I felt different after the romping with the Greek God. Something inside shifted. I had, in one fell swoop, in a single night, maybe in a nanosecond, fallen head over heels in love with the centaur and at that point I still didn’t know his name.
It took the rest of the week and another sixteen assignments before I put my finger on it. I talked to no one except Sylvia about what happened and even her I didn’t tell about the love part. I was embarrassed to be longing after a man because I had for so long been Yamelda, the-ice-queen, Keating, mixer in only the highest circles, talker to only the shakers and movers. I’d been sought after from Saint Louis to San Francisco, but in my eyes they’d all been wimps. I was a virgin to love and the Greek God was my first.
After two more couplings, I awoke at two-thirty with the sound of the front door. My eyes flew open as I heard footsteps and voices.
I nudged him. “Someone’s here.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
There, he did it again. He couldn’t have said a more perfect, more masculine sentence. He was taking over. In a world where everyone looked to me to lead, this man was taking over.
He got up, found his clothes in the rubble, put them on and stepped out of the room.
I was in Yamelda heaven. All of my life I’d been forced to take the helm. After mom died when I was thirteen, I did the shopping, cooked the food, changed the diapers on my sister and took care of my eight-year-old brother. On the farm there was no one for miles. Instead of joining Job’s daughters or 4-H, I was designated chief cook and bottle washer.
It wasn’t until a year after mom’s death when I was forced to take the one final role of lover to that asshole. After he made his moves, the next morning I left and I never looked back.
After a lot of therapy, I realized that it left me with the intense desire to devastate all men.
Once I came to that, I wanted nothing to do with any old memories. The present was my friend. The future was mentor and, up until the other night night, when everything shifted, it had remained steadfast and consistent.
I heard some frantic talking and a woman getting hysterical. When it came to women and hysterics, few men could hold their own. I got up, found my clothes and dressed.
The volume got louder when I looked around at the trashed room, turned on my heels and stepped out into the living room to face Marylou Stalworth and an older gentleman. He looked like her father.
As usual, when I walked into the room, every head turned. I gave Stalworth my up-to-the-minute newsworthy smile and walked over to The God. What was his name? I stood shoulder to shoulder facing the opposition. The Tammy Whynette song, “Stand by your man” came to me. I couldn’t believe I was thinking in those terms.
The centaur was finishing up the tail end of his story as I cut in. “Sorry for the mess. I’m afraid it couldn’t be helped.” I fished into my vest pocket and pulled a soggy business card. “Please call me when you have an inventory and I’ll be happy to reimburse you.”
Marylou looked around and shrugged. “Reimburse?”
I pointed back. “The bedroom.”
She walked past me and stepped into the trashed room, made a gasp then a short little scream.
Stalworth came back into the room pale faced. While looking at the card, she said, “How did the intruders get off the island?”
I looked at Billy who had his back to Stalworth. He winked and said, “I don’t know.”
I reached out and did something I’d never considered and it surprised me. I found his hand and curled mine into it. He pulled away, stepped a nervous two paces back and put his hands in his pockets. I was stunned. I was the great Yamelda, every-man’s-dream, Keating. For the first time in my entire life I had a man pull away? He was acting like he didn’t want to be seen with me. He certainly didn’t want to hold my hand. The tragedy was, it just so happened to be the only man I wanted to hold hands with.
Although I wasn’t calling it infatuation, because very soon after we got back to dry land and went our separate ways, soon after the last time I saw him, I jumped right over infatuation. I called it L… O… V… E… Love, love, love. I had it bad. Me, the very woman who’d shattered so many, the ice queen who couldn’t be touched, had it so bad I was willing to back any story he told without even knowing the story.
Tammy Wynette’s voice kept repeating itself in my head.
After a night’s sleep in the passion bed I’d created so many years ago and never used, I awoke with a start when I touched the flowing hair of Cassandra Liltkey. When the entire night’s experience replayed, I felt embarrassed and anxious. Once we’d taken puffs from those anemic cigarettes, I felt giddy and playful.
The moment she’d pressed her lips against mine, I froze. I felt like a child and her very adult act took me by surprise. I returned the kiss all right, but I knew where the kiss was leading. Although I’d dreamt of that moment so many times, all I could think of was playing Yahtzee or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, maybe breaking a piñata and scrambling for the candy. I did give it the old College try, but all I could think of was Lincoln Logs and Monopoly. Sex was the last thing on my mind and yet she was beside herself with the thought.
I awoke with the humiliating truth of my failed romantic interlude. I was ashamed that I’d forced Cassandra Liltkey into a Scrabble game, and more than one. It was more like a symphony of Scrabble games. I was so self-conscious, I quietly slipped out of bed and got dressed. I stepped over and looked out on the Lyndon B. Johnson parking lot. It was under ten feet of muddy water. The day was dark gray, but it had finally stopped raining.
On first glance, I thought it must have been some kind of marijuana after effect. There was a single bright red object bobbing out of the tubid water at such an odd angle I had to blink and rub my eyes. It wasn’t until the lazy currents of the lake nudged it around that I saw it was a boat — Sandy Franklin’s red ski boat to be exact. Sandy and his wife walked by the store last night just before the flood.
Its nose was deep in the water, but it was a boat and wasn’t that exactly what we needed?
While Cassandra was still asleep, I went out to the warehouse, opened the door leading downstairs and looked at the two dry steps that led into a blackness of the muddy water.
I looked back toward the hidden room. Its window was the only portal of escape. I searched the upper story warehouse for an old truck tube I’d stashed in the far corner. In the back of the stacks, I found the half rotted inner tube, stabbed a kitchen match in the stem to open the valve, and began the long breathless process of blowing it up.
When I awoke, I heard a steady hiss and huff in the next room. I leisurely got out of bed and dressed. After a long gaze out the window then primping in front of the dresser mirror, I got out of those stupid pajamas, put on last night’s dress and walked out into the warehouse to investigate the incessant swishing sound. I found William pale and out of breath.
“Hi,” I said.
He nodded, gave me cursory grunt and kept blowing.
“Let me help.”
He shook his head while still blowing.
“Come on damnit, you look spent.”
He shook his head.
“Mr. Dickerman,” I said.
I grabbed the tube and playfully pushed him aside. “I’m taking over.”
I took a deep lung full and blew into the tube. On the second breath of air I asked, “Why are we blowing this up?”
He pointed toward the back lot. “There’s a boat in the parking lot. I thought I could retrieve it and take you back to your house.”
“I think it’s Sandy Franklin’s. Its nose is buried in the water maybe attached to a trailer. Either way, I can dive down, cut it loose and we’ll have transportation.”
“You’re going to dive into that water?”
“We have to get out of here and I don’t know any other way.”
“Don’t you think you’re a little too old to be diving into melted snow?”
His face dropped. “Hadn’t thought of that.”
“If anyone should get the boat, it would be me.”
“I couldn’t let you–”
“Mr. Dickerman, you can’t let me do anything. If there’s a boat to retrieve, I’ll be the one to get it. Plus, do you know how to hot-wire it?”
I filled my lungs, took the stem in my mouth and blew a trickle of air in the valve.
Fifteen minutes of concentrated puffing and the tube was full. It wasn’t the tight donut balloon I’d seen during the summer months when rafters floated down the river, but serviceable enough to drift forty yards over to the boat without getting too wet.
I pulled open the window, hiked up my dress and stepped out onto a foot wide ledge six inches above the water.
William wrestled the inner tube through the window, then handed me a sharp kitchen knife. I cautiously sat, holding my legs out of the freezing water and paddled across the placid lake toward the boat.
I reached the sleek ski boat, pushed my arm deep in the water and cut the rope. The boat popped like a cork, raced backward across the water and slowly floated downstream.
I paddled frantically for a few minutes and finally caught it nudged against a telephone pole.
I pulled myself into the boat, turned on my back and popped my head under the dash.
It took a freezing fifteen minutes to get the right wires connected and the engine started.
My teeth were chattering as I idled back to the building, pulled up to the window and threw William a rope.
“Tie me off,” I said.
He grabbed the line. “Your dress.”
I looked down and shrugged. “I’ll get it cleaned.”
I lept from the boat to the window ledge and Bill helped me in. I was shaking. “It’s freezing out there.”
He pulled the crumpled comforter from the bed and wrapped me.
“Once I get warm, we’ll see if my animals are all right.”
It took a half-hour and two candy bars to warm up, but the moment I did, with William’s extra pair of sweat pants, a plaid shirt and a thick scarf, the two of us boarded the boat. I pulled away from the building.
Piloting the boat up Main Street was strange enough, but when I saw people trying to wave us down, the scene became surreal.
“We need to stop and help those people,” William said.
“We’ll come back later and help people. “Right now I want to make sure my animals are okay.”
Last night’s puffs from that Marijuana cigarette helped bring the scene into focus. If I’d not taken those puffs, I might have had a pleasant memory of Cassandra Liltkey to take to my grave rather than Scrabble, a game I never liked in the first place.
My floundering masculinity had not come close being fulfilled. My fantasy of Cassandra Liltkey had not been realized, but a sliver of a smile crossed my lips anyhow. Of all things, Scrabble.
While she idled past a hail of waving arms and screaming voices, my smile widened. Although I’d blown my one chance of being her lover, I had a better time than I could remember. Even the years before Lucille’s death. Had it been the little cigarette or maybe it was the circumstances? Either way, I finally christened the den of sin, though it was nothing close to the sin I had in mind.
The boat pulled through the hailing crowds and down Laurel Boulevard filled with single-story, pitched roofed houses. People and animals were huddled on roofs and in upper stories. I saw the upper half of the McDonald’s sign on the corner. It pleased me to no end that the big conglomerate drug store in the fancy new mall was also ten feet under water.
If I was going to have to bite-the-bullet, I was glad to see they would also be hobbled, at least temporarily. Of course, they had the fancy insurance.
We passed drowned gas stations, bookstores and grocery stores. Even the first floor of the county library was floating books instead of loaning them.
Cassandra ignored all who attempted to wave her down as she sped away from town. She was a woman on a mission.
Maybe later she’d take me home. My house was probably drowned in ten feet of water like all the rest. For now, I was with her and with her I would stay until she’d done what she was so determined to do.
Up one street, down another, across an intersection, through another, we wound our way through neighborhood after drowned neighborhood until Cassandra surprised me by turning into Tenican Heights.
I pointed at the security shack. “You live here?”
“It’s not what you think.”
“What do you mean? This is Tenican Heights. If you live here, you’ve arrived.”
“You were around when my grandmother fought the developers. You must remember what happened?”
“I don’t read the papers.”
“Hell, for months it was on everyone’s lips. Where were you?”
I gulped, “Working, I guess. I work a lot.”
“Gees, William, get a life. Things go on outside of your little drugstore.”
“So what happened?”
Cassandra filled me in on the details as she piloted to her farm. I quickly got the picture, but didn’t say a word. She wasn’t going to one of the three-story fancy houses in the development. She wasn’t even going to a lower-class two-story. She was going to the farm on the fifth fairway. She was Marylou Stalworth! She lived in that rag-tag farmhouse and decomposing barn sitting in the way of an easy birdie to the sixth tee.
I’d golfed past that house more times than I could remember, and I always wondered what kind of stupidity it took to keep a farm in the middle of the nationally known Tenican Heights, exclusive neighborhood of exclusive neighborhoods.
Cassandra was the chicken woman. She was the granddaughter of Stikes who had bucked the powerful development corporation Barney, Bowman and Whalde and won.
We got out of the boat as three cats pranced over to greet us. Cassandra knelt and picked each one up, held them for a moment, then I followed her to the run down house. I wanted to ask her a battery of questions, but I said nothing. Maybe someday I could ask, but for now, I was simply following her, right smack dab in the middle of the fifth fairway.
What I hadn’t realized until the moment Cassandra put the key in the lock was hers was the only house in a ten miles radius not under water.
I followed her inside and she started moving around like a cat looking for a mouse. She sniffed the air. “Something’s not right.”
I snapped my head toward the single masculine word.
“Who do you think you are?” Cassandra demanded.
“Billy Marlin. I got stranded on your island last night. Hope you don’t–”
“I know who you are, asshole. Where’d you come from and why are you here?”
“Me and Yamelda was forced here by some kidnappers on a boat and dropped–”
“Why are you in my house?”
She was getting worked up and if there was a problem, I would be no match with the buff guy in the skimpy tee shirt.
I quickly interceded. “You got stranded? We’ll take you back to town as soon as we get the animals taken care of.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” Cassandra barked at the young man.
“We were kidnapped and dropped here.”
His one missing eyetooth gave him a goofy look. The birthmark on his neck didn’t help.
“What do you mean you got. . .” Cassandra dropped her last words when the anchor from WASS news stepped out of the bedroom. Her hair was tousled and dress wrinkled. What used to be a white blouse was blood stained and half-buttoned. I’d never seen her such a mess, but it was Yamelda Keating all right.
She crossed the room, stood next to the young man and snaked her fingers through his. He yanked back, then stepped aside. The movement was clear, the message precise. She liked him, but he wasn’t so sure.
“What, wha. . .” Cassandra stammered.
Ms. Keating pointed at the young man. “He saved my life last night and we had to spend the night here. I hope it wasn’t a bother?” I’d heard her throaty voice many times on the eleven o’clock news. I liked her voice and she was easy to look at on TV.
“Well. . . well,” Cassandra tried for a coherent answer.
“I’m afraid your room got a little messed up.” she dug into her pocket and pulled a soggy business card. “Please call me when you figure out the cost to replace the broken things. I’ll promptly send you a check.”
Cassandra took the card.
Keating pointed toward the door. “Did you pull up in a motorboat?”
“Would you be so kind as to give us a lift back to dry land?”
Cassandra walked past the two strangers, ran her fingers along the shattered door, then gasped when she looked in the bedroom.
“What happened to my room?” It was the first full sentence Cassandra spoke since Keating appeared.
“There was a fight,” the young man said. “The kidnappers trashed the room on their way out the back door.”
Keating took a single step sideways to the young man and put a hand on his shoulder. He noticeably winced then went silent.
Keating smiled. “Can’t we just say things got out of hand last night?”
The story seemed plausible, but her smile was smug. It might have been the same kind of getting out of hand I’d had in mind for Cassandra. Unfortunately my getting out of hand took the form of too many Scrabble games. God, I’m such a loser.
Cassandra was silent when she tried to close the splintered door behind her.
“Mr. Dickerman, can you take these two where they want to go and come back for me later?”
I smiled. “Sure.”