The message couldn’t be clearer:
‘Fuck with me and I’ll kill you.’
I got it.
1.1 – In The Beginning…
Two Years Ago…
Early Saturday morning – seven o’clock AM early Saturday morning – and I was driving my truck north along the gently winding curves of the Almaden Expressway. The hour was early, way too early and that made me cranky, almost as much as the hangover from the dinner party the night before. Now I sipped sipped my 24 hour gas station coffee, working the sludge out of my brain, grousing I was getting too old for this crap.
I cruised through the early morning gray, enjoying the smooth ride of my truck in spite of my foul mood. I’d recently bought the thing courtesy of residuals from a commercial for a local brewery. If you watched televised football in the few years before the Shift, you may have seen it. Me, a vampire – a very dim and clumsy vampire – ogling and chasing the local team’s cheerleaders around nighttime San Francisco. Goofy. Sloppy, even; shot with handhelds. Lowest common denominator stuff. I wrote off the exercise as a learning experience, thinking the spot wouldn’t last past the Halloween showing.
Sucker went viral. Halloween came and went and they kept running the spot. That led to a Christmas sequel, another for the playoffs, capping the run with a grand final for the big game. Eight days work and four commercials over four months and come Spring I had myself a new truck and a revitalized bank account. And the cash flow was going to pick up: the agency planned a revival of the commercial for the new season. This meant fewer odd jobs, less waiting on tables and more opportunities for stage work. Hell, I could even run up to San Francisco or down to LA for a few auditions. Maybe even Southern Oregon.
And, yeah, you read right. Commercials, stage work, auditions: I’m an actor. Everybody’s got skeletons. This one’s mine and, at the time, happily so. I was recently returned from summer stock performances in SoCal. I’d had a good run, but more important, my work there got me noticed by a company in San Jose, among other things landing me an invite to audition for The Tempest in the spring.
And that is the reason I was working out in the gym the day I got myself introduced to Ms. Scissors Lifts: I was in physical training for an audition, weird as that might sound. There was a monster in The Tempest, name of Caliban, and with my thoroughly scarred body buffed up to premium shape I figured I had a good shot at being the bastard.
Kinda ironic. After all, here I was at an age where I possessed the right combination of maturity and physicality to take on some great roles. I was being considered for serious parts by directors I admired. Even better, I was in a position where I’d have a shot at performing in some of the best theater companies on the West Coast, something I’d been working at for a long time. Yet with all these possibilities before me, there I was, more interested in bulking up and contorting my body in an extremely painful muscle spasm in order to earn the opportunity to lope around a stage like a maniac man-beast.
Of course, none of this mattered that early Saturday morning in late September. My only objective was I arrive on time at an address given me by the object of my wandering eyes and screwy libido. If I didn’t, Ms. Scissors Lifts was going to fuck me good.
And not in a happy way.
I still had no idea how I got myself in this mess. I couldn’t recall much of anything past sitting on the butterfly apparatus at the start of my workout. The minutes that followed were a jumble of vague recollections. My memories were scrambled with images of beaches and stars and a weird picnic with a beautiful woman, but I couldn’t even bring that into focus. The only things I did understand: one moment I was working out; the next I was caught leering at this woman with no idea what happened in the moments between to get me to do something like that. There was no denying I’d been staring at her. More to the point, staring at her crotch. I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment. I couldn’t imagine myself doing that, ever, particularly not in a gym. Yet it was the one memory that stood out for from the stew of confusion, the one etched indelibly in my memory. I’d done it. I had a clear mental image of her soft, rounded nether lips pressed firmly against the sweat-soaked fabric of her shorts.
Did I ever.
After she made it clear I was busted, Ms. Scissors Lifts told me – not asked me, mind you – told me to head down to the other end of the strip-mall the gym called home and wait for her at the coffee shop. For the briefest of instants I thought of blowing her off. No one else had seen what happened. Why they hadn’t was beyond me, but they hadn’t.
‘Go ahead.’ I could have said. ‘Complain. Your word against mine.’
Never happened; the idea died aborning. Something to do with the way she oozed self-confidence, perhaps. Maybe those cold blue eyes. Or the fear of being outed as a pervert. Take your pick. Whatever the reason, I backed down before I even realized I was backing down.
And when do I ever back down to a woman?
If I’d had my wits about me, I would have realized there and then something entirely wrong was going on. None of this was normal. Women don’t tell me what to do.
Everything about this was wrong.
I got the urge to skedaddle. I wasn’t listening. Thing was, I didn’t even know I wasn’t listening. I was following instructions and perfectly content to do so.
Ms. Scissors Lifts arrived at the coffee shop twenty minutes later, showered and dressed, taking her time, ordering a drink before joining me at a solitary outside table where I nursed my iced coffee in the late afternoon sun. She sat, face shadowed by a wide brimmed hat, sipped her tea and stared at me. I kept my mouth shut, concentrating on my coffee. Every once in a while I’d look up and she’d still be staring. Just staring. Freakin’ unnerving. I tried a sheepish smile. Nothing. The whole tableau had that ‘you-are-so-fucked’ quality: she’d bypassed playing with her food and gone directly to debating how she would administer the kill.
Brief thoughts of running tickled my consciousness and faded away.
She cleared her throat.
“Some days, you know?” She sipped, staring back at my confused expression like I should know what she means. “I mean, like this, now, the two of us?”
I had no idea what to say.
“Hopeless.” She sipped again, eyeing me. “It appears we have a problem.” She lowered the cup, setting it down, smiling sideways with that unnerving, bared-teeth smile. “I’m kidding. You have a problem. On my way out I decided to complain to the gym manager.”
I stared, momentarily speechless, complacency fading.
“Marvelous.” I shook my head, sensing whatever it was holding me in place losing its grip. “Okay, then. Excuse me while I go clear out my locker.”
Time to find a new gym.
I started to get up.
“Where do you think you are going?”
I stopped halfway, then straightened.
“You just got me kicked out of my gym. What’s left to discuss?”
“I said I complained; I did say about what.”
“Sit down. I am not finished with you.”
“Would you sit down?”
She was obviously annoyed.
I sat, feeling even more confused.
What the hell was wrong with me?
“I told the manager – Sharon, I believe that’s her name – I told her there was an … incident. I did not identify with whom, nor did I offer up particulars of what occurred. I only mentioned there might be a problem that needed addressing, and I wanted to handle the situation privately.” Her eyes narrowed, and her voice took on a tone of menace. “I added that if things weren’t then resolved, I would revisit the matter with her.”
I stared at her, not comprehending.
“What that means is you are safe.”
She smiled ever-so-slightly, veiled menace informing the expression.
Ms. Scissors Lifts once more paused to sip her tea, never taking her eyes off me.
“I do not like men staring at me, particularly the dim sorts who feel compelled to hide while they get their … their …” She seemed to be searching. She gave up. “Well, whatever it is you do get out of it. This is rather perverted behavior, don’t you think? I mean, a grown adult leering at a woman like she’s putting on a show.” She tilted her head, looking at me sideways. “Is this something that started in your childhood? Perhaps you were one of those troubled little boys who would slink around your neighborhood at night, looking for bedroom windows with open curtains?
“No.” She cut me off before I could protest. “Don’t tell me. That is more information than I want or need.”
The bitch was merciless. But there it was: I’d acted like a goon and she was extracting her proverbial pound of flesh. There was no excuse … and I had no explanation. I’d gone off the rails with no idea why. So how could I begin to explain, to a perfect stranger, what happened was innocent, a momentary, unthinking and compulsive lapse of judgment.
And while you’re busy being me, try explaining why you kept coming back for more, or even more special: tell her what it was you were looking at. ‘Well, ma’am, I’m innocent. Really! The fault lies in that moist, sculptured area between your legs; an absolute work of art that left me so deeply in awe that I simply forgot my manners.’
Yeah. That would take the conversation to whole new levels of the bizarre.
Not even trying to look her in the eyes, I mumbled something about not knowing what came over me and I was really, really sorry and embarrassed and it would never happen again and …
I started, surprised, looking around.
“Did you just-?”
She cut me off before I could finish. “Save the excuses. I’m not interested.”
I got the sense I was one of the most disgusting things she’d ever seen. Shaking her head, she opened her mini-pack, producing a pen and business card.
“Here is how we will work this out. I assume you wish to keep your gym membership?”
I nodded slowly, curious and vaguely apprehensive.
“Good. I have some things I need done; yard work, some heavy lifting. The men I have working for me were called out of town, and I need to get this project done now. You look healthy enough. You finish the clean-up they started and we’ll pretend this little episode never happened. Quid pro quo.”
The tension went out of me and without another thought I nodded my head and sighed in surrender. “Fine.” I needed to get this over with.
She never bothered to look up from writing. “I’m giving you an address. This Saturday morning. Be there. Early. 8:00 early. I’ll be waiting for you. I’ll explain what I want you to do when you get there.”
By now I was smiling, thinking a little hard work couldn’t be too bad. She looked up and caught my expression, smiling without humor.
“There are conditions.”
My smile went away like it was never there.
“You will do whatever I tell you, and there will be a lot to do. This will take a while, perhaps more than one day. If you are not done at the end of the first day you will come back and continue until I am satisfied you are finished. Understood?”
I nodded slowly, feeling that special feeling you get when you realize you might be screwed.
She rose, placing the card next to my drink as she did.
“I will see you Saturday. Do not be late.”
She walked off without a backward glance, hips moving in smooth, hypnotic motion.
So there I was, Saturday morning, tired, more than a little hung over, taking a left turn off Lincoln onto Minnesota. My window was rolled down and the morning air washed over me as I’m Only Sleeping crooned on the stereo, John in fine form. Right now the air was cool, refreshing even, but that wasn’t going to last. Thanks to weeks long off-shore breeze, we were in the middle of a late September Indian Summer, and it was one raging mother of a heat wave. The day was going to be brutal.
Three intersections and I made a right, followed by a couple more quick turns, ending up on a tree-lined street with a lot of old houses with big front yards, most of them Victorian mansions dating back to the late 1800s. The homes were all in pretty decent shape, not that the condition of the neighborhood would be surprising. This was a “moneyed” section of the Willow Glen, one of the older districts of San Jose.
I pulled up to the address and killed the engine. The lot was huge, easily two acres, maybe even three or four, with Japanese maple trees planted in the front, lining the house, standing sentinel between windows. There were a pair of tall palm trees standing thick and tall in the middle of the front lawn. Anchored by a oak tree, a row of tall pines lines driveway side of the house, supplying morning shade. Odds were there were trees in the back, as well, though I couldn’t tell as the house was big, a massive three story Queen Anne. Hedges lined the property’s borders, obscuring tall fences, and there was a thick lawn that covered everything between.
The Victorian had a run-down, fixer-upper look to it. Given the large piles of debris planted on the lawn in front of the entrance, it was likely someone figured that out and decided to do something about it. In the parking space in front of me was a trash dumpster, and its twin sat at the foot of the long driveway. It was pretty obvious what was in store this hot, soon to be muggy day in September.
I looked at the card Ms. Scissors Lifts gave me, checking the address one more time. 659. Yep, this was the place. I turned the card over and read her name again: Sienna Rosetti. Beneath, in italics: Professional Architect – Aesthetic Restorations & Renovations, Domestic & Commercial.
“Well, Ms. Sienna Scissors Lifts Rosetti.” I sighed, already regretting the day before me. “I’m here.”
I got out of the truck, finished the coffee, crumpling and tossing the empty cup in the closest dumpster. Tugging on my baseball cap I made my way up to the front door and knocked. Less than a minute later the door opened and she stood there, dressed in dirty overalls, heavy boots and a snug, dirt streaked white T-shirt. Like at the gym, her hair was tied back and she wore no make-up. There was a tool-belt slung from her hip, and a hammer hung in the little loop in the overalls.
“You’re early.” She sounded annoyed.
I nodded. Behind her, from what I could see through the deep gloom of early morning light, the interior of the house looked a mess. The walls were ripped out, though the structural supports appeared new and intact. Electricians had run conduit through the skeletal framework. Shiny new brass plumbing was also in evidence. A lot of work had gone into this place, with plenty more to come.
“Alright, first thing: I need those piles of trash removed from the front of the house to the dumpsters. They’ve been there for two weeks and the neighbors are not happy. You’ll find a wheelbarrow in the garage out back, as well as some work-gloves.”
With that she shut the door and I was alone on the porch. That was abrupt. I turned and was at the bottom of the stairs when I heard the door open again.
“What do I call you?”
I looked at her sideways.
“I go by Sam, ma’am.”
She was staring at me, her expression odd, almost disbelieving.
“No. No, nothing is wrong.”
This is going well. Not.
“Oh. Okay. Well, that’s my name. Sam.” I smiled my winningest. “While we’re on the subject, what do I call you?”
She looked at me, expression suddenly subdued, even upset, then seemed to shake off whatever was bothering her. That weird, predatory smile lifted the corners of her mouth. Only this time, at least, she didn’t show the teeth.
“Ms. Rosetti will do fine, thank you.”
She shut the door, even more abruptly than before. I waited a moment to make sure there might not be a third coming. Finally, satisfied that there wouldn’t, I made my way to the garage.
My granddad used to tell me there was something to be said for good, hard work. Much as I missed the old guy, were he there with me that morning I would’ve had plenty of thoughts to share on the subject, none of them nice. This was one nasty job. I was handling old and rotten wood, plaster, metal and nails, with all kinds of sharp edges to puncture and cut myself on. And don’t get me started on the dust and dead termites that were coating my sweat-soaked body. Adding to my general state of misery: I was slowly suffocating. I’d grabbed a scarf from the truck to cover my mouth and nose, and while it served to keep the dust and deceased insects out of my breathing passages, the combination of sweat, dirt and tiny dead things lodged in the thin fabric were blocking the air I was trying to suck into my lungs.
On the bright side, Ms. Scissors Lifts did give me work gloves, sparing my hands.
I’d been at it steady four hours now and I was hurting. At least the dumpsters were equipped with doors so I could wheelbarrow the debris up a makeshift ramp and unload, instead of having to throw trash up and over the shoulder-high sides. I stopped after my latest load to consider the current state of my bladder. I’d used the facilities once now, an event marked by the uncomfortable sensation of Ms. Scissors Lifts’ standing sentry over the operation. She let me in the house, hammer held lightly where I could see it.
The message couldn’t be clearer: ‘Fuck with me and I’ll kill you.’
I got it.
There was a working bathroom on the first floor. Beyond it, toward the back of the house, an open doorway led to the kitchen. That room looked more ‘finished’ than the rest of the house, at least from my limited view. I refrained from taking a close look, of course, as the boss was standing at the other end of the hall, arms crossed with that hammer suggestively resting on her shoulder. Instead, I entered the bathroom, answered Nature’s call with dispatch, washed my hands and exited.
I walked by her and out the door, which she shut on my heels, without comment.
Damn. Downright frosty.
Minutes later she reappeared with a pitcher of iced water and a glass, setting both down on the front entryway without a word. The temperature was rising with the sun and I was already sweating like a pig, so it wasn’t like I needed an invitation. I filled the glass and drank thirstily. Again I offered my thanks, and again she acted like I hadn’t said anything, turning and closing the door in fluid movement behind her. Whatever. I drank some more and got back to work.
Now, four hours in, I was exhausted, shirt sticking, jeans chafing from all the particulate matter lodged between the cotton fabric and my skin … and stomach grumbling because I skipped breakfast. Hangover broiled out of me, my now-hydrated body wanted more solid replenishments. And speaking of liquid, I still needed to take that damned leak. I figured I’d use the bathroom, then run down to the deli on Lincoln to pick up a sandwich and a beer. No problem.
Except … I was worrying about how best to ask her to let me use the bathroom. If that isn’t intimidated, I’m not sure what is. And it was me being intimidated! This is stupid! There was no reason for me to act this way, psyching myself out for no good reason … but there I was, hemming and hawing.
The hell with that.
I’d just tell her I was going to get something at the deli – after I told her I was going to use the bathroom, of course – and that would be the end of it.
I turned and there she was, standing outside the dumpster. The resolve died in my belly.
What the fuck is this?
“I’ve made some lunch.” Her voice was cool, neutral. “You are welcome to stop and join me on the back porch. Come. I’ve set a table there.” Without waiting for an answer, she pivoted and walked up the drive that led to the back of the house. She stopped after a few strides when she realized I wasn’t following.
The reason? I was staring after her like the clueless dog that I am.
She turned, looked over her shoulder like she was trying to understand what just happened, then came back to stand before me once more. “You are working hard. You are doing a good job. In return, I am offering to share my table. It is customary to treat our … our…”
Her voice drifted off and she looked away, her manner suggesting she was searching for the right word, and I wasn’t going to like it. Don’t ask me how I knew this; I just did. Weirder still: the understanding didn’t bother me.
She shrugged. “Never mind; you don’t have to if you don’t wish to. I could bring the food out here and you could eat alone. Or there are places over on Lincoln.”
I’ve made some bad choices in my life, choices I’ve truly regretted. Not this time.
At least, that was my thinking going in.
“No. No … I’m really okay with your table, ma’am.” I managed to get the words out, stumbling over debris as I stepped forward. “Ah, if you don’t mind, I’d like to clean up first …”
That elicited a nod.
“Go on inside.” She nodded toward the front door. “It’s unlocked. When you’re finished, walk through to the rear, through the kitchen and out to the porch.”
I started across the yard.
I stopped and looked back at her.
“You can lose the Henry Fonda act.”
I stared at her, puzzled. She was almost smiling. Almost.
“Stop being so damned polite and please don’t call me ‘Ma’am’ … My name is Sienna.”
Sienna turned and walked down the path, not waiting for an answer. I stood there for a moment, watching her disappear around the side of the house before finally entering the front door, walking about half-an-inch off the ground as I did. When last I entered the house she stood sentry, holding her hammer and acting like she’d use it on me for even a sideways glance; now she was treating me like we were the same species. Sure, the paranoid in me wondered at this, but for the most part I felt rewarded, like I was in the first grade and teacher just gave me a gold star.
The feeling was good, and I saw no reason to question the mood.
So did Ms. Sienna Scissors Lifts Rosetti.
You just gotta love the suckers.
“Being the linear creatures we are, it would no doubt help if I begin at a beginning. The problem being there are several beginnings, each having its own quirks and oddities, so I‘m never quite sure which start to start from.
“So I’m going to start at my favorite part, the story I know best, the one with a lot of me in it…”
1.0 Shapes of Things
I can close my eyes and we’re still standing on the same tropical beach, under an alien sky, warm white sand filling the spaces between my toes. The Amazon princess is standing to one side, the Goddess who loved her, at the other, the two of us barely conscious of either as the woman I love leans into me. I feel her forehead nestled at the base of my neck, the coolness of her palms flat against the skin of my chest. My chin rests upon her smooth, black hair … the maddening scent of her fills my senses … and in my mind the soft caress of her song echoes in the background, counterpoint to the faint roar of the distant surf. Her head comes up, revealing the amber skin and asymmetrical beauty which long ago took possession of my soul. I watch her step back, cobalt eyes staring into mine, the trace of her fingertips soft on my bloodied cheek, the sensation of her touch slipping away.
“Damn, Sam.” The words are whispered, achingly sincere, a single tear trailing the soft curve of her cheek. “Why couldn’t you have been a woman?”
And she walks away, just like that …
Hell of a thing to say to a guy, but there it is. Or was. At the time I was too numb, not to mention way too banged up, to get myself worked up over the not so subtle slam.
Of course, she was right. She usually was, even when she was wrong. I could have avoided a whole mess of pain, pounded on the bad guys with style, still gotten the girl, and lived sap happily ever after if I’d only been a woman.
In my dreams. Fact is the gender switch would’ve caused more problems than it solved. And the Powers That Be would never have allowed it. The bitch liked things complicated.
Okay, I know. I’m getting ahead of myself. Way, way ahead of myself. Being the linear creatures we are or, at least, used to be, and given how we experience temporal progression from our decidedly one dimensional perspective, while also taking into consideration the relative stability of the localized reality most of us depend upon for our sanity, it would no doubt help if I begin at a beginning. The problem being there are several beginnings, each having its own quirks and oddities, so I‘m never quite sure which start to start from.
So I’m going to start at my favorite part, the story I know best, the one with a lot of me in it.
The setup is simple. The moment responsible for screwing up my life forever occurred on a late and noisy afternoon at my local gym. Think noise and movement: bodies in motion, at rest, in motion, the dank smell of sweat, the sound of metal clanging in rhythm, the floor vibrating from the aerobics class in the next room, the steady bass thump of the music as it kept time for all those wannabe hardbodies. Add to this mix the migraine level pain taking up residence between my ears and Dante’s got an additional circle for his medieval theme park.
There I was, in the middle of all this joy, hating life more than usual and no one to blame but myself. After all, I didn’t exactly have to stay after to shut down the bar the night before. My shift had been over hours before. But Jodi, my bartender, has such an enticing way of getting me to hang around: a little mild flirting mixed with a bottomless mug of beer. Before I know it, I’m helping clean the bar. Then we’re at Jodi’s place. Free beer. A free, home-cooked meal. Even more free beer.
Lots and lots of free and easy Jodi.
For a guy who liked getting things on the cheap, how could I go wrong?
I’m drifting again.
I do this a lot these days. Old age, I’m sure.
I was getting set to tell you how this mess got started.
No, getting started wasn’t the problem. Things had been underway for a long time.
What I’m actually going to tell you is how I got sucked into this mess. Truth be told, the ‘mess’, as some of us tend to refer to the Great Cluster Fuck, has been around a long time. A long, long time. The kind of ‘long time’ I get headaches thinking about, worse than the one currently pounding in my skull as I worked the weights. But at the time, and for quite a while after, I didn’t know about the back story, so don’t get too ticked off if I don’t come right out and tell all from the get go. After all, punch lines aren’t funny if you haven’t first listened to the setup.
And do I ever have a setup.
In your mind’s eye, picture me seated on an incline butterfly lift. For any of you amateur early-21st century historians out there, I’m describing an exercise machine having nothing to do with the angular elevation of small, flutteringly beautiful winged insects.
Trust me on this.
I’m facing a wall, leaning back at a 45-degree angle, working my shoulders, chest and upper back muscles. There’s a wall of mirrors to my left and, to my right, rows of other exercise machines, each one dedicated to the focused torture of a specific muscle group. Beyond, a long wall of windows, allowing bright, late-afternoon sun to stream into the gym, casting long shadows, tinging the atmosphere with an amber haze.
Now, with all this in mind, picture to my immediate right a blue mat, upon which reclines a startlingly beautiful and immodestly clad hottie, lying on her side, her back to me, working her legs, abs and hips. I’m peripherally aware of her while I do my reps: after all, it’s hard not to miss the up-and-down motion of her long, shapely legs as she scissors-lifts.
Lately I’d been seeing a lot of this particular woman as our exercise schedules tended to coincide. We’d even reached the point where we exchanged a polite greeting now and then while navigating the sometimes-packed environs of the gym.
Well, okay, I’m stretching truth here. There were no polite exchanges of greetings to speak of. I sort of mumbled an ‘excuse me’ before stepping aside whenever I found myself blocking her path, whereupon she walked through the space I’d vacated, all the while never showing any indication she saw me, let alone heard me.
Now if you’re one of those happy individuals who know nothing about me, for the sake of context, this would be a good time to point out I enjoy being in the presence of beautiful women. Call it a quirk, an acquired taste, or a fetish, femininity made existence so much more bearable; women made the sun rise, the moon glow, peppers hot and peaches sweet.
And in case you were wondering, yes, as objects of affection, men mostly bored the crap out of me. Still do, rumors notwithstanding.
Anyway, given how much I liked looking at pretty girls, understand then how finding myself averting my eyes and feeling stupid and inept whenever I got within a dozen feet of this beauty was a true mystery to me. Particularly given I rarely lacked for something to say to a femme.
In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should just go ahead and say women were/are the aesthetic center of my universe; I observe and enjoy them in any and all situations. Conversation, working, playing; being with women added color to an otherwise gray and often boring existence. To me, while most men were invariably monotonous, women, by contrast, revealed a never-ceasing, often surprising array of variety and perspective … and distraction, lots and lots of joyful distraction.
And there was always distraction to spare at my gym, make no mistake, coming in all shapes and sizes, hair and skin color, and I derived great pleasure thereof, and always made the most of the occasional opportunity to get close and personal.
But not this particular. Oh, no. And I couldn’t figure out why. As you might guess, this was doing wonders for what passes as my self-esteem.
The beauty on the mat was attractive – very much so – but in a weird, out-of-the-ordinary sort of way. Kind of cold, even icy, radiating a smooth sophistication completely out of place in a gym catering to lower-middle-class types and seedy low-lifes like yours truly. It’s not like anyone minded her being there, especially anyone male. But nobody was kidding themselves: to someone like her, the rest of us were part of the unpleasant reality of everyday existence. We were just there, like worn, used-up furniture, usually getting in the way and managing to be unfailingly annoying while doing so.
Of course, this understanding did nothing to suppress the odd excitement I’d feel whenever Ms. Scissors Lifts showed up for her workout, and with it an even odder sensation: the vague ache of missing something when she didn’t.
The mystery girl looked to be in her twenties, though the self-assured way she carried herself gave the impression she was older. She was shorter than a few, taller than most, skin a darkened tone suggesting more than hours spent reclining by the pool. If I were to guess, I’d say her ancestors came from somewhere along the Mediterranean coast, maybe Italy, or Spain. Her facial features were symmetrical: a straight nose set evenly between coral blue eyes. Her lips seemed thin, but only because her mouth was wide, framed by sharp and angular cheekbones. Her high forehead was bordered by a curving line of long, dark hair, pulled back severely in a ponytail. Her body was like her face, a hard but shapely thinness just this side of average size, her muscles defined by pronounced cuts born of dedicated weight training.
I first noticed this particular vision of loveliness a short time after returning from L.A. Being the curious type, I looked up the gym’s manager and made all the usual inquiries. Sharon wouldn’t say too much. No surprise, confidentiality clauses being what they are. She did let drop the dark-haired beauty’s gym membership was long term. Rumor had it Ms. Scissors Lifts purchased a house in nearby. This news was both exciting and depressing: exciting because it looked like this hot little number was becoming a fixture in my life; depressing because affording a house around here meant she was too high end for a slob like me to even dream of getting close.
So this is the setup, the lay of the land the moment before the moment when the song was sung, the spell was cast and the world – mine and everyone else’s – changed forever.
I finished my set on the butterfly lift, standing to stretch. As I did, she completed a set of leg lifts, shifted on the mat from her right side to her left, and began a fresh series. Now her right leg was moving up and down in the perpetual scissors movement intended to strengthen the inner thighs and other, more intimate muscle groups.
Picture what happens next:
The movement draws my attention. I follow motion with my eyes. And I stop cold. My breathing gets uneven, my heart starts pounding, the blood’s surging, my headache’s a forgotten memory and I’m suddenly thankful my tank top is long and baggy because the particularly tubular thing defining me as a male has a taken on a mind of its own and is all but yelling at everyone to take a look at how big and proud of itself it is. Meanwhile, my mind slows to a crawl and in the distance I swear I can hear someone singing.
Somewhere in the dull fog enveloping my brain the realization dawns I am staring, so I forcefully look away, eyes darting about guiltily to see if anyone noticed my breach of gym etiquette. Lucky me. I’m safe; time for another quick set of reps.
I resume my workout, confused, in a brief instant of clarity wondering what the hell was it I was thinking, staring at her like that, here, in the middle of the gym. The moment passes, and a new feeling comes on me, disappearing my concern. I know something very wrong is happening to me, something scary. And just like that, I forget everything, I check out.
I finish the set of reps and I stand once more. I stare. Really stare. I can’t help myself. I’m breaking rules and likely going to get my ass kicked out of the gym, but I stare all the same. Everything about this woman is firm and healthy and desirable. I have an unobstructed view to confirm this simple truth, starting with those bright, white shoes and socks, moving to and along the smooth, dark skin of her shapely legs up to the gray, skin-tight cotton shorts, climbing even further past the trim waist and rigid abs to the blue, cut-off tank top with the white halter-top showing underneath.
Happily, the view above the shoulders is blocked by the mass of the butterfly machine so she can’t see me as my captive gaze lingers on her body. Like I said, she is doing those damned scissors lifts and she must have done a lot by now and I don’t care because she is raising and lowering her right leg in a perfect and hypnotic rhythm to the unheard music of her headphones. I shouldn’t look but I can’t stop myself. I keep telling myself this is nothing new, I’ve seen this before. But I’ve never seen anything so damned beautiful in my life and I am struggling mightily to force myself to look away but God in Heaven I have to look and I turn back and I look again and I think I am in love and I know I am in lust and I really, really know I better do something quick so I sit down and start another set of reps on the butterfly apparatus.
And as I strain at the weights, the long, jagged scars on my arms and legs a dull white against my exertion-reddened flesh, it suddenly occurs to me I want to have her. The thought comes to me with the same sense of normalcy as “I think I’ll have a piece of this pie.” And the crazy thing – the truly freaky, out of my mind thing – is I am I actually giving the idea serious consideration. I’m losing all sense of self-control and have no clue why. Even nuttier: I don’t care. Something’s taken my governor and ripped it right out. I am thoroughly into the concept of jumping her bones, right now, right there, on the blue exercise mat.
In front of everybody.
Oh. Yeah. This is so not good.
I wake up.
Seriously: I wake up, like I’ve been asleep and suddenly find myself fully awake, perched on the exercise saddle and not knowing how I got there. I’m working my shoulders and doing a ragged job of it. My mind is racing, my lungs are gasping for air, my manhood is trying oh so hard to burst my shorts and I am wondering what the fuck just happened to me. And in the middle of all this lunacy, I hear someone whisper my name.
And I check out again.
I blink. I’m somewhere else, under a canopy of midnight stars, and she is there, the girl on the blue mat, sitting with me on a blanket, smiling sweetly as she sips from her wine. She is also naked. She is stunning, her skin almost glowing in the darkness.
And did I mention she is naked?
I look down. I’m naked, too.
I am holding a glass of wine in my hands. I note it is full and quickly drink to hide my shock. My eyes dart about as I gulp and I see we’re sitting on blanket, on a deserted beach. About us are the remains of a picnic meal.
“How do … how do you know my name?”
“You told me.”
“I did? I don’t remem-.” She’s perched on her knees before me, close. Too close. Noble urges are kicking in.
I drink from my glass, confused, even a little bit panicked. This shouldn’t be a problem. I’m all about noble urges. So why was I feeling embarrassed?
A sly smile lifting the corners of her mouth.
“What was it caused you to … to fall … for me?”
I almost spit up the wine.
Like I’d tell her.
My eyes widen. To my horror, I realize I am going to tell her. Everything.
“Well, you are an extremely beautiful woman.” I hear myself stammer the words, and I pause, thinking, trying to buy time. But it’s no good. I can’t seem to keep myself from confessing. “I’d love to tell you it was your thick, dark hair, or beautiful smile, or the soft, athletic curves of your magnificent body which did me in.” I stop, suddenly uncomfortable, and I understand I am talking about something I shouldn’t be.
“I’m sorry.” My voice is a frightened whisper. “I can’t do this.”
For the briefest instant irritation shapes her features and as quickly as it appeared the expression is gone and she smiles again, and as she does I hear something, a voice, soft and distant, but I don’t know what it is I’m hearing and I become even more confused.
She leans forward and refills my glass. I swirl it around, sniff and drink, the aroma of the wine filling my nostrils as it slips down my throat.
She pours more.
“It’s alright, Kitchen.” Her voice is a gentle purr, and I feel myself relax. “Drink.” I do, gulping down the sweet wine. I shouldn’t drink like this; it’s not the right way to drink wine. The alcohol floods my senses, making me dizzy. “You can tell me. It is safe to do so.”
“But this is stupid. Embarrassing, even.”
“I know.” She takes my empty glass and setting it to the side. “All the same, you must tell me. This sin must be mine. Once it is, so shall you.”
I look at her and for a moment I sense something about this is not right, but the strange sound, a constant pressure between my ears, rises in power and I forget my misgivings as I listen to the singer’s voice.
“Okay.” I feel ashamed. A little boy caught out. “You have to promise you won’t get mad.”
“Oh, I promise.” She smiles, once more sipping from her glass and for an instant her eyes glow with a weird blue light.
I know I’m blushing now, and am thankful for the darkness, but I quickly remember she can see in the dark. And I wonder how I can know this, but the thought fades away. I take a breath and continue. “The thing, the one thing which left me destroyed was the lovely shape of your lips straining against the fabric of your shorts as you exercised on the mat.”
She places her glass next to mine and rises, coming closer, straddling me, sinking and impaling herself in one smooth motion. I am unable to move as she arcs down, losing herself to the penetration.
She breathes the words, preoccupied.
I nod, overwhelmed.
A gently urging whisper, no sign of anger or offense; instead, she’s leaning in close, eyes lidded, near shut, her lips almost touching mine as her pelvis undulates slowly on my lap. “Say the rest.” She groans. “You have to to say the rest.”
“You’re not mad at me?”
“Of course not. How could I be? Continue. Tell the truth of things.”
“Okay. The truth.” I murmur the words dreamily as I breathe her, feeling myself grow even harder as she slides and rocks along the length of me. “The truth is, your thick, firm lips as they moved against the thin, sweat-soaked fabric of your tight, gray workout shorts was hypnotic.” She is kissing me now, lightly, every few words. “As they opened … and closed … in time to the movement of your leg … lifting … and … descending … all I could imagine … were the shorts … disappeared … and there … you were … naked, damp … glistening.”
She kisses me, deeply, thorough, tongue thrusting, her passion stealing my will.
She pulls back, her lips again barely grazing mine.
I am hungry for her.
“In that instant…”
I pause, suddenly afraid.
“Say it, Kitchen. It will be alright.”
I barely nod, lost in the scent of her.
“… I was yours.
“Yes, Kitchen.” She smiles, pulling back. “Forever. Unto the end of time.”
She kisses me, and I feel her pushing me backward and down to the blanket and I see her above me, framed by the stars, and her eyes pulse crimson.
She lowers her lips to mine and we kiss.
I am lost.
And I found myself back in the gym. I blinked, wondering, but unable to remember, what just happened. The worry evaporated, giving way to something else I was only now becoming aware of: I was turned on like I could never, ever remember in my life. Thinking about her sweat-soaked treasure and rerunning in my mind’s eye the little movie of her beautifully muscular nether lips straining against those tight shorts stripped away all reason, all restraint. I resolved to have her. Right here, right now, and I didn’t care who tried to stop me.
I’d kill them.
Kill them all.
Somewhere, in the recessed corners of my mind, I sensed her satisfied smile, and I checked out one last time.
I get up, turn eagerly. Ms. Scissors Lifts stands before me, expression a cipher. I try to move, to get to her, to have her. She gestures and the passion drains from me.
I become aware, consciously aware, of the music. It was always there, from the first time I saw her … I know this … but I’m only now hearing the sound. Someone is singing, in the distance, soft, but clear, the echo of the singer’s voice reaching my ears in spite of the din of the crashing weights and the bass thump from the boom box in the aerobics room … the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I’ve been hearing this music for some time, ever since I walked into the gym, but it is only now I’m aware of the sound. The voice I hear is female, of this there is no doubt, and I know, without seeing, the singer is the most beautiful creature ever to grace existence. She’s singing to me, only to me, and she’s voicing her song in a language familiar and alien all at once, words laced with longing and sadness, hope and joy, combined, intertwined … leaving me transfixed. My heart pounds at her voice, the rush of blood leaving me faint, weak … whoever she is, her song compels me … to what? I am held in place as the haunting melody reaches into the depths of me, seeking out the dark and hidden corners, caressing half-forgotten memories and lost dreams while wending its way into my being.
I absently wonder if I am losing my mind and realize I could care less.
For an eternal instant everything comes to a dead stop. But only for a moment; the music disappears as if it never were, leaving me feeling empty and alone. I close my eyes, trying to remember the feelings the song stirred, but they’re gone, and as the loss begins to communicate to me I realize something else is happening, something important. It takes me a moment, but I finally remember. My eyes pop open and she’s still standing there, Ms. Scissors Lifts, pristinely beautiful, frozen like a statue, and I wonder how long we’ve stood like this and if what I think happened to me actually happened. I shake off my surprise, quickly and guiltily looking around once again to see if anyone is paying attention to this little tableau and I’m just a touch relieved no one seems to have noticed anything wrong. I turn back to look at the beauty from the mat. She’s still unreadable, not smiling or frowning – just looking at me. She slowly raises her right arm and points behind me, like I missed something. I turn, expecting a boyfriend or something equally life-threatening, but there’s no one there, only exercise equipment and the wall mirrors. I turn back to look at her again when realization dawns and she sees the sudden awareness in my expression and she finally smiles, but the smile is not a nice smile. More like the pleased expression of something feral upon cornering its dinner, and there’s no doubt in my mind I’m the main course.
The real world kicked back into focus.
I was standing to the side of the butterfly apparatus, she on the other side, no expression, facing and pointing past me, just like in the dream.
I closed my eyes, not bothering to look.
“The mirrors.” My voice was empty, a soft, drawn out sigh. “The fucking mirrors.”
I opened my eyes.
She was smiling now. The expression was predatory.
We stared at each other for a few heartbeats. When she finally spoke, her voice was calm, her tone laced with the promise of trouble.
“I think we should talk.”