“No, really, I don’t need any help.” The tube of crescent rolls hit the floor with a thud. “I’ll just balance this all on my head!” I shouted, trying to keep the cans of candied yams from joining the rolls. My hacky-sack skills must have dwindled over the past twenty years because both cans of yams hit the floor with enough force to dent the parquet. The sight didn’t do much to improve my already rotten mood. Letting loose a bray loud enough to wake the dead, I staggered into the tiny kitchen of my house, rolling a can of yams in front of me with my foot. Reaching the table, the bags slid from my sore fingers and wrists, the half-gallon of milk tipping over on its side to land in the butter dish that my son had left uncovered. Again.
There wasn’t a sound in the house. I stopped to listen directly under Trevor’s room. Cocking my head like a dog, I strained for any sounds of my soon-to-be fifteen year old boy. Nothing. Not even the sounds of his video games or the low, dull bass of his stereo could be heard. The sound of the refrigerator straining before turning on was the only noise to be heard in my once-chic fifties ranch on the outskirts of the Green Hills business district.
Our neighborhood wasn’t exactly bad, the way anything from Watercress and south was, but it wasn’t exactly posh either, like on the west side of town where Viviana Land used to have a condo. After grabbing my rolls and yams, then closing and locking my front door, I jogged up the ten stairs to check on the kid. Passing the school portraits of Trevor on the wall, my mind just had to wonder what had happened to the young boy with so much promise. Had he seen too much? Should I have ended it sooner with Travis? Mother guilt is a mighty powerful thing. Shooting the dusty wedding photo of Travis and me a dark look, I knocked on my son’s door, waited ten seconds for a reply, and then entered warily.
Anyone who has a teenage boy knows not to simply walk into his room. You step in slowly as if entering the darkest, most dangerous jungle. After locating the light switch, I stared at the chaos in which Trevor spent most of his life. His time with Mom was pretty much grabbing a snack at night when he was supposed to be doing homework but was gaming instead, or watching the Philadelphia Wildcats hockey team heading for the championship. Trevor felt a special kind of kinship with the team since he had met a few of the players a couple months ago. I tried to watch yet not linger on Derrick Andersson or what could have been a maybe-possible thing with the far-too-handsome team captain.
Instinctively, I began picking up the clothes strewn around. Sniffing to determine cleanliness, I started filling his hamper while fretting over where he could be. It was seven at night. I hadn’t heard a peep out of my son since he had left for school. Not getting a call at eight this morning from the school confirmed that he had graced them with his presence—today anyway. Dinner was going to be extremely late. If Travis were still with us, I’d be picking myself up from the floor for that. Of course, if Travis were still with us, I wouldn’t be working at the Green Hills Gazette as the society page reporter. Trevor’s dad and I had split when the boy was five. A broken arm, two busted ribs, and the first police report filed had gotten me freed from the abusive hands of my husband.
A shout rang out downstairs. I jumped. Jogging through the maze of trash, clothing, shoes, books, and other things a mother is better off not examining too closely, I met my son at the top of the steps. He was not happy with me. It was obvious by the dark anger simmering in his eyes.
“I was just picking up,” I hurried to say. The kid hated my being in his room for any reason. While I could understand a teenager’s need for privacy, it also concerned me that he acted so guilty and defensive about his personal space. Given what I’ve been through the past few years with this child, he should be grateful I don’t go through his possessions with a metal detector as well as a drug-sniffing police dog.
“God, I hate you! Stay out of my room!” Trevor shouted, his ratty hair obscuring his eyes nearly as well as my friend Liz’s used to. He was the ultimate in teen angst plus rebellion right down to the snake bites dangling from his lower lip as well as the jeans showing the top five inches of his boxers. If only his mommy hadn’t purchased his jacket and shoes, the gangsta look might have worked just a smidgen better. And no, I did not give him permission to get his face pierced. He just came home with them after spending the night at Twitch’s house. Do not make me talk about Twitch, or the other juvenile delinquents that my son calls his friends, lest I get irate. I try to maintain a happy appearance in the face of adversity and disharmony.
The young man spun around then stalked off, cursing me and my need to be ‘In his fucking face all the time!’ I ran after him, growing angrier at his overreaction with each step downward. The front door slammed in my face. I thought about yanking it open to scream at him, as I have done on numerous occasions, but I didn’t want the neighbors calling the Green Hills Police Department again. So I stared at the trembling door with my tongue in my mouth while my heart lost another layer. Pretty soon my baby boy would have my ticker shaved down to a mere toothpick. I went into the kitchen to put Sunday dinner away. I threw a frozen meal into the microwave, opened a diet cola, and then went into the living room for a night of erotic romance to be followed later by calling my son’s friends.
I shouldn’t have even turned the TV on. As soon as it flickered to life I heard the All-Sports Channel’s theme. Thankfully, they were replaying some old basketball game from the seventies. Anything was preferable to the hockey game. It was just too hard watching Derrick and his team knowing I had walked away from a chance with the Wildcats’ captain. There was no way I could ask any man to deal with Trevor. Hell, what man would want to? Would Derrick Andersson? I highly doubt it. That was a fantasy that would never come to life.
Romances with famous hockey stars only happened to young women, like Elizabeth Argon, who captured the heart of the Wildcats’ goalie, Veikko Aho, or sassy women, like Viviana Land, who continues to dazzle the young defenseman, Alain Lessard. Forty-year-old, formerly abused divorcees with disruptive, teenaged sons get lonely nights and empty days. Maybe someday, when Trevor was off to college, my dream, not his, I’d find a man. I wasn’t too terrible to look at, even with the extra pounds that forty had brought with it. If I threw you a sassy over-the-shoulder look I sort of resembled Cameron Diaz, if she wore a size fourteen, had crow’s feet, and sported a slightly chipped tooth from an encounter with her ex-husband’s wedding band.
“Enough, Maggie,” I scolded myself, “Breathe in the good and blow out the bad.” Completing my good-blow, bad-blow exercise, I returned to my mystery man. Maybe this future mystery man would be a millionaire racecar driver who would whisk me away to Monaco to live. I’d be able to quit my miserable job. That would be a plus! I hated being the society page reporter. I was much happier back when I was the paper’s receptionist, sitting outside the door of the inner machinations of the paper.
Now I had to deal with Frank, our Editor-In-Chief, and Bert Dibble, the sexist jerk. Probably the worst part was that Liz and Viviana were gone. Both had moved to Philadelphia to be with their lovers. I didn’t fault them, of course. Lord knows poor Liz and her mother are much happier living with Veikko in his mansion. But there was a man doing the obits now, making me the only female on staff. The one bright spot was that I got to work with Oscar LaRue Tiffany, a tall, black, bald, and gloriously gay photographer whom I adore.
Blowing a strand of short, dirty blonde hair out of my eye, I forked some overcooked broccoli then opened my newest ticket to fantasy, sighing as my high heels hit the carpet. Cringing at the recollection of being on my feet all day, in heels, to hobnob with mayor’s wife as she whittled down choices for her annual fundraising event, I chewed my broccoli. God, the woman was pretentious! Lifting the remote to begin flipping to catch the weather, I lost myself immediately in the cold, Scottish castle where our newest heroine dwelled, the channel surfing now being done blindly. My book got closer to my nose. Then that damned Newt Townsend’s grating voice slammed into my eardrums.
“All the intestinal fortitude in the world can’t negate the captain’s forty–year-old body. Andersson is strictly a ten to twelve second player on the first line now, Bob.”
I refused to look up from my novel. Yes, I know. I could have changed the channel. I’m a glutton for punishment it seems, but the Wildcats’ hometown broadcasting team was talking about Derrick.
“If the Wildcats are serious in their pursuit of The Cup, they must get some new blood on the first line. Maybe it’s time to hang Andersson’s jersey from the rafters and make a move to grab up Petro Shevenko for that position, Newt.”
My eyes left the Scottish moors to find the replay from the last Wildcats game. It had been a terribly hard-hitting game with the Ottawa Herons. Derrick Andersson had been singled out for the abuse. The captain had taken hit after hit after board-shuddering hit. I hid behind my paperback while watching the replays.
“Now there you go, Bob! Rumor has it that the new owner of the Wildcats has her lovely eye on snapping up Petro Shevenko of the KHL as soon as possible! I don’t blame her either! Have you seen this Russian kid’s stats, Bob?”
“Shit, if they get rid of Andersson that team will fall apart,” I said as I snuggled down into my well-worn, green sofa. I turned off the TV. I hated being petty, and Lord knows I’d pay for my childish jealousy when I met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, but there was nothing worse than sitting in my dingy home, with a diet meal and cola, my feet screaming from another day doing something I disliked so strongly, while staring at Captain Andersson. Dwelling in the bitter lands of what could have been sucked. “When life hands you lemons, Maggie,” I reminded myself as I fingered the glossy cover of my novel.
Happy to avoid the team’s pregame stretch, skate, and interviews, I read as I nibbled rubbery turkey. Reaching for my soda on the table, I happened to find myself thinking back to the last game I watched with Trevor. Clear as a bell, my memory served up the team hitting the ice at Houseman Center, the home of the Wildcats in downtown Philadelphia, as they got ready for the game. Okay, so this was going to be another round of intense exposure therapy. I could handle it. Obviously my Scottish heroine was lacking, which gave my mind free rein to flagellate my heart.
I stared at the blackened screen, yet saw the last game perfectly. The camera, as well as all eighteen thousand plus people in Houseman Center, had been riveted on Veikko Aho. We all knew what he was going to do. He did it every time the Wildcats played at home now. Girding myself for the mental replay, I recalled in swooning envy as ‘The Count of the Crease’ skated up the glass behind his goal then laid his stick to the Plexiglas. On the other side a thin, dark-haired waif of a young woman laid her hand to his stick. One could only imagine the look that passed between Veikko and Liz in that moment.
Then it was over. He lowered his stick to return to his goal. Liz faded back into the seats where she curled up beside Viviana Land who was in some bright teal creation that accented all her voluptuous curves. The memory faded as my book slid from my fingers. Here I sat, with tough turkey and a romance novel. What the hell was wrong with this scene? Why wasn’t I sitting with the wives and lovers of the Wildcats team? I could have maybe been…
Falling back into the sofa, my novel resting on my breasts while my broccoli chilled, and not in the hip, rap speak way either, I let my favorite fantasy scenario play out. Gasping when the naughty reel got to the part where I was on my knees in front of that mountain man, Captain Andersson, pleasuring him orally, I threw my book to the sofa, leapt to my feet, and stepped outside to cool down. Fanning myself with my blouse I realized that I either needed to get back into dating, buy a vibrator, or enter a convent.
Instead of doing any of those, I reentered my home to locate my phone book. Finding Trevor was my own version of a Disney film, except I couldn’t foresee a happy ending no matter how hard little Susie Sunshine here tried.
“Hi, Janice, it’s Maggie. Is Trevor there?”
* * * *
The interior of the Green Hills Botanical Society’s boardroom was stifling. We were in the grip of a heat wave. The windows were all tightly closed, yet the AC was churning out only tepid air. My second-hand blazer was sweltering. My blue blouse was stuck to my back. The black skirt that matched the blazer was clinging to my thighs like cellulite. The mayor’s wife droned on and on and on. Even the bouquet of lilacs mixed with baby breath sitting in the center of the round, cherry table looked wilted.
“Oscar,” I hissed. His blue eyes slowly lifted from his eReader. “What are you reading?” I asked, simply to make conversation that didn’t center on the long list of fundraising possibilities. I should be paying attention, I thought. That is my job, right? I mean, that’s what a society page reporter does, correct? Listen to society people and report on their activities? His thick lips tweaked up in a wicked smile.
“I’m reading a randy little gay romance about three men who find themselves locked in a bakery overnight. It’s called Massage My Meringue.”
“Why the hell would anyone name a book Massage My Meringue?” I asked behind my hand because it seemed like a good question. The drone of the city council carried on. Sweat trickled between my boobs.
“To tantalize,” Oscar replied, touching a finger to the beauty mark beside his eye. It’s a fake beauty mark, just as his blue eyes are fake, but I love him too much to comment on them. Besides, the man out-dresses me daily so who am I to play snippy about a fake beauty mark? Take today for instance. Oscar was outfitted in flowing summer material, his trousers and shirt both a soft sand color, over which he wore a dark brown vest with a fancy gold watch chain dangling from a pocket. His boots shone like a new, copper penny. His beret was golden brown and sat on his smooth head at a playful angle. I was wearing a suit I had found at Goodwill for ten dollars. Yep, far be it for me to say word one about anyone’s attire. “This is the second book in the ‘Sugar Daddy’ series. The first one was titled Tickle My Torte.”
“Did it? Tickle your torte, I mean?” I asked as Jonathon Penderton, head of the Penderton Tablecloth Company, gave us both a sour look.
“Oh, honey, it not only tickled my torte, it gave my éclair an erection!” Oscar snorted, then quickly lifted his eReader to hide behind. All five grumpy faces turned in our direction.
“Do you have something you wish to add, Ms. Charles?” Gloria Lynchpot, aka the mayor’s wife, aka Madame First Lady of Green Hills, asked. Yes, she demanded to be addressed as Madame First Lady. And when you’re looking up at a woman who is well over six feet tall, not including her crimson beehive, who carries over three hundred pounds, you call her whatever she wants you to call her. I suspected our First Lady didn’t care for me as much as she had Viviana, who was also a substantially built woman.
“Uhm, well, perhaps if we tallied a vote so that we could decide on which charity function was going to be touted as your premiere event this summer?” I smiled at the frowning faces of the Green Hills movers and shakers. Although since most of them were older than dirt, what they moved and shook was a discussion that was up for grabs. I chided myself mentally to be nice.
“We just did that, Ms. Charles,” Gloria announced. Oscar snapped a picture making her pinched face flow into a charming smile.
“Oh, I must have missed the motion,” I blushed then hurried to find a pen and paper in my mish-mash of a purse. They waited while I dug and stammered. “Aha!” I grinned as I waved a broken pencil stub and a crumpled shopping list in the air. “So, what kind of extravaganza will you be putting on this year, Madame First Lady?”
Gloria kept smiling since Oscar kept snapping. “We’ve just voted to have a charity auction plus sale to benefit the Green Hills Youth and Sports Counsel.”
I scribbled madly as she prattled on, the shutter of the Pentax, the wheezy AC unit, and old men breathing the only sounds in the stuffy room. “The Philadelphia Wildcats organization has been most co-operative in this venture. They have offered us not only autographed apparel, such as sticks, jerseys, and masks, but the owner has promised me every unmarried man on the team will participate in a bachelor auction! Can you imagine being on the arm of one of the Wildcats, as he serves as your dinner date for the event?” Gloria tittered at her grand idea. “We’ll raise tens of thousands! I’ll be the most talked about First Lady since that old bat, Gertrude Dunkley!”
The tip of my pencil snapped off.
* * * *
Oscar was sitting on Gertrude Dunkley. Not literally of course. His tight, little ass was on a bench inside the Botanical Society’s Azalea Garden that bore a plaque with Gert’s name on it. He was as cool as a mid-summer lake, watching early morning bumblebees checking out the colored buds. I was pacing like a constipated tiger, the short heels of my black shoes clapping on the cobblestoned walk.
“Maybe I could get someone to cover the auction for me?” I asked as I passed Oscar stretched out with his face turned up to the sun. “Can you think of anyone on staff?”
“Surely you jest,” the photographer replied, lifting his camera from where it hung around his neck to take a picture of the sun sneaking behind a passing cloud. “The only people with an iota of decorum and class left on that rag are you and me. We’ll already be there. And before you ask,” he peeked around his camera to find me staring at him hopefully, “I am not going to play reporter as well as photographer.”
“If you loved me you would.” I pouted then flopped down beside him on the cement bench.
“Are you trying to use guilt on a gay man? Margaret darling, I’ve been suckling on the teat of guilt since my father first discovered I like well-oiled, Latino men.”
“It never works on any man I know.” I blew out a long breath while a lazy bee floated across my line of sight. “This is bad. I mean, not bad like bad but bad like ‘What-The-Hell-Do-I-Say-To-The-Man?’ bad. I blew him off six months ago! He’ll at least want to know why, won’t he?”
“Are you asking me to explain the inner machinations of a hetero male mind? Honey, no one gets the brain wave patterns of that group. Let me ask you this, would you want to know why a man never called or got in contact with you after sharing a great lunch date with you?”
I frowned at the lovely scenery surrounding us. “Probably,” I confessed.
“Well then, you have your answer. Personally, I’m still in a puzzlement pit about why you never went after that man,” Oscar said. I glanced over to find him eying me through his camera. “He is certainly attractive enough in a Jeremiah Johnson sort of way.” He took a picture.
“It wouldn’t have worked out.” I turned away from the lens opening then closing.
“Oh? You know this how?” More images were taken, this time of my profile.
“I just know it.”
“So you’re able to see into the future to forecast relationship successes and failures? Thank the good Lord above someone has finally been blessed with those powers! Tell me, Madame Maggie, will my flirtation with Alonzo blossom into something racy and sweaty? Or should I give up on my fiery Latino men to try to grab myself one of those pale, yet rugged, hockey players when they go on the block?”
It was a wonder the azaleas didn’t pull up their roots to dash over to us, so acidic was he. I was not amused.
“You can stop being so damned sarcastic,” I announced as I got to my feet. He lowered his Pentax to gaze at me innocently. “Sometimes a woman just knows when a man is not for her. Derrick Andersson would not have fit into my life. Put that in your wisenheimer pipe and smoke it!”
“Oh, girl, you did not just lay the pipe comeback on me, did you?” he snorted, leaping to his polished boots to snap his long fingers in front of my face in a bold Z pattern. I tried to keep a straight face as I gazed up at him. “That’s what I thought. Don’t make me get all sassy black woman on your delicate backside.”
Blinking up at him, I broke out laughing, as did Oscar. He tugged me in for a hug, and then escorted me out of the azalea garden with one long arm dangling around my neck.