John Holton (john_holton) wrote,
John Holton

The "Nothing" Story, parts 1-5

OK, so here's the deal: I'm going to pick up the "Nothing" story that I began writing last June where I left off last August. In order to refresh everyone's memory (and for the benefit of those of you who didn't know me when I was writing this story to begin with), I'm going to repost the first pieces of the story, five parts at a time, for the next week, and pick up with new material beginning next Friday or so. I will be conscientious enough to put these postings behind cut tags, for the benefit of your friends pages. Read it if you wish. Feel free to make whatever comments on it that you would like (or not). And, enjoy!

Nothing Ventured

The Sunday crowd was definitely different from the Saturday crowd. For one thing, there weren't as many of them. For another, they seemed less interested in buying something than they were in just walking around among the items in the store, looking, killing time until it was time to go home and get ready for the week ahead. On Saturday, people were in a hurry, because they had things to do, places to go, dinner parties to attend and to give, babysitters to pick up. Sundays, people were just wandering listlessly, looking for something to fill the hours between when they weren't able to sleep any more and when they could go back to bed.

The store was open from one to five on Sunday, and normally we worked with a skeleton crew. I was the sole proprietor of the Liquor department, Herbie was the sole person in Antique Books, and Kate and Betty were in Gourmet Food. The boss, a slight man who smelled as though he never bathed and whose voice carried the traces of a French or German accent, was there, mostly to ensure that I had made it on time and that I was doing something the whole time I was there. He had made me his own personal project, for some reason, maybe because he didn't like me and the feeling was mutual. Any opportunity to carp on me about my hair, my clothes, my attendance or my apparent attitude problem was fair game for him to criticize me on all counts. I didn't know why he didn't just fire me, but I wasn't in a place where I could ask him that and suffer the consequences. I needed the job too badly so that I could afford my carfare to school and to work during the week.

This one particular Sunday was the day after one of the wilder nights before that I had ever had in my nineteen years on earth. After work on Saturday, I met some friends from my old job at one of the bars on Rush Street, and we spent the evening bar-hopping, finishing up sometime around three A. M. at a restaurant at Rush and Oak. I had made it back to my dormitory sometime around sunup, and stole a quick couple of hours of sleep before having to get up and face Mr. Smelly.

I made it to the store seconds before it was time to punch in, and was at my post just as the boss was making his rounds. "Good morning, Mr. Reardon, I see you've made it on time."

"Yes, sir, I paid attention the last time we had one of our conversations."

"I'm glad to hear that. Now, as you can see, you didn't do a very good job of keeping the wine bins filled yesterday."

"It was busy, sir."

"Well, you should have stayed until they were neatly stocked."

"Sir, I knew that I would be in early today, and that Sundays are usually pretty quiet. I planned on doing it today."

"Yes, that's all well and good, but that's not the point. From here on, the bins are full before you go home in the evening."

"Yes, sir." I had a bad enough headache from the night before. I wasn't about to make it worse by arguing with him. I was sure that he would, before the end of the day and before I would have a chance to have some coffee and a cigarette. I slipped off my jacket, put on one of the store smocks and went back to the stockroom. I took a trolley and put a case of Merlot, a case of Zinfandel, and a case of Zeller Schwartze Katze onto it, then wheeled it carefully into the sales area.

Kate was standing there as I emerged from the back room. "You got in trouble," she sing-songed.

"Oh, geez, now don't you start," I said.

"Rough night last night?" she asked.

"Oh, yeah."

"Where did you go?"

"It's more a case of where didn't I go. I think we hit just about every bar on Rush and Division. Mostly we were at Butch McGuire's, but we went to some disco later in the evening, then one of the guys decided that he wanted to follow these women someplace else, so we went there. You know, the usual BS. We had a late supper at The Oak. More like breakfast, really."

"I'll bet the train ride was a lot of fun."

Noting the boss strolling nearby, I opened the flaps of the top case, took a rag and started dusting each bottle as I put it up on the shelf. "Oh, loads of fun. Not anywhere near as much fun as the one here this morning, or whatever it is."

Kate laughed. "Well, I'd better get back. You've got the early break today, since you had the late one last week."

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart," I said as she left.

I finished stocking the remaining bottles onto the shelf, brought the empty boxes back to the stockroom, loaded more onto the trolley, and came back out. By now, the store was open, and customers were starting to wander through the department. I pushed the trolley into one corner as I helped a nicely dressed middle aged man who bought a bottle of Liebfraumilch, some Brie and a box of water crackers. I discussed the differences between Italian and French wines with a young woman who bought the Chianti when she realized that it was cheaper than the Burgundy. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the boss moving the trolley into the back room. He came out as I was ringing the young woman out.

"You shouldn't leave open cases of wine out like that, Mr. Reardon," he said.

"Yes, sir, I know that, but I had a couple of customers waiting," I replied.

"Well, you had time to push it in the corner, why didn't you push it into the back room?"

I stopped in mid-transaction and turned to him. "Because I didn't think of it, sir." I turned back to the register and promptly made an error. I voided the transaction and started a new one, slipping the sales slip into the envelope beside the register.

"Another void," he remarked as he left the area.

I completed the sale and handed the sales slip to the customer, who signed it. "He was a real jerk to you there," she remarked. "I was ready to say something."

"I appreciate that, ma'am," I said. I pulled the sales ticket apart and slid her copy into the box beside the bottle, then closed the box. "Have a nice day."

"Hope yours turns out better," she said.

I watched her climb onto the escalator, then went back to the storeroom and retrieved my trolley. For the next forty-five minutes, I did nothing but stock wine bottles into bins. By breaktime, I had managed to fill all of them except for two along the floor. When Kate relieved me, I made a note to check on what we had the most stock of, and to put extras in those bins.

I went to the break room, bought a hamburger out of the food machine and microwaved it while I got a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. I found a table by myself, pulled out the paperback novel that I was reading, ate my hamburger, and drank my coffee, then lit another cigarette after I had eaten. A familiar odor wafted past me, and when I looked up, the boss was sitting there.

"You know, smoking is very bad for you," he said. "You shouldn't do it."

I could have said something about bathing helping to reduce the smell of the body, but chose not to. I merely stubbed out my cigarette, got up and left the break room. I spent the remaining ten minutes of my break in the mall, reading and smoking in peace.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet. The floor area was clean and well stocked, I had straightened out the bags and boxes under the counter, even cleaned up around the wastebasket area. I ventured out of my area and noticed that Kate and Betty were just standing there as well, so I wandered over in their direction.

"Excuse me," a voice behind me interrupted. I turned and saw an attractive woman in what I guessed was her mid- to late thirties smiling at me.

"Yes, ma'am, may I help you?" I asked.

She smiled. "You don't remember me, do you?" she asked.

"Um, I..." She was the kind of woman that I would have remembered. Gorgeous dark brown hair, warm brown eyes, straight white teeth, nice figure. When she smiled, she had small dimples at the corners of her mouth and faint lines at the corners of her eyes. She was dressed in a maroon turtleneck and dark wool trousers, both of which fit her perfectly.

"Rosalie! From last night? Butch McGuire's?" She gave me a sidelong glance and winked.

"Oh! Yeah! How are you doing?" I had lent her a cigarette and bought her a drink, then she and her friends took off for parts unknown. "You kind of took off on us..."

"Well, we had places to go, things to do, people to see. You know how it is. So, how are you feeling today?"

"Not bad. A little rough, but aside from that, doing all right. It's nice to see you again." I glanced around for the boss, who was nowhere in sight. "I work over in Liquor."

"You're well suited for it," she joked. "Want to sell me a bottle of wine?"

We walked over to my area. "So, Rosalie, tell me, what kind of wine do you like? White or red? French, Italian? We have a couple of wines from Greece here..."

"Oh, I don't know. What do you like?"

"Oh, uh, I really don't have a preference. I'm more of a beer man, myself. When I do drink wine, it's generally something more on the fruity side. I don't care so much for the dry wines, although they can be very..."

She picked up a bottle of Liebfraumilch and held it up. "How about this one?"

"That's a good one," I said.

"OK, you've got a sale." She stepped over to the register with me, and handed me a $20 bill to pay. When I handed her the receipt, she took it, pulled the pen out of my pocket, and wrote an address and phone number on the back. Handing it to me, she said, "I'll go home and put this on ice. See you in, what, an hour and a half?"

I was surprised at this overture, but I played it cool. I wasn't about to let on that I couldn't believe her forwardness. I looked at my watch, and at the address. "This is right around the corner..."

"Right. The Hancock Building, suite 6703."

"Yeah, an hour, hour and a half. Sounds about right." What the hell was I doing? Acting all cool like this?

"All right, then. I'll see you soon." She blew me a kiss and disappeared down the escalator.

I stood there watching in a state of shock. What had I just done? I had no business following this woman to her apartment. I had to get back to the dorm and do homework. They were having roast beef tonight in the cafeteria, my favorite. I had a paper due on Tuesday, and I really wanted to get working on it so I wasn't pulling an all-nighter on Monday night. And I was still worn out from last night, for crying out loud. What, was I nuts or something?

Kate and Betty wandered over in my direction. Hey, there was no one else on the floor besides us, Herbie (who spent most of his time in his own area, preferring not to have to deal with us riff-raff) and the boss, who was off smelling up someone else's work area. I could tell by the look in Kate's eyes that she knew just what had happened.

"So! I take it we have a date tonight?" she said.

I smiled back. "Uh, yeah, I guess. One that involves a bottle of wine and an apartment at the Hancock Center."

"And a beautiful woman who's old enough to be your mother," Betty, who was old enough to be my mother, said.

"Oh, I don't think she's that old," I said, grinning nervously.

"Oh, you might be surprised." Betty tapped me on the shoulder and winked, then returned to her register.

"Probably bored to death, this being Sunday," Kate said. "I take it that you know her from somewhere, considering the overture that she made to you."

"Evidently, I know her from Butch McGuire's," I replied. "I was there half the night last night. I bought her a drink and lent her a cigarette. I'm kind of surprised that she remembered me."

"You're going, aren't you?"

"I don't have any reason not to," I said. "I mean, there are things that I should do tonight, but it's the weekend, and I don't know. Sunday night is always such a bummer."

"Well, good luck. I'm going to want a full report next week." With a wave, Kate was on her way back to Gourmet Foods.

I spent the next hour making sure that there would be absolutely nothing to delay my departure from the store. I made sure that all of the bins were full for the umpteenth time, I made sure that the area was neat, and that all of the supplies were well stocked. All this time, I was getting nervous. What was I getting myself into? Why was this woman interested in me? Why had I been so quick to accept her rather forward invitation? What the hell was I thinking?

The boss came by to do the voids. "Only two today, Mr. Reardon. You're getting better. Of course, you didn't have that many customers, so this is still an unacceptable percentage."

"Yes, sir." I wasn't about to argue with him, nor was I going to point out that he had caused one of those voids himself. I didn't want to spend any more time with him than I absolutely had to.

"Next week, you'll have no voids, or I'll have to send you to training again." He handed me the sealed envelope and told me to close out my register. I emptied the money into the clear plastic bag and brought it to the office, then went back to my station, took off my smock and put on my suit jacket. It was ten to five. I made a quick call to the dorm to my roommate, to let him know that I wouldn't be back for dinner. That took all of two minutes. Eight more minutes to go. My mind started working in circles. There was something not right about this, I thought. What was it? I had no recollection of her from the night before. Of course, I had no recollection of a lot of things from the night before. Why should this be any different? Besides, she was very friendly, this Rosalie, and she was certainly attractive. Better not get my hopes up too high, though; Betty's right, she's much older than me. Which is strange. Maybe she thinks that I'm older than I am. Maybe she thinks I think she's younger than she is. Maybe she knows exactly how old I am and doesn't really care, and wants to see if I care. Maybe she's just interested in me for sex. Maybe...maybe I...My thinking was interrupted by the sounding of the bell, announcing that the store was now closed.

I felt a little wobbly as I rode the escalator down to the first floor and out of the employee's entrance. I'm out of my mind, I thought. This is nuts. I should just walk over to Chicago and State, get on the subway, ride back to Rogers Park, and forget about this. Nah, I can't do that. She'd be back the next week looking for me. She knows where I work, although if it were up to the boss, I wouldn't work there anymore. Besides, I spend half of my life in this neighborhood. There's a better than even chance that I'll run into her sometime, and she's bound to confront me on it, and what'll I say then? Oh, this is stupid. I fished my CTA pass out of my pocket, determined to just go home.

The chill of the autumn air outside snapped me out of the trance I was in. I walked down Michigan Avenue toward Chicago Avenue and stood at the corner opposite the Water Tower. The light changed, and I was still there, people pushing all around me. You know, I said, this could be kind of interesting. Maybe this woman's a millionaire, and she wants me to be her personal assistant. Maybe she is old enough to be my mother, and she has a daughter. She might not be some kind of tigress, ready to chew me up and spit me out. Maybe she's sincerely interested in getting to know me, and while nothing romantic may happen, we could become great friends, and she could be a mentor to me. Maybe I'm passing up the chance of a lifetime. I'll never know if I just walk down to the subway and ride it home to the dorm.

I straightened up, turned around, and walked toward the Hancock Building, feeling lightheaded and weak in the knees, but excited at what might lay ahead. "Here goes nothing," I said, and walked through the revolving door.

Nothing Gained

When I stepped off the elevator on the 67th floor, Rosalie was waiting for me, dressed in a sweatsuit. "Hey, Tony, come on in. I'm glad you could make it. Come on, I'll show you my place."

I followed her into her apartment, more than a little confused. Well, maybe a little disappointed. She was obviously not dressed for a date, much less seducing a nineteen year old kid. Maybe she was dressed this way so that I wouldn't be too intimidated by her, to help me to relax. Or maybe we were going to take it slowly. That would be fine with me.

I closed the door behind myself and followed her into the only room besides the bathroom. A small efficiency kitchen was to the left of the door, the bathroom was on the right. A Chinese screen blocked off one corner of the room near the huge window that dominated the apartment. I assumed that this was where her bed and dresser were, since I didn't see that there were any more doors in the place. A leather loveseat was positioned beside the screen, facing out of the window, with an end table at either end. Along the left wall was a steel desk with a bookcase beside it; along the opposite wall, a dining room table with six chairs around it and an entertainment center that held a small television and an elaborate stereo system setup, with large speakers standing either side of the cabinet. The radio was tuned to the local "light rock" station; not my particular taste, but then, I could learn to like it.

"So, there's the bathroom, there's the kitchen, and everything else is in here," she said, smiling. "So, take off your jacket and tie, and get comfortable. I have the wine you sold me, but if I remember correctly, you're more of a beer man. I have Heineken, if that's all right."

This woman had a lot of class. Heineken was generally way out of my price range. "Beer sounds good." I took off my jacket and hung it over the back of one of the dining room chairs, then took off my tie and stuffed it in my jacket's breast pocket, and unbuttoned my top button. Rosalie came back with the beer and a glass of wine, handed me the beer, set her glass down on the table, and unbuttoned a second button.

"There, now you look more like you did last night," she said. "Come on, I want to show you something." I followed her over to the window. "Ever seen Chicago like this?"

"Wow. Never like this." She had a magnificent view of the North Side from her apartment. I looked for Mertz Hall on the Loyola campus, my home while I was at school, and it seemed so tiny beneath me. Several inches above it, from my perspective, I could see Farwell Pier, where I had gone fishing as a kid and where I had drunk beer with my friends in high school, and just above that, the campus of Northwestern University.

"On a clear day, you can see almost up to Milwaukee," she said. "Come on, sit down. You've probably been on your feet all day, poor thing." She pointed to the loveseat, and I sat down, moving over so that she would have room to sit. I was surprised when she sat on the floor in front of me instead. "So, tell me, Tony, what do you do besides work at the Wine Shop at Field's on the weekends? You a student?"

"Yes, in fact, I go to school across the street at Loyola." Loyola's Lewis Towers campus was just across the street from the Hancock Building, on the other side of the Water Tower, the only building left standing after the Chicago Fire.

"You're what, a sophomore?"

"Junior. How'd you know?"

She pointed at the back of my hand. The "9" written in red marker pen from one of the bars that I had been to the night before, indicating that I was not yet old enough to drink hard liquor, was still faintly visible. "You're a marked man, Tony."

"Oh, yeah," I said, nervously. "I guess so." I felt a little nervous and out of place now. It didn't help that suddenly the building started swaying. "Whoa, what's that?"

"You get used to it after a while," she said. "The first couple of nights that I lived here, I couldn't sleep for all of the bending and creaking of the building, but then I learned that's just what it's supposed to do. One of my friends from Northwestern, who's a civil engineer, told me that."

"Is that where you went to school?"

"Oh, heavens, no. I went to Oakton up in Skokie for a couple of years, and I'm still finishing up at De Paul at night. At the rate I'm going, it'll be another three years before I have my degree."

She leaned back against the couch and started talking about how she'd grown up on the North Shore, the wealthy suburbs along Lake Michigan, and had been a National Merit Scholar and graduated in the top ten percent of her class. She talked about how her parents were adamant about her going to Northwestern, and how she had fought them on their decision, because it wasn't where she had wanted to go; she had wanted to make her own decision on her education beyond high school, and didn't appreciate their interference. I was starting to slide my hand behind her, hoping perhaps to lay it on her shoulders, when suddenly she stood up. "I don't know about you, but I could use another drink, and I'm starved. Want to order a pizza?"

Half an hour later, we were seated at her dining room table with a large sausage and pepperoni pizza and a couple of bottles of beer.

"So, Tony, what's your story?" she asked. "What're you studying?"

"Oh, the usual stuff for a junior. Accounting, Finance, Business Law..."

"You're a business major! So am I! So, what's your concentration?"

"I haven't really decided yet, but I'm leaning toward Operations Management."

"Oh, that's interesting. Don't get too many of those. I'm thinking of majoring in Finance, and minoring in Marketing. Maybe I'll run a mutual fund." She looked at me and smiled. "Tell me something, do you know Professor Campbell? Teaches economics?"

I had a mouthful of beer and nearly choked to prevent it from going up my nose. Dr. Jeffrey Campbell had taught my macroeconomics class, and I had nearly flunked it. The nicest thing I'd ever heard anyone say about him was that he was a total jerk. "Uh, yeah. I had him in one of my classes."

"Judging from your reaction, I'd say that it wasn't a very positive experience," she said.

"That's putting it mildly. How do you know him?"

"He's my uncle."

Well, that's just great, Tony, I thought. Guess that ends this relationship on a sour note. I noticed that Rosalie was doing everything she could to keep from laughing. "You're pulling my leg, aren't you?"

She nodded, and burst out laughing. It was contagious, and soon I was laughing along with her. "Yes, I'm pulling your leg, honey. He used to teach at De Paul. I had him for micro. The most arrogant prick I've ever known. Hey, there's another guy who went to Loyola from De Paul who was a prof of mine, Dan Wilcox. Do you know him?"

"I have him now for Statistics. Nice guy."

"You're not just saying that because you're afraid I'm going to tell you he's my brother or something, are you?" She winked and smiled.

"No, no, really, he seems like a great guy."

"That was my impression, too. I enjoyed his class a lot." She yawned and glanced at the clock. "Hey, listen, I've really had a good time tonight, and I hate to break it up, but I've got to get some sleep, because I've got a big day ahead of me tomorrow. And you've got to get some rest too, considering the night you had last night and the day you've had today."

"Yeah, I guess." I tried to sound cool about it, but I was really disappointed. I could see that she could tell that I was.

"Listen, Tony," she said, taking my hand in hers. "I've really had a good time here, and you know, I'd like to see you again. I know that you probably didn't know what to expect tonight, and, actually, neither did I. It's a big world out there, and sometimes it's easy to get lost in it, and sometimes it's nice to reach out to someone and have that person reach back. Know what I'm saying?" I nodded. "Good. Are you comfortable with this?"

"Comfortable with what?"

"This. You and me. You know, having dinner together, having a couple of drinks, you know...this."

"Well, yeah," I said, not knowing what she was driving at. "Why?"

"Doesn't feel funny to you?"

"No, I'm fine with it," I said. "I guess...I don't know, I guess it's just kind of..." My voice trailed off.

"Kind of different? That what you're trying to say?"

"Sort of. I guess I'm not sure where this is going..."

"It's going where it's going. Look, honey, it was kind of a leap of faith for me to do what I did today. I had no idea that I'd see you today when I was at Field's. Inviting you here was a big step. You took a big step, too, coming here, not knowing what to expect, probably against your better judgment. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that you considered not coming here this evening. But you did, and that's what's important. From here, it goes where it goes." She stood up and extended her hand down to me. I understood what she was saying. I got up, took my jacket off of the back of the chair, and slipped it on.

She walked me to the door, opened it, and kissed me on the cheek. "Give me a call Wednesday. I'm tied up the next couple of nights. You have my number, right?" I nodded. "Great. I'll talk to you Wednesday night." She kissed me again, swatted me on the butt, and closed the door behind me.

It was just after nine o'clock. I considered stopping at Pippin's for a drink, but realized that Rosalie was right, I should go home and go to bed, especially since I was now going to be pulling an all-nighter the next night to get my paper written.

Nothing Sacred

The subway station at Chicago and State was deserted. There wasn't even anyone to take my fare. I walked down the stairs to the platform and looked down the tracks to the south, to see if there was a train coming. I lit a cigarette and walked back and forth on the platform, trying to relax and trying to figure out what had just happened. Did I now have a girlfriend? Why was she interested in me? Was she just lonely, or was there something more? If there was something more, why hadn't there been more tonight? I hadn't done much dating. The girl I took to the senior prom had been the daughter of a friend of my mother's who I'd known for a number of years, and I had asked her because I had no one else to ask. What had happened today was totally foreign to me. I wasn't used to girls throwing themselves at me. I really wasn't used to having older women throw themselves at me. Of course, maybe she wasn't throwing herself at me. Maybe I was making this out to be more than it was. That was even more confusing than the thought that Rosalie had thrown herself at me.

I dropped my cigarette on the platform and stepped on it, and looked down the tracks. Still no sign of the train. I could hear roaring and rumbling, but couldn't tell where it was coming from. I watched the mice running around among the tracks and rails, grabbing pieces of popcorn from a bucket that had apparently come from the theater at Water Tower Place. It was oddly relaxing, and I had to struggle to stay awake. Soon, the train appeared, and was headed in my direction.

I boarded the train and showed my pass to the conductor. The car was practically deserted, except for a couple sitting in the seat next to the conductor's. I took the seat just behind the door and relaxed. Before I knew it, the train was pulling into the station at Granville; I had napped all the way north, and had awakened at the station just before mine.

I got off the train at Loyola and took the back exit which let me out of the station on the correct side of Sheridan Road. I considered going down to Huey's for a beer, but decided against it. It was almost ten, and I'd have to be up early the next morning. I turned toward Mertz Hall and, several minutes later, was sliding my key in the door to my room.

Eddie, my roommate, was already asleep, lying on his bed beside a skin mag, his Tensor lamp providing all the light he needed. I shook my head and got undressed and put on a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt, then went out into the common area for a cigarette, since Eddie didn't let me smoke in the room.

Will, one of the freshmen on the floor, was sitting out there, trying to write a paper. "Hey, Tony, what's happenin'? Got an extra cigarette?" The joke was that Will's favorite brand was OP's--Other People's. I smiled and shook one out for him. "Got a light?"

"What, you want me to smoke it for you, too?" I joked. I lit my cigarette then lit his. "So, what's been going on here?"

"Not much. Eddie's got a new girlfriend..."

"Yeah, I saw her lying on the bed beside him." My roommate had the largest collection of porno in the whole dorm. Not that it was any of my business, except that it seemed to take up an incredible amount of his time, and he tended to leave it out all over the place.

Will thought for a minute, and grinned. "Oh, so you're giving them a little privacy?"

"You got that right," I said. I sat down on the couch and put my feet up on the coffee table.

"So, how was the big date?" Will asked.

"It went really well," I said.

"So, what'd you do?"

"Nothing. Had a couple of beers, had a pizza, then she had to get ready for work and she sent me home."

"She cute?"

"Yeah. Really attractive, and really nice, too. She's a little older than me..."

"Ooh, an older woman!"

"It wasn't like that, Will," I protested.

"Yeah, I know. Otherwise you'd still be there," he said, suppressing a smile.

I put out my cigarette and leaned back on the couch, and fell asleep.

I woke up to the sound of my suitemates running around, getting ready for the day. Eddie emerged from our room. "Hey, Reardon, what the hell are you sleeping out there for? I was startin' to wonder if that woman had eaten you alive." He snickered.

"No, I got in pretty early last night, before you sent Miss October home." I walked past him into the room.

"Fuck you, Reardon. Hey, check her out," he said, opening the magazine to the gatefold.

"Yeah, Eddie, I saw her last night, OK? Look, I'm running late."

After a quick shower and breakfast in the cafeteria across the concourse from the dorm, I was back on the L platform waiting for the train. I really hadn't given much thought to the night before; right now, I was more concerned about getting my Marketing paper written than anything. When the train arrived, there wasn't a seat available, and I knew that I'd probably have to stand all the way down to Chicago Avenue. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to study, I held onto one of the poles in the car and mused about my situation in general, particularly as it applied to my most recent developments.

Remembering what Will had said about the "older woman", I started to imagine all kinds of scenarios with Rosalie. Was she, in fact, a Mrs. Robinson sort, looking to seduce me, the much younger man? Betty at work had said that she thought that Rosalie was old enough to be my mother, but, remembering her from the night before, I didn't think that was possible. In fact, she kind of sounded like she might be a lot younger than anyone thought, from the things she had been saying. OK, maybe she was in her thirties, but in her younger thirties, probably no more than about 31 or 32. Still, I was only 19 going on 20, and that would be eleven or twelve years difference in our ages. But, she was still going to school, and just from the sound of it, she wasn't that much further along than I was. So, even if she was older than I was, we were like classmates. It didn't sound right that she would still have three years to go to complete her degree, but then, I knew a lot of people, particularly Vietnam veterans, who were working at a pace of one to two classes a semester. She said that she had another three years, and suddenly, that sounded plausible.

I started thinking about what my mother would say if I brought Rosalie home. Mom was always pretty tough on me, keeping close tabs on me and my brother Francis ever since my older sister Claire decided that she was a lesbian and ran off with a woman. It was as though she couldn't trust us to have lives of our own after that. It was part of the reason that I had insisted on living at the dorm while I was going to college, even though we lived within ten miles of the campus and there were people commuting from much further out. I was tired of living my life under her microscope; at least half of the tactics she used to keep tabs on my brother and me were violations of the Geneva Convention. "Under my roof, under my rules," she always said, and I decided after my freshman year that those terms were unreasonable. She reluctantly agreed to letting me live on campus only after I had threatened to drop out of school and join the Navy. What would her reaction be to me coming home with her?

I'm getting ahead of myself, I thought. I've known her for a couple of hours at the most. We had a pizza together and a few drinks, she shared something about her life, I shared something about mine, we hit it off pretty well, she kissed me goodbye, and that was that.

The train partially cleared out at Belmont, where the Howard line joined with the Ravenswood line, and I was able to get a seat. I pulled out my Accounting book and studied it, and didn't think about the previous night again until I had gotten to school, had a cup of coffee, and was sitting in the classroom of my 10 o'clock class, which had a clear view of the Hancock Building.

Nothing New

Wednesday came, and I spent the day knowing that I would be calling Rosalie that evening. She had been playing at the corners of my mind all week, now she was taking center stage. What would I say to her after hello? I had questions. Lots of questions. I wanted to know everything about her, but especially the things that puzzled me the most. Such as why she had wanted me to wait to call her until today.

At seven, I went downstairs to the lobby of the dorm and took the last public phone, the one that gave the most privacy. I could have made the call from Eddie's phone, but that would have come with the price of having to let Eddie listen. I wanted to be a little more cool than that. I put two dimes into the phone and dialed her number, and let the phone ring a dozen times before hanging up. Obviously, she wasn't home.

I went back to my floor and killed some time, had a couple of cigarettes and shot the bull with some of the guys there, then went back downstairs to the phones. All three of them were in use. I remembered that there were more phones in the cafeteria building, and walked over there, only to discover that the doors were chained shut. It was 8 o'clock, and I knew that I was going to have to make this call soon. My mother had always said that no polite person calls after nine, and I didn't want to run afoul of that rule. Not when a relationship was on the line.

I went back up to the phones and one had opened up. It was the one in the middle, but that was OK. I put in my money and tried her number again. This time, the phone was busy. A girl was waiting to use the phone, so I relinquished the phone, and waited in line for the next one to open. By the time I got to make my call, it was five to nine. I was nervous about calling so late, but I dropped in my money and made the call. She answered on the third ring.

"Rosalie? It's Tony," I said, my voice cracking.

"Hey! You called!" I could feel her smile in her voice. It felt nice. "Have you been trying me for long?" I started to tell her the story, but she cut me off. "That's OK. I was on the phone with my mother, and I remembered you'd be trying to call."

"I hope it's not too late..."

"Oh, no, it's never too late for you. How are you? Did you get that paper written?"

We spent the next twenty minutes chatting about what had gone on for the last several days. She told me that she was a clerk for a law firm on Clark Street, and that she knew that there was a big case coming up that she was helping to write up, which is why she asked me to call her tonight and not sooner. Her tone shifted suddenly. "You know, it feels so nice to have someone to share my day with. Since my divorce, it's just been me and this big apartment. It's lonely. Do you know how that is?"

"Yeah, I think I do. I feel the same way, even though I live in a dorm with a bunch of guys. It's like, I'm not alone, but I'm lonely." I looked to my right, and Eddie and Will were standing there, making faces at me. I gave them the finger and they both gave it back, then Eddie made motions like he needed to say something to me. "Hang on a sec, Rosalie," I said, and covered the mouthpiece. "What, Blaskowski?"

"Nothin'. We were just going to the Campus Room. Wanna come with?"

"How about if I meet you there?"

"How long you gonna be?"

"A while."

"A'right, we'll see you there," he said.

I waited until they left through the revolving door. "I'm back," I said.

"Everything all right there?"

"Yeah, just taking a ration of shit from my roommate and one of the other guys. They're gone now. Where were we?"

"I was just saying that it's nice to have someone to talk to at the end of the day. You said that you felt the same. We have a lot in common, I think. Maybe that's what drew me to you. Kind of like kismet."

"Kismet?" I had never heard that term before.

"Fate. The alignment of the planets. Lightning striking twice in the same place. I mean, you have to admit, it was pretty interesting, the two of us running into one another on Sunday like we did, especially after seeing each other the night before. I've been going to Butch McGuire's for ten years now, and I've never run into a guy there that I've seen later, unless I knew the guy to begin with. That's why I said something when I saw you on Sunday. I could tell that there was some chemistry between us on Saturday night."

"Wow. No one's ever said anything like that to me before." What she said sent a warm shiver down my spine. It was like my whole body went pins-and-needles for a second. I leaned up against the wall and shut my eyes.

"Tony, you're a special guy, you know that?"

"What do you mean?" How would she know that?"

"I mean, I can tell that you're a warm and gentle person. There's a real honesty about you that comes from deep inside. I guess I haven't felt that in a long time from a guy. It's like you've never learned to play any of the games that guys play. And I hope that you never do."

"Thanks, I think." My mouth felt dry and I was stuck for something to say.

"Am I going to see you this weekend?"

"Well, I have to work on Saturday and Sunday..."

"Of course." She sounded like she was smiling.

"But, yeah. I'm free any of those evenings." I'll ditch school for you, lady, just say the word.

"What time are you done Saturday?" she asked.


"Unless your boss keeps you after, right?" She laughed, and I laughed along.

"Uh huh."

"All right then. You come out onto Michigan Avenue, right? I'll meet you there at sixish on Saturday."

"Sounds great. Hey, let me give you my numbers." I gave her the number for the dorm and for work.

"I'll call if anything comes up. Otherwise, I'll talk to you Saturday. Kiss kiss, sweetheart. Pleasant dreams."

She hung up before I could say goodbye. Not to mention before I could ask her any of the burning questions on my mind.

So, what did I know now that I didn't know before? She's divorced, which will play really well with Mother. She said she's been going to Butch McGuire's for ten years, which means that she's at least 31. And she'll be waiting for me on Saturday after work. Beyond that, nothing. This mystery woman in my life was becoming too much of a mystery for me. I asked myself what I was doing for the umpteenth time. Did I really want to get involved with her? She sounded like trouble, and I didn't know her that well.

I glanced at my watch, and it was only 9:30. Plenty of time to go get a couple of beers and shoot a couple of games of pool with Eddie and Will, maybe get a gyro and fries after that. I didn't want to hang around my room. I walked out the revolving door and headed for the Campus Room.

I wasn't much of a pool player, but there was something about hanging out at the Campus Room that I really liked. Maybe it was just that they sold beer and didn't care how long you hung around, because they charged for pool by the hour. The equipment was all updated on a regular basis, the floor was level, the lighting was good, it was clean and the air circulated well, so people who didn't smoke weren't saddled with much smoke from those of us who did. Twenty four tables, their felt alternating between green and orange, formed a checkerboard pattern in the room. I stopped at the bar and bought three bottles of Budweiser, then joined my friends at the corner table. Besides us, there were two girls playing at a table toward the front, and a couple of older men playing in the middle of the room.

"Hey, Reardon, we're just racking up here," Eddie said. "You play winner, OK?"

"Sounds fine to me," I said. I went over to the wall and found a straight cue stick, then dragged a stool over so that I could watch them playing."

"So, did you get a chance to talk to her, Tony?" Will was racking up the balls for Eddie, who probably had won all of the games up to this point.

"Yeah, I did. She's doing great. We have a date for Saturday."

"Ooh, someone's got a date this Saturday after work!" Eddie lined up his first shot. One powerful stroke and the balls scattered all over the felt. Two of them dropped, the seven ball into the right corner pocket, the five ball into the left corner. "Think you'll get in her pants?"

"Eddie," I pleaded. "We just started seeing each other, and we damn sure haven't gotten that far just yet." I lit a cigarette and swigged on my beer.

"What? Hey, these are days of free love, roomie. What else could she be interested? Probably not your stellar personality."

"Why not? I was nice to her, I bought her a beer, I lent her a cigarette..."

"Neither of which you can remember, buddy. I think she came into the store, saw you, decided you'd be easy, and she's just stringing you along until she can figure out a way to get you to paint her apartment." He lined up a shot at the one ball and hit the cue ball at it, hard. The one caromed around the table, eventually settling in the middle. "Damn!" he swore.

"Hey, what are those apartments like, anyway?" Will said, aiming at the eleven ball. "They anything like they talk about in Bagtime?"

"What, you mean with baseball players and hockey players having orgies in there all the time?" Will was talking about the series that had run in the Sun-Times that summer, featuring a character who was a bag boy at the Treasure Island food store. "I didn't see any of the White Sox there, if that's what you mean."

"I bet her place is really ritzy," Eddie said. "Those places are supposed to cost an arm and a leg. How do you think she could swing it?"

Good question, Eddie. "I don't know. She said she was divorced, maybe she got it in the settlement."

Will sank the eleven ball, and the cue ball. Eddie pulled both balls out of the pocket, set the eleven on the spot in the middle of the table, and lined up the cue ball. "All right, so let me see if we got this straight. You're trying to tell us that this rich divorcee walks into Marshall Field's, sees some poor college student trying to make carfare money by selling wine, falls in love, and decides she wants him?"

"That wasn't where we met, Eddie," I said. "I told you, we met at Butch McGuire's."

"Which you can't remember."

"I can't remember much of what I did last night, let alone what I did under the influence of a lot of really expensive beer."

"You want me to tell you what you did last night?" Eddie had a devilish grin on his face. "You were pulling on yourself and moaning the name of that boss of yours that smells like a Forest Preserve outhouse."

"Eddie! That's disgusting," Will said. He lined up a shot at the twelve ball and hit it off center, so that it bounced into the eight ball and knocked it into the side pocket. "Son of a bitch!"

"Hey, you boys watch your language back there," the attendant called from behind his counter, pointing at the sign above our heads that said "No Profane Language".

"Sorry, sir," Will said.

"Hey, listen, let's get out of here," Eddie said. "I'm hungry."

"What, you're not going to give me a chance to kick your ass at pool?" I nudged him with my stick. I didn't care. I was hungry, too.

"Nah, I'll spare you this time," he said. "Seriously, when am I going to get a chance to meet this girlfriend of yours?"

I just smiled, and shrugged. As my buddies settled up with the attendant, I mulled over what they had said. The more I thought about it, the weirder it seemed. I resolved not to think about it again until Saturday.

Nothing Makes Sense

Saturday was a hectic day at work, and it didn't help that the boss was extra difficult and extra smelly. I hustled from the time I arrived to the time I left, with him dropping by at least every half hour to remind me to fill the bins, to keep the area clean, and to be extra careful not to make any voids while I was ringing up sales. At one point, I was ready to tell him that if he wanted to work in the Wine Shop that badly, I'd give him a smock, but with my luck, he'd have done so, and I'd have been stuck with him full time.

By quitting time, I was feeling ragged, I was in a lousy mood, and really wanted to do nothing but go home, take a shower and take it easy all night. That feeling passed when I came down the last escalator and saw Rosalie waiting for me. Her face brightened the minute she saw me coming, and the little wave she did energized me. She was dressed almost as she was when I saw her the previous Sunday, this time in an off-white crew neck sweater and brown plaid slacks. A single strand of pearls surrounded her graceful neck, and she had put on just enough makeup to enhance her beautiful brown eyes and to frame her gorgeous smile. I waved back and made my way down the escalator and into her waiting arms. She held me close and kissed me on the cheek. She smelled as good as she looked.

"I didn't realize it until now, but I've really missed you a lot. You have a way of getting under a girl's skin," she said.

"Yeah, I know how you feel," I said. Seeing her made me feel better about everything. There were a lot of things that I didn't know about her, but being with her reassured me.

She straightened my tie and fixed my collar, then leaned back to admire her work. "You look wonderful. I'd never know you'd been slaving away all day. A job like that would just about kill me."

"Oh, well, there are days when that's just how it feels. I haven't thought of anything to do tonight. I suppose we could have something to eat, then go to a movie or something. I don't have a lot of practice at this."

"You're kidding! Handsome guy like you, with no experience at dating?" She did her best to sound incredulous.

"Hard to believe, isn't it? Uh...are you hungry?"

"Well, yes, it is dinnertime. Where shall we go?"

"I don't know. What's good around here?"

"I picked the last time, Tony dear. It's your turn. I like Italian, and Gino's East is right down the street..."

"How about we go to Gino's East?" I interjected, trying to make it sound as though it had been my idea.

"Sounds like a wonderful idea," she said.

"Then, maybe we could see a movie?"

She made a face. "I'm not a big movie person, actually."

"Yeah, neither am I. Uh, you like blues? Because, James Cotton's at the Wise Fool's."

"Hm!" She sounded mildly interested. "That could work. Let's eat first."

I offered my arm, and together we walked down Michigan Avenue.

We spent dinner talking mostly about me: my plans for the future, my ideas for what I wanted to do with my life, why I had chosen the major that I was in. It made me realize that I hadn't given much thought at all to what I was doing, nor to what I planned to do when I got out of school. In fact, by the end of dinner, I felt embarrassed being there with Rosalie. She seemed so confident, so bold, so sure of herself, that it frightened me. Suddenly, I didn't want to ask her any questions about herself. It wasn't that I didn't want to know, I was just afraid that she'd confirm for me what I was already beginning to think, that I was a pathetic plaything to her. And yet, I sat and took it from her, because she was so magnificent, and she was my date, and she looked so beautiful, and when she reached across the table and took my hand in hers, I felt safe. I knew that she was just showing her concern for me and her interest in me.

She tipped her head to one side and smiled sadly, and the tone in her voice softened. "You know, sweetheart, I don't think I want to go anyplace else tonight, because I don't want to share you with anyone," she said. For the first time since seeing her earlier that evening, I felt that there was a reason that we were sitting here in the candlelight, in a quiet booth in an otherwise noisy restaurant. She wanted to be with me. There was something--I didn't know what--that I had that she wanted. I wasn't sure what it was, but I wanted to find out. I caught our server's eye and asked for the check.

Outside the restaurant, she put her arms around me and we kissed for a long time. She took my arm and leaned heavily against me as we walked toward her apartment.

At the corner of Chicago and Michigan, we waited for the light to change, then stepped out into the street. Just then, a dark sedan with its lights out ran through the intersection, its tires squealing. "Tony!" she shouted, and tossed me down on the pavement. I banged my head and saw stars for a moment, then looked around for her. It took a minute, but finally I saw her, standing over me, a pistol in her hand pointed in the direction of the sedan, which had by now sped away.

"Rosalie?" I asked, confused.

"Tony! Are you OK?" she asked, kneeling down beside me.

"I..." The look on my face probably said it all to her. What was she doing with a gun? What had she just done?

"We need to talk, honey," she said.

"I'll say," I agreed.

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