Archive for July 7th, 2008


Summer Love Chapter Four


Wonderful World (Don’t Know Much)


For the rest of the summer, Stephanie and I barely left each other’s sight. We were inseparable, together every evening, sometimes late, and by mid-June, straight on until morning. I didn’t spend as much time at Perry’s as usual, but somehow I was more productive. I had six weeks’ worth of comic strips – five days a week and a color strip for Sundays – all banked, and I’d installed the software to upload and post the strips automatically each day. All I was missing was a title.

Since neither of us had jobs with a regular 9-to-5 schedule, it was easy to find time to be together. Once or twice I even managed to convince her to accompany me to a movie, and we walked out every time to a steamy post rainstorm evening. Stephanie remained father guarded about her life – her father wasn’t exactly a positive influence, I gathered, and although her mother was obviously important to her, I could tell she didn’t want to discuss her at all. Instead, she got drawn into the bosom of life in Solomon-land, bonding as much with Perry and his wife as she could, and even hanging out with Amber on those rare occasions Stephanie was at the coffee shop without me.

What truly amazed me about Stephanie, more than anything else, was how she could seem like an old soul at one moment, then in the next behave like everything in the world was fresh and new. I took her on a picnic one day in early June, both of us in shorts and t-shirts, but she declined to wear sunglasses in the blinding glare. When we got to the park, I laid out a blanket for us, but instead she stripped off her shoes and socked and danced in the soft grass, then lay down and rolled through it. It was cute – deadly cute – but really strange.

She plucked a blade and rolled it through her fingers. “It’s not the same at all, is it?”

“The same as what?”

“Hmm? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking out loud. What did you bring to eat?”

She was voracious too, eating all the time. She preferred fresh fruits and vegetables to anything else, but she’d eat whatever was placed in front of her. I didn’t have a take-home box from a single restaurant that summer, because there were never any leftovers. No matter how much she ate, though, or what she ate, her magnificent metabolism was doing its job. Her weight never seemed to fluctuate even an ounce.

Toward the end of June, I convinced her again to accompany me to a movie. It was one of the few points of conflict in our relationship – while I gobbled up TV and movies like a starving man at a buffet, she really had no interest in them, and only acquiesced to come along for a few movies she knew I was desperate to see. So while I sat engrossed by the latest Rachel Gleason sword-and-sorcery extravaganza, Stephanie was more involved with the extra-large tub of popcorn I bought her, which she declared “a little stale, but otherwise high quality.”

We stepped out of the theater into one of the muggiest nights I’ve ever seen. The sun had blazed all day, but we heard thunderclouds rumble overhead as the movie began. That was strange in and of itself; rainfall that summer was well below average. The rain had really come down hard while we were in the theater, though, and was now steaming up from the baked concrete in heavy, wheezing tendrils. Stepping out of the air-conditioned Cineplex, it was as if we’d walked into a sauna. Some other girls I’ve dated would have complained about their hair in the steam, but again, Stephanie was different. I couldn’t figure out how someone so achingly beautiful never seemed to have any concerns about her appearance at all.

I was still pumped from the movie while we walked to the car. “Man, that was great. Do you remember when Rachel Gleason only made crappy teen comedies? She’s really carving a niche as an action heroine. I remember–” My voice trailed off, realizing that I was babbling and Stephanie looked bored. “Um… what did you think?

She shrugged. “It was okay, I guess.”

“You didn’t like it.”

“Sorry, sweetheart.”

“Nah, that’s okay. I just don’t understand how you weren’t caught up in that.”

“It just seemed fake to me.”

I stood agape. “Really? I thought those were some of the most impressive fight scenes I’ve ever seen! Curtis Dupré has a way of directing a battle that just draws you in, makes you feel like you’re there.”

She shrugged. “To each his own, I guess. I just find it hard to imagine, in the heat of battle, some swordswoman throwing out ine-liners just before she stabs the monster.”

“Well… I guess. I know it’s not really real, but it’s still exciting and visceral, don’t you think?”

“It’s war, Adam. The moments of excitement are brief and torturous, and everything else is the boredom of sitting around waiting for the torture.”

“You sound like you’ve been there.”

“No, but I’ve talked to an awful lot of people who have been. I got the story firsthand. It doesn’t matter what you see in a movie or – perish the thought – the news. Not until you’ve looked a man in the eyes while he tells you what it was like to feel his own intestines in his hands.”

“Geez. There’s a morbid thought.”

“I’ve been called morbid before.” Her eyes sparkled black at me, and behind her, a flash of heat lightning lit the sky. An uncharacteristic quiet came over us then. We’d talked about a lot of things in our brief time together, but politics wasn’t on the list. Had we finally hit a snag? She was talking more practically, more personally. I wasn’t sure what she thought about the big picture.

Funny thing about it? It didn’t matter to me, not personally. I didn’t care if we agreed about everything. I had taken enough steps towards falling for her that I was ready to overlook it. The thing I was worried about? If we had kids what would we try to teach them?

Yeah. If we had kids. I was that far gone.

I opened my mouth, ready to voice an apology, but as was so often the case, she beat me to it.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get all serious on you.”

“No, it’s okay,” I said, my own apology buried. “Nice to know not all of our conversations have to revolve around coffee and cartoons.”

“It’s personal to me.”

“I can tell. That’s okay.”

She smiled and hugged me, her face resting on my chest, using me for her pillow. “You understand me so much. I’m not used to that.”

I hugged her back, and warned her she’d better start getting used to it. Then she took my hand and led me off to the car. After that, it was a night as simple as it was beautiful.

The kids would be okay.




A pattern started to emerge. After a particularly eventful date with Stephanie, I would drop by Perry’s the next day and discuss what happened with my meager little brain trust. I would give them a detailed description of the conversation or incident – in this case, the discussion we had after the movie – and waited for them to provide me with the usual sage advice.

“You’re wrong about everything anyway,” Amber explained.

“Why do I keep talking to you people?”

“Do you know how long it’s been since you’ve been this happy? Bro, unless she’s strapping explosives to her chest, you can get past whatever political differences you have.”

“No he can’t,” Amber said. I bristled a little.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, Adam, that you take it as a personal affront when I tell you I don’t like pepperoni on my pizza. How are you going to react if she tells you she thinks you want to vote for the wrong guy?”

“Are you saying that two civilized people can’t have a difference of opinion and still maintain a mature relationship?”

“Watch CNN for ten minutes and ask me that question.”

Perry excused himself to answer a jingling bell, having decided that actually serving his customers was a better path to success than berating them for placing an order. Amber continued. “Look, I’m not saying it could never work. I’m just saying it will never work. Not unless you find a way to insulate yourself from each and every source of news, rumor, or political discourse that could lead to even the smallest degree of controversy.”

“Gotcha. I’ll never invite you to dinner.”

“Like I’d come anyway. You need to talk to her. You need to find our just where you stand.”

“I hate those kinds of conversations.”

“Nobody likes those kinds of conversations. Why do you think nobody charges $3.99 a minute for a phone politics hotline?”

The thing that irritated me about Amber, as usual, was that she was right. The conversation had ended well, but it wasn’t the sort of issue that would just go away. If we lasted as a couple, sooner or later this problem was just going to come up again, and this time it may not have a happy ending. Much as I hated the idea, it seemed that talking to Stephanie, cutting the topic off at the pass would be the only way to resolve this.

Perry sidled up to us, carrying a steaming mug of simple black coffee, which I didn’t realize anybody still drank. “So, is my brother still a screwed-up mess?”

“As much as ever.”

“Good, I’ll be right with you.”

He carried the mug to a man sitting about three tables away. The look on this man’s face sent a stabbing, chilled feeling straight down to my core. His clothes were all black and somewhat ragged – not so ragged as to be inappropriate, but definitely lived-in. His face was blank and ashen, and his eyes sank deep into his cheeks. His hair was scarcely darker than his gray skin, and it crawled down his cheeks into a knotted, natty beard that looked like it had been neither trimmed nor cleaned in a thousand years. Perry placed the mug down in front of him, and he wrapped his bone-thin fingers around the handle. He slowly raised the mug to his face. He did not drink, however, but instead took a deep, all-fulfilling breath. His eyes fluttered and his lip quivered, as though he was aching for a sip. He never drank, though, but his breathing was so deep and labored I could easily imagine the aroma of the coffee taking on a more solid form and completely filling every cavity of his body.

It was all the more eerie, therefore, that throughout this entire process he never took his eyes off me.

“Interesting-looking chap,” I whispered to Amber, slowly sipping at my own drink.

“No kidding. He’s been here a few times, and he always orders the same thing – a strong, black cup of coffee. Then he sniffs at it for a while and walks off without taking a sip.

“No kidding?”

Perry came up, seeing where our attention was turned. “Did she tell you about Sniffy Snifferson over there? Every cup gets poured down the drain in the kitchen. I mean… he pays, he tips… I guess I shouldn’t complain, but it’s kind of a bruise to the ego.”

“Oh geez, he’s looking at us.” Amber grabbed a towel and rushed off, wiping at every surface in sight.

“What’s he doing, Perry?” I was trying not to look at the man, at least not obviously, but I was terribly ineffective at this.

“I don’t know, but he’s simultaneously harshing my buzz and freaking me out.”

The man then looked away from me again, lifting the cup to his nose. He inhaled, his chest rising as it was filled with the rich aroma, then exhaled just as slowly.

“I can almost taste it,” he said. It took me a few seconds to realize he was, in fact, speaking to me.

“Sorry, what was that?”

“The coffee. If I inhale deeply enough, I can almost taste it. It’s so sweet, so bitter…” he inhaled again. “So wonderful.”

I felt a crawling sensation along my spine. “Yeah. You know, I can think of at least one way to actually taste the coffee.”

He shook his head as slowly as he had inhaled the brew. “You, perhaps. I won’t taste it. I can’t.”

“Oh. Um. I’m sorry?”

He shook his head this time, and again was brutally slow about it. “No you aren’t. You don’t care. No one cares.”

“Right.” I turned away from him then, returning to my open laptop, complete with five strips waiting for the coloring magic of Photoshop.

“Stay away,” the stranger hissed. That one began to freak me out.

“Stay away from what?”

“You know,” he said, and although I couldn’t have explained how I knew, I did. His hands were shaking now – trembling, really – and the coffee in his mug rippled and splashed, but never spilled over the side. “You don’t know her. You don’t know how she is. You don’t know how he is.”

“He? Who’s he?” This time I genuinely didn’t know.

“He who rules us all, in the end. His wrath is not the legend of his brothers, but it has grown more furious with time.”

My spine was crawling now. “Nothing personal man, but you’re kind of creeping me out.”

He picked up his coffee and walked back over to me, sniffing at it the entire way.

“Prepare yourself. Prepare to be broken, if not by her, then by him.”

“This is so not the way to make friends, dude. What are you, Stephanie’s ex-boyfriend or something? Or her ex-boyfriend’s grandfather?”

He laughed at the suggestion, but it was a laugh utterly devoid of mirth or joy. It was a laugh intended merely to demonstrate how stupid I was for having asked the question. It was a laugh I’d grown accustomed to in college. “Believe me, my interest in that cold, cold woman is as far from romantic as you can imagine.”

Cold? Stephanie was odd at times, but once you pushed the right buttons, she was the most passionate person I’d ever met.

“I don’t think I need to sit here and listen to this.” I reached out to slam my laptop shut, but Perry thrust his hand out and stopped me.

“No, you’re staying Adam. You, pal… I think it’s time for you to drink the rest of your coffee and leave.”

He laughed that horrible laugh again. “Drink it? Oh, of course! I’d be happy to!” He grabbed the mug, the still-steaming mug, and brought it to his lips, then threw his head back to guzzle the blistering liquid. Perry and I both shouted.


“There’s no reason to scald yourself, man!”

Then he slammed the cup down on the counter so loudly I thought he would crack it. But not only did it not break it – it was still full. Not a drop of the coffee had spilled, and there wasn’t even a brown stain on his lips, let alone a mass of burned flesh.

“Stay away from her!” he screamed, pointing at me. “For your own good!”

Perry and I were too stunned to say a word as he spun on his heel and stormed out of the coffee shop. We stood there, jaws slack, watching him vanish into the crowd on the streets.

“What the hell was that?” I said.

Perry, meanwhile, was gazing into the coffee cup the stranger left behind. “Do you think Amber poured this one?” he asked.

 Next: Chapter Five-What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

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Summer Love by Blake M. Petit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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July 2008

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