The Lazy Lemon Sun Ch. 03byRehnquist©
Please, if you've taken the time to slog through this crap, take a moment or two to drop me a comment on it.
I was up and at 'em by ten thirty. First order of business? Call Teddy Cooper, of course. A kid answered the phone, but Teddy was on in short order.
"Hey, Mark," he said.
"Mornin'. Ferlin said to call you?"
"Those two you played last night. Your own."
"You spotted them?"
He laughed. "Of course."
"Okay," I said, my voice slowing down. "What about them?"
"How many more you got?"
"Think maybe I could see 'em?"
"You're kidding me, right?"
"Nope. Me and Nick both. I think he'll want to see 'em, too."
He paused, then said, "They're not totally finished. The two you played, anyways. Need a bit of polishing up. Still, I think there's something there."
I was both proud and disappointed. Hell, I'd thought they were done for ages. Then again, I'd never really thought they were all that good, either.
"Thing is," Teddy continued, "I think maybe me or Nick or both of us could help you get 'em finished."
I was almost breathless with surprise. Teddy Cooper and maybe Nick Harlan were going to help me finish writing my songs? Then sing them?
"I'm here," I said. "So you're thinking of maybe recording them?"
"Doubt it. Not really up our alley. But we know some people that probably would like to record them. And we've got an agent who'll want to meet with you and probably represent you and all that fancy stuff, too."
"So what's in it for you?"
"Royalties," he said, surprised I'd asked. "We help, we get a share."
I pondered this. "Only fair, I guess."
"It won't be fifty fifty or nothing," he continued. "You've already done most of the work."
"So how would it work?"
"Not a clue. I guess we'll just figure it out as we go along. Percentages on each song depending on how much polishing I do or Nick does or whatever."
I thought about his proposal for all of about a split second. Either turn him down and they never get published or accept and maybe make a mint.
"When do you want to meet," I said.
"I'll get ahold of Nick, then get back in touch with you sometime this week, okay?"
"Sounds great to me."
I stared at the telephone for five minutes after hanging up. The possibilities were endless. I could change careers, maybe get my own shot at the big time. I could see the throngs swaying as I packed stadiums full of people there to see Mark Roberts.
Then the mood passed, and I grabbed my keys to go grocery shopping before heading to the football game.
* * * * *
I was standing at the deli counter waiting for my potato salad, cole slaw, and cheeses to get wrapped, weighed, and tagged.
"Figured you for a churchgoer," she said behind me.
I turned and looked at Rebecca Galarza.
"Ma'am," I nodded, giving her a lazy smile before turning back and scooping up my meal fixins.
Before I could wheel away, Rebecca bumped her cart into mine.
"You were real good last night," she said, flashing a bright smile. "Really good."
"Is that what you did down there in Memphis? When you weren't busy freeing the innocent and generally just being a brilliant young attorney, you found time to be a famous country singer, too?"
"No. Haven't done it in years. Playing in front of a crowd, at least."
"And that's why you've run away up here to Grant City. Because we're some kinda mecca of bar bands and you're trying to break away from the law and hit it big in music?"
Her eyes and easy, teasing tone told me she was having fun with this. It was infectious, too. I felt myself smiling at her playfulness while looking over her casual faded jeans and t-shirt attire.
"You sizing me up, Mister Southern Gentleman?"
I chuckled. "Sorry, but you could make burlap look fetching."
"You succeed," she said, raising an eyebrow and giving me the once over. "When you bother trying."
"You got any plans for today?"
I hesitated, then said, "Sorry, but I'm afraid I've got someplace to go."
Disappointment flickered across her face, replaced by false cheer. "Maybe some other time?"
I wasn't sure what to do. She'd dropped by maybe a half dozen times in the time I'd been working at The Hitching Rail, each time having only two drinks--gin and tonic with a lime every time--before leaving. I'd only briefly talked to her once, but I'd seen her around the other men, too. Though pretty, she'd not been mean or arrogant or any of the other things common to pretty girls who know they're pretty. Instead, she'd been mostly good-humored and lightly teasing. She smiled easily, rarely frowned, wasn't overly melodramatic, and seemed comfortable in her own skin.
"Listen," I said, putting my hand on her shopping cart to stop her, "I've really got to go see someone today. It's . . . well, it's important. To me."
She smiled, relaxing, that flirtatious smile back again. I looked at the contents of my shopping cart, then back to her.
"Still," I started, then stopped, trying to figure out the right way to say it. "What I'm doing today won't really take all that long. Then I've just got to get my meals made for the week, which should only take a few hours."
"You asking me out on a date?" she teased. I tensed, and she said, "Because if you are, the answer's yes. You just tell me the time and the place and I'll be there."
"I don't really know where to go around here. I don't really feel like going to The Rail on my day off, and my place isn't really set up for visitors."
"Still getting settled in?"
"Came furnished. Just not the greatest, I guess."
"So it's really, like, a genuine bachelor pad? Like from college?"
"I haven't seen one of those in ages," she said, rubbing her hands together. "Please? Let me invite myself over for dinner?"
My hesitation evaporated at her glee. Her energy was infectious, like it was an adventure.
"I'll make us dinner," I said.
"And I'll bring the drink," she countered. "Wine, beer, or booze?"
"Your choice. I don't really drink much."
"Fair enough." She looked into my shopping cart. "And what's for dinner?"
"Sandwiches," I said. "I really like sandwiches."
"Sandwiches," she said, nodding. Then her face brightened again, and she said, "Sounds perfect. Give me your address and I'll be there."
I did. Then, with a bright smile and a sashay of her perfectly pouty posterior, she was gone, whistling to herself as she did her own shopping.
* * * * *
Clarice Talbott sat in the stands, off by herself on the edge of the bleachers. The other parents, all of whom had known each other for years, chatted easily to themselves, but few of them showed her any interest. Of course, why would they? She was relatively new to Grant City; she and Schuyler had moved there only seven months before, I'd found out. Add to that her cheap, K-Mart clothes, frail figure, and tired looks, and there was nothing about her that invited conversation. Thus, she jumped visibly when I slid in next to her and said, "Mind if I join you?"
She slid over a bit and gave a tight jerk of her head to indicate assent. Or at least what I assumed passed for permission.
"I've just noticed the last few times you've been pretty much on your own here," I continued, speaking easily with a lopsided smile and soft southern accent. "Sorta like me."
She tried to smile, but it looked lame and forced at best. "You're new around here, too?"
"'Bout a month," I confirmed.
I settled in, then turned my eyes to the field and spotted Schuyler right away. Halfback. He seemed impossibly small and weighted down by all of his equipment. Then again, so did most of the rest of the boys on the field, too.
"That's your boy, right?" I asked. "The one at running back?"
"Schuyler," she said, her eyes following mine and watching her son take a pitch out and almost immediately turn upfield. He got smeared by a bigger kid at linebacker, but not before picking up six yards.
"That's what I thought," I said. "You always tense up when he's got the ball."
She turned to him, her eyes narrowing. "So I wasn't imagining things? You've been watching me?"
"Not stalking or spying or anything nearly so sinister," I said, smiling, but keeping my eyes on the field. "Still, you're pretty hard not to notice, right? You and me are the only two on our own here. We both sort of stick out like sore thumbs."
She gave a snort. "Tell me about it."
"I'm Mark," I said, holding my hand toward her.
"Clarice," she replied, shaking the proffered hand. Her hand was thin and boney, her grip light and fleeting.
"Lived here long, Clarice?"
"Just moved here a couple of months back."
"So we're both outsiders."
"Where'd you move here from, Mark?"
"You in government?"
She smiled. "Finishing my degree at Chadwick. You?"
"Tending bar at The Hitching Rail."
She gave me a direct gaze, her face saying she didn't really believe I was a bartender and no more.
"And Schuyler?" I said, trying to keep the conversation going for a moment. "How old's he?"
I nodded, then turned back to the field.
We watched the game in silence for nearly an hour. Then, with only a few minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the visiting team was starting to move. Down four, they still had a chance of beating the Grant City Generals, and the parents were all pretty frantic.
To add to the drama, a light drizzle started in, which made the chilly day downright miserable. With a minute twelve left, the other quarterback dropped back to pass and--lo and behold--little Schuyler, playing safety, somehow managed to scamper between the ball and the other tyke trying to catch it. Schuyler immediately broke for the other end of the field when I felt a clamp on my forearm. It was Clarice, her eyes transfixed on her little boy running toward his end zone. The other parents were yelling, too, and I just smiled and watched Schuyler eventually get brought down just past mid field with a minute one left in the game.
His team went nuts, the crowd went nuts, and I managed to stand and call out an atta boy. Clarice, strangely, just looked relieved he'd gotten up.
"He's fine," I said.
She looked at me, then down to her hand still clutching my forearm. With a downward flutter of her eyes, she said, "Sorry. I just worry sometimes is all."
"He just won the game," I said. "Or saved it, at least."
"Yeah. That's good. He'll get more friends out of this, right?"
"Without a doubt."
"Good," she said, then took her hand from my forearm and avoided my eyes. She turned back to the field, and I took that moment to slide off the bleacher and disappear.
I'd learned what I needed to learn.
Clarice Talbott and her boy were alone against the world.
And she was scared as hell that something would happen to him.
* * * * *
The smell hit her the moment I opened the door, and her face said she was intrigued.
"I thought you said sandwiches?"
I grinned. "Tortas," he said, inflecting it with a Spanish accent. "You know, Mexican sandwiches."
"I know what tortas are," she said, stepping past him into the apartment. "I just didn't think . . . I guess I thought it would be ham and cheese or something like that."
"Boring." I lifted the bag from her hand, looked inside, and took the beer to the refrigerator.
"I figured that was pretty safe since you said you don't drink much and all," Rebecca called after me as she stood in the entryway and looked around the stark room.
Actually, stark was an understatement. There was a couch and coffee table that had seen better days--probably during the Nixon administration--and a small television on a stand with a DVD player hooked up to it. In the corner was my guitar on a metal stand sitting next to a music stand. The alcove that was the dining room had a cheap table and two chairs. That was it. No pictures, nothing. The microwave told me what time it was.
"You've really lived here a month?"
"And this is all you've got?"
"Home sweet home."
"But . . . I mean . . . . Jesus, Mark, where the hell's you furniture? Christ, even dorm rooms had posters taped to the walls. Don't tell me the bedroom. . . ."
I chuckled, then spun and started down the hallway, waving at her to follow.
"Not exactly the Hilton," I said, opening the door.
She looked inside and stopped. There was a mattress laying on the floor in the corner. It had sheets and pillows and a comforter, and it was neatly made, but it was still a mattress on a floor. Beside it, also on the floor, was an alarm clock and a stack of books. The closet door was partially open, revealing about a dozen white shirts and a half dozen pair of blue jeans neatly hanging, and socks and underwear and some more clothes were folded and stacked neatly on the shelf above. There were three pairs of shoes neatly lined up on the floor of the closet: brown loafers and two pairs of white Nikes.
"What the hell do you do when you're not at work?"
I closed the door and said, "Eat, sleep, and play guitar."
"Really?" she said, reaching out and pinching my ribs. "Then you need to do some more of the eatin' and a little less of the guitar playing."
"I s'pose you're right," I said, heading back toward the kitchen.
I went straight to the small saucepan and frying pan on the stove, giving both a quick stir. The former was filled with barely simmering meat, the latter with onions slowly caramelizing in butter.
"Smells delicious," she said.
"Sorta my own version of a Mexican braised shortrib sandwich with caramelized onions and queso fresco cheese."
She inhaled the aromas of beef, garlic, thyme, and red wine, then took a whiff of the buttery onions. "You a gourmet or something?"
I patted a book laying open on the counter. "Whole cookbook of gourmet sandwiches. From that guy on the cooking shows all the time."
"So when you said sandwiches, you weren't kidding."
I smiled, then opened the freezer. It was packed with neatly labeled plastic containers filled with an assortment of meat and vegetable sandwich fillings.
"I spend every Sunday making a few of the fillings, then I freeze them. I get cheeses and bread throughout the week, and there you have it."
"And that's it?"
"I usually have soup with it, too. Vegetable soup or tomato soup. Sometimes a salad. You know, one of them things in a bag all made up pretty much already?"
She laughed. "Bachelors."
I smiled. "You ever hear of Warren Zevon?"
She shook her head, looking perplexed.
"He was a singer and a songwriter. Great songwriter. One of my favorites. Anyway, he got cancer about ten years ago. Lung cancer. I'll never forget reading the article when it was announced. They gave him like six months to live. He'd been a smoker all his life. And a heroin addict and an alcoholic and all that other shit, too, I guess. So they asked him if he had any regrets; what was he gonna miss. You know what he said?"
She shook her head.
"'Sandwiches,' he said. 'I really like sandwiches.' When they made a tribute album of his songs after he died--there was Jakob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen--they named it 'Enjoy Every Sandwich.' I figured he was right. I'd never really thought about it before, but I really like sandwiches."
"Still," Rebecca said, "every meal?"
"What can I say?" I said, smiling and shrugging. "He was right. I really, really like 'em, and I don't wanna look back at the end of my life and wish I'd eaten more."
"Well you need to eat more," she said, poking me again in the ribs.
"You really think I'm too skinny?" I asked, opening a bag of fresh rolls and slicing them before putting them on a plate. I wasn't particularly surprised. Maybe it didn't hold true with girls, but guys could definitely be too skinny. Everyone had always preferred Stevie over me because he looked like a man was supposed to look. I looked like an accountant or a computer programmer was supposed to look, except without the glasses and with hair a little too long.
"I'm just joking," she said, seeming to read my thoughts.
I rummaged around the refrigerator before pulling out two bottles of beer and a container of deli potato salad. "Does it make me . . . I don't know, I don't guess I'm all that good looking to begin with . . . but does it make me, like, less attractive?"
I gave her an open look as I popped the caps off the beers and handed her one.
"I was just-- " she started.
"No, I really wanna know. Should I maybe work out or something? You think that would make me look better?"
I took a pull on his beer, and she took a sip of hers as she tried to formulate an answer.
"Turn around," Rebecca finally said.
I looked at her, then turned my back to her and spooned some meat and onions onto the rolls before topping them each with a sprinkle of cheese.
"Well?" I said, opening the potato salad and spooning some onto each plate. "Can I turn around yet?"
I felt a hand on my ass, firmly rubbing me through my jeans. Then she gave a firm squeeze and held it, reaching over and whispering into my ear, "Maybe I was being too critical before."
I turned and faced her, my nose nearly touching hers, a broad smile on my face. "You let me know when you know for sure either way, okay?"
Her eyebrow raised as she seemed to just stare at me for a moment. Then, without warning, she leaned in and kissed me. It was soft and tender at first, then more insistent and hungry as I overcame my shock and kissed her back.
Her hands were stroking my upper arms through the thin fabric of my shirt. My arms tensed, then fell as my hands went to her waist. Soon, the kiss deepened as our tongues started brushing against each other, tasting and probing. After a minute or so, Rebecca broke back with a deep breath.
"Come on," she said, taking my hand. "Dinner will hold."
She pulled me toward the bedroom, and I followed willingly. Once there, she turned and pulled her blouse over her head.
"You just let me know if I'm being too forward here," she said with a sly grin.
I just stood there, my mouth agape, my eyes taking in the smooth olive skin of her taut belly and the gentle rise of her breasts disappearing into a black lace bra.
"You like?" she teased, reaching back to unsnap her bra before shrugging it off her shoulders.
My eyes locked on her breasts, then looked back to her face. She had a flush of pride and excitement at my reaction.
"I take it this'll do?" she said, unbuttoning and unzipping her shorts before sliding them down her hips and her legs.
I said nothing. I was frozen in place, the only movement in my eyes as they followed the progress of the faded jeans to the floor before looking back at her midsection clad only in skimpy black silk panties with a white lacy bow.
"Come here, Mark," she said, her voice a husky whisper. I still couldn't move--couldn't seem to process that this was happening--which only seemed to turn her on even more. Still, I could only stare in wonderment. Her breasts, while not huge, were well-proportioned to her body and still holding up; her belly was flat, and her legs were long, toned, and smooth. And that rear end; my God, Renaissance artists dreamed of sculpting such a posterior so perfectly pouty and still proportionate to the rest of the figure.
"Mark," she said, walking toward me, "am I going too fast here?"
My eyes met hers and she hesitated. Her eyes were questioning, but something in my look must have answered her doubts. Slowly, her lips curled into a lewd smile filled with promises of adventure and pleasures untold of in polite society.