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I don't know what exactly made me snap.
Maybe it was the way the American Express card shined a really strange platinum glow on the puffy cheek of the salesgirl as I handed it to her. Or the way her brown-mascaraed eyes beamed when she said, "Your total is three hundred fifty seven dollars and forty six cents".
For books, for crissakes.
There I was, in Barnes and Noble bookstore, a cup of freaking latte in my hand, forking over a piece of plastic to pay for three hundred and fifty dollars worth of books. Who buys three hundred and fifty dollars worth of books? I guess I do.
And that's when it must have happened. I walked out of Barnes and Noble, with books that I didn't even need: three coffee table monsters, a few books on tape, a self-help book that my girlfriend had said she was looking for, the biggest dictionary I could find, a half a dozen novels I'd grabbed because the covers had cool artwork, and whatever else I had that I wouldn't remember I'd purchased until I got home and emptied out the huge sack they'd given me.
I had walked out into the late afternoon sun as it hid behind the Nordstrom's department store, probably afraid I'd charge its planetary ass away as well, and pinched my keychain until it screamed uncle, chirping a silent beam towards my Mercedes.
Chirp-chirp went the car. Like a sharp taunt: Yu-ppie- Yu-ppie.
When had I sunken into the hell of this whole life?
I sat behind the leather wheel of my leather seated, berle-wood paneled, five hundred series automobile. Mercedes. Barnes and Noble. Platinum American Express. Latte. My cell phone rang and I didn't even have to look at it to know that my girlfriend was calling to make sure I picked her up on time to take her to Ginza Sushiko, the most expensive restaurant in L.A. She'd be expecting us to make an appearance later at the Abbey, gay mecca for the West Hollywood crowd, me paying for obscenely expensive drinks, and stay up way too late for me to feel very good the next morning.
In the Barnes and Noble parking lot, I watched a haggard mother hauling her kids toward a Geo Tracker. Her three little American dreams now tucked inside, in bright purple child seats, she mouthed words that only her children were privy to and started the engine. What was she saying? Whatever it was, her tired gaze revealed that she had probably said it fifteen thousand times before, "Johnny, don't hit your sister." "We'll go for french fries as soon as you quiet down." "Enough."
I looked down at my own precious cargo. Three hundred and fifty dollars. For books.
They were destined for the reading room, which I frequented just a little more often than the wine room. Of both, the maids were much more familiar. Hell, if the rooms had bled the Madonna's own blood, I wouldn't have known. The maid's job, and I love them for it, was to not tell me those things. Their job was to make that sort of thing go away.
That's when I really started to snap.
So arriving home, I heaved the huge Barnes and Noble sack onto the marble hallway counter that had been spit polished to the nth degree and barely noticing that the bowl of fresh apples and nectarines had doubled in number since I'd been gone. I called out to Susan.
"Not Susan, Ms. Turner. Betty," came the reply from somewhere toward the formal dining room.
"She's off today. It's Tuesday."
Betty's voice came again, as I walked away, asking me when I would be ready for dinner.
"I'm not hungry, thank you." And it was then that the antique mirror pecked at my eye.
That cowardly sun from Nordstroms had re-appeared long enough to point a brilliant ray at the hallway mirror as I passed it. The bright, sunny beam flashed off the mirror, a dazzling kaleidoscope striking my face. I stopped. The antique mirror, the only thing I had kept since my indigent college days, was trying to get my attention. It was trying to show me something it must have thought quite interesting. I acquiesced to the solicitation. Wise mirror, for I finally saw what it had seen, as each time I passed by; that image which had slowly morphed over the years.
I was a yuppie in a Coco Chanel outfit, gold Patek Philippe watch and Manolo Blahnik shoes.
The face looking back at me slowly tilted to the right, and then gradually shook back and forth in a what-have-you-become inflection.
That's when I changed into jeans and a t-shirt and packed up the backpack - one that I found in the furthest recesses of the guest room walk-in closet.
In went the cash I had in my purse (but not the lipstick or my car keys and especially not the cell phone), one extra shirt, and a nectarine. I also grabbed my Paxil since I wasn't sure how long I'd be gone; the depression/anxiety pills were never too far from me.
And then I walked out the door, past my car, and down the street.
After walking to the entrance of Country Club Estates, I surveyed the water fountain that punctuated, with crystalline splashes, majestic graphics promoting the exclusive neighborhood in which I owned a way-too-big-for-me house. Driving into the Estates, less than a half an hour earlier, I knew where I was going. Now, walking out, I hadn't a clue. And for once, that felt pretty good.
The bus ride into downtown was interesting enough, but later haggling over the price of the used four-door Buick Electra at the car lot I found a block away from the bus stop was a supreme affair. Twenty years old, sporting one hundred and sixty seven thousand bedraggled miles, and dark blue paint that was fading to light blue on top; it was pure road rapture. And I paid two hundred dollars cash for it. With ten gallons of what I guessed must be partially vaporized gas in the tank. Such a deal.
That it didn't explode when I turned the key was a boon, so I waved adios to the salesman and pulled out of the lot.
I guess right about now I need to explain what the heck I was doing. I mean, I didn't even tell the maids or anyone else for that matter, where I was going, and for how long. I just walked out, bought a poor excuse for a car, pointed it south and went. I really did snap. The degree to which the snappage meter ticked is still up for conjecture. I suppose I should just go on with my story. You can decide for yourself.
I hadn't too many choices as to which direction to drive. The City of
North represented everything I was partly trying to get away from. Too many memories of too many jaunts to
East. Now east was an auspicious possibility. It was always a belief of mine that anything on the other side of Riverside/San Bernardino was 'back east'. And I'd always I wanted to see just how big back east was.
A couple hours later, as Riverside/San Bernardino fell away long behind me, I wadded up the foil-wrapped remains of my first drive through hamburger. As the decidedly non-organic meat rumbled in my stomach, attempting to come to a silent resting place, I looked for a place for the trash. I imagined the last time this Buick sported a refuse receptacle, it probably hung from the radio knob with its plastic sides bearing a green ecology sign. I opted to chuck the paper wad in the back seat.
I looked through the bug-spattered windshield. The rest of the eastern
I had been thinking about my girlfriend when some bizarre road phenomenon occurred. As a huge fork in the highway presented itself I noticed that my mind had grown eerily foggy. Not the kind of fog that greets you in the morning, only to be washed away with the first cup of steaming espresso, but the kind of fog that blankets your brain like the slow roil of a pot of water on a stove. Some would say the mild stupor was born from the fatigue of reading so many goddamn faded billboards touting the promise of relaxation in the desert state of Arizona, but I knew that it had really been due to the endless loop my brain had been in for miles and miles ruminating about all the times my girlfriend told me I was not quite good enough. Rehashing her snubs and slights, I had become mesmerized staring at the road passing underneath the car's wheels. Was this what they called white-line fever? Certainly, my girlfriend was making me crazy. Well, regardless, the impending fork was approaching so with not much more thought than eeny and meeny, I pulled on the cracked plastic covering of the Buick's steering wheel and turned south.
After many hours of rolling past shrub after shrub with nothing but static-saturated AM radio and no deep thoughts, I made a deal with myself that I would stop at the next off ramp that possessed more than one gas station.
The Buick chugged arduously along, pissed off at every request I made: speed up, brake, turn. I had dubbed the Buick 'Schaffer' after a woman I once loved and then hated; a miserable experience linked to a name that I vowed never to mention again.
And then Schaffer and I noticed an off ramp and business lights up ahead.
Had my Buick sported air conditioning, I would have spit an obscenity at the blast of furnace-hot air that chafed my nostrils and assaulted my skin when exiting the car, but two hundred dollars, less than that stack of unread Barnes and Noble books, mind you, doesn't buy you much comfort. It barely buys you forward motion. The air in
I needed a place to sleep.
Do people really stay at places called the Twilight Motor Inn? And what's it like to stay in a motel room where the door actually opens up to the outdoors?!
The room smelled like smoky mold and nervous sweat. I flicked the switch on the wall and the bedside lamp crackled on. Its fluorescent lamp buzzed, which irritated the hell out of me.
Since it was late, I threw my backpack on the bed and lay down. The door of the motel room was glass-slatted and clattered whenever a semi would roll by. The ceiling was cracked and yellowed from cigarette smoke that I imagined had been wheezed out long before I was ever born. The fluorescent lamp attracted some strange insects that hurled themselves at it in a suicidal last flight, so I put an end to its crackling and buzzing.
Now, in the dark, other sounds I hadn't even noticed rushed onto the Twilight Inn stage: the endless rumble of the freeway, a faraway shout here and there, and muffled furniture-moving noises from the room next door. A blackened ceiling fan clung to the ceiling, horribly askew in its gyrations. It clattered and scraped as it spun, obviously pissed off at me for asking it to perform. The paltry breeze it generated was raining dusty, black grime down on me so I turned that off as well.
Just before midnight, a cackling laugh pierced the air. The partially incoherent diatribe that followed was just as shrill. After listening for a few rankled minutes I got up, went to the window, and peered around the musty, seersucker curtains. The parking lot of the 7-11 next door was hosting a ripple pageant and the only woman, in a group of four other men, was winning. She was obviously holding court, screeching and caterwauling like a tanked Jenny Jones and if I was absolutely sure that I wouldn't get a brick chucked through my stately window, I would have hollered at her to shut the fuck up.
She could have passed for a very old Farrah Fawcett, if Farrah Fawcett had become a down and out crack whore. Her hair was dreadfully ratty and her skin was wrinkled so much that it was truly hard to tell where the tube top ended and her belly began. And what a mouth. Other than spewing earsplitting obscenities, her cheeks puffed in and out in what I could only imagine was a feeble attempt to acquire more air in her crack damaged lungs. And when she puffed in, she looked like she was actually smiling, which was in fact unfeasible because her hygiene had long ago betrayed her teeth. So the show was more like a black hole that opened and closed, reminiscent of a parched fish flung haphazardly out of its tank.
Somewhere around one o'clock in the morning, Farrah and her friends moved along and it was relatively quiet except for the occasional squeal of a big rig as it shifted gears. I fell in and out of a feeble sleep, wondering where I would go from here.
When dawn came, I popped my morning Paxil and washed it down with rust-tinged water from the leaky bathroom faucet. I was pleasantly surprised to find Schaffer still parked in front of the motel room and even more surprised when the motor kicked over on the third try.
The 7-11 didn't have lattes, no surprise, and what I did end up purchasing was what I can only presume the substance that some people lovingly refer to as roadhouse coffee. It tasted burned beyond recognition.
One hundred and seventeen miles was about as far as I wanted to go without anything but sludge in my stomach. More faded billboards had accompanied me along this
I learned that they rarely changed their billboards in the desert because I'd missed the Annual Gila Bend Desert Shrimp Festival by about eight months. However, in my frame of mind, I couldn't care less.
I pulled into a restaurant called Pancake Parade and turned off the ignition. While Schaffer continued to chough and rattle in her dead throes, I counted the money in my backpack.
I had eighty four dollars left.
The scorching wind greeted me again, which didn't help cool me down at all but rather irritated me because I had to practically close my eyes against the onslaught of sand.
Decorated with murals of circus animals and floats, the Pancake Parade seemed like a stop in the Twilight Zone. Patrons, virtually all locals it seemed, had long since grown unenthusiastically oblivious to the restaurant's attempt at a cheery atmosphere. Dithering parade music droned on from some background sound system and the waitresses wore dull green and pink outfits stained with everything from gravy to blueberry syrup.
I sat at the counter next to a pleasant woman who looked as tired as I felt. She was about my height, five foot seven. She was probably a few years older than my thirty nine years and wore a sleeveless top that was as golden brown as her tan. She was mannish in a practical way that blended in well in the no-nonsense desert. She gave me the once over, nodded, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. As she lit one, I wondered if
The waitress came over and filled my coffee mug without even asking if I wanted any. As she poured, she recited the specials.
"Today is chili with your eggs, for an extra dollar and a half, and we have banana pancakes until they run out."
Just as she wandered off, the woman next to me said, "You'd be better off not ordering the chili."
I had to turn to make sure she was addressing me and when it was confirmed by the squint that the smoke had forced her eyes into, I replied, "I appreciate that."
I ordered the banana pancakes, mostly because I figured the bananas, if they were the special, would be fresh, or at least not too risky a choice.
The woman waited until the waitress left with our orders, "You leaving something or going to something?"
Well, that was interesting. I pondered the question as I took a sip of coffee that could have come from the same batch as the 7-11 in
I thought about the weight of that simple question suddenly pounding down on me as heavy as the hammering heat outside. "I suppose it's the same thing."
The woman turned to take me in full face and took a drag while she waited for me to continue.
"My sanity," I offered rather absurdly. "I left what I thought was my sanity at the door of my house. But I think I'm also looking for it as well."
The woman nodded as if she understood. Or maybe it was just what she did when she required a moment to think.
The woman's bacon and eggs arrived along with my banana pancakes so we both settled into the first few bites in silence.
I looked at the woman again. She knew I was looking but left me alone to do so. She was on the pretty side. Not LA pretty where plastic surgery and attitude rule, but naturally pretty. Sure she had been windblown from what I could guess were many hot and arid years in Gila Bend or some other place just as unforgiving, but it added to her look. Her hair was dirty blond and pulled back in a windy-day ponytail. And her eyes were a really nice green.
When I concentrated again on my plate, she turned to look at me. I returned the reverent gesture of allowing her the moment.
When the pancakes and eggs and bacon were almost gone, she spoke again. "Your sanity is with you. Wherever you go. Don't let yourself believe that anyone can take it from you."
"You mean any one or a collective anyone, like society?"
"Anyone as in everyone. A person, society, a job, your bill collectors. Anyone."
I pondered that.
"A woman tried to mess with my sanity once," my diner friend offered, her voice soft and low, not so much it seemed because she was trying to conceal her sexuality, but because what she was saying was for me and no one else. "We fell in love and I thought that she was the center of my universe. Sometime over the next couple a years, she began to whittle away at me."
The woman took a long draw of her coffee, speaking into the cup. "I didn't realize it, but I began to believe her derogatory comments. She was manipulating me by being critical of everything I did and everything I thought. When she up and left, I thought my world had collapsed."
She turned to me and those green eyes said, "I thought I'd gone insane. It's because I believed that I was defined by her and how she treated me. I believed that she held my sanity. It took me three years to realize that she didn't."
I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything.
A minute later, she added, "Don't let her do that to you."
"What makes you think that it's a woman and not society?"
She shrugged, placing the fork down onto her plate as she did so, "Same thing."
And she was right.
I chuckled. Not at her, but at the revelation this woman had just gifted me out there in the middle of the desert.
The wind had died down outside and I walked her to a grouping of cars, chatting about Gila Bend and the weather.
Sometimes we have experiences and it isn't until much later, sometimes years, that we look back and finally realize the significance of a chance meeting or a symbolic gesture. That day, however, I knew at that very moment that this woman had come into my life to help me find that which I had always possessed. A few words spoken from a woman who'd been there, maybe in a completely different set of circumstances, but nevertheless been there.
We stopped between two cars and in the silence that enveloped us again, I leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips. I tasted cigarettes.
She smiled a smile that confirmed her understanding of my intentions, that I was thanking her in a way that words could not aptly achieve.
I was a little surprised when she turned, not to the Ford Escort behind her, but the seven hundred series BMW behind me. Unlike Schaffer, this car looked way out of place, its silver coat shining brilliantly despite the mild dust storm that had just passed.
I heard her tires spitting gravel as she drove away.
On that long stretch between Gila Bend, Arizona all the way back through Indio, California, I thought about my girlfriend, and even my previous failed relationships and realized that there was, in fact, a society of women that I'd let assault my sanity.
I had bought into the Mercedes-Platinum American Express-Latte-Ginza Sushiko-Coco Chanel-Patek Philippe-Manolo Blahnik reality. And none of those over-priced, self-important products could save me from the temendous doubt I had suffered.
I'd never lost my sanity. I'd just bought into its alleged departure.
What it took was a stack of damn pancakes to drive the point home.
Schaffer got me back to
I took the bus back to Clubhouse Estates, walking through the door of my house and into a cacophony of shrieks and wails. I fielded fifteen long minutes of questions from both Betty and Susan, who nervously wrung dust rags like they were sopping wet; my soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, who was really ticked off at me for missing a dinner in Brentwood; and a number of friends that had gathered to look through my purse, my mail and my car for signs of an abduction, or some other foul play, before calling the police.
After I convinced everyone that I was OK and implored them to please go home, I went to my bedroom and dumped out the contents of my backpack. Of course, the nectarine had been consumed long before
I had thirty-three dollars left and all of my sanity.
(c) Lisa Girolami
In the Hours Before
Her job was to take care of the Clydesdales. You know, those big majestic draft horses that pull the grand wood and brass wagon full of antique cases of beer.
She had been coming to our Fair for the past three years. I say our fair, because that's where I work. You see, I am the grounds coordinator for the annual county fair in our town. Every September, we hold the event and a little over four hundred thousand people visit us during our ten day run. My job is to make sure all the food vendors, the commercial sales vendors, the rides and shows, and the entertainment get placed in the right spots and then see to their needs. The few sponsors that we have are my responsibility, too. And I make sure the Clydesdales, along with the beer their company sells, get placed correctly as well.
And for the past three years, I anticipate her arrival with those beautiful Clydesdales. I have wanted to talk to her, wanted to spend time with her, but I never seem to get the courage to go up to her. We've only smiled at one another and said hello. That was all my shyness would allow.
One of her jobs is to exercise the draft horses every morning so she walks them around the grounds before we open.
She's magnificent. I know she's of Asian heritage and I'm guessing she's Japanese. She is probably five foot seven or eight, but looks diminutive walking shoulder to shoulder with those enormous horses. Her black hair glistens in the break of sunrise and her skin, a lovely caramel brown, almost glows. She's always in tan and a red with the beer logo on it. This doesn't do much to flaunt her figure but I know she's lean and sturdy, because of the strong and beautiful arms that grip the lead ropes, and the shoulders that she uses to direct the turns of the giant beasts are solid and square.
The hours before the fair opens to our visitors are the most magical times. The animals in the farm area are just waking up. The baby piglets skip around, wrestling with each other while the chickens and roosters cluck about, and the calves and goats rest in the cool dirt. The baby lambs are gently given baths in their stalls. Throughout the grounds, vendors bustle about, restocking their booths while the carnival workers hose down their rides and the pavement around them. The thick, hickory smoke from the barbeque stands begin to fill the air with mouthwatering promises. It's all so incredibly wonderful.
But nothing is more thrilling than when she walks by.
Every misty, early morning, I sit at my second story office window and watch her walking four Clydesdales at one time. There's always about a twenty second lead time where I first hear the clip-clop of their gigantic hooves on the cement roadway. I immediately turn toward the window and wait, my pulse quickening in anticipation. And then they come into view. She walks gallantly between them, two on one side and two on the other. Sometimes, when the air is particularly cool, steam rises from the horses' coats as their broad necks and heads bob up and down in time with their hooves and furry fetlocks. Her route makes a loop from the Clydesdale show tent, down along Garden Lane where the floral exhibit is displayed, past my office and then up toward the carnival and back to their tent. Since there are twelve horses, she walks by three times. She captivates me. And each morning, I wait to see her.
When those high-stepping Clydesdales pull the wagon for our parade every day, she's never with them. I suppose there are people who drive the rig and other people, like her, who take care of the horses. Still, I enjoy the splendor of the draft horses pulling the wagon and the spotted Dalmatian wagging his tail right behind the two uniformed drivers. It's magnificent and nostalgic all at once.
So for three years I have been excited to see her for our short Fair run. And for three years, I have been too bashful to do anything about my feelings. Then the rest of the year, I think about her and wonder about things like where she lives, who she's with, what she's doing.
I was walking the grounds a few hours before we opened Friday morning, enjoying the calm before the influx of guests. Everything was fairly quiet. I was cutting across the east end of the grounds, in a shady treed area that we call Hidden Meadows, when I saw a flash of black and white coming from the dark green of the trees.
It took me a second to register that it was Speckle, the Dalmatian from the Clydesdale beer wagon. With no one around him it was obvious that he'd gotten away and was exploring the grounds, running about as free as a bird. I whistled, and obediently he trotted over to me.
He panted happily, delighted to run into someone and absolutely unaware that his flight to freedom would soon be over.
I grabbed Speckle's collar and walked him over to the Clydesdale tent. At first, it seemed no one was even there. It was fairly dark in the tent. No one was in sight and the horses mostly dozed in their oversized stalls. But as I walked inside with Speckle, not quite sure what to do with him, she suddenly came out from one of the horse stalls.
"Speckle!" That was the first word I ever heard her speak. She had this silky voice that resonated warmly within the confines of the tent.
She was even more beautiful close up. Her eyes crinkled when she smiled at me and then playfully frowned when she saw the dog in my grasp. Her facial expressions were so damn sexy, my chest wrenched with want.
"I found him over by the park" I explained. "He looked like he was having fun."
I released my grip on his collar and he walked over to his water dish, like nothing out of the ordinary had happened that morning.
"Thank you," she said in a soothing voice, warm with kindness. "He usually stays right here. I don't know what got into him."
Nodding toward the rest of the Fairgrounds, I offered, "Probably looking for a deep fried Twinkie."
She laughed a bright, pretty laugh. "He knows I'm the only one here until the hitch team arrives. He took advantage of me when I wasn't looking."
I was simply smiling back at her, nervous about what to say next, when she offered her hand. "I'm Kim."
Her hand was warm and firm. "Jill," I replied.
"You're with the Fair staff?"
I nodded and then suddenly I didn't know what to say. Instead, I inhaled deeply and a rather loud sigh escaped me. She smiled perceptively. She knew I was attracted to her and her reaction, that sincere and engaging smile, had been truly genuine.
She reached up and lightly squeezed my shoulder. "Thank you for returning the little escapee. He knows better."
"I don't blame him," I managed through the pounding of the pulse in my neck. I could never get further than watching her at the window and there she was touching my shoulder. "It's sure nice to be on the grounds this early."
"It's nice to meet you." she said, and then shrugged, "I don't get out of the tent much."
"It sure is. Nice to meet you, too, I mean." I was so nervous. My breathing suddenly quickened and in the pause that fell next, I scrambled to fill the silence. "I'm glad Speckle is back."
"Yes, thank you!" she said again and suddenly I ran out of words. My throat tightened and I could feel my ears growing hot. Why did this always happen? She seemed interested but I was so tense! In fear of doing something really embarrassing or stupid, I began to panic. "Well, have a great day."
I knew when she said "You, too," that it was more a nicety than anything else, but when she added, "Stop by anytime," I just about fainted. Was that an invitation? Holy cow! That I managed to walk away from the tent without tripping and falling on my butt was a major triumph.
The exhilaration of meeting her and being that close to her filled my chest with what felt like helium. I wanted to burst with elation at the dumb luck that came my way via a Dalmatian named Speckle. I was on top of the world!
If only I had been able to think of more to say.
At ten a.m., the Fair opened to the public. The day was bright and sunny and a slight and refreshing wind that brought high clouds every so often also helped cool everything off.
I spent the rest of the day walking the grounds, thinking less of the people and the vendors and the rest of the cacophony of the Fair, and more of Kim's eyes and her smile and that warm voice.
I thought about all the things I wish I'd said to her that morning; maybe some light, amusing conversation. If only I'd figured out some way to connect more than by just staring at her with a big smile on my face, spewing small talk. But because of her incredible beauty and the amazing way about her, I had been stupefied into silence.
I walked by the Clydesdales tent two more times that day but I didn't see her at all. She might have been out back at the wash station or she might have been off grounds. Either way, I was as nervous to perhaps see her as I was disappointed at actually not. I felt a familiar pit in my stomach and I knew exactly what it was. It was a concentrated, unforgiving bout of shyness; the kind that sits there, regretful and heavy. I was so sick of it ruling my life most of the time.
I knew there was only one way to exorcize the loathsome timidity from my gut. But it would have to wait until tomorrow.
At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, I left my office and headed across the grounds to the Clydesdale tent. My legs were shaking as I walked. I had been a wreck since I'd decided to conquer my shyness and I was also afraid of getting into trouble by carrying out my plan.
The shivers running through my body told me that my limbic system was trying to rule the rest of my brain. I was heavily in fight or flight mode. Run! Run! The words kept reverberating in my head. You could get caught! You could get fired! Worse, you could get rejected!
But I had been bolstered by the fact that she was the only one there until 10:00 a.m. Besides, I couldn't stop thinking about her and it had been driving me crazy. I would never get over my shyness unless I did something about it. So I concentrated on hoping that I could get myself to the tent.
Speckle lay just inside the Clydesdales tent, sleepily watching me walk in. He didn't lift his head but politely wagged his tail, stirring up little clouds of hay. Those magnificent Clydesdales watched me as well. Some were munching on alfalfa and one or two snorted in what was probably a sizeable dose of indifference. I didn't see Kim at all.
Rounding the stalls in the back, I could hear the crisp spray of water. I stepped out and into the wash station which was fenced off behind the tent. Kim was hosing down the cement, letting chunks of hay and dirt wash down the drain.
Run! Run! my limbic system still pleaded.
But before I could react, Kim then turned and smiled. "Oh my gosh! Hello!"
I opened my mouth to speak and in that nanosecond, a flood of thoughts dashed through my brain. I feel exposed and vulnerable. She's beautiful, beyond words. Jill, you've thought about this for the last twenty four hours. I have had a crush on her for three years. Yes, I am here for a reason!
She put down the hose and walked over to me, wiping her hands with a small towel before stuffing it in her pocket.
My throat had tightened like a three a.m. calf cramp. "Hi," I barely got out.
I could hear my heart thumping in my ears and my hands were trembling perceptibly. I had come this far, to seek her out rather than just wait for her early morning walk-bys.
What do you want? I stood there asking myself. What do you want? Then, when I didn't think I could, I answered my own question by reaching out to take her shoulders in my hands and pulled her close. As she came toward me, her face washed over with surprise and then settled into a sexy smile.
I kissed her right then. It was a gentle, reverent kiss that told her I liked her, that told her I was in the moment and not wanting to be aggressive, that told her this is who I am. All the things my voice couldn't say just then.
In turn, she kissed me back. Her soft lips told me she liked me, too. Her warm hands gently enfolding my waist told me she wasn't going anywhere right then. And her tongue gave me the courage to join her in a kiss that suddenly grew deeper.
I could barely register the snorting of the Clydesdales close by and the delivery trucks and shouting vendors somewhere beyond that. We were safely enclosed inside the wash area, with tall, red vinyl tent walls hiding us, and it couldn't have been a more perfect moment.
She moaned into my mouth, a sound which rushed straight to my head, making me so dizzy I believe she grabbed on tighter. My hands were in her silky, black hair, holding her tenderly, while she swirled her tongue around mine and pulled me firmly against her body.
The kiss turned into many kisses and at some point she playfully bit my lower lip. Kisses later, I broke away to softly nibble on her neck. She arched her head back, letting me taste the salt on her neck before turning to take my mouth again.
When she finally pulled away, her eyes were half closed and her lips curled up in the corners.
"It's about time," she whispered.
"You mean?" I began, but her grin made me pause.
"I was wondering how long it would take you to come out of your office."
"So you noticed me, too?"
"I have." She nodded and added, "For three years." She kissed me again before saying, "If it's OK with you, I'll come by your office tomorrow morning, but this time I won't have the horses."
I waited three years. I suppose I could wait one more day.
(c) Lisa Girolami