In a game of love, two losers are drawn together by necessity: a need for shelter rather than love. She and her child have been abandoned, and he has lost everything he held dear. Having experienced romance in the past, niether wishes to go through it again, thank you very much. The story begins as they are about to meet, in a small community, of a sort you may be familiar with, perhaps even grew up in. The period is the early nineteen-nineties but the theme is timeless. This is about the perpetual conflict between the sexes, fought with the sharpest knives, dipped in sweet honey.
Light filtered through bedroom curtains and Charly woke, sensing something had gone wrong. Her eyes wandering over cracked ceiling plaster in their morning ritual, while her ears scanned the frequencies of early sounds--house noises, faint bird calls.
Nothing else, not even...
Yikes, no alarm! She panicked before remembering it was Saturday. Thank Heaven--the one day she could gain blessed extra sleep.
Her eyes drifted shut.
...and she lay on the beach, her flowing golden hair melding with silver-white sands--the sun hot, a cool sea-breeze rustling the palms. The waves, the soughing of the wind, the distant calls of seabirds--all seemed a conspiracy to lull her half asleep.
Adrian leaned close, his deeply-tanned left pectoralis major gently brushing her right deltoid.
He spoke in a husky whisper: "Come away with me, Elise--now. Don't return to our five-star hotel--we'll simply swim out and sail away."
His yacht swung at anchor, its masts dipping to the eternal rhythm of the trade winds.
"A mere two days we've spent with each other," he said, "but two days with you is like eternity with any other woman. Come with me! I want you to see the black volcanic sands of Maui, the crystalline beaches of Bora-bora, the Great Barrier Reef--track lemurs and aye-ayes on Madagascar, view Cape Horn by moonlight, watch the giant sea-turtles come ashore at... I dunno--the Galapagos, maybe."
"The child," she protested.
"Child! What child? I refuse to believe your slim youthful figure has ever borne a child. Besides," he laughed softly, "a child aboard a romantic cruise for two? How inappropriate!"
"But the child, Adrian! She's calling me!"
"Don't obsess, Elise. There's no child, no child, no child..."
She jerked erect, panicking a second time until she remembered--letting her eyes re-close, wondering why she'd again wakened.
"Momma, are you awake? Momma? Momma!"
Now she knew.
"Uhhh-hh... Uh, I am now, I guess. Can't you stay in bed awhile, Honey?"
"I'm hungry, Momma."
"No you're not, Frankie--you aren't hungry in the morning."
"I am today, Momma--real hungry. ...Momma?"
She allowed herself the luxury of one heartfelt groan before sliding her legs off the bed. Blast! Why couldn't she sleep late on the one day possible? Frankie never wanted to get up on weekdays--almost always balked.
She pulled on the first clothes at hand and lurched downstairs to prepare a facsimile of breakfast.
The milk carton was almost empty, forcing a choice between cereal or hot chocolate for the girl. After consideration she decided to water it to stretch. Thin milk wouldn't hurt anything--nutrition would remain, though the flakes would be a bit mushier, the instant chocolate thinner. Frankie wouldn't notice or care.
Absolutely got to shop today.
One more blasted chore! She needed to review bills and figure how to stretch her measly pay--and the car was running on fumes.
Lord help us!
With breakfast, such as it was, completed and Frankie playing out of doors, she put the bills on the dining room table and started figuring, quickly becoming discouraged. One can of Coke remained in the fridge. She plumped into the recliner in the living room to let the frazzle fade away, pausing between sips to make the moment last, her eyes ambling languidly over stained wallpaper and worn carpet.
Soon she drained the can. Good, in a way--wouldn't have to lift her arm again. Her eyelids drifted down and she again lay by the sea--the sun veiled by high clouds, a light breeze blowing cool, waves plashing on the shore, land crabs scuttling past, sweat trickling down her ribs...
How odd, though. The sand seemed brittle, crunching as Adrian strode near. In the background his yacht engine thrummed. Crunch, thrum--cruncchh, thrumm--crunchchch, thrummmmmmmmm...
What the devil now?
At his wife's house--ex-wife now--Trask had planned to leave by daylight but couldn't sleep, so got up around one AM and tried to read and watch TV. Neither worked--simply wound him up worse, and he hadn't slept well this week and more. At three he took a quick shower, packed the last of his things, and headed to the garage.
Near the doorway his hip brushed a dinky side table, jostling a figurine. He pictured himself hurling it at the far wall, but cool dignity won out. Dropping house-keys on the table, he went through the door and into his truck, heading east away from the suburbs toward open country.
Time passed un-noticed, his thoughts jumbled with recriminations and might-have-beens. But around seven fatigue overcame anger and chagrin, and he looked for a place to stop. Driving slower to minimize his erratic course when tired, a sparse traffic bunched-up behind while waiting for safe stretches to pass. More daring or impatient drivers charged by him with horns blaring and gestures flying. He searched eagerly--then desperately--for a rest area or pull-off, the country devoid of human constructs other than infrequent houses or barns on the occasional strip of flat land.
Near nine o'clock traffic thinned. A faded wooden sign proclaimed, West Baker/Little League/Champs 1986, and he entered a town of two-story clapboard houses with front porches overlooking small neat lawns. The Israelites never greeted the Holy Land more rapturously than he did the parking spaces of this oasis. He held his course a few blocks into the business section, to be rewarded by sight of a diner.
The truck angled into a diagonal parking slot--bumping the curb and stalling. Shutting off the ignition, he rested his head on the steering wheel until startled awake sometime later. He slid out and slammed the door--opened it to retrieve the keys, reopened to push the lock button and slam once more.
Rubbing a groove impressed into his forehead, he stumbled up a few steps into a narrow eatery, dropping onto a low stool by the counter. Elbows on worn formica, he knuckled his eyes until vision became binocular, becoming aware of a skinny woman of a certain age standing before him in a white nylon uniform and tiara, and doing a pretty good imitation of a bored waitress.
"D'you have coffee?" he croaked.