?” Carla arcs an eyebrow. “You were checking out that car like it was a woman.”
“I’m a gearhead Carla, and that’s one nice car.” Greg’s smile bounces back. “But thanks for the tip.”
As is customary on Friday afternoon, Greg strolls across the sprawling U.C.L.A. campus for a lunchtime meeting with colleagues. An ancient and battered backpack, that he’s used since he was a freshman at this very university, hangs from his shoulder. The faded leather satchel has been a constant and sturdy partner over the years, and he always thinks of a reason not to part with it; the most persistent one being: I don’t want to buy another. Moving at a steady yet leisurely pace, Greg’s head glides from shoulder to shoulder, absorbing the various botanical sights and some of the human ones too; there’s a lot to see and admire here. Nearing a mature alder, he detours from the pathway. Pulling a notebook and tape measure from his satchel, he moves in close on a couple of saplings he planted last year. While jotting down a few measurements, he hears a voice, calling from the pathway.” Greg…Hey Greg.” Looking up, he recognizes the gravelly tone and pudgy human form instantly. The voice belongs to Harvey Newman, one of his fellow botany professors. Professor Newman has a few years on Greg in both age and time on the job. But to Newman’s dismay, he hasn’t been able to achieve the same high evaluations from his students as Greg. The variation in scores, come as little surprise to Greg however. He’s always considered Newman a more than competent botanist, but his endless condescending disposition during his lectures, results in students submitting comments like: his waistline matches his inflated ego and Professor Newman is the smartest man in the world. Just ask ’em, he’ll tell yuh. And Professor Newman has been the recipient of many other snide remarks; in fact, many, many others. Which might prove: some kids don’t need a lot of motivation to put the proverbial ax on the grindstone.
“Hey Harv, what’s up?”
Newman leaves the pathway, stopping a few feet from Greg. “Hey, you headed to the lunchtime pow wow? “
“Yeah, just as soon as I finish-up here…You need something?”
“Well I gotta’ proposition for yuh, Greggy.”
Greg’s aware that Newman has been counseled on two occasions for making inappropriate remarks to female students; so a wary look follows. “Proposition?”
“Yeah. I was thinkin’… since you and me are the only single guys left in the department, we should team-up and go clubbin’ on Saturday…You could be my wingman.”
A look that says (are you fucking crazy) descends over Greg, but verbally he releases. “You’re single?”
“Ohh yeah. My wife filed papers two months ago”
“Sorry, I hadn’t heard about that Harv.”
Newman crinkles his nose before saying. “Ahh, no big thing…didn’t like that bitch much anyway.”
Greg stares a little mystified for a moment, before saying. “Sorry to disappoint you dude, but I already have plans.”
“Plans?...better than rubbin’ shoulders…” Newman’s eyebrows start to flutter. “and who knows what else, with hot chicks?”
Greg nods as he responds. “Believe it or not.”
Newman’s head starts bobbing like a big pigeon.“Ohhh, I get it…you’re hookin’ up with that hot assistant of yours. I wondered why she kept giving me the cold shoulder at the faculty awards.”
After an eye roll, Greg says. “Nope, you’re way off base Harv…Carla’s in a relationship, but it isn’t with me…”Aware that he’s dealing with someone who’s reservoir of ethical judgment wouldn’t fill a kiddie pool, Greg pauses in thought. What words will make him leave? Let’s just try to keep it simple. “You know, to be honest, I just don’t have an interest in clubs or bars…Call me boring, but that’s the way I’m wired.”
“Dude… I’m tellin’ yuh, a good lookin’ guy like you could nail a new chick every week… Oh, and don’t worry about STD’s, I gotta’ shitload of condoms. ”
Greg’s building irritation manifests into the repeated yanking, of his measuring tape; followed by a quick snapping return. (Zip…snap…zip…snap) “Thanks for the consideration, but that’s not for me.”
Newman remains oblivious to all the signs. “What, you in to Tinder…eHarmony?”
Another loud snap into the housing, precedes Greg’s answer. “No, no dating sites.”
Newman’s face looks befuddled, before brightening like he’s had an epiphany. “Holy shit, you’re not like a… vir-gin?”
Greg’s brow does a quick collapse. “Seriously, Newman?”
A quick shrug precedes the portly fellow’s reply. “Well, who else would turn down a sure thing, except maybe a monk?” The eyes expand; sure that he has the answer now. “Ahh, that’s it! You’re doin’ some kinda’ celibate routine.” A blank expression descends over Greg. “A little advice Greggy; don’t stick with that crap too long, those guys can get pretty weird.”
Greg releases a sigh before turning back toward the saplings with a shake of his head. “Tell yuh what Newman. When the right girl comes along, I’ll let you know.”
Newman starts stepping backward, wearing a smirk. “Don’t worry pal, your secret’s safe with me…See yuh at the meeting.”
Greg returns to his task and throws a quick wave, silently screaming: what a jerk-off. Logging the last of his measurements, Greg stashes the tape measure and pad, deep into his satchel, before eventually hopping back into the pedestrian flow. He walks ten more yards and can’t believe his eyes; parked dead ahead is that beautiful ’62 red Corvette. “Well, well, well...” He moves up, looks around, but there’s no sign of that fair-haired driver. He drops the backpack, and moves around the car, sliding a hand across the fender once again; it’s a masterpiece. Greg gets on his knees to check out the undercarriage; gleaming chrome, gorgeous. He sees something. Though he barely fits, Greg manages to squeeze partially under the car for a better look.
With a couple of textbooks clutched in one hand and a set of headphones enveloping her ears, Amy strolls to the rhythm of a fast paced tune. Feeling happy and ready to call it a week, she’s traveling the same tree-lined pathway when something causes her to stop short. Her alarmed eyes focus upon an aged backpack resting against her Vette. Expanding her field-of-view, Amy’s heartbeat quickens at the sight of a pair of masculine legs protruding from underneath the chassis. Dialing 9-1-1 would probably be the next step for most folks, but Amy has always been more of the do-it-yourself type. She moves right up next to those exposed legs--and with a contemptuous scowl--starts kicking. “Help!...somebody help! car thief!...car thief!”
Caught completely by surprise, Greg tries to slide out from under the very confined space. Amy, kicking fiercely and wildly, lands one squarely on his head. He responds. “Ow!” For sheer protection, the wounded professor retreats, accompanied by an array of stars, back under the car.
“Don’t move!” Amy yells. “THIEF! HELP!”
Greg tries to dodge the blows, but he’s in a very tight space, making for a difficult defense. “Hey, would you knock it off!”
“Yeah, you stick it out here, I’ll knock it off. You want some of this, huh?!” Amy winds-up and launches another kick, but this time Greg manages to grab her leg at the ankle. “Let me go! HELP, THIEF! RAPIST THIEF!”
“Will you shut up?!”
Greg yanks forcefully on her leg and she goes down with a big WHUMP, sending those headphones twisting around her head and stopping abruptly atop her chin. Noticing the altercation from their patrol car, two very large campus patrol officers, J.J. and Tony, race up to assist. J.J. whips his gun out, covering Tony who grabs Greg, slides him from under the car and hauls him to his feet. “All right pal, you wanna’ tell me what the hell –“ Tony suddenly recognizes Greg. “Professor Kingsley?”
“How goes it, Tony?” Is Greg’s reply, while brushing off his clothes.
“Uh, good...sorry I didn’t know it was you.” Tony releases his hold on Greg. “What’s going on here?”
Ignoring the left speaker, that’s residing atop her lower lip, Amy gets to her feet; all the while throwing darts with her eyes. “Thisss” She flings the speaker off her tongue and they end-up dangling on a cord above her ankles when she continues. “This man is a rapist car thief.” For the first time, Greg is getting a really good look at Amy. He likes what he sees: the chiseled athletic build, the fiery eyes and ferocious spirit. He thinks Amy and the Vette are a perfectly matched pair: fast, agile, high-powered and very easy on the eyes.
“No, this man is Professor Kingsley. He teaches here.” J.J. retorts.
“Uh huh, yeah? “ Amy asks. “Well then what was he doing under my car?”
“Trying to fix it.” Greg says, holding up a bolt. “Your suspension bolts are loose. You really should torque ’em every three thousand miles… “He tosses her a bolt, which with her quick reflexes is able to catch, even being caught a little off guard. “About 48 foot pounds.”
“I was hopin’ you could take a look at the cruiser.” Tony says.
“Still runnin’ rough?”
“Yeah…” Shaking his head. “ those boneheads at the motor pool...”
J.J. cuts in. “You wanna press charges?”
“Well, I’m not sure –“ Amy replies.
“I’m talkin’ to the Prof, sister.”
Greg’s face starts beaming as he thoroughly enjoys this sudden turn of events. “Would she go to jail?”
“She assaulted you, didn’t she?” Tony replies.
Amy glares at Tony. “What?!” She shouts. “But he was –“
“She’d probably do all right in jail, don’t you think?” Greg adds. “She’s pretty tough...”Amy stares at him with her mouth agape. Greg enjoys her discomfort.
J.J. says. “Your call.”
“Why don’t we let this one slide.” Greg says.
Amy is staring harder at Greg, not so much because he’s turned the tide, but because something is familiar about this guy. The sturdy build, flannel shirt and booming voice… she’s seen this package before, but where? “I know you. How do I know you?”
“You nearly ran me off the road.”
With squinted eyes, she says. “mmm, I need more.”
“San Gabriel mountains. Last Thursday afternoon.”
Her eyes expand. “Oh. White van? You chased me?” Amy’s voice shrinks a bit. “Sorry. Good to... see you again.”
Greg nods, letting Tony and J.J. lead him off towards their car. “It makes this wakka wakka sound on turns...” J.J. says.
Typing sporadically from within his campus office, Greg’s eyes reflect glaring light from a large computer screen. In addition to the computer and Greg, the generously sized office contains several bookcases populated with binders, reference-books and a variety of potted plants. The walls are mostly adorned with photographs and posters of beautiful landscapes, unique flowers and some classic automobiles. There’s an aging Dodger pennant directly over his desk, a framed photo-copy of a thirty-thousand dollar cashier’s check below that, but not a single picture of a more personal nature. There is only one thing here that hints of any relationships--either past or present--and that’s the name ‘Doris’, handwritten near the bottom of the cashier’s check. The Dodger game, blaring from an ancient radio, seems to be affecting Greg’s typing; his keyboard strokes are actually timed with each pitch. Prior to a pitch, the professor’s digits furiously clatter across the rows of plastic squares and rectangles. But during the wind-up they abruptly stop, with the only sound being heard; is that of the announcer relaying pitch results. It’s an odd cadence that tends to manifest itself only during baseball season. Developing a lesson plan for next semester, Greg (as always) will easily meet his personal deadline; even with the halting rhythm. For several minutes, he leans back in his chair. The near continuous head bobs, signal approval of those latest entries. But suddenly the noggin freezes and his eyes dim. Vin Scully’s reflection of current events on the field has quickly ushered in distress. “...and Hernandez missed that curve ball badly...”
“For godsake Hernandez, wait for a good one...” Greg pleads.
“Oh, he swings at a high change-up, strike three. And that retires the side, stranding two.”
As Vinny fades into a seventh inning promo spot, Greg lets out a sigh, followed by. “You’re breakin’ my heart here, Reymundo...”
The desk phone rings a couple of times, but Greg doesn’t answer it. He assumes Carla, who’s working in the outer office, will take the call. After a moment, she swings open Greg’s door. “There’s a Charles Kingsley on the phone.”
Without turning around or injecting any particular emotion, Greg says. “Not in.”
“Can’t help but notice he has your last name.” Carla responds. “Is this the ass-wipe father of whom you spoke?”
Remaining unemotional, Greg repeats. “Not in.”
She goes and not a minute later the door swings open again. ”Carla, I told you, I don’t talk to this guy.”
“What guy?” Amy replies.
Greg swivels his chair around, revealing a crescent shaped two inch bash this pretty woman delivered to his forehead, only two days ago. He’s surprised and not at all unpleased to see her. Amy’s jovial expression, coming through the threshold, morphs rapidly into more of a grimace upon seeing the damage she delivered to Greg’s head. “Ooooh, did I do that? I’m sooo sorry...I thought you were a car thief.”
“And a rapist.” Greg says
“I was really hoping you wouldn’t bring that part up.” She looks stunning standing there, wearing a floral sundress and reapplying her cheery smile. Obviously hoping for the best, Amy holds up a slightly sampled muffin.
Carla suddenly reappears in the doorway and the muffin retreats to Amy’s hip. “Everything okay in here boss?” Staring over at Amy. “The young lady slipped by, when I was on the phone.”
“I’m sorry.” Amy says. “I thought it would be okay, if I just walked in.”
“Normally it’s best to check with Carla first.” Greg says. “She knows my schedule.”
Amy turns toward Carla. “Sorry Carla, it won’t happen again.” She extends her hand. “By the way, I’m Amy, nice to meet you.”
Carla accepts her hand, as she says. “You look really familiar Amy, have we met?”
Before Amy can reply, Greg cuts in. “Carla, this is the same young lady we saw at ‘Condor Peak’ last week.”
Carla glares at Greg then Amy. “The red sports car lady?” Carla says.
A weak nod from Amy follows a rush of color upon her face. “Sorry.”
Carla points at Greg’s head wound. “The gash in the head lady?” With Greg sending an affirmative nod, the pink glow warming Amy’s cheeks intensifies, and she shrinks back into a nearby chair. “Hmm, okay.” There’s a little rise in Carla’s brow, when she says. “Well I’m going back to my desk now. I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about.” Carla starts stepping backward, stopping at the door. “Boss, you let me know if you need any info related to attorneys, health insurance…or maybe a good bodyguard.” Greg nods again as she closes the door.
Amy’s energy and smile reappear with Carla’s exit. “Wow, your assistant really looks out for you, doesn’t she?”
Greg makes another dip of the chin before saying. ” We’re good friends.”
“Juust friends? “
Adding a grin to his nod. “Yeah.”
Amy smiles, holding out the muffin once more; with some conspicuous teeth marks chiseled into it. “Here. I brought a peace offering. Banana nut.”
Eyeballing the muffin, Greg says. “Someone took a bite out of it.”
“Me. I got sorta hungry trying to find your office.” Greg takes the muffin, looks it over real thoroughly and then puts it in his out box.
“I guess you’re pretty mad.” Amy says.
No immediate response from Greg. He looks at her, keeping her on edge. “Well, I was hoping for a whole muffin, but I’ll get over it.” Gazing deep into her eyes, he finally breaks into a smile. She smiles back, and before you know it they’re breaking off bits of muffin and munching to the commentary of Vin Scully.
“You like the Dodgers?” Amy asks.
His eyebrows slide up. “Big time.”
“How’s Hernandez doing?”
Another sigh. “Oh for four, he’s swingin’ at everything.”
Amy shakes her head. “That man’ll break your heart.” Greg nods, impressed. Amy looks around the office taking notice of the many thriving plants and a few posters of classic automobiles. “So, you’re some kind of a botanist-mechanic?”
“I teach plants, I love cars.”
“Simply put, they’re what I know. But each has a different appeal to me. Plants help sustain life and create beauty in our world. And cars…well, cars can be fun and sometimes they’re beautiful too-- like you’re little rocket ship --and when something goes wrong, you can always fix it… And I like fixin’ stuff…Makes me feel like I’ve reestablished a natural order.”
Amy accepts that response then makes an offer. “Would you like to drive my little rocket ship?”
Amy’s Vette vrooms off campus, with an uncharacteristically giddy Greg behind the wheel. With a huge smile etched upon his face, Greg pilots the dream machine…now, this is super cool. Noticing Greg’s immense grin, Amy’s smiling lips only part long enough to pop in a piece of chewing gum. The pair are so engaged in the moment they are completely unaware of a highway patrol car that pulls into traffic and immediately begins to follow them.
With a high-octane delivery, Amy asks. ”What do you think?”
“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.” Greg replies. “So you’re a student?”
Amy nods. “Perennial. I’ve had six majors in eight years.”
“Can’t make up your mind what you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be a teacher. I just get distracted. A lot.” Amy gives her body a slight twist (for a better look at Greg) before adding. “I lived with the Maasai in Africa, climbed Talon Peak in New Zealand, snow boarded K1 and K2 -- they’re not really that different despite what you’ve heard.”
“Yeah, that’s why I didn’t bother with either one. How long’ve you had this car?”
“Ever since I promised my father I’d graduate next June; come hell or high water.”
Greg throws a quick glance at Amy before saying. “That’s quite a present.”
“Well, it’s quite a promise, with my record and all. After nine years of tuition he figures he’s getting off light. What about your folks, are you close?”
Greg pauses for a long moment. Sharing personal information with the unproven, especially family history, virtually never happens. But this young lady has a quality about her; the sense of ease she has inflicted is uncanny. He tries to quickly analyze the cause, but can’t quite isolate it. Whatever it is, it’s effective; and the force field comes down. “No. My mom died when I was a kid. My dad, well... Haven’t seen em’ since he went to prison”
Amy’s eyes grow a little wider. “Prison?”
Continuing with his even tone, Greg says. “Yup, he ran a ‘chop shop’ when I was a kid. Hangin’ out there is where I learned about cars. “
“Um, when you say chop shop...”
Inserting a nod, Greg confirms her suspicion. “We worked on all kinds of cars, including stolen ones.”
Amy is silent and contemplative for a moment, but then appears to relax; taking the revelations in stride. “My dad always says you should have something to fall back on. What about the botany; where’d that come in?”
“My mother. She planted that seed, so to speak… taught me how to nurture the house plants…she was very good at that.” Greg continues after throwing a glance Amy’s way. “ Then, at the youth farm, I got to take it to another level: fruits, vegetables, tree grafts… That stuff was interesting… and in hindsight, I suppose therapeutic.”
A curious look crosses Amy’s face. “Youth farm? What’s that?”
“Mmm, kinda’ like an orphanage with a theme.”
“Ohh, so when your dad left…” Amy’s tone turns to guarded before she adds. “Your mom was already…”
“Yeah, she passed away before all that ‘chop shop’ and prison nonsense.”
“ I’m so sorry.”
“That’s the past…I survived.”
“So you never got adopted?”
“Nope. A victim of bad luck and too many red flags.”
“Red flags?” Using her index finger, Amy applies a subtle poke to Greg’s shoulder. “…Were you a bad boy?”
“I think age was the biggest factor.” Brandishing a silly grin, he adds. “But the physical altercations didn’t help.”
Amy twists her body a little more toward Greg, looking intrigued. “You got in a lot of fights uh?”
“Mostly scuffles, only one real fight, but I knocked the kid out.”
“Oh my god, really? What did he do?”
“Well, like most unconscious people, he fell down.” Greg throws Amy a sheepish smile that she returns with a scowl. “Sorry, couldn’t resist… Actually he cut down a small Sycamore I’d just spent a whole year nursing back to health…” He shakes his head in remembrance. “Just so he could try out a fucking new saw…” He studies Amy’s expression. “I suppose you don’t get it, but that tree meant something to me.”
“I think I do…any young boy who has his mother taken away and then his father. They’re bound to lash out at another ‘taker’.” Greg smiles while digesting Amy’s analysis, but doesn’t speak. “I have to say, I’m pretty impressed.” Amy adds.
Half laughing, Greg says. “At what? Punching-out a kid?”
“Noo. All the drama.” Amy starts to get a little animated. “Criminal dad, youth farm, no mom… And now you’re a professor. How’d you do that?”
“Got lucky…The last couple years of high school an older couple fostered me. They taught me how to stay focused and avoid distractions….They’re hands down the nicest people I’ve ever known… and their guidance was huge.”
Beaming, Amy says. “That’s so cool. Do you still keep in touch?”
Shaking his head. “Unfortunately they’ve both passed on.”
The smile collapses. “Wow, more loss… I’m really sorry.”
Greg looks into Amy’s eyes. “Yeah, me too.” He holds her gaze for a moment, both of them liking what they see, then something in the rear view mirror distracts him. “Oh...”
Amy looks out the back and spots the CHP cruiser with those ominous lights flashing right behind them. Greg immediately pulls over to the curb, a bit confused but very calm. Amy on the other hand appears agitated, and as the officer approaches she glares at him intensely. “Sonovabitch.”
“Easy.” Greg replies. “Let me handle this.”
The CHP officer stops next to the driver’s side door and says. “Do you know why I stopped you, sir?”
Looking directly at the officer, Greg responds. “Um, not really. I was only going –“
With the veins in her neck pulsating, Amy abruptly interrupts. “He stopped you because he’s a crap-headed moron.” Greg shoots her a look of dismay. He has no idea what this woman thinks she’s doing, but he knows he doesn’t like it. But amazingly enough, despite the insults, the officer ignores her.
“You were going thirty-eight in a thirty-five zone, sir. Can I see your license?”
As Greg digs out his license, Amy hurls another piece of profanity at the officer. “Assclown.”
“Amy...” Greg says, handing over his license. ”You’re just doing your job. We understand.”
“We understand you’re a Nazi shithead.” Shaking a finger at the officer, Amy adds. “I’m reporting this.”
“That certainly is your right m’am.” The officer looks unfazed back to Greg. “She’s got quite a mouth on her, doesn’t she.” The officer takes the license back to the patrol car. And as soon as he’s out of earshot, Greg lays into Amy.
“Do you want to go to jail or are you just plain crazy?”
Amy delivers an eye roll. “Relax, we’re not going to jail.”
Dropping his chin to glare over the top of his sunglasses, Greg says. “I’m not, so shut it.”
Stunned, Amy spouts. “Shut it?”
Greg’s eyes return to the road when he clarifies. “Your mouth.”
“I know what you mean. I’ve just never heard anyone under like a hundred say that.”
The scowl lands upon her again when, Greg adds. “Well if you know what I mean, why don’t you do it.”
With some spontaneous heat, Amy injects. “You’re not the boss ’a me.” She’s staring at him. Hard. Then a grin flares across her face.
Greg reacts. “What?”
“Sorry. It’s just you look so... hot.” Greg barely has time to react to that when the officer returns with his license and citation.
“By signing here, Mr. Kingsley, you’re not admitting guilt, but merely receipt of –“Amy reaches across, snatches the ticket, tears it to smithereens and then tosses the pieces in the air. “-- this citation.” All three of them watch the citation float like party confetti back to earth.
“Whoa. “ Greg responds.
“Why don’t you take a dump in your hat?” Amy says.
The officer finally shows some emotion and leans into the car. “Why don’t you make me?” He snaps back. Using her index finger again, Amy retrieves that worked-out wad of gum from her left cheek and hurls it toward the officer. The toss is right on target, caroming off his mirrored glasses with a satisfying THWUNK. “Oh that’s it.” The officer reaches across the open cabin trying to latch onto Amy. But Greg instinctively grabs the officer’s arm, which leads to the officer’s struggle to pull it free. Greg’s very strong and the officer can’t break his grip. “Let go.”
“I’m not going to let you hit her –“Amy sticks her tongue out and blows a raspberry at the officer. ”-- no matter how much she might deserve it.”
“Then I’m afraid –“The officer finally wrenches his hand free, rests it on his gun. “-- you’ll have to step out of the car… and put your hands behind your head.”