I worked in compliance for a tech company in Seattle. I had some options if things worked out, as they seemed to be, in a little over a year, when those options vested, I’d be the 732nd millionaire who got his start at that little company. I was just counting the days. But I couldn’t tell Chicago that. Maybe she was a gold-digger. Besides being a little off.
I was on my way to Tampa, to bury my Aunt Lavonna. The woman who raised me when my mother went away for a long time for murdering my father as he slept next to her. Something about abuse and violence, but I was eight when it happened. I had no memories of any of that, but I had learned long ago no one really knows what might happen behind a closed door. I couldn’t tell Chicago any of this. She might think the abuse was genetic. How could we get married in Chicago if I was headed to Tampa? My Aunt Lavonna, who loved me and cared for me when nobody else would, needed to be buried. I owed her that much. Seemed to be an unresolvable conflict that would turn Chicago away.
I was scared. Of living the rest of my life alone. Of dying alone. Of never having a child. Of never touching a woman again. I was just so remarkably scared. Socorro was the one. I thought. Before her, it was Traci, and Deb, and one or two others. I gave my heart to them and something always happened. One was a dog person, I was a cat person. Deb got a job and I wasn’t ready to move. And Socorro. For a few years, we clicked. Until we didn’t. Now I was gun shy. Make that girl shy. Nothing I thought I knew made any sense anymore.
Maybe what Chicago was offering was the way to go. Marrying a stranger and going from there. Marrying a cute little thing who had a way about her that reached down deep and made my insides start to spin. Maybe …
But I couldn’t tell her that either, could I? That I was seriously thinking about what was clearly a joke. Right? She couldn’t possibly be serious about me following her to Chicago and getting married in a luxury box at a Cubs game.
* * * * *
“I’m 42,” I told her, trying not to cringe before she reacted.
“I’m 27,” she replied before dropping her voice to a whisper. “Jake’s 45.” I could barely hear her above the dull hum of conversation that filled the bar behind us.
“Did you say 45? Your ex?”
“Yes. You have nothing to worry about.”
“I’m not a Cubs fan. I actually don’t like baseball. It’s too slow for me.”
“We don’t need to watch the game and can leave as soon as the wedding is over. The rabbi is booked and paid for.”
“Yeah. I’m Jewish.”
“But you got a rabbi to perform a wedding at a Cubs game?”
“Sure,” Chicago laughed and batted her eyelashes at me. “He’s reform and a huge Cubs fan. He doesn’t care.”
“I’m not Jewish.”
“That’s okay. I told you he’s reform.” Chicago drained the rest of her beer and set the glass down on the bar, slightly off center of the condensation ring that had formed there. “And I don’t either. I’m actually about as Jewish as a bacon-wrapped pork chop stuffed with cheese. Never been to synagogue. Wouldn’t know the first thing about it, but my mom is Jewish and I thought having a rabbi marry Jake and me … excuse me, marry you and I … at a Cubs game would be different. Another story to tell the grandkids. Don’t you think?”
I tried something then. Call it a test. She had given me a peck and covered my hand with hers. Batted her eyes and asked me to marry her. I leaned over and kissed her, feeling her lips, cold from the beer. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, hers were still closed, the lashes down. I pulled away and looked at Chicago, her eyes flitting behind her closed lids as though she was processing the kiss. “Sounds good to me,” I said to her. “I’ll even buy you a Cubs hat for the occasion.”
Chicago licked her lips and opened her eyes, looking at me through those lashes. “That was nice. Thank you.”
“Kids, huh?” I asked.
“Well, maybe. If things work out.” She winked at me and wiggled her empty glass at me. “You only told me two things. One more and then I’ll tell you three things about me.”
She was right, but I didn’t know what else to tell her. I motioned to the bartender, allowing me to stall a bit. “You good with that?” I asked her, pointing at the glass.
“Two more,” I told the bartender and followed him with my eyes down to where the taps were before turning back to Chicago. “And one more for you. What do you want to know?”
She shook her head back and forth. “Nope. I’m not helping. What you decide to tell me is almost as important as what you tell me. For instance, I now know two things about you I didn’t know a few minutes ago. You wanna know?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Sure.” The more she talked, the less I had to. The more she talked, the longer I had to come up with that third thing if she continued to press for it.
“You’re concerned about your age and it’s not just that you were afraid I’d think you’re too old. That’s why it’s the first thing you told me, but don’t you worry about that.” Chicago reached out and tweaked my nose. “You’re just right for me.”
I grabbed her hand before she could settle it back on the bar and held it. “What’s the other?”
“You think I’m young and I want a ‘real man’ and you’re afraid you don’t meet my definition of that.” She leaned into me again and looked into my eyes. “I don’t have a definition and, if I did, it wouldn’t have anything to do with baseball or sports or whether you can fix a car with duct tape and spit. So,” Chicago hummed as she settled back on her bar stool, “stop worrying. We’re good.”
I wanted to disagree with her, to plead confidence in myself. In the idea of us. That I was sold on this crazy notion. But, who was I kidding? I was terrified. That this was all just a joke and that she was being completely real about the whole thing. Both. At the same time. Or maybe there was a hidden camera somewhere and soon people would pop out and tell me, slapping me on the back and slipping authorization forms in front of me, that Chicago had pulled this same stunt with twelve unsuspecting men already, all for some obscure cable show to air next month. I was the best, they’d say. I’d get my fifteen minutes.
Terrified that it was all too real and the next words out of my mouth would bring it all crashing down. This girl, this woman, had plucked my strings just right and I was ready to walk across hot coals for the chance to make this crazy idea a reality. I could change my flight and head to Chicago. Delay the burial by claiming Aunt Lavonna really wanted to be cremated. I’m sure that would take a few days – converting her remains to ashes. And wouldn’t the ashes keep? The good folks at Morrison’s Mortuary Services could store them away until I finished this thing with Chicago and then bring her to Tampa. Show her off a bit.
I owed Chicago a third thing about myself. I didn’t know what it was, but I needed something mind-blowing. As I opened my mouth, Chicago smacked her forehead with her open palm. “Jeepers,” she exclaimed. “I know the third thing.” She held a finger to my lips. “Ssssshhhhh. Don’t talk.”
He’s headed for trouble! Great job on characterization – have a good understanding of each person’s strengths and weaknesses, and see both of them with more weakness at the time of their meeting… or maybe vulnerable is a better word. I’ve seen a few blogs now that are presenting stories this way, and I think it’s smart since we all seem to live online these days! Looking forward to reading more 🙂
Two more parts tomorrow and Wednesday. Thank you for the feedback.
Anytime – you are a really good writer!
Thank you. Unfortunately, I’m in a phase where I need that encouragement.
Well I’m always in that phase, so I know how you feel 🙂
Yeah. As soon as I clicked Send on my last comment, I thought “phase, what the heck are you talking about?” Maybe, it’s just that my need is more severe now than usual.
Sorry to hear that – I hope you’re okay.
Oh, I’m fine. No worries. I just have really struggled with my writing for far too long. With this story done, I am seeing if I have cracked the door open to get back to it. I’m spending the evening beginning the review of the 30,000 words I wrote on a novel and than crashed and burned on. To see if I can find the spark to complete it. There really are only 10,000 – 15,000 words let, if that. If I could write the first 30,000, why are the rest so hard? 😉
But, thank you. We don’t like to admit it, but words of encouragement are a critical part of the process.
You absolutely need to write in my humble opinion! I don’t know why you wouldn’t! That story I read was flawless, Mark. So get busy! 🙂
Two more parts to go. Who knows … you may hate the ending. 😉 But thank you again. I think finishing this story and putting it out there was the kick start I needed.
That’s great! Keep writing whatever you do! And I think it’s important to keep it in perspective as well… look at your motivators to write – if they are mostly about fame and success and money, then you may need to rethink them… but if you truly love to write, you have already reached the goal of self-satisfaction and expression and enjoyment which add so much to your quality of life. Those things are much more meaningful than anything else. That’s not to say with a lot of added grit, that you can’t be successful through other’s recognition as well, but you have to treat that aspect just like a business and have a plan for it. I’m sure you would agree 🙂
Yes, I must keep remind myself that fame and fortune are unlikely. 😉 But I have a number of half-completed projects that I believe are really good stories and I want to finish them and put them out in the world and once I finally get those done, see what’s next.
It’s never unlikely, aim for the stars, but I think too much focus there just sets us up for disappointment. Just keep perspective while you keep reaching, and really, how do you define that success anyway? In book sales? What if you sell 5,000 copies? You still aren’t going to make a lot of money, but your work is out there – is that enough to make you happy?
In my ideal world, I write a best seller that becomes a movie and I retire to a comfortable house on the coast. In my real world, I keep writing and retire from my day job in a few years with writing providing a lot of emotional reward and a bit of income to supplement my pension.
Sounds good either way! But neither will happen if you’re not writing, correct? I wish you all the very best with it! Hope you have a lovely day 🙂
That’s why my period of not writing has been so frustrating. Thank you for your words of wisdom and support.
Anytime, Mark 🙂
I’m hooked! I’m so sorry that I haven’t spent more time here before.
Again, I love the pacing and growing insight into the characters. I’m in love with Chicago, too!
“This girl, this woman, had plucked my strings just right and I was ready to walk across hot coals for the chance to make this crazy idea a reality.”
Fantastic line! I so appreciate reading scenes like these from a man’s perspective. One of my blogging friends (Cayman Thorn at DrinksWellWithOthers) is team-writing a story with another of my good friends (Christy at Running on Sober/Words for the Weekend). The interplay of your characters reminds me of what they are doing, and I’m a huge fan of all of it.
Writing fiction is not one of my skills–so, I love reading someone who’s good at it. I’ll be back for more!
Thank you. I have wanted to “team write” a story for years but have not been successful at finding a co-writer. Thank you for your words of appreciation for this story. As I have written elsewhere, writing has been a struggle for me lately so the positive encouragement helps a lot.
Sometimes, the encouragement is the only thing that keeps us going. You have a nature, easy to read style. I love it!
Pingback: Chicago — Part Three | Novels, Short Stories, and More
Pingback: Chicago — Part Four | Novels, Short Stories, and More
I’ll keep it simple and let you know that I am enjoying your story. After wrestling with the obvious, I am all in on the decision to delay the Florida trip and take in a game at Wrigley Field.
We’ll have to see what you think after you read the last two parts. I appreciate the feedback. It took a long time for me to write this story because of my uncertainty with where to go with it. I’m thinking of writing a post that is the story behind the story because of the difficulty I had with this one.
Oh, writing fiction would be a challenge for me. I think writing about that would be even harder.
I’m enjoying the story. Whether diverting to the yard would be a good idea or not. Who knows? Baseball usually works out well enough. But of course there’s more to it in this case. Not so reliable.
Pretty certain baseball has the power to solve all problems.
Quite a few, indeed. In this case, maybe a day at the yard was NOT the cure. Looking forward to reading part three.