Keeping Your Cool: a tale of relations, frustrations, and bodily functions

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Summary

Longing to escape the suburbs, young goth Jim Scarpelli dreams of the day he can move into Chicago. Yet as an unemployed college-dropout, opportunities are slim. Then he meets Barb, an older artist whose hoity-toity background underscores just how plebian his own his. Sparks fly, but Jim fears to admit the truth of his situation, pretending to be an urbane man on the make instead. Barb buys it, but how will Jim maintain the illusion—not to mention his goth mystique—in the close quarters of Barb’s dinky studio apartment? From anxiety-inducing art-openings to telemarketing hellholes and LSD-fueled loft parties, Jim tries to keep his cover intact, his frustrations at bay, and his hangover-agitated innards in line as the baffling webs of adulthood grow evermore constrictive.

Genre:
Humor / Other
Author:
Bill Franz
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
21
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

1

There was no doubt about it. Sitting on the couch was indeed that hot Barb woman I’ve been mooning over!

Of all the places in Chicago I’d hoped to bump into her again after that brief meeting two weeks ago, this lame shindig was not one of them. The place was filled with nerdy engineering majors geeking-out over those new British bands you constantly hear these days—Happy Mondays and Stone Roses and such.

The way Wally had told it, I’d thought I’d be dealing with beer-swilling yahoos from his punker days, but this clean-cut crowd was worse. I was either being flat-out ignored or grinned and nodded at like some sort of “righteous dude.” Granted, I was the only person at the party with long hair, and I was dressed all in black, but it’s not like I still dyed my hair or wore eyeliner like back in my goth heyday. I mean I looked totally normal, yet these people seemed convinced I was either a Satanist or some two-bit extra from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

All of which made Barb’s presence here doubly strange, for her hair was dyed black like a proper goth gal’s should be. It was long too, cut into these cute “Cleopatra” bangs just above the eyebrows. She was pale and wore dark eyeliner and bright red lipstick, but still had more of a stylish, arty look to her rather than a vampiress vibe, for despite the preponderance of black, her outfit was very classy, more appropriate for the gallery than the graveyard. In fact, if she did have a coffin I bet it wouldn’t be in a moldy old crypt at all but in the basement of a high-end department store like Marshall Field’s.

But it’s not like she’s an unapproachable model type. She’s pretty short, and that night I met her she was totally down-to-earth. It was in the beer garden at Sheffield’s. Somehow we’d immediately clicked as we’d waited to order at the bar, joking around about what we’d been up to that night. It’d been so smooth and natural that I hadn’t even asked for her number when she’d had to split with her friends soon after, figuring that would somehow sully the whole thing. Which has been the biggest regret of my life these past two weeks, for I’ve done nothing but sully her ever since in the perverse little whack-off movies of my mind.

Yet just my luck, she was with two other girls on the couch, one of them this artsy friend of hers named Jill. I’d met her that night at Sheffield’s too, and what really sucked is that I’d also run into her at Neo a week ago and had sort of, like, hit on her. I mean not in any major way. At first I’d approached in the hope of getting info about Barb. She hadn’t been very forthcoming though, so being a bit more buzzed than usual, well, I guess I’d decided to go for her instead. She hadn’t been the least bit receptive, simply giving curt, sardonic responses to whatever the hell I’d been going on about, so I’d taken the hint and gotten out of there before I’d made too much of an ass of myself.

Looking at her now though, I had to wonder what’d been going through my head. Unlike Barb, she wasn’t my type at all. She had short blonde hair and old-fashioned, new wave bangs. I mean a few years back in high school I would’ve been hot for her, but not anymore. Plus she was just as tall as me at six freaking feet, and looked so damn Norse and strong it was intimidating—as if a hearty Viking lass besotted with an early-80s fashion mag had mistakenly time-warped into 1989 instead. All for the express purpose, of course, of snapping me in two like the scrawny twig-man I resemble the second I approach Barb.

As for the other girl, I’d never seen her before. She had a brown bob and looked only vaguely arty. She was probably their nerd link to the party. Her and Jill were at the far end of the couch, leaving an open space next to Barb for me to squeeze into. But do I dare with the queen of Norway here? I wondered. Might she not bray beery laughter into my face?

I kept hesitating, despite how much I tried to convince myself this was destiny. I mean how else to explain my incredible good fortune at running into Barb at a party like this? Still I hemmed and hawed, and probably would’ve continued the entire night if she hadn’t spotted me. Her eyes went wide as she quickly looked away, sending my heart plummeting into despair. It soared, however, when she immediately looked back over, flashing me a hesitant, uncertain smile. That settled it. I slugged some beer and headed over, noticing Jill start whispering to the other girl the second she spotted me. Ignore her, I braced myself—eyes on the prize!

Barb’s face flushed as I approached, convincing me I’d made the right move. I sat down next to her, immensely relieved when, “Hey Barb, how’s it going?” came out in my normal voice rather than the pipsqueak death rattle I’d feared.

“Good,” she smiled tremulously, barely able to meet my eyes as she brushed her hair behind her ear real quick. “How are you?” she asked with a nervous, flustered air.

“I’m doing okay,” I nodded, smiling in this sort of “oh these formalities” type of way. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Yeah, you too,” she nodded, still barely able to look at me as she brushed her hair back again.

Hell, I thought, confidence rising, I’m having quite the effect on her, aren’t I? “So what’ve you been up to the past couple weeks?” I asked.

“Oh, not much,” she shrugged, “just like, work and stuff…”

I nodded sympathetically, about to ask where she worked when “Peek-a-Boo” by Siouxsie and the Banshees came on.

“Hey,” I was surprised, “some good music finally.”

She looked past me and gave a thumbs-up, a quirky smile on her lips. I turned to see some dweeb in the doorway shrugging back a bashful, “aw shucks” grin. Our eyes met for a second before he skulked away, whatever demented glimmer of hope he might’ve been harboring completely shattered...

“I asked if he had any Siouxsie,” she grinned.

“Well thank god he did,” I saluted with my bottle before taking a gulp. She took a pull at her beer as well, brushing her hair behind her ear again with that same quick, nervous, cute-ass flick of her hand…

Damn, I thought, she’s so beautiful. It put me at a loss, realizing this gorgeous little thing seemed to be just as attracted to me. Geez, I gulped, I can’t screw this up. It could change everything. That Bad Luck Express I’ve been riding the past couple years? This might be my chance to get off. So screw the usual polite small talk, I’ve gotta prove I’m better than that…

“So,” I grinned, “how did you get tricked into coming here?”

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” she chuckled.

“Sure—” I began, pausing as Jill and the other one broke their huddle to zero in on me...

“So Mr. Joe,” Jill smiled archly. “We appear to be running into each other quite a bit lately.”

“Uh, it’s Jim actually.”

“Jim. Of course.”

That night at Neo came flooding back in all its cringe-inducing infamy as I was reintroduced to the irritating way she made everything sound ironic. Damn, I cursed, I should’ve known better than to tangle with her. I should’ve waited for Barb by the fridge or something…

“You guys have run into each other?” Barb asked.

“Oh indeed. At Neo last week,” Jill replied insinuatingly, sipping at her beer.

“So how did you guys get tricked into coming here?” I asked, so desperate to change the subject that I couldn’t help but repeat my little witticism.

“I used to work with the guy having it,” the bob girl spoke. “It’s his birthday. I ran into him yesterday and he made me promise to come.”

“That was nice of him,” I quipped. “I got lured here through the ol’ “friend of a friend” deal.”

“But you are having a good time of course?” Jill deadpanned.

“Oh of course,” I jested back.

“How could you not, a party like this?”

“No idea,” I clicked, wishing she’d leave me alone. “Is anything going on later?” I asked, hoping to worm my way into Barb’s company for the night.

“I doubt it,” Barb shrugged. “It’s Wednesday.”

“And just what, Mr. Jim, are you contemplating?” Jill asked.

“I, I dunno…” I stammered, face heating up over how she kept toying with me.

“What’s going on at Metro?” the bob girl asked.

“Just the usual boring local bands,” I answered, afraid Barb might get away from me if we went to some loud, crowded place like that.

“Ew,” Jill thankfully muttered, “No Metro. There’s too many idiots there on Wednesdays.”

And so we began debating the night’s prospects, trying to remember the drink specials for various locales. Which made me uneasy. I didn’t wanna be going anywhere till I’d solidified things with Barb. At least to the point where it wouldn’t feel awkward asking for her number.

Into the midst of this wandered the birthday boy, resplendent in a Hawaiian shirt, stone-washed jean-shorts, sandals-with-socks ensemble. That’s not gonna get anyone laid buddy, I thought. Oh, and the heavily gelled, ridiculous-looking little spikes you’ve contorted your hair into? Not helping. I kept a curious eye on him as he weaved and nodded his way to the couch, squatting before the bob girl.

“Hey Marge,” he grinned dopily, “having a good time?”

Jill was on him immediately, poor guy...

“So,” she began, “is this day all you imagined it would be?”

Turning to Barb, I was about to fall back on the usual small talk when the stereo geek proved useful again…

He’d put on that Fine Young Cannibals tune you constantly used to hear, “She Drives Me Crazy,” cranking it after a couple girls cheered. It became hard to hear. I remembered the yard I’d spotted from the back porch, where people were lounging in lawn chairs. How perfect it’d be to get Barb down there away from Jill. I leaned in close, her perfume all exotic and sensual…

“Hey,” I asked, “wanna go out back where we can hear each other? There’s chairs down there and it’s nice and cool out.”

She just looked at me, wondering what my intentions were.

“I mean other people are out there too,” I quickly added, face flushing.

“Okay,” she smiled.

We stood up. I practically gloated as she told Jill.

“Going out back are you?” came her smart-ass reply as we walked towards the hall. Yeah Jill, I thought triumphantly, going out back indeed. Have fun baiting your mutant!

Grabbing a couple Millers from the fridge, I paused at the backdoor. “We’ve gotta be careful here,” I cautioned dramatically. “There’s a big convention of geeks on the porch—not the least of which is my friend, Wally the grocer.”

“What?” she laughed.

“You’ll see,” I said, leading her quickly across the porch, Wally and I exchanging sly glances as we passed.

“See what I mean?” I whispered as we went down the stairs.

“Well,” she shrugged uncertainly, “I suppose they were kind of geeky.”

All the chairs in the yard were taken, but off away from everyone I spotted a shadowy area by the cellar steps where we could sit. The stairs were chipped and cracked, descending to a battered, ancient looking door. Something about the way it was bathed in shadow gave the impression it could open into a dungeon or crypt. It was the type of thing I would’ve gone into ecstasies over a couple of years back during the height of my gothishness, when nothing pleased me more than partying in a dark old basement.

It gave me a twinge of nostalgia as I sat down, nervous about how to proceed. Back then dealing with girls was never an issue—everything fell effortlessly into place. We hooked up, we hung out for a week or so. No big deal. Now here I was, scrambling to figure out some way to get this woman interested, but for what? So we could “date”? Or just screw around? I mean it was getting harder and harder to figure out what these creatures expected of me!

The silence was getting heavy, so I made a comment about how old the building must be.

“Yeah…” Barb murmured back.

Then…nothing. Growing desperate, I mumbled my observation about the door leading into a dungeon.

“I suppose,” Barb nodded wistfully as I cringed, figuring she probably expected me to start spouting Dungeons & Dragons poetry. I managed to turn it around though, joking, “So now we know where the denizens of this party crawled from—the basement.”

“Oh come on,” she laughed. “They’re not that bad.”

“Maybe,” I shrugged. “But that Igor-looking guy having the party? He’s definitely been spending too much time in the lab.”

“You’re terrible,” she shook her head, taking a sip of beer.

I took a gulp myself, realizing I was already half done I was chugging it so fast. I needed to relax. “Well, if nothing else,” I muttered, realizing she wasn’t into me ripping these people, “you do have to admit this is a pretty boring party.”

“I’ll give you that,” she agreed.

“I mean I can’t believe I let Wally talk me into this…” I trailed off, unable to break free of this lame nonsense, suspecting I’d only imagined we’d hit it off so easily that time we met.

“Is Wally the guy you were at Sheffield’s with?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“Wally the grocer?” she grinned.

“Yep,” I laughed, the tension fading a bit. “You know that Butera at Clark and Wilson? He’s been an all-star stock boy there for years. Hence: Wally the grocer.”

“Makes perfect sense,” she smiled. “So he knows the guy having the party?”

“No, not even Wally’s that cursed. He’s got some old school buddy who knows him, one of those guys on the porch. And that’s who I had to hang out with,” I added with mock indignation, “the porch geeks!”

“I’m sure you managed okay,” she smiled flirtatiously into my eyes. “I mean let’s face it,” she added, holding my gaze, “don’t we all have a bit of porch geek in us?”

“Perhaps,” I laughed.

“But I am glad you came and found me,” she murmured with this crooked, come-hither grin, eyes boring into mine…

“Yeah…me too…” I mumbled nervously as I took a quick gulp of beer, thinking, oh man, did she just invite me to make a move? Ah gee, am I up to the challenge? I should grab her hand…put my arm around her...kiss her!

“Ah, it’s too bad this party’s so lame…” I sighed instead, looking back over my shoulder. “With this yard it could be pretty cool…” It was useless, useless. I was a coward and a geek! “Yeah, porches and yards,” I started babbling, “they’re essential for city living. I mean you really need outdoor access, you know?”

She nodded. A bit sadly it seemed...

“Hey,” I abruptly stood up, “I’ll get us some more beer.”

Oh my god, I thought the whole way to the kitchen, what is wrong with me? You’re a pussy, answered the voice in my head, a surly chum I referred to as Little Snidey. Much to my chagrin, he’d been worming his way into my consciousness evermore boldly over the past couple years. Don’t be surprised if she’s gone by the time you get back, he continued berating me, fucking wuss!

Yeah yeah yeah, I mumbled as I surveyed the fridge, pained at how slim the beer pickings were, for the party would be breaking up soon. Things were critical. I mean she was batting eyelashes like Betty Boop and what was I doing? Raving like a lunatic about porches and yards! If I couldn’t man up and go for it it was gonna be over before it began. No shit, Little Snidey twisted the knife. Why would she even give you her number at this point? She knows the moment it’s time to get busy you’ll just cower in the corner like a scared little virgin.

That’s it, I determined as I grabbed a couple cans of Old Style, before this party ends I have to at least hold her hand. Maybe even put my arm around her…

Well boy howdy, Little Snidey sneered, that sure sounds peachy-keen swell there Biff! Treat her to a malted at the soda fountain while you’re at it.

Hey, I snapped, I gotta start somewhere! What, I’m supposed to just bang her right there on the concrete? No, if she gives me another opening I have to make just enough contact to prove I’m not a total coward. I can’t chicken out again!

Wally threw a wrench into my sudden resolve as I hustled across the porch...

“Jim man, what’s up?” he slurred, gripping the hem of my shirt and pulling me over. I knelt down, the geeks continuing their profound debate over Andre Dawson’s batting prowess and other such Cubs-related nonsense...

“I’m gonna take off wid dese guys soon,” he nodded out with a wasted grin, drunk to the point that his slight, working-class Chicago accent was far more pronounced than usual.

“Why?” I whispered.

“We’re gonna go d’dat hot dog place where da waitresses come out d’yer car.”

“Why?” I whispered disdainfully once more.

“Why not?” he laughed.

“Whatever man. I can’t leave yet—I got that Barb chick down there.”

“Yeahhh!” he burst all loud. “Da one from Sheffield’s! Good fuckin’ luck!”

“Keep it down man!” I hissed, shaking the hand he offered with a grimace.

“Ya gonna stay with ’er tonight?”

“I dunno man,” I shrugged agitatedly. “Maybe.”

“It’s too late fer da train back, right?”

“Soon man, soon,” I whispered hoarsely, horrified these geeks might find out I was living at home in the suburbs—in evangelical wet-dream Wheaton of all places!

Wally chuckled at my reaction. “Well Jim, just remember…” he bobbed away, “if yer lay goes sour, ya a’ways got my place…fer a bed and cold shower!” he added with a burst of laughter, evidently quite pleased with his improvisational rhyming skills.

“You are fucked up man,” I couldn’t help but grin, patting him on the back. “See you later.”

Barb gave me this pouty smile as I sat down. “I thought you’d left me for the geeks.”

“It was close,” I laughed, handing her a beer. “But in the end, I had to return.”

“Awww, I’m glad,” she murmured, fixing her eyes on me with this sweet-ass smile...

Okay, I thought, don’t get whacked-out again. Fall back on something simple. “Hey,” I chirped excitedly as a topic of conversation popped into my head. “How do you and Jill know each other? You two seem so different.”

She chuckled. “Yeah, I guess we are pretty different. But I don’t know, we just hit it off. It was at Columbia College. We had a bunch of the same classes and just ended up being friends. I’ve known her a few years now.”

I nodded sagely, plotting my follow up...

“So you ran into her last week?” she asked.

“Uh, yeah…” I gulped, caught off guard.

“Where again?”

“At uh, Neo…” I muttered, hoping she wouldn’t press. At least Jill hadn’t told her. At least not yet…

“So,” she asked in a distressingly Jill-like manner, “do you hang out at clubs a lot?”

“Uh, not really,” I lied, hoping that was the appropriate answer. But then I saw an opening. “Well, actually,” I smiled into her eyes, “I have been to quite a few the past couple weeks. I didn’t know how else to find you again.”

“I see,” she blushed with embarrassment before glancing up into my eyes. “Well, now you’ve found me…” she murmured.

“Yep,” I nodded, calm and collected, confidence soaring. “And incredibly enough, I have this party to thank for it.”

“Oh,” she flashed that crooked, come-hither grin again, “so now you’re glad you came?”

“Of course,” I kept nodding back, thrilled at my progress. I may have fled the field of battle that first time, but just as Paris had overcome his fear and faced Menelaus before the gates of Troy, so too did I now have enough courage to reach out and grab her hand!

She twitched at the contact, our fingers intertwining and rubbing as we both—identically—took a quick, nervous gulp of beer. Now what do I do? was the profound question echoing desperately through my being as I lowered my bottle, forcing Little Snidey to once again assume the role of Hector to my frightened Paris. Kiss her you fucking idiot! he howled.

But I couldn’t quite summon the nerve for such a decisive action. “I’ve been…thinking about you,” I mumbled breathlessly instead, which came out sappy sounding—not at all the profound declaration of desire I’d intended it to be. Luckily it didn’t matter a wit…

“Me too,” Barb gasped, nostrils flaring as she lurched forward, our teeth clashing like blades before our mouths finally locked onto each other.

And then it was great. After that initial awkward melee, we calmed down, setting our beers aside to go at it slow and languorously. I was the combat-challenged Paris no longer, but the legendary lover Paris, my tongue moving so soft against hers I wanted to melt away forever with this black-clad Aphrodite…

“My my, will you look at you two.”

Fucking Jill! I pulled away, blushing my ass off.

“I let you two be alone and look what happens.”

I gave her and the Marge girl an embarrassed nod of acknowledgment as I picked up my beer and drained it.

“We’re really sorry you guys,” Marge apologized, “but the party’s breaking up and we didn’t want to be the only girls left.”

“Nothing against alcohol and hormones,” Jill added, picking up Barb’s beer to take a swig. “But not in a setting such as this.”

Barb blew out a quick laugh, blush spots on her cheeks. “Okay,” she said. “You can have the rest if you want.”

“Thank you but no,” Jill muttered, setting the can down as I eyed it wistfully. Oh well, I suppose I didn’t need it. I stood up, thanking the gods that my shirttail covered my crotch. The hard-on was gone, but it felt like I had pre-seminal stain the size of a fucking softball soaking through my pants.

They left around the side of the building, none of them wanting to say goodbyes. I followed cautiously, worried Jill might shoo me away into the night. But she suggested we get something to eat as we filed through the gangway. So, I figured, at least another hour or so with Barb. Time enough to convince her to take me home? I sure as hell hoped so, otherwise I’d have to slink over to Wally’s and crash on his couch, where—no doubt— I’d be serenaded to sleep by his crazy, drunk old roommate…

“Here’s my beautiful car,” Barb quipped as we wandered across School Street to a Chevy Citation.

“A very handy thing to have,” I murmured, genuinely impressed despite the weird, burnt-orange color.

“So where do you want to eat?” Barb asked Jill as I crammed into the back with Marge. “Royal Palace is right near by.”

“Ewww!” Jill and Marge groaned in unison.

“That place isn’t that bad,” I remarked.

“The best botulism dogs in town,” Jill muttered.

“Come on,” Barb persisted. “It’s the closest place.”

I noticed her give Jill this extra glance that could only mean she wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible.

“Fine,” Jill acquiesced. “She wants to get rid of us.”

“I do not! God…” Barb sighed with exasperated embarrassment, starting the engine.

A surge of adrenaline shot through me as I realized I probably was indeed getting laid tonight. Whew boy, I cautioned myself, keep calm. It’d been awhile—three months, two weeks, and four days. And that’d been an awkward one-night-stand with a last-call pickup who’d enjoyed it even less than I had. Tonight would be a whole different world. I’d need to be at my best, for there was no telling where this might lead.

Seriously, I suddenly wondered with a jolt of discomfort, just where would this lead? Hopefully beyond tonight of course. But if so, what then? I mean I wasn’t exactly in a position to be in a relationship at the moment, what with living at home and being unemployed. Still, say this somehow works out. What then? Marriage and children one day? A 9-to-5 job and house in the suburbs? Goddamn. I felt like a child being blamed for something he didn’t do—completely befuddled at the injustice of a world that could warp the golden promise of a lay into an existential quagmire. I mean why was it getting so hard to simply enjoy the moment? Why did I constantly overthink everything these days?

We headed south on Clark after eating, Barb flipping around for a radio station, Jill trying to stop her on some really lame, mainstream pop songs. Finally they came across that new Cure song—“Fascination Street”—turning it up pretty loud.

As for me, I sat quiet, attempting to focus on the scenery, multiplication tables, the alphabet—anything to override the butt-naked images of Barb that’d begun seething through my turgid mind, filling me with excitement and fear.

Eventually we turned west on Armitage in Lincoln Park, and I realized Marge actually lived in this ritzy neighborhood when we pulled up in front of a big Victorian house. Jill lived in an ornate, stone-faced three-flat only a few blocks away.

“Well kids,” she drolled, folding back the seat so I could get in front, “have yourselves some safe sex.”

What the fuck, I blanched, blushing up a storm as I got in the car and stared at my knees.

“I’ll call about that stuff over the weekend,” she told Barb, strolling to her door.

We waited for her to get inside, and though I felt it imperative to make light of Jill’s comment, all I could think to mutter was, “Wow, they’ve got some really nice places...”

“Yeah,” Barb replied as we pulled away. “Marge’s house is great. It’d be so cool to live in a place like that.”

“They live with their parents I presume?”

“Marge does, but Jill has her own place.”

“She can afford a place in this neighborhood?”

“Her parents pay the rent,” Barb shrugged. “Plus she has a roommate.”

“Man,” I shook my head, “must be nice…”

“Well,” Barb smiled guiltily, “my parents used to pay my rent before I graduated.”

“You graduated?” I asked, surprised.

“I did,” she smiled. “Last year.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Twenty-three?!!” I parroted back, shocked she was older than me. “Uh-oh,” I then mumbled, hoping it didn’t freak her out for some reason, “you’ve got a couple years on me.”

“You’re twenty-one?”

“Yeah,” I grumbled with an exaggerated frown, as if it might be a deal breaker. “Is that okay?”

“It’s okay,” she smiled reassuringly.

“Whew,” I breathed out for comedic effect, unable to quite wrap my head around it. I mean she was like, an actual adult. That kind of freaked me out for some reason. “So like,” I began hesitantly, “does that mean you have a real job?”

“Good question,” she laughed. “Right now I’m just doing retail display design.”

“What, is that like, window displays or something?”

“Pretty much,” she nodded embarrassedly. “It’s supposed to be a bit more involved than that, but in reality, that’s about it.”

“Is it good money?”

“No,” she laughed again. “I can barely pay my rent. I’m going to have to get a roommate or something.”

“Oh you live by yourself?” I asked, thinking how well that boded for our probable night of passion.

“For now at least. The problem is I live in a studio so it’s too small for a roommate. I suppose I’m just going to have to move.”

“That sucks,” I grimaced sympathetically.

“How about you? Do you live nearby?”

Shit, I thought, she’s just gonna drop me off. “I’m near Broadway and Grace,” I lied. “I live with Wally.”

“Oh he’s your roommate too? You didn’t mention that.”

“Eh,” I shrugged. “Where do you live?”

“On Pine Grove just off Diversey. We’re almost there.”

“Ah,” I nodded as casually as possible, a zing of adrenaline zipping through me as we turned east onto Diversey. We took the first side street, looking for parking.

“So are you in school?” she asked.

Fuck, I winced, now she’s gonna think I’m a total loser. “Not right now,” I mumbled. “I gotta get back in soon though…”

“Where did you go?”

“A very, very scary place…” I grinned morosely. “Illinois State, in the wilds of Normal, Illinois. Then I went to this community college in the burbs for awhile but like…I dunno. I’m looking for somewhere here in the city to go.”

“What’s your major?”

“I dunno,” I laughed ruefully. “I didn’t declare one at first, but finally decided on, I dunno, business management…”

“Business management?” she laughed in surprise. “That’s weird—I can’t picture you as a business major.”

“Well no,” I tried to recover. “I mean not for some like, job. I was thinking more along the lines of like, you know, opening a club or something. But I dunno…” I chuckled self-consciously, thanking the heavens for the parking spot she suddenly noticed, saving me the shame of elaborating.

We had to walk a block to her place. The area was full of all these cool, stone-faced three-flats, but she lived in a modern, tacky-looking box of a building that must’ve been built in the sixties.

“Lovely, isn’t it?” she rolled her eyes.

Her apartment, however, looked pretty nice, even under the harsh glare of the overhead light she’d clicked on. It was tiny, that was for sure, but had a cluttered, comfortable feel to it. It smelled nice too, a sort of incensey Barb scent. Of course of most interest to me was the sight of the futon splayed out in bed position. That’s convenient, I thought.

“Oh god, I forgot all about that,” Barb murmured apologetically. Hastily grabbing up the pillow and rumpled comforter, she brushed past me to stuff them into the closet by the bathroom.

“You can tell I don’t get many visitors,” she said as she started wrestling with the futon.

Don’t bother on my account, I thought as I helped finagle it upright into couch position. She then turned on a dim lamp on the end table, killing the nasty overhead light.

“Much better,” I commented, glancing about. Again, I couldn’t help but think how tiny the place was. The only other furniture was a small round table and two rickety-looking chairs outside the dark sliver of a kitchen. I threaded past an easel and a bunch of art supplies in milk crates to get to the one window. Two big plastic storage bins took up the space below the ledge.

“Not a very nice view,” she commented wryly.

“No,” I agreed, looking at the back of a building across an alley.

“Here,” she murmured, pulling plain black curtains shut.

I turned, continuing my inspection. She didn’t have much, just a cheap TV, VCR, and one of those crappy Kmart stereo systems. That was basically it, outside of posters of famous paintings on the walls. A lot of them were impressionist I think. That Monet guy and that Cassatt woman and van Gogh and stuff.

“This is great,” I declared.

“Thanks,” she cooed as I excused myself to the bathroom.

It was decked out cool in here too. The walls were covered in mini-paintings and collages. Overall, quite a set-up she’s got, I thought as I took my leak. I could be very comfortable here...

“What do you want to drink?” Barb asked from the kitchen as I stepped out.

“What do you have?” I walked over.

“Just about everything,” she grinned, setting a couple of glasses on the counter as she knelt down to an open cabinet packed solid with every conceivable kind of hard alcohol you could imagine...

“Holy shit,” I exclaimed, going down on my knees beside her.

“In case you’re wondering, I’m not just a big lush,” she explained with an embarrassed grin, brushing her hair behind her ear all bashful and cute. “My dad’s been on a health kick so I convinced him to get rid of his booze.”

“A fine fatherly gift,” I murmured rapturously.

“I don’t have anything to mix with though,” she said.

“We can just have something on ice.”

“That’s a problem too,” she grimaced theatrically. “No ice.”

“I see…” I murmured, surveying the cabinet, not wanting to waste time turning this into a big production. There was, after all, a production of another sort we needed to be getting at. “Ah,” I finally exclaimed, pulling out a bottle of Captain Morgan’s. “If you have some sugar I can just make cold rum toddies. Really basic ones at least.”

“Rum toddies?” she laughed.

“You ever have one?”

“No.”

“Aw they’re great. Proper hot ones at least. But this’ll do.”

“Well, here’s the sugar,” she motioned to a little jar.

“Good. A shot glass and teaspoon? Alright then,” I said after she placed them on the counter, “stand back and let the expert do his work.”

“The expert huh?” she joked, going out into the main room. “I’ll put some music on.”

“Great,” I replied, pouring a shot of rum into each glass, unable to believe how perfect this night was turning out. And look at this kitchen, I noted with delight. Despite being as narrow as a bathroom stall, it had all the amenities. A toaster, a little microwave, a dish rack, paper towels…I mean it was a real kitchen! And what’s beyond that door by the fridge, I wondered, a porch? I opened it and took a peek. Oh well, just an enclosed stairwell. No outdoor access for this place. Still, I could be very comfortable here indeed. Then The Cocteau Twins started playing. Ha, I thought with a big grin as I went back to the drinks, she’s pulling out the lovemaking music!

Toddies finally in hand, I walked out into the main room and was like—wow! She’d killed the light and lit a few candles, as well as a stick of incense.

“Here you are,” I said, handing over her drink as I sat down next to her on the futon.

She took a sip as she snuggled against me. “It’s great,” she murmured softly, eyes practically glowing in the candlelight.

“Yeah…” I sighed, temples burning. “Mixed drinks are good,” I mumbled like a simpleton.

“Yeah,” she whispered, brushing back her hair again in that completely innocent, nervous, yet totally sexy-ass way!

“This place is great!” I boomed, too freaked to allow any silence, taking a quick pull at my drink.

“Thanks,” she smiled into my eyes. “I did the best I could.”

“Yeah…” I sighed, nodding, beginning to feel my confidence ebb away as I desperately wondered—despite all the fucking evidence—if it would be right for me to make a move. Then I noticed the back of her entrance door was covered in snapshots and postcards. “What’s all that?” I asked, unable to make anything out in the dark.

“Oh god,” she broke out in this brilliant, embarrassed grin. “I’m like some teeny-bopper with that door. It’s all pictures of my friends and bands I like and stuff.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” I murmured, gazing back over at the door as if I could actually make out the images. Stop stalling! Little Snidey reprimanded. But as I turned to look at Barb I got even more unnerved, for she was staring at me intently, heaving. Now, I told myself, go for it now!

“God, you’re so beautiful…” I stammered instead, plastered immobile against the cushion. Not again you idiot! Little Snidey screamed. Yet before I could babble anything else, she thrust her tongue into my mouth with an aggression that’d been distinctly lacking at the party.

Things proceeded wonderfully from there, the two of us setting down our drinks to grope each other up with increasing intensity. Soon she was clawing at my pants, getting them unzipped and working them down. But considering she hadn’t thought to take my boots off first, they got caught around my ankles. I had to stop her and deal with it myself. She took her own shoes off as I fumbled all hyper at the laces, worried the mood was getting ruined. But then she yanked my shirt up over my head and started peppering my neck with these frenzied kisses till I got clear of my pants.

That put me in a total frenzy myself. I all but tore her shirt and bra off before laying her back, yanking down all at once on her skirt, leggings and panties so hurriedly that I scooted her a foot across the futon. And then what a sight as I worked her legs free! That sweet pale body spread out below me…soft and fleshy in all the right places…that dark little bush and sexy little belly button…my god…

But then I let something stupid happen. I was just about to go get the condom in my wallet when she reached up and grabbed me, sliding it in. Uh-oh, I thought, so much for that. You can still get it you moron! Little Snidey castigated. Yet I was just like, no, I can’t! I mean she was getting so into it—moaning under me with abandon—that there was no way I could stop and be practical.

Things got a bit weird though, for she suddenly clamped to me like a vise, straining herself upward as if she wanted me to poke a hole through her. I would’ve been happy to oblige, but she was crushing me so tight I couldn’t thrust. Hm, I was puzzled, is this tantric…or some sort of, like, deep hug therapy? I strained back, trying indeed to wiggle Little Jimmy ever further inside as she squeezed me like a boa constrictor. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could sustain it, however. It was like doing a body plank exercise, with no clear purpose so far as I could tell...

Yet just as I was beginning to wonder if perhaps this sweet little woman was a tad off her rocker, a miracle occurred. Her shivering death grip broke into a flurry of quakes and bucks and moans. Holy Christ, I realized, she’s cumming! I was right behind her after that cataclysm, pulling out only just in time.

Amazing, was all I could think, absolutely amazing. I shifted to ease my weight but she kept her arms locked tight about me as we panted and gasped. I wondered if I should say something but didn’t wanna break the spell. Barb must’ve felt the same, lying there with her eyes closed, breaths slowing into cute, satiated purrs. I left well enough alone, and soon found myself drifting off to sleep with her. How goddamn perfect, I kept thinking, the best sex I’ve ever had! I mean I was already in fucking love with this woman!

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